Early Thursday morning found an under-caffeinated Leonard McCoy on the staging floor of Training Simulation Facility Four. Emergency med kit in one hand and a lukewarm canteen of black coffee in the other, he sighed and looked around the empty platform. The cadets for the sim would be there soon. The cadre were probably already on the observation deck. He'd have to join them in a moment, but for now, he was alone with the high ceilings, his own echoing footsteps, and his lousy replicator coffee. He stopped walking, took a sip, and grimaced.
He'd already done this over two dozen times in the three months he'd been at the Academy – acting as the Duty Doctor for live training simulations – and there was something about it that always made him uneasy. Maybe it was the strange dichotomy of watching cadets fighting and struggling on the training deck while he was standing alongside the placid evaluators and technicians on the observation deck. Maybe it was because he watched cadets go into these sims without any bumps, bruises, lacerations, phaser burns, smoke inhalation, and broken bones, and then come out with any combination of those injuries, all for the sake of "realistic" training. Maybe –
“Hey Bones!” Out of nowhere, a hand whacked Leonard on the shoulder just a bit too hard. A wave of coffee spilled over the edge of his canteen, but he managed to keep his grip on it. “I didn’t know you’d be here,” Jim said lightly as he strolled just past and spun on his heel to face Leonard. “This is a command-track training sim. What’s a space-o-phobic doctor like you doing in a place like this?” He waggled his eyebrows, mock-seductively.
Leonard, for his part, took a deep breath in lieu of growling and threaded his voice with a sarcastic bite. “For your information, Jim, there’s a doctor on hand for every live-action training simulation. I’m just lucky enough to be assigned to this one.” He held up his canteen meaningfully before flipping the lid shut and sealing it. “You’d better hope you don’t get injured today.”
Jim smirked, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s a level-one hostage training, Bones. They don’t actually start beating us up until second year.”
That was true enough. While injuries were not only common but expected in advanced command track training, Jim was right – there was never an intentional injury in a first-year sim. The goal at this stage of the game was to identify strengths and weaknesses, and have the cadets build confidence. Not that Jim has any shortage of confidence, Leonard mused.
“Just be glad I took an oath to do no harm, kid, because if you keep sneaking up on me like that and using that ridiculous nickname, I’d take care of that for them.” He glowered for a couple of seconds, but couldn’t quite hide the amusement in his eyes, and he knew Jim saw it, too. He finally rolled his eyes in defeat, and Jim grinned with obvious satisfaction.
With a swagger – the goddamned kid actually swaggers! – Jim shoved one hand in his pocket and slapped the other hand across his chest as he began weaving a haphazard path, looking wistfully at the ceiling like a damned drama queen. “Bones, you wound me, right in the heart. My best friend in the entire solar system, and you have to threaten me with bodily injury for the use of an affectionate nickname.”
Leonard snorted. “Affectionate?" he said with a slow drawl. "Right. You know, someday, you’re gonna tell me why you latched onto one stupid thing I said while drunk and irritated and turned it into a permanent epithet.”
“Sawbones,” Jim said easily while still pacing.
Leonard frowned. “What?”
“You like to claim you’re an old-fashioned country doctor. In ancient times, that was a nickname for doctors. Sawbones. Because that’s what they did.”
Unable to prevent it, Leonard’s eyebrow raised in surprise. He shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. Jim was a walking, talking encyclopedia, and had a knack for popping out with random information that anyone else would have forgotten long ago. “I won’t ask how you know that.”
Jim shrugged, still pacing casually. Damned kid doesn’t know how to hold still, either. “I just remember shit. So anyway, that’s why you’re Bones, Bones. You gave me the idea, but that’s why it stuck.”
“Nope.” He paused barely a few inches away from Leonard and threw a smug sideways glance at his friend, almost close enough to be intimate if it was anyone else. Jim… well, he just had no sense of personal space. “Besides,” he said in a low tone, “you’re about to be treated to a fine performance of me rescuing whoever becomes our hostage today. Hero shit and all that. Just enjoy the show, and maybe we’ll grab lunch after this is over.”
The sound of conversation and boots against the plascrete floor told Leonard that other cadets were beginning to file into the staging area for the simulation. Jim noticed as well, so he winked, took a step back, then turned and hustled off to join his command-track classmates. As Jim walked away, Leonard watched him, frowning. He shifted his grip on the handle of his med kit, flipped open his coffee canteen, and took another swig of caffeinated bitterness as he considered the bizarre yet addictive presence that was Jim Kirk.
Jim milled casually with the other cadets, and he looked so comfortable with them – brushing shoulders, laughing lightly, gesturing easily. He wasn't standing in the center of the group, but he looked like the nucleus of the squad. It appeared natural. Somehow, Leonard couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't.
In the time he’d spent with Jim, he’d slowly realized that the cocky attitude that bordered on arrogance was what Jim used to cover all the cuts, scars, and burns on his soul - a hasty bandage over wounds that refused to heal. Jim had never said anything about his own past, and Leonard had never asked, but he was a doctor, and he knew how to read people. Pauses that lasted a few seconds too long when conversation strayed to certain topics, the uneasy tilt of a head when something must have struck too close to home, and how he’d look away while laughing oddly at something that made no sense… yeah, Leonard knew that the kid had a few skeletons in the closet.
But he also knew that in just three months, Jim had already begun to find his footing. The bandages he wore were becoming a real foundation for growth, just like Leonard was beginning to feel the first tingles of healing as his own wounds began to mend with time and distance from the bullshit that had been his old life. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Jim's bandage didn't always fully cover the wounds, which Leonard was sure ran deeper than anyone could guess, but if Jim didn’t crack underneath it, the kid might just have a chance.
Leonard wanted him to have a chance.
It seemed that all the cadets had arrived, and the instructor, Lieutenant Commander Toland, emerged from the door of the observation deck. Leonard bristled a bit at her presence. He'd worked several sims with her as the CO, and cadets always seemed to come out in rougher shape when she ran the show. She'd been nicknamed Toland the Terrible; Leonard was certain that she was aware of the epithet, and was probably quite proud of it. She had the philosophy, “Better here than out in the black,” and felt that cadets needed to know their limits as soon as possible. It was fair, Leonard would grudgingly admit, but he still didn’t like her methods. It was rumored that she wanted to take over the infamous Kobayashi Maru training sim because she thought it wasn't hard enough. She seemed to feel that if the cadets beat her scenarios too easily, it was a personal affront. Ha, I'll bet she just loves Jim, Leonard thought cynically.
But as she began the briefing, Leonard started to relax. Toland almost seemed to be in a good mood today. Not that there was much real damage she could inflict within the constraints of first-year sim regulations, but a good mood never hurt. I'll bet her coffee wasn't replicated. Or cold, he thought bitterly as he chugged the rest of his drink, set the canteen aside, and stepped in closer to listen to the pre-sim briefing.
It seemed pretty straightforward today: battle of wits stuff, without much in the way of physical confrontation. There was always a risk in any live-action simulation, but first-year sims were usually harmless anyway, with little or no medical support required. With a bit less violence in the scenario, Leonard found himself looking forward to watching this play out. Really, the cadre who worked as the training sim personnel were damn good at what they did; these simulations were like theatrical performances with the thrilling bite of uncertainty.
On top of that, today should probably be particularly entertaining; it was the first time he’d get to see Jim in action. After all the wild stories and boasts Jim liked to spin about how brilliant he was at tactical and diplomatic simulations, Leonard thought it would be nice to actually see the self-professed wonder-boy in action for himself. Maybe take him down a notch if he screwed up, just to keep his feet on the ground.
The basic mission briefing was simple, and Toland was beginning to hand out role assignments to the cadets. “Okay, Cadet Nadeau, you’re the Captain today. Merino, First Officer. Cadets Ballenger and Kirk, you’re medics.”
Jim turned back to wink at Leonard, who felt a brief flush of heat at that – whether at the idea of Jim as a medic or from the wink itself, he wasn’t sure.
“Cadets Roper, Xiaoming, Larson, and Vielhauer – you’re the security team. And Cadet Hudson, you’re on communications,” Toland finished. She tucked her PADD under her arm. “Until the hostage situation begins, this is still a diplomacy mission, and you’ll be rated on your diplomatic aptitude for that portion of the simulation. You should have already read the summary of the diplomatic negotiations before arriving here. The hostage or hostages could be taken from your own team or from the delegation you’re meeting. Your ship, the Essex, is within transporter and communications range. All weapons in the simulation are hard-wired to fire well below stun, but they’ll sting a bit. Security team, you can change the settings on your phasers without actually changing their output. The simulation computers will respond to the phaser settings you choose without the risk of you accidentally killing someone. If you get hit, you stay down until a medic clears you. Medics, your tricorders will give you the false readouts to which you must respond. Are there any questions?”
Nine cadets shook their heads in unison. Leonard chuckled silently when he noticed Jim literally on the tips of his toes, eager to begin.
Commander Toland merely nodded. “Then secure your gear and be ready to enter the simulation in five minutes.” She turned and walked to a side door that led to the observation deck. As soon as the door slid shut behind her, the cadets broke into a buzz of activity. Jim rushed over to the equipment bench and grabbed a medical tricorder and first aid kit, looking quite pleased with himself.
Leonard knew that he should hurry and follow the Lieutenant Commander into the observation deck and do a quick check of the simulator’s medical sensors, but he jogged over to Jim, who seemed to be waiting for him. “Not disappointed at your assignment?” Leonard asked casually.
Jim’s face immediately warped into a mimic of a familiar grimace. “Dammit Bones, I’m a doctor, not a starship captain!” he grumbled, doing far too good of an impression for Leonard’s comfort. Leonard scowled at him, and Jim laughed. “I can’t play command or security every time. Besides, I’m getting top marks in First Responder training, so you get to see that I might be good at patching up injuries, not just collecting them.”
That caught Leonard’s attention. Every Starfleet cadet took First Responder training, but most command track cadets passed the class and promptly forgot what they’d learned, leaving any real crisis to the actual medics and doctors. “Ah, I see,” was all Leonard said.
Jim gave a single nod. “Don’t worry, I won’t kill the simulated patients with my simulated hypospray.” He pulled the shiny cylinder from the first aid kit and waved it for emphasis.
“I’ll be sure to give you detailed feedback on everything you do wrong, from triage to tourniquets,” Leonard said, finally letting his amusement show in his eyes.
The easy grin on Jim’s face faltered, and he shrugged suddenly and looked down, busying his hands by rummaging around in the med kit, checking the contents. “Hey, I don’t have to impress you – just the evaluators. Although it seems like there's nothing I can do to impress the Commander over there. Toland the Terrible can't stand me because I've beaten every simulation she's ever run. She actually tried to fail me last time because I wasn’t afraid.” He shook his head irritably. “Absolute bullshit. My academic advisor fixed it, but… Toland's been angling to make me crash and burn since I turned her ambush scenario into a picnic.” Jim glanced up, and a hint of half-sarcastic amusement flickered in his eyes. “Literally."
Leonard raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Jim looked back down at his equipment and snorted. “She threatened to court martial me if I ever ate an apple in her presence again.”
Leonard decided that he didn’t want to know, and it was okay because Jim let it drop. He slung the first aid kit’s strap over his shoulder, adjusted it, then glanced back, and for a second, Leonard saw him let a hint of the uncertainty slip through. “But yeah, can you give me feedback when this is over?”
That actually surprised Leonard. “Really now?”
Jim nodded. “Sure. I don’t care if I’m piloting a shuttlecraft or taking care of an injured crewmate before the real doctors arrive. When I’m out there in the black, I want to make sure I can handle anything… you know, in case there's nobody else. I want to be the best.” The unspoken words, “I have to be the best,” hung in the air, and when Jim’s eyes met Leonard’s, the thought, “because I have to be good enough,” echoed behind them, like a ghost haunting Jim from the back of his mind. It sent a chill up Leonard’s spine.
One thing Leonard had begun to suspect about Jim was that he was desperate for validation, even though the kid would never actually ask for it. Now Leonard was sure of it. Jim seemed determined to be so good that nobody would ever be able to question his capability. Inadequacy in any field would shatter his self-worth. Leonard just hadn’t expected this need to run so deep.
And Leonard also suspected, whether or not Jim recognized this trend in himself or not, was that the kid needed to excel at things that allowed him to take care of others. It was things like this that made Leonard sure that James T. Kirk would be a great man someday.
Someday, he might even let Jim know that.
All he said now, however, was, “Sure thing, kid.”
“Thanks, Bones.” Jim looked quickly over his shoulder. The rest of the cadets had finished securing their gear, and were crowding together around Nadeau. “You’d better get to the observation deck.”
Leonard tilted his head in agreement, and he and Jim moved in their separate directions. When he was almost at the observation deck’s door, he turned and glanced back at the gaggle of command track cadets. Nadeau was giving quick instructions to his team as the warning beeped three times – the three-minute countdown. At the back of the group, Jim was fiddling with the controls on the medical tricorder, grinning like a kid with a new toy.
Leonard smiled to himself. “Good luck, Jim,” he whispered, then hurried onto the observation deck.
Two technicians manned computer stations that controlled the simulation variables. Four officers stood facing the observation window, talking amongst themselves. Leonard couldn’t help but think that they looked like spectators at a horse race, waiting for the starting gate to burst open. That's when he was struck with a jolt of surprise – the realization that Captain Pike was amongst them. Pike was the Commandant of Cadets. It made no sense for him to waste his time on a basic drill for a group of freshman cadets.
“Lieutenant Commander Toland,” Captain Pike was saying, with more than a hint of irritation hiding thinly in his tone, “I thought I asked you to assign him as First Officer for this simulation.”
Leonard pressed his lips together in nervous amusement. And it looks like Jim isn't the only person butting heads with her.
Commander Toland actually fidgeted under Pike’s gaze. “I didn’t think it was that important, Captain. He's demonstrated his ability to lead in many other simulations, but he hasn’t learned to follow. We need to see how he functions when he’s not in control, so we stuck with the planned assignments.”
Pike opened his mouth again, but his words died unspoken when he looked past Toland’s shoulder noticed Leonard staring at them. A carefully controlled smile tugged one corner of his mouth upwards. “Doctor McCoy, my apologies. Please.” He tilted his head to indicate that he wanted Leonard to join the discussion.
Leonard wasn’t quite able to keep the startled look off his own face. He’d gotten so used to Academy cadre calling him “Cadet” that it was a pleasant surprise when they gave him the respect of using his professional title. It was an even bigger surprise that the Commandant of Cadets knew him by name. “Sir?” he asked hesitantly as he walked over. His gut told him that he knew exactly what the cadre had been discussing when he walked in, even though he didn’t really want to believe it.
Pike looked him over with a critical eye that managed not to be unfriendly. “You know Cadet Kirk quite well, yes?”
“Yes, Captain, fairly well.” He did his best to keep his expression neutral, despite his confusion.
“Professional opinion, personal opinion… I don’t care which you give me, but please humor the question – how do you think Cadet Kirk will perform in the role of a medic? Do you think he’s capable of functioning as a minor player and taking orders?”
I am not fucking qualified to answer this goddamned question, Leonard thought, his breath catching. And even if I was… goddammit, how am I supposed to answer that? He licked his lower lip, feeling very much like he was facing a firing squad. “Honest opinion, Sir?” he ventured uneasily.
“That’s why I asked.”
In for a penny, he thought, and took a deep breath. “I think Kirk can take orders as long as the orders make sense to him, but I don’t think he’d know how to be a minor player, even if he was nothing more than a stowaway on a starship. I think that if he was a medic, he’d find a way to save the universe with a roll of gauze, a tricorder, and a hypospray.”
Toland looked pissed.
Pike seemed to consider his answer, with an enigmatic smile just barely showing in his eyes, but as he opened his mouth again, the one-minute warning alarm sounded. He set his face neutrally, but Leonard was sure he could still see that hint of satisfaction behind the impartial expression. “Thank you, Doctor.” He nodded towards the observation deck controls. “We’d best get ready for them to start.”
Still feeling uneasy about the unusual exchange, McCoy hurried over to the medical station. Why the hell would someone like Captain Pike give a shit about Jim? He pushed the thought out of his head. There was no time to consider it, with the simulation about to start.
Once at his station, Leonard hurriedly set to work cross-checking the training roster against the medical records of each cadet in the simulation and running a quick diagnostic on the internal biosensors. It was required by regulation for every cadet in the sim to be monitored constantly. Although today's training wasn't supposed to be risky, anything could happen, and he had to be ready.
The first time he’d worked a training simulation, he hadn't been ready. He'd been assigned to a sim for third-year cadets on the security forces track. It had taken him by surprise – shocked the hell out of him, really – when he suddenly found himself treating real phaser burns, broken ribs, lacerations, and worse. And then, when they'd told him that it was standard training procedure, it was all he could do keep from launching into a tirade in front of the sim cadre and all the cadets. He'd bitten his tongue at the time, and after a while, he'd forced himself to rationalize it. In some sick, twisted way, he could admit that it made sense. In the middle of an emergency, Starfleet officers would need to be ready to function even when injured, and would have to cope with their crewmates also being injured. In the unforgiving vacuum of space, there was no room for error. They had to know what they'd really be facing. Still, he had a hard time accepting the medical necessity of permitting these injuries to occur.
He didn’t know how he’d handle it when his own friends were getting injured needlessly.
Of course, that only reminded him again why it was necessary. Sure, he was a doctor, and had seen casualties from more than a few catastrophic emergencies. There had been deaths, but that was a standard part of his profession. Risky surgeries, accidents… things happened. But aside from his father’s death – which had been slow and wrenching, not the bloody maelstrom of a trauma scene – he had no experience watching close friends and colleagues die. Stationed on a ship with the same people for months on end, he was sure he’d get to know them pretty well. He was also sure that it would only be a matter of time before one of them was killed.
In the back of his mind, he pictured Jim materializing on a transporter pad of some goddamned tin can of a space ship, little more than a bloody heap of tattered uniform and mangled limbs. It was something he didn’t want to think about, much less experience, but he knew it was a fair possibility. If he couldn’t handle a simulation now, with non-life-threatening injuries in a controlled environment, he’d never be able to handle an emergency in space.
Besides, today should be easy.
Leonard looked up from his computer station as the biosensor readouts began popping to life, one by one, as the cadets entered the simulation room. Knowing that the computer would alert him if something went wrong, he stepped away from the medic’s station and walked closer to the viewport window so he could watch the simulation directly.
The simulation room was fully set up to look like a formal diplomatic conference room. It was spacious with high ceilings, large columns, and a massive table. A small diplomatic entourage was waiting to receive the Starfleet delegation. While most of the cadets hung back, keeping themselves in a basic landing party formation near the door, Cadet Nadeau stepped forward, followed closely by Merino as they formally greeted the head Ambassador.
“Ambassador Krae’vex, it is my pleasure to extend greetings on behalf of the United Federation of Planets,” Nadeau said smoothly, with a small bow. “I'm Captain Nadeau of the Federation starship Essex. Please allow me to introduce my First Officer, Commander Merino.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Captain Nadeau and Commander Merino of the starship Essex,” the Ambassador replied. Although Leonard knew that these were merely other Starfleet Academy instructors filling the roles of these aliens, he was always impressed with how convincingly they filled the fictional shoes. The Ambassador continued. “Please, make yourself comfortable so that we may become acquainted. The negotiations will begin when the rest of our Council Members arrive. They should be here shortly. Come! There are refreshments. Allow your team to rest. I know the journey from your home planet has been long.”
The remainder of the cadets began to move further into the room, relaxing and fanning out. Nadeau smiled. “My appreciation, Ambassador. First, would you allow my security team to inspect the facility?”
The Ambassador instantly became irritable. “Captain, do you suggest that my own people are not capable of securing a conference room in our own capital building?”
The entire team froze. Leonard heard the beep from the biosensors as Nadeau’s heart rate showed its first little spike. Perfectly normal. On the floor, Nadeau didn’t skip a beat, nor did he show his nervousness.
“Not at all, Ambassador,” he said smoothly. “I merely offer the services of my security team to assist your own excellent staff in safeguarding this summit. The Federation places the highest priority on these negotiations, and I have been instructed to use all of my resources to support the safety and success of this mission.” He paused, then bowed again. “I will, of course, defer to your customs.”
The Ambassador stared at him for a long moment, then let out a raucous laugh. “Your Federation is most considerate.” He turned and called back over his shoulder. “Sou’kar, come.”
Another member of the delegation stepped forwards from his post beside the door. “Yes, your Excellency?”
The Ambassador inclined his head. “Captain Nadeau, this is my Chief of Security, Sou’kar. He would be happy to escort your team around the perimeter of conference room and demonstrate our fine security measures. Then, they may report to your Federation how thorough and cautious we are in protecting such an important summit. Please, while they work, indulge yourself in some of our hospitality.”
Three of the security cadets began to follow Sou’kar around the room, leaving Larson to hover just a few feet away from Nadeau as the Captain's dedicated security guard, per standard protocol. Readouts from the security team's tricorders began to fill the observation computer screens. Their conversation with Sou'kar was pointed yet polite as they gathered security information. Cadet Hudson’s communication relay activated and his voice came softly over the comm, requesting sensor readings from the Essex. Nadeau and Merino’s voices bounced back and forth amiably with the Ambassador’s voice as they followed standard diplomatic protocol – essentially making professional small-talk. And…
“What the hell is he doing?” One of the techs gestured in surprise at the computer readout.
Leonard craned his neck to look at the monitor, and recognized readings from a medical tricorder on the screen. Curious, he looked back down at the sim floor and saw Jim, tucked off to one side of the room, almost out of sight, leaning lightly against a decorative column. He was fiddling with the medical tricorder, just as he had been before he’d entered the training sim room. Leonard glanced back up and saw Pike studying the computer readouts. A knowing grin blossomed across the Captain's face, and he hit one of the comm controls. “Atkinson, find out what Kirk is doing.” The amusement in his voice was palpable.
On the sim floor, the Ambassador ceased talking to Nadeau and Merino as he looked up and “suddenly” noticed Kirk. “Ah, Captain, it seems that one of your security staff has neglected to follow Sou’kar,” he said as he strolled across the floor, the two leadership cadets scurrying behind him.
“Ambassador, this is Ensign Kirk, one of our medics,” Nadeau said, quickly catching up as the Ambassador stepped up to Jim.
Jim had clearly seen them coming, and had let the tricorder slip down by his side, hanging innocently from its strap. He greeted the Ambassador with a gracious bow. “Ambassador, my apologies if I’ve done something to offend you.”
Ambassador Krae’vex – Atkinson, Leonard reminded himself, but it was easier to think of them in their training roles – shook his head, seeming jolly enough. “No, Ensign Kirk, but I had assumed that you were security as you were using your sensor equipment, and wondered why you had not joined the rest of your team.”
“No, Ambassador. I’m just a medic.”
Krae’vex tilted his head and frowned.
Nadeau looked suspicious. “Is there a medical issue of concern, Ensign Kirk?”
Jim shook his head, appearing contrite. The emotion seemed misplaced on him, but he made it look convincing. “No, no, Captain. I'm sorry, I was having some trouble with my tricorder earlier when I ran my regular diagnostic on it, and I was just trying to spend a moment to fix it while waiting for the formalities to begin." He turned towards the Krae'vex. "It’s just a medical tool, Ambassador, not a security sensor. It’s fixed now. See?” He scanned himself and showed the readout to the Ambassador with a grin. “Fully functional human being.”
Nadeau cleared his throat. “I am sorry, Ambassador. This is Ensign Kirk’s first away mission, and he may have been unaware that he’s being rude.”
Even from the observation deck, Leonard swore he could see Jim’s muscles clench in irritation, but the Ambassador actually laughed. “I do not find him rude, Captain. My people respect those who show dedication to their chosen professions. How does your sensor device – a tricorder, you called it? – how does it work?”
Grinning even more broadly, Jim demonstrated the instrument by scanning the Ambassador, who expressed interest in the technology, and suggested that one of the aspects of the negotiations should include an exchange of medical techniques and advances. As Krae'vex turned away from Jim and began walking towards the negotiations table with Nadeau, Jim caught Merino's arm.
Looking flustered, Merino let herself be held back. "What on Earth are you doing, Kirk?" she hissed, audible to the observation deck only because of the audio sensors trained on each person in the simulation.
"I'm processing the baseline scan I just obtained on Sarvoskan physiology," he said in an undertone, patting the tricorder fondly. "He even willingly let me take the scan. Now we've got a basis of comparison."
"And why the hell do we need that?"
"Security," Jim whispered back. "Like an old-fashioned lie-detector test. If anyone here suddenly sets off the tricorder's biosensors for an unknown reason with a sudden spike in heart rate, it might mean we have a traitor in our midst."
Leonard felt his jaw drop as a hot flood of pride welled up in him. He wasn't sure why he felt proud – he'd only known Jim for a few months, and to be honest, he barely knew him at all, but still…
Merino frowned. "And how do you plan to let our team know if you pick out a traitor this way without causing a panic?"
"I've set my tricorder to cross-transmit to the entire security team and directly to the Essex. All on silent-mode. I’ll let them know."
Merino gave Jim one sharp look, then nodded. "Okay, Kirk. Just don't fuck it up."
Jim was the picture of innocence. "Me? Fuck it up? I'm just a medic!"
Merino shook her head and hurried off to join back into the diplomatic conversation with Nadeau and the Ambassador.
On the observation deck, Pike was chuckling heartily.
Toland didn't seem so amused. "He should be pulled from the simulation, Captain," she said coldly. "He's altered the training equipment outside of the parameters we gave him."
Pike shook his head. "No, he didn't, Commander. Take a look." He pointed at the readouts on the screen. Leonard took a step closer so he could see, too. "Kirk's tricorder will still get all the fake readings from the simulation, but he's also got it set to scan the entire cadre for sudden changes in heart rate and respiration. He'd be able to do that on a real mission, so we can't take that away from him if he thought of it himself. Besides, his excuse satisfied Atkinson."
Toland made a low growling sound in her throat, but jerked her head in what passed for a nod of agreement. Damn, Jim wasn't kidding, Leonard mused. She really can't stand him. I wonder what else he’s done to piss her off so badly. The other two officers on the deck were nodding solemnly and taking notes on PADD’s, clearly far more neutral on the matter.
In the meantime, the rest of the Sarvoskan delegation began to enter through the far door, greeting Nadeau and bowing politely to each cadet they passed. The security team began to position themselves around the table as led by two attendants. Hudson informed the Essex that the negotiations were beginning and told them to stand by. Ballenger, who had been quietly standing near Hudson until that point, went to stand by Jim, who had waved him over. A moment later, Ballenger was quickly inputting the same modifications to his own tricorder, unnoticed by the rest of the people in the sim as they all milled around and chatted amiably on their way to their seats.
Soon, everyone had found their way to their places; Krae'vex stood at the head of the table and Nadeau at the opposite end, with other members of both delegations seated and interspersed between each other. The Ambassador tapped a small chime to call the room to attention. "Delegates of the Federation, on behalf of the people of Sarvos, we wish to formally welcome you to our planet, and state our intention to petition for entry into the United Federation of Planets." He bowed towards Nadeau.
Nadeau cleared his throat. Another soft beeping from the medical station computers let Leonard know that the kid was nervous, but perfectly within parameters. He was still holding himself well. "Ambassador Krae'vex, members of the Council, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I am honored to have the opportunity to meet with you, and to discuss the terms on which Sarvos may be welcomed into the Federation."
The Ambassador bowed, grinning broadly. "Then let us begin! First, allow me to introduce our Minister of Trade, Minister Tre'dalk."
One of the Sarvoskan delegates stood and bowed. "Captain, it is an honor to meet you."
As Nadeau bowed in return, the trill of a hailing signal sounded on the observation deck. One of the technicians pulled up the transmission from the sim floor. "Commander, the Essex is receiving a transmission from Kirk's medical tricorder."
Leonard's gaze fell heavily on Jim, who had barely moved in his seat, but was subtly looking down at the readout screen on his tricorder, which was resting on his lap, out of view of the other delegates. Jim glanced up, not at Tre'dalk, but at the delegate sitting next to Tre'dalk, and then also at one of the Sarvoskan personnel standing guard by the door. While Jim’s face remained relaxed and painted with a pleasantly neutral smile, his hand slowly went to his phaser, unnoticed by anyone else in the room,
The technician continued to read the transmission. "Kirk's tricorder shows suspicious readings which indicate that two of the Sarvoskan delegates may be intending to disrupt the summit. Hudson has sent an automated request for the Essex transporters to stand by."
Minister Tre'dalk continued his introduction, unaware of the sensor readings the team was getting and the transmissions being sent, as not a single cadet gave any outward indication that they were preparing for the attack. "Our planet is rich in most minerals and metals, but we are unable to meet our needs for copper and nickel. Our northern continent contains rich deposits of dilithium. I would like to open the table for discussions regarding a trade arrangement for these key minerals –"
“NO!” The Sarvoskan sitting next to Minister Tre’dalk jumped up and pulled a weapon from his cloak. In the span of a heartbeat, he’d aimed at the minister and fired a shot, hitting him at point-blank range.
The entire security team was already on their feet, phasers in their hands, firing, but the assailant managed to dodge the first volley. He grabbed the nearest body – Cadet Ballenger – and turned him into a human shield. Simultaneously, the Sarvoskan Jim had sighted near the door had pulled out a large rifle-type weapon and fired the first shot directly at Nadeau. Nadeau went down, and the security team split their aim between the two newly revealed enemies. The first Sarvoskan had Ballenger in a choke hold under one arm, the weapon pressed to his temple, and the second attacker was now aiming directly at Ambassador Krae’vex.
Stale mate, Leonard thought. In the observation room, the automated distress call from Hudson’s comm sounded, but without a message. The Essex couldn’t respond until it received specific instructions, but at least he’d managed to send out an alert. On the medical station’s monitor screens, readouts from each cadet, especially Ballenger, showed increased stress levels, but everything was within normal limits. The officers on the deck were glued to the window.
The assailant holding Ballenger spoke. “You will put down your weapons and hear our demands, or I will kill him. Put them down now!”
Merino, who had also tried to move towards Nadeau the instant he’d been hit, stood upright and faced the attacker. “The Federation does not negotiate with terrorists,” she said, even as the security team lowered their phasers.
“I care not for your Federation!” he snarled, shaking Ballenger. “We challenge our own government! They are the terrorist organization! They would strip-mine the northern continent at the expense of my people, laying waste and creating toxic runoff. Your metal ores are worthless if my people are poisoned for your precious dilithium.”
“Bae’len, why did you not say this before?” Ambassador Krae’vex asked softly, as if he knew this person intimately. He didn’t even react to the weapon that the second person was pointing at him.
“And be excluded from these negotiations?” Bae’len spat. “You would silence us. Now, we will be heard.”
He squeezed Ballenger’s neck even tighter, causing Ballenger to struggle a little bit as his face went red. Leonard quickly checked Ballenger’s readout – oxygen saturation was starting to drop, but he was in no danger yet.
“And you would destroy our planet’s chance to join the Federation? You may have killed their Captain!” He held out his hands, pleading. ‘Bae’len, please. Let us reason. Have Pre’jal lower his weapon, and we may discuss this.”
“Have you heard nothing?" he snarled. "We do not want Sarvos to join the Federation! We will discuss my terms, and only my terms, or this human dies!”
It was only a split second before the phaser shot flashed through the room that Leonard realized he hadn’t seen Jim since the first terrorist had jumped up. The shot appeared out of nowhere, and striking Bae’len in the back. Before he’d even begun to slip to the floor, and before anyone else could react, a second shot streaked across the room and hit Pre’jal, who promptly dropped his weapon and slumped to the ground. A second later, Jim slipped out from behind one of the columns, his phaser aimed at the body of the now-unconscious attacker.
I don’t know how the hell he does it, Leonard thought to himself, impressed.
“How the hell did he do that?” Toland muttered.
Pike chuckled. “He saw it coming, and at the first shot, he hit the floor and rolled behind that oversized houseplant before sneaking around behind the column. I was watching for it. He did it while everyone else was looking the other way. That’s the one spot in the entire room where both of the terrorists couldn’t have seen him.”
While the Sarvoskan security personnel swept in and secured the unconscious terrorists, dragging them from the room, Jim was already racing across the floor towards Nadeau, who was dutifully playing dead, but looking quite chagrinned about the whole situation. “How’d ya do it, Kirk?” he whispered.
“Quiet now, Captain,” Jim said as he started scanning him. “You’re dead until I say so.”
On the other side of the room, Ballenger had recovered enough to begin scanning the Sarvoskan Council Member who had been hit. He was shaking his head to himself – the Council Member had been killed in the simulation, so there was nothing further to do for him. Ballenger got to his feet unsteadily. He was rubbing his neck, which was already showing a mess of bruises. He turned and began offering diplomatic apologies to the other Sarvoskan delegates.
Leonard frowned and looked down at his bioscanner readouts. The cadre member playing the role of Bae’len had really done a number on Ballenger’s neck. Nothing critical, but the kid had some minor trachea damage and would surely bruise up heavily without a round with a tissue regenerator. Blood flow had been disrupted slightly, and he was surely starting to get a nasty headache. The ordeal had also left him in a mild state of shock, which meant as soon as the natural adrenaline wore off, he was going to be pretty useless. Even from there, Leonard could see that Ballenger’s lips were a bit pale. But still, the kid was technically within parameters to continue the simulation, and would stay unless someone – Jim – decided to pull him out. And of course, Jim wouldn’t notice something minor like that, so Ballenger would be in there until the end of the sim.
Meanwhile, the security team had fanned out and stationed themselves around the room, coordinating smoothly with the Sarvoskan guards and establishing a perimeter. Hudson had pulled out his communicator and was rapidly relaying information to the Essex, following the standard situation report format, requesting sensor reports from orbit, and warning of possible casualties requiring assistance.
On the observation deck, the tech at the comm station replied neutrally, mixing with the beeps and whines of computer equipment, creating a low buzz of background noise on the observation deck. Leonard also overheard Commander Toland speaking irritably over the comm and arguing stoically with Pike, but he put it out of his mind. He’d promised Jim that he’d evaluate his performance as a medic, so now that he’d established that nobody required his own medical care, he could pay attention to Jim.
By then, Merino had joined Jim and Nadeau. The Ambassador was quickly walking towards them from across the sim room, patting his face nervously with a handkerchief. “Commander Merino, and… dear gods, Ensign Kirk? It was you who stopped the attack?”
“Yes, Ambassador,” Jim said as he continued his scan of Nadeau, studied the results, and began fishing around in his med kit.
"I am… grateful, Ensign," the Ambassador said, exhaling heavily. "Your Captain… will he recover?"
Jim said nothing as pulled the simulator hypospray out of the med kit and pressed a series of codes. Leonard watched the computer readout as it indicated that Jim was giving the patient a dose of painkiller, tri-ox compound, and a cardiac stimulant. The program sent a signal back to his tricorder that Nadeau was responding. “The Captain will be okay, but we need to send him back to the Essex quickly. There’s some bleeding and nerve damage from the blast, but it missed his major organs," he said as he continued to work, now activating a vascular stabilizer and placing it over the spot that his tricorder had indicated there was a bleeding wound.
“Am I awake yet?” Nadeau whispered.
“No. Shut up,” Jim muttered back, scanning again. The tricorder told him that the bleeding was under control now, and that Nadeau was classified as serious but stable. Leonard had to admit, Jim was doing a decent job, and really seemed to be taking the role seriously. It was… nice to see.
Then Jim looked up at Merino. “How’s the Council Member?”
Merino glanced back and caught Ballenger’s eye; Ballenger shook his head, excused himself from the delegates who had been talking to him, and crossed the room. He bowed solemnly to Ambassador Krae’vex. “I’m sorry, Ambassador. Your Council Member died instantly.”
Merino took a deep breath. “I must extend my apologies as well, Ambassador.”
Ambassador Krae’vex hung his head. “It is a risk we all take. Do not offer your apologies to me, Commander Merino. Our security has failed you as well as ourselves. It is I who should apologize to you. We did not know that there were any with such strong dissident leanings or sympathies with the separatists on the northern continent amongst the High Council.”
Jim’s head shot up. “High Council… Ambassador, sorry for asking, but how extensive is the security clearance and access for members of the High Council? And what about their staff members?”
The Ambassador waved his hands, as if surprised to be stating the obvious. “They all have the highest security clearances, and access to the entire facility –”
Jim jumped to his feet. “Commander, this room isn’t secure yet.”
Merino’s mouth was open as she stared at Jim. “How do you know that, Kirk?”
Jim gave her a scathing look. “Do you think this is over, Commander?”
The Ambassador was suddenly nodding vigorously. “If Bae’len’s intent was to sabotage the summit, then it is unlikely that he would have neglected a redundant plan. Those who are loyal to him may still be a threat. I shall notify my staff to secure the building.” He hurried away, leaving the small group of Federation delegates.
Merino looked at Jim, hesitated, then said in a low tone. “I think you’re right.”
Jim nodded, looking back and forth between Merino and Ballenger. Then he frowned, grabbed his tricorder, and quickly scanned the other medic. “You’re injured, too, Ballenger. That guy got your neck harder than you might realize." He leaned in and spoke in an undertone as he gave Ballenger a serious look. "And that's not a simulated injury."
Leonard felt yet another vicarious flash of pride, matched with a heavy dose of surprise. He caught it. Well I'll be damned.
Jim turned back to Merino. "Commander Merino, I suggest that you send Ballenger back to the ship with the Captain so we can help the Sarvoskans secure the room.”
“I agree,” Merino said evenly. She spun on her heel. “Hudson, contact the Essex and have them beam up the Captain and Ensign Ballenger. Then tell them to stand by for emergency transport of all personnel at the first sign of further trouble.”
A second later, Cadet Hudson’s voice sounded on the observation deck. “Ensign Hudson to Essex. Inform sickbay to be ready to receive two patients, one with serious injuries. Prepare to transport the Captain and Ensign Ballenger.”
The tech at the comm station replied. “Essex standing by. Ready to transport.”
In a shimmer of light that always made Leonard uneasy to watch, and even more nervous to experience, Ballenger and Nadeau disappeared from the sim floor and reappeared on the transporter pad of the observation deck.
Nadeau stood up, shaking his head unhappily as he pulled off the fake vascular stabilizer. “When I get my first real command, I hope I don’t die ten minutes into it.”
Pike rounded on him with a rock-hard stare. “You lasted twelve minutes, Cadet. And let me tell you something – sometimes that’s all it takes for greatness. Go have a seat and watch the rest. Try to learn something.”
Leonard vaguely registered what Pike had said. He quickly moved in and cornered Cadet Ballenger. “Come here, Cadet,” he said gruffly, taking him by the arm, “and let me take a look at that.” He wasn't surprised that Ballenger wasn't exactly steady on his feet, and actually seemed to need someone to lead him. Once he was seated by the medical station, Leonard scanned him, only to realize that he almost didn’t need to. Jim’s scan had been thorough and accurate.
Ballenger held up his hands, staring at them blankly; they were shaking now. “Damn… I had no idea that he’d wrung me that hard. Shit, I don’t feel too good.”
“Neck injuries are nothing to sneeze at,” Leonard said, a bit softer this time, knowing that the kid probably had a splitting headache on top of the nausea and shakes. He pulled out a hypospray and loaded it with a real painkiller and something for nerves. He wanted to growl about how unnecessary it was for a member of the cadre to be quite so rough, but he kept his thoughts to himself as he pressed the hypospray against Ballenger’s neck. A moment later, the tissue regenerators were humming away to heal the damage to his trachea, and the gray pallor of Ballenger’s lips had turned a slightly more human shade of pink. Leonard clenched his jaw, both annoyed and pacified; the kid would be fine, of course. He still just didn't accept the necessity of this sort of thing.
He told Ballenger to relax, and turned his attention back to the simulation. The rest of the cadets were scrambling around the sim floor, setting up security measures and communicating rapidly with the observation deck techs, who were functioning as both the Essex and the Sarvoskan security network. Off to the side, Leonard noticed Pike standing forward with his arms folded over his chest. He looked irritated but determined, which confused Leonard, and if he were honest with himself, concerned him a bit. At a control station at the back of the observation deck, Lieutenant Commander Toland was snapping orders into a comm unit, and Leonard barely caught the gist of what was going on before she spun around and barked at the tech, "Cut communication and transporter capabilities now."
Two switches were rapidly flipped, a few commands were tapped into the computer, and Leonard finally caught on. This isn’t a goddamned standard first year sim anymore.
It only took the cadets on the sim floor seconds to notice.
"Commander Merino," Hudson called out. "We've just lost communications with the Essex!"
Merino's head whipped around, and she was striding across the room. "Why? What's blocking our signal?"
"I don't know, Commander. Something is scrambling our communicators… and our transporters." Hudson looked up, his face composed but clearly pensive. "We're completely cut off."
"Commander, our people are picking up a blocking signal," Security Chief Sou'kar said, leaning across the table. "We can't find its source, but we can only assume that the dissidents are attempting to cut us off."
From where he'd been working with the security team, Jim turned and faced the leaders. "Commander, we need to clear this room. They're going to start coming in for us, and we've only got one exit now that transporters are down. We can't wait for them."
Sou'kar nodded. "I agree. Ambassador, Commander, we should evacuate." He moved towards the exit, but the door didn't respond to his approach. Quickly, he punched several buttons on the keypad, but nothing happened. He tried it again, but to no avail. After a moment, he turned and faced the room, his expression grim. "We're trapped."
Leonard barely saw the nod of Toland's head at one of the techs when suddenly viewscreen at the head of the sim room flashed to life. "Ambassador Krae'vex," said the gravelly voice of the Sarvoskan on the screen. Two other Sarvoskans stood behind him. "It is clear that our gentler attempt at negotiations has been circumvented. Our leader, Bae'len, has not signaled us in the past ten minutes, and that can only indicate that he has been disabled. That is unacceptable. Clearly, these negotiations must be handled more stringently." He lowered his head menacingly. "You may be willing to sacrifice the blood of your own people, Krae'vex, but how will you respond to a threat to one of your precious Federation leeches?"
Suddenly, a transporter beam was engaged. Leonard looked frantically around the sim room, even though he already knew who had been taken. A second later, the Sarvoskan in the middle of the screen stepped aside, allowing a full view of other two dissidents, who were holding a struggling Jim Kirk between them.
Something in Leonard's chest seized like a rabbit in a trap. It's just a sim, it's just a sim. In the span of half a heartbeat, Leonard realized he'd never again be able to brush off Jim Kirk as nothing more than a drinking buddy, an unlikely friend, and the most endearing pain in the ass he'd ever met.
And then one of Jim's captors belted him in the stomach, and he crumbled to his knees, coughing and sputtering. It was in the span of that other half-heartbeat that Leonard decided that he was indeed capable of killing another living being.
On the sim floor, the cadets had gone dead silent. They knew they were playing a different game now, but all they could do was to react carefully and continue to play along. Merino stepped forwards.
"As long as you have one of my crew captive, the Federation will not negotiate. Your only chance at gaining our cooperation is to release our Ensign. If you require a captive, take me instead, and we may negotiate."
The Sarvoskan laughed bitterly. "Commander, do you think that would serve our purpose? If we kill you first, you can not talk to your Federation leaders. However, you might be more enthusiastic to cooperate with the motivation of seeing your crew members tortured, one by one. I have heard that you humans are emotionally sensitive creatures. What will it take to motivate you?"
He gave a twitch of his head, and one of his henchmen suddenly shifted his grip on Jim, pinning Jim's elbows tightly behind him while the other captor struck his face once, then twice. Jim grunted in pain as his head snapped back, but he quickly called out, "Don't listen to him, Commander! Don't compromise anything! I'll –"
One of the captors was suddenly holding a strange stick-like device, which he prodded against Jim's side. There as an electrical whine and crackle, and Jim cried out as his body jolted and his knees buckled. The medical sensor alarm beeped, and Leonard quickly noted that Jim had indeed been hit with a hefty jolt of electricity. No real risk to a healthy adult, but definitely enough to be painful, and possibly enough to be temporarily debilitating.
It was apparently not enough to debilitate Jim Kirk. Just as quickly as he'd been shocked, Jim regained his footing and wrenched his arms free of his captor's grasp. With a desperate but controlled swing, he made a close-quarters strike with his elbow, clipping the first captor sharply in the jaw and sending him reeling. Then sweeping out with his foot, he caught the other henchman behind the knee and dropped him.
However, the Sarvoskan who seemed to be leading the trio was too far away for Jim to strike quickly. Before Jim could even take a step towards him, he'd drawn a weapon and aimed it. There was a flash of light and a pained cry of surprise as Jim collapsed backwards, his arms loosely wrapped over his abdomen.
There was something that didn't look quite right there, and Leonard spun around and checked the med sensor readouts. The Sarvoskan weapon, although not fully set to stun, was set higher than it would have been for a first-year sim. Jim hadn't taken a fall. He'd gone down because the blast had temporarily overwhelmed his nervous system. Feeling his own hands shake, Leonard pulled up a more detailed scan. Jim was conscious, but unable to move, lying in a heap on the floor of the hostage room. He was almost still, save for the slight twitching of his limbs from nerves firing randomly. It had to hurt like hell. His heart rate fluctuated a bit, but held within acceptable limits – What defines acceptable? Leonard thought darkly.
The two henchmen had already gotten to their feet. Leonard clenched his jaw when one of the captors kicked Jim's prone form and a faint moan came over the speakers. The head dissident spoke again. "This one has spirit. Should you refuse to cooperate, I am certain that he will be most amusing."
“Cooperate with what?” Merino said, her voice strained. “What are your demands?”
“First, the return of our leader. If he has been killed, you will pay. Second, I demand that the Federation withdraw from Sarvos, and that our own government recognizes the sovereign rights of the northern continent.”
From the floor of the hostage room, Jim moaned, “Don’t do it, Commander –” He was cut off by another kick to the gut.
Leonard bit his tongue.
Krae'vex spoke up next. "If you continue to abuse our guests in this manner, it will do nothing to help your cause. You will gain nothing by injuring our Federation friend."
"Friend." He spat the word. "This human is nothing to us. Just an animal. Yet you care for them more than for your own citizens of the northern continent. It is nothing to kill him. And Ambassador, he would merely be the first. Your communications have been cut off and your transporter frequencies have been scrambled. We control who comes and goes from this room. We will continue to take the Council Members and the Federation delegates one by one until you are the only one remaining, unless you cooperate with us." He glanced back over his shoulder. "Tie him up."
In the sim room, Hudson continued to try to crack through the communications block to reach the Essex. Merino and Krae'vex danced the volatile dance of hostage negotiations. On the observation deck, the officers tapped notes into their PADD’s. Pike watched the proceedings as if he could drill holes through the viewports with his eyes. Leonard… barely noticed any of it.
Technically, he was doing what a good doctor would do. There was only one person in the sim who was at medical risk, so his attention should be focused on Jim. However, he couldn't deny that his own heart beat a little too fast, and his own hands shook slightly as they pulled up detailed scans. He couldn't deny that each time his gaze jumped up to the viewports, his eyes were fixed on Jim's body, which was being manhandled far too roughly by his captors as far as he was concerned.
Ropes were wrapped, twisted, and tightened around his wrists and ankles. A blindfold was dropped over his eyes. And finally, a cloth gag was stuffed into his mouth and tied tightly. Jim, who had smoothly succeeded in beating the first round of the simulation, almost by himself, was now completely immobilized and helpless. On his stomach at first, he was hauled bodily to his feet. His legs were practically boneless beneath him, and the two Sarvoskans jostled him as they held him up like a prize catch.
There was a warning beep from the med sensors. The effect of the weapon was wearing off, and Jim's motor control was starting to return. As it did, his heart rate jumped even more so than when he'd initially been captured. Adrenaline spiked suddenly as well – far higher than it should have. He appeared to struggle a bit, but Leonard could see that he was shaking, not struggling.
The negotiations continued. Leonard ignored them.
His attention alternated between the sim floor and the medical sensors. There was no internal bleeding. There were no serious injuries. The effects of the weapon blast had completely worn off, and his nervous system was no longer reacting to the electricity that had been used to jolt him. Although the captors held him in a tight and unrelenting grip, they didn’t hit him again. Still, Jim's breathing continued to become more rapid, and his heart rate was still climbing. Blood pressure going up… and up…
"Doctor McCoy, what's wrong?" Pike had whispered the question, but it startled Leonard nonetheless.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. "Nothing, Sir. I just… they're being a bit rough with him."
A strange look ghosted across Pike's face: understanding. "What about the alarms? You seem concerned."
Leonard conceded the point with a nod. "Kirk seems to be feeling a bit panicked, but nothing outside acceptable parameters." He hesitated, then decided to press forward. "Captain, why the change in the simulation?"
To Leonard's surprise, Captain Pike actually looked pissed, but not at the question. "They beat the primary scenario, but far too quickly. This sim has several options for continuation, and we still need to test the rest of the team for a real hostage situation. So… this is one we'd throw at a third-year team." The irritation in his expression clearly said that this was not his choice of scenarios for this team, but he wasn't in charge of this sim deck. Toland was – which made it blatantly clear why Jim had been chosen as the first hostage.
Leonard's breath stuck in his throat, and he coughed past it. "What are the medical risks to the cadets?"
Pike shook his head. "Nothing life-threatening. They just rough ‘em up a bit. But the longer they go…" He shrugged. "It's not a no-win scenario, but the dissidents aren't supposed to agree to any compromises, and if the cadets stick to regulations, they won't compromise either. The test is to see whether or not the cadets will stick to their guns and uphold Federation policy, even if they start losing people, and whether they can still try to find a way out while under pressure. Basically, the key to this one would be overriding the communications, transporter, and exit hatch lockouts so they can escape, or holding out until the Essex breaks through."
"Do first-year cadets usually have the skills for that?"
Pike's mouth pressed into a tense line. "Only one on this team." He turned and walked back to the other officers.
Another beep, more insistent than the last, pinged from the med sensors. Jim was starting to hyperventilate. Adrenaline levels were spiking off the charts; heart rate was skyrocketing, becoming irregular. Leonard frowned. The hell? He looked back out at the sim, squinting across the room at the viewscreen showing the dissidents and Jim, but it was too far away to see well. He reached down and tapped a few buttons to pull up the hostage room broadcast on his own monitor so he could get a better view of what was happening. Behind the lead hostage-taker, still flanked by the two subordinate goons, Jim was trembling violently. Even underneath the blindfold and gag, it was easy to see that his face was deathly gray.
Then, all at once, his whole body went slack, just as his sensor alarm wailed.
Commander Toland, get him out of there! Leonard barely realized it was his own voice yelling at the senior officer as he rapidly took in the sudden change in Jim's status. Unconscious, blood pressure so low it was unreadable, heartbeat weak and unstable. How it had changed so quickly, Leonard didn't know, but he cursed himself for taking his eyes away for even a moment.
Toland strutted across the room to the med station, arms folded across her chest. "Cadet McCoy, you can't just beam people out of real emergencies because they faint. Just because your friend's fortitude crumbles when he's not in control doesn't mean –"
Leonard whirled on her, feeling a fury welling up in him that he couldn't quite define, and didn't want to. "It's Doctor McCoy right now, Commander. Cadet Kirk hasn't just fainted – he's less than a minute away from cardiac arrest," he snarled. "This is a medical emergency. I'm the doctor here, and I'm pulling rank. Get. Him. Out. Of. There."
The Commander glanced down at the monitor, and her eyes went wide as she realized what the readouts meant. Maybe she didn’t like Jim, and maybe she wanted to scare him a bit, but it was clear that she didn’t want any of the cadets in real danger. "Okay. Ramirez, pull him out."
A few rapid commands from the tech to the sim floor, and the hostage takers responded. Leonard watched as they claimed that Merino did not care about that particular hostage, pretended to kill him, and tossed him aside. A second later, the transporter beam engaged and Jim appeared on the pad, a motionless heap of twisted limbs, like the nightmare Leonard had imagined barely a half hour ago.
Over the observation deck speakers, Leonard heard the captors taking another hostage, the negotiations becoming more tense, and the scuffle of the new hostage being tied and gagged, but he put it out of his mind as he ran forward, emergency kit in hand. "Help me get him off the pad," he barked out to nobody in particular as he untangled Jim and removed the restraints, blindfold, and gag. He wasn't surprised that it was Pike who took Jim's feet and helped to carry him.
Jim was an absolute dead weight, body slack and heavy as they settled him on the floor. To Leonard's grim satisfaction, Pike kept Jim’s feet elevated – thank God someone else around here has a goddamned clue – and he nodded his approval, but didn’t wait to see if Pike acknowledged it or not, because the only thing that mattered just then was Jim. Without thinking, like a stupid, compulsive whim, he found himself reaching for Jim's wrist, because he needed the old-fashioned reassurance of feeling a pulse thrumming steadily beneath his fingertips.
It wasn’t there.
"Shit," he cursed under his breath, pulling out the tricorder for a more thorough scan. There were no serious injuries – just some contusions – but Jim had completely succumbed to shock. His heart was still beating, albeit irregularly, but he had no vascular tone, his blood pressure was too low to read, and he was barely breathing.
"What happened?" Pike asked, a neutral tone barely covering the high emotions running just beneath the surface.
"Shock. Pretty severe." Leonard hesitated, then lied through his teeth. "They set that phaser too high. Must have hit his nervous system harder than it seemed. After the electrical prod, it was too much. I thought it might happen, but I didn't expect it to be this bad."
What Pike didn't know wouldn't hurt anyone. By the time Jim had passed out, the effects of the weapon blast and electrical shock had completely worn off. While that might have contributed to the deterioration in Jim's condition, this was something else entirely. Leonard had his suspicions, but he had no proof, and at the moment, all that mattered was taking care of physical symptoms. He loaded a dose of vasopressin into the hypospray and pressed it against Jim's neck, then quickly followed that with a dose of tri-ox. Pike was saying something, but Leonard didn't really hear him as he scanned Jim again. He was beginning to consider risking a dose of cordrazine when Jim's vitals finally showed the first signs of improvement.
Leonard dropped the tricorder and grabbed Jim's hand, not caring what anyone thought. Besides, physical contact was soothing and grounding for patients and often helped them come back after an episode like this. Just a good bedside manner. "Jim," he said softly, giving the unresponsive hand a tight squeeze. "Come on, breathe, kid. Can you hear me?"
A few seconds later, Jim gave a weak groan. His mouth moved, but there were no words.
Leonard felt one of the knots of tension in his stomach begin to loosen. "You're doing great, Jim." He glanced up at Pike, who was still dutifully keeping Jim's legs elevated. "Captain, try moving his feet and legs around a bit. That'll help get the blood circulating again."
Captain Pike didn't question the order. He nodded, and began gently moving Jim's legs, flexing and stretching knees and calves. Jim groaned again, and finally his hand squeezed Leonard's weakly in return.
"That's it, Jim. Talk to me."
Jim's mouth opened and closed a few times, working as if he was trying to form words, but there were only incoherent sounds, faint and confused. His weak, shallow breathing was interrupted by a thin cough, then another. He suddenly sucked in several deeper, convulsive breaths as his body fought for the air it needed to wake him up, even if he was unaware of it.
Once Jim's breathing had evened out again, Leonard leaned in closer. "Jim? Do you know where you are?"
Blue eyes flicked open, unfocused and glazed, not really seeing anything, blinking rapidly. And Jim whispered, barely audible, "Sam? Did we get away?"
Leonard frowned. "Get away?"
"Is it over?" Bleary eyes fell shut again. "We get 'way from Kodos?"
Leonard felt his stomach clench and his spine straighten. He'd only heard the name 'Kodos' from one thing… but that was insane… it couldn't… Jim couldn't…
"Jim, try to focus. Can you hear me?"
Eyelids fluttered, opened, and closed as Jim's head lolled to the side.
Leonard reached down with his free hand and cradled Jim's cheek, trying to hold him steady. "Come on, Jim, stay with me. Do you know where you are?"
"Sam? 'z that you? D’we get off Tarsus yet, Sam?"
Leonard might as well have been slapped in the face. He had imagined that. Or Jim was delusional. Or he had misunderstood Jim’s delirious whispering, which had really been too soft to be heard clearly. Whatever he thought he'd heard, he hadn't. Couldn’t possibly have heard that. He swallowed, trying to ignore the brick of ice that had just dropped into his stomach. "No Jim, it's Leonard." He took an unsteady breath. "It's Bones."
"Bones?" He blinked a few more times, his eyes beginning to show the first signs of lucidity. "Bones… I'm… wha’ happened? Where 'm I?" His words were slow and slurred, but he was there. Finally.
"You're on the training sim observation deck, Jim." Leonard felt a bit nauseous at the idea that Jim really had no idea where he was. He looked so small, disoriented, and lost. "Do you remember how you got here?"
"I… I… there was… hostage… it's training." A look of relief, weak but stark, washed over Jim's features. "Jus' training."
Jim's hand started to shake in Leonard's, and Leonard squeezed tighter in response. "That's right. Just breathe and relax, Jim. You're okay." At least, he would be okay. He was still dreadfully pale; his lips gray and cheeks sallow. Not good at all. Leonard looked up and called across the observation deck. "Commander Toland, page Medical and have them send a stretcher and a replacement doctor. I'm taking Cadet Kirk to the infirmary."
"You're assigned to this station until the training sim is over, McCoy. I’m sure the other doctors can take perfectly adequate care of Cadet Kirk. You can see your friend later."
Flabbergasted, McCoy let his mouth drop open in indignant amazement. Fucking unbelievable. He dropped Jim's hand, although he didn't want to. Standing at his full height, letting his presence be as imposing as he could, and Leonard glared at Toland. "Right now, I wouldn’t care if I didn’t know this guy from Adam. Regulation states that care and transport of a patient is to be determined by his attending physician. I'm going with Cadet Kirk. Find yourself another doctor for the rest of this simulation." He was satisfied to see Toland wilt just a little bit. Taking advantage of her momentary wavering, he took a threatening step towards her. "And have your sim actors turn down the juice on that damned cattle prod before you have a whole squad of first year cadets going down needlessly. Doctor's orders."
Looking angry but thoroughly cowed, Toland spun on her heel and marched back across the observation deck. Leonard overheard her snapping orders irritably at the techs, who relayed messages to the infirmary and the sim floor, but he was already back down on one knee, scanning Jim with his tricorder. Satisfied that Jim was making slow but steady improvement, he put the tricorder aside and grabbed his hand again. Under the skin of Jim’s wrist, which felt too delicate at that moment for a man who liked to feign invincibility, a thin pulse thrummed its rhythm. "Hang in there, Jim," he said softly. "We're gonna take care of you. Just relax now. Keep breathing."
Jim looked up at him, his pale face uncertain and anxious, but then he slowly let his eyes fall shut. "I… 'm embarrassed," he said so low that nobody but Leonard would hear him.
"What the hell for? Those bastards shocked you and beat you up. It's not an unusual reaction."
Jim gave a grunt that sounded more like a moan, and let his head turn to the side. It was clear that he wasn't going to say anything else on the matter, but still, Leonard felt his hand grip just a little bit tighter.
With a sigh, Leonard looked up at Captain Pike again. "You can probably put his feet down now, Captain. His blood pressure is still low, but he’s stable." He nodded a sincere flash of gratitude. "Thank you."
"Not a problem, Doctor. You needed a hand, and I was here." He gently set Jim's feet on the floor, and his mouth curled up in another one of his inscrutable little grins. "It seems I have a habit of just 'being here' when Mr. Kirk finds himself flat on his back."
Jim's head came up with a lurch. "Pike?" He croaked, and just as quickly dropped his head back down again with a groan. "Urgh… bad idea. Captain Pike, what are you doing here?"
"Can't an Academic Advisor have the privilege of watching some of his advisee’s training exercises?"
Pike’s tone was professional, but Leonard barely kept his mouth from falling open as he sensed a note of affection, almost paternal, under the surface. How did Jim end up with the goddamned Commandant of Cadets as his Academic Advisor?
"Yeah," Jim muttered noncommittally.
"Oh, and Kirk… the first part of the sim there… nice work."
Jim grunted in a way that Leonard was sure he'd meant as a 'thank you,' but the way he then turned his head to the side and fell silent screamed shame. The look made something in Leonard break a little bit. There was no further time to think about it because the stretcher was arriving, and Leonard was briefing his replacement while they lifted Jim onto the stretcher, and he and the medic were wheeling Jim out the door while Leonard shot one last furious glare over his shoulder at Commander Toland.
She was looking the other way.
"This is embarrassing, Bones. I don't need a doctor. I'm fine," Jim mumbled.
"You could have fooled me," Leonard said neutrally as he ran the scanner over Jim again. Even with meds, his blood pressure had only just climbed back up to 90/55 – better, but still too low for Leonard’s comfort – and he still looked a bit peaky. However, the more his condition had improved during the trip across campus and once they'd reached the infirmary, the more he'd complained about being there. At least now they had the illusion of privacy from the sound-dampening curtain around Jim's biobed. "You didn't see yourself, kid. It wasn't pretty."
"I'm always pretty."
Leonard snorted. "Yeah, Jim. Yeah." He sighed. "That was one of the worst cases of shock I've ever seen, including the worst-case training sims I did in med school. You had no pulse."
That finally seemed to get through to Jim. "I what?"
"Your whole body shut down. No pulse. No blood pressure. Your BP still isn't quite back to normal. Maybe I should stick you with a good old-fashioned IV to bring it back up faster."
Jim shuddered. "You're a sadist. Hyposprays are evil enough. And whatever was in that last one is making my scalp feel all weird. No need to turn me into a pin cushion."
"Fine, then. Stop whining and keep drinking your water."
Jim made a face at him but dutifully took another sip from the cup he was holding.
With a barely satisfied grunt, Leonard finally placed the tricorder probe back in its slot and set the whole thing aside. He leaned on the edge of the biobed and gave Jim a pointed look. "You gave me a bit of a scare, Jim. You looked like a ghost. Even with some pretty powerful drugs, it still took you a couple of minutes to start coming around. You had no idea where you were or who was talking to you."
Jim's mouth hung open for a second, then snapped shut as he looked away again in avoidance. Leonard narrowed his eyes. Oh no you don't.
Something in Jim's face closed up. "Drop it, Bones."
Leonard wasn't about to give in. "You were asking for him. Who is he?"
"Bones, you don't want to go there."
"As your attending physician, I need to know what happened. If you were hallucinating or severely disoriented, I have to make sure you're okay before I can clear you for duty." Inwardly, Leonard gave himself a mental slap. He was lying again, twice in one day, within the context of his profession. Inexcusable. It was perfectly normal for patients to experience disorientation after passing out, and to be confused about their surroundings. Leonard had to admit, to himself anyway, that he was too tempted by his need to uncover another piece of the puzzle that was Jim Kirk to adhere to standard protocol, and too worried about his best friend to let the matter drop.
"Where were you?"
"I… Bones, don't… please."
"I heard what you said. I didn't want to believe it."
"Please don't do this.” He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. “I don't even… I didn't even remember –"
"Yes. You do." Leonard lowered his voice and spoke in an undertone. "What the hell happened, Jim? You didn't go into shock because of the electrical jolt or the phaser blast. I was monitoring you. It only started once you'd been tied up. What happened to you? Why did you start to hyperventilate, even when they weren't hurting you?" He squared his jaw and went right for the heart of the matter. "Were you on Tarsus IV?"
Suddenly, Jim's eyes went dark and stormy, like a veil had dropped and obscured the expressive blue that had shone openly and brilliantly since the day they'd met. It was like Jim had disappeared and another man had taken his place. He clenched his jaw, glaring daggers. "Doctor McCoy, is there any further medical reason for me to remain in the infirmary?"
For moment, Leonard was held captive by eyes of cold steel and the almost-physical sensation of ice splintering through his core. It was brutal. He'd never imagined Jim like this. Couldn't have imagined it. He knew there were wounds underneath the surface, but staring into the frozen depths of defiant eyes, Leonard suddenly knew he'd just uncovered one that should have never been exposed, and might never heal. He’d run out of rope, and had just hung himself with it. Mouth dry, Leonard whispered, "No. You can return to duty tomorrow morning. Get some rest."
Without so much as a backwards glance, Jim swung his legs off the side of the biobed and stalked towards the infirmary door. He was a bit unsteady on his feet, but Leonard knew there was no way to stop him. But –
Jim froze, but didn't look back. "What, McCoy?"
"During the sim… your performance as a medic. I promised I'd evaluate it. I did. You were great, Jim. I couldn't have done better myself."
Leonard thought he heard a faint, "Thanks, Bones," but then the infirmary door was sliding shut behind Jim and he was gone.
The afternoon spun by in a daze for Leonard. He left the infirmary and barely made it to his xenovirology lecture on time. Then he had a practical exam on shuttlecraft emergency medical response. That was followed by his regular four hour shift in the infirmary, which was spent patching up a gaggle of second-year cadets who'd gotten carried away in a Parisi Squares match. Leonard ran on autopilot, performing well enough to hide his distraction from everyone else, but unable to really focus. His mind wasn't at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco. It was on a planet he'd never seen before, running through sepia-toned images of the nightmare that was Tarsus IV.
It had been a modern-day Holocaust; the horror and shame of the entire Federation. Just ten years ago – goddammit, it’s been ten years, hasn’t it? – fresh enough to still cut into everyone's memories like a razor, wounds opening again every time it was mentioned.
Leonard had been nineteen years old. He remembered too clearly the holovids that had been broadcast across the quadrant. It had hardly seemed real, only because something so horrific couldn't be possible – not in this century, not in the Federation. People didn't talk about it because they couldn't. The mass graves, the needless loss of life, the children's haunted eyes and hollow cheeks …
Jim had been thirteen years old. Leonard liked to joke that Jim was a kid now, but they were both adults and their age difference didn't matter, not really. It had mattered in 2246, when James Kirk was only a child, surrounded by the most horrific tragedy in modern history. He hadn't actually admitted that he'd been there, but there was no other answer. And those holovids, all those children… which one had been Jim? Not every survivor had been listed, not every body had been counted. Some had given pseudonyms to avoid the media. Some had boarded any shuttle they could take, had disappeared into the black, and were never seen again.
He just hoped Jim wasn't going to disappear.
When his shift was finally over, Leonard lurched out of the infirmary and almost collided with Captain Pike, who was waiting in the main hallway. Leonard barely managed to catch himself before he crashed into the senior officer. “Sir! I… uh… what are – my apologies – what can I do for you, Captain?” Composure hadn’t been his strong suit that day, and he inwardly cringed at his own babbling. Doctor Leonard H. McCoy did not babble.
It didn’t seem to phase Captain Pike. “Doctor McCoy, relax. Please, this is unofficial business. No formalities.”
Leonard forced his shoulders to relax, but his stomach was doing back-flips; he knew what this was about. Pursing his lips grimly, he jerked his head back towards the infirmary entrance. “There’s coffee in the doctor’s lounge, and there shouldn’t be anyone in there at this hour.”
Pike smiled, but it fell flat at his eyes. “Sounds good to me. Lead the way.”
There were only two doctors and a handful of nurses on duty in the evenings, and they were nowhere to be seen as Leonard wove his way through the halls, desperate to be anywhere else, but knowing that he couldn’t avoid this conversation. Shouldn’t avoid this conversation. Really needed to have this goddamned conversation.
He flinched as they passed the entrance to the emergency ward, where he’d last seen Jim leaving in a huff. He tried to forget the sting he’d felt as his best friend had harshly called him McCoy, which just sounded wrong coming from Jim. He decided that maybe “Bones” would work just fine.
Finally, he shoved the door to the doctors’ lounge open with his shoulder and held it to let Pike in. Automatically, he waited for the Captain to sit first, at the table, but Pike went directly to the armchairs in the back corner. Leonard raised an eyebrow, then walked over to the kitchenette and poured two cups of coffee.
The doctors were a bit spoiled, with a real coffee pot and a supply of actual ground Arabica beans. He suspected the Chief Medical Officer had made it a priority demand, and he wasn’t complaining – it was the only place on campus where he could get real coffee without spending a fortune in credits. He had a funny feeling that he’d need it tonight.
“Cream? Sugar?” he asked automatically, looking back over his shoulder.
“Black tonight,” Pike said, and Leonard thought he meant more than one thing.
Finally settled down with their cups of coffee, Leonard waited for Captain Pike to speak first, seeing as he was the one who’d come and found Leonard, but Pike just took a slow sip from his cup and held his silence, watching Leonard expectantly.
Fuck, it's my move. Pike was letting him set the tone. He could have started with any of a dozen things, but he went with the easiest. "Thanks for helping out on the observation deck. You know what you're doing."
Pike smiled – no enigma or hidden levels; just a smile. "I took First Responder Training, too, you know. And some of us actually remembered what we learned."
Leonard raised an eyebrow. "I'm impressed."
“So was I,” Pike replied, clearly not talking about himself. “It’s nice to see the occasional command track cadet paying attention to non-command courses. He was pretty good.” He paused, and glanced down at his coffee. His smile faltered and twisted; a grim wound across his face. “Which leads to the obvious question,” he continued. “How’s Kirk?”
"Physically or otherwise?"
How did I know he’d say that? With a grimace, Leonard settled deeper into his chair, wrapping his hands around his cup as if he could gain some sort of comfort from it by osmosis. "Physically, he was doing well enough when he left."
Pike eyed Leonard sideways, the question obvious in his expression. "Left?" He was a man who obviously didn’t know how to miss a beat.
"Yeah," Leonard sighed. "Well, technically, I did discharge him, but it was pretty clear that if I tried to keep him longer, he would have left anyway. His condition was stable, and if he got some rest like I told him to, he should be fine. Physically, that is."
"And otherwise?" He took a small sip of coffee, surveying Leonard critically over the rim of the cup.
Leonard mirrored Pike and took a swig of his own coffee, not caring that it was too hot to take such a large sip, scalding his esophagus. He felt like he deserved the pain at the moment. "I don't know what to say, Captain."
Pike shifted in his seat and leaned forward, fixing Leonard with a gaze that caught him and held him and was going to keep holding him until Pike was damn well good and done with him. "Well," he began thoughtfully, "pretend that you actually believe that I’m half-deaf and didn't hear a single thing Kirk said while he was semi-conscious on the observation deck floor. Imagine that I’m a medically ignorant command officer, and all I know is that Kirk suffered a severe case of shock from nothing more than a low-level phaser blast and a hand-held stunner that has less juice than an old-fashioned electric fence.” He inclined his head. "So, from there, tell me what you think you need me to know about what happened to Cadet Kirk today."
His eyes were piercing and clear, and Leonard understood that he was probably sitting across from the most intelligent man he'd ever met. Or, perhaps, one of the two.
Leonard gave Pike a searching look, meeting his eyes dead on. There’s no avoiding this, is there? “There are two separate things I'm going to tell you." He squared his shoulders.
"First – okay, let’s pretend that you aren’t an observant genius with damnably good hearing, and you didn’t hear what Kirk said this morning, and you have no idea that this wasn’t a normal case of shock. This is what Doctor McCoy, Cadet Kirk’s attending physician, needs to tell Captain Pike, Cadet Kirk’s academic advisor: Today, at 0847 hours, during a training sim, Cadet Kirk went into shock due to a combination of physical and emotional stress. A low-intensity phaser blast and electrical shock set the situation in motion, and the rough handling by the sim cadre exacerbated what might have been an inherent fear of being restrained. Cadet Kirk was treated for shock and temporary cardiac arrhythmia and released when his physical condition was stabilized. He is clear to return to duty tomorrow morning, provided that he suffers no further ill effects. I would recommend that in your next advising session with Cadet Kirk, you present him with a non-mandatory opportunity to seek counseling for this potential phobia.”
He rattled it off as if he was making an official medical log entry. It was almost identical to what he’d recorded that morning; professional, impartial, clinical. Doctor McCoy can do clinical; he’s a doctor, it’s what he does – but Leonard felt himself crumble a little bit when Pike inclined his head and spoke again.
“So, what would Leonard tell Christopher about Jim?”
“Off the record?”
“Off the record.”
Leonard took a slow, shuddering breath, trying to gather his thoughts. Pike had heard what Jim had said on the platform, and he did understand that there was far more to this. He was a goddamned perceptive bastard who seemed to know a little bit about everything – just like someone else Leonard knew, and someone they both apparently cared about far too much for their own sanity.
“He was there,” Leonard said simply, as if that explained everything.
“He was.” It was a statement of fact, like space being cold or water being wet, emotionless and immutable as stone.
Leonard hoped that Pike would say more, but there was only silence, so he grit his teeth and pushed forward. “I tried to ask him about it when I got him back to the emergency ward, but he got angry and wouldn’t talk to me. Maybe he had a flashback, maybe it was a repressed memory, but he was there, and he’s been hiding it all this time."
He bit down on his words, briefly thinking that he should at least try maintain a shred of decorum in front of a senior officer, but in a breath he decided that he didn't give a flying fuck anymore. "Dammit, I knew the kid had issues, but that – fuck. That’s not issues; that’s a goddamned catastrophe. He only started to go into shock after the effects of the phaser blast wore off and he was starting to realize that he was restrained. His adrenaline level spiked through the roof to the point where it overloaded his system. I’ve seen terror on people’s faces, but never like that. You saw it, too, Sir.”
Pike nodded. “I did. I didn’t like it any more than you did.”
“Oh really?” Leonard started to challenge, but then he let his shoulders slump. He shook his head and hid behind his coffee cup for a few seconds, hoping to suck down some emotional stability with his caffeine. When he lowered the cup, he saw Pike watching him calmly, and he jerked his head in concession. “Yeah, I know you didn’t. It’s just…"
Leonard had been ready to launch into a diatribe, but his voice left him. How would he say it? In just three months, I've watched Jim Kirk become a goddamned fixture on the face of reality. Now, something has shifted and snapped and he's not supposed to be like this; Jim is cocky, juvenile and even sometimes ridiculous because he's tarnished and broken… but dammit, this isn't just broken – it's fucking shattered. He felt his breath running harshly in his throat, and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to pull it together, and finally said, "I just never imagined – how could I imagine that he’d been through something like that? Could you?”
Pike didn’t answer, apparently lost in contemplation of his coffee, but that silence sent a funny feeling through Leonard. Could Pike have imagined it? What the hell could have given anyone a fucking clue that something like this – “Wait,” Leonard said slowly, and Pike looked up. “His records,” Leonard continued, feeling an oncoming surge of anger, because goddammit, it made a sick kind of sense. “His medical records,” he clarified, “and the Starfleet records from… from Tarsus IV. Starfleet must have known, so you must have known. All of you had to have known!” He ground out the last bit through clenched teeth, an accusation laced with fury.
He expected Pike to throw back a witty explanation, some Starfleet-issue tap-dance routine justifying everything, but all he got was a hollow sort of sadness in the eyes that met his own. “No, McCoy. We didn’t.”
“What?” Leonard wasn’t sure he’d understood that right. “What do you mean, you didn’t?”
“Just that,” Pike said to the coffee cup in his hands. “We didn’t know. It wasn’t in his records.”
Leonard’s mouth fell open incredulously. “Starfleet has a goddamn record on everything. How can you tell me they lost the records on any person who survived Tarsus IV? How could they let something like that slip?” Leonard knew he was walking on thin ice – stomping heavily, if he was honest with himself – but he didn’t care.
“You weren’t on Tarsus IV, McCoy,” Pike said evenly. His voice wasn’t reproachful, but it wasn’t gentle either. “You didn’t show up in one of the relief and rescue ships to help process and cart away the four thousand starving and desperate people whose families had been ripped apart, whose neighbors and friends had been slaughtered. You didn’t carry children who hadn’t had a decent meal in months. I did.”
A block of ice lodged itself in Leonard’s stomach; he said nothing, but he was sure the look on his face said it all.
Pike nodded. “How could Starfleet lose records in the middle of that? Easily. I believe the technical term is ‘colossal cluster fuck.’ Federation citizens are entitled to their freedom and anonymity, and when it was over, unless someone voluntarily entered the counseling and rehabilitation program the Federation offered, we had nothing on them. A lot of people didn’t want to go on record; they just wanted to go home. The only things we had to go on to figure out who might have been there were the colony roster, which had some serious inconsistencies, the first-hand accounts by those few who were willing to testify, and the list of people Kodos had selected to keep." He paused and bowed his head. "They destroyed the other list.”
Leonard’s throat tightened at the thought of that other list. Jim was alive, so he couldn’t have been on that one. “But if it’s not in his records, that means Jim wasn't on any of those lists… so how did you know he was there? How did you confirm it? You sounded like you were sure.”
“I didn’t get where I am today by thinking inside the box," Pike said with the dry humor of a person who had learned to laugh at death because the only other choice was letting death win. "I spent this afternoon going back through the transport logs of visitors and short-term residents on Tarsus IV in the months leading up to the crisis. There weren’t many. Believe me, he was there. I’m not sure how he avoided the counselors and doctors on the transports and at Starfleet Medical, especially at his age, but I’ve learned not to put anything past that kid.”
For a long moment, Leonard sat still, feeling numb. He had a feeling that Pike wasn’t telling the whole story, but maybe he simply hadn’t found all the answers yet. It didn’t matter. There was so much to consider anyway, with so many details, so many things he’d never known, and they were all starting to blur together. All he could see clearly right now was the raw terror on Jim’s face on the sim floor, and all he could feel was the cool skin of Jim’s wrist with no pulse underneath it. “He's really a Tarsus IV survivor. All that… no wonder he went into shock,” Leonard mused aloud.
There was so much more unsaid, but Leonard got the feeling that Pike caught everything that he couldn't put into words. The Captain nodded slowly, as if he was looking at something in the distance that only he could see. “I watch cadets in sims all the time,” Pike said calmly. “I see fear, elation, defeat, victory, panic, confusion… but this was something different." He looked away from Leonard, and it was like he couldn’t say anything else. Leonard didn’t blame him – his own stomach was twisting with every second he spent thinking about Jim and Tarsus and starving colonists and mass graves. Even the freshly-made coffee had lost its allure. He hated this.
There was a soft, bitter laugh from Pike, and Leonard glanced sharply over to him. "Not that Kirk has ever done anything the normal way. You should have seen him in some of the other training sims. The ambush sim was priceless.”
Leonard couldn’t hold back a sad smile. “So I heard. Picnic, huh?”
Pike nodded, his broad grin over his obvious distress seeming like a bandage poorly wrapped over an open wound, but it stanched the bleeding for now. "Kirk went in by himself with a bag full of apples and potato chips, and strolled up to the 'enemy' so casually that he convinced them that the sim had been delayed and the cadre had sent in snacks to eat while they waited. Apparently, chips and apples crunch loudly enough that the sim players didn't realize they were being surrounded. Kirk even joined them and was halfway through his own apple when the rest of his squad jumped out with phasers drawn. Commander Toland was livid.”
“I can imagine,” Leonard said, unable to quite keep the admiration out of his voice.
“Yeah.” Pike sighed in amusement, but then he shook his head. “Before you hate her, you need to know that Toland has her own past and her own reasons for what she does, but she has the cadets’ best interest at heart. She really does. She plays by the book, she tests them hard, and she’s damned good at what she does. It’s just been a while since she’s been out there on a real ship, and there are times when I think she forgets that it’s the creativity and uniqueness of each cadet that can make the difference when they’re commissioned officers out there in the black.”
“Jim’s got plenty of that, doesn’t he?”
“You bet. You should have seen what he did with – nah, I’ll let him tell the stories. I think he likes to.”
Leonard took a shuddering breath, trying to get himself to laugh. "You're kinda like Jim, you know that?"
Pike's gaze softened ever so slightly. "McCoy, someday, I'm going to be a small footnote in the book of history. Unless I miss my guess, which would be a rare occurrence, then Jim Kirk is going to have a whole fucking chapter."
From anyone else, that comment would have seemed like nothing but hot air. Instead, Leonard felt certain that fate had whispered that secret directly in Pike's ear, and once stated aloud, it had been cemented in place, immutable, like a signpost fixed at the crossroads. The universe seemed better for it. That kid would go far and burn brightly, as long as he didn't burn out first. Leonard shook his head to himself, chugged down the rest of his coffee, and began fidgeting with his empty cup, watching the last drip of dark liquid circle around the inside surface of the cup as he turned it in his hands. “You knew him before he started at the Academy, didn't you?"
"Only briefly," Pike said, looking oddly wistful. "That is, if you count the day before."
Leonard glanced up sideways, raising an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I guess you can say I was the one who goaded him into joining. Scraped him up off the floor of a bar after a brawl. Dared him to enlist, and he showed up at the shuttle the next morning with the blood still on his shirt and his face, and an attitude like he was ready to take Starfleet by the balls.”
Leonard let his shoulders shake in a silent chuckle, and he put down his cup. Faintly, his fingers itched for the shape of his pocket flask – not so much for a drink, although he really wanted one at the moment, but just to hold it. “Yeah, that's Jim, alright. I was there. Met him on the shuttlecraft. He was such a mess… not that I looked much better.” He pressed his lips together for a moment, thinking. “That’s how you became his Academic Advisor, isn’t it?"
"That surprised you, did it?"
Leonard shrugged awkwardly. "It's the fucking theme of the day."
"I was pretty surprised myself, to be honest. What were the odds?" There was something in the quality of Pike's voice that sounded almost reverent, but Leonard was sure he was imagining it. Pike leaned back in his seat and interlaced his fingers on his lap. His eyes focused on some point beyond the wall over Leonard's shoulder. "I stopped by the bar to track down a bunch of my new recruits who had missed curfew, and walked right in to find them turning Kirk into a punching bag. Figured he was just some local idiot townie, but because my cadets had messed with him, I needed his name to write up the report. I looked up his record and realized who he was. Shocked the hell out of me.”
Leonard frowned. Who he was? What? He’s just Jim.
Pike just continued, apparently caught up in his memory, not noticing Leonard’s blatant confusion. “I couldn't believe that he'd been there all along, doing so little with his life, because if he can get himself right, he could be one of the best. He’s got all the aptitude and ability his father had, if not more, and that’s saying a lot. I studied his father's career and the incident with the Kelvin."
Leonard's gut was starting to feel like the butt end of a macramé competition with one twist and knot after another. “The Kelvin?” he asked, feeling really stupid.
It was Pike’s turn to look surprised. “I know you’re a doctor, and that Starfleet wasn’t your first choice of careers, but I’d figured you knew about –”
“I know about the Kelvin, Sir,” Leonard said quickly – too quickly. “The whole damned planet knows. And about Captain George… fuck. George Kirk. God damn… dammit, Jim.”
Pike’s eyes widened, and he set his coffee aside, not once letting Leonard out of his stare of disbelief. “You didn’t know.”
“He doesn’t exactly talk about his family life,” Leonard muttered, feeling humbled in a way that he didn’t know he could feel. “Talks about everything else as long as it's absolutely inconsequential. Never shuts up, actually. But he never mentioned, not once… never said a goddamned thing… and I never put it together. I’m a fucking idiot.”
“I wouldn’t say that, Doctor. You –”
“Wouldn’t you?” Leonard cut him off. “My best… okay, so he’s my best friend. My best goddamned friend, and I didn’t even know who the hell he is!”
“And maybe that’s why you’re the best goddamned friend he could have,” Pike said flatly. “To you, he’s Jim, and from where I’m sitting, I can’t think of any identifier that he needs more. You two are going to go places together. And don’t ever let me hear you call yourself an idiot again. Your record shows that you’re one of the most brilliant doctors that Starfleet Medical has been privileged to have.”
“You’ve read my record?” Leonard asked vaguely, still feeling a bit stunned – reeling, actually.
“Of course.” Pike gave him another examining look, and Leonard got the sense that those piercing grey eyes in his skull could read a person more thoroughly than any tricorder. “Our new flagship, the Enterprise, will be ready to leave dry dock in about three years, and she’s going to be mine. I want the best and the brightest on my staff, so I scout early. You can’t blame me.”
Leonard found himself nodding slowly in understanding. “The best and the brightest, huh? And Jim's on that list, isn't he?”
“If he keeps himself out of trouble, yeah, he is,” Pike said, a hint of fondness creeping into his voice – a fondness that Leonard had noticed earlier that day.
“You care about him, don’t you?” Leonard asked before he could stop himself.
Pike surveyed him carefully, as if trying to decipher Leonard’s soul. “Somebody has to. I’m just glad there’s more than one of us.” He ducked his head and spoke in an undertone. “I never told you any of that.”
Leonard gave him a meaningful nod. “Neither did I.”
Pike seemed to get the message. This whole conversation never happened. With that, Pike leaned forward with a well-telegraphed groan and hauled himself to his feet. “I need to get home. I’ve got a stack of thesis projects to start reviewing for the semester.”
Leonard stood, too, feeling awkward. “I… I need to go find Jim. I just don’t know where to start.”
“You’ll find him,” Pike said softly, a knowing look on his face. “With a friend like you, I think the kid might just have a chance. I’m glad he’s got you.”
With that, Pike clapped him on the shoulder and walked out of the doctors’ lounge without looking back. Absently, Leonard rubbed his shoulder, noticing blankly that the spot Pike had slapped was the same spot where Jim had whacked him that morning. However, all he could really think was that although Pike might have been right about everything else, his parting words had been so painfully wrong. Jim didn't have him, because Jim had left the infirmary, and Leonard had just let him go, hadn't followed him, and hadn’t checked on him. Now, Jim was somewhere out there, alone in his dorm room, on campus, in the city, in the surrounding hills – who knows – getting drunk, getting hurt, passing out, or…
Leonard swallowed thickly, unable to squash yet another fact about Tarsus IV that had jumped, unbidden, to the forefront of his mind – the astronomical suicide rate of the survivors.
Shuddering and shaking, he looked down at the cup of coffee that Pike had left on the table, and suddenly it felt like such a goddamned crime to waste coffee, or any sort of food or drink, when people had died over food shortages. Being at the I don’t give a shit point, Leonard grabbed Pike’s coffee and tossed it back.
It was lukewarm, but at least it was real.
Weary to the core, and not nearly warmed enough by the coffee, Leonard finally dragged himself back across the campus. Somewhere beyond the fog and the Golden Gate Bridge, the sun was setting, but here on the Academy Quad, there was no sunset. There was only the dim gray of dusk wrapped in thick fog, like the world wanted to close in on him, capture him, and whip him with the sharp sting of the November wind in punishment.
The door to the dorms slid open, and the turbolift dutifully whisked him up the eighteen floors to his room, but his dorm building had never felt less welcoming. He didn't deserve a welcome. Jim was somewhere out there, and Leonard had no idea where to even begin looking.
He should have known better. He had a Ph.D. in psych, for God's sake, and as soon as he'd realized what he'd heard, he should have known not to push it. He should have been the goddamned doctor that he always claimed to be, and have taken just care of his patient instead of pushing Jim to talk about one of the most traumatic ordeals any modern-day human being had ever experienced. He should have treated Jim's symptoms, which were more than enough of a concern to keep him busy, and helped him recover. And then, failing in all of those, he should have followed his best friend and made sure he was okay, and not left him alone on a day like this. He should have, he would have, but he hadn't – and now his best friend was who-knew-where, probably alone, reliving that anguish in his head over and over and –
Leonard all but stumbled to an abrupt halt in the doorway at the low, broken voice coming from the shadows in the far corner of the room. His breath caught, and he barely managed to choke out, "Jim?"
A soft grunt – affirmative. Of course. Nobody else. "Sorry I let myself in. You did give me your passcode, so I figured you wouldn't be too upset if I –"
"It's okay, Jim. Perfectly okay." He dropped his bag by the door and automatically kicked off his shoes. "Lights – seventy percent."
Jim was sitting on the ottoman, hunched over and curled in on himself. He looked small and scared. Leonard felt his stomach fall to his knees. "Thank God you're here. I was… I… Jim, listen, I shouldn't have –"
Leonard's intent to apologize, to try to make things right, fell flat. "What?"
Jim didn't look up. "I had forgotten. Actually, someone made me forget. Blocked my memory. I didn't know… didn't remember that I'd been there. On Tarsus IV. At least, I didn't remember until today."
Leonard barely felt his feet move until he realized he'd crossed the room. Slowly, he sank onto his armchair and faced Jim. The haunted look in Jim’s eyes was so deep that Leonard almost felt that he was drowning in that coldness. He’d forgotten… a repressed memory… and the hostage sim made it all come back. Fuck, no wonder he went into shock. "You remembered it right in the middle of the training sim, didn’t you?”
Jim nodded bleakly. "Before… I remembered, but I didn't. I've been thinking about it all day. There was this Vulcan on the ship that rescued us… he touched my face… did something to my memory, and it all went fuzzy, like a dream or something, and I forgot about it.”
Leonard shook his head, trying to absorb this new information and not quite able to do so. “But it didn’t work, because you remember now, and you remembered like that." He gestured with his hands as if he could encapsulate the entire goddamned fiasco from the training sim, and the shock it must have been to Jim. It was utterly inadequate, and he shook his head again. "Nobody ever warned you, nobody put it on your record, nobody gave you a chance,” he whispered hoarsely. “It should have been on your psych profile. Somebody should have known. They should never have tied you up like –”
“But they didn’t know either, Bones,” Jim said, his voice distant. “They didn’t know, and it’s not their fault. Nobody knew. I didn’t even… I didn’t know. I didn't know.” His breath caught, and Leonard startled.
“Jesus, Jim, I can't make you talk about this! Not right now, not tonight. Forget I said anything. I was wrong to ask. I shouldn't have pushed you. I was… was just too stunned. By what you said. I heard – goddammit." He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and pressing his hands roughly against his face, trying to block out the haunted look in Jim’s eyes – the look he’d seen in the eyes of those kids on the holovids; the kids that must have included Jim.
A hand touched his arm.
Leonard’s head shot up fast enough to make his neck twinge and his eyes water, but Jim held his gaze. Slowly but decisively, he reached out and grasped Leonard's hand, pulling it between them. Then, without releasing his hand, Jim looked away to stare at the wall, as if he could see the memories taking shape on the blank surface.
“I hadn’t been on the planet long," he began quietly, fingers warm and not-quite-trembling. "Just a few months. I was causing too much trouble on Earth, my step-dad couldn't handle me, so my mother figured… she figured it would be good for me. Ironic, huh?” He made a sound that was supposed to be a laugh, but it sounded like a cough.
“Jim, you don’t need to –”
If Jim heard him, he gave no indication. “Sam is my brother. Well, his first name is George, but that was our dad’s name, so I called him Sam. He was causing more trouble than I was. Kept running away, and mom knew that the next time he did, he wouldn’t come back, so she sent him, too. We were supposed to attend a farming camp and boarding school. Hard work and discipline and old-fashioned rustic shit. It wasn't bad, actually. I liked it. Even started behaving myself.”
As he talked, he slowly squeezed and kneaded Leonard’s hand, much the same way Leonard had been rubbing Jim’s hand while he’d been semi-conscious on the floor of the observation deck. Leonard just let him, distantly aware that he was Jim’s anchor, tethering him to the present, to reality. More presently, he just couldn't fathom taking anything away from Jim at that moment when the kid had already lost so much.
“The first signs of the crop failure showed up a few weeks after we’d arrived. I almost felt like it was my fault. I was such a stupid kid. I felt like I was killing the plants. Like I’d failed. It kept getting worse. Weeks went by. People started to panic. Sam said it would be okay – the Federation would come. The outpost was so far away though. Then the rumors started.”
Jim’s face was slowly becoming pale, and Leonard worried that he’d work himself into a state again, but he didn’t dare interrupt. As much as he was concerned over Jim's physical health, it was clear that Jim had been planning what he was going to say, waiting all day to get this out. For his emotional health, for the long term, Leonard knew that Jim needed to do this.
“People started talking, saying that food was going to be rationed away from some people, only given to others. But some said – they said that…" His voice broke, but his grip on Leonard's hand tightened; he took a bracing breath, and pushed on. "I needed to know what was going on, so I snuck into the governor’s headquarters."
"Shit…" Leonard breathed.
Jim kept right on talking. "Sam told me not to. Said I was crazy. He was right – I don’t know what I was thinking. Sam wouldn’t stay behind though. Kept trying to talk me out of it, but when he couldn’t, he waited in the woods outside the compound. I got in through the ventilation system. I saw him – Kodos. I saw his face. I heard him. I heard the plans, and the rumors were true. Half of the colony, Bones. Half of the fucking colony.” He shuddered. “I found the list. It was on the desk, and when they left the room… I had to see it. Anyone who wasn’t good enough… anyone who wasn’t smart enough, strong enough, capable enough… they would die. I had friends on the death list. Kids from the camp. I had to warn them. I had to warn everyone. I even managed to get back outside before they caught me.”
Eyes squeezed shut, and Jim clutched Leonard’s hand even tighter. “I tried to yell out a warning to Sam before they could stop me; to get away, to warn the kids, to get people to leave the colony. The guards didn’t like that much. They tied me up, blindfolded and gagged me, and they beat me. They decided to use me as an example to keep the survivors in line. Let me starve in front of everyone so people could see what would allegedly happen to everyone if they didn’t ‘select’ who would die immediately.”
“Jim…” Leonard whispered. He couldn’t believe he was hearing this. He remembered hearing a story about a kid they’d used to make an example to the colonists, to keep them compliant; it had been gruesome. The Federation had never managed to identify the boy, and he’d been presumed dead. Leonard felt his throat tighten as realization sank in. "Jesus, Jim, this is too much. You've got to stop. Don't do this to yourself…"
Jim shook his head, silencing any protest Leonard could have made. “Let me finish this, Bones. Let me remember. I need to remember now. I’m here. I'm alive. I made it out.”
“How?” was all Leonard could say.
“My brother. And some of the kids from the camp. Sam had heard me yelling the warning, and he managed to get back to camp without getting caught. He got a bunch of the other kids away from the colony before the executions. I guess they figured they owed me for warning them, and they helped. I don’t actually know they got past the guards. I was blindfolded, and I’d been on display for… shit, I don’t know how many days. I barely remember Sam untying me and carrying me out. We hid in a cave outside the colony. I was asleep most of that time. The ships carrying relief supplies came, and Sam told me that the shuttlecrafts were landing, but they wouldn’t know to look for us that far from the settlement.”
“How did they find you?”
“They didn't. They left. It was a Vulcan ship that arrived two days later. They must have better sensors than Earth ships. They found our lifesigns. We went back to Earth on the Vulcan relief ship. I don’t remember much of the journey back. Slept through most of it.”
“I’m not surprised.” Asleep, my ass. Fucking unconscious… goddammit, Jim.
Jim nodded. “But I do remember one thing… and it’s one of the last things I remember clearly. It’s what made me forget. This Vulcan… the one that actually found us… I remember him saying that what I’d been through had been too much for my mind, and would destroy me eventually. He asked me if I wanted to forget, and said he could help me." Jim coughed once, and tucked his chin against his shoulder so his face was turned away from Leonard. He looked ashamed, and it made something in Leonard's chest twist painfully. "I wanted to forget. I was so tired, and everything hurt. Fuck, I just wanted to forget.”
Leonard stared at the thin wet streaks that had suddenly appeared under Jim’s eyes. He couldn’t fathom it. It wasn’t real. Jim was the cocky, sarcastic, juvenile, obnoxiously brilliant jackass with the winning smile… not this. But the hand gripping his own was hot and real and trembling, knuckles white, all bone and sinew and real human flesh that had almost died ten years ago. Jim had almost died ten years ago.
“And it worked?” Leonard asked hesitantly. “Vulcans are touch telepaths. Did he alter your memory?”
Jim started to nod, then shook his head. “Altering it would have been damaging to my mind, he said, and I was too young. Damaged. Ha! I was too damaged to be fixed. So instead, he faded it. It was like a nightmare I’d had – not real. Whenever I'd remember a hint of it, I figured I was remembering what people had said about the massacre. I thought I was remembering a story I'd heard, or… or a holovid broadcast I'd seen, or… something else. Anything else." He shuddered, shaking his head jarringly as if trying to clear the images from behind his eyes. "Someone else, not me. It didn’t feel like it was me. I’d forgotten. And I suppose I should be grateful. He gave me ten years of peace… or… something like peace… not that my life has ever been peaceful.” He sighed, and finally withdrew his hand from Leonard’s.
The palm of Leonard’s hand felt cold and empty, like it was missing something that just should be there. He put that out of his mind and swallowed against the dryness that made his throat feel like it was sticking to itself. “How did they explain the gap in your memory?”
“Sam told me I got sick while we were there on the planet. Some alien fever. That’s why they sent me home, he said. He convinced me that we left before the crops failed, and that we spent those months on a slow medical transport home. Told me that I didn't remember because I spent most of the ride unconscious. He kept me away from news vids and broadcasts as much as possible.”
Leonard boggled at the layers of deception. “How could that work for ten goddamned years, Jim? How could they do that to you?”
Jim laughed, and it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “It worked because people didn’t want to talk about horrific things anyway. Neither did I. If nobody talks about it, it never comes up. It worked because I needed it to work, because I clearly couldn’t have handled it if I did remember… as we just found out, didn’t we?”
“You never should have had to find out like that. Starfleet should have had records,” Leonard suddenly growled, hearing Pike's voice echo in his mind – "We didn't know." – and suddenly unable to forgive them for their ignorance. “But they were too damned sloppy. They should have known. God damn them, they should have known! Then they would have known better than to do that to you in the training sim.” Leonard was almost startled by the ferocity that broke his own voice.
Apparently, it startled Jim, too, as he gave Leonard an unreadable look. Slowly, he shook his head. “Bones, it’s not their fault for not knowing. Sam gave the wrong name to the Starfleet officer on purpose, to protect us. He wanted them to leave me alone. And now that I remember everything, I’m glad he did it. I would have done the same thing." He snorted, and then folded his arms over his stomach, hunching forward over his knees. He looked so small, like he was thirteen years old again, starved and broken. "They wanted to debrief and counsel us when we got back to Earth… document everything… but I… I wanted it to be over. I was still a bit fuzzy from whatever that Vulcan had done to me, and from… well… everything, but I remember Sam sneaking me off to the bathroom when we landed, and instead of going back into Starfleet Medical, we escaped. Caught a transport back to Iowa, and showed up on Frank's doorstep. Frank wasn't happy, but I didn't care. I think I slept for a week." He gave a short, choked laugh that sounded more like a cry of pain. "I think I just slept for the past ten years."
Leonard stared at Jim. The kid had just bared his soul, and yet Leonard felt like he was the one who'd been gutted.
What the hell do you say to that? Leonard thought bleakly. How the fuck can I ever look at him the same way again? Goddammit. “Good God, Jim. How did… are you… I'm sorry, I…” He looked down from Jim’s haunted face to his own shaking hands.
“It’s not your fault, Bones. You weren’t there. You couldn’t have helped me.”
“That doesn’t matter. I’m here now. I was your doctor earlier, but let me be your friend here. Dammit Jim, tell me how to help you." He glanced back up. "Tell me… what can I do?”
A wrecked sort of smile twisted his face. “Send Toland a fat lip and a fruit basket with my compliments.”
Leonard stared at Jim, torn between laughing and crying. He settled for coughing a few times as he rubbed his eyes harshly, not sure what to make of all this. The coughing turned into one choked sob, then another. He hated himself for it; he had no goddamned right to be crying now. Jim was the one who should be crying, breaking down, screaming, shattering, but Leonard couldn’t even get a grip on himself, while Jim sat there stoically, reaching up to place a hand on Leonard’s shoulder, gripping lightly with a reassuring presence.
But he wasn’t quite stoic because his hand was shaking, just barely, his eyes were dry but haunted, and behind the set jaw and the press of his lips, he was so broken… so fucking shattered. It was something that Leonard didn’t think he could ever fix, but dammit, he had to do something.
“No, Jim. No… I don’t have the goddamned right to… I shouldn’t be… you need… oh, fuck it all.”
In one jolting motion, he lurched from the armchair and squeezed onto the ottoman, wrapping Jim in a fierce hug, as if he could protect him from his own past. He was surprised to discover how easily Jim fit into his arms, and how the kid just melted against his side. Jim’s arms snaked around Leonard’s waist, fingers clutching, holding, clinging desperately for something solid to grasp as if the rest of the world was slipping and spiraling away from him. From there, Leonard could finally feel Jim’s trembling, which he’d been hiding the entire time. He could feel Jim’s heart thudding through his shirt. And when the first silent, ragged sob came, Leonard felt that, too.
“It’s okay, kid. I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
“I can’t do this, Bones” Jim whispered hoarsely. “I can’t. Won't. Can't… not again…”
He was trying not to let himself break down, but Leonard knew that some floods were too powerful for any dam, no matter how strong. “Nobody will see you, so it doesn't matter,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, comforting.
"You'll see me."
"Damn it, man, do you think… do you honestly think that would bother me?" he ground out, frustrated to think that after all that, Jim would still feel like he needed to hide from him. He held Jim just a bit tighter, trying to say without words that he wasn't about to let go. “Fuck, I can’t believe I left you alone all day.”
“I ran off, Bones. I needed to. After you’d seen me like that, how could I stay?” He sniffed. “Weak. I let those bastards get to me. Everyone saw me like that. You saw me like that! I… I wasn’t…”
Jim tried to pull away, but Leonard grabbed him by the arms and held him fast. Leonard looked squarely at red-rimmed eyes until they met his own. "I see you now, Jim, and in case you didn't notice, I still want you here," he said, his voice cutting like a razor. "You're not weak. Goddammit, you survived Tarsus IV – how can you ever think you're weak?"
After a moment’s half-hearted struggle, Jim surrendered and let his head fall forward against Leonard's shoulder. Another sob shook his body, even though he didn’t make a sound. If it was possible, he curled in on himself even smaller. “I am weak. Sam had to carry me out… you had to lift me onto the fucking stretcher… pathetic. Not good enough. Never fucking good enough,” he gasped. It sounded like he was drowning. “Not good enough for my mother. Not good enough to be a Kirk, everyone saying I should be a fucking hero like my dad. Not good enough for Starfleet… not good enough for… for…”
Jim all but collapsed against Leonard. His fingers were twisted into Leonard’s shirt and his face was buried against that same soft fabric, and he might not have been crying, but there was no way in hell Leonard could miss the grief and pain and fear that was wrapped up in those heaving not-sobs. For a long time, Jim didn’t move save for the convulsive shuddering of his shoulders, and soon even that calmed somewhat, but his hands stayed twisted tight in Leonard’s shirt.
Leonard didn’t mind. In no way could Leonard ever mind.
Jim finally stilled, with his weight almost fully supported by Leonard and his breathing quieter, softer. At first, Leonard thought that his friend was asleep, having thoroughly worn himself out, and hopefully dreaming of something other than horror and starvation, but then Jim made a small, scared noise.
“Am I good enough?”
Frowning, like he was on the edge of something, Leonard shifted Jim’s body in his arms. He slipped off the edge of the ottoman, and knelt down in front of Jim so he could get a better look at him, while still clutching Jim’s shoulders in his hands. “Dammit, Jim, of course you are. How can you even ask a question like that?”
And then, something clicked. Like a puzzle assembling itself in front of his eyes, the pieces of Jim that had been amusing but unimportant suddenly snapped into place, and Leonard was almost overwhelmed by the implications. The cockiness, the confidence, the arrogance, the need to be the best, because he had to be good enough…
Pure survival instinct, because anything less than perfect might not be good enough, and that was the difference between life and death. That’s what it would take to end up on… good God. Leonard’s mouth fell open. The list.
Leonard startled. Blinked. “Jim?”
"You've got a question. I can see it on your face."
Leonard grimaced. Even exhausted and broken, Jim could still read him like a goddamned book. "Yeah."
"So ask. What else have I got left to hide at this point?"
For a long moment, Leonard looked at Jim, as if seeing him for the first time. His eyes were unguarded and open, like the young man's soul had been stripped naked and left for the world to see – on display like the starving boy he'd once been. It was a sight that made Leonard's stomach clench and his breath catch. Slowly, he nodded. "You said you saw the list… Kodos' list. Did you read the whole thing?"
Jim's eyes shifted – still open and honest, but far away now, as if he was seeing something in his own memory. His jaw quivered, and his shoulders began to tremble. His mouth barely moved when he finally answered. "Yes."
"Were you on it?"
Jim sat still as a statue, and the word was barely audible. "Yes."
When everything had been stripped away, dissected, and laid out for perceptive eyes to decipher, there wasn't much left to say.
They sat in silence for a long time, hands clasped together, with Leonard on the floor and Jim on the ottoman, hunched over, staring blankly at the carpet. The soft sound of Jim's breath, the occasional tremble in his shoulders, and the pulse thrumming in his wrist reassured Leonard second by second that Jim was alive and okay and would make it through this, and Leonard – Bones. For Jim, I can be Bones – would be there as long as it took. As much as he’d razzed the kid in lighter times and better days, he knew that Jim was something amazing, and if he could catch a break, if he could just have a chance – all he'd need was that one goddamned chance – the universe would be his. Somehow, Leonard knew that he'd be right there beside Jim when it all happened, and the universe would sit back, smirk at him, and say, Told you so.
Why does the universe sound like Jim? Leonard thought idly.
But for now, the universe would have to wait, because all that mattered was this small dorm room with Jim, Leonard, and the thick fog pressing against the windows, shrouding everything else from existence. Jim sat silently with a focused sort of determination that seemed like he was trying to reclaim the fractured pieces of himself, and Leonard held on to his hands as if that alone could help hold him together. Finally, long after Leonard had lost track of time, Jim shifted and looked up, making eye contact. His eyes hadn't gotten their sparkle back, but they were less haunted now and a bit more human. His mouth quirked into an attempted smile, and he whispered, "Thank you," as he finally pulled his hands back to himself.
With that loss of contact, Leonard felt like he'd lost his own grounding, and he found himself feeling inexplicably awkward. So he stumbled to his feet and did the one thing he knew how to do – he went rummaging through his cabinets for his stash of bourbon. That was how he'd learned to handle harsh emotions in recent years, but the events of the night were so far out of his league that he was actually glad when Jim called him off from that idea.
"Getting drunk won't help, Bones. Not for this. Replicate some coffee, would you?"
They drank coffee and talked about their classes. They drank more coffee and chatted aimlessly about not going home for the long weekend that marked the old Thanksgiving holiday, pretending they didn't like the way their families had cooked the stuffing for the turkey. They played a few games of 3D-chess, and Leonard was determinedly not surprised to find that Jim was an expert player. They drank even more coffee, and talked through even more meaningless topics, and ignored the world as the evening sank deeper into the night. After the fourth cup, Leonard caught on – Jim was trying to keep himself awake. It was almost 0200 hours. Sighing helplessly, Leonard reached over and took the empty cup out of Jim's hand.
Jim smiled, not catching on. "Thanks, Bones. Think you can get the replicator to put a bit more cream in it this time?"
"No, Jim. I'm not getting you a refill." He stood, feeling his joints creaking stiffly. He walked to the kitchenette and put both cups into the reprocessor, then turned and leaned against the countertop, folding his arms across his chest as he gave Jim a pointed look. "You need to sleep sometime tonight. Just because I haven't scanned you with a tricorder doesn't mean I can't tell that you still need some rest to recover from today."
Looking stung, Jim sank back against the sofa cushions and stared at the ceiling. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "I don't want to sleep."
Leonard took a slow breath. He'd seen this in patients before – patients who had been pulled from fires or flash floods or other traumatic events. They’d refuse to sleep because of the fear that what they might see in their dreams would be worse than what they were imagining while they were awake. He couldn't really blame them. Hell, after his father's death, he hadn't been able to sleep for three days, and when he finally had, well, it hadn't been pleasant. And then, during the custody battle after his divorce – fuck, he'd lost more sleep over that bullshit, over the fear of losing Joanna, and the harsh reality that he actually had lost her…
"I understand, kid," he finally said, then amended it, "I mean, I can't understand what it must be like, you know, for something this bad, but I've had more than my share of sleepless nights. But you've still got to get some rest."
"I don't want… it's just…" Jim picked his feet up off the floor and swung them onto the couch, pressing his back against the arm of the couch and pulling his knees up. As small and defenseless as he looked, curled up on himself like that, there was an uncomfortable note of self-disbelief in his tone. He gave a forced, humorless laugh and shook his head at himself. "I can't deal with my roommate tonight. He's not a bad guy, but – did you know that he irons his underwear, Bones? It’s just not normal. And he doesn’t talk about anything but subatomic pattern induction in transporter physics. I just can't…"
Leonard's mouth fell open. Jim was fairly indifferent about his roommate – he'd even said that he liked the guy well enough, and had been pretty lucky in that department. The real issue was obvious. "Jesus, Jim, you think I'm gonna send you away after a day like this?"
Jim shrugged, but didn't look up.
"You're kidding me, right?" Leonard shook his head in dismay. Jim had practically made his second home on Leonard's couch since the third week of the semester. For Jim to think that he was going to send him away, under these circumstances, on a day like this – it was unconscionable. "Jim, how many times have you crashed here after I dragged your drunk ass home from the bar? Or when you just drank too much of my good stuff to walk back to your dorm without getting nailed by campus security? You've never needed to ask before."
"This is different," Jim mumbled, saying exactly what McCoy had figured he was thinking.
"So what if it is?" Leonard crossed the room and half-sat on the arm of the chair. "Jim, I'm saying that you didn't need to ask then, and you don't need to ask now. The invitation was always there, and I'm not about to retract it."
Jim finally looked up, and for the first time since he'd opened his eyes on the observation deck floor that morning, there was a glimmer of something hopeful there. He seemed torn between gratitude and reluctance to let himself accept what he obviously needed. "I didn't think about it like that," he said warily.
“Well kid, maybe you should.” Leonard let his shoulders slump and tilted his head, considering Jim, or more specifically this shadow of Jim left by the day’s trauma. He hoped he’d see the old Jim again soon; the one who wouldn’t think twice of crashing on his couch, drinking his bourbon, or putting his feet up on the coffee table like the place was just as much his as Leonard’s. In truth, not that Leonard would ever say it out loud, it made the cramped dorm suite feel more like a home. He gave what he hoped was an encouraging look. “I'm here if you need me.”
“Thanks, Bones,” he said, the words forced and rough. He hesitated as if he'd been about to say something, but instead, he looked away.
"What, Jim?" Leonard prodded gently. "Come on, spit it out."
Jim shook his head, but after a moment, he spoke quietly, still not looking up. "This is gonna sound weird, and shit, I can't believe I'm talking like this, so chalk it up to the most fucked-up day I've ever had, but…all the people I talk to, all the people I've fucked – they're just a blur of faces. It's okay when I’m talking or working with them, but I never get too close because they're not really real… if you know what I mean. Like they’re there, but they're flat.” His head drooped, just a tiny bit, like he was hiding from his own words. “You… you're real." He froze for a moment, his mouth open as if more words were just about to spill out, but then he tipped his head forward so Leonard could no longer see his face and mumbled, "Thanks for letting me stay tonight."
The myriad of possible implications sent Leonard’s mind reeling, but it was the simple one that grabbed him: the kid was lonely. Leonard had no idea what to say in reply, to thoughts voiced or silent, so he said nothing.
Jim must have decided that Leonard's silence was a bad sign, so he snorted a dry laugh and looped his elbow over the back of the couch. He was trying to appear casual, but that only emphasized the exhaustion in the tense lines of his body; despite four large mugs of coffee, it was clear that sleep was beginning to claim him. "Jesus, that sounds so fucked up," he mumbled, staring off at the ceiling. "If I'm this fucked up when I'm awake…" His voice broke off roughly, but the rest of his unspoken plea was clear enough.
"You need to sleep," Leonard said flatly, trying to sound firm but sympathetic – his best doctor's voice, which he hated using on his friend like that. "I'm happy to have you stay here, but I can't sit back and watch you put your health at risk after what your body went through today."
"Bones, I've missed plenty of nights of sleep over the years. That's nothing." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before they popped back open, tense and pleading. "If I close my eyes… I… right now, I can't handle what I see."
Leonard looked down at him; at the shoulders that didn't quite tremble, at the scruffy mess of blond hair that stood in every direction, at the eyes of a person who looked like he'd just stared death in the face and had lost a piece of himself in the process. Jim was starting to lose it, and judging by the internal struggle evident in his face, it was clear that he knew he was starting to lose it. It was a battle he couldn't win – not this time.
"Dammit, Jim." Leonard turned and strode decisively over to his comm panel and pulled up a communiqué screen. "Computer, send an official notification to the duty doctor at Starfleet Academy Infirmary, authorization Doctor McCoy, Leonard H. Message follows. Medical record, Kirk, James T.: Cadet Kirk is continuing to suffer from the side-effects of neurogenic shock, including decreased mental acuity, headache, and nausea. I am restricting him from duty for an additional twenty-four hours, with strict instructions to rest. I will continue to monitor his condition as needed. End Message. Computer, tag this notification with authorization code McCoy theta epsilon gamma and transmit."
When Leonard turned around, Jim was staring at him with a look of pure amusement plastered thinly over his darker emotions. "You just wrote me a bullshit sick note, didn't you?"
Leonard quirked a half-smile, but shook his head as he walked back to Jim. "Sick note, yes. Bullshit, no. You're still suffering from what happened today, and you can’t tell me that you’re ready for duty tomorrow. I just gave them a list of symptoms that they wouldn't question, that's all."
Jim looked up at him, blue eyes peering through lightly tear-encrusted eyelashes, and for a moment, Leonard had to fight the urge to reach down and brush those eyelashes with a gentle thumb. Instead, he shook his head and patted Jim’s shoulder twice before sitting down heavily on the ottoman. “But that means you get some rest. I’m not writing you a sick note so you can go out and act like an idiot. Tomorrow’s Friday, so you’ve got the whole weekend. Otherwise, I’d have half a mind to sedate you to make sure you actually get some rest.”
In a split second, Jim snapped from exhaustion to barely-controlled panic. His eyes went wide, struck with a sharp edge of terror that froze the room. “No, Bones… no… I don’t want to sleep. Not tonight –” His face paled as body went rigid, and he seemed to be struggling to not physically push himself back against the arm of the couch. White-knuckled fingers dug into the cushion, and his head twitched, shaking no. "Don't make me fall asleep, Bones," he breathed, the sound harsh and anxious. "Don't make me sleep."
“Whoa! Jesus, Jim, relax! I'm not gonna sedate you!” Leonard said in a rush, holding up his hands, which were innocently devoid of a hypospray. Yeah, Jim was definitely starting to lose it. He was mostly lucid and medically stable, but was physically exhausted and emotionally spent, and his ability to think clearly had probably run out. “Kid, you can’t see yourself right now, but if you could, even you’d be worried." He exhaled through pursed lips, shaking his head. What am I going to do with him? "Here… ”
He reached up to the back of the couch and pulled down the quilt his grandmother had given him when he’d gotten married. It had always been his, though, not Jocelyn’s, and he’d actually had a flash of gratitude when it had arrived in a box at his dorm mail drop a month after his sudden and insane decision to join Starfleet – short-lived gratitude, of course, when he remembered how much of his shit his lovely ex-wife had kept. But the quilt had memories. It had always smelled like the cedar chest his grandmother had owned, and to this day, it felt like comfort and home, all hand-stitched and real. As he wrapped Jim in the blanket and tucked a pillow behind the mess of blond hair, he hoped Jim would take some comfort from it, too.
Jim eyed him warily, but his body language betrayed him, and he slowly settled down and clutched the quilt closer to his chest. He almost didn’t seem like Jim just then, like the man that Leonard had gotten to know over the past few months, but like a shadow of that man – tired, uncertain, confused, and disoriented. Leonard wondered where his mind must be, now that the first clutches of sleep were clearly beginning to claim him, and he couldn’t quite hold his thoughts steady. Jim visibly forced himself to straighten his back, and he leaned forwards, making one last plea. "Please, Bones, just help me stay awake tonight. You've got to have something. Please?"
Leonard – Bones – wanted to give Jim everything he asked. Give his best friend a stimulant and sit up with him until the dawn started cracking through the cold November fog. Doctor McCoy knew better, and understood just how desperately Jim's body needed sleep, and dammit, he was a doctor, and he wasn't going to enable his friend's reckless demands when he'd been through such a serious medical emergency earlier that day. But that didn't mean that Bones couldn't help.
"You can't have a stimulant, Jim," Leonard said with a heavy sigh that came out more as a growl. Jim's face fell, but a second later warped into confusion as Leonard got up from the ottoman, turned around without even bothering to stand fully upright, and tucked himself under the bottom of quilt at the vacant end of the sofa by Jim’s feet. In immediate answer to Jim's confusion, Leonard nodded, "You can't have a stimulant because your body is still recovering from this morning, you’ve already had too much caffeine anyway, and I gave you too many drugs this morning that affect your heart rate and blood pressure to risk an interaction. But you can have me." He reached over and patted Jim's knee lightly. "I'll stay here until you fall asleep on your own."
Jim frowned, deepening the strained circles and shadows around his eyes. “Bones, are you… I mean… you don’t have to…” He looked away, as if his protests had become internal and he was debating with himself. Then he sighed. “Thanks, Bones.”
Leonard gave a soft smile and a nod. “Computer – lights, ten percent.”
Within a few minutes, Jim’s eyes were closed, and the lines of tension began melting away under the quilt. He turned halfway onto his side, feet stretching out and pressing warmly against Leonard’s thigh. Leonard smiled and rested a hand on Jim’s leg through the quilt, just to feel that he was there. He couldn’t help the twinge of protectiveness he felt, and maybe even a touch of possessiveness, and didn’t bother examining why he felt like that. It was enough that he did.
Jim’s breathing evened out, and Leonard relaxed to the soft, steady sounds of a human body at rest, reassuring himself with the knowledge that his best friend was safe and recovering and that he’d had something to do with it. He knew he should go to bed himself, get up from the couch and actually lie down and sleep properly – he had his regular classes plus four hours of clinic duty in the morning – but there was something serene and reassuring about sitting quietly and letting the day's aftermath wash over him and drift away. Maybe cocky, boisterous Jim wasn’t there, but peaceful, sleeping Jim somehow made the place feel like home, too, like a tune from the past, familiar and soothing. It wasn’t the quiet comfort of the Georgia countryside, and the cold November rain that had just begun pummeling the window kept him from having any such illusions, but it was good enough. And dammit, Jim was good enough, too. More than good enough.
“Bones?” came Jim’s soft voice, muffled by the quilt which he’d pulled halfway up his face.
“Jim!” Leonard blurted, barely able to keep his voice down. “I thought you were asleep.”
“Almost,” he said, the word just a bit slurred. “Wanted to know… what’cha humming?”
Leonard blinked in surprise – he’d had a song stuck in his head, but he hadn’t realized he’d been humming the tune aloud. “Nothing important, Jim. Just an old song… about Georgia. Really old.”
“I like it. The song. You humming.” He yawned. “Thinkin’ of home?”
Leonard looked down at the blue eyes, almost completely obscured by shadows, peeking out from behind the edge of the quilt. With a grin, he reached over and patted Jim’s hand. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
Soon, Leonard was sure Jim was really asleep, and not long after, he drifted off with the disjointed lyrics of the ancient tune still echoing through his head.
heavy rain fallin', seems i hear your voice callin'
"it's all right."
a rainy night in Georgia, a rainy night in Georgia
it seems like it's rainin' all over the world
i feel like it's rainin' all over the world…
Leonard's own dreams were a fit of images, spinning flashes of all the fears he’d allowed to creep up on himself when he wasn't looking. Jim, unconscious on the floor of the observation deck, but this time, he wasn't responding to treatment. A painfully skinny boy lying in a cave as his older brother desperately tried to signal the rescue shuttles that were flying away, leaving them behind, leaving them to die, too late to be saved. Jim in a crumpled heap on the transporter pad. A child left for dead, his haunted eyes growing dim and finally fading out.
His father, with pain-glazed eyes growing dim and finally fading out. Joanna, on the other side of a judge’s conference table, looking back at him with questioning eyes, too young to understand the meanings of phrases like sole custody and limited visitation rights.
Then there was Jim again. He was watching the fierce, confident, brilliant Jim Kirk, a few years older, captain of some goddamned starship, unafraid of anything, but still flesh and blood and so easily snuffed out of existence by an alien taking hostages, or a battle with a hostile ship, or a disease that Leonard couldn't cure fast enough as life slipped through his fingers, taking his best friend with it. Then he couldn't pull his eyes away from the image of a child, bound and gagged and left on display in the public square – and Leonard tried to reach him, but he couldn't reach the kid because he wasn't really there, and the boy faded away to dust in front of his own eyes.
He was back in the training sim room, watching Jim being bound and gagged and beaten in front of his eyes, but he couldn't reach the kid because there was a solid window between them. He pounded his fists against the window, screaming, demanding that the bastards stop, yelling for Jim to hang in there, just hang in there, because it would be over soon and Leonard could fix him. But the aliens didn't stop beating him, and finally Jim crumpled to the ground and didn't move as his biosensors wailed in defeat.
The foot that collided with Leonard's gut was actually a blessing because it woke him from the nightmare that had held him too long, but dropped him right into another problem.
"Jim!" Leonard barely managed to bring up his arm to keep Jim's foot from hitting him in the face as the kid thrashed and struggled against enemies that no longer existed.
"NO! Let me go, let me go, LET ME GO! Fucking bastards, get your hands off me!" He was fully tangled in the quilt, struggling in pure panic.
One kick got through and snapped Bones in the face, and there was the hot, sick feel and metallic smell of blood in his nose. He ignored the warm trickle down his upper lip and called, “Computer – lights!” Dodging the flailing feet, Leonard managed to get off the couch. He grabbed Jim by the shoulders and shook him. "Jim! Wake up, kid!"
"Sam, you've got to warn them! No! No, no, no… stop!" Jim twisted in Leonard's hands – Goddammit, he's strong, Bones realized in a combination of fear and awe – but he held firm, shaking Jim again.
"Jim, snap out of it. Dammit, Jim, listen to me!" Risking the chance of Jim wrenching out of his grasp, Leonard took one hand and relinquished his grip, and held that hand firmly against Jim's cheek. Jim flinched, but Leonard wasn't quitting on him. "Jim, you're safe. It's me. It's Bones. Wake up."
"Bones! Don't let them get you! Get out of here –"
Using his weight, he pinned Jim down with one arm and pressed both hands to Jim's cheeks, desperate to get the kid awake and grounded back in reality, instead of trapped in his worst memories. "Jim, you're in San Francisco. Starfleet. You're here in my dorm room. Come back, kid."
Jim’s hand came up, fingers grasping at Leonard's hand on his cheek. Eyes twitched and snapped open, wild with fear, and he blinked a few times, breathing hard as he took in his surroundings. His hand began shaking violently, and Leonard squeezed tightly to help steady him. “Bones… oh God, Bones… I was…” The fear began to dissipate, but the shame didn’t fade at all. He pulled his hand out of Leonard's grip and clumsily pushed himself upright, shaking his head and shuddering. "Fuck, I'm sorry, Bones, I didn't mean to wake you –” He cut himself off, and his eyes went wide the shame suddenly changed to guilt. “Shit, you're bleeding!"
Leonard wiped the back of his hand across his nose, looking with detached amusement at the red streak that smeared his skin. “It’s not broken,” he said, grabbing a tissue from the box on the coffee table, absently thinking, You’re the broken one, kid, even as he pinched his nose with the tissue and tilted his head back slightly. He soaked through the paper too quickly, and was glad he was still wearing his red cadet uniform.
“You’re doing it wrong,” Jim said, pushing back the quilt and grabbing the box of tissues.
Leonard would have snorted, if he could. “And since when did you become a doctor?”
“Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of experience with these.” He folded the tissues into a thick pad. “Move your hand.”
Feeling very awkward, Leonard let Jim take over. His hand was surprisingly gentle – No, I am never going to let myself be surprised by Jim Kirk again – as he pinched Leonard's nose just a bit lower than Leonard would have done himself. Jim’s movements were confident, as if by taking care of someone else, or having a task to do, he was able to distract himself from his own issues. There was that hint of confidence and capability returning, even if just for a moment. For that reason alone, Leonard was glad to let him do this.
“Now tip your head forward, just a little bit," Jim instructed, resting a hand on the back of Leonard's neck. "If you tip it backwards, you’ll choke on the blood, and it won’t clot as fast. I'm sure you've treated more of these than you've had yourself.”
Jim sighed. “I’m sorry I kicked you.”
“Id’z fine,” Leonard mumbled around the tissue. “I’b actually kinda glad you woke me up.”
Jim gave him a critical sort of look. “A few bad dreams, too, huh?”
Leonard closed his eyes and actually leaned into Jim’s hand. “Yeah.” Sure, he could have waved Jim off, grabbed his vascular regenerator from his emergency kit, and fixed the nosebleed in a few seconds, but this… in some weird way, it was nice.
“Aren’t we just a fucking mess,” Jim said with an amused sigh.
Leonard gave a small grunt in agreement.
“But…” Jim said slowly, “I think, even fucked up and messed up, we’re ahead of most people. We’ll be okay. Right?” His voice was firm and confident, until that last word; he was waiting for Leonard to confirm it.
Something in the way Jim had said “we,” as if that pronoun had always been there and always would be, caught Leonard’s attention. By all rights, it shouldn't have been there at all; at least, not yet. They'd known each other for so little time. They had almost nothing in common other than the fact that they had nothing in common with anyone else. Technically, they knew almost nothing about each other. Hell, despite the fact that Jim had clung to Leonard like a goddamned limpet since the day he'd arrived, or maybe he'd just come back again and again like a cold virus Leonard just couldn't shake, Jim had never really spoken about himself until that very night. And despite all that, they were definitely a "we."
Leonard slowly reached up and nudged Jim’s fingers out of the way, pinching his own nose with the tissue the exact way Jim had done. A few seconds later, he cautiously pulled away the tissues, wiping under his nose and sniffing a couple of times. There was no telltale feeling of blood running down his nostrils, and he smiled. “Right kid. We will.”
He got up and walked to his kitchenette sink, wet a cloth, and wiped his face with it. His clock read 0437 hours – he had to be awake by 0700. He knew he should go to his bed and try to get at least a little bit of normal sleep, but he dismissed the thought before he’d even considered it. He walked back to the couch and grumbled, “Move over.”
Jim frowned, but obeyed, sliding away from the end of the couch.
Leonard grabbed the pillow, sat down where Jim's head had been, and set the pillow on his lap. With a sharp nod, he said, “Now lie down and get some sleep.”
“Uh, Bones… are you sure… I mean…” He waved a hand as if that explained what he meant, and it did.
Leonard rolled his eyes. “You can’t kick me if I’m up here, can you?” he asked, glossing over the fact that he was offering to hold Jim all night if that’s what it took.
“Don’t you have your Humanoid Morphologies class in the morning?” Jim asked, still frowning.
Leonard shrugged. “I hate that class anyway.”
And that was enough of an excuse for both of them.
A moment later, the lights were off, and Jim’s weight was heavy and comforting, like a shield between Leonard and the storm still raging outside. Then, Jim reached up, took Leonard’s hand and moved it, wrapping himself with Leonard’s arm, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
Bones wasn’t sure who fell asleep first, but when he woke up hours later with the sun streaming in the window and Jim’s blue eyes shining up at him, he knew they hadn’t moved once all night.
Leonard got the class work for Humanoid Morphologies from one of the residents at the infirmary during his shift, during a brief lull in the constant stream of minor injuries and afflictions that kept pouring through the doors. Fridays were always busy, it seemed. He found himself grateful for that; it helped to keep him from constantly wondering what Jim was doing, if Jim was okay, if Jim needed anything.
He'd left the kid with a spare PADD so he could do some classwork, and strict instructions not to leave the dorm unless there was an emergency – Jim was, after all, restricted from duty for medical reasons. Leonard had received a glare from Doctor Reinhardt upon arrival that morning, letting him know that the senior medical staff were aware that the sick note was teetering on the fine line of professional care and unprofessional favors, so it would look really bad if Jim was seen running around campus. Still, he hated to think of Jim holed up in that tiny dorm room alone, and he hoped the kid would find something to keep himself busy and distracted so that he didn’t stew too deeply over his own inner turmoil.
Now, if only Leonard could keep himself distracted.
Although the day was busy enough to keep him mostly preoccupied, his mind still drifted at every opportunity. It wasn't just the professional concern over Jim's mental and physical welfare that sifted through his thoughts. No, this was personal. Had a crisis of this magnitude happened to any other patient under his care, he'd definitely be concerned; it was a huge pill to swallow. But it hadn't happened to just any patient – it had happened to Jim. Whether Leonard liked it or not, he was in this for the long haul, and he decided he wouldn't have it any other way.
Still, that didn't help the fact that he hadn't had much of an appetite all day. It didn't stop the painful details of Jim's story from churning over and over in his head every time he had a spare moment to think. It didn't stop him from feeling a little twist of fear in his gut each time the ER room doors slid open with a new patient for the chance that something horrible had happened to Jim in his absence, or that Jim had done something horrible to himself…
"… McCoy. Hey, Doctor McCoy!"
Leonard blinked twice and looked up, feeling the heat of embarrassment flushing his face. "Sorry, Sir… I was reviewing the rounds from the shift, and –"
Reinhardt gave him an exasperated sort of look. "Your shift is over, and you look like hell. Go home and get some rest over the weekend, would you?"
Leonard nodded vaguely, handing the PADD to Doctor Reinhardt. He had the weekend off because he'd volunteered to work the long holiday, freeing up other medical staff who had family they'd wanted to visit, so as a result, he had this weekend to himself. To Jim, he thought. And that weekend, he realized as he focused on the clock on the wall, had started eight minutes ago. He grinned, feeling like a weight on his shoulders had lifted, just a bit. "Yes, Doctor."
He hurried across campus, relishing the cool breeze and clear sky after the miserable weather of the previous night. He could see the entire Golden Gate Bridge lit by the bright afternoon sun, without even a trace of fog obscuring it. It would be a great night to get Jim out of the dorm and bring him down to the bar. Maybe see if he could relax a little bit and sort through some of his thoughts the way they usually did now that the immediate impact of the whole thing had faded for a few hours. At least, he hoped that's what they could do.
The turbolift to the eighteenth floor took far too long, and he jogged down the hall to his dorm room, rapidly punching his code into the access pad. "Hey Jim," he said lightly, setting his bag down, "what did you do all day?"
He was greeted by silence.
Stepping slowly into the room, Leonard held his breath as he searched for anything that might be out of place, but there was nothing. In fact, even his grandmother’s quilt had been neatly folded and draped over the back of the couch where it always was. He glanced around the bookshelf and saw that his bed hadn’t been touched, so Jim wasn’t asleep there. And the Starfleet regulation boots that were one size too small for him (as he knew from trying to pull them on once or twice by accident) were gone.
Don’t panic yet, Leonard, he told himself as he hurried across the room to his comm panel. “Leonard McCoy to James Kirk.” No reply. “McCoy to Kirk,” he said, a bit more emphatically. Still nothing. “Goddammit.”
A dozen possibilities, none of them pleasant, flashed through Leonard’s mind. He hadn’t cared enough to worry about someone like this since… well… Jocelyn and Joanna. The implications of that were best ignored for now. Of course, there was the chance that Jim had gone back to his own dorm room and was asleep or ignoring his comm. That would be an innocent enough answer.
Without a second thought, Leonard had grabbed his first aid kit like a reflex response and found himself running back out the door and to the turbolift. He couldn't stop himself from rocking on his toes as he felt the surge of adrenaline and worry pushing him to move while he waited for the turbolift to reach the ground floor, cursing it for taking too long. When the doors slid open, he burst out of the dorm building like a racehorse through a starting gate, not caring that cadets and faculty alike were staring at him like he was insane as he sped across the quad. The campus seemed far too wide, and for the first time, he found himself irritated that his advanced degree had given him a senior cadet suite while placing Jim in the freshman dorms at the other end of Crissy Field.
He let his own half-collision with the freshman dorm access pad slow him down, and all but slammed his handprint against the reader. Again, the wait on the turbolift was almost unbearable, and when he finally got to the eleventh floor and Jim’s door, he was unsurprised that nobody replied to his hail. It took him two failed attempts to remember Jim’s access code before he finally cracked and used his medical override code.
“Jim?” he called as he walked into the room, not surprised to find it dark and the shades drawn. “Computer, lights.” There was nothing to see with the lights that he hadn’t been able to see without. Jim’s roommate wasn’t there, which was typical, as he spent most of his evenings at the astrophysics lab. A few articles of clothing were strewn across Jim’s unmade bed, but Leonard had the feeling those had been there for a couple of days. No, Jim hadn’t been back.
Leonard began pacing, something he hadn’t done in years, trying to decide what to do next. He could begin a random search across the campus at Jim’s favorite haunts. He could try the mess hall, in case Jim had decided to brave campus food instead of raiding Leonard’s mini-fridge like usual. He could page security, but somehow he knew Jim would never forgive him for that, and he was already feeling guilty for his other mistakes over the previous twenty-four hours. Instead, he went with his gut instinct.
He hit the comm panel just a bit harder than necessary, took a deep breath and said, “Doctor Leonard McCoy to Captain Christopher Pike.” A tense moment later, Pike’s voice came in clear over the speaker. “Pike here. And before you ask, so is Kirk, and he’s fine.”
The tension unwound from Leonard so fast he almost stumbled. Oh thank God, he thought, at the same time as he desperately tried to squash his own embarrassment at his transparency. There was no point in denying why he'd called. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Sir. I had just expected Jim to be around this afternoon, and he didn’t answer his comm. I wanted to see how he was doing.” Then, realizing Jim was probably listening, he added, “Sorry, Jim.”
“It’s okay, Bones,” came Jim’s voice. He didn’t sound hurt, upset, or frantic, and one more knot of tension Leonard hadn’t realized he was still carrying loosened. “Captain Pike buzzed me about an hour ago to check in, and said if I felt up for it, he wanted to review my performance at the training sim yesterday. I’m fine. Just didn’t realize that you’d get out of the clinic so early.”
Leonard nodded, even though they couldn’t see him. “No problem, Jim. I wish you’d left a note.”
Leonard was glad they couldn’t see him as his face flushed furiously and he thudded his head lightly against the wall. “Oh. I… guess I didn’t see it.”
The sound of two voices chuckling lightly in unison. Then a pause. “Bones, are you in my room?”
Bones thudded his head against the wall next to the comm again, and he was sure that Pike and Jim both heard it that time. “Yeah, kid. Comm me when you’re done with your meeting, okay?”
“Actually, McCoy,” Pike’s voice cut in, “we’re just finishing up. My office is on the seventh floor of Archer Hall. If you want to meet Cadet Kirk here, he’s all yours.”
Through the mortification at his own obviousness and stupidity, Leonard got a little rush of the same possessiveness he'd felt yesterday, and pride at Pike's subtle acknowledgement of his right to it. More practically, he was sure that Pike wanted someone to keep an eye on Jim for the day anyway, but still… it felt good. Not that he wasn't still royally embarrassed. "I'll be there in five minutes. McCoy out.”
A few minutes later, the turbolift deposited Leonard onto the seventh floor of Archer Hall. Jim was just stepping out into the hallway from Pike’s office, looking back over his shoulder, still talking.
“… I will, thank you. I’ll report back on Monday. I’m not going to do anything stupid, Sir. I promise.”
“That’ll be the day,” Leonard said gruffly, giving Jim one of his best I-don’t-know-why-I-put-up-with-you looks as he walked towards him.
Jim’s head snapped around, and he smiled the first decent smile he’d had since Thursday morning. “Well, Bones, if I do something stupid, I’ve got you to scrape me off the floor and put me back together.”
Leonard stopped in front of him and folded his arms across his chest. “I’d really rather not get into the habit of having to put you back together. We’ve got to leave some medical supplies for the rest of Starfleet, don’t we?” He let his scowl soften and reached over to muss Jim’s hair, which never failed to get a reaction. “But yeah, I guess I would. Damn troublemaker.”
“Hey!” Jim ducked out of the way and quickly ran his fingers through his hair, trying to fix whatever damage Leonard might have caused. “Hands off the software!”
By then, Pike was leaning in the doorway, chuckling to himself. “You kids both stay out of trouble this weekend.”
Leonard nodded, putting his hand firmly on Jim’s shoulder as if to say, Don’t worry about that, I’ve got him. “We will. Hot shot here is taking it easy. Doctor’s orders.”
“Bones!” Jim sounded exasperated and just on the amusing side of petulant. Hell, he sounded like Jim again.
“You heard him, Cadet,” Pike said evenly. “Doctor’s orders. Even I can’t override that.” He tipped his head. “You two get out of here, and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get to do that soon, too.”
Leonard quirked a smile appreciatively, but almost frowned when he got a better look at Pike. He should have known – the Captain might be smiling lightly, but his eyes looked a bit red and strained. A sideways glance at Jim told him that Jim’s easy posture and careless grin were a façade, and below that, he was still nursing some raw wounds. The conversation that had just ended in Pike’s office couldn’t have been easy for either of them. Leonard gave Pike a quick but meaningful nod. “Then you get some rest, too, Sir. Doctor’s orders, yes?”
Pike let his shoulders slump, just a fraction of an inch, but he kept his tired grin in place. “Yes, Doc.” He looked back at Jim, fixing him with a meaningful stare. “And Kirk… you take care of yourself.”
“I’ll try, Sir.”
There were so many things being said in those few words that Leonard’s brain was still processing the multiple meanings as they all said goodbye, and he steered Jim towards the turbolift, his hand still clasped on the kid’s shoulder. As the turbolift doors slid shut and they began to descend, however, Jim suddenly slapped his hand against the controls, bringing the 'lift to an immediate halt. Just as abruptly, the light, easy confidence he'd been wearing fell away and he slouched against the turbolift wall, eyes closed and mouth screwed up in a tense line.
Just as quickly, Leonard found himself ready to catch him, fingers on Jim’s elbow and legs braced. "Jim? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Bones. Just give me a minute to breathe."
"You're not going to collapse on me, are you?"
One blue eye cracked open. "No." It closed again. "Just need to breathe. And think. There's a lot to think about."
"Yeah, you ain't kidding." Leonard had his own list on his mind, and he figured it only partially overlapped with Jim's.
That one eye opened again, glancing first at Leonard's face, then down at the fingers on his arm and back up again. "I'm not gonna fall over, Bones. I actually followed doctor's orders today and rested. Well, actually, I kinda hid from the world in your dorm room until Pike called me, but seriously, I think I'm managing to pull it together again."
"I'm glad," he said as softly as he could. Releasing Jim's elbow, Leonard turned and leaned back against the turbolift wall next to Jim. He folded his arms and pressed the knuckles of his right hand against his mouth, speaking into the backs of his fingers. "What did you talk about in there?"
Jim held his silence for a moment, then shook his head as he slapped the turbolift controls again. "I'll tell you when I've got a cold beer in front of me."
That sounded more like the Jim that Leonard had come to know over the previous three months. The light grin and casual stance outside Pike's office had been an act, but the progress here, however strained, was real. It was a relief to hear him coming back to himself, even if it took effort. Leonard nodded in acquiescence, and when the doors slid open a few seconds later, he followed his friend out of the turbolift.
Jim led the way across the quad, away from the waterfront, and Leonard followed close at his side, not quite keeping even with the kid. They crossed the walkway and ducked out through the south gate, away from the Academy grounds. The whole time, Jim said nothing, and Leonard figured that was okay.
He expected Jim to lead them to one of his preferred bars, all of which had plenty of noise and plenty of women, the two things in which Jim Kirk seemed to enjoy losing himself. Instead, he found Jim making a left onto the bike path, and going almost all the way to the marina before turning right again, towards Leonard's favorite bar. It was a quieter place with a better selection of liquors, and typically he only persuaded Jim to go there when the day had been rough and all he wanted was amiable silence while he lost himself in his bad habits. For all that Jim was a raucous and flirtatious drunk at the other bars, he had been a surprisingly good drinking buddy on those few nights when Leonard had needed him. They'd never said much, which was fine, he supposed – they technically barely knew each other – but after those evenings, it had always felt as though he'd let the weight of the world off his chest. Sometimes, that was enough.
Tonight, Leonard suspected that it wouldn't be.
Finally, they tucked themselves into a table in the back corner of the bar, Leonard with a tumbler of bourbon in his own hands and Jim clutching an oversized glass of amber-colored brew. For several minutes, Jim sat staring at his beer, watching the condensation collect on the outside of the glass, occasionally running his finger through the gathering droplets, speeding one along its descent to the coaster.
Leonard could practically see him mentally thumbing through a long list of topics that simmered just below the surface – each one pressing and severe and just plain fucked up, each one needing to be dissected and left with its innards to air out like a grotesque sacrifice to the old gods. Jim looked like he was about to be sacrificed himself, and the most twisted part of it was that he looked like he had accepted that fate. That look just didn’t fit on Jim Kirk, but there it was. Finally, his eyes hardened just a bit; he’d decided where to start. He took a large chug of beer, set the glass back down, and still staring at the bubbles, spoke just loud enough to be heard over the din of the bar.
"You didn't know my father was George Kirk, did you?" It was less a question than a statement.
It was as good of a place to start as any, Leonard thought. "Was I supposed to?"
Jim laughed drily. "Actually, no. That's why I never even mentioned it. But I figured you did, like everyone else."
Deciding to tread lightly, Leonard knocked back a swallow of bourbon, letting the slow burn clear his head. "I try to avoid that 'like everyone else' thing. Never seemed to work for me, ya know."
"Ha. Good bet. Never worked for me either." He shook his head bemusedly. "Hell, you didn't even overhear people, did you?"
"I try to avoid them, too."
Jim snorted. "Yeah. So you never heard what they've been saying since the day I arrived?"
"What have they been saying?"
"Hell, Bones, I know you're not in any of my classes, but I'm still surprised you missed that." He tossed back another swig of beer. "They said that the only reason I got into the Academy was because of my father's name."
Leonard couldn't prevent his eyebrow from creeping up at the revelation. "I'm sure that's not true, Jim."
With a grimace, Jim shook his head and looked away. "Yeah it is. It's absolutely, completely, one-hundred percent true, and that's why it really sucks. Sure, my aptitude scores were high enough, but my personal track record would have kept me out if Pike hadn't pulled some strings… and agreed to be personally responsible for my academic and professional development… and he did because of my father.” He shook his head again. “There are times I hate my last name.”
Leonard didn’t quite know what to say to that, so he let Jim’s words settle in while he sipped at his drink a bit. “I’m sorry for not knowing.”
Jim actually looked amused by that. “You’re sorry?” he asked incredulously, rhetorically. “Bones, I thought you knew, but you’re the one fucking person in Starfleet who didn’t seem to expect me to be my father, and then thoroughly express their disappointment that I wasn’t. You didn’t talk about it, you didn’t seem to expect me to talk about it, and you… you… dammit, Bones, don’t you dare be sorry. I’m glad you didn’t know. I can breathe around you.”
Jim’s mouth fell open in surprise at his own words, and he quickly hid behind another chug of beer, but when he put the glass down, he didn’t seem any more comfortable. “I know you can’t forget that I said that, but… now that you know, please don’t turn into them. After all of this shit…” He let out a sharp breath between his teeth, as if he was pissed with himself. The hand that wasn’t wrapped tight around his drink raked itself harshly through his already-mussed hair. “Fuck, you’re the one person who didn’t know anything about me, and now you know too much.”
Leonard raised an eyebrow. So that’s what this is about, huh? He leaned forward, hunched over his own tumbler, and fixed Jim with a stern look. “You’ve been hanging around with me because I didn’t know you, or at least, because I didn’t act like I did?”
Jim actually nodded, a wary look in his eye. “You never asked me about stuff, and you treated me like… well… normal.”
Leonard couldn’t believe that he was hearing this crap. “Kid, what your name is and who you are… those are two completely different things. I don’t give a shit about your last name. You’re Jim, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s plenty. I didn’t ask you about stuff because I didn’t see a reason to pry into things you didn’t want to up and tell me anyway.” He paused, and suddenly knew where he was going with this. Knocking back the last swallow of his bourbon, and cringing at the sharp burn, he braced himself for what he knew he was going to have to say.
Jim had opened up. Jim had been vulnerable. Jim had bared his soul. It was Leonard’s turn to rip off the bandages so that Jim didn’t run off thinking he was the only one who was broken.
“I also don’t give a shit about ‘normal,’ whatever that is. I only care about ‘normal’ when I’m testing someone’s vital signs.” He tucked his head down between his shoulders and spoke at his empty tumbler. “My… my wife wanted normal.”
“Oh?” A tiny glimmer of curiosity.
Leonard squared his shoulders, unable to meet Jim’s eyes as he ripped off the whole bandage in one fast, agonizing blow. “She had it, too… until I helped my father die.”
Even as he said it, he felt the hot burn of tears threatening to well up, to blur his vision, to make him break. The quiet and tight intake of breath from across the table matched the stunned look on Jim’s face, which was wavering through the tears that Leonard was refusing to blink away.
“You never told me,” Jim said, sounding dazed.
Leonard swallowed past the tightness in his throat. “You never asked… and I didn’t want to talk about it either.”
“You don’t have to –”
“Yeah, I do.”
Leonard signaled the barkeep for another round, and soon the evening was dissolving into a swirl of liquor and a stream of stories that should never have been told and – if the world didn’t hate him as much as he thought – would never be repeated.
That night, Leonard went to sleep in his own bed, with Jim curled up on the couch, sleeping off one too many rounds of beer. It was dysfunctionally familiar, but different all at once. Despite the fact that he'd spent the evening playing out memories and fears that he’d hoped never to voice to another living soul, he was okay with it. It had been horrible, but, but for Jim, yes, he was okay with it.
He woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of fitful struggling as Jim battled his own demons again, and fell back asleep sitting on the couch with Jim’s head on his lap.
When he woke up again, it was morning. The room was empty, but this time he held panic at bay as he looked for a note, and was not surprised that Jim had left one.
Before you start, don’t worry. I’m just going to change into some clean clothes, and then I just need to go do some thinking. Call if you need to, but I’m fine.
Also, you didn’t have to, but thanks.
Leonard sighed. Yeah, he’d had to do it, and in retrospect, he’d also wanted to. All of it. And sure, he wanted to go find Jim to verify for himself that the kid was really okay, but this time he knew that he had to sit back and give him some space. Forcing himself to put it out of his mind for a little while, Leonard made himself some breakfast, including a very large cup of mediocre replicator coffee, and sat back on his couch with his Humanoid Morphologies classwork and a painfully quiet dorm room.
The classwork was a thin distraction, and his mind kept slipping back to the things he’d told Jim as the alcohol had loosened his tongue. He’d spent far too many credits on alcohol, sure, but it was okay. It was a small price to pay compared to the other fees and small print.
He’d been told that getting things off your chest helped to ease the burden, but instead, it brought up all those feelings as if they were new and raw. He’d felt sick as he told Jim about his father begging for peace and reprieve from his fate of painful wasting and decay. He’d almost been unable to meet Jim’s eyes when he admitted how he’d euthanized his own father, and hadn’t even been able to raise his head as he’d explained how the cure had been found only months later. He cursed himself for being a doctor, and a failure of one who couldn’t even cure the people closest to him. He had refused to listen to Jim’s insistence that he couldn’t have known, and that his father made the best decision he could at that time, and Bones had done right by his dad.
I would have done the same thing.
You can’t know that, Jim. You’re not a doctor.
No, I’m not, but I know what I would have done. He knew what he wanted, and you honored his request.
And my oath? To do no harm? At that point, he’d clenched his fists so hard that the nail marks were still visible now. What kind of a doctor am I? What kind of a son was I?
A son your father would have been proud of. And you got to know him, Jim had said.
Is that always better? Was all Leonard could say in return.
A few hours later, Leonard abandoned his studies for some fresh air. The fog had returned, but it wasn’t too thick. He grabbed a sandwich at the small café on the corner of campus and ate as he walked, heading towards the waterfront. He had never lived near open water, but he’d discovered that he liked it over the past few months. The salt in the air felt cleansing, and despite the chill and the fog that often came riding in on it, the wind felt like a constant companion. Sometimes gentle and warm, sometimes harsh and cold. As secretive as it was fickle, it came and went as it pleased, and didn’t divulge its secrets to anyone, but it but always there.
A bit like Jim, he mused.
He dropped the sandwich wrapper in the reprocessor unit and made his way down to the old wharf. He kicked off his shoes and sat on the edge, dangling his feet over the side, feeling the occasional mist of water tickling the soles of his feet as a wave against the pilings sent up a chilly spray on the wind. Despite the thin fog wisping along in the breeze, it wasn’t too cold for November. And really, he wouldn’t have cared if it was.
Very pointedly, he did not think about what he had told Jim about his own personal history. He did not rehash the things he’d learned about the son of the Federation’s poster boy of self-sacrifice. He did not mentally replay the image of Jim going slack and gray on the simulation deck, the sound of the medical klaxon screaming, or the feel of Jim’s wrist with no pulse in it. He certainly didn’t superimpose that with the image of a skinny, dirty, battered kid, tied up and displayed like a grotesque scarecrow. He didn't dwell on how this kid had somehow woven himself into the fabric of his life. He pointedly did not languish over the loss of the one casual friend he thought he’d made; the hyperkinetic, genius-level fuck-up who asked nothing more than to drink his bourbon and leave a Jim-shaped dent on his couch, nor did he ponder what it meant to suddenly substitute that for a friend about whom he knew so much… so very much…
Instead, he swung his feet back and forth over the edge of the dock and whistled to himself. More old songs about Georgia, he supposed, or maybe this one was about San Francisco, too. He remembered the words, but he didn’t care to think about what they meant just then.
And Leonard watched as a cadet in a fitness training uniform wove his way along the trails of the woods behind the Academy and down towards the water, before turning west along the beach towards the underbelly of the Bridge. A young man with dirty blond hair and a familiar gait, running with a slightly desperate stride that made it seem as though he was running away from something. He punctuated a line along the edge of the water; the fine line between land and sea, terra and space, life and death, drawn out in those footsteps. He traced the beach away from the Academy, becoming a hazy, gray silhouette through the fog as the distance between them grew. He ran without once looking to the side or slowing down as he went from the sand to the rocks, quick feet and confident footsteps, one in front of the other. Finally, he disappeared around the bend towards the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Leonard considered following him, but that wouldn’t do. He knew that feeling – that need to run and break free. Jim needed that right now, and it would do him some good.
The afternoon light shifted as the higher clouds broke briefly, turning the Golden Gate bridge into a ghostly silhouette through the fog, skeletal and beautiful at once. Sometimes, with its spires lost in the fog, it seemed that the bridge went up forever, touching space itself. A silly illusion, of course, but it felt comforting just then.
With a sigh, Leonard settled into absently humming the song he’d been whistling just before he’d seen Jim.
"i left my home in Georgia… headin’ for the ‘Frisco Bay. i’ve got nothin’ to live for… looks like nothin’s gonna come my way. yeah, i’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay… wastin’ time…sittin’ here resting my bones…"
Early Monday morning found an under-caffeinated Leonard McCoy on the staging floor of Training Simulation Facility Four. Emergency med kit in one hand and a lukewarm canteen of black coffee in the other, he sighed and looked around the empty staging platform. He was tired, and he was less interested in being there than usual.
He’d been almost unable to sleep the previous two nights, finding the quietness of his empty dorm room strangely disconcerting as he was left alone with his thoughts. He supposed it was odd to feel that his dorm room without Jim felt too empty, as Jim was not a regular fixture in his room, but now it seemed like the kid was supposed to be there. Or maybe with everything that had been happening, the sudden lack of information had left Leonard's brain scrambling to fill in the blanks with speculation, most of it troubling.
Jim had left two text communiqués, just enough to say that he was alive and okay and not to worry and not to come frantically looking for him, but that was it. No new information. No Jim. What remained were Leonard's uncertainty of the situation and his thoughts about his own past, underscored by the simmering feeling that there were still repercussions waiting to boil over. It made for sleepless nights, and there were times when a sedative just wasn’t the answer.
He had no time for more introspection. The cadets for the sim would be there soon. The cadre were probably already on the observation deck, and he supposed he ought to simply go and join them. He took a sip of his coffee, grimaced, and crossed the platform to the door of the observation deck.
He was barely two steps inside the door when the clipped voice of Lieutenant Commander Toland caught his ear.
"Doctor McCoy, your schedule has been reassigned and you will no longer be working on training simulations this semester."
Stopped cold in his tracks, he shook his head incredulously. Dropping all pretense at the brittle formality that he'd attempted with Toland in the past, he blurted out, "I'm sorry, but what?"
"You heard me quite clearly, Cadet," she said, not even looking up from the computer console in front of her station. "You may be an excellent doctor by all civilian standards, but your evaluators have determined that you're not yet ready for some of the challenges faced by Starfleet medical staff, even in a training simulation. Your academic advisor will be contacting you after the holiday weekend. You'll be reevaluated for this position next semester."
Leonard felt his mouth fall open. Sure, he didn't really want to be there that morning, but this was not what he'd had in mind. "You think that because I reacted correctly to a medical emergency that just happened to involve an acquaintance of mine that suddenly I'm too soft for Starfleet? Is that it?"
The air on the observation deck turned icy. Two techs who were working on a computer console at the back of the deck suddenly beat a hasty retreat. Toland stood upright and stepped back from the computer console as she turned towards the Lieutenant to her left and said, "Henson, brief the cadets for me and don't start the sim until I return."
Lieutenant Henson gave her a nervous glance, nodded quickly, and all but scrambled out of his seat and hurried to the door.
Toland snapped a level gaze at Leonard. "This way, Cadet."
She led him through a back door out of the observation deck and down a corridor, arriving at an office cluster. Leonard saw her name placard on one of the doors, but instead, she let him into a conference room. Impersonal. Neutral ground. A bit more elbow room so they wouldn't have to get too close to each other. Distantly, Leonard thought he could respect that. However, he was still too flabbergasted by the sudden turn of events to give her the slightest shred of real respect.
"Commander," he began tersely, "regardless of what you may think, I would have done the exact same for anyone else in –"
She spun around to face him, and despite the fact that she must have been at least twenty centimeters shorter than he was, her glare made him feel like he was barely a meter tall. He could suddenly see why this woman was considered to be so formidable. “This is not a matter of what you would have or could have done for anyone else, McCoy, or whether you gave Cadet Kirk preferential treatment. Your medical performance was exemplary, as usual. Your emotional performance, on the other hand, was mediocre at best. What you don’t seem to understand is that these training sims are tests for our medical cadets, too. Do you think it’s going to be coming up roses out there, Doctor?”
The collar of his cadet uniform suddenly felt too tight. “Of course not.” He didn't like the choked sound his voice was making.
Apparently, Toland liked it just fine. She took a step closer to him, looking up but still giving the appearance of looking down, with her facial expression set into a neutral mask. “Good. Because let me tell you something. You already know this, but I don't think it's quite sunk in, so let me put it to you plainly."
Her eyes drilled into him. "Someday, there’s going to be a crisis. Someday, you’ll be on a ship that will warp into the biggest disaster you’ve ever seen, and you’ll have to watch your colleagues and friends beam down into firefights and explosions and political standoffs, and you’ll have to let them go and still maintain your professional bearing as a Starfleet officer. You’ll have to accept each time that your friends might come back in pieces, and you'll still need to stand by and let them do their jobs without flinching. And you can't let it distract you or weaken you or break you when you get the report back that your friends have been critically wounded or killed."
"I know that, but –" He didn't even know what he was going to argue, but he felt like he was being crushed by an oncoming tidal wave and he had to struggle, even though he knew it was going to hit him no matter what he did. Still, he wasn't going to let it go so easily.
Toland seemed to know it, too, and she spoke right over him, nodding slowly. "The universe is indifferent. It doesn’t care about you or Cadet Kirk. It doesn’t care about Captain Pike or Admiral Archer or me either. It doesn’t care about civilians who get caught in the crossfire. And you, as a Starfleet Medical Officer, will need to accept that fact before the shit hits the fan, and learn to control those emotions, because if you can’t, you’ll never make it… and people will die because you wavered.”
Leonard felt his resolve falter as the tide began to wash over him, but not yet. He was a doctor, and was not going to let this woman get one up on him when it came to his profession. Bracing himself, he pushed back. “Oh, so you want me to forget that I’ve dedicated my life to saving people? That human life and health is the crux of everything I do? Do you want me to stop caring?”
“If you care so much that it jeopardizes the mission, then yes, just a bit, yes.”
"What's worth the cost of sentient life, Commander?" he growled dangerously, feeling himself gaining momentum in the argument.
She leveled a gaze back at him that could have cut steel. "Even more life," she ground out. "You can't save everyone, McCoy. If you can't pick your battles wisely, if you can't keep a level head, the universe will decide for you, and I'll tell you right now – it's a much less compassionate judge, jury, and executioner than you and I are."
“And when I see something that is unnecessarily dangerous,” he pressed, “or if I see something that goes so far outside the limits of what people are expecting that they can’t even wrap their dry-docked brains around it, what then? Do I sit back and let a person suffer when it can be prevented?”
"A bit of suffering isn't going to kill him, McCoy."
"Unless it does," he said through gritted teeth.
"I highly doubt that passing out from a panic attack is enough to kill a person," she quipped, actually managing to look down her nose at McCoy despite their height difference.
"Oh, so now you're a doctor, too?" He shook his head; there was no use dancing around the issue. As the blood started to boil in his veins, he knew where this was going. “You can’t possibly imagine what Kirk was going through on Thursday. That kind of shock can kill a person.”
“From being tied up and hit with a few volts of electricity?”
Through the red haze of fury that had crept up behind Leonard’s eyes, he dimly hoped that Jim would be able to forgive him for what he was about to do. “No, from suddenly remembering that he lived through the worst massacre in Federation history.”
Leonard hadn’t thought he’d ever live to see Lieutenant Commander Toland struck speechless, but he supposed there was a first time for everything. Not only was she speechless, she looked stunned. No, shocked. Her eyes lost their focus, and her mouth was moving, but not words were coming out.
Not feeling particularly sympathetic to Toland’s emotional upset, and nursing a strange sense of victory at finally getting one up on her despite the cost of that minor success, Leonard folded his arms over his chest. "Yeah, it was a blocked memory, and because of your little third-year training stunt, he had a flashback. Kirk had an absolutely valid reason for going into shock."
"Tarsus IV," she whispered hoarsely.
Leonard nodded, eyes narrow. “Congratulations on that diagnosis, doc. Must have taken years of training to figure that out. Medical professionals like me who just happen to be cadets must have nothing on you." He was almost surprised that Toland didn't rise to that dig, but when she said nothing, he kept pushing. "And not only was Kirk there," he growled, "but he was one of the only goddamn people on the kill list who made it. The governor decided to make an example of him, putting him on display and trying to starve him to death."
"An example of him?" she asked weakly, her voice sounding distant.
"Oh yeah," he drawled, feeling vindictive. "Tied him up, blindfolded him, beat him – gee, I wonder why that sounds so familiar?" He snorted derisively. "Huh, I guess Jim's always been good at pissing off authority figures who have the ability to tie him up and injure him.”
Toland's eyes focused again, and she looked sharply up at Leonard, but behind that pointed stare, there was still a flicker of disorientation and disbelief whispering that she wasn't quite okay. "An example of him?" she asked again, her voice marginally clearer, but still not the familiar hard-edged voice of the brutal training officer he thought he knew. This was someone Leonard didn't recognize at all. She broke eye contact and looked at the floor; distracted, preoccupied. When she spoke again, it was as if Leonard wasn't there and she was speaking to herself. "Dear God… could it be? They never identified… he's the right age," she muttered haltingly, as if the words themselves were old and rusty, something dredged up from the past. She shook her head slowly. "I never… I thought he'd died. We all thought he'd died.”
An abbreviated flash of realization, not enough to understand what it meant but enough to know that something was wrong, lodged itself in Leonard's chest, but before he could say anything, Toland had composed herself and had already fixed him with an unwavering stare. “You might think I’m heartless, Doctor, but you and I have the same goals. We want to see life preserved whenever possible. Our methods are different, but believe me when I say that I want nothing more than the best for every future Starfleet officer, including Kirk. Maybe I’ve just become a bit calloused after seeing too many deaths.”
With that, she leveled her gaze and strode past him towards the door. He turned and watched her go, unable to think of anything to say, his brain trying to pull together the threads of the net that had tangled around him. Then, at the door, she stopped and turned her head just enough so that he could see her profile, even though she didn’t make eye contact with him. “Everyone has a breaking point, McCoy. Starfleet officers just have to have it later than others.”
The door slid shut behind her, and Leonard was left standing there, his forgotten coffee canteen in one hand, med kit in the other, and no idea what the hell just happened, or what the hell he was supposed to do next. The only coherent thought he could pull together was that the coffee wasn't nearly strong enough to cope with whatever thoughts might materialize when his brain stopped spinning.
Without the requirement to provide medical support for the training simulation, Leonard found himself at a bit of a loss of what to do until his next class. He'd been counting on a full schedule to keep himself busy and distracted all day. Now, with yet another thing added to the list already weighing on his mind, he decided to go back to his dorm room to stow the emergency medkit there, as he really didn't feel like showing his face around the infirmary at the moment. He tried to study in his room, but the silence seemed too pressing, so he went to the library and reviewed his notes for Humanoid Morphologies again before running off to his Starfleet History lecture class. As fate would have it, the day's lecture included discussions of the Kelvin mission and Captain George Kirk.
Toland was wrong about one thing, Leonard thought miserably, as he pointedly tried not to think about the subject matter of the lecture. The universe isn't indifferent to me. It actively hates me.
After History class, there was his Xenovirology lab, Starfleet Ethics lecture, and a short shift in the infirmary. Monday was his busiest class schedule, and he was actively grateful for that, because it kept his mind distracted until 1730 hours, when his whirlwind day deposited him on the western corner of the main quad, a sandwich in one hand, his PADD tucked under his arm, and the cold wind finally waking him from his daze.
He didn't want to slow down and stop because if he did, he'd have to think again. Leonard didn't want to let his brain follow the breadcrumbs from his conversation with Commander Toland because he didn't like where he thought it might lead. He didn't want to think about the academic implications of being removed from Training Sim duty. He didn't want to think about the fact that he hadn't seen Jim in almost seventy-two hours, aside from the brief glimpse of him running along the beach.
In the lengthening shadows of the afternoon, Leonard cast one long look over the shoreline, as if the memory of Jim running along the water's edge could make him reappear. Of course, he wasn't there. Where he was, however, was anyone's guess. The mess hall, his dorm room, at a local bar getting wasted too early on a Monday night… or standing next to Cochrane Hall talking to Lieutenant Commander Toland. Leonard's eyes went wide. SHIT.
He had half a mind to barge into the conversation, to defend Jim from whatever vileness that woman might be throwing at him, or to stop her before she revealed anything about their chat earlier, but something in Jim's stance told him that he should walk away as quickly as possible and pretend he'd never seen them. Instead, Leonard went for the middle option. He hid and watched.
He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he sure as hell knew how to read body language. Toland was standing pretty close to the edge of Jim's personal space, but instead of looking confrontational, her shoulders were hanging loosely, the palms of her hands forward and open, and she actually looked short for once. Jim looked almost as small, with his back pressed against the wall of Cochrane Hall, arms folded protectively over his chest, head hunched, staring at the ground. Toland seemed to be doing most of the talking, with Jim alternately nodding or shaking his head in response. Occasionally, he'd say something brief, but he almost never looked up.
As he watched, guilt began to surge from Leonard's stomach to his throat. Guilt over spying on a private conversation, regardless of the public venue where it was happening; guilt over having revealed information that had been shared with him in absolute confidence; guilt over revealing personal things about Jim's past to the one person on campus that Jim probably hated most. He had no idea how Jim would forgive him for this, or if he even had the right to want Jim's forgiveness at this point. Everything seemed to be spiraling out of control, and Leonard realized that he had no idea how to pull the pieces back together and fix them.
Almost in answer to his inner thoughts, a hand suddenly but softly clapped down on his shoulder, and a familiar voice said, "It's okay, McCoy."
Leonard suppressed his own startled reaction and turned to see Captain Pike standing there, looking solemn but thoughtful. "Captain! I'm sorry, I was –"
Pike held up a hand. "Watching. I know. Quite understandable. And if I might venture a guess, I'd say that you had an interesting conversation with the Lieutenant Commander this morning."
The guilt washed over Leonard like a wave of nausea. "Jim's not going to forgive me for that."
He was met with a raised eyebrow. "Haven't you learned yet to stop underestimating James Kirk?"
More guilt over that, too. Leonard shook his head harshly as if trying to dislodge the remorse from between his ears. "This is different, Sir."
Sympathy filled Pike's eyes, but his face remained firm. "Son, this is Starfleet. It's always different."
Leonard was trying to formulate a reply when a sudden movement caught the corner of his eye. There was Jim's back, beating a hasty retreat towards the trails leading through the woods behind the campus and Commander Toland staring after him, looking small and helpless. Jim's feet flew over the grass, then the sand, before he disappeared around the old café and was gone.
Not quite sure what moved him to do it, and not really sure about anything at that point, Leonard stepped around the edge of the shrub he'd been hiding behind, and with Pike following him, he approached Toland. The Lieutenant Commander didn't look at him when he stepped up next to her, but she seemed to almost be expecting him.
"You were right, McCoy."
"How's that?" Leonard bit out.
"He had every reason to go into shock," she said, with a strange sort of awe tinting her voice.
Leonard pressed his lips together, feeling a bit strange to find himself agreeing with anything Toland said. Reluctantly, he nodded. "He's seen a fair bit of shit, hasn't he?"
Toland didn't move, still directing her gaze to the point on the waterfront path where Jim had disappeared, but the way her mouth tightened made it clear that she heard him. "Great men have broken from far less than that. I said that everyone has a breaking point. I didn't realize how far Cadet Kirk had already been pushed towards his… and that it's a hell of a lot further than most people would last. Including most Starfleet officers I've known."
Leonard let out a slow breath. "Yeah, maybe… but I just hope you haven't pushed him past his breaking point now."
To Leonard's other side, Pike stepped forward, shaking his head. "If anyone can make it through this intact, and maybe even better for it, it's Kirk."
Finally pulling his gaze away from the walking path, Leonard looked at Pike, clenching his jaw and furrowing his eyebrows. "Maybe I've been prone to underestimating that kid, but I hope you're not overestimating him. Nobody goes through something like that without some serious damage. A crack here, a chip there. When is it one fracture too many? He's not unbreakable." The familiar twist of worry settled in Leonard's stomach. He looked away from Pike, shaking his head to himself as he pulled his communicator from his pocket and flipped it open. "McCoy to Cadet Kirk."
There was no answer, and his worry resolved into something sharper. Swallowing nervously as he glanced back and forth between Toland and Pike on either side of him, he toggled the comm switch again. "McCoy to Kirk." Still nothing.
Flipping the communicator closed, he started walking… jogging… running in the direction to where Jim had disappeared. "Jim!" he called out, his voice catching in the wind as he rounded the corner of the campus café. "JIM!" He skidded to a halt, looking around, when something small and black on the ground caught his attention. He swooped down and grabbed it, already knowing what he'd found. On the back of the standard issue communicator was the Starfleet ID number that he'd seen just a couple of days ago on Jim's medical records.
He turned in place, holding up the communicator to see Toland and Pike standing there, staring at him, and looking about as uncertain as he felt. A flash of anger welled up. "What did you say to him?"
Toland shook her head slowly. "You'll have to ask him that yourself."
Leonard waved the communicator in front of her, glaring acerbically. "Don't play that game with me right now, dammit! What did you say to him?"
Pike stepped between them and looked at the communicator in Leonard's hand. "He still has a lot of things to work out, McCoy."
"Yeah, I know," he growled, knowing that he wasn't going to get an answer from Toland, and that he was probably already toeing the line too closely. He stepped back, forcing himself to take a slow breath before he said something he'd regret. "I know he's got to work things out… but that doesn't mean he has to do it alone." He looked at the communicator for a moment, then pocketed it. "I'll find him." As he turned and hurried away, an unspoken thought hovered in the air behind him. … Before he breaks.
Finding a Jim Kirk who didn't want to be found was much easier said than done. Normally, Leonard wouldn't be so adamant about finding the kid, but something about the speed at which Jim had run off, the fact that he'd dropped his communicator (which Leonard was sure was not an accident), and the fact that Pike's last look at him had clearly said good luck and Godspeed told him that this was one time when he couldn't fail.
It was tempting to file a missing persons report to Academy Security, but without his comm, scanning for him would be a dicey prospect at best. And then, of course, if they did find him, Jim would be thoroughly pissed that Leonard had reported him in the first place. No, the potential benefit of contacting Security wasn't worth the trade-off. Leonard was on his own. More disturbingly, so was Jim.
Running directly after Jim had been his first thought, but Jim could outrun Leonard any day of the week, and driven by emotion like that, there was no way he'd catch up with him along the trails. Instead, the search would have to go destination by destination.
Leonard started with his own room, but that would have been far too easy. Jim wasn't there, and there was no note. Same poor luck with Jim's own room, and his roommate hadn't seen him either. No sign of him in the mess hall, or the library, or any of the usual hangouts on campus, not that Leonard had really expected to find him in any of the usual places. So, somewhere in the city, Jim was getting himself lost, drunk, or hurt, and in his state, Leonard didn't want to think about how bad that could be.
He didn't have his own transportation, and it would take far too long on foot, so he checked out a campus bicycle and raced through the front gates. The wind had turned cold, rolling in with a thick fog that slowly swallowed the city – streets, houses, and people alike, uncaring and indifferent to what it overtook. Leonard imagined that if he pedaled fast enough, he could keep it from claiming him, too, and sent out into the universe the futile hope that it wouldn't claim Jim either.
First he swept through the running trails on the slope west of the campus, but he figured it was unlikely that Jim would have stayed there. One full circuit of the paths proved that to be true, so he turned south, then east, speeding into the city.
It was a Monday night, so the bars weren't too crowded. It should have made spotting Jim easier, but instead, with each bar where Leonard stopped, it only made it easier to see that he was nowhere to be found. He tried every bar to which Jim had ever dragged him, then a few others that seemed to be likely prospects, then a couple of unlikely prospects, then a couple of pubs, a billiards hall, and even a strip club. No sign of the kid.
He was shaking with worry and exertion when he finally pulled his bike up to the edge of the park at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The paths behind the Academy started up there, and although he'd already checked them, he figured it couldn't hurt to give it one more look. If Jim wasn't there, he could be anywhere, and at that point, Leonard would have no choice but to notify Campus Security. Visions of Jim's body lying in a ditch ghosted through the back of Leonard's mind, and he shook them off as best as possible.
With an unsteady breath, Leonard stepped back up onto the bike's pedals and pushed off, wishing that the bike's headlight did a better job of lighting up the twisting paths. At least the clouds and fog were starting to break up, and the almost-full moon helped a bit. He was about to turn left and take the path down towards the old fort beneath the bridge when a noise off to the right carried over the wind and caught his ear. He squeezed the brakes and the bike ground to a halt. He listened, and heard the noise again. It was a human voice. Male. Yelling. Several voices. And they didn't sound happy.
Heart lodged in his throat, Leonard turned off his headlight and steered the bike sharply down the hill. The shouts became louder as he went, branches rushing past his face in the scant moonlight, and he leaned into the handlebars, not even touching the brakes until the ground leveled out in a clearing. The moon illuminated a group of five men engaged in what first looked like a brawl, but within a split second it became obvious that they were all swarming one of the men, and even in the near-darkness, Leonard didn't have to think twice to recognize the shock of blond hair or the frenzied expression on Jim's face as he swung madly. Jim's fist connected with the jaw of larger man who was rushing him, and a second swing nailed the big guy in the stomach. Another one of Jim's assailants jumped him from behind, wrapping arms around Jim's neck, but a sudden heave sent him up and over Jim's shoulder and back down to where he was slammed into the ground.
For a moment, Leonard couldn't help himself, and he watched the fight with no small amount of amazement at how easily Jim seemed to be handling such a large group. It almost looked like a bizarre dance, where Jim was the leading man, and the others barely knew the steps.
The illusion didn't last long.
The light caught Jim just right, and Leonard saw the blood smeared across his face, and the heavy bruise already forming around his left cheekbone. An instant later, the other two guys had regrouped and rushed Jim from both sides at once. One of them slammed a fist into the back of Jim's head, snapping his head forward sharply, and while he was temporarily stunned they grabbed his arms and held him. Several feet away, the big guy was staggering to his feet, fists balled tightly, ready for retribution.
It had all happened in the span of only a few seconds since Leonard had skidded into the clearing, and he knew that if he waited a few more seconds, the fight would reach a tipping point. Maybe Jim thought he could fight off four guys at once, but Leonard knew his own limits better than that. He had one chance to make this work. Jolting into action, he grabbed a flashlight from the bike's emergency kit, swung off the bike, and stormed forward.
"Hey! HEY! What the hell is going on here?" He only hoped that he sounded tougher than he felt as he thumbed on the flashlight and held it up, aimed forwards, with his other hand positioned alongside it as if he was holding a phaser. "Back away from the kid and clear out or I start stunning people now and taking names later down at Headquarters."
The scuffling went dead silent except for Jim coughing weakly. The big guy held up his hand over his brow and squinted against the sudden brightness of the flashlight. "Who the fuck are –" The guy made a move as if to challenge, but Leonard took another decisive step forward.
"I said back away from him. NOW. I've already put the call into the Academy Security Headquarters," he lied boldly, "so if you want to stick around until the rest of my squad gets here, that's up to you. But if that's how you want to play it, you'll do it unconscious." He waved his hand and the flashlight meaningfully.
There was a moment of silence, then a scramble all at once. The two guys holding Jim dropped him and he slumped to the ground, hitting his knees hard then tipping onto his side. The four of them rushed past Leonard, giving him a wide berth as they raced back up the path towards the road.
One of them yelled back, "You ought to book that guy on charges. He started it." And then they were gone.
Why am I not surprised? Leonard thought as he spun around, rushed across the clearing, and dropped down by Jim's prone form. "Goddammit, Jim! What the hell were you thinking?"
Jim coughed a couple more times and pushed himself onto his knees so he could look Leonard in the face. "What's it to you?" he slurred, eyes not really focused.
"What's it to –" He let his mouth fall open incredulously. "What's it to me is that you're trying to get yourself killed! That's what! Dammit Jim, are you out of your mind?"
Jim snorted and wiped the back of his hand across his upper lip, looking with dark amusement at the streak of blood smeared across the split skin of his knuckles, which were already dirty and bloody from the fight. He laughed drily, still staring at his hand. "Maybe I am. Heh. Out of my mind. Yeah. And why shouldn't I, huh? Why not? I'm just this… this fucked up… pathetic, broken little piece of shit." He sounded like he wasn't really talking to Leonard – just saying his thoughts out loud because Leonard happened to be there. His expression was glazed and distant. There was a whiff of alcohol, but not nearly as strong as Leonard was expecting. The kid wasn't drunk; he had a head injury.
"You've got to be kidding me," Leonard grumbled, shaking his head. "Jim, listen to me for a minute. No, look at me. I don't give out goddamned compliments; I just call it like I see it. You are not pathetic, and you're not a piece of shit, so stop saying crap like that."
"But I'm still fucked up and broken, huh Bones?" He almost looked pleased with that.
Leonard glared at him for a moment, then he actually gave a sideways nod. "Yeah, you’re fucked up and broken, but so are most people. So am I. Does that mean I should go running off half-cocked, getting into suicidal fistfights and crap like this?"
Jim's expression darkened, and his mouth twisted into a pained grimace. "I'm not you, Bones."
"No, you're not, and you oughta be grateful for that. You're Jim, and that's good enough. Goddamnit, you're too fucking strong to give up like this. You're smarter than that."
But Jim shook his head, and with a tipsy lurch, flopped backwards and propped himself up with his hands. He looked so young like that, leaning back with his legs sticking straight out in front of him. "Weak," he scoffed at himself. "I'm not strong, Bones. And if I was smart, I wouldn't do shit like this. Fuck – I don't know what I'm doing. Pike tried to give me a fucking pep-talk. And Toland – HA! Terrible Toland goes soft on me. Tried to sympathize with me! I don't want her fucking sympathy. I don't need her to let me be weak."
Leonard leaned closer, watching Jim carefully, almost afraid to ask. "What did she say?"
"That she was there! Can you believe this shit?" He shook his head incredulously, then winced and rubbed his forehead, in obvious pain.
The puzzle pieces from earlier that day suddenly snapped into place as the incomplete flash of realization came to fruition. "Yeah. Yeah, I can believe it," Leonard growled, remembering the look on Toland's face when he'd revealed Jim's past to her. He was furious at himself for not understanding it fully until then.
Jim nodded dizzily. "Yeah, I believe it, too. Wish I didn't."
"What else did she tell you?" he pressed, knowing there was more to this.
"Dammit Jim, it does matter, so stop giving me that!" He raked his fingers through his hair, nails digging harshly into his own scalp. "You ran off, dropped your communicator – and yes, I know you did that on purpose – and fucking disappeared. And when I finally find you, you're in a brawl that you started yourself in the middle of an empty park where you might not be found for hours if they were to leave you unconscious. Don't tell me that doesn't matter!"
"See?" he asked with a glint of perverse triumph, "I am stupid."
"Jim, you aren't –"
"She told me that if I can survive that," he kept talking right over him, "then I should be able to handle anything. She said they thought I'd died. She told me that the colonists had tried to free me, but each time someone tried, they got executed. She apologized for that. You think I wanted to hear that? She fucking apologized!"
Leonard frowned. "Why would she do that?"
"Because as one of the few Starfleet officers on Tarsus IV at the time," he said, his voice rough with dark sarcasm, "even though she was just a fucking Ensign on a year’s leave, she took charge of a bunch of the survivors. And because the people who kept trying to rescue me kept getting killed –" Something twisted flashed in his eyes. "– she convinced them to stop trying."
If the revelations of the past several days had been coming at Leonard too fast already, he was now thoroughly overwhelmed. "Jesus Christ…"
"Had nothing to do with it," Jim said flatly, and then with a sudden heave, he flipped onto his hands and knees, struggled to his feet, and began walking unsteadily down the path towards the back of campus.
Wait. No, he was walking away from campus.
Leonard scrambled to his own feet, caught up with Jim, and spun him around by the shoulders. "Where do you think you're going?"
Jim shook him off. "Out."
"Like hell you are!" Leonard grabbed his arm. "You're coming back to the infirmary so I can patch you up, and then you’re gonna tell me about this bizarre death wish you've suddenly developed!"
Jim wrenched his arm out of Leonard's grasp again, staggering slightly as he overbalanced. "Patch me up, Bones? How many times can you patch up something before you realize that it's too fucking broken to fix?"
"Oh, so you're going to go trying to break yourself even more, just to prove it?"
"Why not?" He laughed, like a cry of delirious defiance as he threw his arms above his head. "Why the hell not!"
Leonard couldn't believe he was hearing this. Or maybe he could believe it – he could believe it all too well, and that was what stung the most. Jim's feral expression was carved deeply into his filthy face and bloodstained lip, cast in deep shadows by the moon's thin light.
Leonard shook his head and forced himself to take a deep breath before speaking carefully, with controlled, even tones in one last attempt to undercut the insanity that seemed to have gripped his best friend. “Because it won't fix anything, Jim. What the hell are you fighting for? Do you think that will make up for the shit that happened in the past? You can’t keep fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s over. They're gone.”
Something in Jim's eyes shifted, and his stance went slightly defensive. "Then what else can I do, huh? What else do I have?"
And there he was – the lost and broken boy who honestly believed he had nothing else in the world, who could never be good enough. He'd keep being as goddamned awful as he could be until he ran himself into an early grave, because that's what he believed he deserved. Swallowing thickly, Leonard laid a tentative hand on Jim's shoulder. "You've got the world, kid. You've got the whole fucking world at your feet, and I think you’ve got the balls to take it."
Jim's head tilted down, but his eyes were fixed on Leonard's face. In the moonlight, the blue of his eyes looked positively eerie, standing out in stark contrast to the dirty smudges on his face and the dark blood still running from his nose. Bones felt a tingle run through his spine. Jim's gaze didn't waver. "And why would the world have me? Because of my name, Bones? Because of a reputation that isn't mine?"
Leonard tightened his grip on Jim's shoulder. "Good God, man – your name's got nothing to do with it! You'll build your own reputation if you give yourself a goddamned chance. You just can't just throw it away like this."
Jim looked away, and Bones thought he might lose him there, so he reached out with his other hand, holding Jim firmly by both shoulders and looking at him until Jim had no choice but to meet his stare.
"And if the world ain't good enough for you," Bones finally said, dropping his voice to a low growl, "you've got me, too."
For another brief moment, Jim looked like he was going to pull away again, but then his shoulders slumped and he slouched into Bones' grasp. "Okay," he rasped. "Okay."
Bones cast a quick glance at the bike, but figured that he'd deal with that in the morning. He started leading Jim down the path towards the Academy's west gate, and as Jim stumbled, he grabbed Jim’s arm and slung it over his shoulder, wrapping his other hand around Jim’s waist. For once, Jim didn’t complain.
They walked like that, with Leonard supporting most of Jim’s weight, guiding him back through the west gate of campus, across the deserted quad, and up to Leonard’s dorm room where he had luckily left the emergency medical kit from the training sim that morning. Jim was absolutely silent as they arrived. He didn’t make a sound as Leonard sat him down on the couch. There wasn't a single complaint as Leonard checked him over, set the tissue regenerators, gave him an antibiotic for the abrasions, and added a painkiller for the headache he was surely going to develop from the moderate concussion he’d received.
“Not going to threaten me with a sedative?” Jim finally asked as Leonard finished up his work.
“No, because I’ve got to wake you up every two hours to make sure you don’t lapse into a coma on me.” He shook his head as he removed the dermal regenerator from Jim’s knuckles, which were no longer split open.
“A coma?” Jim blurted incredulously. “Come on, Bones, isn’t that a bit over the top, even for you?”
Leonard gave him a stern look, then picked up a pen light. After flashing it into Jim’s eyes a couple of times and watching the poor iris reaction, which supported the results from the tricorder scan, he frowned and shook his head. “Nope. Not over the top at all. Just be grateful that I’m not dragging you to the infirmary. You’re damned lucky that there’s no intracranial hemorrhaging.”
“Oh.” He fell silent again.
Leonard slowly finished packing the supplies into the med kit, hoping that nobody at the supply station in the infirmary would notice what had been used. He mused over the fact that Jim was almost unable to accept or understand that he’d been seriously injured. Maybe it was that he was at the point where simply didn’t care about the possible consequences, but it seemed more significant than that. He’d been embarrassed about going into shock before, and now he couldn’t seem to grasp that a concussion was a serious injury.
“You’re not used to people taking care of you,” Leonard finally said as he snapped the kit shut. He glanced out of the corner of his eye to wait for Jim’s response.
Jim shook his head in surrender, not even attempting to debate the obvious.
“You’re not used to taking care of yourself, either,” Leonard continued.
Leonard sighed. He didn’t need to give Jim that lecture just then. He was too tired, and Jim was too dazed. Besides, he was pretty sure the kid already knew what he was thinking, and that would be enough. “Well, Jim, for now, you get some sleep,” he grumbled, hearing the exhaustion leeching into his own voice. “If you’re feeling right by the morning, you can go back to class. If not, I’m taking you to the infirmary – and don’t even try to argue with me.”
“Okay,” Jim said quietly.
Surprised by the easy acceptance, Leonard softened his tone. "I'll tell them that you got jumped by a gang in the park and that was it. They don't have to know what really happened."
"Okay," Jim said again, even lower this time.
Leonard didn’t much like the sudden change in how easily Jim was agreeing with everything, but he couldn’t exactly argue against it. So he nodded and stood, intending to leave Jim on the couch and go to his own bed, but Jim made a small sound that stopped him cold. He turned back and looked down at Jim, who was staring at the floor. “Yes?”
“Uh… Bones… could you… uh… fuck, never mind.” He grabbed the quilt and began unfolding it, but when he reached out for the pillow, Leonard’s hand was already there.
“It’s okay, Jim.”
“I shouldn't ask,” Jim mumbled, looking away and shaking his head to himself.
“And why not?” He sighed heavily, hating himself just then, and not quite sure why. “Jim, when are you going to learn to ask for something you need?” When Jim didn’t reply, Leonard grit his teeth and elbowed him over, and sitting down on the couch next to him so that their shoulders were pressed together. "Okay, let me put it to you this way. I’m a doctor; I take care of people. I’m your friend; I take care of you. Until you learn to take care of yourself, I’m not giving you a choice.”
“Bones, I shouldn’t have… forget it. I can’t ask something like that.”
“That’s why I’m not letting you ask. I’m just telling you that that’s how it is, so get used to it.” He gave a sideways grin, nudging Jim’s shoulder with his own. “Besides, it’s not so bad. You might be a cocky, infantile wise-ass, but you’re also pretty nice to have around.”
“Arrogant. You forgot arrogant.” He chuckled drily. “Thanks, Bones.”
They arranged themselves onto the couch, and Leonard set the computer’s chrono to chime every two hours. Turning off the lights, he relaxed under the reassuring weight of Jim’s head on his lap.
He was just starting to drift when Jim spoke up again.
“Don’t ever tell a fucking soul about this.”
Bones grinned into the darkness. “Never.”
It was all wrong.
In this universe, there was no sane reason why Doctor Leonard H. McCoy would ever willingly seek out Lieutenant Commander Janice Toland for anything other than the absolutely mandatory requirements of his duties as a doctor and a cadet. And yet there he was, knocking on the door of her office. It was 1337 hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and half of the cadets had already left campus, as well as almost the same portion of the faculty and staff, and more were leaving by the minute. Somehow, Leonard suspected that Toland wasn’t one of them, and he was right.
His knock was met with a tired, “Enter,” and he let himself in to find a somewhat unnerving sight – Janice Toland, hunched over a PADD, boots kicked halfway across her office, hair disheveled, looking vulnerable. She looked up at him and smiled, which was possibly even more unnerving, but he returned the smile as smoothly as he could.
“I’m sorry, Commander, I didn’t mean to intrude –”
“Come in, Doctor McCoy, and sit down.” She sighed, straightened her back, and put the PADD screen-down on the desk. “You’re not intruding. I told you to enter, didn’t I?”
He shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose,” he said as he pulled out one of her guest chairs and sat down heavily.
“What can I do for you?” Her tone suggested that she already had a pretty good guess.
“Well, a couple of things, I hope,” he said tentatively.
She grimaced. “Well, before you ask, I can already give you the answer on one of them.”
“Oh?” A jolt of nerves shot through his gut. He wasn't sure what to feel about the idea that Toland had anticipated one of his purposes in coming to her office.
“Your status as attending physician for training sims – you’ve been reinstated.” She gave him a tired smile. “And no, I didn’t divulge anything about Cadet Kirk’s personal history in order to do it. I simply wrote in my report that I didn’t have all the medical facts about the patient, that you were not overreacting, and that your performance was absolutely acceptable for the simulation circumstances."
"Oh," Leonard repeated, although this time with a sharp exhalation of relief. That was a fair guess, I suppose. "Uh… thank you, Ma'am."
"No need to thank me, Doctor," she said neutrally. "Just the truth. Besides, if you needed any sort of hard lesson about emotional detachment from colleagues and friends during missions, I think you got it anyway."
Leonard nodded slowly. "I did. Not that I wanted it, but I got it." He leaned forward a bit. "But… permission to speak freely, Commander?"
She held her hands out in a welcoming gesture. "We're not exactly standing on formality at the moment, McCoy, and if this is going where I think it's going, we can't. Please, I'm listening."
He pressed his lips together and let out a slow breath through his nose. "Okay. Yes, I got the lesson. Yes, I understand that when the time comes, I'll need to keep a button on it and let my friends do their job. But I'll be damned if I ever stop caring. The day when I give up that scrap of my humanity, the day when I can be totally detached when I triage a crisis, the second I can't see the pain in a person's face behind the tricorder readout – that's when I stop being a doctor, and if I don't have that, I've got nothing. And fuck anyone who calls themselves 'doctor' but can do otherwise because they don't deserve the title." He caught himself, realizing he was edging forward in his seat and getting louder with each word. Even with permission to speak freely, there were limits. He forced himself to sit back and said, "Ma'am," with a tip of his head.
Toland regarded him for a moment, then leaned her elbows heavily on the desk. "I wish I could still work like that, McCoy. And I mean that. Sometimes, I think I hung up my own humanity long ago, and there are days I hate myself for it. But in the five years that I've been working here as training cadre, I've had young officers come back to me and tell me that what they learned in my sims saved their squads, sections, or even their ships. What's that worth?" She paused and gazed over his shoulder at the far wall, thoughts churning behind her eyes for a few moments before she looked back down at him. "Starfleet protocols are in place for a reason: they work. They have the best chance of bringing back the most people alive. It's my job to make sure cadets know how to stick to those protocols when everything goes to hell."
Leonard raised an eyebrow. "Logic and reason over emotion and instinct, huh?"
She grimaced. "I wish there was another way to put it, but yes. Not every cadet is like Kirk. They have to learn by rote, follow standard procedures, and then someday, if they get really good, they can start making it up as they go without letting everything go to hell in a handbasket. Whatever rare natural instincts have blessed Cadet Kirk, most people can't do that."
"You don't hate him," Leonard said slowly as realization dawned. "You envy him."
Even as the words left his lips, he winced, wishing he hadn’t let those thoughts voice themselves aloud, but Toland merely nodded. "I do,” she said simply, openly. “And I envy you that same ability, even when it scares me half to death that it's going to get people killed." She gave a dry laugh. "No, I don't hate Kirk. Not at all. I don't hate anyone except Kodos, and he's dead. But Kirk… yes, he pissed me off because I was sure that his habit of trying to bypass every regulation and protocol was going to get more people killed. And every time I tried to find a way to get him to see that breaking protocols could cause more deaths, he managed to turn the lesson on its head."
Leonard hated to admit it, but he was really starting to empathize with Toland. She had a really good point, too. Jim could be downright maddening when he refused to play by the rules, and the fact that he still managed to make things work out despite his seemingly reckless decisions was often worrying. And yes, there had been quite a few times when he feared that Jim's personal rule book was going to get him – or someone else – killed. "That’s Jim, all right," he said, feeling strangely exasperated on her behalf.
"He’s got his own way, I must admit,” she agreed. “I needed him to learn that the protocols are there for a reason. I wanted him to understand that protocols save lives." She took an unsteady breath. "But maybe I was wrong."
Leonard raised an eyebrow. "Ma'am?"
"Sure, protocols save lives, but maybe I've lost something bigger." She was watching him carefully, and Leonard knew that she was trying to gauge his reaction. "I followed protocols when I took charge of a group of colonists on Tarsus IV while waiting for the relief and rescue ships. Kirk already told you, didn't he?"
Biting down on the inside of his cheek to keep from flinching visibly, Leonard nodded.
"Good," she said. "Because I wouldn't want to take that away from him, too."
She let her eyes drop away from his, and began fidgeting with a PADD stylus on her desk. "It was sheer insanity on Tarsus IV after the mass execution. A few people said they knew ahead of time, that they'd heard rumors, but most of us didn't believe it until half of us – friends, colleagues, neighbors, family – were suddenly gone. People were in shock. Some lashed out, not that anyone could blame them, but that only got them killed. Somebody had to shut down emotion and take control. I was too young, but I was a Starfleet officer, and I felt it was my duty." She glanced up sideways at him. "Was I wrong?" She looked so uncertain and small, and it was hard to believe that this was the same woman who ran violent training simulations with an iron fist.
Leonard shook his head slowly, suddenly understanding what she had meant the other day - You might think I’m heartless, Doctor, but you and I have the same goals. We want to see life preserved whenever possible. Suddenly, his mouth felt like it was full of sawdust. "You weren't wrong, Commander,” he said hoarsely. “You saved lives by stepping up. I’d say that’s the highest duty."
She snorted and shook her head. "I've relied on that reasoning every day for the past ten years to convince myself that I did the right thing – to justify what I did in the face of a bigger tragedy – to keep my sanity. Now… I'm not so sure anymore."
She held up the stylus in front of her eyes, staring at it intently as she spoke. "I used logic to insist that for the survival of as many of the remaining colonists as possible, we should simply comply with orders until relief arrived. It was logic that told me that I couldn't bring back my own husband, so there was no point in breaking while there were still lives to be saved. And it was logic and protocols that led me to convince the colonists to stop trying to rescue that poor kid in the central square." She shuddered and let the stylus drop to the desk. "Maybe I saved more lives, but what did I lose?"
The bleak look on her face, the doubt and regret in her eyes – someone had taken Toland the Terrible and broken her with a memory, and Leonard knew there was nothing he or anyone else could ever say or do that would make it right. She looked down at the PADD lying upside-down on her desk, and she tilted her chin. "Go on. Pick it up."
Not sure he really wanted to see what she'd been looking at, but knowing he was going to look anyway, Leonard picked up the PADD and flipped it over. The screen showed a data nodule of image files, and raising his hand over the screen, he tapped the first one. It enlarged, and it only took Leonard a fraction of a heartbeat to know who the kid in the photo was. Taken from a distance away, the picture was just clear enough to make out the bruising on the boy's face and arms, the ripped shirt, and the tight pull of the gag in his mouth. He was blindfolded, tied to a signpost, and guarded by a large man carrying a phaser rifle. The words on the sign were too small to read.
"There were a few colonists who managed to use holovid recorders and cameras without being caught," Toland whispered harshly. "After we came back, I collected as many of those images as possible. Especially the pictures I could find of that boy. I swore I'd never let myself forget him. If I didn't… then maybe I could imagine that his death meant something. If I did forget… I would never have been able to forgive myself. Not that I really did anyway." She closed her eyes and let her head tilt forward. "We all have ways of coping, Doctor McCoy. This is mine.”
Listening through the buzz filling his brain, Leonard numbly pulled up the next picture. It must have been taken after the first, because Jim – Jesus fucking Christ, that's really Jim – looked even skinnier and dirtier than he had in the first picture. It looked like the only thing keeping him on his feet were the ropes tying him to the post. Leonard still couldn't make out the words on the sign.
"I just kept telling myself that I was doing the right thing," Toland continued, "even though it didn't feel like it. But almost a dozen people had already been executed trying to rescue him. Five of them had their own young children, and those kids lost their parents. How could I let more of them try, even for the life of another child?" Her breath caught, and she cleared her throat roughly. "But that doesn't mean I didn't blame myself for his death. And for the past ten years, I thought he'd died. For the past ten years, I didn't even know his name."
Her voice finally broke.
Slowly, Leonard raised a shaking finger and pulled up the next image. This one was a much closer zoom. The guard was facing Jim in this picture, either taunting him or lecturing him, and although starved and filthy and bruised, Jim's head was held straight up, as though he could glare right through the blindfold at his captor. His jaw was clenched tightly around the gag, and every line of his body screamed defiance.
And Leonard could read the sign now. In hand-scrawled black lettering, there were the words, "So that the best may survive."
"The best…" Leonard whispered to himself. The best was right there.
"You must think I'm a monster," Toland finally said. "To have sat by and let that child – to let James Kirk suffer through that, knowing that he would probably die that way –"
"No, Ma'am," Leonard croaked, then swallowed thickly. "You're not a monster. You probably saved a dozen more lives." He looked up from the PADD to meet her eyes, which were bloodshot but still dry. "I don't know if I would have had the self-control to do the same."
"But for that," she said, her voice wavering now, just a bit, "who's the better person?"
To that, Leonard wondered if he'd ever have an answer. But then, as he looked back down at the image on the PADD, he found it. Turning the PADD around and handing it to her, he tapped the screen. "He is."
Toland sat there staring at the picture for several long moments, then she nodded. "I think so, McCoy. I think so." She paused for a long moment, then let out a slow breath. "There's one thing I've always noticed about the crazy shit he does in training sims."
"He never puts anyone else at risk." She nodded reverently towards the image on the PADD. "I thought it was because he wanted the attention and the praise, but… when I told him about what happened, and my decision on Tarsus IV, he… he said that I did the right thing. He didn’t even hesitate. And he said that if I had to do it all over again, he'd hope I'd make the same choice. He'd rather die than let anyone else…" He voice trailed off and she shook her head. "He takes the risks so that other people don't have to. And he covers it up by acting cocky and arrogant. I see that now."
"Self-sacrificing," Leonard said, putting yet another puzzle piece in place.
"Yes," Toland said softly. "But he doesn't want anyone to know it. I thought he was nothing like his father, but I was wrong. He's every bit a Kirk, and in the best ways possible." She looked up at Leonard, something fiery sparking in her eyes. "And now, we have to remind him of that, don't we?"
Gritting his teeth, Leonard nodded solemnly. "Well, maybe I’ve lost my mind, but yeah… that's what I came here about."
"Good," she said evenly. "Because I've spoken to Captain Pike, and he agrees."
Leonard raised an eyebrow, suddenly feeling uneasy. "Agrees with what?"
"Agrees that the best thing for Kirk right now is to throw him right back into the thick of things, and let him prove to himself that he's still capable and competent," Toland said firmly.
Leonard's second eyebrow joined the first one in reaching for his hairline. "Are you out of your mind?" he blurted incredulously. "Do you have any idea what he's been through in the past few days? He's not unbreakable! I know he likes to pretend he is, and you and Pike seem to think he can overcome anything, but… goddammit!" He held up his hands feeling helpless. "When I found him on Monday night… you don't want to know what kind of shape he was in."
"I can guess."
"Oh can you now?" he bit out.
She leaned back in her chair and gave him a level gaze. "I'll say he'd been drinking, but not much. Instead, he was out looking for action, and I'll guess he found it, and when the fists started swinging, he probably didn't give a flying fuck what happened to him. Planning to fight it out until he had nothing left. How many people was he fighting this time?"
Leonard had to force himself to pick up his own jaw. "Four," he said vaguely. "How did you know?"
"I didn't," she said. "I just hazarded an educated guess. All you did was confirm it."
Leonard nodded warily. "Right. Good guess. Yeah, he was in a bit of a state after talking to you that evening, I'll say that much."
"I know." She allowed herself a sympathetic tilt of the head. "And believe it or not, I feel badly about that, but it had to be done, and you know it, too."
Leonard gave her a grunt that could be interpreted as an affirmative. She seemed to understand him.
"He deserved the truth, and so that's what I gave him. But McCoy, tell me… what has he been like the last couple of days since then?"
With a grumble, Leonard looked everywhere in the room except at Toland as he spoke. "Distant. Unsure of himself. He’s going through the motions, but he's not really there. Too fucking quiet for Jim Kirk. He's just wrong, and that's why I came." He glanced sideways at her. "I can fix the concussion and the split knuckles and the bruised organs, but I can't fix this for him, Commander."
"There are some things that nobody else can fix for him, McCoy. Not for a man like Kirk. He needs to fix them for himself.”
“And how the hell is he supposed to fix himself, huh? He's broken in ways that he can't understand and would never admit, not even to himself. You don’t need a Ph.D. in psych to know that.”
“Then what do you know, Doctor?” she prompted neutrally.
Leonard pressed his lips together and grumbled, "I know that he wants to fight something. He wants to fight everything. I can see that. But as crazy as this is, he thinks he's weak and helpless at this point, and he's afraid to act. He needs to fight something, but he’s just sinking deeper and deeper. Goddammit, he needs to snap out of this!"
“He does.” She gave him a level gaze that seemed far too rational. “You know as well as I do what will happen if he doesn’t snap out of it soon.”
Leonard took a deep breath and grit his teeth. That was the real reason he’d come, laid out bare in front of him. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
“We’ll be required to send him to a counselor or therapist,” Toland said, not sounding at all enthusiastic about the notion. “It will go on his permanent psych profile.”
“I know.” Leonard growled softly to himself. He couldn’t imagine what it would do to Jim to go through that on top of everything else. It would be almost as bad as leaving him alone. "He’d hate it. And… I'd have to make a report on it. He would know. Yeah, I’m his friend, but I’m also a doctor, and I’d have to report everything. I can’t do that to him. It would make things worse, and we both know that.” He clenched his hands into fists. “But to throw him right back in so soon?"
She looked at him plaintively. "How much longer do you want him to walk around practically catatonic? I'm one of the adjuncts for the Basic Tactics class he's taking, and because Admiral Mayweather is on leave for the holiday, I taught the class yesterday morning. I've never seen Kirk sit quietly through anything, McCoy, but he sat in the back of the room, staring into space, and as soon as the class was over, he walked out as if he hadn't seen or heard anything I said.” She folded her hands on the desk in front of her. “Other faculty already have already begun to notice that he's having problems. I'd say Kirk has a week at most before we’ll have no choice but to report this officially. So tell me, what do you think?"
There were so many things Leonard could say.
I think that it's just not natural for Jim to sit still without complaint when I scan him with a medical tricorder. I think my refrigerator hasn't been raided once in the past two days. I think that I want to go back in time ten years, find Kodos, and rip him limb from fucking limb. I think I want to protect Jim from everything, but I know that's the last thing he needs. I think something in that kid's soul has been shattered, and until it's fixed, the world has lost something too goddamned precious to comprehend. I think Jim is bound by his own past and if he doesn't manage to break free soon, something inside of him is going to wither and die, and I can't handle that. I can't fucking handle that.
"I think," he began slowly, "that I want Jim back."
"What are you willing to do to that end?" she asked, her eyes deadly serious.
"Happy Thanksgiving, kid," Leonard said lightly, raising his beer in a lazy toast.
"Thanks, Bones." Jim's mouth quirked into a half-smile as he clinked his own bottle against Leonard's. "But you didn't have to go to all this trouble."
Leonard snorted in amusement. "Trouble? I got the mess to pack up a couple of meals to go, grabbed a six pack of beers, and got the hell away from the mopey crowd that can't or won't go home for the holiday."
"Heh, yeah," Jim mumbled. "I didn't really want to deal with them either. And the turkey isn't half bad. Thanks for picking a spot out here. I like these trails."
Leonard took a sip of beer, leaned back against the tree, and looked around. It was fairly cold that evening, but he was warm enough in his old civilian jacket from home, and Jim seemed comfortable in the leather jacket he’d layered over a sweatshirt. There wasn’t too much wind, and aside from the chill, it was a pretty nice evening. Other than themselves, the trails were deserted, and there was something peaceful about the place. "I know. I can see why you like escaping back here," he said appreciatively. "It's quiet."
"It is." Jim put down his own bottle, broke off a piece of the pumpkin pie crust, and nibbled it thoughtfully. "It smells good out there, too. You notice that? It's those trees with the funny leaves. They're blue gum eucalyptus. Invasive exotic species from Australia. The city has been trying for two centuries to get rid of them, but they keep coming back, and I'm kinda glad they do."
Leonard raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so are you a botanist now, too?"
Jim shook his head. "We didn't have trees like that in Iowa, so I wanted to know what they were. I like 'em." He picked up another bit of pie and popped it in his mouth.
"You never cease to amaze me, kid." He grinned, but the grin faded when Jim heaved a sigh and looked away. "Jim, hey, are you –"
"I'm fine, Bones." He spun around and let his feet dangle over the edge of the slope so he could look out at the bridge. The sun was setting, and just enough of it cut through the patchy clouds to leave bright golden blotches of light on the cables and towers. "I'm always fine."
"You're not –"
But Jim talked right over him. "I've had a good meal, I've got great company, and this is the first Thanksgiving I've had in years where I actually spent a good meal in great company. I've got no complaints."
"Then where's Jim?" Leonard blurted out before he could stop himself or at least put his thoughts into something more coherent.
Jim's head snapped sideways, and he caught Leonard with a look of startled confusion. "What the hell is that supposed to mean, Bones?"
Leonard bit his tongue. Hard. He hadn't meant to go there, not now, but there was no avoiding the can of worms he'd just opened. He took a sideways glance down at his chrono; the sim could start any time within the next half hour. If he was going to broach this subject, he had just minutes to do it. He shouldn't have said it at all, but now that he'd started, he had no choice.
"Listen, Jim… I know the past week has been rough on you –"
"Shit, Bones, it's Thanksgiving. Don't start this now." He put his head into his hands and hunched forward, but there wasn't time for that. Leonard scrambled around the picnic spread and knelt next to Jim, pulling Jim's hands down from his face and making him to look up by sheer force of will.
"It's gotta be now. Look at me." He waited until Jim's eyes had settled on his. "Where's Jim? This ain’t you, kid. You know that and I know that."
"How do you know this isn't me?" Jim asked quietly, in that subdued tone that made Leonard want to punch something because it was so wrong. "What if this is what's been sitting underneath the façade the whole time, and all the other bullshit was just that – bullshit?"
Leonard shook his head adamantly. "Dammit, Jim, listen to yourself! It's not bullshit. It's all been you. Every last scrap of it, and I don't know about anyone else, but I think it suits you just fine. I've gotten to know more about you in the past week than I've let myself know anyone in years."
"What?" Leonard bit out in disbelief.
"I'm sorry that I put that on you."
"Are you crazy? Don't apologize for that."
"Why not?" Jim asked, and the question sounded earnest. "I've dumped this burden on you, Bones. I don't even know how to carry it myself. I can't let it fall on you, too."
"You didn't let it fall on me, kid," Leonard said, shaking his head and trying to rein himself in a bit. "I found it and decided it was something worth keeping, and you’re not gonna take that away from me." He reached out, and almost let himself brush his thumb across Jim's cheek, but instead he clapped his hand down softly on Jim's shoulder. "And don't take it away from yourself, either."
"Jim, listen – when I was a kid, we always went around the table at Thanksgiving and said what we were thankful for. I didn't think I'd have anything to be thankful for this year. I might’ve lost everything else, but I've got you. I have no idea what the hell that means, but it means something, and I'm thankful."
"Bones, do you –"
"Wait. Jim, I need you to understand this right now. A bullshit façade couldn't blow the bell curve on every freshman cadet assessment Starfleet Academy can dole out. You can't bullshit your way into becoming one of the Commandant's shining stars – and yes, it might have started with your name, but it stuck because it's you, kid. And it's not bullshit I'm seeing when I watch you show just how fucking brilliant you are over and over again, even when you don’t realize you're doing it." He tilted his head down an inch to look Jim squarely in the eyes. "I just wish you could see that for yourself right now."
"Bones… do you hear something?"
Leonard realized just a split second too late that he was out of time as four tall figures clothed in black suits and masks had suddenly surrounded them. Four phaser rifles were aimed at their heads.
In an instant, both Jim and Leonard were on their feet, back to back, in a defensive stance that would be absolutely useless against four armed men. It didn't matter that Leonard knew they were coming; it was fucking terrifying, because he knew that this was as real of a simulation as he'd ever see. The only thing that was off-limits was that neither one of them would be killed… intentionally. Anything and everything else was fair game, and for the sake of all of it – for Jim's sake – Leonard knew he had to play along, without reservation.
"Friends of yours, Jim?" Leonard asked, his voice barely holding steady.
"Not likely," Jim whispered back before shouting out, "Who the fuck are you people?"
One of them laughed harshly behind his mask. "What do you think, boys?" He was clearly addressing his companions. "Think they'd be more valuable to Starfleet than Cochrane Hall?"
"They're just a couple of fucking cadets, Pedro," another one said. "Not enough leverage. Not worth changing the plan."
"Dunno, Tom," said the first one, gesturing with his rifle. "Starfleet seems to have a thing about life over property. Of course, those fuckers seem to care more about alien life than real human beings, so I don't know what these little drones are worth to them."
Jim clearly didn't like being ignored, even by thugs with guns, and he took a step forward. "I said, 'Who the fuck are you people?'"
The first man who spoke actually laughed behind his mask, and it was a cruel, biting sound. "This one is pretty mouthy for a cadet. I'd say not worth it. We've gotta get down there and plant the charges so Bill can issue the terms. Let's just shoot them and get it over with." With that, he hefted his rifle and leveled it directly at Jim’s chest.
Leonard might’ve been able to tell himself that it wasn't real, but that didn’t stop his breath from catching in his throat, or his heart from thudding furiously in his chest. He braced himself – it was his turn to act. Stepping around quickly, he put his arm between Jim and the guy who was aiming the rifle. "Hey, hey! There's no need to –"
Knowing it was coming didn't help.
The butt end of the phaser rifle collided with the side of his head and his vision exploded with flashes of light and sound. He was distantly aware of his face grinding into the dirt and the sounds of a fight in the background. Jim's voice, Jim's shouts… pain… fear. Bones! Get up – AAGH! Get away from him! Let me go!
Rough hands flipped Leonard over, but all he could do was groan.
"Smash his communicator. If we're gonna do this, we can't let them track us." Hands groped over his uniform, and he heard the sound of cracking polymers and sparking electronics.
To the side, there was more struggling and muffled shouting. Somewhere in the back of Leonard's pain-addled mind, he could almost remember this was supposed to be happening, and that this was make-or-break time for Jim. On another level, something much more real and immediate, Leonard couldn't remember that this was a simulation. It didn't feel like a simulation because he was the one on the ground and blood was running across his eyes and there was no contact with the observation deck and Jim was shouting his name as a gag was being forced into his mouth.
With one desperate heave, Leonard tried to scramble to his feet, to reach Jim, to save him. Through the deepening shadows and the blur of his blood-tinted vision, he managed to see just two things: Jim's wild eyes and straining neck muscles as he desperately tried to free himself, and the black-clad thug who was swinging a phaser rifle at him like a baseball bat. His leg exploded in pain and he crumbled to the ground.
Somewhere in the distance, he heard the continued scuffle, and less distantly he was aware that a blindfold and gag were being tightened over his own face. There was a phaser discharge and the distant sounds of struggling went silent only seconds before he was swallowed by darkness.
The ground was moving and shaking. No, it wasn't the ground, it was the floor. Cold metal, the back of a vehicle, bouncing along a road. Every bump sent waves of pain through Leonard – his leg, his head, his back. He couldn't see a thing, vaguely remembering the blindfold. He tried to talk, only to remember the gag as well. He managed a weak groan.
A muffled voice made a sound not to far from him, and over the noise of the rickety vehicle, Leonard heard someone scrambling closer. A few thuds and a flop, and there was a warm presence brushing against his face.
Jim was there, his forehead pressing against Leonard's, letting him know that he wasn't alone. Reassuring sounds, and Leonard imagined he was saying, I'm here, Bones. I'll get us out of this. Hang in there. If he knew Jim, and he did, then that's what Jim would say.
They hit another large bump, and Leonard's head smacked into the unforgiving metal floor of the vehicle again, sending a searing flash of pain through his skull. Nausea and agony blended together, and a few seconds later, merciful blackness took him again.
"… Bones… come on, Bones, wake up!"
Leonard groaned. Why the hell should he get up? Wasn't it a holiday or some shit like that? He didn't think he had a shift in the infirmary until later. If he had, he would have set his alarm. Besides, he had a goddamned headache. No, he had no intention of waking up.
"Bones, listen to me. You have to wake up!"
No… too tired… leave me alone.
"Bones, I will not leave you alone! Didn't you just tell me about head injuries and comas? I'm not a doctor and I don't have a first aid kit or a tricorder but you're hurt and I need you to wake up. Come on, Bones! Open your eyes!"
There was panic in that voice. Tightly controlled, reined in, but ready to burst at any second. It was that sharp splinter of fear lodged in Jim's voice that reached through to Leonard and told him that something was wrong. Forcing his eyes open was one of the hardest things he thought he'd ever done, but the reward of seeing Jim's face helped.
Jim let out a gasp of relief. "Thank God. Bones, look at me, and try to focus. No, don't move your head. Follow my finger." Jim held up an index finger over Leonard's face and slowly moved it back and forth. Leonard automatically tried to follow it with his eyes, but the floor rocked beneath him and his stomach churned and all he could do was moan and close his eyes again.
"Okay, okay, we won't do that. Sorry, I had to check. Come on, keep your eyes open. Stay with me."
There was a gentle hand against his cheek, and slowly, Leonard forced his eyes open again. He tried to take stock of his situation, but it was hard to think straight. The floor was hard beneath his back, but there was something soft under his head. Everything else seemed numb and hazy. There was some sort of danger, but he had the strange sense that he was where he was supposed to be. And still deeper than that, there was the frantic feeling that something was horribly, dreadfully wrong. "Wha… what happened?"
"In a minute, Bones. You first. Can you feel my fingers?"
It took a moment for the tingling and numbness to make way for real sensation, but there was Jim's hand, squeezing each of Leonard's fingers in turn. "Yeah. Yeah, I can feel that."
Another wave of relief on Jim's face. "That's good. What about this?"
As Jim worked his way around Leonard's body, checking for breaks and nerve damage, Leonard felt his senses slowly return and his eyesight begin to clear a bit. And that's when he got a good look at Jim's face, which was a mess of bruises. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth,
"Goddammit, Jim, get over here," he croaked. "Stop fussing over me and take care of yourself."
If anything, Jim actually looked amused by that. "For once, I'd love to, Bones, but this time, you're the one who needs help. And that's not going to happen anytime soon, either. Not here."
Jim looked around uneasily, then leaned in closer to whisper in Leonard's ear. "This is apparently some sort of hideout or bunker for Terra Prime."
"Terra Prime?" Leonard asked, frowning. "Aren't they some sort of… terrorist group or something?"
"Yeah." Jim clenched his jaw. "Starfleet History class, Bones."
Leonard blinked a couple of times, knowing he'd seen the name somewhere, but the details weren't coming. "I'm a bit fuzzy on class work right now, Jim," Leonard said, "so fill me in."
Despite the obvious worry hiding just behind Jim's eyes, he obliged. "They're xenophobic. They want humans out of space and aliens away from Earth. They almost fizzled out of existence after the Federation was established, but after… after the Kelvin incident…" He shook his head and growled. "They used that fiasco as a recruiting tool and got people riled up again. I guess bigotry never quite goes out of style. They've targeted Federation locations throughout the world over a dozen times in the past few years – the Sydney Xenobiology Institute, the Federation Embassy in Paris – and they've been getting more active."
There was something that Leonard felt he should remember, but when he tried to concentrate, a surge of pain through his head forced him to shut his eyes, and he couldn't suppress a groan as the room spun around him. Almost instantly, one of Jim's hands was cradling his cheek and the other was grasping Leonard's hand. "Breathe, Bones. Come on, hang in there."
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Leonard managed to say as he opened his eyes blearily.
"Bullshit, but I'll let you believe that for now." The words were calloused, but the tone was tight with worry.
Leonard knew full well that he was in bad shape. He couldn't see straight, his leg was throbbing fiercely, and he was pretty sure the splitting headache had nothing to do with emotional stress. He couldn't worry about that now, though. "So… Terra Prime… what are they up to now?"
Jim pressed his lips together. "Yeah. That. From what I managed to hear, they're not too pleased with the Deltan settlement being planned in northern California. They were going to target Cochrane Hall while the campus was almost vacant over the holiday weekend. They hadn't planned to take us, but…"
"Wrong place at the wrong time?" Leonard mused aloud.
Jim grumbled. "Something like that. And even worse… they still planted the bombs."
Leonard felt his stomach jump, and not because of the head injury. Was that right? He wasn't sure. "How do you know all this? Are you sure about the bombs?"
Jim cast an uneasy glance around the austere grey room where they were apparently being held captive. "Yeah, Bones. I'm sure. They stunned me with the phaser rifle, but I think they didn't realize that I came to before they threw us in the back of the truck. I've been listening to them the whole time. They're going to use us for negotiations, and if that fails, they'll blow the building."
That really didn't sound right, but… hell, he couldn't think straight anyway. He wasn't privy to the whole scenario, so this must be one of the unexpected twists. "Fuck."
"Yeah." Jim looked around the room at the blank walls one more time, as if a way out might suddenly appear for him. "Also… I kept track of how far we travelled, and if we were going at an average of a hundred kilometers per hour, we're about 130 kilometers outside of San Francisco. I know we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, so we're somewhere to the north of the city, in the hills. It'll give Starfleet a general search zone if we can get a message out."
"How are we gonna do that, Jim?"
"I'll think of something," he said evenly, and Leonard had no doubt that he would. "We have to get a message to Starfleet." He glanced back down at Leonard. "And then… we have to figure out how to get you out of here safely."
Realization dawned on Leonard. "Jim, you'll have to leave me."
Jim's eyes went wide. "No fucking way. Not gonna happen."
"You don't have much of a choice, kid. My leg is a mess, and you can't carry me."
"I will if I have to."
Leonard reached up and gripped Jim's arm as firmly as he could. "What you have to do is warn Starfleet about the bombs, get your ass out of here, and send a rescue party."
Jim leaned over Leonard and faced him eye to eye. "Bones, if I leave without you, they'll kill you. I am not. Letting. That. Happen. Do you understand me?" His eyes were wide with desperation, and his shoulders were tense with emotional strain. "I'm not leaving without you."
"What about Cochrane Hall?" Leonard challenged. "What if they blow the building with people still in it? You need to warn Starfleet Headquarters before you make any sort of attempt to get out of here. They have to disarm the bombs… evacuate people. That's got to be the first priority, Jim. Not me. And you have a better chance of doing that if you just accept the fact that I'm not getting out of here. How many people might –" He was cut off as another surge of pain ripped through his head. When he managed to open his eyes, the room seemed darker, and the light wavered unsteadily. The only constant thing was Jim's anxious expression.
"Bones? Can you hear me?"
He could, but the voice seemed far away, like it was echoing down a long corridor. The floor was rocking beneath him and the lights faded in and out. Jim, it's okay. I'll be okay, he tried to say, and maybe he did, but he couldn't be sure. The last thing he knew was Jim's hand squeezing his, something warm pressing against his chest, and the sound of sobbing.
The sound of a beeping tricorder slowly lulled Bones back to consciousness. His neck tingled with the familiar itch of a recently applied hypospray, but the hard surface beneath his back wasn't a biobed. He groaned when he remembered where he was.
"Bones!" There was a clattering sound – the tricorder fell silent – and a hand grasped his own. "Bones, talk to me."
"How long have I been out?" he croaked, opening his eyes.
"Almost forty-five minutes. Shit, Bones, you scared the living daylights out of me."
"I know I'm ugly when I wake up, but you don't need to be melodramatic."
Jim blinked. "Am I that obnoxious when I'm injured?"
"Turnabout is fair play." He blinked a couple of times, surprised to realize that his headache had faded. He rubbed his neck where the tingling sensation was beginning to fade, trying to ignore the odd buzzing sound in his ear. "Wha… how did you get medical supplies?"
"He cooperated," came a neutral voice from the far corner of the room.
Jim looked up with narrowed eyes. "I recited our names, ranks, and serial numbers for a holovid." He looked back down at Leonard. "I needed to treat you, Bones. Not that their supplies are really up to snuff."
"I can take them back," said the voice again.
"Over my dead body," Jim grumbled.
"That can be arranged."
Leonard risked raising his head, squinting against the bright lights so he could get a clear look at their captor. "Easy man, easy!" Just as quickly, the room rocked beneath him and he lowered his head back down; he shouldn't move too much unless he had to. The painkiller helped, but he couldn't let himself believe that the injury was gone. "Jim, just leave it alone."
"You ought to listen to your friend," the man said flatly. "Even fucked up, he's got more common sense than you do. You're kinda feisty for a medic."
"Well, what do you expect from a medic who hasn't been allowed to treat a patient?" Jim snapped.
Surprised, Leonard raised an eyebrow, and Jim gave him a look that told him quite clearly to just play along with it.
"Listen, Starfleet," their captor started, as the scraping sounds of boots on the floor told Leonard that the guy had moved a few steps closer. Jim narrowed his eyes angrily, and the footsteps stopped. "Hey, I've got no personal problem with the two of you," He almost sounded exasperated. "I've got problems with your organization and what it's doing to our planet and culture, but I don't have any reason to kill either of you. Just… behave yourselves, and if Federation brass agrees to our terms, we'll let you go."
Leonard watched Jim's expression go hard. It was the look he got on his face just before he'd make a move playing 3-D chess… usually before calling "check." He gave Leonard the briefest of nods before turning to their captor. "Okay." He held up the tricorder. "But I keep these."
"Oh? Demands now?" Exasperation had been replaced by caustic disdain. "Why should we leave you with a pile of equipment, Starfleet? What are you planning to do with it?"
"What do you think I'm going to do with it?" Jim blurted, exasperation dripping from his voice. Leonard recognized that tone – it was his. "It's a medical tricorder, and I'm a goddamned field medic! I'm going to try to keep my friend alive while you play politics with Federation brass. I don't care about that shit. Hell, this is only our first year at the Academy – I just needed a job. You want me to behave myself, then let me make sure my buddy has a fighting chance. Seeing as you came up and practically bashed his skull in while we were trying to have a Thanksgiving picnic, it's the least you can do!"
There was dead silence for a moment, but then the guy actually chuckled. "I'll give you credit, Starfleet. You've got spunk. My aunt was a doctor, and she was the same way about her patients." He paused. "Okay, you can keep your toys. You're no good to us dead. Not yet, anyway. Your Starfleet Headquarters has another forty-seven minutes to respond to your message. I'd love to stay and chat, but my team needs those minutes to prepare. I'll see you when the time is up."
The door creaked open and clicked shut, and in a heartbeat, Jim whirled into a flurry of activity.
"Jim, what's happening? Field medic? Holovid? What's going on?"
"They made me record a hostage holovid," he said, rapidly fiddling with the controls on the tricorder. He pushed buttons and made adjustments for a minute, scanning the room and checking the readout, then finally breathed a sigh of relief. "I've managed to modify this ancient piece of shit enough to get started. They really weren't planning on taking hostages. If they were, the room would be bugged. It isn't; we can talk." He looked squarely at Leonard. "First, I'm a medic, and that's it. You're not a doctor, you're into stellar cartography. Those are the two jobs I could think of that they would find the least valuable and still get me access to a med kit."
Leonard felt his eyebrows going up as he took this all in. "Okay…"
"Second… we need to get out of here before the hour is up." Something like raw terror flashed in Jim's eyes. "No other option, Bones. We need to get out, because if Starfleet doesn't cooperate, you're first. I can't let that happen."
He didn't have to spell out exactly what he meant; Leonard knew what happened to hostages when the negotiations didn't go well. "I understand," he said roughly.
Jim nodded. "Also," he lowered his voice even more, "I'm Jim Robertson. If they come back and we're still here, and you so much as breathe my last name, we'll never get out of here alive."
Leonard's mouth fell open. He'd never thought of that – what a valuable hostage the son of Starfleet's famous hero would be. "Shit, Jim. I… okay."
"I'm just glad I managed to ditch our ID's out a back slot in the truck before we got here."
He felt a surge of admiration. "That's… that's pretty good. I wouldn't have thought of that."
Jim shrugged. "We were in the truck for over an hour. I had time to think." He took a deep breath. "We'll get out of here, Bones. I'm working on it. I managed to encode some information into the holovid we sent out. The emergency evacuation code in my serial number, and the code for a bomb threat and the building number for Cochrane Hall in yours. That's all I could do without raising suspicion."
"That's quite a bit."
Then Leonard noticed something new, frowned, and held his hand up, running a tentative finger along Jim's cheek where a new bruise seemed to be forming, and along his lower lip, which was now split and crusted with a dry ooze of blood. "They hit you again."
It was an illusion or a falter, but Leonard felt Jim lean into his hand, eyes flickering closed for the barest of instants, before Jim's hand snapped up and grabbed Leonard's, squeezing it tightly. "Thanks for the diagnosis. I'll let you know when I think it matters."
"It matters," Leonard said with a weak grunt, wishing it didn't make his blood boil so hot to see Jim injured.
Jim only shook his head. "Not if we don't get out of here. Not compared to what they did to you," he said tersely. "They were going to drag you to the room where they wanted to record the holovid, and you weren't stable enough. You think I was going to let them do that without a fight?"
Leonard made a noise of acceptance, not that he really accepted it. Then he raised an eyebrow when he noticed that Jim was scanning him with the tricorder and scowling. "What's it say?"
Instead of looking up, Jim actually looked away.
"That bad, huh?"
After a moment, Jim looked up and rested a warm hand on Leonard's chest. "Just don't fall asleep, okay?"
Somewhere in the back of Leonard's mind, he remembered that he'd been fitted with a sensor to track his vital signs, set to transmit on a narrow band back to Toland's sim team. They wouldn't let him slip too far. They wouldn't. But still, something didn't quite feel right, and in Leonard's hazy mind, he couldn't figure out for the life of him why.
"So what's the plan?" Leonard finally asked as Jim began fishing around in the first aid kit.
"The plan is that first, I stabilize your leg. I already…" His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. "The kit is old, but it's got all the basics. Osteostabilizers, vas… vascular stabilizers. The only regenerator we have is dermal, so I can't fix your leg, but we can get it to the point where you can put weight on it."
Leonard frowned at the way Jim had hesitated. Vascular stabilizers? He realized that the buzzing he'd noticed in his ear hadn't faded, and the sound was artificial and familiar. Tentatively, he reached up to feel the spot above his temple, but Jim caught his hand.
"Don't touch it, Bones. The only reason I know how to use those things like that is because I read ahead in the course lessons to the advanced section. Two days ago, actually, after you told me about head injuries and all that." He took a deep, unsteady breath. "The bleeding has stopped, for now. You just need to hold still."
Leonard did his best to hold still and not panic while Jim worked on his leg. It's true, he thought grimly, that doctors make the worst patients. This sucks. Occasionally, Jim would ask him if he was in pain, but otherwise, he worked in silence. Finally, Jim leaned back on his haunches and wiped his sleeve across his forehead.
"It's not great, but it'll have to do." He glanced down at his chrono. "Thirty-two minutes until they come back." For a moment, he stared at the tricorder and the various stabilizers laid out on the floor in front of him. He ran his fingers over each one, as if considering them, cataloguing their capabilities, and putting them together as pieces of a strange puzzle. He reached to the side and grabbed something – the hypospray – and held it up in front of his face, looking at it critically.
"You know," he said, "I really hate these things. However –" He reached into the med kit, retrieved a vial full of a light blue fluid, and confidently snapped it into place. "– these assholes are going to hate 'em even more by the time I'm done with them."
For the next twenty-five minutes, Jim kept up a constant stream of chatter, describing what he was doing, and insisting that Leonard ask questions and repeat back information. "I've got to make sure you're not fading, Bones," he'd said, "so keep talking to me." As the clock ticked down, Jim's motions became faster and more desperate, but no less controlled. He had absolute focus, absolute determination, and Leonard found that he had absolute confidence that Jim could solve anything.
"… so when they come back, there will probably be a few of them. We'll need to move you out of the center of the room so that they can't target you immediately. I'll take 'em out, sedate the bunch of them, and then we move." He clipped the hypospray to the tool belt he'd found folded in the bottom of the med kit.
Leonard tried to process that. "What if there's more than one of them? How many of them can you take yourself?"
Jim actually snorted. "As many as I have to. Besides, they won't be expecting me to jump them, so I have the advantage."
Although he wanted to argue against those odds, Leonard held his tongue. They had only two choices – to try or not – and if they didn't play the game, they'd automatically lose.
Next, Jim held up the tricorder, which was displaying a building schematic on the readout screen. "I've managed to get a pretty good layout of the place. We're underground by about twenty feet, so we've got to get to a turbolift. There are three, and I'm aiming for this one. The route with the fewest branching hallways is out of this door to the right. That'll give them the fewest ways to ambush us if they catch up."
"What about their internal sensors, Jim? I'm sure they'll be able to track us. And once they realize we're on the move, they might detonate the bombs in Cochrane Hall."
"That's where these come in," he said, holding up the spare osteostabilizer units and grinning like the cat who'd caught the canary. "They're just transmitters, Bones, and any transmitter can be modified. If I've done this right, I'll be able to stick them to any computer port and scramble the sensor relays for a distance of at least thirty junctions."
Leonard frowned. "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not an engineer. What's that mean?"
Jim had the good graces to look sheepish. "Sorry, Bones. Approximately one junction every one-hundred and thirty-five centimeters in most systems. About forty meters per transmitter, which, according to my map, will give us just enough of these babies –" He shook the osteostabilizer for emphasis. "– to clear the way to the exit I want to use."
"And if they do follow us…?"
"As we move, I'll vaporize vials of sedative into the air." He reached out and grabbed the small row of vials he'd lined up, counting them as he put them into the pouch on his belt. "We won't be able to go backwards, but we don't want to do that anyway, and if they try to follow us, they'll have to go right through the vapor. It might not knock them out, but it’ll slow them down, make them easier to fight."
Somewhere, in the back of Leonard's foggy mind, something he said came back to him. I think that if he was a medic, he’d find a way to save the universe with a roll of gauze, a tricorder, and a hypospray. He felt a hot wave of tears well up in his eyes, and he blinked a few times to push them back.
"Bones, you okay?" The concern in Jim's voice was palpable.
"Yeah, kid," he rasped. "You got a plan for the roll of gauze, too?"
A sad half-smile tugged at Jim's mouth. "Of course. I'll put a small piece of it on the gaping hole I'll leave in their ringleader's chest for what he did to you." He coughed once and turned away, grabbing the gauze and putting it in another pouch on his belt. "And actually, this roll is adhesive. Maybe I'll use it to gag these fuckers as we go."
Yep, and the gauze, too. "Is that everything?" Leonard asked, still somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of work that Jim had managed to do in such a short period of time with so little.
"Almost." Jim finished securing the stabilizer units on his belt, then picked up the tricorder. "We still need to get Starfleet to find us… and I still need my revenge. I've programmed two subroutines into the tricorder, and if I don't miss my guess, there should be a computer port by the exit. I wire this thing into the computer terminal, and it initiates a general shutdown of the whole facility."
Leonard's mouth fell open. "You've got to be kidding me. You can do that with a goddamned tricorder?"
"On a computer system as out of date as the one they've got? You bet. My guess is that they're relying on low-tech resources to avoid detection." He nodded slowly. "They'll be able to override it, but not before we've been able to slow them down, put some distance between us and them, and let the other subroutine I've programmed take over their transmitters and signal our exact location to Starfleet Headquarters."
At a loss of anything else he could possibly say to something like that, Leonard breathed a low, "Wow."
Jim quirked a half smile. "I try." Then he fell silent, staring at the readout screen on the tricorder as if he could see right through it.
"Jim," Leonard said softly.
Jim blinked a couple of times and looked up, his eyes still distant. "Sorry, Bones, I was just checking on you one more time. We're going to have to move you, but try to hold as steady as you can. Just don't knock off that vascular stabilizer, okay?"
Leonard nodded, still amazed at the myriad of different skills and abilities Jim had been able to call on during a crisis. "I'll be careful."
"We can't be too careful." For the first time since he'd begun fervently working on the modified equipment, a crack broke through the shell of his confidence. "Fuck, Bones, what if this is all wrong? I mean, I've only taken part of a First Responder course – what if I've set those stabilizers wrong? And I've read some manuals and learned a few tricks with tricorders from a couple of the engineering students, but… what if this doesn't work?"
"It'll work, Jim." He tried to smile, but only managed a hopeful grimace. "Come on, if I know you, you'll be having a picnic on the lawn by the time this is over."
Jim shook his head dismissively. "Bones, you really did hit your head if you're talking like that. This isn't a fucking simulation. I can't mess around with this, and I can’t let myself get too confident. It's my arrogance that's gonna get me and everyone killed someday." Jim’s gaze dropped, and he laughed softly, almost-bitterly. "At least, that's what I've been told."
"It's not arrogance if you can back it up, Jim, and you can. I've watched you work your way through things so easily – things that could be life or death. You can do that now."
"No, this is different. I can't afford to make a mistake. I’m not just gambling with myself this time. There's too much riding on this."
"There's shit riding on what we all do every day. Do you think I haven't lost people on the operating table? Do you think that you won't lose people once you become captain of that ship you keep daydreaming about? People die. It happens, Jim. But you’re capable enough to work through that."
"Not when it's you on the line!" he burst out, then bit down on his tongue.
Leonard felt something in his chest ache, and it wasn't from the beating he'd taken. "Jim… "
Jim suddenly clenched his jaw and looked away, but Leonard couldn't let it go that easily. Couldn't let Jim go that easily. He grabbed Jim's wrist and waited until the kid met his gaze.
"I understand, Jim. I almost completely lost my bearing last week when you collapsed during that training sim. And I learned a hard lesson. If I want to keep my friends and colleagues alive out there – and that includes you, kid – I've got to keep a level head… and let them do their jobs… so I can do mine."
"I used to think I could do that, Bones. I don't know anymore."
"Well, I know, even if you don't. Listen, when this is all over, and we get back, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you… you… you're one in a million, kid. One in all the galaxy… the universe… and maybe more." He felt another hot flush behind his eyes, and didn't bother to blink it away. "I'm glad I've gotten to know you, Jim, no matter what bullshit comes with that."
Jim looked at him sideways, his expression unreadable. "Bones, that's the worst 'if we don't get out of here alive' speech I've ever heard."
"You think that's what this is?" Leonard stammered.
"What else would it be right now?"
He blew out a tight breath. "Call it a pep-talk. You're at your best when you're confident, even if you do tend to ruffle feathers that way. But you've got to let yourself have that right now. You need it." A wave of pain caught him and he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment until it passed, then let one eye pop back open to appraise Jim. "I need it."
"Bones, I don't deserve to be that confident. We might not make it. I'm not perfect. Hell, I'm so far from perfect, it's sick."
"Dammit, Jim, I don't give a shit about perfect! I'll bet you anything that perfect would follow protocols right now and we'd end up dead. We're getting out of here, and I trust you to do it! Don't you get that? I don't think I'd trust anyone else." With anything.
Something in Jim's eyes shifted and broke, and for a moment, everything else fell away. "I love you, too, Bones." And in a heartbeat, the focused mask of determination was back. "Okay, we've got three minutes before we can reasonably expect them to come back in, so we've got to get you moved. Here, give me your hand."
With some careful maneuvering and an extra dose of painkillers, Leonard was on his feet and wedged into the corner of the room out of the line-of-sight from the door. His vision was fuzzy and the light faded in and out a bit, but it would be okay. Really, as much as he hated violence, he wanted to jump in and fight instead of leaving Jim to face these guys alone. However, he knew that if he jarred the head injury the wrong way, he’d be less than useless – deadweight, really. Literally.
No, the best thing he could do was to let Jim do this. It was the fight the kid needed, and if the deadly look of determination on his face was anything to go by, he was going to win.
Jim had his back pressed to the wall right next to the door, hypospray in hand. Every muscle was tensed and taut, like steel bands ready to snap, lash, and recoil, but absolutely still for now. The only hints of movement Leonard could see were the steady rise and fall of Jim's chest as he breathed, the frantic flutter of his pulse in his neck, and twitching of his fingers as he shifted his grip on the hypospray. Jim's eyes glanced sideways, meeting Leonard’s. “Ready?”
Leonard nodded, just as he heard the faint scraping and shuffling of human movement on the other side of the door. The magnetic seals triggered, there was a huff of air as the door slid sideways, an exclamation of “Where the hell–?” from the man stepping into the room, and then Jim exploded.
Jim spun and charged, slamming his shoulder into the guy’s chest and driving him backwards into the hallway. Leonard wanted to rush in and help, but he stayed in his corner and listened nervously to the sounds of bodies slamming, fists colliding, and heads cracking, all punctuated with occasional shouts of effort and pain. After what seemed like forever but couldn’t have been more than fifteen seconds, it all went quiet. Then, there was the scraping of shoes and staggering footsteps, a hand wrapping around edge of the doorframe, and Jim’s head popping around the corner. He looked a bit roughed up, but he was grinning.
“That was fun.” He hurried over and helped Leonard sling his arm over his shoulder. “Go ahead and put your weight on me as much as you need to. They didn’t have time to sound an alarm, so that helps, but we’ve got to move.”
They had just gone through the door into the hallway when Jim paused and looked down at the three guys who’d been left in a heap on the floor. With a nod to himself, he reached down and pulled a phaser from one of the guy’s belts and handed it to Leonard. “Shoot first, ask questions later.” He reached down and secured a phaser for himself, too.
“Set it to stun, Jim.”
Jim glared at him. “They don’t deserve that.”
“Maybe not,” Leonard growled, “But you can be better than them.”
Jim looked at him narrowly for a moment, then nodded and flicked the selector knob. Then, he reached into his pouch and slammed the first modified stabilizer unit against the computer console and activated it. “Now we move.”
The hall was poorly lit, and otherwise deserted. They were in what looked like the storage area of the facility. Definitely not designed for holding prisoners, and... something wasn’t right. With the amount of shit lying around – dusty equipment, crates, weapons lockers with out-of-date armaments – it looked so realistic, like this was a real terrorist hideout or something crazy like that. Leonard just reminded himself that when Starfleet does something, it doesn’t work in half-measures. Either way, with his leg throbbing with every step and his head starting to ache again despite the painkillers, he couldn’t spare any effort to focus on that.
They made it to the first turn without incident, but as they were about to round the corner, they heard voices. Jim looked sideways at Leonard and held a finger over his lips – Quiet – then pushed Leonard against the wall and indicated for him to stay out of sight. First, he took another stabilizer unit and activated it against the computer console, then ducked down and glanced around the edge of the wall. He appraised the situation for a moment, and then with cat-like stealth, he slunk forward in the shadows.
Leonard found himself fingering the trigger of the phaser that Jim had given him, and realized that if he heard Jim yell once in any sort of pain or distress, shoot first would be an easy task. Instead, all he heard was a sudden and soft exclamation of surprise, a thud of a body hitting the floor, a brief scuffle, and then a second thud. A moment later, Jim darted back around the corner of the hallway, his face grim.
“There were only two of them,” he whispered as he resettled Leonard’s arm across his shoulders, “but they were communicating with another part of the base. They’re going to find us soon.”
They hurried through the corridor, past the two comatose bodies on the ground. Jim paused. “Hold your breath,” he said, as he loaded a vial of sedative into hypospray, adjusted the settings, and released the entire contents into the air as a vapor. Leonard nodded his approval, and they pushed onwards.
The painkillers in Leonard’s system were good, but even modern medicine had limits, and as they moved, the pain from both his leg and his head kept getting stronger and stronger. He barely even noticed that they’d stopped again and Jim had propped him against the wall and was scanning him with a tricorder.
“Bones, you’ve gotta hang in there. We’re got another thirty meters to the ‘lift. Try to focus on breathing evenly.”
Leonard blinked a few times, then squinted. His vision was blurring in and out. “Jim, I can’t do this. I’m slowing you down. I can barely see you right now.”
Jim leaned in closer, coming just barely into Leonard's focus. “If you stop here, then I stop here.”
“No, kid.” He blinked again. “You can’t win everything. Sometimes, you’ve got to take good enough.”
“Losing this part of the game is not a fucking option.”
Leonard was going to argue again, but a shout and a phaser blast cut him off.
“Shit!” Jim hissed. “Get down!”
Ducking behind a pallet of crates, Jim popped up and returned fire. Leonard slid to the ground clumsily and clutched his own phaser, knowing that if he had to use it, he’d be hard-pressed to see his target. Flashes of light ricocheted off surfaces as phaser fire and shouting blended into a cacophony that assaulted his ears and made his head spin. Suddenly, there was one final shout of pain and a closer cry of short-lived victory. Then Jim was hauling him to his feet.
“Come on, Bones. Hold on!” Jim practically dragged him across the hallway to a set of reinforced doors. He was braced bodily against the wall again as Jim worked furiously at a control panel. Jim got the panel loose, yanked it away, and began fiddling with the wires. “Come on, come on… Kathy better have been right about – OUCH! – better have been right about this… come on – yes.”
The doors came slamming down, sealing off the passageway behind them, and Jim breathed a deep sigh of relief. “Remind me that I owe Kathy Van Dross a drink when we get back,” he said breathily. “That should have just sealed every airlock on this floor. It’s the main level… maybe we trapped a few more of them.” He turned and wrapped a hand around Leonard’s waist. It was more automatic response than conscious thought that allowed Leonard to drop his arm around Jim’s shoulder. A few more meters to the turbolift… a few more meters…
And then primary power died.
Jim stopped cold. “Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me!”
In the dim glow of auxiliary lighting, Jim dragged Leonard the rest of the way to the turbolift panel and punched a few buttons. Nothing happened. He tried it again. Then he just punched the panel. “FUCK.” The sound was sharp against Leonard’s ears, but it was the least of his complaints just then. Jim was shaking his head, breathing heavily. “Okay, okay,” he said, more to himself than to Leonard. “Plan B.”
They crossed the small cut-off section of the corridor to a smaller doorway as Jim grumbled to himself. “With you like this, I’m sure they think they’ve got us trapped in here, Bones, but we can do this.”
“Do what?” Leonard slurred. And that’s when he looked and saw the access shaft and the ladder. “Jim,” he choked, “I can’t climb that. I can almost put weight on my leg, but I can’t bend it, and I definitely can’t climb that thing!”
“Not alone, you can’t.” Jim maneuvered him to the base of the ladder and placed his hands on the rungs in front of him. “Trust me, Bones. You said you trust me.”
“I do! I just –” He paused as a wave of dizziness swayed him, then took a slow, deliberate breath. “You can’t win this, Jim.”
Jim leaned in close enough that Leonard could feel his breath on his cheek. “I’ve just decided something, Bones. Maybe I really am a Kirk, because I don’t believe in no-win scenarios, either.” With that, he ducked down, and suddenly he was crouched beneath Leonard’s knees, hands wrapped around his shins, steadying him. “You start climbing with your hands, and I’ll take your weight on my shoulders.”
“Jim, you’re fucking crazy!”
“I know! Start climbing!”
It was an awkward start, but once they were both on the ladder, Leonard had to admit that it worked. He couldn’t imagine how heavy it must be for Jim, even though he was pulling with his arms as much as he could, and he swore to himself that he’d never underestimate the kid again. And he was going to have to stop thinking of Jim Kirk as a kid.
They were almost at the top when there was a sound like rushing water in his ears, his vision faded out, and a wave of dizziness left him clinging blindly to the ladder for dear life. The whole world dissolved in darkness and vertigo and unintelligible shouting, and the only solid thing was the rung of the ladder clenched in his hands and Jim’s shoulders supporting his weight.
“… Bones! Bones! Talk to me! Are you okay up there?”
He blinked a few times as his vision started to clear again. “Yeah. I’m okay, Jim. Come on, five more feet.”
“We can’t exactly stop now.”
A moment later, Leonard cleared the top of the access ladder and rolled out onto the floor. His eyes closed as the room rocked around him.
And then he heard the whine of a phaser charging up.
He opened his eyes to see a large man looming over him, but the guy's eyes and phaser were aimed at the top of the ladder, where Jim was frozen, wide-eyed.
“You little Starfleet punks are more trouble than you’re worth,” he snarled. “The team should have killed you and left you there as a warning.”
For the briefest of instants, Jim’s eyes flashed to Leonard – do something – then fixed back on their opponent, glaring fiercely. “So is that what you’re gonna do now? Kill us and drop our bodies on the Academy quad as a lovely holiday centerpiece? Happy fucking Thanksgiving, kids!”
The man’s finger twitched on his phaser. Phaser.
Leonard felt where he’d tucked the type-I phaser in his pocket. Small enough to barely be seen. If he could move carefully enough… if Jim could keep this guy distracted…
“Don’t talk about great traditions like Thanksgiving, Starfleet. We’ve got aliens living in our cities and towns. Tradition is gone, destroyed by your Federation and Starfleet.” He spat the word.
“Starfleet is gonna stop you,” Jim said confidently. “They’re coming.”
Nice bluff, Jim, Leonard thought as he wiggled the phaser from his pocket and palmed it carefully.
The man only scoffed. “Nice try, kid. They don’t know where you are. We’ve been operating here for twenty years, and they haven’t found us. You’re not about to change that.”
At that, Jim actually smiled. A malicious, victorious smile. “I change everything. Too bad you people can’t handle a first-year medic and a glorified map-maker with a concussion.”
“Ha! A medic. That’s really funny, kid. If you’re nothing but a field medic, then I’m the fucking Lone Ranger.”
Leonard squeezed off a shot from his phaser, and the guy’s face barely registered the surprise of it before he toppled over, unconscious. Leonard grimaced. “Hi-ho, Silver.”
With a grunt, Jim heaved himself the rest of the way off the ladder and hurried over to the man's prone form, hitting him in the neck with the hypospray. “For good measure,” he said. Then, reconsidering, he kicked the guy in the gut. “That too.”
Leonard felt the light tug of a smile on Jim’s behalf as he pushed himself upright with a groan. “How much further, Jim?”
Jim didn’t reply, still staring at the man on the ground. “I recognize that guy.”
Leonard’s gut froze. “What?” If Jim had recognized a faculty member from the Academy…
Jim was nodding to himself, a cloud of anger slowly descending over his features. “I saw his face on a newscast last year. He was involved in the bombing of the Federation Embassy in Paris. They never caught him.” His eyes flashed something murderous. “Almost seven hundred people died.”
With a cry of rage, Jim kicked the guy again, so hard that his body actually flipped over.
Still sitting on the floor, Leonard was finding himself in another type of shock. The odd feelings he’d been having… that something was wrong… “Jim,” he whispered, then louder, “JIM.”
Heart pounding, breath tight in his throat, he barely managed to choke out, “We need to get out of here.”
Jim’s eyes locked with his, still blazing with fury, but he quickly schooled the rage into something colder, more controlled. “Yeah. We do.”
Spurred by a new sort of desperation, Leonard almost didn’t need Jim’s help pulling himself up, but accepted the support as they hurried out of the access room, past the dead turbolift, and to the exit hatch. They were unchallenged.
Leonard let himself be propped against the side of the door as Jim dislodged the computer control panel, took out the tricorder, and hacked into the circuits. He could barely focus on what Jim was doing. His head was spinning and throbbing, but he was far more distracted by the new reality of the situation. Maybe Jim is wrong. Maybe he’s misplacing the guy’s face. Maybe… maybe… But he knew, with sobering clarity that had lodged itself in his gut like a frozen knife, that they’d been playing with something far bigger the whole time.
They were going to kill us. They were going to kill Jim. They were going to blow up Cochrane Hall…
“… Bones! We’ve got sixty seconds to get out of here!”
“The shutdown routine I programmed into the tricorder triggered an auto-destruct. We need to move!”
In a blur of motion, they rushed out the door into the moonlit landscape, running and stumbling across the dry hillside, desperately trying to put distance between themselves and the doomed facility. Leonard was beyond the point of feeling pain as he was half-dragged, half-carried by a furious and determined Jim Kirk. There was a line of trees and a rock outcropping ahead, and somewhere above the trees, Leonard thought he could see the distant lights of a shuttlecraft. He’d never wanted to be on a shuttlecraft more desperately in his life.
And then a phaser blast whizzed by his head and struck one of the trees in front of him, leaving a scorched, fiery scar on its side. He looked back over his shoulder – ouch! Fuck, bad idea – and saw one dark shadow running after them, yelling. Without letting up his hold on Leonard, Jim pulled his own phaser and fired back, but the guy ducked and rolled, narrowly missing Jim’s shot. Then, so fast it was hard to follow, he was up on one knee, phaser aimed, and a white-hot streak cut through the air.
Leonard felt Jim’s body jolt next to him, and suddenly he was falling and slamming into the ground. He thought he felt something come loose, but he couldn’t think about that because Jim had dropped to the ground next to him, clutching his right shoulder, face screwed up in pain.
“Jim! Did he get you?” He tried to move, but another phaser blast flew over their heads, and he ducked instinctively. “Jim, are you –”
Grunting, Jim flipped over to face him. “Bones,” he bit out, clearly in physical distress, but too goddamned enraged to let it stop him, “whatever you hear, whatever happens –” He stopped cold and his mouth fell open. His left hand came away from his shoulder – there was a dark smear of blood on his fingers – and he reached up to the point on Leonard’s temple where the vascular stabilizer had been set. “Fuck…” He clenched his jaw and fixed his face with steely determination, but couldn’t quite cover the dread that had settled there. “Bones, don’t move.”
With that, he rolled to his knees and perched on his toes like a sprinter just about to start a race. His hand went to his phaser as he looked up at their oncoming attacker, and without a glance back, he launched himself into the night.
There was shouting and more phaser fire, and the desperate cry of a man fighting for his life and determined not to lose it because life was precious… so goddamned precious. Somewhere in the distance, there was the deafening thud of an explosion that sent a rush of hot air over him as the ground shook beneath his back.
And then silence.
The stars in the sky twinkled above him. No, they weren’t twinkling. They were blinking. Fading in and out. The distant hum of a shuttlecraft’s engines buzzed inside his head, but his own head was buzzing, too. And the stars… so many stars…
“Bones!” The voice was strained and harsh. There was a thud and a grunt of pain as a body collapsed to the ground next to him. “Bones, talk to me! Can you hear me?”
“Jim… I… I’m okay.”
“There’s a shuttlecraft… it’s almost here. Hang in there. Look at me, Bones.”
“I can’t see you, Jim.”
There was a choked sob. “Open your eyes, genius.”
He did, but it didn’t matter. Everything was a blur, and it was a dark blur at that, with tiny pinpricks of light swirling overhead. “It’s okay, Jim. I can see the stars.”
Strained, rapid breathing, and Jim Kirk was not going to cry, except that he was. “You’ll see all of them, Bones. You’re coming with me.” A warm hand grasped his own.
“I know, Jim. I know.”
The buzz of the shuttlecraft engine was louder, but the rushing in Leonard’s ears was overtaking it. The stars blinked out one by one, and soon, too soon, Leonard’s grip on Jim’s hand and consciousness faded together.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Slowly, Leonard became aware that he existed. That alone shouldn't have seemed like such a big deal, but for some reason, it was. That existence, he realized next, was rather comfortable. He was on a soft surface, propped at a relaxing angle, and he was resting. Rest seemed like a big deal, too.
Next, he realized that there were sounds, muffled at first, then slowly resolving into something coherent. A woman's voice, very soft or distant, but speaking evenly and factually. He didn't recognize the voice, so he figured he ought to open his eyes and see who was talking.
He was in a small room with plenty of subdued natural light slanting in from a shaded window. Bland-colored walls, and… beeping. Constant, steady beeping. Such a familiar, reassuring sound. He was a doctor – of course he'd recognize a cardiac rhythm. And that's when he realized it was his own.
Slowly, the memories and the realization started coming back as awareness began to pierce the fog around his brain. He was on a biobed in a hospital. Out the window, he could see across the bay to Starfleet Academy, not Starfleet Headquarters, which meant he wasn't even at the Academy Infirmary – he was at Starfleet Medical. Whatever had happened, it must have been bad if he'd ended up there. Really bad.
He tried to take stock of his current physical condition, from what he could tell on his own. Nothing hurt too badly. He had a slight headache, and his left leg felt a bit funny, but other than that, there was nothing he could really determine. Frowning at himself, he tried to remember. A headache, and something wrong with his leg…
He'd been injured. He'd been injured in a training simulation. No, that wasn't right. In fact, it had been all wrong. It hadn't just been training. He couldn’t remember what had gone wrong or why he couldn’t shake the idea that something he knew was supposed to be a training sim had turned on its head. There had been some clue, some feeling, someone that Jim recognized, and Jim had been shot, and there had been an explosion… and the last thing he remembered was Jim clutching his hand and clinging as if it was his last chance and that was goodbye.
"Jim…" he croaked, shocked by how dry his throat was.
Something moved near his hand, just out of the range of his vision. Then in a rush, a head popped up and was staring at him as if he'd just seen either a ghost or his salvation or both. "Bones!"
"Hey Jim, how are you –"
In an instant, Jim had flung an arm across Leonard's torso, clinging to him and burying his face in the coarse hospital blanket. “Bones,” he said again, muffled by the blankets, “you’re awake. Thank God you’re awake.” His shoulders shook with pent-up emotion and his fingers clenched tighter into the blanket.
Feeling a bit awkward – he wasn’t used to being a patient – Leonard reached up and patted Jim on the shoulder. He pointedly ignored the IV stuck in his hand, which meant he’d been unconscious for a while if they’d had to resort to that. “Jim, it’s okay. It’s fine.”
Jim’s head came up slowly, and Leonard got a good look at him. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, there were circles under his eyes, and his jaw and cheek were splotched with faded smudges of sickly green from contusions that were too deep to be fully fixed by a tissue regenerator. He also looked worried. Really worried, and just a bit irritated. “It’s not fine, Bones. You were in surgery for hours. You’ve been unconscious for three days. They only let you out of the ICU this morning.”
Leonard bit his lower lip. “I was in the ICU? What happened?”
If anything, the deep lines of concern on Jim’s face dug even deeper. “You don’t remember? Can you remember anything?”
“I remember a really nasty headache, but I figured you’d just been talking too much again.” At the gobsmacked expression on Jim’s face, Leonard realized that now was probably not the time for sickbed humor. “I’m sorry, Jim. Not the time for jokes. It’s coming back to me, but I’m still a bit fuzzy on the details.”
“Yeah… no joking, Bones. Not about that.” Jim shuddered, and it was a visible effort for him to meet Leonard’s eyes. “They wouldn’t let me in to see you. I had to sneak in the first time.”
“Not family, huh?”
There was a flash of sheepishness in Jim’s eyes, and he ducked his head for a moment. “Actually, they would have waived that. I think they get the fact that when two people almost… when two people have been through shit like that together, then that’s good enough for family.”
Leonard frowned. “Then why not?”
Even more sheepishness. “Because they wouldn’t officially let me out of bed until this morning.”
“Oh… oh.” Leonard narrowed his eyes and noticed for the first time that Jim was actually wearing set of Starfleet Medical pajamas. His right arm was in an immobilizer, and there were probably other things being held together with the proverbial bubble gum and baling wire. “Dammit Jim, what did those bastards do to you?”
“They put a phaser burn through my favorite jacket, that’s what they did.” At Leonard’s scowl, Jim rolled his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. “It's fine, Bones. Nothing too serious. The doctors just wanted the nerve endings to heal right. And my right lung. Damned old-school phaser. But the immobilizer will come off this afternoon, and they said they’d release me tomorrow morning.” He looked petulant for a split second, but then his face went deadly serious. “It’s nothing compared to what you went through. Shit, don’t you remember? They fractured your skull, Bones. You’d been bleeding inside your head for almost two hours before I even had a chance to try to help you. If they hadn’t had a vascular stabilizer in the first aid kit… if the shuttlecraft had been a minute later…” His voice broke. He raised his free hand as if trying to say something in gestures, but quickly gave up and leaned his face into his hand. His eyes closed as he rubbed them harshly. “You almost died on me.”
“I wouldn’t have, Jim. I –”
“Don’t say that,” Jim interrupted sharply, and there was a hint of something like desperation in his eyes. “I don’t need or want the reassurance, because that would cheapen the fact that you’re still alive.” The last few words came out in a rush, unexpected in their starkness, just a bit too real and raw.
“Oh.” Leonard let the silence hang in the air for a moment, trying to think of what he could say; what would be the right thing. He might not remember all the details yet, but he did remember that it had been Jim's quick thinking, skill, and sheer refusal to quit that had gotten them both out alive. “I’m still alive because of you.”
Jim stared at him for a second, then looked away, mumbling something inaudible.
“Jim, look at me.” He waited until Jim had turned back; reluctantly, but with solid eye contact. He spoke slowly and deliberately, determined that Jim wouldn’t miss a single nuance of meaning. “You stayed calm when most people would have panicked. You used your skills and knowledge to outsmart those people, form an escape plan, and do it all while playing the part of a medic – quite well, actually. I am still alive because of you.”
Jim looked back at him for a long moment, and Bones swore he saw a wet sheen in Jim’s eyes before they fluttered closed in a sort of weak surrender. “But we still worked together,” he whispered. He glanced back up without raising his head. “Even with the state you were in – and Bones, it was bad – you stayed calm, too. You shot that guy while you were on your back and he had a phaser aimed at me. Fuck, you even got me to set my phaser to stun – do you remember that? I would have been too happy to leave it on kill at that point.” A pained smile worked its way onto Jim’s face. “You’re my moral compass, Bones.”
Leonard couldn’t help but snort at that. “I’m a bitter, cynical divorcee who drinks too much. If I’m your moral compass, kid, you’re going to be a piece of work.”
“I already am. And you are.” He gave a tired grin. “We’ll be okay.”
Leonard met the grin with one of his own. “Yeah, we will.”
The moment held only briefly, then Jim noticed something. “Oh! I’ve been waiting for this to come up. I’m glad you woke up in time, Bones. You’ve got to see this.” He spun around in his seat and slid to the side, giving Leonard a clear view of a holovid screen on the wall. A woman dressed in business attire was speaking from behind a conference desk. News report. So that’s the female voice I heard earlier. Jim hit a control panel and the audio stream got louder.
"… for the week while the Andorian trade minister visits San Francisco. In the meantime, local engineers have begun breaking ground for the Deltan settlement near the city of Covelo. Expected to become a thriving community, this settlement has been highly anticipated as a center of cultural exchange, education, and commerce. While its first new citizens are not expected to arrive for another six to eight months, the establishment of this settlement has not been greeted fondly by all humans. For that story, we go to Jeremiah reporting from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco."
The holovid shifted to a view of the Academy quad and an over-coiffed, middle-aged man in a civilian suit.
"Thank you, Heidi. Starfleet officials have finally confirmed rumors that four bombs were planted at the famous Cochrane Hall here at Starfleet Academy last Thursday. The bombs were the work of the terrorist organization Terra Prime, which has successfully struck several Federation targets in the last few years. This bomb plot was, however, foiled by two Starfleet cadets who were taken hostage by the operatives who planted the bombs."
Leonard felt his eyes go wide. It had all been fuzzy until now, but this was too damned real. He wanted to say something, but he suddenly felt numb, like a nightmare he’d wished he’d imagined had suddenly been confirmed. The holovid image zoomed out enough to add a second person, this one a familiar face. Captain Pike was standing alongside the reporter, hands serenely folded in front of him. The reporter addressed Pike.
"Captain Pike, Academy officials refused to address these rumors for almost three days. Is there a reason for this?”
Pike didn’t flinch, showing himself to be every inch the Starfleet officer and the professional, but Leonard could see the tightly controlled emotions and thoughts spinning behind that calm mask.
“Partially in deference to the holiday, but also because Starfleet Headquarters is still conducting its own investigation. This incident involved two junior cadets who are still in the hospital, one of whom was classified in critical condition until this morning. It seemed proper to wait until we knew more before speaking to the media.”
Leonard felt distinctly uneasy at the idea of being discussed like this. The term critical condition stuck in his head, somehow making it more real to hear it on a news holovid, from Captain Pike.
“Will they make a full recovery?”
“Starfleet Medical is the best in the quadrant, and we expect them to both return to duty soon.”
The answer seemed to satisfy the reporter, but Leonard heard more in it. Apparently, so did Jim, because without looking, he reached back with his left hand and grabbed Leonard’s right, saying without words, I’m here.
“Can you give us more information now? Terra Prime has gained momentum since the attack on the USS Kelvin twenty-three years ago, but has been particularly active in the past five years. Their successful bombing of the Federation Embassy in Paris demonstrated that they’ve become a significant threat again. How did they manage to plant explosives on the Starfleet Academy campus? How did two cadets – did you say junior cadets? – how did they manage to undermine the activities of a group like Terra Prime?”
Pike nodded grimly. “Starfleet Security is still investigating how they managed to infiltrate the Academy grounds. Four epsilon-type photon explosives were planted. The terrorist group’s primary goal had been to use the bomb threat alone as leverage, but on route to plant the bombs, they encountered our two cadets outside the campus grounds, and they changed their tactic to a hostage negotiation.” A faint smile lit Pike’s face. “They neglected to realize, however, that Starfleet cadets are just Starfleet officers who haven’t graduated yet, and we have the best.”
A warm flush of pride swelled in Leonard’s chest – not for himself, but for Jim. He squeezed Jim’s hand lightly, and was pleased that Jim squeezed back.
On the holovid screen, Pike continued. “One of the cadets was used to make a ransom holovid, and he was able to give us the codes for an emergency evacuation, a bomb threat, and the building designation number for Cochrane Hall. We evacuated the building and neutralized the explosives while the Terra Prime operatives still believed that all we knew about were the hostages. There were no casualties on campus.”
Leonard felt his eyes open wider as amazement and relief hit him at once. Jim’s encoded message had succeeded. Nobody had been hurt. Well, almost nobody.
“But there were casualties. Rumor has it that these two cadets not only managed to escape on their own, but also blew up the Terra Prime headquarters in the process. Is there any truth to those rumors?”
Leonard looked sideways at Jim, his mouth hanging open slightly. “Jim – that was their Headquarters?”
Jim cast him a quick glance and nodded, then jerked his head back towards the vid screen, indicating that he should keep listening to the news broadcast.
“The rumor mill apparently has good sources,” Pike said evenly. “In their escape efforts, the cadets were able to use modified medical equipment to override the bunker’s computers. Although they had only been attempting to override the bunker's systems to escape and to send a distress signal, they accidentally triggered a self-destruct sequence. The headquarters was destroyed, and the only Terra Prime operative who was not trapped inside was incapacitated by one of the cadets. He will face trial when he has recovered from his injuries.”
“The world will be quite satisfied to see that trial.” The reporter put on a curious look. “The report also indicated that a rescue shuttlecraft was already on its way to the general vicinity of the terrorist bunker when the cadets escaped. How was Starfleet able to locate them before they sent the distress signal?”
A jolt of nervousness ran up Leonard’s spine. The only thing he could think of was the biosensor they’d fitted on him for the simulation exercise that had, apparently, never happened. How the hell would they explain that one to Jim?
On the screen, however, Pike grinned. “While the Terra Prime operatives had smashed the cadets’ communicators, they hadn’t found their ID chips. One of the cadets was able to drop the chips out of the vehicle used by the operatives while they were being transported to the headquarters. Once the chips were unshielded, our sensors were able to detect the tracking signature encoded in each chip. It gave us a general zone to begin the search. We pinpointed the location when cadets used the tricorder to override the bunker's transmission system long enough to send a precise distress signal that was picked up by our shuttlecraft.”
“It’s clear that your cadets are indeed the best. When will we be able to interview these cadets, Captain? They’re being hailed as heroes, but Starfleet officials have refused to so much as identify them.”
For the first time in the interview, Pike allowed himself to become noticeably terse. “You may interview these cadets at their discretion, and only once they have recovered from their injuries. We’ve omitted their names from public reports for their privacy.”
“At my request,” Jim said flatly, his tone making it clear that it was much more a demand than a request.
Apparently, this answer wasn’t enough to satisfy the reporter. “The rumor mill has also suggested that one of these cadets is none other than the son of Captain George Kirk. Can you validate that rumor? Was he the cadet listed in serious or critical condition?”
Jim’s grip on Leonard’s hand suddenly got a lot tighter, and the muscles in his shoulders clenched.
“Ouch!” Leonard hissed as Jim’s grasp pulled uncomfortably on the tube in his hand. “Jim, uh, easy on –”
“Shit! Sorry, Bones.” Jim pulled his hand away as if he’d been burned, but Leonard caught his hand and folded it in his.
“It’s okay, kid. It’s okay.” He nodded towards the holovid screen, and Jim reluctantly turned back to watch.
Pike, to his credit, was playing this very smoothly, despite the fact that Leonard could almost feel his eyes shooting daggers. “The rumor mill can speculate all it wants in regards to the official reports, the damage to the Terra Prime organization, and the valor of our excellent Starfleet personnel, whether they be crewmen, staff, cadets, or officers. Starfleet will gladly provide information to this end. However, when one of our own has requested privacy, especially when still recovering from severe injuries, I would highly suggest that the media use a touch more discretion in which rumors it chooses to pursue.”
The reporter clearly got the message that the interview was over. With an abbreviated nod of gratitude, he turned back towards the recorder to close the interview, but Jim’s hand was already on the holovid controls, switching them off.
Jim turned back to face Leonard, his expression unreadable. He seemed to be waiting for Leonard to say something.
“I don’t know what to say, Jim.”
Jim finally cracked a little smile. “I’m just glad you can say anything.”
“So am I,” came a familiar voice from the door. Captain Pike was leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded casually.
“Captain!” Leonard startled. “I didn’t see you there. I’m sorry, I –”
“Doctor McCoy, you have absolutely no reason to apologize for anything.” He ducked his head down. “May I come in?”
“I… of course. Please, Sir.”
Pike walked into the room, his usual bold stride conspicuously subdued. “The broadcast was delayed, in case you’re wondering how I got over here so quickly. I've actually been waiting to speak to you. We’d meant to debrief you as soon as possible when you woke up, but we were given strict instructions to leave you alone until you were a bit better oriented to your surroundings.”
“The medical staff wanted to check me out first, I’d assume?” Leonard asked knowingly.
“Actually, they agreed to monitor you from outside the room unless there was a problem. It was Kirk here who suggested to both the medical staff… and myself… that you be allowed to wake up without a gaggle of people swarming you.”
Leonard opened his mouth in a silent, “Ah,” of understanding. “I appreciate that,” he said aloud.
Pike smirked. “Actually, I believe the phrase he used was, ‘He’s been through enough. Piss off and leave him alone.’”
Leonard looked at Jim in disbelief. “You told the Commandant of Cadets to ‘piss off’?”
Jim shrugged. “I was under the influence of painkillers. I can’t be held responsible.”
Leonard snorted and rolled his eyes. "Not responsible, my ass."
Pike gave Jim a sardonic look, but his words were addressed to Leonard. “We decided to give him a bit of leeway under the circumstances.”
“I appreciate that, too,” Leonard answered for the both of them, while giving Jim a look of his own. To his credit, Jim let himself wilt a bit under Leonard’s glare.
“But now,” Pike said slowly, nodding pointedly at Jim, “I think I need a few moments alone with Doctor McCoy here.”
Jim sat a bit more rigidly in his chair and pressed his lips into a flat line. He was clearly reluctant to leave. With a sigh, Leonard squeezed his hand again. “I’m not going anywhere, Jim. I’ll be here when you get back.”
“Kirk, I’ve already debriefed you. McCoy deserves the same.”
“Go on, Jim,” Leonard said softly. “I’ll see you later.”
Tentatively, as though he was afraid that the instant he left, Leonard was going to disappear or die, Jim stood and released Leonard’s hand. Then, as smoothly as possible, he schooled his face into his favorite shit-eating grin. “Sure thing, Bones. I’ll go see if I can get sympathy points with the nurses,” he said, indicating the immobilizer on his arm. With a wink, he turned and sauntered off.
“Right. But you take it easy!” Leonard called after him. “I don’t need to worry about you messing up the fine work that Starfleet Medical has done on your sorry ass.”
“Sure, Bones!” came the echoing reply from down the hall.
Leonard allowed himself a wistful sort of chuckle before hitting the control button to close the door and turning his attention back to Captain Pike.
Pike was studying him with that piercing gaze of his, and Leonard knew he could start this conversation with any of a dozen things. Figuring that the ball was once again starting in his court, Leonard opened his mouth to speak, but Pike spoke first.
"How long did it take for you to figure it out?" He cocked his head and frowned. "Well, first I should probably ask how much you remember clearly."
Leonard pursed his lips and blew a long breath out from between them. "Now that I've seen your media interview, Sir, I remember most of it, even if it’s a bit fuzzy. At least, I remember the parts when I was conscious."
"Then that's pretty good," Pike said softly. "They were worried that you might have some memory loss."
Leonard grimaced. "I wish I could forget it, to be honest. But when did I figure it out?" He sighed and stared across at the blank wall. "I got whacked in the head right away, so I wasn't exactly thinking straight for most of it. I kept getting this feeling, like it wasn't what Commander Toland had told me in the briefing. And then the headquarters facility just seemed too… I don't know… established. And I didn't think a bomb threat was supposed to be part of it. But I didn't really realize that it wasn't the sim until maybe a minute before we actually got out of there."
Pike raised an eyebrow in surprise. "All that time you were there, you were still convinced that it was a simulation?"
"Convinced, no. But I couldn't… I didn't see any reason to believe otherwise."
"Doctor," Pike said, stressing the title, "you've read the Starfleet protocols for training sims. You know that whatever else we might do, our staff avoids head injuries… for exactly this reason."
Embarrassed or flabbergasted, Leonard wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure that he'd never forget something so obvious ever again. "How did I miss that?" he mused, shaking his head at his own stupidity.
"I think the head injury – you know, that one that would never have happened if this had been a training exercise – might have had something to do with it."
"Oh." Chagrin was definitely not an emotion he enjoyed.
Pike seemed to sense that, and gave him a sympathetic smile. "So, how did you figure it out that late in the game?"
"Well, we were almost out when this guy cornered us. I stunned him with a phaser, and when Jim went to hit him with a sedative to make sure he stayed down, he recognized the guy as an actual terrorist from a newscast he saw last year. The embassy bombing in Paris, Sir."
"He did mention that," Pike said, his tone level and controlled.
Leonard wished he had that much control left. "Captain Pike, just tell me straight – what the hell happened? I mean, we were there in the park, and I was expecting your team… and the Terra Prime operatives showed up and it seemed so obvious that the sim was starting… and what happened when your team showed up and we weren't there…?"
Pike held up a hand. "Take it easy, McCoy. You're getting yourself worked up, and I'm sure you don't want a doctor or five running in here to fuss over you."
Leonard blew out a frustrated breath. "This room is only big enough for one doctor, and he would love to leave." He felt his eyes go wide. "Damn, I'm worse than Jim."
Pike laughed. "I wouldn't say that. But as to your question – it was really that simple. We estimate that they got to you about fifteen minutes before we were set to engage contact for the simulation. We sent our team in, but you two were gone. We found the smashed communicators and blood on the ground – yours, McCoy – and realized that something had gone horribly wrong."
"I'll say." He leaned back against the biobed, thinking. "And the next thing you heard from us must have been Jim's hostage vid."
Leonard furrowed his eyebrows, getting a strange sense of déjà vu. Jim had too recently been on the butt end of another hostage vid, albeit a fake one, which hadn't gone so well. Although the cost had almost been too high, the price had been paid anyway. Jim had gotten his chance to fight something bigger. He'd won, but… "Sir, how did he do? How did he hold up… you know, when you saw him in the hostage vid?"
A broad grin spread across Pike's face. "I was wondering when you'd ask. Not that you really had to. Cadet Kirk lived up to the finest traditions of Starfleet protocols… with his own flavor, of course. But no, he didn't panic. Not at all. He did a fine job of acting the part of a junior medic, which probably saved both your asses. In fact, as he told me in our debriefing, it was a part he learned from a recent training sim." The grin turned into a more enigmatic smile. "He actually asked me to tell Commander Toland that her training helped him, and that he did much better the second time around."
Closing his eyes, Leonard breathed a sigh of relief and sent a silent thanks out into the universe. For all of it. "I'm glad."
"So are we."
A hand clapped gently on Leonard's shoulder, and he opened his eyes again to see Pike staring back at him, absolutely solemn. "Son, you know that you and Jim are being called heroes."
All Leonard could do was shake his head numbly in response for several seconds before stammering, "Not me. It was all Jim."
"Funny, that's not what he put in his official report."
"He… he what? Goddammit, Jim."
Pike chuckled. "It's okay, McCoy. But even if Kirk does tend to be peculiarly self-effacing when he’s actually done something real, I doubt that his report of your valor was fabricated.”
“Sir… I was incapacitated. I didn’t do anything.”
“Really?” Pike gave him a scrutinizing look. “Did you or did you not insist that Cadet Kirk set his phaser to stun – a key measure of upholding Starfleet standards of ethics in a combat situation?”
“Well, yes, but –”
“Did you not remind him to consider the bombs in Cochrane Hall while he formulated his escape plans, and tell him that the bomb threat had to come before your own safety?”
“Sure, but I thought –”
“And did you not instruct him more than once to leave you behind so he would have a better chance of escaping?”
“I did, but… Sir, I thought it was a simulation. That’s different.”
Pike leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his knees and giving Leonard a hard, level gaze. “Doctor McCoy, Starfleet training sims are carefully designed to test what a cadet would do in a real situation. It’s been shown time and time again that what a cadet does in a sim will very closely parallel what that officer will do in the future. Tell me, what did Cadet Kirk do as a medic in a training simulation a week and a half ago?”
“Well,” Leonard began thoughtfully, “he modified a medical tricorder to – oh.”
“Keep going. What else?”
Leonard bit his lower lip, seeing where this was leading. “He played the part of the junior medic so that he wouldn’t be noticed. He got the injured team members out of the line of fire…” His voice trailed off.
“And what you did at the Terra Prime headquarters while arguably under extreme physical duress… can you say that you would have performed less honorably had you known it was a real crisis?”
All Leonard could do was to shake his head.
“And it was a real crisis, McCoy. You and Kirk saved lives. Terra Prime will take a long time to regroup from this blow, which is time they won’t be able to spend killing for their cause. There were still two-hundred and seventy three personnel in the building when Kirk’s evacuation code came through. Happy Thanksgiving, Doctor – an entire campus… hell, the Federation is thankful for what you two did.”
Leonard pressed his lips together and stared at the end of the biobed, still feeling awkward. “I’d rather they just leave me alone for now. About that. You know.”
“I understand,” Pike said. “And Kirk feels the same way. He also asked that we just let it go for now. I think he just wants a bit of quiet… or whatever passes for quiet for Jim Kirk. And he wanted to leave it up to you."
Confused, Leonard cocked his head. "Leave what up to me?"
"All of it." Pike spread his hands out. "The media, the planned awards ceremony… even officially telling the rest of the campus it was you two, although I'm sure they'll be able to guess. He said that if you want it, he'll do it, but it's up to you."
Leonard was quite sure his eyes were ready to pop out of their sockets. "Media? Awards ceremony? Sir, if Jim left that up to me, then he's got to know that I don't want any of that. It would be awkward and uncomfortable and I've had more than enough excitement for the year. But… Jim soaks up attention like a sponge soaks up water. Wouldn't that be good for him? Give him his confidence back?"
Pike merely shrugged. "I think he's got it back, McCoy. He saved his best friend's life and brought down a dangerous terrorist organization, and still managed to get back to school in time for class. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but I think it had a powerful impact on him.”
“I don’t see how it couldn’t have.” Leonard thought for a moment. “You know, he’s pretty perceptive, Captain. I wonder… I can’t help but wonder… if this had never happened, and the simulation had gone forward as planned, would it have worked?”
Pike gave him a questioning look.
Leonard grit his teeth and growled softly. “I mean, we were determined to do something. I was so determined to do something to fix the kid. I think we might have been wrong.”
“How so?” The question wasn’t a challenge; it was merely a gentle prompt to get Leonard to say something that Pike had clearly already agreed with.
“He would have seen right through it, Sir. Or sensed something was off. He just has this grasp on the big picture, even when he doesn’t realize it.” Leonard let his shoulders slump as he admitted a defeat he should have realized before he’d even agreed to play the game. “We couldn’t have fixed him, Sir, and I think it was wrong of us to try. It would have been fake, and that’s not good enough for Jim. I think he needed to break even with the universe on his own before he could start playing on fair grounds.”
At that, Pike actually smiled. “I was a bit hesitant to mention it first, but you’re right. While I would never have wanted for anyone to go through the ordeal that you two faced, we couldn’t have changed it. What’s done is done, and I think Kirk is a bit stronger for it.”
“He is,” Leonard said, more to himself than to Pike.
Pike nodded. “He doesn’t want a ceremony. The few Starfleet officials who have read the full report want to put him on a pedestal. The son of George Kirk, a hero like his father. He’d hate that right now. Just like you said, he feels like he's finally broken even with the universe. In his mind, that doesn’t deserve an award. It’s just earned him a sense of peace, and a bit of breathing room for a while."
Leonard couldn't help but smile at that. "Well, I guess he'll just have to save the planet next time if he wants the hero title."
"Sounds fair," Pike said easily. "You'll both still receive commendations in your records though."
"Thank you, Sir," Leonard replied automatically.
"And… not that I should probably tell you this… but you should know that if there's anything you would like in reward for this, you can probably get it right now."
Leonard frowned. "I'm a first-year cadet, sir. I'd like to pass my classes, have an occasional night free from clinic duty, and get a decent cup of coffee to get me through all of it."
Pike smiled and gave him a respectful nod. "You're a good man, McCoy. Starfleet is lucky to have you." He clapped Leonard lightly on the shoulder. "And so is Jim."
With that, he stood, stretching lightly. "I also seem to be getting a signal from the duty nurse that I need to leave his patient alone so you can rest." He looked down at Leonard steadily. "We'll chat again. If you need anything, contact me."
"I will, Sir. Thank you."
Pike was almost out the door when Leonard remembered something. "Captain…"
He swallowed tightly, then cleared his throat. "Remember what you asked me last week, before the training sim where Jim… you know. You asked me how Jim would perform as a medic?"
"Yes?" A faint smile curled the corner of his mouth.
"And I said that he'd find a way to save the universe with a roll of gauze, a tricorder, and a hypospray?"
"Yes." The corners of his eyes crinkled.
Leonard found himself unable to resist mirroring Pike's smile. "He didn't need the gauze."
Pike replied with a silent nod and a broad grin, and then he was gone.
Less than a minute later, his quiet room was invaded by the attending physician and the duty nurse. He drilled them for information while they ran another osteoregeneration session on his leg. He learned that it felt funny because they'd used a local pain-block on it so that he wouldn't wake up to find out just how much it would be throbbing otherwise. Shattered just below the kneecap, with a mess of damage to the cartilage and tendons, too, it had been too massive of an injury to repair in a single surgery, but they still predicted a full recovery. Thank God for modern medicine, he thought, although he firmly believed that he could fix it better if it was possible to do the work himself.
He also felt another flash of admiration for Jim, knowing that the kid had been staring at the exposed bone and tendon of his leg while he’d set the stabilizers, and hadn’t flinched once.
The news about the head injury was much more sobering. Despite Jim's impassioned description, getting the full medical details and knowing what they meant… yeah, that was a wake-up call. It left him feeling strangely detached, and although he thanked them when they left, he didn't feel like he wanted to thank anyone for anything. He was tired in a way he hadn't believed possible, and he didn't think it was just the healing process that was wearing him out.
He slumped back against his pillow and stared down at his hands in his lap. Slowly and deliberately, he flexed his fingers one by one, as if the reminder of his own flesh and blood was keeping him connected to the very life he'd come so close to losing. He'd spent plenty of time worrying about other people's lives, but he'd never considered his own. Not like this. "What were the odds?" he mused aloud.
Jim visited him the next morning before catching the shuttle to the Academy. He'd already been discharged, and was back in his cadet uniform, ready for class.
"You gonna be okay here by yourself, Bones?" he asked as he stood from the chair, getting ready to leave.
"I think I can handle myself around a hospital, Jim."
Jim leaned his elbows on the end of the biobed, propping his chin up on his fists. "Sure, as a doctor. But I heard you make a lousy patient."
"Hey, it's okay, Bones. It just means you've been lucky enough not to have much practice. I've got a lot more experience with that sort of thing."
Leonard eyed him skeptically. "I think you need a bit less of that experience."
Jim's jovial grin dimmed a bit. "I think so, too. At least, for a while." He paused, then tilted his head curiously. "Bones… how much do you remember from… you know… while we were being held hostage?"
"A lot of it, Jim. But it's all a bit fuzzy, like it runs together." His eyebrows furrowed. "Why?"
But Jim just shook his head, reached over and squeezed Leonard's arm. "You get some rest, Bones. I'll see you this afternoon."
The day was full enough with every waking moment being spent running through treatments and therapy and tests, but Leonard couldn't keep his mind from churning everything over and over again. He kept mentally kicking himself for the fact that he hadn't even known that the danger was real. He tried placating himself with the fact that he probably stayed calmer because he thought it was a simulation, and that alone might have saved both their lives, but it didn't really help. His mind kept drifting to the moments when Jim had been out of his sight, or he'd been unconscious. What had those people done to him when Leonard couldn't see? How had Jim held up? What had been going through Jim's mind?
He tried to sleep whenever the room was quiet, but even sleep wasn't terribly restful, filled with blurry images from his ordeal that never quite resolved into solid memories. He saw Jim crouched on his haunches in an austere gray room, working frantically on outdated scraps of medical equipment, trying to jury-rig an escape plan from parts. He saw Jim creeping cat-like across a hallway, sneaking up behind two people who would have killed him if they saw him first. He saw Jim braced against the doorway, a hypospray in his hand and raw determination on his face, waiting for the terrorists to come in. He saw Jim stuck at the top of the access ladder, caught with a phaser aimed directly at his face. He saw Jim's profile illuminated by moonlight as he seemed to freeze for a split second, like a sprinter before the starter pistol, just before he launched himself into a fight that had probably almost killed him. And again he saw Jim in the small grey room, looking back at him with all the fears and hopes and insecurities bared for Leonard to see, and he was saying something…
"Hey, Bones? You awake?"
Leonard blinked a few times as Jim's face swam into focus in front of him. "Oh, Jim – you're back." He glanced out the window and noted that the sun had already set. "Sorry, I was just catching a nap."
"I… I'm sorry, I can leave if I'm disturbing you."
"Don't be an idiot." He nodded towards the vacant guest chair. "Sit down. How're you feeling?"
Jim flopped down into the chair, shaking his head in amusement. "You can't stop being a doctor for a minute, can you?"
"Hey, it's a fair question to ask, even if I wasn't a doctor. You got pretty banged up the other day."
Jim leaned forward onto the biobed, actually wagging a finger. "Yeah, but if I were to just say 'fine,' you'd still demand a full list of symptoms and ask me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten." He held an accusing glare for several seconds, but crumbled when Leonard raised an eyebrow at him.
"Okay, okay, you win. My shoulder is a bit stiff, but I'm doing the stretches they told me to do, and everything else is fine. Happy now?" He cocked his head at an odd angle, pretending that he was trying to avoid Leonard's gaze. "That eyebrow of yours is dangerous, Bones."
"It's mandatory training for all resident doctors. How else could we keep stubborn patients in line when they don't know what's best for themselves?"
Jim let his wary expression drop as he rested his chin on his arms on the side of the biobed. "Fair enough. Someone has to keep me in line." He yawned and blinked a couple of times.
"Long enough," Jim said. "I had at least a half-dozen people in every class ask if it was me they were talking about on the news."
"What did you tell them?"
"I told them that I spent my holiday weekend having a picnic off-campus and resting. It’s true, in a manner of speaking." He gave Leonard a measured, appraising look. "What would you have told them?"
"Well I…" He bit of a short laugh. "I would have told them that I'm a doctor and I was assigned to clinic duty all weekend, and that I was in the hospital." He laughed again, hearing the irony in his own voice. "And I was assigned to be on-duty this weekend, too! Shit! I wonder who they got to cover for me."
Jim reached out and patted Leonard lightly on the arm. "It doesn't matter. You were on duty this weekend. The highest sort of duty." He leaned back in his chair so that he could reach into his pocket. "Pike told me that you agreed – no award ceremony or any shit like that. Thank you for that."
"Jim, you didn't need me to decide that for you."
"I know, but I wanted you to. So instead, Pike just presented this to me privately. I asked if I could bring yours to you myself." He fished two small boxes from his pocket and held them awkwardly for a moment. "It's not exactly protocol, because they're supposed to be presented by a senior officer in front of an assembly, but I thought… if it's not too presumptuous of me…"
"It's fine, Jim." He gave a supportive nod. "Do I look like I want public attention right now? Come on, I'd be honored."
Jim gave an ironic sort of smile. "That actually sounds about right." He flipped open the first box with a bit of a flourish and placed it on Leonard's lap as he pulled out a small slip of paper and began to read. "Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, Starfleet Command has recognized your valor and dedication to duty, to your colleagues, and to the highest standards set forth by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. Your notable bravery in the face of danger and your commitment to the highest standard of ethics have reflected great merit not only upon yourself, but upon Starfleet Academy, Starfleet Medical Academy, and the United Federation of Planets. In recognition of your sacrifice and service, Starfleet Command hereby awards you with the Legion of Honor under the authority of the President of the United Federation of Planets."
Leonard pulled his eyes away from the shiny medal in the box and stared at Jim in disbelief.
Jim put down the paper and grinned widely. "Congrats, Bones. You did good."
"I… I figured they'd give me a small commendation or something," he said, shaking his head and feeling a bit dazed. "You know, one of those mandatory 'congratulations, you got injured in a scuffle and managed not to die' sorts of things they give to anyone who comes home with a skinned knee."
"Bones, you did a whole lot more than that… even if you don't realize it or won't admit it to yourself."
Feeling like it was a bit surreal, that it wasn't his, or that he shouldn't be looking at something so valuable, Leonard closed the box and laid it on the nightstand. "Okay then. Now show me yours, wonder-boy."
Looking a bit uncomfortable, but not evading it, Jim handed the other box to Leonard, who flipped it open and promptly let out a low whistle. "Damn, Jim. Even I recognize this. This is… that's the…"
"Starfleet Medal of Honor," Jim said, his face unreadable. "Yeah, I don't know what to make of it either. I mean, I did one thing right, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to screw up again. And it just feels wrong somehow. That thing is for people who go out and save the fucking planet. I just got myself and my friend kidnapped, and I did what I had to so we could escape. That's not hero shit. That's just survival."
Leonard took a long, hard look at Jim. He looked so tired, and a bit lost. Not broken like he was the week before, but like he was in so far over his head that he didn't know what to make of it.
"What the hell do you think a hero is, Jim? The wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing more. If it had just been survival, you wouldn't have managed to get a warning to Starfleet so they could evacuate Cochrane Hall and disarm the bombs. You wouldn't have listened to me when I told you to set the phaser to stun. And you would have left me when I told you to."
Jim shook his head weakly, staring blankly ahead. "I wouldn't have left you,' he whispered, but he didn't argue the other points.
"Jim… listen, I…" Leonard trailed off as he studied the look on his friend's face. There wasn't much he could say about that. Instead, he pressed his lips together and looked down at Jim's medal. The thing looked like it was gold laid on platinum, and it was certainly heavy enough to be exactly that. Leonard considered the medal, then cast a sideways glance at Jim. "Lean over here."
"Bones, no, you're not going to – oh goddammit, you and that eyebrow again."
Leonard fixed the medal in place on the left breast of Jim's uniform. "After tonight, you can hide it in your sock drawer until you finally accept that you earned it. But tonight, it stays right there."
Jim looked down at the medal dangling from his chest and touched it lightly. His mouth pinched and the skin around his eyes strained as he considered it for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight. “I think… I’m going to give it back to Pike tomorrow.”
“Why’s that, Jim?”
“This is an award for an actual officer. I want to feel like it’s right… like it’s my time before I wear it again.” He let his hand fall to his side and looked back up. “I want to really feel like I’ve earned it.”
“You’ve earned it, Jim… but I understand.” He glanced out the window, looking at the lights of San Francisco and Starfleet Academy across the bay. "How late were you planning to stay?"
Without a word, Jim reached into the duffel bag he'd carried in, pulled out a small neck pillow, placed it on the edge of the biobed, and promptly folded his arms around it so his chin was propped up. "I'm planning on walking you out of here in the morning when they release you."
Touched by the gesture but not quite enough, Leonard scowled at him. "You need a proper night of sleep, too. You're not going to get that hanging over the edge of a hospital bed."
Jim didn't seem swayed. "It's been a rough few days, and I haven't exactly slept well anyway. I know it's just the aftershock of this whole thing, but when I can't see you, I keep feeling like I'm going to come back and… well, you won't be here. Okay, so I'm afraid of you dying on me. I know I'll get over it in a few days, and that it's just a temporary paranoia because of a stressful ordeal, but it's really bothering me and I –"
"Shut up and get some sleep."
After a quick check-in with the duty nurse, and pulling a few strings from one medical professional to another so that Jim wouldn't get thrown out, Leonard had reduced the lights in the room and had settled back against his pillows. Jim's eyes were closed, but Leonard could tell he was awake. He wondered what Jim must be thinking behind those eyelids, where his mind was drifting, and how he must be assimilating everything that had happened to him in less than two weeks.
Slowly but confidently, Leonard reached down and put a hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim opened one eye like the dot on a question mark.
"You're good enough, Jim. I told you before, but now… do you believe me?"
The eye closed again, but there was a hint of a smile on Jim's lips. "Yeah. I do." He sighed and shifted in his seat. "Bones?"
"How much do you remember from when we were being held hostage?"
Leonard looked at Jim questioningly until blue eyes peeked open. "That's the second time you've asked me that today. Why?"
"I was just wondering. You know. Because a lot of shit happened. And people say things when they think they might die. That's all."
"Jim, I told you, things were a bit fuzzy, and I –" And Leonard froze, because the look on Jim's face was suddenly familiar, as something shifted and broke, letting the last trappings of his masks fall away. The words that had been dropped in that small gray room hadn't been desperate or casual. They hadn't had an ulterior motive or a romantic stench. They had been stated plainly, for the record, so that they might not be forgotten or misconstrued, just in case he never had the chance to say it again. I love you, too, Bones. "Oh."
Holding his expression steady, and not lifting his head from his pillow, Jim nodded. "I didn't mean… you know… to be misunderstood or anything, or make it seem like something it's not. It's just that I've had people say that to me before, and I've never really believed it. It always seems weird when other people say it to me. I didn’t know how you’d take it… but I had to know if you remembered." He stopped and held his breath.
Leonard looked down at him, at the face that had so many different looks for so many different people, but somehow Leonard knew that the expression it held just then was one that very few people had ever seen. And although he'd been married and had dated and had family and friends who had all loved him and at some point in the past had told him so, he didn't think he'd ever heard those words with such an unobstructed and simple meaning before. And he believed it.
Smiling openly for the first time in what felt like forever, Leonard rested a hand on Jim's hair, gently combing his fingers through the windblown mess. "I remember. And I know, kid. I know. Me too."
The next morning, they walked out of Starfleet Medical together, with Leonard using Jim's arm to help steady himself on his newly healed leg. People coming into the building passed them and several of them stopped and stared, but not at their faces. Leonard was confused until his eye caught a bright reflection of light glinting up from Jim's chest.
The medal was still there.
Early Tuesday morning found a well-caffeinated Leonard McCoy on the staging floor of Training Simulation Facility Four. Emergency med kit in one hand and a piping hot canteen of black coffee in the other, he sighed contentedly as he looked around the empty staging platform. The cadets for the sim would be there soon. The cadre were probably already on the observation deck. He'd have to join them in a moment, but for now, he was alone with the high ceilings, his own echoing footsteps, and the delicious aroma of freshly brewed Arabica coffee. He stopped walking, took a sip, and grinned.
Less than a week after returning to duty, he'd arrived back in his dorm room to find two large boxes on the table, wrapped in colorful paper. Suspecting a prank, but too curious to avoid it, he'd opened the first box to find a professional coffee brewing system that put normal coffee pots to shame. Naturally, when he'd ripped into the second box like an eight-year old on Christmas morning, he was ecstatic to find it packed with bags of some of the finest coffee varieties he'd ever seen. At the bottom of the box, he'd found a note.
If you're going to try to keep up with Jim Kirk, you're going to need this.
In the empty room, he raised his canteen in a silent thanks to Captain Pike and took another sip. Mornings had been so much more agreeable in the weeks since then.
A hand whacked Leonard on the shoulder just a bit too hard to be pleasant, and he barely managed to avoid spilling his coffee as Jim walked past him, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
"Dammit, Jim, if you make me spill a single drop of this coffee, so help me God –"
"Relax, Bones. You know they've given you a lifetime supply." He looked at Leonard entreatingly. "Maybe I can convince you to share some of it when finals start next week?"
Leonard grumbled and rolled his eyes. "You raid my kitchenette anyway, so why should this be any different?"
"Thanks, Bones!" he said cheerfully. "I knew I could count on you."
With a feigned scowl, Leonard flipped his canteen shut with a protective gesture. "Always, whether I like it or not." He finally sighed and stopped glowering. "So, what's on the schedule for the training sim today?"
To his surprise, Jim threw up his hands in a shrug. "Not a clue. It's the last live-action training sim of the semester, so it's a bit like our final exam. We go in blind today."
Leonard gave Jim an appraising look. "You ready for that?"
With a cocky grin, Jim leaned in and said, "You know me, Bones. I'm ready for anything." Then the cockiness faded and was replaced with the confident determination that Leonard now knew was always hiding just below the surface. "It'll be fun."
The sound of conversation and boots against the plascrete floor told Leonard that other cadets were beginning to file into the staging area for the simulation. Jim noticed as well, so he winked, took a step back, then turned and hustled off to join his command-track classmates.
As Jim walked away, Leonard watched him, knowing that the kid would be okay. In the weeks since the Terra Prime incident, they’d talked about what had happened. Sometimes, the discussions had involved liquor, sometimes coffee, sometimes both. They’d even gone further back and talked about Tarsus IV, and to Leonard’s surprise, the strongest sentiment Jim seemed to have about it was that he was ready to let it go. Not to forget – never to forget – but to move on. He’d found better things to fight than his own demons and memories.
He was still Jim Kirk, all cocky attitude that bordered on arrogance to cover all the cuts, scars, and burns on his soul – but now it seemed like the wounds were healing. He didn’t deny the scars or ignore the emotions, but they didn’t seem to weaken him anymore. Yeah, the kid had skeletons in his closet, and nobody knew those skeletons better than Leonard. He also knew that if anyone could handle them, it was Jim. Nobody else could have saved the kid, fixed him, or put him back together; he'd had to do it himself. He’d finally gotten the chance he needed, and he had seized it.
Leonard shifted his grip on the handle of his med kit, flipped open his coffee canteen, and took another swig of caffeinated goodness as he walked quickly towards the door to the observation deck.
Before he stepped through, however, Leonard glanced back and smiled to himself. “Good luck, Jim,” he whispered, then hurried onto the observation deck.
These TOS, AOS, and other canon references are made in the fic:
"It was things like this that made Leonard sure that James T. Kirk would be a great man someday." This line was made in reference to Nero's comment, "James T. Kirk was considered to be a great man...but that was another life."
"Listen, when this is all over, and we get back, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you... you're one in a million, kid. One in all the galaxy, the universe, and maybe more." This line is a direct reference and tribute to the classic McCoy quote from the TOS episode, "Balance of Terror": "In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."
In the scene where Jim reminds Bones (without actually saying it again) that while they were hostages he'd said, "I love you, too, Bones," Jim says, "It's just that I've had people say that to me before, and I've never really believed it. It always seems weird when other people say it to me." The comment that "it always seems weird" is a direct reference to the scene in the movie where Gaila tells Kirk, "Jim, I think I love you," to which Jim says, as we know, "That is so weird." I thought that line in the movie says a lot about Jim and how he relates to being loved. It's funny when you first hear it, but it kinda broke my heart when I thought about it.
According to TOS canon, Jim Kirk received the Medal of Honor and Leonard McCoy received the Legion of Honor at some point prior to the episode "Court Martial." The reasons for those awards were never given, and I felt they were appropriate to the actions taken by the characters in this story. Consider the specific medals/awards a nod to TOS canon.
Terra Prime is a terrorist organization first seen in the series "Enterprise," in the episode entitled "Terra Prime." Please note that I've only seen a couple of episodes of "Enterprise." I hadn't seen that particular episode, and I had no idea that such an organization existed in canon. When I first wrote the fic, I had designed a terrorist organization for the purpose of the plot - a xenophobic group taken to terrorism to keep aliens away from Earth, and if possible, humans away from aliens. And I named the group Terra Prime. After I'd written the rough-draft, my test reader, Cedarrapidsgirl, who is an avid "Enterprise" fan sent me feedback, gushing about how awesome it was that I was including canon from "Enterprise." I had no idea what she was talking about. So I looked up Terra Prime, and discovered that I'd replicated canon without even realizing it. So, it stayed as it is, and now I have to cite canon even though I came up with this shit myself. Irony, huh?
Different theories exist as to whether or not Kirk in the reboot universe would ever end up on Tarsus IV, or if the Tarsus IV colony would even exist, and I've engaged in a couple of lively debates about it. I think it could go either way. However, as J.J. Abrams mentioned in an interview, part of the underlying thought of the plot in the reboot is that after the timeline was initially disrupted on the day of Kirk's birth, the universe has been struggling to make itself right with the timeline that was disrupted. It's a mix of fate and a little bit of the original pattern the universe was meant to take, and therefore things that had originally happened would "try" to happen again, even if they happen a bit differently. This is just one take on how Tarsus IV could have played out.
And finally, in this fic's universe, there's a bit more backstory behind Kirk's medal which couldn't be smoothly expressed in the fic, but I thought people might like to know. Jim gives the medal back to Pike, and the following conversation ensues:
"I can't keep this, Sir."
"I'd tell you that you've earned it, but I know that won't change your mind."
"No. Come on, Sir, you know that this… I'm not right for something like this. Not yet. I'm sure I'm going to keep messing things up, and I can't taint a medal like that with, well, whatever I do to screw up in the meantime. That medal means Bones survived, and that's too important to taint."
"It's still, yours, Kirk. When do you want it back? When you graduate?"
"When I feel I've earned it."
"And when would that be, son?"
"How about when I save the planet?"
And of course, Kirk says that to mean that he doesn't want it back. However, in my mind, at the end of the new Star Trek movie, that's the exact medal that they pin on Kirk's chest, and that's part of the double (triple?) meaning behind Pike's comment, "I am relieved."
And finally, on Bones and coffee addiction: He went through med school. Of course he's addicted to coffee. At least, that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.