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Any Road Will Take You There

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Any Road Will Take You There


A/N:

KIRK: I know the feeling of being picked on very well. I had it at the Academy. An upperclassman there. One practical joke after another, and always on me. My own personal devil, a guy by the name of Finnegan… You never knew where he'd strike next.

FINNEGAN: You never know when I'm going to strike, huh, Jim? (hits him on the jaw) How's this?

--From the TOS episode "Shore Leave"

 

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

--Lewis Carroll

 

1.

Starfleet orientation, Leonard decided, was a crash course in a foreign culture.

Like all new cadets, he was required to learn the rudiments of the new language, which included a staggering number of acronyms and abbreviations. He was expected to recognize, for example, that the STF was the Subspace Transmission Facility, not to be confused with the STIF, the Sports Training and Intramural Field, or the STL, the Subatomic Trial Laboratory. He memorized the Starfleet Code of Conduct. He went through the computerized instruction on Symbols and Insignia, enabling him to distinguish a rear admiral from a vice admiral if he encountered one—as  if that would make a difference in how he'd treat them if he had one or the other for a patient. And it was ridiculously easy; he passed it on his first try.

He tried to look at the whole experience as a benevolent sort of survival training. In a way, he was grateful for the flood of pointless and redundant information that he was learning. It helped distract him from the growing feeling that he'd made a terrible mistake.

He didn't regret leaving Atlanta, which had become a constant reminder of the unpleasantness of the divorce. He was even relieved, if truth be known, to put some distance between himself and Jocelyn, with her hysterical accusations. But he admitted that he might have gone a little too far in surrounding himself with bright-eyed teenaged overachievers who snapped off enthusiastic salutes every time an upperclassman walked by.

The flurry of uniforms depressed him. The blacks, grays, and ubiquitous reds seemed oppressively regimented. He consoled himself with the thought that as a medical cadet, he had certain privileges that the rest of the cadets didn't. He'd be working part-time as an attending surgeon at Starfleet Medical, retaining the status and authority he'd built over the past decade. He would be living in the apartments reserved for medical personnel, far from the impromptu room inspections and curfews that were a fact of life in the cadet dorms.

He wasn't planning to do more than give lip service to the militaristic trappings of Starfleet Academy. It was all he could do to keep the sarcasm out of his voice every time he snapped off "Yes, sir!" to a youngster whose life experience probably didn't extend much beyond a degree in military tactics and a few combat simulations.

He lagged behind with the stragglers on the orientation tour for medical students, ignoring the enthusiastic third-year cadet who was pointing out practice fields and physics labs. The Academy sprawled through the Presidio neighborhood, bordered on the west by the medical clinic near the Golden Gate Bridge, and on the east by the cluster of student dorms near the restored tidal marsh in Crissy Field. The modern buildings with their clean, sharp lines contrasted sharply with the charm of the neighborhood's historic buildings and the timeless beauty of the Bridge and the Bay. Leonard gazed glumly around the campus, trying to remember why he'd thought that enlisting in Starfleet made sense. Right now, his decision seemed foolish and impulsive.

Maybe Jocelyn had put it best: That's just plain stupid, Len.

By the end of the week, Leonard had picked up some of the behavioral codes necessary for him to blend in. It was highly frowned upon, he learned, to grimace when someone referred to him as "Cadet," or to roll his eyes when told about the exam that would be held at the end of the five-day orientation.

"What happens if someone fails the test?" he asked.

"You'll have to take it up with your academic advisor," came the humorless response. "You may lose campus privileges." Leonard kept a straight face, but it was an effort. 

It was going to be a long three years.


2.

"You've got another red flag, Dr. McCoy," the nurse informed him.

Before beginning his classes and his part-time position at Starfleet Medical, Leonard had been assigned two weeks of duty in the Academy's outpatient clinic. Starfleet Medical, the clinic's parent institution, was located just across the Bay, a short hop away from the Academy by air tram—or, Leonard was relieved to discover, a slightly longer and less convenient ride across the Bridge by taxi. It was a major teaching hospital, equipped with state-of-the-art treatment and research facilities.

The Academy clinic, by contrast, was a small ambulatory health center, situated at the western end of campus near Leonard's apartment building. It was meant to provide for the routine health needs of the student body; there was a walk-in center with basic diagnostic and treatment equipment for cadets who fell ill or suffered minor injuries. The clinic could provide urgent care when necessary—Leonard would be working one shift a week there as an on-call physician—but for the most part, Starfleet Medical handled anything complicated.

Leonard sighed at the nurse's words. He'd already seen three red-flagged cadets over the past two days. It was a tedious and annoying experience, involving young, whiny cadets and an endless medical form.

Today's cadet was waiting for him in the treatment room, sitting tensely on the chair next to the biobed. Those blue eyes were unmistakable.

"You're that kid from the shuttle." He glanced at the chart he was holding. "James T. Kirk."

"Jim." The cadet beamed. "And you're Leonard McCoy. The doctor who only has his bones left."

Jim was obviously glad to see a familiar face, but Leonard only grunted, not wanting to be reminded of any foolishness that had passed his lips when he was nauseous and slightly tanked. "Well, your medical file's been red flagged, Jim. Know what that means?"

"Not really. They just told me to come over here for a physical. But I've already had one, so…" He grinned and gestured at the exit.

Leonard was unmoved. "All cadets get a cursory exam when they're processed, to clear them for service. If you're here, it means that there were findings that came up that needed more extensive examination." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Care to tell me what they are?"

Jim was still smiling, but Leonard noticed a trace of worry in his eyes. "I can't think of anything. It must be a mistake."

"Well," Leonard said, picking up the PADD the nurse had given him, "let me look over your records."

Most cadets who were red-flagged had a chronic condition, like a heart murmur or a neuromotor problem. Their long medical histories usually spoke for themselves. The three cadets who he'd already examined had long since come to terms with the fact that their physical disabilities would limit their Starfleet activities. McCoy's role was to conduct the extensive medical exam that would be used to determine their physical profile. That profile would have a major impact on the path of their Academy studies and, eventually, their career in the service.

Jim was right to be concerned. A serious medical condition could stop him before he even got started on his Starfleet career. It was perfectly possible that he was telling the truth and had no idea why his chart had been flagged. The Starfleet physician who'd examined him might have discovered a health issue that he didn't know existed, such as a minor cardiac irregularity, or zeroed in on a small condition that he'd never considered a problem.

Leonard looked more closely at Jim, who seemed uncomfortable under the scrutiny and looked away. His face was still swollen from the fight he'd been in before he enlisted, and there were signs of abrasions on his nose and cheekbones. That alone might have been enough to flag his chart. He was surprised that Jim hadn't taken care of the injuries at the clinic; a dermal regenerator would have at least accelerated the healing on the abrasions and reduced the swelling.  Most cadets wouldn't want to show up at orientation looking like they'd just gotten the shit kicked out of them.

Despite their brief encounter on the shuttle, Leonard really didn't know anything about the young man in front of him, except for the fact that he was from Iowa. Now that he thought about it, he'd talked a lot more than the kid had on the shuttle. Jim was a good listener and knew how to ask questions to keep him talking. At the time, he'd been grateful to be distracted from his fears and his queasy stomach. Now, though, it occurred to him that Jim had told him next to nothing about himself, aside from a funny story about a bar brawl he'd been involved in with some of the other cadets on the shuttle.

He remembered thinking it strange, as he retrieved his luggage from the shuttle's hold, that Jim had no bag or suitcase of his own. He seemed to have walked onto the shuttle with nothing more than the clothes on his back, which, Leonard had noticed, were bloody and torn. They'd parted with a brief handshake; Leonard had headed off to his appointment with the head of medical training, while Jim had been processed with the rest of the regular cadets.

Leonard glanced at the chart he held. Under Referral for Initial Physical Profile, it read: Anaphylaxis (childhood onset) + incomplete medical records.

He blinked in surprise at the first entry on the chart. Jim was born preterm at 34 weeks, on a medical shuttle in deep space; he'd been treated at the age of two weeks for neonatal exposure to subspace radiation. The famous Kelvin baby, he realized. Poor kid, left fatherless on the day of his birth.

"You're lucky to have a job," Jim commented, watching his face carefully as he read the chart. "I'm broke until we get paid."

"I thought Starfleet issues you everything you need," Leonard said absently, frowning at the surprisingly brief health chart. The record should have included annual checkups, lab results, and reports of any medical procedures. He tapped on the links, but they seemed to be broken or incomplete. The chart simply stopped in 2244.

"Yeah, but…" Jim's voice trailed off. "I still need to buy a few things, and I'm a little low on credits."

"So get a job." Twenty-two years old, with no education, no profession, no obvious skills, and no money? No wonder he'd joined the military. He tapped again on the PADD, but the links were simply not there.

"Can't. Against the regs. Cadets can't work—"

"I'm working."

"Well, regular plebes can't," Jim snorted, "and anyway I'm not planning on having much spare time. Command track."

"That's what you want, huh?"

He nodded firmly. "That's why I'm here."

Leonard raised an eyebrow, but put the chart aside. "Well, there are a few things on your health record that don't make sense. Maybe you can explain them to me." Jim's smile failed to hide an underlying wariness. "In the first place, your early childhood records include three anaphylactic episodes, and it looks like you had some pretty severe food allergies."

"Listen, it's not a problem anymore," Jim said quickly, cheeks reddening. "I haven't had a reaction like that since I was a little kid. I know what I can and can't eat."

"You have an allergic constitution—"

"Not anymore!"

"It's not a matter of willpower. It's a serious health issue."

Jim looked at him stonily. Then he controlled his agitation, lowered his voice and said calmly, "That isn't going to stop me. It's a childhood condition and I've outgrown it."

"Listen to me, cadet—"

"Jim."

"Okay, Jim. There's a recommendation here, when you were twelve, to have a complete allergy workup."

Jim shifted in his chair. "Could be. I can't really remember…No, I guess I never did that." He waved a hand in dismissal. "I know the list by heart. No nuts, eggs, or milk—"

Leonard shook his head, cutting him off impatiently. "Your medical chart ends at age twelve. There are no entries more recent than that. Why is that?"

"I've been pretty healthy since then," Jim said, coloring slightly. "Sometimes these things clear up in adolescence, you know."

"Oh, thank you for the tip," Leonard said acerbically. "I'm the doctor, not you, remember? What happened to the records of your yearly checkups? All schools require them."

"Really?" Jim looked perplexed. "I don't think my school—"

"Really, kid. All schools. It's the law. Even in Iowa."

"Well…" Jim reddened. "I didn't exactly finish school."

Figured. "Did you drop out when you were thirteen?" he asked pointedly. He looked Jim in the eye. "Did you have the records changed?"

Jim's expression was blank, unreadable. "How could I do that?"

Leonard wasn't sure. Health records were supposed to be secure, protected by a complex system of privacy screens. If Jim had hacked into them, as he suspected, it suggested a remarkable level of computer sophistication. It was a feat that would have taken time and considerable effort, and not something he could have done quickly right after he'd decided to enlist. If he'd tampered with his records, he'd done it a while ago. It was also illegal as hell, but this kid would certainly never admit it.

He tried one more time. "Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me, before we start the exam?"

Jim nodded. "I'm sure."

"Fine," Leonard said, shrugging. His instruments were state of the art. The physical exam would reveal whatever the kid was trying to hide. "Take off your shirt and lie down on the bed."


"So you haven't been near a doctor since the age of twelve, is that right?" McCoy said, scanning his upper torso. "You've been leading a healthy life… Early to bed, early to rise, and all that? Breathe deeply."

"Something like that. I grew up on a farm." Leonard kept his eye on the monitor. He'd keyed the screen over Jim's head to show a constant readout of heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and vocal strain. The graphs would tell him, at a glance, if the patient was under stress…or lying.

"Farm workers are prone to accidents."

"I've been careful."

"Been in Iowa your whole life? Turn over."

"Just about." Jim's stress levels were rising steadily.

Leonard drew in a breath. "Where'd you get these marks?" He could see evidence of scar tissue covering his left side and lower back.

"Uh, I think when I was little, I was climbing a tree and I fell."

"They don't look like scratches from a tree branch to me.” He peered closer. "These are regularly spaced and even," he said, as if to himself. "Different angles… Man-made, and there was some serious tissue damage, although it's been partially regenerated. Good God. It almost looks like you—"

"I know what it looks like," Jim said, voice tight.

Leonard probed the skin with his fingers. "With this level of fibrosis, it's clear that they were treated at some point, although too late to prevent the scarring."

Jim was silent. "I don't like doctors," he said finally. "I guess I didn't get it treated right away."

"This isn't in your records."

"Isn't it?" A jump in blood pressure and vocal strain.

"Have you ever been hospitalized?"

"No…" That also triggered a spike in his readings; Jim was becoming increasingly stressed.

"No serious illnesses? No broken bones?"

"I broke my wrist when I was a kid."

"Is that all?" he asked, frowning at the readings. There was evidence of multiple breaks—clavicle and ribs, and, God help him, every single finger on his right hand. None of the breaks was recent. 

"I've been in a few fights," he admitted. "I've had a few broken bones, okay? It's nothing serious."

This was leading nowhere, he thought. Enough talk for now. "Hold out your arm," he instructed. He drew blood and started a full viral and hematologic analysis.

"Ow," Jim grumbled. "This is part of why I hate doctors."

Leonard rolled his eyes. "Man up, cadet," he said reaching for the osteoscanner. "I'm going to do a bone scan." Jim watched him closely as he strapped the instrument to his left thigh. "Hold still now. This takes about 90 seconds."

The readings indicated growth within normal parameters for a man of his age and genetic makeup, but there were unexpected anomalies in the bone marrow fat deposits and metabolism. "Huh," he said quietly. "That's odd."

"What's odd?" Jim looked guarded.

"Well, your bone development hasn't been steady. There are signs of interrupted and then accelerated growth…" He paused. Those kinds of indicators were usually present in people who'd experienced periods of severely reduced food intake. Why would an Iowa farm boy show signs of starvation?

"It could be nutritional deficiencies…" Leonard muttered. "Has there ever been a time when you didn't eat steadily? A period of a few months, maybe?" he asked Jim.

Jim laughed. "Do I look underfed?"

"I'm serious. You have quite a few food sensitivities. Maybe you went through a period when you couldn't get the kind of food you need."

"Maybe. I don't remember."

Leonard rolled his eyes. "You seem to be having a lot of memory problems."

"It's not what you're thinking…"

"Look, kid, cut the crap," he said flatly. "Your records don't match up with what your body's telling me. You've had fractures that aren't on your records, you admit that you had some dermal regeneration done on those scars on your back, your growth's been interrupted, and," he consulted the lab results on his PADD, "you test positive for antibodies for viral heptacemia. That's a pretty unpleasant disease and I'm sure you were treated for it somewhere. So don't tell me any more stories about how you lived the quiet life and haven't seen a doctor in years. I know you're lying."

"Look, Bones, it's not like that…"

He bristled at the familiarity. "It's exactly like that. And that's Dr. McCoy to you, cadet. Now, do you want to explain to me where the second half of your medical records walked off to?"

There was a pause. Jim looked uncomfortable, but there was a hint of defiance in his posture. This kid's going to have trouble in Starfleet, Leonard thought. Doesn't back down, even when he's cornered.

"I'm sorry," Jim said finally. "I can't explain it. Maybe the records were deleted by mistake. I don't know, but I don't see what that has to do with me now. It's not my fault."

Leonard waited, glancing up at the monitors. He was surprised; they showed a different pattern than they had before, when he was lying about his health history and hospitalizations. "Did you change your records?" he pressed.

"No!" Jim's eyes were wide, his expression pleading for understanding. "Look, I'll be honest with you. Some things happened to me a long time ago, okay? It's fine now. I'm healthy. You can examine me, give me any test you want."

"Why don't you just tell me what—"

Jim shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Just clear me for duty."

"I'm not doing anything for you unless you start telling me what's going on. Someone's been fooling with your records, and that's serious business."

"Never said it wasn't. But I don't see what the medical charts from when I was thirteen have to do with me now."

Despite himself, Leonard found himself thinking that Jim had a point. His chart was incomplete and had clearly been tampered with, but he couldn't prove that Jim had done it. He was obviously hiding something in his past, but medically speaking, the problems Jim had had were mostly old injuries and shouldn't affect his current state of health.

"Not everybody fits into the mold," Jim said quietly. "I'm not the average cadet. Neither are you." Leonard winced and looked away. Damn him and his big mouth. He'd told the kid entirely too much on that shuttle ride.

Leonard didn't know the details of Jim's life, but the broad outline of his story was clear enough to him. Despite the dramatic circumstances of his birth, his medical records had been fairly normal up to the time he was a young teenager. Then something had happened to him, or maybe a series of events, that had left a worrisome array of physical markers. It was enough to interrupt his education and set him on a path that led basically nowhere: no steady income, no direction. And now he'd come to Starfleet, and depending on the results of this examination, he would either be able to continue on the track he'd set for himself, or be forced out before he even started.

Go somewhere where nobody knows you. Take another oath, Len. You didn't do so well with "To love and to cherish."

Dammit.

Leonard knew all about wanting to start over. He thought again of Jocelyn's mocking words. Run away, you fucking coward!

He sighed and picked up the chart. "So it's just foods, is that right?" Leonard asked, picking up the chart again. "You allergic to any meds?"

Jim hesitated, and Leonard shook his head impatiently. "Drug sensitivities are no joke, Kirk."

"Jim. It's not that. I'm just not sure…It was a long time ago, but I think there was a problem with some kind of antibiotics once. Or a painkiller. I try to stay away from drugs. I mean, stay away from hospitals. Doctors in general, that is."

"Yeah, I get it," Leonard said, shaking his head, not sure if he got it at all. "All right, Jim, go ahead and get dressed. I'm ordering a full workup at Starfleet Medical to evaluate all allergic sensitivities."

"Aw, come on, I don't think…"

"I don't care what you think. And don't whine," he told the cadet. "Be quiet now." He began filling in the long medical form. He recorded the results of the physical exam, and then added, Medical chart incomplete, reason unknown. No limitations on physical activity. Allergy workup pending.

"I'm clearing you to start training," he said. "No restrictions for now."

Jim blew out a deep breath, relief evident in his posture. "Thanks, Bones," he said, grinning as Leonard frowned. "Bones. Good name for you. Like a sawbones, you know…"

"Stow it before I change my mind, kid," he said crisply. "Go on back to your unit. You'll be given an appointment for the allergy testing."

"Command track, right? I'm cleared for that?"

"Whatever," he said, signing the form and nodding his head in dismissal. What did he care? Let him go into combat, make some life and death decisions if that's what he wanted. "If you want to be a hero, that's your business."


3.

Leonard didn't think about or see the mysterious cadet for the next two weeks.

His new hospital position and his courses started, and he barely had a thought to spare for his own well-being, let alone someone else's. He went from the adrenaline-pumping high-stress world of the E.R., where he was on his feet almost constantly, to mind-numbing hours in the classroom, where he was supposed to sit still, take notes, and ask intelligent questions. It was exhausting and disorienting; he hadn't had a schedule like this in years, not since he was in med school.

His courseload was heavy—didn't they realize that he was an attending surgeon, for God's sake?—and they actually expected him to do homework and hand in assignments like a college kid. He needed to complete coursework to become a Starfleet-accredited physician, so he signed up for Starship and Deep Space Psychology.  That one was actually interesting, in that it gave him a medical rationale to support his gut feeling that living on a starship would be hell. He heard lectures on the disruption of the circadian rhythms, the stress of living in cramped spaces and dealing with unrelieved boredom for months at a time, and the effects of sustained low-level exposure to dilithium emissions. He couldn't understand why anyone in his right mind would choose it as a lifestyle; he certainly wouldn't.

Even though he had an M.D., his academic advisor made it clear that he was an entry-level cadet as far as Starfleet was concerned. There was no getting out of the core courses and basic skills seminars. So Leonard registered for a class in Federation History: From First Contact to the Declaration and another in Ethical Dilemmas in Interspecies Relations

He didn't really mind learning the new information. But he was surrounded by ambitious youngsters who were going through college for the first time, who wanted to impress their professors, and who gave a shit. They weren't distracted by thoughts of post-op complications or divorce lawyers.

The real problem was Intro to Navigation, which, as far as he was concerned, was a complete waste of time, not to mention potentially humiliating.

"I'm a doctor, not a helmsman," he told his advisor flatly. "I don't need to steer the ship, I need to take care of the people steering it!"

"According to your aptitude tests," his advisor told him, "you have the spatial abilities and psychomotor dexterity that the position requires."

"That's because I'm a surgeon!"

"Every Starfleet officer needs to be certified in some aspect of flight training. What will you do if you're on a shuttle and the helmsman is injured?"

"I'll put the shuttle on autopilot and treat the damn helmsman," he grumbled. "I have aviaphobia, dammit! What good will I be to the captain if I'm so nauseous I can't see straight?"

That last comment had been a mistake, Leonard conceded later, when a notice arrived on his PADD informing him that he would begin flight desensitization therapy the following week. The eight mandatory sessions would be followed by a flight simulation to evaluate the need for further therapy.

He was still fuming about that when a second message arrived from Starfleet Medical Administration, informing him that first-year cadet James T. Kirk had requested him as his primary physician.

God, no. The kid was a walking mass of psych issues, and Leonard was a trauma surgeon, for God's sake, with no time to play medical detective or nursemaid. His finger hovered over the words "refuse request" at the bottom of the PADD, but he hesitated.

The Kelvin baby. "I hate doctors," Jim had said. Leonard remembered the defiant look in his eyes; inevitably, he was going to have trouble adapting to the military.

Maybe it wouldn't kill me to perform a checkup or two, he thought, and tapped "approve" before he could change his mind.



4.

"I've got the results of your allergy workup here," Leonard said without preamble, eyeing the cadet sitting across the desk from him. Jim's face had finally healed completely, and he looked more relaxed and confident than the last time they'd met. Leonard steeled himself inwardly, knowing that what he had to say wouldn't be taken well. It was never easy to deliver bad news.

Jim nodded. "Figured that was why you called me in here," he said agreeably. "Unless you just missed me… Haven't seen you around."

"I don't have time to miss anybody," Leonard said, surprised to see the kid looking vaguely disappointed. Maybe he was lonely, and had made their shared shuttle ride into a bigger experience than it was, some kind of male bonding. Unaccountably, Leonard felt a pang of guilt. "I'm at the hospital most of the time," Leonard explained. "I've got a load of classes on top of that."

"Right," Jim said, shrugging. "Well, hit me. What were the results?"

"Your allergy profile is one of the most comprehensive I've seen," Leonard began. "You were right about the food allergens, but that's only the beginning. We tested you for sensitivities to environmental allergens, as well as the major classes of drugs."

"And?" Jim asked calmly.

"And it turns out that you're significantly limited in the medications you can take," he said, glancing at the PADD. "Antipyretics and antivirals, antibiotics and analgesics…"

Jim shrugged. "I hate taking meds anyway."

Leonard frowned. "I don't think you understand, Jim. You're hypersensitive to some of the major classes of painkillers and fever reducers. It would be a delicate balancing act to treat you for the flu, not to mention some of the more aggressive space-related diseases floating around."

Jim grimaced and turned away. He can see where this is heading, Leonard thought, and remembered the cadet's vehement insistence that he was taking command track. "And as for environmental allergens, there's a possible respiratory problem that you need to be aware of."

"I don't have asthma," Jim protested.

"I know that. But you were tested for trichloridine sensitivity. That's the chemical most commonly used as the basis for all environmental sanitization on a starship. It's in the air and water filters, used in sterilization procedures…basically everywhere. Your results were inconclusive, but—"

"Well, I'm not allergic to that," Jim said firmly.

"I said you might be. It's a potential respiratory irritant."

"Not to me."

"Jim, you can't know that for sure," Leonard said, trying to be patient with the boy's obvious reluctance to admit that there might be a problem. "You won't be able to function on a starship if you're wheezing or coughing all day."

"Look, Bones, that didn't happen last time. I'll be fine," he said.

"What last time?" he asked. Jim's eyes suddenly shuttered down, a look he recognized from the exam: he was hiding something. "Have you been in space before, kid?"

Jim paused, then laughed harshly. "I was born in space. I thought you read my record."

"Sure I did. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if neonatal exposure to space radiation might have been the cause of your autoimmune quirks."

"Another parting gift from the Kelvin," he muttered.

Leonard ignored his comment. "But you were an infant. It doesn't mean anything about your current sensitivities. Have you been in space recently?" Leonard waited, wondering whether this slip had something to do with the missing records; there was no hint that Jim had been off-planet before the age of twelve. When Jim didn't answer, he went on, "Look, I know you want to be on the command track. But in light of your allergy profile, it would be best if you seek a ground post, or maybe a space station in this system, with access to the kind of specialized foods and medications that you'll need to have on hand."

"No." Jim shook his head vehemently, his entire body tensing.

"You can still perform command functions on a space station."

Jim looked away, face grim. "I'm going to serve on a ship."

"You're not listening to me, Jim. Starships are isolated and have limited resources. If you get sick or injured, you may not have very many treatment options."

"I'll be okay."

"It's medically inadvisable."

"You're my doctor. Find a cure for this. Allergies can be treated."

Leonard hesitated. "Well, there is something we could try, but..."

"I don't care. Let's do it."

"The traditional treatment is subcutaneal immunotherapy. You'd be injected with a small amount of the allergen, and your body would gradually learn to tolerate it." Jim nodded, looking satisfied. "Hold on, kid. There's one problem."

Jim scowled. "Naturally."

"There's a certain probability of a systemic allergic reaction in your case. I can give you a skin patch that would compensate for that, but the most effective one is cortisone-based, which is out of the question for you. I won't go into all the details, but the only effective option that's left is an anti-histamine patch, and that—"

"—has side effects." Jim looked resigned. "I know."

"That's right. Drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, and irritability, to name a few."

"I can't… It's not an option. They'll kick me out if I can't function."

Leonard softened his tone. "I know. I'm sorry, Jim. But you need to understand that if you continue in your current academic track, you're taking a medical risk that could have serious consequences."

"I understand." The defiant look was back. "But it'll be fine."

Stubborn idiot. "All right. But if you have a severe reaction on a training flight, I'll ground you and I won't ask for your opinion in the matter. And since you've made me your primary physician, believe me, I'll know if it happens."

Jim looked away, looking embarrassed. "Every cadet has to have a primary physician. It was either you, or somebody I didn't know."

"Well, you're my patient now, and that means you need to follow my instructions."

"Good enough for me, Bones." Jim rose, cheeks red, and gave him a quick smile. "Are we done?"

Leonard sighed. He sympathized with the cadet, and could even admire his determination to get into space, but some things were just not meant to be.

"That's all," he said. "For now."



5.

Carrying his tray, Leonard made his way impatiently through the lunchtime throng of students, looking for an empty table. Every available seat seemed to be taken. He had only twenty minutes to eat and didn't appreciate having to waste any of them.

"Bones! Hey, doc!" he heard, and was surprised to find Jim Kirk waving him over to a small table by the wall. He hadn't seen or heard from him in the two weeks since their last meeting.

"Thank God," Leonard said, sliding gratefully into the lone chair across from him. "I was afraid I'd have to sit on the floor."

"Yeah, pretty crowded today. All the first-years just got out of a lecture—" He looked up, grinning at two attractive female cadets who were making their way past. "Hello, ladies," he grinned, "how're you doing?"

They glanced at him and rolled their eyes at each other. One of them nudged the other, and they walked off in the opposite direction.

"Ouch," Leonard laughed. "Is that how you pick up girls in Iowa?"

"Nobody's got a chance today unless they've got a spare seat," he laughed, "and I'm not planning on giving up mine. Got a class in fifteen minutes."

"Same here."

For a few minutes, both were quiet, concentrating on their meals.

"What're you studying?" Jim asked, gazing at the open file on his PADD. "Outcomes of lower extremity trauma sustained during—"

"Don't read other people's private material," Bones snapped, clicking the panel off. "And don't read upside down, that's just annoying. Don't you have any manners?"

"I'm insatiably curious," he said with a laugh. "Don't take it personally. What're you reading that for?"

"Why do you think? I'm a trauma surgeon. I specialize in orthopedic reconstruction, but I didn't get much experience with phaser burns and disruptor wounds in Atlanta. It's a new area for me."

"Yeah, sounds useful. So…" Jim looked at him innocently. "How's your nav seminar going?"

Leonard looked at him suspiciously. "How the hell do you know about that, Jim?"

He shrugged. "Was kinda bored the other night, just playing around. I looked up your schedule."

Goddam brat, he thought, recalling his initial suspicions about the missing sections of his medical chart. Cadet schedules and personal information were not publicly available, he knew, though they were nowhere near as secure as medical records. Kid has no respect for privacy. "What business is it of yours, anyway?"

Jim ignored his glare. "Just asking. You seemed, uh, less than comfortable with the being-off-the-ground aspect of the shuttle ride. Disease, danger, and so on. Also there was the throwing up part."

Leonard's cheeks reddened. "Nav's not exactly my top priority," he grumbled. "I have a course in xenophysiology that's taking up most of my free time. I don't know what the hell I'm doing as a helmsman—as if that matters at all."

"Of course it matters," Jim said, as if that were obvious.

"I'm not going to be part of a flight team. I'm a doctor."

"You don't know where you'll be. You might need those skills sometime."

"Yeah, that's what my advisor told me," Leonard snorted. "God help the poor captain that's stuck with me as a helmsman."

"I could help you if you want," Jim began, looking around the noisy room. He stiffened suddenly, and Leonard followed his gaze. A large, beefy cadet with a small beard was making his way through the cafeteria, looking irritated.

"Who's that?"

"Finnegan. Dorm officer." At Leonard's blank look, he explained, "He's the ranking upperclassman in my dorm. Does room inspections, monitors curfew, asshole things like that. Wants to be fucking saluted all the time."

Leonard laughed. "I take it he doesn't like you."

"We kind of met the night before I enlisted. I gave him a nickname that he, uh, objected to."

"Wait, that's Cupcake? The guy you told me about on the shuttle? The one that smashed your face in."

"One of the guys," Jim reminded him. "There were four. And I was doing pretty well against them before Captain Pike came in and stopped everything."

"Sure you were," Leonard agreed. "I saw your face, dumbass."

"Cadet Kirk!" Finnegan was suddenly standing next to their table. "I thought I'd never find a free chair. Lucky for me you're here."

Jim's eyes darkened, but he spoke pleasantly. "There's no extra chair here, Finnegan. I'll be leaving in five minutes, and you're welcome to stand right there and wait."

"I won't need to, Kirk. On your feet, now." Jim swallowed, looking up at Leonard. His cheeks were burning. Slowly, he got to his feet, stood at attention, and saluted weakly.

"That's better, cadet. And for your disrespect, I'll see you at the training field at 20:00 tonight. I think a few wind-sprints will help you work off some of that attitude, mister."

Jim kept his face impassive, eyes averted.

"What do you know? There is a free seat available," Finnegan chortled, sliding into the chair. "I'm sure your friend won't mind sharing." He smiled and nodded at Leonard, who looked away distastefully. "Pick up your tray, Kirk, don't you have any manners?"

"Later, Bones," Jim said over his shoulder, and vanished into the crowd.

Leonard considered saying something to the arrogant cadet in front of him, who was laughing to himself as he shoveled in his food, ignoring McCoy entirely. But it was obvious to him that anything he said would only be paid for later by Jim.

Asshole, he thought. He picked up his own tray and left.


6.

Jim showed up at his small apartment in the medical school dorm that Friday evening. "What are you doing here, Jim?" Leonard asked, surprised. "Is something wrong?"

"Nothing. Just stopping by," he said, with a shy smile.

"You could have called me beforehand, you know," he grumbled, not sure how to react. Jim was his patient, at most a fellow cadet with whom he had a passing acquaintance.

"You didn't give me your comm number," he grinned.

"But you just happen to know where I live, right? And I'll bet you checked first to see that I'm off shift."

Jim smirked but didn't deny it. Stepping inside, he began wandering around the room, eyes wide. "Wow, they let the med students live like human beings. You have a single, Bones."

"That's because I'm an adult, with a desirable profession, Jim," he said. "I didn't piss away my youth."

"And your own bathroom…"

"Which I didn't invite you to see!" he called after him, exasperated.

"…and a couch and a kitchen," Jim continued, voice muffled as he investigated the refrigerator. "What have you got to eat?"

"For God's sake, come back here and pretend to be civilized. And stop acting like a waif who doesn't get fed regularly."

Jim reemerged from the kitchen, crunching an apple. He slipped into the chair next to Leonard's desk and began flipping through the medical journals that were scattered over it. Leonard watched him, not sure whether to be annoyed or amused.

"Wow, have you read this article on Deltan pheromones?" he asked. "Deltans are pretty amazing, hairless and totally hot. They consider humans to be sexually immature as a species."

"Were you their test subject?" Leonard asked. "Because I think I see their point."

Jim looked wounded. "I'm serious. Listen to this: 'Deltan pheromones use a complex system of olfactory chemoreceptors that in humans has been known to cause—'"

"Jim, are you planning on hooking up with a Deltan tonight? If you are, I can see how this information might be relevant, but otherwise…"

"I'm just inquisitive," he said, throwing the PADD back onto the desk. "I like to learn new stuff. Come on, let's go out. It's been a month and I finally got paid. It's also the first night I'm allowed off Academy grounds. Town liberty."

Leonard realized that as a doctor, his Academy experience was a lot different from that of most first-years. He'd already been off grounds several times, and no one had expressed any interest in restricting his freedom of movement. In fact, his plans for the evening had included relaxing in his apartment, with a good drink and a holovid. "Jim, I'm pretty beat, and I wasn't planning on going out tonight."  He smiled gently, to soften his words. "Aren't there some first-year command-track types that you can hang out with?"

Jim's face closed down, a look Leonard was becoming familiar with. "Sure. Yeah, don't want to bother you. There's a group going out, it's just… They're a little young, you know?" He looked up at Leonard shyly. "They just out of high school. I don't think most of them have even lived on their own before…"

Leonard's smile faded. He'd been so buried in his own sense of feeling old and out of place that it hadn't occurred to him that Jim might be feeling something similar. The kid had obviously been on his own for a long time, and if the marks on his body were any indication, it hadn't been an easy road.

Suddenly, the fact that Jim had come to seek him out didn't seem so strange anymore. Have a heart, he told himself. Maybe two's company.

"Well, at least they finished high school, moron. Sounds like they're way ahead of you."

Jim laughed. "Depends how you look at it. I'm a quick learner, and my courses are pretty easy. But they're way ahead on saluting and snapping to attention, at least. I'm not so good at that." His voice trailed off and his good humor seemed to weaken momentarily, but then he caught Leonard's eye and grinned. "Come on, Bones, let's go out. Uh...." he hesitated. "I suppose you'll want to change first."

Leonard was still wearing his cadet reds, as was Jim. "That's how you're dressed to go out?"

"Gotta stay in uniform at all times, even on liberty. 'Sides, I haven't had a chance to buy any new clothes yet…" Leonard raised an eyebrow. He knew that Jim had arrived in San Francisco without any possessions, but he'd assumed that he would have them sent to him. He wondered, for the first time, where Jim's family was, and why he didn't seem to have anyone looking out for him.

"Well," Leonard drawled, "I've been drawing a lot of shifts at the ER lately. I think the only clean clothes I've got are my uniforms. I'll just go like this."

"Great!" Jim beamed at him. "Easier to pick up girls or whatever, they really go for a guy in uniform. Oh, just so you know," he said, giving Leonard an embarrassed glance, "I have a one o'clock curfew."

"What happens if you're late? Turn into a pumpkin?"

"Of course not." Jim shook his head. "I just don't want to be late, that's all."

* * * *

"That one's cute, Bones. You should try hitting on her." They were in a corner booth of an off-campus bar. Jim was on his third beer; Leonard was going more slowly, savoring his bourbon.

"Try it yourself, farm boy. If you've still got the nerve."

"Not me," he said, shaking his head. "Three strikes and I'm out for the night."

"Maybe if you were a little more subtle," Leonard suggested. "'Wanna meet me in the alley?' is a little lacking in romance, Jim. I'm surprised you ever get laid at all."

"I'm persistent."

"So it seems."

"Then show me how to do it, man. If you're such a romantic."

Leonard snorted. "Jim, it's been a fucking long day and I'm tired. I'm not looking for a quick lay."

"Maybe you'll find something that lasts."

"Nothing ever does, kid," he said, feeling the alcohol loosening his tongue. "No such thing as a happy ending. My ex is living proof. Treated her like a princess, at least at the beginning..." Jim was quiet. "But nothing was ever good enough for her." He took a deep breath and a long sip of his drink. "It was an ordinary marriage, I suppose."

"Never seen one up close," Jim said, "Dunno what that really means."

Of course he hadn't. "I guess it means that we started out with good intentions and things went downhill."

Jim nodded. "So what the hell happened, Bones?"

Leonard found him surprisingly easy to talk to. Unlike so many of his colleagues in Atlanta, Jim didn't judge and didn't offer advice. He didn't seem uncomfortable with the pain in Leonard's rough voice or his acerbic comments about his ex. "Yeah, I've been there," Jim said once, making Leonard wonder, again, just what he was hiding about his teenage years.

"Where the hell did you learn those computer skills, kid?" he asked finally, tired of wallowing in his own depressing story.

"I never tell trade secrets."

"Good to know you have a trade, such as it is.  Even though half the things you do could get you arrested."

Jim laughed. "I've been arrested, Bones." Leonard raised an eyebrow. "But not for that. Stupid shit, years ago. Stealing, joyriding, stuff like that. I was kind of out of control when I was a kid."

There's another piece to add to the puzzle, he thought, wondering how Jim could reveal such a damning piece of information so nonchalantly. Had a few beers really lowered his inhibitions so much? Or maybe, he thought, after he'd spilled his guts about Jocelyn, Jim felt safe confiding something about his own past.

"Kirk!" a booming voice crowed from across the bar, interrupting them. Finnegan, accompanied by two hulking friends, was striding toward them. "What do you know? It's my favorite plebe!"

Jim cursed under his breath, turning around to glare at him. "Finnegan, I'm on liberty."

"Right you are, cadet. Mind if we join you and your friend?" Although it was phrased as a request, the tone was aggressive. Finnegan leaned over the table, placing himself right in Jim's personal space. Leonard watched Jim struggle to control his reaction, clenching his jaw and taking a deep breath. This isn't going to end well, he thought.

"No thanks," Leonard broke in, before Jim could respond. "We're having a conversation."

Finnegan ignored him. "Move over, cadet."

"Finnegan—" Jim began.

"I said we're not interested in company, hotshot," Leonard said, raising his voice.

Finnegan's eyes never wavered from Jim's face. His tone was icy. "You can call me 'sir,' cadet. And I've made a request."

"With all due respect, sir," Jim said slowly, "I'm off duty."

"Come again, cadet? I don't think I heard you properly."

McCoy tugged on his arm. "Let's go, Jim."

"We're off campus now and I'll move when and if I want to, Finnegan!"

Shit, Leonard thought.

Finnegan was shaking his head. "No salute? Disrespecting an upperclassman? Refusing a polite request?" He made a clucking noise with his tongue. "All right, Kirk, you're on report. Wait for me outside." He smiled pleasantly at Leonard, but his eyes were disturbingly cold. Leonard looked back stonily.

Finnegan turned back to Jim. "I'd like to get to know your friend a little better, I think. He's got a sweet look about him."

"Yeah? Blow me," Leonard said. "Come on, Jim."

"Feisty, aren't you?" Finnegan said to him, grinning. "Out of the booth, Cadet Kirk."

It was clear their evening was over. Leonard climbed out of the booth. He turned toward Jim, hoping to prod him along as quickly as possible, but froze when he saw Jim's expression. His face was absolutely tight with fury.

Jim's fist caught Finnegan squarely on the chin.

Before Leonard could react, Jim was grabbed by Finnegan's two burly friends, each of whom held an arm.

"That was a mistake, Kirk," Finnegan said, standing up and rubbing his jaw. "I'm not allowed to hit a cadet while I'm on duty, so…" He swung his fist into Jim's abdomen, forcing a grunt of pain out of him. "Lucky we're all on liberty, isn't it?"

* * * *

"You're an idiot," Leonard told him. "With a big fucking mouth that doesn't know when to shut the hell up."

Finnegan and his friends were vicious and swift. By the time the bartender had called campus security, they were long gone, leaving Jim groaning on the floor. He'd managed to drag Jim out of the bar, staggering and bleeding, and flag a taxi. He decided to bring Jim to his apartment, rather than directly back to his dorm; he was clearly going to be in deep trouble, whether he arrived now or in an hour. Leonard wanted to clean him up and fix the damage as best he could before sending him off to his fate, and if the injuries were worse than he suspected, the Academy clinic was nearby.

"Sit down. Not on the bed, asshole, on the couch. And don't bleed on the rug," he growled, rummaging in the bathroom for his medkit.

"Dunno why you're so mad," Jim mumbled.  

"Oh, you don't know, do you?" Leonard slammed the kit down beside him. "Maybe it's because you act like a sixteen-year-old hothead without a survival instinct. What the hell's the matter with you?" He grabbed the scanner and began moving it slowly over Jim's torso.

"Fucker shouldn't have brought you into it. What was I supposed to do, sit there and let him insult you?"

"Yes!" Leonard yelled. "What do you think I am, a fucking damsel in distress? You don't need to rescue me, you arrogant jackass! Save your heroics for somebody else."

"Ow!" Jim hissed, flinching away from the antiseptic wipe that Leonard was touching to his cheekbone.

Leonard pressed down harder. "Serves you right. What the hell were you doing, throwing a punch because they were acting like assholes? You should be in pain."

"Your bedside manner sucks."

"Sue me. You choose me as your primary physician, remember?" He pressed a sterile bandage over a deep cut on his forearm that travelled from elbow to wrist. "Hold that. Don't you know to stay away from broken glass?"

"Stay away? He swiped at me with a broken beer bottle! That's a dangerous weapon!"

"So move out of range next time, genius," Leonard hissed, probing carefully at his cheekbone, ignoring Jim's grunt of pain. It was bruised and badly scraped, but thankfully not fractured. "That Finnegan's going to grind your ass into the pavement."

Jim's shoulders slumped. "Don’t remind me, Bones. I'm going to spend the next two weeks walking the training fields half the night."

"What does that mean?"

He gave a bitter laugh. "Better not to know. You're safe from all that, with your luxury apartment and your VIP treatment. No dorm officer for you, and no disciplinary measures to correct your fucking attitude."

He examined Jim's knuckles, which were scraped raw and bleeding, and frowned.

"What's the matter, Bones? They're not broken." He made a fist. "Fuck, that burns."

"Lay your hand flat. They're not fractured, but I need to clean and seal the abrasions. I've got a portable dermal regenerator here, which should be enough for that."

"So what's the problem?"

Leonard sighed. "Jim, repairing that cut on your arm requires a local anesthetic. But you're allergic to the two drugs I've got in my kit. I don't even have an antibiotic cream that you can use, although that can wait until morning."

Jim waved his uninjured hand in dismissal, looking resigned. "Doesn't matter, Bones. Not your fault. Just patch me up however you can. I've got to get back to the dorm, it's almost one."

"I'm your doctor; I'll comm him with a medical excuse. Let's walk over to clinic. It's only a few minutes from here, and it's got all the equipment that I need."

"No! I don't want to make things worse than they already are. Fix it here. It's nothing, Bones."

Leonard shook his head. "This isn't right. I don't care if he is your dorm dictator—"

"Dorm officer."

"Whatever. He's dangerous, and he's trying to provoke you, and you're an idiot if you can't see that! He's just looking for an excuse to exert his so-called authority, and you'd better stop stepping into every trap he lays."

"You don't understand, Bones," Jim said, shaking his head.

"Guess I don't," Leonard muttered. "For the last time, are you coming with me to the clinic or not?"

"Not. Go ahead and fix it without the anesthetic. Believe me," he said, eyes darkening, "I've had worse."

Leonard glanced down at his hand, remembering the broken metacarpals and phalanges he'd seen during Jim's exam, and wondered again where he'd acquired those injuries. He didn't ask; Jim clearly had enough to deal with at the moment, without delving into his past tonight.

"Hold still, then, Jim," he said, picking up the hand gently. The anger had dissipated, replaced by a growing concern. "I'll be as quick as I can."


7.

Leonard commed Jim the next day from the hospital, but got no answer. He wasn't really surprised. He left a message telling him to pick up the antibiotic cream at the Academy clinic. Any thoughts about Jim and his problems quickly disappeared from his mind as he spent the next twelve hours treating and operating on three young engineers who'd been involved in a mechanical equipment explosion.

At the end of his shift, he wearily confirmed that Jim had picked up the medication. Then he restocked his medkit, making sure that he had alternatives to the standard drugs. Not for Jim, specifically, but just for…emergencies.


8.

Leonard sat in the shuttle in the navigator's seat, attempting to control his breathing. He tried to quiet his uncooperative mind, which was conducting a mental list of the effects of exposure to the vacuum of space.

Expansion of gases in the lungs and digestive tract. Moisture in the eyes and mouth will vaporize. Water in the muscles will evaporate, causing severe bloating.

The therapist was droning on about releasing the tension in his muscles and envisioning a smooth, uneventful flight.

Good idea, Leonard thought, willing his uncontrollable inner monologue to shut up.

Nitrogen dissolved in the blood will form bubbles due to reduced pressure, causing "the bends." Localized pain in the joints. Skin will begin to burn from exposure to radiation…

The therapist's voice was calm and soothing as he directed the relaxation exercise. Leonard wanted to break his neck.

"Your heart rate was steadier and lower than last time, although your blood pressure still spiked higher than I'd like," he told Leonard afterwards, seeming genuinely pleased. "You're making real progress."

Leonard rolled his eyes. "The goddam shuttle isn't flying anywhere, that's why. I'm not afraid of being on the ground!"

"But you're sitting in it, running through a navigation sim. That's more than you were able to do two weeks ago."

Leonard had to admit that it was becoming harder and harder to hang onto his phobia. Starfleet Medical was relentless. Don't worry, he'd been told. Aviophobia can be treated. If this didn't work, he'd be given extra counseling sessions, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety medication, and binaural meditation seminars. Shock treatment, too, probably... The message was clear: there was no way Leonard was going to win this one. One way or another, Starfleet was going to launch him into space.

"Fine," he grumbled. "I can now sit in a pretend shuttle running a pretend navigational program without throwing up. You're a genius. "

The therapist sighed. "Are you always so sarcastic, Dr. McCoy?"

"Only in moments of intimacy."

There was more truth in that than he'd like to admit.


9.

Leonard was nearing the end of his weekly shift at the Academy clinic two weeks later when a pair of cadets staggered in, one bleeding profusely from a deep cut in his calf and leaning on his friend for support. The two were guided to a small treatment room, and Leonard examined the wound, which was relatively clean and straight.

"Fell off a walkway and cut my leg on the corner of an open circuit board," the cadet explained, grimacing. "Is it bad?"

"Clumsiness can be fatal," he said, and the cadet reddened. "But the cut's minor. I can treat it here."

The repair was relatively simple, and Leonard's thoughts were drifting to his weekend plans as he worked, cleaning and sealing the wound, and slowly healing the skin. He had a double shift on Saturday, a paper to write for his ethics class, and an upcoming exam in xeno in the middle of the week which he needed to study for. The two cadets kept up a constant patter of conversation, which he tuned out automatically, until one of them made a remark that made his ears prick up.

"Did you hear that bastard Kirk yesterday in Tactics?" the injured cadet was saying to his friend. Leonard looked up, surprised, then focused his eyes downward on the leg again as the man continued, "Wouldn't shut up. Loves to hear the sound of his own damn voice."

Shit, he thought with a guilty start. Haven't talked to the kid since that night. He'd meant to comm him, more than once, but he'd been so busy…

The second cadet nodded. "Yeah, it's always 'Good point, cadet,' and 'That's an interesting interpretation, Kirk.' Top grades, too, and not just in Tactics."

"Dunno why the instructor keeps letting him go on and on. Kirk acts like it's a solo tutorial, always arguing and showing off, talking about some battle he read about—"

"Keep still," McCoy admonished. "I'm doing delicate work, here." Inwardly, he groaned; Jim obviously was not aware of the effect his irrepressible intellect was having on some of his classmates.

"Sorry, doc." He turned again to his friend. "I don't even know where he gets the time to study. Finnegan's got his ass out on the training field every single night, and in my opinion he deserves it, too."

"Come on, Ron, give the guy a break."

"Why should I? Kirk's whole room failed inspection last week because of him. Muddy boots thrown on the floor, uniform not hung up—"

"Yeah, I heard about that. One of his roommates told me he wouldn't wake up and they had to dump him out of bed on his ass. Man, the poor guy's sleep-deprived. I heard Finnegan had him out running time trials until midnight the night before. In the pouring rain. God, I hate the weather here."

"That's no fucking excuse. He had time in the morning to clean the room. He should have made an effort so that his room buddies didn't get penalized."

"I'm with you there." Or maybe his damn roommates could've helped him out a little, assholes, Leonard thought, scowling.  

"Besides, with all the sprinting he's been doing for Finnegan, he should be the fastest guy in the Academy by now."

Their laughter set Leonard's teeth on edge. "Why don't you two shut up," he said acidly. He glared at his patient. "I need to concentrate."

The men were silent for several minutes, and then the injured cadet's friend began again, this time in a stage whisper. "He had Kirk walking around the quad last night holding a phaser rifle for three hours, did you see? That had to hurt, man. And every time he passed Finnegan, he had to salute."

"Serves him right. He has no respect for authority and no sense of discipline. What the hell's he doing in Starfleet? If he'd just shut his mouth for once and show some respect, Finnegan wouldn't bother him."

"Maybe," the friend said doubtfully.

"Well, it's not our fault if he can't toe the line, and I'm sick of taking a hit for him. Two days ago Finnegan made our whole floor run around the campus because Kirk mouthed off at him. Seven damn kilometers. Said it was our responsibility as his classmates to work together to promote unit cohesion, or some crap like that."

Leonard frowned. The other cadets, even those who were somewhat sympathetic to his situation, would quickly come to resent him.

You're such a fool, Jim.

"Kirk doesn't like to back down."

"He'll get the message. Did you see the latest dorm notice? 'It is highly recommended that cadets refrain from speaking to or acknowledging a cadet who displays unsatisfactory conduct resulting in disciplinary action, for a period of 24 hours.' Finnegan calls it 'character education.'"

Leonard grunted and put the instrument down. "It's none of my business," he said, in a frosty tone that implied it was exactly his business, "but isn't that a little harsh?" The cadets traded a glance, taken aback at his sudden interference. "Isn't this Kirk character part of your class? What happened to camaraderie and helping a fellow cadet?"

"Kirk's a screw-up," the first cadet told him, touching his leg gingerly. "I don't have any sympathy for him. He knew what he was getting into when he enlisted."

"It's not always his fault," said his friend. "I think Finnegan's looking to nail him for every little thing."

"Why?" Leonard asked. "What's wrong with this cadet? Is he ugly? Does he have acne? Bad breath?"

"Nothing like that," the sympathetic one said. "But he's different. He's a little older than the rest of us, and he's placed out of some of the intro classes that the rest of us have to take, and he's kind of an independent guy—"

"That has nothing to do with it," the cadet on the treatment table interrupted. "He's undisciplined and that's dangerous. He's reckless and he takes too many chances in training sims. I wouldn't want a guy like him under my command."

His friend looked unconvinced. "Maybe the doc's right. Kirk's part of our class, we need to stick by him. It's our responsibility to help him get acclimated to Starfleet. Besides, that Finnegan can be a fucking maniac about regulations…"

"Well, I'm following the regs," the injured Ron said with what Leonard thought was a self-righteous air. "Kirk needs to be taught a lesson. I never talk to the guy anyway. He's an arrogant asshole. Probably thinks he can get away with anything because of who his father was, but—Ouch!" The cadet glared at Leonard. "Take it easy with that thing!"

"Sorry," Leonard said. "My hand slipped."


10.

"Stabilize your orbit, Bones," Jim told him. He leaned back against the wall panel of the students' sim lab, watching Leonard run through the basic navigation program for the seventh time.  It was Saturday night and the normally-crowded lab was deserted except for the two of them. Jim raised his water bottle and took a drink. "You keep forgetting to use the attitudinal sensors."

"That's because I don't really care if the ship crashes."

That comment made Jim choke mid-swallow, and he coughed. "Seriously, if you were my helmsman, I'd stick you in the brig. You won't exactly inspire confidence in your flight team like that."

"Just help me pass this damn practical exam," Leonard growled, "and I promise never to go near an actual shuttle. Dammit!" he yelled, as the computer emitted a prolonged beep and informed him calmly that he had failed, yet again, to complete the program successfully.

Jim walked around to the console until he was standing directly behind Leonard, who was staring glumly at the long error message. "You didn't compensate for gravitational pull," he said, pointing to the readout. He tapped his fingers restlessly against the back of Leonard's chair.

Leonard gave him an annoyed glance. "Sit down and stop acting like a hyperactive  child. You've been standing for the past hour and a half."

"I spent all afternoon playing soccer," Jim said. "If I sit down, all my muscles will tighten up."

"You been working out a lot?" Leonard asked, keeping his tone casual.  "You look a little run down." Jim's eyes were red, and his voice was somewhat hoarse. Leonard had, in fact, looked him over carefully when they first entered the lab, but he seemed as upbeat and enthusiastic as usual.

"Gotta stay in shape, Bones," he said with a tired grin. "Besides, we have a soccer league and I'm on the plebe team. I play forward. You should come see one of our games, we're awesome."

"I hate soccer."

"C'mon, start the sim again. You need to decrease your response time."

"Not everyone can calculate in his head as fast as you can," he complained. "Where did you learn this stuff, anyway?"

"I read, Bones. Learning isn't about being in the classroom—"

"Says the dropout."

"…it's about asking questions, and then accessing the information you need. I don't wait for a teacher to tell me what to do."

Leonard sighed and threw up his hands in frustration. "Well, assume I'm one of those lesser mortals who need to be told. Explain it again to me."

Jim nodded sympathetically. "I know you're smart, Bones. You're a surgeon, for God's sake. But you don't want to learn navigation—"

"Is it that obvious?" he snarled.

"…and you feel incompetent," Jim continued, ignoring him, "so you're sloppy and you don't work systematically. Just follow the algorithm and let the nav computer calculate for you."

It was a perceptive comment, and Leonard looked at him in surprise. The more time he spent with Jim, the more he realized just how intelligent he was. At the same time, he could imagine the effect Jim was having on his less-gifted classmates. He wasn't arrogant, but he made no attempt to hide his abilities.

Following Jim's suggestion, he made more of an effort to work methodically and, for the first time, managed to run through the program successfully.

"That's better!" Jim crowed.

"Still too slow, though."

"One more time, then."

By his third successful trial, Jim was grinning broadly. "You need more practice. But maybe they'll pass you anyway, if they're feeling really generous."

"Thanks a lot, kid," Leonard said, pleased despite himself. "That's very encouraging. Now," he said, standing and stretching, "what do you say we go get a drink?"

Jim's face clouded. "Naw…go ahead without me. I'm not allowed off campus tonight."

"I thought you were on liberty again."

"Cancelled," he said simply.

Naturally. "Well," Leonard said, clapping him on the shoulder and turning him toward the door, "I happen to know of one place where you can get a good drink without going off campus. And I promise to get you back home in one piece."

****

Back at his apartment, Leonard retrieved two cold beers from the refrigerator and took out clean glasses.

"Who're all these people, Bones?" he heard Jim call from the living room. Leonard came out of the kitchen, cradling the drinks and glasses in one arm and carrying a bag of crackers in the other hand. Jim was looking through the collection of framed photos and holos that were displayed on his wall.

"They're all family, one way or another." He set out the food on the small table that doubled as his desk. "Parents, cousins, second cousins, grandparents, relatives from way back."

"Is this you, when you were a kid?" He pointed at a holo of a small, dark-haired boy being swung up on a tall man's shoulders. Leonard nodded. "You look like your father."

"That's what everybody says."

"Some of those pictures are really old…"

"That's right. I like old things, and I try to remember where I came from," he said. "See that quilt on the bed? My great-grandmother made that by hand." Jim came over to the bed and fingered the squares of brightly-colored, patterned fabric.

"I didn't know people still do that kind of thing."

"Maybe they don't in Iowa," Leonard scoffed. "In Georgia, we keep to traditions. Anyway, she made it about fifty years ago."

"Was she a surgeon, too? Look at these stitches."

Leonard laughed. "No, an accountant, actually."

Jim grinned. "See, you do have some mathematical ability floating around in your DNA."

"I prefer to think I inherited her fine motor coordination and suturing skills."

Jim's eyes lighted on the contents of a small wall-mounted cabinet with glass doors. He peered inside and gave a yelp. "Shit, Bones, are you planning on torturing somebody?"

Leonard laughed. "I told you, I appreciate old things. They're antique medical instruments. I collect them. Most of them are two or three hundred years old." He opened the cabinet and removed two. "Know what these are for?"

Jim looked at the small cardboard tag on the first instrument: "Littman Stethoscope, 1967. I know what this does, I've seen them in movies. Can I try it?"

"Only if your ears have been sterilized. It's never been used and it cost me a fortune."

Jim handed it back to him gingerly. "Maybe not then." He turned over the tag on the second instrument, which had a rubber bulb connected to a round measuring device, attached to a black strap by a rubber tube. "Mabis manual sphygmomanometer, 1998," he read slowly. "Long name."

Leonard laughed, enjoying Jim's confusion as he turned the examined the instrument from different angles, wrapping the strap around his wrist. "Okay, I give. What does this one do?"

"It measures blood pressure. It may be old but it's actually very accurate. Works, too. Everything in that cabinet is a functioning instrument."

Jim placed it carefully back inside the cabinet. "God, those knives look sharp."

"Scalpels. They 're supposed to be sharp." Leonard plucked a small hypodermic syringe off the shelf. "Ever seen one of these?" He took off the protective cap and showed the needle to Jim, who stared at it, eyes wide. "If you'd been living three hundred years ago, with your allergies, you'd have been pretty familiar with it."

"Fuck, Bones, get away from me with that." Jim paled alarmingly and averted his gaze. "I think that's enough antiques for me."

Leonard raised an eyebrow. Jim wasn't kidding; his breathing had quickened and he looked like he was making an effort to calm himself.

"Are you okay?" he asked. Jim had backed up a step until he was leaning surreptitiously on the wall for support and Leonard could see small drops of sweat lacing his brow.

"Course," he said, smiling unconvincingly. "Just don't like needles."

Trypanophobia, Leonard diagnosed automatically. Fear of medical procedures involving injections. Some people were genetically susceptible to it; others acquired it as a result of some traumatic experience. Suddenly, Jim's claim that he hadn't gone to a routine checkup for years made sense. Just the sight of the needle, or the injection itself, could cause a reflexive drop in blood pressure that often resulted in fainting.

He quickly put away the syringe and closed the cabinet. "Here, have a seat, kid," he said, pointing him toward the table. "You get nervous around hypos too?"

"No, I just avoid them whenever possible." Jim laughed shakily, sinking into the chair. "Doctors, too. I told you that before."

"I'm a doctor, idiot, in case you haven't noticed."

"I try to forget that fact."

The opposite was probably true, Leonard mused. With that kind of acute reaction, Jim was almost certainly hyperaware of Leonard's profession, though he hid it well. He wasn't surprised that Jim had chosen to make friends with a man who represented one of his deepest fears. The kid seemed to make a habit of plunging ahead when his better instincts must be telling him to back off.

Leonard grabbed a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt from his closet. He picked up the PADD that was lying on his bed and tossed it to Jim. "Here. Occupy your mind while I take a shower."

"What's this?" Jim asked. He tapped the PADD and stared at the anatomical diagram that was on the display. "Yuck, Bones, that's disgusting."

"Comparative xenophysiology. I have a test on Wednesday. You can quiz me when I get out."

****

"This stuff is actually pretty cool, Bones," Jim told him as he stepped out of the bathroom, accompanied by a puff of steam and humidity. Jim was tapping the PADD's screen and frowning in concentration. "And it's useful, you know? A captain has to know about all the alien species he comes in contact with."

"That's what the CMO is for," Leonard said, sitting down and pouring the beer into his glass. "To tell him what he needs to know. The captain just needs basic information, not this level of detail."

"Right," Jim agreed, looking satisfied. "There! Sent a copy to my comm."

Leonard shook his head. "Jim, that's an expensive medical textbook and I only purchased one copy. It won't work."

"No, I think you're wrong," he said, looking up innocently. "For some reason, there were two copies on your PADD."

"Sure there were." He rolled his eyes. "You're a fucking menace. Stop playing with that thing and test me on chapter twelve."

"Fine," Jim agreed, scooping up a handful of crackers. "Pretend I'm your captain and you're my CMO. Tell me what I need to know about…" He paused, flipping through the textbook's index. "…Klingon nervous systems."

Jim seemed genuinely interested, and his questions were intelligent and practical. "How do their senses compare with ours?" "What's the advantage of the cranial ridge?"  "Where are they most vulnerable to attack?" Leonard found it a challenge to explain the more advanced medical terminology in layman's terms, although Jim seemed to grasp the basic concepts easily enough.

After about thirty minutes, Leonard called a halt. "That's enough, Jim, thanks. You've spent your entire evening helping me."

Jim looked embarrassed. "I don't mind," he said quickly.  "I had a free evening, and you sounded so pathetic when you called me about the nav practical…"

"I'll get you another beer," he said, moving toward the kitchen with the empty snack bowl. "And something to eat. Didn't you have dinner?"

"Been three hours since then," Jim protested, but his cheeks reddened. Shit, Leonard thought, regretting his wisecrack, and disappeared into the kitchen. Food seemed to be a sensitive topic.

"Who painted this picture, Bones?"  He heard Jim ask from the other room.

"The one over the table? My granddad," he said, rummaging through his kitchen for something more substantial for Jim to munch on. "It's the home I grew up in."

"Looks big."

"It is. Seven bedrooms. For a while, my uncle was living there too, with his family. Didn't feel so big then."

Leonard smiled at the way Jim's eyes lit up at the sight of the tray of sandwiches he was carrying out. "When I walk through that door," he said, nodding his head toward the entrance to the apartment, "I like to see some reminders of home."

Jim looked relaxed and comfortable, leaning back against the wall with his chair. "It's nice, Bones. I like your place. Except for the cabinet of doom over there."

"What about you?" he couldn't resist asking, fairly sure he knew the answer already. "Got anything personal in your room? Something you brought with you from home?"

"Nope," Jim said blithely. "Just as well, because plebes can't hang medieval torture devices on the walls, or make our beds with comfy quilts from home, either. Gotta use regulation blankets, and they'd better have military corners. Which yours don't, by the way," he said pointedly. "I'll fix 'em for you if you like."

"No thanks," he laughed. "Glad to see you're picking up some useful skills, though. Your dorm life sounds pretty fucked up."

"No argument there."

"How're things going with Finnegan?" he asked, having waited most of the evening to be able to make this query casually.

Jim focused his attention on his sandwich. "It's okay, Bones," he said, taking a large bite. "Don't worry about it."

"What definition of 'okay' are you using?" Leonard asked. "Okay as in 'we've resolved our differences'? Or okay as in 'he's still treating me like his personal punching bag'?"

"Look, it's not personal," Jim said, shaking his head. "And what you saw was my fault. I hit him first."

"True. I told you that, too. What did he do to you when you got back to the dorm?"

Jim gave a bitter laugh. "It's called 'Intensive Physical Training.' IPT. A week of long workout sessions in the evenings. Lots of pushups, crawling through the mud with him screaming names at me, running up and down the field, that sort of thing."

"And that's okay with you?"

"You don't understand. That's the system. It's punishment, so it's supposed to be unpleasant."

"I get that, Jim, but—"

"No, listen.  Finnegan thinks I don't know how to follow orders and I have a bad attitude.  And maybe he's right about my attitude. The IPT is just his way of trying to get me to change my behavior. But…I have to be tough. The exercising is just meant to get me to the point where I'm exhausted and hurting, and I still have to be able to think and function. IPT is supposed to be stressful."

"So you think it's sort of good for you." Leonard regarded him thoughtfully over the rim of his beer glass. Jim's posture was defensive and he was looking at Leonard defiantly.

"In a combat situation, I'm going to have to be able to handle stress and still make the right decisions. So it's preparing me for command, yeah. And it doesn't hurt to be in top physical shape."

This was unbelievable. "Jim, that's totally fucked up. And it still doesn't explain the level of animosity that I saw."

He sighed. "I knew it would be like this when I enlisted in Starfleet," he muttered. "People like Finnegan just don't like guys like me."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Finnegan's family's been in Starfleet for generations. It's what he grew up with."

"Your parents were both Starfleet, too, kid." The facts of Jim's family tragedy were well-known.

"Mom still is," he said with a shrug. "But she didn't exactly raise me with a love of the service, Bones. It was more like, given a choice between a farm in Riverside and exploring in deep space, she'd go into the black every time." Jim's tone was bitter. "She stayed close to home for a while, but then she started taking long range missions when I turned twelve."

Twelve. The year Jim's medical records stopped.  

"Is that where she is now?"

"She's on a three-year exploratory mission. Computer specialist on the Nautilus."

"I guess she taught you a few things in her specialty."

Jim grinned. "Could be. Anyway," he sighed, "Finnegan's family is traditional Starfleet. He went to the Academy high school. He got where he is by going by the book and following the rules. He believes in them."

"And you don't?"

"Depends." Jim paused, looking grim. "In my experience, sometimes it's a good idea to question things. People in positions of authority don't always make the right decisions. Sometimes people shouldn't follow orders blindly."

"What are you talking about? What experience?"

Jim ignored his questions. "Finnegan interprets it as disrespect. He also doesn't think I'm any good at teamwork, and he's kind of right about that." Jim nodded as if to himself. "I need to think more about my team, and less about getting ahead myself."

"And that's hard for you to do?"

"Just not something I'm used to." 

"Dammit, Jim," he said, frustrated, "From what I saw, Finnegan's abusing his position, and you're justifying everything he does. Tell me the truth, now. Why weren't you allowed off campus tonight? You told me your liberty was cancelled."

Jim sighed. "I, uh, fell asleep during one of my classes." Leonard scowled; that was inevitable, with all the late-night physical exercise he'd been doing. "Finnegan decided I needed more rest, so no liberty for me, plus an early curfew."

"That's actually the first reasonable thing I've heard from him. You do need more sleep."

"Yeah," he yawned. "It's nearly eleven, I should leave..." He stood up and stretched. "Thanks for the beer, Bones."

Watching him leave, Leonard shook his head in frustration. Jim seemed to accept the idea that he wasn't good enough, and had twisted the abuse—because that's what this was—into something that he not only deserved, but that was strengthening him, preparing him for some vague future threat.

Despite his exhaustion and the beers, he twisted and turned in bed for almost an hour, his anxious mind replaying the conversation over and over. 


11.

McCoy received the notice that he'd passed his nav practical a week later, just as he was coming through the door to his apartment after finishing his evening history class.

The score wasn't high, and he felt a ridiculous stab of disappointment mixed with the relief. Stop being such a perfectionist, he chided himself, at least it's over. He decided to console himself with a few fingers of Woodford Reserve and The Starfleet Journal of Surgery. Sitting at his desk, he sipped the drink, enjoying the mellow, woody flavor and savoring the quiet.

The comm beeped again ten minutes later. He read the brief message and hurled the device at the bed in disgust.

Oh, hell no.


12.

He saw Jim at their weekly lunch. It had been Jim's suggestion, when he discovered that their schedules coincided enough for them to meet conveniently once a week. Leonard took his tray and headed for the small side table where Jim was already waiting for him. "Bones!" Jim beamed at him. "You passed your practical!"

He slammed down his tray. He'd intended to tell Jim the news during lunch and thank him, but he'd beaten Leonard to the punch. "Dammit, kid, how the hell do you know that?"

Jim looked no more than slightly abashed. "That's not the point. Congratulations, now you can—"

"No, that is the point, jackass. You have no right to go poking around in my mail!"

"But that's not—"

"I'm a doctor and some of my messages contain confidential patient information!"

"I know that. Listen—"

"Were you raised in a barn, for God's sake?" he thundered on. "Don't you have any sense of boundaries?"

Jim looked hurt. "Calm down, of course I didn't read your private messages, Bones. I wouldn't do that." He picked half-heartedly at the remains of his meal.

Sure you wouldn't. Leonard shoved a fork into his food and began eating. "So tell me how you know the results of my practical sent to me by my advisor."

"You weren't the only one taking a practical exam, Bones. Everybody had one last week: navigation, communications, engineering, whatever. They posted the lists in my dorm. I saw your ID number and your score. I'll show you, if you want."

Leonard shook his head in frustration, deciding not to bother asking how Jim knew his ID number.

"Don't feel bad, Bones, one of my roommates scored even lower than you did."

"What was your practical?" he asked sullenly. "Breaking and entering?"

Jim winced. "Why're you so grumpy, Bones? I didn't hack into your mail and I didn't read anything private, okay? If you really want to know, I had the first stage of basic combat training." He looked at Leonard expectantly, but Leonard scowled at him in irritation. "And since you're obviously not going to ask me, let me just tell you, I aced it."

Leonard sighed. Jim was right; he was using him as a convenient target to lash out at, but it wasn't his fault. "Look, I'm sorry. I just thought that if I passed the nav exam, that would be the end of it. But now I'm supposed to do another basic skills course, this time in hand weapons."

Jim laughed. "Well, what did you expect, Bones? Starfleet is a military organization. Of course you have to know how to fire a phaser. Didn't you think about that when you enlisted?"

"Never mind what I was thinking about when I enlisted," he growled, not wanting to mention how smugly satisfied he'd been at Jocelyn's look of fury when he told her. "I'm a doctor, not a sharpshooter! Do you have any idea what kind of damage a phaser can do to an arm or a leg on its lowest setting?"

"Don't tell me you joined Starfleet and only just now realized that you're a pacifist."

"I'm not a pacifist, I'm a healer. I don't cause injury, I treat it!"

"Relax, you're not being trained to be a sniper. You have to know how to defend yourself. Take out the enemy so that you can stay alive to treat your shipmates. Do you think the Romulans are going to listen to you if you start yelling 'I'm a healer, don't shoot at me'?"

Leonard grunted, unwilling to concede the point. Jim had already cleaned his plate completely as usual, and was leaning back in the chair, looking amused. He was scanning the cafeteria and smiling. "Forget combat. Let's talk about something more interesting."

Leonard followed his gaze: he was watching a pair of female cadets at a nearby table to their right. The one facing them was dark-skinned with her hair pulled into a tight ponytail, wearing a serious expression and speaking in a low voice to her companion, a woman with long, wavy red hair. She saw Jim looking at them and rolled her eyes haughtily.

"I don't think you've got much of a chance there, kid."

"Orions, Bones." He inclined his head meaningfully toward the women. "I've been reading up on them. Comparative xenophysiology, you know…"

Oh, for God's sake. "Wipe that stupid grin off your face, Jim. Orion pheromones are highly potent, not to mention dangerous, especially to farmboy fools like you."  

The red-haired cadet had turned slightly, allowing Leonard a glimpse of her face; she was, indeed, Orion. "And addictive," he said, slapping the back of Jim's head to make him turn around.

"Ouch!"

"I'm telling you, as a doctor, to stay away from her. You don't know what you're getting into."

"You're exaggerating," he said, although he seemed a little uncertain. "She looks nice."

"Read a little further along in your textbook, kid."

"Well, never mind about Orions," he said, shaking his head as if to clear it. "Let's change the subject. We've got a game this Friday. Plebes against second years. You should come."

"I have better things to do with my afternoon. Like heal people who are bleeding."

"Let someone else have a turn. It wouldn't kill you to get out in the fresh air. I told you, we're really good. It'll be fun."

"I never even played soccer as a kid. It's not my thing."

"Yeah, I know you said that, but—"

"And my shift at the hospital doesn't end till four."

Jim nodded, mask shuttering into place behind his smile. "Well…that's okay, Bones. It's just a stupid game…And don't worry about the phaser stuff, I'll help you." He stood abruptly, grabbing his tray. "Well, take it easy, I gotta go."

Shit. Damn the sensitive infant.

"Jim," he said with a sigh, "what time's your game?"

"You don't have to come, Bones."

"What time?"

"Four-thirty," he said, smiling for real this time. "West intramural field. I'll send you a basic tutorial so you can follow the game."

"I know the rules!" he called after him. Jim raised a hand in acknowledgement as he headed toward the exit. "Fucking waste of an afternoon," he grumbled, mostly to himself.  


13.

Based on what Jim had said about needing to be a team player, Leonard had expected him to hog the ball or focus solely on scoring himself, but Jim rarely kept the ball for more than a few seconds, passing it off smoothly to his teammates. The other team seemed to catch on quickly that he was the one to stop, and he wasn't allowed much room to move before one of his opponents latched onto him.

After a while, despite his lack of interest in the sport, Leonard found himself watching Jim breathlessly, caught up in the excitement of the cheering crowd. Jim's control of the ball seemed effortless as he maneuvered it down the field in a series of cuts, feints, and stepovers. One of the opposing players seemed to be an equal match for him in technique, and Jim struggled time after time to break away from him, changing pace and direction so often that Leonard felt a sympathetic exhaustion overtaking him.

It occurred to him that until now, he'd never seen Jim in the company of other cadets. From the conversation he'd overheard in the ER and the little Jim had told him about his dorm life, he'd built up a mental picture of him as a sort of pariah, an admittedly-brilliant but socially unpolished misfit. For all of Jim's insistence that he was going to take command track, he had wondered if that wasn't mostly wishful thinking on his part, or a vast overestimation of his leadership abilities and social standing.

But here, on the playing field, Jim was in his element. He exuded physical charisma, slapping the other players' backs affectionately when they performed well and offering a hand up when they landed in an uncomfortable skid on the grassy field. He seemed to be fully aware of where his teammates were as he ran, signaling to them occasionally using hand movements and issuing vocal instructions that Leonard was too far away to hear. Regardless of what was happening in other aspects of his Academy experience, here, at least, Jim seemed to be a natural leader.

For all his resentment of Finnegan and his punishing workout sessions, Leonard had to admit that Jim was in top physical condition. He was in almost constant motion on the soccer field. Leonard found himself smiling at the sight of him: he was graceful, quick, and completely focused. He's beautiful, he thought absently, watching Jim bounce restlessly on his toes, following the ball with his eyes, primed to move.

Jim scored once, near the end of the first half, and even far away in the stands, Leonard could see how elated he was. Leonard was gratified to see him revel in the congratulations of his teammates, as they pummeled him on the back and slapped his shoulder.

The first-years won 2-1, and Leonard followed the crowd as it spilled onto the field at the end of the game.

Jim found him first, throwing his arm around Leonard's shoulder. "Told you, Bones! We're awesome!"

"You weren't too bad," Leonard agreed, ducking out from under Jim's arm. "Keep away, kid, you're sweaty and you need a shower."

Jim laughed. "Thanks for coming, Bones," he said, and began walking toward the locker room. He was limping faintly.

"Something wrong with your leg, Jim?" he called after him.

"Naw, it's nothing."


14.

Jim called him the next morning. "My feet are killing me," he said, sounding worried. "I gotta see you, man. There's something wrong."

Figures, he thought. "You probably pulled a muscle during all that prancing around with the ball yesterday," he said. "Come over to the clinic at five when my shift ends."

Jim was late, arriving several minutes after he did, walking slowly and wincing. Leonard was surprised to see that he was unable even to hop onto the biobed for the exam, and lifted himself up using his arm and shoulder muscles.

"Both feet started aching yesterday during the game," he said, "especially the right one, but…." He paused. "I felt better this morning, but then I could barely walk to my first class. That's when I called you."

McCoy scanned his lower legs and feet, frowning. "What happened between the game and this morning? What else were you doing?" He pressed his thumb down on the top of Jim's right foot on the navicular spot.

Jim gave a yelp of pain. "Ow, that hurts!" He glared at Leonard, who was probing his left ankle and heel. Jim hissed. "I had a private session with Finnegan. As fucking usual."

"After your game?" he asked, astounded. "Where you ran around like a maniac for an hour and a half?"

"I've had IPT for the past three nights."

"Remind me, IPT stands for…?"

"Intensive PT. Physical Training."

"You should call it Irresponsible PT instead. What did you do this time to deserve that?"

"I…uh, broke curfew on Saturday night." At Leonard's questioning eyebrow, he explained with a grin, "I was learning Orion with Gaila. Language lessons."

"You just don't listen, do you?" he said in disgust. "I told you to stay away from Orions! You're way out of your league and those pheromones will mess up your mind. How long have your feet been hurting like this?"

Jim scoffed. "It's not all the time, Bones. Maybe two weeks, off and on. They hurt mostly at night or during a workout."

"I guess all that exercise is good for you, isn't it, Mr. Command Track."

"I always feel better in the morning, so I thought…"

"No, you didn't think, dumbass."

"What are you so upset about?"

"You're an idiot. Acute pain is an indicator and you should've stopped and reported it. You have stress fractures in both feet, here," he said, pointing to the top of Jim's right foot, "in the navicular bone, and here," he gestured to Jim's left heel, "in the calcaneus."

"Oh." Jim didn't seem overly concerned, but he looked up at Leonard warily, sensing his anger. "Well, that makes sense."

"Yes, in fact it does. Do you know what causes stress fractures?"

Jim gave him a weak smile. "Stress, I guess."

"You could say that. It's an indication of cumulative trauma to the muscles and bones of the feet. You've been overexerting yourself for a long time, between the soccer and the IPT and whatever else you've been doing."

Jim began to protest, but Leonard held up his hand, silencing him irritably. "Your muscles are overtired, and they can't handle the shock of repeated impact anymore. They transfer the stress to the bones, and that's what causes the fractures."

"I get it, Bones. Just fix them."

"I don't think you do. You should have come to me weeks ago when the symptoms first appeared! If exercising made the pain worse, then you should have stopped the workout and figured out what was wrong."

"That wasn't an option," he said sullenly.

"Why? Because you have to prove to that jackass Finnegan that you can take anything he can dish out?"

"I don't need the lecture."

"Obviously you do, so shut up! In your case," he continued, "there might also be a predisposition to bone fractures. Your osteoscan showed some anomalies in bone mineral density, which might be related to nutritional deficits." Jim froze; the expression on his face was dark and unfathomable. "I don't suppose you want to tell me, now, what that's all about."

Jim shook his head.

Of course not. Leonard gave a long-suffering sigh. "Well, I'm going to set up an osteogenic stimulator. Better cancel your evening plans. This is going to take a while."

Jim looked confused. "Can't you just use a bone regenerator? I have a hand-to-hand seminar tomorrow and I have to be there."

Leonard laughed harshly. "You ignorant moron, there's no such thing as an osteoregenerator. That's a common misconception. This may be the 23rd century, but we can't make the body heal instantaneously. We can augment and accelerate its natural healing process, stimulate osteoblast aggregation at the fracture site, but it's not magic. We can speed up the healing, so it takes two weeks instead of six." He cocked an eyebrow at Jim. "But you must know that. You've had fractures treated before."

"That was a long time ago," he said, looking down at his right hand and slowly flexing and extending the fingers. "I guess I wasn't paying attention to how long it took…"

"After we finish here tonight, you'll still have to stay off your feet completely for a week, and then light activity only for another week. That means no IPT, soccer, or hand-to-hand combat." He grabbed a PADD off his desk, accessed Jim's file, and began making notes.

"A week!" Jim looked shocked. "I can't stay in bed for a week!"

"You can still go to class. I'll arrange for a hoverchair." At Jim's horrified expression, he rolled his eyes. "Or you can ignore my instructions, and you'll be out for longer."

"Bones," Jim pleaded. "I'll get too far behind. Two weeks is too long. I have my next combat sim this week. I can't miss it!"

"You'll have to," he said absently, outlining the treatment plan in Jim's chart. "It's just a few weeks, Jim. You can make it up later."

"It's the only one this month. Look, the bones will be mostly healed after the osteo stim treatment, right?"

"Partially healed."

"So, it'll hurt a little. That's okay, I can take a little pain. I'll just—"

"You'll just do what I tell you to do for once, Jim!" he exploded. "Running through the pain is what got you into this situation in the first place, remember? Having a high pain threshold doesn't mean you can ignore your body's signals!"

"Take it easy, Bones…" he said placatingly. "I understand what you're saying, and I'll be careful…"

"No, Jim. You've got this twisted idea that being able to withstand punishment somehow makes you stronger, but you're wrong. It's reckless and self-destructive, and I'll be damned if I let you cause yourself permanent damage."

Jim glared at him. "A commander has to know how to hide his weaknesses and keep going even when it hurts."

"No, a good commander knows his limits and behaves responsibly!" he shot back.

"This is going to screw up my whole semester!"

"Take it up with your advisor."

"You're not being reasonable. This is Starfleet, not some cushy Atlanta clinic! I don't have time for this!"

"Then I guess you should have thought about that before you ran yourself into the ground. You're officially on medical leave for the next fourteen days."

"Don't do this, Bones."

"It's not up for discussion."

Leonard completed the treatment in silence.



15.

The next day, Leonard received a message that the Commander of Cadets, Captain Christopher Pike, wished to speak with him regarding Cadet James Kirk. Fuming, Leonard confirmed the evening appointment.

He didn't know the man personally, although he knew him by reputation. He'd shaken hands with the man once, as he boarded the cross-country recruitment shuttle that Pike was piloting, and he'd heard him speak during cadet orientation. Pike seemed like a tough, exacting officer. He'd told the assembled cadets that he had made it his goal to raise academic standards and bring back the military edge that, in his opinion, was lacking in Starfleet.

Pike had devoted his talk to explaining the reasoning behind the revitalized core curriculum that he'd introduced, starting that year. He spoke at length of his experiences on the frontier over the past fifteen years, sparring with the Romulans and Tellarites over territorial issues; that would be the basis of the new courses in combat strategy and tactics that would be mandatory for all future commanders.

"This is a military college," Leonard remembered him saying, "not a regular university. You're not here to have fun and expand your horizons. You're here to develop your abilities to the utmost in order to serve Starfleet and the Federation. It's our job to provide you with the challenges that you'll need in order to make that happen."  

Probably wants to ream me out for taking one of his precious command cadets away from a combat simulation, he thought furiously as he made his way that evening to Pike's office. He wondered if Pike considered walking on fractured foot bones to be one of the necessary "challenges" that the Academy provided the cadets, on their way to becoming future leaders of Starfleet.

****

Pike greeted him promptly, gesturing to the chair across from his desk. Despite his stern demeanor, his voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant as he questioned Leonard about his Academy courses, his hospital position, and his work at the Academy clinic.

"I thought you called me here to talk about Cadet Kirk, sir," Leonard said, confused.

"I did and we will, doctor, but I like to get to know my cadets personally. And you're a medical recruit, so I don't have as much interaction with you as I'd like." At Leonard's questioning look, he explained, "I teach courses in military strategy, so most of the regular cadets are my students at one point or another."

"That's pretty impressive. Most administrators don't make time for teaching."

"That was one of the conditions I made before I agreed to accept this posting," Pike said. "As a commander, I've always taken a hands-on approach and I won't change that now. I'm in charge of molding the next generation of Starfleet officers, and I can't do it sitting behind this desk. So before we discuss Kirk, I'd like to talk to you about what the Academy should be doing to prepare you for active service."

"I hope you're not going to tell me that I need a course in combat strategy, sir." He wondered whether Pike was going to bring up his abysmal navigation score.

"No," Pike laughed, shaking his head. "You're a doctor and I don't expect you to lead the charge, so to speak. But you've been in the Academy for nearly three months. Do you think you're getting the training you need as a Starfleet physician? I know that you've worked in an urban hospital and I'm familiar with your reputation. I'd like your honest opinion."

"Well," Leonard said, somewhat puzzled at the direction of the conversation, "Starfleet Medical's equipped with the latest medical technology and its research facilities are unparalleled. It's the only place on the planet where doctors can get experience treating a variety of alien races, but I'm a trauma surgeon, sir, and frankly, it's a lot slower than Atlanta General. The hospital mostly serves the Academy staff and their families, the cadets, and Federation government employees. Frankly, I thought I'd be seeing more variety, both in terms of the patient population and the kind of injuries I deal with, and that's a little disappointing."

Pike seemed unsurprised. "Not enough action for you?"

"It's a change of pace, that's all. In Atlanta, we dealt with a lot of violent crime, traffic accidents, that sort of thing. We had pretty frequent drills for absorbing high-casualty disasters, and I've already mentioned to the head of my department that the hospital's protocols are inadequate." He wondered if he'd gone too far; Pike was looking at him appraisingly. "I'm not complaining about my work, I just think the hospital could be better prepared for emergencies. The Academy clinic has no protocol at all for a mass casualty incident."

Pike's smile was noncommittal. "You're an experienced trauma surgeon, Dr. McCoy, and your insights are very valuable." He looked at Leonard curiously. "What's your subspecialty?"

"Orthopedics. I've also had some training in advanced thoracic procedures." Pike seemed genial enough, but Leonard was guarded, unsure where this was leading.  

"I'm sure you're aware that with your skill set, you'd be an asset on any major starbase or even here, at Starfleet Medical."

"That's what they told me when I enlisted, Captain Pike. That's fine by me."

"Sure, an Academy posting would be comfortable for you," Pike agreed, then frowned. "But it isn't really what Starfleet needs, to be frank. I'm looking to improve the routine and emergency medical treatment given to the men and women on the front line, McCoy. They're Starfleet's elite, and they need elite doctors to serve with them."

"On a starship, you mean," he said, feeling a knot tighten in his stomach.

"I've been working with the Chief of Medical Training at the hospital. The fact is, we've been meeting for the past six months, and what I have to say may come as a surprise to you, but it'll become public knowledge soon. We're going to be implementing a new medical training program, consisting of a series of short, specialized internships in the areas of medicine which are most needed on long-range missions. Starting next semester, you'll be undergoing intensive training in preventive medicine, infectious diseases, psychiatry, disaster management…"

"I'm not planning on serving on a starship."

"Why not?" Pike asked calmly.

Because the missions are too fucking long and far away, that's why. "Because I prefer to practice my profession in a major hospital, where my patients have access to the best medical care."

"The newest starships are equipped with the most advanced equipment available." 

No fucking way. "Captain Pike, I specialize in critical care. A ship's doctor spends most of his time doing absolutely routine medicine! I'm not interested in delivering vaccinations and treating sprained ankles."

"You may feel differently after the training. I think you'll be surprised at what a CMO's job involves."

"But that's not…" he sputtered. That's not what I signed up for, he wanted to say, although he had the presence of mind not to blurt that out. It occurred to him for the first time that in the currently unstable political environment, he might not have the kind of options that he might in peacetime. Starfleet could decide to send him off on a long-range mission, and he'd have little to say about it.

"There are plenty of opportunities for research, too," Pike was saying smoothly. "At any rate, I'm sure your advisor will be calling you in to discuss these issues. Now let's talk about Kirk."

Mind still reeling, Leonard tried to put his own concerns aside. "Is he your student? I don't really understand why—"

"I'm his academic advisor."

Leonard's eyebrows shot up. How had Kirk, the misfit genius, been assigned the Commander of Cadets as his advisor? "I'm surprised that you have the time to take on advising cadets," he said.

"I do it in a very few special cases."

"And Kirk…?"

"…is an exceptional case, yes." Without elaborating, Pike went on, "You treated him yesterday for stress fractures in both feet."

Here it comes, he thought. "Look, Captain Pike," Leonard began, "this is a serious injury."

"Yes, I know. Kirk came to see me this morning. In a hoverchair." He laughed. "Angry enough to spit fire."

"Cadet Kirk needs to stay off his feet for the next seven days, and that's final. If he was trying to convince you that he can do the combat sim this week, it's absolutely out of the question."

"Look, doctor—"

"No, sir!" he said heatedly. "This is a medical matter, and I'm not willing to argue about it. He needs to rest and stay away from the kind of high-impact, strenuous exercise he's been doing."

"I've had stress fractures myself, McCoy, and I know what they're like," Pike told him, looking amused. "I didn't call you here to argue with you."

"You didn't?" Leonard said, taken aback. Calm down and get your foot out of your mouth, he told himself sternly. Stop jumping to conclusions.

"No. A cadet's health is top priority and that goes without saying. I've already arranged for Kirk to take part in an alternate combat simulation next month with the first-year security corps."

"Oh," he said stupidly, feeling off-balance. "Then why did you ask me here?"

"I wanted to talk to you as his primary physician. Ask you how he's doing, in general." He paused. "In light of his history."

Leonard's eyes narrowed."What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean that I was surprised to see him acquire an injury like that in such a short span of time."

Something in Pike's voice, a concerned, fatherly tone, made Leonard pause."How long have you known Cadet Kirk?"

"I knew him for a time when he was a teenager. When he was fourteen."

"Do you know something about his health history that I don't, Captain? Because his medical chart…"—has been tampered with, he nearly said, but decided not to throw that accusation out without evidence—"…is incomplete. It doesn't cover the past ten years."

Pike nodded. "The short answer to that is yes, I know a few things about his history, and the long answer is no, you don't need to know that information at this time."

His answer infuriated Leonard. "Well," he huffed, "I'm his physician, and in order to make appropriate decisions about his medical care, I do need to know."

"I'll make that decision, when and if it becomes relevant. For now—"

"With all due respect, his doctor, not his academic advisor, needs to decide what's relevant and what's not! I assure you that anything you disclose will be kept confidential, but I need to know now. There are a number of findings that I came across in his initial checkup that are worrisome."

"Such as?"

"Such as the fact that he's obviously been through hell, Captain! You must have read my report. Broken bones, heptacemia, unexplained scars, not to mention some kind of serious nutritional deficiency that interrupted his growth…which might explain how he came to be injured so quickly."

Pike regarded him coolly. "Why? Stress fractures are common among cadets."

"If I knew more about his history, sir, maybe I could tell you," he said. "He has mild osteoporosis, which could explain why the bones fractured so quickly." He took a breath, wondering how far to go. "But those injuries might simply be related to the kind of intense, high-impact exercising he's been doing."

Pike's expression was unreadable. "You wrote on your report that there were no physical limitations. Are you now saying that he should curtail his activities, doctor? Or is there something else that you haven't told me?"

There's your opening, Leonard thought. Tell him. But he was torn. He could report Finnegan's actions and abuse of his position, blame him for Jim's injuries. But Jim had played his own role in this tango; he clearly had issues with authority figures and from what he said, he deserved some of the disciplinary action. Leonard might get Finnegan removed from his position, or at least make him ease off, but Jim might get into deep trouble as well--not to mention how vulnerable he would become to some form of retaliation by Finnegan's friends.

Leonard also wasn't sure, as a "VIP cadet," as Jim called him, whether Finnegan's actions had really crossed the fine boundary between legitimate hazing of a plebe, and malicious ill-treatment. For all he knew, IPT was a time-honored tradition that Jim would laugh about in years to come.

And, God help him, confidentiality worked both ways. Jim hadn't given him permission to report Finnegan; Leonard had intended to bring up the subject with him after Jim calmed down a bit. But he knew that the chances of him agreeing to complain were almost nonexistent. Jim was too stubborn, and too fiercely independent, to contemplate asking his advisor for help, much less submitting an official protest.

And Jim would kill him if he told Pike behind his back.

So he simply shook his head. "No. Nothing else. But he should take it easy with high-impact workouts, for at least a month after he resumes his regular activities."

"I'll inform his instructors and his dorm officer."

At least Jim will have a month's reprieve, he thought with some satisfaction, as he stood to shake hands with Pike.  But mostly he felt frustrated.

Pike had played him expertly, relaxing and flattering him with his opening questions about his adjustment to the Academy, and unsettling him with his announcement of the change in medical training before he even broached the sensitive topic of Jim's health. He'd kept Leonard off-guard and stumbling. It was only after he'd left the office that Leonard remembered all the questions he'd wanted to ask Pike. He wanted to kick himself for missing the opportunity. Where had Pike met Jim, and why were they together when Jim was fourteen? What was so secret about his past that Leonard couldn't be privy to that information? Why did Pike seem so unsurprised about Jim's missing records?

As he walked back to his apartment, he commed Jim, but there was no answer.


16.

From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


Jim, stop ignoring my calls. Answer this or I'm going to assume you've crashed your hoverchair and are incapacitated.

****


From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


I'm not kidding, Jim. I have an ambulance on standby. I'll send it if I don't hear from you within ten minutes.

****

From: jtkirk@sfa.edu

To:       lhmccoy@medline.org

I'm here, happy? I hope you know that there is nothing more humiliating than riding around campus for a week on a hoverchair. Leave me the fuck alone.

****

From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


For your information, there is something more humiliating than riding a hoverchair for a week, and that's riding it for two weeks because you refused to follow your doctor's advice.

****

From: jtkirk@sfa.edu

To:       lhmccoy@medline.org

It would never occur to me to disregard your well-meant and professional advice. I know you have only my best interests at heart.

****

From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


Very mature, Jim. I'm impressed.

****

From: jtkirk@sfa.edu

To:       lhmccoy@medline.org

It's called sarcasm, doctor. Guess they don't have it in Georgia.

****


From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


Good to know there's something in Iowa besides corn.

****


From: lhmccoy@medline.org

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu


Subject: one week checkup

Your appointment is tomorrow at 1700, you big baby, and if you're one minute late I'm leaving and you can sit in the chair for another day.


****

Jim was waiting for him at the Academy clinic, looking tense and irritable but, for once, well-rested. Leonard was briskly efficient as he scanned Jim's feet; the fractures were healing well.

"Well, congratulations, Jim," he told him. "No exercising for another week, but you can leave the chair here."

"It's about time." Jim stood up carefully and walked across the room.

"How do they feel?"

"My right foot aches a little, but it's nothing."

"That's to be expected. It's still not fully healed." He patted the biobed. "Climb up here again, I'm going to give you another osteo stim treatment." Jim sighed and sat down on the bed.

"Captain Pike asked to see me," Leonard said casually as he set up the equipment and positioned Jim's feet.

"Yeah? I figured he would. He was really pissed off at me. Told me I was irresponsible and if I got out of the chair one minute earlier than you said I could, he'd eat me alive."

"Really? I knew I liked him."

Jim grunted, looking dour. "He wasn't very sympathetic."

"Actually, he seemed pretty concerned about you, kid. I didn't realize you knew him when you were younger."

"Did he tell you that?" Jim asked warily. "What else did he tell you?"

"Nothing. That's why I'm asking you."

"It was nothing big. I hadn't seen him in years, not until the night before I enlisted. We're not close."

"Then why is he your advisor?"

 "I don't know," Jim said, too quickly. "I just got assigned to him."

"I don't think that was a coincidence, Jim. He told me that he took you on because you're a special case."

Jim was silent, looking uncomfortable but, like Pike, not volunteering an explanation.

He knew he should let it go, but he couldn't. He was tired of Jim's secrets and evasive answers, and still angry over Pike's manipulations. He was also sick of Jim's mixed signals, making overtures of friendship one minute, and turning his back and pushing him away the next.

"He made it seem like he knew you pretty well."

"It was years ago."

"How old were you when you knew him?"

"I was fourteen. Is this going to take very long? I need to study."

"It'll take as long as I need it to take. How did you first meet?"

"Back off, Bones." Jim's voice was tight. "Why the hell do you need to know about my history with Captain Pike?"

"I'm curious."

Jim didn't answer for a long moment. "I don't really want to talk about that," he said finally.

What a surprise. "Fine."  

"I never talk about that with anyone, Bones. Don't take it personally. It wasn't a good time for me."

"I said, it's fine." But it wasn't.  

"I know you're angry," he said.

"Dammit, Jim!" he snarled. "Of course I'm angry with you! I've been calling you for a week and you haven't had the decency to respond, except once when I threatened you—"

"I wasn't in a mood to talk, okay?"

"Grow up, kid! I'm your doctor. You don't get to choose whether you talk to me or not."

"So I didn't return your calls. No big deal."

"You don't get it, do you?" he said, running his hand through his hair in annoyance. "It's the principle that matters. You need to give me the information I need in order to do my job properly…or I will transfer you to another physician. And I'm not kidding, Jim."

It was an idle threat, tossed out in anger. He had no intention of doing it, but Jim apparently took him at his word. He looked as if he'd been slapped. "I don't want another doctor," he said.

"Then cooperate with me! Stop being so secretive. You act like if you answer a simple question about what happened to you when you were a teenager, it's a fucking security violation."

Jim paled, looking more vulnerable than Leonard had ever seen him. What did I say? he thought.

"There was nothing I needed to tell you as my doctor about my medical condition," Jim said quietly. "My feet were fine and I was in the damn chair."

"I didn't know that, did I?"

"Look, you're right, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have ignored your calls. I was angry at the situation, but it wasn't your fault." He looked up at Leonard with an apologetic smile.

 Leonard huffed, somewhat mollified. "Yeah, well, it's about time you realized that, moron."

"What did Pike want to talk to you about?"

"We talked about what might have caused the stress fractures."

"You didn't tell him about Finnegan, I hope, Bones!" Jim looked appalled.

Leonard sighed. "No, I didn't, but I think you should. It's gone too far, you've already been injured, and Pike--"

"No," he said emphatically. "I'm taking care of it, don't worry. But not by going to Pike. I'll do it in my own way."

"So far, your way has only gotten your ass kicked."

"True." Jim smiled. "But I have a plan."

"Heaven help us. All right, that's enough…" he said, turning off the equipment. He pressed down with his fingers on the top of Jim's right foot. "Does that hurt?"

"Nope. Thanks." He jumped down from the bed. "And listen, we're meeting for lunch the day after tomorrow, same as usual, right?"

"Right, same as usual," he said reassuringly, wondering if Jim had interpreted their argument as some kind of serious rift in their relationship.

"Be on time," Jim said. "I'll be waiting for you."


17.

Leonard arrived for their weekly lunch two days later, on time as promised. He got his meal and scanned the cafeteria for Jim. True to his word, Jim was waiting for him, but he'd taken one of the front tables instead of their usual side table near the back.

"Just in time, Bones," he said, blue eyes gleaming with excitement. "This is gonna be great."

"What is?" Leonard began eating, noticing that Jim hadn't bothered to take a full meal. He had no tray in front of him and was just munching on an apple.

"Finnegan just walked in," he said.

"Uh huh. And I guess you want to be right up front so he can see you, for some reason?"

"Not exactly. Bones, did you know that the dorm officer has a single?" Jim's eyes were dancing as he monitored Finnegan's progress through the lunch line. "It's one of the benefits that comes with the job. Along with the fun part of terrorizing plebes and swaggering around like a king. You get your own room."

"Lucky guy."

Jim laughed. "It made this so much easier."

Leonard put his fork down. "Made what so much easier? Are you planning to talk to him alone or something?"

Jim shook his head sadly. "Bones, Bones, Bones. You obviously don't know me very well yet. Talking things over is just not my style."

Finnegan was collecting a drink and a dessert. Leonard narrowed his eyes as he jerked suddenly, scratching at his back with one hand, nearly dropping his tray in the process.

He looked at Jim suspiciously. "Jim, what have you done to that boy?"

"Bones," Jim said seriously, "riding the hoverchair was mortifying, man. And I know, and so do you, that Finnegan and his fucking IPT was what got me into it. He's been on me since day one here, and I am sick of it."

"But what—"

"I spent the entire week with people laughing at me every time I entered a room. It wasn't pleasant, but you know what?"

"What," he said sourly. This wasn't going anywhere good.

"I had a lot of free time last week and I did some thinking. Also I have a friend, science track, a midfielder on my soccer team. He's into chemistry, Bones. You'd like him."

Leonard froze, watching Finnegan as he stood with his tray, scanning the room for a place to sit, not three meters from them. He was trembling and sweating, and Leonard thought he could hear a soft moaning issuing from his lips.

"Jim!" he hissed. "What did you do?"

"Remember when you asked if I did my practical in breaking and entering?" Jim asked, eyes trained on Finnegan, who was now wiggling and scratching his hair frantically. "That gave me the idea, actually." He glanced at Leonard. "I'm pretty good with computerized locks, you know. I know his schedule, and it wasn't a problem to get into his room."

The room was getting quieter as the cadets around them stopped their conversations to stare at Finnegan. Leonard heard a few laughs beginning.

"Proto-oleandrin," Jim said. Leonard looked at him blankly. "It's a derivative of the sap of the oleander plant. It's—"

"Toxic!" he whispered, horrified, watching Finnegan scratch frantically at the back of his neck, face red. "Jim, you didn't poison that man, did you?"

"Of course not!" he scoffed. "It's not toxic in its diluted form, and I only used a few drops. It's a skin irritant, though…" He dissolved in laughter and could barely get his next words out. "It's time-released, Bones. Six hours…Finnegan's up at 0600 and now it's noon…"

"Oh, my God," Leonard said, watching Finnegan's movements becoming increasingly hysterical as he scratched frantically.

Finnegan dropped his tray with a crash, resulting in tumultuous applause and hilarity from all corners of the room.

"A drop on his toothbrush. A few drops in the soap dispenser. In his shampoo. On his comb… In his…" Jim was laughing so hard he could hardly breathe.

Finnegan's friends had come to his aid and were crowding around him, asking him what was wrong. "It itches!" he screamed. "Everywhere!" The room was reverberating with raucous laughter, and Finnegan's face was twisted in an ugly snarl as he glanced around the room.

Leonard watched helplessly as Finnegan's eyes lighted on Jim, who was nearly in convulsions, grasping his sides and gasping for air. The laughter from all corners of the room was so loud that Leonard couldn't hear what Finnegan was yelling to his friends, but his meaning was unmistakable when he pointed furiously at Jim.

Finnegan gave one final, ghastly groan and raced out of the cafeteria amid thunderous applause.

Jim lifted his head. He wiped his eyes, still giggling. "Oh, God," he gasped. "That was perfect. I never want to forget the look on his face."

"Jim—"

"Do you think…" He paused for breath. "Do you think he's gonna run back to the dorm and take a shower?" He dissolved again in spasms of mirth.

"Jim, dammit, he knows it was you!"

Jim sobered. "He does? How?"

"You were a little obvious, dumbass. Sitting yourself right here for a front row seat."

"Shit, are you sure?"

"He was pointing at you and yelling 'Kirk!' I think that's a pretty big clue."

Jim grimaced. "But he can't prove it. And anyway…" He nodded to himself, looking supremely satisfied. "It was fucking worth it."


18.

Dressed in a brightly-colored protective vest, wearing safety goggles draped around his neck, and cursing under his breath, Leonard waited impatiently for Jim to show up.

It was late afternoon, and the Academy's indoor shooting range hummed with activity. Boisterous cadets, dressed in the same outlandish getup as he was wearing, milled around in pairs and small groups. Unlike him, they didn't seem uncomfortable or out of place. He could hear good-natured shouting and laughter coming from the practice rooms—stationary targets, moving targets, holographic sims--but it just made him edgy.

You look so silly, Len, he heard Jocelyn saying in his head. You left Atlanta to play space cop?

He was disgusted at the way he'd internalized his ex-wife's mocking tone as the voice of his own self-criticism. But she's right, I do look ridiculous.

"Bones!" he heard Jim call. Leonard saw a hand waving at him from the crowd of red-clad cadets clustered around the registration window. Relieved, he raised a hand in response. Jim joined Leonard a minute later, shrugging into a blue vest and slipping the goggles over his neck.

"How come yours is blue?" Leonard asked, eyeing his own mustard-colored vest with distaste.

"It's according to your skill level, so the instructors can make sure you're not in over your head." He laughed. "Yellow is for novices."

"Damn straight," Leonard grumbled. "I've never even fired a hand phaser."

"What have you been doing in that class, then? I thought it started two weeks ago."

"We've been working on the theory," Leonard told him. "Learning about the mechanical and electronic parts, cleaning the weapon, holding it, proper stance…"

Jim looked amused. "Right. Well, that's important stuff. Pay attention in class and take lots of notes."

"Why do you get a blue vest?"

"Because I'm a little more advanced than you." He grinned. "I didn't piss away my youth in a classroom." Leonard rolled his eyes; Jim obviously hadn't forgotten the jibe he'd made months ago about his lack of formal education.

Jim clapped him on the shoulder and started moving down the corridor. "But I don't mind reviewing the basics. Should be nice and relaxing. Come on."

He followed Jim without enthusiasm into the stationary target practice room, where they were assigned training phasers. He looked glumly around the room, which was  divided into individual target lanes, as the instructors checked the fit of their goggles and activated the radiation-resistant vests.

"I want this to be a good experience for you," Jim said, caressing his phaser absently with his thumb as he looked Leonard over critically. "You know, because it's your first time shooting. You're too tense. Relax, this is going to be fun."

"You make it sound like sex."

Jim smiled. "I'm plenty advanced in that, too, Bones."


Shooting the phaser was actually a lot easier than he thought it would be.

"You're a natural," Jim told him, half an hour later. "Look at that, you hit the center again!"

"Don't look so surprised, asshole. I'm a surgeon. My hands are steady."

"Let's move the target back. You need more of a challenge."

"Jim, that's enough for one day," he groaned. "My hand's tingling. I should have worn gloves." He made a mental note to check the medical literature for the effects of ambient phaser radiation on fine motor functioning. "Why don't you take over for a while?"

"You sure?" he asked.

Leonard stepped aside, pushing Jim forward. "Believe me, I don't mind. Show me how it's done, Blue."

Jim signaled to the instructor, tapping his chest and holding up three fingers. The instructor nodded, and Jim turned around so that his back was toward the target, holding the phaser lightly at his side. Leonard lifted a skeptical eyebrow as the large, circular bull's-eye he'd been practicing on disappeared. It was replaced by three small, asymmetrical targets at varying distances and heights.

"Watch the light," Jim said softly, gesturing with his chin. He was looking at a small red indicator on the wall directly behind them. As Leonard followed his gaze, the light changed abruptly to green, and Jim whirled around. A small, asymmetrical target appeared in their shooting lane, followed by two others a few seconds later, farther back and at different heights. Jim fired three times in rapid succession, his movements sure and fluid. Then he stood up slowly, scowling.

"Shit. Only nicked the third."

"Fuck me!" Leonard exclaimed, eyes wide. "Where'd you learn to shoot like that?"

"I'm setting it up again." He signaled again to the instructor, who inclined his head in acknowledgment. "I have to get this right."

His second attempt was no better than the first. "Something's wrong with my stance," he muttered.

Leonard leaned back against the wall, watching Jim as he pivoted over and over again, first on his left leg and then on his right, settling into a semi-crouched position with the phaser raised. He was intensely focused and poised, running through the moves as if they were a martial arts routine: pivot, step, crouch, aim. He moved with a confident grace that made Leonard's pulse quicken.

After a few minutes, the instructor came forward and spoke to Jim quietly, correcting the angle of his shoulder and elbow. Leonard half-expected Jim to resent the unsolicited advice, but he was attentive and respectful, listening carefully. The instructor stood by, hands on hips, watching closely as Jim turned on his right foot and moved into his crouch, first slowly, and then faster. Finally the instructor nodded and returned to his position at the back of the room.  

Jim signaled that he was ready for another try, and turned again toward the wall, waiting for the light to change. Leonard was quiet, watching expectantly. This time Jim pivoted more slowly, but his shots were accurate.

"Better," he announced, looking sideways at Leonard.

"Not as bad," he agreed.

"Again."

By the time their hour was up, Jim was smiling. He stopped to shake hands with the instructor on the way out. "You need to log more practice," the man told him. "Skills get rusty."

"The question is," Leonard said as they left the practice room, "how you got those skills in the first place. Who taught you to shoot?" They handed their vests and goggles back at the registration desk, and headed toward the exit.

"It's no big mystery," Jim said, as they began walking. Both Jim's dorm and Leonard's apartment were in the same general direction, at the northern end of the Academy campus. "I learned when I was a kid. My stepdad taught me." At Leonard's raised eyebrow, he explained, "He was a member of a shooting club."

"Wait. You didn't tell me your mother remarried."

He nodded. "When I was five. They were together for about seven or eight years. He owned a security firm, was really big on self-defense. He could handle any kind of weapon—"

"Wait a goddam minute," Leonard sputtered. "What kind of irresponsible excuse for a parent would teach a child to shoot a phaser?"

Jim laughed. "It's not what you're thinking, Bones. I was a junior member of his club. Frank and I played on a snapball team together. We started when I was ten or eleven." At Leonard's blank look, he said, "Come on, they must play snapball in Georgia. It's sort of a war game. You play it in a forest, or sometimes there's a special obstacle course. There are two teams, and you have to defend your territory and capture the other team's marker. You use special phaser pistols, and if someone shoots you, it gives you a little electric shock." He grinned. "That's the snap."

"A nice little electric shock, huh? Sounds like fun."

"No, really, it was," he protested. "I was always small for my age, but I was quick, and Frank would send me on these missions into enemy territory…" He smiled at the memory, but there was a wistful look in his eyes. "Once I got captured, and that really pissed him off, because it was my own fault. I wasn't paying attention and they snuck up on me from behind. Frank had to organize a rescue mission for me with three other guys."

"It sounds like a wholesome family activity, Jim."

"Is that sarcasm, Bones? You really need to work some more at it." He sighed. "Anyway, it was great."

"Sounds like you two were close."

"Not really," he said. "He tried, but…we didn't get along, most of the time. I liked playing snapball with him, though…" His voice trailed off.

"So you're saying that you learned to shoot so you could play a war game?"

"Exactly!" Jim nodded. "We should play sometime. You'd be really good."

"Yeah, if the targets agree to stand still and bloat themselves up like a big balloon in front of me."

"You're right, you'd probably get snapped a lot at first," Jim conceded. "Maybe you're not ready yet. But snapball's great for teaching strategy."

"That would be really useful, if I were planning to lead a ground offensive. Come off it, Jim, you didn't get the sharpshooting skills I just saw playing snapball when you were ten! Where did you really learn to shoot?"

The smile disappeared from Jim's face. "That's the truth, Bones. My stepdad taught me how to handle a phaser rifle and a pistol."

"Maybe he did, Jim," Leonard said carefully. "I just think there's more to it than that."

Jim's smile was brittle. "I joined the club myself when I turned eighteen. I used to go there a lot and practice."

Now he really is lying, he thought, frustrated that every tidbit Jim threw out about his past led nowhere. And why do you care so much?

"Anyway, I need your help with something," Jim said. They were near his dorm now, and he stopped. "I have this research project, and I'm kind of stuck on it."

Leonard sighed. Jim was changing the subject as usual, using his favorite deflecting tactic. "What do you need, kid?"

"I have to write a paper on preventive health. Since I injured myself, Finnegan's been a little frustrated. You can imagine. Pike told him he can't give me IPT for a month, so he told me I should use my experience to benefit the other cadets…"

"How thoughtful."

"…so I have to write a research paper on maintaining proper health and fitness while adhering to proper safety standards. 2,500 words."

Leonard laughed. "Is that all, Jim? Write a research paper? That's pretty tame, coming from Finnegan. Maybe I was wrong, and he doesn't really know it was you."

"Bones…" Jim drew him in closer, and whispered conspiratorially in his ear. "Everybody knows it was me. No one asked me directly, and I sure as hell wasn't going to admit to anything, but…I can tell. They all know."

"That sounds a little paranoid."

He stepped back and shook his head. "They give me these looks… Some of them think it was pretty gutsy, I think, and some of them think I was totally out of line."

"Well, be glad he's only giving you some extra library time. I thought for sure he'd whip your butt, after what you did to him in the cafeteria."

"This is just the warm-up, Bones. Trust me."

"So what's the problem?"

"Well, you know that I didn't finish school…" Jim's cheeks reddened. "I mean, I've never had to write this kind of paper before. I'm not sure how to organize it…I'm not very good at writing, I guess." He seemed embarrassed. "I have to do it right, and I don't think the articles I've found are very useful…"

"You want me to look it over," Leonard concluded. "Help you organize it."

"I'm sure you've written a lot of research papers. You've probably published articles of your own, right?"

There goes my evening. "Could be that I have," he drawled. "Once or twice."

Jim looked at him hesitantly. "I guess we could go to the library…"

"It's not necessary, Jim. We can do it from my apartment. I can access all the medical journals from my PADD."

Jim beamed at him. "Got any food?"

Goddam brat.

****

"Here's a general article on the recuperative powers of sleep." They were sitting side by side at Leonard's desk, which was covered with PADDs, drinks, and plates of sandwiches. "And another one on the effects of strenuous physical activity on metabolic rate and endocrine levels."

"Sounds good."

"Let me take a look at what you've written so far," he said, grabbing Jim's PADD away from him. He frowned as he scanned through it. "For God's sake, Jim, haven't you ever heard of paragraph separations? And your introduction is much too short."

Jim gave him a pathetic look, and Leonard rolled his eyes and grabbed his stylus. "Fine. I'll fix it. Do something useful in the meantime—go get me another drink and find us something else to eat."

He busied himself with sorting out footnotes, writing quick summaries of articles he'd accessed, and replacing Jim's colloquialisms with the more formal language expected in a scientific paper. Jim returned with the food and picked up the PADD he'd left on the nightstand next to his bed.

"Proposed emergency response protocol in mass-casualty incidents," he read. "This is what you read at night to put you to sleep?"

"I'm writing it, dickhead, not reading it. I'm working on a proposal. This hospital administration has its head in the clouds. "

Jim flopped down on his bed without asking his permission, reading slowly through his proposal.

"A lot of this would be relevant on a starship," Jim told him, "especially all this stuff about explosion-specific injuries and radiation casualties. The CMO has to be ready to deal with these kinds of disasters."

"If that's your way of trying to get me to think about serving on a starship, it's not helping. Those disasters are the reason I want to stay on the ground."

"Starfleet might not let you, especially after you impress their asses off with your little emergency response protocol."

"Don't remind me. Jim, you can't refer to your personal experience in a research paper." He slashed through the text. "And some of your sentences are so long I've lost track of where they started."

Jim laughed. "Just fix it, Bones, I trust you."

"I guess Finnegan will want your punctuation to be perfect."

"He's not the only one who's going to see it," Jim said. "I have to present the paper to all the plebes in my dorm."

Leonard put the PADD down. "What? Why?"

Jim grimaced. "I have to make sure they know the material, because Finnegan's going to quiz them on it. He says it's essential knowledge that every plebe should have. It's my responsibility to make sure they know it."

"And if they don't pass his little test…?"

"He told me I'll get a 'midnight tour' with each one who fails, so I can tutor them."

"Do I want to know what a fucking 'midnight tour' is?"

"It's guard duty in the middle of the night. We'll have to patrol the north campus, while I teach each dumbass individually."

"For God's sake, Jim…" Leonard didn't know whether to be impressed or infuriated by Finnegan's ingenuity. This task was designed to create resentment against Jim among his classmates; even those who might have admired his daring in the cafeteria prank would tire quickly of him, if it meant they'd have to be walking around in the early morning hours, memorizing study results.

"It's okay, Bones," Jim said calmly. "I'll organize a study session for them or something. Look, it's getting late. I'll take it from here." He picked up the PADD and stood up. "Thanks for all your help."

"Any time, kid."

"I won't see you next week, remember? I've got my combat sim."

"Good luck, then," Leonard said. "Now that I've seen you shoot, I'm not worried about how you'll do."

"Yeah, it'll be fun," he agreed. "I'm with the security guys. They're totally badass."

Watching him leave he recalled Jim's wistful expression when he talked about the rescue his stepfather had staged for him when he was captured in the snapball game. The memory was special to him, and Leonard had a hunch that it was one of the few times Jim in his life Jim had asked for help and seen it delivered. Whatever had happened between then and now, it had taught Jim to rely only on himself.

But maybe he'd allow Leonard to pick up the pieces afterward.


19.

"I've submitted your emergency response protocol to the hospital development committee at Starfleet Medical as an official proposal," Dr. Puri told him. Leonard was seated in Puri's tidy office at the hospital. Puri was both the head of trauma surgery and Leonard's academic advisor, in charge of the course of his training at Starfleet.

"What happens next, then?" Leonard asked.

"We'll have to wait and see." Leonard frowned; in his experience, "wait and see" usually meant "buried in committee until further notice."

"I'm sure you understand that these things take time," Dr. Puri continued. Leonard respected him; he was fastidious and precise, and he ran a tight department. But Puri seemed to regard Leonard as something of an arrogant newcomer who needed to be kept in his place.

"Of course they do," Leonard said sarcastically. "We're a major hospital, so we can afford to cross our fingers and hope that nothing happens in the meantime. We'll just ask all the cadets to be really, really careful until the committee makes its decision."

"I don't have to tell you what bureaucracies are like. Starfleet's not as bad as some," Puri said coolly. "Implementing this proposal will mean a major budget change, with all the additional training and equipment you're calling for."

Leonard leaned forward, placing his hands on Puri's desk. Ignoring Puri's lifted eyebrow, he plunged on relentlessly.  "It'll save lives. The hospital's protocols are outdated and inefficient! If an actual mass-casualty event happened here, the Academy clinic would be overwhelmed in minutes,  and the hospital would waste precious time trying to co-ordinate its response.  My proposal would streamline the hospital's command structure during the event—"

"I personally think your suggestions are well thought-out, but you're proposing a complete revamping of hospital hierarchy during the incident, and--"

"Oh, is that the problem?" he asked scathingly. "Surgeons' egos? The sacred chain of command? I thought we were supposed to be concerned with saving the injured patients!" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Puri pursed his lips, and Leonard cringed internally, knowing that he'd just doomed his proposal to stagnate in the committee deliberations.

"I didn't mean you personally, sir," he backtracked quickly, but it was too late; he could see from the set of Puri's jaw and the way he sat back in the chair, folding his hands, that Leonard had gone too far.

He sighed, but continued doggedly. "Things have been quiet here for decades. Starfleet Medical's been extremely lucky so far that it's never had to deal with the kind of things we saw in Atlanta, like the downtown bombings or the explosion at Cumberland Chemicals."

"I'm aware of your experience at Atlanta General, McCoy." His tone seemed to imply that Leonard's experience was somehow inadequate. "Starfleet does things differently. We're not a public hospital."

Leonard tried again. "All area hospitals will need to cooperate in the event of a major disaster. We'll need to have a communications network in place if casualty numbers overload our capacity. The key issue is management. We should have procedures for triage, organizing patient flow within the hospital, documentation, evacuation…" He'd lectured on this subject more than once at emergency care conferences, and the words flowed easily despite the awkwardness of the conversation. "Chances of patient survival will improve. We'll be able to treat more people, more quickly…" 

"That's why I've forwarded your proposal to committee, McCoy," Puri said, in his clipped Oxford accent, cutting him off. "It's very impressive. I'm just telling you to be patient."

"Thank you, sir," he said, forcing the irritation out of his tone. "I appreciate it."

"I like your initiative, McCoy I think you'll find that it's exactly what Starfleet is looking for in a starship CMO."

Hell, not that again. "Sir, I told you when I first arrived that I'm not looking for that kind of placement!"

"I know you did." Puri smiled. "Let me tell you about some things I've been discussing with Captain Pike regarding your Starfleet training."


Leonard strode angrily out of the hospital, scowling at everyone he encountered. He knew that the talk with Puri had gone badly, and it was his own fault. His directness was both a strength and a fault; it made him a better doctor and a poor politician. Tact and diplomacy were the keys to success and climbing the ladder, he understood, whether he was in Atlanta General or Starfleet Medical. He'd done his proposal no good by implying that Puri was blocking it because of an overblown ego.

 A month had gone by since his talk with Pike, but he'd heard nothing about the changes in training that Pike had mentioned. He'd held out some hope that the program wouldn't be implemented so soon, but it had been wishful thinking. He should have known. Pike was a man of his word.

Puri had been only too happy to explain to him about how suited he was for the CMO's job. "You'll find yourself less encumbered by the stifling bureaucracy that you have to deal with at a major hospital like this," he told Leonard. "You'll value the autonomy, and you'll have ample opportunity to design and implement medical policy."

Well, he'd set himself up for that, hadn't he?

He sighed, making an effort to put thoughts of next semester's challenges—a short out-system training cruise, Puri had said, focusing on shipboard medical duties and preventive medicineout of his mind. He had final exams next week, followed by the two-week semester break. Maybe he'd go home, see his Atlanta friends…

How are your grades, Len? Jocelyn's voice taunted, in his mind. You were always so competitive. I'll bet you were the star student in space school.

Maybe going back wasn't an option, just yet.


20.

He met Jim for their weekly lunch the next week as usual. Jim seemed upbeat, fresh from his combat training. He piled an enormous amount of food on his lunch tray, but didn't attack it with his usual gusto. To Leonard's eyes, there was an undercurrent of anxiety running through him, and he seemed distracted. Probably just still hyped up from the combat exercise, he decided.

"It was called the Holy Grail, Bones," Jim told him, eyes moving restlessly around the cafeteria. "It's a traditional combat exercise for plebes in the security service."

"And you were the Knights of the Round Table, I suppose."

"The security guys weren't all that happy to have me at first." He laughed. "They call the command trackers 'couch cadets.' But I was better prepared than most of them, physically. At least I was used to going without sleep and running my ass off."

"I guess you can thank Finnegan for that, then."

"They hardly gave us any time to eat. And even when they did," he rolled his eyes, "I couldn't eat even half of what was there. Eggs in the morning and dairy protein shakes for lunch. For three goddam days."

"How could you do all that physical activity without food?" he asked, appalled.  

"I wasn't starving," he said, shrugging. "I had a little to eat, here and there. And you'd be surprised what you can do when you have to."

"Sounds like you got through it okay, then."

Jim's eyes were trained on the cafeteria entrance. "I suppose. I was expecting something like snapball, but it wasn't like that at all."

"It's supposed to simulate real combat, Jim." 

"Not all combat is like this," he said. "There were a lot of formal maneuvers, and everything was designed so that you couldn't complete the mission without teamwork."

"You said that wasn't your strong point."

"I'm improving," he said. "I actually learned a lot. Anyway, the security cadets kick ass. We were pretty awesome. Our unit captured the flag in the end."

Leonard was becoming annoyed with Jim's continual scanning of the room, and waved his hand in front of him. "Hey. Over here. We're having a conversation, remember?"

"Right," Jim turned back with an apologetic smile. "Sorry. What were you saying?"

"Never mind," he said, exasperated. "Done with your exams yet?"

"Two more. Tactics and Basic Warp. You?"

"I'm done," he said with satisfaction. "Had my last one this morning."

"I finish Friday. Then I'm on leave." He smiled. "Two weeks without IPT or midnight tours. I don't know what I'll do with all my free time."

"Heading back to Iowa?"

Jim laughed. "Nobody's there, Bones. I don't need to go all the way to Iowa for that. My dorm's going to be empty."

"Sounds restful." In fact, he thought, it sounded pretty depressing. Maybe he should make some time for the kid…

"Why don't you get off campus a little?" he asked. "You should get away, Jim. You're looking kind of nervous. Would you stop staring at the door?"

"I've been getting some prank messages," Jim said quietly.

Leonard blinked. "What kind of messages? Threats?"

"Not exactly. More like warnings. 'Make sure you keep your room locked at night,' 'Watch your step in Cochrane Hall,' things like that. 'Don't eat in the goddam cafeteria,'" he said scornfully, and Leonard suddenly understood why he was on edge. "It's always about places I need to be, like whoever's sending the message knows my schedule."

"How many of these messages have you gotten?"

"Six, over the last four days."

Leonard felt his skin prickling. "And what happens when you go to these places, after you get the messages?"

"Nothing." Jim looked at him directly for the first time since they'd sat down together. "Absolutely nothing. What do you think that means?"

"That doesn't sound good, Jim. You've got to be careful."

Jim shrugged, but Leonard could tell he was rattled. "They're empty threats."

"So far."

"Someone just wants to make me nervous."

"It's working, dumbass. You can't sit still, and you ought to finish your meal," he said, pointing to Jim's nearly untouched plate. "Can't you trace the messages, Jim? Where are they being sent from?"

He shook his head. "Public comms, always in a different place. The library, the gym, the admin building. Untraceable."

"Call in security. You're being harassed. You don't have to deal with this on your own."

"I don't scare so easily, Bones."

"You know Finnegan's behind it."

He nodded. "Probably, but I can't prove that, and what would I complain about? A few messages telling me to be extra careful?"

"Don't let down your guard," he told him.

"Forget it." Jim brushed off his concern. "I'm going out Friday night, Bones. Semester's over, and I think I deserve to get totally wasted. Wanna come?"

"I'm working a double shift, kid. Some of us have a job."

"And an ex-wife to support," he grinned. "Well, call me if you're feeling bored during the break. We could go to Chinatown."

"You're allergic to monosodium glutamate, Jim. I don't really want to spend my vacation dragging your butt back to the hospital."


21.

His Friday shift went even longer than he'd planned, with an emergency surgery near midnight, and by the time he got home, it was nearly one-thirty.

A persistent buzzing startled Leonard out of a sound sleep, not long afterward. He stretched out a hand and groped blindly for his comm, keeping his eyes closed. Bringing it to the general direction of his mouth, he mumbled, "McCoy here."

"Hey, Bones." Jim, of course. "You busy?"

"Yes. I'm sleeping."

"Oh… 'Cause I need a favor…"  

"Dammit, Jim, it's—" He opened an eye and glared at the comm, trying to focus his vision on the small numbers on the display. "It's almost three in the fucking morning. I just went to bed an hour ago."

"Sorry, sorry, forgot… Bones, maybe you could come here now…"

"I'm not going anywhere, I'm asleep!" he answered, his voice rising in irritation. "What's the matter, couldn't find a drinking partner? I told you I had to work all day!"

"I know…"

"Call me in the morning, when you're not drunk."

"Okay, okay." Jim sounded exhausted. "Just wanted to tell you…You were right, what you said before, about the messages." His words were slurred; Leonard could hardly understand him.

"Tell me tomorrow, jackass." Leonard clicked off the device, and then, cursing, hauled himself out of bed into the bathroom. He flopped back into the bed a minute later, snuggling inside the warm sheets, and closed his eyes.

 

This doesn't sound good, Jim. You've got to be careful.  

His eyes popped open.

You know Finnegan's behind it. Don't let down your guard.

He sat up suddenly, his heart thumping, vicious scenarios racing through his head. He fumbled for the comm, knocking it off his nightstand.

"Shit! Lights on half!" he ordered sharply, grabbing the comm off the floor and tapping in Jim's number.

"What d'ya want, Bones?" Jim's response was surly. "Go back to sleep."

"Jim!" he said urgently. "Do you need help? Did something happen?"

Jim laughed breathlessly. "Something did…but it's okay," he mumbled. "I'm not gonna quit."

"Quit what? What are you talking about?" He waited, but there was no response. He could hear Jim breathing heavily. "Are you all right?"

There was a delay of several seconds. "Not really," he said finally. "I'm dizzy. Don' feel good…"

He's not in danger, you over-reactive fool, he told himself, sighing. Just drunk, or stoned.  "Where are you?"

Another pause. "Dunno."

Leonard was already on his feet, reaching for the clothes he'd tossed on the floor hours before. "Jim," he said, speaking slowly and clearly. "Look around. Where exactly are you? Are you on campus?"

"No…On a bench…Uh, 'm not sure…."

"Well, stay there, you moron!" He keyed the device to identify Jim's location. The comm helpfully supplied an off-campus address in the industrial area. He vaguely recognized it as being near a bar where he'd once gone with some of his hospital colleagues.

Too far to walk. He hailed a taxi, vowing to stick Jim for the fare when he sobered up. He snatched his medkit from the bathroom and left.

****

The taxi deposited him at the address he'd requested, and he stepped out into the chilly night air. "Wait here," he told the driver. "I'll need you to take me back."

Most of the nearby buildings seemed to be warehouses or small workshops that were deserted at this hour of night, except for the small bar at the end of the alley. A dense, late-night fog blanketed the street, curtaining the bar off from his view, although he could hear soft music emanating from that direction and he could see the gleam of lights from its windows.  

He found Jim sitting slumped on a bench as promised, on the sidewalk outside the bar. The only lighting on the street came from the bar's entrance, leaving Jim in deep shadow. He was hunched over, his head in his hands, and didn't look up as Leonard approached.

He knelt in front of him, shaking his shoulder roughly. "Wake up, Jim."

Jim pulled back, away from his touch. "Bones," he said blearily. "Wasn't asleep. Just resting."

"Sure you were." Opening his medkit, Leonard took out a small penlight. He tilted Jim's chin upward and shined the light in his eyes. Jim's pupils were dilated, his eyes bloodshot.  

Leonard swept the light over him; Jim looked disheveled and unkempt, his uniform jacket unbuttoned and dirty. "Dammit, you idiot," he snarled, reaching for his scanner, "how much did you have to drink?"

"I'm not drunk," he protested. "Had maybe two beers…"

The hand scanner could give him only general physiological readings. Jim's blood pressure was lower than normal, and his metabolic indicators were abnormal, to say the least. He'd ingested something, obviously, but Leonard couldn't tell what. "What did you take, then? You're flying on something. Tell me what it is."

"Nothing. Didn't take anything."

He felt like slapping him. "Listen to me!" he yelled, shaking him slightly by the shoulders. Jim winced, and he lowered his voice. "Don't lie to me anymore! You need to tell me what drug you took, because you've got something fucking up your system. And you've been drinking too. I can't believe you were stupid enough to—"

Jim leaned to the side and vomited.

Leonard stood up, disgusted and furious. "I don't have the patience for this, Jim. You drag me out of bed after a long shift at the hospital, telling me you feel like shit and asking me to come get you. Then when I get here, you dick me around! Tell me the truth, what did you use?"

Jim wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I'm not lying, I didn't use anything.…"

"That's not what the scanner says."

"…but I can't think right. My head's messed up."

"Obviously."

Jim squinted up at Leonard. "I'm sick, Bones. Just take me back to your place, okay?"

"I should leave you here, asshole."

"Please." Jim looked miserable and defeated. "I'm sorry."

"Get your ass in the taxi." 

He grabbed Jim under his left arm and pulled him up, not trying to be particularly gentle about it. Jim hissed and jerked away.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked.

"It's nothing, Bones." Jim got to his feet heavily. "Let's go."

"Wait a minute." He looked at Jim carefully. His posture was tense, his back hunched defensively. "Is there something wrong with your shoulder?"

"No."

"Your neck? Let me see."

"Leave me alone. I want to go."

He moved behind Jim. Taking up the penlight again, he aimed it at the back of Jim's neck. He frowned and stepped closer, pulling down his collar to get a better look.

Oh, no.

Heart sinking to his shoes, he pushed aside Jim's red cadet jacket and began rolling up the black undershirt Jim was wearing underneath. Jim tried to shrug him off, but Leonard pulled him back firmly. Holding the shirt up with his left hand, he shined his small light on Jim's lower back.

This close, the smell of blood was unmistakable.

Years of training allowed him to control his reactions, just barely. A sharp intake of breath was the only indication of his shock and fury. His mind began churning out medical hypotheses, as Jim's behavior suddenly took on ominous overtones: the partial incoherence, the slurred words, the vomiting, the exhaustion. The way he flinched away from any physical contact. The denial that he'd taken anything.

Maybe he hadn't. Not on purpose.

He had a sudden recollection of Jim, collapsed in laughter on the cafeteria floor, and he remembered how Finnegan's expression had twisted in fury as the room resounded with laughter.

He tugged the shirt back down, gently this time. Taking Jim's lower arm, he pulled him forward. "Let's go," he said, keeping his voice calm and level. "Get in the taxi."

Jim allowed himself to be propelled toward the waiting vehicle and climbed painfully into the back seat. Leonard slid in beside him. "Take me to your place, Bones," Jim said with a tired sigh.

Leonard reached out, wanting to touch him, to reassure him, but was afraid of hurting him again. He settled for squeezing his knee lightly.

"Not this time, Jim." He leaned forward toward the driver. "Starfleet Medical," he said. "Emergency room, quick."


22.

"Here are the results of the tox screen on that cadet you brought in, Dr. McCoy," the nurse told him, handing him the PADD with Jim's chart. "He's asking for you."

"I'll bet he is," Leonard said, frowning at the screen. "Goddam it. High blood levels of BHL, plus the alcohol… How's he doing?" he asked.

"He's restless. I cleaned his back and told him to lie down, but he's not very cooperative," she said, pursing her lips. "He vomited again."

Leonard cursed under his breath, nodding to the nurse. "Tell him I'll be right there."  

Butyric hydroxylactone was a powerful narcotic, a recreational drug sold on the street. It was colorless and tasteless, and would have been easy enough to slip into Jim's drink. It acted as a depressant, affecting psychomotor coordination and cognitive functions. Within minutes of ingesting the drug, Jim would have been docile and confused, dizzy, unable to think clearly. Easy to handle, Leonard thought. At higher doses, such as Jim had been given, BHL could cause nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, and vertigo. Unpleasant, not to mention dangerous.

"How're you feeling, kid?" he asked, striding into the small treatment room. Jim was lying on the biobed on his stomach, head pillowed on his arms, as he stared stonily at the far wall. His legs were covered with a blanket, leaving his back exposed to the harsh overhead light. From his shoulder blades down past his waist, his back was criss-crossed with thin, bloody lashes.

"Like shit," Jim said, looking up at him resentfully, as if he were to blame. "You told me you'd stay with me. Where the hell have you been?"

"I ran some lab tests." Mindful of how anxious Jim would be feeling in the hospital environment, he'd also taken care of his intake paperwork and registration, sparing him the usual impersonal triage of the E.R. "I hear that you've been bothering my nurse."

"I puked on your nurse," Jim corrected him. "She deserved it, anyway. Wouldn't listen to me." He rolled his eyes. "She cut off my fucking shirt and took all my clothes."

"Your shirt was a lost cause. Anyway, that's standard procedure," Leonard tried to soothe him. "I need to be able to see what's wrong. The clothes just get in the way."

"Well, it's cold in here."

"It's not," Leonard said, tugging the blanket up to his waist. "Settle down."

"I hate hospitals."

"Yeah, you told me that." Leonard squeezed Jim's arm with his left hand, wanting to reassure him, and gently reached out with his right, touching the ragged, swollen edges of the deepest laceration. Jim hissed. "But it's the best place to be if you want these to heal up right."

Beneath the recent cuts he could discern the scars from the old injury that he'd wondered about, during Jim's initial exam. His fingers ran over the skin lightly, tracing the thin lines of fibrotic tissue.

 "These are regularly spaced and even… Man-made, and there was some serious tissue damage, although it's been partially regenerated. Good God. It almost looks like you—"

"I know what it looks like."

Whip cuts, he'd thought then. Barbaric.

And now again. How could such a thing happen to a young man twice in his lifetime?

Jim moved uncomfortably under his hands, as if sensing his scrutiny. "That hurts. Don't touch me like that."

"I'll give you a topical anesthetic," Leonard told him. "Lie still now, I'm going to start sealing these cuts."

Jim seemed irritable and antagonistic, which was understandable. Patients who came through the E.R. doors usually lost their clothes, their privacy, and their control of the situation within minutes. Worse, Jim had been assaulted and intentionally injured, which was another, more frightening loss of control.

Adding to those feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, he was ill and in pain—pain which Leonard couldn't fully mediate because of the drugs in Jim's system. A topical anesthetic would only partially shield Jim from the discomfort of the dermal treatment.

More worrisome, though, was the possibility that Jim's belligerence was a symptom of an aversive reaction to the drug. BHL was risky enough when taken alone, but combined with alcohol, it was dangerous and unpredictable. In some individuals, he knew, the drug caused symptoms of severe agitation as it metabolized, including aggressiveness, confusion, hallucinations, and even paranoia.

Don't go there, Jim, he thought. Do it the easy way, for once.

Leonard turned to the task of sealing the lacerations with a biofoam adhesive. Jim set his jaw tightly as Leonard worked but didn't complain. He spoke quietly to Jim, trying to keep him alert and engaged.

Jim answered his questions in as few words as possible, his face turned toward the wall and away from Leonard. No, he didn't know who did it. He'd been blindfolded. There were three or four guys, he thought, but he didn't recognize any of their voices. He hadn't seen the building where he'd been held, but he thought it was close to the bar. They'd dragged him out onto the sidewalk when they'd finished, leaving his hands untied but the blindfold still on, throwing his clothes onto the street beside him. By the time he'd staggered to his feet, they were gone. 

Leonard eyed the abrasions encircling his wrists, silent testimony to Jim's futile efforts to free himself. "What did they want from you? What did they say?"

Jim was silent. The biobed beeped softly in the background, attesting to the racing rhythm of Jim's heartbeat. "They said that they wanted to ask me a question," he said finally, speaking so softly Leonard had to strain to hear. "There was one right answer, and they told me that every time I got it wrong…I'd be punished."

Holy God. Leonard was glad that Jim couldn't see his face. With a feeling of dread, he asked, "What was the question?"

"'Will you leave the Academy, cadet?'" His voice was derisive and mocking, a mimicry of a cruel taunt. "'Will you agree to quit now, plebe?'"

"Bastards. I take it you said no."

"I'm a slow learner, I guess." He laughed harshly. "Kept getting the answer wrong."

Leonard laid his equipment on a sterile tray. "Look at me," he said, waiting until Jim turned his head slowly in his direction. He still wouldn't meet Leonard's eyes. "There was nothing you could have done! You were drugged—"

"It was just a couple of beers, I don't know why I was so out of it…"

"No, Jim, they gave you a narcotic to keep you incapacitated! It's a damn dangerous drug, and they dosed you to the gills. Who the hell were you drinking with?"

Jim frowned. "Don't remember… Some guys from my soccer team. Some of the other plebes. There was a party…"

"We'll find them, Jim," he told him, although he had no idea how he'd be able to deliver on his promise. "They're cowards and savages, and they're the ones who shouldn't be in Starfleet."

"I won't quit," he sighed, turning his head to face the wall again. His voice was low, almost a whisper. "I've been through worse."

There were things he wanted to say to that (It's not meant to be this hard. For God's sake, tell me what you went through. Let me help.) but he didn't want to add to Jim's agitation, so what came out of his mouth was, "I'm going to work on your wrists now."

 

Jim became increasingly agitated as Leonard worked, squirming impatiently on the bed. More than once, Leonard had to stop and ask him to stay still.

"I want to go home."

"Not just yet, kid."

"Aren't you done yet?" Jim shifted restlessly. "I can't lie here anymore."

"Just a little longer." Leonard set up a regenerative field over the expanse of his back and shoulders. "Now relax. This might feel a tingly, but it shouldn't hurt. If it gets uncomfortable, I want you to tell me."

Jim hitched himself up on his elbows, turning around to glare up at him. "Compared to what I've already been through tonight," he spat out, "do you think I'm going to complain about a little tickle?"

"Lie back down," he said, resetting the regenerator. "The more you move, the longer this will take."

"I have to get out of here."

"Don't make any plans just yet. I need to keep you under observation for at least another twelve hours, until that drug's completely out of your system."

"I'm on leave," he snarled. "You can't make me stay."

"Yes, I can, Jim, and you know it. I'm a doctor and you're my patient, and I'll decide when you go home."

"Fucking control freak," he muttered.

Open hostility. Bad sign, he thought. "Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine."

"You should rest. Try to get some sleep," he suggested. "I've got a few things to do. I'll be back in a little while."


Walking out of Jim's cubicle, Leonard rubbed his eyes, which were dry with exhaustion. It was nearing five o'clock in the morning, and he walked wearily to the wall dispenser to get himself a cup of coffee. He felt drained and depressed, and at the same time, filled with a furious, nervous energy. Above all, he was deeply worried.  

Seating himself at the nurse's station, he began updating Jim's chart methodically. He described his injuries in the objective, clinical language he'd been trained in, appending his holoscans and lab results. The routine calmed him. The latest lab tests showed that the drug levels in his bloodstream were somewhat lower, but they hadn't metabolized as fast as he'd hoped.  

By Leonard's estimation, Jim had been given the drug four or five hours ago; he already seemed to be manifesting symptoms of aggression and paranoia, but it would be another several hours before he could safely administer a sedative. For now, Jim would have to ride this out.

He knew that he needed to get back to him, but he took another moment to compose a brief message to Christopher Pike. Leonard had no doubt that as Commander of Cadets, Pike needed to know what had happened. More important, as Jim's advisor, he should be told. Without going into details, Leonard mentioned only that Jim had been assaulted and was currently undergoing medical care, and asked that Pike contact him as soon as possible.

He wondered how Pike would respond to his cryptic message; he had no idea if he was even in town during the semester break. Thinking of Jim's torn back, the smooth skin littered with angry red welts, he found himself filled with a protective fury. I'll tell him everything, he thought. This has gone too far.

His comm vibrated, and he snatched it out of his pocket. Kirk JT regen positioning error, it informed him, and Leonard's eyes flew to the open door of the treatment room where he'd left Jim. He was sitting up, swinging his legs to the floor.

"Whoa, tiger," he called, rushing into the room. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Can't stay here any longer," Jim muttered. "Isn't safe."

"What's not safe?"

"They'll find me soon." His eyes darted around the room nervously. "Did you tell them?"

Shit. "Jim," he said, keeping his tone calm and soothing, "it's okay. I just went to update your chart. I'll stay here with you now."

Jim's expression was hostile and resentful. "You just want to keep me here so they'll find me."

"Who'll find you?"

"Don't play dumb! You know."

"Lie down, kid. I'm not finished working on your back. You want it to heal without a scar, don't you?"

"What?" Jim's angry expression seemed to waver. He looked confused. "Yeah…sure. Sorry…"

"Let me set the equipment up again." Leonard patted the bed. "Come on, Jimmy, lie back down." Jim blinked at his instinctive use of the diminutive, settling slowly back down on the bed.

They probably called him that when he was little, he thought, looking at him with affection and concern. Maybe it would remind Jim of a time when things were easier.


Jim dozed off, and Leonard gratefully closed his eyes as well, slouched in a chair by his bed.

He woke an hour later to hear Jim muttering angrily. "You must have taken them," he was saying, an odd, suspicious tone creeping into his voice.

"Taken what, kid?" He was pleased to see that the dermal regen had switched itself off automatically. Although Jim's back was still swollen, the wounds had already begun to scab over, and he could see the vestiges of new skin underneath, shiny and pink.

"My clothes." Jim pushed himself up to a sitting position, looking around tensely. "Where are they?"

"I'll get you something to wear. Your back looks a lot better." Rummaging in a side cabinet, he found a pair of loose scrub pants, and handed them to Jim. He didn't give him a shirt; the skin would heal faster while exposed to the open air.

Jim hopped down from the biobed and dressed quickly. "I'm leaving," he announced tersely. "Move out of my way."

"Not so fast." Leonard took a step forward, placing himself between Jim and the door. Keeping his voice level, he said, "You need to stay here a little while longer. That drug's still in your system."

Jim shook his head, trying to step around him. "You just want to keep me here…so they can get me again."

"What? No, Jim. I'm your doctor." He moved forward again, reaching out to Jim's shoulder, hoping to calm him. "You were injured, remember? I treated your back."

"Stay away!" Jim arched away from his touch, backtracking toward the wall. "You want the reward, don't you."

Leonard froze. "What are you talking about?"

"Stop pretending! You act like you don't know what's going on!"

"Tell me, Jim. I don't understand."

"I have to leave… It's my third offense." His face, partly shadowed, showed such despair and misery that Leonard's heart stuttered. Jim looked down at his hands, his left caressing the right, moving delicately over the fingers. "They'll break my hand this time," he muttered softly. "But I'm not sorry. It was worth it."

The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. "No one's going to hurt you, Jim," he said softly. "You're safe here."

He was going to need help; Jim seemed paranoid and irrational, deep inside some mental construction of his own making. He glanced back at the open door of the treatment room, wondering if anyone was within earshot, and was surprised to see Christopher Pike standing silently just outside the room, watching them.

How long has he been standing there? Long enough, he wagered, from the look of dismay on Pike's face. His expression was grim, but not shocked. Whatever Jim was saying, it wasn't coming as a surprise to him.

Pike seemed to take Leonard's look as an invitation, and moved inside the room.

Jim glared at him as he entered. "You again." He rolled his eyes. "I might have known you'd show up eventually."

Leonard raised an eyebrow, but Pike seemed calm, unruffled by Jim's insolence, saying only, "What happened, Jim?"

"I'm not telling, Lieutenant Pike. Just let me go home."

Lieutenant? Jim was clearly disoriented…or maybe Pike's presence had triggered a memory from years back.

"Looks like you had some trouble."

"I don't want to talk to you, Lieutenant." His respiration rate was increasing.

"It's Captain Pike, Jim," Pike said, an edge of command in his tone. "I want to know what happened to you last night. I want to know who did this."

"No."

Pike frowned. "That's an order, cadet. You need to tell me what happened."

"Stop trying to trick me!" Jim spat. "You were the one who told me I couldn't say anything about it."

Pike gaped at Jim, looking appalled. "That was a long time ago."

Jim laughed, his voice a harsh rasp. "Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'll keep Starfleet's dirty little secret. And the dead don't talk."

Pike glanced back at Leonard, whose eyebrows were threatening to climb through his hairline. "I need to speak with Dr. McCoy, Jim." He turned to Leonard, his expression carefully neutral. "Will he be all right here alone for a few minutes?"

Leonard nodded, his wide-eyed gaze moving back and forth between Jim and Pike. "I'll call an orderly to watch him. We need to talk, Captain."


"What the hell is the matter with him, doctor?" They were seated in the small consulting office next to the E.R. Pike's expression was stern, but Leonard could sense his worry.

"He was given a narcotic with hallucinogenic properties, and he's having an adverse reaction to it." Leonard handed the PADD with his medical report to Pike. His face blanched when he saw the holos of Jim's injuries, but Leonard wasn't planning on pulling his punches.

Pike finished reading and looked up. "All right, doctor. How long do you expect these…symptoms…to last?"

"He'll come out of it as the drug breaks down in his bloodstream. Another hour or two at most, I think. When the drug levels get low enough, I'll give him a sedative and he'll sleep it off."

"So he's having some kind of flashback."

"You could call it that," Leonard agreed. "Sometimes the reminder of a traumatic event acts like a trigger, and the drug may be enhancing that effect. Those cadets used a whip on him, but it wasn't the first time, Captain."

Pike met his eyes without hesitation. "I'm aware of that."

"Then maybe you know why he said that someone was going to break his hand," he said angrily. "He said it was his third offense. What did he mean?"

"I can't tell you. I'm sorry."

"Don't tell me that. I'm his doctor, dammit!" he exploded. "Jim's out of his head, and I can't help him, or even manage him, if I don't know what he's reacting to!"

"He's delusional. It'll wear off in a few hours. You said so yourself."

"But the trauma is real." Leonard took a deep breath and, with an effort, controlled his voice. "I don't know what he's talking about, but he's not making these things up. And I can't treat him if I'm working blind. You told me that you knew a few things about his past, but I didn't 'need to know' them. I want you to think about what you just saw, Captain, and tell me if it's medically relevant now."

Pike looked hesitant, so Leonard pressed on. "I know you care about Jim, Captain," he said softly. "So do I."

Pike looked at him for a long moment, weighing something in his mind. "All right," he said finally. "You win, doctor." He activated the door lock. "What I'm going to tell you is totally confidential. You don't have the security clearance to know this information, and if I find out that you've repeated it anywhere, I'll deny it."

"I understand, sir."

"What do you know about a colony called Tarsus IV?"

Leonard blinked in surprise. "Never heard of it," he said. Whatever he had been expecting to hear, it wasn't that.

"Not many people have," Pike said. "What happened there ten years ago was…covered up by Starfleet Intelligence. Terrible crimes were committed, but they weren't made public. I know about it because I was part of the rescue contingent that arrived there afterwards, but we were sworn to secrecy. The only others who know are those who were involved—people who took part in the atrocities, or who knew what was happening and didn't do anything to prevent them—"

Leonard started. "Are you saying that Jim…"

"…plus a handful of survivors," Pike continued. "Jim Kirk is one of them." He stopped, pausing to let that sink in, watching Leonard's face carefully.

Mind whirling, Leonard remembered what he'd said angrily to Jim, weeks before.

 Stop being so secretive. You act like if you answer a simple question about what happened to you when you were a teenager, it's a fucking security violation.

Leonard took a deep breath. "Captain Pike," he said grimly, "I need to know exactly what happened."


23.

"Tarsus was a struggling agricultural colony," Pike began, "that fell victim to a famine. A fungus destroyed their crops and there wasn't enough food."

Leonard waited for more, but Pike paused, looking uncharacteristically uncertain. "This is…harder than I thought it would be." He sighed. "I've been telling this story in my head for so long that I've started to believe it myself."

Leonard narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Tarsus was a farming community. That part is true."

"Then what—"

"There was no fungus. No famine. That's what the colonists were told, but there was plenty of food, certainly enough to last until the supply ships arrived." Pike seemed angry, but there was also an element of reluctance in his tone, as if he didn't really want to say anything more.

Guilt, Leonard thought. Or shame. "I don't understand, sir."

"Let me start again." He was silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Tarsus was founded by anti-tech idealists. They took with them only the most basic terraforming and agricultural implements. They wanted to work with their hands, live in harmony with nature, build a lifestyle that could no longer be found anywhere on earth."

Leonard wasn't surprised. It was a common dream, an ideal that he felt a certain sympathy for, although he felt no inclination to give up the comforts of his world.  

"They attracted a few waves of like-minded settlers in the early years," Pike went on, "but they ran into trouble with some of their crops, and had some problems coping with the harsh weather on Tarsus. They tried to be self-sufficient, but they were still dependent on Federation support for a lot of their basic needs. They were isolated and they lacked a lot of basic commodities. The children were growing up, and there weren't many educational opportunities. Even after twenty years, things were still pretty primitive. Some of the colonists had left, looking for a more viable place to live, and Tarsus had a hard time finding people who were willing to join them."

Small wonder, he thought. "What the hell was Jim doing there, then?"

"From what I understood from his mother, she had relatives there. She'd just gotten divorced and was heading out again on a long-term assignment. Jim was thirteen or so. She said he'd become unmanageable, and her parents couldn't handle him. I don't know, I guess she thought that he'd do well with some fresh air and hard work."

I'll bet no one asked him what he wanted. "Fine, so he was shipped off to the middle of nowhere. What happened?"

"Tarsus was running into debt. Supplies were getting low. There was talk of abandoning the colony and asking for an evacuation, but then they discovered that the original survey parties had overlooked Tarsus's main natural resource." He leaned forward and looked Leonard in the eye. "Dilithium."

"Dilithium!" Leonard's jaw dropped in shock. "Crystallized dilithium?" Dilithium was the power source used in the warp drive, extremely rare and valuable in its pure crystallized form. "But there are only three planets where that's been found—"

"Four, doctor. There are four known planets in the Federation that have natural dilithium mines. Troyius, Coridan, Elas…and Tarsus." His face quirked into a wry smile. "As far as we've been able to piece the story together, the discovery was completely by accident. Some colonists stumbled over the entrance to the mine, which was hidden by a rock formation. They crawled in as far as they could, removed a small crystal, and went back to tell the colony leaders."

"Sounds too good to be true," he said incredulously. "Like finding a diamond mine in your back yard."

"Well," Pike considered, "in this case, it was more like, 'Be careful what you wish for…' I don't know if you have any idea how much money is involved in the crystal di trade, but it's… Well, let's just say that their financial worries were over."

"So much for the idealistic farmers."

"Well, keep in mind that a generation had gone by since the original settlers arrived. Their children were now in their twenties and thirties, and some of them, I guess, were pretty bitter about being stuck on a backwater planet. They didn't necessarily accept their parents' ideals, and they knew what they were missing. They wanted a more normal life, more access to technology, more commercial goods."

"You're saying that there were two factions?" Leonard rubbed his eyes, feeling his exhaustion in the sore muscles of his calves and in the tension between his shoulder blades. Get on with the story, he thought in annoyance. What does this have to do with Jim?

"Apparently, there were pretty severe social problems in the colony long before they found the crystals. Vandalism, arson, drinking, that sort of thing. The younger generation didn't necessarily believe in their parents' values of hard work and frugal living. They wanted more of a say in governing the colony. They were greedy, ambitious, and resentful…and then," he paused dramatically, "they found riches beyond their wildest dreams."

"Starfleet must have been ecstatic."

"They didn't tell Starfleet. Not yet." Pike's expression sobered. "Once the younger leaders realized they were literally sitting on top of a dilithium mine, they wanted to contact Starfleet and negotiate. I think some of them legitimately wanted to help the colony, although others clearly wanted to take the money and run. But the older council members objected, saying it would completely change the character of the community. Starfleet would take over and they thought they'd lose control. The contractors would arrive, bringing their technology with them… They were worried about the influence on the children. There were some pretty bitter arguments, I was told, and then they took a vote and decided to keep to their agricultural values."

"I suppose it didn't end there." Pike seemed to be leading up to something, but Leonard wished he would get there faster.

Pike gave him a wry look. "No, it didn't, but I know you want to hear about Jim, doctor, so I'll just say that over the next few months, there were some violent incidents. Some of the councilmen found themselves the victims of 'accidents,' or became mysteriously ill. A new council was elected, headed by a man named Kodos, but the survivors were quite clear: there was no colonist by that name."

"An assumed name?"

"More like a code. I did some research, doctor. The word kodos is the Coridan word for 'crystal.'"

There was a short silence as Leonard digested that. Kodos. The harsh, guttural sound of the word seemed to carry an ominous connotation.

Pike cleared his throat. "Not long afterwards," he said, "the colonists were told that a fast-acting fungus was attacking their food supply, and large quantities of food had already been destroyed literally overnight. The council ordered them to stop eating the food in their homes, which was supposedly infected, effective immediately. After three days, Kodos announced that the colony's food stores were safe from the fungus and would be fairly distributed among all the colonists."

Leonard frowned. "Didn't anyone try to check the information? Surely there were scientists among them, people who'd be skeptical of an announcement like that!"

"It's not hard to cause panic, doctor, when you're withholding information. There had already been cases of mysterious illness among the council members… People were scared, and Kodos seemed to be in control of the situation. They listened to him."

"And they were hungry," he said softly.  After a few days without food, the colonists would have been confused, irritable, lethargic, and prone to poor judgment. As they weakened, they would become progressively more desperate…and willing to cooperate with any authority that promised to help.

"The food was given out in their main assembly hall once a week. The distribution was organized and efficient. All adults in the community—everyone aged sixteen or older—came at a pre-appointed time and were given a sack of food and provisions. This happened three times, over three weeks, and the colonists accepted the procedure."

Pike fixed him with a steady gaze. "The fourth time the adults came to the assembly hall, the doors were locked and they were massacred. Over four thousand of them."

Leonard felt his heart clench. "Oh, my God."

"I don't know much about what happened next. I do know that the remaining adults, a few hundred men and women, herded up the kids who were left into a primitive camp, and began mining for the dilithium crystals."

"With children!" Leonard was horrified. "They'd just lost their parents, and they were terrified! What kind of monsters—"

"Tarsus didn't have any mining equipment," Pike interrupted him tightly, "and the tunnels were narrow and twisting. They needed the children because they could fit in the tunnels." Leonard closed his eyes briefly, envisioning dozens of small children crawling along tight, muddy passages, cold and miserable and frightened.

"In the meantime, Tarsus contacted Starfleet and notified the Office of Colony Development that the colony had 'disbanded.' They claimed that most of the colonists had left on private transport, but the few that remained had found a natural dilithium deposit. At the time, I was a lieutenant on a survey ship, the Hercules. We had specialized equipment; we thought we'd be helping establish the mining production." He shook his head. "We were completely unprepared…"

"And Jim?" he asked, steeling himself. "Was he in the camp too?"

"Jim was one of the older children, and he'd managed to avoid the original sweep of children into the mining camp. He took a group of kids up into the hills above the camp, where they could watch everything. They stayed hidden, but he came down to steal food for them and was caught."

"I suppose that was the first offense."

"Yes. They took him into the camp." Pike's voice wavered, and he swallowed. "Things were pretty brutal there. The adults only cared about the crystals. The mines were dangerous and the tunnels collapsed more than once, but the colonists were desperate to dig out as many crystals as they could before they left. They kept the kids half-starved, and they punished them viciously for any disobedience. I think Jim was beaten that first time, and warned. He knew what would happen if he stole again."

"He didn't stop, though."

"He was caught a second time, smuggling food out to his friends outside the camp. And yes," Pike said grimly, "he was whipped for that. The third time…well, I think you know what they did to his hand."

Jim's voice, wretched and hopeless, echoed in his mind. They'll break my hand this time. But I'm not sorry. It was worth it.

"So he couldn't steal anymore." It came out as a whisper.

"Exactly. That wasn't too long before the first ships arrived, maybe a few days. By the time we got to the camp, most of the colonists and the surviving children had already left. What we saw…" He took a shuddering breath, and then another. "It's hard to describe. There were signs of what had happened everywhere. They'd burned the assembly hall, but it was obvious what they'd done. The camp…" He shook his head.

"Where was Jim when you found him?"

"He was lying in the grass in the hills above the camp, exhausted and starved, very weak. I think he'd gone looking for his friends, after the mine was abandoned. It seemed like he'd given up. He wasn't happy to be found, to say the least."

With an effort, Leonard found his voice. "What was he like then?"

"Like you'd expect. Angry. Mistrustful. Very, very guarded. He wouldn't tell us what happened to him. Hell, he wouldn't even tell me his last name. He claimed that he was an orphan. I think he felt abandoned by his mother, and he didn't want to depend on anyone else."

"Poor kid," Leonard breathed. "But how did you find out…"

"After a few weeks, I showed him the list of survivors, and he saw the names of some of the kids he'd been hiding. They were on different ships, and he hadn't known that they made it. It turned out that they'd been talking about a boy named 'Jimmy' who'd risked everything to keep them alive and protected, but they hadn't known his last name. We put two and two together."

Jimmy. Oh, damn. He'd used the childhood nickname so naively, hoping to calm Jim down, but maybe he'd inadvertently triggered some of Jim's memories himself.

He stood up and took a few steps in the tiny office, feeling a strong impulse to distance himself from Pike, to turn away from him until he could process some of what he had learned.

Tarsus explained so much: Jim's independence and tough demeanor, masking a vulnerability that he rarely showed. His resentment of Finnegan's swaggering authority. His strange acceptance of Finnegan's abuse, as if he expected his dorm officer to be capricious and cruel.

People in positions of authority don't always make the right decisions. Sometimes people shouldn't follow orders blindly. Jim had learned that lesson well, and much too early in life.

He remembered Jim showing up at his door at the beginning of the year, explaining why he didn't want to hang out with the other first-year cadets. They're a little young, he'd said. They're just out of high school. What, really, did he have in common with them? He'd survived forced labor and starvation while they were working on their homework and playing football.

Well, he thought wryly, Jim was right about one thing. Leonard recalled the way he'd insisted that he wasn't allergic to trichloridine; at the time, he'd thought Jim was simply refusing to face facts. But he'd been talking from the experience of months of travel on starships…though he couldn't admit it.

He froze. That was the real question here, wasn't it? We were sworn to secrecy, Pike had said.

"Captain Pike," he said slowly, turning around again to face him, "why hasn't this information been made public?"

"That decision was made by Starfleet Intelligence," Pike said, meeting his gaze unflinchingly. "For security reasons."

"For financial reasons, you mean," he snarled, biting back a curse. "Tarsus is still being mined, isn't it?" He took Pike's tight-lipped silence as assent. "Well, Starfleet needs its precious crystals, I guess."

"What happened on the colony doesn't change the fact that there's a hugely valuable natural resource on the planet."

"Oh, come off it, sir!" he said, exasperated. "Starfleet turned a blind eye. If you know so much about Jim, who was just a kid there, don't tell me Starfleet Intel doesn't know exactly who the council members were and what each one of them did. You may not know who Kodos was, but I'm sure they do!"

Pike nodded, looking away. "You're probably right."

"It was a win-win situation, wasn't it?" he said sarcastically. "Starfleet avoids a media circus and gets all the dilithium it needs, and the criminals avoid a trial! They probably sold their pretty little crystals on the black market and are far, far away by now. And the victims—"

"The victims get some peace and quiet," Pike said, meeting his eyes at last. "They get to live their lives without being hounded by the media and without having to relive their story on the news vids."

"That should have been their choice," Leonard said, disgusted. "Maybe some of them would have wanted their story told."

"Look, Dr. McCoy, I'm a soldier. I believe in Starfleet and I did my duty. I took an oath to support the principles of Starfleet and the Federation, and I did nothing that runs counter to those words." After a moment's silence, he continued, "I hated what I was asked to do, but at the time, I thought it was right."

"Well," Leonard said with a sigh, "I guess that's something."

Pike pointed to the chair across from him. "Sit down, doctor. Please." Leonard complied, sitting down with a huff, still scowling.

"A few weeks after we got back to San Francisco," Pike said quietly, "I was asked to make a visit to the Kirk farm in Iowa. Winona and I were in the same class at the Academy, and I'd met George. I knew Jim pretty well, too, by then."

"I thought he wouldn't talk to you."

"True," Pike said, with a small laugh, "but we'd gotten used to each other on the Hercules. He couldn't stand anyone who tried to treat him with sympathy or pity. I never did that." He sighed. "Anyway, Winona understood. She knew what the media would do with a story like Tarsus, and when they figured out that the son of the Kelvin hero George Kirk had been there too… They'd never let that go. She knew her boy needed to be left alone, to heal."

Leonard cocked an eyebrow. "From what he's told me, he didn't heal all that well. He never finished school, got into some trouble with the law, drifted around for a few years…"

"I know," Pike said, pained. "When I saw him again in Riverside, after all those years, I couldn't believe it was him. He was drunk and he'd been brawling with my cadets, but…I couldn't leave him there. I saw a moment when I could really make a difference to him, help him. Not with sympathy, but with a dare."

Leonard nodded. "Well, that's one thing I'll say for Jim, he throws himself right at the nearest challenge."

"I'll tell you something else, doctor. Jim doesn't know it, but there were quite a few people who objected to my admitting him to the Academy, with that kind of record, no questions asked. He didn't even fill out a regular application. But I wanted him here, and I fought for him."

"Then do it again, sir," Leonard said flatly. "Fight for him now. He needs your help."

"What did he tell you about the attack?" Pike seemed relieved to change the subject.  

Leonard repeated the bits of information Jim had given him: the party at the bar, the nearby building where he'd been held, the demand that he quit. "They were cadets," he said. "I'm sure of it."

"Do you know who?" Pike asked. "Does someone have a grudge against him?"

Leonard hesitated. "Look, Captain, I'll tell you what I know, which isn't much. But first, I'd like your word that you'll make Jim tell you everything. You need to get the information from him, and he needs to see you as someone who's there for him. Like you said, he's guarded. He doesn't like to ask for help, and after what you've told me, I can see why."

"Doctor," Pike said, looking almost apologetic, "I'm Jim's advisor, and believe me, I know how little he trusts me. I'm going to have words with him, don't worry, but I won't be able to do that for several hours yet. If you can point me in the right direction in the meantime, I can start my investigation this morning. And as for Jim learning to confide in me," he smiled grimly, "I'll drag the information out of him with my bare hands, if I have to."

Despite everything, Leonard found himself smiling back.


24.

Jim was stirring uncomfortably on his stomach, showing the first signs of awakening, as Leonard walked into his hospital room. It was after four in the afternoon. He'd finally been able to sedate Jim eight hours earlier, when the drug levels in his bloodstream had dropped to safe levels. He approached Jim's bed, peering down at his uncovered back. The skin was tight and scabbed, still swollen in places, but there were no signs of infection.

"Wake up, kid," he said, getting an answering grunt in response. "Feeling better?"

"No. Ow," Jim groaned, voice muffled in the pillow. "My head."

Leonard glanced up at the biochemical parameters on the monitor. "You're a little dehydrated from the sedative." He poured Jim a glass of water. "Have something to drink."

Jim opened his eyes and squinted up at him, looking disoriented. "When d'ya give me a sedative?" His words were slightly slurred and he seemed confused. He began to roll over onto his back, then froze, hissing, as the new skin made contact with the bedsheet.

"Come on, Jim. Sit up." He put a hand under Jim's shoulder and pulled him slowly into a sitting position. Jim sipped the water, looking groggily at Leonard, blue eyes hooded under his lashes.  

Leonard let him adjust. Coming out of sedation was always difficult, and cognitive functions returned unevenly. He could almost see the moment when Jim reached the sudden awareness of where he was and why he was there; he stiffened and drew in a sharp breath. "Easy, there," Leonard soothed. "You're doing fine."

Jim twisted around, trying to peer down over his bare shoulder. "How's it look?"

"It's healing well. Shouldn't leave a scar." Jim's hand snaked around behind him, but Leonard caught his wrist before his fingers could touch his back. "Unless you start picking at it. Or scratching it."

"I wasn't gonna scratch," he said in annoyance, shaking off Leonard's grip. "Doesn't itch."

"Good. Just leave it be. In two weeks, you won't know the cuts were ever there." He glanced up again at the monitor readings. Jim's respiration and blood pressure were still somewhat depressed, indicating the lingering effects of the sedation. "Feeling a little sore?"

Jim's expression took on the familiar shuttered look, as if he was closing himself off. "'s fine," he mumbled, not meeting Leonard's eyes. "Doesn't hurt."

"Got a headache? I can give you a painkiller."

"It's just a damn hangover," Jim said dourly, looking haggard and tired. "I've had 'em before."

Privately, Leonard thought that Jim's physical discomfort was the least of his problems. He'd not only be reeling from the emotional aftereffects of the attack, but he'd have to come to terms with the fact that he'd revealed, or at least hinted at, parts of his past which he'd kept secret for so many years.

Leonard himself was feeling no less off-kilter. His conversation with Pike early that morning had shocked him to his core. He didn't consider himself naïve by any means, but he was deeply troubled by what he'd learned. Starfleet claimed to hold to the highest ethical standards, but where dilithium was concerned, it seemed to be willing to turn a blind eye. Pragmatism took preference over humanitarian considerations.  He could hardly bear to think of his friend as a victim of such a corrupt conspiracy as he'd endured on Tarsus. But it was more infuriating to accept that Jim had then been asked to keep his mouth shut about it for the greater good of Starfleet, his heroic actions unrecognized.

The Kelvin baby. It was amazing that he'd enlisted in Starfleet at all. What did he owe the organization that had taken so much from him?

Jim was rubbing his temples and scowling.

"Maybe this hangover's a little different," Leonard said gently. "You were pretty out of it there, for a while."

Jim shrugged. "Whatever." He visibly gathered himself, raising his head and giving Leonard a small smile, which didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm fine. Can I go?"

"Not just yet," he said. "That drug's out of your system, for the most part, but--"

"What drug?" Jim looked at him irritably. "I told you, I didn't take anything!"

"I know you didn't…" Leonard's voice trailed off awkwardly, as he belatedly processed what Jim had said. "Jim," he said, "you were given a powerful narcotic. Probably slipped into your beer. Don't you remember when I explained that to you?" Jim shook his head slowly. "BHL. It's a dangerous street drug. It slowed your reactions, made it hard for you to think straight."

Jim looked confused and slightly panicked. "When did you tell me that? I don't remember…What's the matter with me?"

Anterograde amnesia, he thought. A blackout. It was an expected effect of many psychotropic drugs; the high levels of BHL in his bloodstream blocked the brain's ability to transfer short-term memories created while he was under the effects of the narcotic to long-term memory. Jim literally wouldn't remember anything that happened, and wouldn't even know anything was missing from his memory unless someone else reminded him of something he'd said or done during that time.

For a moment, Leonard stared at him, feeling irrationally frustrated. He wanted to talk to Jim about what happened, hear his version of events, let him open up… But Jim didn't remember. As far as he was concerned, there had been no awkward revelations of Tarsus, no triggered memories. He still thought his past was a burning, shameful secret that he had to protect.

Unless I tell him. Briefly, he debated letting Jim know that he'd said something about Tarsus, bringing the secret out into the open. Jim might appreciate having a confidant, one person who would understand what he'd been through. He might feel enormous relief knowing he didn't have to lie anymore, at least not to Leonard.

Or, he thought, he might feel                                                                                                                                                                                      unbearably vulnerable, knowing his deepest secrets had been exposed without his conscious choice.

Not here and not now, he decided. Jim needed to time to recover and Leonard needed time to think.

"It's probably an aftereffect of the drug, Jim. Don't worry about it. What do you remember about last night?"

"I remember some of what they did," he said slowly. His tone was bleak. "It's a little blurred…Images and voices…They kept asking me to quit, to leave the Academy. Then they dumped me outside. I remember calling you, but you said you were sleeping." He gave Leonard a bitter look.

"But I came, remember that?"

"Right…" Jim's brow furrowed. "We were in a taxi…"

"I took you to the emergency room. I treated your back."

Jim shook his head, mouth twisting into a sardonic smile. "Probably better if I don't remember that part."

Leonard laughed, glad to see Jim relaxing a bit. "Yeah, you were a pretty terrible patient. As usual."

He heard soft footsteps behind him, and saw Jim glance up and draw back. Leonard turned to see Christopher Pike standing in the doorway.

Pike's expression was stern as he locked his gaze with Jim's. There was no hint of the guilt and regret he'd allowed Leonard to glimpse earlier, or even the genial manipulation that he'd seen from him in their first meeting. This Pike was commanding and controlled, and he was looking down at Jim as if he were holding his anger tightly in check.

Leonard wasn't entirely surprised to see him. He'd known that Pike would want to question Jim, especially in light of his own request that Pike make Jim admit what had happened. But he hadn't expected him to appear so soon, in Jim's hospital room, immediately after he'd woken up.

"Captain Pike," Jim said, pulling himself straighter in the bed, cheeks reddening. "What are you doing here?" he asked, looking embarrassed.

"That's what I'd like to ask you, cadet." Pike stepped into the room, coming to stand beside Jim's bed. It irked Leonard to see the contrast between Pike, standing dignified and confident as ever in his crisp uniform, next to Jim, sitting shirtless on the bed, half-covered with a sheet. Pike should have waited, he thought. He could have let Jim be discharged, asked to meet him in his office.

Jim looked at Leonard accusingly. "You told him I was here, didn't you."

Eyes narrowing, Pike gave Leonard a questioning glance. Leonard shook his head minutely and shrugged, trying to convey without words: he doesn't remember.

"Of course he did," Pike said, turning back to Jim before Leonard could frame a reply. "I'm the Commander of Cadets and I have standing orders to be notified whenever a cadet is hospitalized. And I'm your advisor, Jim. Did you think I wouldn't find out?"

He's quick on the uptake, Leonard thought gratefully, as Pike turned to him. "I've read your medical report, doctor. What's his status?"

"I'll be releasing him in about an hour, once I've run some final blood tests," Leonard said. "The cuts are healing and the drug's almost out of his system, but he'll need some follow-up treatment in a week."

"I see," Pike said. "Is he fit for duty?"

"I'm on leave!" Jim protested. Pike ignored him.

"Fit for limited physical activity for the next seven days," Leonard said.

"Any other restrictions?" he asked, looking pointedly at Leonard.

"You can speak with him," he said, answering Pike's unspoken question. "But he's still a little groggy from the sedative. Go slow, captain."

"I'm fine," Jim said. "I don't need to be coddled."

"Good," Pike said softly, turning back to Jim. "Because you and I need to have a talk. First of all, I need you to tell me exactly what happened to you last night."

Jim crossed his hands over his chest, looking at Pike defensively. "I don’t remember all that well."

"It's an effect of the drug he was given," Leonard put in, wanting to give Pike some explanation for Jim's apparent confusion. "It impaired memory creation during the time he had high concentrations of it in his bloodstream."

Pike nodded. "All right. Let's see what you do remember."  

Pike efficiently questioned Jim on the points that would be most salient in an investigation. Where was the bar? Whose idea was it to go to that particular one? Which cadets were sitting with him at his table? What time did they arrive? When did he start feeling the effects of the drug?

Pike's questions flowed smoothly, but Jim's answers became progressively more hesitant as he was asked about the assault itself. It became clear that there were large gaps in his memory, gaping holes at the critical junctures. He had no recollection of leaving the pub, and only vaguely recalled what had been done to him by his attackers. Much too often, his only answer to Pike's question was a mumbled "I don't know," or "I'm not sure." The few fragments of memory he was able to dredge up of those hours were mostly disconnected sounds and images: the crack of a whip, cold threats whispered in his ears, raucous laughter, feelings of nausea and vertigo. Obviously frustrated, Jim kept his eyes downcast and his shoulders hunched, answering in as few words as possible.

After about ten minutes, Leonard found himself unable to stand by quietly. Jim was beginning to fidget, his fingers tapping nervously on the side of the bed. "Captain," Leonard said heatedly, "My patient is still recovering from the effects of sedation, and I don't appreciate your interrogating him like this! He's tired—"

"I'm not," Jim insisted.

"Shut up! Yes, you are. Can't it wait until tomorrow?"

"It can, doctor," Pike agreed. "I just have one final question. I'm going to ask you something, Jim, and I need an honest answer." Jim nodded, but he looked wary. "Why have you been attracting so much trouble?"

Jim scowled. "I haven't been—"

"Don't give me that," Pike snapped. "You're the only first-year cadet who has been seriously injured twice since the beginning of term. What the hell is going on?"

Jim scoffed. "One thing has nothing to do with the other. Ask Dr. McCoy! I had stress fractures because I was doing a lot of sports… I'm on the plebe soccer team." He looked to Leonard as if for confirmation, but Leonard kept his face carefully neutral, unwilling to help him on this point. He had no doubt that Finnegan's fanatic training sessions had caused the first injuries, and he was sure Finnegan was involved in the attack. "It's not related to last night," Jim insisted, glaring at Leonard.

"Don't give me that bullshit again, Jim. That's what you told me when you wound up in a hoverchair, and even then it sounded like you were covering something up. I've been around the Academy for a long time, and I know a thing or two about plebe year. This isn't the usual first-year experience."

"I agree," Leonard broke in, ignoring Jim's glower. He wouldn't implicate Finnegan directly in front of Pike—Jim needed to do that himself—but he wasn't willing to let Jim pass off the stress fractures as the result of too much soccer. "From what you told me, you'd been doing an inordinate amount of physical activity in the weeks before you got the fractures. You'd been pushed past the point of exhaustion, night after night."

Pike played along, picking up on Leonard's hint. "What kind of physical activity?"

"I got IPT a few times," Jim said. "Disciplinary infractions."

"Knowing you, I'm not surprised," Pike said calmly, as Jim huffed. "But lots of cadets get IPT. They don't wind up with these kinds of injuries! There's something more going on, and I want to know what it is."  

Jim's jaw tightened and a muscle flicked under the skin. "Maybe I've annoyed some people, Captain Pike, but I'll deal with it."

"Annoyed?" Pike snorted. "I'd like to know what you've done to make people so angry with you that they want you to leave! And I want to know who these cadets are."

"I told you, I couldn't recognize any of their voices."

"Well then, tell me what you did."

Jim laughed harshly. "I played a practical joke, Captain. Some people don't have a very good sense of humor, I guess. Maybe they played one on me. Score's settled."

Leonard looked at him in exasperation. "For God's sake, Jim, what happened to you wasn't a practical joke!"

"Assault is a crime," Pike agreed. "A cadet who assaults a fellow cadet has no place in my Academy."

"I'd prefer to handle it on my own, sir."

"I don't give a damn what you prefer!"

"I guess that's your way, Captain," he shot back. "My personal preferences have never been your top priority." Jim's tone was sullen, his eyes defiant as he glared up at Pike.

Leonard drew in a breath. He'd been willing to allow Pike to push Jim a little, knowing that he wouldn't easily admit to needing help. But the conversation had swerved into new territory. The room was suddenly filled with a crackling energy. Jim was staring at Pike with an intensity that spoke of long acquaintance and long-buried resentments.

"There are times," Pike said slowly, emphasizing each word, "when keeping a secret is the right thing to do, and there are times when it's wrong."

"Sometimes," Jim retorted, his voice equally forceful and emphatic, "it's hard to tell the difference."

"This isn't one of those times."

"I don't need your help!"

There was a silence. "I think you do," Pike said finally.

"I didn't tell you what I did, so you can't judge," Jim snarled. "Maybe I deserved what happened to me."

Here, or on Tarsus? Leonard wondered. Everything Jim said seemed to have a double meaning, as Pike must be perfectly aware.

"Nobody deserves those kinds of injuries."

"I provoked them." Jim's voice cracked, but he controlled it quickly. "I shouldn't have gone so far."

"They made their own choices." Pike paused, and his expression softened. "No one has the right to hurt you. You have to believe that."

Jim swallowed and looked away, blinking rapidly. Leonard found himself standing as still as possible, hardly breathing, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

"Give me names, Jim," Pike said softly. "They should be punished."

Jim rolled his eyes. "In my experience, Captain, it doesn't work that way. Usually it's the victim who gets punished and the criminals get away with their crimes."

Pike looked as if he'd been punched in the gut, and Leonard wanted to applaud. He heard that, kid.

"It doesn't have to be that way," Pike said after a moment.

"What's the difference this time?" he asked, snorting derisively. "You?"

"Yes," Pike growled. "I'm Commander of Cadets. I'm running things here, son, and I won't tolerate this type of activity under my command."

"I know what you want me to do," Jim said in a low voice. "But it'll just make things worse for me if I tell you."

"No. This stops here," Pike told him. "They won't be in a position to retaliate, Jim, I promise." Jim laughed, and Pike looked stricken. "I know I let you down before, Jim. But I want you to trust me. You need to tell me what's been going on."

"Jim," Leonard said softly, "those cadets shouldn't be in the Academy. You don't need to protect them."

Jim blew out a long breath and looked up. "Dammit. All right, Captain Pike. I'll tell you what I know. But not here, and not like this," he said, gesturing at his state of undress. Leonard understood; Jim would tell his story wearing his cadet reds, and not from a hospital bed.

"After I discharge you," Leonard told him.

****

Leonard accompanied Pike from the room, leaving Jim to get dressed. When they were out of earshot from Jim's room, Pike stopped and turned to face Leonard fully. "I appreciate your support in there, doctor."

"You handled it well," Leonard said, and he meant it. "Jim's got a lot of issues with authority."

"Jim's got a lot of issues with me," he said. "But it was a productive conversation, I think." He sighed. "I've been busy since we talked, doctor. I think you understand that this conversation was important from Jim's point of view, but it didn't really give me any new information. Based on what you told me, Jim's dorm officer was recalled from leave this morning, and I spent most of the day in conversation with him and in meetings with my staff about this incident. Finnegan's been very cooperative." At Leonard's raised eyebrow, he added, "I can imagine what you think of him, after what Jim's told you, but the kid's family has been in Starfleet service for three generations. He understands duty."

"I've met him," Leonard said. "I don't much care for his concept of duty. He's an overgrown bully who abuses his position."

"No argument, doctor. He should never have been in a position of command, and I intend to see that he won't stay there. But at this point, I have no evidence that he was involved in this particular incident."

"Are you sure—"

"He claims he left Academy grounds yesterday afternoon, and he went straight to his parents' home in the city. I've known his father for years, and I talked to him. He says that his son was with him at a family dinner all evening and didn't go out." Pike shrugged. "I don't believe that he's lying."

"So you're at a dead end," Leonard said.

"No, doctor. I've begun an investigation and I will find out who was responsible."

"I hope so. Jim needs to see that."

Pike nodded. "I'll be dealing with this all week. I'll need to speak individually with each cadet in that dorm. There's been a complete breakdown of… Well," he sighed, "we'll need to do a major reorganization."

"I guess your leave is over, then."

"I'm the Commander of Cadets, doctor." He laughed. "I don't get leave."


25.

Jim showed up at Leonard's apartment the night before the two-week leave ended. He was smiling and carrying a bottle of Johnnie Walker. "Let's celebrate," he said.

He looked more relaxed and self-assured than Leonard had seen him in months. In fact, he realized, it was the first time since the shuttle ride that he'd seen Jim in civilian clothes. Instead of the unflattering red uniform, he was wearing a pair of close-fitting black pants and a navy blue shirt with an open collar.

"I was beginning to think you didn't have a neck, kid," Leonard teased, pointing to Jim's throat. All Academy uniforms had the same uncomfortably high-necked, tight collar. He walked into the kitchen for some glasses.

"Finally did some shopping, bought some real clothes," he heard Jim say. Leonard opened the whiskey and poured two drinks. Emerging from the kitchen with the bottle and the glasses, he handed one to Jim and placed the other on his desk next to the bottle. 

"And you know why the Academy uniforms all have those high collars, don't you?" Jim asked, flopping down on Leonard's couch.

"I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"It's political," he said. "A concession to the Vulcans. They consider the base of the throat an erogenous zone."

"I thought there were no Vulcans in Starfleet."

"There are a few. And Vulcan's an important Federation ally."

"You're so full of shit, Jim." Leonard rolled his eyes, settling into the desk chair. "No one's even sure if the Vulcans have erogenous zones, much less where they are." Jim started to laugh. "Whatever the Vulcans think about sex, they're not telling, and you sure as hell don't know."

 "You're right, I just made that up," he admitted. "My alternate theory is that the uniform designers are tight-assed dicks."

"Well, that might be true," Leonard said, fixing him with a stern glance, "but there's actually an important reason. The front panel of the uniform hides a biosensor. It provides constant readings of vital signs, respiration, heart rate, and so on, so Starfleet Medical can monitor cadets' stress levels."

"Wait. You mean there are doctors keeping tabs on me all the time?" Jim's eyes went wide with shock.

"No, you gullible idiot," he laughed. "Of course not. I just made that up. Do you think doctors have nothing better to do than listen to you breathe?"

"Fuck you," Jim retorted, "I was imagining a roomful of nurses sitting around, monitoring my vitals the next time I get it on with that Orion girl."

Leonard shook his head. "No wonder you can't get laid. You're supposed to take the uniform off, dumbass." 

Jim snorted. "No complaints so far, old man. Uniforms are a turn-on."

"Keep it on, then, if it's getting you results." Leonard swatted at Jim's feet, which were propped up on the couch. "And take your boots off my furniture."

"They're not muddy," Jim protested, but he sat up long enough to yank them off. "There, satisfied?" he grumbled. "So…got anything to eat?"

It was good to see Jim back to his old confidence, Leonard thought, smiling to himself as he went back to the kitchen for a bowl of crackers. By the time he came back, Jim had commandeered his PADD, as usual, and was flipping through journal articles. He was lying on his side and his shirt had ridden up slightly. Leonard passed him the bowl, his gaze inadvertently skimming over the exposed skin of his abdomen.

It wasn't the first time he'd seen Jim as attractive. Watching him at the soccer match, and again at the shooting range, he'd…noticed. But treating Jim as a patient had pushed all such thoughts out of his mind. Jim had been either fully or partially unclothed during his entire stay at the hospital, but there was nothing even faintly erotic in that setting. Leonard's mind hadn't even processed what he was seeing as having a sexual connotation; he focused his attention on the injury and its treatment.

But here in his apartment, seeing that small strip of skin just above Jim's trim waist, strikingly pale in comparison to the dark fabric of his shirt, his pulse quickened and he felt a stirring in his groin. He could see Jim's stomach muscles flex as he turned onto his back, bracing the PADD on his bent knees. A hint of golden hair travelled down his belly in a straight line, disappearing into his waistband.

Get a grip, Len, Jocelyn's voice taunted him. You haven't gotten laid in a while yourself, uniform or not.

Having a bitch of an ex-wife in your head worked as well as ice water, he thought.

Scowling, he sat down in one of the chairs next to his desk. He took a long sip of the whiskey, filling his mouth with the smooth liquid and letting it roll over his tongue. "So what are we celebrating, kid?"

"I just had a talk with Captain Pike," Jim said, sitting up and tossing the PADD onto the floor carelessly. "You won't—"

"Goddammit, Jim, don't you have any respect for my things?" he snapped, retrieving the thin, rectangular device from under the bed where it had bounced and skidded.

"Sorry, but you won't believe this, Bones," Jim said cheerfully, ignoring Leonard's glare.  "Finnegan's not a dorm officer anymore. He's been taken out of command track and transferred to security." He chuckled. "Those bad-asses are in for a real treat."

Good for you, Captain. "Well, I'll drink to that. Serves him right. That's good news, kid."

Jim looked exuberant. "That's not all. He was supposed to graduate this year but…" he paused dramatically, "he's been busted back a year because of all the extra training he'll have to do."

Leonard's smile faltered. "A whole year?"

"He's got a lot of catching up to do, I guess," Jim laughed. "Hand to hand, personal protection, counter sabotage, small arms, all that." He caught sight of Leonard's frown. "What's the matter?"

In Leonard's view, advanced training in close fighting was the last thing a bully with a grudge needed. After a humiliating demotion and transfer, Finnegan's resentment of Jim might morph into something even more dangerous. The move probably solved Pike's political problems—Leonard understood, from what both Jim and Pike had told him, that Finnegan had important family connections and perhaps couldn't easily be discharged—but it spelled bad news for Jim.

"I'd rather see him graduate as soon as possible," Leonard said simply, pouring himself another drink. "Out of sight, out of mind, you know. A year's a long time to keep him around…"

"Don't worry," Jim scoffed. "He's gone, Bones. And listen to this: Pike's breaking up all four of the plebe dorms. He sent out a message to all the first-years that he discovered an 'unhealthy atmosphere' in my dorm that misrepresented Starfleet values. Everyone's getting new room assignments. I'm moving to a different dorm tomorrow."

Now that was smart, he thought with approval. With all confusion involved in the room changes, Jim wouldn't be singled out for blame and, hopefully, the other cadets would never know about the attack. "Well, that should give you a fresh start," he said. "Who'd you get as your new roommates?"

"Just one this time," Jim said with smug satisfaction. "I'm in a double. Some guy named Gary Mitchell."

The name meant nothing to Leonard. "And what about the investigation?"  

Jim's ebullience faded. "Nothing yet. Finnegan's got an alibi so Pike knows he wasn't there. No one's admitted anything yet."

Dammit. "So they're still around," Leonard said. "And you don't know who they are."

Jim shrugged. "I don't give a shit. It's over, and Finnegan can't touch me."

"But the cadets who attacked you—"

"Screw 'em," he said, lifting his glass in a mock toast. "Doesn't matter, I'm not leaving. Let them choke on that."

"And that's it?" Leonard asked incredulously. "You're just putting it behind you?" 

Jim stared into his glass, sloshing the liquid and watching it swirl around in the glass. "I'm not wasting my energy thinking about it anymore. It's enough that they ruined my leave. They're not getting the next semester too."

"Bluff and bravado, kid," he said, not without sympathy. "I don't buy that. You need to know that they're gone. And more importantly," he added angrily, "those savages need to be out of Starfleet."

Jim was silent for a long moment, sipping his whiskey slowly, blue eyes gleaming in the muted light of the room.

"I don't brood," he said finally. "I get through things and I move on."

Sure you do, he thought. As long as no one rattles the skeletons in your closet. "Well, that's a healthy attitude, I guess. If you can really do it."

Jim's smile was bitter. "I've had a lot of practice. I was born with a grudge against Starfleet, Bones. My mother never got over what happened to my dad. And the media vultures never left her in peace. Or me." He ran a hand through his hair, looking suddenly worn out. "You know what it's like to be famous for something you can't even remember?"

Leonard shook his head. "I can't imagine."

"Everyone watches you. Treats you differently, whether they want to or not." He grimaced. "People get this look in their eyes when they realize who I am…"

"They're just curious." But it was more than that, Leonard reflected. Out of nowhere, Jim's tragic family history would come back to him with a jolt and change the dynamic of their conversation. The Kelvin baby.

"Ever hear of Harry Potter, Bones?"

"No. Is he in your dorm?"

Jim chuckled. "You should really broaden your horizons. Too many medical journals. No, you ignoramus, he's a fictional character from a really old children's book. A series of books, actually. I guess you never read them."

"Never could get into old literature. I had to read Huckleberry Finn for school and I hated it."

"Well, I probably dropped out before they could make me read that one," he grinned. "But I read the Harry Potter books when I was a kid. Harry was a lot like me, I used to think. He was famous for something he did as a baby. His parents were killed but he escaped, and everybody knew his name and his story."

Leonard nodded in understanding. "Sounds familiar."

Jim smiled. "For a while there, I was really jealous of Harry."

"Why?"

"Harry finds out that he's actually a wizard. He goes away to a special school where he learns how to do magic and has lots of adventures. Fights the evil wizard that tried to kill him when he was a baby, and wins." Jim sighed. "So I spent a lot of time daydreaming of how I was going to get away and fight the Romulans. Then I'd be famous for something I actually did."

Leonard took a long sip of his whiskey, letting it warm his throat. "Well, now you're in Starfleet, kid. Maybe you'll have your opportunity."

Jim laughed. "That's not really why I enlisted. But back then, I just wanted to get away, go somewhere no one would know me."

"Makes sense." The irony wasn't lost on him: Jim had been desperate to get out of Riverside, seeking a place where he could be anonymous…and safe.

"My brother did it. Got away, I mean."

"What?" Leonard blinked. "You have a brother?"

"Haven't seen him in years…" Jim said, his voice rough and low. "He took off when I was eleven. He was sixteen."

"And you haven't seen him since?" Leonard digested this information, adding it to the sparse details he now knew of Jim's life in the year or so before he was packed off to Tarsus. I was kind of out of control as a kid, Jim had said. He wondered if that was before or after his brother had left.

"No. He never came back. I don't know where he is." Jim looked away, eyes glinting in the low light. In the awkward silence, Leonard grabbed the bottle and refilled Jim's glass. Jim took a long swallow, wincing as the burn of the drink hit his throat. "I was pretty mad at him," he finally said. "I kept wondering why he left and worrying about where he was. But after a while, I just…put him out of my mind."

Tarsus. "Guess you had other things going on," he blurted, then regretted it instantly when Jim gave him a strange look.

"Maybe. It was just easier not to think about him." He blew out a heavy breath. "So I let go. I moved on."

Leonard raised an eyebrow. Whatever Jim might think, refusing to acknowledge his anger and bottling everything up wasn't healthy. "This is different. You can't close your eyes and hope this goes away, jackass."

"Why should I worry all day about Finnegan and those fucking cowards?" he asked, an edge of stubbornness in his voice. "They're out of my life."

"It's clear you're not from the South, kid," Leonard said, allowing a slight drawl to creep into his voice. "We invented grudges. Ever hear of the great Hatfield-McCoy feud?" Jim shook his head. "Look it up. We're not good at forgiving and forgetting."

"I didn't say forgive and forget. I said put it out of your mind. Focus on something else."

Unbelievable. He wanted to shake Jim, make him face reality. "I'm a doctor, not an ostrich."

Jim regarded him pensively, as if he were trying to figure something out. "Maybe you should give my way a try, Bones," he said. "It might help you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he snapped.

"Your ex," Jim said bluntly. "The way you go on about her, you'd think she was evil incarnate."

He downed the remnants of his drink and pushed his chair back, twirling the stem of his glass irritably in his fingers. He had no intention of letting Jim turn the conversation into an advice session for him. "You don't know her. Believe me, she's in a class by herself."

"Come on, Bones, I think you just love blowing things out of proportion. The first thing you said when we met was that 'all I've got left is my bones' crap. You exaggerate and then you believe your own words."

"It's a tried and true Southern recipe," he laughed, covering the sting of Jim's words. "It helps remind me not to get into that situation again."

"People change, fall out of love. My mom got married and divorced. It's not the end of the world."

That was true enough. It hadn't been the divorce itself that had been so traumatic. It was admitting the failure, acknowledging that he wasn't the person he'd thought he was: a healer, a compassionate man. He'd discovered how ruthless and unforgiving he could be, as his marriage had devolved into an endless volley of vicious words and hurtful actions.

"Look, Jim," he said, voice tight, "It's none of your business, and I don’t want to talk about it." He reached a third time for the bottle, feeling the whiskey working on him, loosening his tongue and firing up his nerves.

"Then don't talk." Jim sat up straighter on the couch, his expression animated and sincere as he continued, ”You need to start going out, meet some people. Loosen up."

"Oh, you're a great one to give advice," he said scathingly. "All you're looking for is a hot lay, a one-night stand."

"What's wrong with that?" Jim asked. "I don't set conditions in advance. If it only leads to a night of fun, that's still better than spending the night alone."

He shook his head. "I'm not 22 anymore, Jim. I'm not interested in waking up with a different face every morning."

"That's not what I meant…"

Leonard stood up abruptly, grabbing his glass. "Listen," he flared, "my divorce was an earthquake. Can you get that? It destroyed my home, wiped out my savings, and ruined my practice." He took two steps forward in the small room, wishing there was more room to move, then sat down heavily on the bed. "Jocelyn accused me of everything she could think of and then some. I swear, I spent more time with the goddam lawyers than I did with my patients."

"So now you think you have to protect yourself. Because of the aftershocks, right?"

"Something like that." Leonard took a deep breath, trying to control his reactions and rein the conversation in.

"We're in fucking San Francisco, Bones. There are earthquake warnings all the time, but there hasn't been a major quake here for two hundred years. There may never be another one," he said pointedly.

"It's just a metaphor, you moron. You must have missed that class, too." Jim reddened, and Leonard felt a perverse satisfaction that his barb had hit the mark. "Make your point, if you've got one."

Jim walked over to the desk and slammed his glass down, scattering droplets of golden liquid over Leonard's desk. He grabbed the chair that Leonard had vacated, flipped it around so that it faced the bed, and sprawled into it. Their knees were almost touching. The move felt aggressive, as if Jim was deliberately crowding  Leonard's personal space.

"So you got dragged through the ringer by your ex, okay? But it's over. You're here now. A new life, new people to love..."

Anger made it hard for him to think of a snappy comeback. "Look, Jim, just drop it, okay?"

"Don't let her control you," Jim insisted. "Lighten up."

His hands itched to reach out and give Jim a shove. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you!" he snarled, his rage spilling over again despite his intentions. "I didn't see you offering to kiss and make up with Captain Pike the other day."

Jim stiffened and leaned back. "That's not the same," he said. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"I know more than you think." He knew he should ease up, but couldn't stop himself, wanting to pick at Jim's wounds the same way Jim had just done to him. "You think I don't know that you're holding onto some deep, dark secret, Jim? You think I didn't hear your hints about criminals and victims and who should get punished?" Once the words were out of his mouth the room felt too warm, stifling and charged.

Jim gaped at him. "I—"

"You're all wrapped up in knots with blame and guilt, and you want to give me advice about moving on?"

"Shut up," he said quietly.

Leonard looked at him, grimly satisfied. "Then don't try to tell me what to do," he said, his words sharp and crisp. "I'll move on in my own time."

"Fuck you," Jim whispered, then leaned forward suddenly and kissed him.

Caught off guard, Leonard was too startled to react immediately. Jim's hands gripped his hair and pulled him closer. He shivered as he felt Jim's hot breath on his face. He felt his tongue, forceful and intimate, pressing into his mouth, which opened reflexively.

Mind blanking, he was overwhelmed by a whirl of conflicting emotions: anger at Jim's hypocrisy and resentment of his probing into his personal life, guilt at the thought of becoming involved with someone who was technically his patient, heart-thumping excitement at the idea of being swept up in his desire for Jim, and…a sudden wave of panic.

He put his hands on Jim's shoulders and pushed him back, holding him at an arm's length. "No, Jim." He took a deep, shaky breath.

Jim looked confused and hurt. "Why not?"

Yes, Len, why not? Jocelyn's voice mocked.

"I'm not…I wasn't expecting that," Leonard said. He couldn't meet Jim's eyes. His face felt flushed and heated.

You always were one step behind.

Shut up, Joss, he thought.

But she was right. He should have seen this coming, realized that the emotional backlash of the attack and the intimacy of Jim's subsequent dependence on him would have led to something like this. He was Jim's doctor.

Damn. No. He couldn't lie to himself like that. Jim wouldn't have made a move if he hadn't sensed some kind of vulnerability in Leonard, a hint of mutual desire that he must have been projecting. He'd been caught up in the heat of their argument, so focused on his own issues that he'd completely missed Jim's signals.

"I'm sorry," he said, unsure what he was apologizing for.

"It's not a matter of life and death, Bones." Jim shrugged, moving his chair back. "You're kind of hot when you're angry, that's all."

"I'm not ready for this." Leonard stood up, trying to gather his thoughts, to think of some witty remark he could make that would cut through the tension.

"It's fine. You don't have to explain." Jim flashed him a rueful smile. "I was just looking for a fun time. I can look somewhere else, no big deal."

"You've had too much to drink and so have I." But Jim hadn't drunk that much. He was the one who'd had too many refills.

"Whatever. It's late," Jim said. "Got a lot to do tomorrow, switching dorms and all." Leonard watched helplessly as Jim grabbed his boots, shoved his feet into them with a quick jerk, and stood.

"Wait a minute…" he said, feeling that he should be doing or saying something to repair the situation, but at a total loss for words.

"Good luck this semester, Bones. I'll see you around," Jim said, waving his hand casually as he walked out the door without so much as a backward glance.

"Jim," Leonard called after him, but without conviction. He knew Jim wouldn't come back, and even if he did, what would Leonard say?

"It's okay," Jim's voice floated back to him from the hallway, before the door whooshed shut.

But it wasn't.



26.

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl


Tried to contact you a few times before I went out on this damn training cruise, but guess you were too busy to answer your comm or get back to me, jackass. I've been here three days. I've given 237 vaccinations and treated a broken wrist. Gave a lecture on shipboard hygiene and nutrition, which is a fucking joke. Replicators are down so we're eating space food. It's dry and it all tastes the same. It's soy-based, so the crew's getting constipated. You're allergic so I don't know what you'd eat. At least there's a real water shower in sickbay.

****

"Where's Dr. Boyce?" A young man was standing just inside the sickbay doors, holding his hands awkwardly in front of him, his face almost as red as his Engineering shirt. He was grimacing in pain.

Leonard came up to him hurriedly from the main desk, where he'd been reviewing the Mercury's medical logs. "I'm Dr. McCoy. What's the problem?"

"I want Boyce." The young man's eyes darted around the room uneasily. "Is he here? Or Cho?"

"Take it easy, ensign. I'm the physician on call," Leonard said. He peered at the man's hands, which were covered with raised blisters. "These are second-degree burns," Leonard informed him, pulling him over to the nearest bed. "What the hell were you doing?"

"I was cleaning one of the transporter coils," the ensign said, teeth clenched. "Can I get something for this first? It hurts like hell."

"In a minute." Leonard turned the ensign's hand over, careful not to touch the burned area, and frowned. "What were you cleaning them with?"

"We call it bug spray. It's a really strong metal cleaner."

"Bug spray?" Leonard asked incredulously. "Listen, ensign. I need to know what the hell it's made of so I can treat you properly."

"Sulfuric acid, I think..."

"Goddam it," Leonard said, glaring at him in disbelief. "This should have been irrigated immediately when it happened." He called a nurse to set up a water lavage, noting that Dr. Boyce, the Mercury's CMO, had emerged from his office and was leaning against the wall, out of the ensign's line of sight, observing his treatment.

He turned his attention back to his patient, whose hands were immersed in the cold water bath. "Why didn't you run them under water right away?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "That's standard procedure."

"I showed them to Mr. Anders. The chief engineer," he explained, at Leonard's questioning look. "He told me to come here."

"Well, he should have known better, and so should you!" he rumbled. "These are chemical burns, you idiot! The first seconds are critical. If you'd gotten your hands to a wash station, you wouldn't have this level of blistering! And haven't you ever heard of safety gloves?"

"We don't put on gloves for a little spray job," the ensign said defensively. "Look, I know it's my fault. It was almost the end of my shift, and I was rushing a little. Should have been more careful."

"Oh, you were in a rush," Leonard said caustically. "What was so damn important that it couldn't wait for you to slip on a pair of gloves? Is there something entertaining to do on this floating deathtrap that I'm not aware of?"

The ensign blushed. "I'm supposed to be meeting somebody."

"Figures," Leonard said, shaking his head. "And what were your plans for your hot date?"

"Uh, observation deck, you know…" He gave him a meaningful glance and let his voice trail off suggestively.

"How fucking original," Leonard said, rolling his eyes. "Better cancel your date, or tell your partner to come hold your hand in sickbay. You're not going anywhere for a while."

"Dr. McCoy," Boyce called, "can I have a word with you?"

Leonard looked back at Boyce and sighed. It wasn't the first time Boyce had interrupted his treatment of a patient in order to question his decisions or provide unsolicited advice. Philip Boyce was a general internist by training, with a subspecialty in cardiology, and a master diagnostician, from what Leonard had heard. He was in his late 50s, with a fatherly, gentle manner, and, to Leonard's consternation, took his role as Leonard's mentor seriously.

Boyce spoke to him in a low voice. "Do you really think that this is the time to berate your patient for not following safety protocols?"

"He's not dying," Leonard protested. "He just burned his fingers. And his injuries could have been prevented, or at least lessened, if he'd done what he was supposed to do. He should have—"

Boyce cut him off. "I'm not arguing with that," he said, eyeing the young ensign, who was hissing through his teeth and shifting uncomfortably as the water ran over his hands. "I'm just questioning your timing. By all means, chew him out later. But right now, your patient is scared and in pain. "

"Look, I don't fuss over my patients," Leonard told him. "An accident like this could cause the loss of nerve function. This kid—"

"He has a name, McCoy. Do you even know what it is?" Leonard scowled in response. Boyce nodded, as if his point had been made. He leveled a steely gaze at him. "Working on a ship is different than working in an ER. A supportive bedside manner is crucial. You'll be living with the same group of people for years, and it's important that they feel they can trust you."

"They'll trust me if they see that I'm competent," Leonard retorted. "And that kid needs to understand that what he did was stupid."

Boyce gave him a sharp look. "I don't approve of your attitude, McCoy. Try to remember that the crew is like one big family. The way you interact with your patients can be critical to their recovery."

"In my family," Leonard said, blowing out a frustrated breath, "my mama locked the dangerous cleaning fluids away from our reach until we were old enough and smart enough to handle them responsibly."

"That's an interesting suggestion," Boyce said calmly, unimpressed by Leonard's apparent antagonism. "Why don't you take it up with the chief engineer?"

Leonard hoped he was joking.

****

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl


I don't expect a reply yet because subspace messages from here take two days, so I'll assume you got my earlier one. Take a minute to write, because I'm bored out of my mind. Been doing nothing but tedious, routine work. Had a long chat with the chief engineer about safety protocols, which he seems to think are meant for sissies. Set him straight but I don't feel challenged. I'm a trauma surgeon and there's no trauma here, no surgery either, just a lot of arrogance and foolishness and overeager accident-prone ensigns. Everybody's bursting with health. I'm getting ready to [word limit]

****

"How many of you have had emergency response training?" Only two out of the thirty assembled crewmembers raised their hands, and Leonard suppressed a groan. "That's okay," he said. "We'll start with basic CPR and first aid techniques."

"I don't see why I need to know any of that," objected an older woman in the back row. "I'm a botanist. My job during alerts is to secure the hydroponics lab and maintain environmental controls."

"This seminar is specifically meant for you scientists," Leonard said. "I don't really expect you to have any prior training, but you can learn the basics. Now, I want you to break up into pairs—"

"I'm a chemist," a man piped up. "Medicine isn't my specialty. I don't think I'm the one who should be treating injured people in an emergency."

"I'm not asking for your opinion in the matter," Leonard responded, trying to be patient. "I know this is a little different than what you normally do, but—"

"Try Security," a woman suggested from the front row. "Maybe you should do the seminar with them. They're the ones that need to know about disaster response. I'm supposed to maintain the backup weapons console."

"That's enough!" Leonard said, looking at them coldly. "Let me ask you all something. If your crewmate's dying in front of you, don't you think you should know what to do?"

"I know what to do," the chemist said. "Call medical."

"What if communications are down? What if the lift's not working? Are you going to wait around for a doctor while your colleague bleeds out or stops breathing or has a seizure?" He noted with satisfaction that his audience was looking at him with a dazed sort of attention. "If someone's dying in front of you then it damn well is your job to keep him living till we get there!"

This is fucking ironic, he thought. He could hear himself arguing with Jim before his navigation practical: "I'm not going to be part of a flight team. I'm a doctor."

"You don't know where you'll be," Jim had told him, unmoved. "You might need those skills sometime."

Leonard sighed. "I’m a doctor, but I'm also a trained navigator now, because you never know what's going to happen out here. Space is dangerous and unpredictable. So I don't care what your specialty is, you're all going to know how to save a life."  He glared at the people in front of him, who had gone suddenly quiet. "Now break up into pairs."

****

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl  


Sorry my message got cut off. Damned hundred-word limit for subspace texts. Still haven't heard from you. Did you get my first two messages? Stop being a chickenshit asshole, Jim. We're friends, okay? Maybe I over-reacted a little. Just wasn't prepared. We can talk about it when I get back. Anyway, we're making a supply run near  [Starfleet censor]

****

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl


Shit. Fucking autocensor cut me off yesterday. Jim, if you're getting these messages and ignoring them, you're more immature than I thought, and that's saying something. And don't give me any crap about being too busy with your courses, because I know you're not doing that stupid IPT anymore, and you remember every goddam thing you've ever read. Come on, kid, there's nobody to talk to out here except my CMO, who thinks medicine's all about patting the patient on the head and giving him a lollipop. Spent the whole day doing physicals. Thirty fucking rectal exams and prostate checks.

****

Caught up in his own morose thoughts, he was a sitting duck for Boyce, who cornered him at the end of his next shift. "I've noticed that you've avoided becoming involved in the ship's social activities," Boyce told him. "I'm sure you're aware that one of the areas I'll be rating you on is integration in shipboard life."

Who gives a shit, he thought, but arranged his features into an approximation of a pleasant smile. "I'm aware of that, sir. I'll keep it in mind."

"But that's not the point, really," Boyce continued. "It's better for morale when the crew can see the ship's doctor in an informal setting. They'll come to know you and feel more comfortable with you."

Leonard suppressed the sarcastic retort that was on the tip of his tongue. "I can treat them just fine without singing in the ship's choir with them."

Boyce laughed. "You don't have to sing. I do, but there are plenty of other activities. We have Games Night once a week…"

Leonard snorted. "Thanks anyway, but I don't play games."

"Watch vids?" Leonard shook his head. "Like to learn new languages? We have an Orion class for beginners."

"No, sir," he said flatly.

He hoped Boyce would see his lack of cooperation for what it was—an expression of resentment and indifference—and leave him alone, but Boyce was relentless. "At the very least, you should schedule a daily workout time in the gym."

Leonard sighed. "Between the lectures, seminars, and sick calls you've assigned me, I barely have enough time to sleep. But you're right, I'll try to work that in."

"I don't think you're getting my point, McCoy."

Leonard's comm beeped. "Excuse me," he said to Boyce, grateful for the momentary diversion. He glanced down at the comm, eyes widening in pleasure as he saw that Jim had written him back, finally. But the message was curt.


To:       lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl

From:  jtkirk@sfa.edu.subsp.acad


Read this, if you're so damn bored. JTK.


Leonard clicked on the attached material. It was a large text folder. The collected works of J.K. Rowling. He stared at the seven subfiles, each apparently containing a different Harry Potter adventure.

A peace offering? he wondered. Or just a way to avoid a real response?

Boyce cleared his throat, startling him out of his reverie.

"Uh, sorry, sir," Leonard said finally, looking up. "The thing is, I really like to read. I brought some novels with me. But I don't mind reading them in the crew lounge…if you think that would help."

Boyce nodded and clapped him on the shoulder. "That's the right attitude. I'll make a CMO of you yet."

Like hell you will, he thought.

****

"We're going to be late, Harry," he was saying nervously. "I don't think we should be here." They were in the Forbidden Forest, and it was dark and cold. He shivered.

"This is the way." Harry looked at him encouragingly, his eyes a brilliant blue and his smile dazzling. "I've been here before."

An odd wailing noise reached his ears. It became a horrifying screech, louder and louder. He couldn't think, couldn't do anything but clap his hands to his ears. "Use your wand, Harry! Quick!"

"I can't!" Harry told him, looking with horror at the wand, which had cracked into two separate, useless sticks. "It's broken. You need to do something!"

The screeching was coming closer. It came louder and louder in his ears.


Leonard woke with a gasp. The screech resolved into the repetitive, rising tones of a shipwide yellow alert. He cursed, kicking out of his twisted sheets, and leapt out of bed.

It's only a drill, he told himself as he shrugged into his clothes and raced into the corridor. This is a training cruiser, not a battleship. The hallway was filled with rushing crewmembers, roused out of sleep like himself, heading for their designated emergency posts.

Sickbay was chaotic, and he quickly realized that milk run or not, something disastrous had gone down. All six of the available beds were occupied by crewmen, some of whom were moaning with pain. His practiced eye took in the broken limbs, the bleeding open wounds and abrasions: impact injuries, clearly. The doors opened behind him, and he turned to see three more crewmen brought in on stretchers; two appeared to be unconscious. Nurses and orderlies were shouting to each other, and one of the patients was crying hysterically, trying to rise from the bed while a med tech spoke softly to her.

"What the hell happened?" he roared, trying to make himself heard over the noise.

"Shuttle crash," one of the orderlies informed him succinctly.

"Where's Dr. Boyce? And Dr. Cho?"

One of the nurses grabbed his arm. "Boyce is in surgery, and Cho is right there," she said, pointing to a woman lying unconscious on one of the biobeds. "You're it, Dr. McCoy."

"Yeah, I get that," he said, feeling the hot rush of adrenaline coursing through him. "Have these patients been triaged?" he asked, moving toward the nearest bed.

"Not yet," the nurse told him. "McCallaugh was brought in first, and he was in cardiac arrest, so Dr. Boyce had to operate immediately."

Amateur, he thought furiously. Should have waited to see the full picture, and briefed his team.

He put those thoughts out of his mind almost immediately; he didn't have time now to deal with Boyce's managerial failings. "All right. Let's set treatment priorities," he ordered. "Tell me which patients need to be stabilized. Get me vital stats on all of them. We'll treat on an urgency basis. The rest can wait." He was gratified to see the nurses responding efficiently and professionally, and the initial chaos gradually settled into a semblance of order.

By the time Boyce came out of the O.R. an hour later, the panicky atmosphere had disappeared. Everyone had been assessed and stabilized. The next two surgical patients were being prepped, and the others were being monitored carefully or had begun initial treatment.


"Nice work, McCoy," Boyce told him much later, lifting his whiskey glass in a gesture of appreciation. They were in the CMO's office, having finally finished the last of the casualty reports.

Leonard gave a small grunt in acknowledgement and took a sip of his own drink, enjoying the feel of the whiskey warming his throat. "Well, this is what I know," he said, the drink and the exhaustion bringing out a hint of his Georgia drawl. "I'm a trauma surgeon. I spent years managing the ER in a hospital in Atlanta."

"Maybe so," Boyce agreed. "But you've just had your first taste as the CMO of a starship, doctor. Congratulations."

****

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl


Know what, Jim? I kind of look forward to filing these messages, even if I never hear from you. I like the intellectual challenge of writing exactly 100 words. Fills up my free time. Thanks for the Harry Potter books, by the way. You two do have a lot in common. You both act like enraged adolescents with a martyr complex. Anyway, I'm not feeling bored anymore. Away team had some nasty action. CMO finally admitted I'm not a total incompetent and that I have a few things to teach him, too. No lollipops but everybody survived. Hope you're well.

****

To:       lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl

From:  jtkirk@sfa.edu.subsp.acad


Fuck you. You're the asshole, not me. You obviously didn't try very hard to talk to me before you left, didn't even leave a message saying you were leaving. Next thing I know you're throwing subspace darts at me. I know shipboard food sucks. Go to Botany and steal some fresh fruit. Or try a lollipop. Sent you some reading material a few days ago. Your CMO's right about your nonexistent bedside manner. Take it easy with the lubed finger back there, and since you ask, let me tell you that you wield a hypo like a concealed weapon. JTK.

****

To:       jtkirk@sfa.edu

From:  lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl


Glad to hear you're not dead.

****

To:       lhmccoy@ncc1425.subsp.stfl

From:  jtkirk@sfa.edu.subsp.acad 


Sounds like you were awesome up there. Call me when you get back. JTK.


27.

The bar was crowded and dark. The mingled odors of liquor, perfume, and sweat assaulted Leonard's nose. He pushed forward slowly, scanning the crowd for Jim, not hurrying.

Jim had seemed friendly enough when Leonard had commed him, sounding excited and relieved to hear from him. But the conversation had been short, as Jim had said that his class was about to start. "Basic Federation languages," he'd explained cheerfully. "Andorian. Tellarite. Vulcan."

"Sounds useful."

"You can say that again. By the end of the course I'll be able to ask for directions, conduct trade negotiations, and turn down sexual propositions in three languages."

"Make that two, dumbass. I don't think you need to worry about a Vulcan girl hitting on you."

"You never know… Anyway, can't be late. The teaching assistant will slice off my balls with her fingernails. She's out for my blood."

Leonard had laughed, even as he wondered if Jim were just trying to avoid talking to him. "You seem to have that effect on everyone you meet here."

"We actually met the night before I enlisted. I tried to buy her a drink and she turned me down." He sounded embarrassed.

"Story of your life," Leonard said, and then did a double take. "Wait, you mean she's the one from the bar in Riverside? The face that launched the Cupcake saga?"

"Yeah," Jim sighed, "she wasn't too impressed with me then, and she's still not. She's waiting for me to screw up, but languages are easy for me. I'm the best in the class and it's driving her crazy."

"Guess you'd better get going, then," Leonard said lightly, hoping Jim couldn't sense his disappointment. "Talk to you later."

"No, wait!" Jim said quickly. "Look, meet me in The Weary Traveler Friday night. I'll be there around ten. First leave of the semester."

A bar seemed as good a place as any to have the conversation they needed to have. "My shift at the hospital ends at eleven," he said. "I'll come over afterwards."


Leonard made his way through the groups of rowdy cadets, feeling ridiculously apprehensive. Jim's idea of meeting at the popular off-campus bar had seemed innocuous enough when he'd suggested it, but it occurred to Leonard now that Jim might have chosen a very public venue as a not-so-subtle counterpoint to their awkward, intimate conversation in his apartment.

He'll pretend it never happened, he realized with sudden relief. Maybe that's for the best.

"Bones!" he heard Jim shout from one of the side booths. He turned to see Jim beckoning him over, his face split in a wide grin. "You made it!"

Leonard slid into the seat beside Jim, flinching  instinctively as Jim pummeled his back in a welcoming slap. "Shift went overtime a little," he said by way of apology. "Couldn't get away until now."

It wasn't until he'd settled himself in the seat that he noticed the dark-haired cadet who was sitting across from Jim, looking Leonard over thoughtfully. "Get the man a drink, Jim," he said, a slow smile spreading over his face. "I think he'd like…"

"…Johnnie Walker," Jim finished for him smoothly. "Or a beer."

"Wait, don't say anything yet," the cadet told Leonard quickly, stopping the reply he'd been about to utter. He looked searchingly at Leonard for a few seconds, his deep-set eyes dark and piercing, and then nodded to himself. "Woodford Reserve," he said. "He's a bourbon man, am I right?"

"Actually," Leonard admitted, "you're spot on. Whoever you are," he added pleasantly.

"How the hell did you know that?" Jim demanded. "This is Gary Mitchell, my new roommate," he said, for Leonard's benefit. "He does obnoxious parlor tricks."

"Only because it's a good intellectual exercise." The cadet leaned back with a broad smile, obviously pleased with himself. "He's a doctor, you told me. Everybody knows doctors don't drink beer, they go for the hard stuff. And he's got some kind of Southern accent, so it'll be Kentucky bourbon, not scotch. And Woodford…that was just a hunch."

"Very good, Sherlock Holmes," Jim said, looking annoyed. "Don't let it go to your head. You got mine wrong, remember."

"You just don't want to admit that I was right, blondie," Mitchell said smugly. "You wanted a Bud Classic. It doesn't count if you change your mind a minute later."

"Gary's on Intel track," Jim explained, and Leonard nodded. He didn't know anything about how cadets were recruited and trained for Intelligence—nobody did but the cadets and their instructors—but he assumed that they had to hone their observational and deductive reasoning skills.

"Thinks he's gonna be a hotshot spy," Jim continued, rolling his eyes as Gary grinned, "but he's gonna wash out, because he can't resist showing off at every fucking opportunity."

"Hey!" Gary protested. "I was just getting to know your friend."

"Leonard McCoy," he said, holding out his hand. Gary's grip was strong and warm.

"You'll blow your cover first chance you get, and you know it," Jim continued, sounding half-serious. Gary looked hurt. "You love the attention. You'll be invited to some diplomatic dinner and you'll go around the table telling everybody what their favorite food is."

"Some of us don't have your ability to memorize everything they've ever read," Gary said with a genial shrug. "You're a fucking genius. I'm just intuitive, and I can read people. I have to build on my talents."

"Bones just got back from his training cruise," Jim said, turning back to Leonard. "I want all the details."

"What about his drink?" Gary said pointedly. "Let him wet his throat first. Kid has no manners," he said conspiratorially to Leonard, shaking his head sadly.

Leonard couldn't help but smile at that. "Now, that is impressive," he agreed. "Your powers of observation really are extraordinary."

"I'm still here, you know," Jim growled, climbing past Leonard. "You should wait till I'm gone before you talk about me behind my back."

Leonard watched Jim disappear into the crowd near the bar. Jim seemed relaxed and in good spirits. He'd lost some of the constant tension that seemed to have plagued him over the past few months. He and Gary seemed comfortable with each other, if the mutual ribbing was any indication. It was, in fact, the first time since they'd started the Academy that he'd seen Jim in the company of a friend. The presence of another cadet wasn't entirely unwelcome, either, considering what had happened last time they'd been alone together.

"Good that you came," Gary said, interrupting his thoughts. "He talks about you a lot."

"Really?" Leonard asked, surprised. "I can't be that interesting… What has he told you?"

"Nothing much. Just that you're friends, and that you've been away on a training mission. He was pretty worried about you at one point," he said, and Leonard frowned. "Said you wrote him that there'd been some action on your ship but didn't give him any details. He spent two days trying to hack into classified databases, trying to figure out what happened. Worked half the night, too."

Leonard raised an eyebrow in surprise. Jim had obviously read between the lines of his cryptic message—Away team had some nasty action—although he hadn't really intended to worry him. "Did he get in?"

"Nope," Gary said cheerfully. "I told him it would never work, but you can see how much he listens to me. No, I think he got another message from you, and that calmed him down a bit."

Glad to hear you're not dead, Leonard had written. He felt a sudden stab of guilt, remembering how resentful and angry he'd been when he'd sent that one…unaware that Jim was frantically trying to find out what had happened on the Mercury.

"Anyway, he's a lot more fun than my old roommate," Gary said. "A science squirrel with absolutely no sense of humor. Wanted me to be quiet all the time so he could study." He sounded disgusted.

"Jim doesn't study?"

"Jim's a fucking sponge," he said enviously. "If he studies, I've never seen it." He cocked his head at Leonard, looking at him speculatively. "Jim never told me about his roommates from last semester. Just said they were assholes."

Leonard pursed his lips. "Then I guess they were."

"Did you know them?"

"No." He shook his head. Gary seemed to be very talkative, although that might be the effect of the drink; he and Jim had been at the bar for at least an hour before Leonard arrived. But there was an edge to Gary's tone, behind his smiles and easy manner, that Leonard didn't like.

"You know," Gary said in a confidential tone, "I wasn't too happy when they told me who my new roommate would be. The notorious Cadet James Kirk. People talk…"

Leonard scowled, eyes narrowing. "What do they say?"

"Well," Gary considered, "that depends. One way I heard it, he was a drunken farmboy who was going nowhere. Pike saw him in a bar near the Riverside shipyards and found out who he was, son of the Kelvin hero and all that. He took pity on him, got him accepted without an application. All the other cadets had to take tests, get references and a sponsor. You too, I guess." He looked at Leonard sheepishly. "I was put on a waiting list."

Leonard nodded but said nothing, although from what he knew, Gary's story about Jim was basically true. But even if he were not ethically bound by the rules of doctor-patient confidentiality, he wouldn't feel inclined to help Gary nose around in Jim's personal affairs. "So is that what happened?" Gary prompted. "Pike helped him out?"

Leonard gave him a sharp look. "Why don't you ask him?"

"I did," Gary laughed. "He told me, 'I took a different test.'"

Good one, Jim, he thought appreciatively. "Maybe he did."

Gary eyed him skeptically, sipping his beer. "There were some other rumors. Like, he fucked Pike to get in. Like they're still fucking and that's why his grades are so high."

Leonard glared at him, furious. "And you probably want me to confirm or deny that, right?"

"He says you're his friend," Gary said simply. "I'm just letting you know. I'm his roommate, so I know he's a genius and believe me, if he was fucking somebody, I'd know that too. But he does seem to attract the rumors."

He shrugged. "Probably comes with the territory when you've got a famous name. And Pike's just his academic advisor."

Gary didn't seem swayed. "I know. But Jim's a secretive guy. Doesn't like to talk about some things." His gaze was steady and unreadable.

Because they're none of your business. "So? That's his prerogative."

"Sure, you're right…"

"Right about what?" Jim asked, coming up from behind Leonard, plunking a rounded glass in front of him and slipping past him into his corner of the booth. 

"Right that you're a damn slow waiter, kid," Leonard told him, with a sigh of relief. Gary's probing questions and innuendos seemed to suggest an interest in Jim that went beyond an innocent friendship. Gary wanted information on him.

"The best things are worth waiting for," Jim said. "And you have expensive fucking taste, Bones. Next round's a beer."

"As long as it's not replicated," Leonard agreed.


Jim spent the better part of the next hour asking about the cruise and pressing him for details about the shuttle accident. His own first training cruise would not be for months. Gary, for the most part, was quiet, watching them with a penetrating gaze that made Leonard nervous. Gary followed their conversation with his eyes, looking from one to the other.

Like he's trying to figure something out.

Eventually, though, Gary seemed to lose interest and began scanning the bar, which was still crowded and noisy. He leaned across the table toward Jim, pointing to a pair of female cadets at a nearby table.

"See that red-haired one with the ponytail? The cute little one? She's been looking your way for a while," he told Jim.

Jim glanced up in the direction that Gary had indicated, a slow, sensuous smile on his lips. He gave the woman an appreciative nod, and then turned back to Leonard. "So did you learn to give out lollipops for–Hey!" He glared at Gary. "You kicked me."

"Come on, stud," he chuckled. "Time to get some action."

"Get it yourself," Jim retorted, with a touch of annoyance. "I'm talking to Bones."

"It's not me she's been staring at," Gary said. "Don't tell me you've lost interest in the sport." Gary was smiling, but there was an odd look in his eyes which Leonard didn't like. He wondered, for the first time, if Gary were jealous of his friendship with Jim.

Jim swallowed tightly. "I'm just not in the mood."

"You're too damn uptight, blondie. Go on, I dare you. See if she'll meet you somewhere. You need it."

Jim shot Gary a scathing look. "Why don't you let me decide when I need it."

Gary smirked. "I'm just looking out for your interests, since you don't seem to want to."

Jim looked questioningly at Leonard, as if he were asking if Leonard would mind. Leonard shrugged, irrationally irritated with Jim as well. If Jim wanted to make a move, he didn't need Leonard's permission. "Sounds like duty calls, Jim."

"That's exactly his problem," Gary agreed. "He thinks it's a chore." Leonard raised an eyebrow; from what he'd seen, Jim was an irrepressible flirt. Had something changed over the past month?

"Fuck you, Gary." Jim climbed out of the booth again, giving Gary's shoulder an angry shove as he slipped past Leonard.

Leonard watched as Jim approached the petite redhead, who smiled and patted an empty chair beside the table.

"Sometimes he needs a little push," Gary said.

"Looked more like a kick in the ass to me." Leonard said. For all his annoyance with Gary, he wondered at Jim's reluctance, which seemed out of character.

Gary gave an innocent shrug, swishing the beer that remained in his glass before tilting it up for a last swallow. "Come on, you're a doctor, you know a guy needs a little release."

"I guess you got your medical degree from the School of Intuition," he said drily. "Licensed to practice in every bar in the state."

"I'm just trying to help him relieve some stress."

"Very thoughtful of you," he said wearily. He was getting tired of Gary and his games. He checked the time; it was nearly one.

"Listen," Gary said, lowering his voice, "you're Jim's doctor, right? His primary physician, or whatever the Academy calls it?"

"That's right." He shook his buzzing head to clear it; Gary's tone was serious. "Why do you ask?" He wasn't in the mood for more nosy questions.

"So I guess you know all about his sleeping problems." Leonard looked at him, startled, then gave a noncommittal nod. If Jim had a sleep disorder, this was the first he'd heard of it. "And I was wondering… He always wakes me up, and I've tried different things, but they don't seem to work."

"What have you tried?" he asked carefully, not wanting to let on that he had no idea what Gary was talking about. It occurred to him that Gary might have goaded Jim into leaving their table, not out of some Machiavellian manipulation, but in order to talk to Leonard privately.

"I shake him or kick him to get him to quiet down. That usually works, but…Sometimes it just happens again, twice in one night." Gary looked apologetic. "Hey, I need my sleep too, you know."

Shit. "Nightmares? He has recurrent nightmares? Does he tell you what they're about?"

Gary looked uncomfortable, wetting his lips and looking off to the side. "We don't, uh, actually talk about them. I don't think he even remembers in the morning." He seemed genuinely concerned.

"Well," Leonard said, "if he has a nightmare, you should just wake him up. Reorient him, tell him he was dreaming. That should help." And I need to talk to him about this, he thought. Nightmares were a common post traumatic stress symptom. If his previous roommates hadn't complained about them, it was probably a recent phenomenon; given their animosity toward Jim, he assumed that they would have reported them if they'd been happening. It made sense that the nightmares had started following Jim's attack, including the drug-induced flashbacks and the confrontation with Pike.

And I pushed him away, he recalled, with a pang of guilt. He thought I rejected him, and then left without saying a word.

He looked back at Jim in time to see him whisper something in the redhead's ear as he got up from the table. She blushed and smiled, giving him a little wave with her fingertips and turning back to talk with her friend.

"That was fast," Gary said as Jim slid back into his seat. "I take it she said no?"

"For such a perceptive guy, you're pretty bad at reading signals." Jim was grinning. "She gave me her number. Maybe I'll give her a call."

"Maybe? Jim," Gary told him, "you are so fucking pathetic."

"Gary likes to criticize my technique," Jim told Leonard, "but he's not getting any, either."

"It's late," Leonard said, getting to his feet. "I'm going to head back."

"Wait," Jim said quickly. "I'll go with you."

"Jim!" Gary objected. "I just started another beer."

Jim sounded unconcerned. "So finish it. I'm sure you can find some company. I dare you, Gary," he said with a tight smile. "Try her friend."

"What the hell, Jim." Gary looked furious. "I gave you the perfect setup and you blow the girl off, and now you're rushing out to walk McCoy home?"

Jim's cheeks reddened. "Guess there are things you don't understand, after all." He turned to Leonard. "Let's go, Bones. Gary's had a little too much to drink."

"Not in the mood, huh?" Gary muttered. "From what I've seen, you haven't been able to get in the mood for a while."

Jim glared at him. "You're an asshole, Gary."

Gary looked back resentfully for a few seconds, then sighed. "So I've been told," he said. "Well, good to meet you, doc. Too bad we didn't have enough time to really talk. By the way…do you play poker?"

Leonard paused. "I've tried it once or twice," he said. No need to mention the weekly rounds he'd played back in med school, he thought.

Gary grinned. "Jim and I have a dorm game going on Thursday nights in our room. Maybe you'd like to come. Small stakes, good company, you know…"

And a way to keep an eye on you, he thought. "Sure, count me in."

"He's out," Jim said, sliding out of the booth after him. "You're not playing with us, Bones."

"Why the hell not?" Gary asked, exasperated.

"I know the game, Jim," Leonard said.

"Gary cheats."

"I do not!" At Jim's questioning glance, he amended, "I'm just good at reading people's faces, that's all. I know when to call a bluff."

"Save your money, Bones," Jim told him. "Don't play poker with Gary."

"Thanks a lot, blondie."

"Later, Gary."


They walked back toward the Academy gate. Jim's hands were shoved in his pockets and his shoulders were hunched against the cold.

Leonard felt ill at ease, now that they were finally alone. He finally spoke, more out of a need to fill the silence than from a desire to make conversation. "He's kind of weird, that Gary."

"That's putting it mildly." Jim's voice was tight. "Most of the time he's all right, but…he likes to pull people's strings, get them to do things they say they don't want to do. I've seen it before. He gets off on the control. It really pisses him off when somebody refuses."

"He's really curious about you, Jim. He was asking me all kinds of questions..."

"Gary doesn't like to be kept in the dark about anything." He laughed. "He really is perceptive about people. It's kind of weird. His hunches are pretty good, and he likes to find out that he was right. But I don't put up with his shit. I like to keep him guessing."

They walked on in silence.

He slowed as the path forked; Jim's new dorm, Glenn Hall, was to the right, and Leonard's apartment was further up on the left.

"Jim…" he began awkwardly.

"Let's go back to your place, Bones," Jim interrupted sharply, before he could continue. "I'm not tired, are you?" Without waiting for an answer, he reached out to Leonard's shoulder, giving him a gentle push. Leonard stumbled forward, then matched Jim's quick stride.

The silence which stretched between them again felt fraught with tension. Jim seemed lost in thought, and Leonard was unsure as to how or if he should broach the subject of what had happened between them.

Should he apologize? He'd reacted instinctively, and he'd been a little drunk. Surely Jim understood that by now, and for that matter, Jim had taken liberties he shouldn't have, had completely misread Leonard's signals.

Better to leave well enough alone. Just move on.

Jim, for his part, seemed to be treating him the same way he always had, as if the kiss had never happened. To be honest, Leonard felt more than a little remorse for leaving the way he did, without a word of farewell; Jim must have been hurt. But they were beyond that now, it seemed.

Leonard wasn't sure why that thought disappointed him.

Once inside Leonard's room, Jim flopped immediately down onto the couch, looking relaxed and comfortable. Leonard sat by the desk, realizing only afterwards that they'd unconsciously taken up the same positions where they'd been for that last conversation, before it fell apart.

"You look good, Jim," Leonard said, breaking the silence. "More rested. I'm glad you got out of that damn dorm."

Jim stretched languidly, then settled into the cushions. "Yeah, it's better now." He laughed. "Despite what you might think, Gary's actually kind of fun to be around."

"You two seem pretty close."

"Bones," Jim said quietly, "I saw Finnegan a few days ago. At the shooting range."

Leonard tensed, sitting forward. "Did he say anything to you?"

"He didn't need to," Jim said, giving a soft, bitter laugh. "The look he gave me was eloquent enough."

"Be careful, kid. Watch your back."

"Don't worry. Finnegan can't touch me, and the text messages have mostly stopped."

"Mostly?" Leonard yelped. "You've gotten more?"

"Only one," Jim said, waving his hand in apparent unconcern. "It's nothing, Bones. I expected it. They lost, Finnegan's out, and they still want to try to keep me on edge."

Shit. "What did it say?"

Jim sighed, took his comm out of his pocket, and tapped on the screen several times. He tossed the device to Leonard.

We're still here, the unsigned message read. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

Leonard swore, feeling the skin prickle on the back of his neck. "You should take this to Pike! He has to know, Jim."

Jim stared at him bleakly for a second, then looked away. "Come off it, Bones," he muttered, "this isn't even a threat."

"Goddammit, Jim!" Leonard exploded. "It's clearly related to the earlier messages." Leonard set the comm down on the desk with an angry movement. "For God's sake, they're still harassing you and they need to be stopped."

"No," Jim said firmly. "If I let this get to me, I'm just playing into their hands. They'll forget about me in a few weeks."

Leonard looked at him in disbelief. "I don't think so, kid."

"It's all right, Bones. Give me my comm." He held his hand out expectantly.

Leonard just stared at him in exasperation, shaking his head. Maybe he should contact Pike himself, he thought, if Jim's own sense of self-preservation wasn't strong enough to make him act.

Jim sighed, stood up, and walked over to Leonard, leaning past him to reach the device, which was lying on the far side of the desk. He placed a hand lightly on Leonard's shoulder for balance as he picked it up.

Leonard looked up at him, suddenly aware of how close Jim was. There was nothing casual about Jim's move, despite the expression of nonchalance on his face. Leonard had seen enough of Jim's physical grace and balance to know that if he was leaning on him, it was on purpose.

Leonard wasn't naïve. Jim was projecting an invitation without words, subtle enough so that Leonard could ignore it this time, if he wanted to.

His hesitation must have been a clear negative signal to Jim, who straightened slowly and backed away, lips parted in a small smile. "Don't worry, Bones," he said softly. "I can take care of myself." He sat back down again on the couch, leaning back with a rueful expression, blue eyes hooded.

"No, Jim," Leonard sighed. "This isn't something you should deal with on your own."

Jim regarded him quietly for a few moments. "You know, I was really worried about you for a while, Bones. I knew something bad had happened, but your message didn't really say anything. I hate subspace communication."

"You didn't even write to me for the first few weeks, Jim!" he said, allowing some of his anger and resentment to come through. "You ignored all my messages."

Jim looked away. "I didn't think you wanted to hear from me," he said. "I know I put you on the spot… You didn't want…"

Dammit. "Look," he said slowly, "Jim, about what happened before I left… You took me by surprise, that's all. I didn't mean no. I just meant…not yet."

For several seconds that stretched on interminably, Jim was silent, looking at him contemplatively. "The offer's still open," he finally said.

Leonard felt a flash of heat wash over him, and he took a deep breath. "Now wait. You're my patient, Jim…"

"But not right now." Even in the dim lighting of the room, Leonard could see the flush that came over Jim's pale skin. "And it was just a kiss."

Feeling a need to move, Leonard stood, walking over to the wall and leaning back against it for support. "Jim," he said uncomfortably, "This isn't a good idea. Getting involved with a patient is against the code of ethics…"

"I'm a consenting adult, Bones. So are you."

Leonard shook his head. "It's not so simple."

"You're not taking advantage of me," Jim told him, looking at him with wide eyes. "I'll ask for a different doctor, if you want."

This was moving too fast. "I need to think about it," Leonard said. Jim cocked an eyebrow at him, a sardonic half-smile on his lips. "Get my head straight about it."

"What's to think about?" Jim stood and took a step toward him. "It's not about the head," he said pointedly.

"Sure it is, Jim," he whispered hoarsely. "It always is. If my head's not engaged, I'm not interested."

"I missed you," Jim said, placing his hands against the wall on either side of Leonard's head. He leaned forward. Leonard could smell his cologne, dark and fresh. "My head's engaged, and I'm interested. You're not turned on, Bones?"

Fuck it all. "Shut up, Jim," he grunted. Leonard placed his hands on Jim's shoulders, licked his dry lips, and kissed him, long and hard. Jim leaned into the kiss, sucking on his lip, pressing them closer. Leonard could feel his heart beating, the blood thumping in his ears, and he could clearly feel Jim's arousal, the hard bulge digging into his hip.

He'd experimented with a few men in his youth, but hadn't been with one since long before his marriage. He was surprised at how good it felt, how natural. He placed one hand on the back of Jim's neck, turning his head slightly for a better angle, exploring with his tongue. He let his other hand roam down Jim's hard chest and down to grip his friend's hip, feeling a growing tightness in his own groin. Jim moved his mouth to place a line of teasing kisses along his neck, nuzzling near to his ear.

Jim was smiling as they finally broke apart, his voice breathy with desire. "You need to think about that some more, Bones?"

This hadn't gone the way he'd planned at all.



28.

Leonard woke up to dogs barking.

It wasn't an uncommon annoyance. Admiral Archer, who lived nearby in the on-campus cottages reserved for officers, kept several dogs. He liked to let them roam at night, and when Leonard returned late from a long shift, they would bark furiously at him, following him along the path near Archer's house while he swatted at them and hissed at them to quiet down.

The windows were still solidly dark. He grabbed his comm and squinted at it: three in the morning. Still three good hours of sleep left, he thought with a sigh. He flipped onto his side with a curse, but was unable to go back to sleep easily.  

He recalled, with a mixture of anxiety and exhilaration, the feeling of his hand wrapped around Jim's neck, his hip grinding forward into Jim's groin.

I've never done this before, Jim had said.

Leonard had smiled. I have.

It's a little different.

Leonard had laughed softly. This part's pretty much the same.  

It was just a kiss, he thought now as he drifted off again.


Twenty minutes later, a deep bass, rumbling sound penetrated his sleep. As he blinked awake, he felt the bed shake. The windows were rattling softly. Leonard groaned in mild irritation. Since starting at the Academy, he'd gotten used to the frequent mild earthquakes that were a fact of life in this part of California. He lay back and waited for the rumbling to stop.

The shaking continued, increasing exponentially in intensity; his bed actually began moving across the floor. He sat up, eyes wide, as the rumbling became a roar. 

A loud siren had begun to wail in the distance, the tones rising and falling over and over. Holy God, he thought frantically, trying to control his rising panic. This is the real thing.

If you're in bed, stay there, he remembered from the memo on earthquake safety he'd been given during his Starfleet orientation. He lay back down quickly, grabbing a pillow and holding it over his head. He was content was remain on the bed, although Stay away from windows had also figured prominently on the list. He glanced worriedly at the large window above his bed, wondering if he should get down on the floor.

Leonard heard a sharp crack, and a second later, something long, dark, and heavy came hurtling through his window with an explosive crash. He yelled in terror and curled back instinctively, clutching the pillow to his face as glass pelted down on him. It was a tree branch, he realized, from the ancient oak that shaded the garden outside his apartment. It had missed him by half a meter, and was lying across the foot of the bed, still partially suspended from the window frame. Heart pounding, Leonard scrambled down from the bed and crawled quickly under his desk, feeling the crunch of broken glass against his knees. 

Hovercar alarms were sounding off from the parking lot, and he could hear a series of small, undetermined explosions which seemed to be located in one of the nearby buildings.

Leonard gasped as the campus lights abruptly went out. The dull gleam of light that had filtered in from the window was gone, plunging his room into absolute darkness. "Lights!" he called out, to no avail. The entire building seemed to be jerking back and forth; the floor seemed to be bucking beneath him.

He jerked as a sudden crash erupted from his kitchen. Every dish he owned, it seemed, must have smashed out of his cabinets onto the floor. His framed family pictures tumbled down from the wall behind him, spraying him again in sharp glass shards.

Finally—How long had it been? A minute? Two?—the quake seemed to be ending; the horrifying shaking of the building was lessening, and the ominous roar was gradually quieting down to a low rumble. Outside, the alarms continued to blare. He could hear a loud, computerized voice repeating "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!" over and over.

Clouds of dust were rising from every corner of the room. The lights stayed off.

He could hear people yelling in the hallway, and turned automatically toward the door, his professional instincts overpowering the voice inside that was screaming to stay put and not move. Slowly, he crawled from under the desk on his hands and knees.

The automatic door, which should have opened instantly as he raised his hand to trigger the sensor, opened a crack and then stopped. Grimacing, Leonard stuck his hand through the narrow gap and pushed, trying to trip the mechanism and force the door open, but it was solidly stuck.

"Hey!" he yelled, putting his mouth to the crack. "Need a little help!" He waited, but no one seemed to take any notice of him. People were calling out to their friends and crying, running up and down the corridor, moving right past him. It occurred to him that in the dark hallway, they probably couldn't even see him, and there was so much noise that his shouts were drowned out.

"Goddamit!" he growled, withdrawing his hand and sitting back on his heels.

Leonard took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself and think. He squinted around the room, wondering what he could use for leverage. It was hard to see anything in the dusty gloom. Spreading his hands out gingerly, he reached to his sides, hoping he wouldn't accidentally slash himself on a piece of broken glass.

He groped awkwardly, still on his knees, until his right hand touched something flat, solid and long. The wooden display case of medical antiques had crashed to the floor, he realized; he was holding what remained of the bottom shelf.

He turned back to the door, slipping the board through the crack. He pressed forcefully on the other end, straining against the door's locking mechanism. With a sudden click, the door released and slid to the side. Almost simultaneously, the lights stuttered back on. Leonard heaved a sigh of relief.

He got slowly to his feet, flicking his eyes over the wreckage of his room. The tree branch, half hanging out of the broken window, added a surreal element to the scene. A large crack had appeared along the outside wall and meandered up along the ceiling. The built-in drawers that held most of his clothes were ajar; the bottom drawer looked misshapen, and seemed to be preventing the others from closing properly. His possessions lay smashed and scattered all over the floor.

It was too much to take in, and he couldn't stay anyway. Grabbing his comm and his medkit from the floor, he walked quickly into the hallway. The people he passed seemed shocked, and two women were holding each other and sobbing, but no one seemed to be hurt.

"Does anyone need medical attention?" he yelled loudly into the gloom.

A weak chorus of "No…" and "We're okay" floated back to him from the corridor, and he strode on quickly. His instinct was to get to the hospital quickly, where he could be in a position to help as many people as possible.

Moving out of the building, he stopped cold, overwhelmed momentarily by the apocalyptic scene that greeted him. Even in the meager lighting, he could see buildings that had partially collapsed, massive trees that had uprooted, upturned vehicles, and piles of rubble.

Jim! he thought, reaching instinctively for his comm. Jim's dorm wasn't visible from here, but from what Leonard could see, many of the surrounding buildings had been significantly damaged. He tapped the comm screen, but the connection was dead.

Shit. He needed to get to the E.R.


It was normally an easy five-minute walk from Leonard's apartment to Academy clinic, but despite the sense of urgency that hurried him forward, the walk took more than twice as long. He had to make his way carefully over broken branches and cracked pavement and past fallen debris, without the benefit of the dim night lighting that usually illuminated the path clearly. At one point the path was completely blocked by an overturned vehicle, and Leonard was forced to detour around the nursing school, which delayed him further.

As he turned the corner, the Bridge came clearly into view, and Leonard stopped,  considering. As a trauma surgeon, there was no question: his place was in the E.R. at Starfleet Medical across the Bay. The Academy clinic, while closer, was utterly unfit to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. Injured cadets might go there initially for basic medical care, but Leonard wouldn't be able to treat even a complex fracture, let alone a head or spinal injury.

He needed to get across the Bay as quickly as possible, but… Shit. As he looked toward the Bridge, he could see that there was no ground transportation moving in either direction. The Bridge looked intact, but like all bridges, it had an automatic failsafe mechanism that blocked traffic if structural anomalies were detected. And if the Bridge wasn't passable, that meant he'd need to find a hovercraft or a shuttle. Much more difficult.

At any rate, it went against his professional instincts to walk away from a patient in need—and the clinic was bound to be crowded with injured cadets. Decision made, he jogged determinedly toward the clinic building, hoping that he wouldn't be delayed too long.

To his surprise, his transportation problem was solved almost immediately. As he arrived at the clinic's street entrance, he heard the distinctive high-pitched whine of a hovercraft coming up behind him, red and white lights flashing. Medical transport, he thought gratefully. At least someone's thinking straight.

Not five minutes later, he was settled into the small ambulance, accompanying four seriously-injured cadets to Starfleet Medical.


The hospital's emergency room, when he finally reached it, was noisy and crowded, a far cry from the tone of efficient organization that usually defined it. Leonard's ears were bombarded with the calls and cries of the patients and their able-bodied friends who were trying to get the attention of the medical personnel. Most of the seats in the waiting area were taken. He saw two nurses moving among them, directing some of the wounded to be taken into the ER itself and instructing others to wait.

Leonard grabbed the head nurse by the arm. "Jordan, who's directing triage?"

Jordan Aames, a middle-aged, experienced male nurse who Leonard had worked with occasionally when he'd covered night shifts, looked at him with visible relief. "Dr. McCoy! Thank God you're here. We've called everybody in, but the comm channels are overloaded and ground transportation is blocked all over…."

"I'll bet it is," he growled. "Have you been outside?"

Jordan shook his head. "I've been here all night. They say it's 8.0 on the Richter scale, can you believe it? Thank God the hospital wasn't damaged."

"Where's the epicenter?"

"It must be pretty close." Jordan lowered his voice and grimaced. "All the medical shuttles have been sent to the Academy. Most of these patients are cadets from east campus. We know that a couple of the student dorms collapsed."

Leonard felt his blood run cold. "Which ones?" he asked, keeping his voice steady.

The nurse glanced around the room, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "Cochrane Hall has completely collapsed, Gagarin and Glenn were damaged."

Shit. Jim was in Glenn Hall. His hand reached reflexively for the comm in his pocket, his fingers tightening around the device.

"We've gotten calls from people trapped in Ramon and McAuliffe," Jordan continued. "That's all I know so far."

Leonard glanced irritably around the waiting room. "This is only the beginning!" he said. "The critical cases haven't even started to arrive yet! We need to make some decisions about priority treatment and overflow…Where's Puri?"

"Puri hasn't responded. From what I hear, there's been a lot of damage in his neighborhood. Dr. Chang is the resident, but he was in surgery when the quake started. We've got two interns on duty—Nagaukar and Ellis, and Beaumont is the resident on call. You're the only other doctor who's arrived so far. Michaels from Ortho is on his way here, and Piedmont is coming down for a neuro consult—"

Dammit. It sounded like the hospital was treating this like a bad traffic accident, calling in a few extra specialists as backup. "Has anyone contacted area hospitals?" he interrupted impatiently. "We're going to need transports! Who's overseeing patient flow? Who's checking on supplies?" At Jordan's blank look, he growled, "Damn it, who the fuck is in charge here?"

The answer was infuriatingly obvious: no one was making the high-level decisions that were crucial in a disaster of this magnitude. Puri had taken his proposal for managing mass-casualty incidents and buried it in committee, and the hospital was unprepared.

He blew out a breath in frustration. "I need the Chief," he told Jordan, referring to the hospital's chief administrator. "Manage without me for another ten minutes. And don’t start treatment yet on anyone who can wait!" he called over his shoulder, already racing toward the lift.

"Sixth floor, Administration!" he barked. As the lift doors closed, he whipped the comm out of his pocket, relieved to see that the network seemed to be re-established. He tapped out a quick text message to Jim, sending it off with a flick of his thumb just as the lift slowed to a stop.

As he strode down the unfamiliar corridor, scanning the door signs for Hospital Admin, his comm buzzed in his pocket. He snatched it up eagerly, then cursed.

Message failed to send.


Leonard spent the next twenty minutes in frantic consultation with the hospital's on-call administrator, who, fortunately, had read his proposal and approved of it. With Puri still unreachable, Leonard was given temporary authority to implement his Mass Casualty Incident Protocol. To prevent the hospital's resources from becoming overwhelmed, non-critical patients were diverted to outlying hospitals. Jordan was functioning as triage supervisor, with Leonard making treatment and transport decisions as necessary and overseeing patient flow within the hospital.

As Leonard had predicted, within two hours, the more heavily-injured people had begun to arrive, as they were extricated from collapsed buildings and brought in by medical shuttle. Key administrative personnel were assigned to coordinate patient transport, which was possible only with the limited number of hovercraft ambulances that were available. The roads were still nearly impassable.

Leonard was so focused on his responsibilities in arguing his case before the on-call administrator, setting up the triage protocol, and organizing an efficient patient flow within the hospital itself, that it was only when there was a brief lull in the frenzy that his thoughts turned to Jim. He fumbled in his pocket for his comm, hoping that Jim had left him a message that he hadn't noticed, but the screen was disturbingly blank.

He punched in Jim's number. There was no answer, although the connection seemed to go through correctly. He felt a small ache of worry begin in his gut, but reluctantly put it out of his mind. Another ambulance was arriving, and he didn't have energy to spare on useless fretting.

The paramedics efficiently unloaded three injured cadets, and Leonard listened to their initial reports as he scanned the first casualty, a young woman with a head injury. He directed two orderlies to take her to the neuro ward, and turned to the next patient, a female cadet with a broken femur. Her injuries were fairly minor; she could safely wait for the next transport out of the city. He turned to the last patient and blinked in surprise.

"Doc!" a familiar voice greeted him weakly. "Didn't expect to see you again so soon."

"Gary Mitchell, age nineteen, crush injury to the lower extremities," the paramedic reported succinctly. "He was trapped for almost three hours before we could extricate him. We've had him on IV fluids, and he was given six milligrams of morphenol for the pain an hour ago."

"I'll take it from here," Leonard told her, examining Gary's lower legs with a grimace. Crush injuries were potentially serious, especially those that involved extensive areas of the body. "Gary," he said, "what the hell happened to you?"

"The ceiling collapsed," he said slowly. He looked calm, but Leonard supposed that was the effect of the painkiller, which tended to induce feelings of drowsiness and detachment. "I was asleep in my fucking bed and all of a sudden the floor was shaking…" He broke off, closing his eyes briefly. "How bad is it?"

"You're going to need surgery," Leonard told him bluntly, keeping his tone as gentle as he could, "but we're a little backed up. We'll keep you here for a while under observation until we can operate." He patted his shoulder. "How do you feel?"

"A lot better than I did an hour ago. They gave me something. Doesn't hurt anymore. I feel kind of floaty…"

Leonard gave him a small smile, wanting to reassure him. "That means it's working right." He made notes on the chart; Gary's renal output and muscle pressure would need to be monitored carefully.

Suddenly, the paramedic's words penetrated his single-minded focus on triage and treatment. Trapped for three hours, in Jim's dorm? In his room?

"Gary…" He took a deep breath, not wanting to ask but needing to know. "Where was Jim when the ceiling collapsed?"

"On the undamaged side of the room," Gary said, rolling his eyes. "Blondie came out of it without a scratch, doc. He stayed with me for as long as he could, but they called away all the cadets who weren't injured to help with the rescue."

Leonard felt relief wash over him. "That's good news. I haven't been able to get in touch with him." It made sense that Jim wasn't answering his comm, if he were engaged in rescue work. "All right, Gary, I'm going to start you on antibiotics while you—"

"Wait a minute," Gary said, frowning as if he were trying to concentrate. "I think you should try again."

"In a few minutes," Leonard soothed. "I need to move you into the—"

"No. Try now," he said, his eyes boring into Leonard's.  

Feeling slightly unnerved, Leonard continued, "I'm starting antibiotics and we're going to monitor your urine output…"

Gary gave him a penetrating look. "Listen, doc," he muttered, "I just have a feeling…I told you I have hunches. I think you should call him."

Leonard opened his mouth to argue, but found himself hesitating. He remembered Jim's comment that Gary's hunches were usually correct. Telling himself that it would only take a minute and it would calm his patient's disquiet, he dug the device out of his pocket and tapped Jim's number again. There was no answer.

"He's probably too busy to answer, or he's left his comm somewhere and can't hear it," Leonard muttered, more to himself than to Gary.

"Keep trying," Gary said. "He needs to hear from you." It was an odd phrase to use, Leonard thought.

"We have a transport about to go out," Jordan called over. "Do you want to move this one too?"

"He's staying here," Leonard told Jordan, then looked down at Gary. "I'll call Jim again in a few minutes. Try to rest."


Jim finally answered on his fourth try, half an hour later.

"Bones!" he yelled. "Are you okay?" Leonard could hear the sounds of raised voices in the background and the whirring of machinery.

"I'm at the hospital and I'm fine, kid. Where the hell are you? I've been calling—"

"They ordered us to turn off our comms. I'm on a quick break, that's all. Half the buildings on campus have collapsed and people can't get out…" Jim sounded horrified, and Leonard could hear the shock in his voice. "My dorm, too. Gary's still trapped."

"They brought him in half an hour ago, Jim. He's being monitored before we take him in for surgery."

"Dr. McCoy!" he heard, and turned to see another ambulance pulling up at the entrance. Two corpsmen hurried out to greet it, pushing anti-grav stretchers in front of them.

"Really?" Jim was saying, relief evident in his tone. "Great, Bones, I know he's in good hands. Listen—"

"I have to go, Jim. Be careful."

"No, wait! I need to ask you something!" Leonard heard someone call sharply, "Kirk, put that away now!" and Jim snapped out, "In a minute! I'm talking to a doctor!"

"Bones, listen," Jim said quickly, ignoring the voice in the background that was continuing to yell at him. "We're moving into one of the collapsed buildings and if we find someone who's trapped, what should we do?" His voice had a raw, raspy edge to it, and Leonard wondered if he'd been shouting, or had simply inhaled too much dust.

"Find someone who's trained," he said emphatically. "You're not. Has the building been secured?"

Jim paused. "I don't think so. Our squad is the first to go in."

Leonard frowned. "Jim," he said firmly, "you don't have the medical training to move someone who's been trapped for a few hours. The most you can do is give them some water and get them professional help, someone who has first response training. Don't move them on your own. Who the hell is in charge of your squad?" he demanded harshly, thinking that whoever it was should know that untrained non-medical personnel were liable to do more harm than good—or even endanger themselves.

"That's what I thought," Jim said, sounding smug. "I'm gonna tell him that again." Someone was yelling "Kirk! Move it! Now!" Leonard heard Jim's response, muffled as if his hand had covered the comm, "Damn it, Finnegan, I need to talk to you first!"

Leonard inhaled sharply. Finnegan? "Jesus, Jim, did you just say—"

"Gotta go, Bones, talk to you later," Jim said hurriedly.

"Hold on, Jim, there are some other things you need to know!"

The connection clicked off, leaving him staring down at the comm in helpless frustration. Idiot, he thought suddenly. He hadn't even asked Jim where he was, and it was too late for the GPS to trace the location. He thought briefly of Gary, wondering whether he had somehow sensed Jim's anxiety, or whether there was something connected with Finnegan's presence that had made him so agitated.

Stay safe, kid, he thought in a heartfelt wish. And watch your back.

But Leonard was in the middle of his own crisis. Shoving the comm back into his pocket, he walked swiftly toward the waiting ambulance, his heart clenched in his chest.


29.

The last ambulance had brought in another six cadets, all with serious orthopedic and internal injuries. "From Armstrong dorm, all of 'em," the paramedic told Leonard as they unloaded. "We're going right back there. The whole building's lying on its side."

"What?!" Leonard exclaimed. "This is the 23rd century, for God's sakes. These buildings should be able to take a little shaking! Why are the dorms collapsing like a house of cards?"

The medic reached back to unlock and push out another stretcher. "I'm a San Francisco native, but I've never been through a quake this bad. And the buildings are supposed to be earthquake resistant. We have strict codes in the city. But the Academy's sitting on very soft soil, especially the east campus up near the tidal marsh. The ground's saturated with water over there. The earthquake must have shaken it up so much that…" He grimaced. "Well, it's like quicksand. The buildings just sink down into the soil."

Leonard snorted in disgust. "They put the cadet dorms on east campus. Goddam brilliant."

The medic nodded soberly. "Yeah, and a lot of cadets are still trapped." He jumped out of the ambulance, sealing the doors after him. "Gotta get back, doc."

Attaching himself to the last stretcher, Leonard turned back toward the E.R. entrance.

Behind him, the med shuttle took off with a noisy rumble that seemed to make the ground under his feet tremble. It's too noisy, he thought with sudden apprehension, wondering if the shuttle was having mechanical difficulties, and he glanced back at it in worry. The rumbling continued, and he realized that it was the ground that was shaking, not the shuttle.

Aftershock. "Dammit!" he growled, draping himself over the prone body on the stretcher, ignoring the injured cadet's moan of protest. Uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was standing just outside a metal-and-glass structure, he began pushing the stretcher further away from the entrance as fast as he could. "Move away from the building!" he called, and was relieved to see other medical personnel following his lead, pushing the other stretchers ahead of them.

Mercifully, the shaking was over quickly. Leonard took a deep breath, trying to control his trembling legs. He unfolded himself from where he was half-lying on top of the cadet, a young man with a broken pelvis. "You okay, cadet?"

He groaned. "Man, I can't wait to get out into space and away from this so-called solid ground."

Leonard nodded. For once, he could almost agree. "Let's get you inside."


To his immense relief, the E.R. seemed undamaged by the aftershock. Some patients were clearly agitated and tense, but the nurses and orderlies moved among them, soothing and reassuring them.

Leonard's comm tingled in his pocket, signaling an incoming call. He looked at the ID: Jim. His heart lurched; Jim was in the most dangerous area of campus, searching for survivors in buildings that hadn't been secured.

"McCoy here! Jim, are you all right?"

"You okay, Bones?" Jim asked, his voice higher-pitched than usual. "That was pretty bad."

He's stressed, Leonard thought. "I'm fine, Jim. You?"

"Not hurt," he answered crisply. "We're going in now."

"Jim, where are you? You need to be careful, the east campus isn't stable—"

"Liquefaction. I know, I know." He sounded subdued, even awed. "You've never seen anything like this, Bones. There's a whole row of buildings lying on their sides…"

"Kirk! Cut the chatter!" he heard Finnegan's heavy, distinctive voice in the background. "Clip your comms to your uniforms, leave your hands free."

"Bones…" Jim hesitated. "Keep an eye out for me, if you can."

"What?" In the E.R.? he thought, confused. "What do you mean, keep an eye out?" The connection was cut off. "Dammit!" he snarled in frustration, shoving the comm back into his pocket.

Almost immediately, it buzzed again, signaling another incoming call. "Jim!" he yelled into it. "What's going on?"

He frowned in confusion as he heard an unfamiliar voice—not Jim, then—speaking. "…got life signs in two areas, sir, looks like one of the upper floors and the basement."

"Who is this?" Leonard asked, but the voice continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Third floor, looks like. The one in the basement is pretty faint, sir, and he's moving around along the north wall. It's hard for me to get a clear reading."

Leonard pulled the device away from his ear and looked at it, then blanched. The comm's small screen was activated. Jim wasn't in the picture, and he understood why; Jim had set the comm to video feed and called him, before clipping it to his chest. The meaning was immediately evident: he would be able to see and hear everything that Jim was experiencing.

He could see Finnegan and another cadet looking at the readouts of a tricorder, with a few other cadets standing around. In the background, he could vaguely make out a building, tilting backward as if some giant hand had pushed it over.

As if on cue, Jim's voice blared from the comm, louder than the rest and easily recognizable. "Should we record this, sir? Just in case?"

Finnegan spun on his heel to glare back at Jim. "Just in case of what, Kirk?"

"I don't know, in case the building collapses, or…something…" his voice trailed off.

Jim obviously wanted him to record the conversation. Leonard could think of several reasons for this, none of which boded well. Carefully, Leonard set the comm to record the vid feed. Message received, kid. Then, remembering his earlier mistake, he used the GPS to trace Jim's location. Riker Chemistry Lab, it read, giving an east campus address.

Leonard turned his attention back to the small screen. "If the building collapses, I sure as hell don't want a recording of my being crushed sent back to my mom," one of the cadets was saying with a nervous laugh.

Finnegan stepped forward. "We'll split into two teams. Beck and Lopez, Alpha-team with me. We'll take the tricorder and start our sweep on the third floor. Turner, you lead Bravo-team with Dillard and Kirk into the basement. Ten minute mandatory check-ins. In and out, just look for survivors. The building's not secure. Helmets and headlights on. Let's go."

Turner. The name sounded familiar, but Leonard couldn't place it.

The vid feed jumped and bobbed erratically as Jim began moving forward. "Down here," one of the cadets said, and Leonard could hear their steps echoing as they made their way down a stairwell.

"Christ, this is steep," one of them grumbled. "Who the fuck would be in the basement of a chem lab in the middle of the night?"

"Yo!" Jim called out. "Anyone down here?" The cadets stood quietly, listening. "Can you hear us?" Jim yelled again.

"Nothing. Let's head back toward the north wall." The lead cadet, who Leonard assumed must be Turner, gestured forward.


"Dr. McCoy!" Leonard turned at the sound to see one of the nurses rushing up to him. "Dr. Nagaukar needs your help with an intubation." Grumbling under his breath about untrained children running around the emergency room, he reluctantly tore his eyes away from the comm screen and followed the nurse into the crowded main E.R. hall.

They're just doing a quick search, he thought. They'll be out of the building before I'm done with the procedure. But he was unable to shake the ominous feeling that something was wrong. Why would Jim have made such a point of making sure he recorded the vid feed? He muted the volume on the comm and carefully locked the controls before placing the device back into his pocket.

The intubation went smoothly, but another med shuttle arrived immediately afterwards, and Jordan called him in for some executive triage decisions.

"Look, Jordan, if there's nothing else, I need five minutes to myself," he told the nurse. "I've got to make a personal call…"

"Sure, doctor, I've got things covered over here," Jordan assured him. "Just one more thing. One of the cadets has been asking for you pretty much constantly for the past twenty minutes, the one with the crushed legs who's waiting for an O.R. Maybe you could just talk to him first."

Gary. Leonard slipped the comm out of his pocket. The screen showed the two cadets, Turner and Dillard, moving slowly forward ahead of Jim. Leonard sighed and nodded. "Fine. Where is he?"



Gary was lying on a cot with a portable biomonitor—all the biobeds had been allocated to the more critical patients, by his own orders—in the corner of the E.R. they'd set aside for pre-op. His lower legs were covered by a pressurized casing, which maintained circulation and prevented necrosis in the injured tissues while he waited for surgery. He seemed to be dozing, and Leonard decided not to wake him, feeling an urgent sense that he needed to be watching Jim.

As he turned away, though, Gary called him back. "There you are, doc. Been asking for you."

Leonard composed his features, not wanting Gary to sense his impatience. "I know. They just told me now." He stepped up to the monitor at the head of the cot, examining the renal output and myoglobin levels. "It should be about another hour or two before we can get you into surgery. How do you feel?"

"Okay. Sleepy, a little dizzy. You heard from Jim yet?"

Leonard kept his voice level, not wanting to convey his anxiety to the injured man. Because Jim's fine. "He's all right, Gary. I talked to him. Don't worry."

Gary looked unconvinced. "He commed you?"

"Yeah, he did. Twice." When Gary still looked hesitant, he gave him a smile. "Look, I'll have him call you too, the next time he checks in."

"Thanks, doc…" Gary's eyes were closing. "Blondie needs somebody to watch out for him."

Leonard started, hearing an echo of Jim's voice in his mind. Keep an eye out for me, if you can.


Leonard walked quickly from the E.R. into the small side office, where Chris Pike had told him about Tarsus IV, months ago. It seemed mostly undamaged by the earthquake and the aftershock, but it had been relatively barren to start with, not much more than a heavy metal desk and two chairs. The soil from an upturned plant had been swept into one corner, and the wall monitors, which normally displayed readouts of the E.R. biobeds, were dark. One screen was cracked.  

Leonard pulled the comm back out of his pocket and flicked the volume on as he flopped heavily into the chair. "A cat?" he heard someone saying incredulously. "What the hell?"

Leonard glanced down at the screen in time to see the small dark-colored cat streak across the floor between the cadets' feet. A black cat, he thought with an exhausted laugh. Good luck or bad? Swiveling his chair around, he grabbed a cup from the wall dispenser and filled it with cold water.

"Those were the life signs we were reading," Jim said, sounding vaguely amused. "There's nobody else down here. Come on, let's get out of here."

"Kirk's right, for once," one of the cadets agreed. "We're going back." He touched his comm and announced, "Bravo here."

"Alpha," came the response. "What've you got, Turner?"

"It was a cat, sir. There's nobody else here."

"Then get your asses out of there, bravo."

"Will do, sir."  

The voice had a familiar ring to it. Leonard squinted at the screen. "Zoom picture," he said, unable to shake the feeling that he knew the cadet from somewhere. For a few moments, all he was able to see was the back of Turner's helmet-clad head, until the picture suddenly swerved up to the ceiling, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a boot slipping on rubble.

Jim let out a pained groan. "Ow. Shit."

The picture stabilized as Jim apparently struggled to his feet, and the camera focused on Turner again, who was grinning broadly. "Better be careful, Kirk," he laughed, turning around to face Jim—and the camera--fully. He rolled his eyes, nudging the other cadet. "He's so fucking accident-prone."  

Leonard's hand, wrapped around the cup of water, froze in mid-air. Ron Turner. Leonard had treated him months ago for a laceration in his calf; he'd spent the entire time spewing venom and resentment against Jim.

What the hell's he doing in Starfleet? If he'd just shut his mouth for once and show some respect, Finnegan wouldn't bother him.

Kirk needs to be taught a lesson.

"It's nothing," Jim said, sounding annoyed.

"Yeah, a few more scars won't make much of a difference to you, will they, Kirk?" the other cadet laughed. Leonard's eyes narrowed.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean, Dillard?"

"Picture normal," Leonard said quickly. The image refocused. Ron Turner was smirking, clearly enjoying Jim's discomfiture.

Dillard looked coolly at Jim. "I roomed with you for five months, don’t forget. I've seen it all." He turned to Turner. "You should see his back. Fucking revolting." He laughed. "From the looks of it, Kirk, you like it rough."

"Shut the fuck up!" Jim took a step closer to him. The picture oscillated up and down; Jim was breathing hard.

Dillard shook his head. "You know what I miss about being your roommate?" He paused dramatically. "Nothing, Kirk. Nothing at all. You screwed us over every chance you got. No fucking sense of loyalty at all. Every damn room inspection we failed was because of you. Every time I got IPT, it was collective punishment for something you did."

"Maybe you needed some fresh air," Jim shot back. "Hard to breathe when you've got your nose up Finnegan's ass."

"Finnegan was only doing his job," Turner told him. "That's what you never understood. It wasn't personal. You were just a fuck-up from Day One."

"Yeah," Jim said, voice dripping with sarcasm, "he was doing such a great job as dorm officer that he got held back a year and kicked off command track."

"How was your semester break, Kirk?" Dillard asked suddenly, with a slow smile. "You never told us."

"Yeah, did something happen that you didn't mention?" Turner asked with mock sympathy. "You came back with that whipped dog look."

Oh God, Leonard thought. It couldn't be…

Leonard couldn't see Jim's expression, but he could hear the hesitance and the suspicion in his voice. "What are you talking about, Turner?"

"I'm talking about you, asshole." Turner stepped closer to Jim. Leonard could see his face clearly, and the hard antipathy and disgust in the cadet's eyes sent a chill up his spine. "I'm talking about someone who makes a mockery of authority. I'm talking about someone who broke the rules to get into the Academy and does nothing but take advantage of his famous fucking name. I'm talking about someone who doesn't belong here in the first place."

He wondered suddenly if Jim had had some inkling, some unconscious awareness, that he was about to go into a collapsing building with the two men who had attacked him. Maybe this was the reason he'd made sure that Leonard would see it and record it; he must have sensed that he might not come out of it alive.

Don't say it, Jim, he thought helplessly. Don't let them know that you know. Wait until you get outside…

"It was you," Jim said slowly, and Leonard felt his heart sink into his shoes. "The anonymous warnings. God, I knew it had to be somebody close to me, somebody who knew my schedule. My fucking roommate. And you were both in the bar, that night." His voice caught. "You were drinking with me."

Leonard's water cup began shaking suddenly, rattling across the table. Dammit, not now! he thought in horror.

The familiar rumbling began again, working itself up into a mild roar. The shaking increased. Sweeping the comm off the table into his palm, Leonard crouched down under the heavy metal desk.

From what little he could see, Jim seemed to have dropped to the ground as well; the screen showed only dark shadows. Leonard could hear shouts of "Get down!" and "Watch out!" Debris seemed to be falling nearby, and Leonard gritted his teeth in frustration.

The rumbling continued unabated. Twenty seconds? Thirty?

Leonard heard a massive crash coming from the comm's speakers, and Jim let out a sharp cry of pain, a harsh loud note that made him flinch.

The shaking gradually settled down, and Leonard stood up, barely registering the cup of spilled water under his feet or the overturned chair. From the comm Leonard could hear groans and the sounds of coughing.

"Get up, Kirk," Turner said. "Come on—"

Jim let out a yelp of pain. "Don't grab my arm," he hissed out, sounding as if he were speaking through clenched teeth. "Fuck, my shoulder."

"Beautiful, Kirk. Great timing. Stand up, dammit!"

"The stairs are blocked," Dillard reported. "Whole goddam building sank further down on the eastern side."

"What's that hissing sound?"

"Damned if I know, Ron. I'm not staying to find out."

"Turn out your headlights," Jim grated out.

"What the hell for?"

"So we can see if there's light coming in from anywhere." Jim's breathing was shallow and rapid. "So we can see the way out."

"Fuck, he's right," Dillard said. "Kill the lights."


"Dr. McCoy!" he heard someone call. Cursing, he grabbed the comm and raced out into the main E.R.

Nagaukar, the intern, was standing next to one of the biobeds and signaling to him. "We haven't been able to stabilize this patient, sir." The patient was a Vulcan, presumably one of the local diplomatic corps; he seemed to be deeply asleep. The biobed monitor did, indeed, show dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate; the metabolic indicators were far from the Vulcan norm.

"Get a xeno consult," he told her. "Get M'Benga, if he's in the hospital. He's a Vulcan specialist."

"Yes sir," Nagaukar said, adding hesitantly, "I wasn't sure what the Vulcan norms were, and I suppose it might be my fault for not—"

"Just get M'Benga, doctor!" he snapped, as she recoiled at his impatience. "I don't have time for this now!"

For the next few minutes, to his mounting frustration, he was only able to follow what was happening to Jim tangentially, as his attention was demanded by the nurses and doctors he was supposed to be supervising. He clipped the comm to his coat and left the volume on, enabling him to hear snatches of Jim's conversation as he worked.

"Goddam hissing's getting louder. What the fuck is that?"

"We'll have to pull ourselves up…"

"It's too damn high!"

"Air's getting stuffy."

"Climb up here…"

"OW! Fuck!"

Jim's cry of pain was so loud and clear, echoing off the comm clipped to his chest, that Jordan, who was asking him about triage issues, stopped in the middle of his sentence. He stared at McCoy, open-mouthed. "Who the hell is that?"

Leonard grimaced. "Friend of mine. Went in on a search-and-rescue in Riker Chem Lab and now he's trapped... I've been monitoring him on vid feed."

"My God!" Jordan exclaimed. "I know Riker. It's way over on the eastern edge of campus. A lot of buildings there were damaged…"

"I know," Leonard said, exhaling shakily. "They're in the basement. The last aftershock blocked off the stairs. They're looking for a way out." His voice cracked, and he looked away.

Jordan looked at Leonard sympathetically, then drew him by the arm to an unoccupied treatment station. Leonard allowed himself to be led, unable to find the energy to protest; Jim's predicament was drawing away his focus, and he was finding it harder and harder to concentrate on his E.R. duties.

"Let me see the comm," Jordan said.

Wordlessly, throat tight, Leonard unclipped it from his coat, and they peered at it together. A pair of legs was disappearing up through what seemed to be a hole in the ceiling.

"There!" Jordan said, looking relieved. "That's good news, then. Your friend got out."

"No, Jordan." Leonard shook his head. "He's the one on the floor, looking up. You can't see him because his comm is clipped to his shirt. That's one of the cadets who was with him."

Jim groaned, and Jordan frowned. "He's injured."

"Hurt his shoulder or collarbone, most likely."

"You gonna get me out of here?" Jim called up, sounding exhausted.

"Yeah, we'll get some help."

"I let you climb on my frickin' back, Turner. Don't leave me here."

"Don't worry, Kirk," Turner's taunting voice came back. "I wouldn't leave a dog to be buried alive. Even if he deserved it."

"Fuck you," Jim muttered. In the quiet, Leonard could clearly hear a faint hissing sound.

"Not exactly Starfleet's finest, is he?" Jordan commented quietly.

"Not by a long shot," Leonard agreed, sighing. "Listen, I need to talk to the next ambulance driver who pulls up—"

"That sound," Jordan interrupted. "It could be… Look," he said apologetically, "I don't want to worry you any more than you're already worried, but isn't Riker a chem lab?" Leonard nodded. "That hissing sound…"

Oh, hell, he thought, heart skipping a beat. "A gas leak," he said, horrified. "A chemical leak of some kind."

"The basement there is probably used for storage."

In the ensuing silence, as Leonard pondered the implications of what Jordan had told him, the only sound was Jim's breathing, coming over the comm in rapid, rasping breaths.

Leonard reached out to the comm and manually cut the connection.

Jordan looked up at him in surprise. "It's on vid record," Leonard explained, feeling numb. "I can't communicate with him, just watch. I need a regular connection."

"Resend," he said clearly, not trusting his fingers to punch Jim's number in properly. The comm would respond to his voice command.

"Dr. McCoy!" one of the nurses called. Moving automatically, he made a move to get up.

"Stay here. I'll see what it is," Jordan said, squeezing his shoulder as he stood. "I'll ask if the resident can handle it, whatever it is. You need to talk to your friend."


After what seemed like an interminable time, the connection clicked through. "Kirk here."

"Jim!" Leonard yelled. "Thank God."

"Bones," Jim said, sounding surprised. "You okay?"

"Never mind me! Jim, I want you to listen to me carefully," Leonard said, unwilling to waste words. "Put your comm on video, OK? Do it now."

"I don't feel so good…"

"I know. I want to take a look at you."

Jim's responses seemed delayed, as if he were having trouble processing Leonard's instructions. "I couldn't climb out. I think my shoulder's broken."

"I saw, Jim. Now put the video on!" he barked, hoping the urgency in his tone would get through to Jim.

It seemed to work; after a few seconds, the comm switched to visual communication, although the transmitted image was only a shadowy darkness. "That's good, kid," Leonard said, relieved. "Hold it up to your face so I can see you. And take off your headlight. Shine it on yourself."

Even in the poor lighting, Jim looked awful. His face was clearly flushed, and he was breathing rapidly. A sweaty film covered his forehead. "How do you feel?" Leonard asked.

"My head hurts." A muscle twitched in his cheek. "I need some fresh air… I have to get out of here." He looked longingly up toward the small opening in the ceiling. "They said they'd come back for me, but…I don't think they're coming…"

Goddam bastards. "Pay attention to me!  Can you hear something hissing? Like a gas leak?"

"Yeah…" he said slowly. "Been hearing it for a while now."

"Jim, you need to get up. Put the light back on. Go figure out what's leaking and try to stop it, whatever it is. Go now!"

 Jim groaned, but pushed himself painfully to his feet. The picture lurched and then went dark; Jim was either covering the camera with his hand, or the comm was facing the ground. Leonard could hear the hissing getting louder.

"This is it," he heard Jim mumble. "I have to—"

"Pick up the comm!" he yelled. "Show me!" But Jim wasn't listening, he was vomiting. Leonard slammed a fist down on his thigh in frustration, waiting for Jim to stop coughing and sputtering.

"Jim," he said, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice, "turn off the vid feed, okay? Just talk to me, and keep the comm at your ear."

"It's a CO2 tank. It fell over in the quake… It's leaking."

Leonard closed his eyes briefly. Carbon dioxide poisoning. Hypercapnia. Panic and confusion, followed by convulsions and death.

"You've got to try to shut it off, Jim." Buy some time, at least. "Maybe you can reseal it. Try, anyway."

Leonard heard a thunk as Jim put the comm down. He clamped his own comm to his ear, straining to hear, but couldn't discern much apart from Jim's struggling breaths and an occasional low moan. The hissing of the gas leak didn't stop; if anything, it seemed to grow louder.

"Bones," Jim's voice finally came again, overly loud at his ear, "I couldn't fix it… I think I made it worse. The tank's toppled over on its side, and the valve is stuck. But my arm's not working right…"

Shit. "Jim, just forget it and get out of there. Try to climb up on something." Carbon dioxide was heavier than air… "Get as high as you can, do you understand me?"

"There's nothing to climb on…" Jim retched again, and Leonard ran a shaky hand through his hair, feeling useless.

"Kid, just move away from it. Get as far away from the tank as you can."

His breath was coming in quick gasps. "God, I feel so bad… My chest hurts… I can't get any air… Stay with me, Bones, okay?"

"Sure, Jim." He remembered the cadet's remark earlier, half in jest, that he didn't want his mother to watch a recording of him dying. But if he didn't do something, quickly, that was exactly what he'd have…a recording of his friend's final moments.

He tried desperately to think. Jim wouldn't survive much longer, and there wasn't much he could tell him that would make a difference at this point.

He blinked. Pike's voice floated back to him.

I couldn't leave him there. I saw a moment when I could really make a difference to him.

Time to make good on your word, Captain, he thought. You owe him one.

"Listen, Jim," he said, as gently as he could. "I have to cut off the connection. I'm going to get you out of there, but I have to make a call."

"No!" Jim sounded confused. "Where did everyone go? Why are you leaving me here?"

"I’m not, Jim! I just need to break the connection for a minute, that's all. I'll call you right back, I promise."

"Don't leave me behind!" he said, voice rising in fear. "Not again! Please, Bones…"

The rational part of his brain was telling him that Jim's reaction was a symptom of CO2 toxicity, but his heart was breaking nonetheless.

"I've got to, Jim. I'm sorry," he whispered.

"No!"

"End call."

Dammit.

"Connect to Christopher Pike," he said shakily, directing his voice at the small device.

To his relief, the call was accepted almost immediately. "What is it, doctor?" Pike's voice was strong and calm. "Is there something you need?"

Leonard tried to match his tone, but his desperation broke through. "I need you to help Jim Kirk, Captain Pike. He needs an emergency beam-out, right now."


30.

"They've got him," Pike told him, and that was all Leonard needed to hear. "Locking on now."

Shoving the comm into his pocket, he raced across the room. "Jordan!" he yelled, tapping the man on the shoulder at the nurse's station as he flew past, not pausing to explain. Jordan would understand his urgency, and the direction he was going made any explanations superfluous: the emergency transporter pad just off the E.R.'s west exit. A second later, he could hear Jordan's footsteps hurrying behind him.

Nagaukar, the intern, looked up in surprise as he passed. "Dr. Nagaukar, I need assistance!" he barked at her. "Incoming wounded!"

Get a crash cart, he thought frantically as he skidded around the corner. Respiratory distress, may need resuscitation, oxygen equipment…

The transporter room door was sealed, with a red light blinking overhead. McCoy came to an abrupt halt. Jim was in transport, then. The door seal, an automatic precaution against leakage during the initial radiation burst as the beam began, would release as soon as the cycle completed. Five seconds, then.

Four. Three. Leonard had been aware of injured patients arriving intermittently via transporter since the beginning of the crisis, but the main method of transportation had been the medical shuttles. The transporter was used only when there was no other choice and when the injured person's specific location was known. It was too risky to beam out casualties before they'd been medically stabilized, and in the case of a building collapse, suddenly removing someone who was trapped under debris might jolt the structure, endangering others nearby. If at all possible, the trapped people were extricated manually and then shuttled back to the hospital while under the care of skilled paramedics.

Two. One.

The doors whooshed aside, and Leonard rushed to the crumpled figure on the pad, followed by Jordan, who grabbed a stretcher from the supply along the wall. Jim was lying on his left side, gasping and trembling. He was drenched in sweat. But still breathing, thank God. "Jim! Can you hear me?" Leonard said, kneeling next to him as Jordan maneuvered the stretcher so that it was parallel to his body. "Open your eyes!" Leonard slapped Jim's cheek lightly. Jim flinched away from the touch, and Leonard felt a small surge of relief; he wasn't fully unconscious.
 
Together, Leonard and the nurse lowered the stretcher to the level of the platform and lifted him onto it. Jim gave a strangled yelp of pain as he was lifted. Leonard grimaced slightly, aware that Jim's shoulder was injured, but his discomfort was secondary now to his respiratory distress. "Get me 15 CCs of tri-ox!" he told Jordan, who nodded and departed the room ahead of him at a run. Leonard pushed the stretcher out of the transporter room and through the corridor.

"Pike beamed you out, Jim," Leonard told him, bending over the stretcher to speak into Jim's ear as he rushed down the corridor. He didn't know not whether Jim could hear or understand him, but he hoped that the sound of his voice would be a beacon. "You're in the E.R. at the hospital."

Nagaukar, the intern, ran up to him and met him halfway, and together, they guided the stretcher into the closest treatment cubicle in the E.R. "Severe hypercapnia," Leonard informed her quickly as they moved the stretcher into position and connected the biomonitor, movements smooth and practiced. "He was trapped near a leaking tank of CO2."

"Here's the tri-ox." Jordan handed him the hypo he'd prepared, and he slammed it into the skin over Jim's carotid artery, ignoring Jim's flinch. Jim's eyes were squeezed shut, his muscles clenched.

The treatment for hypercapnia—too much carbon dioxide in the blood—was relatively simple, once the source of the CO2 poisoning was removed: rapid oxygenation. "Mask him. One hundred percent oxygen," Leonard told Nagaukar as he ran a scanner over Jim's chest, frowning at the readings. "Jordan, get me 6 CCs of tricloradine." Jim seemed to relax visibly as the anti-seizure medication took immediate effect; his left fist, which had been clenched tightly, loosened slightly and his muscles gradually stopped their trembling.

Jordan began efficiently cutting away Jim's uniform. The skin underneath was flushed pink and sweaty, and his chest was heaving as he hyperventilated in rapid, shallow breaths. Leonard could clearly discern the ends of his collarbone poking against the skin, and his right shoulder appeared bruised and misshapen. "He's got a broken clavicle and a dislocated shoulder," he murmured, peering at the diagnostic scanner. "We'll need to immobilize the joint. Jordan, let's tilt the bed up to 45 degrees. Dr. Nagaukar, start an IV line." Burying his personal anxieties under the veneer of experience, he worked automatically, ordering the necessary medical procedures without focusing on the identity of the patient. Administer fluids. Measure blood gas levels. Monitor SpO2, pH, and paCO2. Check for arrhythmias and watch BP...

Jim's awareness seemed to be gradually returning as his blood began to reoxygenate. He stirred uncomfortably under Leonard's hands. His eyes opened a crack, and he blinked and squinted against the harsh light. "Lights at seventy percent," Leonard said quickly. "Jim, don't try to talk. You've got an oxygen mask over your mouth."

Jim stared up at him, looking bewildered, and began twisting his head around as if trying to get his bearings on where he was. The confusion was an expected effect of the hypoxia, Leonard knew, and being transported out of the building without warning could only add to Jim's sense of disorientation. His vision and hearing were probably compromised as well.

"Keep your eye on the monitor," Leonard told Nagaukar, who nodded. He moved around her, placing himself clearly in Jim's line of vision.

"Jim, look at me," he said, leaning over him, trying to get his full attention. "No, look right here, kid. You're safe. You're in Starfleet Medical—"

Jim's eyes were slightly unfocused, and he shook his head, still breathing rapidly, mumbling something under the mask. He lifted his left hand as if to push it away, and Leonard grabbed his wrist to stop him. This seemed to make him even more agitated, and he struggled to rise, pushing up on his left elbow.

"No, lie down--" Leonard pressed against his shoulder, but Jim seemed to resist instinctively, intolerant of any restraint. He kicked his leg out; Jordan grunted in surprise as Jim's foot connected forcefully with his thigh.

"Dammit, Jim!" Leonard barked out. "Settle down!" He glanced up at the monitor. Jim's level of oxygen saturation was increasing, but it was still dangerously low.

"Come on, kid," he repeated, more gently this time. Some patients, he knew, felt a sense of claustrophobia under the mask. In his confused state, Jim might not remember what was causing his breathing problems, and think that the mask itself was impeding his oxygen intake. "Listen to me. You're in the hospital. Relax and breathe deeply. There's a mask over your face to give you oxygen, OK?" Jim stared up at him, meeting his eyes for the first time. He blinked, and Leonard could see the fear and panic receding somewhat. "You shouldn't move around much right now. Don't exert yourself at all. Do you understand me?"

Jim quieted. He was still breathing rapidly, but no longer struggling. "You inhaled a lot of carbon dioxide, and that's making you feel sick, but you're going to be fine. Do you hear me, Jim? You'll be fine. Now lay back." Slowly, Jim nodded his head, relaxing back against the bed.

"That's right," Leonard told him. "Breathe deeply."

Jim turned his head to the right, looking down at his right arm, his brow furrowing in pain. "You have a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder." Jim gave him a look of disgust, and Leonard almost laughed. "Yeah, you sure know how to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did you get hit with something during the aftershock? Something heavy?" Jim looked steadily up at him, eyes wide, and nodded slowly.

The dislocation would normally be a simple matter to reduce, but the clavicle fracture made it trickier. Jim wasn't stable enough yet for more than a mild analgesic. "I'm going to strap your arm to your side for now, just to keep it steady. We'll take care of it in a little while, when you're breathing a little better," he said. Jordan moved behind Jim's head and brought over a light elastic brace. "I need you to lean forward a little when I tell you. It'll be a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn't take more than a few seconds."

Jim jerked and gave a grunt of pain when his arm was moved. He shut his eyes for an instant, but when he opened them again, Leonard saw the same gaze of implicit trust there. It felt almost intimate.

Leonard glanced over at the monitor; Jim's stats were steadily improving. "I'll stay with him for a while, until his respiration normalizes," Leonard said, dismissing Nagaukar and Jordan.

Pulling a chair over from the corner of the small room, Leonard slumped down heavily into it, feeling light-headed in the rush of adrenaline that was still coursing through his bloodstream. "Next time you want to play hero, for God's sake don't pick a chemistry lab," he said, shaking his head. "Or a building that's sinking into quicksand."

Jim reached up and poked a finger under the mask, breaking its seal. "Wouldn't be my first choice," he agreed, a little breathlessly.

"And pick a different set of teammates, while you're at it," he growled. "Put that damn mask back on."

"Were you watching?"

Leonard sighed.  "Saw most of it. The important parts." Jim gave him a questioning look. "I recorded it, if that's what you want to know."

He took the mask out of Jim's hand and reapplied it over his mouth and nose. "You rest, for now. We'll talk about it later."

Jordan came back a few minutes later, looking relieved. "Puri's here," he told him. "Finally arranged for a transport with Daley and Petrovsky. We've got two other trauma specialists on their way in, and the E.R.'s almost fully staffed. We're okay for now. Take a break."

Leonard looked at him gratefully. "Take one yourself, as soon as you can, Jordan. You deserve it."

Jim's eyes were closing, and Leonard leaned back in the chair. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "you've got some pull with the Commander of Cadets, I have to admit. Middle of a geological disaster, probably up to his ears in emergencies, and still... Took him about one minute flat between getting my call and dropping you on your ass on the transporter pad."

Jim popped the mask off again. "It's the famous name," he huffed. "Works every time."

Leonard rolled his eyes and pushed the mask back onto his face. "Shut up and breathe."

...


Jim dozed off, and Leonard had him moved over to the main E.R. for further monitoring. Puri was waiting for him when he returned, and seemed less than pleased to find himself "outranked" by Leonard, who'd been given temporary supervisory authority in the E.R. during the crisis.

"I'm head of trauma surgery," Puri reminded him. "You're an attending. Thank you, Dr. McCoy, but I'll take over from here."

Arrogant ass. "We're using my protocol for mass casualty incidents," Leonard said, trying to keep the resentment from his voice. "The one you left to stagnate in committee, I might add! And for the most part, everything's running smoothly. There's no need for a change. Let me see this through."

"Oh, for God's sake, no one's usurping your authority, McCoy!" Puri told him in his precise British accent. "You've had your moment...and the fact is, I'm quite impressed."

Leonard was taken aback. "Thank you, sir."

"I give credit where credit is due. The E.R. is functioning surprisingly well, patient flow is organized, and the transports are going out regularly to the other hospitals."

McCoy inclined his head, somewhat mollified. That's almost an apology, he thought. Coming from him. Almost.

"However," Puri continued, "you've been working non-stop since the beginning, while I've been cooling my heels waiting for a shuttle. I'll take charge of the executive treatment and triage decisions. I need your skills in the O.R."

Leonard sighed. God, he was tired. "Let me review the procedures with you, at least."

...


It was another three hours before he had a chance to check on Jim again. He'd had two ortho surgeries and a consult, and had looked in on Gary Mitchell where he was recovering in post-op.

Strange kid, he thought. And he did seem to have an uncanny sixth sense about things that he shouldn't be able to know...which would probably be enough to make anyone a little odd. But his heart seemed to be in the right place, as far as Jim was concerned.

Jim was lying on a cot in the same corner of the E.R. where Gary had been, hours before. He was on his back, his arm still immobilized by his side, but the oxygen mask was gone, replaced by a simple nasal cannula. Jim's hand was massaging his temples, and his eyes were tightly closed.

"How do you feel?" he greeted Jim, grabbing the PADD with Jim's chart from the foot of the bed. "Headache?" he guessed.

Jim let his eyes pop open a crack. "'s fine," he said through clenched teeth. "Like a fucking hangover, just without the fun part."

"Severe headache's a pretty common reaction to carbon dioxide toxicity," Leonard told him, not without sympathy. "Well, I've got some good news for you. I'm going to reduce your shoulder now, and I'll have to give you something pretty strong for that. It should take care of the headache, too."

Jim eyed the hypo Leonard was loading with revulsion. "Can't you just give me a pill or something?" he asked. "That hissing noise it makes gives me the creeps."

"I could run back to my apartment and get a hypodermic needle, if you want."

"Fuck, no." Jim closed his eyes briefly and shuddered, and Leonard used that moment of distraction to press the hypo home.

"Only kidding, Jim," Leonard said, giving him a sardonic smile. "I'm a doctor, not a sadist."

...

Classes had been canceled for two weeks, and all able-bodied cadets had been enlisted in the cleanup efforts. Jim, to his chagrin, was excluded. Leonard had placed him on medical leave for seven days.

Jim was reluctant to admit it--Stop your goddam hovering and go treat one of your real patients--but Leonard knew that the experience had taken a physical toll on him. He was still plagued by a lingering feeling of nausea, and his shoulder was stiff and sore. The osteo stim treatment had accelerated the healing of Jim's fractured clavicle, but when he thought Leonard wasn't looking, he rubbed the area over the break, indicating some residual pain.

"Just what do you think you'd be able to do?" Leonard asked pointedly. "You can’t lift anything. You needed my help just to move all your crap over here."

"What crap?" Jim was indignant. "There was only one small box of clothes!"

"Yeah, and you couldn't carry it, could you?" Jim had been able to salvage some of the contents of his closet and, to his delight, his personal PADD--That's where I keep all my important stuff, Bones--but he hadn't had very much to begin with.

Leonard's apartment had sustained only minor damage, aside from the broken window, which was quickly replaced. Faced with the logistical nightmare of finding temporary quarters for nearly a thousand cadets whose dorms had been rendered unlivable, Campus Housing had been only too happy to accept his offer of sharing his apartment with a cadet. Jim had been bunking with him on his spare couch since he was released from the hospital.

"It's a shame about your pictures, Bones," Jim told him that first evening as he watched Leonard clean up the shards of glass and debris that littered the floor. Jim had offered to help, but Leonard had placed him on the couch with strict orders not to move.

"It's no big deal, Jim. I can make copies."

"Can't say I'm sorry about the Cabinet of Doom, though."

Leonard snorted. It was ironic, he thought. He'd shown off his possessions so proudly to Jim that first night he'd come by. In Georgia, we keep to traditions... I appreciate old things. And he'd been more than a little saddened to see the precious instruments smashed on his floor when he'd finally returned from the hospital. But he couldn't bring himself to get too worked up over the damage. They were just things, most of them replaceable, and his memories, after all, were intact.

Jim was alive. That was all that mattered, he realized.

"I'll find some more antiques," he said. "Pick your feet up off the floor, I need to clean under the couch."

Jim grinned and leaned back on the cushions. "You got anything to eat, Bones?"

...

A week later, Leonard found himself waiting with a nervous Jim in Pike's outer office. When Pike's secretary had commed him to set up the evening meeting, Leonard had felt relieved. He hadn't expected to hear from Pike immediately after the earthquake, assuming that as Commander of Cadets, Pike must be swamped with work in the wake of the disaster. Twelve cadets had died in the quake, and hundreds had sustained injuries, many of them serious. More than 45 were still hospitalized.

On the day of the quake, before leaving the hospital, Leonard had sent Pike a heartfelt message thanking him for his quick response in beaming Jim out of the building, and included a detailed summary of the contents of the recording of Jim's video feed from the chem lab. He appended the recording itself, as well as a report of Jim's medical treatment.

But he hadn't heard from Pike since then, until he'd finally received the summons to the appointment. Leonard had been in his apartment with Jim when both of their comms had signalled an incoming message simultaneously. Jim's expression had darkened, although he hadn't said anything.

They hadn't spoken about the meeting, and in fact, Leonard realized, they hadn't spoken about...anything. By mutual agreement, they'd avoided talking about the contents of the vid recording...or about the other volatile topic that stood between them. It was not only avoidance; Leonard had been extremely busy. He was on the verge of exhaustion most of the time, taking double shifts most of the week as the hospital struggled to cope with the large numbers of seriously-injured cadets that had arrived in the aftermath of the quake. He came back to the apartment each night to snatch a few hours of sleep before staggering back to work the next morning. Jim was usually asleep before he came back. They'd shared a few hurried cups of coffee in the mornings before Leonard went back to the hospital, but that was the limit of their communication.

The office doors opened. "Come in, gentlemen," Pike said, looking stern and composed as usual in his charcoal uniform. The office was as meticulously neat as it had been the last time Leonard had been there; it didn't look as if it had sustained any damage in the quake.

"Dr. McCoy," Pike began, "I understand that you played quite a role in managing the hospital's response during the crisis."

Leonard didn't believe in false modesty, and his answer was direct. "That's right, sir, I did. I prepared a protocol for a mass casualty disaster, and the hospital administration was wise enough to follow it."

"Dr. Puri speaks very highly of you."

I'll bet he does. "That's good to hear, Captain Pike. We've had our differences."

"Actually, he said that hospital politics wasn't your forte," he said drily, "but he had nothing but praise for your professional skills."

Goddam snake.

Pike turned to Jim. "I understand that your injuries were relatively minor, Jim."

Jim glanced quickly at Leonard, as if daring him to object. "That's right, Captain. I'm fine."

"I had CO2 poisoning once, you know. Spent a little too much time on a Class L planet. Didn't listen to my CMO," he said, giving Leonard a sheepish look. "Came back puking my guts out and choking. Had a bitch of a headache the next day, too."

Jim laughed. "Sounds familiar."

"Well, I didn't invite you here in order to make small talk." He paused. "What I have to say is serious, and it concerns both of you. I've had Ron Turner and Sean Dillard arrested. They're in military custody."

"Good," Leonard said with satisfaction, and Pike nodded.

"I watched the recording, doctor. All of it. I've sent Starfleet Legal a copy."

"Will there be a trial?" he asked.

"They're being questioned and there will be a hearing within the next month." Pike cocked his head at Jim. "Is there something you want to say, Jim?"

"I'm glad you arrested them," he said, looking down at his feet. "Kick the fuckers out of the Academy."

"So what's on your mind, son? You look troubled."

Jim was silent for a moment, as if he were debating with himself whether to ask his question. "Did they try to get me help?" Jim finally asked, looking up. The look in his eyes was haunted. "Before you beamed me out... Did they try to come back for me, is what I want to know."

Pike exchanged a glanced with Leonard, then shook his head. "No. They reported you missing." Jim nodded, as if that was what he'd expected to hear. "Cadet Finnegan, the squad leader, did call in for extra workers and rescue equipment. He was following procedure, and I can't fault him. But the other two..."

"They knew exactly where Jim was," Leonard broke in furiously. "They didn't want him to be found."

"They will be dishonorably discharged, and the Academy will be pressing criminal charges against them both. Jim, you'll need to speak to the investigating officer about your testimony, and Dr. McCoy--"

"No," Jim said quietly.

Leonard looked at him, confused. "No? What do you mean, no?"

Jim shrugged. "I mean, I don't want to testify."

"Why not?" Leonard was appalled. "Do I need to remind you what those animals did to you?"

Jim glared at him. "I don't need a reminder. I just don't want to do it."

"I wasn't asking you if you wanted to testify," Pike said, sounding irritated. "I was about to explain the procedure. Your testimony is crucial."

"No, sir."

Pike's tone was steely. "Explain yourself, mister."

Jim didn't answer for a long moment.  "Look," he said finally, "My name draws enough attention as it is. I don't want anybody else saying that the only reason I'm still at the Academy is because I think I deserve special treatment from you, Captain Pike." Pike grimaced, and Leonard wondered suddenly if he, too, had heard the rumors that Jim had fucked his way into the Academy.

"And anyway," Jim continued in a stronger voice, "it's over. Let them be dishonorably discharged. I know they did it, but I'm moving on. I don't need a hearing." His expression was blandly sincere, the familiar shuttered look that Leonard had seen so often in their first meetings. He's lying.

"Jim," Pike said, frowning, "this isn't your private affair. You're a Starfleet Academy cadet, and these two men have committed crimes against you, including aggravated assault. It is your duty to testify against them, if you have knowledge of these crimes."

"Use the recording, Captain Pike. But I'm not going to aid your investigation."

Leonard couldn't believe Jim was being so stubborn. "Don't you realize that if you refuse to testify, it will weaken Starfleet's case?"

Jim paused, then burst out, "I'm not going to be a pawn in anyone's game this time, Captain Pike. And I'll decide if I want to speak out or not."

"Is that what this is about?" Pike asked incredulously.

Jim glared stonily at Pike. "It's my choice this time. And I choose not to."

"I am giving you a direct order, Cadet Kirk," Pike said, in a voice so commanding and icy that Leonard drew back. "You will do this. And that is the end of this discussion."

...

Jim stormed out of Pike's office, striding quickly away. Leonard cast a perplexed look in Pike's direction, then hurried after Jim.

He caught up to him at the lift. "What the hell is the matter with you?" Leonard snapped at him, as the lift doors sealed with a hiss. Jim ignored him, facing the doors with a stony expression. "Are you serious? This is your chance to make those bastards pay!"

The lift slowed to a half at the ground floor. "You don't understand," Jim snarled. "Leave me alone." He walked off angrily, setting a swift pace, while Leonard struggled to keep up with him.

"What do you mean, I don't understand?" he yelled.

Jim said nothing, just raised a hand in impatience and stalked off.

"Jim, slow down, this is ridiculous!" he yelled as they left the building, Jim keeping slightly ahead of him. The night air was cool and damp as they headed for Leonard's apartment. "Stop, Jim," he said, pulling on Jim's arm. "Talk to me!"

Jim shook his hand off in annoyance, but turned to face him. "What?"

"It doesn't make sense, Jim," he said carefully. "They harassed you, attacked you, hurt you, and then abandoned you in a collapsing building." Jim flinched and gritted his teeth, but Leonard pressed on. "Why wouldn't you want to testify against them?"

"Maybe I don't want to get involved." Jim looked up at him defiantly. "Maybe I want to do what's right for me, not for Starfleet."

"For Starfleet..." Leonard sputtered. "It's not about Starfleet. I think you should testify because these are sadistic bastards and they shouldn't have a chance to do to anyone else what they did to you!"

"So you're telling me that it's my duty to testify, like Pike?" Jim looked furious, but there was an undercurrent of hurt in his voice. "Make what happened public knowledge? Let the whole goddam Fleet know what happened to George Kirk's son?" He snorted. "I'm sure there would be plenty of people interested in hearing all about that. They'll have a goddam field day."

This isn't about Turner and Dillard, Leonard realized with a shock. It's about Tarsus.

Taking a deep breath, Leonard took a step closer to him. "I know what happened, Jim," he said, watching Jim's face carefully. "Listen to me, Jim. I know what you're hiding, and I know why."

Jim gave him a hesitant look, then frowned and shook his head. "Nobody knows that, Bones."

"Well, you know, Jim. You told me part of it, and Pike filled in the rest."

"No, I never--"

"You were out of your head that night, Jim," Leonard cut in. "After the attack. You'd been drugged. You were hallucinating and you said some pretty strange things. You said that someone was going to break your hand because it was your third offense..."

Jim stared at him. "I said that?" It came out as a whisper.

"Pike came in to see you, and you... Well, you called him Lieutenant Pike." Jim drew in a sharp breath. "You said something about keeping Starfleet's dirty little secret..."

"It was a dirty secret," Jim mumbled.

"I know, kid. Pike told me. Tarsus IV. The dilithium mine."

"You knew about it..." Jim seemed bewildered. "I can't believe you knew. You didn't tell me..."

"It was a terrible secret, and you've kept it all these years while they got away with murder."

"Not murder, Bones," Jim said with a defeated sigh. "It was a massacre. So many people..."

Leonard shook his head. "Greed and power make a bad combination, Jim. Especially when children are involved."

"I should have done something..." Jim's voice cracked and he fell silent.

Leonard took another step toward him until they were almost touching. "What could you have done? You weren't responsible for what happened. You couldn't have stopped it."

Jim's voice dripped with self-hatred. "I should have spoken up, Bones. I should never have let them get away with what they did. I should have testified then."

"You did what you could! It was a dangerous, impossible situation." Leonard said emphatically. "You had no weapons and no way to fight back. You saved other children--"

"Not enough--"

"No, Jim, it was more than enough. You did things most people would be too scared to do, and you were only fourteen years old, dammit!"

"I wanted to testify, at the beginning. I did. But Pike came and talked to us. My mother said... She said that because of my name, people would never leave me alone if they knew what had happened." He laughed harshly. "She wanted me to have a normal life."

"She was trying to protect you," he said gently.

"I guess she was a little late, then." The pain in Jim's voice made him wince.

"Jim, Starfleet covered up what happened, and you couldn't have changed that by yourself." He paused, then went on determinedly, "But this is different. I don't really care if you testify or not. But you'll blame yourself if you don't do it, just like you've been blaming yourself for years for what happened on Tarsus."

In the silence that followed his words, Leonard wondered if he'd gone too far.

"Not for what happened, Bones," Jim said finally. "For not speaking out. For keeping quiet. After it happened, after Pike came to see us, I just wanted... I don't know... To get away. To forget. To stop thinking about it."

"That's understandable. That's a normal human reaction."

"But you think I should testify now," he said bleakly.

"I think you're not thinking clearly about this, Jim," he said. "Give yourself a little time before you decide. You nearly died a week ago. That's not something you can just brush off."

"I thought I was going to die, Bones. Abandoned in a collapsing building. Buried alive and suffocating..." His voice hitched. "Alone."

"Jim," Leonard said, putting a hand on his shoulder and drawing him closer. "You weren't alone."

Jim let himself be pulled into Leonard's embrace. He was shaking, Leonard realized. He hugged him tightly, stroking his hair while Jim shuddered in his arms, his breathing coming in harsh gasps.

This feels right, he thought, surprised at how comfortable he felt with Jim's closeness, with the warmth of his body against his chest.

...

Leonard's comm buzzed, and he smiled when he saw who was calling. Meet me here when you get off work, the message read. It was followed by a set of GPS coordinates.

At 1800, Leonard sent back. What's the address?

I want you to see something. Just come.

At twenty past six, Leonard found himself following the GPS instructions through the length of the Academy campus. Not wanting to spoil Jim's surprise, he'd resisted the urge to use his PADD to request a specific address, and let himself be pointed in the right direction by the calm computerized voice. "Please turn left along the path," he heard now. "Continue for two hundred meters."

He was coming up on east campus; he could see Jim's partially collapsed dorm, Glenn Hall, covered by scaffolding. Three weeks after the quake, the grounds of the Academy still showed signs of the trauma everywhere, in the ruined landscaping and the damaged buildings. He passed a group of cadets industriously planting a small grove of trees. "Please turn right in five meters," the GPS prompted him. "Continue for one hundred twenty meters."

Now he could see Jim waiting ahead of him on the path, and he clicked off the PADD. Jim was standing in front of the remains of a low building which was in the process of being demolished to rubble by a building crew and a large piece of equipment.

"Bones!" Jim called out, clearly pleased, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "You found it!" He looked more relaxed and confident than Leonard had seen him in months.

He rolled his eyes. "It wasn't so hard, Jim. Navigation's pretty easy nowadays. That damn GPS starts complaining at me the minute I take a step in the wrong direction. 'Please return to the designated path.' Wouldn't even let me walk on the goddamn grass."

Jim laughed and stretched, moving his shoulders back until Leonard heard a loud click. "I was working all day on the grounds crew, and if you walked on the grass I just planted, I swear I'll punch you."

Leonard smiled, but his eyes were on the demolished building in front of them. Only the foundations of the building remained—the basement. "This is the chem lab, isn't it."

Jim nodded. "Riker Lab. Thought you might want to see its dying moments. Before they rebuild."

Leonard raised an eyebrow at the choice of words, but said nothing.   

"See there?" Jim pointed to an area in the far left corner of the basement. "That's where the CO2 tank was. And over there," he said, pointing further to his right, "is where Turner and Dillard climbed out. On my back." Jim stared quietly at the building, his ebullience fading into something more pensive.

This place obviously held a special significance for Jim, Leonard thought, but he wasn't sure why Jim had asked him to come see it. Surely there must be a measure of relief in seeing the destruction of a place which held such terrifying memories, but Leonard felt that there was more to it.

"I was meaning to ask you about that part," Leonard said. "Whose idea was that, for you to help them climb out?"

Jim sighed, shaking his head. "Actually, it was my idea. Pretty pathetic, huh?"

"You offered to help them get out, even though you must have known that it would leave you trapped there?" Leonard asked. "Even after you found out what they'd done?"

"I couldn't climb out," Jim explained, looking embarrassed. "My arm was fucking useless. It damn near killed me just to have them stepping on my back."

"But they could have pulled you out, couldn't they? One could have pulled from above and the other could have lifted you from below…"

Jim hesitated. "I thought about that," he admitted. "It wasn't my goal to end up there alone, you know. But it was pretty obvious that somebody was going to have to end up being the last one out, and…"

And you volunteered. "You picked the short straw."

"I wasn't going to ask one of them to stay instead of me," he corrected. "It had nothing to do with what they'd done to me. It was just a command call. I was hurt. They weren't. They had the best chance of getting out of the building and calling for help." He smiled up at Leonard sheepishly. "Guess you think that was pretty stupid, huh?"

"That's not the word I'd use, actually," Leonard said, with a small smile, thinking, No, not stupid. Noble, maybe. Selfless.

Heroic.

"It was my choice."

"I don't think you had much choice, kid. That's just who you are."

Jim nodded. "Maybe you're right… Anyway, I went to see Pike today, Bones."  

"Is that so. Well, don't keep me in suspense, kid."

Jim turned slightly, so that his face was hidden from Leonard's view. "We talked for a while, about...what happened back then," he said quietly. "On Tarsus, and afterwards...when he came out to see us."

"Sounds like that talk was long overdue."

"He's a little different than he was when I knew him as a kid," Jim said with a low laugh. "Or maybe I didn't really know him, then…"

"Maybe you've both changed, Jim. Eight years is a long time." Leonard smiled. "I think he's a pretty good guy. And he got you out of there," he said, gesturing at the ruined building, "faster than you could spit. Give him a little credit."

"Well, I told him that I'd testify," he said, as if it had been obvious all along. "The hearing is next week."

Leonard nodded. "What made you change your mind, Jim?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. You were right, I guess. I don't want to make the same mistake twice." He sighed. "I guess I'd rather do what's right and damn the consequences."

Leonard smiled. "Fuck 'em, Jim. Whatever you decide is fine, as long as you're comfortable with it. And if you want me at the hearing," he said, "I'll be there."

"I know," Jim said. "Anyway, what's a little more fame and notoriety for The Boy Who Lived? Let's go get something to eat."

End.


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