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Borrowed Feet

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He was standing in a bar somewhere. There was a drink in his hand. He didn't know what type it was, but it fizzed and trailed pale green smoke as he moved.

Someone - Admiral Pike? - said, "You've had three drinks already, you might as well have another one. You're already off the wagon." Leonard thought that sounded reasonable but he couldn't remember when he'd had the drinks, or why, or how he'd gotten hold of them. He had duty in two hours, he couldn't drink before he went on duty. His stomach clenched up in tight panic. Had he really taken a drink? He couldn't remember. It had been so long, but maybe he had -- a heavy weight landed on his chest, and he grunted. He opened his eyes.

Fat Bill was on his chest, real as anything. You couldn't find anything realer than that cat, especially when he sat on you. He was almost as real as Jim was. Fat Bill rammed his bony forehead into Leonard's chin with bruising force, and began to purr.

There was another, heavier weight by his legs. Leonard reached down and felt rough-silk fur. He craned his neck as well as he could around Fat Bill and saw a black flank, even as Tib, his favorite of the med dogs, huffed a sigh and scooted closer to him.

Leonard felt pretty suffocated, but definitely awake, and the lingering anxiety from the dream was dissipating like a charm. He rubbed his face and sighed.

"Why are you here?" he said to Fat Bill, scratching his ear as Fat Bill impatiently shoved his head under Leonard's hand. "Shouldn't you --" Oh, right, Jim was in the regen tank, and Spock was on hour something terrible of a duty shift that he was only getting away with because he was a Vulcan and didn't believe in sleep. Fat Bill liked Spock the best, of course, but he spent most of the time he couldn't spend with Spock with Jim instead. They had a strange, abrasive relationship where Jim heaped abuse on him and Fat Bill upchucked diet kibble into his boots.

Leonard knew cats, and Jim. They wouldn't be paying attention to the other if they didn't like them.

Something caught his eye. "Hell," he said, staring at the monitor band on his wrist. There was an orange-red section in the middle of the black band, which meant that whatever level it was monitoring was still not good. Also it meant that Christine and Geoffrey had risen up against him and he was probably locked out of anything but paperwork for the foreseeable future. "Computer, what is this monitoring?"

"Monitor band prescribed to McCoy, Leonard Howard to track: cortisol, other stress markers, by Chapel, Christine Anne. Monitor band locks out Chief Medical Officer from all med bay duty until cortisol and other stress markers reach ten percent or less of baseline ranges. Exception for: shipwide emergency. Lockout initiated by: M'Benga, Geoffrey Richard and approved by: Commander Spock."

"You rotten bastards," marveled McCoy. "You sons of bitches. You bitch."

"Alert: Medical Canine Companion 'Tiberius' has been assigned to McCoy, Leonard Howard until removal of monitor band. Alert: Ship's-cat First Class 'Fat Bill' has been assigned to McCoy, Leonard Howard until removal of medical band. Alert: Message from Chapel, Christine Anne: 'No you are not locked out of the regen tank, yes you only have visiting privileges, yes he is doing fine as he ever does, no you will not be allowed in until you eat two meals, and sleep at least ten hours.' Alert: You have slept four hours of your prescribed ten. Alert: you have eaten none of your prescribed meals. Have a pleasant rest."

There was something vaguely reproachful about the computer's voice, like it wasn't going to nag him about how he took care of himself, but he knew the ship worried, didn't he. Sometimes Leonard, among the other paranoid fantasies he harbored and cultivated religiously, wondered about that. Considering the complexity of the ship's systems and the processing power each part had, and the complexity of the main system co-ordinating the others, it wouldn't have surprised him one little bit to find out that the Enterprise was sailing full speed ahead into sentience.

Well. If she was, she seemed to like her crew all right, and if she didn't like someone she hadn't actually sent them out an airlock -- yet -- although Leonard was pretty sure some people had more trouble with their hot water than others. Anyway, she probably worshipped Jim like Jim worshipped her, so there was that. Also Scotty probably wouldn't let the ship kill them all. Probably.

Still, the computer could sound exactly like his mother. Leonard sighed and pushed Fat Bill aside enough to flail out of the complicated trap of a full-grown McNab collie and three blankets. Tib opened one eye and spread himself out over the rest of the bed as Leonard sat up. "Computer, replicate high-protein breakfast two." No, to hell with it, he deserved some god damn bacon after spending twelve hours stitching Jim up enough to transfer to regen. "Cancel that, make it number thirteen."


Leonard really hoped Christine hadn't blocked him from drinking caffeine, because otherwise there would be words. Still, if they wanted him to sleep, Jesus Christ, six more hours, he couldn't have coffee anyway.

"Meal replicated," said the computer, and Leonard went to get the tray. He ate ninety percent of it -- well, eighty-five at the very least, because Fat Bill had eyes like drilling lasers and Tib had a knack of lying under a table and radiating "I'm a good patient dog who deserves at least a piece of toast. A good dog. Who loves you. And your toast" at people that left you feeling vaguely like you were a terrible person unless you saved some back for him. The plate was empty, and he'd eaten most of it, so that was probably good enough for Christine, he figured.

He put the tray back in the slot and sat down on his bed. Tib put his muzzle on Leonard's knee and stared at him.

He might as well sleep again. God alone knew the dog wasn't going to leave him alone otherwise, and Fat Bill was already curled on his pillow, giving him an unimpressed look.

Leonard was trying to find Jojo, to find Jim, swimming through blue-green regen fluid and trying to call their names. He looked at paperwork, looked at it again, and realized it had changed. So he was dreaming again. He had a way to deal with that. He could -- he could change the dream. Was he dreaming? He looked at the paper again, blinked, and saw something else on it. A drawing from Jojo. Was it a map? Jim was lost. He went to find Spock and now Leonard couldn't -- there was a bell ringing. It kept ringing, even though Leonard couldn't find it.

Where the hell was that bell? It was -- his alarm clock, sounding six hours.

Leonard groaned and rolled over. His head felt filled with lead. He buried his pillow in his face for a minute, and then sat up.

Tib had changed positions on the end of the bed, so he'd probably been to the animal mess and back. Fat Bill, as far as Leonard could tell, was in exactly the same position he had been when Leonard had laid down and found himself with a mouthful of gold tabby fur pressed up against his face.

It had been kind of nice, though, falling asleep with Fat Bill purring like a trash compactor beside him.

Maybe, if he took a shower and pretended to be a well-rested and rational human person, his god damn subordinates would let him in his own god damn office. Maybe.

Leonard went to the gym first, then to the showers, and the mess, because he knew that his staff was perfectly capable of shoving him straight back out the door if they thought he was there too soon. He saw one of the nurses on one of the other treadmills as he ran, too, so he was probably being spied on. Christine's eyes were everywhere, and Leonard for one knew better than to cross his head nurse.

When he finally slunk into the med bay, he headed straight for the regen tanks.

The Enterprise had five regen tanks, an unusual amount for a ship of her class. Before -- everything -- she had been meant for exploration as well as 'peacekeeping', and was built to handle potential accidents that the crew would face, and face alone, far away from space stations or even the support of other ships.

The regen tanks were expensive to run, in energy and materials and staffing hours, so the only time Leonard remembered seeing all five of them full was the long haul back to Earth after Vulcan, and even then only after the Florence Nightingale had resupplied them with gel and spare parts.

If they had been better protected during the battle, if the regen tanks had been ready to go as soon as they escaped the gravity well, if they had had enough power and staff to spare -- well, there was no use second guessing himself. They'd saved as many as they could and Christopher Pike could walk again, a little, at least.

Jim was in the center one. When Leonard put his hand to the side of the tank the display glass blossomed out into information panels: a rotating scan of Jim's body, graphs of his heart and lungs. Vitals good. Healing of the injury proceeding at expected rates. Expected time before release: fourteen hours. Nutrients being accepted and processed. Kidney and liver function normal. If it wasn't for the giant white synth-skin bandage covering half his abdomen, you'd think he was just taking a nap in blue-green jello.

This was not the thing that would kill Jim Kirk. Leonard had nursed him through three years of twenty-five credit semesters, a pregnancy scare (not, thank God, with Jim himself, but with that Marcus girl), two or three rounds of his entire immune system rising up against the Academy's replicated breakfasts and staging violent revolt, that time Jim drank an entire pint of Romulan ale and became convinced that Leonard was actually an immortal marine experimented on by shady government agencies on Mars ("but what about your twin sister, aren't you worried about your twin sister?"), the tenth anniversary of the Tarsus Famine (which Leonard only realized after the fact), Jim's horrible and inappropriate crush on Christopher Pike, and an actual family visit with Jim's mother and brother.

(The family visit had been the worst. Leonard would like to say he doesn't understand how people could love each other so much and yet need to never be in the same god damn solar system so hard, but hell, he was from Georgia. He got it.)

So, no. This round of regen -- this injury -- won't kill Jim. That was a privilege Leonard saved for himself.

Looking at Jim floating in the regen fluid isn't made easier by practice, though. They said you just were comatose, so you fell asleep one minute and when you opened your eyes it was three days and a new lung later. Leonard's not so sure. He's never been in himself, thank God, but sometimes Jim looked like he was dreaming, or trying to wake up: maybe he is. He's stubborn enough. And he hated being alone, and he hated being still, and Leonard hated seeing him like this, even if it was the only way.

Some people didn't like the regen tanks because they thought the patients looked like they were dead. Leonard didn't have that problem; people in the regen tanks looked alive to him. Asleep, maybe, or comatose, but they weren't -- dead people just looked dead. Stopped.

Still. Leonard leaned closer, looking carefully at Jim's face, as if he could read it enough to see what sort of dreams he was having, if he was dreaming at all. Some random eye movement, so maybe, maybe not. The drug mix was tailored for him and his nightmares, so he was at least probably having good dreams.

Tib whined, low and anxious, beside him. Leonard looked down at his monitor band and saw the color was creeping back up the red spectrum. "Dammit," he sighed, and turned back to main medbay. He'd rather stay with Jim, but he knew it wouldn't do any good.

Christine looked up as he trudged back in. Tib pressed anxiously at his heels, then circling him as he went to to Christine's desk and leaned against it to give her a stern look. "Really, Ms Chapel? Ten hours? Really?"

"Doctor, heal thyself," said Christine. "I want you to sleep another eight soon, and eat at least five hundred calories."

Leonard groaned. "You're killing me, woman! How the hell am I supposed to fit that in? I must have eaten at least fifteen hundred today."

"And for the three days before that I doubt you got fifty," said Christine flatly. "You've got to take better care of yourself, Leonard."

Leonard shifted his weight and tried not to glower. "Can I at least have paperwork today? I gotta finish the inventory before the end of quarter. Inventory's nice and soothing, right?"

"Not for you," said Christine. "Your stress levels always go up." She leaned forward and gave him a stern look. "Nothing, and I do mean nothing, to raise your stress levels for at least twenty four hours."

Leonard pulled his fingers through his hair and tried not to growl at her. The hell of it was, he knew she was right, and he knew she was the best at what she did. But it was so damn hard to stop and rest. "Well what the hell am I supposed to do then? Can't finish my paperwork. Too far out to call Jojo. Can't do inventory. Already ran five miles and I ain't running another five. Sat in the sauna ten minutes and wondered what the hell I was doing there. Jim's comatose in regen. Spock's on the bridge and I still have twelve hours before I can make him stand down."

"Read a book," suggested Christine, "Knit a square of the captain's afghan. Catch up on your journals and write nasty letters to the contributors, that always cheers you up. Clean out Communications in poker. Something, anything, as long as it gets you out of my hair."

Fat Bill reappeared suddenly and levitated himself onto Christine's desk, and allowed Christine to tickle behind his ears before settling down for a good wash.

:"And that's another thing," said Leonard, remembering. "Two companion animals? Why two? I'm a grown man with a medical degree, you know."

Christine stared at him for a minute with the age-old expression of a nurse faced with breaking the news to a doctor that he was, in fact, an idiot.

"I can take care of myself, you know," said Leonard stubbornly.

Fat Bill lifted his head from scrubbing his ass to give him a faintly incredulous look. Well, hell, when even the cat was against you. "I just need -- well, I know you aren't going to let me away with just the monitor band, because I wouldn't either. But can't you reassign Fat Bill? I don't need two and you know that as soon as Spock gets off shift he's going to just go -- son of a bitch!" Fat Bill hissed and smacked Leonard's hand, hard, with his claws out.

Leonard grabbed his bleeding hand and stared at Fat Bill. Fat Bill laid his ears back and hissed at him, which dropped into an angry growl. His tail was bushed out and he lashed it angrily.

After a minute Christine said, "I don't think he liked that, Leonard."

"Well, I beg his pardon then, but I know he likes Jim and Spock better than -- Jesus Christ, cat, simmer down!" said Leonard, rattled, as Fat Bill coiled up on the desk, obviously preparing to smack him on the face this time. "I should go wash this up."

"And after that, why don't you take both of them and have another sleep," said Christine, not unkindly.

Leonard stared at his wall, not really thinking about anything in particular. He was bad at meditation -- worse than Jim was, which was just pathetic -- but he could clear his mind, laboriously, a little bit at a time, like weeding a garden. The monitor band was a sort of greeny gold, so that was good. He didn't look at it often, because if he did he kept on looking at it, willing it to go greener, and that never worked. Tib was sacked out just where a socked foot could rub his flank, twitching a little sometimes as he dreamed.

Fat Bill jumped up the arm of the chair and stared at him with wide green-gold eyes. He'd avoided Leonard for hours, keeping at the edge of eyeshot, obviously staying with him but refusing to come near him all the same.

"All right," said Leonard, sighing. He said, "I'm sorry I said you'd desert me. I can't believe I'm apologizing to a cat. But. I'm sorry."

Fat Bill studied him for a minute more and jumped heavily in Leonard's lap. He turned around once, twice, and then half a circle for good measure, and then curled into a warm knot on Leonard's lap. Tib shifted a little closer.

Leonard closed his eyes.

The next thing he knew, Spock's voice was saying, "Doctor? Doctor McCoy. If you would kindly -- "

"'m wake," said Leonard. Fat Bill let out a rusty chirp at Spock, but didn't actually get up. "Jim?"

"I was sent to fetch you by Nurse Chapel," said Spock, who was now a blurry mass of black and blue as Leonard blinked the sleep out of his eyes. Then Leonard processed 'sent to fetch you' and jerked awake.

Fat Bill kept his balance by clawing Leonard's thighs into hamburger.

"He's fine," said Spock. "Dr M'Benga says they will begin the process as soon as you are there to supervise."

Leonard took a deep breath, and then another one, and then Spock was crouched by him, not touching but close enough to feel his presence, and Fat Bill sat up and hit his chin with his hard forehead, and Tib's nose was suddenly under Leonard's hand. Jim was waking up soon. Jim wouldn't --

"I'm fine," he said, pushing away cat and dog and trying to stand up without touching the Vulcan. "Let's go."

"Can I get this damn thing off?" said Leonard, stalking into the Med Bay. "Quick, before it goes red again."

"What color is it?" said Geoffrey, by the wash stand. He dried his hands off under the UV light.

"Green, green like grass, like the bluegrass of Kentucky, like moss, like --"

"Well, come here then," said Geoffrey, as calm as usual. He pulled out the key from one of the drawers, and Leonard held his wrist out. There was a chime, and the monitor band fell open. Leonard pulled it from his wrist and threw it at the nearest disposal unit.

Geoffrey shook his head at him. "You just have a problem with those bands," he said.

"I don't have a problem with them. I have a problem with people who put them on me in my sleep and refuse to take them off."

"Which is the entire point," said Geoffrey.

"Yes, thank you," said Leonard. "Can we get the rest of this dog and pony show over with?"

"The captain's not waking up without you there, Len," said Geoffrey. "On the biobed, there you go."

Leonard pushed himself up on the bed and watched the screen light up. Not bad, not bad at all, he thought. If it was someone else he'd give them a talking-to about longterm stress levels and maybe some -- "You all better not think about putting me on light duty."

"Well," drawled Geoffrey, in a really poor imitation of Leonard's accent, "Y'all can have a week of light duty or you can have two days off."

Leonard glared at him.

"It's going to take at least three to get the captain back on his feet," pointed out Geoffrey. "You might as well take the time."

"Hell," said Leonard.

"And Christine thinks you should have at least Tib with you until you get back to regular duty. You're not taking care of yourself, Len."

Leonard scowled, but it wasn't exactly a hardship to have a dog around him all the time. "I resent hearing that from a person who fainted after twenty hours of standing at an operating table."

"Yes, but I took three days off afterward," said Geoffrey. "Unlike a certain other person I could mention."

"Hey," said Leonard. The biobed chimed again, and Geoff picked up his padd to sign off. "Come on, let's get this done, I got a captain to unpickle."

He looked up at Leonard and said, "Are you all right? You're acting a little high strung."

"I'm fine," said Leonard. "I don't like the regen tanks much, is all. It's not like it is with Jim, though. I don't hate them like he does."

Geoffrey waited.

"My father -- before he died, they tried putting him in a regen tank, to see if it would slow the disease. It didn't -- it didn't work." Leonard swallowed hard.

Geoffrey said, "The captain is all right. We're getting him out right now."

"Yeah," said Leonard. "I know."

The fluid drained down to the purifying tank as the capsule swung slowly to horizontal. Leonard was next to it, watching it closely as it came to rest and Jim's face broke clear of the surface of the gel. Geoffrey was calling out the readings as they scrolled up, "Clear. Clear. Fifty percent drained. Lung function clear. Clear. Clear. Sixty percent drained. Clear. Pulse stable. Blood pressure within normal range. Clear. Seventy percent drained."

Jim took a shuddering deep breath. "There you go," said Leonard, even though Jim wasn't conscious and couldn't hear him, not really. "There you go, another breath for me." The lid slid open and he put an oxygen mask over Jim's face.

"Drain complete," said Geoffrey, even as Jim blinked, hazy eyes focused on Leonard for a second before they closed again. "All right, let's get him to a bed."

"Ready?" said Leonard, as the capsule's sides collapsed into the base. "Chapel, get the gurney over here. All right, got him? On three, then." He took a better grip on Jim shoulders as Geoffrey grabbed Jim's legs and Christine got in position at his torso.. "One - two - three!" Jim slid to the transfer gurney, slick as a whistle, and Christine covered him with a warming blanket.

Spock was in the waiting area, not pacing, exactly. As the gurney whirred past him, he looked over and pressed his lips tightly together, as if he was feeling an emotion. Leonard didn't have time to needle him about it.

After they got Jim cleaned and changed and in the recovery bed, though, he came over and said, "You want to sit with him for a while?"

Spock opened his mouth, as if to argue he was a Vulcan and above things like sitting at a friend's bedside, but Leonard just stared at him. "I -- yes, thank you, doctor."

Leonard went to clean himself up and get Christine to tell Fat Bill he was off duty. When he came back to Recovery, Fat Bill was sitting on Spock's shoulder, purring audibly. Leonard sat down on the other side of the bed, Fat Bill kicked off from Spock's shoulder and landed with a heavy thump on Leonard's lap.

"Oh, sure, just jump over the hospital bed," said Leonard, stroking down Fat Bill's warm silky back. "Get fur everywhere. See if I care."

Fat Bill purred. The med bay was quiet, with only the distant noises of the staff at work to break the silence.

"Must be nice to be a cat," said Leonard, rubbing under Fat Bill's chin.

"Perhaps," said Spock.