Any Road Will Take You There
Beta'd by the fabulous Saharra Shadow and ggo85. Thanks for all your valuable input!
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.
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.
"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—"
"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."
Leonardraised 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—"
"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—"
"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."
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."
"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."
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