A/N: Well, this is it, bbs...the final chapter of the prompt that ate my life. (The "fairy tale" prompt from Team Jones... Thanks a lot, guys.)
The plot has swerved and taken a lot of twists and turns that I never expected it would. Tarsus turned out to be a dilithium cover-up. Jim and Bones kissed. The Academy got shaken up and no, in the end, Finnegan wasn't behind the attack. Well, at least, he denied it and there wasn't any evidence against him...
So to sum up, this has been a fabulous, fantastic adrenaline rush and I want to send a huge thank-you to everyone who commented. Because yes, in the end, I love getting reviews, and I appreciate every single one of them.
And now...on to the conclusion of Any Road Will Take You There.
"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.
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 walked. 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 deep."
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 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."
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 out my guts 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 a serious issue 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."
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 really 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 really 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--"
"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 goddam 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 have climbed 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.
"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." Leonard looked at him. No wonder he looks so good, he thought. He's made his decision. Jim's expression was sober.
"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," Jim 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."