And now, the conclusion:
Slowly, Leonard became aware that he existed. That alone shouldn't have seemed like such a big deal, but for some reason, it was. That existence, he realized next, was rather comfortable. He was on a soft surface, propped at a relaxing angle, and he was resting. Rest seemed like a big deal, too.
Next, he realized that there were sounds, muffled at first, then slowly resolving into something coherent. A woman's voice, very soft or distant, but speaking evenly and factually. He didn't recognize the voice, so he figured he ought to open his eyes and see who was talking.
He was in a small room with plenty of subdued natural light slanting in from a shaded window. Bland-colored walls, and… beeping. Constant, steady beeping. Such a familiar, reassuring sound. He was a doctor - of course he'd recognize a cardiac rhythm. And that's when he realized it was his own.
Slowly, the memories and the realization started coming back as awareness began to pierce the fog around his brain. He was on a biobed in a hospital. Out the window, he could see across the bay to Starfleet Academy, not Starfleet Headquarters, which meant he wasn't even at the Academy Infirmary - he was at Starfleet Medical. Whatever had happened, it must have been bad if he'd ended up there. Really bad.
He tried to take stock of his current physical condition, from what he could tell on his own. Nothing hurt too badly. He had a slight headache, and his left leg felt a bit funny, but other than that, there was nothing he could really determine. Frowning at himself, he tried to remember. A headache, and something wrong with his leg…
He'd been injured. He'd been injured in a training simulation. No, that wasn't right. In fact, it had been all wrong. It hadn't just been training. He couldn't remember what had gone wrong or why he couldn't shake the idea that something he knew was supposed to be a training sim had turned on its head. There had been some clue, some feeling, someone that Jim recognized, and Jim had been shot, and there had been an explosion… and the last thing he remembered was Jim clutching his hand and clinging as if it was his last chance and that was goodbye.
"Jim…" he croaked, shocked by how dry his throat was.
Something moved near his hand, just out of the range of his vision. Then in a rush, a head popped up and was staring at him as if he'd just seen either a ghost or his salvation or both. "Bones!"
"Hey Jim, how are you -"
In an instant, Jim had flung an arm across Leonard's torso, clinging to him and burying his face in the coarse hospital blanket. "Bones," he said again, muffled by the blankets, "you're awake. Thank God you're awake." His shoulders shook with pent-up emotion and his fingers clenched tighter into the blanket.
Feeling a bit awkward - he wasn't used to being a patient - Leonard reached up and patted Jim on the shoulder. He pointedly ignored the IV stuck in his hand, which meant he'd been unconscious for a while if they'd had to resort to that. "Jim, it's okay. It's fine."
Jim's head came up slowly, and Leonard got a good look at him. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days, there were circles under his eyes, and his jaw and cheek were splotched with faded smudges of sickly green from contusions that were too deep to be fully fixed by a tissue regenerator. He also looked worried. Really worried, and just a bit irritated. "It's not fine, Bones. You were in surgery for hours. You've been unconscious for three days. They only let you out of the ICU this morning."
Leonard bit his lower lip. "I was in the ICU? What happened?"
If anything, the deep lines of concern on Jim's face dug even deeper. "You don't remember? Can you remember anything?"
"I remember a really nasty headache, but I figured you'd just been talking too much again." At the gobsmacked expression on Jim's face, Leonard realized that now was probably not the time for sickbed humor. "I'm sorry, Jim. Not the time for jokes. It's coming back to me, but I'm still a bit fuzzy on the details."
"Yeah… no joking, Bones. Not about that." Jim shuddered, and it was a visible effort for him to meet Leonard's eyes. "They wouldn't let me in to see you. I had to sneak in the first time."
"Not family, huh?"
There was a flash of sheepishness in Jim's eyes, and he ducked his head for a moment. "Actually, they would have waived that. I think they get the fact that when two people almost… when two people have been through shit like that together, then that's good enough for family."
Leonard frowned. "Then why not?"
Even more sheepishness. "Because they wouldn't officially let me out of bed until this morning."
"Oh… oh." Leonard narrowed his eyes and noticed for the first time that Jim was actually wearing set of Starfleet Medical pajamas. His right arm was in an immobilizer, and there were probably other things being held together with the proverbial bubble gum and baling wire. "Dammit Jim, what did those bastards do to you?"
"They put a phaser burn through my favorite jacket, that's what they did." At Leonard's scowl, Jim rolled his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "It's fine, Bones. Nothing too serious. The doctors just wanted the nerve endings to heal right. And my right lung. Damned old-school phaser. But the immobilizer will come off this afternoon, and they said they'd release me tomorrow morning." He looked petulant for a split second, but then his face went deadly serious. "It's nothing compared to what you went through. Shit, don't you remember? They fractured your skull, Bones. You'd been bleeding inside your head for almost two hours before I even had a chance to try to help you. If they hadn't had a vascular stabilizer in the first aid kit… if the shuttlecraft had been a minute later…" His voice broke. He raised his free hand as if trying to say something in gestures, but quickly gave up and leaned his face into his hand. His eyes closed as he rubbed them harshly. "You almost died on me."
"I wouldn't have, Jim. I -"
"Don't say that," Jim interrupted sharply, and there was a hint of something like desperation in his eyes. "I don't need or want the reassurance, because that would cheapen the fact that you're still alive." The last few words came out in a rush, unexpected in their starkness, just a bit too real and raw.
"Oh." Leonard let the silence hang in the air for a moment, trying to think of what he could say; what would be the right thing. He might not remember all the details yet, but he did remember that it had been Jim's quick thinking, skill, and sheer refusal to quit that had gotten them both out alive. "I'm still alive because of you."
Jim stared at him for a second, then looked away, mumbling something inaudible.
"Jim, look at me." He waited until Jim had turned back; reluctantly, but with solid eye contact. He spoke slowly and deliberately, determined that Jim wouldn't miss a single nuance of meaning. "You stayed calm when most people would have panicked. You used your skills and knowledge to outsmart those people, form an escape plan, and do it all while playing the part of a medic - quite well, actually. I am still alive because of you."
Jim looked back at him for a long moment, and Bones swore he saw a wet sheen in Jim's eyes before they fluttered closed in a sort of weak surrender. "But we still worked together," he whispered. He glanced back up without raising his head. "Even with the state you were in - and Bones, it was bad - you stayed calm, too. You shot that guy while you were on your back and he had a phaser aimed at me. Fuck, you even got me to set my phaser to stun - do you remember that? I would have been too happy to leave it on kill at that point." A pained smile worked its way onto Jim's face. "You're my moral compass, Bones."
Leonard couldn't help but snort at that. "I'm a bitter, cynical divorcee who drinks too much. If I'm your moral compass, kid, you're going to be a piece of work."
"I already am. And you are." He gave a tired grin. "We'll be okay."
Leonard met the grin with one of his own. "Yeah, we will."
The moment held only briefly, then Jim noticed something. "Oh! I've been waiting for this to come up. I'm glad you woke up in time, Bones. You've got to see this." He spun around in his seat and slid to the side, giving Leonard a clear view of a holovid screen on the wall. A woman dressed in business attire was speaking from behind a conference desk. News report. So that's the female voice I heard earlier. Jim hit a control panel and the audio stream got louder.
"… for the week while the Andorian trade minister visits San Francisco. In the meantime, local engineers have begun breaking ground for the Deltan settlement near the city of Covelo. Expected to become a thriving community, this settlement has been highly anticipated as a center of cultural exchange, education, and commerce. While its first new citizens are not expected to arrive for another six to eight months, the establishment of this settlement has not been greeted fondly by all humans. For that story, we go to Jeremiah reporting from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco."
The holovid shifted to a view of the Academy quad and an over-coiffed, middle-aged man in a civilian suit.
"Thank you, Heidi. Starfleet officials have finally confirmed rumors that four bombs were planted at the famous Cochrane Hall here at Starfleet Academy last Thursday. The bombs were the work of the terrorist organization Terra Prime, which has successfully struck several Federation targets in the last few years. This bomb plot was, however, foiled by two Starfleet cadets who were taken hostage by the operatives who planted the bombs."
Leonard felt his eyes go wide. It had all been fuzzy until now, but this was too damned real. He wanted to say something, but he suddenly felt numb, like a nightmare he'd wished he'd imagined had suddenly been confirmed. The holovid image zoomed out enough to add a second person, this one a familiar face. Captain Pike was standing alongside the reporter, hands serenely folded in front of him. The reporter addressed Pike.
"Captain Pike, Academy officials refused to address these rumors for almost three days. Is there a reason for this?"
Pike didn't flinch, showing himself to be every inch the Starfleet officer and the professional, but Leonard could see the tightly controlled emotions and thoughts spinning behind that calm mask.
"Partially in deference to the holiday, but also because Starfleet Headquarters is still conducting its own investigation. This incident involved two junior cadets who are still in the hospital, one of whom was classified in critical condition until this morning. It seemed proper to wait until we knew more before speaking to the media."
Leonard felt distinctly uneasy at the idea of being discussed like this. The term critical condition stuck in his head, somehow making it more real to hear it on a news holovid, from Captain Pike.
"Will they make a full recovery?"
"Starfleet Medical is the best in the quadrant, and we expect them to both return to duty soon."
The answer seemed to satisfy the reporter, but Leonard heard more in it. Apparently, so did Jim, because without looking, he reached back with his left hand and grabbed Leonard's right, saying without words, I'm here.
"Can you give us more information now? Terra Prime has gained momentum since the attack on the USS Kelvin twenty-three years ago, but has been particularly active in the past five years. Their successful bombing of the Federation Embassy in Paris demonstrated that they've become a significant threat again. How did they manage to plant explosives on the Starfleet Academy campus? How did two cadets - did you say junior cadets? - how did they manage to undermine the activities of a group like Terra Prime?"
Pike nodded grimly. "Starfleet Security is still investigating how they managed to infiltrate the Academy grounds. Four epsilon-type photon explosives were planted. The terrorist group's primary goal had been to use the bomb threat alone as leverage, but on route to plant the bombs, they encountered our two cadets outside the campus grounds, and they changed their tactic to a hostage negotiation." A faint smile lit Pike's face. "They neglected to realize, however, that Starfleet cadets are just Starfleet officers who haven't graduated yet, and we have the best."
A warm flush of pride swelled in Leonard's chest - not for himself, but for Jim. He squeezed Jim's hand lightly, and was pleased that Jim squeezed back.
On the holovid screen, Pike continued. "One of the cadets was used to make a ransom holovid, and he was able to give us the codes for an emergency evacuation, a bomb threat, and the building designation number for Cochrane Hall. We evacuated the building and neutralized the explosives while the Terra Prime operatives still believed that all we knew about were the hostages. There were no casualties on campus."
Leonard felt his eyes open wider as amazement and relief hit him at once. Jim's encoded message had succeeded. Nobody had been hurt. Well, almost nobody.
"But there were casualties. Rumor has it that these two cadets not only managed to escape on their own, but also blew up the Terra Prime headquarters in the process. Is there any truth to those rumors?"
Leonard looked sideways at Jim, his mouth hanging open slightly. "Jim - that was their Headquarters?"
Jim cast him a quick glance and nodded, then jerked his head back towards the vid screen, indicating that he should keep listening to the news broadcast.
"The rumor mill apparently has good sources," Pike said evenly. "In their escape efforts, the cadets were able to use modified medical equipment to override the bunker's computers. Although they had only been attempting to override the bunker's systems to escape and to send a distress signal, they accidentally triggered a self-destruct sequence. The headquarters was destroyed, and the only Terra Prime operative who was not trapped inside was incapacitated by one of the cadets. He will face trial when he has recovered from his injuries."
"The world will be quite satisfied to see that trial." The reporter put on a curious look. "The report also indicated that a rescue shuttlecraft was already on its way to the general vicinity of the terrorist bunker when the cadets escaped. How was Starfleet able to locate them before they sent the distress signal?"
A jolt of nervousness ran up Leonard's spine. The only thing he could think of was the biosensor they'd fitted on him for the simulation exercise that had, apparently, never happened. How the hell would they explain that one to Jim?
On the screen, however, Pike grinned. "While the Terra Prime operatives had smashed the cadets' communicators, they hadn't found their ID chips. One of the cadets was able to drop the chips out of the vehicle used by the operatives while they were being transported to the headquarters. Once the chips were unshielded, our sensors were able to detect the tracking signature encoded in each chip. It gave us a general zone to begin the search. We pinpointed the location when cadets used the tricorder to override the bunker's transmission system long enough to send a precise distress signal that was picked up by our shuttlecraft."
"It's clear that your cadets are indeed the best. When will we be able to interview these cadets, Captain? They're being hailed as heroes, but Starfleet officials have refused to so much as identify them."
For the first time in the interview, Pike allowed himself to become noticeably terse. "You may interview these cadets at their discretion, and only once they have recovered from their injuries. We've omitted their names from public reports for their privacy."
"At my request," Jim said flatly, his tone making it clear that it was much more a demand than a request.
Apparently, this answer wasn't enough to satisfy the reporter. "The rumor mill has also suggested that one of these cadets is none other than the son of Captain George Kirk. Can you validate that rumor? Was he the cadet listed in serious or critical condition?"
Jim's grip on Leonard's hand suddenly got a lot tighter, and the muscles in his shoulders clenched.
"Ouch!" Leonard hissed as Jim's grasp pulled uncomfortably on the tube in his hand. "Jim, uh, easy on -"
"Shit! Sorry, Bones." Jim pulled his hand away as if he'd been burned, but Leonard caught his hand and folded it in his.
"It's okay, kid. It's okay." He nodded towards the holovid screen, and Jim reluctantly turned back to watch.
Pike, to his credit, was playing this very smoothly, despite the fact that Leonard could almost feel his eyes shooting daggers. "The rumor mill can speculate all it wants in regards to the official reports, the damage to the Terra Prime organization, and the valor of our excellent Starfleet personnel, whether they be crewmen, staff, cadets, or officers. Starfleet will gladly provide information to this end. However, when one of our own has requested privacy, especially when still recovering from severe injuries, I would highly suggest that the media use a touch more discretion in which rumors it chooses to pursue."
The reporter clearly got the message that the interview was over. With an abbreviated nod of gratitude, he turned back towards the recorder to close the interview, but Jim's hand was already on the holovid controls, switching them off.
Jim turned back to face Leonard, his expression unreadable. He seemed to be waiting for Leonard to say something.
"I don't know what to say, Jim."
Jim finally cracked a little smile. "I'm just glad you can say anything."
"So am I," came a familiar voice from the door. Captain Pike was leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded casually.
"Captain!" Leonard startled. "I didn't see you there. I'm sorry, I -"
"Doctor McCoy, you have absolutely no reason to apologize for anything." He ducked his head down. "May I come in?"
"I… of course. Please, Sir."
Pike walked into the room, his usual bold stride conspicuously subdued. "The broadcast was delayed, in case you're wondering how I got over here so quickly. I've actually been waiting to speak to you. We'd meant to debrief you as soon as possible when you woke up, but we were given strict instructions to leave you alone until you were a bit better oriented to your surroundings."
"The medical staff wanted to check me out first, I'd assume?" Leonard asked knowingly.
"Actually, they agreed to monitor you from outside the room unless there was a problem. It was Kirk here who suggested to both the medical staff… and myself… that you be allowed to wake up without a gaggle of people swarming you."
Leonard opened his mouth in a silent, "Ah," of understanding. "I appreciate that," he said aloud.
Pike smirked. "Actually, I believe the phrase he used was, 'He's been through enough. Piss off and leave him alone.'"
Leonard looked at Jim in disbelief. "You told the Commandant of Cadets to 'piss off'?"
Jim shrugged. "I was under the influence of painkillers. I can't be held responsible."
Leonard snorted and rolled his eyes. "Not responsible, my ass."
Pike gave Jim a sardonic look, but his words were addressed to Leonard. "We decided to give him a bit of leeway under the circumstances."
"I appreciate that, too," Leonard answered for the both of them, while giving Jim a look of his own. To his credit, Jim let himself wilt a bit under Leonard's glare.
"But now," Pike said slowly, nodding pointedly at Jim, "I think I need a few moments alone with Doctor McCoy here."
Jim sat a bit more rigidly in his chair and pressed his lips into a flat line. He was clearly reluctant to leave. With a sigh, Leonard squeezed his hand again. "I'm not going anywhere, Jim. I'll be here when you get back."
"Kirk, I've already debriefed you. McCoy deserves the same."
"Go on, Jim," Leonard said softly. "I'll see you later."
Tentatively, as though he was afraid that the instant he left, Leonard was going to disappear or die, Jim stood and released Leonard's hand. Then, as smoothly as possible, he schooled his face into his favorite shit-eating grin. "Sure thing, Bones. I'll go see if I can get sympathy points with the nurses," he said, indicating the immobilizer on his arm. With a wink, he turned and sauntered off.
"Right. But you take it easy!" Leonard called after him. "I don't need to worry about you messing up the fine work that Starfleet Medical has done on your sorry ass."
"Sure, Bones!" came the echoing reply from down the hall.
Leonard allowed himself a wistful sort of chuckle before hitting the control button to close the door and turning his attention back to Captain Pike.
Pike was studying him with that piercing gaze of his, and Leonard knew he could start this conversation with any of a dozen things. Figuring that the ball was once again starting in his court, Leonard opened his mouth to speak, but Pike spoke first.
"How long did it take for you to figure it out?" He cocked his head and frowned. "Well, first I should probably ask how much you remember clearly."
Leonard pursed his lips and blew a long breath out from between them. "Now that I've seen your media interview, Sir, I remember most of it, even if it's a bit fuzzy. At least, I remember the parts when I was conscious."
"Then that's pretty good," Pike said softly. "They were worried that you might have some memory loss."
Leonard grimaced. "I wish I could forget it, to be honest. But when did I figure it out?" He sighed and stared across at the blank wall. "I got whacked in the head right away, so I wasn't exactly thinking straight for most of it. I kept getting this feeling, like it wasn't what Commander Toland had told me in the briefing. And then the headquarters facility just seemed too… I don't know… established. And I didn't think a bomb threat was supposed to be part of it. But I didn't really realize that it wasn't the sim until maybe a minute before we actually got out of there."
Pike raised an eyebrow in surprise. "All that time you were there, you were still convinced that it was a simulation?"
"Convinced, no. But I couldn't… I didn't see any reason to believe otherwise."
"Doctor," Pike said, stressing the title, "you've read the Starfleet protocols for training sims. You know that whatever else we might do, our staff avoids head injuries… for exactly this reason."
Embarrassed or flabbergasted, Leonard wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure that he'd never forget something so obvious ever again. "How did I miss that?" he mused, shaking his head at his own stupidity.
"I think the head injury - you know, that one that would never have happened if this had been a training exercise - might have had something to do with it."
"Oh." Chagrin was definitely not an emotion he enjoyed.
Pike seemed to sense that, and gave him a sympathetic smile. "So, how did you figure it out that late in the game?"
"Well, we were almost out when this guy cornered us. I stunned him with a phaser, and when Jim went to hit him with a sedative to make sure he stayed down, he recognized the guy as an actual terrorist from a newscast he saw last year. The embassy bombing in Paris, Sir."
"He did mention that," Pike said, his tone level and controlled.
Leonard wished he had that much control left. "Captain Pike, just tell me straight - what the hell happened? I mean, we were there in the park, and I was expecting your team… and the Terra Prime operatives showed up and it seemed so obvious that the sim was starting… and what happened when your team showed up and we weren't there…?"
Pike held up a hand. "Take it easy, McCoy. You're getting yourself worked up, and I'm sure you don't want a doctor or five running in here to fuss over you."
Leonard blew out a frustrated breath. "This room is only big enough for one doctor, and he would love to leave." He felt his eyes go wide. "Damn, I'm worse than Jim."
Pike laughed. "I wouldn't say that. But as to your question - it was really that simple. We estimate that they got to you about fifteen minutes before we were set to engage contact for the simulation. We sent our team in, but you two were gone. We found the smashed communicators and blood on the ground - yours, McCoy - and realized that something had gone horribly wrong."
"I'll say." He leaned back against the biobed, thinking. "And the next thing you heard from us must have been Jim's hostage vid."
Leonard furrowed his eyebrows, getting a strange sense of déjà vu. Jim had too recently been on the butt end of another hostage vid, albeit a fake one, which hadn't gone so well. Although the cost had almost been too high, the price had been paid anyway. Jim had gotten his chance to fight something bigger. He'd won, but… "Sir, how did he do? How did he hold up… you know, when you saw him in the hostage vid?"
A broad grin spread across Pike's face. "I was wondering when you'd ask. Not that you really had to. Cadet Kirk lived up to the finest traditions of Starfleet protocols… with his own flavor, of course. But no, he didn't panic. Not at all. He did a fine job of acting the part of a junior medic, which probably saved both your asses. In fact, as he told me in our debriefing, it was a part he learned from a recent training sim." The grin turned into a more enigmatic smile. "He actually asked me to tell Commander Toland that her training helped him, and that he did much better the second time around."
Closing his eyes, Leonard breathed a sigh of relief and sent a silent thanks out into the universe. For all of it. "I'm glad."
"So are we."
A hand clapped gently on Leonard's shoulder, and he opened his eyes again to see Pike staring back at him, absolutely solemn. "Son, you know that you and Jim are being called heroes."
All Leonard could do was shake his head numbly in response for several seconds before stammering, "Not me. It was all Jim."
"Funny, that's not what he put in his official report."
"He… he what? Goddammit, Jim."
Pike chuckled. "It's okay, McCoy. But even if Kirk does tend to be peculiarly self-effacing when he's actually done something real, I doubt that his report of your valor was fabricated."
"Sir… I was incapacitated. I didn't do anything."
"Really?" Pike gave him a scrutinizing look. "Did you or did you not insist that Cadet Kirk set his phaser to stun - a key measure of upholding Starfleet standards of ethics in a combat situation?"
"Well, yes, but -"
"Did you not remind him to consider the bombs in Cochrane Hall while he formulated his escape plans, and tell him that the bomb threat had to come before your own safety?"
"Sure, but I thought -"
"And did you not instruct him more than once to leave you behind so he would have a better chance of escaping?"
"I did, but… Sir, I thought it was a simulation. That's different."
Pike leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his knees and giving Leonard a hard, level gaze. "Doctor McCoy, Starfleet training sims are carefully designed to test what a cadet would do in a real situation. It's been shown time and time again that what a cadet does in a sim will very closely parallel what that officer will do in the future. Tell me, what did Cadet Kirk do as a medic in a training simulation a week and a half ago?"
"Well," Leonard began thoughtfully, "he modified a medical tricorder to - oh."
"Keep going. What else?"
Leonard bit his lower lip, seeing where this was leading. "He played the part of the junior medic so that he wouldn't be noticed. He got the injured team members out of the line of fire…" His voice trailed off.
"And what you did at the Terra Prime headquarters while arguably under extreme physical duress… can you say that you would have performed less honorably had you known it was a real crisis?"
All Leonard could do was to shake his head.
"And it was a real crisis, McCoy. You and Kirk saved lives. Terra Prime will take a long time to regroup from this blow, which is time they won't be able to spend killing for their cause. There were still two-hundred and seventy three personnel in the building when Kirk's evacuation code came through. Happy Thanksgiving, Doctor - an entire campus… hell, the Federation is thankful for what you two did."
Leonard pressed his lips together and stared at the end of the biobed, still feeling awkward. "I'd rather they just leave me alone for now. About that. You know."
"I understand," Pike said. "And Kirk feels the same way. He also asked that we just let it go for now. I think he just wants a bit of quiet… or whatever passes for quiet for Jim Kirk. And he wanted to leave it up to you."
Confused, Leonard cocked his head. "Leave what up to me?"
"All of it." Pike spread his hands out. "The media, the planned awards ceremony… even officially telling the rest of the campus it was you two, although I'm sure they'll be able to guess. He said that if you want it, he'll do it, but it's up to you."
Leonard was quite sure his eyes were ready to pop out of their sockets. "Media? Awards ceremony? Sir, if Jim left that up to me, then he's got to know that I don't want any of that. It would be awkward and uncomfortable and I've had more than enough excitement for the year. But… Jim soaks up attention like a sponge soaks up water. Wouldn't that be good for him? Give him his confidence back?"
Pike merely shrugged. "I think he's got it back, McCoy. He saved his best friend's life and brought down a dangerous terrorist organization, and still managed to get back to school in time for class. It wasn't what we'd planned, but I think it had a powerful impact on him."
"I don't see how it couldn't have." Leonard thought for a moment. "You know, he's pretty perceptive, Captain. I wonder… I can't help but wonder… if this had never happened, and the simulation had gone forward as planned, would it have worked?"
Pike gave him a questioning look.
Leonard grit his teeth and growled softly. "I mean, we were determined to do something. I was so determined to do something to fix the kid. I think we might have been wrong."
"How so?" The question wasn't a challenge; it was merely a gentle prompt to get Leonard to say something that Pike had clearly already agreed with.
"He would have seen right through it, Sir. Or sensed something was off. He just has this grasp on the big picture, even when he doesn't realize it." Leonard let his shoulders slump as he admitted a defeat he should have realized before he'd even agreed to play the game. "We couldn't have fixed him, Sir, and I think it was wrong of us to try. It would have been fake, and that's not good enough for Jim. I think he needed to break even with the universe on his own before he could start playing on fair grounds."
At that, Pike actually smiled. "I was a bit hesitant to mention it first, but you're right. While I would never have wanted for anyone to go through the ordeal that you two faced, we couldn't have changed it. What's done is done, and I think Kirk is a bit stronger for it."
"He is," Leonard said, more to himself than to Pike.
Pike nodded. "He doesn't want a ceremony. The few Starfleet officials who have read the full report want to put him on a pedestal. The son of George Kirk, a hero like his father. He'd hate that right now. Just like you said, he feels like he's finally broken even with the universe. In his mind, that doesn't deserve an award. It's just earned him a sense of peace, and a bit of breathing room for a while."
Leonard couldn't help but smile at that. "Well, I guess he'll just have to save the planet next time if he wants the hero title."
"Sounds fair," Pike said easily. "You'll both still receive commendations in your records though."
"Thank you, Sir," Leonard replied automatically.
"And… not that I should probably tell you this… but you should know that if there's anything you would like in reward for this, you can probably get it right now."
Leonard frowned. "I'm a first-year cadet, sir. I'd like to pass my classes, have an occasional night free from clinic duty, and get a decent cup of coffee to get me through all of it."
Pike smiled and gave him a respectful nod. "You're a good man, McCoy. Starfleet is lucky to have you." He clapped Leonard lightly on the shoulder. "And so is Jim."
With that, he stood, stretching lightly. "I also seem to be getting a signal from the duty nurse that I need to leave his patient alone so you can rest." He looked down at Leonard steadily. "We'll chat again. If you need anything, contact me."
"I will, Sir. Thank you."
Pike was almost out the door when Leonard remembered something. "Captain…"
He swallowed tightly, then cleared his throat. "Remember what you asked me last week, before the training sim where Jim… you know. You asked me how Jim would perform as a medic?"
"Yes?" A faint smile curled the corner of his mouth.
"And I said that he'd find a way to save the universe with a roll of gauze, a tricorder, and a hypospray?"
"Yes." The corners of his eyes crinkled.
Leonard found himself unable to resist mirroring Pike's smile. "He didn't need the gauze."
Pike replied with a silent nod and a broad grin, and then he was gone.
Less than a minute later, his quiet room was invaded by the attending physician and the duty nurse. He drilled them for information while they ran another osteoregeneration session on his leg. He learned that it felt funny because they'd used a local pain-block on it so that he wouldn't wake up to find out just how much it would be throbbing otherwise. Shattered just below the kneecap, with a mess of damage to the cartilage and tendons, too, it had been too massive of an injury to repair in a single surgery, but they still predicted a full recovery. Thank God for modern medicine, he thought, although he firmly believed that he could fix it better if it was possible to do the work himself.
He also felt another flash of admiration for Jim, knowing that the kid had been staring at the exposed bone and tendon of his leg while he'd set the stabilizers, and hadn't flinched once.
The news about the head injury was much more sobering. Despite Jim's impassioned description, getting the full medical details and knowing what they meant… yeah, that was a wake-up call. It left him feeling strangely detached, and although he thanked them when they left, he didn't feel like he wanted to thank anyone for anything. He was tired in a way he hadn't believed possible, and he didn't think it was just the healing process that was wearing him out.
He slumped back against his pillow and stared down at his hands in his lap. Slowly and deliberately, he flexed his fingers one by one, as if the reminder of his own flesh and blood was keeping him connected to the very life he'd come so close to losing. He'd spent plenty of time worrying about other people's lives, but he'd never considered his own. Not like this. "What were the odds?" he mused aloud.
Jim visited him the next morning before catching the shuttle to the Academy. He'd already been discharged, and was back in his cadet uniform, ready for class.
"You gonna be okay here by yourself, Bones?" he asked as he stood from the chair, getting ready to leave.
"I think I can handle myself around a hospital, Jim."
Jim leaned his elbows on the end of the biobed, propping his chin up on his fists. "Sure, as a doctor. But I heard you make a lousy patient."
"Hey, it's okay, Bones. It just means you've been lucky enough not to have much practice. I've got a lot more experience with that sort of thing."
Leonard eyed him skeptically. "I think you need a bit less of that experience."
Jim's jovial grin dimmed a bit. "I think so, too. At least, for a while." He paused, then tilted his head curiously. "Bones… how much do you remember from… you know… while we were being held hostage?"
"A lot of it, Jim. But it's all a bit fuzzy, like it runs together." His eyebrows furrowed. "Why?"
But Jim just shook his head, reached over and squeezed Leonard's arm. "You get some rest, Bones. I'll see you this afternoon."
The day was full enough with every waking moment being spent running through treatments and therapy and tests, but Leonard couldn't keep his mind from churning everything over and over again. He kept mentally kicking himself for the fact that he hadn't even known that the danger was real. He tried placating himself with the fact that he probably stayed calmer because he thought it was a simulation, and that alone might have saved both their lives, but it didn't really help. His mind kept drifting to the moments when Jim had been out of his sight, or he'd been unconscious. What had those people done to him when Leonard couldn't see? How had Jim held up? What had been going through Jim's mind?
He tried to sleep whenever the room was quiet, but even sleep wasn't terribly restful, filled with blurry images from his ordeal that never quite resolved into solid memories. He saw Jim crouched on his haunches in an austere gray room, working frantically on outdated scraps of medical equipment, trying to jury-rig an escape plan from parts. He saw Jim creeping cat-like across a hallway, sneaking up behind two people who would have killed him if they saw him first. He saw Jim braced against the doorway, a hypospray in his hand and raw determination on his face, waiting for the terrorists to come in. He saw Jim stuck at the top of the access ladder, caught with a phaser aimed directly at his face. He saw Jim's profile illuminated by moonlight as he seemed to freeze for a split second, like a sprinter before the starter pistol, just before he launched himself into a fight that had probably almost killed him. And again he saw Jim in the small grey room, looking back at him with all the fears and hopes and insecurities bared for Leonard to see, and he was saying something…
"Hey, Bones? You awake?"
Leonard blinked a few times as Jim's face swam into focus in front of him. "Oh, Jim - you're back." He glanced out the window and noted that the sun had already set. "Sorry, I was just catching a nap."
"I… I'm sorry, I can leave if I'm disturbing you."
"Don't be an idiot." He nodded towards the vacant guest chair. "Sit down. How're you feeling?"
Jim flopped down into the chair, shaking his head in amusement. "You can't stop being a doctor for a minute, can you?"
"Hey, it's a fair question to ask, even if I wasn't a doctor. You got pretty banged up the other day."
Jim leaned forward onto the biobed, actually wagging a finger. "Yeah, but if I were to just say 'fine,' you'd still demand a full list of symptoms and ask me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten." He held an accusing glare for several seconds, but crumbled when Leonard raised an eyebrow at him.
"Okay, okay, you win. My shoulder is a bit stiff, but I'm doing the stretches they told me to do, and everything else is fine. Happy now?" He cocked his head at an odd angle, pretending that he was trying to avoid Leonard's gaze. "That eyebrow of yours is dangerous, Bones."
"It's mandatory training for all resident doctors. How else could we keep stubborn patients in line when they don't know what's best for themselves?"
Jim let his wary expression drop as he rested his chin on his arms on the side of the biobed. "Fair enough. Someone has to keep me in line." He yawned and blinked a couple of times.
"Long enough," Jim said. "I had at least a half-dozen people in every class ask if it was me they were talking about on the news."
"What did you tell them?"
"I told them that I spent my holiday weekend having a picnic off-campus and resting. It's true, in a manner of speaking." He gave Leonard a measured, appraising look. "What would you have told them?"
"Well I…" He bit of a short laugh. "I would have told them that I'm a doctor and I was assigned to clinic duty all weekend, and that I was in the hospital." He laughed again, hearing the irony in his own voice. "And I was assigned to be on-duty this weekend, too! Shit! I wonder who they got to cover for me."
Jim reached out and patted Leonard lightly on the arm. "It doesn't matter. You were on duty this weekend. The highest sort of duty." He leaned back in his chair so that he could reach into his pocket. "Pike told me that you agreed - no award ceremony or any shit like that. Thank you for that."
"Jim, you didn't need me to decide that for you."
"I know, but I wanted you to. So instead, Pike just presented this to me privately. I asked if I could bring yours to you myself." He fished two small boxes from his pocket and held them awkwardly for a moment. "It's not exactly protocol, because they're supposed to be presented by a senior officer in front of an assembly, but I thought… if it's not too presumptuous of me…"
"It's fine, Jim." He gave a supportive nod. "Do I look like I want public attention right now? Come on, I'd be honored."
Jim gave an ironic sort of smile. "That actually sounds about right." He flipped open the first box with a bit of a flourish and placed it on Leonard's lap as he pulled out a small slip of paper and began to read. "Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, Starfleet Command has recognized your valor and dedication to duty, to your colleagues, and to the highest standards set forth by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. Your notable bravery in the face of danger and your commitment to the highest standard of ethics have reflected great merit not only upon yourself, but upon Starfleet Academy, Starfleet Medical Academy, and the United Federation of Planets. In recognition of your sacrifice and service, Starfleet Command hereby awards you with the Legion of Honor under the authority of the President of the United Federation of Planets."
Leonard pulled his eyes away from the shiny medal in the box and stared at Jim in disbelief.
Jim put down the paper and grinned widely. "Congrats, Bones. You did good."
"I… I figured they'd give me a small commendation or something," he said, shaking his head and feeling a bit dazed. "You know, one of those mandatory 'congratulations, you got injured in a scuffle and managed not to die' sorts of things they give to anyone who comes home with a skinned knee."
"Bones, you did a whole lot more than that… even if you don't realize it or won't admit it to yourself."
Feeling like it was a bit surreal, that it wasn't his, or that he shouldn't be looking at something so valuable, Leonard closed the box and laid it on the nightstand. "Okay then. Now show me yours, wonder-boy."
Looking a bit uncomfortable, but not evading it, Jim handed the other box to Leonard, who flipped it open and promptly let out a low whistle. "Damn, Jim. Even I recognize this. This is… that's the…"
"Starfleet Medal of Honor," Jim said, his face unreadable. "Yeah, I don't know what to make of it either. I mean, I did one thing right, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to screw up again. And it just feels wrong somehow. That thing is for people who go out and save the fucking planet. I just got myself and my friend kidnapped, and I did what I had to so we could escape. That's not hero shit. That's just survival."
Leonard took a long, hard look at Jim. He looked so tired, and a bit lost. Not broken like he was the week before, but like he was in so far over his head that he didn't know what to make of it.
"What the hell do you think a hero is, Jim? The wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing more. If it had just been survival, you wouldn't have managed to get a warning to Starfleet so they could evacuate Cochrane Hall and disarm the bombs. You wouldn't have listened to me when I told you to set the phaser to stun. And you would have left me when I told you to."
Jim shook his head weakly, staring blankly ahead. "I wouldn't have left you,' he whispered, but he didn't argue the other points.
"Jim… listen, I…" Leonard trailed off as he studied the look on his friend's face. There wasn't much he could say about that. Instead, he pressed his lips together and looked down at Jim's medal. The thing looked like it was gold laid on platinum, and it was certainly heavy enough to be exactly that. Leonard considered the medal, then cast a sideways glance at Jim. "Lean over here."
"Bones, no, you're not going to - oh goddammit, you and that eyebrow again."
Leonard fixed the medal in place on the left breast of Jim's uniform. "After tonight, you can hide it in your sock drawer until you finally accept that you earned it. But tonight, it stays right there."
Jim looked down at the medal dangling from his chest and touched it lightly. His mouth pinched and the skin around his eyes strained as he considered it for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight. "I think… I'm going to give it back to Pike tomorrow."
"Why's that, Jim?"
"This is an award for an actual officer. I want to feel like it's right… like it's my time before I wear it again." He let his hand fall to his side and looked back up. "I want to really feel like I've earned it."
"You've earned it, Jim… but I understand." He glanced out the window, looking at the lights of San Francisco and Starfleet Academy across the bay. "How late were you planning to stay?"
Without a word, Jim reached into the duffel bag he'd carried in, pulled out a small neck pillow, placed it on the edge of the biobed, and promptly folded his arms around it so his chin was propped up. "I'm planning on walking you out of here in the morning when they release you."
Touched by the gesture but not quite enough, Leonard scowled at him. "You need a proper night of sleep, too. You're not going to get that hanging over the edge of a hospital bed."
Jim didn't seem swayed. "It's been a rough few days, and I haven't exactly slept well anyway. I know it's just the aftershock of this whole thing, but when I can't see you, I keep feeling like I'm going to come back and… well, you won't be here. Okay, so I'm afraid of you dying on me. I know I'll get over it in a few days, and that it's just a temporary paranoia because of a stressful ordeal, but it's really bothering me and I -"
"Shut up and get some sleep."
After a quick check-in with the duty nurse, and pulling a few strings from one medical professional to another so that Jim wouldn't get thrown out, Leonard had reduced the lights in the room and had settled back against his pillows. Jim's eyes were closed, but Leonard could tell he was awake. He wondered what Jim must be thinking behind those eyelids, where his mind was drifting, and how he must be assimilating everything that had happened to him in less than two weeks.
Slowly but confidently, Leonard reached down and put a hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim opened one eye like the dot on a question mark.
"You're good enough, Jim. I told you before, but now… do you believe me?"
The eye closed again, but there was a hint of a smile on Jim's lips. "Yeah. I do." He sighed and shifted in his seat. "Bones?"
"How much do you remember from when we were being held hostage?"
Leonard looked at Jim questioningly until blue eyes peeked open. "That's the second time you've asked me that today. Why?"
"I was just wondering. You know. Because a lot of shit happened. And people say things when they think they might die. That's all."
"Jim, I told you, things were a bit fuzzy, and I -" And Leonard froze, because the look on Jim's face was suddenly familiar, as something shifted and broke, letting the last trappings of his masks fall away. The words that had been dropped in that small gray room hadn't been desperate or casual. They hadn't had an ulterior motive or a romantic stench. They had been stated plainly, for the record, so that they might not be forgotten or misconstrued, just in case he never had the chance to say it again. I love you, too, Bones. "Oh."
Holding his expression steady, and not lifting his head from his pillow, Jim nodded. "I didn't mean… you know… to be misunderstood or anything, or make it seem like something it's not. It's just that I've had people say that to me before, and I've never really believed it. It always seems weird when other people say it to me. I didn't know how you'd take it… but I had to know if you remembered." He stopped and held his breath.
Leonard looked down at him, at the face that had so many different looks for so many different people, but somehow Leonard knew that the expression it held just then was one that very few people had ever seen. And although he'd been married and had dated and had family and friends who had all loved him and at some point in the past had told him so, he didn't think he'd ever heard those words with such an unobstructed and simple meaning before. And he believed it.
Smiling openly for the first time in what felt like forever, Leonard rested a hand on Jim's hair, gently combing his fingers through the windblown mess. "I remember. And I know, kid. I know. Me too."
The next morning, they walked out of Starfleet Medical together, with Leonard using Jim's arm to help steady himself on his newly healed leg. People coming into the building passed them and several of them stopped and stared, but not at their faces. Leonard was confused until his eye caught a bright reflection of light glinting up from Jim's chest.
The medal was still there.
Early Tuesday morning found a well-caffeinated Leonard McCoy on the staging floor of Training Simulation Facility Four. Emergency med kit in one hand and a piping hot canteen of black coffee in the other, he sighed contentedly as he looked around the empty staging platform. The cadets for the sim would be there soon. The cadre were probably already on the observation deck. He'd have to join them in a moment, but for now, he was alone with the high ceilings, his own echoing footsteps, and the delicious aroma of freshly brewed Arabica coffee. He stopped walking, took a sip, and grinned.
Less than a week after returning to duty, he'd arrived back in his dorm room to find two large boxes on the table, wrapped in colorful paper. Suspecting a prank, but too curious to avoid it, he'd opened the first box to find a professional coffee brewing system that put normal coffee pots to shame. Naturally, when he'd ripped into the second box like an eight-year old on Christmas morning, he was ecstatic to find it packed with bags of some of the finest coffee varieties he'd ever seen. At the bottom of the box, he'd found a note.
If you're going to try to keep up with Jim Kirk, you're going to need this.
In the empty room, he raised his canteen in a silent thanks to Captain Pike and took another sip. Mornings had been so much more agreeable in the weeks since then.
A hand whacked Leonard on the shoulder just a bit too hard to be pleasant, and he barely managed to avoid spilling his coffee as Jim walked past him, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
"Dammit, Jim, if you make me spill a single drop of this coffee, so help me God -"
"Relax, Bones. You know they've given you a lifetime supply." He looked at Leonard entreatingly. "Maybe I can convince you to share some of it when finals start next week?"
Leonard grumbled and rolled his eyes. "You raid my kitchenette anyway, so why should this be any different?"
"Thanks, Bones!" he said cheerfully. "I knew I could count on you."
With a feigned scowl, Leonard flipped his canteen shut with a protective gesture. "Always, whether I like it or not." He finally sighed and stopped glowering. "So, what's on the schedule for the training sim today?"
To his surprise, Jim threw up his hands in a shrug. "Not a clue. It's the last live-action training sim of the semester, so it's a bit like our final exam. We go in blind today."
Leonard gave Jim an appraising look. "You ready for that?"
With a cocky grin, Jim leaned in and said, "You know me, Bones. I'm ready for anything." Then the cockiness faded and was replaced with the confident determination that Leonard now knew was always hiding just below the surface. "It'll be fun."
The sound of conversation and boots against the plascrete floor told Leonard that other cadets were beginning to file into the staging area for the simulation. Jim noticed as well, so he winked, took a step back, then turned and hustled off to join his command-track classmates.
As Jim walked away, Leonard watched him, knowing that the kid would be okay. In the weeks since the Terra Prime incident, they'd talked about what had happened. Sometimes, the discussions had involved liquor, sometimes coffee, sometimes both. They'd even gone further back and talked about Tarsus IV, and to Leonard's surprise, the strongest sentiment Jim seemed to have about it was that he was ready to let it go. Not to forget - never to forget - but to move on. He'd found better things to fight than his own demons and memories.
He was still Jim Kirk, all cocky attitude that bordered on arrogance to cover all the cuts, scars, and burns on his soul - but now it seemed like the wounds were healing. He didn't deny the scars or ignore the emotions, but they didn't seem to weaken him anymore. Yeah, the kid had skeletons in his closet, and nobody knew those skeletons better than Leonard. He also knew that if anyone could handle them, it was Jim. Nobody else could have saved the kid, fixed him, or put him back together; he'd had to do it himself. He'd finally gotten the chance he needed, and he had seized it.
Leonard shifted his grip on the handle of his med kit, flipped open his coffee canteen, and took another swig of caffeinated goodness as he walked quickly towards the door to the observation deck.
Before he stepped through, however, Leonard glanced back and smiled to himself. "Good luck, Jim," he whispered, then hurried onto the observation deck.
Post-Script Notes: Different theories exist as to whether or not Kirk in the reboot universe would ever end up on Tarsus IV, or if the Tarsus IV colony would even exist, and I've engaged in a couple of lively debates about it. I think it could go either way. However, as J.J. Abrams mentioned in an interview, part of the underlying thought of the plot in the reboot is that after the timeline was initially disrupted on the day of Kirk's birth, the universe has been struggling to make itself right with the timeline that was disrupted. It's a mix of fate and a little bit of the original pattern the universe was meant to take, and therefore things that had originally happened would "try" to happen again, even if they happen a bit differently. This is just one take on how Tarsus IV could have played out in the AOS universe.
"It was things like this that made Leonard sure that James T. Kirk would be a great man someday." This line was made in reference to Nero's comment, "James T. Kirk was considered to be a great man...but that was another life."
"Listen, when this is all over, and we get back, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you… you… you're one in a million, kid. One in all the galaxy… the universe… and maybe more." This line is a direct reference and tribute to the classic McCoy quote from the TOS episode, "Balance of Terror": "In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."
In the scene where Jim reminds Bones (without actually saying it again) that while they were hostages he'd said, "I love you, too, Bones," Jim says, "It's just that I've had people say that to me before, and I've never really believed it. It always seems weird when other people say it to me." The comment that "it always seems weird" is a direct reference to the scene in the movie where Gaila tells Kirk, "Jim, I think I love you," to which Jim says, as we know, "That is so weird." I thought that line in the movie says a lot about Jim and how he relates to being loved. It's funny when you first hear it, but it kinda broke my heart when I thought about it.
On Bones and coffee addiction: He went through med school. Of course he's addicted to coffee.
Terra Prime is a terrorist organization first seen in the series "Enterprise," in the episode entitled "Terra Prime." Please note that I've only seen a couple of episodes of "Enterprise." I hadn't seen that particular episode, and I had no idea that such an organization existed in canon. When I first wrote the fic, I had designed a terrorist organization for the purpose of the plot – a xenophobic group taken to terrorism to keep aliens away from Earth, and if possible, humans away from aliens. And I named the group Terra Prime. After I'd written the rough-draft, my test reader, Cedarrapidsgirl, who is an avid "Enterprise" fan sent me feedback, gushing about how awesome it was that I was including canon from "Enterprise." I had no idea what she was talking about. So I looked up Terra Prime, and realized that I'd replicated canon without even realizing it. So, it stayed as it is, and now I have to cite canon even though I came up with this shit myself. Irony, huh?
According to TOS canon, Jim Kirk received the Medal of Honor and Leonard McCoy received the Legion of Honor at some point prior to the episode "Court Martial." The reasons for those awards were never given, and I felt they were appropriate to the actions taken by the characters in this story. Consider the specific medals/awards a nod to TOS canon.
And finally, in this fic's universe, there's a bit more backstory behind Kirk's medal which couldn't be smoothly expressed in the fic, but I thought people might like to know. Jim gives the medal back to Pike, and the following conversation ensues:
"I can't keep this, Sir."
"I'd tell you that you've earned it, but I know that won't change your mind."
"No. Come on, Sir, you know that this… I'm not right for something like this. Not yet. I'm sure I'm going to keep messing things up, and I can't taint a medal like that with… well, whatever I do to screw up in the meantime. That medal means Bones survived, and that… that's too important to taint."
"It's still, yours, Kirk. When do you want it back? When you graduate?"
"When I feel I've earned it."
"And when would that be, son?"
"How about when I save the planet?"
And of course, Kirk says that to mean that he doesn't want it back. However, in my mind, at the end of the new Star Trek movie, that's the exact medal that they pin on Kirk's chest, and that's part of the double (triple?) meaning behind Pike's comment, "I am relieved."