-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Chapter Fourteen: Where Angels Fear to Tread

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"For fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Alexander Pope

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Still running on residual rage, Leonard was none-too-quiet about storming back into his dorm room. He didn't see Jim laying on the couch until he'd already flicked the light on and the kid responded by groaning in pain.

"Jim?" Startled, Leonard was quick to recognize his mistake and turn the light off again. "What's wrong?"

Jim's only answer was a sudden lurch, and then he was half-leaning off the couch to dry heave into a waste-bin.

Crossing the room in several long strides, Leonard was at his side in an instant, supporting him as his stomach rebelled. The poor kid didn't even have anything in his system to bring up—he'd eaten last in the sim, and part of McCoy's game plan for the day had included dragging the younger man out for a bite to eat. Still, the process sounded painful, and the doctor winced in empathy as he absently rubbed circles on the cadet's back.

"Let me get you something for the pain." He spoke when the worst of the heaving ceased and Jim lay back, exhausted, against the couch arm.

"Don't bother..." Jim mumbled, weakly pulling a pillow over his pale face and shadowed eyes. "Trust me, I've got more of your pain hypos in my system right now than I want to think about."

A quick check of the hypo Leonard had left by Jim's bed confirmed this statement, and suddenly the doctor had a funny sick feeling his gut, because if the younger cadet had willingly taken it, then how bad must the pain really be?

"Just try to relax, Jim." McCoy kept his voice to a near-whisper as he returned and knelt by the couch, just near his friend's head. He gently eased the pillow off Jim's face and placed a hand on his forehead, almost wishing for a fever. That, he could treat. Unfortunately if the sensitivity to light was any indication, he already knew it was a migraine, and with Jim those always proved trickier.

Jim sighed heavily, relishing in the coolness of his friend's hand.

"Not sure what to do for you right now, Jimbo." Leonard sighed regretfully, unfolding his cramping legs to sit against the couch where he could still reach the kid. "That hypo was my trump card, unfortunately. Any idea what brought this on?"

A soft, pained laugh broke from Kirk's dry lips. "Same old."

The doctor frowned. "What does that mean?"

"Same old." Jim repeated, long fingers subconsciously rubbing at his temples. "Dreams. Stress. Shit like that."

Leonard's stomach did that funny thing again; he tried to clear his throat and come up with something he could do to fix this. He really should have seen it coming, honestly: With the building pressure of exams, the sim, and the constant torment from his enemies, it was a miracle Jim hadn't fallen victim to his historically crippling migraines before now. Worse, Jim's body rejected most conventional migraine medication, and those McCoy had tried to use before didn't seem to have anything more than a mild effect. It was odd, but given the disastrous state of the kid's immune system, it really shouldn't have surprised him.

Brows furrowed in worry and thought, Leonard left Jim's side to fetch ice from the freezer—he'd learned to keep plenty on hand with Jim as a roommate—and wrap it in a dishcloth. Letting the kid keep the comforting weight of the pillow firmly over his eyes, he pressed the compress to his forehead. It wouldn't do much to ease the actual pain, but the cold might be able to numb the most tender areas.

Jim grunted his appreciation, fumbling up a hand to take over putting pressure on the compress. Sighing heavily, the doctor resumed his seat by the couch, stretching out his legs to stare sullenly at his regulation boots and wish to high heaven that he could be doing something more useful.

Guilt settled like a cold weight in the pit of Leonard's gut as he listened to Jim carefully regulate his breathing, discomfort belied by the occasional shuddering breath he couldn't control. McCoy knew this wasn't his fault—Jim's rebellious body often did more to sabotage him than any dozen of his worst enemies—but he still felt that there must have been some point at which the doctor could have put a stop to this insanity. The hazing, the verbal torment, the physical abuse. Jim had spent a very long time hiding the effects those things had wrought on him, physically and emotionally, and he was paying for it now, even when the perpetrators were nowhere near.

This realization hit the doctor like a ton of bricks, and with it came the sudden, terrifying revelation that if this didn't come to an end soon, one way or another, it might be past something that Jim could "get over". The scars left by Tarsus and his stepfather had been bad enough, and they still haunted the kid daily. Would this become something similar? Would the torture end only after it had left permanent scars on Jim, body and soul?

There was a sour taste in his mouth as the doctor craned his neck back towards Jim, who seemed to be feeling at least marginally more comfortable.

"How you doing, kid?"

"I'm alive." Jim tried to smile, tried damn hard.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Only if you don't mind if I don't remember it later."

"If there was a way you could end all of this... would you take it?"

Easing the pillow and ice from his face briefly, the younger cadet peeled one eye open to frown slightly at the doctor. "I'm not killing myself, if that's what you're asking." he joked, and how he managed to do that while he was in so much pain mystified the doctor.

"Never mind." Leonard smiled tiredly, suddenly realizing that he didn't even really need a straight answer out of Jim. Not on this. He already knew what the cadet would say; what he'd do. "Let's talk about it when you're feeling better, alright?"

Not waiting for an answer—which didn't come, in any case—Leonard retrieved his bag and applied a hypo to Jim's neck without asking for permission. The kid had to know what it was, but he didn't even flinch at the sound, or curse or rant or promise to kill the doctor in his sleep for his trickery.

Leonard sat across from him and watched as Jim's muscles slowly slackened and the cadet drifted into a deep, painless sleep. Feeling heavy and drained, Leonard shuffled to the desk across the room and powered up his console.

Pulling up a message to Captain Pike, he typed two simple words, and hit send.

I'm in.

.

The next morning, Jim looked for all the world like a man who'd been hit by a truck, but this was an improvement by both their standards. It was the weekend now (and when had that snuck up on them?) so the campus was mostly abandoned and they were left in peace to wander the sidewalks. Jim had insisted on getting some air, and honestly the idea wasn't unwelcome to the doctor either, so he surreptitiously steered them in the direction of the cafeteria during their travels. If Jim noticed, he didn't say anything, and Leonard was more than willing to interpret that as acceptance.

The massive hall was mostly empty, occupied by the odd cadet getting in some extra study time or a late waker hunting for breakfast, and there were plenty of quiet corners left for the pair to retreat to after ordering through the replicators that lined the farthest wall.

Glancing over none-too-subtly to insure Jim had chosen something at least marginally healthy to eat, the doctor tore into his sandwich (and who cared if that wasn't technically breakfast food?), feeling it necessary to get that out of the way before the conversation he intended to have.

Jim ate with somewhat more reserve, though he was clearly famished from his unintentional fast, and both men cleaned their plates in a matter of minutes. Reaching for the tall black coffee he'd been craving all morning, Leonard downed half of it in a long gulp before grimacing and coming up for air.

"This stuff gets shittier by the day." He remarked regretfully, but still continued drinking.

Jim grunted in agreement.

"I talked to Pike yesterday." The doctor watched Jim closely for a reaction, some sign that maybe this wasn't the right time for this conversation. Anything, really.

Jim simply shrugged. Cleaning the last scraps from his plate, he set his fork down and met his friend's eyes squarely.

Taken aback, McCoy simply blinked. "You don't seem surprised."

Another shrug, and dammit Leonard hated when the kid did that.

"Right. I'm going to interpret that as a positive thing, then."

"What, am I supposed to freak out at you or something? So you talked to Pike. Big deal. Should have seen it coming, I guess."

"How's that?"

A smirk from Jim, and that was relieving to see. "You're both way too nosy to mind your own business."

"Believe it. It's why you're still alive, kid."

Jim sighed heavily, one hand rising to his temple in a sign clearer to the doctor than any words that the pain wasn't completely gone yet. "Didn't you have something you wanted to talk to me about?"

"I thought you weren't going to remember that." Setting his shoulders, Leonard shuttled both their trays to the nearby disposal bin and let them whisk away into some kind of cleaning system somewhere. Damned if he knew where those things went.

"Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I do. Turns out I remembered, this time." Jim was taking his time with his coffee, an infinitesimal sign that he was saving some for the conversation ahead of them.

The doctor returned to his seat, repressing the sudden, selfish wish that they could have this talk over alcohol, as they'd had so many others, but it was only a fleeting thought. He hadn't exactly sworn off drinking since his last disastrous fiasco, but it was pretty close. By unspoken agreement, neither of them brought liquor back to the dorm anymore, and their bar outings had dwindled down to almost nonexistent lately.

"We... Pike has come up with a plan to... you know. Fix things." That sounded terribly flat to his own ears, so McCoy fumbled forward. "Look, he has this plan. But I don't like it, and if you have any sense at all, you're not going to like it, because it's stupid and dangerous and we're just asking for something to go horribly wrong if it fails. And it's not something I can do without talking to you, because goddammit, you have a right to know, and if we're going to be—"

"What do you need me to do?"

Leonard stared.

Jim stared back, and maybe it was the fact that he didn't look away, or the deep shadows under his eyes, or the way he looked tired and worn out, but something kept the doctor from his usual tirade on the kid's idiocy and penchant for throwing himself into stupid situations without looking first.

Instead, the doctor took a deep, calming breath through his nose, and tried to relax the bunched muscles in his shoulders. There really was no going back now.

"Jim... Are you sure about this?"

"Bones." Jim set his coffee cup down with a sharp 'click', and immediately the cadet had McCoy's attention. "I've had it. I'm done with this. I'm interfering with your life—a lot—and now with Pike's. I've caused trouble for half the freaking campus by letting this go on so long, and if there's something you need me to do to make it go away that doesn't involve my word against theirs... I'm in."

Who are you and what the hell have you done with James Kirk? Leonard couldn't help but gape.

"What happened to not wanting to make things worse?" McCoy couldn't help but argue, even though his mind was telling him to shut up and get this over with before the kid changed his mind. "What happened to not running?"

Jim flinched a little at his own words being mirrored back for him and Leonard instantly regretted saying it, but the younger man was not that easily cowed.

"I've been running. By doing nothing, I've been defeated." Jim admitted quietly into his coffee, not looking up. "I haven't been fixing anything by lying here and taking whatever they want to give me." A long, loaded pause, the next phrase little more than a whisper. "You know, sometimes they didn't even have to hold me down."

McCoy thought he might be sick.

Not realizing what his words were doing to his friend, Jim's hands twisted and worried at his coffee cup as he went on. "I thought that once they'd had their fun, they would move on. Or maybe, if they were torturing me, then they weren't hurting someone else. I was wrong." His eyes flickered up, too quick to really catch, and away again. "I need to... I need to stop it."

Leonard had to swallow twice before he could answer. "I'm proud of you kid. I'll admit, that's not what I expected to hear. But after everything... I am damn glad to hear it."

Jim laughed, a short, nervous sound that was almost painful. He quickly released one hand from his coffee to run through his hair, but the doctor's quick eyes caught that it was shaking. The kid was terrified, and hiding it well. He put on a brave face, but no amount of false bravado could completely erase the memories of what Burgess and Lenot had done to him; might still be able to do to him.

Aching, McCoy just barely resisted reaching out to the cadet. This was a battle he could fight with Jim, but not for him. It was a stand he had begun to make on his own, and would have to finish. Leonard couldn't fix it, couldn't heal it or shield it or stop it from happening. They'd reached the point of inevitability. As painful as the coming days might be for all of them, there was no avoiding it, only powering through.

"Jim." The doctor had to say, waiting for the younger man to meet his eyes squarely. "You're not alone in this. Not this time."

Another smile, this one slightly less forced. "I know, Bones. Now tell me about this plan of yours before I change my mind."

Taking a deep, bracing breath, Leonard did.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

.

.

.

Ugh, four months between updates? I'm so sorry. I've probably lost most of a you to a new semester, but I figured I owed you. I really do plan to finish this story soon, I swear! Getting a wave of new reviews will definitely inspire me, too. ;]

Thank you SO MUCH to Wahoogal06, Jimmy Candlestick, Titan16, kayenem, BlueNynaeve, WickedBlue, my most beautiful, wonderful, amazing and inspirational reviewers. :

Also to:

Laynee: As always, thank you millions for your glowing review. I always get so excited when I get that e-mail notification that you've reviewed. I'm all like "yes, a super-long funny one!" I hope the story ends to your satisfaction. :)

And I'm all out of bubblegum: Gah, be still my heart! I think I read and reread your review at least a dozen times. I'm so happy and honored that you seem to really understand where I'm coming from in my perspective on the relationship between Jim and Bones. You're one of the first I've met who seems to so exactly share my view on Jim's past and the conflict and turmoil it would wreak on potential friendships. Please don't ever apologize for lengthy reviews; they really are my absolute favorites. I hope you continue reading, and that I do our favorite boys justice in the end. Thank you again! Much love!

LeDragonQuiMangeDuPoisson: Thank you so much, for all you've written. You make me smile, and I do mean that in a literal sense. I'll be sitting on my phone reading reviews, smiling like an idiot, and anyone else in the room will think I'm completely insane. That's alright, I'll be insane for you. :) I'm so glad that you've enjoyed those story so much, and I'll definitely work harder on quicker updates and a satisfying conclusion. Please continue reading, you know you need the fuel for a new semester. ;)

Additionally, Laynee and Zemby: I thought you should know: your one-shots are still on my plate. One of them is nearly done, in fact. I'll post it as soon as I finish this story. :]

Love you all. Cyber hugs! Let me know what you think of the new chapter, there's only one or two left until the end!