Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: That introduction on the shuttle wasn’t the first one. At 15 and 24, Jim and Leonard actually met seven years before they started their Starfleet careers.
Leonard was exhausted. It was nearing two in the morning, and he’d been on for nearly 36 hours, getting by with naps in between running orders and checking on patients for his attending. It was at times like this, when he was four hours from being able to go home for a little while, that he was grateful he was in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa. Aside from some bar fights and the occasional farming accident, very little happened here.
It was nothing like Atlanta, and he wondered how his counterpart, the intern he’d traded places with for this ridiculous program, was handling the end of his 36 hour shift in a city where senseless violence was still ridiculously common.
Two more months, and then he could go home. He was counting the days….it was boring as fuck here.
He handed a PADD with the charts he’d been annotating back to the charge nurse. “I’m gonna go get some air,” he said, forcing a yawn back. “Comm me if you need me.”
He scrubbed a hand through his hair and rubbed his tired eyes, the harsh light making him squint. The doors to the ER swished open at his approach, and the bracing, cold night air washed over him, ruffling his hair and doing a lot to take the edge of exhaustion away.
The night was very dark here, in this speck of a town. Surrounded by vast flat fields on all sides, farmland stretched as far as the eye could see, except for the Riverside Shipyards. During the day, the ghostly shapes of the behemoths being built were visible in the hazy sun.
Staring up at the stars, Leonard stretched, taking deep breaths that drew the cold, dry air deep into his lungs. He’d come out here without a jacket, only his doctor’s coat offering meager protection from the night air. But that was okay. He didn’t need long. He just needed enough time to wake himself up.
He took a seat on a bench outside the doors, letting his eyes close as his body relaxed. It wouldn’t be long before he started shivering, but until then, he was going to enjoy cold, quiet stillness.
"Are you a doctor?"
Leonard jumped at the hesitant voice, his heart temporarily lodging itself in his throat as he whipped his head around to see who'd scared the shit out of him.
"Jesus Christ, kid! What the hell are you doing out here?"
"S-sorry," the boy said. "Are you a doctor?"
"For the...yeah, kid. I'm a doctor on a break. Why? You need a doctor?" He peered at the boy - 12? 13? - dressed in just a sweatshirt with a hood and dirty jeans and sneakers. "Where are your parents? Are you hurt?" Leonard stood, looking around and seeing no new car, no easy explanation of where this kid had come from in the middle of the night.
The kid backed up when Leonard stood, gaze focused downward. His movement alerted Leonard that something was up...this whole situation seemed off. His eyes on the kid, he sat back down.
"I am a doctor," he said, answering the original question, his voice losing some of the gruffness. "Are you hurt?"
The boy glanced up at him, and though his face was mostly in shadow from the hood he wore, the color of his eyes was striking, even in the low light. And then Leonard noticed the bruise on the side of his face, the cut on his lip.
"My hand," he said, holding the limb out slightly. Looking, but not reaching to touch him, Leonard saw that it was wrapped in a bloody rag. "I can't get it to stay closed."
"How'd you cut it?" Leonard asked. The boy shrugged. Looking around again, Leonard was still perplexed as to where this kid had come from. "Your parents bring you? How old are you anyway?"
He lowered his hand and took a step back. "No. Look, if you can't help me..."
"Who said I couldn't help you?" Leonard said, cutting him off. "Let's go inside..."
"No, out here."
"I'm not going in there," the kid said again, his voice wavering slightly. "Do it out here."
"I can't," Leonard said. "I need supplies and..."
"Can't you get them? I'll wait."
Exasperated, Leonard rolled his eyes. "Oh, you'll wait, huh? How good of you." He paused again, taking in the way the kid was holding himself. "Where else are you hurt?"
The boy looked down again, drawing into himself. "N-Nowhere."
Leonard considered this. The kid was lying about that, he was sure. He was also sure that he his injuries were the result of more than just a neighborhood scuffle. He recognized the signs of abuse when he saw them. And Leonard could do basic math. Two and two was four in Riverside just like it was in Atlanta.
So he had a choice. He could insist the kid come inside, and then watch as he ran away. Or, he could risk his career by reaching out and offering help, and maybe getting him to trust him.
"Ok...what's your name?"
"J-Jacob," the kid said, hesitating just long enough to assure Leonard that wasn't actually his name.
"Ok, Jacob. I’m Leonard. You take a seat, stay here, and I'll be right back," Leonard said. Only when he'd stood up and moved away from the bench did "Jacob" hesitantly take a seat. He was perched on the edge, watching Leonard anxiously and reminding him of a frightened animal ready to take off at the slightest movement. "You will be here when I get back, right?"
Leonard sighed, exhausted all over again. “Yeah, don’t mention it.” He headed to the entrance, then turned and pointed at the boy. “Stay here.”
Heading through the E.R., he stopped at the nurse’s station. “Everthing good?”
“All’s well,” she replied without even looking up.
Leonard nodded, and headed to the little lounge where he kept his stuff. Taking off his doctor’s coat, he threw it in the little locker, and put on the extra sweatshirt he kept there. Going to the fridge, he pulled out the lunch he’d packed for himself and supplemented it with a bottle of water from the vending machine. He picked up his old jacket grabbed the jacket as well. Finally, he grabbed an empty bag and crossed the hall to a storage closet and supplied himself with some basic first aid materials.
Carrying everything in a plain bag, his old jacket in his arms, he made his way back to the emergency room.
“Gonna eat outside,” he said as he passed the nurse’s station again.
“You’re going to freeze,” she said, without looking up.
“Got a jacket. I’ll be fine.”
More prepared for the cold this time, and imbued with a sense of purpose, he hardly noticed the temperature this time. Half-expecting the boy to have disappeared as inexplicably as he’d shown up, Leonard was almost surprised to see him sitting on the bench where he’d left him, hunched over against the occasional icy breeze.
“It’s warm inside,” Leonard said, and the kid jumped at the sound of his voice, sitting up and trying to act like he was fine.
Figures, Leonard thought. But he just nodded and tossed his jacket to him. “Put that on.”
“Jacob” looked at him for a second, then did as he was instructed, shrugging into the jacket that was too big on his much smaller frame, making him look even younger than he already was. Leonard took a seat on the bench, dropping the bag he’d been carrying between them, and pulled on a pair of gloves. “Let me see your hand.”
The kid held out his injured hand and Leonard took it, gently removing the bloody rag to inspect the wound. It looked like his hand was sliced by something with a sharp edge…a knife, or a piece of glass or something like that. It was deep enough that it didn’t look like it would stay closed on its own.
“We should go inside…this could use a regen treatment.”
“No…don’t you have something else?”
“Yeah, but it’ll leave a mark…won’t heal as seamlessly.”
“Jacob” shrugged, and Leonard peered into his bright blue eyes until the child looked away.
“I really shouldn’t treat you without parental permission. I could get in a lot of trouble for this.” He paused, looking at the kid speculatively. “Where are your parents? How’d you get here?”
The kid shifted, sighing. “Look, can’t you just use some surgical glue and give me some bandages?” he asked, sounding impatient. “I won’t tell anyone. I swear.” He looked back up, holding Leonard’s eyes almost defiantly, and something in that gaze reached Leonard. He was just a kid, trying to act tough. But he was out here alone, he was hurt and obviously not well-taken care of – if not outright neglected, and he was obviously abused. He acted like an abused kid. And if Leonard could help in this small way, maybe it’d be enough to earn his trust so that he could he could make a bigger difference.
“Okay, fine.” Leonard pulled out a bottle of liquid that would clean and help disinfect the wound, and a small applicator of that surgical glue the kid had been astute enough to know about. “This is gonna sting a bit,” Leonard warned. “Jacob” shrugged uninterestedly. “Okay…”
Leonard worked quietly and as gently as possible, first using the disinfectant liquid and some gauze to clean the wound, then applying some topical antibacterial gel, and then using the surgical glue and some butterfly bandages to bring the edges of the wound close enough together that it would probably heal on its own. He bandaged the hand with gauze and secured it with tape.
“There,” he said. “You’ll need to keep that dry for a couple of days…and here are some more packets of antibacterial gel, bandages and tape…keep it clean and covered for about a week or so. It wasn’t very deep…you should be fine.”
“Okay, thanks,” the kid said, pulling his hand away. He stood and started taking off the jacket.
“Hungry?” Leonard asked quickly, holding up his bagged lunch. “It’s turkey, and an apple, and uh…” he peered into the bag. “a couple of oatmeal cookies my neighbor made.”
“I’m allergic to apples,” he said.
“Oh…okay.” Leonard fished the apple out of bag and took a bite, holding the bag out to “Jacob”. After a moment, the kid pulled the jacket back on and sat back down, reaching for the bag. “Ah-ah,” Leonard said, pulling it away. “What’s your name?”
“I told you…Jacob,” he replied.
Leonard rolled his eyes. “Do I look like I was born yesterday?”
The kid pressed his lips together. “Jim,” he said. “I’m Jim. And no, you look about forty.”
Leonard raised his eyebrows and handed the bag to Jim, noting how quickly he tore into it, eager to get to the sandwich.
“I’m twenty-four, you little shit,” he said, keeping his voice light and bantering to offset the language. “Though I’d rather look forty than twelve.”
“I’m fifteen, you asshole,” Jim shot back, gracing him with a small smile and showing him a bit of his real character. Leonard hid his satisfaction with the information exchange with a bite of his apple. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor already?” Jim asked after a moment.
“Yeah, see I’m what they like to call a genius. Mama says I’m just too smart for my own good,” Leonard replied, letting his Georgia twang out.
Jim smiled slightly, but his eyes shuttered somehow, as he glanced away. “Yeah…that’s what they say about me too…too smart for my own good.”
Leonard chewed as he observed the kid again, still unsure where to go from here. Policy was clear…call the Department of Child Welfare. But to Leonard, policy was just a strong suggestion. Sometimes there were better ways to go.
“Yeah, well, even smartasses deserve to be safe in their own home,” he said quietly. “Will you let me help you?”
Jim turned the bit of sandwich left in his fingers, keeping his eyes down. “You have helped me. You fed me a sandwich and fixed me up,” he said, holding up his newly bandaged hand.
“Jim, come on. You and I both know there’s a lot more goin’ on with you than just an injured hand. You wouldn’t be out here, by yourself, at damn near three in the morning otherwise.”
Jim finished the sandwich and reached for the cookies. Leonard handed him a bottle of water. “Thanks,” he said. “Look, there’s nothing you can do. I’m fine.”
Leonard took another bite of the apple and chewed thoughtfully. “Where’s your mom?”
Jim shrugged. “Around, mostly.”
“Sometimes she’s in space.”
Ah, Leonard thought. That explained a lot.
“Never knew him. He died a long time ago.”
And that explains a lot more.
“So who’re you staying with?” Leonard asked, practically holding his breath.
Jim opened his mouth, then hesitated, catching himself. This doctor had helped him, had been really nice to him, and Jim had responded to that. But giving him too much information would result in nothing but trouble in the long run. Jim had been around the block a couple of times – he knew the rules. This doctor..Leonard…was fishing for information. Probably to call DCW. Well, he wasn’t going to go through that again.
After taking a split second to consider his options, Jim decided for the direct route. Leaning back on the bench, Jim turned to look at the young doctor.
“Look, Leonard, thanks for taking care of my hand and thanks for the food. I know you really put yourself out there, and I appreciate it. Really. But I’m okay. Tonight wasn’t a great night. But most of the time, it’s fine. I’m fine. So…yeah…no reason to fish for information about me. And…no reason to call, DCW. Okay?”
Leonard’s eyebrows climbed higher and higher as he listened to this fifteen-year-old suddenly sound much older. When he was finished with his little speech, they stared at each other for a couple of seconds, until Leonard finally rolled his eyes.
“Fine, but under one condition.”
“What?” Jim asked warily.
“You stay here tonight,” Leonard said. “Give me a second….” He said quickly, raising a hand to cut off Jim’s automatic protest. “I have no idea how you got here. I think you may have walked at least three miles, by yourself, in the middle of the night. But I’d like to think if you had a choice, you’d be smart enough to wait till the morning to leave.”
Leonard paused, scrubbing a hand over his tired eyes. “Look, I won’t check you in, I won’t create one record. I’ll give you some place to sleep, and when my shift is over, in about three hours, I’ll bring you wherever you want to go…home, school, whatever. Deal?”
Jim held his eyes for a second, then shrugged with a nod. “Okay, yeah.”
Leonard felt such relief at that…there’s no way he could’ve let the kid leave at this ungodly hour by himself. But he covered, knowing instinctively that Jim wouldn’t respond well to that.
“Oh, look at that,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe you really are as smart as you think you are.”
Jim rolled his eyes, but smiled a little, standing. “Oh, shut up, old man.”
Leonard stood too, collected the bag and other garbage he’d created by fixing the kid’s hand. “C’mon, I got a comfortable cot with your name on it.” He headed to the ER doors, hesitating when he realized Jim wasn’t behind him.
“C-coming,” he said, sounding a little nervous. “No records, right man? You promise me.”
“Okay,” he took a breath, let it out slowly. “I just…don’t really like hospitals much.”
Leonard snorted. “Sometimes I’m right there with you.”
He looked at the kid, who looked so much younger wrapped in the jacket that was several sizes too big for him, and had to resist reaching out to clasp his shoulder, pretty certain it wouldn’t be welcome. And that was hard because although Leonard didn’t consider himself the nurturing type, in the short while he’d known this kid he’d developed a sense of responsibility and compassion for him. Something about him engendered a desire to protect. The fact that he knew there was precious little he could do for him didn’t help at all.
Together, they walked into the quiet ER, passing by the nurse’s station without garnering any attention at all. Jim kept his head down, his shoulders hunched slightly, until Leonard led him into the Doctor’s Lounge. He showed Jim the room the size of a closet, devoid of anything but a little bed, where on-calls grabbed sleep whenever they could.
“Just keep the door locked,” Leonard said. “No one will bother you.”
“Here’s some water…the bathroom’s there. And…” Jim watched as Leonard quickly crossed the hall to where he’d pilfered materials earlier, and pull a pack of some sort. He snapped it and gave it a shake, then handed it to Jim. “It’s a cold pack…for your face.”
“Oh…okay. Um…thank you. Here…let me give you your jacket….” He started to shrug out of the garment.
“Nah, keep it,” Leonard said, waving it away. “It doesn’t really fit me, and I have another one I actually like better,” he lied.
Jim froze mid movement. “A – are you sure?” he asked, peering at him from under his blonde bangs.
“Yeah, kid. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
“O-okay…um…” Jim stood there, looking back and forth between Leonard and the bed, looking confused, and a little lost, and like the fifteen-year-old he was. “Doc, why are you doing all this for me?”
Leonard snorted and pulled his sweater over his head. He retrieved his white doctor’s coat, and automatically started his ritual of patting the pockets, making sure everything he expected to find was there.
“I got no idea, kid. I could get in a lot of trouble for this…lose my license, get kicked out of my program…I just….couldn’t leave you there lookin’ all pathetic. So go on, then. Get some sleep. I’ll come get you when it’s time to go.”
“Thanks,” Jim said quietly. “I’m not used to…just…thanks.”
Leonard hesitated before leaving him, and pulled out a scrap of paper. “In case I forget…this is my comm link. Use it if you need me.” He handed Jim the paper. “Sweet dreams…for a couple hours anyway.”
Leaving him to it, Leonard went about the business of the last couple hours of his shift. He made sure all his charts were up to date, and checked in on the couple of patients he’d admitted, making sure his orders were being followed. He made notes about everything he’d need to present at the end of his shift before he could leave, and ended up back at the nurse’s station.
“What was up with that kid?” the nurse asked, looking up at him from what she was doing.
“That kid you led in here...he looked young.”
“Oh, he was just getting some air…his mom is having a baby,” Leonard said easily.
The nurse nodded and went back to whatever task she was working on. Silently, Leonard thanked God for distracted people. He handed her the ER PADD he’d been using and made his way to the lounge. Time to get Jim up.
“Jim,” he said, knocking on the door. “Time to wake up.” He waited to hear an acknowledgement, and when he didn’t he knocked again. “Jim?” No response. He tried the handle, and the door opened. “Jim?” he whispered. “Computer, lights, ten percent. Oh…fuck.”
He wasn’t there. The bed was neatly made, and Jim wasn’t in it. On the bed, though, was a note, scribbled on a piece of paper.
Doc, thanks for everything. I really appreciate it. Maybe we’ll cross paths again. –J
“Oh, kid,” Leonard murmured. “I really wish you’d waited.” Leonard wondered if he’d stayed at all, or if he’d run as soon as Leonard left him. He liked to think Jim had trusted him enough to get some rest, and he’d just left before Leonard’s shift was done. And though he was glad Jim took the paper that had his comm link on it, he didn’t really expect the kid would use it. His jacket was gone, as were the med supplies Leonard had put together for him, and the coldpack. That was something, anyway.
Sighing, he backed out of the small room, pulling the door closed behind himself. He collected his things, his mind on the kid, and he knew he’d carry the thought of him for a long time. Sometimes that’s just the way it was.
Two miles away, Jim headed back to what passed as home for now. Warm in the jacket the doc had given him, he knew it looked a little ridiculous on him now, but he’d grow into it. He liked it…the dark material was supple and obviously new. Jim hadn’t believed him when Leonard said it didn’t fit him anymore, but he wasn’t going to argue over it either. It’d been a long time since someone had shown him such kindness. It wasn’t something he was going to forget. And he knew the jacket would help him remember.
“Sir, for your own safety, sit down, or else I’ll make you sit down,” the flight officer said, steel in her voice.
Jim looked up, then did a double-take, the face familiar, in a distant sort of way. The jacket he wore, though…that was a more tangible memory. And can it really be him? Jim thought. That was so fucking long ago.
Seven years. Seven years was a lifetime for Jim. And it hadn’t been an easy path to here. He was so far from that fifteen-year-old, he may as well have been another person. And he actually fit into the jacket now.
“Fine,” he gruffly replied.
The next thing Jim knew, the seat beside him was occupied by the familiar stranger.
“I may throw up on you,” he said unceremoniously.
“I think these things are safe,” he said, wondering if there was any way he’d remember.
“Don’t pander to me kid…”
As the doctor ranted, his scenarios getting less and less likely, it became obvious that he didn’t remember. Or maybe he just didn’t recognize him. Seven years was practically a lifetime…for both of them apparently.
The doctor offered Jim his flask, and he couldn’t help but smile slightly, remembering the shared meal so long ago in the middle of that cold night.
“Jim Kirk,” he said, introducing himself fully for the first time. He took a swig.
“McCoy, Leonard McCoy,” he said.
Jim nodded, handed his flask back to him, and made a silent promise. He’d walked away seven years ago, leaving the only person who’d ever thrown him lifeline without a proper thank you or goodbye. Maybe Leonard would remember sometime. Maybe he’d eventually recognize the jacket…beat up though it was after all this time. Maybe he wouldn’t ever connect the man Jim had become with the child he’d been. Jim didn’t mind that…he’d been pretty pathetic that night.
However it worked out, Jim realized then that he wouldn’t walk away again.