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Mary Rottler & Lynn Syck

September 21st 2265

Leonard McCoy transported from Starbase 200 to the Enterprise after traveling for seven days straight. He was grumpy, tired, rumpled, and desperately needed a shower. He was especially irritated at being pulled from the research in which he had been deeply involved for the past six months by orders that gave him no opportunity to argue about going at all much less leaving suddenly without completing his project.

At least he had had some warning...

But before he could even drop his bag onto the bunk in his quarters, he was called to the captain’s quarters. McCoy muffled an expletive, and knew with his level of fatigue and irritation, the newly assigned chief medical officer would have to be careful not to get himself reprimanded on his first hour aboard.

It was late in the evening, ship’s time. In spite of his grumpiness, McCoy smiled when he saw Jim Kirk sitting at the captain’s desk. He was still in uniform, buried in computer disks. Spock, the Vulcan first officer, who had met McCoy in the materializer room earlier, was seated across from him, compuclipboard in hand.

The captain stood, and McCoy was instantly alert to the signs of discomfort in his movements. The doctor glanced back up to find a composed face masking any evidence of pain. Dark shadows under the eyes, tension in the jaw muscles and a paleness that McCoy knew wasn’t natural to this man all sent medical alarms ringing in his head.

The captain extended a hand, and he knew Kirk’s smile was genuine. "Welcome, Leonard. Sorry I missed you when you beamed aboard. I’m glad to see you."

McCoy grinned back, shaking the hand firmly. "It’s been a while. Do you always keep your promises?"

Kirk’s eyes lit up, "Always." Still smiling, he addressed Spock. "McCoy saved my life as a young lieutenant eight years ago. I told him then that someday I was going to command a starship and I wanted him for my chief medical officer."

He watched as Kirk grasped the desk lightly to support himself as he regained his seat. He had to resist pulling out his personal scanner. Noting with surprise that the Vulcan first officer was also studying the captain intently, McCoy tried to keep his tone light. "Jim, I understand the ship saw some action a few weeks ago, and you’ve been without a chief medical officer for over three weeks. Anything I should take care of now?"

Kirk started to shake his head and then stopped, narrowing his eyes. He shot a look at Spock and barely hid an expression of exasperation. "I just wanted to greet you on your first night here. I’m sure you’re tired." He glanced again at Spock, his face regaining its neutrality. "We’ll finish this in the morning. Dismissed."

"Captain, I respectfully request that—"

Kirk shook his head impatiently, "Yes, Commander. I will."

Spock did not heed the warning note in his tone, but continued as if he had not been interrupted. "—you inform the doctor—"

This time Kirk’s voice held a hint of anger. "Mister Spock, I have indicated that I will. Do you doubt me?"

"No, sir. However, I do question your willingness to attend to your own needs."

The doctor realized that his medical scanner had managed to find its way to the palm of his hand. Keeping it out of Kirk’s line of vision, he held it out just enough for the Vulcan to glimpse. There was no change in expression, but the Vulcan rose smoothly. "I will meet with you at 0600 hours, sir."

Not able to hide the surprise he was feeling Kirk watched as Spock gracefully strode from the room. Once the door closed, some of the tension left his shoulders. He blinked before turning a wide, pleased grin toward the doctor. "Damn, it’s good to have you on board."

McCoy chuckled. "You’re just lucky that I’ve had a few days to cool off about being pulled from the research project I was working on. The orders I got just told me to pack and go. I didn’t know it was the Enterprise until after three different transport changes. The actual orders didn’t catch up with me until two days ago thanks to typical Starfleet bureaucracy!"

"Never changes, does it?" The sparkle in Kirk’s eyes was rapidly fading. "You look worn out. In a couple of days, I should have time to take an evening off for us to catch up. Why don’t you—"

"No time like the present to catch up, Jim. Want to tell me what’s wrong?"

Kirk sighed, "I’m tired. We’ve been through hell. We’re still putting the ship back together." He gestured toward the stack of data disks. "And the worst of it, is writing the condolence letters to the families." His eyes gazed unseeingly beyond McCoy. "We lost twelve crewmen this last mission. That should never happen." The hazel eyes sharpened, becoming hard. "It won’t happen again on my ship."

McCoy catalogued the statement away, knowing that he would need to challenge the captain’s feelings of omnipotence that he could prevent all future deaths on the Enterprise. He leaned forward, drawing Kirk’s attention back to him. "You look exhausted. Trying to deal with all the stresses you mentioned would be a lot easier if you got a good night’s rest. And you can’t hide that you’re in pain. Want to explain why?"

Kirk narrowed suspicious eyes at him. "Did Lieutenant Commander Spock inform you that I wasn’t working at top efficiency?"

Puzzled, McCoy shook his head. "Nope. He said very little at all, and nothing especially of interest." He stood, medi-scanner in hand. "Now, how did you get hurt?"

Irritably eyeing the medical device McCoy held, Kirk grimaced. "A fight. Someone kill me. Look, Piper checked me over, there was nothing but bruises."

"Hmm-mmm." McCoy ignored the excuses, running the scanner. "That was a while ago. And if I understand correctly, Piper was sick much of the last mission. He may have missed something."

He stopped the scanner and probed the lower left edge of Kirk’s ribcage gently with his hand. Kirk jerked suddenly away from his touch. "Damn it, that hurt!"

Shaking his head, McCoy put his scanner away. "A couple of ligaments are torn. I can have it repaired within an hour in Sickbay. If you’ll show me the way, that is. Haven’t quite figured out which way is up yet."

Kirk shook his head. "I’ve got to finish this." He gestured to the discs on his desk. "I’ve been putting this off long enough. My science—" He stopped, pressing his lips together. "My first officer has enough to complain about my lack of efficiency already."

That was the second time Kirk had referred to Spock in relation to his own efficiency. McCoy chewed his lip, studying the chair the first officer had occupied. "Funny, I didn’t get that impression. He seemed concerned about you. Especially for a Vulcan."

Kirk started to say something and then stopped. Instead. his jaw tightened, his eyes glinting with determination. It was a face that McCoy recognized from ten years before when he had battled to keep the then young lieutenant in bed so he could recuperate from a life threatening virus.

"Tomorrow, Doctor. After my duty shift."

Debating, McCoy was close to arguing with Kirk. Then he was caught by the tense posture of his new captain and old friend. It was obvious that this man was wrestling with something more than physical discomfort and pushing him right now might just close the door to future revelations.

He shifted slightly and rested a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. The captain lifted wary eyes, as if waiting to be judged. The expression told McCoy he had made the right decision. "All right, Jim. You know where to find me." He squeezed the rigid shoulder and left quietly.


The next day had been busy from the moment he arrived in Sickbay. The absence of a chief medical officer had been felt keenly, and McCoy could well understand why Kirk had probably avoided visiting in the middle of all the chaos.

During a quick break for lunch, McCoy had attempted a trip to the bridge only to find the turbolift would not allow him access without proper clearance. Frustrated, he grabbed a snack and returned to Sickbay. He didn’t finish seeing the last patient until late into the second shift. Tired, the doctor glanced around the empty Sickbay suddenly remembering the captain’s promise.

"Looking for someone?" Nurse Christine Chapel stood in the doorway. She had on her tunic the Red Cross symbol, and he knew she had volunteered for this assignment.

McCoy dredged up a smile. As the charge nurse, Chapel had managed to keep a semblance of discipline and order during the last few weeks in Sickbay. "I thought you had gone off duty. I was expecting the captain. He was supposed to come and see me."

She shook her head. "Not likely. He avoids this place, seems to think he’s superhuman. Doctor Piper couldn’t get him to listen to his advice. It took the doctor forever just to be allowed in briefings, much less on the bridge."

McCoy refrained from commenting but the information was helpful. "Where would I find him now?"

Chapel turned to a nearby wall unit and after a brief conversation reported that the captain had just left the bridge, heading for his quarters. Nodding his thanks, McCoy left Sickbay, headed the same way.

He was barely off the turbolift when he overheard a heated exchange. Disappointed—but not surprised, he discovered Kirk and Spock arguing in the corridor near the captain’s quarters Approaching from behind, he paused, uncertain if he should interrupt.

In a composed tone that annoyed McCoy (who was certain irritated the captain as well), Spock was saying, "I did not state that you were performing your ‘task as captain’ incorrectly. I stated that I could complete the routine functions of responding to department heads as part of my assigned duties as first officer."

Kirk was not appeased. He continued in a heated voice, "I may be behind, but I will get to the cargo department’s request first thing in the morning."

"My understanding is that one of the first officer’s functions is to take over repetitious duties that do not require utilizing the captain’s time. This task was previously performed by Commander Mitchell. I believe that it is within my capabilities and position expectations to respond to these requests."

"No, you’re using this to tell me I’m not working up to your standards. I’m tired of you insinuating that I’m failing in your eyes. You—"

"Captain!" McCoy hurried forward, deciding to intervene. No time like the present to assert his role as protector of the psychological well being of the captain. "I was looking for you."

Kirk swung around, a flash of anger showing in his eyes. "Yes, Doctor?"

McCoy did not risk glancing at Spock. Trying to ease the tension, he kept his voice light. "I was expecting you in Sickbay."

"We’ll discuss that later." As soon as he snapped the order, Kirk turned back to Spock. "My quarters, Commander."

It took McCoy a moment to recover from being summarily dismissed. The two officers had traversed the few feet to the captain’s quarters before the doctor started moving. He slipped in through the doorway just before it closed. "Just a minute, Captain, I wasn’t—"

Not hiding his annoyance, Kirk grated out, "Doctor McCoy, I don’t have time for you now. You—"

McCoy’s exhaustion and irritation seemed to catch up with him all at once. "Look, I’m not in the mood to play any military games right now. I’m here as your chief medical officer. According to Starfleet regs, I’m responsible for the physiological health and the psychological well-being of not only the crew but the captain as well. In point of fact, the captain, per those same regulations, is my primary concern." McCoy took a breath, knowing that he was going to regret starting their relationship aboard like this, but one look at the rebellious expression on Kirk’s face told him he needed to establish the ground rules.

He continued, "I reviewed the ship’s logs of your last mission, enough to know that there are some issues for us to explore including you losing your helmsman who happened to be your long time friend. Issues that will affect your relationship with the officers and crew. Specifically Lieutenant Commander Spock." McCoy glanced at the silent first officer and then returned his attention to Kirk. "But first, you need medical treatment. Now." McCoy crossed his arms, not backing down from the angry glare aimed in his direction.

He was surprised when Kirk nodded his head, "All right, Doctor, you’ve made your point. I’ll meet you in Sickbay immediately after the commander and I are finished."

McCoy sighed, glancing at Spock again who had not moved. He should gracefully quit while he had received a concession from the captain. But, that wasn’t his way. He never had and wasn’t about to start dancing around difficult issues here. "I’ll wait here."

Spock seemed mildly surprised by his continued obstinacy. For a moment, the dark eyes met his before returning his attention to the captain.

Exasperated, Kirk swung around once again, his hands balling into fists. "Damn it, McCoy, are you trying to get a reprimand on your first day on board?"

McCoy couldn’t keep a smile from tugging at his lips. "Wouldn’t be the first time, sir."

The captain studied him for a moment, his eyes showing bewilderment as if he wasn’t sure who McCoy was. After a few seconds, he closed his eyes, forehead creasing into a frown. Opening them, he spoke slowly, as if to a child. "You do understand about security clearance?"

McCoy nodded.

"Then you understand that you do not have the security clearance to participate in the discussion between Mister Spock and myself. As I stated before, I will meet you in Sickbay. After we are finished." Kirk graced him with a slight smile but again, nodded toward the door. McCoy was dismissed.

Holding back another sigh, McCoy held his ground. "You’re wasting your charm on me, Jim. If you intend to continue the ‘discussion’ that you were having in the corridor with Spock, I believe it involved a direct correlation to the events of the last mission and the subject of command duties and discipline. All areas that the chief medical officer has the right to participate in. In fact, per those Starfleet regs, I am to be allowed access to any area of the ship. Any security clearance necessary is included in my position description. We can discuss my access to the bridge later, but for right now, I’m staying right here."

Kirk was staring at him in disbelief. "You’re making that up."

"The doctor is quite correct." Spock interjected. "Starfleet Regulations, Order 120, Section B, Paragraph 38 addresses—"

"I get it," Kirk interrupted. Rubbing his jaw, Kirk glanced at Spock before turning to the doctor. "Very well, Doctor. You win this round." He gestured at Spock. "I’ll see you in the morning. It seems I have a date in Sickbay."

McCoy waited, following the two officers out into the corridor. He remembered the last time he had attempted to challenge a starship commander’s authority on his first day and had subsequently ended up in the brig. That posting had lasted only long enough for the paperwork to be completed to send him far away to the Pegasus. He should learn to keep his opinions to himself but he knew that would never happen.

Kirk glanced back at him impatiently, and McCoy hurried to catch up with the captain’s rapid strides. It wasn’t until they reached the turbolift that the silence was broken. Kirk grasped the control, ordering, "Sickbay." Then tilting his head, eyes innocent, he commented, "Your longest posting in the last ten years has been twenty seven months aboard the Pegasus. Your shortest six days aboard the Kublai. Would this have anything to do with your quaint...bullheadedness?"

McCoy hesitated. Having won the battle, he was not going to risk losing the war. Then, he sight of Kirk’s mouth which was fighting a grin. "I believe some...unflattering terms have been used in the past to describe my methods of communication."

The turbolift stopped and the doors opened. Kirk touched his shoulder. "Add refreshing honesty to that list of terms."

McCoy found himself smiling, a moment of relief that he might make this posting past the six day record. As one, they headed for Sickbay.


McCoy had mistakenly hoped the quiet atmosphere of Sickbay during the night shift would be conducive to communication. Instead, it seemed to contribute to the increasing stiltedness as they talked. Kirk, however, did cooperate without complaint during the initial exam and scans.

He ordered the captain to turn onto his stomach and then repositioned the sonic treatment instrument on the left side of his lower back. "This is the hardest part, you have to lie still and be patient. It’ll take about forty minutes total."

Kirk only grunted in response.

McCoy sat in a nearby chair. "The medical entry when you returned from Delta Vega indicated severe bruising in various places which you were treated for at the time. Those have healed adequately. Also a broken wrist which was repaired but has yet to regain its full strength. I have some exercises for that arm that you will need to perform at least twice daily."

Again, there was a limited monosyllabic response, Kirk’s eyes remaining closed.

McCoy frowned, studying the captain’s face. In comparison to the slender young lieutenant he had met eight years ago on Eta Orionis XIV, Kirk had matured into a handsome, well built young man. Any remnant of gangliness was gone, broad muscles filled out his shoulders and arms.

Those same shoulders had been slumped when Kirk had entered Sickbay in front of McCoy. Remembering the troubled expression in the hazel eyes, McCoy wondered what had happened to the innocent young lieutenant with the stars in his eyes he had gotten to know so many years ago. He wondered if his current demeanor was related to the last mission or if the problem was deeper. He hoped not.

Comparing records from Piper’s last exam and the one tonight, Kirk had lost some weight in the last few weeks. The slight hollows in the cheeks and paleness of his skin only confirmed that he was not eating well. There were dark shadows under his eyes. Either Kirk was not sleeping well or it was not a luxury he felt he could afford at present. He doubted that the discomfort from the injury he was treating now was the cause of all of these symptoms.

He decided to dig in, no time like the present. "It’d help me if I understood a little more about how you were injured. The ship’s log was a little vague about events after you sent everyone back to the ship and followed Commander Mitchell and Doctor Dehner on your own."

Tension rippled down Kirk’s back, threatening to undo the therapy that had been completed. He started to push up, but stopped when McCoy quickly shook his head, his hand urging the captain to be still. Turning his face away from McCoy, Kirk answered sharply. "I’ve already received my chastisement from my first officer and my previous medical officer about going after Mitchell alone on Delta Vega. I don’t need or want any from you."

McCoy mentally backed up, realizing his fatigue was not enhancing his therapeutic attempts tonight. "I wasn’t being critical. I just wanted to know what happened down there."

The captain turned to look at McCoy, his face hard and unreadable. "You said you read the ship’s log. Just like it stated, we fought. Dehner was killed by Mitchell during the fight. Commander Mitchell was caught in a rockslide and died." Kirk closed his eyes again, shutting McCoy out and changing the subject. "You know it’s nice to just lie here, and I really don’t feel like discussing this right now. Why don’t you tell me about that six day posting of yours? Or how your daughter’s doing?"

Perhaps Kirk was right. It would be helpful to renew their relationship, work on some trust building. He relaxed, leaning back in his chair. "Joanna’s great. She’s attending the University of Georgia right now. She’s thinking about majoring in clinical research. I managed to pack a couple of holo’s in my luggage despite the rush." He smiled just thinking about her. He looked over to discover Kirk watching him with a grin that crinkled the corners of his eye. Relieved, McCoy chuckled. Then he warned, "Get that wolf look out of your eyes; she’s only nineteen. I wouldn’t allow a reprobate like you within materializer range of any of my kin."

"Why Doctor, are you casting aspersion on my character?"

"Excuse me, I believe refreshing honesty is more appropriate. Besides, I’m not likely to forget that last shore leave we took together after the Shenandoah returned to Earth. I’d never been to Venus before, but..."

Kirk smirked, shaking his head slightly. "The women there were really...gifted. I don’t know about you, McCoy, but it took me over a week to recover. I was nearly late reporting to Admiral Nogura’s office."

"A week? No way." McCoy smiled fondly down at his friend. "You kept teasing me there, calling me Bones. I didn’t like it then but you know, I kinda miss it."

The light went out of Kirk’s eyes. Amusement was replaced by shadows. "Things change."

McCoy resisted the automatic impulse to explore the statement. He gave a wry smile in commiseration. "Yeah, they do." Pausing to check the setting and positioning of the treatment device, McCoy then launched into a recounting of his battle with the base commander who had fired him before he had even unpacked his bags. His Southern accent slipped out as he relaxed.

Finishing that tale, the doctor launched into another story and soon the one-sided conversation flowed into a casual catching up of old friends. Too soon, their time was up.

McCoy removed the instrument and did a final scan. "Looks good. You can get up now."

Kirk rolled over, his movement cautious at first. Then, surprised delight rippled across his face as he sat up and then hopped off the bed. Testing the movement of his right arm, he grinned at McCoy. "It doesn’t hurt at all. You’re a miracle worker." He slapped McCoy on the shoulder obviously pleased with the results.

McCoy started to put away the equipment but stopped and turned to look at Kirk. The captain stood waiting, his eyes slightly wary, "Anything else, doctor?"

He knew the timing was not right to push his friend into the difficult task of exploring feelings and motivations. McCoy shook his head. "Not really. I do recommend that you get something to eat and then rest. Oh, and take this." He handed a green theraban to Kirk.

The captain took it, raising questioning eyebrows.

"For exercising your wrist. I’ll send the exercises to your computer in the morning. In a few days, I’ll recheck your wrist and see if we need to change the exercises any."

Before the last word was out of his mouth, Kirk had turned and was rapidly disappearing, the green ribbon of theraban fluttering behind him as he gave a backwards wave. McCoy noted with a measure of satisfaction that the fast paced stride now held a little bounce with each step.

He worked his way to his new office, gathering up loose supplies on his way. This posting wasn’t going to be an easy one, but he had the feeling he would never be bored.


McCoy had barely arrived in Sickbay the next morning before he received an emergency call to one of the outer sections of the ship. Arriving on Deck Seventeen, he entered a large room, identified as the outer hatch entry. There were several crewmen standing inside, their attention focused on a large wall screen at one end of the room. The outside hull of the ship was all that McCoy could see and he wondered why everyone seemed to be studying the view screen so intently.

He turned his attention to Spock who was manning a console near the hatch entryway. He was dressed in an orange spacesuit that clashed with his green skin, his helmet on the floor beside him. Waiting to find out why he was needed, McCoy watched as Spock attached a silver earpiece and spoke quietly to the console. With a nod, Spock’s hands began to fly over the panel on the console. After a moment, the first officer spared a quick look at the screen in front of him.

McCoy followed his glance and now saw two people in spacesuits outside the ship. McCoy frowned at the figure that seemed to be tangled up in some type of antennae on the hull. The other crewman was using his jetpack to maneuver in an attempt to release the trapped man.

Spock must have finally noticed his presence. "Doctor, your assistance is needed." The commander was pointing toward the viewscreen.

McCoy felt the blood drain from his face, thinking for one mad moment that he was being asked to go out into space. Then, the crewmen in front of him separated, and he saw with almost frantic relief a man laying on the floor, his head propped up by a blanket. Taking a deep breath to still his pounding heart, McCoy pulled out his medikit and moved to the man’s side.

"What’s your name, son?" McCoy asked. The young patient’s left leg was positioned at an awkward angle and his scanner revealed it was broken in two places.

The crewman stole a quick glance at the viewscreen, then turned back to McCoy with a crooked grin. "I don’t know about anybody else, but I sure am glad to have you on board, Doc. I’m Kevin Riley."

"What happened?"

He nodded once more at the screen, "We were attempting to repair the main antennae. A piece of it broke loose when I was working on it, clipped me and then caught Lieutenant Commander Scott." He frowned, "I’m worried about him; he hasn’t moved much."

McCoy barely glanced at the screen. He nodded, "Well, we need to get you to Sickbay. I’m going to cut off your suit to make sure we support—" He had the material splitter in his hand, preparing to cut the leg of the suit when Riley caught his hand.

"We don’t need to be cutting up a good spacesuit. The others will get me out of this as soon as—" He trailed off as someone gasped nearby.

"He’s going to do it!" A woman whispered behind them.

Another excited voice broke in, "I told you he would. He’s won the gravity null gymnastics for three years running."

McCoy glanced up at the screen, not sure what they were discussing. "I’m calling for a gurney. We need to get you to Sickbay."

Riley’s eyes were glued to the screen. "Gurney’s already here, Doc. I’ll go after Chief Engineer Scott and the captain are inside the ship."

McCoy stared at Riley’s pale face, his pain reading now showed a significant amount of discomfort. Then, the young man’s words registered. He glanced wildly back at the screen. "Are you saying that’s Captain Kirk out there?"

Riley nodded. The doctor glanced back to find Spock, but he was hidden behind the other crewmen. Suddenly, the room gasped in unison, and McCoy turned back to the screen. The captain had removed his heavy gloves, attaching them to his spacesuit. He was left with a thin pair on his hands, allowing for dexterity but little protection from the cold vacuum of space. Kirk then manipulated the cumbersome jet pack, and McCoy watched in horror as he released it and let it drift away. He floated for a moment entirely free, no anchoring line keeping him safe.

Then, in a lazy motion as if he were in a completely safe environment, Kirk did a slow somersault that brought him alongside the trapped engineer. Lifting the metal tubing entangling the hapless man, he pulled him free. A loud cheer erupted from the crew surrounding them.

McCoy cursed under his breath when he realized that instead of heading for the hull platform, Kirk was aiming for the jetpack still floating along the surface of the hull. Several heart-stopping seconds later, he captured the device. Kirk reversed their position, gliding smoothly to the open platform. Securing the engineer on to it, he sent it down back inside the ship.

Spock was moving toward the hatch. As soon as the atmospheric controls stabilized, he released the hatch.

McCoy hurried over, as Spock and another crewman supported Scott off the platform. Spock was removing the helmet when Kirk’s voice crackled loudly over the intercom. "Do you have him, Spock?"

"Yes, Captain. Doctor McCoy is here with him."

"Good. I’m going to see what I can do with this. Check the damage before coming in."

"Understood, Captain." Unruffled, Spock did spare a glance at the viewscreen before turning back to assist with removing Scott’s spacesuit.

The chief engineer had blood running down the side of his face. "Och, me achin’ head." A Scottish burr emerged as the helmet was removed. McCoy began checking him over but found only a minor head injury. He would check him over in Sickbay more thoroughly for any signs of a concussion though.

Scott blinked a few times and then looked around him, searching. "Riley? You all right, lad?"

"Over here, Mister Scott. Except for a bum leg, I’m fine as a frog’s hair, sir. I’m just sorry about the pickle I got you into."

Scott grinned but just as quickly frowned as he seemed to notice Spock for the first time. "Who’s out there? I thought you were coming to get me."

"The captain. He ordered me to stay." There was no change in the even tone, but McCoy imagined he heard the annoyance just the same.

"Aye, he is fond of havin’ hands in the haggis." Scott was trying to focus on the screen, his eyes squinting. "Doc, do ye have somethin’ to ease my head until the captain returns?"

McCoy tried to keep his own annoyance from showing. It seemed that no one believed in going to Sickbay to have their injuries treated on this ship. "I need you, along with Mister Riley, in Sickbay. Then I can safely treat your symptoms."

Riley was quick to protest. "But, he’s still out there. We need—"

Spock was already back at the console, his earpiece in place. Thankfully, he came to McCoy’s assistance, "Mister Scott, Mister Riley, you will cooperate with Doctor McCoy." He nodded at two crewmen nearby. "Please assist the doctor with the gurneys."

There was no future argument, not including the grumbling of both injured men, of course. McCoy lagged slightly behind the stretchers, glancing again at the screen. Jetpack safely attached and thick gloves back in place, the captain was slowly moving toward the broken piece of antennae that had injured the two men headed to Sickbay. McCoy forced himself to look away, his eyes falling on Spock. The Vulcan remained motionless at the console, his eyes focused on the viewscreen.

The door hissed behind him and McCoy hurried to catch up with the stretchers. In Sickbay, he discovered his own staff gathered around a small viewscreen, watching the events outside the ship. As soon as they realized there were injuries to attend to, the techs and nurses immediately turned to the appropriate tasks. The doctor forced himself to ignore the figure floating in space on the screen, focusing his attention on the needs of his patients.


He had no sooner gotten the injuries tended to than more commotion was heard out in the main area of Sickbay. Concerned about more injuries, afraid to even consider who it was who might need attention, McCoy followed the stream of personnel.

It was Kirk causing the commotion. He stood quietly in the middle of the room, smiling as he was surrounded by crewmen, all talking excitedly. McCoy waded his way through the exuberant crowd, relieved that the captain seemed okay.

Kirk caught sight of him, his face sobering. "Scotty and Riley? Are they all right?"

Nodding, McCoy guided him back to another room where the two men lay. Remaining by the door, the doctor watched as Kirk talked quietly with both men. Riley’s eyes were shining as he talked with the captain, appearing slightly awed of the man. But he was young, and McCoy could understand his feelings. It was Scott who surprised him. He knew a little of the engineer’s background and figured the man was probably a bit cantankerous. Yet there was genuine affection in his tone as he spoke to the captain.

The comlink sounded, and the captain moved toward the wall. "Kirk here."

Spock reported, "The repair is effective. We have re-established contact with Starfleet Command."

"Excellent. I’ll be right up. Send our latest update now, in case the repairs prove to be temporary."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk grinned as Riley gave a whoop of delight. Heading out the door, the captain surprised McCoy when he stopped, asking, "Can I see you in your office?"

Wondering what Kirk wanted to discuss in private, McCoy’s anxiety flared for a moment. Maybe he was going to be fired now that Kirk had taken time to reflect on his actions the night before. He led the way silently to his office, forced to wait as lab techs and crewmen he had not yet met from his department stopped the captain to congratulate him on the rescue.

Once inside, McCoy kept his face blank, forcing himself to be patient. Kirk followed inside, then stood, hands behind him, feet apart. He smiled, and the doctor realized that for a moment he was seeing the same exuberant eyes of the young lieutenant he had met years ago.

Kirk’s first words caught him off guard. "Thanks to you, we got those men in safely."

"Me? What do you mean?"

"I couldn’t have accomplished what I needed to do if I’d still been in pain like I was yesterday. I still would have tried, but I’m afraid the outcome might have been different. My stubbornness could have gotten Scott killed. I wanted to thank you." He paused, looking down. "And about that, don’t have a stroke, but I need to have you look at these." Kirk pulled his hands out from behind his back.

McCoy drew in a sharp breath at the abraded, bleeding fingers. He wondered how he had missed seeing them before. He narrowed his eyes as he remembered that Kirk had carefully kept them out of sight while seeing to his crewmen in Sickbay.

Berating himself, McCoy realized he was going to have to learn to be more observant of the captain. And he should probably avoid playing poker with him. His ability to hide what he was feeling would ensure he would win at any game of bluff. He grasped one wrist lightly, studying the painful sight. "Looks like it hurts a lot."

Kirk shrugged. "I didn’t know how badly Scott was hurt. He didn’t answer our calls, and I didn’t have time to waste while trying to get him free. I would have lost precious minutes if I’d kept my gloves on."

McCoy retrieved his medikit while Kirk was talking. He cleaned both hands and then sprayed a coat of plastiskin on each one. A hissed intake of breath was Kirk’s only concession to the discomfort he was experiencing.

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself out there."

Kirk smiled, his eyes still glowing with secret joy. "Once I knew Scott was safe, I have to admit, I was enjoying the opportunity to work outside."

"Sure you weren’t trying to be a dammed show-off?"

Appearing genuinely bewildered, Kirk echoed, "A show-off? I don’t think you understand. There’s something about being out there. It—" He stopped, his face flushing slightly.

McCoy had finished with his hands. "These need ten minutes to completely dry. Don’t use them until the ten minutes are up. I think that’s all they’ll need." He let go of the wrists, searching Kirk’s face. "‘It’ what? You were trying to explain."

Kirk made a small sound in his throat, starting to turn for the door. McCoy touched his shoulder. "Jim?"

Still turned away, Kirk seemed reluctant to explain. "You’re going to tell me it’s one of my corn-fed idealisms." He laughed softly, then said, "There is pure joy in my soul when I’m out there."

"You love it," McCoy said quietly.

"Yes." Kirk left then without looking back.


The next few days, McCoy spent time orienting himself to Sickbay and the four hundred crewmen he would be providing care in the future. He visited the lounge and mess hall, spending time just listening to the crew talk to one another. In the past, he had found this was a fairly reliable method of gauging the ship’s general mood.

What McCoy discovered was the crew seemed happy to be aboard and he rarely heard grumbling about the officers. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of chatter about the captain and his escapade on the space walk. Someone had even managed to pull up a display of the captain participating in the gymnastic trials.

Of course, all gardens of Eden had serpents in them. McCoy wasn’t surprised, but he was saddened as he overheard a disturbing conversation in the mess hall. Two crewmen were discussing the captain. Trying to remain unobtrusive, he sat very still and leaned forward to hear better when he heard Spock’s name mentioned.

A passionate voice was claiming, "I don’t care. He’s our captain. I’m sure the Vulcan deserved the dressing down he got. You know how they are. The captain wouldn’t do that unless there was a good reason for it."

The second crewman added, "I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. But Spock had said something to him that apparently angered him."

Someone walked by, glancing curiously at McCoy. Retrieving his tray, the doctor disposed of it and left, his steps slow and uncertain. He was startled for a moment when he saw Spock coming down the corridor toward him. Then he decided to use the opportunity. He called out, "Mister Spock!"

They had not had any sort of exchange since McCoy’s arrival. Spock paused and McCoy asked, "Do you have a minute?"

"Is there something you need?" the Vulcan politely asked. Yet, McCoy had the impression that he was distracted.

"Is there someplace private we can talk?"

Spock turned to a nearby door which slid obediently open to reveal a small briefing room. Inside, McCoy hesitated, annoyed with his own nervousness at being in the room alone with the stone-faced alien. "Commander, I’ve been trying to get a clear picture of the crew here and the culture aboard ship. I wondered if you could give me a little insight."

The Vulcan did not seem to be particularly interested. "The crew compliment consists of ninety-three percent humanoids. I am not the most qualified person to clarify your perceptions of Humans or their cultural norms."

McCoy subdued the flare of irritation, wondering how only a few words could anger him. "Okay, I’m interested in one Human in particular. Captain Kirk. I heard that he chewed you out on the bridge today."

Spock brows drew downward. "Chewed out? I was reprimanded earlier. I do not see the correlation between this observation and your first request for information."

The doctor stared him, wondering if he was being deliberately obtuse. "Look, I need some help here. Let’s sit, and I’ll try to explain."

Spock glanced at the door before he complied. "I have twelve point three minutes before my next appointment."

"I’ll try to be succinct," McCoy said dryly. "You’ve been on a few missions with Jim. Is it normal for him to reprimand an officer in front of other crew?"

"If you wish to discuss the captain’s performance, I recommend you discuss this with him."

McCoy counted to five. Unclenching his teeth, he tried again. "Have you ever been reprimanded by Captain Kirk on the bridge before this last mission and the loss of Commander Mitchell?"

Spock looked down at the table. Hands folded before him. "No."

"In your opinion, has his behavior altered since that mission?"

"Is this line of questioning pertinent to command function?" The dark eyes met his, challenging McCoy.

"Yes, it is, Commander, and you know it. I’m trying to head off having to make an official report. If you’ll help me, maybe I can."

Eyes back on his hands, Spock gave a succinct nod. "Yes, his manner is altered. He is irritable, easily angered. He has been unwilling to allow anyone else to perform some of the multiple duties for which he is responsible resulting in the captain having limited time to rest."

"I have observed that much of this…irritability seems to be directed toward you. Is this accurate?"

Spock looked up and McCoy thought for a moment, he could see confusion and concern reflected in the dark eyes. "He has been resistant to my attempts to perform as first officer since this mission. I have been confused by this lack of consistence. His behavior indicates that he would prefer that I not perform these duties properly, if at all."

"If I understand correctly, some of the duties you are attempting to address were being completed by Commander Mitchell."

Again, there was a reflection of confusion in the dark eyes. "Yes. Even though this mission is a shakedown cruise for the Enterprise, the captain often looks for opportunities to advance training of all the crew. Mister Mitchell was our executive officer, not I. Most of my present duties were performed by Mitchell. Following the events on Delta Vega, I have been forced to assume the role of Captain Kirk’s first officer. Other than Lieutenant Commander Scott, I am the senior-most officer aboard the Enterprise. By military protocol, there was no other choice."

"But now, the captain seems to resent you resuming those tasks?"

Spock nodded without comment. "It is most...illogical."

McCoy sighed, disappointed to hear that the behavior was continuing. "Thank you, Commander. I appreciate your time."

Spock rose smoothly and left. The doctor remained seated, considering the possible options. Finally, he headed for Sickbay. It was time to call the captain down for a visit.


Unable to track Kirk down or to speak to him directly, McCoy ended up making an appointment through the captain’s yeoman, a young woman named Smith. His attempt to simply go to the bridge was again thwarted by the security protocols on the turbolift, just one more thing in the list of issues to tackle with the taciturn captain.

Throughout the long day, as he concentrated on his multiple duties in Sickbay, McCoy worried about the coming interview. In the late afternoon, he locked himself in his office with a pot of coffee and listened to any of the logs he could access on this last mission and some from earlier missions.

An hour later, the intercom whistled, and McCoy heard the voice of the yeoman he had spoken to earlier. "Smith here, the captain’s time is limited. He is holding your appointment. Are you coming?"

Dismayed, McCoy glanced at the chronometer. He was ten minutes late. "I’m on my way," he snapped, already out of his chair, heading for the exit. He had to backtrack to retrieve his medikit. It might be the only opportunity to check Kirk’s wrist and hands for awhile depending on the captain’s reaction to his probing.

Once inside Kirk’s quarters, McCoy had to wait until the captain finished quietly instructing the yeoman, handing her a stack of disks. She juggled them, nodding at McCoy as she left.

Kirk glanced up with a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. "What can I do for you?"

"I came to check on your wrist and your hands." McCoy held up his scanner. Kirk grimaced but nodded. "And to talk."

"About?" Kirk’s penetrating eyes pinned McCoy as if he knew what he was going to say.

"First the wrist. Any problems?" McCoy came around the desk as Kirk shook his head. The captain held out both hands, sighing impatiently as the doctor ran his scanner over the palms and then his wrist. "Looks good. Skin’s healed just fine. And you’ve been doing the exercises I see."

Holding the scanner in one hand, McCoy manipulated the square palm in specific directions, watching the readouts as he did. Requesting Kirk to apply pressure, he scanned again. Finally he grunted, straightening. "Improved function is showing except for a slight decrease in strength with forward exertion." He folded Kirk’s fingers into a fist and had him push against his palm. "Like this. It may resolve on its own, but I have a couple of exercises that will ensure this if you wish to try them."

Kirk nodded, a mirthless smile on his face. "I’ll need that strength in a fist fight." He smacked his fist against his palm.

"Fist fight?" McCoy couldn’t keep the dismay from his voice. "Why would a starship commander end up in a fist fight?"

"A joke, Doctor." He shook his head. "Sit down. What is it you want to discuss? I’m afraid our time is limited."

McCoy slid into the chair across from Kirk. "When do you get to quit? It’s almost time for the third shift."

Again the practiced smile was in place. McCoy knew from his scan that Kirk was tired, fatigue levels above normal. His weight was still off, and the shadows under his eyes were present if one looked for them. "I’m the captain. The job doesn’t come with scheduled time off."

"Always on call? I for one am anxious to get another doctor on board. A Doctor Keme M’Benga is supposed to join the ship when we make it to Earth. Guess you don’t have the option of a backup captain coming on board." McCoy paused, mentally ordering himself to stop prattling. Kirk was giving him his full attention, but the professional atmosphere told him it was simply because he was scheduled for this period of the captain’s time. He tried again, "I’ve been trying to get a feel for the crew, what their general mood is, any areas of concern I need to address." McCoy paused, rattled by the polite attention Kirk was giving him. "In general, they seem happy to be aboard and have faith in you."


It was more than polite attention. It would be easy to underestimate the captain by watching his expressions. Relieved that Kirk seemed to understand where he was headed, McCoy gave a nod. "Yes. I actually overheard something today that concerns me. A crewman was discussing you and Lieutenant Commander Spock. He had observed an interaction on the bridge today between the two of you." McCoy watched as Kirk glanced down, a faint flush on his cheeks. He found himself not wanting to continue, not wanting to hurt this man. "His opinion was that ‘the Vulcan deserved it’. Both men’s tone of voice were derogatory to Spock, and both men supported you unconditionally."

Kirk stood abruptly, not hiding his dismay. "Bigotry?"

"That was the general tone."

"Who? Who were they?"

"Don’t know. I couldn’t see their faces." McCoy watched as Kirk paced. "I wouldn’t tell you anyway if I knew. That’s not the point. They were following your example."

"But Spock was wrong. He didn’t provide me with a vital piece of information. I needed for—"

"So vital that you needed to belittle him on the bridge?"

Kirk’s head came up. "That’s an inaccurate perception, Doctor. I told him he was in the wrong, and I didn’t appreciate it."

"But this is not the first incident. I know I witnessed one in the corridor a few days ago. I’ve talked with Commander Spock. He says—"

Kirk pivoted around at McCoy’s words. "Spock complained to you? About me?"

McCoy met the narrowed eyes evenly. "Jim, quit looking like you’re going to test your wrist in a fist fight with me. Sit down. Let’s talk. I know you’re tired, and my timing is lousy. If I could avoid this conversation, I would. But I can’t."

Kirk didn’t move. His eyes grew wintry cold, challenging McCoy in the dead silence of the room. When he finally spoke, his tone was low and even. "What do you mean, you can’t? What exactly are you saying, Doctor?"

Don’t make me say it, McCoy prayed. Don’t make me threaten your command. "Nothing, Jim...if you’ll sit down and talk rationally with me."

The captain took a full minute to give. Dropping his gaze, he ran a hand through his hair, drawing a slow breath. Regaining his seat, Kirk held up his hand, forestalling McCoy’s next words. Placing a call to his yeoman, McCoy drew a breath of relief as the captain canceled the remainder of his schedule for the evening and ordered fresh coffee for both of them.

Then, Kirk leaned forward, his hands spread before him in a gesture of openness. McCoy did not miss the tinge of anger still present in the calm voice. "All right, so tell me, what did my new first officer say?"

"First off, I approached Spock. He did not come to me. And he refused to discuss anything to do with your command performance as he put it, including the reprimand I questioned him about. He only responded after I explained I was attempting to avoid an official report. He did admit your manner has changed since the last mission and that you have been too busy to rest properly."

"It’s been a stressful few weeks."

"That’s a given. But, what issues haven’t you dealt with and are carrying around that are reducing your normal ability to cope with the stress?"

Kirk’s lips tightened, his eyes dropping for a moment. Then the anger returned, "What else did he say? That I’m—"

"Stop it, Jim. This isn’t about Spock, and you know it." McCoy forced himself to relax, willing Kirk to back down. Finally, the doctor tried to ease some of the defensiveness that was mixed in with Kirk’s anger. "Spock did indicate he was confused about the fact that you are not allowing him to assume the full duties of his position and easing your workload. He sees that as his responsibility. And I swear, for a moment, I heard concern in his voice for you."

A jaw muscle flexed and Kirk closed his eyes as if in pain momentarily. Without looking up, Kirk started softly, "Doc, I don’t—"

The door signal chimed, and McCoy silently cursed. The yeoman arrived with a tray holding two steaming mugs of coffee. She had also included several appetizing and nutritional snacks on the tray. Kirk aimed an exasperated look at her retreating back as she left the room. As the doors closed, he shared a look with McCoy. "Did you hear me ask for food? I said coffee."

McCoy snagged a piece of fruit. "Looks good to me."

Kirk retrieved the coffee mug, holding it with both hands. He looked down at his desk, shaking his head slightly. "Great example I’m setting. By singling out a crewmember who is different, it is assumed that bigotry is acceptable." The bitter tone was aimed at himself.

His next words surprised McCoy, the painful honesty making him tense. "Spock’s right. It’s as if I resent for simply trying to do his job… or for simply being alive. But I feel like he’s challenging me. I try to control my irritation but the next thing I know something he says just sets me off. It’s not his fault."

The raw tone begged McCoy to ease his distress. He said wryly, "Oh, I don’t know that our resident Vulcan is entirely without fault. The few times I’ve talked with him, he sets me off with a look." At Kirk’s grimace, he forced his attention to the problem at hand. "I take it this wasn’t the norm before the last mission?"

"You mean irritating me? No. That’s just the way he is. He states facts, sometimes they are not the most pleasant facts. I don’t know why now it seems to be so difficult to live with that. Chris Pike told me that I would find his lieutenant invaluable..."

"For one thing, your continued lack of sleep and your limited nutritional intake are factors that contribute to your irritability." McCoy watched Kirk bristle and headed off his rebuttal by adding, "They are also symptoms."

Wary eyes flicked up to meet his. "Symptoms of what?"

"Something that you are refusing to acknowledge or cope with on a conscious level." McCoy waited a beat, letting Kirk absorb his statement. Quietly he asked, "Do you think you resent him for not being Gary Mitchell?"

"No," Kirk snapped quickly.

Meeting the hazel eyes evenly, McCoy continued, "Do you blame him for Mitchell’s death?

"No." The captain responded, less forcefully this time. His face twisted wryly for a moment as his eyes lifted to the wall behind the doctor. "It’s not his fault Gary’s gone. I’m the one who’s to blame for that."

"I’m not even sure that’s true either, Jim. But Gary Mitchell is not here, and Mister Spock is." McCoy knew he was pushing but so far he did not seem to be penetrating the command control that Kirk was keeping in place.

"That’s not Spock’s fault."

Doggedly, McCoy continued, watching the hazel eyes carefully. "I watched the sickbay tapes of Commander Mitchell. One part was particularly disturbing. Mitchell said that Spock was thinking that you should kill him now. Did you and Spock discuss killing him before that?"

The eyes flicked away, the jaw muscle flinching slightly. At least the doctor could see he was on the right track.

Then his eyes returned to McCoy’s face but the doctor felt as if Kirk were seeing something else entirely. He said quietly, "Spock was right. There was no other way."

"And you agreed with him?"

Kirk drew a quick breath, starting to speak then stopping abruptly. Shaking his head, he answered in a solemn whisper. "No. I was a fool, just like Gary said I was. And I nearly got us killed."

"But you did argue with Spock about your decision?"

For a long time, he did not answer. His calm tone when it came made McCoy want to shake him. "Of course, I did. It was Gary Mitchell. I’ve known him for most of my life. I trusted him with my life. He even saved it once on Dimorus." Frowning, he shifted in his chair as if it had grown too small for him. Finally there was a hint of emotion in his voice, self recrimination, anger all contained in the quiet words. "There must’ve been something we missed, something that we could have done differently—" Abruptly, he stopped himself, closing his eyes as if to shut out something he did not want to see. Standing, he moved to the grill separating his office from his sleeping quarters.

Several seconds passed with his back toward the doctor before he turned. It was McCoy’s turn to frown as he noted the squared shoulders, the command mantle being pulled rapidly back into place, closing off the painful self-exploration.

When Kirk turned his charisma on full force, McCoy mentally sighed, knowing the conversation was at an end. He had to fight not to roll his eyes as Kirk aimed his engaging smile directly at him. The captain managed to have just the right mixture of humor, easing some of McCoy’s irritation as he said, "Look, believe me when I say I don’t blame Spock for Gary’s death." He drew a breath, continuing, "You have made me aware of the serious consequences of inappropriate loss of control in front of the crew." Holding up two fingers, hazel eyes twinkling, he said, "I promise, Scout’s honor, that I will not allow any irritation I feel with my first officer to show in front of the crew. I will also apologize to Commander Spock and endeavor to repair our relationship." He tilted his head, somehow making McCoy feel that his fate was held in the doctor’s hands. "Will that satisfy you enough to let this go?"

McCoy instincts were screaming for him to deny this request, to continue the conversation where they had left off. Obviously, he had touched on something Kirk did not want to deal with, and McCoy felt that it was the true source of his continued discontent. Because Kirk was hiding the truth even from himself left the captain at risk for behavioral problems until it was truly addressed. However, one look at the steel behind the forced twinkle and the doctor knew it was a lost cause. For now.

He still had one card to play. "It might on one condition."

The charming visage held. Kirk was willing to play.

"Effective immediately, I’m to be allowed unlimited access to the bridge. And I’m to be notified of all senior officer briefings. I will be allowed to attend any that I feel are necessary, no matter the security level."

The eyebrow had gone up, Kirk’s smile twisting wryly. "Is that all?"

"For starters...sir."

Humor still going, Kirk nodded. "Consider it done." He stood, and as McCoy unfolded his limbs, he gave a wry chuckle. "This has been charming. I don’t believe I need to worry about you being afraid to question me."

The tension was thick between them as McCoy left the captain’s office. He headed slowly back to his own bed, knowing sleep was going to be a long time coming tonight. He was beginning to doubt that he was the right man for this job, all he seemed to have done since he came aboard was challenge the captain.

But McCoy knew as along as he was aboard, he would continue to do his job to the best of his ability, with or without the captain’s approval.


The captain remained true to his word. During the next few days, the doctor attended bridge crew briefings, and he discovered that he was able to check in on the bridge whenever he chose to do so. Twice, McCoy asked Kirk to join him for lunch and was pleased when the captain extended the invitation to include Spock. He personally approved this strategy that ensured the crew could observe Kirk and Spock interacting without conflict.

Now, the three of them were eating lunch, and McCoy allowed himself to relax for the first time in a couple of weeks. Sickbay was running smoothly, and he felt that he had a good handle on each of his staff and their capabilities.

The doctor was relieved to see that the captain appeared more relaxed as well, and the way he was plowing through his meal, his appetite had definitely improved. There were shadows under the eyes and McCoy knew he still needed to address the reason for his continued insomnia when the timing seemed appropriate.

Kirk lifted his head, his eyes narrowing at McCoy’s continued perusal of him. "What? Am I eating too much now?"

McCoy raised innocent eyebrows. "No. A three month refit, eh? Just thinking it was nice to relax a little. I know you’ll be glad to reach Earth to get this ship back up to par. I’m also glad because M’Benga, the physician I told you about, will be coming on board then. That will greatly relieve my mind about something happening to Spock." He frowned at the Vulcan. "Do you know that the Starfleet database on medical treatment for Vulcans is very limited? It’s basic first aid in my opinion."

"Due to our genetic structure, we are resistant to illness. Our physique is far superior to humans. Information has been limited to protect our privacy."

"That’s not good enough. If you were injured, I wouldn’t have the knowledge base to treat you." McCoy fumed, irritated at the reference to Vulcan’s superiority over Humans.

"Let me reassure you, Doctor, your services will not be needed."

"That’s just crazy! What if we were attacked by those damned Klingons? An explosion on the bridge could injure you. How can you of all people ignore that random events occur that cannot be predicted?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kirk quickly glance up and realized he had raised his voice once again while talking to Spock.

"I did not indicate that I would never be harmed aboard a Human ship. I am explaining that there will not be a need for your services. Vulcans have many capabilities that Humans do not."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" McCoy snapped.

Before Spock could answer, Kirk interrupted. "Gentlemen, we’re gathering an audience." He bent a steel-eyed look at McCoy but then surprisingly continued the thread. "I agree with McCoy, limited information about medical treatment for you is alarming. I am curious, Doctor. You said that Doctor M’Benga would make you less nervous about treating Spock. Why?"

"His experience. He’s had his residency on Vulcan."

"Ahh," Kirk started to comment but was interrupted by a summons to the bridge. Kirk gathered Spock up with a look and the two men headed for the exit. Depositing his own tray in the recycler, McCoy followed them out, taking a separate turbolift to Sickbay.

As the lift made its way to the correct level, McCoy thought about Spock’s enigmatic replies to his concerns and decided waiting for M’Benga was a risky proposition. It was time to call in a few favors from some of his colleagues from the past few years. Someone was bound to have the information he needed, restricted or not. McCoy was not usually given to borrowing trouble but a feeling that they were going to have need of that information sooner than later raised the hair on the back of his neck.


It seemed that trouble found them. The call for Kirk and Spock to the bridge less than five hours before had been to respond to a distress call by an old-style passenger ship that was not made for deep space transport. It had lost navigation systems and ended up in an asteroid belt. Badly damaged, the crew realizing that they could not repair the damage or likely survive, had cut their losses and run. Taking the only shuttle available, the crew escaped leaving the two hundred and eleven passengers stranded in a ship that was slowly losing its atmosphere.

Kirk had asked Scott for and received top warp speed in order to get to the ship in time to rescue the passengers. However, the extra strain required by the higher speed had caused unexpected systems burnouts that were likely related to the energy barrier they had crossed more than a month before. One of the reasons they were headed to Earth.

One of the most severe malfunctions was in secondary systems including the materializers. There were two regular materializers available on the Enterprise plus another that was used for cargo which could have conceivably beamed more personnel aboard. Currently, they only had one working materializer, although Lieutenant Commander Scott was continuing to effect repairs on the cargo materializer. McCoy had gotten to know the Scotsman well enough by now to know that there were undoubtedly a continuous string of Gaelic curses flowing as he tried to get the recalcitrant system to cooperate.

They were also utilizing the two shuttles aboard, but it was risky. The damaged ship was unstable, ready to explode at any time. The volunteers piloting the shuttle were aware of the danger but did not seem to hesitate in putting their lives on the line.

Pausing to wipe the sweat out of his eyes, McCoy glanced at the chaotic scene around him. At least eighteen civilians lining the corridor, some on stretchers, some sitting quietly on the floor and the rest milling about, crying and in shock. He needed to get them out of the way before the next wave arrived. He wondered if the first group had arrived by shuttle and how Chapel was faring.

Through the open doorway of the materializer room, McCoy heard Kirk snap an order to the security men who were assisting in moving the people off the materializer as soon as the beaming process was completed. Another six people filed out, no apparent injuries though they were obviously frightened and bewildered.

Kirk’s yeoman appeared around a bend in the corridor, followed by two crewmen he did not recognize. She smiled confidently at him, as if she dealt with contingencies like this everyday. "We’re here to escort the ambulatory people not needing immediate attention to the main rec room. Security is headed here also to move the injured into Sickbay."

McCoy forced a tight smile, continuing to scan one of the new ones as he listened. "Good. We’re already getting crowded. You can move anyone with a green armband. Make sure they have something hot and nourishing and plenty of liquids. Small amounts at time though. Most are dehydrated and haven’t had anything to eat in several days."

The yeoman’s eyes clouded with dismay as she glanced down at the dispirited people lining the corridor. The woman McCoy was checking spoke up suddenly. "It’s been six days. Once the crew deserted us, none of us had security clearance to access the supplies."

He patted her on the shoulder. "Go with Ms. Smith here. She’ll get you some food and a place to rest." McCoy turned to the yeoman. "Only utilize the menu coded for malnourishment. It will limit the foods to ones that can be easily tolerated."

"Yes sir," the yeoman turned to her task, efficient but compassionate as she urged the civilians to follow her to a different location.

Relieved that some of his charges were being moved, McCoy finished examining the last one of this group, placing a green band on his arm. He guided the still shaking man over to the far corridor, encouraging him to sit until more help arrived.

In the brief respite, McCoy slipped into the materializer room. The beaming process had begun and he waited beside Kirk in silence. The doctor wanted desperately to ask if they were going to make it, if they were going to be able to save everyone, but he was not sure he wanted to know the answer.

Kirk was already bounding up the steps as the materialization finished. He caught a woman around the waist as her knees buckled. He quickly took the crying infant which was precariously held in her arms. McCoy moved to her side, one brief scan telling him she had simply fainted.

A security man was already kneeling beside him. "Is it safe to move her, sir?"

McCoy nodded, "Yes, get her on one of the cots in the corridor; I’ll be right there." Remembering the child, the doctor discovered Kirk near a pile of clean blankets and towels with the baby.

The captain had already stripped the sodden clothes from the wailing baby and was expertly wrapping a blanket snugly around the little boy. McCoy widened his eyes, finding a grin in the grim situation as he watched Kirk lift the baby and hold him securely on his shoulder. The crying quickly subsided to pitiful sobs. As he checked the baby with his scanner, he murmured, "You’re doing well. Is comforting babies a class I missed at Starfleet?"

Kirk graced him with an embarrassed smile all the while patting the baby on the back, occasionally shushing it softly. "I spent a few weeks on a colony that had suffered through an earthquake. Trial by fire. I learned lots of handy tricks there for dealing with babies and children." He moved over to the console. "Go check on the new ones. If he’s okay, I’ll take care of Junior here until you’re ready for him."

McCoy patted the baby on the back, smiling softly. "Yeah, looks like the mother continued to feed him, probably depleting herself in the process. But he’s fine."

Rejoining his med-techs in the corridor, McCoy began examining the latest civilians to arrive. His assessment of the woman with the baby was correct. She was badly dehydrated, confused and lethargic. Immediately starting fluids intravenously, and treating her for signs of shock, McCoy waited several anxious seconds until she finally opened her eyes, frowning as she tried to focus on him. Her hands moved in the air, searching.

"Your baby is safe. You’re on the starship Enterprise. Everything’s going to be fine."

She was becoming more agitated despite the medicine he injected to control panic reactions. McCoy sent a med-tech after the captain. Within seconds, Kirk was kneeling at her side, giving McCoy a questioning glance as he started to place the baby in her shaking arms. He shrugged, realizing the woman would not relax until she was certain her child was okay.

Kirk helped her ease the baby into a secure position. "He’s a beautiful boy. What’s his name?"

Her eyes were beginning to close, but she smiled. "Jared."

McCoy caught Kirk’s arm as he started to return to the materializer. "How are we doing?"

"It’s slow. The second shuttle is off-loading. The first one is on its way back. With that one, we’ll have retrieved approximately seventy. Little more than one-third." He ran a hand over his face, glancing around to make sure none of the civilians were near enough to hear. "Those engines are unstable, Scotty has two techs over there monitoring, but I’m...concerned. Spock is working with him on the cargo materializer, but I don’t think he’s going to pull a rabbit out of his hat on this one."

A woman’s voice started screaming inside the materializer room. McCoy automatically followed Kirk back inside, but couldn’t resist questioning the captain’s last statement. "A Vulcan magician? Not an image that comes easily to mind."

"I’d take a Klingon magician if it’d help."

The transport process was a frightening one to these civilians, many never having experienced it before. Most had responded with fear and quiet sobs. But now a small woman was holding two security men at bay, snarling and attempting to claw them with her long nails. Her face was a mask of fear. One of the passengers who had arrived in the same group was trying to reason with her.

Not wasting time, McCoy quietly instructed the security men to secure her arms. One quick injection and she sagged between them. They carried her to an empty stretcher, and McCoy turned back to his work.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed until Yeoman Smith appeared, handing him a supplement and bottle of water. Taking a deep gulp of the water, McCoy nodded his thanks to the yeoman. She studied the continuing flow of civilians, her eyes showing her own fatigue although it did not extend to her facial expression.

So far, none of the injuries had required his presence in Sickbay and were being cared for by the medical staff. Chapel continued to report periodically to him from the shuttle bay, indicating they were in the same shape as McCoy’s arrivals. Needing care and attention but nothing life threatening.

Kirk was currently on the bridge, monitoring the communications with his crewmen aboard the Unity. The last report McCoy received indicated they were doing well, all the survivors should be off-loaded within the hour.

Suddenly, Kirk burst out of a turbolift nearby, heading in a mad run for the materializer room. He was talking rapidly into a communicator but broke off when he saw the doctor. "I need you, now. There’s been an explosion."

A figure crumpled on the floor was forming on the materializer pad, groaning in pain as the dematerialization completed. It was a crewman, red shirt ripped to shreds. Deep burns covered his upper body and face. McCoy moved immediately to his side, pressing a hypo into his neck to counteract the pain and shock that was just beginning. As the ensign relaxed, Kirk knelt beside them. "Doctor?"

"I need to get him to Sickbay."

"The stretcher’s here."

As they carefully lifted him onto it, Scott arrived. "Ensign Mehdi? How is he?"

"I’ll tell you when I know. What’s his first name?" McCoy concentrated on his scanner, moving with the stretcher as two crewmen guided it to the door.


He heard Scott asking about his other technician still on board the other ship. Then he looked up sharply at Kirk’s reply.

"We can’t get him to answer. The radiation is making it difficult to pinpoint his vital signs. I want you to beam me over to the Engineering section. I’ll—"

"Jim! You can’t!" Scott spoke the words with McCoy echoing him a half-second behind. The engineer shook his head, "The systems have gone redline. That’s what caused the explosion. It’s too risky."

Kirk was stepping on the platform. "I don’t have time to argue. I know some tricks for this particular ship. I’m going to hold her together long enough to get the rest of those passengers off. And I’m not leaving my crewman behind."

Scott hadn’t moved, still shaking his head. "I’ll go. I can—"

"Mister Scott, I’m giving you an order. Beam me over now. We’re losing precious time. McCoy, prepare for another injury. I’ll notify Spock once I’m there of the conditions. Don’t send the shuttle until I’m sure it’s safe."

Suddenly, Garrovick and one of the Leslie twins were there from Security. They bounded up on the platform, flanking Kirk. He grimaced but didn’t argue, not wanting to waste any more time. Scott was adjusting the materializer and too soon for the doctor they began to fade from sight.

McCoy turned, gesturing for the men carrying the stretcher to go ahead to Sickbay. He moved quickly to a wall intercom, contacting Chapel. He instructed her to report to Sickbay and gave succinct orders on how to care for him until McCoy could get there.

There was a loud crackle from the intercom by Scott. Kirk’s reassuring voice broke through the static. "We have Lieutenant Wilson. Doesn’t look good, Doctor; he’s bleeding badly. Scotty, lock onto Leslie’s communicator and beam them both back. I’m working on the systems now."

Scott was adjusting the controls, mumbling under his breath. McCoy gathered his supplies, prepared with a pressure pad, and another hypo to counteract the blood loss and shock. Two medical technicians appeared, a gurney waiting between them.

The process of transport was beginning when McCoy heard Spock’s calm tone through the intercom. He felt a moment of surprise at the relief he felt in hearing the Vulcan’s voice. "Captain, I have been monitoring from the bridge. Your status?"

Kirk sounded distracted as he replied. "A few more seconds and I think it will be safe to send the shuttle over for the last load of passengers. Garrovick has gone down to round them up and make sure we haven’t missed anyone." He grunted, then announced. "That’s got it. Send the Columbia over. Tell Sulu to make it fast. We have a narrow get them off."

Wilson was unresponsive after the materializer released him, blood flowing over the pad. Leslie pointed, "His right arm, doctor. It’s nearly cut off."

Forgetting the drama taking place aboard the other ship, McCoy guided his techs in placing Wilson on the stretcher, applying basic treatment as they headed for Sickbay.

In the next half hour, McCoy managed to stabilize both men from slipping further into shock. Preparing for surgery, he was stopped by the intercom signal.

It was Scott. "Doctor McCoy, I’m patching the captain through."

The comlink crackled loudly, making it nearly impossible to hear Kirk. He interrupted after a few seconds, "Jim I can barely hear you. Are you saying you’re still on the Unity?"

The static crackled loudly then decreased. "Yes. All" McCoy’s eyes narrowed at the slow cadence. He heard a rasp as Kirk apparently struggled to breathe. "Spock’s hurt...explosion... asking you—" There was another uncomfortable pause while Kirk sucked in more air. "Can’t order—" The connection was abruptly broken.

Scott broke in. "Doctor, we can’t beam Mister Spock out due to interference. It will be safe to beam you over there."

Wanting to ask a thousand questions, McCoy forced them down. "Tell Jim I’m on my way." Adrenaline or possibly fear rushed through his veins.

Chapel appeared handing him a refreshed medikit, trauma supplies and three respirators. He spared a moment to glance at them questioningly, and she explained, "The oxygen reading over there is pretty low. Most of the atmosphere is gone."

Inside the materializer room, he rushed up the steps, relieved to see the chief engineer was at the controls. "What the hell is Spock doing over there, Scotty?"

The Scotsman shook his head, continuing to concentrate on the board in front of him. "He went against orders. I think he was afraid the captain was going to sacrifice himself." He looked up, his brown eyes grave. "Doctor, I can’t give you any assurances this’ll be a safe transport."

The doctor’s mouth twisted into a strained smile. "I hate the damned thing even when you tell me it is entirely safe. Let’s get this over with."


Aboard the Unity, McCoy discovered he came through the materializer without any loss of limb. His first breath became a gasp for air, reminding him he was on a troubled ship. He slapped one of the respirators that Chapel had efficiently thought to send with him on his face. Looking around, he found he was in an empty corridor with debris littered knee deep as far as he could see. Clutching his medical equipment, McCoy turned, tensing as the ship shuddered around him.

"Jim?" He shouted but the sound came out muffled. He lifted his mask, yelling again, "Jim?"

There was no reply. The doctor flipped his communicator open. "McCoy to Scott. I’m on board, but I don’t know where they are."

Receiving directions, he grumbled as he was forced to climb a gangway for two levels in complete and utter darkness. Sweat formed along his back and upper lip despite the coldness of the stale ship’s air. He burst out of the hatchway, grateful for light even though it was dim when he found Kirk standing at a console in the center of the engine room.

The captain did not see him enter, one hand urgently tapping a panel while his other one was stretched out behind him, adjusting a knob on the console. The odor of a recent fire was strong and heavy smoke still lay in the air. The room was in a shambles due to the explosions, equipment and consoles toppled over one another. Kirk was not without injury. The recent explosions and shattered equipment must have embedded shards of debris into several areas of his torso and arms. There was blood running down the side of his face and several places on his chest.

As he noted the slow, agonized rasp of each breath Kirk took, the physician hurried over to place a respirator on the captain..

Kirk never took his eyes off the gauges, even as he whispered, "McCoy." His eyes flicked up briefly. The doctor could see bleak desperation in the hazel eyes before they darted back to watch another gauge. "Hurry! Spock! Not much time!"

McCoy had already surveyed the shambles surrounding them. "Where? I don’t see him."

"Behind me. Against the bulkhead. I don’t know if he’s....I couldn’t go to him, or the ship would blow." His voice trembled, McCoy not sure if it was from tension or fear.

Turning immediately, McCoy waded through the wreckage, still not seeing Spock as he came closer to the bulkhead. Suddenly, he saw the toe of a black boot covered in dust sticking out from underneath a cabinet. The doctor had his scanner running before he uncovered the rest of Spock. As he caught sight of the Vulcan, McCoy bit his lip against a gasp. Spock’s neck was bent at an unnatural angle, it didn’t take a doctor to see his neck was broken. His face was an odd shade of grayish green, his breathing uneven and rapid. The tricorder was alarming loudly about the degree of shock Spock was experiencing McCoy shoved the debris frantically out of the way, praying that Spock would not choose this moment to wake up and move.

"Doctor?" Kirk called. "Is he.... Can you help him?"

The doctor’s mind was already kicking into high warp, pulling stabilizing equipment from his medical gear. "He’s alive, Jim. That’s all I can say."

As the ship continued to groan and pitch around him, McCoy ignored all the external stimuli. He had worked in enough field situations to be able to manage applying a brace to stabilize the neck with experienced hands while using the tricorder to ensure he did not cause more damage. His equipment was set for human norms but he had researched enough on his own to be fairly confident in translating the readings into Vulcan norms. The area he was uncertain of was the exact composition of medication that Spock would require being a hybrid.

The degree of shock was clear and had to be addressed immediately. Trusting his instincts, McCoy injected three different hypos and then waited.

The ship lurched again, another explosion sounding close by. "Doctor...can we move him?"

His own voice was muffled from the mask. "Yes. Where?"

"Two levels down. Scott may be able to transport from there. If not, there’s an escape pod."

McCoy nodded, "Just say when."

He turned back to Spock to find the brown eyes open. The pupils were large, a glaze of liquid covering them. His scanner had already told him a concussion and minor bleed were present. Expecting to find him disoriented, he was mildly surprised when Spock rasped, "The captain?"

"He’s okay. You’re not. Fractured neck." Blessing Chapel for the thousandth time, McCoy removed a portable stretcher from the bag she had slung on his shoulder. Unfolding and locking it into place, he was forced to stop and shield Spock’s body as the ship bucked causing large chunks of the ceiling above to fall on them.

The ship did not stop its wild motion, and there was a sudden, loud groaning from the metal around them. Kirk shouted, "That’s it. She’s breaking up. We only have a few minutes." The captain appeared at their side, "Let’s go."

"Captain, you should leave me—" The Vulcan’s tone grated on the doctor’s nerves; Spock was in a great deal of pain. McCoy could do nothing about it until he was certain the medicines were safe to give to his unique physiology. The doctor reached out to adjust the respirator on Spock’s face before moving to assist with transferring him.

Kirk was already reaching out to lift Spock’s torso, only sending a brief glance at McCoy to make sure it was all right. "Save your breath, Spock. We’re going together."

Maneuvering the Vulcan onto the stretcher was done less gently than McCoy would have preferred, but it was done quickly. Securing him tightly, Kirk led them to the hatchway. The trip down the two levels and into the corridor was done swiftly. McCoy was sure they were causing more pain and injury to the Vulcan just with their jerking and jostling of the stretcher. He thought Spock must be unconscious but when he caught a glimpse of the nearly white face, the dark eyes were still wide open.

The ship was tilting badly as the artificial gravity plates began malfunctioning. They were forced to sidle awkwardly along the wall while the sounds around them increased to an ear-screeching level. McCoy could see Kirk yelling into the communicator but could not hear him over the noise of the ship breaking up.

McCoy knew they were goners when he watched Kirk shake his head and grasp both ends of the stretcher. The captain started to run, yanking impatiently when McCoy did not immediately start after him.

Air was being sucked away from them, pulling all the flotsam around them down the corridor. Something slammed into his head, and McCoy staggered. Feeling the pull of the suction on his own body toward what must be a large opening directly into space, the doctor wondered vaguely if the captain had lost his mind. They were heading directly to their death sentence.

Kirk stopped or tried to stop and was forced to grab a railing to keep from being sucked further down the hallway. Hanging tightly onto the stretcher, McCoy secured his arm over the rail. Fighting a panel, the captain banged it several times before the door in front of him slid open. At Kirk’s gesture, McCoy edged carefully toward the door, keeping a firm hand on Spock.

The escape pod. Confined space, only two seats. Spock’s stretcher would not fit. He turned with horrified eyes to find Kirk was already working frantically to release the restraints holding the Vulcan while fighting the suction that wanted to take them both down to their destruction.

Ignoring the pain he knew his action would cause, McCoy grabbed Spock under his arms and pulled him into the pod. The legs dropped limply inside, and the doctor winced at the evidence of paralysis.

"Jim!" The Vulcan had not verbalized any sound of pain during his rough handling now cried out with near panic. McCoy looked up quickly just in time to witness a large chunk of metal slam into the captain. Kirk lost his hold on the door, flying out of their sight.

McCoy struggled to climb out even though he was tangled in his seat, with Spock half covering him. Just as he reached the door to the pod, Kirk’s hand slid around to grip the frame. The doctor grabbed it, pulling as hard as he could. Inside, they fell into the second seat, Kirk immediately hitting the panel that closed the door. Unable to see the panel in front of him, he urgently ordered, "Doctor. Green panel. Activate now!"

They dropped into space. Spinning, floating, McCoy certain the ship breaking up above them was going to consume them in the explosion certain to come.

"McCoy." It was then he noted Kirk was struggling to breathe, his respirator apparently sucked into the vacuum. "Communicator."

He was confused for a moment before he realized Kirk must have lost that too. In the tight quarters, McCoy tried but could not grasp the elusive object. Kirk made a strange sound and McCoy twisted to see his mouth open as he tried to take in air. He was sure if he could see past the grime, that the captain’s lips were cyanotic. Grabbing a deep breath, he ripped off his own mask and placed it on Kirk.

"Yel..low...doc—" Spock was trying to talk. McCoy twisted his head, grimacing at the awkward tangle of limbs and positioning of the Vulcan’s body. Then the hoarse words registered. The Vulcan was trying to tell him to do something. His eyes raked the console in front of him and found the yellow panel. He activated it, following the verbal instructions the simple computer gave to him and felt air brush across his forehead.

Kirk grasped his arm. "Doctor. Your communicator."

McCoy felt frustration boiling up inside of him. "Can’t find the damn thing." He shifted, trying to reach his belt and heard Kirk give a muffled oath at the movement. His elbow caught the side of the captain’s jaw. "That’s for inviting me to this party," he snapped as he came up with the elusive object. "Your idea of a good time and mine seem to differ tremendously. I suppose you want me to activate this damned thing too?"

Exasperation was a mild term to describe the tone of Kirk’s voice. "Anytime would be nice, doctor."

Scott’s reassuring voice sounded immediately. "We have you, the materializer lock is complete. You’ll be on board in a moment."

"I want two trauma teams available, Scotty." McCoy ordered.

Kirk’s hand came up around McCoy’s, managing to pluck the device from his hand. "Beam us aboard, Mister Scott."


McCoy limped past the overflowing Sickbay ward, the rescued civilians all stable and cared for by his staff. He had just finished checking on the two injured engineering techs, not quite out of the woods yet but stable for now. The doctor planned to do a final check on Spock and then collapse.

As he crossed the isolation room where Spock was located, McCoy was feeling bruised and sore in more places than he cared to count. His eyes felt gritty as he looked up to study the panel above the sleeping Vulcan. All the indicators were blinking reassuringly, reset for Spock’s hybrid norms. McCoy ran a hand over his face, swaying slightly on his feet. Now that he was sure Spock was stable, he was going to sleep for a week. The doctor looked down at the still form, well, maybe eight hours.

"Are you sure he will recover?"

McCoy turned, blinking tiredly at the young man seated at the desk across the room. "I thought you were resting in your quarters."

Kirk’s eyes never left the sleeping form of his first officer. "Will he recover?"

Frowning, McCoy forced himself to concentrate, the tension in Kirk’s voice catching his full attention. "Yes. It will take a while. But, he’ll be his former, charming self."

A shudder ran through the shoulders, still clad in the blue Sickbay tunic. It had been hours ago that McCoy had briefly examined the captain, finding only superficial wounds. He had sent him off to Chapel to be treated while he operated on Spock. "You all right?"

A frown formed on the handsome face, his eyes closing in pain. "It’s my fault."

McCoy glanced at Spock then back at Kirk. He closed the distance between them. "Jim?"

Kirk opened his eyes, his gaze returning to Spock. He swallowed, his eyes dropping to the floor. He repeated in a soundless whisper, "My fault."

McCoy wished his head did not feel like a leaden balloon. He rested a hip on the desk, steadying himself. "Jim? I don’t understand."

Any thoughts of sleep fled when Kirk looked back up, his eyes anguished, brimming with tears. "McCoy?" He looked away, brushing at his eyes impatiently. "I need to know he’s going to be all right. I need to be able to tell tell him—"

"He’ll be out for another day at least."

Kirk’s gaze dropped to the floor. In the silence that followed, McCoy could see he was struggling with words, the neck and jaw radiating tension. Finally, he said in a low voice that trembled with self-loathing, "I asked him over there why he didn’t go ahead and condemn me to he had condemned Gary. How could I do that? I’m the one who killed Gary. I’m the one who took the God damned phaser rifle and...not him."

McCoy felt his chest tighten in empathetic pain, knowing he had no idea what it must feel like to murder someone that he knew. Kirk sat hunched over in his chair, his hands coming up to cover his face. The shoulders trembled as he fought against giving into his grief because Kirk did not understand yet that it was the underlying issue.

"Jim, that wasn’t Gary that you killed. I saw enough to know that he had become a being that was going to destroy the crew when they got in his way. Spock did not condemn Gary Mitchell nor did you kill him. You killed the thing he turned into."

"I know that. What I don’t know is why..." Kirk drew a breath, dropping his hands. "It’s my fault Spock’s hurt. I argued with him. On the Unity. And for a vital second, I didn’t watch a pressure gauge. He was injured by something that I could have prevented." Anger at himself flashed across his face, then bewildered eyes sought his out. "I’ve been remembering what you said about my subconscious. Something I was avoiding. And I’ve been sick with fear that I subconsciously must have tried to kill Spock, too. Why else would I let that happen? And if that’s true, then I’m not fit to be in command." The hazel eyes left his to return to the still body lying across from them. "I finally received my orders. We’re to report to Earth for a minor refit, and then I am to command this starship for a five year mission. I have been waiting for this my whole life and now, I don’t think I’m the right man."

McCoy moved, blocking Kirk’s view of Spock. He placed both hands on the captain’s shoulders. "I have no doubt that you belong in the captain’s seat, Jim."

Kirk frowned, still caught in the mental tangle that he had created. "Then why did—"

The doctor interrupted. "I doubt Spock can hear us, but I’m not comfortable talking about this in front of him. And I think both of us could use a change of venue. How about showing me the hydroponics lab you mentioned? Let’s talk there."

Kirk nodded acquiescently, leading the way without comment. Once there, McCoy was pleasantly surprised by the large garden area, a meandering path weaving its way through the shrubs and flowers, wafts of sweet scents filling the air. Some of his own tension faded as he walked beside the younger man. Subdued, but still the captain, Kirk pointed out several of the methods of maintaining the garden. With a fleeting smile, he pointed out a secluded bench beneath a small tree that gave the appearance of a weeping willow.

"I think I’ve claimed this spot. I sometimes come here, and, for a few moments, I’m not the captain. I’m—" His face twisted and he headed on down the path, leaving the tree behind.

McCoy caught his arm. "Sometimes you’re not the captain, you let yourself be just a man for a while. I think you forget that sometimes. I know the crew forgets; they see only the captain, the one who knows all the answers."

Again, a self-deprecating smile. "If they only knew."

Pointing at the bench, McCoy said quietly, "Let’s sit."

Kirk sighed, choosing to sit on the ground, leaning against the tree. Thick grass covered the ground and he ran his hand across it.

"Jim, Gary died long before Delta Vega. The moment you entered the energy barrier is when you lost him. But your grief is mixed up with Gary and the being that he transformed into, making it very difficult for you to cope with his loss. If you could separate the two, it would make it easier for you. You haven’t dealt with the loss of your friend because you’ve been forced to deal with the fact that you think you killed him."

"Not think. I know. You weren’t there." Kirk’s eyes had gone distant. McCoy wondered if he was seeing the bleak tableau again on Delta Vega and the moment of Mitchell’s death.

McCoy slung his leg over the stone bench, leaning forward to catch the captain’s attention. "You and Gary went back a long way."

Kirk nodded, a flicker of pain crossing his face.

McCoy continued, "I met him back when I was trying to save you when you were a lieutenant. At the time, I wasn’t sure you were going to make it, Gary tried to see you, but I couldn’t let him. He had to leave, but I remember the devotion he felt toward you...there were tears in his eyes when he asked me to take care of you."

Kirk gave a strangled laugh. "Gary? Tears? Not likely. But we were close. He took care of my back. He was my friend." His voice wavered on the last word and he turned his head, suddenly absorbed in studying a nearby rose.

"And in our world of duty, we may have intense relationships with shipmates for a while, but a friendship that endured like yours and Gary’s was rare."

Kirk closed his eyes, his breathing strained. He nodded his head slightly.

Gently, McCoy said, "You would have done anything for him and the same for him, he would have done anything for you. That’s the Gary you need to remember. That’s the Gary you need to grieve for. Separate him from the being that he was forced to evolve into. Gary Mitchell would not have endangered your ship or your crew. He loved you that much."

The hand on the ground twisted into a fist. Several seconds went by before his chin lifted with stubbornness. "This isn’t explaining why I harbored unresolved resentment against Spock...why I almost cost him his life."

McCoy sighed. He dropped down on the ground across from Kirk. The scent of roses was even stronger here, the smells of earth overpowering his senses. He smiled involuntarily, twisting his head around for a moment. "You almost forget you’re on a ship," he said wonderingly.

Kirk’s lips curled slightly in response. But impatience lit the hazel eyes. "Now tell me why I shouldn’t report myself unfit for duty? Why I shouldn’t tell the admiralty that I can’t do this?"

McCoy grimaced. "It’s reassuring to know that you question yourself. You did after the Shenandoah, I know. And you know I will always be honest with you about this. I’ll help you to understand. But you must acknowledge that right now is not the optimum time for you to critically self-examine your performance. You’re tired, overwhelmed and coping with many stressors including unacknowledged grief of losing your friend."

"All stressors that a starship captain better be prepared to deal with on a daily basis," Kirk replied.

"Your perception on the Unity was that you allowed a pressure gauge to blow subconsciously. When I came aboard, you were trying to monitor several gauges at the same time, adjusting them simultaneously. There had to have been over twenty different readings you were keeping your eye on. Just because one of them went critical, doesn’t mean you meant for that to happen. You were attempting the impossible. The two techs that were injured were trying to accomplish the same thing. They certainly didn’t try to kill themselves." McCoy paused, trying to remember what Kirk had said earlier. "You argued with Spock over there because ...."

The captain’s voice was hoarse, a sign of his weariness. "I was trying to get him to leave. He wasn’t supposed to be there. The shuttle had just left."

"You were willing to sacrifice yourself—"

"Damn it, I wasn’t planning to die. I just needed to know that—"

"Everyone was safe. You think that being Captain means making sure you protect everyone."

"It does," Kirk growled, his eyes narrowed.

"Omnipotence is a dangerous feeling to embrace, Captain," McCoy challenged.

"Not omnipotence, Doctor. Responsibility. My responsibility to this ship...her crew."

McCoy backed down. "Just remember there’s a fine line there, Jim. You cannot protect everyone."

"I can try."

"And you tried with Lieutenant Commander Spock. You argued with him, tried to get him to leave. Instead, he was injured. Doesn’t sound like any kind of subconscious action on your part."

Kirk shifted, drawing his lips together. Bewilderment crossed his face. "You’re forgetting that I accused him of condemning Gary to die. And right after that is when the panel blew."


"Okay. Fine. Coincidence that my eyes just happened to not notice a gauge about to blow when I was furious with Spock for something that was not his fault."

"That’s the real issue, Jim. Spock was instrumental in telling you that the being that used to be Gary had to die. But you have yet to separate the being from Gary Mitchell. You blame yourself and Spock for his death. I submit to you again, the Gary Mitchell that you knew died the moment this ship entered the galactic energy barrier. Bury him then. Grieve for him then. Let Spock be a part of that. Separate your friend Gary from the being you had to kill."

"Easier said than done."

"But not impossible." McCoy stood, strolling over to a soft, tangerine rose, inhaling its scent deeply. "I have yet to find a flower with a more intoxicating scent." He glanced around, "Did Gary like it here?"

Kirk snorted. "Yeah, only for the women he tried to court here."

McCoy grunted. "I was thinking you could have a private memorial for him here. But that might not be appropriate for him." He shrugged, resisting the urge to rub his eyes. His exhaustion was clouding his thoughts again.

Kirk was quiet. He had pulled his knees up, arms wrapped around his legs.

Dropping a hand on the young captain’s shoulder, McCoy squeezed. "Captain, you’re tired. I’m ordering you to get eight hours of sleep. We will talk again about this to deal with the memory loop that you are caught in with the events on Delta Vega." Kirk glanced up startled and McCoy smiled in understanding. "Nightmares keeping you awake? Perfectly normal, but we can work on that. Once you’re sleeping better, your perspective will fall into place."

Sensing the uncertainty Kirk was still feeling, he added, "You’re a damn fine captain. Trust your crusty ol’ sawbones."

Memory of another time lit up Kirk’s eyes and his lips curled up in amusement. Then just as suddenly, there were tears brimming. He nodded, whispering, "Always, Bones."

January 3rd 2266

Three months later, aboard the Enterprise in Earth orbit, Doctor Leonard H. McCoy bounced on his heels proudly as he watched his captain officially receive his orders for the Enterprise’s five year mission from Admiral Heihachiro Nogura. He hid a grin when Nogura moved to stand in front of Spock and tried to shake his hand. The first officer obstinately lifted his hand in the official greeting of Vulcans.

Kirk glanced out at the gathered crowd, managing to catch the doctor’s eye, tilting his head slightly at his first officer. McCoy didn’t miss the affectionate teasing in the look both for him and Spock. The captain had worked hard with his chief medical officer the last few months, exploring his own psyche and motivations, coming to terms with Mitchell’s death. He had even included Spock in some of the sessions, helping to clarify many of the misunderstandings that had occurred between them.

The evening before, the captain had invited both of them to the hydroponics lab. With a special ceremony that included much hilarity between the doctor and the captain as he related some of Gary’s antics, Kirk had declared his tree dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Gary Mitchell. Spock had unbent enough to add his own solemn tribute to the ceremony.

Remembering his own first few uncertain days aboard, the doctor felt deep satisfaction now. McCoy knew he had found his niche. Always before he had been a loner, never truly creating relationships in the past. But here, on the Enterprise, a special bond had already been created between him and the captain and to a lesser degree, with the taciturn Vulcan. McCoy knew his presence made a difference.

McCoy glanced back at Kirk, making his way through the excited crowd to finally stand in front of the doctor. "So, Bones, are you ready to go seek out new life and new civilizations?"

The doctor couldn’t help the exuberant grin that felt like it stretched his face. "With you at the helm? God help me, absolutely!"

The captain laughed, clapping him on the back before hugging him briefly. "Let’s go see my bridge. You haven’t been up there since we entered Space Dock. Spock?" He raised his voice.

"Ready, Captain." Spock appeared at his elbow, seemingly out of nowhere. McCoy had already noted his annoying habit of being underfoot.

The physician turned to the Vulcan first officer. "Mister Spock, please tell me you managed to get rid of those damned goose-neck scanners on the bridge? They belong in a museum."

Spock nodded serenely. "Indeed. I believe you’ll be pleased that they have been removed...however, I suspect they ended up in a rubbish pile instead."

Kirk gave another shout of laughter. "Come on. Let’s go see what she’s got."

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