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Cathy German



The kid had killed himself. It was that simple.

He had gone into the lab, had found something that he thought might be effective, had taken it back to his cabin, and had drunk it down and found that, yes, it was as effective as he’d guessed it might be, and so he’d died.

His cabinmate had found him sprawled between the beds.

There had been no note. Not in the conventional sense. Much later, when a computer tech went into his cabin to clear his com unit and prepare it for a new resident, he found something, but it was addressed to an aunt on Earth, his only living relative, and so they sent it on to her without opening it. It was all that they could do.

McCoy did the autopsy and had cursed at the shame of it, a perfectly healthy kid taking his own life. The brain was fine, the body was fine, no parasites, no illness.

He’d never had anyone kill themselves while he was chief medical officer on the Enterprise. People had died by their own hands, but there had been external reasons for it: viruses that invaded the brain and told them to do it, microorganism that caught rides through the nostrils and into the soul, things that McCoy could destroy easily if he knew about them early enough.

But the kid was clean.

His psych profiles were okay. Not great, but okay. Some paranoia, but not enough to make anyone take notice. Some feelings of inadequacy, but who didn’t feel inadequate now and again? Performance anxiety, some. Anger, some. McCoy looked at the profiles and wondered if it was some cumulative thing, where the balance of each was askew just enough in the wrong direction to make the whole profile slide.

As a matter of course, McCoy would officially interview his roommate and his peers. He did not look forward to that. But the worst meeting would be the last one, the one with Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the one with the man who would have the hardest time understanding anyone taking their own life, and doing it while under his command, on his watch, on his ship.

That one would be the worst.



McCoy looked up from the notes in front of him, irked at the shortness of it. "Well what?" he asked.

Kirk’s shoulders crept up closer to his ears and didn’t go back down. It wasn’t a shrug. It was a wind-up. "What did you find out?"

McCoy sighed. No answer would be complete enough, he knew, no conjecture accepted. This was a battle lost before it was begun.

The captain had been in itch-powder mode ever since he’d found out about the suicide. He was twitching slightly now, as McCoy eyed him. All his energy, it seemed, had gone into twitching. The bounce in his step, the swagger in his corridor prowl, the wattage to power a grin, it had left him three days ago and had been replaced by kinked muscles and a gaze that could only meet him half-on, sideways.

McCoy was anxious to have the captain back. And he wasn’t half as anxious as the bridge crew, who had been buffeted by the weather systems created by the dark cloud in the center of it.

You can’t win this one, McCoy, he thought, so don’t even try. He decided to go straight for the heart of it. "Jim, even with all of the medical advantages available to us in the twenty-third century, we still can’t know what goes on in a person’s head, in a person’s heart and soul."

The look the captain gave him said, 'That’s the best you can do?', but he said aloud, "What did his friends say?"

McCoy cleared his throat. This is not going to be easy. "Well, from the looks of it, I’m not sure that I can say that he had any friends on board. Plenty of acquaintances, a roommate, peers, but I can’t find anyone who described themselves as a friend."

It was clear that the captain found this information almost as dismaying as the news of the suicide itself. "No friends?" he asked. "And he’d been on board for how long?"

"Since our departure from Earth six ... no, seven months ago."

"And he ... had no friends?"

McCoy shifted in his chair. "Some people are loners. Some people don’t need, don’t seek companionship."

"You mean ... like Spock?" Kirk shot.

McCoy nodded slowly and squinted at his old friend. "I get your point, Jim," he said, thinking to himself that he was taking this even worse than he thought he would. "I get your point. Everybody needs friends. Or a friend. What I’m trying to say is—"

"—is that he was surrounded by four hundred thirty-two people, and nobody, nobody, not even trained health professionals, could see that he needed help."

McCoy felt himself redden.

"I saw the psych profiles," Kirk said. "Couldn’t you sense anything peculiar there?"

"Their usefulness in something like this is limited—"

"Was he exercising regularly?" Kirk interrupted, rising from the chair and stalking the edges of McCoy’s office. "Was he working out with a partner?"

"His health was—"

"What about his peers? Who did he report to? Was his performance suffering?"

McCoy shut his eyes and took a deep breath. He was edging up to a guilt pit, peering into it. And he couldn’t go there. He shouldn’t.

"Did he spend any time in the recreation room? Did he play games there? What about his roommate? What did he say?"

McCoy opened his eyes and looked up. "Jim, do you want to hear what I have to say or not?" he asked, not bothering to temper the drawl in his voice. "I can send it to you in a report if you don’t want to hear it."

Kirk threw his arms across his chest and stopped across the desk from him. "All right. Give it to me."

"Sit down."

"I’d rather stand."

McCoy shoved his notes away, pushed the chair back, put his feet up on the desk and his hands behind his head. "Short version, Captain. He was a loner. No one here feels they really knew what he was thinking. He was okay with his peers, okay at his work, okay at exercising, okay with his roommate, but obviously not okay with himself or with his life. He killed himself. No one here is to blame. No one here could have stopped it, since they couldn’t see it coming. No one knew the depth of his misery. End of story."

Kirk looked like he was going to insert something.

McCoy froze him with a look. "Now, no matter what you say to me, I’m not going to feel guilty about this. I’ll feel badly, because it stinks. But I won’t feel guilty." He pulled his arms down and crossed them over his chest. "And neither should you."

"I don’t." A phaser shot.

"All right," he said slowly after a deep breath. "Maybe guilt is the wrong word. Maybe it has more to do with control, or lack of control."

"What are you talking about?" he snapped.

"Shit happens. It happens all the time, and you can’t control it."

"I can do my best to keep the people on this ship safe from harm—"

"—and shit’s still gonna’ happen, Jim! Just because people are under your command, that doesn’t make them safe! That doesn’t put them under some benevolent, protective bubble."

Kirk’s face was set in granite, making McCoy think of Spock, making him wish--how desperate was he, anyway?--that Spock was part of the conversation. The logic blanket would be welcome, and the calming effect he had on the captain wouldn’t hurt, either.

"Jim, please sit," he tried again.

There was no answer, so the doctor rose, tired of looking up. "Do you realize how lucky we’ve been so far? How few people we’ve lost, really?"

The captain’s stance was telling McCoy that it wasn’t pure, dumb luck, damn it; that it was him, Captain James T. Kirk, and Mister Spock, and Leonard McCoy and all the rest of them on this beautiful, great, white amalgamation of metal and man. They made their own luck, his flinty eyes said, his taut muscles cried, they made it as surely as they made hooch in engineering.

Although he wouldn’t admit it in this session, McCoy had taken a peek at the medical records of the other starships one day, one very depressing day, right after he’d autopsied two redshirts who had met an unfriendly alien and their makers within seconds of each other. He’d been shocked at the fatality rate that other starships had in comparison to theirs. It hadn’t made that day any less depressing, but it had made it shorter.

McCoy knew that there was skill in those numbers, and leadership, and ability, but he knew also that there was luck in them as well, and he knew that some day that luck would run out.

"We’ve been lucky, Jim," he repeated, "but someday, something’s gonna’ happen, and you’re not gonna’ be able to control it, and—"

"Are you quite through, Doctor?"

McCoy bit his bottom lip and dropped his eyes to the floor. He wanted badly to bark back at him and spit out something argumentative, but instead he chuckled darkly and shook his head. "Jim-Boy, you can do only so much..." he said as he looked up, but all that he saw was the back of Kirk’s left boot as he strode out the door.


McCoy peered up at the sodden skies through the mist and the leaves, and then he looked over at the captain, who was standing six or so meters away on a rock jetty with a delegation of Freesians. Kirk was there with Scott and some of his engineers, and he was pointing at the earthen dam above them and gesturing at the rising water. He was as animated as McCoy had seen him in weeks.

"Maybe the captain’ll snap out of this mood if he can push some dirt around, change the course of a major river, and save a couple thousand lives," he said to Spock out of the side of his mouth.

"One could only hope, Doctor."

McCoy shot a look at him. Spock was intently studying his tricorder. McCoy had heard through the grapevine that Spock had borne the brunt of Kirk’s misplaced wrath, and had been wounded deflecting flak more than once. The Vulcan realized he was being watched and turned, his eyebrows rising.

"I understand that you’ve made quite a target up there, Spock," McCoy said.

The first officer glanced over at the captain and then back at McCoy. "An appropriate one, I believe, Doctor," he said impassively -- as in I can handle it, as in Who better? -- and then he turned back to his tricorder.

McCoy, critically measuring the droop of his shoulders, wondered just how impervious the Vulcan really was, and was about to voice that when he heard Kirk and the Freesians calling out. Before McCoy could do anything more than look their way and register the fact that they were facing in their direction and that their mouths and eyes were opened wide, his world became leaves and tree limbs and something huge and dark filling his vision and taking him down and pinning him in the mud.

For a time, things were quite peaceful.

He was not cold or wet. He was not in pain. There was nothing for him to do, really. Everything was in someone else’s hands. He was away somewhere, and it wasn’t too bad.

He heard before he could see, and he knew from that working sense that he was alive but hurt, and trapped; and then, unfortunately, the pain sensors kicked in, and he opened his eyes in spite of his desire to sneak away again to wherever he’d been before.

"Bones! Bones! He’s coming to!"

It was Kirk, and his anxious face swum into McCoy’s vision, sideways. There was something keeping Kirk from looking straight down at him, and he realized that that thing was a tree, a big tree that had been next to where McCoy had been standing, and was now, unfortunately, on top of where the doctor had been standing. It had obviously lost its purchase in the saturated riverside soil and had toppled. Toppled right on top of him. Right on top of him, and right on top of Spock. Spock.

"Spock?" he asked. He wasn’t sure that he’d managed to produce sound, but he knew his lips moved.

"Here, Doctor," Spock said from above him and to his left. McCoy squinted up at him. He didn’t look himself. But everything was looking a little red, a little fuzzy, a little dark around the edges.

He faded away again for a moment, secure in the knowledge that he’d be beamed safely away from this, out from under it. Beamed safely! he thought. Ha! Not two words he strung together in a sentence on a regular basis.

And why wasn’t it happening, he wondered as he came back to some kind of dim awareness. Where was that terrible pre-transportation tingle? He was getting cold, could feel hypothermia setting in, and he was soaked. It was raining in earnest again -- Damn, this has got to be the wettest planet I have ever seen! -- and the air pounded with thunder.

His eyes shot open.

We didn’t beam down, he thought, rushing into perfect and awful cognition. We couldn’t beam down, because of the lightning storms. We came in a shuttle.

He understood now the alarm in the captain’s face, the deep sense of urgency rolling off of all of them, the shrillness of their voices. They couldn’t beam him out of this.

Oh well, he thought, closing his eyes and drifting out from shore for a while, they’d have to lift the thing off of him. God only knows what it weighs. Enough to have busted both his legs and maybe his pelvic bone and probably most of his ribs in spite of the fact that the mud had embraced him like an old friend and had moved aside and made room for him. Through slitted eyes he looked at the trunk and idly measured its girth. It wasn’t immense, but it was damn big enough, and he’d be happy as hell when he was out from under it.

They’d just have to go get the shuttle and then go back to town and get some chain or rope—

He took a faceful of water. "Hey!" he cried, coughing and sputtering. In their anxiousness to get him out, they were kicking water into his face. Damned inconsiderate.

"Bones. Bones. Listen to me." It was Kirk, and he was kneeling at his side.

"Scotty had taken the shuttle back to town to get some chain, but he’s on his way back now. We’ll use it to lift the tree off of you."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, McCoy thought. Get me the hell out of here.

Another splash in the face. What are they doing?

"If he’s not back soon ... Bones! You have to listen to me!"

McCoy blinked the water out of his eyes and tried to focus on Kirk’s face. James T. Kirk looked about a hundred years old.

"Bones, in a few minutes, I’m going to have to start artificial respiration. Do you understand?"

Artificial respiration?

"Bones, do you understand me? Don’t fight it! I’ll be breathing for you."

Then McCoy understood. It was the river. The river was rising. It had filled his ear cavities. Kirk had lifted his head as far up out of the water as he could, and the water had followed.

McCoy’s eyes were wide now, and he could see Spock directing Freesians and the engineers, placing them along the length of the trunk. They were going to try to lift it off of him. They’ll get themselves killed, he decided.

"Jim," he tried, but water flowed into his mouth. He coughed and spit it out.

"Shut up." It was an order. "Okay, here we go. Deep breath, Bones. Relax."

Relax. Right. I’m pinned under a tree, busted from neck to ankle. I’m freezing. I can’t feel my feet. Pretty soon everything except for the top of my head will be under water. Right. Relax.

So he did. Or at least as well as he could under the circumstances, and Kirk took a deep breath and came down and put his lips on McCoy’s, but the doctor couldn’t open his lips, couldn’t accept the offered air. I don’t need this, he thought. This is silly. I’ve got a couple of lungs full of perfectly good air, Jim. This is overkill. The water is barely over my nose.

Kirk finally jerked his head back and sucked in a deep breath. McCoy looked up at him through the water. Jim’s face was flushed, and he was yelling. His voice sounded muffled, distant, but the fury in it was as clear as a bell.

"God damn it, Bones! This is the only way!"

McCoy’s vision was blurring. Those lungs full of precious air were gone, and now his nose was under about four inches of water, and he was tilted up as far as he could go, and Kirk came down to him again and pressed their lips together.

This time, he took the air greedily and held it. Kirk pulled back up. With the captain out of the way, McCoy could see Spock and the others. The Vulcan was just to his left, and he was crouching down, attempting to gain some kind of hold on the trunk. Bubbles obscured his vision as he blew out the rest of the captured air.

More! McCoy tugged at Kirk’s sleeve.

He sucked in the air, and with it he wanted to yell things. Doctor things, like ‘Lift with your legs, not your back!’ And other things, funny things, desperate things, like ‘Wood floats! When’s this thing gonna’ float?’ And ‘I’m not sure I can keep this up much longer!’

The kiss again. The air, less of it this time.

He was tired.

He knew he had to stay conscious to survive, but he felt himself slipping away in spite of that knowledge. And he knew that Kirk could feel it too, feel it in the slackness of his lips and the heaviness of his body, and he heard Jim say that very thing to Spock, say it in a voice so frantic, so laden with pain that McCoy could hardly stand to hear it himself, it was so damned sad. And there wasn’t any good thing McCoy could do about any of it.

Kirk’s face came down through the water again. McCoy briefly wished he had Spock’s telepathic abilities. He wished that he could reach out with a free hand and grab Kirk’s temple and push soothing, wise things out through his fingertips and into Jim’s brain. McCoy locked on his old friend’s eyes as he came down, and he attempted a feeble smile. It’s all right Jim-Boy, he tried to make it say. You did your best.

When their lips met, the doctor could feel Kirk’s lips quiver, could feel the swallowed sob, could hear Spock shout something above them and far, far away.

McCoy’s eyes closed. Jim’ll finally learn that lesson here, he thought. The one about not being able to control everything.

Damned shame he’ll have to learn it on me.


He was in Sickbay. That much he could tell. There was a clean, antiseptic odor to it. Of course, the autopsy room smelled clean and antiseptic too, but there was a distinct, subtle difference, a difference that he knew very well. The aroma of the autopsy room made him want to gag. Sickbay always smelled like a bower of jasmine in comparison.

And there would have been no beeps and trills from a diagnostic panel if he’d been in the autopsy room, not that he would have been able to hear them in a worst-case scenario, anyway. The panel was reassuringly chirping away above his head -- the sound of survival -- and he listened to that and to his body and attempted a little self-prognosis.

The effort put him back to sleep.

He drifted here and away, and voices came and went, voices that he knew and loved. There was tension in those voices, but every time he drifted back, the voices sounded steadier and surer, the messages in them calmer. It made his insides warm to hear them. Or maybe it was the drugs. He wasn’t sure.

The lights were low when he finally decided to open his eyes. It was time. He had determined in his more lucid moments that he had kept all of his limbs, and believed that he’d kept his wits as well; and so, slowly and with great effort, he parted his eyelids and grew re-accustomed to a sighted world.

The ceiling was the first thing he saw, of course. It was hard to miss. The second thing he saw when he pulled his eyes down from that was Jim Kirk.

He was seated in a chair towards the foot of the bed, on McCoy’s right side. His legs were crossed at the knee, and his hands were clasped around the top knee. His head was slightly cocked, and he was staring blankly at the bulkhead between the beds.

He looked as relaxed as McCoy had seen him in weeks.

The boyish roundness to his face had reappeared. If he’d lost any sleep during this ordeal, it didn’t show. It seemed that he was thinking -- thinking of what, the doctor could not know -- and his lips were slightly parted in a small smile. He looked complete, serene, happy. McCoy almost hated to make any noise, hated to spoil the moment, but he was dying for a drink of water. He coughed.

"Bones!" Kirk was up and at his side in a nanosecond, his hazel eyes wide and happy, his grin a balm.

"Water," McCoy croaked, thinking that it was ironic that water had been both the last thing he’d thought of as he’d gone away, and the first thing he’d thought of as he’d come back.

Kirk leapt for the bottle at the bedside and put the straw to McCoy’s lips. He took a sip and nodded his head.

"Thanks," he managed.

"How are you feeling, Bones?"

He gingerly moved his neck, grimacing at the kinks in it.

"I’ve felt better," he admitted, his voice raspy. "So what am I in for?"

Kirk laughed. "You name the bone, you broke it. But you’re on the mend now. Doctor Sanchez says you’ll be your crotchety old self in no time."

"Internal injuries?"

"Some." Kirk patted his shoulder and gave him a wink. "Trust me. You’ll be fine. You’re in good hands."

McCoy nodded and closed his eyes. This small effort of movement and thought had cost him already. He’d be seeing some serious down-time, no question about it. He’d be rummy and counting ceiling tiles within five shifts. He licked his lips. "How did you get me out?"

"They lifted it off of you."

McCoy’s eyes shot open. "You’re kidding."

Kirk looked away and chuckled uneasily. "Yeah. Unbelievable what you can do when you’re desperate, isn’t it?"

McCoy wearily closed his eyes again. He could see Spock in his mind’s eye, crouching next to him in the water, trying to gain purchase on the wet tree trunk. McCoy’s eyes opened and sought Kirk’s.

It was then that he realized that there were two diagnostic panels beeping, two beds occupied. He twisted his head to the right so quickly that he groaned in pain.

Kirk frowned and pushed him firmly back into the bed. "Bones. He’s all right."

McCoy tried to raise himself up again, tried to eye the diagnostic panels. He could see just enough to know that Spock was in a Vulcan healing trance. And when he looked back at Kirk, he could see just enough there to know that he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear.

"What happened?"

Kirk looked away from McCoy and back at Spock. "I’m afraid that he overdid it, that he strained himself lifting that tree."

Sarek. "His heart?"

Kirk smiled wanly. "No. Nothing like that. He just pulled himself apart a little inside. Muscles, bones, sinew...." He faded off, his eyes staring into the middle distance under knitted brows, and then he seemed to catch himself. He looked down at McCoy and grinned. "But Sanchez says that Spock’ll be fine. You two will be at each other’s throats before you know it."

Suspicious, McCoy wearily surveyed Kirk’s eyes and posture, looking for anything untrue, anything that said that Kirk was plying him with false platitudes about Spock and about himself, but he saw nothing deceptive there.

What he saw was Captain James Tiberius Kirk, starship captain extraordinaire. He was back, strong and true, captain man/boy, charismatic leader, protector of the realm, controller of all he surveyed.

McCoy was all right, and Spock was all right, and in spite of their misfortunes Kirk had probably also managed to become the stuff of legends to thousands of waterlogged souls on the planet that they were orbiting.

"I’ll go get Doctor Sanchez and tell him you’ve come back to the living." Kirk grinned and squeezed McCoy’s arm, then turned and gave a quick squeeze to Spock’s leg, and then he walked for the door. The chief medical officer watched him go, watched that little cocky hitch in his step, watched the cut of his shoulders, the lift of his head. He heard him hail Sanchez as he went around the corner, and his voice was sure and it was clear, clear like church bells on a cold Iowa night.

All was right with the world. All was right with his world.

McCoy settled back on his pillow, and for a brief moment, he was unaccountably sad. Someday, Jim-Boy, he thought as he slipped away, someday somethin’s gonna happen.

I just hope I’m around to pick up the pieces.

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