Michelle Perry

The planet was innocuous enough. It was almost idyllic, really. The air was close to Earth normal, the temperature felt just like the best parts of the Iowa spring, and the landscape was gorgeous. Enough trees for shade, but not so many that you felt like dangerous creatures were lurking behind each branch, and the grass was the brightest green Jim had ever seen. Just as he thought it, Bones said the words.

"Just like paradise!"

Jim smiled, but he couldn't keep the Captain from coming through. "I was thinking the same thing," he said. "Just be careful. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."

Bones just smiled. "Why Jim, I believe you've become a cynic. We finally get to a place that isn't sweltering and teeming with rabid lizard monsters and poisonous walking flower people, and you're still watching your back?"

"This from the man who thinks transporters are the devil's work?" Jim asked. "Give me a break." The doctor just rolled his eyes, and went back to his tricorder readings. Jim watched him for a few seconds more, just drinking in the sight of him doing something so ordinary as taking a reading. He couldn't begrudge himself the ridiculously sappy thought, "That beautiful person actually loves me."

He almost laughed. The picturesque landscape must be getting to him, too. He turned away from Bones and checked on the rest of the landing party. Spock was having a Vulcan-style field day gathering biological specimens that apparently had some mystical properties he'd never seen before. In other words, he was very stoically discussing said mystical properties with the enraptured Ensign Chekov, rattling off the amazing things Starfleet might be able to learn about independent evolution, somehow without either taking a breath, or seeming to chatter. One of these days, he would ask Spock how he managed it.

DeSalle and a couple of security guards were scouting the area, and he joined them briefly, asking for a report on anything they'd found. He wasn't surprised to hear that there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The place did seem perfect. There were no dangerous animals to speak of, and they hadn't yet come across any members of the few isolated villages that dotted the planet. After another twenty minutes or so, Jim gathered the landing party together, and they moved on to the nearby site where Spock had picked up readings of a large structure that didn't appear to be consistent with the type of huts the villagers used.

That was when things got... interesting. They arrived at a huge clearing - a broad, circular swatch of grass that was manicured, and absolutely perfect. In the center stood a large , earth-toned building. It was cylindrical in shape, with wide steps up to a large cut-out doorway. Arranged around the circumference of the building were a total of nine pillars, about three feet in diameter, and eight feet tall. Jim focused his attention on them, after the initial security sweep. They were plain - absolutely no markings on them at all, and they weren't holding anything up, or supporting any of the architecture. Their apparent uselessness fascinated him.

"Do you suppose they could have religious significance," he asked Spock.

Spock glanced up from his tricorder. "Possible, Captain, but it is diffucult to speculate without further information. Without any symbolic markings, there is no appropriate frame of reference."

"Mmm," Jim murmured, reaching out to touch the textured surface of one of them. He half expected to be electrocuted, or to feel some kind of vibration coming from the stone, but it just felt like cool, average sandstone.

"However," Spock said. "It may interest you to know that each pillar is exactly two point six meters tall, and one point zero meters in diameter."

Jim was shocked. "Each one is exactly the same?"

"Yes, Captain. And they are spaced precisely four meters apart from one another. Highly unusual readings for structures created presumeably without the aide of technology far more advanced than that present on Veris III."


"Jim, come over here!" Kirk looked sharply in the direction of Bones' excited voice. He relaxed when he saw that Bones was smiling. "You've gotta see this."

Jim trotted over and looked down at what appeared to be clusteres of perfectly manicured yellow daffodils. They were grouped and planted at one-foot intervals around the building. "Well, that's weird," he said.

"I know, but it gets weirder," Bones said, offering Jim his tricorder. Jim's eyes widened. "Crazy, right? Each one of these clusters has a different medical property. This one acts like penicillin. This one is antiviral, this one a coagulant, this one a blood thinner. It's amazing!"

"How could the population tell them apart?" Jim asked, passing the instrument back. "They all look the same."

"Beats me," Bones said. "Maybe by smell. They smell the same to me, too, but maybe-"

Jim crouched suddenly, shocked by the sound of a single, incredibly loud tone, like the knell of a giant bell. He grabbed Bones by the arm, dragged him to the ground and crouched protectively over him. The tone was so loud that Jim could hardly focus, but he looked quickly around the clearing, noting that every other member of the party had also bent down under the power of the sound. When it finally stopped, Jim, Spock and the security team were the first to recover. He looked at them long enough to see that DeSalle, Spock and Daylin were already checking on the others, before turning back to Bones.

His stomach clenched when he saw that Bones was still on his knees, bent double, holding his ears and wincing. Jim dropped into a crouch, and grasped Len's shoulder. "Bones!" Leonard gasped and let out an agonized groan. "Bones, it's stopped, what's wrong?" Bones groaned again, and his face began to turn red. Fuck! "SPOCK!"

Less than a second later, Spock was beside him, running a tricorder over Bones' body. "Elevated heart rate, stress to the central nervous system. He-" Spock stopped short and looked up at the plain building. "Captain, we are being watched."

Jim tore his eyes away from his partner, and followed Spock's gaze. An inhumanly tall, stunningly beautiful woman with long black hair, and hazel eyes stepped gracefully from the empty doorway - directly out of the building that tricorder readings had said contained no life forms, or even energy sources, minutes before. She wore a thin silver crown, and she was dressed in a simple, floor-length white gown. Her skin was almost the same color as the gown, but it seemed even whiter, because she seemed to have her own internal light source. She glowed in the broad, bright sun of the Veris III afternoon.

Jim was so completely awed by her appearance that for a moment, all he could think about was how unbelievably beautiful she was. Then Bones gasped, and Jim snapped back to reality. He let go of McCoy's shoulder and stood up, facing the woman head on. She smiled at the rest of the landing party, almost like she was about to give a speech. Jim frowned when he noticed that the rest of the landing party simply sat down on the grass, legs crossed, and smilled at her. What the hell?

"What the hell?!" The woman turned gracefully toward him, but he never got an overpowering urge to get comfy in the grass. She looked at him, and he noticed that her eyes were slightly larger on her face than they should be. She looked at Spock in turn, then down at Bones.

She smiled again, and this time, Jim felt like someone had wrapped up all that had ever been wonderful in his life into that single, heartbreakingly beautiful moment. At the same time, Bones suddenly let out a shuddering sigh. Jim looked down at him, and to his relief, the pain seemed to have gone. He was breathing regularly, and he looked up at Jim and gave him a wan smile. "I'm okay now," he said, trying to get to his feet.

Jim helped him up, and Spock ran the tricorder over him just to be sure. "Readings back to normal, Jim."

"My dear child."

Jim's head snapped back to the woman and he gasped at the sound of her voice. It was something like a combination of the feeling he got when he heard his mother's voice, music, and rain on a grassy field when he had nowhere to be. In other words, just as beautiful as her face, and that unnatural radiance. She was looking directly at Bones, and for reasons he couldn't explain, that made Jim nervous. He stepped between her and Bones. "Excuse me," he said, placing a hand on his phaser. She looked at him with an air of polite curiosity. "My name is Captain James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. We're here on a peaceful exploratory mission. You seem to have incapacitated part of my crew, and I'd like to know why."

She smiled, and Jim fought against the urge to smile back. "They are unharmed, Captain," she said. "But they are not of interest to me. When I have gone from them, they will return to their regular activities." She came slowly down the steps, and Jim edged back suspiciously.

"Are you one of the Verisians?" Kirk asked.

"Yes and no," she replied, pausing several feet away from them on the grass. "I am the Third Queen. I am all that is beauty and light."

"I... see." A thought occurred to him, and he glanced at Spock. "How tall is she?"

Spock glanced down, and raised an eyebrow. "Precisely two point six meters tall, Captain."

"What the..."

"Come," she said. "We will speak inside my home."

Jim looked at his companions. Spock looked as suspicious as any Vulcan could, but Bones was now staring at the woman with an enraptured look on his face. Jim frowned. "What about it, Spock?"

"Unwise," Spock said, brows knitted as he read his tricorder. "I still show no energy readings anywhere in the vicinity of this building, despite what we see. If we enter, we cannot be certain what the environment may do to us."

Jim turned back to the woman, and felt a chill run through him. She was looking at Spock coldly - not scowling, but no longer smiling, and no longer radiating all that was "beauty and light". "You no longer interest me," she said.

Suddenly, Spock fell to his knees. He did not look like a man in a state of bliss. His eyes were wide, and he was staring up at the woman in alarm. "What have you done to my officer?" Jim snapped.

"He is unharmed."

"Spock, are you all right? Spock!" Spock turned his head slowly, with great effort, to face Jim. He opened his mouth to speak, but he didn't make a sound. Bones was already running the medical tricorder over him. "What'd she do to him?"

"I don't know, Jim," Bones said, voice tense. "He's breathing, his heart's pumping, and his synapses are firing. He can probably hear everything we're saying, but he's paralyzed from the neck down. I don't even know how he's still upright."

Jim rounded on the woman. "Stop what you're doing," he snapped. She merely fixed him with that infuriatingly benevolent expression. "Stop this! Release my First Officer!"

"He will be released when our purpose is complete," she said simply.

Jim drew his phaser, but before he could aim, the weapon simply disappeared. "DAMMIT, what the fuck?"

He heard the chirp of a communicator, followed by Len's sharp command. "Enterprise, emergency, lock onto our signal." Silence. "Enterprise, respond! Re-" The communicator vanished from McCoy's hand, and Jim didn't have to reach for his own device to know it would also be gone.

Jim could feel fury welling up, as his control of the mission disintegrated. He looked toward the rest of the party, and found them all gazing at the structure with dazed grins on their faces. "Dammit!"

"Their mechanical devices have been removed as well, Captain," the woman said smoothly. "The Nine have chosen." She looked at Bones, raising her too-white hand and pointing at him. "You have pleased us, my child. You have been chosen."

Bones no longer had even a hint of the enamoured expression he'd been giving her before. "If I've pleased you so damn much, let us go! " he snapped. "Release Mr. Spock! Get our crew out of this stupor!"

"Your friends will be released in due time, my darling one. But they are no longer your concern. You are chosen."

"Wait, chosen for what?" Jim asked.

"For the sacrifice."

"What?" Bones' sharp cry echoed his own. Even the so-called "Third Queen's" lyrical voice could not take the harshness from the word "sacrifice". "Whoa, whoa, you can't just-"

"It is decided," she said sharply. "The First King has struck the ritual bell, and our chosen has shown himself."

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Jim asked. "You don't get to-"

"We are the Nine," she said, her voice overpowering Jim's. "We are ALL, and we require a sacrifice. We are pleased with this one, and he is now ours."

At the word "ours", Bones screamed - a heart-stopping wail that wrenched at Jim's gut. "Bones!" He took hold of Bones' shaking arms, and held him tight. "Stop this!" he cried. "Stop, stop it please!" Bones screamed again, and began to collapse. Jim tightened his grip to keep his partner from falling.

"This one is special to you, Captain?"

"Yes," Jim said, choking back a sob. "Yes, very special. Stop hurting him!"

Suddenly, Bones' tight muscles relaxed, and he slumped forward against Jim's shoulder. Frantic, Jim checked for his pulse. He thought he would cry when he felt the strong, but accelerated heartbeat. He gently lowered Bones to the ground. The doctor looked like he was still hurting, but the violent wave of agony had stopped. He opened his eyes and gave Jim a brave smile, still breathing heavily.

"Why is he special?"

Jim forced himself to look up at the "queen". "Because we love each other," he replied.

She seemed unimpressed. "Love in mortal creatures is fleeting. You will find a replacement."

Bones sucked in a sharp breath, and winced. "No!" Jim cried. "Stop! Stop, why are you doing this!? Is it me?" he asked, looking up at her calm face. "Is this to test me, because I won't replace him! If you're 'all' - if you're supposed to be some kind of goddess, can't you just look into the future and see that I won't?"

"Futures are many," she said. "Even the Nine cannot see them all."

"Damn you, don't-"

"Testing the strength of your love is not of interest to us. A sacrifice is required, and one has been provided. The First King has-."

"Then take me!" There was a moan from Bones, and he gripped Jim's arm with his shaking hand. He shook his head vigorously, still grimacing with pain. "Take me!" Jim said again.

"You are not chosen, Captain James Kirk. In time, you will forget this pain. In time you will choose ano-"

"Please" Jim cried. A tight, sickening feeling of sourness roiled in his stomach as the hopelessness of the situation became clear to him. This creature was too powerful to defeat by force. They were cut off from the ship, Spock was paralyzed, the others were in a daze - he was alone. And they were going to kill Bones if he didn't figure out the right thing to say fast. But the woman was heartless! What if there was no right thing to say?

Tears stung his eyes, and he looked up at the woman, completely beyond shame. "Please, don't do this," he said in a tearful whisper. "Please, I'll do anything. I can't live without him, please."

The woman looked at him with genuine curiosity. "You truly care enough about this one to give your own life for him?"

"Yes." Bones moaned again, and shook his head, but Jim only held him tighter and looked up at the glowing woman.

"And you would truly remember him for all time, failing to replace him with another if he were to be sacrificed?"

"Yes, YES! Please, don't take him from me!"

Jim felt Bones relax again, and he looked down sharply. Bones was still panting, but his face was no longer red, and it looked like the woman had stopped hurting him. He shook with relief, and pulled Bones closer to him, smiling when he felt the trembling arms circle around him. "Your words have touched the heart of the Nine Kings and Queens," the woman said. "We have not known of such dedication in mortal creatures before."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief, pulling Bones closer. Things were going to be all right. Without loosening his grip even a little, Jim looked up at the Third Queen. "So, you'll release my other officers? You'll let Bones go?"

The woman looked down at him with the most heartfelt expression of sympathy he had yet seen. "Yes, and no."

Bones' grip on him suddenly tightened painfully, and he let out an agonized, rough edged scream. "No!" Jim cried. "No, no, no!" He gripped Bones tighter, willing the pain to be transferred to himself. Bones continued to scream, back arched, hands clutching Jim's shirt in a vice grip. "Don't, don't," he screamed. "Please, don't do this to him!"

There was no sound from the woman. He looked up, and he could still see her through the haze of tears, watching them with an impassive expression on her face. He looked around wildly, nearly cringing at the sight of his landing party - their smiles grotesque in the midst of his agony. Spock stared, pain and sorrow open on his face, completely powerless to help him.

Suddenly, Bones screamed again, clutching him even more tightly than before. Then, just as suddenly, he went completely limp. In a panic, Jim lowered him slightly so that he could see his face. A sob escaped, and he had to force himself not to shut his eyes against the sight. Bones' face was mottled with dark bruises. His eyes were red, and slightly swolen, and his lips were cracked and bleeding. He was still breathing, but the breaths were shallow and wheezing. "Oh, Bones," Jim sobbed. "Bones, I'm sorry. I-" He couldn't finish the next sentence. I failed.

Leonard blinked, and looked into Jim's eyes, seeming to have some trouble focusing. "I-" He started to cough, an awful, heaving sound, thick with fluid. Jim sobbed again when blood welled up in Bones' mouth. When Bones' coughing stopped, Jim wiped away the thick trail, and the doctor opened his mouth again.

"Shhhh, don't talk, Bones," he whispered. "We're gonna get you to the ship, and-"

Bones shook his head once, and Jim didn't argue with him. He stared into his face, knowing that before they could contact the ship, Bones would be gone. The tears flowed, and he blinked them away, wanting... needing to see Leonard McCoy for as long as possible. Bones focused on him again, and mouthed the words, "I love you."

Tears blinded him again, and he gripped Len tightly. "I love you, too." Despite everything, a small smile lit Bones' face. "I can't lose you," Jim whispered. "I can't-" Suddenly, Bones' smile was replaced with a look of alarm. He began coughing again, and Jim pulled him close, heedless of the blood spattering his face. "Okay, Bones. 's okay. Okay."

The coughing stopped. Bones' head dropped back against his arm, and there was nothing more. No wheezing. No shaking. Bones' eyes were open, but they stared up at him without... anything. Void. Jim pressed his fingers against Bones' neck, knowing what he would find, but still absolutely devastated when the pulse was not there. A sob rocked his chest, and bent forward, lowering his head until he rested on Bones' unmoving chest.

"Our purpose is complete." Jim cringed at the sound of the queen's voice. "Your sacrifice has been accepted, and you are free to leave." The warm glow radiating from her vanished.

"Jim!" Spock's tortured sounding cry was the first thing he heard. He shrank down, drawing Bones closer to him, pressing harder into his chest, shaking with silent sobs. A warm, strong hand touched his shoulder. "Jim."

Jim forced himself to look up. Spock knelt in front of him, Bones' body between them. His face was pale, and Jim could see that his body was vibrating ever so slightly. "She killed Bones," Jim said in a shaky whisper.

Spock look down at Bones for a moment. He bowed his head and was still for a few seconds before looking up at Jim again. "I am sorry, Jim."

"Mister Spock! Captain!" Jim turned toward Chekov's worried voice. The young boy was trotting toward them, looking distressed. "What-"

Jim looked at Spock, pleading with his eyes. "I can't."

"I will take care of it, Jim," Spock said. He looked down at Bones again, and Jim thought he could see the subtle, physical withdrawal, shrinking his first officer just a little. "This, at least, I can do for you."

Jim heard the guilt in his voice, and he took Spock's hand before Spock could stand up. "Not your fault."

He nodded, not meeting Jim's eyes, then quickly stood up and positioned himself between Jim and the young officer. The captain turned away from the scene. He gently closed Bones' vacant eyes with a trembling hand, pulled Bones to him and cradled him as he gave vent to his grief.

The transporter room was silent, except for a hissing intake of breath from Mr. Scott, and the regular hum of the ship. Scott was the first to move after they materialized. He approached the transporter, tearinig his eyes from Bones to look into Jim's eyes. "He was a good man, Jim," he said, voice heavy with grief.

Jim nodded. "Has the route to Medical bay been cleared?" Spock asked.

"Aye, sir."

Jim stepped down carefully from the pad, moving slowly with the weight of Bones' body. Spock followed closely behind, ready to assist, but knowing that Jim would refuse help now, just as he had refused to allow anyone to help him on the planet's surface when he'd insisted on lifting Bones himself in preparation for beaming. The others came down and stood watching Jim. He glanced at all of them, taking in their solemn faces. "Mr. DeSalle. Notify Starfleet Command, this system is to be quarantined."

"I will, sir."

"Mr. Scott. Assemble the senior staff in the briefing room in two hours. Spock. With me."

The walk to Medical Bay was a long one. Neither man spoke, and if Spock ever looked at him, Jim was not aware of it. He kept his head straight, eyes forward. The regular bustle of the Medical bay was instantly stilled when they entered. Horrified gasps, and startled faces greeted him. Whispers and the sounds of quiet sobbing were left in their wake.

Nurse Chapel met him in a private room, at the Table. The one meant for final examinations, without the bio-reader equiment. Jim swallowed hard, and gently laid Bones down. Chapel was strong for a while. She looked at her friend with red, shining eyes for a full fifteen seconds before turning away and running from the room. Jim almost envied her. He was locked in place, physically unable to move from the man's side, or turn his face away from the horrible sight.

Dr. M'Benga performed the examination. He asked them if they wanted to be present, and Jim said yes. Spock did not speak, and he did not leave. Bones was scanned with the full-body scanner. Bones hated full-scan. It made his skin crawl. Jim would have to take him to Rec Room 3 for drinks to make up for... No. No, that wouldn't be necessary.

"Decompression sickness, resulting in massive, widespread organ failure." M'Benga was the only man aboard who was at least as stoic as Spock. He'd lived on Vulcan so long, most of the crew often forgot he was Human, rounded ears notwithstanding. But now, he fixed them both with a deeply sorrowful gaze. "I am truly sorry, gentlemen. It... couldn't have been easy to watch."

"Thank you, Doctor."

He turned to go, and nearly slammed directly into a frantic Lieutenant Uhura. "Spock, thank God! No one would tell me who-" She saw. She gasped, and her face fell. She looked from Bones to Kirk. "Oh, Jim..." She looked up at Spock and touched his face for the briefest moment, before enveloping Jim in a tight, powerful embrace that almost didn't match her tiny frame. She didn't say a word. Didn't have to. Jim knew already. Her sorrow. Her relief that she wasn't the one who'd lost the love of her life, and her guilt for feeling relieved. Words couldn't express any of it well enough.

He put his arms around her, lowered his head onto her shoulder, and let the silence speak for him.

I'm sorry, Jim. I'm so sorry.

It was a mantra that he'd been hearing almost non-stop. He was graceful. He thanked, he nodded, he hugged and was hugged. He presided over the ceremony aboard ship, received the handshakes, and the praise for being "so strong". He was told the same thing at the Earth ceremony. So strong. He didn't feel strong. He felt like laying down in the old-style wooden casket Bones had (characteristically) requested, and never getting up.

He'd leaned heavily on Spock throughout, which might have been unfair. Even though Jim knew that Spock made himself available to him for anything and everything he needed out of friendship, rather than guilt, he also knew that Spock was still weighed down by the horror of being forced to watch Bones die without even being able to plead on his behalf. He knew very well that the pain of that helplessness led Spock to push himself perhaps harder than he should. He supported Jim through the process of notifying Len's family. He handled everything related to notifying the crew, promoting a new CMO, and all other command duties that would normally have fallen on Jim, even though he was in the throes of grief himself. Jim was sure to show his gratitude for everything, trying to convey the fact that Jim did not blame him, and that he deeply appreciated Spock taking the brunt of the responsibility away from Jim until he could handle it again.

Still, Spock was half Vulcan, and even though Jim didn't expect him to be unbreakable, he supposed that other people assumed he was. Jim was human. He guessed that the fact that he didn't break down in front of everyone at the funeral created that impression of strength. Tall, blonde man, jaw set, eyes red and shining, but not openly weeping, surrounded by his closest friends, his mother, and his ailing father-in-law who had certainly never expected to outlive his son - perhaps he did seem like the strongest among them.

He survived the reception, followed by ten days' leave spent under his mother's kind attentions, and steeped in Mr. McCoy's reminiscence - all without a major break-down. In fact, he managed not to crumble until he finally went back to the ship, and went to his own quarters again for the first time. Throughout the trip to Earth, Jim had slept in Medical bay, in a chair beside Bones, despite the alarm of his friends.

When he stepped inside his room, he saw the blue uniform shirt tossed casually on his chair. He picked it up, feeling a tightness in his throat, but he still maintained control, until he saw Bones' padd, with its scrawled note: "Late tonight - comm with Pa." He collapsed at the sight of it, wailing, and clutching the shirt to his chest, willing it to be filled. Bones would never speak to his father on the comm again. He would never leave notes for Jim again. Never touch him again. Never raise his arm ever so slightly when Jim scooted toward him on the bed and wrap his arms around him, and press his warm body against him. Never again. He'd never do anything, ever again, and Jim would be alone forever.

Jim buried his face in the tunic and breathed deeply. He felt the sickness in his gut again. Why? Why Bones? He replayed The Day in his head for the millionth time, focusing almost against his will on all the things he could have done differently - what he should have done better. Landing party assignments. Bones didn't need to be in the landing party that day. One of the nurses, or the other doctors could have come instead. He'd just assigned him because Bones was CMO and he liked the thrill of discovering things first - and because he'd wanted the company. Exploration. They should have just gone back to the ship after studying the first area. They didn't need to move off to a separate place just because something interesting might be there, and they were on an exploratory mission. Emergency procedures. When they heard the bell, and Bones was hurt by it, he should have contacted the ship immediately and had them beamed out of there. He shouldn't have let shock distract him. He should have fired immediately on the queen, instead of hesitating and letting her make his phaser disappear. He should have found the words to convince her that she should let Bones live. He should have convinced her to kill him instead. He should have been the one. He should have died.

I'm sorry, Bones. I'm so sorry.

Passed away. Crossed over. Gone. Departed. When he was younger, Jim wondered why people used euphamisms, when what they really meant was "dead". But now, with Bones... gone... he understood. Dead was such an ugly word. So final. People departed for places all the time. People were gone from their shifts temporarily. They crossed over things, or passed away from places, too. They always came back. When a person was dead, they were... dead. NEVER to return. Ever.

That was why Jim also often wondered why people seemed to think "time heals all wounds". Time couldn't heal everything. Time couldn't bring his Bones back. Nearly a year after The Day, he still felt as raw and sick as he had when it happened. The grief counselor had told him there were stages, and eventually there was supposed to be "acceptance". The thought would have made him laugh, if he could have laughed with Bones... missing.

The anger stage had certainly come. Soon after returning to the ship, he'd gone through a period where he seemed to be filled with an uncontrollable fury. He beat punching bags until his hands bled. He once unfairly snapped at a yeoman because she had long dark hair and hazel eyes. He knew it didn't make sense, when Bones was hazel eyed with dark hair, too, but he'd growled, she'd cringed, and the bridge crew had stared. He'd apologized to her and to all of them right on the spot, and he'd apologized to the girl in question privately as well, but he still felt like shit about that one.

He destroyed his quarters once, after a mission had gone bad, and one of his security team was killed. Men had died on his watch before Bones, and he'd never turned his quarters upside down, but that day, he hadn't even truly been aware of what he was doing. He remembered anger that someone had stolen the life of a good man, just like someone had stolen the life of Bones. He remembered storming to his quarters, and when he'd next been aware, he was in Medical bay with a sprained wrist, bleeding knuckles, and Dr. M'Benga shoving an order for an increase in sessions with Counselor Tellian under his nose.

Eventually, though, the anger faded. Rage couldn't bring Bones back any more than time could. Tellian seemed to think that he was getting better. That he was finally beginning to accept his loss and move on. Move on. In time, you will forget this pain. You will choose another.

Jim stared at the ceiling of his quarters, until it began to quaver and blur. He shut his eyes, feeling the familiar trail down the sides of his face, and reached for the pillow beside him. It was dressed in Bones' tunic, and still smelled faintly of Leonard. You will forget this pain.

He squeezed the pillow to his chest, hard - arms shaking with the need to get as close to it as possible. Never.

"Captain. Jim. We are growing increasingly concerned about you."

He frowned. Maybe. He wasn't really sure. "Concerned?"

"Yes," Spock said. "Your behavior-"

"Have a seat, Spock," Jim said, gesturing toward the chair across from him. "If you're going to get heavy on me, I don't want you to have to do it standing up." Spock made his signature "oh I see" expression, and sat down without comment. "Must be serious," Jim said, looking at one of the ceremonial statues that had survived his tirade two years before. "You didn't even ask what gravity has to do with anything."

"It is serious, Jim," Spock said. "Dr. M'Benga says that you have stopped attending counselling sessions."

"I don't need them anymore, Spock."

"I do not believe this is true, Jim. On the past several missions, you have taken excessive risk, outside the normal pattern of your behavior prior to Dr. McCoy's murder."

Jim tensed. He slowly turned his head to face Spock. "What's your point, Commander?" he asked, not caring about the hardness he could hear in his own voice.

"Bluntly stated, Captain, I believe you are intentionally exposing yourself to danger," Spock said, voice just as hard, if not harsher. "A reasonable amount of risk is involved in any mission, but your reckless actions-"

"Are you questioning my command abilities, Mr. Spock? Because-"

"Captain, I have no wish to bring your ability to command this vessel into question. I have yet to observe you putting the ship, or other members of the crew in jeopardy. But you are also a member of the crew, Jim. It is my duty to notify Starfleet Command if I believe that your actions may pose a threat to the ship, this crew, or yourself."

Jim glared. "So, you want to report me for doing my job and keeping the rest of my crew out of danger?"

"I do not want to report you for anything, Jim, but I must if this continues. You are-"

"I can't believe you're threatening me! You're supposed to be my friend, Spock!"

It stung. He saw the cringe. The hurt. He knew Spock was right, and he was acting wildly - the direction of the conversation proved it if nothing else - but he was still too outraged to apologize. "Jim," Spock said at last, his voice low, and no doubt conveyed more passion than a "good" Vulcan was supposed to show. "I am your friend. That is why I wanted to speak to you. I am asking you to begin sessions with the ship's counsellor again."

"I told you, I don't need-"

"If Trellian is not helping you, choose another. We have several-"

"I know who's in my crew, Spock, no matter what you might think of my abilities as a captain. And I don't need to see any damn counsellor trying to fix me, and make me forget! I refuse to submit myself to it again, so if you want to report me, you just do what you have to do!"

Spock stood up stiffly. "Very well, Jim," he said quietly. "I will do what I must." Jim glared at him, and he turned away. When he reached the door, he turned back to face Jim, and his face was no longer the impassive mask it had been a moment before. His skin was pale, and he had the same haunted look Jim remembered seeing when they were crouched together over Bones' body. "I have already been forced to watch helplessly while one of my closest friends died. I never wish to experience a torment of that intensity again. I am asking for your help, Jim. Please. Consider what I have said."

Without waiting for an answer, Spock left the room. Jim sat back in his chair, immediately deflated - anger vanished as quickly as it had come. He felt the bitterness of shame at having behaved the way he did with Spock. It wasn't fair, and if there was one thing he had come to loathe more than ever before, it was unfairness. He would apologize the next time he saw the Vulcan, but there would be no goddamn counsellors anymore.

He pulled the large holograph stand out of his desk drawer, placed it in front of him, and flipped it on. He smiled, and let out a small chuckle. It always made him happy to see Bones. He wasn't sure why he didn't leave the holo on all the time. Maybe because this was the clearest, most detailed image of Bones he had. It was special. Perfect, just like his beautiful, perfect Bones. He wanted to keep him all for himself.

It was a full body shot, complete with background. Including the stand the image was a full eighteen inches high. Bones himself was about fourteen inches, which put his face right at Jim's eye level. He was in his civvies, wearing a tan jumpsuit with green trim that brought out the green in his hazel eyes. His hands were on his hips and he was smiling brightly, standing between the giant roots of a sequoia in Yosemite National Park. He remembered the day vividly. It had been Bones' first trip to the park - he'd never made much time for travel before Starfleet, and then with basic training and keeping up with his requirements for the medical track, Academy had basically been kicking his ass. It was their first vacation together. Jim had insisted he would love it, and he had. He'd been gleeful as a kid, moving quickly from place to place, and "showing" Jim things, as if it were his first time, too.

Jim chuckled, and tears welled in his eyes, as they always did. "I miss you, baby. I miss you so much." He stared at his little fairy-sized Bones, letting the tears trail down his face unrestrained. "I want..." His voice cracked, and he left the rest of the sentence unspoken. When he couldn't take it anymore, he shut off the holograph and put it gently back in its drawer. He went to his sleeping area, even though it couldn't be later than 1900 hours. He pulled the covers back and turned his special, blue-clad pillow the proper direction before laying down beside it. As usual, he pulled it to him. The Bones smell was long gone, but he recalled it to his mind, trying to remember the exact way the shirt had felt when it was on Bones' chest. He sighed heavily, and buried his face in the pillow. I want to be where you are.

Spock had been stunned when, nine months later, Jim announced his intention to take an extended leave of absence. Jim could tell he was deeply concerned. They all were. But he reassured his friend that everything was fine. This was the logical choice. Jim knew he was taking unnecessary risks. Prompted by Spock's report, Jim had been observed on duty by a medical professional, and a command officer together, and even though he'd known he was being observed, he didn't change his behavior one bit. He'd received orders from "above" to go back to counseling, or risk official reprimand with the potential of further disciplinary action. As a result, Jim scheduled the required appointments, then never showed up for any of them. Rather than let Starfleet "resign" him, he applied for the leave. He wasn't being responsible with himself, and he knew it. He would take a leave, get his head straight, and apply for re-comission when he was better able to handle himself.

Spock admitted that he saw the logic of Jim's decision, but he was obviously upset to see Jim go. Jim was sad to leave as well. He knew before he ever made the request that he would never return to Starfleet again. He might never see Spock, Uhura, Scott, Sulu, Chekov, or any of his other friends again. He would be leaving the Enterprise. His ship. There had been a time when he thought that she was all he needed to be happy. A tall ship, and a star to steer by. Her pulse, the hum of her engines, her cold, sharp walls. But he knew now, there was only one thing he wanted - only one thing that could make breathing and waking up each day worthwhile. And that one thing, he couldn't have. He was falling, and he knew it. Whatever happened, he could not stay in command when his judgment was impaired enough that it might affect the crew and the ship. And sooner or later, it would. He loved her enough to know when he should leave her to the care of someone he trusted. He didn't want to be responsible for the death of anyone else ever again.

Spock eventually told Jim that he was glad he was taking time to center himself. He thought it was a sign that Jim was starting to heal. Jim knew better, but he allowed his friend to believe that healing was Jim's primary purpose. But there was no healing for him. There was no amount of talking, drinking, or diving head first into battles with alien aggressors that could take away the pain for him. But he could help his friends. He could take away the pain of himself - his constant reminder that Bones was gone, and the Captain was spiraling down day by day. Spock was right. It was cruel torture to be forced to watch someone die before your very eyes. He would not put Spock, nor anyone else, through that pain anymore.

When he received his farewells at the nearest Starbase, and saw his friends looking hopeful and almost happy for him, he knew he had made the right decision.

Jim spent a great deal of his pay comissioning a holo-specialist to maximize the size of his favorite holo. He found an excellent technician, who was able to increase the holo to make Bones almost life-size, without losing any of the quality. He wasn't ashamed when the technician allowed him to view the holo in the studio before making his final payment, and he started crying, and couldn't stop for nearly twenty minutes. The artist had facial tissue and hot tea ready and waiting - this was not her first experience with post-mortem commissions. Jim wrote her an excellent review, and kept Bones in the bedroom of his small house.

He kept it hidden from Mr. McCoy - didn't want to give undue stress to the elderly man, who was growing sicker and sicker as time went by. He showed his mother once during her shoreleave. She thought it was beautiful, and it brought tears to her eyes. The week after she left, he received a letter from her, asking if he'd found a decent counsellor on Earth yet. He resolved not to show his Bones to anyone again.

The nightmares didn't start until a full three years after leaving the Enterprise. Leonard's father died. Jim finalized his resignation. He fielded scores of communications from the Enterprise crew, practically begging him to tell them he was okay. Naturally, he told them what they wanted to hear. He didn't tell them about the dreams.

They were beautiful at first. He woke up beside Bones, or held tight in his arms. They talked about mundane things. What would he like to eat for breakfast. How was surgery last night? Gonna wear your brown slacks or black today? They might even get as far as some kissing, and heavy petting before getting up to start the day. Then, of course, he would wake up, and he would be alone, with only his Starfleet Issue pillow, still wearing Bones' shirt, and his life sized, untouchable Bones smiling at some point on the opposing wall. He thought that seeing Bones in his dreams, so vivid and normal, would be a great thing. But the loss when he woke up and realized that Bones was still gone was horrible.

Then, they changed. The beginnings were often the same - normal and lovely. Then, at some point - perhaps over dream lunch, or just before receiving a dream kiss - Bones' face would suddenly darken. His skin mottled and bruised, and his eyes would take on the vacant, wrong appearance that they'd had before Jim had finally closed the lids. Usually, Jim would wake suddenly, screaming. Sometimes, it would take longer. Bones would move around and continue behaving normally for a while, even though his face and hands were as they had been in death, before Jim finally screamed himself awake. Sometimes, he dreamed about Veris III - reliving Bones' death again and again.

Jim did not seek help. He purchased over-the-counter medications - stimulants that would keep him awake as long as possible. He would gaze at his Bones, trying to freeze the healthy Bones in his mind before finally allowing himself to go to sleep. It didn't help. After a while, he was only getting ten to twelve hours of sleep per week. He began to see Bones during times when he knew he was not asleep. He was sitting in front of the fireplace once, shaking his head repeatedly, and ignoring Jim. Jim saw him in the backyard once - back arched, face contorted with pain, screaming silently.

He knew this was wrong. He shouldn't be afraid to open doors. He shouldn't be afraid to close his eyes. He shouldn't feel that the only safe place in the house was his bedroom, with his pillow and his only safe Bones. He knew he should find help, but he didn't want to. If he left the safe room, frightening things would happen. He would be hurt. He looked at his safe Bones, his eyes swollen from crying and from exhaustion. "Help me, Bones," he croaked. His throat was dry. When was the last time he had something to drink? Or was that from the screaming? "Help me. I want to be with you."

It came to him at the hospital. At some point, he'd awakened there. Malnutrition and exhaustion, and one too many days of not responding to comms. His mother had called the authorities to check on him, and they had found him passed out in his room. It was at some point during his recovery that the thought came to him. He missed his Bones. The doctors didn't know what pillow he meant. They could not support the extra energy needed to power his holograph, and the counsellors did not think it was a good idea for him to keep his small, fairy Bones beside him either. They thought it was "healthier" for him to be alone, without any connection to Bones at all.

That was when he decided. Why should this be? Why should anyone keep him from Bones? Why should it be allowed? Hadn't he been a decent person? Hadn't he helped save the Federation? Hadn't he even offered to help the people who killed every life on Vulcan? And he had meant it, too! He would have given them medical care, food, safe passage - the whole package. Even though they had killed Vulcan, and tried to kill him, and tortured his captain. Didn't that count for something? Why should he constantly be denied? Why should people constantly try to keep him separated from his Bones?

He knew that his thoughts weren't something that should be shared with the counsellors. He told them what they wanted to hear. He ate what they wanted him to eat, and drank what they wanted him to drink. Before long, they were smiling at him, and telling him he was doing well enough to go home. His mother stayed with him for two weeks after that, to help him, and to make sure that everything was okay before going back to her commission. He thanked her. He loved her. He would be fine.

When she was gone, he began to work. He worked quickly. He didn't want the nightmares to start again. Didn't want to be scared to see Bones ever again. Even though he tried to settle everything as quickly as possible, it was still nearly a month before he was ready.

He dressed in the civilian outfit that Bones liked the best - a pair of comfortable tan pants - same color as Bones' jumpsuit - and sky blue turtleneck. He put them both through the auto-press first, and combed his hair so that it would look tidy. He knew very well that his body wouldn't be going anywhere, but he thought it was important anyway. He pulled out the box of record tapes and looked at them again, confirming that each had the appropriate labels, and that he had made one for each person on his list. The one for his mother had been the hardest - and Spock next, of course. They had both lost so many times, and he knew this would not be easy for them. But after countless false starts, he felt he had explained himself as best he could, and comforted them as best he could. There were approximately fourteen more, all there, as they had been for the past week now.

He placed the box in a prominent place - on the night stand beside fairy Bones - with a large, clear label. He turned on life-sized Bones, nodded when he glanced at the bed from Bones' new position. He could "see" Jim perfectly from this part of the room, and Jim would be able to see him from the bed. He put the recorded message to the San Francisco Police Department into his commlink, and set the timer for two hours. He locked his bedroom door, lay down on the bed, and pulled his pillow to his chest. He glanced at fairy Bones, then smiled at life-sized Bones. "See you soon."

Without hesitation, he picked up the hypospray, pressed it to his neck, and pressed the plunger

Jim sat up slowly, opening his eyes just as gradually. Gray. He appeared to be in a waiting room - pale gray walls that shut out the outside, but didn't seem very solid. He was seated in a comfortable gray armchair, even though he had just sat up from a prostrate position. Hm.

He waited. He was not bored. He wanted to see Bones, but he was not eager or agitated, either. He would see Bones when the time was right.

He was not sure if time passed. Maybe. But at some point, a door opened. He didn't remember there being a door before, but it opened, and a very tall man entered the room - very tall. Maybe over eight feet. He had dark hair, and too-large hazel eyes, and he was incredibly beautiful. He seemed familiar, and Jim vaguely wanted to strangle him, but he thought he should hold off on that until he could remember why.

"Welcome to the New Time, James Tiberius Kirk," the man said. Jim smiled. Pretty voice. And he glowed in a way that made the gray room seem like a shadow, while the tall man was reality. "You have been found worthy. A special place has been prepared for you. One of peace and joy, for the remainder of eternity."

Jim smiled. "Thanks," he said. His voice sounded shadowy, like the room. "I want to see Bones. Leonard H. McCoy, MD. Is he in the peace and joy place?"

The tall man shook his head. "I am sorry," he said, though he didn't seem sorry at all. "McCoy has been found unworthy. He has been sent to a place of agony, pain and misery as cannot be imagined by the mortal mind."

"Wow." Jim frowned, even though frowning seemed like a very hard thing to do. That didn't seem fair. "That doesn't seem fair."

"It is as it is, my child. Come." He smiled. "I will bring you to the place of eternal joy."

"If I go to the painful place, will I be able to see Bones?"

The man seemed surprised, but he answered. "You will."

Jim smiled, but he didn't trust the kind, tall, dark-haired man. He needed precision. "Will I be able to talk to him, and touch him, and can he touch me, and talk to me? Will we be able to stay together?"

The man nodded. "You will. But you will join him in eternal pain and agony as well, and you will not be allowed to recant. If you relinquish paradise, you will never be allowed to enter again."

Jim stood up, feeling the cushy-ness of the gray floor beneath his feet. He looked up at the man. "It's worth it. Take me to Bones."

Jim reeled, struck by a horrendous wave of nausea. Urgh. Could this be the agony the glowing man had spoken of? He staggered to his knees, but he didn't fall on squishy non-carpet this time. It felt like stone. His head pounded, and he felt a strong desire to vomit, but his body refused to help him.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the pain stopped. He heaved gasping breaths, staring down at his own hands on a brown, stone floor. He sensed a subtle hum in front of him, and looked up. He was shocked. He was in a huge room. Huge. It seemed large enough to have fit the entire Hollywood Bowl, seats and all, with room to spare. It was decorated with strange markings that seemed to be lit from within, and at one end, there were nine thrones, occupied by several giants. The thrones seemed far away at first, but when he looked at them, he was suddenly only a few feet away, even though he hadn't moved.

Jim gazed at them. He recognized two of them immediately - one was the man who had just brought him from the waiting room. The other was the Third Queen. She could have been the twin of the Waiting Room man, and she gazed at him with open surprise. In fact, they were all looking at him as if they couldn't believe their eyes. The others were of varying skin tones, and hair styles - male and female pairs who were twin-like versions of one another, except the one in the center. He had no twin, but they all wore the simple white gowns, and the thin crowns.

Jim turned away from them, and looked around. He found that he was able to see every part of the cavernous room as clearly as if he were looking through magnifiers, but nowhere could he find any sign of Bones. He felt a sourness in his stomach - a feeling of being cheated. Lied to. He turned back to the... whatever they were, and struggled to his feet. "Where is he?!"

The one in the center, a man with tanned skin and long, red hair, stood slowly, and smiled down at him, for all the world like a benevolent father. "My child. You have done well. We-"

"You said - " He pointed at the dark-haired man. "He said I could see Bones! Where IS he?"

"You will see him again, my son. You have spoken truly to the Third Queen, disproving our belief that mortals knew nothing of everlasting love. You have suffered. You have not forgotten. You have not chosen another. You have given your life, and your sacrifice has been accepted."

Jim stared at him with wide eyes, trying to comprehend what the hell had just happened. My sacrifice? A few moments later, though, he knew he wouldn't give a damn if he never knew what the man - perhaps the First King? - meant. The Third Queen approached him, smiling a real smile that didn't make him feel strange. She took him by the hand and led him away from the thrones. They approached a cut-out doorway, through which he could see... nothing. She looked down at him and gestured to the door. "You are free. Live well, my child."

She released his hand, and Jim stepped through the door.

Bright! Jim winced, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and not liking the fact that he had no idea where he was, and he couldn't see. Before his eyes adjusted, he heard someone call his name. Spock?


Finally, he was able to see again. Spock was bounding up some wide, shallow stairs to meet him. Jim gaped. Spock had a huge smile on his face. "Wha-"

"JIM!" Spock grasped him by the shoulders and nearly lifted him off the ground in his exhuberance. Jim smiled, nearly giddy at seeing Spock again for the first time in years. Spock must be thrilled, too, but slowly, he regained control of his features. "You must see something. Come."

Confusion seemed to be the big thing at the moment. Jim glanced around, and realized that he was on the dais where the Third Queen had been when the bell finished ringing back on Veris III. He'd just come through the doorway of the earth-toned building they had investigated on The Day. Spock had a fierce grip on his hand, and he was dragging him to where a figure in Science blue lay still on the grass.

Bones. Jim had wanted nothing more than to see Leonard McCoy for the past six years. But now, in this place, he was afraid. Here is where Bones had died. He lay in the same place where Jim had held him - felt his desperate, clutching hands gripping his shirt - watched his horrible, painfully slow death. He hesitated, but Spock didn't seem to notice. He pulled Jim along until they stood above Bones' body.

"Look, Jim." He hadn't realized his eyes were closed. He opened them, propelled by the eager voice of his former first officer.

Jim's eyes widened, and he let out a giddy, hysterical giggle. The giggle turned into a cackle, then into a victorious "whoop". He fell to his knees and grabbed Bones into a crushing embrace. The sobbing started when Bones put his arms around him and squeezed him just as tightly. He felt Bones' body trembling, and he pulled away suddenly, afraid that he was hurting.

Bones was definitely shaking hard, but he was smiling - a bright, immeasurably beautiful sight that put life-size Yosemite Bones to shame. His skin was clear, with no trace of trauma or bruising. He looked happy, but confused. "Jim, what happened? I was in so much pain, and then..."

Jim laughed and squeezed him tight again. "I love you!"

Bones laughed this time, and Jim squeezed him even harder. "Oh... okay, Jim, I... can't breathe."

Jim pulled back again, staring at Bones' face. "I love you. I love you, GOD, I thought I would never see you again! What..." He gripped Bones' arms tightly, and made himself look for Spock. The Vulcan was standing only a few inches away, Vulcan-smiling at them both. "Spock? Do you... how long have I been in there?"

"Three hours, Jim," Spock said. "Dr. McCoy..." He faltered, but cleared his throat and continued. "Dr. McCoy was killed. The alien disappeared, and I intercepted Mr. Chekov. When I turned back to suggest that we return to the ship, you were gone."

"Oh, Spock!" Jim whispered, imagining how horrible Spock must have felt then.

"I sent the remainder of the landing party back to the ship, and stayed here to attempt to recover you. Then, approximately seven minutes ago, Dr. McCoy began coughing. I attended him, while he began to breathe again, and his skin gradually lost its bruises. He opened his eyes and asked me what happened and where you were. Shortly thereafter, you appeared through the doorway of the structure - oddly, wearing civillian attire."

Jim looked down at himself, and saw that he was still wearing Bones' favorite outfit. He smiled at Spock. "Thank you for staying, Spock."

Spock inclined his head. "I could not have done otherwise."

Jim turned back to Bones, and he felt a nearly overpowering sense of absolute joy. He stared at Bones little half-smile for so long that the doctor blushed. "I thought I would never see you again," he whispered.

"Jim, you heard Spock," he said, the smile still plastered to his face. "It was only a few hours."

"I've been without you for six years. And an odd number of months." Bones looked shocked. He pulled Jim down, and held him tight enough to hurt - just the kind of embrace he had longed for every night for so long.

Jim revelled in it, drinking in Bones' scent, pressing against his firm, warm chest, weeping silently at the sound of his heartbeat against his ear. "I love you, Jim."

A communicator chimed, and Spock answered. "Mr. Spock, you're late for check-in," came Uhura's tense voice. "Is everything all right?"

"Affirmative, Lieutenant," Spock said. "Please advise Mr. Scott to prepare the transporter room. Three to beam up."

Jim stood up, and helped Bones to stand. The doctor was still shaky on his feet, and Jim lifted him into his arms. Bones didn't struggle or even look perturbed at being cradled. Jim smiled. Bones was alive! Alive! Jim was on his way back to his ship, his crew, and his life. Finally, everything was really going to be all right. Yes, there would be a lot more time spent talking to counsellors in the near future. The fact that he was fairly certain he would literally beat anyone who tried to make him leave Bones' side, and that breaking physical contact with him was simply not an option, made that pretty clear. But it didn't matter. Bones was alive. Bones was his.

He glanced up when he felt Spock place a protective hand on his shoulder. His other hand was laid lightly on Bones' head. "I think I've had enough of paradise for one day," Jim said. "Enterprise. Beam us up."


Sequel: Dedication II: The Wrath of Khan

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