Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Chapter 16 - Gifts of the Magi

"Bridge to Admiral Kirk." Jim opened his eyes at the sound of Spock's voice. He looked around quickly, disoriented at first by the unfamiliar room. He found himself grinning like a complete fool at the sight of Leonard still laying on him, and suddenly he remembered everything. "Spock to Admiral Kirk."

Jim shifted, slowly disengaging himself from Leonard. He managed to get up and reposition Leonard on the bed without waking him. And no wonder. He was sleeping like a drugged man - utterly exhausted from his ordeal on Khan's planet.

Jim located the comm unit and pressed a button. "Kirk here."

"We are within scanning range of Veris III, Admiral."

"Thanks, Spock, I'll be right up."

Jim considered letting Leonard sleep, but when he thought of the state Len would be in if he awoke alone in a strange room, he vetoed the idea immediately. He placed a hand gently on Leonard's shoulder. "Hey, sweetheart," he said. "C'mon, wake up."

Leonard shifted slightly, then suddenly sat bolt upright, gasping and looking wildly about him. He froze when he saw Jim, staring nervously at him. "Jim?"

"It's me, baby," he said softly. "You're out. You're free." Leonard seemed to calm down, keeping his eyes locked on Jim's face. "I have to head to the Bridge, okay? You want to come with me, or stay-"

"I'll come," he said quickly.

Jim nodded. "Okay, sweetheart. We'll stick together, okay?" Len nodded, and Jim led the way up to the Bridge.

When he arrived, Spock vacated the captain's chair. "I detect no ships in the area, Admiral," he said.

"I read no transmissions, either," Uhura said. "Starfleet frequencies or otherwise."

"Strange," Jim said, taking his seat. "But I have a feeling I know who's behind that, and I'm not complaining. How long until we're able to move into orbit?"

"Five minutes, sir," Chekov replied.

"Good. Scotty, let's prepare to start transporting the Verisian people back to their homes."

"Aye, sir."

While Scotty sent a message requesting that the Verisians be gathered into transport groups, Leonard drew closer to Jim's chair and knelt beside it. Jim looked worriedly at him, but tried to hide it when he saw Leonard look at him. Len frowned and looked around the Bridge. "This... this isn't right, is it?" he whispered, getting to his feet again.

"It's alright," Jim said softly.

"I'm sorry, Jim, I-"

"It's okay," Jim said. "It'll be okay - it just takes time." Jim glanced around the room, noting that everyone was watching them with worried expressions on their faces. He turned back to Bones and forced a smile. "I'd like you to be able to sit down, Bones," he said. "Iím sure you're tired. Think you'd like to sit in the chair next to Spock?" Leonard glanced nervously back at the Science station. There was an empty seat between Spock and Uhura, and Uhura smiled sweetly at him. Leonard was obviously still exhausted, and after only a moment's hesitation, he took his seat between their two friends. Nyota stroked his arm lightly before returning to her scans.

Soon, they settled into a low orbit around Veris III. "Spock, Bones with me. Mr. Scott, you have the conn."

"Aye, sir."

When they arrived at the transporter room, the first group of Verisians was already there - twelve of the villagers, including Listener Kol. They all looked much healthier than they had the first time Jim had seen them - they were on their feet, animated, talking excitedly to one another in a language Jim didn't understand. He smiled, pleased that the nearness to the planet seemed already to have had its effect.

Kol came forward immediately, smiling brightly at the three of them. "Greetings, brothers!"

"Hello, brother," Jim replied.

"Many many thanks, James Tiberius Kirk," he said. "And to you as well, Spock, son of Sarek."

"We were glad to help you," Jim said.

Kol smiled, and looked up at Leonard. "Greetings, Leonard Horatio McCoy. I am pleased to see that you have been set free."

Leonard nodded. "Thank you. I'm glad that you're back home where you belong." With a glance at Jim, he said, "We should have you down in just a few minutes."

"We are grateful," Kol said. "The Nine would like to show their gratitude to you on behalf of all of us. They ask for you to come to the planet's surface first."

Leonard looked toward Jim again, and Jim nodded. "We'll do so. Thank you again for your help."

Kol nodded, and Jim stepped onto the transporter pad, followed by Spock and Leonard. "Set us down near the Pillars, Keenser."

"Yes, sir."

Moments later, the small landing party materialized in front of the dais. Even though he knew that these people were friends now, Jim was still nervous about this place. He couldn't help but be anxious around beings who could kill, resurrect, and teleport people wherever they wanted to at will. Leonard seemed nervous too, and stood less than two inches from Jim. Jim took his arm and smiled. "It's all right," he said. "Come on, Bones. Spock?"

Spock nodded, and the three men approached the circle of pillars. Slowly, Jim reached out and placed his palm on the stone pillar he had touched the last time. They waited only a few seconds, then a light flashed from the doorway of the structure. A moment later, the Second King stepped out of the building and looked toward them. Len shuddered, and Jim glanced at him. He seemed nervous, but not terrified, and Jim thought he must be feeling the same "call-to-action" feeling Jim had - that sense of urgency which seemed to go as deep as his very cells.

The Second King smiled brightly at them and opened his arms. "Welcome back, my children," he said. "Welcome, and congratulation on your success!"

"Thank you, sir," Jim said. "Thank you for leading me to Leonard."

"It is our pleasure and our duty to keep our children safe when we can. You have done well for us. You have brought our children back to the Source, and our powers have been restored. For this, we are eternally grateful, and we would like to give you something to reward you for what you have done."

Jim wanted to ask if he could just have the normal use of his leg, but he shook his head slightly. "We thank you for the offer," he said. "But we don't need anything. The return of our friend is enough."

The Second King smiled warmly at him. "Again I tell you, you are a noble man, James Tiberius Kirk. You are a well-chosen leader. But you have saved us from the greatest crisis we have ever known, and we wish to reward you." He beckoned to them. "Come. Come into the Circle."

Jim glanced at the other two. Spock looked almost grim, and Leonard still looked slightly nervous. Jim gave them what he hoped was a reassuring smile, then stepped forward. He approached the dais, and the King beckoned them further, until the three men were standing with him on the broad platform.

"Spock," the Second King said. "I have said that your physical and intellectual strength are great, and it is difficult to provide gifts to one who is already so well-endowed. However, in gratitude for your part in our rescue, your wounds from this battle will be healed, and your mind will remain sharp for the rest of your life."

Spock bowed his head. "Thank you, sir," he said solemnly. "I-" He stopped, and his eyes widened slightly.

"What is it, Spock?" Jim asked, his voice tense.

"I..." He staggered back, and Len reached for him though he couldn't have hoped to support him.

Jim sprang to his side. "Spock!" He glared at the Second King, but before he could speak a reprimand, Spock shook his head and stood upright again.

"It's alright, Jim," he said. "I experienced a momentary feeling of vertigo, but it has subsided."

Jim let out a relieved sigh, then froze. "You... the bruises are gone!"

"Indeed," Spock said. He removed one of the bandages from around his forearm to reveal a perfectly clear skin - there wasn't even the hint of a scar where the defensive wounds had been. Spock looked at his own arm, a single eyebrow climbing slowly higher up his forehead. He looked up at the king and nodded again. "Thank you," he said again.

"You are welcome, my son. James," he said, turning to Jim. "Your wounds from this battle will be healed."

"Thank you," Jim said, trying to hide his disappointment when no mention was made of his leg.

"What..." Bones cleared his throat, and looked nervously from Jim to the Verisian king. "What about Jim's leg? Will it go back to the way it was?"

"No, my child, it will not." He looked at Jim. "The gift we gave you to help you return our children is now yours - we will not take it from you."

Jim felt a broad smile slowly spreading across his face. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you so much."

The Second King smiled. "It is our pleasure to reward you, my son. Your bravery and determination have saved us all."

Jim smiled at Leonard, and Len hugged him tight. Jim felt the dizziness start, along with a curious almost-itching sensation, which he assumed was the accelerated healing of his battle wounds. "I'm so happy, sugar," Leonard whispered.

"I'm just glad you're here," Jim said, holding him tight.

"You okay?"

Jim tried to say yes, but the dizziness was getting worse. He felt Len clutching him, then a moment later, Spock's strong hands grasped him and he was lowered to the ground. Eventually, the dizziness passed, and he motioned to the others that he was alright.

"Now, my son," The Second King said, his smile seeming to have grown even warmer as he looked at Leonard. Bones stepped forward slowly. "Chosen Child of the First King. We know how you have suffered at the hands of your enemy, and we are proud of your strength. We wish that we could heal all the wounds that you suffered, but the damage he has done to your spirit cannot be healed by us. But, we will heal your physical wounds, and we will provide the means for you to gain the time and assistance that you need to heal your spirit."

"I... er... thank you, sir," Leonard said, though he sounded just as confused as Jim felt. The time and means to heal his spirit?

Jim didn't bother to puzzle it out. He motioned for Len to sit down. "It'll feel strange and a little uncomfortable," he said. "But you'll feel much better when it's over." Leonard nodded, and Jim stayed close to support him when the dizziness began.

"Sir," Spock said to the king. "We are prepared to transport your people back to the planet's surface, but we would like to return them as close to their home region as possible. Is there a way you can guide us - provide the coordinates for each group?"

"That will not be necessary," the Second King replied. "Once they have been returned to The Source, we can easily transport them directly to their homes."

There was a slight moan from Bones, and Jim looked down, watching the bruises miraculously disappear - like an inversion of the first time he'd been here, kneeling over Leonard, watching his face darken as his body was destroyed from the inside. He shuddered violently, and forced the image out of his mind. Len smiled up at him after a moment, and nodded. "It's over," he said softly.

Jim smiled, but he could feel tears welling in his eyes at the same time. All the bruises and cuts that had covered him were gone, but Len was still gaunt and frail-looking. Jim kissed him lightly, then stood and faced the king again. "We're grateful for your help," he said. "And I'd like to offer something to you."

"Something more, my son?"

"Yes," Jim said. "I'd like to offer you the opportunity to receive protection from the Federation - to prevent people from doing what Khan did to you. If you join the Federation, we would station ships nearby, but far enough away from the planet to prevent any interference with you and your children. We would patrol the area to keep others away from your planet."

"Would we have to give something more in exchange for this protection?"

Jim shook his head. "It's a gift," he said. "All we would ask is that you promise not to interfere with any of the delegates from the Federation. You would be asked to exclude them from your... sacrifice selection process."

The Second King looked thoughtful. "I will discuss this with the others. We will send a message to you when we have made our decision."

"Very well," Jim said. "Thanks again."

The King nodded. "Live well, my children."

Jim helped Bones to his feet, and the three of them stepped away from the dais, back outside the circle of pillars. Jim contacted the ship, and they were beamed back aboard. "Alright, Keenser, you can start sending the Verisians down. Set them down around where we were - the... deities will take it from there."

Jim waited long enough to see Listener Kol and his first group of Verisian people off, before making his way back to the Bridge. "Do you want to go back to the room and lay down, Bones?" he asked.

"Nope. I feel better than I have in a long time," he answered.

Jim smiled. "I think they want us to let you rest," he said. "I'm sure the Second King didn't mean for me to have you hanging around the Bridge when he said he was going to provide the means for you to heal."

Bones just smiled. "Maybe not, but I have no intention of going anywhere without you. Not that I understood what he meant anyway."

"It puzzled me, too. Spock, do you have any idea what he may have meant by that?"

"No, Admiral, I do not," he replied. "And although they speak with some degree of ceremony, I am inclined to believe that the words were meant to be taken literally."

"I agree," Jim said. "But we may never know exactly what he meant, I suppose. Just as we... or rather, Bones and I may never know if your intellect remains sharp your entire life."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Vulcan intellect does not fade with age," he said. "However, some of the most ancient of us may succumb to an illness that can affect our ability to reason and causes emotional controls to deteriorate."

"Well, there you go, Spock," Bones said. "Maybe you'll never get the illness."

"Such conjecture is illogical. I do not believe that these individuals can be assured of the future. They have said as much in-"

"Bridge to Admiral Kirk."

Jim looked around and found a nearby comm link. "Go ahead, Uhura."

"Jim, I've received a priority transmission for you."

"Priority message? From whom?"

"I don't know, sir. The origin has been coded so heavily I'd need at least a couple of hours to decipher it with this equipment."

Jim frowned, glancing briefly at the concerned faces of his friends. "Could it be Starfleet?"

"I think so, Jim," Nyota replied. "The codes have Starfleet markers, but other than that, it's completely sealed. I can't tell who sent it, or where it's come from, and it's requiring a retinal scan from you to open it."

His frown deepened. "How... was it sent directly to me, or just over major subspace frequencies?"

"Directly to you, sir," she said. "It was sent on directly to the Keshia's priority channel."

Jim felt his jaw clench. "I'll take it in my quarters, Nyota," he said quietly. "You know where we were?"

"Yes, Jim, I'll send it there."

Jim disconnected and looked at his two friends. "I was hoping we'd have more time before Starfleet caught up with us," he said.

"Why shouldn't we want to be caught up with?" Bones asked nervously. "For going to Veris III? Aren't I proof enough that you were right... that you had to go?"

"Regulations are regulations, Bones," Jim said softly, touching his arm and starting toward the officer's quarters. "And, um... coming to an unauthorized planet might be one of the least of the charges against me."

"What? What did you do, Jim?!"

Jim couldn't help but smile at the combination of outrage and panic on Leonard's face. It reminded him strongly of the face Len used to make when they were still serving on the Enterprise together and Jim had proposed some plan that could avert disaster, but might endanger Jim's life. Or whenever he allowed Savannah and David to have sugar after five in the evening. "Don't worry, Bones," he said. "I got you back. Nothing else matters."

Naturally, Leonard didn't seem at all convinced, but he didn't ask any more questions. Jim moved quickly to the Orion captain's quarters and activated the communications console. Nyota's face appeared. "All right, Uhura. I'm ready."

"Coming to you now, Admiral."

Jim beckoned to Leonard and Spock, and they stood over his shoulder as he accepted the message. An anonymous message screen came on, followed by a retinal scan request. He allowed himself to be scanned. "Identity Accepted," the computer announced. A moment later, Jim gasped in complete and total shock as the image of Ambassador Spock appeared. He tore his eyes from the screen for a second - long enough to note that both Leonard and Spock were equally stunned.

"Hello, Jim." Jim turned back to the screen and gave his attention to the aged Vulcan. "I have learned through various sources that, since our last meeting after the memorial service for Doctor McCoy, your circumstances have changed dramatically, and that now, you and certain members of the Enterprise crew are wanted for questioning by Starfleet Command and the Federation. I had hoped to find some way of contacting you, but I did not expect to receive it from such a surprising source as I have this evening.

"A few moments ago, I experienced a vision. A robed figure who identified himself as the 'Second King' appeared in my meditation chamber. He identified me as his 'child', and he showed me what has happened to Doctor McCoy at the hands of our old enemy, Khan." Jim shuddered, not just from the mention of the hated name, but from the realization that he was not the first James Kirk to have faced Khan Noonien Singh. Since their parting at the re-launching of the Enterprise so many years ago, Jim and Ambassador Spock had spoken often, but they almost never discussed events in the other Jim's past, so it was a shock to hear that his predecessor had dealt with the same man. "The Second King asked me to assist you," Spock was saying. "He gave me your location and the subspace frequency that would connect directly with your current vessel.

"By the time this message reaches you, approximately sixteen hours will have passed since I was visited by this entity. I am not certain of the method by which the Second King conceptualizes time, but I assume that you have not yet started toward the nearest Starbase. I am in agreement with the Second King - Doctor McCoy deserves time to rest and to heal, as do all of you. Also, I have no doubt that the doctor's recovery will be hindered if you are taken from him immediately to face Starfleet's accusations.

"With this in mind, I ask that you come to the Colony as soon as you are able. We will harbor you for as long as you desire, so that you and your crew may recover. If Doctor McCoy is willing, we will of course make Healers available to him to assist him in regaining his spiritual strength as well. As a member of the Vulcan High Council, and... as your friend, Jim - I urge you to accept my offer. I give you my personal assurance that Starfleet and the Federation will not know of your presence on the planet until you are ready. At the end of this message are the coordinates of a rendezvous ship that will bring you into Vulcan. It is my assumption that someone among the officers you recovered is capable of taking the Orion ship to the nearest Starbase." Ambassador Spock raised his hand in the customary Vulcan parting. "I look forward to seeing you, old friend."

The screen darkened, and the coordinates appeared. Jim memorized the coordinates, and purged the transmission from the computer before turning to his friends. Bones had tears in his eyes, and Spock's eyebrows were in what Jim had come to think of as the "I cannot believe this shit" position.

"Well," Jim said after a moment. "Who's up for a trip to Vulcan?"

Chapter 15
Chapter 17

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