Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1981 by Ingrid Cross. Originally published in Alpha Continuum #3, Tina Henry, editor. Rated PG.

A Warrior's Death

Ingrid Cross

''But he lay like a warrior taking his rest. With his martial cloak around him."

- Charles Wolfe

* * *

Spock's head dropped forward and snapped back as he came out of a light, troubled doze. Amazed that he had fallen asleep (although it had been nearly four days since he had slept last), he restrained himself from jumping up and running into the next room. He reminded himself again that Dr. McCoy had promised to call him if there was any change in the captain's condition.

He stood and straightened his tunic, glancing at the chronometer on McCoy's desk. Third shift. He should be on the bridge, but something held him back. He had to check on Jim first.

Schooling his features and his errant mind, he went into the adjoining intensive care room which held only one bed. Spock glanced at the readings on the mediscan indicators and sighed inside. No change. To have it confirmed yet again sent another searing barb into his soul.

The lighting in this room was dim, casting Jim Kirk's face into shadow. The atmosphere had changed from a feeling of waiting to one of impending doom. The feeling in here was cold and spoke of approaching death. Spock shook his head to negate the sensation, pushing it aside. This was illogical: how could the very air portend death?

A closer search revealed the chief medical officer, hunched in a chair close to the bed. The Vulcan marveled that McCoy still remained in this room. His very presence seemed to be a fight against what was inevitable. Spock knew he would never say it, though. At this point, it would seem an offense rather than solicitude.

As Spock quietly moved closer, McCoy started awake. The blue eyes, rimmed with red, focused quickly and glanced at the body on the bed. He, too, read the diagnosis and stood wearily.

"No change," McCoy said softly in greeting. Spock wondered for perhaps the fiftieth time why McCoy persisted in talking softly in here. Sound level would make no difference to the comatose captain. He squelched the thought; this was another thing he would not speak of.

Jim Kirk seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Yet appearances in this case were deceiving. Spock remembered vividly four days ago when they had beamed the captain aboard the Enterprise, battered beyond imagination, nearly dead from loss of blood. Then another memory flashed into his mind: Kirk, an hour before he beamed down to the "diplomatic" meeting with the Klingons, saying firmly, "There is no need for you to go with me, Spock. I can take care of myself. Besides, they've given their word that no harm will come to our landing party. This is supposed to be a treaty signing, remember?"

Spock had argued with him. Again. As usual. "It does not necessarily mean they will honor their word."

The hazel eyes had smiled at him, and the golden aura which always seemed to surround his friend had brightened. "Star Fleet set up elaborate security systems. Spock, you sound like a mother hen." Then he had beamed to the surface, where treachery and deceit awaited all five Enterprise crewmembers. Jim Kirk had been the only survivor. If this could be called survival.

McCoy finished his examination and turned away for a moment. Spock didn't speak, knowing that to interrupt the doctor's private thoughts would embarrass McCoy. Finally, McCoy faced him again.

"His condition, Doctor?"

McCoy shook his head. "Not good. No change." The broad shoulders slumped. "Dammit all!" he swore.

The time had come. There could be no more hesitation on his part. Spock stepped forward and touched McCoy's elbow. "Come with me," he said gently, trying to convey more than he could say with the touch. McCoy looked up, bewildered, and gave in without a second thought. To Christine Chapel, hovering nearby, he said, "Stay with him, Chris." She nodded at her superior, sympathy evident in her look.

McCoy followed Spock into his office and sat behind his desk. The first officer took the other chair in the room.

McCoy rubbed at his eyes and turned the desk lamp away from his face. It was obvious to Spock that the doctor was exhausted beyond control; the man should have been sleeping a little during the four day vigil, yet when Chapel had suggested the idea, he snapped at her. Spock understood McCoy's emotions, although he could not bring himself to say that. To admit any emotion lately would have been to give in to the inevitable. Until now, McCoy had not really faced the obvious; Spock knew that he would have to make the human understand some very basic facts now. Yet he hesitated, wishing for a moment that someone else had the courage to do this. But truthfully, Spock knew that he would have to be the one. No one else aboard the Enterprise would have dared to approach McCoy with this message.

"Well, what d'ya want, Spock?" McCoy demanded. "I have work to do. I have to take care of Jim."

Painfully, Spock tried to make McCoy understand. "Jim will still be there, Doctor. It is necessary that we talk. Here, alone." He chose his next words carefully.

"Jim's health has been failing steadily for the past four days. You yourself have said there is no chance for a major improvement. What do you propose to do now?" The words, finally spoken and between them, sounded harsh. There was no way he could recall them, even if he had so desired.

Spock leaned forward. "You will have to make a decision. What will you do about Jim?" he repeated, feeling ruthless.

A hand slammed down violently, the sound reverberating through the small room. "Damn it, Spock! I'm gonna keep monitorin' him! What else can I do?"

Spock kept his voice level. "You could let him go." It was a flat statement. But Spock could feel the price the words had exacted from him; somewhere inside he felt hollow, empty.

McCoy's mouth dropped open in amazement. "Do you know what you're sayin', Spock?" He whispered, the color draining form his haggard features.

The words like an iron fist thrust into Spock's stomach. He managed to avoid fl inching and savagely tried to bring his emotions under control. He merely nodded, not certain he could trust his voice.

"You're talking murder, Mister! You can sit there and calmly discuss something like this?" McCoy stood, looking at Spock as though he thought the Vulcan had finally lost his mind. "Well, if you're ready to give up, fine. I'm not. Excuse me." In one fluid motion, the doctor stood and started for the door. Spock's hand whipped out and took hold of the doctor's arm. McCoy looked down at the restraining hand and back up at Spock, who remained still.

"Sit down."

McCoy made a movement as though he would ignore the demand, took a look at the Vulcan's eyes and reconsidered. He sat down again.

"You have lost your objectivity, Doctor." When McCoy opened his mouth to retort, Spock quickly continued. "No, let me finish. I, too, have been guilty of not thinking about this rationally. Do not look so amazed. We have been too close to the matter; we have not treated this as we must. To us, we see only James Kirk, not the face of a patient who lingers on, suffering needlessly.

"Think, Doctor. If that was any other person out there, would you continue to sustain life where consciousness is no longer present?"

McCoy considered the question, and Spock realized the critical point had been reached. The first one, anyway. Then he shook his head. " I'd do the same thing," McCoy said stubbornly. "I'd keep working until there was no hope left for the patient."

"We are at that point, McCoy. Yesterday you told me Jim's systems are weakening, that his general condition is deteriorating. What is his condition now?"

"Critical. His lungs are weakening farther now, and I'll have to put him on the respirator shortly," McCoy said wearily. "I can't control the fever any more, his pulse is weak and irregular, and the kidney transplant is being rejected by his body."

The truth had been spoken aloud. There could be no turning back. Forgive me, my friend. Spock thought sadly. I must do what I think best. "And the brain activity?"

The doctor shrugged. "From all indications, his mind is active. Brain scans reveal weak signals, but he's alive. You know that under these circumstances there's nothing I can do!" The words, though uttered quietly, were nearly a scream to Spock's sensitive ears.

"Perhaps not legally," Spock agreed reluctantly. "But the K-2 indicator shows extreme pain, in the 90% range. If the captain is aware of what is happening to him -- which I seriously doubt -- what is he experiencing?" He waited for an answer which was not forthcoming. "He is in agony, Doctor." Spock spoke deliberately, slowly, aware that his words were like a knife turning slowly in McCoy's soul. "We have a moral obligation here. What would Jim Kirk be like if he regained consciousness today, now?"

"You know as well as I do what a sustained fever at that level would do to the brain, Spock!"

The Vulcan prepared himself mentally for another tirade. "Doctor?"

"He'd be a mindless vegetable," McCoy whispered. His head dropped to his arms which lay on the desk top. Spock was worried. Had he pushed McCoy too far? Then he realized that the gesture had signal led exhaustion, nothing more. When McCoy looked up again, his eyes were damp, but his voice was steady. "He'd be a vegetable."

Spock nodded slowly. The doctor was facing what Spock had come to two days earlier. He pushed forward doggedly. "That is not the James Kirk we both knew," he said, aware of the verb tense he had used. "James Kirk, the captain of this ship, died shortly after he was beamed aboard the Enterprise four days ago. And that brings us to the decision."

His heart was doing somersaults for the first time in a long time. He tried to control his breathing, but it seemed as though every breath he took dragged reluctantly into his lungs. "Jim would not wish to be kept alive, in such constant agony, for so long, Leonard. You must realize that."

"I can't," McCoy said brokenly. "I can't just walk in there and stop the machinery. That's my friend lying on that bed."

Spock tried to think of the correct words. "It would be an act of friendship to release him from this pain." For the first time, he looked away, refusing to meet McCoy's eyes. "I could ... do this for you, but I cannot." Horrified at himself, he knew he was a coward. It would seem to McCoy that Spock was backing away from this ultimate decision. Yet as he looked at his hands, he knew he would not perform this last rite for his friend. Could not.

Yet McCoy remained calm, the blue eyes softening suddenly. And Spock knew that the doctor did not hold the words against him. Leonard McCoy understood him. Spock looked down again at the floor, overwhelmed by the thought that this man -- this human who took pleasure, it seemed, in prodding him and pushing him until he nearly reached the point of anger -- cared and understood so completely. He was grateful, but could not find the words.

There was a slight rustling in the room and McCoy suddenly appeared beside Spock's chair. "All right. It's all right. I can handle this," he spoke gently. Then a hand squeezed his shoulder briefly before the doors opened and shut again.

Spock stood shakily and left the room quickly. Christine and McCoy were conferring in one corner of the small intensive care area, and Spock forced himself to go over and stand beside Kirk's body.

Jim, I shall miss you. The admission startled him; although he had accepted the inevitability of one day being separated from his friend, when the moment had presented itself, he could think of no other words of farewell. Memories flashed in rapid succession through his mind: the times of laughter, sorrow, quiet solitude in the presence of someone who understood him and accepted him for what he was. To think that the one person who had felt this for him would be gone forever hurt unbearably. He reached out and touched a hand growing colder by the minute and lightly ran his fingers across the knuckles. Then he turned away, afraid that he would break down and give way to the maelstrom of emotions inside.

As he moved away from the bed, away from the hushed sounds of a heartbeat pounding out from the diagnostic panel, he heard McCoy move to take his place. Spock glanced in the corner and saw Christine standing there silently, tears running down her cheeks. Her lips moved soundlessly, and Spock realized that she was praying. Her agony and pain were palpable forces in the small room and he inhaled carefully, forcing himself to turn toward Jim again.

McCoy held a syringe in one hand; with the other, he reached out and brushed the lock of hair aside that always fell over Jim's eyebrow. The simple gesture created a pressure in Spock's chest more intense than anything else he had experienced in his life.

McCoy is hurting, in pain, and there is nothing I can do. I call him friend, yet our friendship is rooted in dissension. What can I do to help him? he thought helplessly, watching as two tears slowly trickled down the physician's face. My mother would have me go and comfort Leonard. Father would ... what would he do? The betraying question slipped away as he watched McCoy's hand come up to Kirk's exposed arm and push the syringe in. It seemed as though time stood still and expanded at once. Then the heartbeats slowed down inexorably, beating once every five, ten and then fifteen seconds ... until there was no sound in the room except Christine's smothered sobs.

McCoy moved first, taking the light coverlet and pulling it up over Jim Kirk's face. He hesitated a moment, then turned to face Spock. Tears ran unchecked down his face still, but it was the blue eyes that caught Spock's attention.

"You did all you could for him, Leonard," Spock said quietly, his voice catching slightly at the end. "He would have asked no more than that."

There was little response, except for a tic that appeared over McCoy's left eye. Then the man stumbled past Spock into his office. Spock waited a moment, wondering what he should do. He took one last look at the still figure hidden by the blanket, then turned on his heel and headed after McCoy. The living had to go on. It was an empty phrase now, with little meaning beyond the fact that Spock ached somewhere deep inside. New bridges had to be built; now was the time to start.

The door opened quietly and for once, Spock refused to barricade himself against the pain waiting for him. He spoke to the figure slumped against the wall, shoulders shaking, no sound emanating from McCoy.

"I grieve with thee, Leonard." It was all he could say and finally, for the first time in years, Spock gave in to the human half of his mind and allowed himself to cry.