DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of J. M. Lane and is copyright (c) 2002 by J. M. Lane. This story is rated PG.


by JM Lane


"Oh, my God. Please, God, no." Nurse Christine Chapel's face was a mixture of shock and disbelief.

"What's wrong, Chris?" Chief Surgeon Leonard McCoy asked conversationally. He switched off his tricorder, where he had been recording his Medical Log, and went to join her.

"Look for yourself." McCoy was surprised to see tears in his chief nurse's eyes before he looked into the holo-microscope but dismissed it for the moment.

"Oh, my God." The Doctor's voice was barely audible as he echoed Christine's earlier statement. "Xenopolycythemia. Incurable and terminal. Whose test is this?"

Christine's eyes brimmed with tears. "Yours. I ran an analysis on a sample of your blood and tissue a few minutes ago." McCoy turned pale. He had been feeling weak and dizzy lately and his blood pressure had been up, but he had attributed it to too much work and not enough food or rest. Now this...

"Leonard, I don't want you to die."

"Don't worry, Chris. I don't intend to go without a fight." He gave her a reassuring hug; the nurse gave her superior a wan smile.

"But how can we beat an incurable disease?"

"I don't know, but if there's a way, I'll find it."

Christine looked thoughtful. "Shouldn't the Captain be told about this? After all, he would need to know in order to... obtain a replacement CMO. You know, just in case we can't find a cure."

McCoy wasn't fond of the idea, but knew she was right. Jim would have to know -- but not right this second. After the crew physicals would be soon enough.

Christine went into the next room; moments later McCoy heard the following: "...to Captain Kirk. Please come to Sickbay. There's an emergency. I can't discuss it over the intercom."

McCoy caught the gist of what had been said and was furious, intending to give Christine hell for taking it upon herself to contact the Captain. Dammit, he wasn't ready yet! Of course, McCoy doubted he would ever be ready, no matter when Kirk was told. How did you tell your friends that you were going to die? And even worse, that there was nothing you could do to change matters? Even so, Jim would expect him to do all he could to effect a cure. After all, one could replace a starship CMO, but not a friend of all one's adult life. He entered the adjoining room, eyes flashing blue fire.

"Christine, what the hell do you think you're doing? The Captain doesn't need to know right away."

"Yes, he does," she threw back. "You know how long it takes for Starfleet to replace starship personnel."

"Even so, you're overstepping your authority," he sternly informed her. "I think you'd better go to your quarters. Your shift's over anyway."

"I'm sorry, Doctor. I'm a nurse first, and a member of the crew of the Enterprise second," she declared. "I've called the Captain, and I'll wait until he comes!"

Just then the Sickbay doors swished open and Kirk stepped in, eyes widening upon seeing his Chief Surgeon and Head Nurse arguing, unaware of his presence.

"I said, you're excused, Nurse! You may return to your quarters!" Christine's jaw stiffened; her lips followed suit. McCoy's tone softened. "Please, Christine. I promise you I'll give the Captain a full report." Christine turned on her heel and marched out, looking straight ahead.

McCoy watched her go, then turned to face a surprised but expectant Kirk. "That was quite a scene," the latter observed.

"I've completed the standard physicals for the entire crew." McCoy's voice had an edge that the Captain didn't miss.

"Fine. What's the emergency?" Kirk's voice was laced with impatience, on the edge of anger.

"The crew is fit; I found nothing unusual -- with one exception." The Doctor's voice lowered on the last three words, as though he didn't want Kirk to hear them.



"What is it?"

"Xenopolycythemia. It has no cure."


McCoy went on as though the Captain hadn't spoken. "He has one year to live at the most."

"Who?" Kirk repeated, angry now.

"The ship's Chief Medical Officer."

The Captain's face went white. "You?"

"I'll be most effective in the time left if you keep this to yourself."

Kirk closed his eyes in pain, tears stinging his eyelids. It couldn't be true. There must be a mistake. His oldest friend dying? Never! He couldn't lose Bones like this. There must be a way to save him! Outwardly the Captain only nodded. "Thank you for your report, Doctor. I must return to the Bridge now."

He turned and left Sickbay as Christine had, finding it difficult to breathe -- or even keep moving. The thought of losing Bones was too painful to contemplate, making Kirk feel as though a giant hand was squeezing the breath out of him.

How would he hide this from Spock? And Starfleet had to know, so a replacement could be sent. Even so, how could he live without Bones? However close he and Spock were, neither were complete without the Doctor and his peculiar but irreplaceable brand of friendship. Despite their almost constant bickering, good-natured and otherwise, Kirk was sure that Spock cared about McCoy in his own way as much as he himself did.

Fortunately, the more immediate problem of the origin of the missile they had destroyed occupied Kirk for the rest of his shift. They had found that what seemed to be an asteroid was the point of origin for the missile -- an asteroid that was in reality a spaceship on a collision course with Daran V. Daran V was a populated world of three billion, seven hundred twenty-four million, according to Spock, and impact was in 396 days... thirteen months.

It hit Kirk all the harder to find Bones waiting in the Transporter Room when he and Spock arrived. Nothing he said could change the Doctor's mind; Christine was even there to see him off. How often did that happen? The next thing they knew, they were on what seemed to be a planet's surface. However, they could find no trace of life -- or at least none their tricorders could detect. McCoy was well aware that the tricorders could only pick up things they were designed to pick up. There was also the possibility of the material used in construction of the asteroid ship being something that their sensors couldn't read through.

In the next moment, they found themselves fighting with people who seemed to come out of nowhere. McCoy himself was distracted by an extraordinarily beautiful woman who called herself "Natira, the High Priestess of the People." It was long enough for one of her guards to take advantage of it and knock him out with the butt of his sword. His next memory was of Jim helping him up. He looked weakly up into the Captain's concerned face.

"Are you all right?"

"I think so," the Doctor assured his friend.

"Welcome to the world of Yonada," the beautiful woman dressed in green said, her voice holding a trace of an accent which would have been British back on Earth.

McCoy had a better view now that he was on his feet. The woman's eyebrows slanted upward almost as much as Spock's, but they were gently arched in the center and there was a downward curve at the ends. Her hair was chestnut brown, a long ponytail hanging down her back and large curls framing her oval face. Her outfit was made of some shiny green fabric, two triangular places on her slender body exposed, as was one creamy shoulder and arm. The other shoulder was covered, as was her left arm to her wrist. He didn't learn until later that yet more hair was wrapped around the long ponytail, and that the back of her dress was nonexistent except for narrow strips of fabric crisscrossing her back.

"I can't say I think much of your 'welcome'," Kirk retorted.

"Take them," she bit out. The Doctor noted that she moved toward the opening in one of the cylinders they had discovered upon arrival, having handed their confiscated equipment to two of her underlings. The seven of them made their way down a winding metal staircase; Natira came last.

She led the way down a hallway filled with attractive, simply dressed people. The women wore long, colorful dresses, each with one shoulder bare. The men wore colorful knee-length tunics with dark leggings and shoes. The group stopped in front of a set of double doors; Spock's eyebrow raised as she waved a hand in front of one set of strange symbols, then the other hand in front of another. The doors parted and the group entered what Natira referred to as the "Oracle Room."

"You will kneel," she ordered before kneeling on a low platform in the center of the room, holding some of their equipment in one outstretched hand. "Oh, Oracle of the People, most perfect and wise. Strangers have come to our world. They bring us instruments we do not understand."

McCoy stage-whispered to Kirk. "She called this 'the world.' These people don't know they're on a spaceship."

Kirk whispered back, "Well, they've been in flight ten thousand years. It's possible they don't realize it." At this point one of the guards shushed him.

Natira turned to face them after standing up. "Who are you?" Kirk introduced himself and his friends. "For what reason do you visit this world?"

"We come in friendship," the Captain said.

Suddenly a booming voice reverberated through the room. "Then learn what it means to be our enemy before you learn what it means to be our friend." Bolts of electricity struck the three Enterprise men; they collapsed to the floor unconscious.


Kirk awakened first, then Spock. "Are you all right?" the Captain asked his Vulcan friend as the latter approached him where he sat beside a still-unconscious McCoy.

"Yes, Captain."

"Bones," Kirk called. No response. He shook the Doctor and called again; finally he lightly slapped McCoy's face. "Bones!"

"The Doctor must have received an excessively large electrical shock," the Vulcan commented.

"No," Kirk contradicted.

"Nothing could have caused this, Captain... at least nothing that's happened here." Spock was bewildered. What could be wrong with the Doctor?

"It was serious because of McCoy's weakened condition."

"May I ask precisely what is troubling the Doctor?" The Vulcan noted the Captain's tightly controlled voice and allowed himself a moment of concern for the Chief Surgeon. He had wondered what was going on since the strange conversation between Jim and the Doctor in the Transporter Room. The Vulcan had remained silent, figuring there must be some logical reason for it -- and hopefully he would learn what that reason was.

"I don't think he'd have told you himself. It's xenopolycythemia."

Spock's face was touched by sadness. "Yes. I know of it, Captain."

"Then you know that nothing can be done." Both looked upon their unconscious friend, asking themselves why it had to be McCoy afflicted with such a disease, and hating their inability to help him. At that moment McCoy's eyelids fluttered, then opened. The first thing he saw was Kirk's face. "Bones?" the Captain asked.

"I'm all right," McCoy said. "Are you all right, Mr. Spock?" He looked up at the Vulcan.

"Yes, Doctor. The Captain and I have suffered no ill effects." McCoy sat up carefully, then stood up, wobbly once on his feet, then steadying himself... looking surprised when Spock reached to help him, a look of controlled concern on his sculptured face.

The Doctor looked at Kirk in bewilderment. "Spock knows," the Captain said by way of explanation, giving McCoy a concerned look. "Are you sure you should get up?"

"Don't worry; I can handle it, Jim." McCoy politely refused his friends' offered hands. "We'd better get to the Control Room." At this point an old man with long grey hair and care-worn face, topping a colorful knee-length tunic with black leggings and shoes, entered. "Gentlemen, I believe we have a visitor."

The old man bowed as the three from the Enterprise turned to face him. They each received a pill after he reached them. "Many of us have felt the power of our Oracle," he explained. "This has been of benefit."

The Doctor was the first to try it. "Tastes like an ancient herb derivative," he observed, not waiting to see whether his friends took it or not. All he knew was that he needed it.

"You... are not of Yonada," the old man said carefully, as if afraid of something.

"No," Kirk said. "We're from outside your world."

"Where is outside?" their visitor wondered.

"Outside. Up there, everywhere," Kirk told him.

"So they say, also." The old man winced as though in pain before continuing. "Many years ago, I climbed the mountains -- even though it is forbidden."

"Why is it forbidden?" the Captain asked.

"I'm not sure." The old man winced once again and put a hand to his temple. "But things are not as they teach us. For the world is hollow... and I have touched the sky!"

With that, both hands went to his temples and he cried out before collapsing. McCoy eased him to the floor, then checked for a pulse before looking up at his two companions. "He's dead."

Kirk looked down on the dead man lying at their feet. "'For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky!'" he repeated, voice low and respectful.

"He said it was forbidden to climb the mountains," Spock recalled.

"Yes, of course it is -- because if you did, you'd touch the sky and find you were inside a hollow ball. Not a planet, but a spaceship... and that knowledge seems to be forbidden."

Just then Natira entered with two female attendants bearing trays of food and drink, their eyes widening at the sight of the body on the floor -- but it was Natira who spoke. "What has happened?"

"We don't know," Kirk said. "He was talking to us, then screamed in pain and collapsed."

Natira knelt beside the body and bowed her head. "Forgive him, for he was an old man, and old men are sometimes foolish." McCoy had a fleeting thought that men didn't have to be old to be foolish (women either, for that matter) before the priestess rose. "But it is written that those of the People who sin or speak evil shall be punished." Her face became sad as she summoned two guards, who arrived seconds later. She gestured toward the body. "Take him away -- gently." To the three Enterprise men she said, "He served well for many years." As the other two women offered them food and drink, she said, "It is now time to refresh yourselves."

Kirk took some, but Spock declined. McCoy declined food but took a drink. Natira gestured to a nearby table; the women placed the trays there and waited. "It is the will of the Oracle that you now be treated as honored guests." She ostensibly addressed all three, but her gaze lingered on McCoy before she turned and rejoined her attendants, speaking softly with them.

McCoy seated himself again as Kirk and Spock positioned themselves in front of him. "You seem to be the special favorite," Kirk observed with a smile.

"Indeed, Doctor," the Vulcan concurred. "The lady did show a marked preference for your company."

McCoy smiled. "Well, nobody can blame her for that, can they?"

Kirk looked at the three women, then back to McCoy. "Personally I find the lady's taste questionable, but she obviously prefers you, and you don't seem to mind."

The Doctor couldn't help thinking, What man worthy of the name would mind? though he didn't voice his opinion. After all, it wasn't every day that a woman gravitated to him instead of Jim or Spock -- and he was determined to enjoy every minute of it. Not to mention the surprise and jealousy he had detected in Jim's voice.

"In which case, you may keep the lady occupied while Spock and I are left alone to find the power controls for this... world."

Natira dismissed the other women and returned to the three men, standing in front of McCoy, noting how strangely he was acting. "You do not seem well. It distresses me."

"Oh no, I'm quite all right, thank you," he assured her.

"We are most interested in your world," Spock said.

Natira smiled. "That pleases us."

Kirk returned it. "Then you won't mind if we look around."

"Not at all," the priestess replied. "The People know of you now." She smiled again. "You are free to go about and meet our people."

Kirk smiled again. "Thank you -- and thanks for taking care of Dr. McCoy."

"Not at all," she replied absently, her eyes on the Doctor. "Are you strong enough to move about?" she asked when he quietly coughed.

He looked up at her and smiled, finding it difficult not to lose himself in the bottomless depths of her eyes. "Perhaps not."

"Then remain here. Rest. We will talk." She smiled down at him.

"You are very kind." The couple hardly noticed when Kirk and Spock departed.

The other women departed when Natira jerked her head toward the door. "Leave us."

McCoy turned toward her when she joined him on the couch. "I'm curious. Why did the Oracle punish the old man?"

Her head bowed. "I... cannot tell you now."

"There's some way by which the Oracle knows what you say," McCoy observed.

Natira nodded. "What we say, what we think. The Oracle knows the minds and hearts of all the People."

The Doctor bowed his head, as if too weak to hold it up any longer. Natira touched his nearest hand. "I did not know you would be hurt so badly."

"It's all right. We had to learn the power of the Oracle."

Her reply held a strange urgency, even longing. "McCoy, there is something I must say. Since the moment I--" Words failed her when their eyes met. "It is not the custom of the People to hide our feelings."

McCoy was certain he had never seen a more beautiful, desirable woman anywhere in the galaxy... and she wanted him. Even so, he had to take things slow and easy, in spite of the difficulty that presented with her nearness and intoxicating perfume. But he only said, "Honesty is usually wise," his head rising so their eyes met again.

Her heart seemed written all over her face. "Is there a woman for you?"

He was startled at her blunt question, but at the same time admired her courage in asking it. She was obviously one who believed in going after whatever -- and whoever -- she wanted, and devil take the hindmost

"No," he told her. "There's no one."

She smiled happily. "Does McCoy find me attractive?"

He returned her smile. "Yes, I do. Very much."

She took his hands in hers. "I hope you men of space, of other worlds, hold truth as dear as we do."

"We do."

As he squeezed her hands, he no longer wanted to play the gentleman. He didn't have time to be timid. After all, he only had a year to live; Natira and her love could make it a happy one. He would miss his friends, but was sure they would understand. He had had precious little happiness in his life, and wasn't about to turn down the only chance he had left for it. Even the thought of dying seemed more palatable if she was with him, even though he hardly knew her or anything about her. She was so beautiful, so tempting...

Her voice brought him back to reality. "McCoy, I wish for you to remain here on Yonada -- as my mate." Her eyes and face were radiant with love.


McCoy felt as though he'd been hit with the proverbial ton of bricks. He was of the old school, where men did the proposing of marriage. It wasn't every day a woman proposed to him. Sure, he found her attractive, but one didn't marry everyone they found attractive.

"But we're strangers to each other," he pointed out.

Once again, she turned on her delicious smile. "But is that not the nature of men and women -- that the pleasure is in the learning of each other?"

She sounded so logical, like Spock, that he found himself agreeing. "Yes. Yes, it is."

"Then let the thought rest in your heart, McCoy." She reached a hand to stroke his cheek. "In the fullness of time, the People will reach a new world -- rich, green, lovely to the eye. So much so that it will fill their hearts with tears of joy. You can share that world with me... rule it by my side."

"When will you reach this new world?"

"Soon. The Oracle will only say 'soon'."

"If you only knew how much I need some kind of future, Natira," McCoy found himself confessing, her open and unashamed love for him inspiring the beginning of the same inside of him and warming his lonely heart for the first time in years.

"Have you lived a lonely life?" Her eyes darkened with concern.

"Yes. Very lonely."

"No more, McCoy. There will be no more loneliness for you. I will see to that."

He knew he had to tell her of his illness, that their love could not last. He owed her that much for opening her heart to him. "Natira, there is something I must tell you."

She put a finger to his lips. "There is nothing you need to say."

"But there is," he insisted.

"Then tell me, if the telling is such a need."

"I have an illness for which there is no cure. I have one year to live."

Her eyes widened in shock and pain, but the love remained. "Until I saw you, there was nothing in my heart. It sustained my life, but nothing more. Now it sings." She smiled. "I could be happy to have that feeling for a day... a week... a month..." Her voice lowered. "A year. Or whatever the Creators hold in store for us."

She held out her arms to him; he followed suit, drawing her warm sweetness close to him and finding her lips with his.

* * *

Kirk and Spock received curious looks as they walked down a corridor in the asteroid ship; some people even followed them for a time.

"These people have no idea they're living on a spaceship," Spock observed. "Most curious."

"I wonder how many generations have lived and been buried here without ever knowing that their world is hollow," the Captain replied as they turned down the corridor toward the Oracle Room.

The Vulcan studied the strange symbols in the walls once they arrived. "The writing is Fabrini, Captain. I recognize it."

"Fabrini? Didn't their sun go nova and destroy its planets?"

"Indeed, Captain. Toward the end, the Fabrini lived underground, as these people do, to protect themselves."

"Then that means that some were put aboard this ship and sent to another planet." Kirk looked around at the nearly empty corridor. "And these are their descendants."

After making sure they were alone, Spock opened the door and the two slipped inside the Oracle Room. They were surprised but pleased when nothing happened to them. "The Oracle doesn't seem to know we're here," Kirk remarked. "I wonder what alerted it the first time."

The Vulcan stopped Kirk before he stepped onto the low platform in the center of the large but mostly empty room. "I believe its reprehensible conduct was initiated when Natira knelt on that platform."

The two moved away from the platform, scanning the rest of the room. More strange symbols lined the walls; an altarlike structure with a sunlike symbol in its center was at the far end. A monolith with a crude carving of a sun and its solar system on its top third was at the left side of the room near the door. Spock noted how many planets there were, his upswept brows rising when he digested this information, though he said nothing for the moment.

"Look further, Spock. A clue to the location of the Control Room must be here somewhere."

"Even so, there is nothing to suggest that this is anything but a planet... nor is there any question that the 'Creators' are considered gods."

Kirk discovered the monolith at this point; the Vulcan was one step behind. "Eight planets," the latter said. "That was the number in the Fabrina solar system."

"Then there is no doubt that these people are descendants of the Fabrini," Kirk observed.

"None," Spock confirmed. "Just as there is no doubt that they have been in flight on this asteroid ship for ten thousand years." As Spock finished speaking, the door opened and Natira entered. They ducked behind the monolith as she crossed to the low platform and knelt upon it again. The Oracle's booming voice reverberated through the room and the sun-symbol glowed.

"Speak," the voice said.

"It is I, Natira."

"Yes, Natira."

"It is written that only the High Priestess may select her mate."

"It is so written," came the agreement.

"The strangers among us -- the three visitors -- there is one called McCoy. I want him to remain here... as my mate."

Kirk and Spock looked at each other; the Captain whistled under his breath and the Vulcan raised an eyebrow. Bones had certainly lost no time!

"Does he agree to this?" the Oracle asked.

"I have asked him," Natira said. "He has not yet given me his answer."

"He must become one of the People; worship the Creators and agree to the insertion of the Instrument of Obedience."

"He will be told what must be done."

"If he agrees to all things, it is permitted. Teach him our laws carefully, see that he commits no sacrilege -- no offense against the People."

"I shall do so, most wise." Natira bowed her head, then got up, stepping off the platform and heading for the door. When she swung her arms to open it, all hell broke loose. Natira whirled to find Kirk and Spock enveloped in a white glow, unable to move.

"Who are the intruders?" the Oracle demanded.

"Two of the strangers, Kirk and Spock," Natira said.

"McCoy is not with them?"


"Kirk and Spock have committed sacrilege. You know what must be done."

Guards rushed into the room. Natira gestured toward the monolith and its captives, her beautiful face a mask of anger. "When the Oracle releases them, take them," she said. "Fools," she addressed the two prisoners. "Do you think we are children, that you can do as you please, commit any offense that amuses you?"

* * *

Natira was standing before a makeshift altar in her quarters when McCoy entered. "What are you going to do to my friends?" he demanded.

"They entered the Oracle Room." She kept her head bowed and back to him.

"And the penalty is death."

"Yes," she admitted. "We gave them our trust; they betrayed us. I can make no other decision."

"They acted out of ignorance, Natira."

"They said they came in friendship," she retorted.

"Let them return to the ship," McCoy entreated.

She shook her head. "I cannot."

"Not even for me?" He turned her around and held her at arm's length. "I've made my decision. I'm staying here on Yonada." She rushed into his arms and held him tightly. Her hair was soft and fragrant against his cheek. A moment later, he moved her away so she faced him. "Natira, what they did, they did because they felt they had to. How do you think I'd feel if I stayed here with the chance to be happy for the first time in my life, knowing my friends had died? Let them return to the ship. You won't regret it."

Love shone from her eyes as they looked up into his. "Very well, McCoy. You have won their lives. I will spare them -- for the sake of our happiness and future." As the two came together in a lingering kiss, it was at that moment that McCoy knew he had made the right decision.


Kirk and Spock were waiting outside at the beamup site when McCoy joined them. He handed over their communicators and weapons; Spock gave the Doctor a strange look when he didn't take his place with them.

"Aren't you coming with us?" Kirk was shocked.

"No." McCoy's tone was quiet but firm.

"Bones, this isn't a planet, it's a spaceship on a collision course with Daran V!"

The Doctor didn't change expression. "I'm on something of a collision course myself, Jim."

Kirk's face hardened. "Doctor, I order you to return with us!"

"And I refuse," McCoy replied evenly. "Natira has asked me to stay, and I'm staying."

"As her husband?" Kirk prompted.

"Yes," was the reply. "I've only one year to live, Jim. Are you going to begrudge me my last chance for happiness?"

The Doctor's eyes pleaded with his friend not to deny him, and of course the Captain couldn't. Even so, Bones' staying here meant losing him -- in more ways than one -- and Kirk didn't think he could live with that.

"Is that so much to ask, that I spend the last year of my life happy?"

"No, of course not," Kirk reluctantly admitted. "Does she know about your illness?"

McCoy nodded. "She does."

"Bones, if we can't correct the course of this... ship, we'll have to blast it out of space."

McCoy's face hardened. "I intend to stay on this ship with these people -- whatever happens."

"Your decision is illogical, Doctor," Spock said.

"Is it, Spock? Is it, really?" The Vulcan kept his body straight and stiff, hands in tight fists behind his back and eyes staring straight ahead as he swallowed hard, unable to answer. Before anyone could say another word, Kirk's communicator beeped. He flipped it open.

"Kirk to Enterprise."

"Scott here," came the voice of the Chief Engineer.

"Lock in on us, Scotty. Transport Mr. Spock and myself at once."

Scott was bewildered. "But sir, what about Dr. McCoy?"

Kirk literally forced out his next words. He had never done or said anything so difficult in his life. "He's staying, Scotty. Kirk out." His pain was eased by the look of gratitude on McCoy's face -- but how could he possibly leave him, even if it was what Bones wanted? A painful lump the size of Iowa formed in Kirk's throat and tears burned his eyelids even as he and Spock began to dematerialize. The Captain had a terrible feeling that if he did as McCoy asked, that he would never see him again... at least not alive.

Only Spock saw the pain in the Captain's eyes when they re-materialized in the Enterprise's Transporter Room. The Vulcan's voice was infinitely gentle as he attempted to comfort his Human friend. "I can understand how you must feel, Jim, but it is what the Doctor wants. We must honor his wishes."

The two were quiet under Scott's scrutiny, but once outside the door, Kirk's voice was filled with anguish. Spock was thankful that the corridor was deserted. "How can I possibly leave him behind, Spock? If I do, I feel sure that I'll never see him alive again, no matter what happens with Yonada." There was nothing Spock could reply to this, so he simply laid a comforting hand on his Human friend's shoulder. "What am I going to say to Christine?" Kirk lamented. "How can I make her understand what's happened -- or why?"

Spock heard the pain behind Kirk's statement and decided that it would be best if he told Christine about McCoy. He felt uncomfortable around her because of her feelings for him, but he could deal with it now... at least as long as he wasn't around her any more than necessary. Particularly considering the feelings her confession and actions over Psi 2000 had brought out in him...

"Jim, I believe that I would be better suited to explain the situation to Christine. You had best return to the Bridge."

Kirk's hazel eyes held both gratitude and concern. "I appreciate the gesture, Spock, but are you sure you can handle it? After all, you know how she feels about you -- and then to tell her about Bones on top of that..." The Captain's voice trailed off.

"I will be all right, Captain. Please go now."

"If you say so. Come see me when you're done, wherever I am."

Spock nodded, and Kirk walked on ahead to a 'lift which would take him back to the Bridge. Spock turned and headed in the opposite direction, to one which would take him to Sickbay and Christine. He wasn't looking forward to it, particularly the possibility of her becoming emotional and crying or something --but what mattered was that he was making Jim's job easier. That was only logical.

* * *

At this point, McCoy and Natira were in the Oracle Room on Yonada preparing for their marriage. With a part of him, the Doctor wished that Jim, Spock, and Christine could have been with him to share his happiness at this new marriage. It hurt to think that he would never see them again. How could he be truly happy without them, even with the love of a wonderful woman like Natira? Unfortunately, McCoy had a sneaking suspicion that he was going to have to learn -- and learn fast. The Oracle's booming voice brought him back to reality.

"To become one of the People of Yonada, the Instrument of Obedience must be made part of your flesh. Do you now give your consent?"

"I do," McCoy said.

"Proceed." Natira stepped up to him, a small device in her left hand and her eyes meeting his with pure love.

"Be certain, McCoy," she advised. "Once it is done, it cannot be undone."

"Let it be done."

She placed her hands on his temples, pressing gently to activate the device. "You are now one with my people," she said happily.

He took her hand and they knelt together. "May I give you the love you want, and make the time you have beautiful." Her smile was tender.

"We are now of one mind, one heart, one life." She moved into his arms and they kissed.

"Teach him what he must know as one of the People," the Oracle said. She led McCoy to the monolith, pressing the lower three planets on the carving. The top third slid up to reveal a large, thick hardcover book.

"This is the Book of the People, to be opened and read when we reach the new world of the Promise. It was given by the Creators."

"Do the People know the contents of their book?" McCoy wondered.

"Only that it tells of our world here, and why must leave it one day for the new world."

McCoy couldn't understand that. If the People considered this ship their world, why would there be a need to leave it -- and why hadn't someone figured that the so-called world was really a spaceship long before the old man had? How could he have been the only one? Or had the Oracle killed off any non-believers before their skepticism could spread? A frightening thought... Of course, it would do no good to mention this, so he put it out of his mind before the Oracle punished him as well.

"Has the reason the People must leave here been revealed to you?"

Natira shook her head. "No, it has not."

"Don't you long to know its secrets?"

She frowned at him. "No. It is enough for me to know that we shall understand all when we reach our home." Natira's beautiful face hardened, as if telling McCoy not to bother asking any further questions. No matter how much she loved him, there was only so much he was entitled to know.

* * *

Christine was in the midst of entering medical data in the computer when Spock came in. "Christine?" he called softly.

Her head lifted; she looked surprised at the sight of him -- then her expression changed to one of mixed grief and fear. "Spock, what are you doing here? Where's Dr. McCoy?"

"Christine..." This was going to be more difficult than he had anticipated, Spock could sense it -- but he had to see it through for the sake of everyone concerned.

"Has something happened to him? Is he... dead already?" Her eyes filled with tears as she got up and walked to a nearby table, standing there with her head bowed.

Spock gently touched her shoulder, sensing her grief and worry for McCoy as well as an underlying concern for himself, how he must be taking this.

"Christine, the Doctor is not dead. He has merely elected to remain on Yonada. The High Priestess there wishes him to become her husband, and it is logical to assume that he has done so by now. He wishes to make the last year of his life a happy one, so we must honor that wish, however difficult it may be for us."

Christine swallowed her tears. "In that case, I suppose I should be happy for him -- but still..." Her voice trailed off, mournful blue eyes seeking answers in the Vulcan's gentle brown ones.

"What do you wish?" Spock's voice was as gentle as it had been when he'd spoken to Kirk.

"I wish we could have been there for his wedding. You and I and the Captain, his closest friends."

Spock was silent, wishing the same thing even though he knew wishing was counterproductive and illogical. Despite their disagreements, the Vulcan had cared for the crusty Chief Surgeon, and was sure that McCoy had cared about him, too... as much as Jim did, albeit in a different way. The prospect of never seeing McCoy again was almost as painful to Spock as it was to the Captain.

"As do I, Christine -- but if his desire is to be left behind to begin a new life, we must respect his decision and move on." The nurse's head lowered again and her eyes closed in pain. Spock allowed himself a moment of empathy for her. You could replace a colleague or superior but not a close friend. "Christine, are you all right?"

She looked up into the Science Officer's concerned face. "Oh yes, Spock, I'm all right. I just wish I'd had the chance to say goodbye to him... wish him happiness. It's going to be hard enough getting along without him as it is -- and then not to see or know what his new wife is like..." Her voice was quiet and sad.

"I -- believe she loves him, Christine, and will... make him happy. I -- sensed deep love for him from her."

Christine smiled slightly. "Is she beautiful?"

"By Human standards, yes."

"Is that what you think, too?" The Vulcan was uncertain how to respond... or if he should say anything at all. It wasn't often he was asked such a question. Christine became contrite. "I'm sorry, Spock. I forgot myself. You don't have to answer that -- but if you happen to see Dr. McCoy again, or speak with him..." Her voice trailed off again.

"You want me to give him your good wishes," Spock finished. Christine looked startled for a moment, then nodded and smiled. "That is unlikely, given our present situation -- as well as Starfleet Command's likely reaction to the matter of Yonada... but I will convey your congratulations and such to him if at all possible."

"Thank you, Spock -- and thank you for coming to tell me about Dr. McCoy in person. I know how difficult it must have been for you, dealing with such strong emotion."

"The cause was more than sufficient, Christine." He gave her a half-smile. "In addition, it was the least I could do for the Doctor... and you."

This was meant to convey the Vulcan's appreciation of Christine's feelings for both himself and McCoy. Spock hoped she was perceptive enough to understand that without further elaboration. The smile she gave him showed that she was. He allowed himself a moment of relief before turning toward the door. "I must return to the Bridge now."

The chief nurse smiled and nodded before turning back to her work, thinking over what Spock had told her about Leonard and his decision to remain on Yonada, spend the remaining year of his life as the husband of its High Priestess. It hurt to think that she would never see him again, but at least he would be happy, with a wife who loved him and would appreciate him for the very special person he was. Because of that fact, she would -- must -- be happy for him.


James Kirk loved being in command of his own ship, but there were some things he found difficult to deal with, such as finding a replacement for McCoy. The impending death of such an important crewman as the CMO was hard, particularly when the CMO was also a close friend. Kirk was sure there were many doctors of Bones' caliber (or nearly so) in Starfleet who would jump at the chance to serve on the Enterprise. That wasn't the problem. The problem was figuring a way to explain what had happened to Bones to Starfleet Command.

Not to mention the fact that he couldn't leave Bones behind on Yonada, whatever the reason. Not when doing so would mean never seeing him again. Of course, that wasn't the only thing he had to worry about. The fact that he and Spock had been unable to correct Yonada's course was another headache. The last thing he wanted to do was blast Yonada out of space, especially if McCoy was aboard... but unless he could find a way to divert the asteroid ship -- at this point, a feat akin to a magician pulling the proverbial rabbit out of his hat -- he would be forced to destroy it and all aboard in order to save Daran V. As much as he hated the idea, it was better than both populations being wiped out.

The voice of Admiral Westervliet, Chief of Operations, brought Kirk back to reality. "...Captain Kirk!" The Admiral sounded annoyed, as though he had repeated himself several times. Why hadn't Spock said anything -- or called him mentally instead of letting him sit with his thoughts twenty thousand kilometers away?

"Admiral? Oh yes, I'm here. Sorry, sir. I've been -- preoccupied."

"Indeed?" Westervliet's voice was tightly controlled. "Preoccupied with what, may I ask?"

"My CMO's illness, as well as the fact that we were unable to change the collision course of Yonada with Daran V."

"Ah, yes." The Chief of Operations frowned thoughtfully. "I understand that Dr. McCoy has a terminal illness which will kill him within a year."

"Yes, sir." Kirk's heart ached as a painful lump formed in his throat and he fought back tears. Spock placed a comforting hand on his Human friend's shoulder. Kirk looked up at the Vulcan with a grateful smile before turning back to face his desk viewscreen.

"Unfortunate, Captain, but I'm afraid you must continue your mission at once. Medical Headquarters will supply you with a list of available physicians and their biographies. It shouldn't be difficult to find a replacement for Dr. McCoy among them."

Technically the Captain agreed, but where could he find another Chief Surgeon he could also be close friends with? Even if he did, he could never replace Bones. No one could, really -- not in that sense. "That's the problem, sir," Kirk said.

Westervliet's face hardened. "Perhaps I failed to make myself clear. Let me restate it. You have been relieved of all responsibility for the asteroid ship Yonada. Starfleet Command will take care of the situation. I sympathize with your wish to stay, but hope you realize that you must get on with your mission regardless of your personal feelings in the matter."

Kirk's heart dropped as his stomach turned over. This couldn't be happening. He was being ordered to leave Bones behind! "But, sir, I can't--" Maybe there was no more professional responsibility, but Kirk felt a great personal responsibility. Bones was his friend, for God's sake... a friend who was dying!

"This isn't a request, Captain." Westervliet's voice was cold. "If you value your command, I suggest you listen to me."

The Captain went pale, but nodded. "Very well, sir." The viewscreen went dark; Kirk again looked up at his First Officer, searching for the answer to his dilemma in the sculptured Vulcan features -- but Spock merely said:

"I believe it is time to move on."

"Yes. Those are the orders." Just then the intercom squealed; Kirk opened it.

"Bridge to Captain!" Uhura sounded excited.

"Kirk here. What is it, Uhura?"

"An urgent call from Dr. McCoy, sir."

"Put him on."

"Jim!" McCoy called.

"Yes, Bones?"

"We may be able to get these people back on course!" The Doctor sounded pleased and excited.

"You found the controls?"

"No, but I've seen the book which contains all the ancient knowledge. If you can get to it, Spock could -- take out the information..." McCoy winced, his voice trailing off.

"Bones?" Kirk's voice was laced with concern.

"I'm all right, Jim." McCoy tried to reassure his friend even as the warning pain of the Oracle seemed to intensify with every passing second. Was his illness magnifying it or was the Instrument of Obedience magnifying the illness? Kirk wasn't convinced but there was no time to argue.

"Where is it?" At this point a scream burst from the intercom. "Bones, what's happening? McCoy, come in!"

Silence. A wave of grief overwhelmed Kirk; he was sure he knew what had happened. The Oracle had killed his friend to prevent his disclosing the forbidden information. Kirk called the Transporter Room, his mind working swiftly. "Transporter Room, stand by to transport Mr. Spock and myself. Lock onto McCoy's communicator signal and beam us to those coordinates upon our arrival."

He and Spock exchanged glances and departed, not speaking until they had rematerialized on Yonada in Natira's quarters. A tearful, angry woman met them; her hands became fists, raising up as if to strike Kirk on the chest. "You have killed your friend! I will have you put to death!"

"Spock, is McCoy dead?" Kirk held the near-hysterical woman at arm's length.

The Vulcan ran his tricorder over the Doctor's body. "No, Captain -- but he is in intense pain. I believe the Instrument of Obedience has aggravated his illness."

"Spock, help McCoy. I'll deal with Natira." The distraught woman struggled in Kirk's grip.

"Until you are dead, my beloved will think of you and disobey. For that, I will gladly see you die!"

Kirk clamped his hands on Natira's arms and pulled her aside as Spock removed a tiny electronic device from a small compartment in his tricorder, then bent over McCoy and pressed the device to the Doctor's temple. He pulled the device clear, gently removing the Instrument of Obedience...then reached for the Doctor's communicator and put it on his own belt. He reached for his tricorder before bringing the Doctor's hand to rest on his chest, holding it for a time. Natira closed her eyes in pain.

"He is no longer part of our people. You have released him from his vow of obedience." Her voice was husky with tears.

"We've released him from the cruelty of your Oracle." Kirk's voice was hard.

At this point McCoy moaned. Kirk released Natira; she rushed to her husband's side and cradled his head in her arms. The Captain knelt down on the opposite side of his friend's prone form. "Bones... you said something about a book. Where is it?"

Natira's head lifted, eyes wide with horror. "They must not know!"

McCoy's head lifted weakly, voice a hoarse croak. "The... Oracle Room..."

The priestess leaped to her feet, furious. "You will never see the Book! It is sacrilege!" She ran for the door; Kirk jumped up and followed her. "Guards! Guards!" He caught her and clamped a hand over her mouth, pulling her into the nearby alcove and shaking her, not stopping until she quieted down.

"Give me one moment to speak to you. One moment!" He slowly released her; she remained standing in front of him. "Natira, if you don't believe what I'm about to tell you, you can call the guards. We'll accept any punishment you decree."

Her eyes were hard and cold. "What do you wish to say?"

"You must believe that what I'm about to tell you is the truth."

"The truth of your world!" she shot back.

"Yes...my world, and your world of Yonada," the Captain replied evenly.

Natira's eyes flashed fire. "You do not obey the laws of the Creators! How can you understand my world?"

"I understand, Natira," he assured her. "Believe me, I understand. Ten thousand years ago a sun was dying, and with it, its worlds. They are what you see on the plaque in the room of the Oracle."

"That is the system of which Yonada is a part," she declared.

"No. It is the world of your ancestors -- your creators." Kirk paused for breath. "It no longer exists."

Her eyes stabbed through him like daggers. "You are mad!"

"No, I'm not," he insisted. "Hear me out! When your ancestors realized that their world was dying, they built a great ship -- chose their best people. They wished for their race to survive... then sent this ship out into space."

Natira frowned. "You wish me to believe that Yonada is a ship?"


"But we have a sun! It did not die... and at night I see the stars!"

Kirk shook his head. "No. You're living inside a hollow ball. Your ancestors created it -- to take you on a journey to a promised new planet."

"Why should... the truth... wait for you to come to Yonada?" Her face twisted with pain as one hand pressed on her temple.

"Because a flaw developed in the controls. If it isn't corrected, Yonada will strike and kill another world it doesn't even know!"

"Why was this kept from us? Why would the Creators keep us in darkness? No, you do not speak the truth. I believe only the Oracle. I believe!" she called out even as pain once again contorted her face.

"Let us remove the Instrument of Obedience the way we did for McCoy." Kirk's voice was soft, almost pleading. "Please, Natira."

Instead she shook her head and twisted away from him with a look of pain, fleeing out the door. Spock got up from McCoy's side and followed Kirk to the door. "Do you think she understood me?"

The Vulcan moved to the door and opened it, nodding to a man and two women passing by before closing it again. "She must have understood something. There are no guards to detain us." A few feet away, McCoy heard the conversation and tried to get up but couldn't, instead falling back onto the thick carpet where he had been lying. It was fifteen minutes before the Doctor recovered. Kirk and Spock were beside him when he awoke. "Jim..." he whispered.

"Bones?" The Captain's voice was thick with emotion, holding one of the Doctor's hands in both of his.

"Natira... where is she?"

"I'm not sure. Probably the Oracle Room."

"Get me the cortropine from my medikit. I must go to her."

The Vulcan stopped McCoy even as his hand moved toward his hip. "Lie quietly, Doctor. I will administer the injection."

The medikit had fallen off when McCoy collapsed; Spock had placed on his own belt for safekeeping, near the Doctor's communicator. Keeping a hand on McCoy's shoulder, he reached for the medikit with the other. In seconds he located the hypo containing the yellow-green solution and pressed it against McCoy's arm. The Doctor was helped to his feet within five minutes by his two friends, even over his protests. Kirk tried to sound stern.

"Just accept it, Bones. You're outvoted and outnumbered."

McCoy sighed but shrugged and said nothing, turning on his heel and heading for the door, leading the way toward the Oracle Room and his wife.


Upon their arrival at the Oracle Room, they opened the doors and McCoy's friends held him back when they saw Natira kneeling on the raised platform. The Oracle's booming voice spoke like a parent scolding a disobedient child.

"You have listened to the words of the nonbelievers."

"Yes, I have listened."

"That was the first transgression. You felt the pain of warning?"

"Yes, I did."

"Why did you listen further?"

"They said they spoke the truth."

"Their truth," the Oracle retorted.

"Is truth not truth for all?" Natira protested.

"The truth of Yonada is your truth. There can be no other for you. Repent your disobedience."

"I must know the truth of the world!" she cried as she collapsed, holding her temples as pain shot through her. McCoy rushed to his wife's side and gathered her limp body into his arms. Her head rested on his chest, one of his hands cradling her neck. Her eyes opened a short time later and she smiled up at him. "Your friends have told me of your world."

"They spoke the truth."

"I believe you. I believe... The Creators kept us in darkness. There is nothing I can do. I believe with you, my husband..."

Pain twisted her features again as she pressed a hand to her temple. McCoy reached for the device resting in Spock's outstretched hand, pressing it to Natira's temple. He lifted it and showed it to her; she turned pale and lapsed into unconsciousness again.

McCoy came back to reality at the sound of Kirk's voice. "Is she all right?" The Captain's voice was laced with concern.

"She will be. I'll stay with her. The book is in the monolith."

But even as the two Enterprise men turned in that direction, the Oracle spoke, anger in every syllable. "It is blasphemy to the temple!"

"We do this for the survival of the people of Yonada," Kirk said.

"You are unbelievers. You are forbidden to gaze at the Book!"

"But we must consult it in order to help you!" the Captain insisted.

"It is blasphemy! The punishment is death!"

By this time they reached the monolith. "McCoy, how do you open this thing?" Kirk called.

The Doctor lifted his head after kissing Natira's damp brow. "Depress the three lower planets on the left side simultaneously."

The top of the monolith slid back; Kirk removed the book and handed it to Spock even as the walls turned red with heat. The temperature rose forty degrees in thirty seconds; the hot air scorched the lungs of all present. Spock opened the book and began to leaf through it.

"Hurry, Spock," the Captain urged. "It's getting hotter by the minute."

The Vulcan refused to be rushed, leisurely turning the pages of the ancient book. "Is it indexed, Spock?" Kirk asked as he wiped sweat from his forehead.

"Yes," was the reply. "And it refers to the altar. Press on the center until it opens." The two moved to the sunlike drawing; Kirk pressed on the center and the entire altar moved forward to reveal a short passageway. Spock climbed through into a small room filled with electronic equipment. Two glowing buttons caught his eye; he pressed them. They went out and the temperature dropped. "I have neutralized the heating element," he called to the others.

"We might as well stay here now." McCoy positioned Natira in his lap. She awakened moments later and smiled up at him. He returned her smile. "You'll be all right now," he told her. "The Oracle can no longer punish."

"Your... friends have prevented it?" He nodded. "And will they send this... ship on to where the Creators intended?"

"Yes. There is no more to fear. Come now; we must say goodbye to them."


Natira's eyes widened. "You mean you are staying here with me?"

"Of course. You're my wife. I can't leave you."

"But you are dying, McCoy. You must not stay here to die. You must find a cure for the disease that afflicts you. I could not bear to watch you die."

"Don't you have research facilities here?"

"Yes, but--"

He cut her off. "No buts. I've never been anything but an old country doctor, anyway."

"But you have surely been with your friends a long time. You will miss them terribly, as they will miss you." Natira frowned with concern.

McCoy's eyes clouded over at this. "You're right, but I could never be completely happy without you. After having known your love, the last thing I want to do is give it up -- even for them. I love them, but they cannot give me what you can."

At that moment Kirk called to them. "Bones, Natira, we're getting ready to leave." The pair came back to life, rejoining their friends in the outer hall. The Captain's eyes met those of the Doctor as the latter stood before him, one arm around Natira.

"Bones, we're leaving a transmitter here so you can contact the outside world if necessary. It's not as fancy as what's on board ship, but it's something."

"I appreciate the gesture, Jim."

Kirk winced with pain, but forced himself to be cheerful. "What do you want your code to be?"

"My initials should suffice -- LHM one-two-zero, subspace frequency three. How would that be?"

The Captain nodded stiffly, hardly able to breathe because of the agony inside of him, as though he was having a heart attack. If only it was something that mundane, Kirk lamented. I could stand it. But never to see Bones again... "Anything else?"

"Yes -- but I can't say it out loud. Come here." The Doctor released Natira and moved to meet Kirk, whispering in his ear. Spock raised both brows in surprise. Despite his pain, the Captain managed a smile and nodded. "I think that could be arranged. It could be beamed down with the transmitter."

"Spock." McCoy turned to the Vulcan. "Could you do something for me?"

"That depends on what it is."

"Tell Christine goodbye for me."

The Vulcan stiffened at the mention of the nurse's name.

"Sorry. I shouldn't have asked. I just thought it might be better, coming from you."

"What did you have in mind?" Spock inquired warily.

"Well, for one thing -- thanking her for caring about me."

The Vulcan allowed himself a thoughtful frown. "I suppose I could do that. Anything else?"

"Well, yes, but I don't think you'd go for it." The Doctor sounded dubious.

"What did you want me to do?"

McCoy shook his head. "Nah, forget it. I'll ask Jim."

The reply was as cold and hard as steel. "What... did... you... want... me... to... do?"

McCoy froze in his tracks. When Spock spoke like that, everyone listened -- even him. "Just a -- hug and kiss on the cheek, that's all."

The Vulcan allowed himself a moment of exasperation. "Then why did you not say so?"

"As I said, you don't usually go for such things."

"It is all right, Doctor. I will do it. You cannot do it yourself because you will not see Christine again. It is only logical that I deliver your message instead."

"Even if it involves touching and kissing?"

"Brief contact will do no harm, as long as it is a 'favor' for... a friend." The Doctor's eyes widened in surprise and happiness.

"Thank you, Spock; I appreciate it."

The Vulcan nodded, closing his eyes for a second, then opening them again. "It is my duty."

"By the way, did you fix Yonada's course so it won't collide with Daran Five?"

Spock nodded again. "Yes, Doctor. There was a weakness in one of the eight engines. It has since been corrected."

"Then I suppose all that needs to be done is beam my things over, along with the transmitter -- then you and Jim had best get on with the mission before Fleet Command reads you the riot act again."

Kirk had been busy making arrangements all the while the Doctor and Spock were talking. He had had the subspace transmitter, a holo of the three friends McCoy had requested ... as well as the latter's mementos and personal effects, including civilian clothing, in the course of McCoy's conversation with Spock. He would no longer need uniforms or anything pertaining to the Enterprise or Starfleet, though he would likely keep one as a souvenir. Kirk had also seen to it that Uhura included a hard copy of the instruction manual for the transmitter, which would be set up in McCoy and Natira's private quarters -- probably in the "living room."

The rest had been beamed into the master bedroom... with Natira's permission, of course. She was reluctant at first, but soon gave in. There was little she could, or would, deny McCoy now. Even if she was going to lose him in the end, what mattered was that she would be with him and see to it that every moment in the last year of his life was happy. Perhaps she would even become pregnant, even if he never saw their child. At least it would be something more to live for after he was gone.


The Captain's voice brought her back to reality. "Well, I guess that's everything. I had the transmitter beamed over with an instruction manual. Your personal effects were beamed into the master bedroom. You and Natira can take over from here." Kirk's voice almost broke; McCoy looked upon his long-time friend, seeing tears in the hazel eyes -- tears held back by a supreme effort of will. The Doctor's own eyes filled as he moved toward Kirk; the next moment found them in each other's arms. "I wish you and Natira every happiness, Bones. God bless you both."

"Thank you, Jim. Take care of yourself now. Spock too," he whispered. Louder, he said, "Have you decided on my replacement yet?"

Kirk shook his head. "I've had too much else on my mind." McCoy nodded, too overcome with emotion to speak for a few moments.

"I think M'Benga will do for a temporary CMO until you make a choice." McCoy fought to keep his voice steady.

"I'll keep him in mind," Kirk promised -- then the two hugged fiercely once again, holding each other as if it meant their lives. "I'm going to miss you, Bones. It'd be easier to tear my heart out than leave you behind, knowing I'll never see you again."

"Jim..." Kirk could detect the pain in the Doctor's voice. McCoy hugged him one last time with all his strength, then reluctantly released him. At this point McCoy turned back to Spock, wanting to hug the Vulcan as he had hugged Jim, but wondered if he dared, even now.

He couldn't help noting the stiff, rigid posture the Vulcan had adopted, facial expression carefully neutral -- but McCoy knew how much effort was going into the seemingly flawless control. "Well, I suppose this is goodbye, Spock." The Doctor forced himself to sound normal.

"Yes, Doctor," was the tightly controlled reply.

"Take care of Jim... and yourself, too. Don't take too many foolish chances. Doctor's orders!" Try as he might, McCoy could only muster up a semblance of his usual gruff facade and was sure Spock sensed it.

"I will endeavor to do so," the latter assured him before raising a hand in the Vulcan salute. "I wish you peace and happiness with your new wife." The remark was quiet, but McCoy detected the emotion behind the statement and smiled in appreciation.

Spock had intended to say, "Peace and long life," or "Live long and prosper," but in view of the Doctor's illness, they didn't seem appropriate. McCoy had never been able to part his fingers properly, but decided to give it one last shot for Spock's sake. After a few tense moments, he lifted his hand in an awkward but sincere salute.

"Live long and prosper, Spock."

The Vulcan raised one upswept brow, then allowed himself a half-smile. "Thank you, Doctor."

Then the two simply stared at each other for a long time before McCoy said, "One last thing, Spock. You can refuse to do it, of course, but I thought I'd ask anyway since we'll quite probably never see each other again..." The Doctor's voice trailed off.

"What is it?"

"May I hug you?" There was silence for a seemingly endless time before the Vulcan inclined his head.

"Very well, Doctor, as long as you keep it brief." A moment later, the Vulcan found McCoy's arms around him, hugging him tightly for a moment -- then surprised them both by returning the hug, holding his second-best friend close for a few seconds. They parted a moment later; Spock saw the gratitude and appreciation in the Doctor's blue eyes, along with a mist of tears.

"Christine wished me to convey to you her wish for your happiness in your marriage, Doctor... and that she will miss you."

"I'm -- going to miss her too," McCoy confessed. "Tell her that too for me, if you will." The Vulcan nodded.

"Spock." Kirk's voice brought him back to reality. "Scotty's standing by to beam us back. We've got to go." Spock acknowledged Kirk with a nod, joining him a few feet away in the deserted corridor where McCoy stood with Natira, one arm around her again. Kirk flipped open his communicator and spoke into it. "Energize, Scotty." His eyes met McCoy's one last time. "Do your utmost to find a cure, Bones."

"Count on it." The Captain and Spock's last glimpse of their friend as they dematerialized was of him burying his face in Natira's hair as he held her close, having been unable to say "goodbye" for the final time. McCoy had no idea it would be so hard to see them go.

* * *

Several minutes passed before McCoy released his wife and lifted his head. In the meantime, she stroked his hair and kissed the ear nearest her lips. "I know how difficult it must be for you to part from your friends, my husband. It is obvious that you are very fond of them."

McCoy merely nodded as his eyes closed in pain. "Do you wish to rest now?" she asked. He nodded again. "Very well; we shall retire to our chambers, and I will take steps to ensure that we are not disturbed."

That prompted a wan smile; the couple departed for their private quarters a short distance away. They arrived within moments and headed straight to the master bedroom, oblivious to his belongings sitting around. Time enough for him to settle in later, McCoy told himself. Now all he wanted to do was sleep.

Natira donned a long, thin, lacey apricot-colored nightgown while the doctor wore only his underwear. The bedroom was draped in moss-green velvet, an identical bedspread on the queen-size bed, surrounded by a mint-green carpet. A large pale green globular lamp stood on the bedside table and there was a hint of her exotic perfume in the air. McCoy was amazed at how long Natira's hair really was. Unbound, it reached halfway to her knees and took close to an hour to brush out. He also noted how she had to coil it around one arm to keep it out of the way while she walked. He could imagine how long it took to put up in the morning.

The couple ended up sharing one large pillow, even though there were two on the bed. Within minutes of lying down, Natira knew her husband had fallen asleep by his intermittent snores and rhythmic breathing. She rested her head on his chest, one ear over his heart to listen to the rapid but steady beat, falling asleep an hour later after counting his heartbeats like most people would count sheep. His embrace gently tightened as he slept; she sighed, savoring the warmth and strength of his arms and body. They slept soundly like this for the rest of the night; no one and nothing disturbed them.

* * *

Almost from the day McCoy was left behind, he worked to discover a cure for the affliction robbing him of a long, productive life. Forty-seven was too young to die; there was so much more he'd wanted to accomplish. It wasn't fair that the opportunity to make up for his earlier mistakes was to be snatched away from him. Not only professional but personal ones.

However, in between work and married life with Natira, he missed his friends -- more than he ever dreamed possible. Sometimes she could love his cares away; other times nothing she did brought him solace. Jim had always had a penchant for driving himself too hard and too far, as did Spock, who seemed to believe himself all but indestructible because of his Vulcan heritage, often going without sleep or food in order to complete a project he considered "logical."

Nothing he said or did seemed to sink in. It usually took a direct order, backed by Jim, for Spock to cut back even a little, take care of himself -- and even then that was only until the latest crisis was past. And this had been when he was there! What was it like now on the Enterprise? How were Jim and Spock doing? What of M'Benga? Was he still acting CMO or had Jim found a replacement? What about Christine? How was she holding up? No one knew better than he how difficult it was to adjust to a new situation, especially if it involved leaving one's family or close friends.

So many unanswered questions... He wished he could have been with them again, if only for a few minutes. Unfortunately, they were well out of range of the transmitter by now. In addition, had Spock done what he'd asked -- gave Christine his message, then hugged and kissed her on the cheek? He had never known the Vulcan to break his word once he had given it, but still... Natira's voice brought him back to reality.

"Please come to bed, my husband. You must be very tired -- and your late hours and hard work can only aggravate your illness." He looked up to find her standing in the doorway of the lab.

McCoy smiled but shook his head. "I don't have time to waste, Natira. I feel it in my bones. I'm this close" -- he held up his right thumb and forefinger just barely apart -- "to discovering a cure."

She didn't give up. "Would it be such a 'crime,' as you say, to 'take a break' -- have some rest, then bathe and eat before returning to work? I could give you a back rub after you bathe and eat... then you could sleep for a time."

Her voice was quiet, almost mournful. He had been working so hard, been so preoccupied that he had not felt up to making love to her for almost a week. Natira was so sweet and patient with him and his myriad moods, which alternated between an almost euphoric state of happiness to bouts of almost unbearable loneliness -- as well as the illness manifesting itself as it worsened in spite of all he could do.

There was hypertension accompanied by dizziness, headaches and a sense of fullness in the head, if not angina (heart pain) and shortness of breath, as though he was having a heart attack. On top of this was his anger and frustration at the cure being so close, yet so elusive. There were times he felt guilty for marrying Natira, knowing the heartbreak she would endure when the end finally came. How could he subject her to such pain -- or to what she was enduring now? Then he smiled as he recalled what she had told him shortly before their marriage.

She would be happy with whatever time they could share together and do her utmost to see that his remaining days were happy and filled with love. How could he ever have been deemed worthy of such as her? He put his equipment down and smiled at her again. Her eyes seemed to sparkle like diamonds as she returned his smile, dimples deepening at the corners of her mouth as she held out a hand to him.

"Come then, my husband. You can bathe, then I will rub your back and shoulders before sending for your meal."

In spite of his wish to continue working, McCoy could not resist his wife's entreaty and took her hand, allowing her to lead him back to their private quarters. Even so, he was planning a different ending than Natira did. His mouth watered at the thought of the meal he would soon have. Unlike the processed edibles aboard ship, it was honest-to-God food, cooked to his personal specifications. He had told her his favorite foods and how to prepare them, never dreaming that anything could taste so delicious.

A table for two was set up in a small alcove in their large bedroom, next to their shared bathroom and closet. He enjoyed being able to wear civilian clothes again, colorful robes reminiscent of the "coat of many colors" in the Old Testament story of Joseph and his eleven brothers. How long had it been since he had been able to run around barefoot or in sandals? He intended for them to make love after his meal. Sleep could come later. She had waited long enough, as had he. At the end of the meal, he would look up at her with a provocative smile.

She would return it; they would then stand up and join hands. Lastly, he would lead her to the bed and sit down beside her before lowering her to it while kissing her. After slipping her robe and nightgown from her first, that is... He had decided that he wanted a child -- and even though it was an insane, illogical desire because he would in all likelihood never see his child or hold it, the knowledge that he would have one (with luck) would have to suffice. In the meantime, however, he'd best get cracking while he still could.


In spite of McCoy's difficulties, they were minor compared to Kirk's. It was tough enough to choose a CMO under the best of circumstances, but to have to do it while still mourning the loss of his oldest friend made it doubly hard... even with all the candidates he had to choose from. He not only had to choose a competent physician, it had to be someone tolerant of Vulcan idiosyncrasies and trained in their physiology. M'Benga had done well so far, but the strain was beginning to show on him. He didn't know how to delegate authority like Bones did. Like the Vulcans he specialized in, the Bantu doctor had a penchant for wanting to do everything himself.

For that reason, Kirk knew he had to choose a permanent CMO before too much longer. It had been nearly three months since they had had to leave Yonada and Bones behind. How many times had he addressed questions or given orders to someone who wasn't there any more, or called M'Benga by the wrong name? The latter had been tolerant at first, but even his patience was beginning to wear thin. He was asking more and more often when the Captain would be choosing a permanent replacement.

There were also times Kirk was tempted to delegate the job to Spock. The Vulcan would have had it done a long time ago. But no, he couldn't foist this off on Spock; it was his job... the Captain's job. Even so, how was he going to do it? No matter who he chose, he would always be comparing them with Bones, whether he meant to or not -- and how long would they tolerate it? Everyone deserved to be judged on their own merits, not someone else's. The door buzzer brought the despondent Captain back to reality.

"Come," he said, not having the energy or will to stand up and greet his visitor.

"Captain?" came Spock's rich baritone.

"In here," Kirk called from his work area. A moment later the tall Vulcan appeared in the doorway. "I felt your distress, Jim. Are you having difficulty?"

Kirk forced a smile. "Some. It's not easy to choose a CMO these days -- there are so many qualified candidates."

His voice held a false brightness, which the Vulcan immediately detected. "You also never expected to have this responsibility so soon," the First Officer said quietly.

Kirk's face seemed to sag. "Dammit, Spock, why did this have to happen? Why did Bones have to become ill, and why did Westervliet have to order me to leave him behind? It was hard enough to leave him as it was..." The Captain's voice trailed off as his head bowed in pain, tears burning his eyelids.

The Vulcan put gentle hands on his friend's shoulders in an attempt to comfort him. "Jim, I understand how you must feel, but there is nothing we can do to change matters. All we can do is continue our mission -- and choosing another Chief Medical Officer is part of that mission."

"But he wasn't just CMO, Spock, he was our friend. How can I ever replace him?"

"You cannot, Jim -- at least not in your heart or mind -- but intellectually..."

"That's easy for you to say," Kirk cut in bitterly. "This isn't your decision to make, it's mine."

"Anger and bitterness will accomplish nothing, Jim." The Vulcan's voice was infinitely soothing. "In addition, the Doctor would not wish you to be in pain because of him."

But I am, Kirk thought sadly. God help me, I am!

"May I be of assistance?" Spock asked. "After all, you have always said that 'two heads are better than one.'"

The offer was tempting, even at the best of times, and this definitely wasn't. "I'd appreciate any help you could give, Spock."

The Vulcan pulled up the extra chair sitting nearby and placed it next to Kirk's, gracefully folding his long, lanky body into it in order to scan what was on the Captain's viewscreen.

"Have you made any progress at all in regards to choosing the next Chief Medical Officer?"

"Well, I've narrowed it down to six," Kirk reluctantly admitted.

"Then let us go through their biographies and see if a choice can be made."

Kirk found himself calling up the first name -- a British physician by the name of Robert James Kensington, a man with blue eyes, brown hair and a craggy face reminiscent of McCoy's. Two differences were likely, however... the other doctor had a mustache, and his accent was probably as British as Bones' was Southern. Kensington was in his early forties and a noted xenobiologist as well as an accomplished physician -- but best of all, he had interned in a Vulcan hospital like M'Benga and done post-graduate work on Rigel V. Perhaps he had found his new CMO, and didn't realize it yet. All the same, he owed the others a chance to be considered.

"Dr. Kensington seems eminently suitable," the Vulcan remarked after perusing the viewscreen.

"So he does," Kirk agreed, "but we owe the others a chance for consideration before making a final choice."

Spock could find no fault with his Captain's logic. "Very well," he said. "Let us see the other five candidates."

* * *

McCoy would have been pleased to know that Spock had indeed acted on his request to thank Christine for him by hugging and kissing her. The Vulcan knew it wouldn't be easy for him, but it was the last thing the Doctor would ever ask of him, so it was only logical to grant the request. Christine was pleased but shocked that Spock actually followed through. He wasn't one to agree with McCoy, especially where emotions were concerned -- but whatever the reasons for his action, what mattered to her was that he did it. She was doing some lab work at 1800 hours the evening after leaving Yonada and McCoy behind when she felt eyes watching her. The nurse lifted her head and turned it to discover Spock standing a few feet away, at the end of the counter where she worked.

"Oh, Spock. What brings you here?"

"I was able to deliver your message to Dr. McCoy," he reported.

"And?" Her heart was lightened at the knowledge in spite of her sadness at leaving Leonard behind.

"He gave me a message for you."

"What is it?" She turned to face him.

"He expressed his appreciation for your caring about him and wishes you all the best in your own life -- and that he will miss you. In addition, he asked me to give you something from him."

"Such as?"

"This," was the one-word reply. The nurse went pale when the Vulcan stepped up to her and delivered the promised hug and kiss on the cheek. Christine's knees went weak but she managed to keep her feet by hanging onto the counter. For a long time there was silence, then Spock looked at her with controlled concern. "Christine, are you all right?"

"Oh, yes, I'm fine," she assured him. He had turned toward the door when she called to him. "Spock?"


"Thank you." Her smile held a mixture of gratitude and love.

"For what?" His brows rose.

"Caring about Dr. McCoy." She waited to see what Spock's reaction would be.

"It was my duty," he rejoined coolly. "After all, he would not be seeing you again, so he could not do it himself. It was only logical that I grant his last request."

Christine smiled knowingly, seeing through the First Officer's transparent facade. He was missing Leonard every bit as much as she was, if not more... and she intended to see that he knew she knew.

"Of course, Spock. How could I forget? Well, I must get back to work now. I'll see you later." With that, she turned back to the counter and her work.

He raised an eyebrow at her once again, a tad surprised and hurt at her abrupt termination of their short conversation, but pleased that she had handled herself so professionally in his presence. With one last look at her, he noted her golden head bent over her work, one slender hand adjusting a control of the holo-microscope she was using -- then made a quick perusal of the rest of her before departing.


With Spock's help, Kirk made his decision on a new CMO. He still hurt a lot over Bones ... always would... but life had to go on. He sent a communique to Starfleet Command informing them of his choice and a stargram to the British physician, presently serving as assistant to the Surgeon General at Fleet Headquarters. As expected, Kensington jumped at the chance to serve on the legendary Enterprise under the even more legendary Captain James Kirk. Kirk received an affirmative answer to his summons within a week. Robert James Kensington, M.D. would be waiting for them at Starbase 27 when they arrived in a matter of days.

The Captain and Spock agreed not to tell the crew until after a choice had been made -- and even then only two others would be privy to the information: M'Benga, so he could prepare for his replacement's arrival, and Uhura. No one else needed to know until the new CMO had actually arrived. In the meantime, Kirk schooled himself to take the man on his own merits and do his utmost not to compare him with McCoy in any way. Pain stabbed through Kirk like a knife at the thought of his friend and former CMO. He prayed Bones was happy, but at the same time missed him more than he imagined possible.

He had meant to check on McCoy every month, see how he was doing and if he had come up with a cure for his illness -- as well as how it was affecting him. He resolved to do better in the future; they had only spoken once in three months. There wouldn't be too many more chances. How long would Bones be able to function and keep all his faculties? Kirk knew that if there was one thing McCoy hated, it was being (or feeling) helpless, personally or professionally. As a rule, doctors made notoriously bad patients. McCoy was at his best when active and busy. How must it be for him now, with the illness sapping his strength and energy with every passing day?

Uhura's voice brought the Captain back to reality. "Sir, Starbase 27 is hailing us."

Kirk's head jerked up and his eyes snapped open; he swivelled his chair to face the comm station and the beautiful Bantu occupying it. "Uhura, open hailing frequency. Starbase 27, this is Captain James T. Kirk," he said upon opening the ship-to-surface intercom. "Is our new CMO prepared to beam aboard?"

"Standing by in the Transporter Room," came a Southern-accented female voice in reply, prompting a poignant memory and a wave of agony which slashed at Kirk's heart like an animal's claws. Bones... his mind whispered as his eyes filled with tears and closed in pain. At that moment a familiar gentle voice cut through the haze of misery.

"Jim?" Kirk looked up to find Spock beside his chair; he forced a smile.

"I'm all right, Spock," the Captain assured his Vulcan friend. "Just got sentimental for a minute. Let's go meet our new CMO." His voice was only audible to sensitive Vulcan ears. Kirk hesitated to speak louder because the rest of the crew would detect his pain; in addition, only Spock could know or comprehend it. Not only because of his bond with, but his ever-present empathy for, his Human Captain and friend. Kirk dared not lower his personal barriers, nor would he allow anyone as close to him as Bones had been. There was only Spock to fill that role now, and even as close as they were, Kirk couldn't help but wonder if even the Vulcan's friendship would be enough.

"Energize," Kirk said into the intercom before closing it and stiffly rising to his feet. The Vulcan watched with increasing concern as the Captain turned for the turbolift and said to Sulu as he passed the helm station, "Mr. Sulu, you have the con. We will be in the Transporter Room greeting the new CMO."

The Asian nodded and said, "Aye, sir," vacating the helm station and seating himself in the command chair even as his relief helmsman, Lt. Hansen, replaced him.

Spock was one step behind him on the way to the turbolift; once the doors slid closed behind them, Kirk's facade dropped like a piece of clothing that has been removed. The two friends exchanged a look of shared grief and empathy at the memory and loss of McCoy before moving into each other's arms. Kirk's head rested on his Vulcan friend's shoulder as the Captain allowed himself to relax in the comforting, gentle strength of Spock's arms. Oh God, I miss Bones, the latter's mind spoke to the Vulcan's own. I feel as though a part of myself is gone. His pain was evident in spite of his best efforts.

As do I, Spock hesitantly admitted, unsure of how he and the new CMO would get along. With McCoy, he knew what to expect. The oncoming CMO was an unknown quantity.

Buck up, my friend. We have a job to do, Kirk's mind responded, his instinctive protectiveness of Spock kicking in as he shelved his own grief.

Indeed, came the reply.

The Vulcan comforted and was comforted as the Captain and First Officer of the starship Enterprise held each other in the privacy of the turbolift making its way to Deck 7 and the Transporter Room where their new CMO was waiting. The turbolift car stopped moments later; the two commanding officers released each other and again donned their customary masks as they stepped out onto Deck 7. They entered the Transporter Room a short time later; a tall slender man was stepping off the transporter platform, carrying a large, well-packed duffel bag, which he handled with such practiced ease that even Spock was impressed.

He didn't look strong enough to lift even half of what that bag must weigh, much less all of it. Obviously looks were deceiving, in more ways than one. The fortyish man wore a tan jumpsuit with gold belt and brown boots, a reddish-brown cloak with a high collar covering him to his knees. Very old-world of him, Kirk observed, a wry grin twisting his lips even as he extended his hand in greeting.

The new arrival raised a thick head of wavy brown hair streaked with grey, topping a craggy face so much like Bones' own that Kirk doubted his own senses. Even the sharply arched brows and deep-set blue eyes with a mischievous twinkle in them were the same. Not to mention the man's arresting smile and strong handshake. However, the illusion was soon dispelled by the thick brown-and-grey mustache the man sported as well as the voice which came out of the McCoy-esque face. It was as far removed from Bones' Georgia drawl as Earth was from Vulcan.

"I say, old boy, it's good to be on the Enterprise. I've been wanting an assignment like this ever since I joined Starfleet. It was like a dream come true when you contacted me and said to report to Starbase 27 as your new Chief Medical Officer. Even so, it's deucedly unfortunate about Dr. McCoy. I have admired him for many years, and wish I could have met him."

Kirk smiled in spite of himself. This man was impossible not to like, even though he reserved judgement as to the possibility of a friendship between them. For the moment, he would see how the new CMO reacted to Spock. He needn't have worried. The British physician prompted a startled but pleased eyebrow from the Vulcan when he lifted his right hand, fingers parted in the Vulcan salute as naturally as Spock himself did -- something McCoy had never been able to do without discomfort. Spock couldn't help a surreptitious glance in the Captain's direction even as he prepared to return the salute.

"Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock. I'm looking forward to working with you." Spock marveled at the fact that a Human could have spoken in flawless Vulcan, without a trace of accent. Even Sarek would have been impressed. Perhaps Dr. Kensington knew him; that may have been where he had learned the language. He would have to ask at the first opportunity.

"Live long and prosper, Dr. Kensington. I am sure we will work well together," Spock replied as he saluted.

"Call me R.J. Everybody does." Kensington looked at Kirk out of the corner of his eye. "That applies to you as well, Captain." Kirk smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. "Fair warning: I won't answer to anything else -- at least not from the two of you."

"We'll keep that in mind," the Captain assured him. "I'd better show you your new quarters now, then you can go to Sickbay and familiarize yourself with it. Dr. M'Benga is acting CMO; you'll probably find him in the Chief Surgeon's office. He should be able to answer any questions you may have."

"Thank you, Captain," Kensington said with a smile. "Let's go. I'm anxious to get settled in." The three headed for the Transporter Room doors, Kirk and Spock flanking the new CMO. They would always miss McCoy, no matter how personable R.J. was, but if Bones couldn't be here, then R.J. was the next best thing.

The duffel bag's strap suddenly slid, sending the heavy bag to the floor. The doctor would have joined it had it not been for his escorts. However, he politely waved them off when they reached to help with the bag, stunning them both once again as he hoisted the bag onto his shoulder a second time as though it weighed nothing.

"Isn't that heavy, Doctor -- R.J.?" Kirk barely caught himself in time.

"Nothing I can't handle, Captain," Kensington smiled again. "I'm used to it."

They had nearly reached the turbolift which would take them to Deck Five and the CMO's quarters when Kensington stopped in his tracks. Kirk and Spock followed suit. "It would be flattering to have the two of you as escorts, but I'm sure you need to get back to the Bridge, Captain. If you like, I'd be glad to come to your quarters for a talk later on."

This was done so diplomatically that Kirk could not bring himself to feel insulted. He was a little disappointed, but could live with it as long as he and the new doctor got to talk later on.

"You may return to the Bridge, Captain. I will rejoin you shortly," Spock said, shocking Kirk by displaying uncharacteristic eagerness. The Vulcan had never been like this, even when McCoy first came aboard. Curiosity about a new crewman was understandable, but this...

"Spock, what the hell--"

"Captain, please go." The First Officer's voice was gentle but firm. Kirk made his farewells and reluctantly continued a short distance down the corridor before stepping into a turbolift which would take him to the Bridge.

"All right, if you say so. Get back as soon as you can." The Vulcan barely spared him a nod before continuing on with Kensington to another turbolift car which would take them to Deck Five and the latter's new quarters... McCoy's former quarters, which had been cleaned and prepared for its next occupant. M'Benga had opted to remain in his existing quarters for the duration of his tenure as acting CMO.

Spock had noted the Captain's surprise at his seemingly contradictory actions, but in reality they could be explained quite logically. He merely wished to find out how a Human could possibly speak Vulcan so fluently and without a trace of accent. Once he got the British physician alone, he asked with typical Vulcan bluntness.

Kensington took it in stride. "Simple, Mr. Spock. Once I learned I was to intern on Vulcan, I thought it would be -- logical, as you say -- to learn the language, so I recruited a Vulcan acquaintance of mine to instruct me. He was a hard taskmaster, but it was worth it. I was able to 'rattle off' Vulcan with the best of them once he finished with me. Incidentally, the Vulcans at the hospital where I interned were just as surprised as you were. In fact they often commented how 'fascinating,' as you put it, it was that a Human could speak Vulcan so fluently. That's really all there is to it."

"Was it my father, the Vulcan Ambassador, who was your acquaintance? It sounds like something he would do."

The Human looked surprised, then smiled and shook his head, teeth gleaming through his thick mustache. "Oh, no. I've never met the Ambassador. It was one of my former classmates. You say you're Sarek's son?" Spock nodded. "By God!" Kensington's head shook in wonder.

At this point, the two reached the Chief Surgeon's quarters. The door programming had been changed after McCoy's departure, so it was ready to accept whatever code the new CMO chose. "Here is your quarters, Doctor," Spock said. "If there is anything you need, simply--"

"R.J.," the doctor cut in as smoothly as a knife through butter.

"Very well -- R.J.," the Vulcan said, brows rising at the Human's commanding tone. In his own way, Dr. Kensington was as stubborn as Dr. McCoy -- but like the Captain, much time would have to pass before he could make even a cautious attempt at friendship... and even then, he would probably need Jim to help him.

It would also be necessary for him to see how Dr. Kensington reacted under stress, like during an epidemic with a shortage of proper drugs or trained personnel... or heavy crew casualties, particularly if he or the Captain was among them. So far Dr. Kensington hadn't insulted or teased him, even good-naturedly, as McCoy always had. Of course, this didn't necessarily mean he wouldn't, given time or sufficient reason -- but neither did it mean that he would. In spite of his efforts at suppressing it, Spock was unable to control a moment of pain at the thought of McCoy. As the Doctor had often said, "You never know how much someone means to you until they're gone."

Only now, with the Doctor light-years and months behind them, did he know the true meaning of that statement. Even if he did manage to develop a friendship with the new CMO, there would always be a secret part of his well guarded but all-too-tender heart that would always belong to Leonard McCoy. It was regrettable that the Doctor would never know how his unique brand of friendship, alternate doses of toughness, teasing and tenderness... had touched Spock in ways that the Vulcan hadn't imagined possible -- ways that even Jim never had, simply by virtue of the differences between them.

"I think I can find my way to Sickbay from here. Thank you for your help. Again, live long and prosper." The new CMO repeated the salute, and Spock returned it.

"Thank you... R.J. I must return to the Bridge now."

Kensington nodded and smiled as he turned to the sleeping alcove and set the duffel bag on the bed to unpack. He marveled at the transparency of the Vulcan's so-called logic. Even so, he sensed that Spock was fiercely proud of his Vulcan heritage and wouldn't have chosen any other way of life, however difficult that must be for him because of the attendant emotions visited upon him by his Human ancestry.

Kirk he couldn't judge until he had actually sat down and talked with him -- as well as seen how the Captain reacted under stress. If the rumors about him, his command prowess, were true, it was very likely that Kirk had earned every accolade bestowed on him. Meanwhile, he had best unpack and get himself settled in, have something to eat and a spot of tea, then a good night's sleep. Tomorrow would be soon enough to meet the rest of the crew... not to mention his new colleagues and subordinates in Sickbay.


Thankfully McCoy's illness did not seem to worsen much more in the ensuing weeks -- at least not as far as he could tell. His main worry (as far as Natira was concerned) was his friends. He seemed to miss them more with every passing day. In fact, she had caught him looking at the holograph of himself with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock several times in the last week alone. Perhaps it was too painful, too emotionally draining on him to speak with them via the transmitter, even though he had seemed very happy to do so the one time she remembered just over three months ago.

One positive note -- Natira was certain that she was pregnant. She had not had her monthly flow this month, and the two of them had shared many tenderly passionate nights over the past several weeks. Natira prayed every night to the Creators that it was so, that she would have a child of McCoy's to give her another reason for living after he had joined the Creators and all who had gone before.

In between his work and their daily life, he had spent many hours telling her of his family, his life and childhood in Georgia on Earth... as well as Earth customs, expressions and such. Some were incomprehensible to her, but Natira reminded herself that the same was true of her husband where the People's customs and traditions were concerned. However, she respected his beliefs and never attempted to get him to change them, as he did hers. It pleased her that they so far had managed a most satisfying blend of their two philosophies. Her only regret was that she would lose him before she could learn all he could teach her.

A year was not enough time, nor was an ordinary lifetime -- but she never voiced this to him, grateful for the time they would share together and the child she was certain she now carried. She was silent for a time, watching him from their open bedroom door. It was only when he set the holograph down on the nightstand on his side of the bed that he happened to catch a movement out of the corner of his eye.

"Natira, how long have you been standing there?" He was uncomfortable with the possibility that she had seen him lingering over the holo of himself with Jim and Spock.

"Not long," she said evasively as she moved to join him, sitting down next to him on the bed. The couple moved into each other's arms and held each other after sharing a kiss. This was one of McCoy's "good" days, when his illness didn't seem to be bothering him so much -- but Natira knew they never lasted long, no matter how he tried to conceal it from her.

As time passed, more symptoms had manifested themselves: pain in his joints, an enlarged liver and spleen, and a reddish complexion which made him look like he had a perpetual fever. Not to mention increased weakness and dizziness, usually accompanied by headaches, some of a migraine intensity. Sometimes he was incapacitated for days on end, unable to get out of bed, and she had to care for his every need as if he was a newborn baby. Even so, he had remained steadfastly optimistic, not allowing his physical condition to get him down... if only for her sake, often telling her there wasn't anything he couldn't cure if he put his mind to it.

Unfortunately, he had begun to spend more time in bed than in the lab working in recent days. He had often commented how frustrating and monotonous it was to be unable to do anything for himself, but did his best not to take it out on her if he could help it -- and made sure to show affection to her as often as possible -- usually with a kiss, an embrace or squeeze of her hand. When they were in bed, he would caress and kiss her when he didn't feel up to making love to her. It had been nearly two weeks since their last physical joining -- but Natira could live with that as long as she could feel McCoy's arms around her and his body close to hers.

For the last several days the Doctor had been worrying what could be going on with Jim, Spock, Christine and the Enterprise. Jim had promised to contact him whenever the Enterprise was in the vicinity of Yonada, but they had only talked once in three months. It had been six since their departure and his marriage to Natira -- but the way he was deteriorating, he would be lucky to live long enough to see their child, much less enjoy the benefits of ruling beside his wife once they reached the new planet the Creators had promised. In the absence of his friends, Natira was the only one he could turn to for solace. He hoped she would be able to soothe his fears with her touch, her kiss and gentle, dovelike voice.

"You saw me, didn't you?" he asked in a scolding tone.

"Yes, my husband." Her tone was apologetic, her lovely face reflecting regret for having witnessed something she was not meant to see. He was touched by the sincerity of her penitence and his voice softened.

"Don't worry; I'm not holding it against you. My bark is worse than my bite. Another Earth expression," he explained at her frown. He tightened his embrace as she moved closer to him. "Didn't mean to scare you, honey. I'm just a grouchy ol' bear sometimes. I only wish--" His voice trailed off until she could scarcely hear him, but his pain was evident nonetheless.

"Your friends?" He nodded sadly. "What do you think is preventing them from contacting you?"

"I don't know. It could be any number of things," he said, kissing the top of her head before resting his cheek on it. At this point the sound of insistent beeping reached their ears. Both turned their heads to note a flashing red light on the subspace transmitter. McCoy's eyes lit up. "Well, I'll be...! You'd think they read my mind or something. How's that for timing? Help me over to the chair by the transmitter."

He was weak and wobbly, needing Natira's arm to make it to the chair, a handful of steps away beside the table where the transmitter now sat. He had moved it a few months ago while he still could. Only he and Natira were able to go into their private chambers. Even their attendants didn't enter unless invited. The living room was as far as they were allowed otherwise.

Of course, if McCoy became worse, Natira knew that she would have to relax the restrictions. Her medical knowledge of him was limited to what he had taught her. Those of the People were taught from childhood how to stay healthy, so there was rarely any real need for the medical arts unless someone became seriously injured... and that happened only infrequently, since the People were taught all manner of safety precautions as well. McCoy did what he could when he could, medically speaking -- otherwise his time was spent in the lab working on a cure for his illness. He couldn't understand why it remained so maddeningly close, yet so elusive. Maybe he wasn't meant to find it...

Natira placed him in the chair and gave him the microphone. He rested his right arm on the table, adjusting the mike so he could speak into it. "Bones! Bones, are you there? Do you hear me?" Kirk's welcome voice came from the speaker next to the transmitter.

"I'm here, Jim," he said quietly as he winced at a sharp pain in his gut. It was as though someone had knifed him there -- and there was a taste in his mouth which seemed a cross between bile and sour milk, which remained no matter how much (or what) he drank to disguise the taste. It was part of his illness, something he had to live with as best he could -- while he was still alive.

"Why has it taken so long for you to contact me again? It's been three months." McCoy sounded hurt and reproachful.

"I'm sorry, Bones, but we've had a lot of exhausting missions. You understand."

"Oh, do I ever!" McCoy laughed -- carefully, so he wouldn't hurt any more than he already did. "How're y'all doing?"

"Getting along," Kirk evaded. The false brightness in his voice alerted McCoy.

"Jim, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Kirk insisted. "Everything's fine."

"Don't con me, Jim. You're the worst liar I know. Out with it."

McCoy's tone was a command, so Kirk sighed. "I never could hide anything from you," he reluctantly admitted. "We miss you, that's all. It's not the same without you."

"I know what you mean, but I'm happy otherwise. Guess what? Natira says she's pregnant! She told me last night."

"Congratulations, Bones. I'm thrilled for you," came the sincere, if too quiet, reply. "How are you feeling? Any closer to a cure?"

"As well as can be expected -- but no, I still haven't found a cure, though I'm real close." Natira knew her husband had been saying that for the last several months, noting that he neglected to mention that fact to Captain Kirk. "I haven't felt much like working lately -- though I intend to get back to it as soon as possible."

"You mustn't give up," Kirk insisted.

"Oh, don't worry, I haven't," McCoy assured him. "Were you ever able to choose a new CMO? Last time we talked, M'Benga was still acting CMO."

"Oh, yes. About two months ago. British guy, R.J. Kensington. He interned in a Vulcan hospital like M'Benga, and get this... he can speak Vulcan like a native, and do the salute as though he's done it every day of his life."

"I can imagine what Spock thought of him," McCoy chuckled.

"Oh, he was surprised, that's for sure -- but at the same time, very pleased. I'll say that much," Kirk admitted.

"How's he doing? Spock, I mean?" the Doctor asked quietly. "And don't tell him this, but I miss him. The only one I can argue with around here is myself. Natira absolutely refuses. It's no fun, but she does spoil me rotten, which I suppose makes up for it."

"I bet you love that," Kirk teased. "Spock's fine... and he misses you too, though I don't expect him to ever admit it. Kensington gets along so well with him -- everyone, in fact -- that the atmosphere's almost boring. I've gotten so used to you and Spock bickering that I miss the absence of it."

"Now that's one for the record books! He must be some kind of miracle worker like Scotty..." The Doctor's voice trailed off as weakness and dizziness began descending on him. "I'd better sign off now, Jim; I'm not feeling too good. Give my best to Spock, Christine, and the gang. Talk to you later. Take care of yourself now. Doctor's orders!"

"I'll try," Kirk said. "Keep up the good work, and congratulations again on Natira's pregnancy."

Natira helped McCoy stand up, then picked up the microphone. "Captain, are you still there?" she asked. Kirk said he was. "May I speak with you a few moments? I just need to put my husband to bed. He is very tired." Kirk assured her he would hang on. "Thank you. I will not be long."

She returned a few minutes later, having settled McCoy in bed, lying comfortably and making sure he was breathing, not in too much pain, before kissing his forehead and stroking his hair after removing his shoes and pulling a blanket over him. She picked up the microphone again after seating herself.


"Yes, Natira, I'm here."

"My beloved is dying." Her voice was laced with tears. "He gets worse by the day."

"I suspected that. Is there anything we can do for you? I know how much pain you must be feeling right now, with a dying husband and a baby on the way."

"I estimate that he has three months left to live, maximum."

"I didn't know you knew anything about medicine." Kirk was surprised.

"He has taught me some," Natira admitted. "Captain, I would give everything I have -- even my own life -- to save him!"

"So would I." Kirk's heart went out to the bereaved woman. "He was one of my closest friends."

"Captain, there is one thing I would ask of you. Please contact his daughter Joanna. My husband wishes to 'mend fences' with her before it is too late."

"I have no idea where she is, Natira. He hasn't mentioned her in years."

"He gave me her last known whereabouts." She relayed the information to him; Kirk wrote it down. "Please do this one last thing for him, Captain. I cannot."

"I'll do my best, but can't promise anything. She may not even be there anymore... and even if she is, she may be unable... or unwilling... to come."

"Please, Captain. If she could just speak with him one last time -- forgive him. He is dying." Her voice was husky with tears, her tone pleading.

"All right, I'll try," Kirk said in his gentlest voice. "I've got to go now. Talk to you later. Kirk out."

"Thank you, Captain. Farewell." With that, the connection was cut.


According to what Natira had told him, Kirk determined that Joanna McCoy's last whereabouts had been on Deneb IV as assistant to the physician in the Federation colony there. He immediately ordered a course change to that planet, only saying that it was an emergency and that he would explain later. They were between missions, so there was no need to explain to Starfleet about the sudden change. Upon arrival, they learned that Joanna had departed the planet some weeks before to continue her education on Rigel II.

It had taken several days to reach Deneb IV, even at warp six, so Kirk ordered a temporary increase to warp seven -- and an even shorter (four hours) increase to warp eight in order to cut their arrival time at Rigel II. Warp eight was normally used only in emergencies, but if this didn't qualify, nothing did... finding Joanna McCoy and rushing her to her dying father's bedside.

Even so, they needed all the breaks they could get since there was no guarantee they would be able to convince Joanna of the urgency of the situation. Kirk became more on edge with every hour it took to reach Rigel II, because every passing moment was that much more off Bones' life. They couldn't afford to be slow.

Not even Spock could calm him completely. He wouldn't be satisfied until Joanna was aboard and they were on their way to Yonada -- of which the Captain had ordered continuous tracking. After a seemingly endless journey (even though it had only been a couple of days) they assumed orbit around Rigel II; Kirk told Uhura to hail the planetary authorities and explain their situation. They referred her to the main hospital, where Joanna was employed as a RN while taking additional courses in extraterrestrial physiology and exobiology. The administrator of the Colony II Medical Center was understanding and helpful, though it took a while to locate Joanna and convince her to beam up and accompany them.

The nurses' station on the 7th (Surgical) floor of the Rigellian hospital was answered on the second buzz. "Colony II Medical Center, Surgical Floor. This is Head Nurse Meri'lynn Klymystryn. How may I help you?"

Kirk's worried face appeared on the work station viewscreen. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. I need to locate one of your RNs, Ms. Joanna McCoy."

"What is your business with Joanna, Captain?" The nurse's voice was pleasant but faintly skeptical.

"I'm a close friend of her father's -- Leonard McCoy. I'm sure you've heard of him. He needs to see her."

"Yes, I know of him," the nurse acknowledged. "Why is it so urgent?"

"Because he is dying, and..."

The Rigellian nurse smoothly interrupted. "I see. I'm not sure where she is at the moment, but will have her paged for you."

"Thank you. Let me know when you find her." Fifteen minutes passed before there was another contact: minutes which seemed an eternity. Just as Kirk was sure he couldn't stand it one more second, Uhura swivelled toward him.

"Captain, the Colony II Medical Center is hailing us. It's Joanna McCoy."

"Thank God. Put her on, Uhura."

"This is Joanna McCoy," came the crisp voice of Leonard McCoy's only child. "What's going on with my father?"

"This is James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise. I'm a--"

The twentyish woman with a short, shaggy cap of gleaming brown hair and ice-blue eyes smoothly interrupted. "You're a friend of Dad's, I know. He told me about you in one of the few letters I ever got from him. Most of the time I never knew what was going on with him or where he was... and after a couple of years, I can't say I cared. If he didn't care enough about me to keep in touch, why should I give a damn about him now?" Her voice was laced with pain and bitterness.

Kirk's reply was infinitely gentle. "Joanna, I can understand how you must feel. It was the same way with me and my father, which was part of the reason I never married. I didn't want to subject my children to what I went through."

Joanna sighed and arched a brow identical to her father's, but Kirk could see that her nose and lips were not his -- though she had his eyes and bone structure. "I'm very busy right now, Captain. What is it about Dad that you feel is so urgent for me to know?"

"He's dying."

"I see." Her reply was quiet. "So what do you expect me to do? I can't just drop everything here and leave -- nor can I simply erase all the hurt he's caused me."

"It's not so much what I want as what he wants. He wants to mend fences with you, Joanna... know that you can forgive him. Even if you don't mean it, say you do. Let him see you one last time -- let him die happy."

There was a pleading note in Kirk's voice; that reached Joanna more than anything he had said, and she could have sworn she saw tears in the Captain's eyes. "All right, I'll come, if it's that important. I have vacation time coming anyway. I'll see if they'll let me take it early."

"Thank you, Joanna. You won't regret it. Let me know if you need help. I can smooth the way for you... see that you get emergency leave."

"I appreciate the offer, Captain, but I've been on my own since I was eighteen. I think I'm capable of making all the necessary arrangements myself."

"All right. Contact me when you're ready to come aboard. I'll have you beamed up and settled into temporary quarters -- then take you to your father."

Joanna frowned. "Take me to him? You mean he's no longer aboard the Enterprise?"

"No; he remarried six months ago, quitting the Fleet to remain with his new wife after finding out he had a terminal illness."

"What is it?"


There was a shocked silence. "Oh, my God." The tone of her voice intimated that she knew what the disease was, and that it was fatal. "How long has he got?"

"The last I heard, roughly three months... but his wife said that he was worsening by the day. I would assume that to mean that we need to hurry. There's no time to lose."

"I'll be as quick as I can, Captain. I must go now. Joanna out."

Kirk leaned back in his chair, breathing a sigh of relief. She was Bones all over again as far as stubbornness was concerned -- but must still care about him, or else she would have never agreed to come, no matter what he said or did. It was two hours before another communication came from the planet.

"Captain, Ms. McCoy reports that she is ready to beam up."

"Tell Kyle to prepare to energize," he told Uhura. Kirk then contacted the Transporter Room himself. "Mr. Kyle, we have a guest coming aboard. I'm coming to meet her and will be there in a few minutes. Kirk out."

"Yes, sir," came the British-accented voice of the Transporter Chief. "Energizing now."

The Captain pressed the button to cut the connection, then turned to Spock. "You have the con, Spock. I'm going to greet our guest."


The Vulcan made no further comment, though he looked at Kirk with increasing concern and empathy as the Captain headed for the turbolift. He could sense the pain Jim was experiencing at having to re-open the partially healed wound of McCoy's loss by having to contact his daughter and explain what was happening to her father, why he needed to see her. The new CMO seemed to fit in well so far, although there were still some who called him the wrong name, including Kirk. None of them would ever get used to McCoy being gone, Spock was sure of it.

It was fortunate that Kensington was likeable, easygoing, and understanding, but Spock was certain that even he had his limits. Most people could only endure being called by the wrong name or compared to someone else for so long. At this precise moment, the turbolift doors whooshed open and Kirk stepped out onto Deck Seven. A short time later, he entered the Transporter Room -- just as a tall, slender and handsome woman, identical to her father with the exception of nose and mouth, stepped off the platform, carrying a large shoulder bag and small suitcase. He caught her eye as she turned in his direction.

"Captain Kirk?" Her voice was a female version of Bones', Southern accent and all -- even after so many years off-planet.

"Yes. Joanna McCoy?" He held out a hand to shake hers.

"Guilty as charged," the new arrival quipped, a mischievous twinkle in the blue eyes so like her father's.

"Welcome aboard the Enterprise. It's good to finally meet you, though I wish this meeting could have taken place under happier circumstances."

"Life isn't always kind, Captain. All we can do is deal with whatever it happens to throw at us as best we can."

Kirk marveled at her wisdom, most unusual for one of her youth. "Are you sure that your family problems aren't coloring your view of life? You sound a tad cynical."

Joanna shrugged. "Perhaps I am, but it's hard not to be when one has lived the kind of life I have. But that's not important at the moment. Right now I want the latest news you have on my father," she told him as they departed the Transporter Room and headed for a turbolift which would take them to Deck Four and her temporary quarters -- then Deck 5 and the Captain's.

* * *

Joanna found herself on the verge of tears by the time they reached the Captain's quarters ... a mixture of happiness that her father had found a new wife who loved him, and sorrow that he would soon die. She hoped she would meet her stepmother and get to know her, but in the meantime, her father was foremost on her mind. After they got settled at the small table in Kirk's living area with drinks of Saurian brandy (she was Bones' daughter on that score too), he checked with Spock on the Bridge.

"Captain to Bridge."

"Spock here."

"What is Yonada's present course?"

"Fifty-one mark one. At our present speed, we should be within range within two hours."

"Thank you, Spock. Continue to track, and let me know when we arrive."

"Yes, sir. Bridge out."


It was 1100 hours when they reached the asteroid ship. All were on edge, but Kirk, Spock, and Joanna McCoy most of all -- Kirk and Joanna because of his friend and her father, and Spock mostly because Kirk was, though he would have denied it. Kirk was afraid to call and afraid not to. What would Natira say? Had Bones already... died, or was there still time?

He had done the best he could to find Joanna and bring her as requested. She was now standing next to him as he sat in his chair facing the viewscreen, stiff and still as a statue, her face drained of color. He had to force himself to reach for her hand; she clamped onto his tightly, as though it meant her life.

"Take it easy, Joanna," he said as soothingly as possible. "We're nearly there." The asteroid ship loomed large before them. "We just have to let him -- them -- know we're here. Uhura, open hailing frequencies. LHM-120, subspace frequency three."

Uhura complied. As she turned, Kirk could have sworn he saw tears on her cheeks. McCoy would leave a greater gap than he knew. "Open, sir. Go ahead."

"Bones? Natira? Come in, please." A long silence followed, then Kirk repeated himself -- with the same result. "Bones! Natira! Come in!"

"He's dead." Joanna's grip tightened further. "He's dead, and I never got the chance to say goodbye!"

"Don't talk like that," Kirk scolded. "He's not dead!" Not yet, I hope, he finished in his mind, speaking more to convince himself than her, because he was sure that that was what the ominous silence signified. Just then, a voice came over the intercom -- husky with tears but recognizable. "Natira? This is Kirk. We have Joanna. Would you permit us to beam over?"

"Oh, Captain! Yes, this is Natira. I am so pleased you found her. My husband will be very happy. He is quite ill and cannot get out of bed at all, but he is still conscious. Yes, by all means, beam over. He has been asking for you all."

"We'll be right there. Kirk out." The Captain motioned to Spock with his free hand, still holding Joanna's with the other. "Let's go. No time to lose." The Vulcan followed silently, the three entering the turbolift for the Transporter Room.

* * *

Five minutes later they were met by a tearful and silent Natira. She simply jerked her head, indicating that they should follow her. A short time afterward, they entered the master bedroom where an emaciated McCoy seemed lost in the large bed, too weak to even lift his head or speak above a whisper. Joanna cautiously approached her father's bedside.

"Daddy? It's me, Joanna. I'm here."

Her voice seemed to rouse McCoy, if only slightly. His eyes fluttered open and he smiled weakly as his daughter reached the bed and carefully sat down next to him.

"Jo... baby... you're here..."

She reached for his fragile hand and raised it to her cheek after kissing it, tears falling on it as she held it.

"Yes, Daddy, I'm here -- and I won't leave you."

He then seemed to be trying to sit up. Joanna was perceptive enough to realize that her father wanted to hold her one last time, so she lifted his nearly weightless body into her arms. She was surprised to feel his tears on her shoulder as he weakly returned the embrace. Her father had never cried, at least not that she remembered... and certainly not in her presence. Being an old-fashioned father, he had taught her that a man didn't cry, yet that was what he was doing. Kirk and Natira reached for each other, weeping unashamedly. Spock stood apart, not knowing what to do until Kirk's tear-filled voice summoned him to his side.


The Vulcan hesitated a moment, then moved to join the other two, putting a cautious arm around each of them as they stood in a group embrace, sharing grief for not only a beloved friend, but husband and father.

"I love you, Daddy -- and I'm sorry." Joanna's tearful voice filtered over to them.

"You... have... nothing to be... sorry about," the dying man insisted. "It's my fault. I should have... done better... by you. But I never... stopped loving you, baby. Never..." His voice trailed off; McCoy's medical instinct told him that death was not far away. Joanna seemed to know it too, calling to the three standing nearby. Kirk was first, replacing Joanna at McCoy's side.

"Bones? It's me."

"Jim..." the whisper came. "Take care of Jo... yourself... Spock, too. I loved... you both... like brothers." McCoy's eyes were open, but Kirk was sure his dying friend didn't really see him.

"As we did... and do... you." Tears once again filled Kirk's eyes. "We always will."

"Is... Spock here?" Kirk motioned the Vulcan over to the bed, about to get up when the Doctor's hand weakly gripped his. "No... Spock... other side..." The Vulcan moved to the other side of the bed and sat down, gently taking McCoy's fragile hand between both of his.

"Doctor..." Spock felt unbidden tears sting his eyes and a painful lump form in his throat as he tightened his grip on McCoy's hand.

"Please, Spock... don't talk." McCoy's head weakly turned on the pillow; his eyes closed and he smiled softly. Moments later his lips moved, but no words came out.

Kirk noted this. "Bones, you want something? Don't try to talk anymore; simply blink if you do." McCoy did so. "Blink twice if you want Natira; three times if you want Joanna."

The Captain watched his dying friend's face through a haze of tears. Once, twice, McCoy blinked. "Natira," Kirk called -- then he looked back to see McCoy blink three more times. "Joanna."

The Doctor's wife and daughter joined his friends at his bedside. Natira knelt by the bed, resting her head on her husband's chest. In his final moments, after Kirk had released his right hand, McCoy managed to lift it and touch her hair. She clutched him and sobbed.

"Natira, I... love you..." She didn't seem to hear him, but the others did. Joanna seated herself at the head of the bed on the left side, near Spock, reaching to stroke her father's hair. McCoy opened his eyes to gaze upon his only child one last time before looking around at all his loved ones -- then said, voice barely audible to his daughter's ears: "Jo... baby... be happy..."

"I'll try, Daddy," she promised. "Daddy?... Daddy!" No response. Joanna burst into fresh tears and wrapped her arms around her father's head, burying her face in his hair. "Oh God, he's gone... he's gone..."

Shortly afterward, Spock looked up and confirmed Joanna's statement. "She is right. The Doctor is dead." He had known this himself when McCoy's grip had slackened a moment before, fighting back his own grief and desire to cry. Kirk took McCoy's limp hand once again and checked for a pulse. He found none. Reverently bowing his head, he allowed his own tears to flow again, his own grief engulfing him. The Vulcan carefully stood up, then gently touched Joanna's shoulder. "Ms. McCoy... Joanna... your father is dead. You must release him."

"Leave me alone," she moaned, clinging to her father's still-warm body all the tighter. Spock was about to try again, but Kirk stopped him with a shake of his head.

"Listen to her, Spock. It's all right." He reached to lift the prostrate Natira off her husband's body. "Natira..."

"No... no..." She fought the hands pulling her away. "McCoy, my husband... come back... please come back! Speak to me..." The Captain gently removed her hands from McCoy's body and set her on her feet, but she ran off before he could stop her, slamming the door behind her.

This time, it was Spock who stopped him. "No, Jim. Let her go. She will return." Kirk nodded in agreement, knowing that as soon as they got everything straightened out here and helped Natira as much as possible, he faced the sad duty of informing the Enterprise crew of their former CMO's death... one of the hardest things he would ever have to do.


Almost right until the day he died, McCoy had worked to find a cure for his illness... but however hard he tried, it remained elusive. The only thing that eased Natira's grief was her pregnancy. She thanked the Creators that she would have McCoy's child. Another daughter like Joanna, perhaps -- such a lovely girl -- or a son, to be the image of her beloved. Even so, children could not replace a husband.

McCoy bequeathed most of his money (credits) and other possessions to Natira, but part of the credits and certain other items were left to Joanna. His two friends would be allowed to choose two items as personal mementos. However, when Kirk tried to take the holograph of McCoy with himself and Spock, Natira refused.

It was one of the few things she had left of her husband, other than memories of their love, all-too-brief marriage and life together... and their child. She relented when Kirk assured her that he only wanted to make a copy of it and would return it to her before the ship left. She was still reluctant, but allowed him to take it -- as well as the pinky ring McCoy had always worn... a gift from Kirk on one of the Doctor's birthdays early in their friendship.

Spock found it difficult to decide exactly what would be appropriate for him to take, since he and the Doctor had not been as close as himself and Jim. Even so, the Vulcan still wanted to have "something to remember him by."

Spock finally spotted an old but carefully preserved paperback copy of Margaret Mitchell's story of the old South, Gone with the Wind, on McCoy's bookshelf on what had been his side of the bed in his and Natira's private quarters. The Vulcan carefully opened the front cover; in McCoy's own hand it read, This book is the property of Leonard H. McCoy, M.D., Chief Surgeon of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

He forced back the pain at the sight of the writing to continue his search for a second memento. He was ready to call it off when he spotted a framed parchment under transparent aluminum on the wall near the bookshelf. It turned out to be a copy of the "Hippocratic Oath," which all ethical doctors followed, and to which McCoy had scrupulously adhered throughout his career. Spock allowed himself a smile. Yes, this would be perfect. A most appropriate memento of his doctor friend, along with the treasured antique copy of Gone with the Wind, which represented McCoy's personal and professional philosophies. As he attempted to remove it, it slipped from his grasp and thumped to the floor, landing face down.

As he bent over to pick it up, he was surprised to see more writing on the back -- but it was not the Doctor's. This was in a copperplate hand, as though written by an older person. One of the Doctor's parents, perhaps? When Spock stood up again, he raised the framed document to where he could read the following:

To My Beloved Son Leonard On His M.D. Degree, From His

Proud Father. Follow This Simple Philosophy, Son, And You

Can't Go Wrong.

(Signed) David A. McCoy, M.D.

28 January, 2253

It would take some time to go through and act on the rest of McCoy's wishes, so Kirk told Uhura to send a message to Starfleet Command informing them of McCoy's passing and his intentions -- and if they objected, to "do their worst." This was the last thing he could do for his friend and he intended to do it, no matter what they did to him. Besides, he had been named executor of Bones' estate. The Doctor's body was in stasis in the morgue section of the Enterprise's Sickbay, carefully preserved until the funeral could take place... on Yonada, per McCoy's request. Kirk was sure that this was for Natira's sake, because Bones had once told him that when he died, he wanted to be laid to rest in the soil of his native Georgia on Earth next to his parents in the McCoy family plot.

Joanna refused to leave until she absolutely had to. She and Natira had become good friends, having both suffered a great loss, and wanted to see it through together. She asked the Captain to send a communique to the Colony II Medical Center explaining her extended absence. Her vacation was for two weeks, but she had requested an additional month for bereavement leave... and if necessary, intended to take the Captain up on his offer of help. There would also be a shipboard memorial service for McCoy once Kirk felt up to it -- and he doubted he would for some time.

The grief he had felt for Bones before was a pinprick compared to what he was feeling now. If only he could have put it out of his mind, but one of his duties as executor was to plan and arrange McCoy's funeral; neither Natira nor Joanna was in any condition (or position) to do so. He had known Bones best. Kirk placed Scott in temporary command of the ship since he would be gone for several days on a "personal mission" taking care of McCoy's affairs. Spock would remain with him to help, and they would explain things upon their return.

The main things the Vulcan would do were maintain Kirk's sanity and control his Captain's grief until this unpleasant business was behind them, but Scotty and the crew didn't have to know that. Even so, the Enterprise crew knew their Captain and could guess the nature of the "personal mission." And no matter what Kirk said, Natira vowed to never remarry. "My husband McCoy will live forever in my heart. My six months with him, and our child, will have to sustain me the rest of my life." She was so beautiful, had so much love to give; it wasn't fair to her or their child for them to spend the rest of their lives without a husband or father... and he was sure that Bones would not want that, either. For the moment, however, there was no moving her, so he gave up temporarily. Perhaps time and the prospect of raising a child alone would change her mind.

* * *

Three days later the Enterprise crew and people of Yonada were informed that the funeral of the former CMO and High Priestess's husband would take place on stardate 5482.6 at 1400 hours. Christine asked for and was granted permission to attend by the current CMO once she got word. Kensington would have liked to go himself, but had not known McCoy personally, so he reluctantly decided to remain behind. He would have to content himself with secondhand knowledge. (Christine had promised to tell him all about it.)

Kirk and Spock had had their dress uniforms beamed over from the ship. Christine and the others who planned to attend, having obtained permission from Kirk, were to beam over an hour before the funeral, also in their dress uniforms. Those who had them, that is. The two women, Christine and Uhura, would be wearing black dresses. The men would wear mourning bands on their left sleeves.

By this time, a big wreath of flowers (magnolias, in keeping with McCoy's Southern background) had arrived from Starfleet Admiral Nogura, on behalf of everyone at Starfleet Command. Leonard McCoy's passing was a great loss, not only to Starfleet but the entire Federation. His medical accomplishments were legend, and his expertise would be sorely missed. He also sent their sympathies to McCoy's widow and daughter; Natira and Joanna told the Captain to send Nogura their thanks.

An hour and a half before the scheduled service, Kirk donned his dress uniform with mourning band and sat down at the desk in his temporary quarters on Yonada to dictate his log (both for the ship and his own personal one). He decided to do his Personal Log first, allowing his grief to show in his voice. He would do the official Captain's Log once he'd had a chance to relax and be sure that his grief was under control.

captain's personal log, stardate 5482.6: Today I will preside at the funeral of my oldest friend, Dr. Leonard H. McCoy. Writing the eulogy was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I think Bones would approve. He always loved life, and would want us to celebrate his life, not mourn his death. Thank God Spock will be here. I would never have gotten this far without his strength and support. Even so, it hurts terribly to know Bones is gone. I will always miss him.

The sound of a knock brought Kirk back to reality, even as tears misted his eyes. "Come," he said, willing his voice to sound normal.

"Jim?" Spock's quiet voice called.

"In here, Spock," Kirk replied from the living room. "Just dictating my Personal Log."

The tall, slender Vulcan soon materialized beside his Human friend, also in his dress uniform with mourning band.

"We have scarcely an hour before the service, and the other crewmembers who knew the Doctor are due to beam over momentarily. It is logical that we be there to meet them."

Kirk sighed. "I know, and we will... it's only that--" He could not speak further; words failed him. Spock did not speak, merely put gentle, comforting hands on his friend's shoulders. The Captain reached to clasp one hand, which gave him the strength to continue. "--I'm not looking forward to this. Bones meant so much to me... to us all. How will I ever be able to do him justice?"

"I can imagine how painful this must be for you, Jim." The Vulcan's voice was gentle and sympathetic. "You and Dr. McCoy were very close."

Kirk nodded, managing a sad smile. "He was a brother to me, Spock, just as much as my blood brother Sam was -- and you are. I've got to put my grief aside and do this for him, but it's going to be hard. I can't help but feel as if I'm losing Sam all over again. You're all I've got left."

This poignant admission touched Spock deeply; he gave Kirk's hand a gentle squeeze. "Thank you, Jim. I have done my best. I cannot replace the Doctor, but am still your friend, and will remain by your side as long as you need me."

"I think I'll always need you," Kirk admitted softly. "In the meantime, let's get to the beamdown site. Christine and the others will need to know where to go for the service." He got up after setting his tricorder down, and the two friends left the room.

* * *

After collecting Natira and Joanna, Kirk and Spock went to the beamdown site. Christine, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov were all waiting for them; the Communications Officer carried a pot of yellow roses. She had called up "florigraphy" (the language and symbolic use of flowers) on the library computer, discovering that yellow roses meant "goodbye" and as such, considered them appropriate for McCoy's funeral.

Christine held a bouquet of Cherokee roses, the state flower of McCoy's native Georgia. Sulu held a bouquet of cherry blossoms, the national flower of Japan, his ancestral home; Chekov held one of lilacs, one of several native Russian flowers -- all taken from the ship's extensive Botanical Gardens. The women gave the two commanding officers sad smiles as their two male companions nodded solemnly in Kirk and Spock's direction, eyes widening at the sight of Natira and Joanna, but saying nothing to them. The gravesite was only yards away, in the shade of two of the large hollow cylinders on the asteroid ship's planetlike inner surface.

"It's almost time for the service," Kirk said in his most professional voice. "Follow us." The small group nodded and everyone followed Kirk, Spock, Natira and Joanna to the former Oracle Room where a makeshift altar and seats had been set up, black ribbons connecting them on one side.

The Fabrini who had attended McCoy and Natira were also there, dressed somberly, the women with tears on their cheeks and clutching small bouquets of Fabrini flowers, the men wearing looks of sorrow. For most of them, the only reasons they needed to hold McCoy in high regard was the fact their High

Priestess loved him, as well as the fact he made her happy. The man had to be very special for Natira to love him... and so they loved him, too.

Silent and deferential, they sat about halfway back in keeping with Fabrini tradition, allowing McCoy's family and closest associates to pay their last respects in relative privacy. Both Natira and Joanna wore dark green long-sleeved dresses, the former's being a maternity one with a high waist even though she was barely showing, being just under four months along. The younger woman's dress was similar except for the fact that it clung to her slender body -- snug enough to show that she was a woman and loose enough to show that she was a lady, a proper daughter of the conservative Leonard McCoy.

McCoy's body had been taken out of stasis and dressed in his favorite outfit after being carefully prepared by M'Benga, then he and the current CMO placed it in the cherry-wood casket Kirk had ordered directly from Georgia and which had been delivered the previous day from Earth via freighter.

The casket was lined with blue satin; the Doctor's head rested on a small blue satin pillow and his hands were folded on his chest. He looked so lifelike that it seemed as though he was only asleep; only when one got close could they tell otherwise. Garlands of both Terran and Fabrini flowers covered its lower half.

The stone at the head of the open grave was four feet high, in the shape of a Celtic cross, intricately engraved with magnolia flowers and the following information:

leonard h. McCoy, m.d.

born january 20, 2227 - atlanta, georgia - north america, earth

died june 12, 2274 - asteroid ship yonada

beloved husband, father and friend

The small group of Enterprise crewmembers (along with Joanna and Natira) sat in the first row, about six feet in front of the altar, where Kirk would deliver the eulogy within the hour. The casket was placed in front of the altar. It was open; part of McCoy's face could be seen from where they were seated. Natira was quietly sobbing; Joanna's arm was around her and Kirk could see that the younger woman had been crying as well -- but now seemed to feel the need to be strong for the sake of her pregnant, bereaved stepmother.

Christine and Uhura sat together, flowers in one hand and their other hands clasped, both with tears on their cheeks. The faces of Sulu and Chekov were almost as stoic as Spock's, though both reflected sorrow. At precisely 1400 hours, Kirk stepped up to the altar, carrying an electronic pad in his right hand which contained the eulogy he had written for his departed friend. The Vulcan sat near the Chief Nurse and Communications Officer, sensing their grief and feeling for them, but tightly controlling his own.

"Natira, Joanna, members of the Enterprise crew, we are all here to celebrate the life of Dr. Leonard McCoy. As we all know, the Doctor loved life, and would not want us to mourn his death. Even so, we cannot help feeling grief at his passing because of our feelings for him. His death was needless and premature, making it doubly tragic -- but we must remember the miracle of his having lived among us for 47 years. Two of us were his family, others were close friends, still others merely colleagues and shipmates, but he touched all of our lives in a way that few people could, simply by virtue of the unique and very special person that he was."

Kirk took a breath, bowing his head as a fresh wave of pain washed over him. Even now, he could picture Bones in his mind as he knew him best. Active, busy, the best doctor around; McCoy either good-naturedly bickering with Spock or discussing patients with Christine and M'Benga... Not to mention the shore leaves and private talks he and the Doctor had shared together, both by themselves and with other friends -- even Spock, occasionally. That was all in the past now. His friend was gone forever, leaving his wife, daughter and everyone else who had known him with only fond memories and/or cherished mementos of their association with him.

The Captain blinked back tears and observed the small congregation before him. Natira's head was now on Joanna's shoulder, and the young woman was holding her stepmother in comforting arms, crooning soothing words even as her own tears flowed. He was surprised to see Spock sitting between Christine and Uhura, one arm around each of them and their heads close. Both women were crying softly, and he saw that Spock's lips were moving, but didn't know what he was saying.

It was amazing what someone's death could do to bring people together. Even Spock could forget he was a Vulcan (at least temporarily), and give comfort to his grieving Human friends, even if it was only a strong shoulder to cry on. Chekov and Sulu's dark heads were bowed, their eyes closed and hands clutching the flowers they had brought, faces reflecting sorrow and regret.

"It will be difficult for us to go on without him, but we must do so, for it is what he would want us to do. Only time will give us the ability to put our grief behind us. In closing, let me say that even in the midst of our sorrow, we must remember that no one is truly dead as long as they are alive in someone's heart. For that reason, Leonard McCoy will live forever. Thank you all for being here."

Kirk bowed his head and closed his eyes, then raised his head again. "Those of you who have flowers may now place them at the foot of the headstone." Christine and Uhura, along with Sulu and Chekov, stood up and made their way outside to the stone at the head of the open grave, bending over to place the flowers where Kirk had specified. The large wreath from Nogura stood at one side of the cross-shaped stone, the lilies-of-the-valley mixed with hot pink Queen Elizabeth roses from himself and Spock set in a large pot wrapped in green florist's wrap with a big white bow stood at the other.

After the flowers had been placed at the foot of the stone, the small group stood together, heads bowed and either holding hands or having their arms around each other. Kirk followed them a short time later, walking up to where Spock stood with Christine and Uhura, one arm around each of their shoulders and all three heads bowed. The casket would be carried out within the hour; Kirk and Spock were two of the four pallbearers. The other two were McCoy's attendants, two Fabrini men about the Doctor's age.

Kirk put a hand on the Vulcan's shoulder. "I'm here now, Spock," he said so only his friend could hear. "I'll take charge of one of the girls." The Vulcan looked up, one upswept brow raised in surprise, but returning to normal once he saw in Kirk's eyes that he would do well not to deny what he had been doing. He may have told himself that it was logical, but the Captain knew otherwise, and made sure that he knew it.

Spock turned toward Uhura and whispered in her ear. The Bantu looked up and smiled, then moved over beside Kirk, allowing his arm around her. Christine wanted to take advantage of the moment, the unexpected stroke of luck in having both of Spock's arms free to hold her -- but remained in the spot where she had been standing for the past fifteen minutes, hoping he would make the first move... even as unlikely as that possibility was. She finally decided to take a chance and move so Spock would be able to hold her, should he choose to do so. He raised an eyebrow, but didn't object to her having changed position, holding her in strong, comforting arms as grief once again claimed her, prompting further tears.

Jim had told him that it was a Human custom for men to hold women while comforting them at a funeral. Very different from the handful of Vulcan funerals he had attended in his life -- those of his great-grandfather Sokar, Sarek's grandfather; his grandfather Skonn, Sarek's father... then one of his uncles, one of Sarek's older brothers whose name he could not immediately recall -- then that of his paternal grandmother, Sarek's mother T'Petra.

Oh, he had sensed grief from his older relatives, including (surprisingly enough), his father ... but there was no contact between them other than the customary greetings. No crying or open displays of grief and sorrow. Vulcans mourned privately, behind closed doors. Fifteen minutes later Kirk released Uhura, bringing the Vulcan back to reality even as he released Christine.

Not long afterward, the Captain whispered to Spock and gestured to the two Fabrini males standing nearby at a respectful distance. The four went down and brought McCoy's casket up, placing it on three thick, wooden slats placed across the open grave. The burial would take place later that afternoon. The others watched silently, making sure to keep out of the way. Moments later, Kirk and Spock rejoined them and the two Fabrini rejoined their group.

They stood together as the Captain spoke to Joanna; Natira still clung to her stepdaughter like a lifeline. "I think we've done all we can do, so it is best that we get back to work." Joanna looked up at him and nodded in agreement; a moment later the Captain walked over to them and spoke to McCoy's daughter one last time. "Joanna, we've got to get back to the ship, but let us know if there's anything else we can do."

Joanna smiled. "I will, Captain. Thank you for all you've done. Dad would appreciate it -- as do Natira and myself." The pregnant widow managed to nod in response; she didn't trust herself to speak. Kirk gave Joanna a meaningful look after giving Natira a look of concern. "I'll take care of her, Captain. I still have four weeks I can spend with her."

The Captain flipped open his communicator after acknowledging Joanna's statement with a slight smile and inclined head. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here, sir," Kyle's voice came back.

"Six to beam over," Kirk said. "Energize." He exchanged a final smile with Joanna and nodded in response to her wave; Spock saluted McCoy's wife and daughter as the Fabrini attendants moved to place their own floral offerings at the base of the cross, then depart. Seconds later, the Enterprise group found themselves in the ship's Transporter Room. Kirk maintained his commander's mask while in Kyle's presence. "Thank you, Mr. Kyle. As you were."

The six then left the Transporter Room. The Captain, Spock, Sulu and Chekov headed to the Bridge after changing back into their duty uniforms; Christine and Uhura went to their quarters... until the next morning. Even so, Kirk well knew that even all they had went through was the easy part. The hard part still lay ahead -- living with the knowledge that Bones was gone forever.


Kensington was waiting expectantly when Christine walked into Sickbay a couple of days later for her duty shift at 0800 hours. By the look on the new CMO's face, she knew what he wanted to hear, but didn't feel up to talking about it right now. Their eyes met and she shook her head. He looked disappointed, but nodded understandingly. At 1215, while they were on their lunch break, she apologized to him for the delay.

"Sorry to make you wait, R.J. I'm still trying to digest it all myself." They sat at his desk in the Chief Surgeon's office having coffee and a sandwich. "I can tell you this much, though. It was a beautiful service. The Captain really did Dr. McCoy justice."

"Did you get to meet his wife and daughter?" Kensington wondered, taking a swig of coffee and a bite of his fish sandwich.

Christine shook her head while chewing on a bite of her own roast beef sandwich, not speaking until after she had swallowed it and washed it down with coffee. "I just saw them from a distance, but Natira, his wife, is a lovely woman... if only from a physical standpoint. She also looked about four months pregnant. I also don't think she ever stopped crying. I felt for her. She and Leonard... Dr. McCoy... had so little time together, only six months or so, but were obviously very happy and deeply in love. I heard from the Captain that the reason Leonard died so soon -- he originally had a year to live -- was because he'd worked so hard trying to find a cure for his illness. From what I understood, it was sheer will that kept him going near the last."

"What about his daughter?"

"She's the image of him... in her mid-twenties, tall and slender with shaggy brown hair. I assume she also had his blue eyes, though as I said, I only saw her from a distance. She and Natira both wore green, though Natira wore a maternity dress. All I can say is that if she loved Leonard half as beautifully as she looks, he was a lucky man -- and died happy. The Captain even said that Leonard had told Natira he loved her shortly before he died, though he wasn't sure if she heard him or not.

"He also said it was very touching to hear the last conversation between Leonard and his daughter. They hadn't spoken in years, but the Captain was sure Dr. McCoy had never stopped loving his daughter... Joanna, her name is... and so went out of his way to find and bring her to him."

"Is there anything else you can tell me?"

"'Fraid not. The Captain didn't go into detail. I could tell he was pretty broken up, so I didn't pressure him. He and Dr. McCoy were very close. This whole business has been rough on him; first Leonard's illness, then his leaving the Fleet to spend the last year of his life with Natira -- and now this.

"And Spock seems like a lost soul. If it's possible for a Vulcan to look totally shattered, he does, though he thinks he's hiding it. Despite their bickering, he cared a lot for Leonard, and his death has hit him hard. His eyes remind me of a whipped puppy's, large and sad. We all feel bad about losing Dr. McCoy, but they were the two closest to him. Of course, you have to know them well to be able to notice these things. Both of them are total professionals, and don't let personal feelings get in the way of duty if they can help it.

"I've told them to feel free to contact me if they need to get things off their chests -- I've had some psychological training -- but the Captain doesn't trust anyone but Spock right now. At least not as far as emotional solace is concerned. It seems as though he's making sure he doesn't ever get that close to anyone again, so it isn't so devastating to lose them when they die or leave the service.

"As for Spock..." Her voice trailed off, eyes taking on a faraway look. "The other day I happened to run into him in the Officers' Mess. He only had a small salad and glass of Altair water on his tray. He usually eats lightly, but this is something else again. The least I've ever seen him eat was a bowl of plomeek soup with salad and a drink. I asked him if he was all right.

"He raised an eyebrow at me and said, 'Perfectly, Miss Chapel. Why do you ask?' I felt like saying one of Dr. McCoy's pet phrases like, 'In a pig's eye,' or something because he looked like he hadn't slept in a week... but I just said, 'You look tired, that's all.' He sighed exasperatedly and said, 'It is nothing you need concern yourself with, Nurse. Now if you would excuse me, I would like to eat my lunch.' It was all I could do not to follow him because there was a lot of pain in his voice, despite his control. He needed someone who cared to be with him -- but he's harder to get to than the Captain. Besides, I doubt he would have accepted solace from anyone but him. Certainly not from me. I know men are usually taught to hide their feelings, but this is ridiculous." Again, her eyes took on a sad, faraway look.

Kensington had heard of Christine's feelings for the Vulcan, but hadn't seen any evidence until now. "I understand that you're in love with Spock."

There was a long silence, then Christine nodded... and when she spoke, her voice was barely audible. "With every fiber of my being."

"But isn't that hard on you?" The Doctor's voice was a mixture of bewilderment and sympathy.

The Chief Nurse looked up at the new CMO, hardly daring to speak for fear that her voice would show what she was feeling -- how much grief, empathy, and most of all, how much love. "Of course it is. Damnably hard... but there isn't much I can do about it, except learn to live with it as best I can."

"Haven't you tried to tell him how you feel? He's not a computer."

Christine rolled her eyes.

"You could fool me! I finally went to Dr. McCoy with this; he said it was best not to try to pressure Spock, try to make him admit to having feelings... simply be as professional as possible around him. With all due respect to Leonard -- God rest his soul -- it's easy for him to say. He isn't the one in love with Spock! It hurts me to see Spock so hurt, so... tragic. I want so badly to take him in my arms and comfort him, assure him that the pain will pass -- that he still has people around him who care about him. But it's like he has an invisible wall around him that I cannot penetrate. The Captain and Leonard were the only ones who could, even occasionally. I don't seem to be anything more than a colleague to him -- and a subordinate one at that."

Christine closed her eyes and bowed her head in pain.

"I'm sorry, Christine. I wish I knew how to help you."

"It helps to just get it off my chest. All you need do is be a willing ear, a shoulder to cry on or strong arms around me. In essence, be my friend, as Dr. McCoy was."

"Haven't you ever tried to find someone new? You're a lovely woman; you'd be a catch for any man -- even a Vulcan."

Christine smiled sadly. "Thanks; I appreciate that. Of course I've tried... but no matter who it is, I always end up comparing them to Spock. It's not fair, because Spock is unlike any man I've ever known. I doubt I'll ever find anyone -- any Human male -- to equal him."

She yawned and stretched. "Well, the hour's almost up. I've bent your ear long enough about the troubled life of Christine Chapel. It's time to get back to work."

The nurse got to her feet and started for the door after finishing her sandwich and coffee. "Christine, wait." She stopped in her tracks. "Would you have dinner with me at 2100 tomorrow evening? We're both off-duty at that time."

Christine stiffened and hesitated. "Doctor -- R.J. -- I appreciate the offer, but I don't want your sympathy or pity. I have enough on my mind without that."

"It's just a casual dinner, my dear, I assure you. Besides, you didn't finish telling me about the funeral service." There was a long silence before Kensington continued. "Humor me, okay? I'm new here. I don't know that many people yet."

The CMO's light-hearted tone made the Head Nurse smile. "All right, I'll be there. Officers' Lounge, or the Rec Room?"

"Rec Room," was the reply.

"See you then. Now let's get back to business." Her voice was crisp, the epitome of the efficient Head Nurse.

"Lead on."

Kensington gestured toward the door. Christine walked toward it, golden head held high and back ramrod-straight, the British physician on her heels. Of course, there was something R.J. Kensington had neglected to mention: Even as attractive as he found his new Head Nurse, he knew that she wasn't looking for any relationship beyond friendship with any man except Spock. Over time, he had deduced that the Vulcan was also very stubborn as well as coolly dignified and logical... or should he say "logically emotional"? In that event, he intended to do what he could to get Spock to appreciate her more, learn to trust her with his feelings.

It wouldn't be easy to get past that rhinoceros-hidelike facade, but he had to try. Christine deserved a shot at Spock -- and he intended to see that she had that chance if he could manage it. This dinner he had asked her to would be the first step. Once word got around that he and Christine were "keeping company"... well, who knew what could happen? Even a rumor might get the ball rolling.


captain's log, stardate 5495.4: It has taken me three months, but today I am finally going to give a memorial service for Dr. McCoy aboard the Enterprise. Even now, it's going to be hellishly hard, but it has to be done for the sake for the crew who knew him, but never had the chance to attend the service on Yonada.

James Kirk turned off his recorder, then leaned his elbows on his desk, burying his face in one hand as tears burned his eyelids and pain clutched at his heart. It was at times like this that he wished he was Vulcan and could observe all this in a detached manner. Unfortunately no purpose would be served by dwelling on an impossibility. He was Human, and had to deal with it (and his grief) as a Human would. It had been a full three months since McCoy's passing, and only with Spock's help had he made it this far. The new CMO was very much like McCoy in many ways, but he wasn't McCoy. Oh, they got along okay, it wasn't that... but he stopped short of offering him his friendship.

Sometimes you could know a person in only a short time, like three months; other times you wouldn't know them even after years of association. With Bones, it had been the former. As with Spock, they hadn't been just friends -- they had been brothers. Something like that didn't happen every day. Not that it wasn't possible for it to happen again... after all, it had happened twice in his own life. It was just that-- Oh, hell, this wasn't getting him anywhere. He had to stop thinking like this.

Even after three months, it wasn't going to be easy for the Captain to talk about the friend he had lost. No matter how much time passed, Bones would always be alive in his heart. Of course there were times he had to talk about him, however much it hurt, and Spock made a great sounding board. Just the same, it was very likely that the Vulcan considered him illogical to still hurt so much, but at the same time, Kirk was sure that Spock hurt every bit as much as a result of the Doctor's loss as he himself did. In his own way, of course.

The Captain had kept in touch with Natira; she was getting along as well as could be expected. She had adjusted to her husband's death, but still mourned for him and was adamant about a possible remarriage. She visited his grave every day, putting flowers there and kneeling at the foot of it for close to an hour, sobbing and whispering Fabrini prayers until her attendants escorted her back to her quarters. Kirk had learned not to even mention it to her, but deep down, he prayed she would find someone new to be a husband to her and father to her child. She had too much to offer a man to spend her life alone.

He had also learned that she kept the holo of herself and McCoy taken shortly after their wedding as well as the one of him with his friends on her bedside table -- along with her regular box of pale green tissues with a pinelike scent. There was a Fabrini shrub which resembled a pine tree, but which had leaves instead of needles. The leaves secreted the aromatic substance. A small chronometer which she had found among McCoy's things sat beside it; the chrono had his name engraved on it.

She dreaded going to bed nowadays because McCoy was not there to hold her, kiss her and caress her. Before her departure, Joanna had examined her stepmother and told her that the child she carried was a boy -- which pleased Natira as much as anything could these days. She would have a son to be the image of her beloved, one of the few things she had left to live for.

Now seven months pregnant, Natira had managed to escape the worst kind of problems with her pregnancy, but did have the usual ones: morning sickness, swelling ankles, backaches and such. They were unpleasant, but she could live with them as long as she would have McCoy's child at the end of them... his last gift of love to her.

There were still several months to go before the asteroid ship would reach the promised planet, which Spock had calculated would be the third of seven orbiting the average-sized yellow star UFC-376082. The ETA would be stardate 5498.3 at 1730 hours, ship's time, and Yonada would orbit the planet like the Moon orbited Earth.

Natira had been pleased to learn all this, and had in fact already chosen a name for the promised planet -- New Fabrina. Her only regret was that she would rule alone. New Fabrina would be a class M world, so those who wished could live on the planet. Others could remain on Yonada... for most, the only home any of them (including herself) had ever known.

* * *

As for the Enterprise crewmembers who had known McCoy, Christine seemed to be holding up the best. It had taken six months, but she had finally stopped calling Kensington by the wrong name. The two had in fact been keeping company for the last several weeks... sharing dinners, holovid movies, walks in the botanical gardens, and so on. There had been no indications -- so far -- that the relationship was anything but what it seemed, at least on Christine's part. However, the Captain was sure that the new CMO's feelings for the Head Nurse were a tad more than professional. Even so, he doubted that she would allow more than friendship from him.

Of course, that could change, but the Captain was pretty sure that it wouldn't -- at least not any time soon. Whatever else Christine Chapel was, she was loyal to a loved one... particularly if that loved one happened to be named Spock. Even so, he was grateful that she had a bit of male companionship.

The knowledge of Christine seeing the new CMO socially didn't seem to be affecting the Vulcan, at least not outwardly -- but that facade could be deceptive. Kirk knew what an artist Spock was at hiding his feelings behind a mask of logic and control... and that he was as transparent as glass on occasion. Whatever her motivations, Kirk was sure that what she was showing was as much a facade as Spock's. Despite his so-called indifference, Christine was not easily deterred if she really wanted something (or someone) -- and she wanted Spock. She knew that logical facade for what it was, and had long ago vowed to be the woman who got behind it.

It hadn't been easy, even for him, to get close to Spock... and owing to the fact of the Vulcan's having been hurt any time he tried to show his feelings to anyone except Kirk, Christine would have an even tougher time of it -- but if she persevered, she might get lucky and end up like Amanda. One never could tell what the future might bring. In the meantime, he realized he'd better get back to the business at hand; the memorial service would be starting in fifteen minutes.

* * *

All the off-duty personnel who had known the Doctor, as well as a few who didn't, were assembled in the ship's Chapel waiting when the Captain walked in and made his way up to the altar. He placed his datapad on it, then stood quietly for a moment, his head bowed; his hands grasped the sides of the altar.

Kirk breathed deeply, once again feeling sharp pain stab at his heart at the thought of his lost friend -- and wasn't sure if he would be able to do it. What could he say that would do Bones justice? Words were so inadequate to sum up a person's life... especially one like Bones. He knew of several instances where the Doctor had shown his true nature, but most were personal, too personal for him to share with the crew. Things McCoy had shared only with him -- and perhaps Natira. He was brought back to reality by Scotty's voice.

"Captain, should ye not be gettin' on with th' service? We're all waitin'." The Chief Engineer had been in command of the ship while Kirk and Spock were away, so he had been unable to attend the previous service on Yonada.

Kirk looked up; the engineer stood in front of his chair, his voice quiet and respectful, but holding a touch of impatience. "Oh, Scotty. Sorry. I got lost in thought."

Scott nodded in acceptance as he sat back down. The Captain looked around at the crewmembers before him, surprised to see the new CMO and even Dr. M'Benga sitting several rows back. The black doctor was almost as soft-spoken and taciturn as Spock, rarely showing emotion of any kind... one legacy of his internship on Vulcan. If Vulcans couldn't teach you emotional control, no one could, yet he was here, and so was Kensington -- the CMO so like Bones, and yet unlike him... someone who knew McCoy only by reputation. McCoy had made more of an impression than he would ever know.

* * *

"Thank you all for coming. It has taken me a long time to get around to doing this, which is unfair to you, since most of you were unable to attend the service for Dr. McCoy on Yonada. For that, I apologize, and hope that the statements I make here today will make up for it somewhat. Most of you did not know the Doctor as I did, for he was a private person and not easy to get to know.

"But for the ones who did, he proved a loyal friend who would bend over backwards for you -- even risk his life -- for someone he cared about. He would not want us to mourn his death; instead, we should celebrate his life, for he loved life and did his utmost to live each day to the fullest."

Spock was on duty on the Bridge, as were Sulu and Chekov to keep the ship on course to their next destination. Kirk wished the Vulcan could have been there so he could have looked into his deep brown eyes and drawn strength to continue... but he was on his own, and would have to muddle through as best he could.

"As painful as it was to lose him so soon, we must get on with our lives -- live them as the Doctor would want, but keep him alive in our hearts. In that way, he will live forever. Again, thank you all for coming."

Some of the crew seemed disappointed that the eulogy was so short, that Kirk had not gone into more detail about McCoy, his life after the Enterprise and what the first service had been like -- but tried to understand that it was difficult for the Captain to do what he did, having been such a close friend of the Doctor's. Kirk was thankful for the simple Vulcan technique Spock had taught him which enabled him to maintain a facade of normalcy. Most of the time his own controls sufficed, but at times of stress, he needed more. Even so, that was unimportant as long as it lasted until he was able to get out of their sight.

However, despite what he and the others aboard ship were going through, Natira and Joanna's situations were far worse. Natira had been his wife, if only for a few months, and was carrying his child. The Captain had learned in their last talk that Joanna had told her she would have a son. Kirk was pleased that there would be another McCoy in the galaxy, and prayed he would meet Bones' son one day. Of course, the younger McCoy might feel obligated to stay with his mother (at least for a time) so she wouldn't be alone. It was a chance he would have to take... but all that was in the future.

In the meantime, he was more concerned with Joanna -- the guilt she must feel along with her grief, that she had not done more to have kept in touch with her father. Technically it wasn't her fault, since Bones was a notoriously poor correspondent... but the Captain was sure she wished that she had sent him regular updates on her latest doings, even if he didn't answer her. As it was, Bones had not known of her departure from Deneb IV to further her education on Rigel II. She would have to live with this pain and guilt for the rest of her life, even if she stayed in touch with her stepmother, half-brother or Kirk himself.


The next time Kirk heard from Natira, the People and Yonada had arrived at New Fabrina. The asteroid ship had settled into a synchronous orbit around the slightly more than Earth-sized planet. A short time -- two and a half months -- later, he learned from Joanna (the three of them kept in close touch) that Natira had given birth to a fine, strapping son who was all his mother had hoped for... the image of his father, her beloved late husband.

The boy had been born on stardate 5715.2 (November 17, 2274, old calendar) at 0200 hours after eighteen hours of labor. He had weighed a healthy eight pounds, six ounces, and was 21 inches long. He also had dark hair and blue eyes -- nearly all of his father's features, in fact -- though Natira could see herself in his face. Even so, Bones had told him in one of their talks that Fabrini pregnancies were somewhat longer than Terran ones... about ten months. Natira must have delivered early for some reason. He did not learn that reason until several weeks later.

Shortly after their arrival, Natira had gone through the Fabrini medical files she re-discovered at that time, and was very upset to learn that there had been a cure -- an actual cure! -- for the deadly affliction which had claimed her beloved's life, taken him away from her and their son. She had been so preoccupied with caring for her husband that she had not thought to consult the files.

Natira's grief was only now beginning to ease, but new pain slashed at her heart like an animal's claws when she thought of how different things could have been if they could only have thought to check the files and found out about this cure in time to save McCoy. There had been no need for him to work so hard trying to find one and shorten his already drastically shortened life... and once the Captain and the others found out, they would feel as heartsick as she and Joanna did. McCoy need not have died. He could have been with them now, alive and happy, instead of dead these many months past. She had gone into labor only hours later because of her distress over this.

She told Kirk at their next talk; he felt pain grip his heart like a giant hand squeezing it so hard that he fought to breathe. Several minutes passed before he regained his composure. Why hadn't he thought to mention the medical files himself? Spock had told him of their existence, but he had had too much else on his mind to realize the significance of the information. In addition, he had expected Bones to come up with a cure, like he usually did -- and in that case the files would be extraneous.

How could anyone have known that he, McCoy, would be unable to find it? If they had known, Bones might be alive today and none of those who had known him or been close to him during his life would be fighting to put their lives back together, learn how to live without him. The only good thing, Kirk reflected, was the fact that Natira had revealed the existence of her father -- he was widowed as she was -- and he would provide a father figure for her now fatherless son. Of course, that still wasn't any replacement for a husband or little Reynald Leonard David's real father (Natira had named her son for both his father and two grandfathers), but at least it was a step in the right direction.

Hopefully now she would decide that it would be best for both herself and her child to remarry. Kirk did not mention this, for he knew what she would say, but still harbored a secret hope that she would honor her late husband's memory by entering into a new marriage with someone as much like him as possible... perhaps even bear more children.

The Captain couldn't help chuckling at Natira's indignant reply when he had asked her if she'd heard her dying husband's last words to her. "Of course I did. How do you think I have found the strength to live without him?"

"Did he ever tell you that when he died, he wanted to be laid to rest in Georgia soil next to his parents in their family plot?"

There was a long silence before Natira spoke again. "No, he did not." She sounded bewildered and sad. "If that was the case, why did he not tell me?"

"I think he did it for your sake, so you and your son could come to visit his grave regularly."

Her voice seemed lighter and happier in spite of her renewed sorrow. "That sounds reasonable -- or as your friend Spock would say -- logical."

Kirk smiled in spite of his own sadness at her reference to Spock's pet word... as well as the thought that Bones had told his wife of his friendships with both himself and the Vulcan, talking with her about them in hopes of easing his loneliness at being separated from them in spite of his happiness with her.

"It's a good thing he can't hear you say that. He'd have been very insulted. I've lost count of how many times he and Spock went around and around, almost constantly bickering about something or other. Did he ever tell you about the arguments?"

"Yes. For a time it was difficult to believe that they were good-natured, as McCoy always claimed -- but now that you have mentioned the subject again, I am reflecting back and can see that the two of them did indeed care very much for each other. Those arguments may even have been their way of expressing their affection."

"That's what I think too," Kirk said, then he was silent for a time. "He and Spock mean... or meant... every bit as much to me as did Sam, my blood brother."

"You sound sad, Captain. What happened to him?"

"He and his wife died about a year ago, Earth time. Their son, my only living relative, Peter, was affected by the same thing which killed his parents... but Bones -- that is, Dr. McCoy -- and I managed to find a way to save him and the rest of the colonists. They lived on Deneva, a Federation colony."

"I see." Natira decided not to pursue the matter or pressure the Captain for further details in deference to his sorrow and respectful of his privacy. If he volunteered them, that was one thing... but McCoy's death, coming scarcely a year after those of Kirk's brother and sister-in-law, must make things doubly painful for him. It was surprising that he was able to talk about it at all, much less so soon.

"It must be very painful for you to talk about."

"Having a sympathetic ear makes it easier," Kirk replied.

"I assume you mean that it is easier to speak of such things to someone you feel comfortable with."

"Did Bones tell you that?"

"That, and many other Earth expressions." A smile was in her voice... then she fell silent for so long that Kirk was sure she had signed off.

"Natira, are you still there?"

"Oh yes, Captain. I did not mean to be silent for so long. I was thinking--"

"What were you thinking?" he smoothly interrupted.

"That perhaps... after my death, that is... our son, if he so desires, can move our bodies to Georgia on Earth, and then make his home there so as to be near us. After all, he will be half-Terran as well as half-Fabrini. It would not be right to deny him his Earthly heritage. In that event, I wish to be with my husband McCoy for all eternity, and care not where it is as long as I am with him. For the time being, however, I am content to remain on Yonada -- though some of the younger People are establishing a colony on New Fabrina. I will visit once the colony is established, then resume my rule, keeping my father as advisor and guardian to my son in the event something happens to me and I die prematurely as McCoy did. My only regret is that he will not be there with me.

"Incidentally, Captain, I would like to extend an invitation to you and Mr. Spock to visit us at your earliest convenience. Being with the two of you, my darling husband's closest friends, would almost be like having McCoy back with me again. And when you come, I would like to hear more of your adventures with my husband. He only told me of a few of them."

"Well, a few are classified -- secret, that is," Kirk explained with a chuckle. "But there are quite a few more that aren't. In addition, I can't say exactly when or how long it will be before we can be there -- that depends on what our schedule is like in the foreseeable future. Don't worry, though. I'll keep you posted... that is, let you know one way or the other as soon as I can."

"I suppose I shall have to be content with that, although McCoy did assure me that once you or Mr. Spock give your word, you never break it if you can help it. And, Captain--"


"You and your Vulcan friend may call yourselves 'uncles' to my son if you wish since the two of you are his father's 'brothers.' It seems only appropriate. Reynald needs more family than his grandfather and myself."

"Mr. Spock is a Vulcan. They are trained not to show emotions. I assume you will raise your son to value emotions."

"That I will, as his father wished -- but as for Mr. Spock being a Vulcan, that does not matter. Despite his logical facade, I sensed deep affection for both McCoy and yourself from him when the three of you said your farewells. The Fabrini are no longer a prejudiced or intolerant people, Captain. We accept those we meet for what they are and treat them with respect until and unless they prove unworthy. McCoy told me that Mr. Spock is half-Human, and has led a very lonely, difficult life because of his dual heritage... so Mr. Spock need not fear rejection or intolerance because of his looks or beliefs."

"That's good to know. I'm sure he will be pleased. He is usually quite hesitant to meet new people for those same reasons." Kirk made sure to let her know how pleased he was. "I'm sure that you and your father will both do your best for your son... just as I'm sure he will have friends, and one day a family, who care for him as much as Spock and I cared for his father. That is, if he's anything like him -- and you -- at all."

"I hope so, Captain... and thank you for the compliment."

"As Mr. Spock would say, I am stating facts. And I want to meet and get to know your father as well as Reynald. I'm sure Bones... Dr. McCoy... would be very proud of him, like your father must be of you. It wouldn't surprise me if you were his favorite daughter."

"I am his only daughter, Captain. His only child, in fact. My mother died shortly after my birth."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I really put my foot in it, didn't I? Made a mistake, I mean," Kirk apologized upon detecting the sadness in Natira's voice at the mention of her mother's death. Natira had never known her mother, but her father had told her wonderful stories -- stories which now saddened her and made her wish that her mother hadn't died before she'd had a chance to know her.

"You could not have known, Captain. McCoy is the only one who did other than my father and myself."

"Oh yes, I've been meaning to ask. What is your last name? You never mentioned one... or if you had one at all."

"It is unpronounceable, Captain. All Fabrini go by their first names."

"That reminds me of Spock. Both his first and family names are unpronounceable. How we usually address him -- 'Spock' -- is probably the equivalent of a Terran middle name."

"What is your middle name, Captain?"

Kirk was reluctant to tell her, even though his middle name wasn't that bad -- it was simply uncommon. After all, not everyone had parents who had a thing for ancient Roman names such as "Tiberius."

"It's... Tiberius," he hesitantly admitted. "You mean McCoy never told you what the 'T.' in my name stands for?"

"If he had, I would not have asked. And why are you so hesitant to reveal it? It is a handsome name -- it fits you."

"That's what my parents always said... but just the same, I envied the other boys who had more common middle names like David or William, which also work well as first names. I always dreaded having to give my middle name, even when I applied to Starfleet Academy, because I had to explain why I had such an unusual name. After all, how many kids have parents who had a love affair with ancient Rome -- or at least Roman names?"

Just then Kirk heard a baby cry in the background... but Natira spoke first. "I must go now, Captain. Reynald needs his lunch. We will talk later -- hopefully in person, but if not, I still look forward to speaking further with you. Farewell for now."

"Take care of yourself, Natira. Reynald needs you more than ever now... and be sure to give your father my regards. He is a lucky man to have a daughter like you. Kirk out."

Only moments later the Captain's buzzer sounded.

"Come," he said.

"Jim?" Spock's voice called after the door opened and closed.

"In here, Spock." Moments later, the tall Vulcan appeared in the doorway of Kirk's sleeping alcove.

"I am here as you requested. What did you wish to speak with me about -- and if I may inquire, who were you speaking with just before my arrival?"

"Sit down first," the Captain directed. He moved to make room for the Vulcan to sit down next to him on his bed. Once Spock was comfortable (or at least as comfortable as he ever allowed himself to be), Kirk spoke again.

"I've been keeping in touch with Natira. She's had her child... Bones' son. He's about three months old now. She named him Reynald Leonard David."

"Why that particular name?"

"To honor his father and grandfathers."

Spock's lips twisted wryly. Three names hardly seemed necessary or logical to him, but since he had no say in the matter, his opinion was irrelevant. This was Dr. McCoy's son, not his. The Doctor would probably be pleased with such a name.

"When was he born?"

"Stardate 5715.2 at 0200 hours."

"Does he look like Dr. McCoy?"

"Pretty much, according to Natira -- though she does see herself in his facial bone structure."

"Has it not been difficult for her to have carried the child, then borne him without a husband for herself and father for him?"

"She told me that her father is still alive and will look after them. She has also made him the boy's guardian in the event something happens to her."

"What of her mother?"

"She said her mother died shortly after she was born."

"Oh," was all Spock could think of to say. "What else did you talk about?"

"A little bit of everything," the Captain evaded. "I want to ask you something first."

"What do you wish to know?"

"I saw you with Christine and Uhura; your head was bowed like theirs and your lips were moving, though I couldn't make out what you were saying. Just what were you saying, anyway? I've always wondered."

"It was a Vulcan... prayer... for the dead."

"Prayer? I didn't know Vulcans had such things."

"It is very old, dating from Pre-Reform days. We abandoned it when we turned to logic."

"But you considered it appropriate for Dr. McCoy's funeral?"

The Vulcan inclined his head slightly. "It is meant to be whispered, so no living person can hear it. Before the Reformation, it was believed that the... spirit, katra... or 'soul' of the deceased, as you might say... could hear it and would rest peacefully from that moment on. If I was a full-blooded Vulcan, I would not have considered using it -- but since I am half-Human..." Spock's voice trailed off.

"You wanted to make sure the Doctor would rest easy because you cared about him, even in death." Spock looked up sharply at him, but Kirk's equally sharp look dared the Vulcan to deny his emotional motivation -- so he didn't. Even so, he was quite uncomfortable when his emotions were read so easily.

Dr. McCoy had been most adept at it, but Jim was even more so, and it was unnerving. Dr. Kensington was learning quickly as well... probably due to his almost daily association with Christine, both on and off-duty -- a development which disturbed Spock more than he cared to admit, even to Jim. "You were going to tell me what you and Natira talked about," he reminded the Captain, trying to change the subject. This time Kirk took the hint.

"Remember when Bones said that he loved her just before he died? I always wondered if she'd heard him -- and when I got the chance, I asked. She took it as a personal affront, assuring me in no uncertain terms that she had."

"What else?"

"After I told her that Dr. McCoy had wanted to be buried in Georgia soil next to his parents when he died, she seemed saddened and bewildered. It seems that he hadn't told her that... then she said their son could move the both of them -- her and Bones, I mean -- to Earth upon her death, and make his home there so as to be near them if he so wished. I told her Bones probably requested burial on Yonada for her sake, so she and their son could visit his grave whenever they wanted. She seemed to accept that."

The Vulcan nodded in acknowledgment. "She also invited us to come stay with them at the first opportunity -- said that our being there would be the next best thing to having Bones there. Also that we could call her son our nephew if we wanted to."

"Most thoughtful of her," Spock observed. "Are we going to visit her?"

"Eventually, but not for the foreseeable future. I told her it depended on how our schedule was." The Vulcan nodded again. "We also talked about me and my background, to a certain extent... what happened with Sam, my antipathy about my middle name, things like that. You know all about my background, so I won't go into detail about it." Kirk talked mainly to break the silence, unable to stand it any longer.

Spock spoke again when the Captain least expected it. "Did she offer any further insights into her own background?"

"Yes, come to think of it. I asked her if she had a last name; she said it was unpronounceable, that all Fabrini go by their first names." The First Officer nodded again. "I also think you'll be pleased to know that they are no longer a judgmental people. They accept a person as he is, respect his beliefs and don't try to change him or revile him simply because he's strange to them or different in any way."

The Vulcan did indeed look pleased about that, knowing how much easier it would be for him during their visit once it occurred. "Most logical."

Kirk sighed, then got up to yawn and stretch. "We'd better get to bed now. It's getting late, and we've got a long day coming up tomorrow."

"Indeed." The Vulcan stood up and turned toward the door. "In that case, it would be logical for us to retire at the first opportunity."

"Oh, believe me, I intend to, Spock." The Captain watched his Vulcan friend walk toward the doorway of their shared bathroom. "Sleep well, my friend."

"And you as well, Jim. I will see you in the morning." Spock nodded in his Human friend's direction with a half-smile before stepping through the bathroom door and disappearing. Kirk smiled at the closed door, then undressed and climbed into bed, asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.


R.J. Kensington had been disappointed that the shipboard memorial service for McCoy had been so short. He had hoped to hear more about the former CMO as well as the service on Yonada. In spite of her earlier promise, Christine had only been willing to discuss so much regarding either one, which he found so strange that he would have to ask her why. He hesitated to do so, for she would surely be as reluctant as before, but had to try. They met in the Rec Room for lunch after their early shift in Sickbay; he got right to the point once they sat down with their meal trays.

"Christine, there is something I must ask you."

She was taking a swig of herbal tea as he spoke, setting her cup down to give him a long, level look. "What about?" She sounded wary.

"Your relationship with Dr. McCoy."

Christine sighed and leaned back in her chair. "With all due respect, R.J., I've told you all I intend to in that regard. Leonard was quite special to me, and I'm still not quite over his death. I doubt I will be for some time."

Kensington knew it was a silly question, judging from what he knew of Christine's feelings, but he had to ask, anyway. "You weren't falling in love with him, were you?"

Christine gave him a funny look. "Of course not. I was close to Leonard, but there was no romance involved. He was simply a dear friend. Incidentally, there is a very fine line between helping someone and invading their privacy. I know you mean well, but even at the risk of offending you, I must say that you have crossed that line one too many times. Not only with me, but with Spock and the Captain. I'm the forgiving type, but am not so sure about them."

Kensington bowed his head. "I'm sorry. I never meant to intrude on your sorrow or that of the Captain and Mr. Spock. It's only that--"

The nurse reached a hand to cover one of the CMO's. "You care about us. That's commendable, but you shouldn't try to pressure anyone into friendship or attempt to force them to share their sorrow unless they choose to do so. I had that problem when I first came aboard -- especially with Spock. It got so that he had to physically throw me out of his cabin."

"But from what I know of you and your feelings, you could not have consciously meant to disturb him. Surely he knows that you were only trying to show that you cared about him."

"Sure, he does... now. But it took his throwing me out for me to back off and learn to restrain myself."

"Even so, that doesn't sound like him. Vulcans are usually quite patient and forgiving, able to take more than a Human would."

"At least they show less emotion." Christine took another swig of tea and swallowed it before setting it down again. "Spock was going through a rough time at that point, and I made it worse -- even if it was unintentional."

"You mean...?" Kensington saw no need to elaborate since his internship on Vulcan had made him privy to things about Vulcans that most Human health care professionals neither knew nor cared to know -- like the pon farr.

"Yes," she admitted, unwilling to speak further on the subject.

"That explains it, then. Spock wasn't himself. Of course, what Vulcan would be at a time like that?"

"Even so, I heard later that I'd been making something of a pest of myself... but not from Spock, of course. In fact, he apologized to me later on. That is, after I apologized to him." Christine sighed before taking a bite of her chef's salad. "Of course, I was more careful around him after that." She shook her head.

"But the Captain is another story altogether. You think it's hard for you to get close to them. How do you think it's been for me? They only let you go so far and no farther. When -- or if -- you try to get closer, they clam up tighter than an Aldeberan shellmouth. When that happens, you'd do better to talk to a bulkhead as far as getting a response is concerned. The only ones they trust these days are each other."

"I suppose I can understand that, at least up to a point. Even so, I was planning to have a talk with them about why they're still so standoffish after all this time. They claim to like me, but back off like I've got a communicable disease if I try to initiate further overtures of friendship."

Kensington took a bite of his fish, then one "chip" (otherwise known as french fries) before washing them down with a swig of espresso coffee.

"It's probably got little to do with you, although you do closely resemble Dr. McCoy... and that disturbs them. I don't know why. I suspect that even they don't know why, and couldn't tell you even if you asked them." The Head Nurse yawned and stretched. "I am pleased to report, however, that Spock actually thanked me for caring about him the other day while I was working late in the biochemistry lab.

"It was surprising, since he's rarely done anything like that without prompting... either from me or someone else. Maybe our seeing each other has gotten to him after all -- at least to a certain extent."

"That's good to hear, but we're not out of the woods yet. Which reminds me... there's going to be a Beethoven/Tchaikovsky concert here in a few days. They're two of my favorite composers, and since you once mentioned that you also enjoy classical music--"

Christine smoothly interrupted. "When is it? What time, I mean? I need to check my schedule and see whether or not I'm on duty that day."

"I think around 1900 hours Thursday evening. This is Monday. I can always reschedule you if necessary. One of the advantages of being Chief Surgeon." The British doctor chuckled.

"Just the same, I'll have to see what my schedule is before I can let you know one way or the other. Have to get some sleep now. As I recall, you've got me down for the early shift again. See you later."

Christine smiled and nodded, then stood up and picked up her meal tray, moving off to properly dispose of it. Kensington smiled after her, watching until she disappeared through the Rec Room doors. He then returned to his own meal, reflecting on what she had said about Kirk and Spock. It was possible that they were still standoffish because they had been so close to McCoy that they didn't want to risk getting that close to anyone again after having been so devastated when he died.

He still hadn't gotten a complete answer from Christine regarding her own behavior, but that could wait. Right now he was more concerned with the Captain and Executive Officer... not that they ever called Spock that here, at least not in his hearing. They were more likely to refer to him as the "First Officer" or "second-in-command." It was also possible that he was either too much (or not enough) like McCoy for their comfort. He couldn't say which at this point. Neither could he say whether or not it would do him any good to continue trying to initiate a deeper friendship with them, judging from his own recent experiences and the outcome of those experiences.

They had seemed interested in him when he'd first arrived, but the novelty seemed to have worn off. All the same, his conversation with Christine had left too many loose ends. He would have to talk to Spock and Kirk again, see if either would tell him why they consistently kept him at arm's length as far as a closer friendship was concerned. Vulcans were a private people, particularly about their personal lives and private feelings -- so it might be better for him to see if he could get anything out of Kirk first before trying to talk to Spock... even if Kirk had to go with him to help. He would contact the Captain after finishing his meal. It was already starting to congeal, and he disliked trying to eat it when it got like that.

* * *

"Come," Kirk said, looking up from his paperwork, assuming his visitor to be either Spock or Scotty, the only ones who came to his quarters of late.

"Captain?" The commander of the Enterprise was stunned to hear the CMO's voice. Kensington didn't usually come here -- instead he either approached him on the Bridge or Sickbay. Usually Sickbay because he felt more comfortable there... probably because it was his domain, more neutral ground, as it were. Before the Doctor could speak further, however, Kirk did.

"R.J.! Good to see you. Sit down. I've been wanting to talk to you."

Kensington was surprised. The Captain wanted to talk to him? A shock, to say the least. Usually the only time Kirk wanted to talk to him was on business. The CMO seated himself, somewhat stunned at the Captain's unexpected openness, but pleased that he was actually being made welcome. "Thank you, Captain, although it is something of a surprise. You don't usually want to see me in your quarters. We're more likely to meet on the Bridge, Sickbay, or even the Rec Room than here. Whenever I've tried to initiate a deeper relationship between us, both you and Spock back off like I have some kind of communicable disease. I would like us to be better friends, but it doesn't seem that either of you wish this in spite of your claims of liking me and enjoying my company.

"Christine has told me how close the two of you were to Dr. McCoy, and how devastated you were at his passing. I'm trying to understand your feelings, your sorrow, give you time and distance enough to put them behind you, but..." Kensington's voice trailed off, laced with hurt. "I want to be yours and Spock's friend, but it doesn't seem that either of you want to be mine."

Kirk was touched at the CMO's admission and felt somewhat ashamed. "I'm sorry if we made you feel that way, Doctor... R.J. It's nothing personal, I assure you. We just need more time."

"It's been over six months. How much more bloody time do you need? I'm the new kid in town, so to speak. Other members of your crew are more open and friendly with me than the two of you, although even they tend to be careful and keep their distance since I outrank most of them. So I try to make friends with you and Spock, two of the few aboard ship close to my rank... but both of you keep everything between us strictly business. Am I supposed to be pleased with that?"

"As I said, I'm sorry if we've hurt you, but Dr. McCoy was very close to us and his death has hit us hard. He was a close friend of mine even before Spock was, long before we began to serve together on the Enterprise. Then you come along, looking so much like him -- except for your mustache, that is -- that I begin to doubt my senses. You also act like him in many ways.

"You even get along with Spock, rarely argue with him... something Dr. McCoy was almost constantly doing. The arguments were usually good-natured, but sometimes it was hard to tell. It was a long time before even I caught on to the affection underneath all that. Spock is half-Human, as I think you know by now, and is very careful about who he allows himself to feel anything resembling affection for because of the way he was treated when he was growing up."

That was as much as Kirk dared say about the Vulcan's background. The rest R.J. would have to figure out for himself... but it shouldn't be difficult, considering how astute he was -- almost as much as Bones had been.

"McCoy and I were the only two Spock ever let himself care about. You don't find a relationship like ours every day. And then to lose such a close friend, especially when you lose him so suddenly and prematurely..." Kirk's voice trailed off. "It hits you right where you live -- and that's putting it mildly." The Captaiiin's voice was a mixture of pain and bitterness.

"It's tough for me, but nothing compared with what Spock's going through. He claims he doesn't need anyone, but needs friends, those who care about him and will accept him as he is without trying to change him every bit as much as any Human. At the moment, however, I'm essentially the only friend he's got on this ship... or at least the only one he considers himself close to. Bear with him, okay? He needs even more time and patience than I do. Just hang in there. It takes time to get through to a Vulcan, but if you can hack it, it's well worth the effort. In the meantime, I'll try my best to be more of a friend to you. Is that a deal?"

Kensington looked up and smiled when he saw the sincerity in Kirk's hazel eyes. "Fair enough. As long as I know I can count on you, it'll be easier to give Spock the time he needs."

"Friends, then?" the Captain asked, voice laced with a mixture of hope and question as he stood up and held out his hand.

The CMO nodded and stood up, reaching out his hand to clasp Kirk's and shake it. "Friends."


The next three days passed uneventfully; all too soon it was time for Christine to get ready for her outing with R.J. -- the classical concert. She sighed as she stepped into her sonic shower and turned it on. Even as much as she liked R.J., that was it. He would make some lucky woman a wonderful husband, but she wasn't that woman. For that reason, she even considered having the Captain mention him to Natira, tell her how much he looked like Leonard... She chuckled as she dried off a few minutes later. Of course, if that happened, they would probably lose R.J., too -- albeit in a much better way.

At least Spock was beginning to appreciate her feelings for him, even thanking her for caring about him. Maybe R.J.'s idea would pay off after all... for her, anyway. Only time would tell. She threw off her robe and began to dress. First, an elegantly simple blue dress with a mid-calf hem, then opaque white hose with matching high-heeled shoes. Her hair was pinned into a casual but flattering upsweep. She slid some gold-and-blue spiral-type French hook earrings through her pierced ears, then one quick makeup job later, she was ready.

Her white shawl and beaded evening purse were laid out on the bed. The latter was filled with a lipstick, eyedrops, a small spray bottle of Moon Over Antares perfume, a comb and extra hairpins, along with a hand mirror. She also put in her medikit. Didn't hurt to be on the safe side. She was approaching her "living room" when her buzzer sounded. She unlocked her door by pressing a button next to it. R.J.'s craggy face appeared, the smile on his lips almost hidden by his thick brownish-grey mustache, but evident nonetheless.

"You look lovely, my dear. Shall we be off?"

Christine was surprised to see the CMO in his dress blue uniform. You usually couldn't get Leonard into his without a lot of arm-twisting. That was obviously one trait that R.J. did not share with him. The Rec Room was two decks below them on Deck Seven; the couple stepped into the turbolift just down the corridor from Christine's quarters.

"Deck Seven," R.J. said. The 'lift began to move; they were there within a couple of minutes. The large room was nearly full when they arrived, with roughly half the crew there. Tables had been moved aside and chairs arranged in rows. Christine looked up in surprise when R.J. patted her hand as it rested on his arm when they entered, but managed to return his smile as they headed for their seats.

Christine saw Spock and Kirk sitting together near the center of the first row. "Hey, R.J. Over here!" Kirk called upon spotting them. Christine noted that Spock looked decidedly uncomfortable with the idea, but Kirk didn't seem to notice as he motioned them over. The Vulcan turned and faced the front of the room as the others took their seats, staring straight ahead as he sat stiffly in his chair.

R.J. took the seats next to Kirk for himself and Christine. The burgundy-red curtains parted and the viewscreen was activated; the room then darkened and the holovid began. It was one of the Boston Pops orchestra playing Beethoven/Tchaikovsky concertos, sonatas and symphonies -- a remake of an original video from the late 20th century. Christine's personal favorites were Moonlight Sonata and None But the Lonely Heart. The latter made her think of Spock. It was hell to have him so close, yet so far... Her eyes closed as tears filled them. R.J.'s hand was warm, strong and comforting, but she couldn't help wishing it was Spock's. It was almost as though the composer had written the piece just for her. Belatedly, she thought that it had also been one of Leonard's favorites.

"Are you all right, Christine?" Her escort seemed to sense her feelings.

"I'm fine, R.J." She hoped her tears didn't show in her voice. Oh, Spock...

"Are you sure?" His voice was laced with concern.

"I'm sure."

"If you say so." He sounded skeptical, but didn't inquire further.

* * *

At about 2115 there was a half-hour intermission. The four of them were still sitting together when the lights came back up. Scattered couples and singles could be seen further back. Christine found herself unable to meet the men's eyes, mumbling something about needing to freshen up. R.J. nodded, and she fled. She returned twenty minutes later, refreshed, after splashing cold water on her face and replenishing her makeup. She also put drops in her eyes to take the redness out. She then got herself a drink of Altair water and returned to her seat.

The men were talking among themselves as she approached; she sat down and concentrated on her drink, breathing deeply and willing her heart to settle down into a normal rhythm. Not long afterward the Captain raised his head and saw her.

"Christine, I didn't even hear you. When did you get back?"

"Just a few minutes ago."

"What did you think of the concert so far?"

"I enjoyed it."

Her tone was polite but evasive, envious of Kirk because of Spock's preference for his company, wishing that she could be sitting beside the Vulcan and holding his hand as she had been doing with R.J. Leonard always understood her moods; she hoped that R.J. would, too.

R.J. looked intently at her. "What were your favorites so far?"

"Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' and Tchaikovsky's 'None But the Lonely Heart'."

She saw the Captain wince at the mention of the second piece, since he knew as well as she did that it had been one of McCoy's favorites. Spock caught his Human friend's reaction and put a hand on his shoulder. Kirk smiled and reached up to pat the hand.

"I'm all right, Spock."

The Vulcan nodded with a half-smile and withdrew his hand. The concert resumed shortly thereafter; the four faced the viewscreen, once again becoming lost in the magic of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky's musical genius. There was Beethoven's entire 9th Symphony, along with Fur Elise and movements from his 5th and 6th Symphonies. She also recalled hearing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1, Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Suite, his most famous work -- as well as his waltzes from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet.

It seemed to end all too soon... but when it did, the group got up, the three Humans yawning and stretching while Spock stood by, still seemingly as fresh as the proverbial daisy. The four left the Rec Room together, again talking among themselves about the concert -- though neither Christine nor Spock spoke unless spoken to. They even rode up to Deck Five in the same turbolift, making their way to their respective quarters after reaching it.

"That was a great concert, but I've had it. I'm ready to crash," Kirk said, yawning as he stood at the door of his quarters. "How about you, Spock? R.J.? Christine?"

"I will do some meditation before retiring," the Vulcan said.

"I'm with you, Captain," the Doctor concurred.

"Me, too." Christine was amazed to hear herself sounding like she was ten years old again, but none of the men seemed to notice... or at least they didn't comment on it if they did.

"See you later, then. Goodnight, all."

With that, the Captain opened his door and disappeared inside his quarters, as did the Vulcan. Christine and R.J.'s respective quarters were further down the corridor.

"Wasn't it a wonderful concert?" R.J. tried to draw his companion out.

"Yes." Christine didn't feel like talking.

"I enjoyed it immensely. We must do it again sometime."

"Of course," she replied absently as she fumbled with her door.

"Christine, are you listening to me?"

"I'm sorry, R.J. Just woolgathering. I'm pretty tired."

R.J. frowned with concern. "Christine, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Everything's fine."

"You don't sound fine. Something's bothering you. Out with it."

His voice was gentle but firm; Christine sighed. "What are you, telepathic or something? But you're right -- something is bothering me."

"Spock," R.J. accurately guessed.

Christine nodded sadly. "R.J., it's not that I didn't enjoy your company, but..." She bowed her head, not wanting him to see the pain in her eyes.

"You'd rather have been with Spock." He lifted her chin to face him. "That's all right. I understand."

"But it's not fair to you. You were my escort."

"Even so, that didn't mean I was unaware of where you really wanted to be. Remember why we're doing this."

She gave him a grateful smile. "R.J., you're too good to me."

"I'm being a friend, like Dr. McCoy would," he dismissed. "Now go to bed and get a good night's sleep. That's an order!"

"Yes, sir!" She made a mock salute before opening her door and going in. "Goodnight, R.J. Thank you for a lovely evening."

He smiled. "Goodnight, Christine. I'll see you in the morning."

* * *

Several more months passed -- very hectic and busy months for the Enterprise crew. Once word got around of their upcoming shore leave at Starbase Six, Kirk wasn't the only one looking forward to the next two weeks. He was sure that even Spock was, although he was also sure that the Vulcan would deny it if asked. They would not only be spending it together, they would be spending it with Natira and her father as well as Bones' son... the child he had not lived to see. Kirk had notified her of their impending visit; she had been very pleased to hear that they were at last able to take her up on her invitation. She also told him that she would personally prepare the room he and Spock would share.

"You have servants who can do that, Natira. I don't want you wearing yourself out. After all, you have duties and a child to think about."

"Thank you for your concern, Captain, but I will be all right. It occupies my mind and keeps my hands busy. My attendants can look after Reynald until I am finished."

Kirk sighed. "Okay, if you think you can handle it. It'll be good to see you again, as well as meet your father -- but most importantly, we can't wait to see Reynald."

"Thank you, Captain. He has grown so much; six months old and already sixteen pounds! As McCoy would say, he is a 'real armful.' I will be glad when he learns to walk."

"I don't think Spock will have any problem with the extra weight. Vulcans are stronger than Humans. His difficulty will come with touching and holding him. He's never done it before." He was silent for a time, wondering if Bones had told Natira of the time he had delivered a child on Capella IV, then tried to get Spock to hold it. He would have to ask her the first chance he got.

"Holding the baby won't be any problem for me, though... and neither will his weight. At least not once I get used to it."

"I have told both my father and Reynald that you are coming; they are anxious to meet you. When are you due to arrive, Captain?"

"Spock and I will take one of the shuttlecraft to Yonada once we get the Enterprise squared away. She's due for an overhaul at Starbase Six, about a light-day from you. Probably sometime tomorrow evening, with luck."

"We will be waiting, Captain."


Immediately upon arrival at Starbase Six, the two commanding officers went about making plans for their impending visit. They still needed to pack and all that, but the Enterprise and her well-being was their first priority. They wouldn't be able to enjoy themselves if they thought they'd overlooked anything. It took three hours to get the overhaul under way, but it was worth it. As thorough as Spock's instructions were, the Captain doubted that anything would be left unchecked -- if not double-checked.

Even then, Kirk was sure that Spock would go over everything with the proverbial fine-tooth comb before he was (or could be) satisfied. It might have been hard on the techs initially, but Kirk noted that it made them more conscientious in the long run. He thus left Spock to do pretty much as he wished, at least in his own department. With others, he would need to inform the department head of his wishes first.

Once that was behind them, they could get down to the business of having a good time -- pack their clothes, get the shuttlecraft ready, then change into civilian clothes... but take a uniform to change into before heading back. It was early evening before they were ready. Spock had originally planned to pilot the shuttlecraft, but in the end decided to let the Captain do it. He rarely had the opportunity; he was usually giving everyone else orders, telling them what to do, where and how fast to go. In the shuttlecraft, it would just be the two of them.

Kirk gave Spock a smile once they were situated in their seats; the Vulcan returned a half-smile. "Well, we're finally on our way, Spock. I hope we have a good time." Spock merely nodded and settled back into his seat. Kirk's voice brought him back to reality. "What's our ETA, Spock?"

"Eighteen hours and twelve minutes, Captain." Kirk gave him a hard look. "My apologies... Jim."

His Human friend smiled again. "It happens to the best of us, Spock. Just try to see that it doesn't happen during our leave, at least not in private. Of course, I'd prefer that you call me 'Jim' -- in Natira's presence, at least -- but if you'd be more comfortable with 'Captain' or something like that..." Kirk's voice trailed off.

"Do not worry, Jim. I shall do my best to honor your wishes. Let us be on our way now."

Kirk called the Bridge. "Shuttlecraft Columbus ready for departure. Request permission to depart."

"Granted, Captain," Sulu replied. "Have a good time. I'll see you and Mr. Spock in two weeks. Hangar deck depressurizing."

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Take good care of my lady now. Kirk out." The Captain fired the engines; the small craft was surrounded by the starstudded blackness of deep space upon their exit through the shell-like hangar doors. An hour later, a rounded sliver of the small but beautiful class-M planet about the size of Earth's Moon on which the starbase was situated appeared in their viewscreen. By the time another hour passed, it and the orbiting ship was well behind them.

"Cap-- Jim, does Natira know that we are coming?"

"I told her the last time I talked to her."

"You are sure that we will not be inconveniencing her in any way?" The Vulcan was pleased at having been invited, but still seemed uneasy.

"She would have said something if that was the case. Don't worry; everything's going to be fine."

Spock raised an eyebrow at the emotional reference, but remained silent for the next several hours. About six and a half hours away from the asteroid ship, Spock noted the time and sensed Kirk's weariness, even though he was sure his Human friend would have denied it if asked. In which case, he gently suggested through their bond that it would be best for the Captain to sleep for the rest of the trip. Twelve hours piloting a shuttlecraft would be difficult for any Human, even one as well-trained as James Kirk.

"I'm getting tired, Spock. We've been going for twelve hours. I think I'll have something to eat, then sack out -- but be sure to let me know when we arrive if I'm not awake by then."

"Of course, Jim."

The Captain unbuckled himself and stood up, yawning deeply and stretching. He rubbed his lower back briefly, then straightened again. "Ohh, my back's about had it. Must have been sitting too long." Spock took the pilot's seat once Kirk moved out of the way and headed toward the rear of the shuttlecraft.

The Columbus was one of only two of the six Enterprise shuttlecraft which had not only a cubbyhole for sleeping with room enough for a single bed and tiny bathroom with a sink and toilet, each with an overhead light... but an auto-chef, programmed by Spock for their favorite dishes and beverages. The Vulcan allowed himself a smile as he heard noises which meant that the Captain had called up a meal, eaten it, then used the bathroom and went to bed. Within an hour of Kirk's departure, all was quiet and Spock allowed himself to relax somewhat, though he made sure to keep alert, both to what lay ahead and his Captain's potential needs.

Two hours later Spock decided to listen to the tape of the Vulcan and Terran music he most favored which he had brought along, pressing the "play" button as he made sure that only he could hear it. Jim had always said that music could make any kind of work go faster. Not that Spock considered what he was presently doing "work," since they were heading for a two-week vacation. The soothing instrumental melodies made the time pass pleasantly, enabling him to temporarily forget his uneasiness over the upcoming visit with Natira, her father, and Dr. McCoy's six-month-old son Reynald.

In spite of Jim's repeated assurances that all would go well and that he would be welcome, instead of judged on the basis of his looks, actions or beliefs, he had remained apprehensive -- if only a little. Of course, as Jim once said, the anticipation was often worse than the reality. Perhaps it was because he had never experienced true acceptance (except on the Enterprise with Jim, the Doctor, and Christine) that he was skeptical. All the same, he pushed his doubts aside and resolved to enjoy the next two weeks as best he could.

* * *

Kirk awakened six hours later, approximately 1200 hours ship's time. They had left the Enterprise at 1800 hours the previous evening, and Jim had not retired until 0600 this morning. Spock estimated that they now had slightly over half an hour until they arrived. Jim would be pleased, but would also want to contact Natira and let her know.

The Vulcan soon heard noises that told him the Captain was awake once again. Kirk appeared a short time later, changed into civilian clothes: an off-white cotton tunic with a square neck and three-quarter length sleeves with embroidery around each of them. He wore dark blue pants and earthtone sandals without socks. His sandy hair was damp, obviously freshly combed; his face glowed with cleanliness and health.

"Morning, Spock," Kirk said with a smile. "How was your night?"

"Uneventful," was the reply. "You will be pleased to know that we will be arriving at Yonada in a matter of moments."

"Great. Now why don't you go freshen up? I know you don't need sleep like I do, but I still think you should change into fresh clothes so you'll be ready for the meeting. Don't worry, I'll put the shuttle on autopilot while I talk with Natira. Now get going."

The Vulcan was reluctant, but Kirk's tone intimated that he would do well not to refuse. Spock rejoined Kirk fifteen minutes later after changing into civilian clothes -- a long-sleeved black-and-silver sweater with Vulcan symbols on it, black pants, socks with sandals because of his sensitivity to cold... and carrying the luggage out. He heard Jim's voice as he reached the front compartment. "We'd love to, Natira. See you soon. Kirk out."

"What are we going to do, Jim?"

Kirk jumped at the sound of Spock's quiet voice. "Oh, Spock. You startled me. Natira asked us to lunch. I haven't had anything since last night and don't think you have since before we left the ship."

"Vulcans do not require--"

"Food like Humans do," Kirk finished. "I know, but even you can't go indefinitely without eating." He looked his Vulcan friend up and down. "You look one hundred percent better. How do you feel?"

"Somewhat more... laid-back," Spock replied carefully.

He still had trouble with Terran expressions, so he was cautious about using them. He only did so when with Kirk, and then only occasionally. He was surprised to see that a large opening had appeared in the apparently seamless surface of the asteroid ship -- then realized it was only logical, since the Fabrini descendants would have to have a means of disembarking from their ship. In fact it wouldn't have surprised him if they also had a fleet of smaller ships to take them down to the planet now known as New Fabrina, so they could begin to colonize it.

The shuttlecraft passed through the opening and into a long dark tunnel, which took about fifteen minutes to traverse. At the end of it, two great doors slid open onto what looked to Kirk like a miniature version of the Spaceport at Fleet HQ in San Francisco. Upon landing, Spock reported two figures walking toward the ship.

He recognized one as Natira, this time in a pale green dress which covered her entire, once-again slender body to her ankles. Her hair was up in a simple chignon and she carried her baby son in her arms. With her was an older Fabrini male in his mid-sixties, sedately dressed in a plain turquoise knee-length tunic with black pants and soft shoes, who must be her father. The child was dressed similarly to his grandfather.

She smiled upon catching their attention. "Captain, Mr. Spock. How good to see you both again. This is my father, Reynald Sr. Father, these are my husband McCoy's friends, James Kirk and Mr. Spock."

The older man bowed, then smiled and held out his hand to shake each of the newcomers' hands. "I am honored to meet you. My son-in-law spoke often -- and fondly -- of you both. Any friends of his are friends of ours." He looked to his daughter for confirmation.

"Of course, Father. Captain, I now present to you and Mr. Spock my son Reynald Leonard David McCoy."

Kirk could see that Bones' son was a virtual twin of his father as Natira handed him over, though he saw Natira in the boy's face. Within moments the Captain positioned the child in his arms, then reached one finger toward him. The baby latched onto it, his small hand having a death grip on Kirk's index finger.

"This is your Uncle Jim, Reynald. What do you think of him?" Natira asked her small son. The baby smiled and gurgled happily.

"I take that as a stamp of approval," the Captain said with a smile. "Spock, set the luggage down and look at the baby."

The Vulcan was reluctant but obeyed, looking up at his Human friend for instructions on what to do next. "Look at our nephew, Spock. Isn't he a fine boy? The image of his father. I feel sure Bones would be very proud of him," Kirk said as he showed the baby to Spock.

"Indeed," came the agreement.

"Would you like to hold him, or do you think that should wait until after we've had lunch?"

"I would prefer to wait until after we have eaten. I find myself quite hungry at the moment, very much in need of solid sustenance."

"I second that. How soon will lunch be ready, Natira?" Kirk asked.

"It needs only to be served," she answered. "Let us go and eat now. I have had nothing since morning myself."

"Okay, lead on." Kirk and Spock followed Natira and the elder Reynald to an elevator which took them up seemingly countless levels to Natira's quarters, now shared with her father and baby son. Kirk had to agree with her on how heavy the boy was, but what mattered was that he was healthy and happy.


After lunch, everyone had a good laugh at Spock's awkward attempts to hold little Reynald, but gave advice in between chuckles, assuring the Vulcan that they were not laughing at him, but with him. Once the baby was properly situated in the Vulcan's strong and gentle -- yet uncertain -- arms, he tentatively reached out to the child. Reynald grabbed Spock's finger as he had Kirk's, getting the same death grip on it. Spock wiggled it, then threw Kirk a what-do-I-do-now look. The Captain merely smiled and continued to encourage his Vulcan friend.

This time it was Kirk who said, "This is your Daddy's other brother, Spock, Reynald. Do you like him too?" The baby reacted in the same way as he had with Kirk: a big smile and happy gurgle... then his long-lashed eyelids began fluttering up and down.

"I assume that means that I meet with his approval," the Vulcan remarked.

"Of course you do," Kirk assured him. "I never had any doubt that you would."

At this point the elder Reynald's voice cut in. "Captain, Mr. Spock, Natira and I are going to visit McCoy's grave. Do you wish to accompany us?"

Kirk and Spock didn't really want to, but could think of no graceful way to refuse, so Kirk gathered up the child's diaper bag, then used his free hand to help the Vulcan to his feet since neither wanted to disturb the now sleeping baby. McCoy's two friends, with the Doctor's child in tow, followed the latter's mother and grandfather out of their temporary quarters and down the hall into an elevator which would take them to the surface.

About fifteen minutes later, the car stopped and the four got out, walking silently and solemnly across the planetlike inner surface of the artificial asteroid. The Celtic cross and grassy knoll tucked between two large hollow cylinders were dappled with shade from twin lines of flowering magnolia trees. The base of the cross was covered with fresh flowers and white magnolia petals dotted the green grass which grew over the Doctor's resting place. Kirk was touched at the care and love with which the area had been maintained.

"Natira... it's beautiful."

Spock shared the Captain's sentiments, but carefully concealed his feelings. The child was oblivious to everything, being sound asleep in the Vulcan's arms with one tiny thumb in his rosebud mouth. Natira bowed her head modestly.

"I deemed it appropriate for McCoy. He was -- a beautiful person."

"Amen to that," Kirk concurred. "I only wish he could be here with us instead of there."

He inclined his head toward the grassy knoll; the four mourners closed their eyes and bowed their heads. Natira's father put comforting arms around his daughter as she moved to put her head on his shoulder. Kirk moved to put a tentative arm around the Vulcan's shoulders. A short time later the Captain looked at the sleeping child, then up at Spock.

"I swear, Spock, your arms are a better sedative than Bones' red pills!"

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow before allowing himself a half-smile at his Human friend's attempt at humor. It was Natira's habit to make daily visits to her husband's grave; Spock and Kirk accompanied her and her father (usually with one of them carrying the baby) at 1330 hours every day of their visit. They stayed between thirty to forty-five minutes, then Natira retired to her quarters to feed her small son and lie down with him in her arms for two hours' nap, as did the older man. Lie down for a nap, that is.

Evenings were quite enjoyable, spent discussing either the missions they and McCoy had gone on or details of McCoy's previously-unknown life with Natira and Reynald Sr. By the end of their visit, his friends knew McCoy better than they had ever known him, as did his wife and father-in-law. All the same, Natira's remarriage was one subject Kirk didn't broach. Even her father had tried, and gotten the same reaction the Captain had. Kirk was saddened at the thought. It was a shame that such as she had chosen to live her life alone, but it was her choice. And how long would the elder Reynald live?

Hopefully until the boy came of age, but one could never tell, even with the advanced Fabrini medical techniques; in some ways they even surpassed 23rd century ones. For instance, they had had the cure for xenopolycythemia... Pain stabbed at Kirk's heart and tears burned his eyes at the thought even as they all headed back down to Natira's living area and their adjoining temporary quarters.

As Natira had promised, Spock was accepted for what he was, his beliefs respected and his exotic looks unnoticed -- at least in a negative sense. Many Fabrini women gave him interested glances, but he pretended not to notice. The men treated him like one of their own, which pleased him, but he was beginning to miss Christine's unconditional love. It also surprised him that other Fabrini children were intrigued by him.

In fact, they rarely left his side willingly, constantly asking him about himself -- his background, looks, philosophies, and so on. Never had anyone been so interested in knowing him before. It was a real revelation. If only his own people could have accepted him as readily... But it wasn't just the children who did this -- and not only to him. Many adults, particularly women, acted the same way around Kirk. Most hadn't seen McCoy's friends before now, so they were a source of much curiosity, if not outright excitement. Kirk and Spock seemed to be everything the Fabrini had heard they were from others who had been acquainted with them during their earlier visits.

In fact, to have seen Kirk and Spock walking with Natira, young and old Reynald -- one would have thought them latter-day "pied pipers," the way the people followed them around. The two weeks seemed to pass all too quickly for everyone concerned, although Kirk and Spock's popularity was such that they had to sneak off early in the morning when everyone was still asleep; otherwise they'd have been mobbed.

They changed into their duty uniforms upon finishing their packing and preparing the shuttlecraft for the return trip. It had been a happy two weeks for both the two visitors and their hosts. When the time came for them to leave, Natira and her father promised them that they would say their farewells for them and give her people their best. While Kirk embraced Natira, her father held his little grandson and namesake. Natira exchanged questioning looks with Kirk at Spock, finally whispering to him.

Kirk shrugged. "You can ask him, but I can't guarantee he'll go along with it." He went to say his farewells to the elder Reynald and his departed friend's son.

Natira hesitantly approached the Vulcan as he was checking the shuttlecraft's engines one last time. "Mr. Spock, there is something I would ask of you."

Spock looked up at her, his whole face a question. "What is it you wish, Natira?"

"You recall how McCoy asked if he could embrace you at your last farewell to him?" The Vulcan nodded. "You allowed him to do so. Would it be permissible for me to do the same? After all, you were McCoy's friend, and I feel I know you simply from what he has told me of you."

Spock raised shocked eyebrows. "I am aware of your disagreements, but sensed how much the two of you cared for each other in spite of them. Please do this for me... if only for the sake of honoring the memory of your friendship with him."

The Vulcan was silent for a time, then twisted his lips and shook his head in affectionate exasperation. "I shall never understand the Human propensity for physical contact when making farewells."

Natira's eyes clouded over. "Then you are refusing me."

The Vulcan stood up and opened his arms. "I did not say that. I was merely expressing an opinion."

Natira moved to tentatively hug Spock. He awkwardly but gently returned it. "Thank you for being McCoy's friend -- and for accepting my invitation. The Captain warned me that you might refuse, but I am glad you did not. It has been most pleasant having you and the Captain here... and has eased my grief considerably to have my husband's closest friends at my side. I have made my farewells to Captain Kirk, so I would appreciate your telling him this for me -- and I hope the two of you will visit us again at your earliest convenience."

The Vulcan was touched at the sincerity in her voice and hard-pressed to keep from blushing. Kirk's voice brought him back to reality.

"Spock, come say goodbye to our nephew. Only God knows when we'll see him again."

"Excuse me," Spock told Natira, moving off to join Kirk and make his farewells to both the older and younger Reynald.

"I thank you both for being here for my daughter," the older man said to Kirk with a grateful smile. "You have helped her more than you will ever know. The loss of her husband has caused her deep sorrow. I doubt she will ever remarry or give me more grandchildren, so I must make the most of my grandson."

"I know, and it's a shame. She has much to offer a man -- but it was her choice. As for being here, it was the least we could do for her," Kirk said modestly. "McCoy was our closest friend... and he would want us to keep in touch with his wife and son."

Kirk leaned down to kiss the baby's forehead; the tiny boy smiled and gurgled happily. "Grow up healthy, loving and wise, little nephew, and you will do all of your family proud -- particularly your father."

Spock did not kiss the baby, simply stroked his head and reached a finger toward him to touch his tiny nose. The child laughed and gurgled. "You do honor to your father, little Reynald, and I am honored to claim you as family. May you grow in health and wisdom every day of your life."

"Let's go, Spock. We're due back at the Enterprise by 1230 hours tomorrow." The two entered the shuttlecraft and strapped themselves in, Kirk once again in the pilot's seat. As they turned toward the exit, they seen Natira and her father wave to them one last time. Kirk waved back; Spock nodded to them. Not long afterward, the large doors opened before the shuttlecraft, allowing it into the long, dark tunnel -- then outside.

"Aren't you glad you came along now?" the Captain asked his Vulcan friend. "That was a wonderful visit."

"Indeed," Spock said quietly, for some reason not wanting to meet his Human friend's eyes or even speak... but he did, if only out of politeness.

"Too emotional for you, wasn't it?" Kirk asked. Spock nodded. "Sorry. I keep forgetting."

"There is nothing to apologize for, Jim. It was our duty as Dr. McCoy's friends to make sure his family is doing well."

"Is that the reason you came? Because you saw it as your 'duty'?" Kirk's voice was laced with pain and anger.

"I did not say that."

"No? It sure sounds like it. If you didn't want to go, Spock, why didn't you just say so? I could have gone alone and given Natira your regrets -- say that I wanted you to look after the ship or something. The strange part is that you seemed to be enjoying yourself, particularly with Bones' son and the other children. I guess I was wrong."

"Jim..." The Vulcan sensed his friend's anger and pain, but had no idea how to make things right again.

Kirk ignored him as if he were not there for the next several hours, seemingly intent on his task of piloting, which gave Spock plenty of time to think over what he could have done or said that was wrong. At 1500 hours that afternoon -- nine hours into the return trip -- Kirk got up without a word and jerked his head toward the rear, leaving Spock alone with the task of piloting and his troubled thoughts for the remainder of the trip.

The two of them were rarely at odds, being fundamentally alike in spite of their different backgrounds and emotional training... and when they were, it was so painful for them that they avoided it whenever possible. But it had happened again, and he had no idea how. The worst part of the whole thing was that it was his fault, even though it had been entirely unintentional.

For that reason, it was up to him to "mend fences" between them -- but how? He was so sadly inept when it came to emotions, whether it was acknowledging and dealing with the emotions of others or acknowledging and expressing his own. Spock knew when the Captain would be waking, so they would have to talk as soon as Jim came back. He himself had caused this misunderstanding between them, and he had to straighten it out, whatever it took.

* * *

Around 2200 Spock heard Kirk moving around in the back; within a quarter-hour the Captain joined him. The Vulcan moved to the other chair and waited for Kirk to strap himself in and take control. It was hard to believe that it could be this hard to talk to Jim, but it was... but he had to, or else he could seriously damage their friendship. He couldn't let that happen; it -- and Jim -- meant too much to him.


"What?" the Captain said absently as he scanned the control readings.

"We must talk."

"About what?" Kirk sounded wary.

"About our -- misunderstanding. I am... sorry, Jim. I never meant to -- give you the wrong impression. Our leave was... every bit as -- pleasant for me as it was for you. I would not have... missed it, or being with you and Dr. McCoy's family. Not for anything. Please, Jim -- forgive me. I do not... wish to lose you or your friendship. Dr. McCoy is gone; if I -- lost you as well, my life would... scarcely be worth living. I -- need you... we need each other -- more than ever now."

Kirk had still been angry and hurt when he first came back, but it had dissolved by the time Spock finished his poignant speech. He set the craft on autopilot and reached for the Vulcan's nearest hand, touched by Spock's sincere penitence as well as his plea for his Captain's forgiveness and their continued friendship. Kirk knew how difficult it was for Spock to talk about emotions, particularly if they were his own... and how much that open confession of his feelings for his two friends had cost him in terms of his Vulcan pride. That was more than enough reason to forgive Spock, even if he had been the one to start the trouble in the first place.

The dark, bowed head lifted at the touch of Kirk's hand. "I'm sorry too, Spock. I should never have let it go on as long as it has. Life is too short, too uncertain, to hold grudges -- and you're right. Now that Bones is gone, all we've got left is each other -- and I..." The Captain's voice trailed off.

The Vulcan sensed Kirk's sincerity and knew he had been forgiven, just as he knew the Captain's affection for him remained unchanged. He was deeply grateful and thankful to have found friends like Jim and the Doctor -- and even if he'd lost one, he still had the other, vowing to never let anything come between them again if he could help it.

"It is all right, Jim. There is no need for you to speak further on the subject. I understand what and how you are feeling." Their eyes met, and Kirk knew that this was true. The crisis was over... at least until next time.

"Well, I'd better get back to piloting this thing, or else we'll never make it back to the ship on time."

Kirk smiled and turned off the autopilot. Spock allowed himself to smile back and settled into his seat, surprising both himself and the Captain by falling asleep. But even as the Vulcan awoke an hour and a half later, he was determined that it not only be they who were surprised by his actions. Most pleasantly surprised, too -- especially Christine. Regrettable that Dr. McCoy would not be here to see how happy they would be... but Dr. Kensington would have to suffice.

After all, both he and Dr. McCoy had tried to "play Cupid" for himself and Christine. At least one of them deserved to see his efforts come to fruition; the other deserved only to rest in peace, knowing everyone he was close to was well and happy. Or at least as well and happy as they could be without him. Farewell, Doctor. May you rest in peace for all eternity, my friend. I will miss you always.

Spock was brought back to reality by Kirk's voice. "Spock, it's the Enterprise. They're hailing us. We'll be home soon."

A half hour later the sleek starship came into view, the shell-like doors of the hangar deck open to welcome them... then closing behind them once they were inside. "Yes, Jim. We are home," the Vulcan said. "But we are also without Dr. McCoy."

Kirk looked up at his Vulcan friend, having detected the sadness in his voice. "No, Spock. He is with us. As long as we live -- or any of his family lives -- he will always be with us." Spock frowned at first, then gave his Captain and friend a sad smile, detecting affection and empathy when Jim touched his shoulder. "In the meantime, let's get up to the Bridge and back to minding the store. After all, we've got a starship to run!"