Disclaimer: Have never owned Star Trek or Paramount. Copyright 2004 (c) by MySchemingMind. Rated PG.
Standing at the foot of the six by three foot black coffin, Captain James T. Kirk stared silently at the cold gleaming box, hands tightly clasped behind him and an expression of reflective self-reproach set deep in his face.
McCoy stood quietly off to the side, watching his friend who had been frozen to the spot since entering the small room a few minutes earlier. He had been expecting Kirk to appear for the last few hours, but he was admittedly surprised when he showed up at this late hour.
The staff that had accompanied the body down to the preparation room had been sent away by McCoy once they had placed the deceased into the coffin and he had been satisfied in general with the results. He despised these times. Even though in reality they were few and far between, they were still too many for him.
The request had been made for the body to be given a proper service aboard ship, then would be taken to the nearest starbase where it would be shipped back to Earth and given a proper burial service by the family. A rarity these days, in the sense that in most circumstances there generally never were any remains to gather to be prepared for shipment back to a family. Deaths aboard a starship were usually handled with report to Star Fleet and a personal message sent to the family by the Captain. Very tidy, neat and impersonal for the most part, keeping everyone's hands clean of the situation.
This day was different and McCoy solemnly found himself using his examination room as a mortuary instead of a place for healing. He had done his best to prepare the body itself for the long trip back to Earth, working in a grim, cold silence, unconsciously engraving the young man's face in his mind for the rest of his days.
A few years had passed since the last time he had been confronted with such a task, at least during his last tour of duty he had realized during his work. It wasn't exactly a task that one wrote down in their diary for prosperity. You wouldn't forget the job or the individual that was lying in front of you.
This was slightly different however. Not for the individual involved or the manner in which he had died. He was significant in another fashion. One that bothered the Doctor, since he knew it would be eating at Jim the second it had time to register.
It was the first death of a crewmember since Jim had been given back the Enterprise after the tribunal had relieved him of his flag officer stance after they had returned to Earth from their sojourn to Genesis and then on to Vulcan.
He had always taken every death hard that occurred under his charge since he had his first command. There were no words that would ever change that, no matter how eloquent and true they were or how gently or firmly spoken. Every man and woman, no matter race, religion or creed that was aboard this ship, or any ship for that matter that he would be in command of, was his personal responsibility. No matter what their assignment aboard the Enterprise, they were in his care and he was obligated by more than the words in his orders to make sure they are brought back alive to family and home.
This young man was the latest reminder that he had again set himself a task that was impossible. Realistically both men knew there was no humanly way he could protect every single individual aboard this ship in action or orders. It cut deep however, no matter the circumstances. Especially now.
In the last year, Kirk had faced more pain and anguish in one time than he had any other time of his career or life for that matter. And it changed a man. Changed him down to his core, even if he kept it from rising to the surface for those around him to see.
McCoy had noticed it, though, as no doubt Spock had. The grief would be there, albeit briefly, in the dark hazel gaze that would be momentarily lost in thought. That was much as he would let show of the emotions that were still struggling against one another within him. He was built that way, enjoying to flaunt his human feelings when it was necessary and yet when it came to his personal life, it ended there. When he allowed himself those infrequent moments of expression, he startling kept it under control, breaking only when the burden weighed too heavily.
Watching him now, McCoy believed he knew what was going through his friend's mind as he continued staring at the austere casket. However, he discovered that he didn't know everything about the man when Kirk spoke for the first since entering the room.
"Ensign Ryan Moyer. Security. Serial number: 06-783-9802S. Died in the line of duty stardate: 8476.2 onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, while protecting the lives of both civilians and crewmembers." Hesitating, Kirk took in a breath and seemed to have aged a few more years in the process. "And that's all we know of the man."
Eye drifting down to the coffin, McCoy started to reply but stopped himself well aware of what was meant in the last words and could feel as well as hear the bitterness in them.
"The man gave his life for my ship and crew, and I don't know damn thing about him. A name and that he gave his loyalty to me." Kirk's voice was cold and angry, as his face darkened with his indignation. "How many died in those first five years in similar situations that now I couldn't begin to remember their names or what actually happened to cause their death, other than following my orders?"
Abruptly moving, Kirk walked around to the opposite side of the casket his eyes still fixed on the gleaming onyx-colored lid, then raised his stare to the doctor's face.
"Can you tell me the names of all the ones we've lost? Or where they all died?" he demanded, then made a quick aggressive gesture as if wiping away the words in front of him. "Forget that, can you just tell me how many we lost, all told?"
At this, McCoy could merely raise both eyebrows in lack of an answer to the question thrown at him, slightly taken back at Kirk's demeanor, but could understand it at the same time, as well as feel the overall regret.
"How many did I lose in those first five years while on an mission, that by the time I returned to the ship I couldn't have told you the individual's first name? I know in my own mind that they signed on knowing that there was always the possibility of being killed on any mission and that they were expected to follow my orders no matter what the outcome may appear to be at that moment. But that doesn't change the hard fact that I neglected my own crew in a number of areas."
A soft scowl tugged at McCoy's face as he took a step forward. "You can't go around torturing yourself like this Jim, when these things happen…"
"The hell I can't," snapped Kirk, while partially turning away from both the coffin and doctor as he grappled with his anger. "I have over four hundred people onboard this ship as we speak and I'd be stretching it if I said that I could give you the first name of 10 percent of them. Other than that I could tell you absolutely nothing about most of those."
Remaining silent, McCoy could watch Jim knowing there was nothing he could say that would keep the man from twisting himself up with his own resentment. It would need to run its course until it had burned through his system and he found his temporary peace again.
"Tomorrow morning I'm presiding over this man's memorial service and what am I going to say about him? His rank and serial number? That he gave up his life to save others? I know nothing about him. What he did during his off time? What he believed in or didn't? Nothing." Turning back toward the casket, Kirk stared at it disdainfully. "It's wrong."
"Wrong?" repeated McCoy, the uncertainty clear in his voice as he also moved his gaze back to the coffin. "What?"
"It's wrong, Bones." Kirk's voice had dropped down to just above a whisper. "It's wrong that we keep treating these men and women as nothing more than individuals dressed in a red uniform without a name or face. They need to be known, so they can be remembered in their death."
There was a pause, causing McCoy to glance up at Kirk who had in that tiny span of time regained his command, his face once more set into an expression of quiet remorse as he laid a hand on the cool black coffin.
"It's wrong." He murmured once more, as he let his hand slide off the casket and stepped away with one final look of admiration at the sleek black box before slowly heading toward the door, a trail of words following him. "It's time that they were no longer considered our unknown soldiers."