DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cherpring and is copyright (c) 2004 by Cherpring. Rated PG.

"We regret..."


Chapel struggled to remove the surgical wrap with more effort than should have been required. Fingers stiff with fatigue fumbled at the ties, arms refused to slip out of the sleeves with her usual grace. When she was free of it at last, she wadded it up and shoved it mindlessly into the recycling chute, then made her way to her desk. With one hand pressed to the tense muscles at the back of her neck, she sank down into the minimal comfort of her chair and a low, mournful sigh escaped her lips. During the whole nightmare she had made no concession to emotion ... until now. Numb with shock and exhaustion, she stared at the blank vidscreen in front of her without seeing it.

Eyelids scraped over dry corneas with every gritty blink. Her feet throbbed, her stomach clenched and growled in sour protest, her bladder nagged for release. Twenty-six hours. Too long. And yet, just twenty-six hours ago... No, can't turn back the clock. Universe doesn't work that way.

Bones ached, head ached, muscles ached, and -- oh God -- heart ached.

McCoy's voice echoing, low and urgent ... consoling ... filled with his own brand of pain. "I need you to do this, Chris. I know it's difficult and I wouldn't ask, but there's no one else right now. I'm still up to my hips piecing back the living." He paused. "You two weren't really getting away with anything, you know." A soft tug of the lips, wiped away a half-breath later by grief. "Other than Jim, you knew him best."

She sat unmoving, yet moved beyond thought, or words, or tears. A low background chorus of heartbeats and occasional soft beeps serenaded her from the ward of diagnostic beds behind her where her nurses hovered like vigilant and silent angels. But it wasn't enough. The preternatural quiet of sickbay was deafening in the aftermath of so much deadly chaos. It sang in her ears in tinny accompaniment with the mechanical chorus.

The vidscreen remained blank, waiting.

No way around it. According to regs it had to be done within the first twenty-four hours. Asinine rule conjured up by out-of-touch bureaucrats with no clue what it was like out here. He had been among the first wave of casualties. And as McCoy pointed out, there was no one else. Not even the captain, who had a bond with him that went much deeper than mere friendship. Kirk was in another, more private ward, unconscious, body struggling to survive ... yet again. Tomcat was an appropriate moniker for more reasons than one. Only a feline could boast as many lives.

Staring vacantly, her brain picked up on the association.

Lives. So many had been lost today. Too many. Beautiful, strong, vigorous lives. Gone. Never to be replaced. Faces flittered through her mind and tugged at her heart. But there was really only one face -- one sweet face -- and one overwhelming great pain. Pain so deep it left her stunned and tearless it its wake, nothing more than a mechanical medic on automatic pilot. Only duty had kept her tethered to reality after they lost him. One body after another, the pungent smell of burned flesh, desperate hands clutching hers, eyes that looked up into hers with fear and gratitude and hope.

Hope. Yes, there had been that. Hope for a future that would never happen now. But there had also been joy, too: Incredible joy. She could hold on to that. Beautifully dark and lithely built, he had given her more joy and pleasure than she could ever have thought possible; soothed the untouchable ache with stolen kisses in the dead of night, hot breath across an inner thigh, sheer ecstasy on a four-by-seven Starfleet cot. Gone now. All gone.


She pulled herself from the edge of the abyss in the same manner as she pulled her eyes from the blank screen; slowly, reluctantly. She wanted to follow him into that abyss, but someone intruded. Swiveling her chair around she looked up, only then realizing the man before her had queried more than once. Her eyes met his.

"The Captain's in ward two," she answered, knowing whom he sought. Whom they would all seek as they came trickling down from the bridge.

He nodded and started to turn away, then paused, his gaze soft as it found hers again. "I am sorry, Christine. If there is anything."

"No, there is nothing," she interrupted, her voice low and flat, not even wondering how he knew. "Thank you."

His gaze held hers a moment longer then fell away. He nodded again and was gone.

She watched him go, heart momentarily reprieved by the numbness encasing it. In spite of the obvious sympathy and personal anguish reflected in his eyes, she felt nothing for him. Correction. Not just for him. She felt nothing at all. Turning back to the vidscreen, she reached a hand to activate it. Uhura's tired and harried face came into view.

"Ny, I need to send a message."

Uhura nodded grimly. There had been too many messages sent today and she knew without asking for whom this one was meant. "Fine. Dictate it to me and I'll make sure it's sent out as soon as possible." She would grieve with her friend later over a double bourbon. For now, she waited.

"Thanks." Chapel paused, took a deep breath, and then hesitated. When she said it out loud then it would all be true, wouldn't it? No pretending, no denial. To utter the words would be to cast them in stone. Literally.

Without warning the pain was back, blindsiding her with vicious intensity. Her chest tightened, trapping the breath in her lungs. She swallowed convulsively as the tightness spread to her throat and brought the bitterness of bile with it. At last tears formed in her eyes and slipped over to track silently down her cheeks. No, damn it! Not fair, not fair! Finally, she forced the air outward, her voice finding solid ground in his memory, the words coming strong and steady. As strong and steady as he had been.

"To Mrs. Abigail Garrovick: We regret to inform you."