DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Jacqueline Bielowicz and is copyright (c) 1986 by Jacqueline Bielowicz. Rated PG.

What Cost Friendship?

Jacqueline Bielowicz

The two men faced each other in the transporter room. The older man, dressed in a white civilian suit, jabbed an accusing finger and barked, "This was your idea, wasn't it?" The light glinted off the medallion around his neck.

The other man, an admiral in Starfleet, was faintly amused ... and vulnerable. "Bones, there's a 'thing' out there..."

Throwing his hands out, Leonard McCoy, former Chief Medical Officer of the USS Enterprise, interjected, "Why is any object we don't understand always called a 'thing'?"

Admiral James T. Kirk stated tersely, thrusting his open hand to McCoy, "I need you!"

McCoy hesitated and Kirk felt a tightness around his chest. Memories washed over him as he watched McCoy struggle with the word 'need'. For two years the word had stood between them: need... Was he being more honest about it this time? Kirk remembered back...

* * *

"Dammit, Jim, you and I are both too old to zoom around the galaxy like a couple o' flyboys. Why not let some of the younger kids take over?" McCoy said jovially as he lounged in a chair and watched Kirk get ready for his afternoon date with Lori Ciani. The two friends were sharing a temporary Bachelor Officer's Quarters while finishing up the debriefing at the end of the Enterprise's five year mission. It was the standard BOQ: a four-room apartment with a living room/kitchenette, complete with food dispenser. The living area was sparsely furnished with chairs, tables, and a combination computer/comm station. The two small bedrooms each had a twin bed, storage areas for clothing, and a desk with chair. A utilitarian bathroom was shared. The entire apartment was a remarkably bland color; it was never intended for long-term residency, just as a place where visiting officers could temporarily bunk down without cost. McCoy continued, "Besides, you know you would love to become the youngest Fleet admiral in history."

"For Christ's sake, Bones, I'm only thirty-nine! Hardly over the hill. Besides, I've only had one assignment as starship commander and there's a lot more I want to see and do before I get tied to a desk job."

Kirk left McCoy to his thoughts and the doctor slowly finished his mint julep. "But do you have any idea how much older you look after only five years on the job? That ship is draining you.And now that Spock is gone, will it be the same?" A shadow drifted across Kirk's face at the mention of Spock. The three of them had eventually come to an understanding about Spock's retirement, though he missed the Vulcan. But now McCoy had asked for, and received, a transfer to the Surgeon General's office, and that would leave Kirk alone on the Enterprise.

He looked up from checking his tennis racket, staring blindly for a moment, then answered, "No, but all things have to change. Besides, it'll give me a chance to 'corrupt' another young Vulcan; are you sure you don't want to change your mind about your transfer and help me out with that?" His teasing smile won a chuckle from the doctor.

"You've made up your mind then?"

"Almost. But I don't have to give Nogura an answer until tomorrow and until then I'll keep

thinking about it. After all, as Chief of Operations, I could get rid of some of that bureaucracy that drives us all crazy."

"Fat chance!" McCoy snorted, then changed the subject. "At least, you will be here to meet my little girl when she gets here next week. And I warn you: you lay one hand on her and it's a shotgun wedding for you, my boy!"

Lieutenant Joanna McCoy's ship was due in on a diplomatic delivery, and Kirk knew how thrilled the doctor was at the prospect of seeing his daughter. For the first time in seven years, father and daughter would have more than a few hours to visit with each other. Kirk knew how much this meeting meant to McCoy; his contact with Joanna, undefined at the time of his divorce, had strengthened greatly since she had joined Starfleet. The doctor had regained some of the joys of fatherhood, and 'protecting' her from James "Tomcat" Kirk had become a running joke between the two men.

"Don't worry, Bones," Kirk said mockingly. "I'll try to restrain my baser instincts. See you later."

Grabbing up his tennis bag, he strode out of the quarters. It was a cold, dreary, rainy winter day in San Francisco but Kirk didn't mind. It wasn't often that he got to enjoy weather, and the brisk walk to the indoor tennis courts set his blood to tingling. All around him, Starfleet personnel were fulfilling the many duties needed to keep the fleet in operation. The thought of the exciting things that were daily being decided here, especially the upgrading of the Constellation-class cruisers, intrigued him. But every time he thought of his lady in flight without him, in his heart he knew there was no way he would be happy with a desk job, no matter how important or exciting. He would rather be stuck with milk runs on the Enterprise than be the youngest or busiest admiral.

Then catching sight of his gorgeous tennis partner, all thoughts of Starfleet faded. The rest of the afternoon was spent falling in love - again.

* * *

The dusk added to the melancholy rain, sof tened only by the mellow outdoor street lighting. Kirk felt damp and cold as he fumbled for the ident-disc that would open the door to his apartment. The cool darkness of the foyer startled him and, throwing his bag on the table by the door, he walked into the main room. "Bones, what the hell...?" The unnatural stillness of his friend stopped him in the doorway. McCoy was in the same spot he had been when Kirk had left him. The only light in the room came from the comm station, highlighting McCoy's silhouette. A click signaled the replay of a tape, and a disembodied voice boomed across the silent room.

"Starfleet Operations to Commander Leonard McCoy. I regret to inform you that your daughter, Lieutenant Joanna M. McCoy, has been killed in a shuttle accident. Her loss is a great one to the service. I wish to convey--"

"Oh, my God!" whispered Kirk as he dashed to the comm station and slammed off the looped message. "Bones!"

Next, he knelt by McCoy's chair, pried one of the cold hands off the armrest, and held it between his two warmer ones. "Bones? Bones!"

The lack of response from McCoy frightened Kirk. He laid his hand along the side of McCoy's rigid face, attempting eye contact, but there was nothing in the blank stare. "Bones, it's me. It's Jim. Everything is going to be all right."

Kirk hesitated a moment, then, moving swiftly back to the comm station, looked up the number of an old doctor friend that McCoy had introduced to him three days earlier. Robert Carmichael had interned under McCoy back in his days as a private physician in a teaching hospital in Maryland. The men had spent the night 'pub-crawling' and Kirk had quickly liked the quiet Amerindian who was younger model of the caring McCoy. Clumsily, Kirk punched in the number and then fidgeted as he waited for an answer. "C'mon, c'mon, will you?" The minute he saw Robert Carmichael's smiling face, he blurted out, "Rob, I've got trouble. Joanna's been killed and I found McCoy in some kind of trance. I need help. What do I do?"

Carmichael sobered at Kirk's words. "Sounds like shock. Keep him warm and I'll be right there. Carmichael out." As the image faded, Jim felt relief. Help was coming.

He went into his bedroom and stripped a blanket off the bed. Returning to McCoy, he wrapped it gently around the still figure. Perching on the arm of the chair Jim pulled the rigid man to his chest, bracing his chin against the dark hair. Whispering a litany of comforting words, he gently stroked McCoy's arm. The heavy rain dripped mournfully down the window. Eons seemed to pass; slowly, then progressively more violently, McCoy's body shook with great, wrenching sobs. Kirk gripped his friend more tightly, his silent tears slipping down to mingle with McCoy's anguish. There seemed to be no end to the pain.

The sudden flare of lights startled Kirk; he looked up and, blurred by his tears, saw the image of Rob Carmichael. "Help him!" Kirk whispered. "Please!"

Slipping the medical ident-disc, which allowed him emergency access, into his pocket, Carmichael removed a scanner from the medikit he carried and, after running a few quick passes over McCoy, dialed up the proper sedative. Then he squatted by the chair, injected the medication into McCoy, and waited for it to take effect. "He'll be all right. He just needs some rest. You'll be staying with him?" It was more a statement than a question.

Kirk nodded. McCoy's sobs were lessening as his body slumped against Kirk. With Carmichael's help, Kirk got McCoy undressed and into bed. The doctor left the room and Kirk pulled up a chair. As he sank wearily into it, he looked at the now quiet face of his friend. Damn! Why him? Why now?! Propping his elbows on the arms of the chair, he buried his face in his hands, rubbing his aching eyes. He had a sour taste in his mouth. Feeling the chill of glass on the back of his hands, he looked up and saw that Carmichael had returned with a Saurian brandy for each of them. Kirk let the brandy's warm bite slide down his throat and slowly relaxed under its mellow influence.

Rob sat on the edge of the bed, cradling his own glass between his large, blunt-fingered hands. Kirk had been impressed with the mahogany-skinned man when they had first met; now his calm demeanor meant a lot to Jim.

"Will he be alright?" Kirk asked tersely.

Carmichael stared into his brandy for answers. "Len is a strong person and, normally, I would say he would go through a normal grieving. But I'm not sure. Len's relationship with his daughter was tentative; they were just beginning to resolve the feelings they had about each other." His concerned brown eyes met the anxious hazel ones watching him intently. "I just don't know, Jim. We'll just have to take it a day at a time."

Rising, Carmichael swigged the last of his brandy. "I'll come back tomorrow." Hesitating at the door, he added, "Try to get some rest yourself."

Smiling wanly, Kirk nodded, then turned a brooding look back to the sleeping man. Carmichael shook his head and quietly left the apartment. McCoy's slow, deep breathing set the rhythm for Kirk's memories. So many times McCoy had been there for him: supportive after Edith's death; devil's advocate when needed; staunchly defiant when he knew Kirk was wrong. He leaned forward and picked up McCoy's hand, holding tightly to it. He's strong. He'll be able to deal with this; he probably won't even want me fussing around him! Jim told himself stoutly, but his heart was filled with cold dread.

The night passed slowly and the watery dawn was long over when McCoy stirred in his sleep, moaning. The sound roused Kirk, who had been dozing fitfully through his watch. He slipped over to sit beside McCoy. "Bones? It's all right; I'm here."

McCoy's eyes wandered blankly around the room momentarily, then focused on Kirk and frowned. "Mark? Where's Joanna? She's gone and I can't find her. Will you find her for me please?"

Kirk recognized the name. It belonged to McCoy's brother, who had been dead for twenty years. "McCoy! Bones! It's me! Jim! Don't you know me?"

McCoy's eyes briefly touched Kirk's, then continued wandering around the room as he pleaded for Mark to find Joanna. Jim backed out of the room and headed for the flashing light that signaled waiting messages and started to punch in Carmichael's number. Half-way through it, the entry signal sounded. Kirk answered it, finding Rob on the other side of the door. Grabbing the taller man by the sleeve, Kirk pulled him past the main room. "Something's wrong. He's calling for his brother."

Carmichael examined McCoy carefully with a scanner as the delirious man continued pleading for his daughter. The younger doctor gave him a sedative and watched until the blue eyes closed. After he was sure McCoy was resting comfortably, Carmichael led Kirk into the main room and explained, "It's a condition called a fugue. Because the thought of Joanna's death is so painful, the mind is protecting itself by moving Len back to an earlier time, when Joanna was safe."

"How long will it last?"

"That's hard to say. Sometimes it is very brief, only a temporary buffer. For other people, professional help may be needed. We'll just have to wait and see. Right now I've given him a mind sedative and he'll probably sleep a while longer. I want you to go to bed and get some sleep as well. Len will need you later, and you'll need to be rested. I'll stay with him."

Kirk started to protest, then gave in to the logic of Carmichael's argument. "Thanks, Rob."

Carmichael called to Kirk's back as he left the room, "And get something to eat!"

Jim wandered into the small kitchen, but, lacking an appetite, he dialed up only coffee and brought it back to the living room. There, he went over to the comm station. The call light was still on, and Kirk sat down to review the messages. Three of them were from Lori, and Kirk made a mental note to send her flowers as an apology for standing her up. There was also a message from Admiral Nogura.

Kirk glanced at the chromonometer; it was only 1020, still early. He decided to postpone calling Nogura until he had some sleep. He walked into the bathroom, stripped off his grimy tennis clothes, and took a quick sonic shower. Then, dressed in a soft orange jumpsuit, he entered his room and threw himself down on the bed. He lay staring at the ceiling, his arms crossed behind his head and became aware of a raging headache. Images of McCoy and the Enterprise warred in his mind. Then, despite the conflict within him, he fell asleep.

* * *

The sound of McCoy yelling woke Kirk and he scrambled out of bed. He ran to McCoy's room where he found the invalid doctor struggling with Carmichael.

"Mark! Mark! Where are you? Help me! Help me!"

"Len, it's all right. Calm down," Carmichael was trying to keep McCoy in bed.

Kirk moved to the other side of the bed and grabbed McCoy's shoulder. "Bones, it's all right. I'm here."

Len looked into Jim's face, clutching his hand. "Mark, where were you? Did you find Joanna?"

Kirk threw a frantic glance at Carmichael, searching for clues. The physician nodded and Kirk took the plunge. "Yes, Len, I found her. She'll be here soon. Just stay here and she'll come to you."

McCoy let the two men tuck him back into bed, asking plaintively, "Have I been sick?"

"Yes, Len," answered Carmichael, "but you are better now. Just rest. Joanna will be here soon."

McCoy subsided, watching out the window for the daughter whom he would never see again. Carmichael and Kirk moved back to the door.

"I don't like lying to him, but I don't want to sedate him again if I don't have to. I think we had better hospitalize him."

"No," Kirk replied sharply, then more gently, "not yet. Let me clean him up, feed him. Maybe when he has had a full night's sleep, he'll be fine."

Carmichael looked doubtful but at the pleading in Kirk's face, agreed. "Okay, I'll look in on

him again tomorrow morning. But even if the fugue is gone, Len won't be fine. He is going to need a lot of support."

Kirk didn't answer.

Rob shrugged. "Go fix him something to eat and I'll tend to Len."

Jim strode into the kitchenette and dialed up dinner for all three of them, putting it on a twenty minute delay to allow Rob time for McCoy's hygiene. He wandered around the living room feeling old and tired. The gentle chime of the comm station filled him with dread; it would be Nogura. He had run out of time. Almost without hesitation, engaged the viewer and the admiral's round, placid face focused on the screen.

"Well, Jim, aren't we cutting your deadline a little short?" Nogura asked with a faint touch of laughter in his voice.

Kirk threw a quick glance at the chronometers; was it late afternoon already? He pulled back his shoulders, lightly clasping his hands behind his sorry, Admiral. There have been some ... um ... problems here."

Nogura sobered. "Yes, I heard about Lieutenant McCoy. Please convey my heartfelt condolences to her father. One of the deepest sorrows is the loss of a child." Kirk nodded an acknowledgment and Nogura continued briskly. "And now to business. Have you come to a decision on the Chief of Operations position? I can't keep this under wraps any longer; I must announce my choice soon."

"I accept the job, Admiral ... and the promotion."

Nogura looked surprised, then pleased. "Good. We will start the procedure for change of command in three weeks."

"There is a condition, Admiral."

Nogura looked wary as he asked, "What condition?"

"I want my two months leave after the change ... and McCoy's leave, too."

Nogura frowned. "I need you now, Jim. For'tung's long illness has left Operations in something of a mess."

"My friend needs me now." Kirk hesitated. "Consider it a hardship leave. I never took one when my brother died, though God knows my mother needed me then. I can't face not being there yet another time when I'm needed." Seeing Nogura unconvinced, Kirk gave a wry grin. "Besides it's not like Operations hasn't been screwed up before."

Nogura smiled faintly at Kirk's weak joke, but Kirk knew that Operations wasn't in such bad shape that it couldn't wait a little longer. Once he'd given his friend what he needed, Kirk knew he would be anxious to start his new job at Operations, even if his leave weren't over. And he would owe Nogura a favor.

Nogura obviously realized this as well, and nodded. "Agreed. And congratulations ... Admiral Kirk."

Kirk sat numb as Nogura's Image faded. Visions of the Enterprise flooded his mind. He shook his head and spun the chair around as the alarm from the food processor chimed.

Rob Carmichael was sitting on the arm of a big chair, his face purposely bland. "Not already having regrets, are you, Admiral?"

Kirk savagely suppressed a spurt of panic, then relaxed. "No." He rose, went to the kitchenette, and removed dinner from the processor's access panel. He set it out on the table while Carmichael collected chairs. Kirk walked across to the open door of McCoy's room. The doctor was haunted. His fingers plucked nervously at the material of his fresh pajamas, but his freshly washed, stubble-free face had better color and his neatly combed hair made him look less haggard. Kirk stepped up beside him, bending slightly as he coaxed, "Come, eat something, Bones."

McCoy glanced longingly at the freshly made bed a moment, then up at Kirk's smiling face. He smiled back, childlike; rising, he followed Kirk into the living room.

McCoy spent the evening docily, never again asking for Joanna. Shortly after dinner, Carmichael helped him back to bed. He slept quietly through the night while the other two men took turns sitting with him. Toward dawn, after replenishing his coffee cup, Kirk found McCoy awake, staring out the window over the sleeping city, faintly awash with the first light. Kirk stopped short in the doorway, slopping hot coffee on his hand. McCoy turned his face toward the sound of Kirk's gasp. He was drawn and pale, but his eyes were clear.

"It...wasn't a nightmare, was it, Jim? Joanna is really dead, isn't she?" His voice was husky, dry -- so low that Kirk could hardly hear him.

Setting his coffee on the bedside desk, Kirk sat on the edge of the bed, and took McCoy's hands in his, replied, "Yes, Bones."

McCoy nodded sadly, turning his head to look over the city, his hands tightly gripping Kirk's. The rising sun glinted on the silent tears slipping down both men's cheeks.

* * *

Five weeks later, Kirk leaned back in his lounger, watching McCoy begin his lonely walk down the beach. Since coming to the lodge, three weeks of their precious time had swiftly slipped away. The lakeside house in Colorado belonged to a friend of Kirk's, a professor at the University of Colorado who had been more than willing to let him use the lodge when he heard that Leonard McCoy, co-translator of the Fabrini medical records now being studied at the university, would be there as well.

McCoy had refused Kirk's company on the walk with the same brittle courtesy he had used since their last quarrel. Kirk frowned as doubt gripped him again. They had been fighting so much lately. As McCoy disappeared around a jutting rock on the beach, Kirk closed his eyes and sighed, letting the warm sun lull him into sleep. He had hoped that this vacation would help restore a balance to their friendship, help make things right, but it was not working out that way.

Jumbled together were the images of the change of command ceremony before they'd left San Francisco: the paperwork, the large formal banquet, and the smaller farewell parties of the crew. McCoy had been there, too, but mostly because Kirk insisted on it.

The funeral had been delayed four days so Arianna McCoy Tolbert could attend her daughter's memorial. As she accepted the urn containing Joanna's ashes, she had hurled wild, bitter accusations on her former husband, placing the blame of their child's death on McCoy's lack of responsibility as a father. For Kirk, the most bitter pain was seeing McCoy accept the guilt, even welcome it. Kirk had tried to reason with him but it only led to their first quarrel. They patched it up ... that one and the next -- caused when he had found McCoy poring over Joanna's autopsy report -- caught up in the gory details. Another night, McCoy had tried to get drunk, but the alcohol wouldn't give him even momentary surcease, and he raged at Jim as the representative of Starfleet he had chosen to blame that night for killing young people. Yes, they had patched up their relationship each time there was a crisis, but each patch only added to the fragility of the whole. Kirk blamed the constant interruptions and demands on their time for not allowing them to really discuss their problems. That was why he had insisted, almost ordered, McCoy come with him to this lakeside retreat.

Once there, McCoy had taken to disappearing down the beach or going into town alone. He refused to discuss any Starfleet gossip with Kirk, neither their new jobs nor the plans for the Enterprise to be the first modified Constellation-class starship. Even more disturbing was McCoy's refusal to discuss Joanna's death. Kirk tried, but each time McCoy begged off, and Kirk, fearing another quarrel, would agree. But instinctively he knew that until or unless McCoy worked out his grief for Joanna, their friendship would never be back the same.

A sudden shadow fell across his closed eyelids and he peered upward. McCoy's solemn face was haloed by the setting sun. He smiled. "That is probably the best you've slept since ... Joanna died." He stumbled over the words.

Kirk held his breath, hoping that now was the time that he and McCoy could really talk. He

wished he knew the magic that would keep McCoy going, finish this thing once and for all.

The doctor's smile wavered in the intensity of Kirk's stare. He held out his hand. "C'mon. It's

time to eat." He paused briefly, then continued, "Then we'll talk. I'm ready now." Kirk grasped the offered hand, relieved that an end was in sight. They were silent as they ate. But when they were seated before the fire with hot coffee, the night full upon them with a cold moon silvering the window, McCoy turned to directly face Kirk.

"First, Jim, I want to thank you for your caring. At a time when I really needed you, you were there. And I appreciate it." McCoy laughed hollowly. "I know I haven't always shown it, but I do appreciate it." His eyes flickered momentarily away from Kirk's intense gaze and he drew in large gulp of air. "I'm ready now to go back to my own life." Once more he gave a hollow laugh, "And I'm sure you would like some of your own leave without me to babysit."

Kirk felt his hope shrivel up as McCoy went through his act. The ever-present anxiety tightened in his throat as he licked his dry lips. "What the hell kind of game are you playing now, Bones?" he grated harshly.

McCoy flinched, then slumped in his chair. The antique digital clock silently passed away the minutes. When McCoy spoke again, his voice was void of any feeling. "You want to know how I feel about Joanna's death, don't you, Jim? I feel ... sad, angry ... bitter. I feel cheated ... vulnerable ... and mortal. I don't know what I feel about Joanna; I only know what I feel about you ... here ... right now. I feel smothered. That first night I did need you, but, after that, you began making my decisions for me. You made the funeral arrangements, you dealt with Arianna, you pushed me into the crew parties ... and not once did you ever ask me, 'Bones, what do you want?' or 'Bones, what do you need?'" His voice was now filled with bitterness.

Kirk felt his mouth fill with bile. Seen through McCoy's eyes, the last five weeks were beginning to take a different form.

"Did you think I was unable to 'heal' myself? That I couldn't recognize the stages of my own grief? That I wouldn't know when I needed help ... up to and including professional help if necessary? Jim, why did you keep pushing me when all I ever wanted from you was just support?"

Kirk rose to his feet and paced in front of the fire, searching inside himself for the answer. "When Sam died, you helped me. You were there I needed you." He rested his head on his arm along the mantle and stared unseeing into the fire. "I was just paying you back; being there for you as you were for me."

"Were you? Or were you fulfilling some guilt appeasement for not going home to the mother who needed you? And don't lie to me ... or yourself. Am I not some kind of penance for deserting your mother?"

Kirk remained silent, afraid to face what sounded uncomfortably like the truth. After a few moments, McCoy continued, "I'm taking over control of my life again, Jim. And I've made some decisions. You are not going to like them, but they are my choices."

Kirk reseated himself. "All right, Bones, I'm not going to like them, but I'll accept them because they are your choices."

"I have resigned my commission and staying here to work on the Fabrini research."

McCoy's words were like a blow to the midsection. "But, Bones, you don't have to resign your commission. Starfleet wanted you to head up the research three years ago. They would be more than willing to re-assign you here."

"Jim, right now I'm very angry and bitter toward Starfleet; I don't want to be anywhere near

it. Oh, intellectually I know this is just transference, but emotionally I just can't handle even putting on the uniform." He paused, musing. "Or maybe, just as I ran to Starfleet after the death of my marriage, I might be running from Starfleet because of the death of my daughter." He rubbed his hand wearily across his eyes. "I'm not sure even I know anymore," he sighed.

There stretched between them a thousand unsaid things. The atmosphere was too heavy for Kirk. "Look, Bones, I understand. I really do. But I also think you are making too many final decisions while under stress. Why not take a leave of absence--"

"No," returned McCoy curtly.

"Shit, Bones, I wouldn't even have taken this damn promotion if I hadn't thought that at least you would be with me. If nothing else, you owe me..." Kirk stopped his angry words, appalled at what he was implying. Too clearly he saw what he had been doing these last five weeks; putting his needs first. "Bones, I'm sor--", but McCoy gave him no chance to apologize.

"Damn you, James Kirk! Double damn you! Haven't you been listening at all? Friendships are based on fulfilling mutual needs. Where the needs are no longer mutual, the friendship is not necessarily over, but the commitment can be temporarily suspended. Can't you see, we don't have to be in Starfleet together to be friends!" McCoy raged, slamming his coffee cup against the wall. That seemed to calm him somewhat, and he continued, "I suspected why you accepted the promotion. I kidded myself that you'd changed your mind, that you really wanted it, but I think I really always knew. And I let myself feel guilty for that, too. But not anymore. You made your own choice, and if it's the wrong decision for the wrong reasons, well ... that's your problem as well."

The dying fire crackled as McCoy rose and picked up the shards of his broken cup. "As far as I'm concerned, Jim, for right now, you can just go to hell." After dropping the broken pieces in the disposal chute, he walked out of the room.

* * *

The intervening years were spent in cautiously rebuilding their friendship. First, there was three months of silence between them. Then Kirk will be sent a tentative letter, and McCoy returned one even more tentative. After six months of these careful letters, they finally met for dinner. Their friendship was fragile, but gradually strengthened, finally surpassing its former bonds. Kirk shared McCoy's joy in his work; if he ever privately thought that McCoy was getting bored with the sedentary routine, he never mentioned it. And when the desk job got to be more aggravating than Kirk could bear, McCoy would help him through those times, making it a little easier.

Kirk came out of his memories to find McCoy still hesitating. If he refused, Kirk knew he would pull every string he could to get McCoy deactivated. But, God, he needed McCoy with him in this. He wasn't as confident as he had implied to everyone around him. He thrust his hand out further."Damn it, Bones. I need you ... badly!"

McCoy slowly met Kirk's hand. "Permission to come aboard?" he asked the Officer of the Deck, his eyes never breaking contact with Kirk's. He ambled to the transporter door, looking over the re-design. "Well, Jim, I hear Chapel is..." and as he groused on, Kirk fondly smiled at his back.