written Laurel Ridener, Mary Rottler and Lynn Syck


McCoy caught the turbolift door with his hand to hold it for the captain. An unusual sight met his eyes as he glanced back at the bridge. Spock had his hand on Kirk's shoulder. McCoy had often witnessed Kirk touching Spock in such a manner, but he could remember very few instances when the Vulcan had initiated it.

Except for a brief moment when hazel eyes met brown, Kirk never stopped moving, seemingly unaware of the unexpected display of affection from the Vulcan. The captain swung around to face Uhura. "Uhura, tell them we're coming. And tell them we're unarmed."

McCoy, in spite of his own fear and confusion at this turn of events, found himself watching Kirk. As usual, in a crisis, the captain was able to stay one step ahead of disaster through his quick action and thought processes. If Kirk had not acted as he had a few seconds earlier, they would be in the midst of a universal war rather than riding on the brink of one. The doctor felt a surge of affection and pride. Spock watched Kirk enter the lift then turned to glance at the doctor, one eyebrow raised in puzzlement. McCoy realized then that he must be smiling.

The doors slid closed, and Kirk snapped out a terse command for the lift level. Only then did he allow some of his uncertainty to show, stricken hazel eyes focusing on McCoy.

"Dammit, Bones, what the hell happened?"

McCoy shook his head. "It sounded pretty chaotic over there. Hope I don't have to test my knowledge of Klingon physiology."

"I think that's a foregone conclusion." Kirk paused, his eyes suddenly pinning McCoy with a frown. "Get a team to the transporter room; prepare for incoming injuries. I want you to remain on board."

"Jim, I'm a doctor; there are people injured over there. I understand the risk."

"Bones." He gripped McCoy's shoulders. "Bones, this is bad, and I have an even worse feeling in my gut. My instincts are telling me this is a lot more than a misfire of weapons or one person acting on his own. If I don't come back, I need you here working to save this mission." The turbolift doors opened. "Someone wants war at any cost, and I've got to try to stop it before it starts. I need people I can trust on this side to help me. That's you and Spock."

With a quick squeeze, Kirk dropped his hands and started for the door. McCoy stopped him. "You don't think you're coming back."

The captain paused before turning back. He gave a quick shake of his head. "I'll try to get them to send the injured to you."

"Jim," McCoy started but then could not seem to find the words he wanted to say. He knew Kirk was right.

The captain smiled. "Bones," He nodded, his eyes meeting McCoy's worried ones steadily. McCoy managed a smile, giving his silent permission for Kirk to go off into the night. Alone.

"The captain's been placed under arrest for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon!" Uhura's horrified tone reflected all their feelings on the bridge.

McCoy could not help but turn to Spock, who sat at the science terminal, his head bowed momentarily. It was McCoy who asked the question that terrified them both, for it meant there was little hope for peace and no hope for Kirk returning. "The Chancellor is dead?"

Uhura nodded her head, tears running down her cheeks. McCoy stared at her, his imagination running ahead. Kirk would be tried by Klingon law, He would face what surely would be nothing more than a kangaroo court -- without Spock, without McCoy...without anyone to stand by his side.

And he would be put to death -- alone.

The chanting began. "Kirk, Kirk, Kirk." The doctor looked around the bridge, and back to the viewscreen which showed a Klingon courtroom. Kirk stood quietly in the center, a single Human all alone, surrounded by thousands of Klingons who were chanting his name angrily. McCoy felt sweat running down his back, the angry voices sending chills of fear through him.

Spock sat in the command chair, his restless activity in trying to locate the conspirators momentarily suspended as he watched the viewscreen. The doctor moved closer to the Vulcan, placing a hand on the back of his chair. He knew Spock shared his horror. Kirk remained calm, and proud, losing his composure only once as they played the excerpts from his personal log. The constant chanting from the hall full of Klingons and the occasional items tossed at the force field surrounding Kirk increased the tension they all felt.

The captain moved slightly to face Chang, the tense motion telegraphing to McCoy that the captain was hurt in some way. He narrowed his eyes, wishing for a closer view and then realized bitterly that he could not help him. Kirk was facing all of the Klingon Empire alone while McCoy, Spock and the rest of his crew remained here, safe on the Enterprise. They were helpless, unable to locate the conspirators, unable to rescue Kirk at the cost of universal war, and soon to be forced back to headquarters in defeat. McCoy clenched his hands in impotent fury and guilt, wishing he could turn back time to the moment in the turbolift when the captain had ordered him to remain behind and he had allowed himself to be convinced -- a decision he'd do anything to change now. At least if he had gone with Jim, Kirk would not be alone.

"As captain," Kirk's quiet voice interrupted McCoy's musing, "I am responsible for the conduct of the crew under my command."

McCoy felt as if somehow Spock and Kirk were looking at one another at this moment. Slender fingers were twisted tightly around the arms of the chair, Spock turning away momentarily from the viewscreen. McCoy slid his hand forward to touch the Vulcan's shoulder in support, instinctively understanding that Spock, too, shared a large measure of guilt for Kirk being in this position.

The tense shoulder relaxed just slightly as the Klingon judge announced that the sentence of death was commuted. Then, the sentence of Rura Penthe was announced, and the shudder McCoy felt but could not see from the Vulcan sent chills down the doctor's spine.

He looked back at the screen, catching a last view of Kirk, standing alone as the entire courtroom reverberated with his name and more weapons were thrown, bouncing off the barrier in a shower of sparks.

"Jim," he breathed, his throat closing tightly at the sight. It was wrong, wrong for him to be by himself.

Suddenly an unwanted vision came back of Kirk, sitting beside him at a campfire long years before saying, "I've always known, I'll die alone."

Time passed, precious time and still McCoy couldn't find a way to help Kirk. He followed Spock as the Vulcan prowled the ship, knowing he was going to badger Spock but unable to stop himself.

"Spock, where are you headed now?" They were on a ladder leading to an access corridor between levels.

Spock stepped off the rung to the open mesh floor. "To the computer core. I intend to discover how our data banks were altered."

"Spock, when are you going to talk bout finding Jim? This damn search for the conspirators isn't getting us anywhere."

The Vulcan did not pause. "We cannot rescue the captain without evidence as to our innocence in this crime. Otherwise, I will endanger the crew of the Enterprise and cause the very thing Captain Kirk was trying to prevent: Klingon-Federation war. You are aware of this, Doctor. We have had this conversation before."

"He could be hurt." McCoy grabbed an arm. "He could be dying. We've got to help him."

"McCoy, worry is a useless waste of energy. I am seeking a means to rescue him. Will you please be brief?"

The solemn brown eyes sought out his, and McCoy didn't miss the vulnerability there. Spock could not afford to allow his feelings to surface now. The doctor was suddenly reminded of a much younger Vulcan many years ago when both he and Spock were incarcerated in a jail together. He remembered watching that Spock prowl the jail in an attempt to escape and go to Kirk's aid. Now, the cell that the Vulcan was confined in was much larger, and yet his ability to help the captain was nearly as limited.

McCoy dropped his arm, turning away. "I wish I'd gone with him."

Spock surprised him by stopping in the deserted walkway. "And I regret volunteering him for this mission."

Again they looked at one another in silence, no words able to convey the worry they both felt. Between them, Kirk's words from long ago echoed in their minds:

"I've always known, I'll die alone."

McCoy sat at the desk in his quarters, head in hands, despair all but overwhelming him. Kirk, isolated on Rura Penthe, would be trusting them to save him, trusting Spock to get him out of this if there was any possible way. He was exhausted; they all were and still no closer to an answer, although the Vulcan had finally relented and started for the penal asteroid in direct opposition to Starfleet orders. What Spock would do when they arrived, McCoy didn't know -- and doubted if the Vulcan did either. But at least they would be there.

Suddenly, a voice from the intercom drew his thoughts away from his fears. "Doctor McCoy to the transporter room," Uhura was calling. "Doctor McCoy."

"Uhura? What's happening?" He hit the switch, his mind responding slowly.

"We've reached Rura Penthe. We've located the captain."

A hundred questions ran through McCoy's mind, but years of training asserted itself. He was already pulling on his uniform as he replied, "I'm on my way."

He skidded into the main transporter room, followed by a med-team with a stretcher. Spock stood by the console, Scott at the controls. Even as he turned, a form was materializing on the platform.

Covered in snow and ice, Kirk's face was barely visible as McCoy moved to his side. His hands were shaking as he ran the scanner, seeking life signs. There were none. McCoy injected a hypo, snapping orders to his team. He knelt over his friend, seeing the blood on his chest for the first time. He pulled at the stiff coat, confused when he discovered the blood was pink. Why was there Klingon blood coming from a bad wound in Kirk's chest? How could this be?

Suddenly, it was Gorkon who lay before him.

McCoy groaned in dismay, looking up for a moment at Spock, who knelt silently at Gorkon's head. "I don't even know his anatomy," he cried. "The wounds aren't closing." McCoy watched in horror as the heart gave up its valiant struggle. "No!" He pounded the Klingon's chest again and again, not willing to let him go. To lose their one hope for peace.

The figure wavered and became Jim again. His eyes were closed, dark lashes against pale skin, and McCoy knew without checking his scanner that they'd lost him. He couldn't meet Spock's eyes. Hot, bitter tears began to spill down his cheeks.

Without Jim's great capacity to love, without his bright spirit lighting up their part of the universe, both he and Spock were lost in their own bitter hell. Both of them knowing in their soul they had been party to this foul deed.

The words echoed silently again between them.

I've always known, I'll die alone.

And now they were the ones who were alone.

McCoy covered his face and moaned.

A breath of icy wind slashed across McCoy's exposed face, and he pushed up on one elbow, blinking in confusion as he peered around him. He was still here, on Rura Penthe, Kirk moving restlessly in his sleep on the bunk next to the doctor's. McCoy wondered if the captain's dreams were as disturbing as his own. He'd thought his present reality was worse than any dream could be. Now he wasn't so sure, grateful at least that he was here with Kirk. It was a hell of a lot easier being here than being helpless on the Enterprise. It didn't take the edge off his fear, but did ease some of his almost panicky terror at being prisoners in this God-forsaken place. He settled back down on the bunk, stifling a cough that shook his thin frame.

Something pulled Kirk out of his deep sleep. It was McCoy moaning softly, tossing and turning in his sleeping bag before finally waking. "Damned marshmallows," he mumbled.

Rolling up on an elbow, Kirk relaxed at the words, remembering the laughter they had shared while roasting the marshmallows earlier. Their return to Yosemite after the incident with Sybok had been a good choice. He allowed a fond smile to cross his face before easing back into the warmth of his sleeping bag.

He waited in silence for McCoy's breathing to settle back into the natural rhythm of sleep. The quiet was interrupted again by the sudden sound of a hypo hissing, and Kirk bit back the instant worry. McCoy usually became downright nasty when questioned about his health. Kirk knew that the doctor had been advised to have surgery to replace his heart, but McCoy refused to talk about it or apparently to even consider the surgery.

Kirk forced himself to stay where he was. It was probably indigestion, Kirk told himself finally, remembering the comment about the marshmallows.

With each passing second, the doctor's breathing was becoming harsher, and Kirk felt panic clutch at his chest. He heard Spock rise from his place by the fire, crossing over to their friend. Fear kept Kirk silent and still now, afraid to find that something was terribly wrong.

"Jim!" McCoy called, the pain he must be feeling erupting in that one word.

It shattered the spell of fear. Kirk rolled up and moved across the short distance before the sound died away.

Spock was kneeling by McCoy's side. "Doctor?" he asked, his eyes telling Kirk that he had already comprehended and accepted the truth. "Lie still. I will call the ship."

"No!" McCoy nearly shouted. Then, "No," he repeated less harshly. "No ship."

Kirk lifted the doctor into his arms, brushing the hair back from the sweaty brow. "Come on, Bones, don't do this to yourself -- let Spock call the ship. Thirty minutes in surgery will have you fixed up as good as new."

The blue eyes met his, and Kirk cursed the fear that he knew McCoy could see. McCoy shook his head, "Too late," he gasped.

Kirk considered arguing, but instead he simply reached for his own communicator. There was time for discussion and a time for action. McCoy had steadfastly refused to have his weakening heart replaced in the past few years with a stubbornness that Kirk could not understand. It was time to override him, pulling rank yet again. He would deal with the consequences later. At least his friend would be alive.

A shaking hand pulled his wrist down. "It's better this way, Jim." His breathing was growing more ragged.

Kirk dropped the communicator, watching in mute terror as pain tore McCoy apart one heartbeat at a time. "Bones...please," he whispered, lifting agonized eyes to beg Spock for help. All it would take was one call; surely it was the right thing to do.

McCoy's hands clawed at the captain's arms, hanging on for dear life until he could talk again. "I'm not scared," he said at last, "just sad...gonna miss you much...eternity too damned long, alone."

Spock looked at Kirk, their gazes locking.

"Doctor," Spock began, "let me help."

McCoy started to deny him when his back arched, his face twisting into shards of agony. "I love you..." he whispered, dying.

Spock looked at Kirk one last time, then placed his hands on McCoy's face. His lips moved in the ancient ways, calling upon the ancient gods, begging the ancient favors. Sweat glazed his forehead.

Eons later, the Vulcan leaned away from the doctor, settling back on his heels. Exhaustion racked his body, and he shivered in the aftermath.

Kirk observed him carefully, watching until the Vulcan's respiration slowed, until the trembling steadied. Satisfied, he returned his attention to McCoy. While still cradling the doctor safely in the crook of one arm, with the other hand he smoothed out the rumpled sleeping bag. At last he gently laid the doctor down, pulling the sleeping bag around the body, tucking it in as if never wanting McCoy to be cold again. He looked at Spock.

"It is done," Spock said. "His katra is safe with me, with us. Eternity need not be so damned lonely after all."

Kirk nodded, silently thanking the Vulcan, then touched McCoy's cheek one last time. "'Til then, Bones," he promised, unaware of the tears streaming down his cheeks.

"'Til then," Spock echoed.

Kirk could not stop the tears of grief that began to fall.

Kirk could feel the warm tears sliding down his cheeks, becoming icy cold as the chill air stung his face. He opened his eyes. Still caught within the web of the vision of McCoy's death, grief filled his soul in the brief seconds before he became fully awake. He lay still, disoriented, unfamiliar sounds and odors filtering through the filthy coat he had pulled over most of his head to keep the cold out.

A familiar hacking cough snapped him back to painful awareness, the depth of the cough becoming an ominous timbre in Kirk's mind. His stomach twisted sharply in fear for his friend. McCoy wouldn't last long here, especially not in this prison. Rura Penthe. From the moment they'd pronounced the sentence, Kirk's blood had run cold at the thought of McCoy trying to survive there. It'd been frightening enough for himself, but for McCoy...Kirk's hands balled into fists, unable to keep from groaning in reaction.

The dream came back to haunt him. The serenity and peace of McCoy's death in the dream far outweighed any grief Kirk would have felt. And now Kirk had brought him to this. The ways that McCoy could be made to suffer here were endless. And there was a very real possibility that Kirk could be murdered at any time while the guards looked on and laughed. Then McCoy would be left alone to fight against the abuses inherent in any prison atmosphere.

McCoy quieted, and Kirk strained to hear his steady breathing. Instead, he heard a guttural scream in the distance. He shuddered, rolling on his side.

After a moment, he heard, "Jim?" McCoy's hand touched him on the shoulder.

Kirk rolled back. McCoy was frowning at him; then he smiled gently. "It's all right, y'know. That I'm here."

Kirk shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment to hide his surprise. McCoy's unacknowledged empathic abilities still amazed him after all these years of knowing one another. "Like hell; even Klingons honor healers. I never expected them to punish you."

"It was a set-up. You couldn't foresee that. I just wanted you to know that no matter what happens...well, that I don't blame you. I'm actually kind of glad I'm here."

Kirk gave a strangled laugh. The conversation was not helping his precarious emotions right now where McCoy was concerned. "You haven't stopped complaining from the moment we arrived."

"You'd think I was sick if I didn't complain. Don't get me wrong, I'm scared out of my wits. Some of these aliens walking around here, I've only read about or seen through a protective barrier. I've been frightened senseless since arriving." McCoy brought his gaze back from the various bunks surrounding them. He frowned again. "Then I imagine me, safe, on the Enterprise, at Spock's side...he must be frantic by now, worrying about what's happening to us but unable to do anything. Well, it's easier sometimes being here than being the one left behind to worry alone."

Kirk shook his head, his throat closing against a sudden rush of pain at McCoy's words. "But you would be safe. Safe, dammit! Not afraid of some brute beating you, or falling ill to some alien disease or from the cold," he whispered.

"But until something like that happens, I can help. If it happens --" Kirk opened his eyes in time to catch McCoy's shrug. "Don't you see, Jim, you're worrying just like I would be on the ship. As Spock would say, it is a purposeless waste of energy. Although I'm willing to bet you credits he's indulging in some pretty serious waste of energy right now." The doctor leaned forward, resting a hand on Kirk's shoulder. "I just didn't want you blaming yourself if something happens that you can't prevent."

Kirk nodded, forcing a bitter smile to his lips. McCoy patted his arm, then curled back on his side on the bunk. Another cry rent the night, and was cut off abruptly. The sudden silence caused Kirk to shiver involuntarily.

"Bones? I was dreaming just now about that camping trip in Yosemite we took. When you nearly died."

"Would've died, if not for you."

Kirk couldn't quite interpret McCoy's tone. 'You gave me a hard time then about overriding your wishes. I thought I was right, and that one day you'd understand that."

"I did, Jim. You know that."

"Funny, I think now I'm the one who understands."

At first there was no answer. Kirk squinted in the darkness. He could not see McCoy's reaction but heard his soft laugh as he said, "Now I remember why Spock gets so frustrated with us Humans. As he'd say, 'Non sequitur. Please explain.'"

Kirk smiled, and for a flash of a second was grateful that McCoy was here with him.

"The dream was so real. Spock, you and I were together, and you were teasing him about those 'damned marshmallows'. Everything was the same, except that this time I did what you asked me to: I let...let you die." Kirk sat up suddenly, hunched over the edge to avoid hitting the top bunk. He didn't look at McCoy as he fought the rush of emotion threatening to close his throat. "Spock was there, just like before. He saved your katra, while I felt you slip away in my arms. And in spite of my grief, I felt such peace knowing that you were safe and we always had you nearby, that you wouldn't be spending eternity alone. Then I woke up and realized that instead I've brought you to this."

"Jim --"

"Bones, it's just that there was such peace there. You might die here, in this stinking hell hole, away from everyone you love, and we'll lose your soul, everything that we love. If I hadn't been so selfish then, you wouldn't be here now."

McCoy turned on his back, lifting his head to stare at Kirk for a moment. He dropped his head, and Kirk could hear the amusement in his voice. "You never cease to surprise me. And you do pose an interesting quandary. Imagine what a nightmare that would be for Spock. Remember how his katra affected me? I guarantee you, I would drive him certifiably insane in no time at all." He chuckled. "I thought you'd be blaming yourself about letting me come. I had all these well-thought-up arguments about how you couldn't have stopped me from coming with I figured we'd be blasted into hell the minute we beamed aboard the Kronos. Instead, I'm supposed to talk bout a camping trip ten years ago?"

Kirk shrugged. "I'm getting old, reliving my past."

McCoy snorted, "No, you're being your normal self. Never predictable, always looking at situations from angles I've never thought about. And you're wrong when you say I'm away from everyone I love." McCoy pushed himself back up. "This whole thing is my fault for never really talking with you after I recovered from that heart surgery. I knew I was a little hard on you and was embarrassed --"

"A little?" Kirk shook his head. 'You didn't allow me to visit you at all in the hospital, and you didn't start speaking to me for another six months!"

"You're exaggerating. A bad habit you've picked up from Spock."

Kirk chuckled in spite of himself at the ongoing joke among the three of them.

"Besides, you were right. I had myself convinced I needed a full replacement when all I needed was a tune-up. A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. And that goes for one who diagnoses himself. And the time off gave me a chance to be with Joanna, really get to know her again. And my grandkids." His voice roughened with emotion. "A long time ago, I once told Spock that he was more afraid of living than of dying, Those words have come back to haunt me more than once. I was more afraid of being alone, of losing you or Spock and having to live without you. So I was the one more afraid of living. Without your kick in the pants on that camping trip, I would've missed out on some of the best years of my life."

A harsh couch interrupted whatever he was going to say next, and again Kirk felt his stomach twist at the ominous rattling he could hear from McCoy's chest. He reached across, grasping the doctor's hand, holding tightly until he rode out the cough. When the wheezing and gasping for breath finally eased, Kirk squeezed his hand, "You need your rest. Tomorrow won't be easy."

He started to pull away, but McCoy stopped him. He looked up, catching Kirk's eyes in the dim light. "Joanna and I talked about this. She knew that I might not come back from one of these missions. It's okay." McCoy smiled and clasped Kirk's shoulder for a moment. "Funny you should have that particular dream. I dreamed about something you said on that camping trip ten years ago. Something that I haven't thought of in years."

Kirk leaned forward, McCoy's tone intriguing him.

"Do you remember? You told Spock and me that you'd always known --"

"I'll die alone." Kirk finished softly.

"Yeah," McCoy whispered. "I dreamed I didn't come with you to Kronos One, and you went through this by yourself. And you didn't make it back." There was a pause; then hoarsely McCoy continued, "I remember thinking I was in hell, and when I looked up, I saw Spock was, too. I couldn't contemplate the future without you."

Kirk waited in shocked silence. Over the many years Kirk had known McCoy, he had come to realize the doctor was more fiercely private than either he or Spock. The doctor frequently pushed and prodded his patients, especially Kirk and most certainly Spock, to let out their feelings, but he didn't practice what he preached. He had rarely spoken of their affection for one another.

McCoy leaned forward again. "You know what, Jim? Since I'm with you, it gives me hope that we may make it after all. Maybe your faith in Spock is catching." He laughed softly, scooting back on his bunk. "I don't know about you, but I need my rest for tomorrow." He lay down, bundling himself up in the bits and pieces of fur. "What I mean is, while I'm hard at work, digging in the mine, you're going to be off on some love tryst with a golden-eyed alien."

The captain shook his head, pulling his own coat back up over his ears as he lay down. "Dammit, Bones, you don't expect me to turn down an invitation like that at my age, do you? Besides, it's all in the line of duty." He paused, then added, "I'm beginning to think you're jealous."

His only answer was a low groan.

Kirk lay quietly, listening until he was reassured McCoy had dropped off into a restless sleep. He then proceeded through a simple exercise Spock had taught him years ago to produce a light trance state, allowing him to be alert to his surroundings yet able to obtain much needed rest. It would be too easy to simply kill them as he slept, and he was more determined than ever to get them out of this prison.

The soul perishes not of dark but of cold. The line floated into Kirk's consciousness, and he smiled at the aptness of the statement. However, his friend was one soul he was not going to allow to perish.

"I swear it," he breathed silently, remembering the last time he had made such a vow. That time, it'd been Spock's soul he'd sworn to save.

By his honor, McCoy's soul would not spend eternity here...alone.

the end

There's more Tantalus Revisited.