And, here is the final chapter. Thank you to everyone who reviewed/favorited/alerted for your support. As always, be lenient about spelling mistakes (more so now that I am depending on the website to spell check) and enjoy!

He dozes, awakens, ignores, ponders, comes up with fairly wild ideas and some equally boring ones. He's got conspiracies, plans and plots on his side but none of them can withstand any deep reasoning so he lets them drop away one by one. Day three passes slowly as he keeps trying to fit the missing piece into the solid blue puzzle titled "What happened to my crew?" but without a reference point, it's completely impossible. When the nurse offers him something new to eat, plain toast and rice, he eats it at her insistence and ten minutes later is sick. His stomach burns with dissatisfaction as he empties all of it into a provided bowl and he gets the pleasure of being annoyed and miserable. By the evening, he's down to just drinking because he can't keep down solids and by the next morning, he's struggling with even that. Bones, whom he hasn't seen since their talk, turns up mid-afternoon and studies him like a science project. He has the decency to look concerned as he reads monitors and nurses reports and Doctor Bellino's mental gibberish. Then Kirk throws up on his boots-- fuck, he didn't mean to do that because he really just wanted to avoid personal contact all together-- and it hurts. Bones doesn't curse-- usually he would too, Kirk thinks as he lets out a groan born of irritation more than pain-- just calls a nurse over to clean the mess and frowns up at the screen. As he does, Kirk allows himself to look, take in the tired, the worried and the grey. Maybe McCoy does need to retire. Maybe he needs to find a planet (other than Earth as Jocelyn took the whole damn thing) to settle down on, find a new wife and start a new family. After all, he never did like space, never wanted adventure; he just needed an escape and the military seemed as good an option as any. Would Kirk be a good friend if he didn't allow McCoy to do what was best for him? He shifts in the bed, trying to ease the ache in his middle. No, no he wouldn't be, he concludes when McCoy disappears without a word, but he's never considered himself to be all that good. Or a friend; his first real experiences with friends came here, anyway, so he's not a professional in the business. He's allowed to make mistakes, like being inordinately selfish and demanding Bones stay. Right? The a little voice in the back of his mind that says, no, sorry, Bucko, that's not the way it works.

"Okay, kid," McCoy says, startling him out of his reverie. He's drawn a chair over and organized a group of hyposprays on the bedside table. "Here's our options. Right now, you're stomach will not be able to handle extended periods of vomiting. So, I can give you a bunch of drugs which will put you out, calm the nausea and heal your stomach lining. Or, we can go down Doctor Bellino's suggested route where I give you one injection to help you keep food down, bring you something to eat and we can talk about whatever's bothering you. He seems to think, god knows why, that you'll be less recalcitrant with me."

"Must have been misinformed that we were friends," Kirk responds, his stomach back flipping at the thought of food and conversation but equally concerned by the number of shots he's going to receive as an alternative.

McCoy's expression darkens minutely. "You implying something?"

He's tired, sick and not up for an argument. "No, Bones, I'm not. Just give me the shots." And he tries to convince himself it's not quitting the situation. He's just trying to avoid saying things he'll regret, things that can't be fixed through regeneration, hypos or stitches. His tongue's loose and he's more than liable to throw in barbs without realizing that he doesn't mean them. His stomach crawls into his throat and out his mouth again but he's polite enough to make sure it's on the opposite side of the bed. Because, even if they're not happy with each other, Bones doesn't deserve to be puked on twice. All the same, he doesn't deny his actions are a bit passive aggressive considering there's a nice, clean bowl nearby for him but he pretends like he didn't have the time to grab it.

Bones rolls him onto his back once he's done and pages the nurse again while Kirk awaits the poke of the hypo in his neck. When it doesn't come, he peels open his eyes to see McCoy sitting and watching him, his gaze distant, his lips pursed. There's a pit of guilt growing steadily inside him, filling with all the unsaid words that make up the obvious issues. He clears his throat a bit, winces and tries to think of what to say. The words that escape him aren't particularly eloquent but he's used to that by now so he isn't embarrassed.

"It's all different, Bones. Everything."

Bones pulls at his chin, still staring into the distance. "Things change, it's part of life."

"But it happened so suddenly," he whispers. It did for him. One moment, everyone's as they've always been. The next, he's here.

"Jim, it was two and a half months," Bones says heavily. "A lot can change in two and a half months."

"I know," he says. "I just... I don't understand how." His stomach's on the revolt again so he pauses to snatch the bowl and gag up the last bit of water and bile left for him. There's red flecks in it this time, mixing with yellowy green fluids. He grimaces, his hands shaking now. "You turned in your resignation yet?" He's having a hard time setting the bowl down again.

"What resignation?" Bones asks, sounding genuinely surprised. Two seconds later, something must click. "Oh Christ, Jim-- I'm not fucking retiring yet. Not while your still flying your ass around in space. Who's going to make sure you don't fall to pieces?" There are footsteps as McCoy rounds the bed and takes the bowl from him. He sinks back onto the pillows. "God knows, Spock can't keep up with you half the time and when he does, you just get into more trouble." He puts a tentative hand on Kirk's shoulder. "I'm tired, Jim, but I wouldn't work my ass off to get you back just so I could leave."

Then he gives Kirk three of the threatened hypos and sits with him through the night. It's as close as they'll get to apologizing.

He's re-learning walking-- damn embarrassing because Libby, the new nurse, is helping him do it (Chapel refuses to touch him or even look at him if she can avoid it and McCoy's sleeping) and cooing like a mother with a toddler-- when Spock comes to 'personally observe his level of recovery' for the first time since he's been coherent. He's clinging to Libby's arm, his knees quaking like he's run ten miles even though he's barely taken ten steps and she's sagging under his minimal weight. During his time in jail, he lost at least thirty pounds and since, he's dropped even more. His stomach's finally under control-- or, mostly, anyway-- so he's been living off a diet of soup, oatmeal and some mushy substance that Bones insists gives him nutrients. It's not enough to promote weight gain or even maintain what little mass he has. But even at one hundred thirty pounds, Libby's not able to support him as he fights to remain vertical so Spock is forced to swoop in and take him from her grasp. She's very grateful-- smiling and panting-- and allows Spock to continue the therapy for her. Kirk's not exactly happy about it but he intends to endure. It's better for this way, both because Spock is absolutely steady and because Spock is one of the few things that has stayed the same on the ship. The only thing different about Spock is now he's the Captain instead of the first mate, and even so, he insists that he's only acting Captain now that Kirk is back.

"How's it going, Spock?" Kirk wheezes as they turn to shuffle back towards his bed. He's attached to Spock like a drunken prom date and it's just barely enough to keep him on his feet.

Spock's watching him closely, his eyebrows knitted in a way that screams displeasure. "The ship is functioning on optimal levels." Kirk's legs turn to pudding and he's forced to snatch Kirk under the arms. Once Kirk's standing again, he continues. "Since our recovery of your person, we've been given light missions consisting of basic scouting in well-known locations."

"Great," he manages, both to the answer which tells him absolutely nothing and to the fact that he's reached his bed again. It's frustrating being so weak, so dependant upon being horizontal. At least now, he's allowed his own blankets and pillows and he can wear something other than scrubs. His old clothes do not fit so he's borrowing from someone else's closet. Still, it's better. "Great." He settles back on the bed. "Now, I have to ask you something very important, Spock, and I want an honest, complete answer."

"Of course, Captain," Spock replies, seating himself in the chair near the bed. "Anything."

He takes in a deep breath, winces as it still hurts sometimes, and says, "What the fuck happened between the time I got tossed in that hole and you guys getting me out?"

Spock does not react like Bones did or like anyone else has in the past. He crosses his legs and folds his hands and tells Kirk. "We worked diligently for all of the seventy eight point three days they held you to create and gain the approval of a treaty between the Federation and the planet Frane, Jim. It was... an arduous task for many of the people on this vessel. The Franians only agreed to receive us because they needed leverage to make their demands. They intended on keeping you until the Federation removed all vessels from their orbit and from their neighboring solar systems. The Federation would not do so as key allies lie within this area and retreat would mean leaving said planets open to threat."

"And one captain isn't worth that risk," Kirk observes. He doesn't think he's so special as to require special treatment. He is only one captain out of many.

Spock nods. "Affirmative. Starfleet's stance was Frane had nothing over them and, as you well know, they do not negotiate with terrorists. They deduced that no offensive actions needed to be taken but that careful observation should continue."

"And they were just so threatening sitting up there that the Franians gave in two months later?" Kirk asks, incredulously.

"No, Jim," Spock says, his voice mild as always. "Myself, Lieutenant Uhura, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Chekov and Lieutenant Sulu attended the High Council as ambassadors from Starfleet and the Federation a second time. Our efforts began actual peace negotiations. There was very little time to sit or to wait; as I told you, we worked for the entirety of your imprisonment to secure your release. It took an average of one hundred twenty hours a week from forty six percent of the crew to negotiate, compose and distribute the treaty. Sixteen percent were left to the basic maintenance of the ship while the other thirty eight became either Federation representatives to Frane's High Council or personal emissaries for Frane to the Federation. We drafted three hundred twenty five versions of the treaty before one was approved by both the Federation and the High Council and it took fourteen days for both to pass through legislation. By the time we were allowed to have you back, the terms of your release were so complicated that we had to provide separate... incentive to the guards within your cell block in order to free you." He says it all as though he is reporting officially to a commanding officer but his eyes are glassy as he speaks. Spock's downfall as a Vulcan has always been his eyes because they are so emotive even when the rest of him is not. "During this time, they would not give us information on your physical state nor where you were being kept. For many members of the crew, such as Doctor McCoy, this was very troublesome. However, while difficult, the dealings have been productive. We received you and there is peace between Frane and the Federation. I believe this is an example of a-- what is your turn of phrase?-- win-win situation?"

There's no surge of love for his crew, no sudden overwhelming sense of belonging which he thought knowing would bring. Instead, there is a twinge as something more drops into the pool of guilt and adds definition to the exhaustion that lines every crew member's face. They've all been driven to their limit, almost to the point of breaking, merely to bring him back. He has no doubt he is loved but the price paid for that love is difficult to view. Really, it's the Franians who brought this upon everyone but he is the catalyst so some of the fault does lie with him. His silence alerts Spock to his contemplation and the Vulcan leans forward in his seat so that he's very close to Kirk.

"Not one person here regrets it, Jim," he states. "While I may be inaccurate, I... feel I can speak for the whole crew in this matter."

He blinks. "Wow, Spock, that's... very... uh-- human of you."

"Forgive me, I'm afraid the strain has affected my ability to separate my emotions from my reason," Spock says immediately but it's a lie that Kirk sees right through. "It will not happen again."

"Right, of course," Jim agrees. "You'll keep things under control until I get back?"

"Affirmative, Captain."

But even if the truth hurts, knowing starts his final stage of recovery. As he eats that night, something shifts in him, covering up the guilt and displacement. It's lumpy and a poor fit but it covers the open wounds so that the raw emotions are soothed. Even so, it does not get any easier to be around Libby and he realizes that's mostly because she coddles him which he couldn't stand even as a child. But, as he deals with her and plays his first game of chess with Chekov since he's gotten back, he notes that the tiny layer thickens up and stabilizes him. It's not pretty but it's at least solid enough that when Chekov wipes the floor with him, he can return the boy genius's grin. When Sulu drops in, a strange looking potted creature in his hands, it's enough to withstand a 'no sex with plants' joke his expense and a lack of diplomatic tactics joke at Sulu's. There's still tension in the air with some people-- like the ever distant Chapel-- but even that's bearable as his strength builds. His first real food-- well, real is a very subjective word as it's plain scrambled eggs and toast with only the slightest bit of butter-- is served to him by Chapel because she's the only nurse on duty. She is all business, as per usual, checking out his stats, entering things into her PADD and waiting, somewhat impatiently, for him to partake of his meal. Without thinking, he messes with her, taking tiny, slow bites, chewing on the fork in between and smirking as her annoyance grows.

"So, I've been gone a while," he begins conversationally. "Does this mean I get a welcome home kiss, Chris? Maybe a bit of a cuddle?"

She rolls her eyes. "Captain, the day that I give you a cuddle is the day Doctor McCoy marries Commander Spock. Now, eat your goddamn breakfast so I can get on with my work."

And with her normal bitch tone, she reassures him that he's home. No, things aren't exactly the same but they never could be. While most of his beatings were physical and most of his scars visible, the whole crew took on their own injuries and marks. They went into the situation foolish, young and naive and came out battle smart veterans. It was not like the Narada Incident where all it took was tactics and an ass load of luck; this was the real deal diplomatic bullshit that they'd been told about but never expected to run into. They'd been forced to grow up as a crew, not like the coddled private school kid who gets his or her first job at eighteen and never wants, but like the eldest child from a down-on-their-luck family who not only gets himself to school but takes care of his two younger siblings and works two jobs. He's aware that its going to be a while before they can laugh easily again and months before they can all look back and realize that this was a good thing. It'll be a long time before Bones snarls at him in seriousness, even if he's being an idiot, months before Spock lets him do an away mission without finding a reason to tag along and years, many years, before any of them work that hard at diplomacy again. But they're strong. It'll happen. Someday.

It's the last day for him in the sick bay and he's sitting on the edge of the bed, swinging his legs, impatient to walk the halls of the Enterprise. He's on strict rest still-- not too much time out of bed-- but at least tonight he'll sleep in his own room. It'll be the first time in four months for him to do so and he's looking forward to sinking into the mattress and piling the pillows around him. He wrinkles his nose as Bones waves his magic wand around, focusing on his midriff and then moving up to his head and each of his arms. A little huff of irritation escapes him and it catches McCoy's ears. His friend glares at him-- not a glare of worry, or a glare of 'I hate what they've done to you' but his typical 'Damn-it-Jim-I'm-a-doctor-not-a-machine-and-I'm-doing-my-job'-- and snaps, "I'll keep you in here another week if you don't sit still."

"Gonna miss me?" He grins.

"Like a frigging headache," McCoy grumbles. Even the weariness behind the tone doesn't change the old camaraderie. He knows that underneath all the grey hair and lines is old Bones. He's just covered in scars and it's going to take good events to help them fade. And that's okay, because he foresees plenty of positive happenings in the future. McCoy pauses over his arm, putting the tricorder aside so he can test the flexibility and study the raised line. "When do you want me to take care of that for you? It shouldn't take too long to get rid of it."

He studies the crisscross white lines of the rough stitches and the raised pink lumps where the healing took a bad turn. Yeah, it's ugly and not something he thinks the girls would find sexy. He pulls his arm away. "You know what, Bones. I think I'm gonna keep it."

McCoy frowns at him for the briefest of seconds and then it's clear he understands. His lips twist into a half-hearted smile. "Okay, Jim."

And things, he decides as he struts out of the sick bay, are going to be just that.