A/N: Okay, this is something that took over me after finishing The Illustrated Man. This is based heavily (I'm talking elephant like heavy) on Ray Bradbury's short story (in The Illustrated Man), The Visitor. Many of the ideas are right on with that story, but I just kinda filled in some of the gaps and turned it into a slash Star Trek fic. Yeah, it's like that. The title is from Poe's To One in Paradise, which also played a major influence in this story. It's located just below:
Thou wast all that to me, love,
For which my soul did pine-
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
"On! on!"- but o'er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!
For, alas! alas! me
The light of Life is o'er!
"No more- no more- no more-"
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree
Or the stricken eagle soar!
And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams-
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.
Not sure how that'll look on FFnet, but I'm hopeful.
Anyway, this is also kind of a penance for taking so long with Sunshine On My Window. It's been a hectic time, and I'm trying to find some semblance of balance…and failing. I will be updating on that story next week. I really am sorry. I didn't expect life to kill me so bad.
Not beta'd, so if you see errors, point them out and I will fix them in due time.
Disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek or The Illustrated Man. I just kinda liked throwing them at each other and cackling at the terrible outcome.
The shuttle dropped the kid off on Purgatory about three minutes ago. He still looks healthy, still looks whole, and able to walk about for several hours at a time, unlike most of the men there. As he comes close to Leonard, it's easy to catch the lingering wafts of grass and clean air exuding from his form. That won't last the day, but it's a wondrous thing to smell, even for a moment.
The kid is still smiling even as the other men dressed in heavy, biohazard suits stomp away, intent on heading back to Earth and away from these lepers, away from the condemned. They're just the drop off team. They bring no provisions, no letters from home, no new blankets or pillows to ease the ever building discomfort caused by this miserable desert planet. They were only here to drop the kid off, and they're going home now, back to Earth.
As the shuttle takes off silently, the kid, no more than twenty, maybe a little younger, shifts from one foot to another like they gave him too much sugar on the way to his death sentence. He's pure energy, and it makes Leonard think a little of a certain little girl still on Earth.
Still smiling, as if the long, haggard appearances of the other inhabitants on this desert planet don't bother him, he asks, "I take it you're here to welcome me to the party?"
It would be cold hearted if Leonard couldn't see the tension around the kid's eyes, if the too wide smile didn't belie his own façade. The kid knows this isn't a damn party. Purgatory isn't a pleasure planet and you don't go home in a few weeks. You don't go home at all. The ticket to Purgatory is one-way.
Men come here to die.
Blood Rust started somewhere in rural Panama, along the hot, sticky rivers where insects reigned and humans were still only visitors. Fifteen men were infected before doctors even caught on to the pattern. Within the next six months, hundreds nearing a thousand men had contracted Blood Rust. Doctors didn't know what to do. They could find no cure, couldn't even understand the virus that had infected the lungs of all those afflicted. Somewhat more mind-boggling, only men contracted Blood Rust.
Any man with Blood Rust was put in quarantine, but it grew out of control too quickly. Contagious from the moment the virus entered the lungs until death, there was nothing to be done. Add to that the fact that for the first month Blood Rust lay dormant, simply reproducing itself until the second month, thousands of men were infected without knowing.
There was nothing else to do. The infected couldn't be sent home to die in peace and they couldn't stay in the hospitals with so many other weak patients susceptible to the virus. The Federation, at wits end, passed a law making it mandatory that all men infected with Blood Rust be sent to a deserted planet in the Alpha Centari system called ZX-0894. Most, over the past five years Blood Rust had been ravaging Earth, had come to call the planet 'Purgatory.'
Leonard is one of four men who come to see whether the shuttle arriving will be a freight shuttle or a 'contaminate' shuttle. He is a little surprised when only one guy hops off. Usually there are five to fifteen. He and Sulu trade looks when the men in biohazard suits escort only one young man onto the desert planet. When the kid does nothing but smile, Kevin Riley slinks away slowly, painfully, declaring the 'newbie' insane already, while Sulu wraps his arm around the youngest man in the shanty town they live in, Pavel.
When Kirk, near callously, asks, "I take it you're here to welcome me to the party?" Sulu quickly, or as quickly as he can being four months into Blood Rust, steers Pavel, sadly nine and barely speaking any English, back to the small hut they share.
Kirk watches them go for a moment, his eyes, blue and clear, dimming just a little. "I must offend," he said with a still joking tone. His eyes cast back to Leonard's and he visibly forces the gloom to leave his person. He holds out his hand, proclaiming, "I'm Jim. Jim Kirk."
Leonard stares at the kid's hand, his fingernails clean and without blood gathering and dripping from the tips. Leonard has just entered the second stage of Blood Rust. Blood crusts and runs from the beds of his nails. Within the next two months he'll probably lose them all and for some reason, looking at Kirk's still clean hands sends a wave of anger through him.
He doesn't reciprocate the gesture, though his momma would probably have his head if she were still sane enough to understand manners or would ever hear about his rudeness at all. Instead, he glares at the kid and introduces himself gruffly.
"McCoy. Leonard McCoy."
He watches with petty satisfaction as Kirk's hand hovers for another fraction of a second, before falling limply to his side. The smile doesn't falter though. If anything, it grows and Leonard almost thinks that the kid was born with that fucking smile. Kirk stuffs his hands into the pockets of his clean pants, unhindered by the dirt and dust of Purgatory, and he says jovially, "Well, at least the remnant of the welcoming party is good looking."
Leonard snorts derisively. He knows what he looks like, though he wishes he didn't. Blood Rust and Purgatory have taken their toll on him. "Kid, I'm nothing but bones wrapped in too tight skin. Just a sack of bones," he sighs tiredly. He's been out in the desert sun too long. He's gotta get back to his hut before he passes out right there.
He looks up at the kid, who sadly, still smiles like if he doesn't, he'll die before his year's allotment is through. With an even heavier sigh, one born of irritation more than fatigue, he says, "Alright, kid. Follow me. I'll lead you to your new home."
He turns, feeling the three suns of Purgatory beating down on his back and leads Kirk to the shanty house most recently left open. The relief party that usually comes once a month in a freight shuttle had already cleaned it out and restocked it with more sanitary provisions. It looked fine, but still…
"Holy shit! It smells like someone died in here!" Kirk proclaims, causing Leonard to look at him with more pity than he really feels the kid deserves.
It's then that the smile finally crumbles off of his face. He realizes. Someone did die here. He, Kirk, a young man looking no more than twenty, will probably die there, in the very same bed that the relief party just cleaned.
Leonard blinks towards the floor, unreasonably saddened by the disappearance of Kirk's smile. "Sleep well."
Then he leaves, intent on returning to his hut, where he will sleep until he is awoken by the need to clear his lungs of the blood gathering there. The scent of Earth dissipates with each step he takes away from Kirk, but after being on Purgatory for three and a half months the ever present smell of ashes is only mildly disappointing.
Leonard had only been trying to find a cure, when he, himself, became infected. After his father had been sent to Purgatory two years prior, Leonard had all but thrown himself into the research on Blood Rust, forsaking his wife and little girl to help thousands of men he would never know. He hadn't known it was consuming him until Jocelyn had packed up her things and left with Joanna, going back to her parent's house and filing for divorce.
When he had received the court order to appear in divorce court some months after Jocelyn had left, he had nearly lived in the hospital, sleeping on the spare bunks left for doctors who pulled double shifts, or were simply too tired to drive home. He spent any time not in surgery, hunched over a microscope looking at the inactive virus and trying to find a cure.
He was almost sure he had it when an older man in his late forties, early fifties maybe, came to the hospital in hysterics. He had Blood Rust.
Leonard had thought he would try his antidote on the man, but somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong. The infected man somehow grabbed onto a laser scalpel, too terrified of what he was going through and what Leonard was proposing. He wanted the team to get away from him. He wanted to die, not be treated like a test rat and he believed that Leonard and his team would not leave him in peace until he had slit his own throat wide open.
A wild slash at the medical crew, who had been trying to get the scalpel away from the frenzied man, and he cut straight through Leonard's biohazard suit.
Leonard may as well have just signed his own death certificate, then and there.
Three days later, he was escorted, along with seven other men, onto Purgatory.
His divorce was finished without him there, though it needn't have been considering after a year he would be ashes blowing in the wind anyway. Still, he received the papers three weeks later when the freight shuttle landed on the desolate desert planet, making it seem that much more unbearable. It was even more of a slap in the face when he read the papers and saw that the judge had 'decreed' that he, Leonard McCoy, had lost custody of his daughter and had no visitation rights at all.
As if he fucking could have seen her anyway.
Kirk flitted around the little shanty town like a social butterfly. It was almost painful to watch the way he tried to talk to the dying around their little village, but he tried. Damn did he try… He moved from person to person, telling them of Earth and some of the comics he had read over the past six to nine months, recalling each panel with the memory only displayed in those with eidetic memory. He told grandeur stories of his time on the beach, recounting the beauty of the ocean with nearly poetic gusto.
It didn't work for many. A lot of the men on Purgatory had lost their lust for anything other than a swift death. The only person Kirk could pull a smile from regularly was the town's nine year old, Pavel, and Leonard often told Kirk that was because the kid hardly understood Standard. Still, it didn't stop Kirk from repeatedly trying. He even tried with Leonard, repeatedly calling him 'Bones' because "well, you said it. You're nothing but Bones."
Leonard hates to admit it, and he sure as hell will never admit it to the kid, but he kind of likes having Kirk's tenacity to stay alive while he still has the gumption. It makes this hell of a desert planet a little more palatable.
What makes it even more palatable is the freight shuttle that finally arrives three weeks after Kirk was dropped off. It lands with a silent rumble that has nearly everyone rising from their little cot and spitting out blood into their sink. Freight day is the only day of the month that they can actually interact with people who live on Earth, people who aren't like they are and don't consider them less than human because of the disease eating away at their bodies.
Leonard always moves a little faster on Freight day. He grabs up his bloodied bedclothes and walks out to meet the team made mostly of women, a few men wrapped in biohazard suits, and even a few Vulcans.
Outside, in the arid heat and glare cast off by three suns, he looks around to see the fifty other inhabitants of his small town already scrambling through the dusty land to where the relief team is setting up the items they have come to bestow. He sees Riley, looking grumpy as he stumbles over the tail of his sheets, and Sulu carrying both his and Pavel's linens while Pavel trails closely behind the man who has been caring for him. He sees everyone else, but he doesn't see Kirk. Part of him wants to ignore the absence of the cheery man, but most of him doesn't want the kid to miss his first Freight day. It can be an uplifting experience.
He heads over to the shanty house he had shown Kirk to and knocks on the only sturdy part of the house, the door.
"Kirk!" he rasps, his throat raw after having coughed up blood all night. When there is no answer, no sound of shuffling behind thin walls, he pounds harder on the door. "Kirk!"
He continues to bang on the door for a few seconds before he hears the slight murmur. "Just a second."
He waits nearly a minute before the door ekes open with great effort. Kirk stands there, for the first time looking tired, looking worn. Blood Rust eventually catches up to everyone; everyone knows this. Still, for some reason completely unbefitting a doctor, Leonard hadn't expected it to catch up with the young man before him.
He can only stare at Kirk dumbfounded for several seconds before the kid wearily runs a hand over his face. "What's going on, Bones?"
"It's Freight day," he says, tossing his head towards the direction of the shuttle where a hundred plus people are congregating. "Grab your bedding and towels and stuff. They'll give you new ones."
It's like watching a magic trick. Watch the man before you turn into something else entirely. The fatigue suddenly wears off, and in front of Leonard is that same lively man from the previous days. It makes Leonard wonder how long he's been feeling like shit.
Leonard drops his bed linens on the ground, figuring they're already bloodied, the dust of the Purgatory won't hurt them anymore. The freight crew will be there all day, until about an hour before the suns goes down. He pushes Kirk back into his hut and shuts the door behind them.
There's a certain pleasure in the way Kirk's eyes widen, the way he stutters out from behind a cocky grin, "W-well, this certainly isn't how I imagined this to happen. Bones…y-you devil."
"Shut up, kid. Sit down," he demands, backing the kid up to his cot, forcing his knees to buckle until he's positioned how Leonard wants him. Leonard leans over him, tilting his head up to look at the whites of his eyes. When a man enters the second stage of Blood Rust, the whites of his eyes turn a yellowish color. Over a week his breathing will become shallower and his nails will slowly start to let out blood.
Kirk's eyes look fine, though, and when Leonard grabs his hand they're free of blood underneath. His breathing, as far as he knows, is regular, deep and even. Kirk just looks tired. Perhaps yesterday was just one of those nights. Leonard knows that it's sometimes hard to sleep on this heartless planet. It doesn't stop him from worrying.
"How do you feel?" he asks, hearing his clinical tone of his time at the hospital leaking into his voice.
Kirk bats his hands away with an amused roll of his expressive blue eyes. "'m fine, Bones. You just woke me up, is all."
Leonard can't refrain from pressing his hand to Kirk's forehead anyway, taking in the slightly elevated temperature of the skin. That's normal for Blood Rust and Purgatory, though. However, his hand lingers on warm skin, sliding from Kirk's forehead to his cheek. The kid leans into the touch, like a damn cat, which is finally what makes Leonard pull his hand away.
"Alright then," Leonard says, and he can hear his own accent coming out more due to the worry the stupid kid brought up on him. He takes a deep breath and shakes his head, almost disbelieving of himself. "Get your shit and let's go. They won't be back 'til next month."
"Now, Bones, is that the way to speak to your wife?" Kirk says cheekily, pulling himself up from the cot and gathering his bedding and errant towels.
Leonard shakes his head, more amused than he lets on. "Don't start with me, kid."
Jim laughs as they pause outside his hut for Leonard to gather his own linens. "Oh, a fine marriage this is!"
The sting of his words is almost non-existent when Leonard thinks of his wife. Kirk just has that ability. Even bad memories aren't terrible when he's around.
ZX-0894, or Purgatory, is a desert planet with three suns and three moons. There is no above ground water, at least not where Leonard is stationed. There's one ocean somewhere far away, but it is mostly dead, a giant, sterile, salt lake. It is a series of underground rivers and wells that the inhabitants of Purgatory live off of, that the sparse hard plants of the desert derive water from.
Even though it isn't home to any humanoid race, it is home to a variety of different animals. Most are burrowing animals, rodent-like and blind. All occupants of Purgatory have been subject to visits from rat-like burrowers, which poke up out of the dirt floors of their huts to sniff the air when they're cooking their dinners. Their blind, red eyes always stare into the dull light of a tenant's lamp, but usually they're scared off when a step is taken.
Those are easy to deal with, no matter how startling they can be, how taxing it sometimes is to wake up to the sounds of them rustling around in garbage cans. What is more terrifying is the sand cat. It isn't really a cat, or at least not any cat any Earth man has seen. It does move like a feline, but it's scaly, probably cold blooded. The sand cat hunts during the night, and unlike any of the underground rodents, it has exceptional sight.
No one on Purgatory, at least no one smart, wanders the desert land at night. Those who are lucky their first few nights roaming, don't stay lucky for long. The sand cat is vicious and hyper aware. The slightest inhalation of breath will capture its attention, and before a man has time to scream, the sand cat will have his entrails spread across the angry gray sand. The only remnants that will ever remain will be the blood-stained sand and a few clean-picked bones.
People of Purgatory wander tiredly during the day. They lock themselves away during the night.
Leonard wakes one night, coughing up blood and spitting it into the basin beside his bed. He is well into his second stage of Blood Rust and so the blood wells up in his deteriorating lungs, causing him to awake at all times of the night. After he's finished, he wanders to his own personal well, pumping up cool, crisp water to take the metallic tang of blood from his mouth.
That's when he hears it. There's a slight muttering going on outside his thin walls and it sounds like…
"Jim!" he hisses and he crosses his small hut in three steps, opening his door. He is thankful for his dowsed lamp. It means that he has a chance of no cats seeing his open his door. Outside, on his doorstep, Kirk stares pathetically into the darkness of his now open doorjamb. "What the hell are you doing out here?" he asks frantically, bodily pulling Kirk into his hut and shutting the door without even glancing to see if a sand cat was hovering around. It wasn't worth the risk.
Kirk shifts from foot to foot, nervous for the first time Leonard has ever seen. "I can't sleep," he whispers, his tone clearly conveying his shame in admitting that. He sounds tired, though. It's easy to tell he's very close to passing out, but it's also apparent he's been fighting it.
"So, you risked your life to come over here for a midnight chat?" Leonard says incredulously.
In the darkness, which both of them is accustomed to by now, Leonard can see Kirk bow his head. "I checked," he says weakly. "I checked, but it looked okay."
"Jim," Leonard starts, but he is quickly over taken.
"I had to, Bones." There's a long pause, so long Leonard thinks Kirk has fallen asleep while standing. Then, quietly, he whispers, "I've never seen anyone die."
Leonard takes a deep breath, automatically reaching out for Kirk. The morning beforehand, one of the inhabitants had died in the middle of their little shanty town. Leonard had been there to try and ease the pain the man was in, having been put in charge of the medicine. He had given the man a shot for the pain, but he had continued to cough blood up. Kirk had been there holding his hand, while most of the town watched as his life expired.
Leonard has long since learned to put such things out of his mind. Hell, his first week on Purgatory, two men had died one after the other. Kirk is lucky that this was his first experience with death. He's been here two months and though everyone is withering away, coughing up blood, and sleeping the rest of their lives away, they are still alive. This death must have been a check with reality for Kirk. He must have really realized how close they all were to expiration.
Leonard folds the kid into a tight hug, pulling his bright blond head, shining even in the dark of Leonard's hut, to rest on his shoulder. Kirk clutches at his ragged shirt, pressing his face into Leonard's neck.
"I don't wanna go home," he muttered into the older man's skin, his lips, dry and cracked from the desert air, moving against Leonard's skin. Kirk's wet eyelashes move against his neck, but as far as Leonard can tell, he isn't crying. He just whispers into the dark, "I don't wanna go home. I don't wanna be alone. I don't wanna die alone…"
Leonard, unthinkingly, presses a kiss into Kirk's hair, whispering, "Jesus, kid." He runs a hand through Kirk's short blond hair and holds him even tighter.
"I always thought I'd die alone, but I…I don't want to. I don't want to die alone. Bones…"
Leonard sighs, but can't help being affected by the words. He can't imagine dying alone. Knew that it was a probability out here, but didn't really want to. No one wants to die alone, not even the ash wind that blew outside.
"Okay, okay," he says soothingly. He looks back to his cot behind him. It's barely big enough for him, but he can't imagine making Kirk sleep on the floor and he sure as hell isn't going to what with all the rodents that randomly show up in his hut. They'll make due. His cot is against the wall, if one of them presses up against it, they might be able to make it work somehow.
"C'mon," he whispers into Kirk's ear, leading them towards his cot.
Leonard lies down first, practically plastering himself to the thin wall behind him. Kirk kicks off his shoes quickly and clambers in beside him. They're just as close as Leonard thought they would be, and it's just a little uncomfortable. Kirk's elbows are pressing into his ribs, and his knees are digging into Leonard's shins.
"Okay, Kirk, turn around. Put your back to me," he coaxes, helping Kirk shift.
When they're settled again, Leonard struggles for a moment on where to put the hand that isn't suddenly trapped under Kirk's neck. When his arm has been hovering in the air for a few seconds, Kirk snorts. "Bones, I won't freak out if you touch me. It's how I got here in the first place."
He reaches back and grabs Leonard's hand, tugging his arm around his waist.
Leonard wants to ask what Kirk means by his statement, but he feels the kid relax against him and he can't risk it, can't risk opening that wound with the death of that man still so fresh in Kirk's mind.
Kirk doesn't sleep that night and neither does Leonard. Their night is broken up by the coughs that erupt from Leonard and the sounds of swallows as he refuses the need to spit the blood out. He doesn't want disturb Kirk anymore than he has been that night. He doesn't pretend that the kid doesn't know what's happening to him, and the kid doesn't pretend like he isn't aware of what's going on in Leonard's body. Every time the older man coughs, Kirk will squeeze his hand, rubbing his thumb against the back of Leonard's hand.
It's surprisingly comforting.
Everyone on Purgatory has a love story, though most of them are broken. They're not always romantic. Some of them are stories of friendships. Some are of familial love, that between a boy and his mother, his father, his sister, his brother. But they all have love stories.
Leonard had his wife and child, but they were taken away from him even before he was infected with Blood Rust.
Sulu had a lifelong girlfriend, whom he had known since he was seven. She had killed herself after Sulu was sent to Purgatory.
Pavel had his mother and father. They still sent him letters and the poor boy would cry with each one he received.
Kevin had his sister, a single mother who had relied on her brother's income as a botanist to make it through the month. His sister and her son now lived in a shelter and relied off the kindness of strangers to buy clothing and send her son to school.
They all had love stories, except for Kirk. Kirk had story after story, but none of them seemed to hurt him. He had many trysts with men and women alike. He had travels, beaches and mountains. He had laughter and memory that was startling sometimes as he recited, verbatim, Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man to Pavel some afternoons.
Kirk had no love story, and to Leonard, he seemed more tragic for it.
Leonard kisses Kirk the first time after the kid has a coughing fit and blood spatters his lips. He doesn't know what causes him to do it, but the sight of that red liquid on Kirk's full pink lips has him leaning in and capturing the metallic tang he's so personally familiar with. He can feel hot tears beneath his eyelids as he grabs Kirk's pale face in his hands and kisses all the blood away from his dry, cracked lips.
It's the first time he's felt the need to cry since he received his divorce decree. It's certainly the first time he's felt the need to cry for anyone with Blood Rust. It's always been so clear cut for him. They all have Blood Rust. They are all on Purgatory. They are going to die. But it seems to hurt more with Kirk.
He, himself, is getting worse by the day. His skin becomes thin and he bruises easily. His nights are almost lost scrabbling for the basin beside the bed he still shares with Kirk. His nails drip blood day in and day out, staining Kirk's shirt beyond belief when they sleep at night. Even now, holding Kirk's face, blood smears against his scarred skin.
Kirk doesn't care about any of it, not the tears that are swimming in Leonard's eyes or the blood that streaks across his cheeks when Leonard moves his finger tips, tracing his face as if he's the one who will die first.
They both know Leonard will die first. Leonard has had Blood Rust for eight months now. At best, he has four months left, but that's just on the outside. He could die any day between now and his year mark. Kirk has only been infected for four months, and though he moves slowly because of it, he's still spry, especially for someone with Blood Rust.
When Leonard has kissed away every last remnant of red liquid away from Kirk's lips, he finally pulls back, staring into Kirk's endless, shocked blue eyes. It's the first time he's felt home in a while, and not just like he has someone who makes this shit-hole feel okay, but it reminds him of Earth, too. For the first time, Leonard can feel the cool, Georgia breeze rustling his hair and even though it's just the ashy breeze of Purgatory, the illusion is welcome.
"Bones…not that I'm complaining…but…I just coughed up blood. That had to be gross."
Leonard looks down and huffs a laugh. Leave it to Kirk. He looks back up, unashamed of the tears that probably still swim along his lashes, as he rubs his hand over Jim's elevated pulse point. "Jim, that's all I taste all day. It really doesn't matter to me."
And Kirk smiles, that same strained smile he arrived with three months ago. "Why, Bones," he chokes. "Who knew you could be such a vampire?"
Leonard laughs with him, though he has no idea why. They're both dying.
They have no reason to laugh.
Yet still, they laugh, even as Kirk presses his lips to Leonard's again, pressing for confirmation and acceptance in their fate, even as they both run from it.
Blood Rust killed slowly, over the span of a year, sometimes, if lucky, a little less than. There were three stages, each obviously worse than the other.
The first stage was marked by fatigue, fever, and ongoing cough. Sometimes there was bloody sputum, but most time it was like a flu that went on for a few weeks. In the twenty-fourth century, the flu was all but dead, so if one went on for more than three days it was call for alarm. That was how most cases of Blood Rust were discovered and that was the stage most men arrived on Purgatory with.
The second stage started about month four. Its signature was the coughing up of blood and blood coming from the beds of nails. It was usually during this stage that fatigue really came down on a man. The continuous loss of blood made him weak and it was almost too much to even roll over to spit into a basin. It was the beginning of the end. This was when most men began to lose faith in anything. They were going to die and nothing would make it better. It hit, in this stage, that they were really mortal.
The third and final stage began in the ninth month. In the third stage, the body began dying. With little blood to sustain it, food would rarely stay down. Bruises occurred with the lightest touch. It was the wasting away of the body that would eventually kill a man, not really the virus itself. A man would waste away until there was nothing left.
Nothing left but the bones…
Leonard lives in a blurred haze. He sleeps, and sometimes Kirk is with him when he wakes, curling behind him and holding him as he coughs up mouthful after mouthful of blood. Sometimes Kirk is gone, off mingling with the crowd when he has the energy, which more often than not, it is the people he's visiting who don't have the energy. Not even Pavel can stay awake for long anymore.
People are dying and more people are arriving. Kirk sees it all, and when people are dying he administers the medicine, having been trained by both Leonard and the relief team. When more people arrive, Jim meets them as often as he can. He shows them to their huts before returning to Leonard's hut, and crawling in bed for an afternoon of sleep.
Sometimes, Kirk will boil water and poor it into the small tub at the back of Leonard's hut, and he'll help the older man into the hot water, help him wash himself when he's feeling energetic. More often than not, Kirk will fold himself in half to sit behind Leonard, and he'll manage to wash Leonard's dark hair before they both fall asleep for so long the water is chilled when they awaken. When they do wake up, Kirk will usually help Leonard dry and send him to their cot while he returns to the cold water to wash his own hair.
When Freight day arrives, Kirk relocates him to the small uncomfortable chair while he gathers up the linens and switches them out with new ones. Then he makes the cot and helps Leonard into bed, covering him up and most times slipping back into bed with him.
He pulls what Leonard used to at first. He'll cough up blood and swallow it back so as not to disturb Leonard. It's painful to feel against his back, but he does what he can, slowly rubbing his thumb against the back of the hand wrapped around his thinning waist.
Leonard wastes away, and he grieves the fact that Kirk has to watch.
He grieves more the fact that Kirk will have to do this alone. He will have no one to hold him while he dies. He will have no one to help him bathe, no one to change his bedclothes, no one to love him.
Kirk will die alone.
Sometimes, a side effect of Blood Rust, or maybe it was being on Purgatory for too long, was insanity. It was unfortunate, and in most cases, the male simply stayed in a corner and talked to himself until death overcame him. Leonard had seen it several times, and sometimes Kirk would come back and tell of a man who wouldn't leave his hut on Freight day, a man who simply continued sitting in the corner of his hut muttering about death and reality and the questions of relativity.
It happened to maybe two out of five, which made it much more prevalent the Leonard would have liked.
It happened to Sulu, or so Kirk told him. It happened, in a way, to Pavel, who one night walked out into the night and let the sand cats take him before his disease could. They had both heard that, and Jim had cried clear, silent tears into his chest, while Leonard held him, trying to keep his own red tears quiet.
It was prevalent on this damn planet.
People went crazy, were perhaps crazy from the second they stepped foot on Purgatory.
Leonard wakes when Kirk starts to pull away. There's a loud chaos outside their thin walls, men yelling and reasoning. Kirk is trying to see what's going on, but Leonard is weak and he feels the pull of sleep. He doesn't want to be left alone, and so he tugs on Kirk's hand.
"No," he grumbles. "Just leave it be. Come back to bed."
Kirk smiles and presses a kiss to Leonard's temple. "I'll be back in a few minutes, Bones. Go back to sleep."
And he tries, but as the door closes behind Kirk, his stomach rolls violently and it's not just the blood or the dinner from last night. He has a bad feeling. His eyes, though heavy, stay open and he listens to the shouting outside. He can hear the murmur of Kirk's tired voice and the shouting of…it sounds like Kevin Riley. The yelling gets louder…
"They say I don't have a choice. If I want to go home I have to kill one of you!"
Leonard pulls himself out of bed, feeling energy he knows he doesn't have. He throws the blanket off of his body and stumbles towards the door.
"Kevin," Jim says soothingly. "You don't have to listen to them. They just want to hurt you. Give me the gun…"
Leonard pulls the door open, momentarily blinded by the three suns hovering in the sky. He puts his hand up to block the glare and finally he sees Kirk standing in front of Riley with his hand outstretched. His pleading voice calls out to Riley. "Just give me the gun. I can make this better. I can get you back to Earth."
How Riley got a gun, Leonard doesn't know. He knows that the relief party doesn't really check the mail the infected receive, so someone could have sent it to him, but it still so unbelievable. He holds onto the doorjamb as he watches the scene unfold. His heart pounds fearfully, weakly, as he looks back and forth between the two men.
"You can't get me back to Earth!" Riley screams, spittle and blood flying from his mouth. "No one can except for them! Only they can help me. They have a plan and I have to listen to them!"
Kirk puts his hands up pleadingly. "They're lying to you, Kevin. They don't have a plan. I do, though." He takes a step closer, trying to exude his harmlessness while trying to find a way to take the gun away. "I can help you, Kevin, and you don't have to kill anyone to find out how I can help you. Doesn't that sound better?"
He takes another step towards Riley and Leonard feels his heart stutter.
"Liar!" Riley shouts and before anyone can do anything, he pulls the trigger. There's a hard scramble as some of the other inhabitants attack Riley and wrestle the gun from his hand, but Leonard isn't part of it.
Kirk staggers, his eyes wide, his right hand twitching as if trying to reach his chest where the bullet has pierced his heart. He wavers, losing balance and his foot goes back to catch him, but with the combination of Blood Rust and the bullet lodged in his chest, he falls.
Before the dust has even climaxed around Kirk's collapsed body, Leonard pushes himself away from the doorjamb and throws himself to the ground beside Kirk.
"Jim!" he cries, as his knees hit the ground. "Jim, stay with me!"
Kirk already has blood pooling and falling from the corner of his mouth and it is most definitely the combination of Blood Rust and the bullet in his chest that makes it appear so quickly. His head lolls around on his neck until Leonard steadies him, wrapping his arm under his neck. He doesn't know where the strength is coming from, but he's happy he has it.
"Jim…" he feels tears again, the second time he's cried, but this isn't the same.
Kirk isn't dying from Blood Rust.
The first tear trails down his cheek and drips onto Kirk's face, blood red and symbolic in the most morbid of ways. Kirk smiles weakly. "Bones…" he breathes, almost reverently, his eyes focusing only on Leonard. His hand still twitches, reaching a few inches off the ground before dropping back uselessly.
Leonard shakes his head in understanding, grabbing onto Kirk's hand tightly, as if his grip will make the young man stay there with him. "Jim…please, just…just stay with me." More tears fall from Leonard's eyes, dripping onto Kirk's skin.
Kirk smiles a blood stained smile, a freer smile than Leonard has ever seen. "I'll be back for you, Bones. You won't die alone."
Leonard doesn't know what to say to that, so just as the first time Kirk coughed blood up, he kisses Jim again, uncaring of the blood that stains his lips. Kirk tastes like blood and he smells like death fast approaching. When Leonard pulls away, though, he can see blue. He can see home in the sweet Autumn blue of the sky, the cold of Arctic ice sheets, in the Spring flowers that Jocelyn grew by their porch…
Kirk is his ticket home.
Kirk is home.
Two weeks later, Leonard's door opens, and Kirk, young and spry, smiles at him. His eyes are alight and he's dressed in a gold shirt that seems to make his hair brighter and his eyes glow. He hops jovially over to the bed, the actual, honest to god bed, Leonard is resting in and settles in behind him, snuggling close.
"Jesus, Bones," he mumbles laughingly. "It's about time you woke up."
He kisses Leonard's shoulder, his hand moves under the older man's shirt.
Leonard doesn't feel the drag of blood across his skin, doesn't feel Kirk's fingers catching on his protruding ribs. Kirk's lips aren't cracked, and there's no rattle when he breathes. There's no rattle when Leonard breathes, come to think of it. Leonard jerks up right, dislodging Kirk's touch.
"Hey, hey…" Kirk soothes. "It's 2260. We're on a ship called the Enterprise. I'm the captain. You're the Chief Medical Officer…"
Some of it comes back to Leonard, like far reaching tendrils of a dream.
Kirk sits up behind him, balances on one hand while the other comes around Leonard's waist and links their clean fingers together. Leonard stares at their hands for a moment, finally croaking, "How long have I been here?"
"According to our files, we've been on this ship for two years." He's quiet for a moment, before pressing on quietly. "I've been here about three days now."
"How'd…How'd you know that I…?"
Kirk smiles. "We were sleeping off the effects of a hallucenagenic pollen from one of the planets we were investigating."
"We were dreaming?" Leonard asks incredulously.
Kirk shrugs. "I don't really know. Spock thinks so, and I guess we could have been, or we could have just woken up in this place." His brow crinkles in consideration and without thinking, Leonard reaches up to smooth the wrinkle, causing Kirk to smile again.
Then he's scrambling off the plush, really, really nice bed and pulling Bones up after him, proclaiming, "C'mon, Bones! You have got to see this place."
"Jim! Jim, wait," Leonard protests. He tugs on the kid's hand, surprised when he feels actual strength in his grip and in his arms. Jim easily falls into his arms, or maybe he throws himself into Leonard's arms. With no hesitation, Leonard captures Kirk's lips in a light kiss that tastes nothing of blood. When he inhales, there's no scent of death fast approaching.
His eyes are still that brilliant blue though, and they still take him home.
A/N: I may come back and add some things too this. There were several ideas I wanted to explore, but this was long enough and I didn't want to overwhelm. No promises, because as mentioned before, I'm swamped…like whoa. I would like to, though, so know that I realize this isn't as full as if could have been.
Tell me what you think.