His Last Mission

1.

"Jim, it's time."

Still the Captain did not stir. McCoy gently put his hand on his friend's shoulder to rouse him from that deep sleep that nowadays only came from exhaustion, and sedatives.

Kirk opened his eyes and McCoy saw the sudden flare of panicked consciousness in those hazel eyes, on the flushed face. It was merely an unguarded moment. In a second the Captain had his expression under control again.

"Already?" he slurred.

McCoy cringed inwardly. Jim used to wake up instantly, fresh and alert. There was no longer any sharpness to him, the Doctor thought with a pang of sadness, all too familiar nowadays.

"We have an hour," he said, presenting a lopsided smile. "Rough night?"

"That stuff you gave me works, but it's rough on the waking up," groaned Kirk, sitting up with some difficulty.

"I wish they'd just leave you alone," McCoy grumbled, unable to bite his tongue this morning.

But Kirk smiled.

"You know why we're here, Bones," he said, remaining sitting on the bed. "The Andarans don't trust the Kosians. The Kosians don't trust the Andarans. But the Andarans trust me. And the Kosians trust me. So-" He chose not to finish the sentence, concentrating instead on sliding off the bed and standing up.

McCoy moved to help him, but Kirk held out a forbidding hand.

"I can do it, Bones." The gentle reassurance was edged with pain.

McCoy, arrested in mid movement, scowled ferociously. "Starfleet knows," hespat. "They shouldn't've-"

"-Quit it, Doctor." He was out of patience. "This I can still do."

For a moment the two friends stared at one another. McCoy was chastised, but at least there was still that sharp, stubborn rejection of vulnerability in his Captain. He could see the steel resolve growing as Kirk groped towards to full consciousness. Yet his thought was, how long? He backed away from that thought - guilty, treacherous.

As if he had read it, Kirk broke into a small, wounded smile, his eyes warm with sympathy. McCoy's heart broke even more as he realized Kirk was taking pity on him.

"Well," the doctor coughed. "I don't like it any more than you're going to like what I'm going to propose next."

"What is that, old friend," Kirk asked softly, that pitying smile still on his face.

"This," said the Doctor. He held out what looked like a flat, black pebble. "It's a sensor. You are going to wear it and it's going to allow me to monitor your life signs."

He had spoken, he hoped, as if no contradiction was possible. To seal the deal, he held up the other part, a small box with a screen that he would carry with him at all times.

"What ever happened to privacy, Bones?" asked the Captain softly.

"Jim," McCoy broke down, pleading, but again Kirk held up his hand.

"I'll wear it," he sighed. "Leave it to you to perfect hovering. Now help me with the dress shirt, will you?"

He undid the two buttons at the front of his sleeping shirt with fingers that none but a doctor would notice were still weak with sleep.

McCoy stepped behind his Captain and gingerly slipped the shirt off the tense, broad shoulders. He winced as he saw again the scars covering his friend's bare torso.

000000000000

"Captain."

"Mr. Spock!" Kirk exclaimed as if the sight of his dour Second in Command took away all the worries in the world.

Spock, unperturbed, informed them that the Kosian party was about to beam up.

"Good! We'll have them tucked away in their quarters before the more volatile package arrives," Kirk quipped, stepping past Spock.

Spock threw a quick glance at the Doctor, who returned the briefest of nods before they followed their Captain on his procession through the sleek and busy corridors of the Enterprise. McCoy had given Kirk a stimulant and painkiller, and the pebble was tucked out of sight inside the collar of the Captain's green and gold-rimmed dress shirt. McCoy fingered the little box nestled in his pocket.

"Remind me again which one is which," he grumbled.

It was Spock who took up the challenge.

"The Andarans and the Kosians," he began, "originate from a common ancestor on Kos, the largest continent on their planet. Three million and four hundred thousand years ago, a large body of that population emigrated across the vast sea to the other continent, Andaras, there to evolve under very different circumstances. The cold and barren wasteland and unfriendly fauna of their new home gave them their physical strength and keen senses. They are thought to be as strong as Vulcans, though they lack the Vulcan serenity, being what you would call high-strung, and prone to violence. The relatively tame environment of Kos, on the other hand, allowed the Kosians to proceed on a more spiritual path. It was they, with their powered ships, who made contact with the Andarans and, more recently - and reluctantly, I gather - with the Federation."

"You'll know who is who when you see them, Bones," Kirk said, falling back in line with them now that the corridor wasn't so crowded and they could walk three abreast. "When I was part of the scouting team twelve years ago I came to appreciate the Kosians' refinement. The Andarans…" He trailed off with a wry smile.

"I take it they were hostile," McCoy prodded.

"They were out to kill us the moment we set foot on their side of the planet. It was only when we saved the life of one of theirs that they defrosted somewhat. A remarkable people, really, about whom very little is known, as very little is known about their counterparts. I believe our scouting team were the only outworlders to have spent time on their planet, on Andaras or Kos, for that matter. They're very different, except in their isolationist tendencies. Both treated us with respect, but asked us not to contact them again. Until a month ago. This approach to the Federation is borne from nothing but desperation."

"And what do you make of the women of Kos?" asked McCoy, instantly bringing the desired smile to Kirk's lips.

"Ah, Kosian women, Bones! We never figured it out. All age groups of men are represented, but you see only girls and young women. A few very old women make up the Council of Elders, and they never appear in public. In appearanceat least, the Kosian society seems to have no women of middle age. And it's not as if they're hidden away somewhere. As far as I could tell, physically, the women go from youth to old age in a day."

"Fascinating," said Spock.

Kirk ignored him, quickening his already headlong pace. McCoy was about to say something, because Jim was overdoing it. He knew it to be a typical reaction against the pain, as if Jim was trying to outrun it, aided by the stimulant. But he was preempted.

"I suggest you slow down, Captain," said Spock, more softly than was his usual wont, blunting the edge of the request. Still, it was sharp enough.

Oh no, here we go, thought McCoy.

Kirk stopped in his tracks and turned to face the Vulcan with that cutting hostility that had grown in him over the last couple of months. McCoy had received more than his share of it, but whenever Spock was around he would draw it, without fail, like a magnet attracts metal. McCoy held his breath. As always, Spock did not flinch.

"Sir, we have a long day ahead of us," he explained with gentle logic.

To McCoy's relief, Kirk relented, with the briefest, most reluctant of nods, and continued on, less hurriedly this time.

Still, he added, "Only the two parties to welcome, Mr. Spock. And then the reception."

"I don't understand, Jim," McCoy jumped in. "Why start with a reception? If they hate each other so much."

"Ah, but they both insist on procedure, and I have made this reception procedure, so there. Also, I requested that certain more moderate members be included in their groups. These will approach one another and show their compatriots that it is possible to be friendly. That, at least, is the plan," he added vaguely.

The Transporter Room doors swished open and Kirk preceded them inside. The Ensign at the controls and the two security officers, all in dress uniform, jumped to attention.

"Ready, Captain," Ensign Dow announced.

"Ready, gentlemen?" Kirk asked no one in particular, and it escaped neither McCoy, nor Spock, that the couple of seconds he waited for an answer he used to gather himself. "Energize."