In the Field of Flowers

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. I just get to play with them like with action figures. Complete but might get a rewrite when I feel up to it. I love comments and critiques: keep them coming!

Chapter 1

God, please, no.

He was on his stomach on the rocky ground again. The left side of his face was pressed into the gritty soil. His right temple burned with the cold steel of the rifle nozzle. He attempted one more breath. His chest gurgled with blood - he could smell it.

A foot away Tulok lay. The boy was looking straight through him with dreamy eyes.

"Why?" he whispered.

The man towering over him laughed and pulled the trigger.

Four in the Field.

He jerked awake. Swore out loud. Touched the scar that began at his temple and disappeared into his hair. He didn't want it removed. It was a declaration that he had been through this and survived.

He sat up, untangled himself from the sweaty sheets and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"I lived, Tulok," he said to the boy standing in the corner of his room.

The child gazed, dreamily, right through him.

"I know, I know," he said, frowning a little, "I still owe you that popsicle."

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"So, Director Shore, do you think he is ready for command?" asked Faulk.

"Physically he is entirely healed, Admiral," smiled Shore. "Psychologically… this kind of trauma will be with him his entire life. But knowing Jim Kirk, he will put it to good use, just as he has always done. I've never known a man who could put fear and anger to such good use."

The Admiral said nothing.

"So, yes, he is ready for command," added Shore victoriously.

Faulk appeared unmoved.

"And what do you think, Doctor?" he asked of Leonard McCoy.

McCoy was not as chipper as Shore. His good colleague was the director of a civilian healing institute, not a Starfleet doctor. He had very little experience with Admirals and their agendas, and the news they brought, always bad. This was no exception.

Also, he had carefully read the reports on the Captain's progress as they had come in. He had combed through them again upon being summoned. It was no surprise to him that Shore had been taken in by the Captain's charm and composure. But McCoy knew better. There had been no cathartic moment. Jim's trauma was as yet unresolved and it made McCoy uneasy.

But only one answer was expected of him, and it was the answer he would give, regardless.

"I concur with Director Shore, Admiral."

What really worried McCoy was what was coming next.

"Good," said Faulk, not releasing the Doctor from the stern gaze of his pale grey eyes. "And do you think he is ready for this?"

McCoy inhaled sharply and considered for the duration of the oxygen supply. He glanced at Spock, who stood by, ramrod straight, hands clasped behind his back. Did McCoy see a flicker of disquiet there?

"Tell me, Admiral," he said finally, meeting Faulk's gaze with his own blue steel resolve, "does he have a choice?"

The Admiral's eyes softened a little. He sighed.

"No," he admitted. "No, he doesn't."

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Probably it was the anticipation of being released and rejoining his crew that had brought on the nightmare. He hadn't had it in over a week now. He wondered if he should tell Shore, but doubted he could do so in full confidentiality. He didn't want to blemish his release form. He shrugged, not quite succeeding to put it out of his mind.

The sight that welcomed him when he rounded the corner did that for him. It had already drawn a crowd to the large window upon space.

"That's his ship, you know!" a gaunt, hawk-nosed man on crutches was informing another patient.

The man turned, saw Kirk and beamed happily.

"You're going home, Jim! Or rather your home came to you!"

Kirk joined them at the window.

There she was, the Enterprise, his ship. They must have fixed her up after her battle with the Klingons. A battle he had missed out on. Three months now, was it? It seemed like three years. His heart had ached for this day. She would always be his home, and he swore he would never leave her again.

He threw a gentle arm around his friend's shoulder.

"Goodbye, Georgie, I hope you get out of here soon too."

They shook hands and he addressed the crowd.

"I hope that for all of you, that you may go home, or make a home, and find happiness."

To his surprise, Georgie and all the other patients assembled there – civilians, each and every one of them – stood to attention.

"Your crew salutes you, Captain Kirk," said Georgie, deftly balancing on his crutches.

Kirk smiled and saluted them back. He took one last drought of the wonderful sight out of the window, and continued his headlong dash to the Director's office.

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"Jim!" Shore jumped up from behind his desk. "Glad you could make it."

McCoy too rose from his seat. His heart leapt, then stuttered and sank. Kirk had broken into a grin and started moving towards him and Spock, but the Doctor's face must have given something away. The grin disappeared and a sudden fear swept the keen, hazel eyes. McCoy could read the alarm on his paling face:

I'm not going to be released?

Then Kirk spotted the Admiral and stopped in his tracks altogether.

McCoy flinched inwardly at his friend's transformation.

He knows.

"At ease, Jim," said Faulk.

Kirk stayed as he was.

"Sit down, Captain," Faulk added with a mixture of pity and alarm.

Kirk glanced at McCoy again. The realization was painfully clear on his face. But there was nothing McCoy could do or say to undo it. Jim turned to Faulk and said, almost breathlessly,

"You got him."

For a moment McCoy thought the Captain was going to have that missing cathartic moment right then and there. And surely he would have understood, for this was not how they were supposed to welcome Jim back.

The Doctor thought back to when they dropped him off here, three months ago. He was still dealing with feelings of guilt over that. Jim was his patient, barely out of emergency surgery, not out of the woods yet. But the Enterprise had been called to the front, and carrying a half-dead Captain into the fray was not advised. McCoy had let him go.

He had followed the reports and soon breathed easier, on most accounts. Jim had survived, was recovering. He was dealing, to a certain extent, with the horror and with the guilt and anger at not being there to guide his ship and crew through their peril. The Doctor had often looked around his sickbay, crowded with the wounded, the dying and the dead, and regretted that none of this was being reported to the patient, and that therefore the patient would imagine even worse. But when it was clear that they would win the battle, McCoy had thought that Jim would be able to deal with this as well. They would survive, get their Captain back, and move on…

Never had he imagined that the horror of the Field of Flowers would catch up with them so soon.

"We do," said Faulk. "We caught him on the Rigelian border. I think you should sit down now, Jim."

Kirk nodded and practically collapsed onto the nearest bench. McCoy finally broke his paralysis and went to sit next to him. He took Kirk's hand, caught his eye, smiled and said,

"It's good to see you again, Jim."

For a second the Captain just stared at him. He did not conceal the shock, the questions of what would happen now. Then his eyes focused, and briefly filled with a smile, and McCoy proudly witnessed the Captain pull himself together.

Kirk turned back to the Admiral with at least the semblance of the old confidence.

"How did it happen?" he demanded.

"It was a fluke, really," said Faulk, visibly relieved. "He got into a brawl at an outpost and was arrested. His brothers were with him, but they probably thought it a joke to let him sleep it off in jail for a night. One of the jailors recognized him and for a considerable bribe contacted Starfleet. We immediately retrieved him, in the utmost secret. He is in transit to Azara as we speak, in a small cargo vessel. Even I don't know its name or route. They won't be able to recover him."

"The Azarans will put him to trial," Kirk stated. "And they need me to testify."

"Yes. The children are too young, too traumatized. The Azarans won't put them through the ordeal of a trial. Anyway, their testimony would be shredded by the defense."

"Who would defend such a man?" McCoy blurted out.

"The Azarans are meticulous in their justice," Spock said. They were the first words he had uttered, and he directed them to the Captain. "They will give him a fair trial with a fair defense."

Kirk acknowledged Spock's contribution with a slight nod.

"But once convicted," continued Faulk, "they will be ruthless. Children as the bearers of new life are sacred to the Azarans. They reserve the death penalty exclusively for those who hurt or kill children. Listen, Jim, they have made it clear that they do not want to force you. You are a hero to them. If you have any reservations they will not insist. They will leave him to the Federation to stand trial for his other crimes. It is entirely up to you."

McCoy bristled at that. Of course Jim had no choice.

"I'll testify," said Kirk softly, simply.

"I knew you would," said Faulk. "So I've already set the wheels in motion. Faradan won't be pursuing his son. He knows he's already off the radar. He'll be after you now. We'll follow the same procedure. The Enterprise will take you to a trading post. There you will transfer to one of many trade vessels. It will get you to Azara. The trial might take a while, but it will bring closure for so many."

Kirk was looking at Faulk as if he had trouble understanding what the Admiral had just said. McCoy felt for him. And really, were any of them ready for this? Jim had battled to return to the Enterprise as her Captain, and the crew of the Enterprise had battled to get back to him. No sooner were they reunited and they had to part again.

But McCoy could see the growing resolve in his Captain. Kirk rose with that old catlike ease, stood straight-backed, proud-shouldered, and announced softly, as if to himself,

"Let's put the bastard to trial."

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"Mary Mother of Jesus," the Doctor whispered.

Spock had no phrase in his own language that could have expressed his feelings of helplessness and rage.

He, McCoy and the rest of the Federation party had been in the city when this horror occurred. The Captain had just concluded three days of negotiations for the Azarans' help against the Klingons and had welcomed a break. He had accepted Ms. Risa's invitation to join her and her class on an outing to the Flower Field. When the message came, Spock and McCoy had jumped into the shuttle and flown over immediately.

To this. This field of intensely red flowers on waist-high stalks, graciously nodding in the breeze. This field of children lying dead among the flowers.

Spock slammed down on his emotions. He left the four children to the Azaran medical team and joined the crew in the field. Soon he spotted a yellow form that was out of place here and waded through the flowers towards it. It was the teacher. She was lying on her side in the grass, as if she had fallen asleep there, but her yellow silk tunic was drenched in blood.

"Over here!" he called out.

He knelt and gently closed her staring eyes. Then he saw that she was holding a small hand. He parted the stalks. The child too had been shot dead. Spock was glad that her face was turned away from him.

"Life sign!" he heard Sulu yell. "Over there!"

Spock sprang up and aimed his tricorder. Unmistakably human, very faint, five hundred meters away on a rocky outcrop. He overtook Sulu in a second.

The Captain was there, lying on his stomach, his head turned to the side facing the boy whom Spock recognized as Tulok. The boy's eyes were open, and Spock saw death in them. The Captain's eyes were closed. The exit wound in his back, the crushed hole in his head and the blood that was everywhere told Spock that he was dead too. But the tricorder insisted that he was still, though only barely alive.

Spock knelt and touched the Captain's neck with trembling fingers. There it was, a mere quiver in the jugular vein.

Movement, life, hope.

McCoy arrived and fell to his knees, throwing up his hands, groaning with hope and despair.

Spock touched his communicator.

"Mr. Scott," he called, his voice barely controlled. "Do you have a lock on the Doctor?"

"I do, Mister Spock," came Scott's voice.

"The Captain is right next to him, can you read him?"

"I've got him!" Scotty yelled.

"Beam them directly to Sickbay, Mister Scott."

And so the Captain left Azara's Field of Blood, with a bullet in his brain and a nightmare in his soul.