And so, the end is nigh, la la, la la, I can't remember the rest of the song…

My point being, we made it! It took more than half a year and 350,000 words, but we have reached the end of this little saga. I always set out to try to bring Jim and the crew in line with where we leave them at the end of STID (so no prizes for guessing where I lifted some dialogue in this part :P) There were lots of things I wanted to explore, lots of issues I wanted to deal with in the space between, and thank you so much for allowing me to do so. It has been an absolute treat and a joy to go on this little adventure with you all, so thank you. If you've stuck with me the whole time, or are new and just diving in, to those of you who review so regularly and never fail to bring a smile to my day to those of you who lurk (I can see yooou!), all of you…you are awesome and I adore you and thank you for not actually burying my house under tribbles. It is appreciated.

To answer a question I've been getting a lot lately, yes, this is the last part. Now that's not to say I won't ever return; there are a few one shots I have sitting around on my hard drive, some silly mini adventures, and perhaps one day I will get around to doing some big plotty mission fic. But yes, this is the last BIG story planned out for this universe, chronologically speaking. I'd never really planned to go further, if anything I'm going back and filling in some gaps. So yay, Academy fic! I'm excited to share that one with you, I really am.

Anyway, enough rambling. Just, thank you again and I hope you enjoy this last little add on. You can thank L. Burke for pointing me to the possibility of Mase!

Bea & Blob xx

"Any word?" McCoy was staring into space when Nyota slid down next to him in the dimly lit booth. The coffee shop had become the unofficial meeting point for many of the senior crew as their duties kept them in unsociable and unpredictable hours. In the last few weeks that had become even more the case as the Enterprise was due to be rechristened at the end of the month. It was hard to think that it had been almost a year since the day Khan had begun his rampage in London. Time seemed to have passed both impossibly quickly and tediously slow. None of them were the people they had been back then. They had seen and done and lost too much.

Not least of which was Jim.

"Nothing." McCoy said morosely. That wasn't entirely true. Jim did still keep in touch, mostly with short messages McCoy received once a week, like clockwork. They were more a hi, not dead than a real correspondence and he'd long ago stopped thinking of them as actual news. Jim was alive but beyond that he knew nothing.

He knew Archer was in regular contact, as well as Spock's older, more melding counterpart. He couldn't begrudge them, but it was hard.

Especially as none of them had any idea if, or when Jim would return to service. With the Enterprise ready for deployment and the official relaunch looming on the horizon, they were all on tenterhooks, uncertain as to their future.

McCoy would be going up there whether he liked it or not. He probably had the clout now to throw a tantrum if he really set his mind to it, but for all that they were taking a fixed stance on moving back towards its humanitarian roots, Starfleet was still a military service and quitting wasn't as simple as just handing in your resignation.

Besides, even without Jim these people had come to mean as much to him as any friends he'd ever have. He couldn't just abandon them now, they needed each other.

"Do you think he'll be back?" He knew why Nyota was asking him, he was Jim's best friend after all...but he knew nothing. He had no answers.

"I don't know." He said honestly. He wanted to say yes. He wanted to say that there was no way Jim Kirk would ever let them rush off into the unknown without him, but in truth he wasn't certain any longer. The last time he had seen Jim his friend had been fundamentally broken. "I hope so."

Going without him would be...

It would be unbearable.

McCoy was staring absently into the bottom of a large mug of coffee when Pavel Chekov tore into the small coffee shop, his face pink with excitement and his coat flapping behind him.

"I found him!" He loudly announced to the entire cafe, blushing furiously at the startled looks sent his way then squeezing himself into the booth they occupied.

McCoy frowned. He hadn't been aware the kid was looking. Jim had asked for time and space and so they'd given it to him. It might have been one of the hardest decisions he'd ever made, but he'd done it for his friend. He wasn't the only one feeling Jim's absence. There was a distinct lack of their usual cheer in all of them, but they were resolved to give Jim some peace and they weren't about to-

"Where is he?" McCoy demanded. To hell with it. It had been four months. Any longer and he'd lose his mind. He'd never been apart from Jim that long, not since they had met. He felt like someone had hacked off one of his arms.

"He has a house in southern California." Chekov said, obviously pleased he wasn't being scolded for not letting the matter drop. "Owens Lake."

"Death Valley?" Nyota frowned, pausing with her mug held up to her lips.

Spock shook his head. "No, but very close. Admiral Pike had a residence several kilometers south-east of Lone Pine."

"Jim said Pike had left him some stuff in his will." McCoy said.

"A house is hardly some stuff." Nyota pointed out. "He really did love Jim, didn't he?"

McCoy didn't answer, choosing instead to drain the rest of his coffee. He had a mountain of work to do before next week, so many meetings that needed to be taken with Starfleet Medical, not to mention sorting out the lease on his apartment.

He set the mug down. "You coming?" He asked Spock.

The Vulcan stood. "I will arrange transport," he announced, sweeping out of the cafe with an expression that said he was set to physically move mountains.

"Tell him we love him." Nyota said, smiling softly. "And we miss him."

McCoy nodded. "Don't let them leave without us."

It was four hundred and thirty-seven miles from San Francisco to Lone Pine. They made good time to Owens Lake, and then the final six miles from the little town to the secluded residence took almost half as long again. Trust Jim to have picked a spot so remote that the closest town barely occupied a space on the map.

It was a perfect place for him really. With the large, placid blue waters of the lake and the large green expanse of the Sierra National Forrest to the east, and the looming rocky ranges of Death Valley to the west, there was enough to keep even a thrill seeking adrenaline junkie like Jim occupied. There was scarcely a soul in sight. Privacy was practically guaranteed.

They had driven through the night and it was a little after eight in the morning when they finally turned off the long dirt road on to a private drive. Up ahead, a light glittered in the early morning sun, flashing and winking as they approached.

Up close the building didn't look like a home at first. Once upon a time it might have been a farm of some kind, but it had been converted and the flashing lights made sense as McCoy took in the huge bank of glass windows and walls that stretched between the two main structures.

While his home was the epitome of tradition and history, this place was a sparkling monument to sleek modern lines and minimalism. As a man who seemed to be allergic to clutter, it suited Jim perfectly.

They drove the vehicle under the arch built into the building and parked alongside an electric hover bike. Several engine parts were stacked up nearly under the shelter of an open garage. They were in the right place.

There was no sign of Jim, but as soon as McCoy set foot on the dusty earth and breathed the warm, dry air, he was best by the enthusiastic barking of a large golden retriever. Far from trying to chase or scare them off, the dog put its paws on McCoy's thighs and bounded up for attention.

"You are the worst guard dog ever." Jim's exasperated voice drew McCoy's attention away from the dog and up to the porch.

"Jim!" He breathed, somehow stunned to actually see his friend.

Jim flashed him a familiar grin. "You can't be surprised to see me, Bones, you did drive all the way out here." That old, well worn nickname settled warm in McCoy's chest. God, he'd missed Jim. "Hey Spock. You guys actually survived the whole trip together. Color me shocked."

"Jim." Spock sounded equally as relieved to see him, and he, unlike McCoy, was not beset by the world's most enthusiastic canine.

Jim whistled and the dog stopped trying to climb McCoy to bound over and press against his leg. Jim absently scratched him behind the ears. "Sorry about that, we don't really get visitors. He gets a little over excited."

"Since when did you get a dog?" McCoy asked, following as Jim showed them inside.

"Couple of months ago." Jim shrugged. "Doctor Ju and Archer ganged up on me. You have a good trip?"

"Most pleasant." Spock said, restraining himself far better than McCoy and not looking around in wonder at the house they walked through. It was beautiful, with panoramic views of the desert and wall to wall sunshine. There were lots of plants in various places, green succulents and multicolored blossoms peppered with the odd misshapen cactus. "It is good to see you looking so well."

And Jim did look well. McCoy had gotten so used to the Jim he'd had before he'd left, thin and pale, stressed and sickly, that he'd almost forgotten what Jim looked like when he wasn't being used as the Universe's punching bag.

His hair had been bleached by the sun and his skin was golden and unlined by stress. The beard would take some getting used to but at least it was short and neatly trimmed. Most noticeable though was the way his clothes no longer hung from his malnourished form, but fit snug over generous muscle. He looked like the man the Federation had fallen in love with. He looked like McCoy's Jim again.

Jim smiled over his shoulder and it hit McCoy with a pang how much he'd missed the damn kid. He hadn't realised how much Jim's absence had hurt until the pain had faded and he was suddenly lighter than he'd been in months.

They reached a spacious kitchen, everything tidy and in it's place. Jim had been the neat freak when they'd formed together, constantly shooting McCoy exasperated frowns when he moved things around, always suspicious, as if McCoy did it on purpose. Of course he did it on purpose. Watching Jim twitch was a favorite hobby of his.

The dog began to whine and nudged Jim's knee with his golden head. "Alright already." Jim scowled at him. "There's no need to be a bully! You guys want breakfast? I got eggs, so, omelette maybe, or waffles? I could make waffles."

McCoy blinked, hardly able to believe that Jim Kirk was actually making breakfast. Time was McCoy had to physically place food in his hand in a morning before he'd remember to eat. "You're cooking?"

"Firing up a waffle iron is hardly cooking," Jim frowned, "but sure I guess. So? Breakfast?"

They ended up agreeing more out of surprise than anything else and took seats at the breakfast table while Jim moved around the kitchen, somehow managing not to trip over the dog, despite it always being underfoot.

McCoy wasn't really sure what to say to him. He was stunned, pleasantly so, to see him looking so alive. He'd tortured himself for weeks with the idea that Jim was out there somewhere, lonely and not taking care of himself. It seemed he'd learned how to do that on a more practical level than just surviving what was thrown at him.

He held up the pan and looked down at the dog. "See? I cooked? And now I'm gonna eat. You gonna stop giving me the face?" The dog cocked it's head to one side, clearly as immune to Jim's shit as McCoy was. "Fine, don't trust me," Jim said, setting plates down in front of McCoy and Spock, "see if you get extra treats this afternoon."

A low, sad whimper made it clear exactly what the dog felt of that. Recognition dawned. "He's a service dog." He said, looking at the golden dog with fresh eyes.

"Hmm." Jim said, sliding into a seat, an equal number of waffles on his own plate as he had put on McCoy's. "Mase's is my personal bully. Kinda fuzzy though, so there's that." He gave Mase a fond scratch behind the ears and the he yipped happily when Jim tucked in to the waffles.

"I am confused," Spock said, forgoing the syrup McCoy put on his waffles and frowning at Jim. "The canine has a medical purpose?"

"Some dogs are trained to assist with certain disorders." McCoy said carefully, not wanting to upset Jim with a ham-handed comment.

He need not have worried. Jim seemed unconcerned. "He makes sure I get my three squares," he grinned, "bullies me if I forget and kicks up one hell of a fuss if I miss a meal, don't you buddy?"

Mase barked, recognizing the tone of Jim's voice as something positive and therefore of great excitement to him.

"It's a good idea." He said, pleased that there had actually been a way to get through to him, one that seemed to be pretty damn effective if his return to fighting weight was anything to go by.

"He's pretty good with the PTSD as well," Jim continued, "kinda hard to be freaked out by a nightmare if you wake up to this fur ball licking your face."

"PTSD?" McCoy pushed gently. It wasn't unexpected. He was certain Jim had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for much of his life. If being kidnapped and seeing his mother get shot wasn't enough, Frank sure as hell would have been. Then there was Tarsus. Jim had been a walking collection of psychological disorders by the time he'd made it to the Academy. He'd also been firmly in denial. "You're seeing someone?"

"Just a head shrink," Jim said hastily, "I'm not cheating on you." A smile touched his lips.

McCoy shook his head. "That's great, Jim." He didn't care who or what Jim saw - though yes, he'd be looking up some professional credentials as soon as they were gone, but that was a different matter.

Jim smiled back. "Which, speaking of-" he shovelled the last few mouthfuls of his waffles into his mouth and rinsed them down with a glass of milk. "I am gonna be late. You guys okay with hanging out here for a bit? There's some good hikes around, or you can look around here, whatever you like. I'll be back about one."

"That's a pretty long session," McCoy frowned, worried he was overdoing it.

Jim shot him a familiar grin. "Three hours a day, four times a week. You know me Bones, if you're gonna commit to something…I, er, I might be in a shitty mood when I get back. Sometimes I am." He looked momentarily ashamed and McCoy disliked it immensely.

"Oh I know you, Jim." McCoy couldn't help smile. "It's okay. We can handle your shitty moods. Go. Spock and I will keep ourselves entertained. I saw a grill out back, didn't I?" Jim nodded, putting the plates in the washer to be cleaned. "You want me to whip up a good old Georgian barbecue?"

The grin Jim flashed him was huge and blinding. "Hell yes. You want me to grab anything while I'm out?"

"Couple steaks and something for the hobgoblin?" Spock had pretty much perfected the art of rolling his eyes in a very Vulcan fashion. "Where you headed? It's miles to the nearest town."

"I know." Jim patted the pocket of his khaki shorts. "I got a shortcut." He stepped away from the table with a meaningful wink. "Mase, you look after them okay? You're in charge." The dog looked at Jim like he was being abandoned forever and flopped down sadly at McCoy's feet. "Seriously, don't give me that look. I get enough of that from Spock."

"Are you comparing me to a canine, Jim?" Spock's eyebrow practically reached his hairline.

"And that's my cue. Catch you later!" Jim said, and a moment later dematerialized.

McCoy whistled. That right there was some serious clout being used. He shouldn't be surprised, not when the President of the Federation was footing Jim's bills, but still.

"He looks good." He said to Spock, both relived and surprised.

"Indeed he does." Spock agreed.

"So," McCoy looked down at the dog laid across his feet. "You gonna give us the tour?"

Mase didn't give them the tour so much as sat in the spot Jim had vanished from and looked pathetic. Sensing they wouldn't get anywhere there, McCoy and Spock got up and wandered around.

The house was…it was Jim's. Everything about it screamed of him, from the holos on the walls - McCoy's expression was consistently irritated he was pleased to note - to the data chips and computer parts piled up around the desk in his study.

But there were also shades of Pike. Objects and art picked up from strange worlds and more holos of people and places that existed before they were in the world.

Then there was the one that brought tears to his eyes, the one on Jim's desk, the one he'd not moved and probably never would. In it a young Christopher Pike was laughing at something off camera, carefree and happy in a way McCoy had never seen him. More heartbreaking than that though was the little boy clinging to his neck, big blue eyes peering out from behind messy blonde hair and a shy smile almost hidden behind Pike's shoulder. Jim could only have been three or four years old, the holo slightly blurred, but Pike had obviously treasured it.

After that, McCoy didn't feel comfortable poking around any more. He took a seat on the back porch and waited, letting the space and the quiet around him lull him into a light doze.

He came to and Spock was sat opposite, his expression contemplative and fixed on the rocky horizon. "He seems happy here." Spock said eventually.

McCoy nodded. "Yeah." He said, voice gruff.

It was another hour or so before Jim returned and as he had warned, he was in a blisteringly foul mood. He excused himself with a few short words and shut himself in his bedroom with Mase for another hour. McCoy felt guilty for taking away the privacy for Jim to be free in his own home, but his mood didn't last.

He emerged in the early afternoon having taken a shower and changed, then sat on the porch chatting animatedly to Spock while McCoy fired up the grill.

"There's some scotch in the back draw of my desk I think." Jim offered as the sun dipped low in the sky and they were sat around the table once more, warm food and good company the best medicine McCoy knew.

"You think?" He was happy enough with the iced tea Jim had made up, but he was curious as to the way Jim had phrased it.

"I'm not supposed to drink right now." Jim said awkwardly. "Until I stop using it as an emotional crutch." He said the words as if mimicking someone else.

"You're actually listening to what your doctor tells you?" McCoy would believe that when he saw it.

But Jim simply shrugged. "I'm trying. Not always succeeding, he gave me a fucking bedtime for christsake…" but he laughed, not angry as he once would have been. "But yeah."

"Lord help us, Jim Kirk actually doing as he's told." McCoy laughed. "Man must be a miracle worker."

He was mortified when Jim's expression fell. "It was never your fault Bones, that I didn't listen. That…I don't want you to think that. He's not a better doctor, actually he's a complete asshole sometimes, but-"

"Jim," McCoy cut him off quickly. "I'm not upset. You've found something that seems to be working and that's fantastic. I don't care who you need to see. Besides, sometimes it's easier connecting with someone you don't know."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, that's what he said. That and I am apparently the most stubborn jackass he's ever had the misfortune of being blackmailed by an Admiral into treating."

"Sounds like my kinda guy."

"God no, you'd hate him." Jim laughed. "But he doesn't take it personally when I spend three hours telling him to fuck off, so, points there I guess."

"We are glad to see you doing so well, Jim." Spock said, "Truly."

Jim beamed at him. "So, gossip from the Bay? Scotty blown anything up yet?"

"Not through lack of trying," Spock said dryly. McCoy had no idea what Spock had used to bribe Scott into good behavior with but it seemed to have worked.

"And Uhura?"

"As close to perfection as ever." Spock said, uncharacteristically sentimental in the low evening light. He must almost be able to imagine Vulcan against a backdrop like this one.

Jim saw and smiled, his eyes soft. "What about you, Bones? Any lady in your…."his expression morphed into shock, "oh my god, you slept with Jocelyn!"

McCoy choked on his mouthful of iced tea.

"Curious," Spock said, "how could you tell?"

"I know Bones!" Jim flailed his arm. "I can't believe you! Are you guys back together? Do I have to give the threatening bro speech?"

"No, we are not back together!" McCoy choked. "And I don't want to know how you know that."

"Mase told me." Jim said.

Mase raised his head curiously at the sound of his name.

"Your dog is not psychic." McCoy grumbled, his face as red as the setting sun.

"He could be." Jim protested. "He's very smart."

"Let's change the subject."

"Let's not." Jim said, grinning from ear to ear.

"Chekov's fine," McCoy charged on, mindless of Jim's laughter. He was so glad to hear it he'd accept a little humiliation, but there had to be a line! "Actually, he's the one who found you. They send their love, they all do. They miss you." The humor settled to something soft and serious.

"We miss you." Spock added quietly. "Have you given thought to your return?"

Jim looked down at his lap. "I'm not ready." He said. "Not yet. I'm doing better, I am, but…I like it here. I feel…I feel safe. I don't think I've ever really felt safe anywhere before, but I do here, and I like that." Despite the beard, he looked younger than McCoy had ever known, and almost guilty at admitting how far he was from being okay.

McCoy couldn't stand it. "That's okay, Jim. You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

"I want to go with you guys." Jim said, pained, "I just don't know if I am ready. I'm sorry, I know that's not what you came here for."

"We came here for you." Spock admonished gently. "The Universe is not going anywhere. It will wait for you."

"The Enterprise won't."

"So we're gone five years." McCoy shoved down on all the screaming emotions in his heart and summoned a rare smile for Jim. "By the time we're back you'll be chomping at the bit to come with us."

"And if I'm not?" Jim asked, uncertain.

"Then we'll tell you the good stories and you can entertain us on shore leave." McCoy said, his smile fixed in place. He knew it had worked when Jim smiled back.

"Look at us. Time was you'd never have gone into the black if I hadn't been dragging you."

"And I could barely keep you outta it." McCoy said, his smile real this time.

"Guess we grew up."

"Yeah," McCoy's smile became sad, "guess we did."

The crew of the newly rechristened USS Enterprise took their seats in the outdoor assembly, perfectly turned out and polished, their very baring the height of professionalism. Only those who knew them could see the anguish they were hiding.

Jim had not arrived that morning.

They would be going into the black without him.

It was hard to begrudge him what he needed, but they wished…god, how they wished

The day's events were huge, attend by the movers and shakers of government, both foreign and domestic, as well as Starfleet Command and a great number of civilians. Overhead jets flew in salute of the day's mixed events, both somber and celebratory.

McCoy had hoped Jim would be there, for Pike if not for them, but maybe he wasn't as far along as he'd seemed when they'd seen him. Maybe the shaky smile he'd given McCoy and Spock as they'd left him was all for show.

He hoped he was wrong. He so desperately wanted to be wrong.

Archer took the stage and said a few grave words before handing over to Admiral Barnett, the new Head of Starfleet Operations. McCoy felt a hell of a lot safer in his hands than Kormac's,

The speeches went on, and though their subject was of great importance and deserved the respect of his full attention, he couldn't help but think of only one thing: Jim should be here.

He caught Nyota's worried glance and turned his attention back to the stage as further down the row, Chekov almost bounced out of his seat in delight.

Jim walked on stage, looking like he fit into the uniform he wore as is he'd been born to wear it. The shock of seeing him there after the disappointment of the morning robbed McCoy of the ability to keep the shock from his face.

On stage, Jim saw and flashed him a quick smile.

Then he reached the podium and looked out across the assembled audience.

They waited with bated breath.

Then Jim spoke, strong and sure, confidence and commitment in every word. "There will always be those who seek to do us harm," he said gravely. "To stop them we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves." McCoy thought of Khan, of Marcus, of Winona and Sam, and then of Jim, who had turned his back on that path of destruction when he had least cause to do so. "Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that's not who we are. We are here today to rechristen the USS Enterprise, and to honor those who lost their lives nearly one year ago. When Christopher Pike first gave me his ship he had me recite the Captain's Oath, words I didn't appreciate at the time. Now, I see them as a call for us to remember who we once were, and who we must be again."

He met Jim's eyes across the stage and tried desperately to control the fierce burn of pride he saw reflected on the faces of those sat beside him.

That was their Captain up there. Their Jim.

He smiled back, only a small smile, but gentle and full of promise. "And those words? Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of the starship, Enterprise. Her five year mission, to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no one has gone before."