2005 Golden Orgasm Award: Second Place Best TOS Kirk/McCoy Story

 

The Hunt


Acidqueen <a.q @ gmx.de>

 

Series: TOS
Code: Kirk/McCoy
Rating: NC-17+ for brutality
Summary: When Kirk is taken over by alien forces, he becomes McCoy's worst enemy.
Author's Note: Sequel to "Aftereffects". Written for the KirkMcCoyFest and inspired by the challenge "One of them gets raped during a mission".
Disclaimer: Paramount/Viacom owns Star Trek, I own my brain. No infringement is intended, and no money is being made.
Archive: The KMF, my own website at
http://www.syredronning.de , ASCEM, all others ask, please.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Marcy for reading over it and to Lyra for medical advice. Any remaining errors, typos, plot holes and other bugs are mine and mine alone :)


*
Part 1


He'd told the young lieutenant to run, he'd downright ordered her - but Oriva hadn't believed him. "It's the captain," she'd said, and hesitated for too long, until the phaser fire zig-zagged over them both and he'd lost her.

And so it was only McCoy running now, with nothing but his tricorder as equipment. Because he had seen that particular face of Kirk before - but where in the past he'd still detected his friend in the eyes of the split half, in these eyes there was nothing resembling Jim anymore; this creature was utterly alien and utterly evil, no matter if it inhabited the captain's body.

He'd fight him if he feared for his life, McCoy had said to Jim over a brandy in the past. In the present, hell of a fight he gave - hell of a run, rather. There had just been no time to adapt to the sudden change in Kirk and Rodriguez when they'd come out of one of the few remaining building in the ancient ruins of a city. The first one to notice had been Lieutenant Sird'n, but he was dead before he could even set his phaser to stun. And so it had been two phasers against two scientists who didn't have any, McCoy and Oriva, who was probably dead - or worse - by now.

And so he was going to hide deep in the woods of this alien world. Maybe, if he kept going, he'd survive the twenty-four hours until the Enterprise was scheduled to return and fetch the landing party, and Spock would find him...Spock, who'd for once done the sensible thing and remained on the Enterprise, because there was really no reason why all the top officers should go down together.

If the Vulcan were here, the thought crossed McCoy's mind, it'd raise his chance of survival a tenfold. On the other hand, if Spock had gone into the building with Kirk, then he could've just stayed in place and gotten over with it. But as it was, he kept moving, ignoring the scratches he received from the bushes and trees that crossed his path in his determined run for his life.

//
Day One, 2134 Local Time, Personal Log McCoy

"At least I can use this useless piece of metal for recording my own entries. Because the function I need most - the life detection or, heck, any scanners - are gone. Dead. Overloaded, probably. I'm sure they've worked in the city, because I've checked them myself. But sometime during the last hours, they must've stopped functioning. Without a warning, of course - Murphy's Law is the only law that works all over this galaxy.

"So I'm sensor-blind here in this forest. They could be on the other side of the planet or right behind me...who knows.

"I kept going for about four hours now, but the sun set a while ago, and it's getting too dark here and too dangerous to move on. Found myself a cozy little corner on the ground right next to some big logs, which should give me some shelter against the night air and, well, them. Hope so, at least."

\\

The early morning broke with a light mist and found McCoy stiff and aching, every muscle and sinew complaining in its own special way. His stomach joined the choir loudly, and he was about to stand up when he heard the irregular cracking of wood in a distance. Something landed on McCoy, and he jerked around just in time to get a glimpse of something resembling a rabbit disappearing in the woods. More wildlife was rising from its dens as the noises were drawing closer. McCoy hastily dialed through the tricorder settings - he didn't care if it reacted to the calcium in their bones or the chips in their pockets, he just needed something unique to calibrate this mishap of modern technology. The tricorder, however, remained turning blind sensors to the world and the men approaching him.

An animal would run like that rabbit.

A hero would stand up and face them.

An intelligent man would ponder his position and decide that if they wouldn't walk right into him, they wouldn't see him. And so McCoy leveled his breathing down and played dead, which was easy, stiff and frozen as he was.

The noises drew nearer and nearer, the underground cracking under heavy steps, menacing voices traveling through the trees...and then his pursuers passed by and walked away into the direction he had intended to go.

He blew out some air as their sounds vanished in the forest, realizing he had held his breath. Bought time, he thought, and went up to walk to another direction.

//

Day Two, 0758 Local Time, Personal Log McCoy

"Oriva's loss weights heavily on me. Of course they'd shot around like mad men...as they are...but I should've gotten her with me anyway. I was responsible for her - heaven knows how Spock's gonna look at me when I tell him that I had to leave her behind.

"The compass unit of the tricorder is the only one still working, so I should be able to find the city again. I'm going to return now, although I don't expect to find her alive.

"Hopefully there's also some water there, because I'm thirsty like hell...dreaming of a strong, cold ale now..."

\\

It took him two hours to find the city, and another half to find her in one of the round yards between the ruins of former buildings. Even his resistant stomach turned as he sank down on his knees and shifted the bloody bundle on its back. That it had been Oriva he could only see from the small pieces of blue fabric that were still visible under all that blood, and her cause of death he could only recognize from the rocks that lay all around. He knew stoning only by the vivid description of history books, but reality was even more horrifying, leaving an unrecognizable pulp of bones and flesh.

He looked away for a second, taking a deep breath. His guts had been right - whatever had taken over the two men was downright evil. And still seven hours to go for him to survive.

He briefly wondered if he should bury her, but they would have to beam her body up anyway, so he could just as well let it rest here for now. He also had no inclination to leave too many traces here; although the tricorder seemed to be functional again, he didn't really trust it. Sensor shadows and ghost appearances were a common problem on alien worlds, and the unreported overload was probably only one of all possible malfunctions here.

Slowly he stood up, feeling slightly guilty for being alive as he looked down on her for a last time. Then he left the place, walking along an errand street in his search for water and food.

//

Day Two, 1410 Local Time, Personal Log McCoy

"There's not one milliliter of water in this city. But I've found our resources and had some water and food rations. All our equipment is still in place, as if the aliens didn't know what do to with it. My medical kit is here, too, and I've healed a few of my scratches.

"I can't help thinking about what has happened. The death of Oriva and Sird'n...so useless. So damn useless. I'm angry, and that's probably a good thing, because I need to stay alert. Lord knows where they are now, if my tricoder can even read them. You never know what kind of surprises awaits you on an unknown planet.

"At the end of this road, I can see the building they'd gone into before turning obsessed. I'll go there now and do some scanning. We'll probably need it if we want to get Jim and Rodriguez back."

\\

Only minutes ago the building lay in front of McCoy, silently stretching along the street and ending in a slope. It was built from a red stone which was darker than the rest of the monuments in the city. It also had some special aura...McCoy couldn't find a better word for it.
A dark aura. He shivered as he stood in front of the open entry. Whatever had once closed it was long gone, leaving only an uninvitingly gaping hole. But his tricorder showed nothing unusual, no readings typical of free-floating energy species or "souls", and so he hesitantly made a first step into the frame.

Another three brought him into a hall with a ceiling so high that he barely could see it in the dim light. There were only a few windows on the other end of the hall, and the air felt dense and overheated. His chest began aching for no obvious reason, but as far as he could tell, he was still his old self, no evil mind taking him over. He forced himself to center his thoughts on something encouraging while he was scanning...Joanna's first steps....his sickbay, their ship, their mission...Scotty and a brandy...even Spock found a place in the kaleidoscope, telling him that he was proud of his rational behavior under these challenging circumstances.

Challenging indeed, McCoy thought and slowly walked backwards, out again.

Seconds later, darkness fell over him.

*

"Jim..." McCoy murmured as he awoke from his black-out, slowly shaking off his numbness. A part of him was relieved that he hadn't been taken over - but finding two pairs of cold eyes staring at him, his throat tightened and images of Oriva's body flashed through his mind. They had brought him back to the Enterprise' equipment, where they had placed him on his knees with his back to a thin column, his wrists tied behind it.

"I knew you would come back," the Kirk persona said, making McCoy wondering just how much of Kirk was awake and aware beneath the alien's control.

"Jim," he said with more emphasis. "It's me, Bones. You know me. I'm not your enemy." He searched the other one's face, but no recognition set in. Instead, Kirk twitched his lips and replied, "No, you're not my enemy...you're my prey." The men laughed.

"I know it's you somewhere inside, Jim. Please, listen to me."

Kirk stood up, but McCoy's hope was badly crushed when Kirk rammed one booted foot hard into his groin. Tears of pain shot into McCoy's eyes, fogging his gaze as he cramped forward with a loud groan.

"Shut up," Kirk said dangerously. "Or we make you shut up."

"What are we going to do with him?" Rodriguez asked. His eyes were dark stones, and McCoy froze as he saw the tool in Rodriguez' hand - it was his own laser scalpel from the medical emergency kit. The lieutenant knelt down in front of McCoy, letting its glow dance along McCoy's face. The men laughed when McCoy automatically tilted back as the tool was nearing his eyes.

"Not his eyes. I want him to see us," the alien that was Kirk ordered. "But we've plenty of other places to slice him."

Rodriguez leisurely let the laser scalpel run along the length of McCoy's throat, close enough for McCoy to feel the first superficial burns.

"It's a nice tool," the man said, and grabbed the two layers of McCoy's uniform. He pulled it forward and cut through it lengthwise, exposing their victim's chest.

"So much hair...too much." The man wiggled over it with the laser.

"Child's play," Kirk said roughly, and grabbed the scalpel. He knelt down on one knee to the ground next to McCoy, slipping his hands under the loosely hanging fabric. Almost tenderly he stripped McCoy's right shoulder and upper arm, laying them bare as if he was going to make love to him. McCoy watched Kirk's face, feeling the bizarreness of the situation together with the adrenaline taking him to some higher plane of existence. He half- expected Jim to break into one of his impish smiles, pulling his chin around for a kiss and telling him that it had been a bad joke to scare him out of his wits. But there was no smile in the hazel eyes, and if there was lust, it was of a kind McCoy never wanted to see again. Just as tenderly, Kirk removed his clothes on his left side, too. Then he aimed the scalpel at him.

"An unusually long blade, isn't it?" Holding McCoy's gaze, Kirk slowly forced the tool into the flesh of McCoy's left upper arm.

McCoy couldn't stop staring at Kirk. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see the laser blade disappearing to the hilt, then being pulled out again. It should hurt like hell, but he absorbed the pain somehow, still watching his friend, this well-known face looming over him while doing this...

His damping disbelief was broken when Kirk stabbed him once more, and then a third time. He groaned and choked, tears of pain pushing in his eyes and breaking his peaceful trance.

"It's sealing the wound," Kirk said, and was clearly offended by the neat, bloodless holes he had pierced into McCoy.

"I bet there's another setting," Rodriguez said angrily.

Kirk nodded. "But I don't think that he'll tell us." He violently forced up McCoy's head, pushing him back at the column. "Or will you?"

Feeling the laser's warmth on his chin next to his carotid, McCoy briefly considered slumping against it to end this scene. But he didn't intend to die by his own hand on this god-forsaken planet, just as little as he intended to die by Kirk's hand. Kirk seemed to have read his thoughts and pulled the weapon away, giving him a dangerous smile.

"I don't think we need an answer," Rodriguez said from far away, and waved McCoy's emergency kit. "I've found just the right thing." He came over, and in his hand now was a real knife, one of the few non-standard tools McCoy always had in his bag. Sometimes it came in handy. Today, he knew with absolute sureness, it would be his doom.

"Indeed." Kirk took the knife, running his thumb over the blade. He eyed the instantly visible, clean cut with satisfaction. "A very sharp knife," he stated, and rammed it through McCoy's left side without even as much as a wink of his eye.

McCoy doubled over, the pain so abrupt that his cry got stuck in his throat. Stars danced in front of his eyes, but his body didn't do him the favor of unconsciousness. And so he resurfaced back into full awareness just in time to feel the knife being pulled out again. Not that it could add much additional pain at the moment.

An arm caught his chest, lifting it. A hand tilted his chin upwards, and he blinked at the diffuse vision of a face.

"He wouldn't stand much of that." The statement was cold and clinical.

"It went only through flesh, no major damage done," another voice said, and McCoy knew it was correct, half expecting the knife pinning his stomach next. But it went into his left upper thigh instead. The brutal impact made McCoy arch against the column, the straps biting in his wrists.

His wits returned incredibly slowly. Too slowly to avoid the slice along his chest, and for another long moment he was stunned, unable to breathe. Then he opened his eyes and faced his torturers.

"Are you just going to kill me?" he forced out of his aching throat.

"Yes," the Kirk persona said. "Or do you have something else in mind?"

"Why don't you let me run again?"

"Run?" Kirk poked the fresh wound on his leg with the knife's blade. McCoy winced, but didn't give up.

"Yeah. More hunt, you know. I'm the only one left. It was too easy for you, I'm sorry. But I can try harder."

They laughed about him, harsh sounds that seemed to make his wounds all the more painful.

"What do you have to lose?" he said loudly to drown them out. "Do you fear I'll get away this time?"

The laughter broke. "Oh no," Kirk said with a sneer. "You won't." He motioned Rodriguez to come closer and gave him the knife. "Free him," he said. "I don't mind another hunt."

Seconds later McCoy slid from the column to a seated position on the stone floor, too dizzy to rise at once. On his leg, he could feel his blood warming the fabric.

"We don't see you run."

He glanced upwards, where Kirk and Rodriguez were hovering above him. "Any minute," he said, and got on his knees. From there, e
needed the column to support him, but at least he could stand up despite his trembling legs. Pressing his left arm against his chest, he limped toward the street.

"Can I take my tricorder with me?" he said, as he spotted the device on the ground.

The men shrugged. "If you think it helps you running," Kirk said.

McCoy walked to it, carefully shifting his weight on his right leg. It was hard to get it, but an idea had gained substance in his mind. They'd be in for a surprise.

He looked back at them. "How much time do I get?"

"As much as we feel like," Kirk said. He sat down and played with the knife, oblivious to any cuts in his fingers as if his hijacked body wasn't worth keeping intact. Rodriguez gave McCoy a last, menacing stare and then turned away.

McCoy turned too, offering his back to the men as he dragged himself onto the street. If they followed instantly, he didn't have a chance anyway. Only outside of the city he accelerated his pacing, aware that he left a trail of bloody spots.


*

Part 2

 

 

Day Two, 1602 Local Time, Personal Log McCoy

Obviously they gave me a lot of time. Probably they're pretty sure that I won't come far. And I didn't, but far enough to find a small well where I could clean and bandage some of the wounds with my uniform shirt. They all hurt, but the worst is the stab in my side; although it didn't hit anything directly life- threatening, every intake of breath is hell, while the leg mostly hurts and bleeds when I move. And right now I can't move anymore. I still lie next to the water, because the atmosphere feels refreshing.

The weird thing is that to do what I want to do they need to be close. I need to have them coming after me. I don't have much time. I can feel the blood still trickling. I already made it farther than expected.

The tricorder is once again offline. I need to stay awake.

\\

Despite his intentions, he drifted into a numb state close to unconsciousness, from which he once again awoke to noises; but this time, it wasn't people walking through the woods but the whining sound of phasers as they cut through the trees. There was no pattern in it, but the destruction they caused was impressive. Trees fell left and right of McCoy, some errant branches crushing down on him. Instinctively he rose from his position when they shot again.

McCoy didn't really feel the hit at first; as if his system had gone on slow-motion, he saw the shirt gleaming, then burning away through to his skin. The phaser's cool light passed his left shoulder, leaving behind a burned area. He gasped as the meltdown of his nerves began scorching his mind, then was about to cry out...but if he did, he'd be dead. He coiled on the ground, clamping down all traitorous sounds. Tears ran down his face, but he swallowed down the agony to...he didn't know where.

He could feel them once again coming closer, as if a psychic darkness reached out for him, teasingly inviting him to connect. But he remained motionless, teeth clenched, his breathing irregular and rough but inaudible against the water. And then the dark shades went away, walking further down the trail. McCoy enfolded his shoulder, an automatic but useless gesture; all he touched was burned flesh. He was close to blackening out, but he couldn't give in to it. They would be back. And he couldn't run anymore.

He staggered to his feet. Not far away, there were stones assembling to a pathway which lead to a dead-end. Perfect for his idea. He crouched into it and heavily sat down on the ground. The tricorder resisted him for a moment, before he forced his wounded arm into cooperation to open it. He'd always known that Scotty was a blessing for the Enterprise; but the Scot also participated in a current weapon development challenge and had modified McCoy's medical tricorder so that even its meager power source could be used for a small explosion, enough to blow a door. McCoy had almost forgotten about this gimmick, mostly because the necessary rerouting of circuits was on the edge of his electronic know-how. But on the edge had to be enough for now.

He fumbled his way around safety fuses with trembling fingers. The blood loss took its toll, but finally he leaned back on the wall, taking a deep breath and rubbing his right arm over his face, melting dirt, blood and sweat without caring. It should work. It better did work. They were close, he felt it. There was a special silence in the air, as if everything in this forest awaited the showdown with baited breath, wondering who the survivor would be in the end. He would give them a show, he thought as he crouched to the entry again, leaning against the cool stone. Because there was that one problem with his idea - the modified tricorder could only work as thrown bomb or with timer. And in his current state, he wouldn't be able to throw it far enough anymore.

Time seemed to slow down again as he waited for them, calculating the distance from the moment they saw him until the moment they'd reach the entry of his hide. His eyelids dropped more than once, but he forced them open again. His body rocked in pain even
without his conscious doing and, although his head seemed overheated, other parts of him began feeling ice-cold.

If they didn't come for him soon, he might at least be dead without giving them another chance to torture him, McCoy thought with dark satisfaction. He stared down on the tricorder, finally entering the number of seconds he estimated them to need and setting the timer on one-touch activation. His eyes still on the screen, which displayed the counter unobtrusively in a corner, his ears suddenly picked up steps...their steps. He shed a glance around, catching a bit of red between the trees. However, he remained in his position until he heard them drawing closer - only then he looked up.

Although he was still fighting, he didn't have to pretend his fear when he faced them. They didn't even hold their phasers anymore, but were armed with thick, club-like branches, which they were swinging playfully. McCoy activated the tricorder's timer, then crouched toward the dead-end where some of the stones were supposed to give him shelter from the worst effects of the explosive. They didn't run for him, but why should they there was no way he could escape them anymore. He sat down in the corner with bent legs, burying his head between his knees and arms. His lips voicelessly counted the seconds, and in the end he sent a heartfelt prayer upwards to the god of his childhood, idly wondering if his life would replay in front of him now.

The explosion shook the ground, rattling him with the blast's pressure wave and bathing him in a shower of smaller stones. Then there was nothing but silence again. Slowly he moved, and the stones that were lying on his back rolled to the ground and the wall behind him with clicking sounds. Getting up cost endless energy, but finally he tumbled over the debris. Something ran down his face, and he touched the back of his head to find another bleeding gash. Not that it mattered, he decided as he eyed the red-clad body on the edge of the pathway in deep-felt satisfaction. But cold panic got hold on him as he realized that it was only Rodriguez...where was Kirk?

Something hit him savagely between his shoulder blades, and McCoy sagged to the ground, momentarily a black void in front of his eyes. He rolled halfway on his back, breathing painfully.

"Jim, no!" he pressed out as he saw the shadow hovering above him, knowing it was useless.

"You're not going to escape me again," the so well-known voice said, and seconds later McCoy cried out as the club smashed his left knee cap. He coiled, only to receive a blow on his kidneys.

"Never again," Kirk repeated with a cold, sneering voice. The club fell down once more, battering McCoy's other knee. But McCoy was beyond crying. He was even beyond pain. He had read reports where people claimed to have fallen in this state, but he hadn't believed them. Now, facing the brutal onslaught, he felt like stepping beside him, out of his body. He rolled around and into Kirk's legs, shoving him to the ground. The club fell to the ground too, and he reached out for it, but Kirk didn't need it to beat him to pulp. Blow after blow of hard fists hit him on the head, chest, stomach...

He must have lost consciousness for a moment, because the next thing he knew was that Kirk hauled him across the stone gravel and then over a fallen tree. McCoy groaned as hard knobs pressed into broken ribs. He was raw flesh and all pain again; his breathing was rattled and on the edge, and maybe he'd given up at that point if it hadn't been for Kirk's action, if it hadn't been for the sudden feel of cool air on his body and then the piercing pain, adding a new layer to his torture. He hadn't known what rape felt like either, but now he knew.

And with that perception, the pain was suddenly gone again, crushed under the enormous hate he felt, a wild, all-consuming hate for Kirk, this Kirk. His right hand reached out blindly, testing whatever it could grab. It was something heavy and irregular it took finally hold of, and the second he felt the weight on him leaving, he twisted around, swinging the weapon with all his might. There was nothing but a red, teary fog in front of his eyes, but he kept striking out until he slipped from the tree like a puppet cut from its strings, drained of all energy. His made-up weapon escaped his grip as he tilted backwards, trying to get air against the blood that was filling his lungs now, but without effect.

At least he'd given them his best fight ever, was his last thought before he gave in to the painless dark.

*

The lights came back, with so little pain that at first McCoy thought he was dead. But then he realized that he was in his own sickbay and probably with the highest possible dose of opiates in his blood.

"Len," someone said, and stepped closer. McCoy blinked and closed his eyes again, his lids too heavy to stay open.

"Don't say anything. Your jaw's not really healed yet. But we'll get you in order in no time, Len. I promise. And you'll get nice new kneecaps. The old ones were due for overhauling anyway."

In any other moment, McCoy would've been happy to learn that M'Benga had taken lessons from him, but he didn't want to hear anything today. Or tomorrow. Or...whenever.

*

He slept for two more days, slowly recovering. People were asking to visit him, but he wanted to see nobody. And he meant it. At one time, he noticed M'Benga outside, and inwardly recoiled as he heard Kirk's voice. "Let me see him, please."

"You can't go in," M'Benga's voice said.

"I'm the captain, doctor," Kirk's voice replied forcefully.

"He's not ready for visitors, Captain. And most especially not for you."

Silence. Then the words, "Did you decide that?"

"No - McCoy."

Silence again, then steps leaving the room. And McCoy released his tight grip on the blanket he hadn't even been aware of.

*

After four days, Spock visited him in the course of duty. And McCoy couldn't really argue with that and, if he had to say anything, it'd be easier with Spock than with anyone else. Probably.

"Doctor, I've analyzed the situation, the autopsy results of Lt. Oriva and Lt. Rodriguez, and the medical data of you and the captain for my report. There are some things I would like to check."

"Why don't you just leave the report with me for a while, and I'll send you a corrected version?" McCoy said.

"Normally I would do so," Spock said, "but the unusual and...brutal circumstances lead me to believe that it would be beneficial to talk about it."

McCoy felt his jaw setting, and forced himself to stay calm. "Not yet, Spock. And not with you, sorry."

Spock tilted his head, a light frown in his features. "Undoubtedly you were forced to use the bombing device in an attempt to defend yourself, but it has yet to be proven that the captain is not guilty of murder and aggravated assault. You could bring up heavy charges against him, Doctor. It is my responsibility to ask you, as the only surviving victim, if you want to do that."

"Maybe I could, but I won't. This wasn't really Kirk...and neither Rodriguez, but something that possessed them." McCoy said the words slowly, pronounced, trying to make himself believe this truth, wondering if Spock could feel his insecurity with his Vulcan senses and then deciding to give him no chance to reply.

"What happened is a matter between Jim and me. And we'll settle it between him and me," McCoy stated, challenging Spock's insistent gaze. "I know there has to be a report, and I'll attest that both men were not in their right mind. But for the other thing...let it rest. I'll get over it, and Jim and I will get over it. We've been through some highs and lows in the past, and this is just another one."

Spock thoughtfully looked down on his padd. "If that is your opinion, why do you not speak to the captain? He is suffering, too."

"I will, Spock," McCoy said roughly. "Soon. First let me go out of here...then we'll talk. You can tell him that. I'll be ready by then."

"I presume you also would prefer to check the report later."

"Indeed, yes, I'd prefer that." McCoy felt his twisted guts relax on the sight of M'Benga.

"Mr. Spock, I think that's enough," M'Benga said, and the first officer accepted it without debate, taking his padd with him.

*

Seven days later, Kirk stood in front of McCoy's cabin, his hand hovering over the buzzer. But he couldn't quite bring himself to call at the moment. He'd been through all phases of self-loathing and condemnation, then fear and finally frustration about McCoy's downright refusal to talk with him. He'd felt left alone, and only the occasional glance at Spock's report had helped him to rationalize that anyone who'd lived through such a day would have a right to avoid the one who'd caused that pain. Even if it hadn't been really him, who'd awaken onboard the Enterprise with a fracture of his skull but without any knowledge about the events.

But now he was invited and came, in contrast to McCoy in the past, with empty hands; the bottle of brandy he'd had in his hand some minutes earlier, pondering if he should bring it along, had felt utterly wrong and like ridiculing the painful events. Besides, McCoy had a much better taste in brandy than he had.

The door opened without warning, and he twitched but remained in its front, facing his friend. McCoy looked still pale and somewhat tired, especially in contrast to his black shirt, but gave him a clear gaze before saying, "Come in, Jim." Then he turned and limped back to the bed where he settled in a half- seated position. Kirk felt his sense of guilt returning like a wave, breaching over him and tightening his throat. He followed McCoy until he reached the room divider; there he remained as if there were an invisible gap between them.

"Do me a favor, Jim, and take a chair and sit down," McCoy said after a few seconds.

Kirk frowned, but did as told.

"You...looked too intimidating," McCoy explained in a low voice, and briefly averted his gaze.

"Bones..." Kirk's voice cracked over the nickname. "Was it that bad?"

"Yes." Blue eyes fixed on him, looking even more tired than before. "I'm sorry...I know that it wasn't really you...my rational brain knows, that is. Some other parts of me can't forget that it's been your face...your hands holding the knife." McCoy blew out some air.

"Sorry, Jim, but it wouldn't help if I pretended that nothing was wrong. The first days, just the idea of meeting you brought a lot of feelings with it...pain, fear...and hate. A lot of hate. So I really didn't want to see you."

Kirk leaned forward on his knees, kneading his fingers. "I understand you. Hell, if someone had done that to me..." He almost faltered, then went ahead. "Hunted and tortured me like that. And not someone, but you...I don't know. My world would turn upside down, I think. You'd every right to split my skull."

"Yeah."

Silence broke sharply.

"What can we do about it?" Kirk finally whispered.

"It actually helps a lot to see you. The real you." McCoy rubbed over his left arm in thoughts, where a few white lines still showed the edges of the burned area.

Kirk's eyes followed his movement. "I wouldn't know how to live if I had killed you. And I feel responsible." Kirk clenched his teeth. "Because, well...Spock's speculating that it wasn't only an alien impulse...but also a part of me."

McCoy nodded. "I've seen the report. But Jim, it's still like with your split - maybe a part of you is aggressive, but you, in whole, aren't."

Kirk shook his head. "This wasn't about aggression - this was about hunting and killing. And both are traits of mine. I've killed quite a few times in my life. I may have killed because I saw no other chance, but I did. And I can live with that. The dead didn't ever haunt me so far. But this time, they do. Oriva, Sird'n...Rodriguez."

McCoy nodded again. "They're haunting me, too. But you've never been a sadistic killer. It's all speculation on Spock's part, and you know that. He put his own beliefs about emotions into that report, and for him they're all dangerous. But you and I, we ain't him. We got the full bunch, and we've got to stick with it. Even if it gets uncomfortable once in a while."

He heaved a sigh, then looked at Kirk. "Jim..."

Kirk held his breath on the soft address. "What do you want, Bones?" he whispered.

"Would you mind...coming closer?"

"If I would mind coming closer?" Kirk felt his eyes stinging. "I would love to...if I dare."

McCoy nodded and slid to the left side of the bed, making room.

Kirk stood up and walked over, bridging the gap with slow steps, careful not to remind McCoy on the hunter from only days ago. He could see McCoy actively working to accept his nearness, but once he lay next to him, the worst part seemed over. He didn't touch him at first, waiting for his friend to initiate contact. But for the moment, all McCoy did was staring at him intensely.

Then McCoy said, quietly, "I always knew when it was you or something else that possessed you. I've lost that surety, Jim. I don't know if I can get it back that easily."

Kirk swallowed hard. "What can I do to prove that it's me?"

McCoy put his left hand on Kirk's side. "Touch me...gently. Just
touching."

Carefully Kirk put his hand on McCoy's shoulder and rubbed over the tense muscles. "Like this?" he whispered.

"Yes." McCoy's eyes dropped close, and his face relaxed, wrinkle by wrinkle. It didn't take long before he fell asleep, but Kirk stroked him for a while longer. Then he fetched two thick blankets from the cabinet and covered McCoy with it. He bent down and kissed the unusually cool forehead, then, on second thought, kissed him on his lips. McCoy replied on a subconscious level, kissing Kirk back before rolling to the side, tightly wrapping himself into the cover.

Something inside of Kirk leapt. Climbing the tree...McCoy followed his own advice for sure. It would take time to heal, but they would handle it.

***