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Fortunate Son

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"Dr. Leonard McCoy?"

It's late in the evening, and McCoy's walking through the streets of Risa, trying to remember exactly how to get back to his hotel. He's busy looking for a landmark or an info kiosk when the voice from behind startles him.

McCoy turns to find a young human woman; her hands jammed into the pockets of her leather jacket, looking at him strangely, her head tilted to one side.

McCoy blinks at her, trying to place her features. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

The woman smiles broadly at him—a little too broadly, McCoy thinks suddenly, and he has to fight the sudden urge to take a step back, even though they're in a well-lit street.

"No, but I know you," she assures him. "We met a long time ago, I'm not surprised you don't remember."

Her smile fades, and her eyes are narrowed as she looks at him. The hell with politeness. McCoy takes the step back, putting more space between them. "Really?" he asks. "And where was that?"

She's still watching him, and as he moves back she takes a casual step forward, her short dark blond hair shining underneath the street lights. 'It was about fifteen years ago; on a planet called Tarsus IV."

McCoy's stomach drops to his feet. He doesn't think about Tarsus, refuses to think about that place, and he's not looking to be reminded of it by anyone, let alone by a complete stranger on the street.

"Listen," he begins awkwardly, "if you're looking for someone to talk to—"

She laughs, the sound sudden and harsh to his ears. That chill settles into his stomach again, and McCoy talks another step back, but before he can turn and walk away, he hears someone rapidly approaching from behind. "I'm not looking for a shoulder to cry on, Dr. McCoy. I'm looking for you."

He hears the hiss of a hypospray being depressed, and feels its sting on his neck. McCoy opens his mouth to yell, but his vision's already blurring, his knees buckling beneath him.

The last words McCoy hears are from the woman, her voice tinged with irony as she says, "It's really very good to see you again, Dr. McCoy."

*

Jim wakes up alone, the large luxury hotel suite just as empty as it was when he'd finally given up on waiting for Bones, just a few short hours ago. He props himself on his elbows for a moment, feeling on edge, and then grabs his comm to see if there have been any messages, even as his brain runs through the various possibilities.

Maybe Bones just had too much to drink and crashed in M'Benga's room, or even Chapel's—he knows that the hotel where most of the officers are staying is closer to the district of Risa where Bones said they were going to be for the evening.

Of course, Bones had also said he'd be back at their hotel room early, and that they'd spend the rest of the night together in bed, and Jim had left the casino early because he'd been looking forward to it, hell, because he wanted to spend this entire week of shore leave in bed with Bones, wanted to keep learning every inch of his body—

Jim pushes that thought aside, and checks his comm.

No messages. He tries calling Bones but there's no answer, not the first time, and not the second or third time. Jim finally sets his comm back down, frowning. He tries to think of a reason why Bones wouldn't pick up now, after these past four days, and he can't think of anything. He can't think of anything good.

Jim picks his comm back up, but this time, he calls M'Benga.

M'Benga answers after a few moments, his voice a hoarse rasp. "Whoever you are, you should know you're talking to a dying man—Christ, where's my hypo?"

"Dr. M'Benga, it's Kirk."

A pause, and then M'Benga's voice returns to its usual even tones, although with a tinge of embarrassment, "Captain Kirk, I—"

"Don't worry about it, Geoffrey," Jim says quickly. "It's shore leave. Excessive drinking is practically a mandate." M'Benga chuckles ruefully, and Jim hears the faint hiss of a hypospray. "The reason I'm calling now is—" and here Jim hesitates, but it has to be asked, "Dr. McCoy never made it to his hotel room last night."

"That—are you sure? But he said he was going back to his hotel when he left—"

Jim pushes down the threads of panic that are starting to tangle up his thoughts. "He didn't crash in your hotel room, or Chapel's—"
"Captain, he was the most sober one out of the three of us—hell, he was the one making sure we got back to our hotel rooms safely."

Jim lets out a shaky sigh, because M'Benga's right. Bones really isn't one to get absolutely wasted, in public or in private, not even back at the Academy. He's always liked a drink or two, and before he finally conquered his aviophobia at the Academy, he'd rely on white-knuckling his armrest and his flask to get through a flight. But getting blackout drunk, and passing out in an alley or a strange bed—Bones just doesn't do that.

"Captain," M'Benga says now, cutting into Jim's thoughts, "Captain, I can go see if he stayed with Chapel, but I'm telling you—there would have been no reason for him to."

Jim exhales. "Okay. I'd appreciate it if you did talk to Chapel, and, uh, contact me if you hear from him, all right?" He's not entirely sure how much, if anything, M'Benga knows about his relationship with Bones—they've been trying to be discreet. Never mind the fact that strictly speaking, there's been nothing to talk about until recently.

But at this point, Jim doesn't really care too much what M'Benga thinks is going on—he just wants to hear from Bones already. Better yet, he wants to have Bones here, like he said he would be, right before he'd pushed Jim back into the bed and kissed him until Jim couldn't breathe.

"I will, Captain," M'Benga says. "And—I'm sure he's fine, sir."

"Yeah," Jim says, the words feeling hollow even as he says them out loud. "Of course he is."

Jim ends the call, and sits back in his bed. Bones is fine, of course he is, and when he gets back to the hotel, he'll laugh at Jim for being so worried.

The thing is, as much as Jim tries to believe that, he can't quite manage it.

When his comm buzzes a few moments later, Jim immediately grabs for it—only to see that it's from the Enterprise.

"Kirk here."

"Sir, the Enterprise has received a data packet." Jim recognizes the voice of Ensign Shiran, a young Andorian zhen, added to the crew after the Battle of Vulcan. He can hear the high thread of panic in her voice as she says, "Sir, sir, you have to see it, it's about Dr. McCoy—"

Jim goes cold. "Send it to me now—"

Jim snatches his PADD off the beside table, opens the data packet, and is confronted by an image of Bones. He's lying on the floor, unconscious, his head tilted back to expose the long line of his neck, his wrists and ankles tied together with thick ropes.

A short message is attached—Await further instructions. We will contact you.

"Who sent this?" Jim hears his own voice say, sounding like it's coming from a great distance.

"The packet was encrypted, we're trying to trace it now—"

"Keep working on it," Jim says numbly. "Shore leave is officially cancelled. I want all the officers on Risa to return to the ship and report to duty—"

Orders mechanically fall from Jim's lips, but his eyes are locked onto the image, focused on the cords biting into Bones' wrists, on his parted lips and slack face.

*

"Security is reviewing the hotel surveillance now," Spock is saying, "and I have contacted the authorities on Risa, who have sent us the security feeds from the streets that Dr. McCoy most likely would have traveled on his way back to the hotel. The security officers are reviewing these feeds as well, and the Risan government has sent a liaison to aid us in our search."

"Right," Jim says. He feels so horribly removed right now, like he's outside of his own body. Chapel and M'Benga have already come and gone, helping to construct a timeline of events, but even that can only do so much, when the general consensus is that nobody knows anything, not who took Bones or how or why.

He looks up to find Spock studying him. "Perhaps you could go down to the mess hall and eat," Spock suggests, "or I could have something delivered here—"

"I'm fine, Spock, I'm not hungry," Jim responds, and right on cue, his brain's got him wondering if Bones is hungry, if wherever he is, his captors are feeding him or giving him water. If he's still unconscious, or if they're hurting him, grilling him for information or—

Jim clears his throat and says, "Actually, I think I want to go down to Security and see how far they are with the feeds."

Spock inclines his head. "Very well, I shall accompany you."

*

"We've been retracing Dr. McCoy's steps, sir," Security Chief Andrews says as Jim and Spock enter the room. They've got the feed up on the screen, and Bones is right there, his face in profile, smiling at whatever he's hearing from Chapel and M'Benga, who are standing on either side of him.

Jim stares at it for a moment, then asks, "Do you have anything so far?"

"Yes, sir," Andrews says. "We believe we've managed to pinpoint the moment Dr. McCoy was abducted."

"Show me."

The screen switches to a view of a street on Risa, and Jim's chest clenches as Bones comes into view, his head moving from side to side like he's looking for something, or trying to figure out where he is.

Bones stops and turns around, his face in full view of the camera, seemingly talking to someone else on the street, a slim humanoid figure with short hair—

"That appears to be one of Dr. McCoy's kidnappers," Andrews says quietly, and on the screen, Bones' face is flashing with dismay, taking a step away from the person as if to—

"Do we have a better visual of this being?" Spock asks.

"Unfortunately, no," Andrews bites out, the frustration evident. "Whoever they are, we don't ever get a clear view of their face—"

"Any audio?" Jim asks quietly, his eyes fixed on Bones' tiny figure on the screen.

"No, sir," Andrews replies.

Jim inhales sharply as he sees a bulky human male approach Bones from behind, making a sharp gesture towards Bones' neck—and as Bones starts to collapse to the ground, the man catches him, and the three of them, Bones and his kidnappers, are lost in a swirl of sparkling lights, and then they're gone, transported to anywhere in the universe.

Through the panic that's latched on to his brain, Jim manages to ask, "And this is all we've got? Nothing else on who these people are, or why they've kidnapped a Starfleet officer?"

"We're still working, sir," Andrews says. "We're currently going through the surveillance of Dr. McCoy's evening, trying to spot these figures in the crowd at the bar, perhaps in the hotel Dr. McCoy was staying at, see if they were following him—"

'But right now, this is all we've got," Jim presses.

"We've got a visual on one of the kidnappers, sir, and I assure you, we're doing everything we can to ID him," Andrews says. "Unfortunately, we're going to need more time to do that, I'm sorry. Honestly, there's only so much we can do until the kidnappers contact us again."

It's been a long time since the Academy, and an even longer time since Jim's thought of Andrews as that guy he once constantly referred to as Cupcake, but right now, Jim's so frustrated that for a second, he's about this close to tearing the guy's head off.

The intensity of his frustration shocks Jim back into himself, and he takes a couple of deep, unsteady breaths before saying, "Okay. Keep going through the surveillance. I want you to show the image of the male kidnapper to Chapel and M'Benga, see if they might have spotted him in the crowd that night."

Andrews nods smartly. "Will do, sir. And Captain—"

"Yes?"

Andrews hesitates, and then says, "I know that Communications is studying that data packet now, but I've also had the opportunity to look at it, and sir—there's something about that packet that doesn't make any sense."

Jim blinks. "Go on."

"Well, sir, I noticed that the data packet wasn't sent to the Enterprise at large, or to you, or even to Lieutenant Uhura—it was sent to Ensign Shiran specifically. Forgive me, sir, but I don't see why they'd do that. If they're looking for a ransom or to start negotiations with Starfleet for whatever reason, then why begin that dialogue by contacting a low-ranking ensign?"

Spock asks, "Do you believe that Ensign Shiran has a connection to these kidnappers?"

"I wouldn't want to speculate," Andrews says quickly. "I just—would really like to know why this packet was sent directly to her."

*

Jim wishes he knew more about Ensign Shiran, going into this meeting. He just hasn't had that much contact with her since the start of the Enterprise's five-year mission. He knows her, of course, and he knows that she's gotten high marks in her evaluations from Uhura, who praises her aural sensitivity and attention to detail.

Uhura's already agreed to sit in on the meeting. Jim's banking on her ability to tell if there's something wrong, if Shiran's trying to conceal—anything.

Part of him hates looking at a member of his crew with suspicious eyes, but the rest of him is casting back to see if there's anything he missed, any hint or clue that should have tipped him off to—what?

Jim doesn't know what other course he should have taken, what path he should have avoided, other than the pointlessly obvious—other than the futile wish that he had stayed in the hotel that night, somehow coaxed Bones into staying with him, taken him by the arm and tugged him back into the bed, their bed—

Jim's dragged out of his thoughts by the sound of the door sliding open, and Uhura walks in, her face drawn and her eyes sympathetic.

She immediately moves towards him, her hand outstretched. "Jim, I'm so—"

With an effort, Jim doesn't pull away from her outstretched hand. Instead he keeps his voice even, and his gaze on her as he says, "I'm fine, Lieutenant." She stops at that, and Jim knows she understands everything he's trying to say.

"Of course, Captain," she says, her voice calm and smooth, and Jim's so relieved that his shoulders nearly slump. Uhura sits down in the chair and says, in her most professional tones, "I will give absolutely any assistance I can, sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Jim says quietly. "Ensign Shiran will be here soon, and before she arrives, I want you to think of any possible connections she might have with—" his voice hitches for a moment and he could kick himself for that, "—with Dr. McCoy's kidnapping."

Uhura is silent for a moment before finally shaking her head. "Honestly, Captain, there's nothing I can think of. I'm sure I've seen her talking to Leonard on occasion, but there was never anything unusual about it. At least not that I saw."

"Right,"' Jim says softly. He's seen the same—Shiran talking to Bones in the mess hall on occasion, but there never seemed to be that much in it. To Jim's amusement, Bones has turned into one of the resident confidants onboard the ship, with people appreciating his grumpy demeanor as "no nonsense" and "honest". Personally, Jim thinks it's hilarious, but Bones always takes it seriously, takes time out of his schedule to listen, even if he'd still grumped on occasion, "I'm a medical doctor, not a psychiatrist or a priest."

He shakes off the memory, the sound of Bones' voice lingering in his ears as he says, "Well, let's see what she has to say."

Shiran enters the room, the image of the perfect ensign in her red Communications uniform. Her pale hair is swept back from her forehead and pulled into a low bun, and her hands are folded behind her back. And yet, as Jim's looking at her, he can see the faint signs of agitation in her face, in the way she carries herself.

"You wished to see me, Captain?" Shiran asks, her voice soft as she stands in front of the table, her chin tilted up, her gaze focused somewhere over Jim's shoulder.

"Yes, take a seat," Jim offers. Shiran gracefully sits down in the chair opposite Jim and Uhura, folding her hands on top of the table—but maybe it's just Jim's imagination that she's gripping them a little harder than necessary.

Uhura doesn't waste any time, instead going straight to the point, "Shiran, we noticed that the data packet the kidnappers sent was directed to you personally, rather than to the Enterprise at large or to the Captain."

Shiran's posture is getting tenser. "Yes, sir, I had noticed that myself," she says to Uhura.

"Do you have any idea why they'd send that packet to you, Ensign?" Jim prods.

Shiran is quiet for a long moment, and then she exhales. "I do have an idea, sir, but—I don't know how much help it will be to the investigation. Or how they would even know—"

"Ensign Shiran," Jim says, his voice sharp, "if there's anything you know—"

"Dr. McCoy is my uncle," Shiran says quickly, before Jim can finish his sentence.

Jim waits, his eyes flicking in disbelief despite himself, from the top of Shiran's head, looking at her antennae, her blue skin and white hair, and comparing it to everything he knows about Bones' family tree.

Uhura looks to be at as much of a loss as Jim is, because she says after a moment, "I'm sorry, could you…elaborate on that?"

"Of course," Shiran says. It's clear she's picking her words out carefully as she continues, "Several years ago, Dr. McCoy...did my father a great service. He saved his life when no one else—as a result, Dr. McCoy was—adopted by my clan-group."

"Adopted," Jim repeats.

Shiran inclines her head. "For lack of a better term, you could think of him as my…honorary uncle." There's another, longer pause while Jim and Uhura try to wrap their heads around this. Jim can't speak for Uhura, but he's mostly failing. As if to fill the silence, Shiran adds, "He never—Dr. McCoy was never fully comfortable discussing the circumstances of his connection to my family. I didn't think it was right to push for—an open acknowledgement."

That's not even the beginning of a real explanation for how Jim didn't know about this, and even though there are much bigger things going on, a part of Jim's brain is stuck on Shiran's words about the Academy, about how long

There's something off about this, and it's not just the stilted, formal language Shiran's using. Granted, Jim doesn't know her that well, but there's still something strange in the way she's speaking like every sentence is a minefield to be picked through carefully. "So you're saying most people don't know that you're related," he presses, and Shiran nods.

"No," she agrees. "Well, many Andorians would—it would be easy for them to know about it, but hardly the sort of thing—" She cuts herself off, and says, "I don't know how the kidnappers would be aware of my connection to Dr. McCoy, unless…sir, is it possible they could have gotten access to my Starfleet file? Or his? I am listed as one of his emergency contacts, sir."

"His mother's listed as his next of kin," Jim says, caught off-guard.

"Yes, sir, and she lives on Earth, potentially light-years away from her son. On this ship, I am the closest kin that Dr. McCoy has."

"Right," Jim says, his voice faint. "Right, of course. And there's nothing else you can think of?"

"No, sir, I can't," Shiran says. "I—there are leads, aren't there?" Jim looks at her, seeing the anxiety on her face. "On his disappearance, I mean, and who might have taken him—"

"Yes," Jim says, putting as much reassurance into his voice as he can. "We've got several good leads."

Shiran's shoulders slump a little bit as she nods. "Good. I'm—very relieved to hear that, sir."

After she's gone, Uhura says slowly, "Leonard never mentioned—I didn't know they were related."

"Neither did I," Jim says, and Uhura gives him a quick sidelong glance. "He never said anything to me about it."

To her credit, Uhura doesn't try to offer up an explanation or an excuse. She just says quietly, "I know it's early yet, but I don't see Shiran being involved in this."

"Yeah, I don't either," Jim agrees. "But I'd still like to know how those kidnappers knew that they were related."


McCoy wakes up on a hard surface, with a dry mouth and a pounding head. He's already groaning before he even opens his eyes, and he realizes there's something seriously wrong.

McCoy manages to lift his aching head and stare, uncomprehending, at the ropes tying his wrists together in front of him and holding his ankles together.

"You're finally awake," a female voice says coolly from his left. McCoy rolls onto his side until he sees a woman—the woman from the street, he realizes with dawning alarm—standing in a corner of this dark room.

There's a man behind her, tall and burly, and the scowl on his face isn't making McCoy feel any better about his current situation. McCoy awkwardly, after a fair amount of twisting his body, manages to rise so that he's at least sitting up, leaning against the wall of what looks like a cell.

"I was thinking we might have given you too strong a dose," the woman continues, her voice light. "You were supposed to be awake nearly an hour ago."

"Sorry to keep you waiting," McCoy snaps before he can think twice, pulling at the restraints even though he can see the phasers strapped to their hips, and there's not much reason to think they're set on stun.

It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together and come up with the obvious. "Where the hell am I?"

"On my ship," the woman says, deliberately vague. "And no, you don't need to know anything more than that."

"I'd beg to differ," McCoy shoots back, even if he knows it's ridiculous to do that, with the glint in her eyes. He looks at her for another minute, and then says abruptly, "That story of yours, about being on Tarsus, that was all a lie, wasn't it."

"No, that was the truth," she says. "And I do remember you, Dr. McCoy—I remember the day the palace guards brought you to the palace, you and that other doctor—Dr. Boyce, wasn't it? They dragged both of you there in chains, even though both of you could barely walk at that point, you were so thin and weak—"

"Enough," McCoy snaps, his voice harsh. He takes an unsteady breath, and then continues. "You've made your goddamn point." He pulls again, futilely, at the restraints, and spits out, "But other than my name, my rank, and the stardate, I'm not sure what the hell you think you're gonna get from me."

The woman just smirks at him. "It's not what you have, Dr. McCoy, it's what you can bring."

McCoy's forehead wrinkles as he tries to puzzle this out. "You're looking for a ransom," he says slowly, and the woman grins at him.

"Got it in one."

"Starfleet's never going to pay," McCoy says flatly, quelling the tiny burst of panic in the back of his mind. He knows Starfleet won't pay—but at the same time, there's Jim, and the Enterprise, and he knows Jim isn't going to leave him here.

The woman smirks at him. "Oh, I'm not expecting Starfleet to pay a single credit. The Andorian Mining Consortium, on the other hand…" she shrugs theatrically. "I think they'll pay whatever I ask them to."

McCoy's mouth is dry, but he somehow manages to choke out, "They won't."

She tilts her head, her smile getting broader. "Who's the liar now?"


It's Leonard's first time going offworld, and he's about to make a complete ass of himself.

He's never liked shuttles, spent his first ride at the age of seven tucked against his mother's side, whimpering pitifully with his eyes squeezed shut. And at the age of eighteen, he's not that much better. They haven't even flown out of Earth's atmosphere yet, and he's already ready to throw up.

He bites his lip, trying to keep the nausea and panic down. The older woman sitting next to him gives him a dubious glance, and then says dryly, "If you're going to vomit, I suggest that you aim as far away from me as possible."

Leonard tries to give her a quick, reassuring smile, but given how he's probably a sickly shade of green right now, he doubts he's pulling it off. "No, no, I'm fine."

"Sure you are," she says, clearly not buying it. "You're so green you look half-Vulcan, and you're going to sit there and act like you're fine. Is it airsickness or aviophobia?"

Leonard swallows, his hands tightening on the straps holding him to his seat. "Little of both," he admits quietly. "But I've got it under control."

"Uh huh," she replies, sounding and looking even more dubious. "The meds won't work for the airsickness?"

"Allergic," Leonard tells her, and she whistles.

"Well, that's bad luck. For you and for me, if you end up vomiting all over this seat." She doesn't sound remotely sympathetic.

"I have no intentions of vomiting anywhere, thank you," Leonard says, his formal manners springing up as a defense mechanism. As if to prove him wrong, the shuttle lists to one side, and Leonard's heart leaps into his throat. "Oh fuck," he groans quietly before he can stop himself, and he can see the woman grinning out of the corner of his eye.

"Try and take your mind off it, Dr. McCoy," she tells him, and Leonard's eyes widen for a second.

"You know who I am?" he asks, surprised.

She raises an eyebrow at him. "The eighteen-year-old boy genius from Georgia that everyone's talking about? Yeah, I've heard a thing or two about you." She looks him over for a moment, and then puts out her hand. "I'm Phil Boyce."

Now Leonard's eyes are going wide for a different reason. "Wait, as in—Dr. P.L. Boyce?"

"Yes," she says, fighting amusement at Leonard's gaping, but he can't help it—he's read so many of her papers, including her study on how to treat PTSD in confined areas in space, such as a starship—

"Glad to hear my reputation precedes me," she says dryly, but the corners of her mouth are twitching up in a smile.

"But I thought you were serving in Starfleet, on the Yorktown," Leonard says. "What are you—"

"I resigned my commission," she says, her voice a little cooler now. Leonard's learned by now when not to press for information, and there's nothing in her voice that's inviting him to ask why she's no longer in Starfleet. After a moment, Dr. Boyce glances at him and continues, her voice friendlier now, "Once I left Starfleet, I was rather at loose ends for a bit, and when I heard about this study taking place on Tarsus IV, thought I might as well sign up." She glances at him again, and remarks, "First time offworld for you, I take it."

"How did you—" Dr. Boyce crooks an eyebrow at him, and Leonard cuts himself off, and says, more sheepish, "Guess it's pretty obvious, then."

"Just a little bit," Dr. Boyce agrees. "But you haven't thrown up yet, and I haven't been forced to exact revenge, so I'd call it a victory so far."

Despite the fact that his heart's still pounding, and he still can't bring himself to look out the window, Leonard has to smile. "Yeah. I guess you're right."


Jim's halfway through gamma shift, and he's still working. He doesn't want to do anything else, can't do anything else. Except there's only so much he can do in the first place.

Right now Security's going through the footage from Risa with a fine-tooth comb, searching for any missed clues, any faces in the crowd that reappear one too many times, for the dark-haired man who stabbed Bones in the neck with a hypospray and helped snatch him away—

Right now Communications is studying the data packet as carefully as they can, taking apart the encryption codes and trying to pinpoint the source, even studying the syntax of a two-sentence note that Jim can recite from memory, because it's been burned into his brain.

Jim could go and observe them, he knows that. He could stand over Andrews' shoulder, or watch Uhura and Spock crack apart the codes of that data packet until everything's hopefully unraveled, until they get that much closer to finding out who has Bones, and how they can bring him back safely.

He could do that, except it doesn't help anyone—as Spock had pointed out, as carefully and tactfully as he could—to have the captain looking over their shoulders, watching and judging them at their jobs, not when so much is at stake, not when everyone's nerves are already ratcheted to the breaking point.

When Jim's nerves are already ratcheted to the breaking point.

Part of Jim's wishing, fervently, that he had the luxury of falling apart, the excuse to just go out of his mind with worry and fear, except that he can't do that. Not just because Bones is depending on him to keep it together, but because Jim's got a shipful of beings who all expect the same thing, who count on him to have the answers, or to at least look like he does, even when he's just as much in the dark as the rest of them.

There's something in him, the small quiet part of his brain that's always watching everything he does—the part that didn't really exist, if he's honest, until he stepped on that shuttle in Riverside—that knows he's not just keeping it together because it's his duty as Captain, but because if he can keep it together, that means he's still in charge of the mission to rescue Bones, that means he's still got some control left over this, no matter how miniscule it might be.

Jim refuses to think that's wrong—he's the Captain, it's his duty to bring back any missing member of his crew—except this isn't just another crew member, this is his CMO, this is Bones, and his judgment is—

His judgment's fine. He has to bring Bones back, it would be the same for anyone else in the same situation, and his emotions aren't a problem here. It's his duty to bring Bones back. And if he needs, on a purely personal level, for that to happen, for Bones to be returned to him, safe and sound—then so much the better, as far as Jim and Starfleet regs are concerned.

There's a soft beep from his computer, and Jim acknowledges it to hear the sound of Lieutenant Koothrappali's apologetic voice saying, "Sir, you have a message coming in from Starfleet Command. From Admiral Pike, to be precise. Should I put him through?"

Jim doesn't let himself hesitate. "Yeah, put him through."

Not a second later, Pike's face is up on the vidscreen. "I got the word about McCoy, Jim, I'm sorry," he says, his face sympathetic. Jim just nods, and asks after a moment, "Did you read my report?"

"I did, and it was extremely thorough, I was just checking in to see if there have been any new leads since then." Pike's looking at him like he can see everything in Jim's head. He's always looked at Jim like that, but this is just one of the rare times Jim has truly resented it.

"Nothing too new so far, sir. Except we noticed a detail about the data packet that seemed out of place—for some reason, the kidnappers sent it directly to an ensign in Communications, Ensign Shiran Tokrei—"

Pike's forehead furrows as he interrupts, "Wait, the kidnappers sent the packet to McCoy's niece?"

Jim stops talking and stares at him. Finally he says, in a voice that's nowhere close to steady, "I thought I'd have to explain to you who she was."

"No," Pike replies. "You don't have to explain who she is. Or how she's connected to McCoy. Although I would like to know how the kidnappers know she and McCoy are related—"

"Join the club," Jim says, with a snap to his voice that he's not at all trying to hold back. "Ensign Shiran thinks the kidnappers somehow got access to Bones' Starfleet file, she's listed as an emergency contact—"

"But that suggests they were going after McCoy in particular," Pike says, cutting in. "They weren't going after any available Starfleet officer, or even an officer onboard the Enterprise—if that's true, then they wanted McCoy specifically."

"Right," Jim agrees, and it's nothing he hasn't realized already, a thread of logic with an inevitable conclusion. And yet somehow, just hearing the words out loud—they wanted him specifically, they studied him and followed him until they could catch him, alone and unawares, when he was vulnerable—

"Jim?" Jim focuses again on Pike's face, the lines deepening in his forehead as he looks at Jim, clearly concerned.

"How'd you know that Shiran was Bones' niece?" Jim asks abruptly.

Pike's face smoothes out, and he says, "It's in his file, Jim."

"But I'm betting that's not how you found out," Jim presses, and it's nothing more than a hunch, but it turns out to be true, because there's a flicker of something on Pike's face, something that tells Jim he's on the right track, that there's more to this than he's being told.

Jim looks at Pike and asks bluntly, "What aren't you telling me?"

Pike does him the courtesy of not responding immediately; then, obviously choosing his words carefully, "You're not being kept in the dark, Jim. You know everything that's connected to McCoy's kidnapping."

"That's great," Jim says, failing to keep the edge out of his voice. To be fair, he's not trying all that hard. "But you're not answering my question."

Pike's quiet for a moment, his face grave. "That's because I can't," he finally says, and anger flares in Jim's stomach. Before he can say anything, before he can yell, Pike adds, "Jim, if I thought you really had to know, I'd tell you. But I don't see how you do."

"Let me make that decision," Jim snaps, and Pike's shaking his head.

"I can't, that's not your call to make, Jim. It never was your call." Jim goes still at that sentence, because he can hear the subtext in it, which Pike meant for him to hear—if McCoy didn't tell you, then I won't.

If he were still in the Academy, this would have been the moment he would have gone off. But he's not in the Academy, and he doesn't have that luxury anymore. So Jim straightens his shoulders and asks, his voice formal, "Is that all, Admiral?"

Pike's face is weary now. "Jim," he says, his voice gentler. "You're going to find him."

"Yeah," Jim replies. "I know I am."


Alone in his cell, his wrists still bound in front of him, McCoy tries not to panic.

He knows he's on a ship, because he can hear the faint hum of the engines. Where he is beyond that is anyone's guess. He could still theoretically be in spacedock orbiting Risa, although it's unlikely given that the alarm must have been sounded by now, that the Enterprise and Jim has to be aware that he's been missing for—however long it's been. A day at least, although he can't be sure.

Whoever these people are, they know a hell of a lot more about him than he does about them. They know about Tarsus, about his connection to Talen and the Consortium, and as much as he hates to think it, he knows they aren't wrong when they say the Consortium will pay the ransom. They'll pay every credit asked, and McCoy knows he should find some measure of relief in that certainty, but his mind keeps going over the reactions of his mother, of Talen, of Zora back on Andor—

He can't think about that right now. He can't think about whether his mother will be rocked by this news, or whether some small part of her saw this disaster coming from the moment he signed up for Starfleet.

Instead, he focuses on how he's not dead yet, and how—aside from the restraints, the imprisonment, and the ransom— he hasn't, in fact, really been mistreated.

It makes sense, of course, they wouldn't want to damage the golden goose. At least not until they get their payday, and what happens after that is something McCoy's not prepared to think about just yet.

McCoy keeps his breathing steady, flexes his fingers and makes sure that his circulation's still fine, and starts reciting the causes and symptoms of the Bajoran plague, pages of the textbook he studied in med school appearing in his mind.

He's moved on to Tellarite measles by the time his kidnappers walk back into the room. The woman enters first, that ever-present smirk on her face, her eyes cold and her hand on her phaser, and McCoy forces himself to focus on her face.

"Dr. McCoy," she says politely. "Sorry about the restraints."

"Yeah," McCoy shoots back, the sarcasm automatic, "I'm sure you're real broken up about it."

Her smirk gets a little broader, and she takes the phaser out of her holster and waves it at him. "Hold your arms out in front of you. If you try to make a move, even if it's just to scratch your nose—I'll shoot you in the head. Do we understand each other?"

McCoy sets his teeth and nods. The woman turns her head and nods at the bulky man behind her, who's pulling a knife from his belt.

McCoy holds his arms out, and does not flinch as the knife comes near his hands, as the blade slides between his wrists—and cuts the rope. The man pulls the knife back and McCoy shakes the ropes loose, rubbing at his wrists as he glares at them both.

"Okay, you've untied me. Does that mean I get to ask just what the hell you're trying to accomplish here?"

The woman smiles at him, while the man just sneers beneath his goatee. For a second, McCoy's reminded of Security Chief Andrews, and thinks darkly that this guy could be his evil sibling, with the build, the goatee, and the cropped dark hair. "I should think that would be obvious, Doctor," she says, her voice chiding. "We're trying to get rich, of course."

"Listen to me," McCoy begins, as calmly as he can, "—you've got this all wrong. My connection to the Consortium is very tenuous, it's a formality—"

The woman snorts. "Considering the chairman of the Consortium attended your wedding and your graduation from Starfleet Academy, I sincerely doubt that's true."

"They won't pay," McCoy immediately snaps back. "You'll get caught and you won't see a single credit. Is that what you really want?"

Instead of replying, the woman turns back and nods again, and the door opens as another person comes in, a younger man with a head of messy light brown hair, a tray of food in his hands.

The woman's phaser is pointing directly at his head as the other guy approaches, and McCoy carefully takes the tray and stares down at the food—which seems to be some kind of stew, an apple, and a glass of water.

He looks up, eyebrow raised. "This drugged?"

"If I wanted you drugged, you'd be drugged and focusing only on the pretty colors and dancing elephants," the woman tells him, the phaser lowered back down to her side. "The food's fine. Eat."

McCoy knows he should. God knows when they're going to feed him again, and he needs to keep his strength up, but anxiety's turned his insides to a mess of knots, and he really doesn't want to eat right now, especially not with three unfriendly, if not outright antagonistic, gazes watching his every move.

But refusing the food would be stupid, and McCoy has to be smart here. So he lifts the spoon and starts to eat the stew, noting the presence of potatoes, carrots, various other vegetables, and some kind of meat.

He keeps eating, and finally asks, "Do any of you have names, or should I just refer to y'all as Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3?"

The woman chuckles. "I'm Lara," she says after a moment, and McCoy's eyes flicker up in surprise. Her mouth quirks as she adds, "It's not my real name, but it'll do for you."

"Fair enough," McCoy mutters, taking another mouthful of the stew. He swallows and says, his voice heavy, with as much sincerity as he can muster, "They won't pay. However much you're going to ask them for, they won't pay a single credit."

"I'll be asking for 1.5 billion in latinum bricks," the woman clarifies, and McCoy's shocked into silence at the number, and the casual way she drops it. "And they'll pay, Dr. McCoy, you and I both know that, and it's useless of you to try and pretend otherwise. Disingenuous doesn't look good on you."

McCoy can't speak. All of his words have flown right out of his head, and he just stares as Lara steps closer, the phaser still in her hand. "They'll pay," she says, absolute certainty in her voice. "For you, for one of the heroes of Tarsus who helped save all those Andorian lives—I think they'll hand over every credit I ask for. And for your sake, you'd better hope I'm right."


"So, Dr. McCoy—how do you find yourself enjoying your stay so far?"

Leonard swallows his mouthful of food and looks up from his plate to meet the governor's gaze. Governor Kodos looks like nothing but a genial host, interested in one of his guests, but Leonard is also acutely aware that everyone at the table is listening to their exchange right now.

"I'm enjoying it very much, sir," he says, clearing his throat and willing his cheeks to keep from flushing. "The facilities are excellent—" that's an exaggeration, they're closer to adequate than excellent, but he thinks he can be forgiven a little bit of hyperbole for the sake of politeness, "—and I'm looking forward to my time here."

That part, at least, is the honest truth, and near the head of the table where Kodos is sitting, Leonard can see Dr. Hadrian, the director of the study, nodding at him in approval.

Considering that Dr. Hadrian is the one that Leonard's looking to impress the most over the course of this year, this can only be something of a good start. Hadrian's widely respected in the medical community—a glowing recommendation from him would get Leonard to absolutely anywhere he wants to go in the entire galaxy, never mind Earth.

So if Leonard has to mind his words and flatter a few people, then that's fine with him.

"I must say, I am pleased to see a young doctor of your caliber and intelligence involved in this study," Governor Kodos continues. "Your accomplishments are all the more impressive considering the short amount of time you've had to achieve them—but that is only to your credit, of course."

It's hardly the first time Leonard's gotten attention for his age, and God knows it won't be the last, but it's bringing that damned flush to his cheeks, regardless. "Well, I've…been lucky, sir." It's only partly true, he's also worked hard for everything he's gotten, put in time and effort for years—but it's not the sort of thing he talks about at length, particularly at a table full of strangers he's looking to impress, or at the least to keep from offending.

Governor Kodos doesn't look offended, at least, remarking, "I hardly doubt it can all be laid at the feet of luck, Dr. McCoy. After all, all men are at some time masters of their fate."

The phrasing of the sentence sounds familiar to Leonard, but thank God, one of the Andorians—Tiren Sorja, Leonard thinks his name is—speaks up, taking the attention off Leonard as he interjects smoothly, "Far be it from me to dispute your Shakespeare, Governor, but I would argue that fortune plays a role in the fate of all beings."

As Kodos shifts in his seat, turning towards Tiren, Leonard refrains from letting out a sigh of relief. It's not that Leonard doesn't want to be the center of attention, it's just that—well, he doesn't want to be the center of attention. At least not for his age, Christ.

"You handled that very well, I thought," the Andorian female to his right says kindly, and Leonard turns his head to look at her.

His first thought is that she doesn't seem much older than he is—or rather, that she appears to be the youngest of the delegation here representing the Andorian Mining Consortium. "Thanks," Leonard says, his voice a bit sheepish. "Felt like I was getting a bit tongue-tied there for a minute."

Her expression of interest turns into bewilderment as she asks, "I've never heard of—human tongues can be tied?"

"Oh, no, no," Leonard says hastily, "—sorry, that's—that's just an expression, I just meant that I was about to start fumbling there for a moment. With my speech, I mean."

He glances back up at the head of the table, where Governor Kodos and Tiren are now deep in discussion, with Dr. Hadrian interjecting comments at intervals, clearly trying to become part of the conversation, and not succeeding all too well from the look of it. "Your friend seems to be doing really well, though."

"Tiren is very gifted at diplomacy and discourse," she says, and adds, "Of course, he made a point of studying Shakespeare before arriving on the colony, as the governor is reportedly such a great admirer of those works."

"Yeah, that line did sound familiar," Leonard says—briefly wishing someone had mentioned to him that little detail before attending this banquet. He might have looked up a soliloquy or two to memorize, just in case.

God, I hate all this politicking, he thinks to himself in irritation, before turning his attention back to his neighbor, who at least isn't as intimidating a conversationalist as the governor. "Sorry, I don't think we've been introduced properly—I'm Leonard McCoy."

She smiles at him and, to his surprise, offers her hand. "I am Zora Lire Reijal," she says clearly. Her grip is firm and her gaze is steady, and Leonard wonders briefly if Shakespeare's not the only thing they studied before arriving on Tarsus, since he doubts that handshakes are an Andorian custom, but that's not fair, he reminds himself, nor is it particularly gracious. She's trying to put him at his ease, after all, and the least he can do is attempt to reciprocate.

"So," Leonard says, casting about for a topic of conversation, "—how long have you been on Tarsus?"

The rest of the banquet goes easily enough—Leonard uses all the right forks at all the right moments, and he and Zora actually hit it off, to a degree. By the time they've all left the Governor's palace, and Leonard's walking with the rest of his colleagues to the lab and their living quarters underneath the light of Tarsus' two moons, Leonard's starting to feel more at ease.

Even if he's hoping it'll be a while until the next time he's required to get all dressed up and sit through another awkward—yet delicious—dinner at the governor's table.


It's not quite 0900 when the kidnappers finally contact the Enterprise. Jim's in his ready room, looking over the intelligence gathered by Security, which isn't much so far—they've still combing through witness statements and vid feeds, and mostly coming up empty.

When he gets the comm, Jim doesn't even remember how he gets to the bridge, just that he appears, breathless, to see Spock getting up out of the captain's chair and Uhura turning to him, her eyes wide as she says, "Sir, it's them, they say they have something they want to show us—"

Jim doesn't pause, walking towards his chair, as he snaps out, "Put them on speaker, Lieutenant, and as for whatever it is they're sending, I want a copy sent to Lieutenant Andrews—"

"They're sending—" Uhura stops, and then says, surprised, "—they're sending a video feed, Captain."

"Show it on the screen," Jim snaps, and all the air leaves his lungs in a rush as the screen shifts from a view of the stars and space to a recording of—

It's Bones, sitting up against a wall, head tilted up as he talks to whoever's standing in front of him. He's got a tray of food in his lap, oh thank God, at least they're feeding him, but he's not eating anymore, instead he's talking, the look on his face urgent, filled with worry and then alarm at whatever it is he's hearing—

And then the feed starts over again, a continuous loop.

"Captain, we're being hailed, should I—"

"Put them on, Lieutenant, I want to talk to them." He waits, aching with impatience until Uhura nods, and then begins to speak. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise, to whom am I speaking?"

A rasping chuckle, and then a computerized voice begins to speak. "I don't think you need actual names at this point, do you, Captain Kirk?" Shooting a glance at Uhura, who's already hard at work trying to decrypt the voice so that it stops that computerized voice. "You already know everything you need to know about us—we have your CMO, and he's unharmed. So far."

Jim's staring at the screen, watching the loop of Bones play again, watches him set down his utensil and speak. From this angle, he can't see the faces of whoever he's talking to, just their legs, their hands. And Bones' face, dusted with two days' worth of stubble, looking tired and drawn.

"So far?" he presses.

"So far," the voice repeats smoothly, despite the robotic voice that's been scrubbed of inflection and personality. "Whether that holds true depends on whether you can get me what I want."

"And what, exactly, do you think I can get you?" Jim asks, and he can hear the exasperation and strain in his voice, and he doesn't need to see Spock glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, silently cueing him to rein it back in.

"A ransom, of course," the voice replies. "Isn't that what all kidnappers want?"

Something in Jim starts to barely—just barely—ease at those words. Money's simple, money's easy. Yes, Starfleet's official position is that they won't pay a ransom for kidnapped officers, but Jim knows enough to know that there's an unofficial fund for these kinds of situations. Jim can call in every favor he's owed, and pass out favors himself if he has to, and he can get Bones back with Starfleet's help.

If the ransom's not too high. "Sounds simple enough," he says, still not relaxing into his chair. "Why don't you tell me how much you're looking for, and I'll tell you if it's possible."

"Oh, it's possible. And it's non-negotiable, Captain Kirk." Computer voice or no, the smugness is palpable, and it's an effort to keep from gritting his teeth. There's a pause—for dramatic effect, Jim's guessing—and the voice starts speaking again, and in his shock, Jim momentarily forgets to be angry.

"Tell your superiors that if we don't get 1.5 billion in latinum bricks, you and everyone on your ship will need to get your dress uniforms ready for Dr. McCoy's funeral. You have two weeks from this date to gather the ransom—"

"You have got to be joking," Jim chokes out in disbelief, forgetting to be politic, forgetting his poker face in the wake of—1.5 billion credits' worth of latinum bricks?

"Ask Starfleet whether Dr. McCoy's life is worth that much," the voice replies. "Better yet, ask Ensign Shiran Tokrei, or any other Andorian officer on your ship. I'm sure their answers will be very interesting. Goodbye, Captain Kirk."

The transmission cuts out before Jim can draw breath to protest, to yell out that this is impossible, that it's insane—and he's left with nothing. Even the video loop of Bones disappears in a wink and a flash, and Jim's left staring out at the stars and the shocked faces of his bridge crew, all of whom have turned to him with horror and disbelief in their faces.

"Lieutenant," Jim snaps out once he can force his tongue into working again. "Lieutenant Uhura, report."

"I can't trace the transmission, sir," Uhura says, sounding shaken. "It's encrypted, and I'd need more time to break the code."

Into the silence, Sulu's the first to speak. "Is—does Dr. McCoy come from a wealthy family?"

"No," Jim says, already getting out of his chair, and nodding for Spock and Uhura to follow him.

"But sir," and that's Chekov speaking now, "Starfleet will never agree to pay that sort of—"

"Lieutenant Sulu, you have the conn," Jim says, cutting into Chekov's dazed speculations. "Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, with me—and wherever Ensign Shiran is, I want her to join us in the ready room immediately."

*

Jim barely waits for the door to close behind him before snapping out, "What the fuck."

He's cut down on the profanity since he became captain—it doesn't do to let people think he doesn't have ahold of himself, but there are times when profanity really is the only option, and this is absolutely one of those times.

Uhura's already on the comm, hailing Ensign Shiran. Spock, meanwhile, is standing in his customary pose, hands folded behind him, but his jaw's set as he declares, "Clearly there are facts about Dr. McCoy's personal life that have a bearing upon his kidnapping, facts that we do not know yet." Jim's gotten good at reading Spock, and right now everything about him, the way he's carrying himself, the look on his face, says he's pissed off about being kept in the dark, almost as pissed off as Jim is.

If Jim were in the mood to be feeling comforted, he almost would have been by that fact. "They're asking for 1.5 billion in latinum bricks, and it's not because they think Starfleet's going to foot the bill, so yeah, I think we haven't been told a few things," he says. "Uhura, where the hell is she?"

"She's on her way," Uhura says, walking away from the console and coming towards the table. "I never heard—" She stops and starts again, her voice a little softer this time, "I had no idea about—"

What she didn't know about, Jim doesn't hear, because the door's sliding open and Shiran's walking through, her face anxious, her eyes and antennae darting around the room as she asks, "Captain, have we heard from the kidnappers? Do we know what their demands are?"

Jim almost unconsciously straightens as she walks in, and whatever she sees on his face makes her fall silent, eyes wide. "Yes," Jim says finally. "We did get their demands. Take a seat, Ensign."

Shiran glances from him to Uhura, then moves to sit at the table. Jim doesn't bother sitting down, and neither does Spock or Uhura. '"The kidnappers contacted us, and they want a ransom," he says, watching her closely. There's a flash of relief on her face as she continues to listen, and Jim drops the rest of it to see how she'll react. "They're asking for 1.5 billion in latinum bricks, Ensign."

Jim's looking for a reaction, and he's got it; Shiran's eyes go huge and she gapes at him, clearly shocked. "They want that much—"

"Yeah, they do," Jim continues, relentless. "And then they told me to ask you why."

Shiran's eyes go even wider, and then she says after a moment, "It's because of the Consortium—the Andorian Mining Consortium. They're the ones who will pay the ransom."

It's so out of left field that for a moment Jim can only blink. "The Andorian Mining Consortium's going to pay a fortune to get back one Starfleet officer," he says, his voice flat.

Shiran continues to look him in the eye and says, her voice certain, "Yes."

"Why."

"Because the chairman of the Consortium is Dr. McCoy's uncle," Shiran says simply.

Jim waits a moment, to be sure his voice is going to remain even, and then says, "So this is a case of another adopted relative, Ensign?" Jim couldn't stop the sarcasm from bubbling up if he tried, and he's not trying very hard right now.

Shiran doesn't wilt. Instead she says, "Yes, sir. I apologize for not speaking up about this earlier," and Jim works hard to keep from snorting, or snapping back, "but I didn't think—" Shiran stops and corrects herself, "I didn't want to think there was a connection." She pauses for a second, then visibly steels herself and continues. "The incident where Dr. McCoy saved my father's life—it was not just his life that was saved. My father was part of—" She stops again, shaking her head and says, "Forgive me, but I'm not used to—actually telling people this story."

Another long pause, and Jim waits for what she has to say next, waits for the explanation of how this could have happened, why this happened to Bones.

Shiran lifts her face and says quietly, "Captain, my father was on Tarsus IV over fourteen years ago, working for the Consortium. It was a relatively small group of employees there, working on a potential mine—and then the famine hit." She looks at him and says, her voice even quieter, "That's where my father met Dr. McCoy, and that's where Dr. McCoy saved his life, along with the lives of every other Andorian who had been trapped on that planet during the famine."

There's absolute silence while Jim tries to find his voice, and when he does, he barely recognizes it. "That's impossible. Bones was never on Tarsus IV."

"He was," Shiran says, gently. "He was young at the time, he was there as a doctor working on an experimental study of mutations and he—he was there, sir, during the famine, and during the genocide. And that's how—that's how he became a member of my clan. After the rescue he was adopted into my keth, and into many other kethni as well, including the keth of the chairman of the Consortium. Somehow the kidnappers must have discovered this, and—and that's why they're asking for such a large ransom. Because the chairman can pay, and he will pay, for Leonard's safety."

Spock's the first to break the silence. "Captain," he says quietly, while Jim's head is still reeling, "—we must contact the Admiralty, and get in touch with the Consortium to verify what Ensign Shiran is telling us—"

"It is true," Shiran interjects, "Talen Sorja will pay." She sounds absolutely certain of this, and if Jim were willing to take anyone at their word now, he might find some comfort in that.

Jim drops his head and breathes heavily through his nose for a moment; when he lifts his head again, he says, his voice still flat, "Contact the Admiralty, and I want to talk to Pike. And make sure Andrews got the recording of the transmission. I want him to take a look at it too, see if there's any leads we can pick up from the video." He looks over at Uhura and asks quietly, "Do you think your department can decrypt it, figure out who we're really talking to?"

Uhura straightens her shoulders. "We'll do our best, sir."

Jim looks at Shiran and says, "I hope you're right about the Consortium. Because we can't afford what might happen if you're wrong."

*

Jim's staring at Pike's face on the vidscreen, trying to remember why it's a good idea to hang onto his temper right now.

"Jim, I know you're upset," Pike begins calmly. Fuck that noise, Jim thinks. If Jim's going to be feeling this unraveled, there is no way he's walking out of here before he sees Pike losing his cool as well.

"Oh, so you picked up on that, congratulations," Jim replies, snide in a way he can't remember ever being to Pike before. "You remember telling me earlier that I already knew everything I needed to know to deal with this? Well, you might want to rethink that, Admiral, because clearly I didn't, not when I'm being ambushed twice in less than five minutes, once by the kidnappers and then again by one of my own ensigns—"

"Jim," Pike cuts in sharply, "I understand how you feel, but I could not, legally, tell you anything about McCoy's experience on Tarsus IV until it became absolutely crucial for you to know." He pauses for a second to make sure Jim's not going to burst out in response to that, and then says, more calmly this time, "How much do you know about what happened on Tarsus IV, Jim?"

"Not as much as you do," Jim replies, and Pike cocks an eyebrow at him, silently asking whether he's done yet. So Jim inhales and says, "I was fourteen, living with my grandparents, and it was all over the newsfeeds, plus my mother—" Jim stops talking, as realization dawns.

"Your mother was on the Liberté, and she was part of the crew that aided in the rescue attempt," Pike finishes. "How much did she tell you about what happened?"

It takes a second for Jim to respond, and when he does, his tongue feels oddly thick in his mouth. "Not much." Jim remembers it though, it's one of the clearest memories he has of being fourteen, the newsfeeds, his grandparents quietly explaining that yes, his mother was over there, trying to help the survivors. His mother's face when she'd finally come back to Iowa on leave, over two months later, her face filled with shadows, the way she constantly reached out for him, as if to check that he was still there, still healthy and alive and safe.

Yeah, he remembers hearing about Tarsus. But there is no way for him to make his memories line up with the concept of Bones, his Bones, on that planet, on that colony, right in the middle of that disaster.

"Jim," Pike's saying now, "Tarsus was and still is a political minefield for Starfleet. The identities of the survivors were protected, shielded from the press—they still are shielded, and I don't think I need to tell you why that is."

No, Pike doesn't need to explain that to him. "That still doesn't explain why it was shielded from me. A member of my crew is kidnapped and I don't need to know that he's also the nephew of the chairman of one of the largest privately owned corporations in the Federation? You don't think that's something I need to know about, to understand why the hell he's been kidnapped in the first place?"

Pike holds his gaze, and then finally admits, "You're right. You should have been told."

Jim knows he's right, but hearing it from Pike doesn't actually make him feel any better. He sighs and says, "I should get Spock and Uhura in here, they should hear what you know about the chairman of the Consortium."

Pike nods in understanding. As Jim heads towards the console, he says, "Jim—it's a good sign that they're asking for a ransom."

"Yeah," Jim says, his eyes still dropped downward. "I know."

Spock arrives quickly, but Uhura doesn't make it—she's in the middle of organizing the efforts to decrypt the transmission, and she and Jim agree that it's better for her to focus on that right now. Spock comes into the ready room, sitting down next to Jim, and Jim ignores the careful glance that Spock sends his way.

"It seems obvious that we must get in contact with Talen Sorja and ascertain whether he and the Consortium are, in fact, willing to pay the ransom for Dr. McCoy's life," Spock says evenly.

"Well, you're going to find out soon enough," Pike replies. "Starfleet just received word that he's headed towards Risa to rendezvous with the Enterprise."

"I'm sorry," Jim says after a second, disbelieving, "—he's what?"

"He's heading for the Enterprise, Jim," Pike repeats. "Apparently he'd already gotten word of McCoy's kidnapping before Starfleet could contact him, and immediately set out from Andoria in his private ship. He should be there sometime tomorrow."

"How did he discover that Dr. McCoy had been kidnapped, if Starfleet didn't contact him?"

"I should probably rephrase that to say that no one had officially contacted him about Dr. McCoy's kidnapping, but it's not impossible that he has his own sources within Starfleet," Pike elaborates, adding, "—possibly even within your crew."

Jim thinks of Shiran, of the other Andorian crewmembers on the Enterprise, and he doesn't argue the point. Instead he asks the only question he cares about right now. "Is he going to pay?"

"He dropped everything the second he heard that McCoy had been kidnapped," Pike responds. "I think that's a good sign."

Jim nods and then says, after a moment. "I know a lot of the information's classified, but it'd be irresponsible not to see if there's another connection we've missed—I'd like to get access to the information Starfleet has on the Tarsus IV genocide. All of the information."

Pike nods, as if Jim's request doesn't surprise him. "Starfleet Intelligence has already compiled all their data regarding McCoy's time there; they've had that file for some time now. I'll see what I can do about getting you authorization to look at it."

Jim's eyebrow's going up at this. "Starfleet Intelligence has a file on Bones?"

"Starfleet Intelligence has a file on every survivor who's currently serving in the Fleet," Pike says. "Like I said, Jim, Tarsus is a political minefield."

No, Jim thinks, it's a minefield that he's somehow got to pick his way through now. "I'd appreciate it, sir, thank you."

"No need to thank me, Jim," Pike assures him. He hesitates like he's about to say more, then shares a glance with Spock that Jim pretends not to notice. They all say their goodbyes, and once Pike's signed off and the screen's gone dark, Jim doesn't get up from his seat.

"Are you well?"

Jim turns his head in Spock's direction, but doesn't meet his gaze. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"You keep saying that," Spock observes, in a tone absolutely devoid of inflection. At least if you didn't know him well.

Jim does look at him then, and he says flatly, "That's because it's true."

Spock inclines his head and thankfully stays silent. After a moment, Jim finally asks, "We should go see if Security's found anything new. And I need to talk to Shiran, see just how much she told the chairman."

"We still don't know if she is the one who—"

"Spock. Do you really think it wasn't her?"

Spock pauses, but admits, "No. I do not think that."

"Well, there you go," Jim says, getting up from his chair. "C'mon, Spock, daylight's burning." And the clock's winding down, but Jim won't let himself think too hard about that. That way lies madness—and crushing anxiety and worry—and none of that's going to do Bones any good.


"What are you doing?" Phil Boyce asks from the doorway of their shared kitchen, and Leonard looks up from his PADD, startled to see someone else awake at this late hour.

"Reading," he says, "—and baking too," he adds, glancing at the oven behind him.

"I can see that," Boyce says. "And smell it—what is that, peaches?"

"Peach cobbler," Leonard confirms. "Want to join me?"

He's almost expecting her to refuse—Dr. Boyce has got a bit of reputation among the other doctors for being standoffish, but to his surprise, she says, "All right, I will. If you don't mind sharing that is."

Ten minutes later, Boyce has taken her first bite and exclaims in surprise, "Well, that is delicious. Who taught you to cook like this?"

"My mother," Leonard explains as he cuts himself a slice—he'd served Dr. Boyce before serving himself, as was proper, and poured them both glasses of cold milk. "Summer before I went to college, she taught me nearly every recipe she knew." He sits down at the table and takes his own bite of the cobbler, chewing thoughtfully. "Not bad," he says finally. "Be better if I had fresh peaches to work with though, instead of packaged."

Dr. Boyce smiles as she takes another bite. "And those would be fresh peaches that came straight from Georgia, of course," she says, teasing.

"Well, that goes without saying," Leonard deadpans, and she chuckles in response.

They eat together companionably for a while, and then Dr. Boyce says, "You've been doing a good job here, you know. And not just in the lab—the clinic as well." She snorts suddenly. "A lab full of trained doctors, and you're one of the few who actually seems to know what he's doing when a patient presents with a case of the measles."

Leonard sits up a little straighter at the praise—Dr. Hadrian's already complimented him repeatedly, but there's a difference between Hadrian's easy praise and Dr. Boyce's straightforward assessment, and a little to his surprise, Leonard's finding that he values the latter more.

"Thanks," he says finally. "I used to help my dad with his practice, so I'm not totally new to working in a clinic, I suppose." He doesn't add that he actually likes working in the colony's clinic twice a week—likes being able to see patients instead of just being cooped up in the lab.

And speaking of patients—Leonard glances down at his PADD, then says hesitantly, "Actually—there's this patient I've seen a few times now that I'm a little concerned about, to tell you the truth. Do you mind if I run her casefile by you quickly?"

Dr. Boyce pushes aside her now empty plate and nods agreement, so Leonard clears his throat and starts explaining about the eighteen-year-old female patient who keeps coming to the clinic with a list of complaints, only for Leonard to always find that there's nothing wrong with her. "I can't decide if she's a hypochondriac or if there's something I'm just missing, so I thought that if you—" He stops talking, because there's a twist to Dr. Boyce's mouth that says she's fighting back a smile, and in annoyance, Leonard asks, "What?"

Boyce gives up the ghost and grins at him. "McCoy, she's not a hypochondriac, she's a teenage girl." When Leonard stares at her, confused, Boyce rolls her eyes and further explains, "She's not coming into the clinic because she's convinced herself she's dying of the plague, she's coming in because she wants you to turn those blue eyes of yours in her direction."

"Oh," Leonard says after a moment, when he's finished gaping. "Oh."

"My advice is that if you don't want to see her coming into the clinic for bogus reasons, you should just ask the girl out already," Boyce continues, and then adds, "Unless you aren't interested, or maybe you've already got something going on with that Andorian friend of yours—"

"Who, Zora?" Leonard asks, taken aback for the second time that night. "No, Dr. Boyce—Zora and I are just friends, really. In fact, I'm pretty sure she just sees me as an adorable younger cousin of hers who's just pinker than the norm." He's caught Zora looking at him more than once with an indulgent look on her face that says she'd pinch his cheeks if she thought she could get away with it.

He glances down at the file again and asks, just to be clear, "You're sure this girl—Janet—that she's really interested in me?"

"McCoy, I'm telling you it's clear as day what this Janet girl is really looking for—good Lord, she only ever comes in when you're on shift at the clinic," Boyce says, briskly. "New experience, I take it?" she asks, not unkindly, and Leonard nods after a minute, unable to deny it. He's always been the youngest person in his classes, and he hadn't gotten his growth spurt until he was about seventeen. As a result, most people have always looked at him the way Zora does now—like he's an adorable little sibling who needs to be protected, not the guy you want to go out on a date with.

"Something like that," he mutters, his face turning red.

"Nothing to be embarrassed about, McCoy," Boyce says. "It's been my experience that most teenage boys are oblivious as hell, nothing unusual about you missing the signals she was sending. Hand her file to another doctor, and then ask her out."

"All right, I will," Leonard decides. "Although I'm not sure what we'll be able to even do—it's still winter, after all."

"If you want to impress this girl, then I suggest you cook for her," Boyce suggests, "—since you obviously can manage that without giving anyone food poisoning. Between your cooking and that accent of yours, you'll be set, believe me."

Leonard grins. "Thanks for the advice, Dr. Boyce." Boyce shoots a glance at him, and says calmly, "You've fed me and I've given you advice on girls, McCoy—I think it's safe for me to call you by my first name."

"Phil?" he says, surprised, and she nods calmly while Leonard blinks. "Okay," he says. "Does it stand for Philippa, I always meant to ask if—"

"No, it stands for Philomena," Dr. Bo—Phil says grimly, "—and if you try calling me that, I'll make sure you regret it."

Leonard can't help smiling at that, but he says solemnly, "Fair enough, I'll keep it in mind. And you can call me Leonard. Or Leo, that's what everyone back home calls me." He'd tried to get Zora to start calling him that, but apparently Andorians didn't really go for nicknames, so it hadn't caught on with her.

She looks at him. "Leo. It suits you. All right then. And ask that poor girl out already, I think she's starting to run out of imaginary ailments to distract you with."

Leonard laughs, "I will, I will. Hey, my day off's coming up at the end of the week, I could probably—"

But Phil's shaking her head. "You can't, we've got another banquet at the governor's palace, and our attendance is mandatory, apparently."

Leonard blinks, dismayed for more than one reason, and then without thinking he bursts out, "But—do we really have to spend more time with—" He cuts himself off before he can finish, sure that he sounds whining and childish, but Phil just looks contemplative.

"Why do you say that?"

"It's just that we've been to several banquets already, and—" Leonard hesitates, but finally admits, "And Governor Kodos—I'm not sure I like some of the things he talks about."

It sounds ridiculous to his own ears when he tries to put it in words, but Phil is nodding in agreement and saying, "I was wondering if I was the only one who thought that vaunted education policy of his was a great big steaming pile of bullshit."

Relieved, Leonard grins and says, "No, you're definitely not. Zora doesn't like it either, we were talking about it and she says that a lot of the other Andorians aren't crazy about his ideas, but with this big mining deal they're trying to finalize—"

"They can't rock the boat by being too critical," Phil finishes for him. "No, I imagine not. Still, it's hardly my favorite pastime, eating a man's food while I listen to him make a jackass of himself in public."

Leonard won't argue there, but it's not even Kodos himself that's so troubling—it's the way that so many of the other people at the banquets actually seem to agree—Kodos' advisers, Dr. Hadrian and his other colleagues from the study, all of them just nodding their heads and tripping over themselves to concur with whatever Kodos is saying.

Leonard knows he's not entirely innocent of that—if he's not openly agreeing, then he isn't challenging Kodos either. But still, he echoes the conversation he's already had with Zora when he says, "I'm all for helping gifted children—but what about the average ones, the ones who are just smart, or even ordinary. Why don't they get the same opportunities to have an excellent education when they're young? If it's a matter of funding, that's one thing, but—I don't think it's about that."

"No, you're right," Phil agrees. "And the attitude behind his words—well, it gets me wondering if these are the sort of things he's willing to say in public, then what the hell is he thinking and saying in private, do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah," Leonard says. "I do."

*

It's not until Leonard looks over and sees the tightness of Zora's mouth that he finally decides to do something. And even if it doesn't feel like enough, like even close to enough, he clears his throat and says, "If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to get some fresh air—"

Kodos' daughter, Lenore, has already finished her recitation of Milton, so Kodos doesn't look offended, waving him off genially with a reminder that dinner will be starting soon, and the cooks have worked up a particularly delicious meal that he wouldn't want to miss.

If Leonard had a choice, he'd miss the entire meal, and all the banquets to follow, except he can't do that. All he can do is leave for a few minutes, and take Zora with him.

"Come with me for a minute," he mutters to Zora as he passes her, and she immediately goes with him, ignoring the knowing glances that get sent their way. Lenore Kodos is starting another recitation, her high, childish voice ringing out clearly, following them as they walk out of the room.

"Thank you for getting me out of there," Zora murmurs quietly once they're safely out of earshot.

"Don't worry about it, I couldn't stand to be there for a second longer myself," Leonard mutters out of the corner of his mouth as they turn a corridor and step out onto the balcony—

—only to find someone else already standing out there. "Oh," Leonard says, blinking as his eyes adjust to the twilight and he recognizes the person standing by the railing. "Sorry, we didn't realize someone else was out here."

Tiren Sorja blinks back at them, before saying politely, "There's no need to apologize, I was merely looking for...a quiet place in which to reflect."

"We'll leave you to your meditations," Zora says politely, ducking her head, but to their surprise, Tiren stops them.

"Wait," he says. "Dr. McCoy—might I ask you a question?"

Leonard blinks at him, glancing quickly to Zora, who looks nonplussed, and says, "Sure."

"Is it customary for all Terrans to send their children away in this manner? Or—or is it unique to this colony?"

Leonard hesitates, aware of how Zora's next to him, waiting for his response as well, and says finally, "It...can depend on the family, and their specific situation. But if you're asking me if I think the situation back there—" he jerks his head back toward the palace, "—is normal, then no. I don't."

It's the understatement of the year, honestly, and Leonard almost wishes he could feel a sense of vindication from having his suspicions of Kodos confirmed, but really, all he feels is queasy, and incredibly sorry for those "scholarship children" Kodos had adopted for the sake of his own ego and the chance to prove his theories correct.

And maybe he's being ungenerous, but he doesn't think so. The entire scene back there was just off, and he didn't need to see Zora's agitation, or Phil's pinched mouth, to get that feeling.

"On the face of it, the governor's actions seem...generous," Tiren says, clearly picking his words carefully. "Admirable, even."

"Sure," Leonard says. "If you don't think about the fact that the only kids getting those excellent educations are the ones Kodos deems worthy of it in the first place. I didn't hear him talking about how he's planning to improve the colony schools for all the children here, did you?"

Tiren nods. "I heard him talking with your colleague, Dr. Hadrian," he says. "They were discussing the implementation of new tests to accurately determine which children will benefit from Kodos' educational reforms."

Leonard looks at him and asks, wary, "Are they talking about intelligence assessments or genetic testing?"

Tiren's mouth twists as he admits, "I am not sure. That was the point at which I excused myself from the room."

Leonard can sympathize. He thinks of that room with the small group of children, with Kodos smiling over them all like a benevolent parent, and he can't blame Tiren for wanting to leave that room as soon as he could. All of Kodos' talk about "improving young minds" and "raising the leaders of a new generation on Tarsus," and how those who are meant to lead should "be given every opportunity to rise above the masses—all of it had Leonard losing his appetite before the meal had even begun. He thinks of Kodos' daughter Lenore, parroting her father's theories back at the guests in her high, childish voice.

He thinks about the little boy he and Zora had the chance to talk to for a few moments, and how the boy, Kevin, had confided about getting the chance to see his parents in a few weeks. When Zora had asked, with a worried glance at Leonard, how often Kevin got to see his family, the kid had just shrugged and said, "About every month or so."

No matter how much Kodos wanted to dress it up in pretty words and supposedly noble ideals, there was something rotten in that room, and it started with him.

"Do you know the part about this that I hate the most?" Zora says quietly. "We're all sitting out here, talking about how much we hate what's happening back there...but none of us are doing anything about it. We're not speaking out, we're just...turning our faces away. All of us."

"There's nothing else we can do," Tiren counters quietly. "We've been sent here with a task to fulfill, and no matter how distasteful Governor Kodos' policies and beliefs might me, it is not our place to challenge them."

The thing is that Tiren's not wrong. Leonard kept his mouth shut back there, so did Zora, and as awful as it is, he can't see what speaking up will even accomplish in the short or long run. But something in the way that Tiren puts it...it just sounds worse, when it's said out loud like that.

Zora seems to agree, looking at Tiren for a moment and then saying coolly, "Why, Tiren. Your logic's so faultless, I could almost mistake you for a Vulcan."

Leonard freezes, warily glancing between them. It's hard to tell in the darkness, but Tiren seems to stiffen up as well, before saying, his tone much more remote than before, "When you've finished out here, you'd do well to go back inside. Dinner will be starting soon, I believe." He moves past them, pausing only to nod at Leonard and say, in a tone of freezing politeness, "Dr. McCoy."

He doesn't acknowledge Zora at all as he walks out, and Leonard watches him leave before turning to Zora and asking, "What the hell was that about?"

Zora makes a face. "He's always like that."

"He's always like that, or do you mean that the two of you are always like that around each other?" Leonard asks, and she gives him a look.

"He just," she says, and then sighs loudly in frustration. "He always acts like some automaton, withdrawn and logical. I know he's in a hard position because of his father, but really, everyone can see right through it. It's ridiculous of him to behave that way."

"His father?" Leonard asks, and Zora looks up at him, surprised.

"I didn't tell you?" At Leonard's shake of the head, Zora explains, "Tiren's father is Talen Sorja, the chairman of the Consortium." At Leonard's raised eyebrow, she smiles and nods. "Exactly. This is a very important deal for us, and a huge responsibility for Tiren. He can't afford to have this go wrong."

"And he can't afford to piss off the governor," Leonard finishes. "Yeah, I can see that."

"So can I, but I don't like it," Zora says.

"Neither does Tiren, I bet," Leonard says, and Zora looks at him but doesn't say anything. What Leonard doesn't say is that none of them like it, and so far, it looks like none of them can do anything about it.


Jim finds Shiran at her console, working on the encryption of the ransom message. She glances up to see him, and quickly gets out of her chair. "Captain, is there any news?" she asks hopefully.

"Yeah, there's been news," Jim says. "Apparently Talen Sorja's already on his way to the Enterprise. Someone had already informed him that Dr. McCoy was kidnapped."

To her credit, Shiran doesn't drop her gaze, instead meeting it squarely, "I'm the one who told him, sir, if that's what you're asking. He would have found out sooner or later, and I—I had a duty, sir, to tell him."

"I don't care about that," Jim tells her. "The faster he gets here, the better. Ensign—he is going to pay the ransom?" There's a part of Jim that's stuck on the amount, on 1.5 billion in latinum, and he won't feel any relief until he hears that the ransom will absolutely be paid, until he sees Bones in front of him, safe and alive—

"He'll pay," Shiran says. "Captain—it's Leonard. He'll pay whatever he has to in order to keep him safe."

"Why?" Jim asks. "What the hell happened on Tarsus that—" He stops and says, more evenly, "It seems like what happened there has a lot to do with what's happening now. If you could help me understand this, I think it'd be an asset in my dealings with Talen. Okay?"

Shiran nods. "What Leonard did on Tarsus, what he and Dr. Boyce accomplished—it mattered. They didn't just save lives, they—they gave the chance to die well." She looks up into Jim's face and says, "With us…how you die matters, almost as much as how you live. It's important to—to leave this world well, to be courageous and strong in your death. On Tarsus, when Leonard discovered a way to extend the food supply for all the Andorians there—he saved them from dying as shriveled wraiths. They had the opportunity to fight, to resist. And yes, most of the Andorians on Tarsus died in the revolt, but they died well. That matters. It matters to the survivors like my father, and it matters to others as well. It matters to Talen Sorja, and that's why I know he'll pay. Even if he didn't think of Leonard as kin—and he does—he would still help for that reason."

"Okay," Jim says, and looking into Shiran's earnest face, something finally starts to ease inside of him. "Okay, then."

Shiran nods again, and then asks, tentative, "Forgive me for asking, Captain, but—are you all right?"

Jim swallows. "I'll be fine as soon as we get him back," he says, his voice rough, and means every word.

*

When Jim walks into the room, it's only Andrews waiting for him. "What do you have, Lieutenant?" he asks.

"Sir, we've got confirmation that Dr. McCoy was being trailed by the kidnappers. Not just that night, but for his entire stay on Risa."

Jim swallows. "His entire stay," he repeats, and it's a miracle that his voice stays even.

"Yes, sir," Andrews says, and turns on the vidscreen, and it's his own face that Jim sees, walking with Bones during the streets of Risa, and Jim remembers that day, that afternoon, and it's a shock to his system to see it laid out before him, his arm around Bones' waist, his face turned towards Bones, smiling at him.

Bones is smiling too, his body leaning into Jim's, his face bright and relaxed, just the way Jim loves to see—

"Where's the kidnapper?" Jim asks, and Andrews starts the vid, and as he and Bones walk off-camera, Jim sees him, the kidnapper lurking in the crowd, his face appearing and disappearing as other people walk past the camera.

"Goddammit," Jim murmurs under his breath.

"We've got more just like this—it's pretty clear he was scoping out the hotel where you were both staying. We think he was watching from the moment you two were on-planet."

They'd been on Risa for days, exploring the capital city during the day hours and returning to the hotel at night. Days of wandering the city together, and Jim hadn't noticed anything, hadn't suspected a single thing, hadn't seen the man following them.

"Sir?" Andrews hesitantly prods after a moment, and Jim turns to him, trying to keep the anger off his face. From Andrews' sympathetic expression, he's not doing too well at that. "Captain, we've also managed to ID the kidnapper. His name's Dax Clark, he's originally from the Bereus colony, and he's got a criminal record longer than a Trivoxian tongue. Assault, assault with a deadly weapon, theft—and then five years ago he went off the grid, and as far as we can tell so far, nobody's heard from him since."

"Until he kidnapped a Starfleet officer," Jim says, staring up at the mug shot of Dax Clark, right into the scowling face on the screen.

"Everything he's done before this—at least everything on his record—sir, I don't think he's the brains behind this. My bet is there's somebody else running the show."

And Jim's mind flashes back to that slim figure on the street, talking to Bones, the cap of blond hair, and how there was never a face turned in the direction of the camera for them to see. "Yeah," he says, not taking his eyes away from the screen. "I think you're right."

*

When Jim gets back to his quarters later, there's another data packet waiting for him in his personal account. This one's from Pike, and Jim already has a good idea of what it is before he opens it.

There's a letter from Pike preceding everything else, and Jim forces himself to read it. It simply begins, Dear Jim, and goes on from there, and Jim can hear Pike's steady voice as he reads on.

There's honestly nothing in the letter that Jim doesn't expect—a warning about the contents of the file, reassurances that he doesn't have to look at this, that he won't be failing Bones if he doesn't. He tells Jim that what's in the file is traumatizing, and awful, and a glimpse into one of the worst disasters in Starfleet's history.

That what Jim needs to remember is that Bones survived, that he made it out.

It's all nothing Jim wasn't already expecting, and none of it changes his mind. He needs to know, and if he can't hear it from Bones, then this is how he's going to find out. His gut's insisting that somehow Tarsus is at the bottom of this, that it's ground zero, the focal point of this entire fucking mess.

So Jim reads Pike's letter, and then closes it, and opens up the rest of the packet with nothing more than a steadying breath to see him through.

The first thing he sees stops that breath cold.

It's Bones, a picture of Bones, and he looks so young—nineteen, a part of Jim's brain reminds him, he was nineteen when this was taken—but he looks so young in this that it hurts to look back at him, his eyes—

Jim stops and frowns, looking at the picture more closely. "Computer, magnify," he orders, and the picture's zoomed in on until he can figure out what's bothering him, and when he does see it, he blinks at the screen in confusion.

Bones' eyes are blue in the photograph, a bright clear blue that's closer to the color of Jim's own eyes, rather than the hazel brown they are now. At first Jim figures it's a trick of the photo, some kind of error, but then he goes back to the file and reads the short, bulletpoint description of Bones, a file created by the group he was working with, and it confirms—

 

McCoy, Leonard H. Species: Terran. Height: 1.86 m. Hair color: Brown. Eye color: Blue.

There's more, but Jim's not reading it. He's looking back at the photograph, staring at Bones' face, a hard knot of tension in his stomach.

He starts to read again, his hand resting on top of the console, clenched in a fist.


At least he's not tied up.

McCoy's currently trying to do something he's never excelled at, which is thinking like an optimist. It's not exactly coming naturally to him, especially at this point in time. Still, he's trying to look on the bright side of things—or, if he's being honest, he's trying to keep himself from falling into a depression.

So. The positive.

He's not tied up, and he can move about the cell. There's a toilet and a sonic shower that he can use whenever he feels like it, although he's fairly sure there's a camera in the room, giving him no privacy whatsoever.

He's being fed three times a day—or at least, he's getting three meals in regular intervals, seeing as his sense of time is completely shot by now, what with having no way to measure time in this room at all. He's not being tortured or actively harassed, aside from having a phaser pointed at his head every time they deliver the food, to make sure he doesn't try to escape.

He's alive, and as long as he's alive there's still the chance of Jim rescuing him, of Jim and the crew beating the odds and finding him in time. As long as he's alive, he can still hope for that.

But hope's never been a talent of McCoy's, not even at the best of times, and no matter how he tries to put a good face on it now, the fact is that he's screwed unless Jim pulls off a miraculous rescue, or unless Talen bankrupts himself paying off that ludicrously high ransom. And he knows Talen will pay, knows it in the way he knows that Jim won't stop looking—he just doesn't know whether any of it will be enough, whether he'll still be alive by the time Jim finds him, by the time Talen pays the ransom.

McCoy knows that Talen will pay. What he wants to know is how his kidnappers know it too.

He's not delusional enough to think that nobody outside of the family knows his connection to Talen. The family itself is huge, counting all of the Andorians that McCoy's related to, and his connection to them is pretty much an open secret at this point.

If someone was looking, they could find plenty of evidence, with Talen being there at his wedding to Jocelyn, at his graduation from Starfleet, at a hundred tiny moments in McCoy's life over the past fifteen or so years.

If someone was looking to get rich off Talen's money, off the Consortium, and if they looked hard enough—yeah, they could find him. They did find him, which is pissing him off to no end, being used in this scheme that could end with Talen bankrupting himself in the name of family and duty.

Goddamn, but he's terrible at keeping his chin up and trying to focus on the good. He's trying, he's kept himself busy trying to recall the latest medical paper he read, he's done pushups and situps and he's even done some of the yoga that Nyota taught him in the gym, and if he concentrates hard enough he can hear her bright voice telling him to increase his flexibility, that he would never know when it would come in handy, "on or off a mission," she'd added slyly, her way of teasing him about Jim without ever bringing up his name.

Except he's not thinking about Jim right now, because that's where misery instead of madness lies. He's not thinking about Jim, about their time on Risa before everything went to hell and he ended up here was perfect, everything he'd wanted and hadn't quite dared to hope for, everything that Jim promised him they could have without it all going to hell, except that it did, and now here he is, in God only knew what section of the galaxy, trapped alone in this cell waiting for—

—and if he lets himself keep going in this vein, his thoughts'll stray back to the last time he was trapped in a cell, with no way to know if help was coming, and McCoy's not thinking about that. He may be a pessimist, but he's not a masochist, and some roads are better left untraveled, even when they're in your own mind.

Yeah. McCoy's not good at thinking positive, but it's not like he doesn't see the merit of trying anyway.

Except that he's honestly terrible at it.

Fuck.

He lets his head fall back against the wall and deliberately forces out a long breath, trying to release some of the tension he's carrying around—although that's hardly likely, given where he is.

And as if to prove him and Murphy's Law right, the door slides open and the hulking kidnapper who'd helped snatch him on Risa walks in, looking agitated and pissed off. "Get up, McCoy," he says gruffly.

McCoy stays where he is on the floor. "What the hell for?" he asks suspiciously.

The man snarls wordlessly and pulls out his phaser, but doesn't point it directly at McCoy for once. "Because you're a doctor," he explains impatiently, "—and it looks like we need one right now."

McCoy stands up. "Show me."


"You mind telling me why you threw a hissy fit when you saw me in the pond?" Leonard asked, toweling off his wet hair. His wetsuit's peeled down to his waistline, but in the early spring breeze, he's starting to shiver a little bit, and briefly considers putting the damn thing back on.

Zora's antennae are moving in that way that indicates embarrassment, but she still says loftily, "I did not throw a 'hissy fit', Leonard," carefully enunciating so that he can actually hear the quotation marks.

"Yeah, you did," Leonard corrects. "There I was, enjoying a perfectly nice swim—" he doesn't miss the definite shudder Zora gives at the word 'swim,' "—that was interrupted by you showing up and throwing a hissy fit until I finally got out of the lake like you wanted."

Zora scowls at him, and Leonard has to marvel again at the fact that an Andorian girl who's only been to Earth twice in her entire life can still do such a dead-on impression of Leonard's mother. "I was concerned. For you," she says, her tone conveying the impression that she now has no idea why on earth she'd do something so stupid.

"I've been swimming since I was five," Leonard reassures her, and there, she shudders again, and now Leonard's really curious as to what the problem is. "Seriously, do Andorians have some kind of ban against swimming?"

Zora shifts. "Not a ban, exactly."

"Wait, really?" Leonard asks, surprised, and Zora heaves an aggrieved sigh.

"And the waters shall cover them like shrouds, and capture them, and they shall all be smothered for an age, and another age upon that," Zora said, like she was quoting something. "It's in the Third Scroll of Than," she tells him, "—and it's the description of the Underworld."

"So," Leonard says slowly, "—your version of hell had a lot of water in it instead of fire?" Huh. He considers this, and then asks after a moment, "But what do you do when you take baths?"

"We don't," Zora says simply, and right, yeah, showers—especially sonic showers—probably take care of that problem.

"Okay, so I won't go—I won't go into bodies of water when I think you'll be around," Leonard offers finally. "Deal?"

Zora smiles broadly, looking relieved to hear it. "Deal," she says, offering her hand, and they solemnly shake on it. "Hey, what are you doing here anyway?" Leonard asks next, and Zora rolls her eyes at him, a trick he knows she's picked up from him.

"Very polite, Leonard," she says, and seriously, she can quit with that impression of Leonard's mother any day now. "I knew today was your day off, and I wished to see if you'd like to join us for dinner."

"I'd be honored," Leonard says, deepening his accent and doing a little bow of the head, and Zora laughs, delighted.

*

"If you keep scowling like that, your face might stick that way."

Startled, Leonard looks away from the screen to see Phil standing in the doorway, watching him with an amused look. "Has anyone, in the history of the universe, ever believed that?"

"No, but it's never stopped parents from using the line anyway," Phil replies. "What's going on?"

"I'm trying to put something together for the Andorian dinner," Leonard explains, "—and I'm looking up the dietary restrictions I need to be aware of. Plus, I'm trying to figure out what actually tastes good for an Andorian."

"Doesn't sound too bad," Phil remarks.

Leonard makes a noise of disgust. "Yeah, except this database is useless—I know what'll kill them, sure, and I know what'll kill me but won't kill them—and that second list is a lot longer, apparently Andorians can eat almost anything without dying from it—but trying to figure out what'll actually taste good for everyone is nearly impossible."

"Why not just follow Kodos' cue? His banquets seem to go off well enough—well, the food does at least."

Leonard grinned. "Actually, Zora finally confessed to me that all the Andorians hate the food—practically all of it tastes wrong for them."

"And they never said anything?" Phil asks. "Wait, never mind—they can't risk puncturing Kodos' ego, I get that." She looks at the screen and then says with a shrug, "So bring booze. I served with Andorians for years on the Yorktown, and different taste buds or no, they appreciate good alcohol."

"Except I don't have any," Leonard points out.

"So take some of mine," Phil offers. "I've got a bottle of Scotch you can take." Leonard opens his mouth to protest, and Phil waves him off before he even begins. "Don't start, McCoy, it's one bottle, and I know that if you show up there empty-handed, every inch of your Southern breeding will curl up and howl in protest."

Leonard would argue that, except for how she's actually right. "Well, thank you," he says after a second. "I appreciate it, Phil, really."

"No need to thank me, but you're welcome all the same." Phil doesn't say anything for a moment, but she doesn't move to leave either, and so Leonard waits until she asks, with an odd air of hesitation, "You're really wanting to make a good impression at this dinner, aren't you?"

"Sure," Leonard says, not sure what she's getting at.

"Do you mind if I ask why?"

Leonard turns in his chair to face her more clearly. "You think this is about Zora."

Phil shrugs. "She's a lovely person, and you two do spend a lot of time together."

"I know she's lovely. But that's not—we're not like that." And it's true, they aren't, they never have been. From the outside, he gets why other people would think that way—it just doesn't happen to be true.

"All right," Phil says, nodding. "Oh, and just so you know, we'll be pulling more clinic shifts this week, covering for some of the other doctors."

Leonard blinks. "Why? I mean, it's fine with me, I like working in the clinic, but why?"

Phil hesitates before responding. "Hadrian's got more meetings with the governor and the council."

"About the crop failures?" Leonard asks quietly, and Phil's gaze grows sharper.

"How'd you know about that?"

Leonard shrugs. "It's like any small community; word travels fast."

"Yeah," Phil confirms. "That's what it's about, but there's no point in worrying until we know there's something to worry over."

"Right," Leonard says, but he can already feel himself disregarding her advice.

*

It turns out that Phil's not the only one who's confused about Leonard's relationship with Zora. Leonard gets to the Andorian settlement a few minutes early, his hair tamed and the bottle of Scotch in his hand. To his surprise, it's Tiren greeting him, and not Zora. "Hello, Dr. McCoy," Tiren says, nodding his head gracefully.

"Hey, Tiren," Leonard replies, "You know, you can call me Leonard, if you want."

"I'll keep that in mind," Tiren says, with a nod. He looks at the bottle in Leonard's hand with a questioning air, and Leonard holds it up. "Brought some Earth alcohol for dinner," he explains.

Tiren smiles. "Thank you," he says, stepping aside to let Leonard into the room. "I'm glad that Zora invited you to dinner," he adds as Leonard walks in. "I...am glad of the chance to become better acquainted with you, considering how close you and Zora have become."

Leonard blinks, unsure of what that even means. "Okay," he says slowly. "Tiren, what exactly do you think is—"

But then they're in the room where dinner's being served, the table already laid out, and Zora's there, turning to them with a smile on her face. No, turning to Leonard with a smile on her face. "You came," she says, delighted.

"I said I would," Leonard points out, aware of Tiren next to him, watching them.

Zora's smile gets wider, and then she glances at Tiren and—yep, there's the tension that's always present with them. "Would you excuse us?" Tiren nods—with a glance at Leonard—and then moves away to talk to someone else in the room.

"Is it just me," Leonard says after a moment, "—or does everybody seem to think—"

"It's not you," Zora says with a grimace. "It—people think what they like. And with me, they're—particularly eager to come to their own conclusions." Leonard follows her gaze and realizes she's glaring over at Tiren, and Leonard opens his mouth to press for more, except that Tiren's calling for dinner to begin.

Dinner's an interesting affair for two reasons. First is the food. It's not that the food is bad, far from it. It's just that between the difference in taste buds and the difference in digestive systems, he's either being warned off half the food, or it tastes wildly different from how he expects, spicy where he thought it would be sweet, and vice versa.

But it's good, and Zora's on hand to make sure that he doesn't accidentally get poisoned during the meal.

The second thing that throws him off are the questions. Or, if he's honest, the near-interrogation he gets during the meal.

"Are your parents still married, Dr. McCoy?" Tyrol, the man to his right, asks with apparently a great deal of interest.

"Uh, yes, they are," Leonard confirms, clearing his throat. "They're about to hit their twenty-fourth anniversary later this year."

"And it is just the two of them? It is a binary pair bond?"

"Uh, yeah," Leonard agrees. "Just the two of them. I know that's not the Andorian custom, but it's far more common on Earth. Still seen as the traditional way of doing things, I guess."

"And is that how you will do things?" Tyrol asks.

Leonard nearly chokes on his food, but manages not to glance over at Zora. "Uh," he says intelligently, but Zora comes to his rescue.

"Enough, Tyrol," she says, leaning over him to glare at Tyrol, who looks innocent.

"What? I am merely asking Dr. McCoy if he—"

"I think we all know what you're asking, and it's none of your business," Zora says, quelling. "Enough, now. I'd like another topic of conversation, and I'm sure Leonard would as well."

The blush on his cheeks is evidence enough of that, and if there's one small comfort, it's the fact that not everyone at the large table is listening to this conversation. Tiren's listening though, if the way he's watching all of them across the table is any indication. Thankfully, Tyrol clears his throat and asks about Leonard's work for Hadrian, which is something Leonard feels much more prepared to talk about.

"Thanks," he mumbles to Zora once they have a moment to talk to each other. "But what was that all about, anyway?"

Zora sighs. "It's about me, not you, don't worry. Tyrol's a distant kinsman, and my family has chosen to object to my refusal to get married."

Leonard's eyebrows go up. "At all, or to someone specific?"

Zora looks directly at him and says, "Both."

"Okay," Leonard says slowly. "But—is marriage that important to your family?"

Zora shrugs again. They're whispering, their heads close, and Leonard's sure that there are Andorians at the table who are misinterpreting this, but he can't really focus on that. "It's a part of Andorian life, Andorian traditions. And...the one that my family wanted me to marry was...from a very influential family. Everyone thought it was a good match, except for me. It created—quite the scandal, when I refused. And it also bruised the ego of my would-be intended."

"Jeez," Leonard mutters. "Who was this guy, anyway?"

"You're sitting across from him right now," Zora replies. "It was Tiren Sorja."

Leonard's jaw drops, but he manages to recover—barely—before he makes a fool of himself. He manages to avoid staring at Tiren for too long during the dinner, or from turning to Zora and demanding all the details posthaste.

Thankfully, the dinner conversation's moved on from talk of Earth marriage customs, and the Andorian brandy seems to be keeping everyone occupied. Leonard's had a couple glasses of the stuff, and he likes it—it's mild, with hardly any bite to it.

After two glasses, he's not really feeling it at all, but the others are to a point, they're talking louder, gesturing more with their hands, their tongues starting to wag.

Particularly about the governor, and the recent batch of crop failures. "My fingers are tingling, Tiren," an older woman, Ritka, insists, with a glass in her hands. "This fungus—who knows how far it will spread? They say it has only hit the lupli crops so far, but they can't guarantee it won't spread farther than that, can they?"

Several people turn in Leonard's direction, and he admits, "The botanists on our team are looking worried. And Hadrian keeps running up to the palace for meetings with the governor, although he won't tell us anything about what's happening."

Someone, Leonard can't say who, mutters, "And here we are, stuck in this remote part of the galaxy, for Than's love."

"Yes, and here we must remain until our job is completed to our satisfaction and the Company's satisfaction," Tiren interjects calmly. "As yet there is no real cause for worry."

Not everyone looks totally satisfied by this, but the conversation turns to a different topic, so that's that. And not five minutes later, someone brings out Leonard's bottle of Scotch, and everyone takes a glass.

And that's when Leonard finds out that Andorians can't actually tolerate Earth liquor for shit, and watching a room full of Andorians drunkenly sing ballads would be absolutely hilarious if it doesn't also mean that come morning, Leonard's going to have to deal with an irate Zora who'll likely be suffering from a nasty hangover.

Still, for tomorrow we shall die, as the saying goes, and Leonard doesn't bother to hold back his grin as he joins in with the singing, winging the lyrics as he goes along.


"You can't be serious," McCoy says blankly.

Lara just raises an eyebrow at him. "Oh, you think we're not serious?"

McCoy takes a breath, and deliberately does not look at the kidnapper clutching his abdomen and groaning on the table. "Look, your—co-pirate, or whatever the hell you call him, has acute appendicitis. I can fix that, but I need a sterile environment and proper supplies, neither of which I have here—"

"Oh, come on, Dr. McCoy. An experienced doctor like you, and you're telling me you don't know how to improvise?"

McCoy could live the rest of his life without hearing that coolly mocking voice turned in his direction, but the length of the rest of his life is currently up for debate, so he grits his teeth and kept his voice as respectful as he can. "What I'm saying is that I can't take responsibility if this man develops a post-op infection, or dies on the operating table—"

"Sure you can," Lara says, still in that light voice, but there's tension in her eyes and around her mouth. "If he dies on your watch, I'll kill you. If you refuse to help him, I'll still kill you. The only option you have, Dr. McCoy, is to save his life—otherwise Talen Sorja will be paying over a billion credits for your corpse."

McCoy sets his teeth, and finally nods tightly.

When he's finally set up for the surgery—as set up as he can be, given the constraints and the lack of proper supplies—he looks down at his patient and has a moment of cognitive dissonance, because he's using knives instead of scalpels, and for fuck's sake he's a surgeon, not a butcher—

—but he has no choice. He hasn't had a choice since that last night on Risa. So McCoy grits his teeth, ignores the weight of Lara's eyes on his back, of her phaser pointed at his head, and makes his first incision.


Talen Sorja's ship had arrived in spacedock, and he's scheduled to beam aboard the Enterprise at precisely 0800.

Jim's already pacing in the transporter room by 0745. He knows it's aggravating, that it's distracting both for Scotty and for the other lieutenants in the room, but he can't seem to stop himself.

"You all right there, Captain?" Scotty asks in an undertone, his voice carefully casual, but the quick glance he sends shows his concern all too well.

"I'm fine," Jim says, repressing, and thank God, Scotty doesn't push it further, although Jim would bet a month's worth of water rations that the lieutenants are trading dubious expressions behind his back.

Given that he currently looks like shit, he can't blame them. There's no shower, sonic or water, that could get rid of the dark circles under Jim's eyes, the strain evident around his mouth. But that's what happens when you spend half the night puking in your bathroom, then resorting to a sleeping aid to blot out the memory of what you've read—

He hadn't been prepared for it, for how bad it would rip him up, for how the clinical descriptions of what had happened to Bones, of what had been done to him would tear at his insides, worm inside his brain and send up horrific visions of what had happened, of Bones trapped on that planet, young and defenseless and afraid.

There had been more images than that single ID picture, photos of Bones after his rescue, and Jim's still feeling like a coward for not being able to look, even though he's convinced himself that it would be an abuse of Bones' privacy to do so.

If Bones had lived through it and still somehow come out on the other side, then the least Jim could do was hear the truth without flinching.

He still hasn't brought himself to look at the images, though, and in the back of his head, Jim admits to himself that he won't ever do it. Cowardice or respect—Jim knows which one he wants it to be, and which one he fears it really is.

It's finally approaching 0800, and time seems to both speed up and slow down until Scotty's saying, "All right, here we go then," and before Jim quite realizes it, there's an older Andorian male materializing on the transporter pad, hands folded behind him, looking out at them all impassively.

Jim steps forward, his arm outstretched. "Talen Sorja, I'm Captain Jim Kirk of the USS Enterprise—"

"I'm aware of who you are, Captain Kirk," Talen says as he shakes his hand, and his voice sounds calm and remote. "Forgive me, but I'd prefer not to waste time with formalities." This sounds excellent to Jim, who's been chafing at his inability to act for days now. "If there is someplace we can discuss this matter in private…" Talen trails off meaningfully, his gaze flickering over to Scotty and the other lieutenants, and Jim nods immediately.

"Of course, let me show you to the conference room where we're already set up." They move out into the hallway, and Jim stops, because he can't help but ask. "Sir."

Talen turns to look at him, and Jim licks his dry lips and says, "Before we go in there…I'm sorry, but I have to hear it from you. Are you willing to pay the ransom?"

Talen's response is immediate and automatic. "Yes. Of course I am." There's a touch of incredulity in his voice, like he's wondering why Jim is even bothering to ask when the answer's so patently obvious. And maybe it is, considering that the guy flew across the galaxy the second he heard Bones was in trouble, but that doesn't mean that Jim didn't need to hear it said.

"Thank you," Jim says, and he's never meant those words as much as he means them now.

Talen observes him quietly for a moment, and then says, "Leonard…he has spoken of you often." Jim wishes he could say the same, and diplomatically keeps his mouth shut. "He thinks of you highly, I know that."

It takes a second for Jim to get his throat to work. "I feel the same way."

It's the grossest understatement that Jim can remember making, but Talen just looks at him and says, calmly, "I'm confident that you do."

Once they're in the conference room with Spock, Uhura, and Andrews and Jim's finished introducing Talen to everyone, Talen takes a seat and says, "I would appreciate it greatly if all of you could offer a briefing as to what precisely has happened."

They lay it out for him, the four of them, Jim and Spock giving the general overview while Uhura and Andrews lay out the work that Communications and Security have done so far in trying to figure out just who the kidnappers are, and how to find them.

Talen listens to them impassively, and Jim studies him for most of the briefing. He's hard to read, his face giving nothing away, but Jim still thinks he can see the tension underneath the smooth surface, anxiety coming and going in flashes, most evident when he watches the brief vid that they have of Bones, the kidnapper's robotic voice overlaying it.

Or maybe Jim's just looking for a reflection of himself, looking for the mirror image of the soul-crushing fear he's carried with him since that last morning on Risa.

Finally Talen speaks, saying evenly, "The work you've done to recover Leonard is commendable. However, I—would like to offer my assistance in several ways."

"How?" Jim asks, leaning forward.

"First, I should make myself clear. I have every intention of offering up the ransom. There is a bank on Risa that will provide the necessary physical funds—latinum bricks, I understand—and that will be accomplished within three days, four at the latest. But also—there is certain information I am privy to, or rather that I can be privy to, that you cannot."

"Such as?" Spock prods.

Talen looks at him and says bluntly, "Such as the criminal databases of the Orion Syndicate and Cardassian Prime, among other things." Spock's eyebrow shoots up nearly to his hairline at that, and Jim can't blame him—both the Orions and the Cardassians aren't members of the Federation, and relations are strained with them both, to put it mildly. Any access Talen has to their databases is obviously illegal, and any data they retrieve will never hold up in a Federation courtroom.

Talen's watching them all, calmly assessing, waiting for what they'll say and yet, Jim gets the feeling that he's not waiting for their approval. He's waiting for them to earn his.

Jim makes up his mind in an instant.

"Lieutenant Andrews," he says, and Andrews straightens his shoulders immediately, "I want you and several of your staff to go through the Orion and Cardassian databases, see if there's anything you can find that has a connection to Dr. McCoy's kidnapping."

Andrews is a good poker player, and his face doesn't shift even the tiniest bit as he hears this technically illegal order. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."

Jim turns to Talen. "You'll arrange it so we can access those databases from the Enterprise."

Talen inclines his head, and Jim knows he's not imagining the glint of respect in Talen's face. "Immediately, if that's what you wish."

"It is," Jim says firmly. "And Uhura, I want you and your staff to work with those databases as well. Maybe there's something you'll be able to find."

Uhura nods immediately, and she doesn't look at all surprised by the order. "Right away, Captain."

Jim dismisses both of them, and then it's just the three of them in the conference room, him and Spock and Talen, looking at each other a little warily still.

Spock's the first to speak. "Chairman," he says, his voice formal, "it must be asked—is it possible that Dr. McCoy's kidnapping, and the subsequent ransom demand, are all part of a directed attack upon you, rather than upon Dr. McCoy?"

"What he means is," Jim says, elaborating, "—is it possible that this is about revenge, rather than a big payday?"

Talen leans back in his seat. "It's possible," he says at last. "And it is something that I had considered before coming here. But, quite frankly, I can't think of a single adversary or rival that would be reckless enough to go as far as kidnapping a Starfleet officer for ransom. And these days, most of my adversaries are environmentalists that disapprove of the Consortium. Aggravating from my perspective, yes—but hardly dangerous."

"Any death threats?" Jim asks.

"A few," Talen concedes. "Our security dismissed them as harmless. I brought copies with me in case you wanted to review them as well, but I can tell you now that not one of them contained a threat to my family, or to Leonard."

There's a potential lead knocked out, although Jim wasn't actually expecting much else—if it were as straightforward as that, they would have solved it by now.

At last the briefing comes to a close, and Jim offers, "If you'd like to stay on the Enterprise, I can have quarters made up in the lodge, the area where most of the Andorian crewmembers choose to be stationed, or if you'd prefer more privacy, the guest quarters for visiting dignitaries are available as well. It's entirely your choice, Chairman."

Talen is quiet for a moment before replying, "Thank you, Captain. I…believe I would prefer the seclusion. At least for now."

Jim can relate to that right now, more than he'd like to admit. "Very well. Let me escort you to your quarters."

They're at the turbolift when he finally says it. "Thank you. For helping."

Talen raises an eyebrow at him. "Your gratitude is unnecessary," he says calmly. "Anything to ensure Leonard's safe return, I will do." He pauses, and then says, the phrasing deliberate, "I am glad to see that you and your officers apparently feel the same way."

"We do," Jim says firmly as the turbolift doors open and they step inside. "Whatever I have to do to bring him back, I'm going to do it."

The doors open, and Talen looks over at him. "You might have to live up to your word very soon, Captain."

Jim looks him squarely in the eye and says, "That's not going to be a problem."

For the first time, Talen gives him the ghost of a smile. "No," he says. "I don't believe it will be."

*

There is absolutely no way that Jim's going to sleep tonight. There's just no way, not even with the sleep aids Rand had dropped off in his quarters that evening with a pointed look.

Jim just—he can't do it, not with the contents of that file still spinning in his mind whenever he lets himself think about it, think about that first picture of Bones, his face younger and softer than Jim can ever remember seeing it before, and then he starts thinking about everything else he'd read and seen in that file and starts wanting to empty the contents of his stomach all over again.

Last night, he screamed himself awake from nightmares of Bones calling out for help in a broken, desperate voice, and no matter how hard Jim had searched, he couldn't find him.

Jim doesn't need M'Benga or Liz Dehner, the ship's counselor, to interpret his dreams for him. Any idiot could interpret those dreams, and the only cure Jim can see for them is to get Bones back, safe and sound.

Until that happens, Jim's not going to get a good night's rest, and he shouldn't be resting anyway, so he's not going to bother trying.

It's the tail end of gamma shift and Jim's already been up for longer than he likes to think about, but he still forces himself out of his quarters—he's sick of the sight of the walls, sick of being alone in there and constantly brooding about what's possibly being done to Bones now, what was done to him in the past—and at a loss for anywhere else to go, finds himself heading towards the rec room, desperately in need of any sort of distraction.

The place is mostly deserted when Jim arrives, with only a few crewmembers in there, nodding awkwardly at Jim when they see him, and Jim supposes he looks even worse than he'd previously thought.

Jim glances around, looking for a quiet place to sit—no shortage of those tonight—and finds Uhura sitting in a corner, idly plucking at Spock's Vulcan lyre while she stares off into space.

Jim goes over to her table and says, "Mind if I sit here?"

Uhura snaps out of her reverie and smiles at him, even though Jim can see some of the strain in it. "Of course," she says, and Jim sits down next to her at the small table. "Spock suggested I take some time off," she explains, even though Jim doesn't actually need an explanation. Also, Jim's pretty sure Spock's 'suggestion' was somewhere between an outright order and a plea—Uhura's been working herself to the bone ever since they got that first data packet, and it's been even worse since they got the ransom demand.

Neither of them says anything for a moment, and Jim just watches Uhura's slim fingers picking out notes on the lyre.

Uhura's the first to break the silence. "He never told me," she says quietly, looking down at the lyre and not meeting Jim's eyes. "Leonard's never talked to me about—well. About any of the things we just found out about him. In case you were wondering."

Jim waits for a moment before replying, because the truth is that there was some small, ugly and petty part of him wondering that, wondering if there was someone here who knew this part of Bones' life, Bones' past, before he did. And Uhura, who's one of Bones' closest friends on the Enterprise—if anyone else would know besides Jim, it would be her. "I didn't know either. Obviously," he adds with a small laugh that isn't even a little bit genuine.

Uhura glances up at him there, and there's so much sympathy there that Jim has to look away.

"In retrospect," Uhura continues after a moment, "—there are things that just…make more sense now than they did before. Or maybe it's just that they're in a new context, I don't know."

Jim nods, meeting her gaze again. "How much he likes Andorian brandy, even though it's weak as hell."

"How he knows more curse words in Andorian than half the crew, even if his accent's barely passable," Uhura adds with a tiny smile. Her smile fades as she says, "I'd see him, talking to Shiran sometimes, but I never thought—I didn't think there was anything to it. To be honest, I thought she just had a crush on him." She laughs, and it's just as free of humor as Jim's was just a moment ago. "Kind of amazing how off I was about that."

"Yeah, well, we've all been off about a lot of things," Jim replies, and he can hear some of the edge appearing in his voice, so it shouldn't be surprising when Uhura gives him that quick sideways glance.

"Jim," she says carefully, and somehow he's still surprised whenever she calls him by his first name. "If you want..." she trails off awkwardly here, obviously not sure how to make the overture she wants to make.

The funny thing is, Jim wants to take her up on it, with a sudden desperateness that surprises him.

"Part of me's…part of me is actually pissed off," Jim says, pitching his voice low, the words falling heavily from his mouth. "It's petty, I know, to—with everything else that's going on, with all the danger he's in, with everything I just found out he went through—and there's still this small part of my brain that's wondering why he never told me."

Uhura doesn't look judging or seem aggravated by his selfishness, she just looks sympathetic. "Jim—he didn't tell anyone."

"Yeah, I know," Jim says, and doesn't add, but I thought I was the exception to 'anyone' for him. He's always been the exception for me.

"We're going to get him back, you know," Uhura tells him softly.

"Yeah," Jim says. "Of course we are."


"Is he all right?" the man asks from behind McCoy.

McCoy spares a single glance behind him, and then turns back to his—well, his patient now, looking him over carefully. "For the moment," he says, unwilling to make any promises for the long or short term. His patient's out cold now, thankfully, his face showing no signs of pain, even if McCoy hardly has the sort of painkillers he'd be working with onboard the Enterprise or in any properly stocked sickbay. As for the supplies he does have—McCoy winces at the conditions his patient will be suffering through in just a few short days.

He's not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, far from it, but this man is his patient now, and those sorts of obligations began long before McCoy was dragged onto this ship.

"Look," McCoy says finally, turning to face his guard, "—this man needs more help than I can give him here. You need to let me take him to a real hospital."

The man—and seriously, McCoy's going to need some handles here—shakes his head. "Not happening."

McCoy bites his teeth and barely manages to keep from tossing back, fine, then you'll be responsible for when he starts suffering from sepsis.

"Listen to me," he says instead, as urgently as he can, "—the initial surgery went as well as it could, under the circumstances—" the circumstances being McCoy performing surgery with a knife instead of a proper laser scalpel, among other things, "—but right now, our main concern is the risk of infection, which I can promise you, is ridiculously high. Without the proper meds and procedures, I can't guarantee that he won't go into—"

The man cuts him off, "The boss is never going to let you go."

McCoy doesn't actually bite his lip through from sheer frustration, but it's a near thing. "All right, fine." He's quiet for a moment, then asks, "What are your names?" When the man raises an eyebrow at him, McCoy snorts and says, "I need handles to call you by, even if they're just fake ones. And I like knowing the names of my patients, especially when they're in danger of dying under my watch."

That hits, like McCoy meant it to. The man visibly grits his teeth, then says, "I'm Dax. He's Allen." He's silent for a moment, then says finally, "Make a list of the supplies you really need, and I'll make sure you get them."

McCoy pauses and says carefully, "Some of them will be difficult to get, they're controlled substances, and if we're somewhere isolated—"

"It's not a problem," Dax says brusquely, and McCoy files that away in his mind. They have to be near a spaceport, or maybe even a planet—

It helps fill out the insane plan that's starting to unfold in the back of his head, the part of his brain that sounds much too much like Jim these days. "All right. I can work with that."

Dax nods but adds, "He dies, it's on your head."

It's not, though. McCoy refuses to be responsible for this life, and maybe it goes against his training and the old oaths he took as a healer, but he won't take responsibility for the bad choices that someone else made in their life. He won't do it, not here, not with this patient, not with these people.

But McCoy's learned when to keep his mouth shut, so he doesn't say anything, just stares back at Dax, refusing to be cowed.

Their tense standoff is interrupted by Lara, who saunters into the room, phaser in hand, asking for a report. McCoy gives it to her, as succinctly as possible, stressing the need for proper supplies. Lara listens impassively, and then says to Dax, "Send someone down to pick the supplies up. Not you."

Dax nods his head, and is that a flicker of relief on his face? Did he doubt that Lara would let him or anyone else leave the ship to get the supplies?

Before he can observe any more of this dynamic, Lara turns to him with her customary smirk and says, "Time for you to leave, McCoy."

"I still need to keep an eye on—"

"Dax can manage that," Lara says dismissively. "And besides, it's your bedtime." Her smirk gets wider at that, and McCoy seethes, but can't really see an out.

Lara escorts him back to his cell, and McCoy doesn't have to look behind him to know her phaser's pointed at his head.

Once he's back in his cell, Lara stands in the doorway and says, "You did good work on the surgery. Although given your credentials, I hardly expected anything else."

McCoy doesn't blink, either at the supposed compliment or the mocking tone it's given in. Instead he just asks, caustic, "Does this mean I get an extra helping of dessert tonight?"

Lara sneers. "Don't think this changes anything, Dr. McCoy. You're still just the means to an end. Nothing more."

The door closes behind her, and McCoy's left alone again.


"Phil? Can we talk outside for a moment?"

Phil looks at him in surprise, but gamely sets down her PADD and gets up from her desk. "All right, Leo." She follows McCoy outside, and the night's warm enough that neither of them needs a sweater.

It's a beautiful night, in fact—clear skies, both of the moons shining bright, but Leonard's in no mood to really appreciate it.

When he speaks, his voice is steady. "Phil, I need you to do me a favor." Leonard doesn't think he's imagining it when he sees Phil straightening as she nods, and Leonard continues. "I need you to remember that I'm not a child that need to be protected, and I need you to give me a straight, honest answer. Okay?"

Thanks to the moonlight, it's easy to see the look on Phil's face, but her voice is calm as she says, "All right. What do you want to know?"

Leonard swallows. "The fungus that's been hitting the crops—it's more widespread than the government wants to admit, isn't it?"

Phil pauses, but admits, "Yes."

"It's hitting more of the fields than have been officially disclosed," Leonard says next, and Phil doesn't respond, she just looks at him. "It's hitting all of the fields, isn't it?" Leonard says after a moment, feeling sick.

"Yes," Phil says. And somehow, despite all the whispered and shouted rumors Leonard's heard over the past weeks, the palpable tension in the air whenever he goes into town—none of that is as terrifying to him as Phil's quiet voice, confirming his worst fears.

"Those crops were supposed to get the settlement through the summer and winter," Leonard says slowly. "Phil—what the hell is everyone going to do in the meantime? Does the government have a plan?"

Phil shakes her head. "I honestly don't know. Leo—I'm not privy to the sort of information and access that Hadrian has, and he's being extremely tight-lipped about it right now, he won't speak a word." Leonard nods distantly, barely listening, and Phil says sharply, "McCoy, listen to me."

Leonard looks up, and Phil's face is set.

"There's no use in speculating, not when we don't know anything for sure. In all likelihood, there are contingency plans for this sort of problem, there are surpluses from other years that can be tapped into. Until we know more, the best thing we can do right now is continue to do our jobs. Do you understand me?"

After a moment, Leonard nods jerkily. "Okay. Okay. But Phil—" Leonard stops, and then says, "—this is going to get worse before it gets better, isn't it."

Phil doesn't deny it. "Focus on your job. That's the best you can do right now, Leo." Leonard nods again, and Phil says, more gently now, "Come on. Let's go back inside."

As they head towards the door, Phil puts an arm around his shoulders, her touch steady and warm. By the time they go back inside, Leonard's breathing has evened out a little bit, but his mind's still whirling away despite himself.

It takes him a very long time to fall asleep that night.

*

When the explosion finally comes, it's so much larger and so much worse than Leonard could have ever predicted.

It's a few days later when Peter Hadrian calls a meeting for the entire staff late that night, and in a voice that never quite manages to be steady, he tells them what they've all already figured out—the crops on Tarsus are failing. There won't be enough food to last everyone through the rest of the summer and through the winter until the supply ships come.

"The government," Hadrian told them, "—has decided upon a rationing system, to stretch out the limited food supply for as long as possible."

Leonard's been watching Hadrian this whole time, but at those words, he glances over at Phil, who looks at him briefly before turning her attention back to Hadrian, who's still speaking, over the loud questions being thrown in his direction.

"—however—however! The fact remains that there is simply not enough food for every single being on this colony. Even with the rationing system that will shortly be put in place."

The room erupts again in anxious shouts and questions, and over the hubbub, Hadrian's waving his arms and yelling for calm.

"Listen—listen to me! There is a solution. Now look. We know we can't get a message out to Starfleet or to the Federation in time, long-range transmissions can't get through the ionic fluctuations in the planet's atmosphere. But there is potential transportation off the planet."

The noise subsides to a quiet murmur, and Leonard starts to sit up straighter in his seat.

"I'm talking," Hadrian continues, "—about the shuttles that the Andorians used to arrive on Tarsus, and that they still have on their settlement outside of the town's borders, near the site of the potential mine."

The knot that was already in Leonard's stomach is starting to tighten now.

"So you want us to leave with the Andorians," Dr. Reivx says. But Leonard's looking at Hadrian's face, and somehow he doesn't think that's the solution Hadrian's about to suggest.

"It's not just us who want to leave," Hadrian says. "There are several families, many members of the government—it's not just us who need to get off this planet, so that we can go and get help from Starfleet. So, what I'm saying we do is commandeer the shuttles, get off this planet and fly out of here."

Commandeer.

"And by commandeer, you mean steal," Phil says, her voice loud in the silence. "I've been in Starfleet for a long time, Hadrian, I know double-speak when I hear it."

Hadrian looks at her, his jaw set. "Yes, Phil. If you want to put it like that, then yes, I say that we steal the shuttles so we can save our lives—"

"And strand the Andorians on this planet," Leonard interrupts. "If we take the shuttles, then it's the Andorians who are trapped here, not us." Leonard gets out of his seat and says, "You're going to trade their lives for ours."

His face red, Hadrian snaps, "We're going to get help—"

"And give the Andorians a death sentence while you're at it. Do you really think they'll be able to last long without proper supplies, with their fast metabolisms? If you do, then you're an idiot as well as a coward."

Hadrian straightens his shoulders, trying for gravitas, Leonard thinks, and he says coldly, "There are only a handful of Andorians here, but there are over eight thousand colonists who will need help—"

"And what the hell makes you think the Andorians won't try to get that help themselves?" Leonard snaps back, his voice shaking. "This isn't about getting help for anyone, this is about you not wanting to be here when things go to hell, and not caring who you hurt in the process."

There's silence around him as Leonard stares Hadrian down, and a tiny part of him shrinks back at the realization that nobody else—nobody else but Phil—has spoken up, has challenged Hadrian's plan.

And Leonard knows, staring into Hadrian's face, that nothing he's said, nothing that Phil has said, has changed Hadrian's mind in the slightest.

He keeps trying anyway, Phil keeps trying anyway, but it does no good, not with Hadrian, and not with the rest of the doctors. Leonard talks and yells until he's hoarse, Phil marshals every argument she can—but it all ends up going to hell anyway, faster and harder than even Leonard could have predicted.

*

Leonard's been tied up in this closet for at least fifteen minutes, and he's been swearing nonstop the whole time, cursing as he tries to get out of the ropes binding his hands behind his back.

He'd managed to get in a few good punches before being overcome, but there really wasn't much he could do against a hypospray to the neck.

Bastards.

And now he's here, locked up in a closet, unable to stop the group from stealing the shuttles, and Zora and all the Andorians will be trapped on this planet and fuck.

Leonard vainly pulls at his bonds, but whoever tied the ropes unfortunately knew exactly what they were doing.

He's in the midst of running through every curse word he's ever learned—in Standard and Andorian, when the door bursts open, and Leonard rears back from the sudden burst of light to his now-sensitive eyes.

He blinks up at the figure in the doorway, and says, incredulous, "Phil?"

"C'mon, McCoy," Phil says briskly, stepping forward to untie him. "We need to see if we can stop this disaster from happening."

"How'd you get free?" Leonard asks, slumping in relief as Phil starts working on the ropes, with the aid of a laser knife.

Phil snorts. "Oh, please, I served in Starfleet for over twenty years. Dealing with this sort of nonsense is like a regular Tuesday afternoon mission with my old crew." The ropes come free, and Leonard gets to his feet, Phil offering him a hand up.

"Now, c'mon, let's see if we can catch them in time," Phil orders, and despite himself, Leonard's hoping that somehow they can stop this disaster in the making.

*

They can't. Leonard runs to the Andorian settlement at a dead sprint, with Phil back at the settlement trying to send a warning message to the Andorians, or to the colonial government, but even as he's running towards the field, Leonard can see the shuttles rising unsteadily in the air, first one and then the other, wavering in mid-air before they shoot out and up into the night sky.

His heart sinking, Leonard continues to run as fast as he can, hoping against hope that there's something he can do, but when he finally gets to the field where the shuttles had been, completely winded , he finds the Andorians in an uproar, with Tiren—calm, collected Tiren who Leonard's never heard raise his voice—cursing loudly, looking enraged.

"Oh, God, it's too late," Leonard gasps, and Tiren turns on him, his face dark with anger.

"Did you know about this?" he demands, advancing on Leonard. "Did you know about this treachery by a pack of—" He cuts himself off to turn his head back up towards the sky and starts yelling again in Andorian, fast enough that Leonard can't make out all the words, although he can make a pretty educated guess to their meaning.

"We tried to stop them," Leonard tries to explain to the crowd. "We tried—but then they tied us up and left before we could get a warning, I swear I didn't know—"

He falls silent and watches the shuttles rise in the atmosphere with the rest of them, despairing, watching the tiny flare of the engines—

—then gasps in horror as a much bigger flare goes off in the sky, followed by another.

"They're gone," Zora says numbly behind him, and Leonard can see how it went, a group of terrified people, none of them trained pilots, trying to fly a shuttle and not knowing how—

And now all of them are paying for those mistakes.

*

It takes nearly three days before they find a solution. Leonard and Phil team up with the Andorian doctor, Frileas, and they raid the databases for anything that'll help, checking the list of organic materials on Tarsus against the list of things that are toxic to Andorians, and then seeing if those things are then actually digestible.

It's difficult, because they're all aware that if they can find enough alternative food sources—and that's a big if—then they also have to be food sources that are inedible for humans. With the amount of things that have gone so horribly wrong, the last thing they need is for the human population to be in competition with the Andorians for food. There'll be no winners in that scenario, regardless of who ends up surviving.

But they start to put together a solution, little by little. Plants that are inedible for humans, but that Andorians can digest. Bugs that are a decent source of protein. Little by little, they cobble together a makeshift diet that can work, that can potentially save the lives of every Andorian on the planet.

And somehow, it' s Leonard who finds the final key.

Phil rubs at her eyes. "We've still got to find a food source that covers those last few amino acids," she says, sounding as exhausted as they all feel. "But hell if I know where—we must have gone through everything by now."

"Yeah, except for the fungus," Leonard mutters through a yawn, and then he realizes what he said. "Hang on a second. We haven't tested the fungus."

Phil stares at him. "There's a reason for that, McCoy—that fungus has eaten its way through all the fields so far, and shows no signs of stopping."

"Yeah, and in about a week or so, the Andorians are going to be eating poisonous bugs that would kill a human in less than ten minutes," Leonard replies, sitting up straight in his excitement. "Look—what harm can it do to just check?"

They check. And miraculously, his wild idea turns out to be right.

It's a heady feeling, presenting their results to the rest of the Andorians. Leonard's nearly weak in the knees from the relief he feels at being able to do something, to fix something in this whole catastrophe. And seeing Zora's eyes—everyone's eyes—as the news hits them, as they realize that they have a chance, a real chance at not dying on some alien planet light-years away from everything they know…

It's the one bright spot in what has, unquestionably, been the worst week in Leonard McCoy's life.

"But what about you?" Zora asks him later. "These alternate food sources—they won't do you any good, you won't be able to eat them."

Her face is pinched with worry still, and in mostly trying to respond to that, Leonard says, "We'll just have to tighten our belts for a bit. It'll be fine."

Zora's face says she doesn't believe it for a minute, which is fair. Leonard doesn't believe a word of it either.


When Jim walks into the room, fifteen minutes before the start of alpha shift, Uhura turns to greet him, her face tired but triumphant. "We've had a breakthrough," she says, her face alight, and Jim won't let himself relax until he hears more.

"Show me."

Uhura turns back to the console and cues up the ransom demand—but instead of the computerized voice Jim remembers, it's a living voice—a female voice, cool and distant. Jim stares at the console for a moment, then turns to Uhura. "You cracked the encryption."

She smiles widely, relief and accomplishment coming off her in waves. "Yeah, we did. We also ran it through analysis, and the speaker is definitely of Terran descent. We're trying to break down syntax and grammar to see if we can pinpoint it any closer, and we're also running it through the voice-print identification system to see if it's in any of the databases."

"Which is where we come in, sir," Andrews says, stepping forward. "We've gotten leads on Dax Clark's known associates, thanks to the databases that Chairman Talen gave us access to, and with this new information that Lieutenant Uhura's given us, we'll hopefully be able to chase down some new leads."

"Okay," Jim says, and despite himself, hope's fluttering in the pit of his stomach, huge and terrifying. "Do it. Find whatever you can."

It doesn't take them long at all, the combined search ends up uncovering a video recording of an interrogation on Bajor, with the Bajoran police force interrogating a young Terran female, who said as little as possible in response to the battery of questions thrown at her, and stared right into the camera with a challenging look on her face.

"That's her," Uhura says with authority as they watch the interrogation, over and over again. "That is absolutely her. Her name's Lara Stone, sir, and she is definitely the woman on the recording, demanding the ransom for Dr. McCoy's life."

Jim makes sure that his voice is absolutely steady before asking, "What was she accused of."

"Theft," Andrews says quietly. "Of some very expensive art and jewelry—but the police couldn't prove anything, and she ended up being released, when she promptly disappeared. This interrogation took place a couple of months before Dax Clark stepped off the star charts as well—interesting coincidence, wouldn't you say, sir?"

"Yeah," Jim says, his voice hard, as he takes a step forward and stares up at her face. She's beautiful, a tiny part of him notes. Her dark blond hair's cut short, and she doesn't look intimidated at all in this vid, all of her body language indicating that she's the one in control, not the police questioning her.

"What do we know about her?"

"Not much, sir," Andrews says. "I think her identity's faked, to be honest—it's just too thin. She's allegedly a native of Janus IV, but there's very little on her record—"

"She's not from Janus IV," Uhura interjects, and when both of them look at her, Uhura shakes her head and continues, "Trust me, I've been analyzing everything there is to know about her speech patterns—there's no way she's from that colony. Or if she is, she's done an incredibly good job at erasing all traces of it from her speech. But if you're asking my opinion, she's not from Janus IV."

"Okay," Jim says decisively. "Andrews, I want you to contact the Bajorans, see if they have any more information on Lara Stone and her activities. I want to know absolutely everything on her, her alleged crimes, her associates—"

"Captain Kirk?"

Jim turns to see Talen in the doorway, with Shiran standing next to him, and Lieutenant Kevin Riley from Navigation with them as well. Jim blinks at his presence, but says gamely, "Talen—we've discovered a new lead, and we're working on…" Jim continues talking, with Uhura and Andrews laying out the evidence they've uncovered linking Stone to Bones' kidnapping, but almost despite himself, Jim keeps turning back to look at Riley—the guy's face is pale, and he keeps staring at the video of Lara Stone, his gaze never wavering from it.

"Lieutenant Riley?" Jim presses at last. "Is there a problem?"

Riley doesn't answer him, not directly. Jim hears Shiran ask in an urgent undertone, "Do you really recognize her, Kevin?"

"Yeah, I might," is Riley's dazed reply as he steps forward, and Jim's eyes widen in shock—he's on the verge of demanding an answer, when a quelling look from Talen silences him.

Riley stares at the video for another long moment, and then asks Uhura, "Can you—can you age-regress the image so that she looks younger?"

Uhura shares a look with Jim, and then says, "Absolutely—how far back do you want to go?"

"About fifteen years," Riley replies, and Uhura shares another glance with Jim but does it, and the computer throws up a simulation of Lara Stone, as she looked when she was a child fifteen years ago. Jim only sends the image one quick glance before he turns back to Riley—and if the guy was pale before, he's whiter than a sheet now, eyes huge and unblinking.

"Oh my God," he mutters quietly, and Jim steps forward, asking, "Lieutenant, how the hell do you know this woman?"

Riley stares at the image for a second longer, and then meets Kirk's gaze. He's still pale, but his voice is eerily calm as he says, "I knew her on Tarsus IV, Captain, when we were both children—but back then, I knew her as Lenore Kodos, Governor Kodos' daughter."


McCoy grudgingly gives Dax this much credit—the guy kept his word about the supplies. Not a day later—at least, McCoy thinks it was a day later—Dax is at his door, gruffly telling him that the supplies are in, and his presence is needed at Allen's bedside.

The patient's doing fine—no sign of post-op infection so far, and Dax lets him work in peace, staying silent and not interrupting to ask questions or make any threats. It's probably the easiest McCoy's had it since getting on this damned ship—not that that's saying much.

"You done here?" Dax asks finally once he's wrapped up, and when McCoy nods, Dax gestures towards the door, indicating McCoy should go through it first, on the way back to his cell.

McCoy obligingly moves, although a tiny part of him notes that Dax didn't pull out his phaser this time.

It makes sense though. As far as McCoy can tell, Dax is far more devoted to this crew member than the other kidnappers on board this ship that McCoy's had the opportunity to observe during the last few days—the Tellarite and the other humans—and McCoy would wager good money that the dark circles under Dax's eyes are due to sleepless nights standing guard over Allen.

He's tired, and he's off his guard, and given the right opportunity—McCoy can use that.

And there isn't going to be a better opportunity than this one, or maybe it's just that McCoy's sick of waiting in this holding pattern, of being kept helpless and passive—but this is the first opening he's had since being kidnapped, and he's going to take advantage of it.

So when they're walking down the corridors, McCoy deliberately shortens his stride, walks more slowly, so that Dax is forced to get closer than he might originally have planned.

"Hurry up, McCoy," Dax growls, and McCoy shoots back, "Yeah, yeah," but he doesn't actually start walking faster.

When he's as close as he dares to be, he whirls around as fast as he can and lashes out, and Dax may have more than a few centimeters on him, and he may be the one armed, but McCoy's caught him off-guard, and he's a Starfleet officer trained in hand-to-hand combat, so it ends up being a fair, but quick fight—particularly when McCoy manages to work a hand around Dax's neck and administer a nerve pinch in exactly the right spot.

Dax drops like a stone, and McCoy grabs his phaser, glancing around nervously before jogging down the other corridor in search of a shuttle he can use to get the hell off this ship. It's a long shot, but it's the best shot McCoy's had yet, and he's determined to take it.

So McCoy carefully picks his way through the corridors, heart pounding, straining his ears for any alarm, any sign that the crew's been alerted to his escape attempt—he'd dragged Dax's unconscious body and stashed it away as best as he could, but someone's going to stumble across him sooner or later, and the nerve pinch only knocks a humanoid out for so long.

By then, hopefully, McCoy'll be off the ship. And piloting a shuttle through who only knows what quadrant of the galaxy, but first he actually needs to get off this ship.

McCoy's not sure how long it's been when he hears the yelling, but he moves faster, all too aware that he hasn't found a shuttle yet—

He goes from corridor to corridor, swiping at panels, and his search keeps coming up empty. His heart rate's starting to really pick up—and he turns a corner, only to hear the sound of a phaser firing behind him, and then everything goes black.

*

When McCoy comes to, it's to Lara's voice coldly saying, "Time to get up, Dr. McCoy."

The next thing McCoy's aware of is a heavy boot coming down on his ribs, and he cries out in pain, flinching back and trying to curl around himself. Fuck, fuck, fuck—those are definitely cracked ribs, at the very least.

When he manages to open his eyes, it's to Dax's enraged face and Lara's detached expression. "Nice to see you again too," he coughs out through the pain.

Dax snarls wordlessly and tries to approach, but Lara puts an arm out, holding him back. "Now, Dax," Lara says, chiding, "—we don't need to damage the merchandise, do we?" Dax backs off, and Lara tilts her head at McCoy and asks, "Dr. McCoy—why would you feel the need to reject our hospitality now, of all times?"

The hell with this. Wincing, McCoy manages to push himself up to a sitting position, stares up at them balefully, and says, "Not exactly hospitable when the host's planning to kill you at the end of your stay."

No one says anything for a moment, and then Lara says, in a silky voice, "Why would you say something like that?"

"There's no way you're letting me go," McCoy says, his voice flat. "I've seen your faces, I've heard your voices. If you were going to let me live at the end of this, you'd have gone to more trouble to hide your identities. You haven't."

Lara says nothing in response, just watches him for a moment, and then turns her head to say, "Dax, get out of here."

Dax doesn't move, clearly hesitating, and Lara rolls her eyes. "Go, I can handle him." To make her point clearer, she takes her phaser and switches the setting.

McCoy knows good and well that phaser isn't set to stun.

Dax nods and leaves the room, casting one last dark look at McCoy as the door shuts. Once he's gone, Lara turns to McCoy and says, her voice conversational, "You're much smarter than our last hostage. She was an Orion girl, and up until the very last, she was hoping she'd be rescued, that her rich patron would pay up the ransom and we'd let her go. She was still hoping, right up until the very end—right until I pointed my phaser at her head and pulled the trigger."

McCoy's entire body has gone cold, but he still refuses to flinch, to look away from Lara's face. "You're right," Lara continues. "It's not smart to leave witnesses around. But that's not why I'm going to kill you."

McCoy makes himself breathe, in and out, and slowly and deliberately pushes himself to his feet, ignoring the burst of pain from his ribs. If he's going to hear this, he's going to hear it standing on his feet. Through numb lips, he asks, "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm going to kill you," Lara says, not backing off as he rises to his feet, and she's lost that detached note in her voice, now she sounds hard, angry, her eyes glinting as she looks at him. "Because when Talen Sorja receives your corpse, he's going to be nothing more than a broken-hearted, bankrupt man—and that is all I want."

"Who the hell are you," McCoy repeats, his voice a near-shout.

"I was wondering if you'd recognize me," Lara replies. "We'd only met a handful of times, and I was much younger then—it has been almost fifteen years, after all. It makes sense you didn't recognize me when we met." She tilts her head to the side and asks, mocking, "Come on now, Dr. McCoy. You really can't put it together?"

"I'm not playing these games," McCoy says, cold. "Who are you?"

"For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore," Lara quotes, with a twisted smile. "My father loved ancient literature, but I'm sure you remember that, don't you? All those banquets you attended at our home, my father quoting Shakespeare and Milton—you remember that, don't you?"

"Kodos," McCoy murmurs. "You're his—"

"Daughter," Lara—Lenore—confirms. "I was his daughter, when he was alive."

"And what—you think I had something to do with his death?" McCoy asks angrily. "I had nothing to do with how he died—hell, nobody even knows how he died, they just found that burned body near the palace and that was the end of it. I don't know what happened, Talen doesn't know what happened—"

"Oh, he knows," Lenore corrects him. "He was there."

"When your father died on Tarsus?" McCoy asks, disbelieving. "For fuck's sake, he wasn't—he was in space, with the supply ships—"

"Not then," Lenore says, her voice clipped. "Later, when my father was murdered by the Federation."

McCoy's silent for a very long moment. There were rumors, of course, about the possibility of Kodos being alive, but McCoy had never listened to the speculation, refused to listen—Tarsus was finished for him, as far as he was concerned, until he was dragged into this— "Your father faked his death, then," he says flatly.

"Of course he did," Lenore says, lifting her chin. "Did you really think he could be defeated?"

"He was defeated," McCoy says, his voice getting harder.

"He was betrayed," Lenore insists. "He made the right decision, the only decision possible, and then he was judged by cowards too weak and stupid to understand—"

"Talen had nothing to do with your father's death," McCoy tells her, his voice starting to shake with fury. "And however your father died, he had it coming."

Lenore's fist lashes out without warning, and McCoy's head snaps back; he gingerly touches the tip of his tongue to his split lip.

"And now," Lenore says, her voice just as enraged, "Talen Sorja has this coming. Your death, and knowing that he's the reason why."


"Leonard?" Someone's shaking him awake, and a drowsy Leonard opens his eyes to see Zora hovering over him, her face pinched with worry.

"What is it?" Leonard slurs, wanting nothing more than to turn over and go back to sleep, to not have to get up and use what energy he has—

"There's a patient downstairs who insists on seeing you," Zora says in a hushed whisper so as not to wake Phil, who's sleeping in the bed next to Leonard's. "I would have sent them away, but the one who is ill looks very bad."

"Okay," Leonard says after a moment where he briefly considers just—not getting up. He could do it, and Zora would absolutely back him up, but he can't. "All right, I'm getting up." He slowly pushes himself up into a sitting position, exhaling slowly as he feels that now-familiar wave of dizziness. "Fuck, okay."

Zora watches him warily as he gets to his feet, holding an arm out just in case Leonard gets a little faint. Leonard gives her a crooked smile as he tries to get his hair into some semblance of order. "I'm fine, don't worry."

Zora's look is a pretty good indication of what she thinks about that, but for once she lets Leonard go downstairs to the clinic without protest, although she hovers right behind him the whole time, especially on the stairs.

Leonard and Phil had moved into the town clinic during the first week of rationing—it had made sense, since the town doctor, Marshall Evans, had disappeared and the colony was still in need of doctors—given the new rations, they needed qualified physicians more than ever.

Leonard's tired and his mind's cloudy, which is why it takes longer to diagnose his patient than it normally would. When he finally hits on the right diagnosis, he sighs—he's been seeing too many of these sort of complaints lately.

He steps out of the room to tell Zora in an undertone, "It's water intoxication, but she'll be fine with a course of fluids. But I don't feel comfortable releasing her until she's in better shape. I want to stay up with her until her condition's started to turn around."

Zora nods, immediately understanding what Leonard's asking. "I'll stay to help you observe the patient."

"Thank you," Leonard sighs out.

Leonard makes sure the patient's settled into the biobed and that all the sensors are working, and then he and Zora settle into nearby chairs. Zora begins the conversation, talking about the latest novel she'd read, about an art show he saw when she'd been in Paris for the first time. Leonard lets the words wash over him, replying when he can remember to, when he can hold the thread of conversation—which isn't as often as it should be.

Zora's used to holding up both ends of the conversation, though. They've all had to get used to it, Leonard and Phil being unable to focus, their concentration shot to hell, and Leonard's lost track of the number of times he's snapped out of a fugue state to look up and see Zora watching him, trying so hard not to look worried—

"—the use of line was interesting, I thought," Zora says. "—as was listening to the different interpretations of the piece—"

Leonard leans up in his chair, and blinks slowly up at the ceiling, and waits.

*

Leonard's stopped looking at his reflection. It doesn't tell him anything that his daily weigh-ins don't show him, that Phil's metamorphosis doesn't show him every time he glances over at her and is startled anew at how much…less of her there is now. Leonard doesn't need to see it for himself, he's got proof of what he looks like whenever he sees Zora or Tiren studying him when they think he's not looking.

Leonard knows he's disappearing by inches, could see it in the way all his clothes used to hang off him, before Tiren whisked off his entire wardrobe and returned it, the clothes smaller than they once were, taken in just about everywhere.

They don't talk about it, but part of the reason the Andorians are keeping such a close watch is for sheer protection—the colony hasn't broken out into complete chaos yet, but there's been some looting, some assaults. The palace guards—all of whom seem as healthy and well-fed as ever, a spiteful part of him notes—has been out in force more than ever, and there have been a few fights between the colonists and the guards.

He'd tried to wave Tiren off when he and Zora had attempted to move in—not that they'd listened to him—but three nights later there had been a break-in at the clinic, Leonard waking up to the sound of breaking glass and loud voices downstairs.

He'd stumbled down the stairs to find three of the colonists on their knees, with Zora holding a phaser on them and Tiren—Tiren!—holding some sort of sword to one of the men's throats.

Leonard had stared at the scene in front of him, and then said intelligently, "What the fuck."

Tiren had barely glanced at him, saying in an eerily calm voice, "Leonard, go upstairs. This misunderstanding is about to be resolved, am I not correct?"

The man that Tiren's threatening with the sword was shaking so hard Leonard had thought he might actually cut himself on the blade. "Yes," he'd managed in a hoarse whisper. "It—just a misunderstanding. No harm done."

"And I trust we will not be seeing you again?" Tiren had pressed, still in that same calm voice. "Unless, of course, you have an ailment that needs the attention of the good doctors here."

The man minutely nodded his head, clearly struck dumb with terror.

In one graceful move, Tiren retreated, dropping the sword to his side. The man knelt there a moment longer, obviously still in shock, before clumsily getting to his feet, his friends getting up with him. They hastily departed without a look back, and Leonard stared after them before turning to Zora and Tiren, opening his mouth to demand answers.

"Looters," Tiren had explained coolly before he could. "They apparently believed the clinic would be a good target."

"Fortunately, we were able to convince them otherwise," Zora said, with a trace of smugness, and Leonard didn't know what to address first, the looters or the sight of Tiren and Zora actually getting along for once.

Just then he hears footsteps behind him, and turns to see Phil coming down the stairs with an impressive case of bedhead, holding a phaser and asking calmly, "What, did I miss all the excitement?"

"The situation is resolved," Tiren had told her serenely. "And Leonard—I hope now you can understand our reluctance to leave you and Philomena here alone."

"Don't call me Philomena," Phil said for what had to be the hundredth time, as Leonard had just nodded dumbly.

After that, Leonard didn't put up a fuss about Tiren and Zora living in the clinic with them, or with the Andorians stopping by regularly to check in. It works too, is the thing—ever since that night, the clinic had been left strictly alone, even as there had been more incidents, more situations where the palace guards had needed to come in and use their phasers to quell the looters.

The clinic's left alone, leaving Phil and Leonard to do what good they can, while they slowly disappear by degrees.

*

He and Phil have split up the shifts, one person taking on clinic duty while the other takes a nap upstairs, until it's time for their rationed dinner late at night, before they both go back to sleep again. Leonard noted once that he hadn't slept so much since he was a toddler, and Phil had dryly noted that she expected Zora to hand them both pacifiers any day now, and Tiren had poked his head in, startled at the sound of loud laughter from the kitchen.

Gallows humor is mostly the only sort of humor they indulge in these days. But more and more, Leonard finds himself wanting isolation, wanting to be alone in his room, away from everyone—but he tries to fight it. He pushes himself to stay in a crowded room, even if it's becoming more difficult to follow the thread of a conversation. He pushes himself to meet Zora's worried eyes with a steady gaze, reassure her that no matter how bad it is right now—and it is bad, and sure to get worse—he's still here.

At least for now.

*

Without discussing it too much, he and Phil had agreed to share a bedroom once they'd moved into the clinic. Both of them were worried about becoming too isolated, and the unspoken agreement was that they'd look out for each other, if one person started to falter or their mental state started to worsen, the other one would, hopefully, notice in time.

Phil had given him one of her looks, and said dryly, "I trust that both of us can behave like adults about this." Leonard had nodded, and so far it's really not a problem. It's comforting, even when he wants to be alone, to have someone else there, to speak out into the darkness and know that someone's listening.

But he's the one listening most of the time, and Phil's the one who speaks. Leonard's not sure of when it started, exactly, but it's a regular occurrence now, Phil's scratchy voice talking about her life, her two daughters back on Earth, her years of service in Starfleet. She talks about all of it, rambling anecdotes, and Leonard listens as best as he can, even when he's so tired that it's all he can do to keep his eyes open.

Leonard listens, and when he's able to follow it well enough, he interjects comments, even if it's just an "uh huh" or "that so?" He figures it's enough for Phil, to know that someone's listening to her talk, and if he can give her that bit of comfort, then so much the better.

*

If Leonard's at his most tender and gentle with Phil, then the one he snaps at the most is Zora, no question.

He wishes it were different, he wishes he would stop and think before turning away from her and just walking out of the room. He can see himself sometimes, see the way his moods swing back and forth, can see himself through her eyes and he hates it.

But whatever Zora's thinking of him now, she doesn't let it show. In a huge shift from their happy bickering of just a few months before, she's nothing but endlessly patient with him now. She seems to take it all in stride, drags him out of his room when she think he's spending too much time alone, gives him an extra blanket when he's cold—which is nearly all the time now. She tries so hard to keep him from brooding on how tired he is, how fucking hungry he is every second of every goddamn day, and Leonard loves her for it.

He tries to tell her, once, but she just hushes him. "You do not owe me anything, Leonard," she says seriously, stroking his hair, which has gone dull and limp. Leonard leans against her for a moment, and she takes his edema-swollen hand in his, and Leonard thinks, for just a moment, that he could absorb some of her strength like this, just through this touch.

"I still owe you, though," he mumbles.

"We'll owe each other then, if you like," Zora says, soothing, and it sounds like a good offer to him.

*

Sometimes, late at night, when Phil's fallen asleep but when Leonard's still staring up into the darkness, he indulges himself. Or torments himself a little further, it's hard to tell.

He closes his eyes and recounts every recipe his mother had taught him, every meal he'd learned how to cook in his tiny dorm room in college. He dreams of buttermilk pancakes made from scratch and smothered in syrup, of collard greens and homemade ice cream.

He falls asleep to the remembered taste of iced tea on his tongue and hunger pangs in his stomach, and dreams of afternoon light streaming through his mother's kitchen, of his father cracking jokes at the dinner table while Leonard and his mother are cooking.

Leonard always wakes up from those dreams with a sob in his throat and his face wet from tears. If he's lucky, he'll wake up alone, but more often than not, he wakes up to see someone hovering over him, usually Phil, sometimes Zora, on occasion Tiren. Tiren pretends not to notice the tears, Phil sits by the edge of the bed and calmly watches him pull himself together, Zora wipes his face and strokes his hair until Leonard manages to fall asleep again—or at least pretend like he's asleep, anyway.

*

It's on a relatively good day when the subject finally comes up. Leonard isn't any less hungry than usual, but it's his shift on clinic duty and Tiren's keeping him company.

Leonard's not sure what pushes him to finally ask the question, but once it flickers across his brain, he opens his mouth without thinking about it twice. "What's the deal with you and Zora, anyway?"

Tiren stops talking about his trip out to Virkl and blinks at him, obviously startled. Leonard waves a hand and says, "I've heard Zora's end of it, I just—wondered what your side was."

Tiren pauses so long that Leonard starts to feel guilty, and says, "Hey, look, it's none of my business. If I'm overstepping some boundaries, just tell me to shut up and I will."

"No," Tiren finally says. "No, it—it's not a secret. Zora objects to marriage, which I'm sure you already know. I knew that, our families knew that—it wasn't like she'd made a secret of it."

Leonard has to smile. "I'm sure she didn't."

"But our families thought that it was a phase, that she'd change her mind. That surely she would relent and see the error of her ways." Tiren looks at him. "That she would learn to be content as my spouse."

"But you didn't," Leonard says slowly.

"I knew her better," Tiren says simply. "So…when it became clear that our families were pushing for an official betrothal, I…did not push. I stood aside, and I let her think what she wished about me, because that made it…easier on her." He smiles a little at the look on Leonard's face, and says, almost lightly, "Don't misunderstand, Leonard, I have no illusions about believing I could have charmed her into changing her mind, just that—it was hard for her, standing up and refusing to accept a future she didn't want. Very difficult, trying to withstand that kind of pressure, all those centuries of tradition. And I didn't wish—to make that burden any heavier by adding a sense of guilt to it."

"So you let her think you were a jerk," Leonard says slowly.

Tiren shrugs, a gesture Leonard thinks he might have picked up from being around humans for so long. "To be fair, our personalities have never meshed well. Suffice it to say, I did not make any particular effort to win her good opinion."

"And what about you?" Leonard asks. "Did she have your good opinion?"

"My opinion is irrelevant if it is not reciprocated. And believe me, it is not."

"I'm sorry," Leonard says softly, and Tiren shakes his head.

"Don't be. This way, we both get what we want. Someday, I will have a family, and meanwhile, Zora is free to choose…whatever future she wishes. Both of us are better off."

"Still," Leonard says. "You tried to do right by her." He thinks about this for a moment, and then says, hesitant, "Tiren—I need you to do me a favor, okay?"

"All right," Tiren agrees. "What is it?"

"You know about my parents, how it's just the two of them, nobody else in our immediate family, except for me." Tiren nods at this, and Leonard continues, trying to pick the right words to explain. "I—I'm their only child. I know how weird that must sound to you, and trust me when I say I've already heard the rant about the human obsession with binaries—"

"Tyrol can be rather strident," Tiren murmurs, and Leonard shakes that off.

"But—I love my parents. And they love me, and I'm the only child they've got, so—if you meet them, when this is all over," he swallows, "—then I want you to tell them that I died early, before things got really bad. Make up something about a freak accident if you have to. Just don't—don't tell them it happened like this."

Tiren opens his mouth, and Leonard cuts him off. "I know what you've been saying, about your dad possibly sending out ships early, and I'm—I'm glad you have that to hang on to," he says seriously. "And if it helps Phil in any way, then I'm glad for that as well. But I can't hang on to it, you understand? I can't hang onto faint hope or false hope, because I am trying…I am trying as hard as I can," he admits, his voice cracking, "I am trying so hard to meet this with as much grace and dignity as I can muster, and I can't do that if I'm hanging on to the outside chance that I'm gonna get rescued, okay? I can't do it, so please—please. When the time comes, I want you to convince my parents that it was quick and painless. Just let them have that."

Andorians don't show grief the same way that humans do, but Tiren's voice is thick as he replies, "Yes. I will give them that."

"Thank you," Leonard sighs, and means it more than he ever has in his entire life.


"What the hell," Jim says, his voice tightly controlled, "—is Lenore Kodos doing kidnapping a Starfleet officer?"

The question's being asked to the room at large, but he's looking directly at Talen. Talen meets his gaze squarely, and then says, his voice still so fucking calm that it's infuriating, "Captain Kirk, perhaps you and I could talk in private for a moment."

Jim waits for a moment, and then says, without looking away, "Everyone except for Commander Spock is dismissed." Jim holds Talen's gaze as he hears the scraping of chairs on the floor, and everyone, except for Spock, follows his orders and leaves the room.

Once the three of them are alone, Jim says to Talen. "Okay. What do you know that we don't?"

"I know why this woman would lash out at the Federation—and at me—in such a manner," Talen says, and there are some cracks finally appearing in the smooth demeanor. The tension in his face only grows more obvious as he says, "She blames…I believe that she blames the Federation and myself for her father's death."

"The circumstances surrounding Governor Kodos' death were always unclear," Spock begins, and Talen scoffs.

"You mean the pantomime that Starfleet put up on Tarsus for the benefit of the press and public?" he replies, the bitterness obvious. "That ridiculous farce of a body burned beyond recognition—"

Jim barely keeps from letting his mouth fall open in shock. "The DNA reports—"

"The DNA reports were a lie," Talen says, his voice hard. "A fabrication put out by Starfleet in order to avoid the humiliating truth that they'd let a mass murderer escape. Kodos never died on Tarsus IV."

"How do you know this?" Spock asks.

Talen looks at them and says, flat, "Because I watched Kodos die in front of me, and I assure you, that event did not happen fifteen years ago on that graveyard of a colony."

For a long moment, nobody speaks. Finally, Jim asks, far too calmly for the turmoil he's feeling right now, "Did you kill him?"

"No, Captain, I did not. For that, you'll have to look to your own government." Talen looks at their faces and chuckles grimly. "What, did you think Starfleet Command would simply fake Kodos' death and leave it at that? Did you think that I would be the only individual seeking justice?"

"You're suggesting that Starfleet Command ordered the assassination of Governor Kodos," Spock says, flatly, and Jim's gaze flickers over to see Spock sitting ramrod straight in his chair, face tight with tension.

"They ordered his execution, yes," Talen retorts, and okay, the last thing Jim needs at the moment is to get bogged down in that argument. But Talen continues, "There's no official record of it, and Starfleet Command has plausible deniability, but then, that's what Section 31 is for, I understand. To provide plausible deniability."

Jim closes his eyes and barely holds back a curse. Section 31. Of course Section 31's involved, because it's not like this was enough of a clusterfuck already. He holds up a hand. "Okay. You're saying that Section 31—or agents that purported to be sent from the black-ops organization that legally does not exist—found Kodos and killed him. And his daughter knows about all this."

"Considering that they captured him in front of her, I'd say it's likely that she knows, yes," Talen replies.

Technically speaking, the chairman of the Consortium just confessed to being an accessory to murder. In reality, Jim knows there's no hope of bringing this to trial, or even outside the walls of this room. And a part of his mind is whispering that maybe that's not such a bad thing, that some people have their horrible fates coming to them, that this man had it coming—

Except that Jim's job here is not to judge. Not Talen, or even Kodos, because that's irrelevant, his job is to bring Bones home—but now his job has just become exponentially more difficult. Money's an easy motivation to understand, and easy to manipulate, but revenge—

"If she wants revenge," Jim says quietly, "—then there's no reason to think she's going to keep Bones alive longer than it takes her to get the ransom." Or maybe even not that long, maybe Bones is already—

Jim drops his head and breathes deeply through his nose, in and out, until he gets ahold of himself. Barely, but it'll have to do.

The door chimes, and after a moment, Spock snaps out, "Enter."

Andrews comes in, his face pinched as he looks at the three of them. "Sir, I didn't want to interrupt," he says to Jim, "—but we've found some new information you need to know."

Jim didn't think it was possible for his stomach to sink any lower, but apparently the universe is determined to prove him wrong. As Andrews lays out the new evidence they've found, it becomes a battle to keep the full force of his emotions off his face. It's a battle Jim's sure he's losing.

"We don't think this is the first kidnapping that Lenore Kodos has orchestrated," Andrews explains. "Last year, there was an Orion…courtesan who was living with a shipping magnate. When she was on Bajor for a shopping trip, she was abducted with the use of a transporter. Eventually there was a ransom demand delivered through an encrypted transmission." He breaks off and admits, "Sir, there's no actual direct evidence linking her to this kidnapping, but it's the same group, I'd bet my life on it."

"How did it end?" Jim asks, but Andrews' face is already giving him the answer.

Andrews doesn't say anything at first, then with a heavy sigh, admits, "The magnate paid the ten million credit ransom. Not an hour later, the body of the Orion courtesan was beamed in. She'd been killed with a phaser, and she'd been dead for forty-five minutes at the most."

Jim takes a second, then bleakly looks at Talen, who suddenly looks years older.

And Jim finally starts to wonder if he'll be able to get Bones back after all.


"Leonard," Tiren begins as he walks into the kitchen, and then stops. "What are you doing?"

Leonard doesn't bother to look up. "Diluting today's soup so it lasts longer," he says bluntly. "What's going on?"

Tiren doesn't reply at first, and then says slowly, "You know by now that I have…sources within the colonial government. Even within the palace."

Leonard looks up at that. "Yeah, I know you have spies. What's going on, have you heard something?"

"I'm hearing rumors of Kodos making a new declaration regarding the food crisis," Tiren says, and Leonard snorts, turning back to his food.

"Declaration's not going to do any good, people are going to start dying soon," Leonard says, grim, and when there's no immediate reply, Leonard looks back to see Tiren staring at him, stricken. Wanting to kick himself, Leonard says quickly, "Tiren, no, I'm fine—"

Tiren's mouth is even more pinched, but he says quietly, "It could be good news. Perhaps there's a new food source."

"You mean, perhaps Kodos has decided to share the food equally and stop squirreling rations away for his favorites and his guards," Leonard mutters, and then sighs. "Sorry. Maybe it is good news."

Tiren steps closer. "You remember what I told you about the shuttles."

"Yeah, I remember," Leonard says, and he does. He remembers about the deep-space signal the shuttles were sending back to the Consortium's headquarters, nothing more sophisticated than a regular beeping noise—but that would have shut off the minute that the shuttles were destroyed.

By now, the Consortium has to know that something's seriously wrong.

Leonard just can't bring himself to believe that help will actually come in time. But he can't say that to Tiren again, so he takes a breath and says, "What do you think Kodos is going to say?"

"I'm not sure, exactly. I know he wants to regain control of the colony. Things have been—chaotic, lately."

Leonard wants to snort at the understatement but restrains himself. "Well, if he's somehow found a solution to all this, I won't pretend not to be glad," is what he says instead, and it's the most optimistic thing he's been able to muster up in a while.

*

The first hints of what Kodos has planned for the colony come faster than anyone, even Tiren, could have predicted.

Leonard's taking a nap in his room—it's Phil's shift this morning and so when he's woken up by the sound of someone bursting into the room, he sleepily lifts an arm and mumbles, "G'way."

"Leonard!" It's Zora and she sounds odd, panicky, and so Leonard cracks his eyes open, blearily peering at her. "Leonard, get up, it's the governor, his guards are downstairs and they're trying to shut down the clinic—"

It takes Leonard a moment or two to process this, but then he's getting up as fast as he can—which still isn't as fast as he'd been able to move just a few short months ago, fighting off the hunger-induced dizziness to get to his feet, find a pair of pants that won't immediately fall off, and then making his way downstairs, Zora right behind him, hovering in case he stumbles.

When he gets down to the main floor of the clinic, he finds Phil, Tiren, and Tyrol standing in front of the supply closet, looking pissed as hell, facing down against a large group of very fit, very well-armed palace guards.

Leonard stares at this tableau, and then says intelligently, "What the hell is this?"

"These fuckers," Phil spits, and it's a measure of how furious she is that she's using profanity, "—are trying to steal our supplies."

The head guard says, his voice toneless, "Governor Kodos has declared that this clinic and all the contents in it are to be seized and held by the government, until such time as the governor sees fit to change that status."

"Like hell," Leonard spits, moving towards his friends, but in one smooth move, the head guard pulls out his phaser and points it at Leonard's head, all without even looking at him.

Leonard goes absolutely still, his eyes fixed on the muzzle—everything else in the room's gone blurry, but the phaser's gone into extreme, detailed focus. He's aware of shouting, but the next thing he clearly hears is, "Dr. McCoy, Dr. Boyce—if you two will come with us now."

Leonard finally tears his eyes away to look at Phil's pale face, at Tiren's furious one, but he doesn't protest, doesn't struggle, doesn't fight back as another guard—not the one who's currently pointing a phaser at him—circles around, ignoring Zora's angry threats, and locks a pair of magnetic cuffs around his wrists.

Leonard's never been handcuffed in his life.

"Dr. Boyce?" the head guard prods, his phaser never wavering, and Phil doesn't say anything in response, just steps away from a furious-looking Tiren and Tyrol, and doesn't struggle as she's put in handcuffs.

I'm sorry, Leonard wants to say, because maybe if he'd been faster with his brain instead of his mouth, they wouldn't have landed in this mess anyway.

They're escorted to the door at phaser-point, the head guard saying to Zora and Tiren and Tyrol, "It's highly recommended that you don't attempt to interfere."

Then Leonard and Phil are pushed outside, and they have to walk like that all the way to the palace, in the late summer heat, in full view of the entire town and anyone who's outside, who's peering through their windows to see the two of them being led away like a pair of criminals, even though they haven't even done anything wrong, other than stepping on this fucking planet in the first place.

His face burning with anger and humiliation, Leonard keeps his gaze down, and concentrates on not stumbling over his feet—he's still a little dizzy and uncoordinated still, and the heat doesn't help.

He kind of wishes that Phil would say something—although he has no idea what she could even say—but she stays silent, and so does he, and they keep walking, because there's nothing else they can do.


Sleep's impossible. Sleep is beyond impossible at this point. After nearly an hour of staring up at the ceiling, a heavy weight on his chest and in his stomach, Jim can't stand it anymore. He puts on some clothes and gets out of his room, because he can't stand to look at its walls anymore, can't stand trying so hard to think about Bones, if Bones is all right, if Bones is even alive

He heads to the gym, because maybe if he wears down his body enough, his brain will be too exhausted to churn out the absolute worst-case scenarios. It's a long shot, but at this point, long shots are just about all he has left right now.

When he gets there, one of the first things he sees is Shiran, using an Andorian sword to hack the hell out of a computer simulation. Jim watches silently for a little bit, and then, during a pause, calls out, "Nice work."

Shiran glances over, and then calls out, "Computer, pause simulation." The holographic enemy pauses, its sword halfway through a pass, scowling at empty space.

"Captain," Shiran says as she steps off the raised stage. She sheathes her sword, and asks, "Did you need me for something?"

"No," Jim assures her, "I just—" And then he stops and takes a closer look at her, at the grayish tone beneath her blue skin, a clear signal of distress and exhaustion. "Are you all right, Ensign?"

"I'm just fine, sir," Shiran says immediately, too quickly for it to be true. "I'm—perfectly all right. There's nothing wrong."

"That's a couple reassurances too many, Ensign," Jim says gently. "C'mon. Let's go and talk."

After she gets out of the sonic showers, Jim takes her to the kitchens—the chefs there don't mind if he sneaks a few things from the pantry on occasion. Jim had considered alcohol instead of dessert, but he's not letting himself have even one drink until Bones is back.

Jim gets a slice of red velvet cake, while Shiran asks for peach cobbler. Jim smiles at her request, and once they sit down, he asks, "Did Bones get you hooked on that?"

She smiles ruefully. "Yes. Yes, he did. He even tried to teach me how to make it once, at the Academy—mine was fine, but I could never make it as good as his. It was never as spicy—for me, at least."

"The only time Bones tried to teach me to bake anything, I nearly blew up our dorm room," Jim confides, and gets her to smile again.

Her smile fades quickly, though, and she stares down at her uneaten cobbler, finally mutters. "I should have done a better job."

"Better job at what?"

She sighs heavily. "The week that Leonard enlisted in Starfleet, I…woke up in my dorm room to find my comm practically exploding with messages from our family. Everyone had an opinion on it, no one had predicted it—and so many of them were worried about him. First his father dying, and then the divorce, and now this. So, I became the one who was…meant to look out for him. Make sure he was doing well in his studies, fitting in."

"And did you?" Jim asks, curious.

She looks at him and smiles faintly. "I didn't have to, not really. He had you." Jim swallows at that, but doesn't look away, because it's the truth after all. Bones had Jim, right from that first shuttle ride; it's a fact Jim couldn't deny even if he wanted to.

"And then the night of our graduation, we went out with our families. Practically everyone had flown in. By that point, we'd gotten our post-graduate assignments, and everyone knew we'd be stationed on the Enterprise together. And at one point, during that dinner—his mother told me that now we'd have to look out for each other, out in deep space."

"Our intelligence says they'd been planning this for a long time," Jim tells her softly. "And if you're looking for someone to blame, there's—really no shortage of people. You can say that I should have gone with him that night, that if he hadn't been walking back alone, it wouldn't have happened. Or maybe the kidnappers would have just stunned me and taken him anyway. They're the ones who should be blamed, Shiran. Not you."

Shiran nods, but says, "It's not easy to remember that when I'm comming his mother and trying to explain why her son's gone missing."

"You really think she blames you for this?" Jim asks. He's only met Eleanor McCoy a handful of times, and he knows that she wasn't thrilled about her son joining Starfleet—but he'd liked her, and she'd liked him, he thinks.

Shiran's face crumples, and she shakes her head. "No. No, she doesn't."

Jim waits while she gets herself together, and then nudges her arm. "You should finish the cobbler," he tells her. "I'm pretty sure it's an insult to the state of Georgia if you don't."

Shiran laughs a little, and she does end up eating most of it.

*

"You sure you want to be here, sir?" Andrews asks quietly. "The computer does most of the work, it's true, but it can still get pretty tedious—"

"I'll be fine," Jim says.

"All right, so. We've expanded the search to beyond the city limits of the capital—thankfully, there are still plenty of feeds for us to search through. Are you ready?"

Jim nods, and the program begins, the streets and population of Risa flitting by right in front of him.

It's nearly two hours before they find her.

"Wait, what—" Jim sits up in his seat and stares at Lenore Kodos' face on the screen. "Computer, magnify." The computer comes in on a closeup and yes, that's her. "Who is she with?"

Lenore's not with Dax Clark, or any of her other known associates, instead she's with an older Terran man named—

"Harry Mudd," Andrews says. "He's originally from Earth, but Risa's been his primary residence for the last ten years. He's got one long record—fraud, embezzlement, theft—the list goes on, although he hasn't been convicted of most of the charges, not enough evidence." Andrews pauses for a moment. "About fourteen years ago, he came into possession of a sudden windfall, and set himself up in Risa in grand style. Big estate, the latest in hovercars. There's been rumors that he's still up to his old cons, although the authorities haven't pinned him on anything just yet."

"Fourteen years ago?" Jim repeats thoughtfully. Neither of them states the obvious—that the date of Mudd's "sudden windfall" is a little too close to the events of Tarsus IV to be a coincidence.

They get a fuller picture of Harry Mudd from the Risan liaison, Ryloxi, who, when Mudd's name comes up, is more than willing to tell them everything he knows.

"A con artist and a thief," he says, wrathful. "It's perfectly obvious what the man is, and yet he's still welcome into Risan society, all because people find him amusing." The look on his face shows what he thinks of that. "The man has a rather obvious, cheap sort of charm, but let me assure you, sirs, he is absolutely a criminal."

Jim's more than convinced of that, and of a good deal more.

*

Jim beams down directly to Mudd's estate, outside the city limits. He's accompanied by Andrews and a carefully selected Security team, and Spock and Talen as well.

He hadn't originally planned on bringing Talen with him, but Talen had asked to accompany them, and despite everything, Jim wasn't exactly in a position to say no.

They walk up to the front door, and to Jim's surprise, Mudd himself answers the door.

"Welcome, welcome!" he says, gesturing them inside with an expansive gesture. "I'd heard that you were dropping by—" Jim glances at Ryloxi, who's making a face like he just bit into a piece of rotten fruit, "—and so I thought I'd welcome you to my home personally."

He leads them into the study, ornate and ostentatious—a huge bookcase of antique paper books filling up one wall, all sealed behind panes of glass. Jim distractedly notices the artwork, most of which he's sure are originals.

By all appearances, Harry Mudd's done well for himself.

After Ryloxi makes the somewhat stiff introductions—Jim can't bring himself to acknowledge this man with more than a curt nod—Mudd sits down at his desk and says, "I'm always happy to receive visitors, but I can't imagine what the staff of the Enterprise and the chairman of the AMC would want with me."

"Can't you?" Jim replies, blunt, and has the satisfaction of seeing something in the other man's face shift, just for a second.

Mudd's nervous. He's putting a good face on it but he's nervous, all the same—Jim's abruptly reminded of his so-not-dear Uncle Frank, who put a good face on it the first time his mom had come home on leave, all the while knowing how she'd react when she'd heard the news about the punishments, about the car, about Sam running off.

Uncle Frank had been nervous because he knew what was coming, and so does this guy.

Andrews is the first to speak, and Jim admires how even his voice is, almost conversational, as he shows Mudd the first picture of Lenore Kodos, from her interrogation on Bajor, and then the vid of her sitting down with Mudd at a restaurant. Jim doesn't bother looking at the hologram, he watches Mudd's face, waiting for another flicker of guilt.

Mudd tries to bluff it out. "I'm under suspicion because I talked to a pretty girl in a restaurant?" he asks, laughing. "Really, if that's a crime, then practically everyone in the city would be found guilty."

"You're under suspicion because you were seen with the prime suspect in the kidnapping of a Starfleet officer," Jim says, his voice hard.

Mudd blinks up at them, and Jim has to hand it to the guy—his look of surprise and dismay is really pretty good. "You can't think I had anything to do with that," he protests.

"Why not?" Jim shoots back, holding Mudd's gaze, and that's definitely a flinch this time.

"Please, be reasonable—what on earth would I possibly have to gain from kidnapping a Starfleet officer?" Mudd asks, holding his hands out in a gesture of innocence.

"Your share of the billion-credit ransom, for one," Andrews retorts.

Mudd clearly decides to bluff it out at this point. "Well, it has been very interesting to listen to your unfounded accusations, none of which, I'll remind you would hold up in a Federation court—"

"No, probably not," Talen says, speaking for the first time since they arrived. "But I've found there are other ways of extracting justice."

Mudd's face goes a little bit paler, and Jim's sure now—Mudd knows exactly how Kodos died.

Jim can feel Spock's gaze on him, the silent question as to whether he'll put a stop to this, refute Talen's implicit threat—and Jim ignores it. Instead he leans forward and says, almost conversationally, "For a con artist, you really don't have much of a poker face." He holds Mudd's startled gaze and says, "Now, let's start this again. You know Lenore Kodos. You met with her two days before she kidnapped Dr. McCoy. What I don't know is whether you're the one who orchestrated the kidnapping."

"Of course not," Mudd bursts out, and Jim waits, forcing himself to remain calm, on the outside at least.

The silence stretches, and Mudd's eyes dart nervously around the room, looking for an ally or a sympathetic face, before letting out a low groan and slumping down in his seat, defeated.

"I told her not to do it," he mutters, not looking at any of them. "I told her that kidnapping a Starfleet officer would bring too much heat down on all of us. I told her that even if the plan succeeded, that she'd make an enemy that would follow her to the ends of the universe."

"And so she would," Talen says simply, and Jim seethes in his head that she would have made two enemies that would have tracked her anywhere she tried to hide.

"What is your connection to Lenore Kodos?" Spock asks, taking over the questioning. Jim's glad for that, because his tongue's frozen in rage at Mudd's excuses, his easy talk of the "plan" they had in store for Bones, and how that plan would have ended in Bones' death.

Mudd doesn't reply for a long moment. "A few months after the tragedy at Tarsus hit the newsreels, I was contacted by a man who needed to disappear. New identity, new life—for him and for his daughter. It wasn't until I met him that I realized who he was, but…he had all that money," Mudd finishes, and he at least has the courtesy not to look them in the eye when he says it. "A fortune right there for the taking, and all I had to do was create a couple IDs, find a doctor willing to perform the surgery on his face."

"He had time to escape," Talen murmurs. "When the ships arrived, they announced their presence before beaming down to the planet—it gave Kodos time to gather his affairs, empty the colony's treasury, and—simply disappear." He focuses on Mudd's face, and says, his voice hard and pitiless, "And you helped him to do it."

"Hey, I'm not the one who let him escape in the first place," Mudd blusters. "That was Starfleet's mistake, not mine."

"And now you're going to help us make sure his daughter doesn't escape," Jim cuts in. "Where is she?"

Mudd purses his lips, but finally admits, "She's in spacedock. Near one of the moons—but I don't know which one."

"You're going to help us figure that out," Jim promises, and Mudd has the sense not to protest, just shrinking further into his chair and nodding weakly.


It hurts to breathe.

McCoy's leaning against the wall, taking shallow breaths, a hand wrapped gingerly around his chest. He's pretty sure he's got a couple of cracked ribs, nothing broken, thank God, but it's doubtful he'll be getting medical attention any time soon.

It's doubtful he'll be getting out of here any time soon, either.

He's trying not to think like that, he really is, but pessimism is increasingly hard to avoid right now, when he's in pain and alone and realizing that he's fallen into an even bigger mess than he could have imagined.

Kodos' daughter. He only vaguely remembered her as a smiling little girl, eyes turned toward her father in clear adoration—and it seems ludicrous that that same adoration might end up costing him his life.

He knows Jim is looking for him. He knows that Talen will search for him, just like he must have searched for Kodos, and all without McCoy's knowledge—

No. He wasn't thinking about it. Lenore could have been mistaken, she could have lied, it's entirely possible that she's unstable—

Except that McCoy doesn't actually believe it. Fixated on revenge, obviously. Mercenary, yes. Insane, no. He can't decide if that makes the situation better or worse.

To be honest, he's at a loss to figure out how this could be worse.

Unbidden, his mind calls up the sense memory of cuffs around his wrists, of the feeling of his stomach turning in on itself from hunger, and he shudders, flinching away from the memory.

Yeah. Unfortunately it could be worse, and he knows it.


Ever since the rationing had started, Kodos had become something of a recluse, staying shut up in his grand palace. Looking at him now, Leonard could see why—the man looks as healthy as ever. He hasn't lost any weight that Leonard can see, not even a fraction of a kilo.

The fucking son of a bitch.

Leonard doesn't even realize that his face is twisted up into a sneer until Kodos looks at him and says, "Clearly you have more of a temper than I previously thought." Leonard inhales sharply but refuses to look away, refuses to dilute his fury.

He's had the entire long walk up here to let his rage build, even as his feet stumbled and his head swam from hunger and overexertion. This bastard is trying to shut down their clinic, he's trying to take away their medicine and equipment, and he's dragged them up here in chains like criminals—

It takes Leonard a second to realize he's shouting that out loud, and it's only when Kodos snaps out, "Dr McCoy, enough," that he falls silent, still seething.

"I think he can say whatever he damn well wants to, Governor," Phil says, sarcastically using the title, "—and you have no right to say otherwise. Now get these cuffs off of us, and tell us why you had us dragged here in the first place."

Kodos looks displeased, and says, "Unfortunately, the cuffs must stay on for the moment. I do apologize."

"Apology not accepted," Phil says curtly. "What the hell do you want?"

Kodos glances behind him, and Leonard notices the rest of the council, all looking just as healthy as Kodos is right now. "This has been a hard time for us all," he says, clearly trying to regain control of the situation. "Everyone has suffered—"

"I'm sure some of us have suffered a lot less," Phil shoots back, deliberately looking Kodos up and down from head to toe, and he flushes.

"—my survival is in the best interest for the colony," Kodos retorts. "As is yours, Dr. McCoy," he says, turning to Leonard now. "That is why I tried to help earlier, with the increased rations—" Leonard feels Phil's incredulous gaze on him, and closes his eyes.

"Yeah, and I remember telling you to go to hell. My life's not any more valuable than anyone else's—"

"On the contrary," Kodos says, his voice now warmer, more persuasive, "—it is. Something of which I hope to convince you—the both of you—into finally understanding."

Leonard stares straight ahead and doesn't speak. It had been in the first week of rationing when Leonard had gotten the offer, and back then, it had been easy to send the reply telling the government to fuck off, before he's started losing weight, before he had to live with being hungry every second of every day.

It was an easy decision to make at the time, but if Leonard had been offered the same choice a month later—he doesn't know what he would have said.

But none of that means he's at all ready to listen to Kodos now.

"Our situation is more dire than ever," Kodos is saying. "The rations we have left will not last the entire colony through the next few months until the supply ships arrive."

As horrible as this is, it's also not anything new. "And I suppose you're here to tell us your solution," Phil says flatly.

"After much thought," Kodos says, beginning to pace in front of them, "It's become clear to me that it is impossible to continue as we have been. Change is needed, no matter how traumatic or painful it might be. And as governor, it is my responsibility to ensure that those most able to adapt to these new changes are given every opportunity to do just that."

He's lecturing now, and this feels familiar—Leonard's suddenly reminded of those banquets, back in the beginning, which have already taken on the unreal feeling of a dream. Was there ever that much food here on Tarsus?

He remembers what it was like, listening to Kodos as he went off on a tangent, as the wine was poured out and he grew confident enough to discuss his theories on education—

"—and it is my duty as governor of this colony to be certain of those who are best fit to survive, to recognize the true potential—"

"Enough," Leonard says, and he might be thirsty, but there's no reason for his voice to be as hoarse as it is. "Enough of your vague and elitist theories, what are you going to do?"

Kodos looks at him, and through his immense dislike of the man, Leonard realizes, maybe for the first time, how strained Kodos' face looks, like he's been grappling with a weighty decision for a very long time.

What Kodos does not seem, right now, is indecisive.

"My advisors have run the numbers repeatedly. There is only enough food for half the colony to survive until winter, when the ships arrive." Kodos lifts his chin. "And that is precisely what is going to happen. Half the colony will survive until winter."

Even with Kodos speaking so plainly, it takes Leonard a moment before he understands, really understands. And when he does—well, it's not the first time that day that his knees nearly give out beneath him, but it's the first time that it hasn't been from overexertion.

Beyond the rushing in his ears, he can hear Phil's unsteady breathing next to him, and he glances at her, and the horrified look on her face tells him that no, he's not dreaming, no matter how much he might wish he were.

Somehow, somehow Leonard manages to choke out, numb with horror, "You're just…going to let half the colony starve?"

"Of course not," Kodos says quickly. "That would be—inhumane. To have them suffer such a lingering, painful death, no. If it must be done—and it must—then better to have it done quickly."

"You're going to execute them," Phil says, her voice as numb and as flat as Leonard's ever heard it. "You're going to murder thousands of people—"

"To save the rest," Kodos says. "As governor, it is my duty to protect this colony from any threat—even an internal one posed by its own citizens. I am set upon this course, and the only question left is whether you can see the wisdom of it—" he hears Phil's outraged gasp at that, "—and, as trained doctors and valued members of society, join us in—"

Phil spits in his face. "I'd rather burn in hell first."

His face red with fury, Kodos pulls out a handkerchief and wipes at his face. "I am…sorry to hear that, Dr. Boyce. Your skills as a doctor would have been of much use still." He looks over at Leonard and asks, eyebrow raised, "And you, Dr. McCoy? Will you be as foolish as your colleague?"

Leonard's exhausted, sick down to his core, and still reeling from Kodos' plan. And somehow, he stands as straight and as tall as he can, and refuses to let his voice waver as he says, "If I can be half as foolish as her, I'll have considered my life well spent."

Kodos looks furious, and snaps out, "And spend it you have."

He gestures to the guards, and they come forward and drag him off by the arms. Leonard tries to struggle, but there are three of them, and they're all stronger than he is by this point.

He manages to twist his head around to catch a glimpse—only a quick glimpse—of Phil being dragged off in another direction.

Leonard tries to yell out her name, but the door closes behind him before he can.


"Lenore, sweetheart—"

"Don't call me that," the voice on the other end snaps irritably.

"Which one, Lenore or sweetheart?" Mudd asks, cheekily.

"Both," Lenore snaps out.

"All right, all right, Lara," Mudd says. "The point is that I need to talk to you, I really do—there's a new investment that I think will be very lucrative, and you don't want to miss out on—"

"Is that so," Lenore says, her voice devoid of amusement or interest. "And why would I want to be the latest victim of one of your cons, Harry?"

"Would I swindle you?" Mudd asks in pretend outrage.

"In a heartbeat, if you thought you could get away with it," Lenore retorts, and Jim has to give her this much, she's clearly not an idiot.

"And run the risk of you cutting my ear off?" Mudd shudders theatrically. "No thanks."

"I wouldn't cut off your ear, Harry," Lenore replies. "Your hand, definitely. And maybe your dick too." Mudd winces, and casts a look at Jim as if to say, you see what I'm dealing with here?

Jim's unmoved, gesturing silently to Mudd to get on with it.

"It wouldn't be permanent, of course, Harry," Lenore says. "They're doing marvelous things with cybernetics these days."

"Still, I'd rather keep all my original parts," Mudd says, jovially enough, but he's looking a little bit green around the gills. "Come on, now, Lara—it'll be profitable, and I know how much you love profit."

There's a long pause on the other end, which is just fine as far as Jim's concerned, it gives Uhura's team more time to trace the connection. "All right, fine," Lenore says finally. "When and where is this pitch of yours going to take place?"

"Anytime you're available, dear," Mudd says, quickly correcting himself to say, "I mean…Ms. Karidian. Or Stone, or whatever name you're going by now."

"Day after tomorrow, at 0800," Lenore decides. "See you then, Harry—and you'd better not be wasting my time." The connection cuts out, and Uhura's voice in his ear says, "We've got it, sir. We've got the exact coordinates of where the transmission originated, and we know where her ship is."

Mudd nervously gets out of his seat. "I hope you're not planning to go over there in the Enterprise and try and force her ship to surrender."

"And why not?" Spock asks.

"Well, because she'll kill him," Mudd says, as if this is perfectly obvious. "You need to stop thinking about this as if her main goal is getting that ransom. It isn't. That ransom's just another way of evening the score between her and Talen Sorja. Killing McCoy—Dr. McCoy, sorry—will be just as effective. More so, even, because of the pointlessness of it."

Jim turns to look at Spock. "Well," he says. "We'll just have to find another way to catch her, then."

*

After a strategy meeting with the senior staff—that Jim is resolutely not thinking of as a war council—they decide on something of a three-pronged attack.

They'll station several security officers, along with members of the Risan police force, in Mudd's house on the appointed day. Hopefully, they'll be able to capture Lenore Kodos there directly.

At the same time, Scotty'll beam Jim, Andrews, Spock, Uhura, and several other Security members onto the pirate ship, where they'll try to locate Bones and take command of the ship as quickly as possible, in that order.

Meanwhile, Sulu will be bringing the Enterprise in from around Orla, the smaller of Risa's two moons and the one that the pirate ship is currently orbiting.

Jim knows that Spock and Andrews aren't entirely thrilled about him going on this rescue mission, and a part of him honestly wishes he cared more about that. Actually, okay, no he doesn't, because this is Bones. There's absolutely no way that Jim would stay behind on this.

He's going on that ship, he's getting Bones back, and anyone who gets in his way—and Lenore Kodos is at the top of this list—is going to regret it for the rest of what is sure to be a very short life.

*

In the end, things go pretty much according to plan, except for how they really don't at all.

"It's not her," Lieutenant Gupta mutters, sotto voce. "She's sent down some of her flunkies instead—they're the ones meeting Mudd, not her."

Jim lets out a low, frustrated noise, and then shakes his head briskly. "This doesn't change anything," he tells the assembled room in the transporter room. "We go in there, we get Bones back, and we capture every single one of those pirates for trying to kidnap and kill one of our crew."

He's met with a chorus of "aye"s. He quickly steps over to Scotty's console and asks, "Sulu, you ready?"

"Aye, sir," Sulu replies promptly. "We're ready and waiting."

Jim steps onto the transporter pad, Uhura, Andrews, and Spock taking their places beside him. For a moment, he has a moment of dissonance—when they're usually in this formation, it's almost always Bones standing on that pad, waiting to be beamed down, instead of Andrews—but they're going to get Bones back.

"Energize," Jim says, and watches as the lights swirl around him.


It takes him a little while to be sure, but no—McCoy definitely recognizes the sound of phaser fire when he hears it.

He sits up a little straighter, not wanting to hope but praying anyway, excitement and fear rising up in his chest, and when the door slides open, for just a second he really thinks that it's—

But no, it's Lenore, her phaser drawn and her eyes wild. "Get up," she orders in a strained voice.

"What?" McCoy says, refusing to get up off the floor. "What the hell are you talking about?"

She hasn't bothered to close the door, and the yelling and phaser fire are even louder now—and getting closer.

"Get up and face the wall," Lenore says, stepping closer and pointing the phaser at his head.

His pulse is pounding in his ears, and McCoy slowly manages to push himself off the floor, wincing once more at the flare of pain from his injured ribs, but when he stands up, he doesn't move to turn around. "No," he says, his voice steady. "I'm not turning around. If you're going to kill me, then you're looking me in the eye when you do it."

"Is that supposed to make me pause?" Lenore grits out, her hand tightening on the phaser.

"I don't know," McCoy says, honest. "What I do know is that I'm not turning my face to the wall like a coward."

He really is expecting her to do it. She's given him no reason to think otherwise—and yet the seconds pass, and as she gets more wild-eyed, the hand with the phaser gets more and more unsteady, visibly shaking.

McCoy's pulse is pounding so loud that she has to hear it, but he doesn't move.

Lenore's mouth parts, and then she says, heartfelt, "Fuck you," as her hand steadies and tightens—

The blast from a phaser is the next thing McCoy sees, and on instinct, his eyes shut as he flinches back—

—only for them to snap open not a second later when he realizes he wasn't the one hit.

When he opens his eyes again, the scene in front of him makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and McCoy's about to collapse on the ground from shock.

Lenore's on the ground, unconscious—stunned, the phaser fallen from her hand and lying there, harmless, on the floor.

And in the doorway…in the doorway—

"Bones!" Jim's yelling out, Jim in his command gold shirt, phaser drawn, looking panicked and relieved as he skirts around Lenore's unconscious body to pull McCoy into a fierce embrace. "Bones, Jesus Christ—"

McCoy can't help the soft oof of pain, but after a second of being too stunned to move or react, he's hugging Jim back, as hard as he can.

Jim pulls away, blue eyes scanning McCoy anxiously, his hand reaching up towards McCoy's split lip. "Are you hurt? Did they hurt—"

"My ribs are a little busted, but otherwise I'm fine," he promises, not wanting to tear his eyes off Jim, who's a little flushed and sweaty—probably from running around this ship looking for him—but who looks like maybe the best thing McCoy's ever seen in his life.

Jesus Christ, Jim's here. Jim's here, and McCoy's still alive, and for a few moments back there, McCoy didn't think that either of those things could be true.

"Leonard!" It's Uhura's voice, and McCoy manages to tear his eyes away to see her, phaser drawn, looking so relieved to see him, and Christ, his throat's starting to get a little tight here.

He manages to say gruffly, "Nice to see you too, Uhura." He's still holding onto Jim, an arm wrapped tight around Jim's waist, holding him close, and hell if he's going to let go any time soon.

Jim's feeling much the same way, if that grip on his arm's any indication.

Uhura grins at him. "Likewise, and I think we need to get you onto the Enterprise right away."

"Absolutely," Jim says, tapping his earpiece. "Scotty, I've got four of us to beam up."

Within less than a second, the white lights are circling them, and McCoy can't remember the last time he was so relieved to be dematerialized.


Leonard's lost count of the number of days he's been in these chains. He'd been keeping track the first few days, or at least trying to, counting the number of times someone had opened the door and come downstairs with his ration of gruel and water.

It had usually been Evans, the former town doctor, who'd come down, carefully balancing the tray. The first few days, Leonard had alternately yelled at him and demanded answers about Phil, about the Andorians.

Evans hadn't answered any of his questions, not even when Leonard demanded to know how Evans could possibly stand by and watch Kodos plan to slaughter thousands of innocent people.

He'd just patiently spoon-fed Leonard his gruel, and lifted the cup to Leonard's mouth so he could drink what water there was in it.

Leonard practically vibrated with resentment, those first few days, but he'd still eaten every spoonful, had gulped down every drop of water he could get.

There was only one time when Evans had answered, and it was after Leonard had snapped and yelled at him, cursed and called him a cowardly piece of shit, that he'd turned around, the tray still in his hands.

"I'm trying to live, Dr. McCoy," he'd said flatly. "I suggest that you do the same."

He'd left without saying anything else.

The thing is—the thing is that as much as Leonard tried, he couldn't keep up the fury, or even the disgust. He's ashamed about it, yes, but—he needs that food to survive. He needs the water to survive. He's no good to anyone dead, or at least that's what he tells himself.

So he'd accepted the food every day that it came, and he'd stopped yelling, but he never stopped asking about Phil, about Zora and Tiren and the rest, even if Evans had refused to answer.

Then came the day that Evans hadn't shown up at all. Leonard had waited, and waited, growing more anxious by the minute, swearing that if Evans showed up, he'd choke out an apology if he had to—but Evans still didn't come.

And Leonard's still here, chained to the wall, his mouth dry, his lips cracking, his stomach empty, and Evans still hasn't shown up, and no one else has either. He closes his eyes and tries to pray, tries to imagine he's somewhere else, anywhere else, but all he can think about is how this place has taken away everything that made him who he is. All he can think about is Phil, locked away somewhere in this goddamned palace, about Zora and Tiren out there somewhere in the city, about how fucking hungry he is, how he'll waste away and die in his own filth on an alien planet with no one to know, how his parents might not even get back a body—

He'd beg, if he had the voice left to do it with, and if he could believe that anyone was listening.

When he finally hears the footsteps, Leonard opens his eyes to a blurry view of his cell—probably glaucoma, a tiny part of his brain whispers, thanks to the ocular hypertension caused by dehydration—and doesn't bother lifting his head until he hears someone calling out, "Hello! Is anyone here?"

Leonard exhales and starts to call out. His voice is a hoarse rasp, but he keeps shouting as best as he can, trying to lift his head up off the floor and failing for the most part.

The door opens but Leonard keeps shouting, even when he hears a woman's voice—for one heartstopping second, he thinks it's Phil before he realizes better.

"It's all right," the woman says, coming closer. Leonard can make out a blue shirt, black boots, a flash of long blond hair. "It's all right—I'm Commander Winona Kirk, of the USS Liberté, and I'm going…" Her voice trails off as she gets a good look at him, and Leonard can practically feel the waves of horror coming off her.

"Please," Leonard begs, all shame forgotten. "Please, oh God, please help me, please—"

"Shh, it's all right, I'm going to get you out of here," she promises, coming in close and crouching low, so she's at eye-level with him. Even with his shot vision, Leonard can make out her features well enough—she's human, maybe in her late thirties.

"What happened to you?" she breathes out, brushing the hair out of his eyes and then pausing as she gets a good look at his face. Leonard's not sure why he gasps, but he manages to answer her question, "He said…he said he was going to kill them, wanted the best to survive—"

"Kodos?" Her voice is sharper now as she asks, "Governor Kodos told you this?"

"It was his plan. All his plan," Leonard slurs, slumping back down. "He put us here, he chained me up—"

"Yeah, I can see that," she mutters softly, and Leonard feels her tugging on one of his chains, testing it.

"Please don't leave me here," Leonard begs again, and she touches his face, so gently that Leonard would weep if he could.

"Don't worry, I'm getting you out of here," she promises, standing up, and for a second Leonard thinks she's about to leave him here, opens his mouth to beg once more—

Except that she's saying, "Okay, Leonard, I need you to hold very still for me." And then he hears the sharp noise and feels the heat of a phaser firing, very close to him, and realizes, with a rush of relief so sharp as to almost be painful, that she's not leaving—she's shooting his chains off.

Once she's finished, she crouches down low again, placing a hand on his shoulder as she says out loud, "Liberté, this is Commander Kirk. I've got a prisoner here who needs immediate medical attention, beam us up and have a medical team standing by."

Leonard closes his eyes, praying that if this is a dream, that he doesn't have to ever wake up.


The first thing McCoy hears as he materializes on the Enterprise is Scotty exclaiming in relief, "Oh, thank Christ."

"Somebody get her to the brig," Jim orders, gesturing at the unconscious Lenore, "Bones, you need to get to sickbay—"

"I absolutely agree," a voice responds, and McCoy turns in surprise to see Talen, stepping forward and saying, "I am…immensely relieved to see you, Leonard."

Despite everything he's learned, McCoy can't help but step off the transporter pad and go over to embrace him roughly, nonetheless crying out in pain as Talen's arms wrap around him.

Talen immediately moves away, studying him with concern. "What's wrong, what's happened—"

"Busted ribs," McCoy explains, and Jim calls out anxiously, "Bones, look, I've got to get back to the ship, make sure that Andrews and Spock are all right—"

McCoy turns to wave him off. "Jim, go, I'll be all right."

Jim smiles quickly, and he and Uhura wave at Scotty. "Energize."

McCoy watches them dematerialize, and then blinks as Scotty immediately gets up from his seat to pump his arm, saying, "Thank God, we thought you might be done for, McCoy."

"Yeah, so did I," McCoy answers honestly, and Talen rests a hand on his arm.

"You need medical attention," he says authoritatively. "Come."

*

It's unreal, stepping into the halls of his sickbay; his staff have clearly gotten word of his rescue, and the place bursts into activity the moment he comes in.

Geoff and Christine are fussing over him like he's a newborn, they keep rescanning him with the tricorders like somehow the readings are going to come out differently, and an actual argument has broken out between two of his nurses as to which regenerator he should go under.

"Oh, for God's sake," he bursts out finally, aggravated, "Unless the standards for this sickbay have fallen dramatically in my absence, any regenerator's going to do."

Christine grins at him. "Good to have you back, Dr. McCoy," she says.

McCoy lies back on the biobed, not flinching as they cut his shirt off and put him under the regenerator. He sighs and says through the hum of the regenerator, "Somebody maybe want to tell me what the hell's going on with the pirate ship?"

As if right on cue, Sulu's voice booms over the comm. "Attention, Enterprise. The pirate ship has surrendered, and its crew are now in our custody. Dr. McCoy has been safely recovered, and is now in sickbay. Thank you."

McCoy sighs again, this time in relief, and waits for Jim to appear.

But the next person to see him isn't Jim, it's Shiran, coming into sickbay with her eyes shining, full of relief and joy. "Hello, Leonard, she says, carefully squeezing his shoulder. "It's so good to see you," she says, beaming at him.

"Good to see you too," McCoy says. No one seems to blink twice at her being by his bedside, which answers the question of how much was revealed about him during his imprisonment.

At the moment, he can't bring himself to care about any of that. He smiles softly at Shiran and closes his eyes. Geoff had prescribed a mild sedative a few moments ago, and it's starting to take effect now.

For the first time in days, McCoy can close his eyes and sleep without fear of what he'll find when he wakes.

*

When McCoy opens his eyes, Jim's sitting by his bedside, holding his hand. "Hi," McCoy whispers, shifting to turn to face him. "What's going on?"

Jim squeezes his hand. "We've got everyone in custody, including Lenore Kodos." McCoy opens his mouth to ask about Allen, the pirate still recovering from appendicitis, but Jim beats him to it, "The pirate that was in post-op is recovering in another section of sickbay. M'Benga says he's in good shape."

"Good," McCoy says, closing his eyes for a moment, before opening them again. "So. Can I get out of here, or am I going to be held hostage again?" Jim's eyes flash, and McCoy asks dryly, "Too soon?"

"Just a little bit," Jim admits, gripping McCoy's hand more tightly. "Let me get M'Benga, and he'll tell you if you're ready to be discharged."

M'Benga does end up signing off on it, somewhat reluctantly, and McCoy and Jim make their way out of sickbay, McCoy walking down the hallways of the Enterprise in gratitude, and not a little bit of disbelief.

Jim's right on his heels the whole time they're walking, and the minute they get inside McCoy's quarters, Jim's kissing him desperately, holding McCoy's face in his hands.

McCoy returns the kiss, pulling Jim in close by the waist, his eyes fluttering shut as the tension drains out of his body.

Jim pulls away first, but only far enough away so he can rest his forehead against McCoy's. "Please don't do that to me again," he mutters.

"I wasn't actually trying to get kidnapped, you know," McCoy rumbles, his hands stroking up and down Jim's back.

"You're still not allowed to do it again," Jim insists as he pulls back a little bit farther. "Seriously, Bones. You'll drive me into an early grave if you keep this up."

McCoy raises an eyebrow and deadpans, "You know, I'm pretty sure that's my line," and Jim actually snorts in response.

"Too bad, I'm stealing it, and you'll just have to deal," he retorts, then grows serious. "I'd—I'd like to stay with you tonight. I mean, not—not for sex, or anything, we don't even have to sleep in the same bed, I just—I want to make sure you're still here in the morning when I wake up."

He looks painfully sincere, and McCoy offers up the only answer he can. "I already thought you were going to."

They undress and settle into the bed, both of them wearing undershirts and boxers, Jim spooning up behind him, his arm wrapped around McCoy's stomach and tucking his head into McCoy's neck.

"I should probably give a debriefing," McCoy says, staring out into the darkness.

"In the morning, Bones," Jim assures him. "We can go over all of it in the morning."

Part of McCoy is actually expecting the questions to start now, because he knows that by this point, Jim has to know about Tarsus. There's no way he doesn't, just like there's no way he doesn't know about how long McCoy's been keeping him in the dark. But Jim seems content to just lie together like this, and say nothing at all, so long as he's touching McCoy.

McCoy tries to relax and fall asleep.

It's a long time before he actually does.


Even after he opens his eyes, it takes Leonard a long, disorienting moment before he realizes where he is.

He licks his still-dry lips—even though he knows he's being treated for the dehydration, some tiny part of his brain and body still hasn't caught onto that—and calls out hoarsely, "Nurse?"

An older man approaches him—Leonard remembers having met him before, back when he'd first been beamed aboard the Liberté and into its sickbay. "Hello, Leonard. Can I get you something?"

"Yeah, you can get me some answers," Leonard replies. "What happened back there, and why the hell are you even here in the first place?"

"That can all wait for now—you need to rest," the man tells him, patronizing, and Leonard grits his teeth.

"What I need," he says, angry and not really trying not to show it, "—is for you to tell me what the hell happened to my friends and everybody else on that planet. Are they," he takes a harsh breath, "—are they even still alive?"

The man purses his lips, and Leonard opens his mouth, ready to shout down this entire sickbay if he has to, when another voice cuts in, "I'll handle this, Montgomery, thanks."

The man shrugs, and Leonard twists around in the biobed to see the woman from the cell, still in her blue uniform with a PADD in her hand, a faint smile on her face as she looks at him. "Commander Kirk," Leonard manages after a moment, dredging her name out of his memory.

"Yes, that's right," she says, smiling at him. "How are you feeling?"

Leonard shrugs, not that interested in talking about it—he hasn't gotten a look at his chart yet, although he'd like to, but he can guess the contents easily enough. At least the glaucoma and ocular hypertension are reversing themselves easily enough—his vision's no longer blurred. "Could you tell me what happened?" he asks instead, and forces out a "please" at the end of it.

Just like Nurse Montgomery, she pauses, but she says finally, "All right," and approaches to stand at his bedside. "What do you want to know?"

Leonard opens his mouth and pauses, because the sheer number of questions he has are all crowding into his head. "What the hell happened?" he finally asks, and Commander Kirk purses her lips for a moment.

"The shuttles that the Andorian contingent had—they had a beacon that was being sent back to the Consortium's headquarters, because the ions in Tarsus' environment prevent deep-space transmissions—"

"I already know about that," Leonard tells her. "Tiren Sorja's a friend of mine, he'd already told me at the start of the—at the start of this."

She pauses, and then says, "Right. Well, when the signals from all the ships cut out abruptly, Talen Sorja—the Consortium's chairman, and I'm assuming a relative of your…friend, got the wind up, and approached Starfleet, demanding that the ships be sent out ahead of schedule since there was clearly something going on. It took him a while to convince some members of the brass, but he finally did, and we came here, ahead of schedule."

Leonard swallows. So Tiren was right after all. "What about the colony? What—did Kodos succeed in killing off half—" One look at Commander Kirk's face is enough to tell him the answer. "Oh God."

"As far as we can tell," Commander Kirk says quietly, "Kodos…did succeed in his plan to wipe out half of the colonists, yes."

Leonard can't breathe. Half of the colony. That's four thousand people, at the very least, that's— "What about my friends?" he asks, desperate. "Tiren and Zora and the rest of the Andorians, and oh God, Phil, Kodos imprisoned her too—"

"When Kodos announced what he'd done to the rest of the colonists, there was a riot," Commander Kirk tells him gently. "There was an uprising, and the colonists started fighting with Kodos' guards, trying to save their friends and family, but—I'm sorry, it was already too late. We arrived just—just a few days too late."

"Are my friends all right?" Leonard asks again, his voice cracking.

Commander Kirk doesn't respond for a moment, and then she takes his hand in hers. "Leonard," she says, her voice a hushed whisper, "Leonard, I am so sorry, but—Tiren Sorja did not survive, and of the prisoners we found alive in the palace, there wasn't anyone named Phil among them."

Leonard can't breathe. "No. No, I don't believe you. They're fine."

Commander Kirk just looks at him, the sympathy and pain on her face obvious. "I'm so sorry. There's—there's a preliminary list of survivors—"

"Show me," Leonard demands, his voice cracking horribly. "You're not—you're wrong. They're fine."

Commander Kirk hesitates, but she eventually pulls out her PADD, tapping on it several times before finally handing it to him.

Leonard takes it and stares at it blankly for a moment before beginning to scroll through the names, dully noting the names of people he knows vaguely, but not seeing the names of the people he needs to see—there's no Phil, no Tiren, no matter how hard he looks—Zora's there, thank God, thank God, but he keeps scrolling, but there's no Boyce, P.L, or Ceris, Tiren Sorja. It's a long list, but too painfully short for Leonard, and the longer he looks, the more his throat tightens, until his vision's blurry once more, but this time from the tears that are about to fall from his eyes.

He turns his face away, and blindly thrusts out the PADD at her. As she takes it, Leonard turns his face towards the ceiling and says, his voice hitching, "I'd like to be alone now, Commander, if you don't mind."

She doesn't respond at first, and she doesn't move from the biobed, but finally Commander Kirk says, in a kind voice that threatens to undo him entirely, "Okay, Leonard. Okay." She brushes his arm, gently, and Leonard nearly bites through his lip to keep from sobbing out loud, but finally she's moving away, her boots making soft noises against the floor.

"Wait," he croaks out, and the footsteps pause. "My friend—Zora. She's one of the Andorian survivors, she—can you please tell her I'm here? That I'm all right?"

"I will," Commander Kirk promises, and Leonard barely manages to nod before sitting up suddenly and pulling the curtain around his biobed, shutting himself off from the rest of the sickbay so he can fall apart entirely in what little privacy he has.

*

"No, I want to see him—I demand to see him, and if you don't get your hands off me this instant, I swear by all the seven hells that I will—"

Leonard drags himself out of a grief-induced slumber at the sound of a voice yelling. He pulls open his curtain, just a little bit to see Zora, oh God, Zora standing there, a long cut down one cheek, and one of her antennae missing, yelling fiercely with one of the doctors.

All the air leaves Leonard's body in a rush. "Zora," he calls out, half afraid that when he does, he'll wake up back in that cell, dying by inches, but Zora immediately turns at the sound of his voice, her face so wide-open and vulnerable, and then she's stumbling forward and pulling him into a tight hug, burying her face in his shoulder. "They wouldn't tell me where you were, they wouldn't tell me anything—we tried to get to you, but they put us under house arrest and when we got out—"

Her voice is fading in and out, and it takes Leonard a second to realize that it's because he's sobbing too hard to hear her properly. He becomes dimly aware that she's crawled into the biobed with him, and she's holding him close, stroking his hair and holding him as he cries, not caring about the biobed alarms shrieking, until someone finally has the sense to shut them off.

"Miss, I'm sorry, you can't—"

"Leave them alone for now," he hears Commander Kirk respond, and Leonard would thank her if he could talk, if he could think beyond the unbearable pain in his chest, in what feels like every part of his body.

Zora doesn't respond to them at all, just murmuring softly to Leonard, promising him that it's all right, that he's safe now, that nothing's going to hurt him.

Leonard doesn't quite believe her, but he closes his eyes and pretends that he does.


"You look well," Talen tells him the next morning over breakfast. "Very well indeed."

They're in McCoy's quarters. McCoy had rustled up breakfast from the replicator in his room, but so far hasn't managed to actually swallow any of it. Talen's definitely noticed, but he's done McCoy the courtesy of not commenting, and McCoy's grateful for that.

"Well, my staff know what they're doing," McCoy tells him, and Talen inclines his head.

"It's obvious that they do," he agrees. "If I may, have you contacted your mother yet?"

"I did, early this morning," McCoy says. He'd woken up a little after 0600, to find Jim hanging onto him so tightly that McCoy was in danger of losing circulation in his limbs. He'd slipped out of Jim's arms, and a little later that morning, asked Jim for some privacy so he could talk to his mother alone, and Jim had nodded and immediately disappeared.

He doesn't quite want to think about that conversation, about how the few times that his mother's ever cried, it's almost always been because of him.

So instead, he turns his attention to another deeply unpleasant topic, but one that can't be avoided for any longer.

"Was Lenore Kodos telling the truth?" McCoy asks, looking Talen in the face. "About your involvement in her father's death?"

Talen does him the courtesy of not pretending he doesn't know what McCoy's talking about. "In a way, she was," he says. "Although if you're looking for the ones who actually executed him, you'll have to look to your own organization. Starfleet," he says, at McCoy's confused expression. "Section 31, to be more precise."

McCoy doesn't say a word, and Talen flicks his eyes back down for a moment. Then in a calm, unemotional voice, he starts to explain, from the beginning, about how Kodos escaped, how Starfleet covered it up, how Talen had gotten involved with the search to take him down. How they'd eventually found him on some backwater planet, gotten him to confess to his identity and to his crimes, and then…killed him.

McCoy listens to all of it, and doesn't say a word. He wishes he could feel more horror, or shock. But if he's honest—and there's really no point in lying to himself about this—if he's honest, he's not really surprised at any of it.

"You never told me," he says, through numb lips.

"I didn't know if you wanted to find out," Talen answers. "I thought of telling you, I…wondered if it might bring you peace, but you were already at the Academy and doing so well, so much better than you had been…I didn't want to put that into jeopardy. So I kept silent."

McCoy doesn't say anything for a moment. Then he finally asks, "Did you get any peace from it?"

Talen looks him in the face, and answers, honest as ever. "Yes."

McCoy stares at him, and Talen elaborates, "I felt peace at knowing I had done my duty by my son, and by the rest of Kodos' victims."

Neither of them speaks for a moment.

Finally, Talen asks, "Do you?"

McCoy looks at him. "Do I feel peace now that I know he's dead?" There's only one answer to that, and McCoy doesn't think of offering a different one. "No. It doesn't change anything for me."

Talen's expression doesn't shift, and McCoy can't tell how he's responding to that. Thank God, the door chimes, and McCoy looks away from Talen, calling out, "Come on in."

Jim and Spock walk in, both of them nodding at Talen in greeting. "Dr. McCoy," Spock says "It is good to see that you have suffered no lasting damage."

"Glad to see you too, Spock," McCoy says dryly, but he means it.

"We need to talk, Bones," Jim says, looking serious.

"Sure, what about?" McCoy asks, taking the opportunity to push his untouched plate to the side.

"It's about our prisoners. Starfleet wants us to rendezvous with the Heron, and hand them over to the captain on that transport ship."

"Sounds routine enough," McCoy says, not understanding where the issue is here.

"The next part isn't," Jim says grimly. "Starfleet's also made the request that all of us hold off on making any official reports until further notice."

McCoy blinks. "That's not coming from Pike, is it?"

"No, Komack," Jim replies. "But it's official, and there's nothing that any of us can do about it."

"Can't you guess why you'd receive such orders?' Talen asks, his voice deliberately void of any inflection, not looking at any of them.

Jim glances over at him, and says, "We can, but I have a feeling you know more about our orders than I do."

"I don't know more," Talen replies. "But I can theorize." He pauses, and then says with complete certainty, "Lenore Kodos will never get a trial in a Federation court."

McCoy sits back in his seat while Jim and Spock stare at Talen. "You can't know that," Jim says finally, but with a hint of uncertainty. "Why would Starfleet—"

"Why would Starfleet admit to faking Kodos' death and then having him killed years later? They couldn't afford to bring Kodos to trial years ago, and they can't afford to do it now. Recruitment quotas are down, and Starfleet cannot risk the potential scandal."

"So what, they'll just throw her into a cell without ever giving her a trial?" Jim asks, his voice getting louder.

Talen doesn't look at all discomfited. He shrugs his shoulder—a gesture McCoy knows he picked up from spending so much time with humans—and says, "If I had to guess—and this is just a guess, Captain Kirk—I would say that at some point, Lenore Kodos will be quietly handed off to the Orion Syndicate. After that…" he shrugs again, making it clear that Lenore's fate, whatever it ends up being, is no longer any concern of his.

From the look on Jim and Spock's faces, they're not too thrilled about any of this.

"So, she is to be denied her legal rights as a citizen of the Federation?" Spock demands, and Vulcan stoicism or no, it's clear that he's almost violently offended by this.

McCoy sighs and pushes his seat back, his stomach flipping over unpleasantly as he does. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I'm heading over to sickbay, I'm sure there's plenty of paperwork I need to get caught up on."

Now all three of them are looking startled, and Jim protests, "Bones, you don't have—" He catches himself, and says instead, "Nobody's expecting you to go back to work immediately."

"I concur," Spock says, folding his hands behind his back. "No one would fault you for choosing to wait before resuming your duties."

"That's not a reason for me not to," McCoy replies. Talen doesn't say anything, but he's watching silently, his gaze bright and focused almost entirely on McCoy.

It's easier to avoid Talen's assessing look than it should be.

"All right," Jim finally concedes. He looks like he wants to say more, do more, but can't, seeing as they aren't alone. So McCoy forces a corner of his mouth to turn up in a weak approximation of a smile, and heads out of the room, grimly determined to not think about any of the things that were just discussed in his quarters.

By the time he gets to sickbay, he's mostly succeeded. Christine tries to shoo him out when she catches sight of him, but he fends her off fairly easily and goes to hole up in his office.

From all appearances, Geoff and Christine did a good job of holding things together in his absence, but there's still plenty to hold his attention, plenty of things that can keep him busy, keep his mind from turning to—

McCoy stops before his mind can travel down that road any further, and focuses once more.

It's around lunchtime when Jim walks into his office, smiling at him, but with a hint of worry still lurking in his eyes. "Hey, Bones," he says easily, and McCoy finds it in him to smile back.

"Hey, Jim. Everything all right?"

"Yeah, everything's fine," Jim responds, and McCoy wonders if this means that the subject of Lenore Kodos is finally closed, if they're just not going to talk about what's going to happen to the woman currently occupying the brig, watched by some of Starfleet's finest.

Then again, Jim hasn't brought up Tarsus either, hasn't even hinted at it yet.

"What are you working on that's so urgent?" Jim asks, circling around the desk to look over his shoulder; as he does, Jim's hand absently curls around the back of McCoy's neck, warm, his fingers brushing against his hair. McCoy leans into the touch and tries not to think about how badly he missed this—

"Requisition forms," he says after a too-long pause, and Jim snorts.

"Of course you are," he says fondly. "Hey, let's go to the mess; it's lunchtime and I hear the chef's made spaghetti and meatballs."

McCoy swallows. "Actually, I was thinking I'd stay in here, get something from the replicator. I really do need to get some headway on these forms."

Jim pauses for a second before replying, and it's unfair, but McCoy can't help but flash back to Georgia, to everyone watching what he ate with hawk eyes, relatives still trying to fatten him up years after he'd made a full recovery, and then Jocelyn—

But then Jim says, in a voice so casual that McCoy can almost believe it, "Yeah, okay. I'll just join you then." McCoy turns to look at him, and Jim's smiling once more, saying, "Hey, it can't hurt for the captain to look over this stuff before you turn it in. Rand'll have your ass if there are any mistakes."

"Please, like I don't know you sign off on half this stuff without even looking at it," McCoy retorts, and Jim makes a mock-wounded face.

"Bones, are you kidding me? I love requisition forms. I live for requisition forms. They make my day, no, they make my week—"

McCoy has to chuckle at Jim's overdramatic tone, and when he's finally stopped laughing, Jim's smile has shifted into something softer, sweeter, and McCoy's not surprised when Jim leans down to kiss him softly on the lips.

But when Jim pulls away, there's a faint shadow to his blue eyes that McCoy pretends not to see. "You all right, Bones?" Jim asks softly.

"Yeah," McCoy responds, "I'm fine, Jim," and he tells himself it doesn't feel like a lie.


It takes Zora a day or two before she notices. Leonard can't blame her, really, it'll be days before her missing antenna regenerates completely, even with medical attention, and without it, she's not as able to discern color differences as easily. Not to mention how her balance has gone to hell.

So he's surprised when she looks at him one day and asks, her forehead furrowing, "Leonard, what's happened to your eyes? They're different now."

Leonard drops his head. "The medication used to treat the glaucoma changed the color of the irises." He'd already looked in the mirror and seen the radical difference, the blue eyes he'd inherited from his father changed to a muddy brown.

"Will they go back to normal?" Zora asks.

"No," Leonard tells her. "The change's permanent."

"Oh," Zora says, awkward now, and Leonard avoids her gaze. "They're quite attractive," she says after a moment, trying to be kind. "They look almost green in the lighting sometimes."

He shrugs with one shoulder. "Thanks."

She's not the first person to comment on it. His attending doctor had explained what had happened, at least until Leonard had bit out that he did have a medical degree, and could suss out what happened without someone using small words to explain it to him.

Some of the nurses have tried to compliment him on the change, the same nurses who talk to him like he's a small child and stand by his tray making sure he eats every morsel of food. Leonard always grits out a "thank you," not bothering to hide his discomfort; he's sure that if his parents could see him right now, they'd be pitching a fit over his lack of manners, but under the circumstances, Leonard is dully surprised to find that he really doesn't give a shit.

Zora's the only person he doesn't even think of snapping at when she asks about it, but that's probably not so surprising, she's the only person he can really stand to be around these days.

He's getting plenty of visitors—the other Andorians all make a point of checking on him every day. Tyrol's taken to glaring at his doctors with narrowed eyes and grilling them on his progress. Well, actually, they're all doing that, and Zora's probably the worst out of everyone, she gets into a sniping contest with Nurse Montgomery every single day.

Leonard still hasn't quite worked out how to break it to them all that he won't be getting back to normal any time soon. Despite finally having access to proper medical care for the first time in months, there's only so much that the doctors and the machines can do, and it'll be months before Leonard's back to his normal weight, months before he regains all the muscle he lost and his body adjusts to a reality in which he isn't slowly starving to death.

He feels guilty about it, he does, but lately he's taken to pretending to be asleep when some of them come by—he's too exhausted to put up the brave face anymore, too tired of pretending not to hurt, tired of those moments where he turns around and looks for Phil, or Tiren, and then the realization of their deaths hits him all over again, and he's left trying not to weep in sickbay like a child.

Zora's the only one who he doesn't mind seeing cry, and that's because he knows she's just as wrecked as he is. She sleeps next to him in a cot, and more often than not, he's the one waking her up from her nightmares, and not the other way around.

The staff won't let them sleep in the same bed, but Leonard's taken to reaching out and wrapping her hand in his, making sure to hold on throughout the night, so he'll still be holding on to her when morning comes.

He wakes up nearly every morning with his face wet from tears, and Zora's hand clasped tight in his.

*

McCoy's on his daily scheduled walk around the ship when he meets Talen Sorja for the first time.

He's walking with Zora, letting her take control of the conversation, and responding as necessary. So when she abruptly stops talking, Leonard blinks at her, before he realizes that there's another Andorian coming their way.

Leonard's surprised to realize he doesn't recognize this man; he's older than most of the Andorians Leonard does know, but he looks so familiar—and that's when Leonard realizes with a sharp shock that this man looks like an elder version of Tiren, and his mouth goes dry.

He hastily follows Zora's cue and ducks his head as the man approaches. "Chairman Sorja," Zora says respectfully, and the man inclines his head.

"It is good to see you, Zora Reijal."

He then turns his gaze to Leonard. "And this is Dr. Leonard McCoy, I presume."

"Uh, yes, sir," Leonard says, something hot and painful flaring in his chest. He blinks for a moment as the man offers his hand, but then as his brain catches up, quickly shakes it.

"I am Talen Sorja, Dr. McCoy—Tiren's father," Chairman Sorja says after a moment, and Leonard tries not to hear the slight waver in his voice as he says Tiren's name out loud. "And I am glad to have this opportunity to meet you, and thank you for everything you did for my son."

Leonard gapes for a moment, then says quickly, stammering, "Oh—no, no, sir, I didn't do anything, I just did my job. If you're looking for a hero, Zora and Tiren—they're the ones who were the heroes. Not me."

"You saved my son's life," the chairman tells him, and Leonard doesn't say, 'Not in the end when it counted the most. I didn't save anyone in the end.' But Chairman Sorja's continuing, saying, "You gave him the chance to live, the opportunity to fight for what he knew to be just. Don't discount that."

Leonard's throat is too tight for him to speak, so he just nods. After a moment, he regains control of himself to say, his voice rough, "I don't—I don't know what Andorians say at times like this, but I am—so sorry for your loss." It feels woefully inadequate, but Chairman Sorja inclines his head.

"I thank you."

*

Leonard hasn't missed the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Zora and the other Andorians have basically assumed the role of his parents on the Liberté. Zora's the one who deals with his nurses and doctors most of the time, fending off the ship's counselor when he tries to approach Leonard about what happened on Tarsus. She also—although Leonard's mostly turned a blind eye to it—has taken to grilling the doctors about his progress, although Leonard is more than capable of telling her how his body's recovering.

Finally, one of the doctors has had enough. "Miss Reijal," Dr. Hyunh says, with not a little irritation, "—to be blunt, I cannot give you that information. You are not a family member, and you have no basis for access—"

Leonard raises his head off his pillow at that. "She is my family," Leonard says quietly, and Zora turns wide eyes to him that he ignores. "Give me the forms and I'll sign them." He does look at Zora now, and says pointedly, "I'm expecting you to sign those same forms for me, you know."

It's the widest smile he's seen from Zora since they got on the Liberté. "Yes," she says. "Of course."

Dr. Hyunh raises an eyebrow at both of them and says mildly, "I'll have the forms sent to your PADDs."

They fill out the forms side by side, and when they're finished, Zora looks at him and asks with a tiny little smile, "Shall we send them at the same time?"

Leonard gives her a smile back, and for the first time since his rescue, it feels mostly real. "On three?" She nods, and he counts down, "Three—two—one."

They both hit send at the exact same moment.


Talen's leaving the Enterprise to get back to Andoria, and McCoy sees him off.

They haven't really talked since that last big conversation, but McCoy knows he can't put it off any longer. After Talen leaves, the Enterprise'll leave Risa's orbit and go to rendezvous with the transport ship that'll take Lenore Kodos and her crew to prison or to…wherever. And McCoy's not an idiot, and he's never looked at Starfleet with wide-eyed optimism (even if a part of him never considered the lengths that they've apparently been willing to go to) and he knows that in all likelihood, Talen's right about what Starfleet will do with her.

McCoy isn't sure what he wants Lenore Kodos' fate to be, but he knows he doesn't want it on his conscience.

So, before they get to the transporter room, McCoy sighs and says, "Hey—hang on a second." Talen stops walking and looks at him, and McCoy takes a breath. "Listen. About Lenore Kodos."

Talen's entire face shifts, but he doesn't say anything, and McCoy says in a rush, "I don't want to hear some day, months from now, that she was mysteriously killed in her jail cell with no witnesses and no suspects. I know—I know that this isn't actually my call to make, and that once she leaves the Enterprise, it's out of my hands. But I am asking you, please—don't make me the excuse for her assassination."

Talen just looks at him and says, "Are you really asking for mercy on her behalf?"

"No," McCoy says. "I'm asking you not to put her blood on my hands. Or on yours."

Talen doesn't say anything for the longest moment. But finally he nods. "Very well," he says.

"Thank you," McCoy says, and now Talen's raising an eyebrow at him.

"This is not the sort of thing I like to be thanked for," Talen points out, dryly, and McCoy has to concede the point—Talen prefers not to be thanked at all, honestly, or if he has to be, it's preferably after one of his outrageously generous acts have been accepted, like providing the funding for an entire wing of a hospital that McCoy had worked at. Or trying to hire a shark of a lawyer for McCoy's divorce—not that McCoy had let him.

Or showing up and being willing to pay over a billion credits just to keep McCoy safe. All because, over fourteen years ago, he'd decided to take responsibility for a shell-shocked teenager.

"You didn't have to agree to pay the ransom, you know," McCoy says after a moment.

"Yes, I did," Talen says immediately, and McCoy knows that from his perspective, Talen's right—the complicated mix of duty and familial obligation mixed in with genuine caring. Or as his grandmother might have put it, you do right by your family, no matter what.

"Yeah, well—you didn't have to do it, but thank you."

"Thanks are unnecessary," Talen replies, serene. "But you're welcome nevertheless."

They start walking again to the transport room and say their goodbyes once more. Jim and Spock are there, along with Shiran and a good number of the other Andorian crewmembers. After goodbyes are said, Talen steps on the pad and dematerializes in front of them, his hand raised in one last farewell.


Jim doesn't think he was ever stupid enough to believe that everything would miraculously turn back to normal once they got Bones back. He hadn't thought about what would happen afterwards, because he couldn't bear to—to think about what it'd be like to be able to comm Bones and hear his voice, to go to his quarters and find him there, abstractly frowning as he read one of his medical journals. Jim hadn't been able to think about what their normal existence on the Enterprise would be like, because he was too afraid to consider the possibility that they'd never have it again.

And now Bones is back, and they're not close to normal. Not even with Talen Sorja gone back to Andoria, or the prisoners shipped off to transport—Jim got the unofficial word from Pike that Lenore Kodos and the rest were turned over to the Syndicate. Everything's settled, but it's not all right. Not with Bones, and not with Jim.

Jim knows he doesn't have any right to complain about this, and he isn't—Bones is back, he's safe, and that's all Jim could ask for.

It's just that now that everything is supposedly back to normal, that means that Jim no longer has an excuse for not thinking about certain things.

Like Bones being on Tarsus, or how he hadn't told Jim about it, or how they still aren't talking about it—not Tarsus, not his kidnapping, not even when Jim wakes up in the middle of the night to find Bones wide-awake, face tensed and pinched like he's been having nightmares and can't get back to sleep. Not that Jim knows that for sure—Bones won't confirm anything one way or the other.

So they skirt around the issue, and Jim pretends like that's fine with him, and Bones—well, actually Jim has no idea what Bones is thinking, which is probably his biggest problem with this whole mess.

Okay, no, that's not true. It's his second biggest problem right now. The real problem, the one that's killing him, if he's honest, is not just that Bones didn't tell him about Tarsus—it's the effort Bones made to keep Jim from ever finding out. It's the stories about his family that Bones had to have edited to keep from mentioning all the Andorian relatives that had basically adopted him at the age of nineteen. It's how Jim had never met Shiran until they were on the Enterprise, and then it was meeting Shiran as an ensign assigned to Communications, not as Bones' niece.

Jim can't remember a point in the last five years where he didn't trust Leonard McCoy.

Now he's got to wonder if the reverse is true.

*

When Jim walks into Bones' quarters, Bones is sitting at the vidscreen, talking. Jim hovers by the doorway, saying nothing until Bones says, "McCoy out. Computer, end recording," and looks over at him.

"Hey, Bones," Jim says, shifting his weight. "Who are you sending that to?"

"Oh, that's just one of the vid messages I'm sending to the family."

For a second, Jim doesn't get it. "I thought you'd already talked to your mom."

"I did. This is for the extended family," McCoy says, and that's when Jim gets it.

"Do you want me to get out of here, give you some space?" Jim offers, because it seems like the thing to say, rather than because he wants to leave.

Bones looks at him, but says finally, "No, it's fine. Just, uh, try to stay quiet, okay?" He smiles crookedly. "I don't need any distractions."

"Sure thing," Jim says easily, and listens quietly as Bones makes what seems like the same message to several dozen people, telling them that he's fine, not to worry, that he'll talk to them soon, and try to see them when he's got leave. Jim's ears prick up once at the mention of Shiran during a message sent to somebody named Tyrol, Bones assuring him that his daughter's doing just fine on the Enterprise, and not to worry.

Jim's working on several forms that Rand had sent to his PADD when Bones makes a different sort of message, this time sent to someone named Zora.

"Hey, Zora. First, you should know that I'm fine, really. I got rescued, the bad guys have been caught, and everything worked out fine, which I'm sure Talen told you already. Second, I know you're going to be pissed off I sent this message instead of talking to you direct—aw, hell." Jim lifts his eyes to see Bones rub at his face for a moment, sighing, and then he says, "Give me a day or two, okay? I swear I'll talk to you soon. And I really am fine. Bye."

Jim waits until Bones is finished, then asks quietly, "Who was that one for?"

Bones isn't looking at him as he says, "Uh, her name's Zora, she's—she's one of the Tarsus survivors. And she's also technically my sister."

Zora. Jim's mind conjures up the memory of an Andorian friend of Bones that Jim had met once or twice, briefly, the last time at their graduation ceremony. "I remember her," he says after a second. "She was nice."

"Yeah, she is," Bones agrees, still not looking at him.

Jim waits a beat, and then says, "It's almost dinner, we should probably head over to the mess."

Bones' gaze is fixed on the screen, and Jim's not all that surprised to hear him say, "Oh, I already had some food earlier. You go on ahead, I'll catch up to you later."

The words are said casually enough, but Jim doesn't miss the tension in Bones' back. "Yeah, okay," Jim agrees finally, getting out of the chair. He kisses Bones goodbye, and tries to remember exactly why he'd decided not to push things just yet.

Then he catches the look of relief on Bones' face and remembers again.

*

Jim's a little surprised when Elizabeth Dehner stops by his table and asks to sit with him for dinner, but he makes room for her tray at his small table, and they make small talk while they both eat. Once she's done, she sets down her fork and asks, "How's Dr. McCoy doing, Captain?"

Ah. That's why she sat down at his table. "He's fine," Jim says. "Although you can ask him yourself, if you want."

She smiles what Jim privately thinks of as her Mona Lisa smile, and says wryly, "Actually, the last time I tried to ask Dr. McCoy how he was doing, he shut me down pretty thoroughly."

Jim blinks. "Did he?" he asks, mild.

Dehner nods. "Yes he did. I can't quite recall the exact phrasing, but he assured me that unless he was ordered to by a superior officer, he would not be seeking any form of counseling, as he felt it was completely unnecessary."

"And you disagree," Jim says, his voice even. "So now you what, want me to make it an order?"

But Dehner surprises him. "Oh no," she assures him, folding her arms on the table. "That wouldn't do any good at all." She smiles again in the face of his discomfited look, and asks, "Captain, if I may—have you ever looked at Dr. McCoy's psychological profile? The one that's in his files."

Jim tries and mostly fails to keep from stiffening in his seat. "I know that he was cleared for active duty by Starfleet."

Dehner actually grins at him. "I know he was, Captain, and I'm not disputing that assessment at all, so you can bring your shoulders down from around your ears, okay?"

Jim makes an effort to relax. "So what are you trying to say, then? He passed the psych evals, just like everyone else on this ship."

Dehner nods, tucking a loose strand of blond hair behind her ear. "Yes, he did. In fact, Dr. McCoy has passed every psychological evaluation he's been given since he enlisted, with excellent and remarkably consistent results."

"Are you suggesting there's something strange in that?" Jim asks, an uneasy feeling starting to appear in the pit of his stomach.

Dehner looks him square in the eyes. "I'm suggesting that while it is entirely possible that Dr. McCoy is indeed a supremely stable and well-adjusted being with no lasting trauma from his experiences—he is also a highly intelligent man with the ability and knowledge to fool nearly every psych eval he's been given." She shrugs delicately. "Trying to convince him that he does need counseling could be—difficult. And making it an order—pardon me, Captain, but that would only exacerbate the issue."

Jim doesn't reply, and she drops her gaze, saying casually, "Of course, this is all just speculation. Dr. McCoy seems to be doing quite well."

"He is," Jim says quietly.

"I'm glad to hear that," Dehner says, getting up from her seat, her tray in her hands. "Have a good night, Captain."

*

"Bones," Jim groans as he falls back against the bed, "Bones, c'mere—"

Bones is already on him, his hands working at Jim's pants while Jim tugs at the hem of Bones' shirt, slipping underneath to slide up against warm skin.

"Bones," Jim murmurs again, and Bones leans down, thank fuck, to give him a bruising kiss, teeth sharp against Jim's mouth.

Bones is clearly in the driver's seat tonight and that is fine with Jim, hell, more than fine—it's a rush, having Bones push him down on the bed, demanding with his mouth and his hands and his body—

Jim reaches up for him, but Bones pushes his hands away, pinning them down flat against the bed. "Stay there," Bones growls against Jim's mouth and yeah, okay, that can really work for Jim. Fuck.

"Yeah, yeah, I can do that," Jim mutters, pressing his palms down flat against the sheets, keeping them still. Bones sits up and immediately strips his shirt off, and okay, yes, this is absolutely working for Jim.

Soon enough they're both naked, Bones manhandling Jim out of his remaining clothes, and then pulling out the lube out of a drawer. Jim moves to roll over onto his stomach, but Bones stops him. "No, not like that," he says, and Jim figures that Bones wants to do this face to face, but instead, Bones reaches out a slick hand and starts to stroke Jim's cock.

Jim arches up into the touch, groaning, his hands reaching out to clutch at Bones' shoulders as Bones strokes his thumb right there

Only to groan again, this time in disappointment, when Bones lets go. "Oh, God, Bones, come on—"

"Trying to," Bones retorts, rising up onto his knees, and Jim doesn't quite get what he means until he spreads more lube on his fingers, and then Jim's eyes go a little bit wider.

"Oh."

"Yeah, now, he gets it," Bones grumps, reaching behind and working himself open with slick fingers, all while Jim watches eagerly. He's dying to reach out and touch Bones, wrap his hands around Bones' hips, but Bones wants him to be still, he wants—

Still, when Bones pulls out his fingers and lines them both up before sinking slowly down on Jim's cock, Jim can't help but grip at Bones' hips, shuddering as Bones clenches around his cock.

"Fuck," Bones mutters, eyes fluttering shut, and Jim somehow finds the breath to laugh.

"Now you catch on," he teases, and Bones grins down at him, a quick flash of a smile before his eyes drop down and he starts to rock down slowly, achingly slow, wrapping a fist around his own cock.

And it's good, God, of course it is, it's fantastic—but as Jim tries to reach out and hold on, as he tries to shift the pace, Bones' eyes stay closed, even as he's got a hand bracing himself on Jim's chest, even as he's riding Jim's cock, unsteady little noises torn out of his throat.

His eyes are closed, even as Jim's staring up at him, like his focus is turned inward, gone someplace that Jim can't reach him.

Even after they've both come, even after they're cleaned up and under the sheets and Bones is a warm, heavy weight against his side, sleeping soundly for once, Jim still feels like he's a thousand miles away.

*

When it finally blows up—Jim's not expecting to be as thrown as he is.

They're in his quarters, and Bones has just declined to go to the mess for dinner for the—well, actually, Jim's lost count of how many times Bones has refused to go eat in the mess, which is probably why he finally ends up saying something.

"So, can we finally talk about this?" Jim asks, staring down at his hands.

He can feel Bones' eyes on him, but when Bones finally speaks, his voice is perfectly normal. "About what?"

"About how you've refused to eat in the mess ever since you came back," Jim says flatly, looking up at him.

Bones looks calm, but there's a tension in his jaw that says he's anything but. "I wasn't aware that was a problem, Jim," he says.

"It's a problem if you're not eating—"

Bones snorts. "Don't be ridiculous, Jim. You think I'm honestly going to stop eating? I've been eating fine, I just prefer not to do it in front of a roomful of people who are going to stare all the time."

"Bones, they aren't going to stare—"

"I've had a little more experience with this than you have, Jim," Bones snaps back, "—and yes, they would. They'd stare and they'd wonder and I'd have to act like I wasn't noticing, when the truth is that it's all I can—" Bones shuts his mouth, pressing his lips together, and finally says tightly, "I'm not going to the damn mess hall. So leave it alone."

He could back off at this point. Except that that's all he's done for the last few weeks, and Jim's sick of it.

"Yeah, okay. I'll be quiet now. Just like I've been quiet about how you aren't sleeping well, about how distant you've been, about the fact that you won't talk to me about any of the things that have happened—"

Bones' entire body, his face, is rigid as he stares at Jim and snaps, "I'm sleeping just fine, thank you. I don't need to talk about what happened, and if I wanted someone monitoring my calorie intake, I'd still be living in Georgia."

That hits like a slap to the face. Jim stares at him, and Bones drops his eyes and mutters, "Goddammit," softly under his breath, but when he looks up at Jim, he doesn't look any less upset, doesn't look like he's going to apologize or explain or—

When Bones gets up and leaves, Jim doesn't try to stop him.


Commander Kirk is the one who sets it all up. He's finally been released out of sickbay, and is currently living in what's called the Lodge, the part of the ship that's set aside for Andorian crewmembers to live together in one large community. He's not quite sure who made the arrangements, but he's glad for them—he still finds it easier to be around Zora than around other people, and he's glad to be sharing a room with her.

Commander Kirk comes by one day and explains there was a delay in sending word to Earth what happened—there's a slight frown on her face as she's saying this, and Leonard has a pretty good idea there's more to that than she's telling him. But the point is that they've been able to make contact now, and it's possible for Leonard to comm his parents, talk to them face to face.

The news makes Leonard's throat go tight, for several reasons.

"Could—could it be audio-only, Commander?"

A line appears between Commander Kirk's eyebrows, and she carefully asks, "Yes, but…are you sure you want that?"

Leonard nods. He's ashamed of it, but yes, he does. "I don't want my parents to see me like this," he explains, and Commander Kirk's face softens.

"Leonard, I promise you—"

"I still look like a skeleton, Commander," Leonard says flatly, because it's true. "I don't want—they don't need to see that. I don't want to watch them seeing me like that for the first time."

Commander Kirk tells him quietly, "All they're going to care about is that you're all right."

That's not the point. He can't—he can't be here, millions of light-years away, and see his father's face when he realizes what's happened to Leonard. Leonard doesn't know if that makes him weak or mean or what, but he can't watch that, not yet.

"Please," Leonard says quietly, and after a long moment, Commander Kirk sighs, and Leonard knows he's won, even if it doesn't feel like a victory.

*

The connection's crystal-clear, but his dad's voice is still cracking as he says, "Oh, God, Leo—you have no idea how good it is to hear you, son."

"It's good to hear you too," Leonard says, his voice choking up. He's glad he's alone—Commander Kirk set up the voice comm in his room, and Zora had left to give him some privacy.

"Sweetheart, you're sure you're all right?" his mother asks now, her voice heavy with worry. "The news keeps coming in with more details, and my God, it's—just tell us you're okay."

"I'm fine," he says, keeping his voice steady. "Really. The doctors are keeping an eye on me, and I'm already getting back to normal."

The problem with that is that his mother's always been able to spot a lie at fifty paces. "Really? Then why won't you let us see you?"

"Mama, I—"

"No," she interrupts, and now her voice is cracking. "No, dammit, Leo, the press has been spreading these awful stories, and that publicist from Starfleet told us that you'd been imprisoned, and you have no idea the thoughts that have been running in my head, and now all we can do is hear your voice but we can't see you, we can't see if you're really all right—"

He's never heard his mother sound so undone, and Leonard's throat is too tight for him to speak, but he chokes out, "Please—I can't let you see me like this, I can't—"

"Oh, honey, we don't care, we just want to know that you're all right—"

He isn't, though, he hasn't been alright in months, and they don't need to see the physical proof of that yet, they don't need to—he doesn't need to—

"Please," he's gasping out now, feeling like he's about to have a heart attack, "—please, just try to understand, I can't."

There's a long pause, and then it's his father answering, his voice a soft, understanding whisper. "All right, Leo, all right. We can do that, it's fine. You don't have to—it's all right."

Leonard closes his eyes and tries to believe him.

*

When Zora walks in, later that evening, Leonard's lying back in his bed, his arm thrown over his face.

"Leonard? Is everything all right?" She comes to sit by him, on the edge of the bed, and he slowly moves his arm away from his face to look at her.

"I'm fine. I just—talked to my parents today."

Zora's face looks even more concerned now. "Was—was it awful?"

"No." Yes, a little. "It was just—I'm going to go home. It's all I've wanted for the last few months, to be home, to sleep in my bed and—and now I am, and all I can think is that I don't deserve it—"

"You do, Leonard, of course you do—"

"More than Phil did?" Leonard asks, his voice breaking. "More than—she had children, she had two daughters, she'd—" Accomplished more than Leonard could ever hope to, and Leonard couldn't help but think that if anybody had deserved to live, it had been her—

"Don't say that," Zora tells him. "Don't think like that, it's not fair to yourself."

"Nothing about this has been fair, Zora—"

"No, it hasn't. None of this has been fair, but Leonard, listen to me, will you please?"

Leonard looks at her, and Zora's face is still and very sad.

"It hurts every day to know that they're gone," Zora says. "But I am so glad that you are still here."

She touches his face, and Leonard closes his eyes. "I'm glad you're here too," he says softly.

When Zora lies down on the bed and curls in next to him, Leonard shifts over to make room. After a while, Zora says quietly, "I also talked to my family this afternoon."

Leonard turns to look at her. "Oh—I didn't even ask how—was it okay?"

She nods. "It was. I needed to tell them I'd be coming home later than expected."

"Later than—but why?" Leonard asks, confused.

Zora looks at him and says, "Because I'm going to see you safely home in Georgia first."

It takes Leonard a moment before he can speak. "You don't need to—Zora, I don't need an escort, I'll be fine."

"Yes, but I am going to do it anyway," Zora insists. "So don't bother arguing, because I won't listen."

There really is no arguing with her, Leonard can see that from the look on her face, so he doesn't bother trying. "Suit yourself," he says, ducking his head, his voice rough to hide his gratitude.

But a few moments later, his hand finds hers, and he holds on tight.


It's been a few days since the fight, and Jim's taken McCoy at his word, and stopped pushing. He doesn't ask McCoy to go eat in the mess, he doesn't ask questions. There's nothing passive-aggressive in it, he's just—stopped.

He still gives McCoy those anxious glances when he thinks he's not looking, but McCoy's not exactly in the mood to snap at him for that.

Fuck.

McCoy's never told Jim this—he's never told Jim a lot of things, and God, does he really not need to think about that right now—but one of the reasons it had taken him so long to agree to moving their relationship forward had been because he was worried about this, about them turning into a repeat of his marriage to Jocelyn.

He'd told himself it wouldn't be like that, that he wouldn't make the same mistakes he did then, but he has and look at where they are now. Lying in the same bed like strangers, Jim's worried glances a silent reproach, even if he's not intending them to be.

But the thought of talking about—he hates it, not just the idea of telling Jim, but the idea of talking about it at all, the idea of cracking himself wide open and—

Except that he's tried staying silent, and it's not working for him anymore, and it's hurting Jim in the process.

Goddammit.

*

McCoy switches his shift, so that when Jim heads back to his quarters after alpha shift, he's already there waiting. "Hey," he says quietly.

Jim pauses for a moment, then says warily, "Hey, Bones." He pulls his gold shirt over his head and tosses it in a corner, but doesn't move to come closer.

McCoy takes a breath. "I didn't tell Jocelyn about Tarsus until after we were engaged." Jim blinks at him, obviously surprised, and McCoy continues, staring at a spot at the wall. "When I met her, I was in Atlanta and she didn't know that I was one of the survivors, and at the time, it was—such a relief to have that. See, back home, that was all anyone knew me as—poor Leonard McCoy, the kid who'd come back from Tarsus looking half-dead—" He shuts his mouth on that, but continues after a moment, "But when we got engaged, I knew there was no way to have the wedding without explaining why my side of the aisle was packed with so many Andorian guests, and I wanted them there, a lot more than I wanted to avoid telling her. So I did tell her and she—reacted better than I had any right to expect. At least then, anyway."

He's not looking at Jim, but he can feel Jim's bright gaze on him anyway. "So what happened, Bones?"

"A lot of things," McCoy replies. "She wanted to understand and she didn't, not really, and I wasn't exactly inclined to help her understand. I didn't get why she needed to know, it was in the past, it had nothing to do with her, with our life together—" He stops himself from repeating the same arguments he's made before, over half a decade ago by this point. "Maybe we would have worked it out on our own, but then my dad got sick."

And Jim knows that part of the story already, thank God, because McCoy is really in no shape to retell it, sympathetic audience or no. "After he died, I was in—really bad shape. Jocelyn tried to help, she did, but the habit was set. I couldn't talk to her about it. I couldn't talk to her about anything anymore, really."

Jim moves to sit down next to him on the bed. "Bones," he says gently, but doesn't say anything else.

"I should have told you about Tarsus," McCoy continues, because he needs to get all of this out already. "I know that, part of me's known that for a long time now. But I didn't want you to—when people find out, it—it becomes one more thing you're defined by, and I didn't want that to happen with you. I was over it. I am over it. I'm not that nineteen-year-old victim anymore, and I don't need you to see me that way."

"Bones," Jim says, his voice still so gentle that McCoy wants to close his eyes. "What makes you think I would see you that way? Come on, you—out of anybody, you think I don't get what it feels like to be defined by something that isn't—that isn't something you chose to be?"

McCoy finally turns to Jim and offers a wry, if unsteady, smile. "I never said my thinking was rational."

Jim's grinning at him now, a little unsure still, but also real. "Yeah, clearly." He grows serious. "Bones. You can trust me with this. I'm not saying you have to tell me all of it. But you can trust me with—with any part of it you want to tell me about."

He knows that. He's always known that, deep down. McCoy just figures it's time to act like he does.

"Yeah," he says. "Okay."


The shuttle ride down from spacedock to Earth is an experience Leonard never ever wants to repeat again. He'd spent the majority of it with his eyes closed, teeth gritted against the nausea, holding onto Zora's hand with a death-grip. It's not until they've entered the atmosphere that he peeks out the window, and it's not until they're close enough to the ground to actually make out woods and roads and buildings that he starts to really look, staring down at a landscape he'd once believed he'd never see again.

Finally, they land, and Leonard lets out a long, shaky breath as the shuttle comes to a halt. "You really weren't kidding about the aviophobia," Zora remarks as the other passengers start to depart, and he nods distractedly.

Zora lets him sit there for a moment or two, and then turns to him with a gentle smile and says, "Come on. You promised to show me the sights, remember?"

It's a gentle prod, but it's enough to get Leonard out of his seat, unfastening his seatbelt with hands that are shaking only a little bit. Once they're both up, Zora tucks her arm in his and they move towards the door, Leonard blinking rapidly as he faces the bright sunlight streaming in through the open door.

"All right, come on," he murmurs, and he's not sure if he's talking to Zora or himself, but they both keep moving forward anyway.


McCoy's never going to be deluded enough to refer to himself as an optimist, but he knows things are slowly getting better these days. He's sleeping better, for the most part, and even if he's still eating most of his meals in private, he will join Jim and Shiran for an early breakfast on occasion, when their schedules all match up.

He's got his first appointment with Elizabeth Dehner tomorrow morning, and even if he's not looking forward to it, he's still determined on going, which is, he figures, enough to be getting on with.

And right now, he's with Jim in their quarters, telling him about Phil Boyce for the first time.

"The first thing she asked me was if I was going to throw up on the shuttle," McCoy admits, and he watches Jim try valiantly to fight back a tiny smile at that, and with a sigh, waves his hand and says, "Go ahead."

Jim doesn't disappoint. "So, uh, I'm guessing that this became sort of a tradition for you, huh?"

"Aviophobia's no joke, Jim, especially when you're allergic to the damn meds that could at least alleviate—"

"Yeah, I know," Jim says. "So you threw up on your idol and then she—"

"I said I almost threw up, I didn't say it actually happened," McCoy corrects. "She was…actually quite gracious about it, in her very blunt way. Tried to keep my mind off of it for the entire ride, listen to me pepper her with questions about the medical papers she'd written—" McCoy stops, thinking about Phil, and says after a moment, "You would have liked her, Jim. I have…no idea what she would have said about you, but you would have liked her."

Jim's smile is soft as he reclines back on their bed. "I'm sure I would have," he agrees. "So tell me more about her."

And McCoy does, and the stories he has are easy to tell, even if it's the first time he's said them aloud.

End.