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Child of Darkness

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The Dark Phoenix flew throughout the stars, and he was displeased.

He hadn’t appreciated Captain Lord Juber interrupting his feast. In fact, he should have gone back to finish it once he crippled the ship.

Something...some small part of him...made him walk away.

He opened another stargate, just as easily as the one before, and sped himself through time and space all the way back to the Milky Way. He flew through the stars until he encountered the planet that he sought.

Earth.

He rested, looking down upon it as a God is wont to do. Something about this rock...it made him feel things: nostalgia, pride, and even a great sadness.

It didn’t make any sense. He was Dark Phoenix! He should feel nothing but the rapturous joy of destruction. The power to create and to end…that was all he needed. Why should he come back here to wallow? It was beneath him.

With wings of flame carrying him, he flew through the atmosphere. He descended until he could make out that he was over North America; he continued until the boundary lines of the United States were visible.

He aimed for the land he recognized as Georgia, and then psychically guided himself to Chatham County on the southeast coast. He headed for a certain horse farm on the outskirts of Savannah towards Whitemarsh Island.

When Dark Phoenix touched down, he was in the middle of a field. It was dark, late at night, and he took in his surroundings.

A gelding stood nearby; he was beautiful, chestnut brown with a black mane and tail. Dark Phoenix smiled; he recognized him, even though he was but a colt when he left for Starfleet.

“Sisyphus,” he called, and the horse eyed him. He walked over to him and reached out a hand. The horse sniffed him for a second before rearing back. He cried out, neighing his alarm. Dark Phoenix pulled back his hand. “No, it’s me; don’t be scared...I just...”

The horse turned tail and ran away from him. This had the reaction of alarming the other horses, and they all galloped back to the stables proper. He tried to reach out to them telepathically to soothe them, but it was too late. The damage was done.

Feeling saddened by this, Dark Phoenix lifted off the ground and flew towards the rambling old farmhouse.

Magnolia Bend was proud; it had once been a plantation that grew pecans that in the last few centuries instead found fame raising and selling thoroughbreds. The land was beautiful and sprawling, and Dark Phoenix once called it home.

The smell of the marshlands was heady on the air as he flew through the darkness. A light was on in the house up ahead; maybe Uncle Johnny was still up. He stayed up late sometimes to balance the ledgers.

Dark Phoenix landed at the front door and knocked. “Hello?” he called into the house.

There was silence.

He did a telepathic scan; he could sense echoes of Uncle Johnny and Aunt Ginger, but they were long faded. It was as if they had left hours ago. That was strange; why would the light be on? Why would the horses be left out?

He was walking through the house when a holo in a frame caught his eye.

Picking it up from the shelf it stood on, he gazed at it in wonder.

It was the last picture taken of his whole family; his mother and father were on their knees holding him with grins. He was the spitting image of his mother, and they wore matching smiles.

It was taken the day before the crash, and his life changed forever.

A sudden pain hit him deep within his chest, and it shocked him so much tears welled up in his eyes. He sat the holo down and turned his back to it, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

Memories of a simpler time flooded him; they made his heart ache, even though they felt almost like they could belong to someone else. He longed to go back to that part of his life, and at the same time he had no desire to do such a thing. It was over, dead and buried.

What use was there in chasing ghosts?

Walking back to the front door, he telekinetically opened it and stepped outside. The only sound was that of cicadas, and the only light was that of the stars.

He shouldn’t have done this.

This was no longer his home; Dark Phoenix lived among the stars. Why would some old house evoke such strong reactions in him?

He took a step towards the edge of the porch and surveyed the land. It would be the last time he would see it; there was no harm in saying goodbye.

He was so lost in his thoughts, he didn’t sense the person come up behind him and slip the device over his head. “I apologize, Doctor McCoy,” he said, and he recognized him as Scotty, “but this is truly the only way.”

The device, some kind of headband, glowed and sprang to life. All at once, it became excruciating to think, let alone use his powers. He shifted into a judo stance and threw Scotty over his shoulder onto the ground below. “You! What have you done?”

“Easy, doc,” a voice called from the darkness,; it was Sulu. “We’re here to take care of you. It’s okay.” He turned to Scotty, who brushed himself off. “How do we know when that thing’s working?”

A blinding pain cut through Dark Phoenix’s defenses, and he knelt on the ground clutching his head. He screamed in agony.

“You were saying?” Scotty retorted as he held up a control device. “Although...his power levels are higher than I estimated. There’s no telling how long it’ll work.”

“Get this,” Dark Phoenix spat, “thing off of me!”

“Sorry, Leonard,” and that was Nyota. “We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t love you.”

“I’ll kill you,” Dark Phoenix shouted. “I’ll kill all of you!”

“No, you will not,” said Chekov. His voice was sadder and older than it had any right to sound. “If you struggle, you will only make it worse.”

His mind was on fire. It felt like it was burning out, the pain was so strong. He barely managed to levitate off the ground, and he couldn’t concentrate to summon a raptor or use a force bolt. All he could do was fight with the weapons he was born with.

So it would be.

With a cry, he lunged into the darkness and grabbed Sulu by the shirt collar. He managed to gather enough strength to hold him up one-handed. “You think you’ve bested me with this machine? Well it may kill me, but Dark Phoenix will not give up!” With that, he tossed him to the ground. Panting, he turned to face the others.

Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov had phasers trained on him.

Very well then.

Dark Phoenix flew a little bit, although it was not nearly as precise as it normally would be. He rushed towards them.

“We do not want this, Doctor,” Chekov said.

“We love you,” Uhura added.

“Because I loved you once,” Dark Phoenix snapped, “I will shed tears at your graves!”

Scotty fired and missed; Chekov picked up the slack and hit him with a stun beam. It slowed Dark Phoenix down, but it didn’t stop him. The burning sensation began to lessen in his mind. If he could last just a little longer, it was likely he would wipe their precious invention out.

Good.

He would keep fighting then.

Although...something in him told him to give up. It asked him to let them help him. That these people meant a lot to him, and he didn’t wish to hurt them.

But...they had hurt him, and no one hurt Dark Phoenix without paying a toll.

A metallic sound came from behind him, and before he could register it, he was tackled.

“We knew that this might be him or us,” Sulu shouted as he straddled Dark Phoenix’s hips and drew his katana back. “It’s pretty clear it’s him!”

Something in him snapped, and the inhuman rage slipped off his face. “Sulu?”

Sulu blinked. “McCoy?”

He swallowed. “Do it. Please. While I’m still here, just...do it.” The lieutenant stared down at him with conflicting emotions crossing his face. He held the sword steady, but he didn’t move it downwards. “Please,” he reiterated. “Take my head off, do it before I---“

Just like that, the walls went up, the mask slipped back into place, and he filled with an unstoppable rage. He reached out a hand and blasted Sulu across the yard. Dark Phoenix stood up with a manic grin. He lifted a hand and pulled the scrambler off; it melted at his touch.

“Such a crying shame,” Dark Phoenix said. “I’ve overloaded your cute little headband.” He dropped the sludge to the ground. With the speed of thought, he enveloped the four Enterprise crew members into a telekinetic bubble. They hovered in the air, frozen like statues. “Any last words before I pass sentence?”

“Knock it off, Bones.”

There was the Captain.

Dark Phoenix grinned. “Did you come to fight me too?”

“Nope,” Jim said. “I actually came to talk.”

“Not interested,” Dark Phoenix answered.

“That’s too bad, because you’re going to listen anyway.” Dark Phoenix felt something on the edge of his consciousness; it felt a lot like hope, and he didn’t know how to deal with such an emotion. “Can I ask you something?”

Dark Phoenix didn’t like where this was going. “I won’t answer.”

“I’m going to ask anyways,” Jim said with a shrug. “Why haven’t you killed me?”

There was a long silence.

“What?” Dark Phoenix asked.

“You heard me. I want to know why you haven’t killed me. I mean, you’re evil right? Dark Phoenix or whatever? So...why am I still here? Why didn’t you kill me back at the Hellfire Club?” Jim took a step forward. “For that matter, why are they still alive?” he asked with a gesture at the others. “Why not kill them?”

There was another long silence as Dark Phoenix considered the question.

“The judgment of the Phoenix...it...”

“I think I actually know the answer,” Jim interrupted. “You see, the thing about you being the Phoenix is that you’re also Leonard McCoy, and the whole reason Leonard McCoy became a doctor was because of how much he loves life. He wanted to preserve it as much as he could by helping other people. Not killing is the very essence of the type of man he is.” He smiled. “You haven’t killed me because you can’t.”

The rage softened on Dark Phoenix’s face to something less certain. “I...can kill you any time I want.”

“Bullshit,” Jim countered. “You can’t kill me because you’re in love with me.”

“I...” The glow faded from his eyes, and his posture relaxed. “Jim...”

“Killing is completely alien to you, and you certainly can’t kill someone that you love,” Jim continued. “That’s why you can’t kill any of us. That’s why you haven’t killed anyone at all. I’d know if you had, Bones, and you haven’t.”

His eyes were green, and his face was sad. “Jim, I...I just...” Before Dark Phoenix could finish his sentence, someone assaulted him using telepathy. He cried out, grabbing his temples with his hands. “What…?”

//Thank you, Captain.// Spock’s voice sounded throughout the night air. //I will take it from here.//

Enraged once more, Dark Phoenix stood straight. //Well, if it isn’t the Hobgoblin. Using Scotty’s pet Cerebro are we? You don’t stand a chance.//

//We shall see, Doctor.// Spock sounded strained. //I am using the device at seventy-five percent power.//

//Let’s dance.// Dark Phoenix said with a smile. He pushed Jim out of the way before he became engulfed by a firebird. All at once, reality faded, and he stood on the battlefield of his mind.

The landscape of Dark Phoenix’s consciousness was surreal. The sky was red, and it tinged everything crimson, giving the terrain the appearance of being washed in blood. There were marshes with thick, humid air. It was a distorted version of McCoy’s home as thunder roiled in the distance.

Spock stood fifty paces from him. Instead of his Starfleet uniform, his astral form wore a ceremonial Vulcan robe complete with words embroidered into the fabric. The robes billowed in the breeze.

Dark Phoenix grinned. //Well then. I’m here. Show me what you’ve got.// He lifted off the ground, took aim, and fired an energy blast.

Spock raised an eyebrow but formed a shield from nothing. He protected himself from the blast just in time. Dark Phoenix poured more energy into his strike, doubling it in size. It shattered Spock’s shield, and the impact sent him hurtling onto his back.

Recovering, Spock grew to be about fifty meters tall. Another shield and a suit of armor formed. Flaming wings and a tail formed on Dark Phoenix has he rammed into him at full speed. The shield held true this time, and Dark Phoenix flew back to regroup.

Spock summoned rocks to fall upon Dark Phoenix, trapping him underneath a pile of them. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated, and the rocks fused together into a stone box.

//I hereby use my telepathic powers to bind the Phoenix...//

Dark Phoenix exploded out of the rocks. //Your power is nothing! You are nothing!// Once again, he attacked in earnest. Spock deflected his blows, striking out with force bolts of his own.

//Leonard...if you are still capable of hearing me, please aid me in this task.// He tried a second time to bind the Phoenix, this time summoning a large stone hand to grasp him.

Dark Phoenix laughed. //As I told you, your power is nothing, Hobgoblin.// He tried to free himself.

//Stop!// Spock and Dark Phoenix both turned toward the voice.

Leonard McCoy stood before them in his Starfleet uniform.

Dark Phoenix’s eyes widened in shock. //No! You cannot exist without me!//

//I can, and I have.// Bones shot back. //Spock, here.//

Spock shrunk back down to his normal size, and Bones came behind him. He placed his hand on Spock’s shoulder.

//This has gone on for long enough.// Bones said. //I bind you, Phoenix.//

Spock inclined his head. //Correction, we bind you together. You will harm no one.//

//No!// The hand formed turned into a red box, trapping the Phoenix inside of it. //No, I won’t allow it! I won’t!//

Using their power together, Bones and Spock sealed the box shut so that nothing, not even air, could escape it.

It was done; the Phoenix was contained.

Back in the real world, Bones’ clothes shifted to the suit he wore at the Hellfire Club gala. The firebird aura dissipated into the sky, floating away like fireflies. He collapsed without a word.

“Bones!” Jim ran over to him and sat on the ground, cradling him in his arms. “Bones, are you okay?”

The lights of the transporter appeared in front of them, and there stood Spock. Visibly exhausted, there was green blood smeared under his nose. “The Phoenix is bound, and even with my powers augmented by Cerebro, I would not have been successful had the doctor himself not aided me.” He wiped away the blood with the back of a hand. “His will is truly formidable.”

Bones stirred. He blinked open his eyes. “Jim?”

“Hey you,” Jim said with a watery smile. “So, that happened.”

A look of deep sadness came over Bones’ face. “Jim, while I was Dark Phoenix...I tried to...”

“I know, Bones, I felt it all through the rapport,” Jim said as he brushed the hair off his face. “Just like I felt you stop, and how I felt you avoid killing the Shi’ar crew. I even felt you make sure the system was uninhabited first.” The smile became less shaky and more proud. “You still had control deep down inside. You didn’t lose yourself. That means everything.”

Bones tentatively smiled back. “Thanks, darlin’.” He pulled Jim’s face towards him, and they kissed.

Glowing lights formed in the field several meters away. The crew of the Enterprise looked towards them.

Two armed Shi’ar guards stood in the front, followed by Gladiator, Smasher, Starbolt, and Oracle of the Imperial Guard. Behind them stood the Empress herself, Lilandra. She wore a suit of skintight silver armor with a cape over her left shoulder. There was a matching helmet in the shape of her feathered hair on her head.

The expression on her face made it clear that this was not a social call.

“Captain James Tiberius Kirk,” she announced. “Honored crew of the USS Enterprise. I regret to inform you that, due to a ruling by the Shi’ar Imperial council, the being known both as Leonard McCoy and as Phoenix must be remanded into my custody immediately. For the crimes he has committed, he must be eliminated.”

Neither upset nor surprised, Bones closed his eyes.

His friends all stood in shock, except for Jim whose eyes narrowed. “I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“This decision was not made lightly, Captain,” Lilandra continued, “but in order to preserve all life as we know it...Leonard McCoy must die.”

-----

Jim moved so that shielded Bones with his body. “Don’t let them through.”

His crew armed their phasers as they formed a defensive perimeter.

“You would be wise to not resist,” Lilandra said in a serene voice. “Gladiator.”

“At once, my Empress.” The Praetor of the Imperial Guard turned to his comrades. “McCoy is the one we need, dispose of the others.” The Guard advanced on the crew of the Enterprise.

Pavel might have gulped, but he, like the others, held his ground.

Jim armed his own weapon and trained it on Gladiator; it wasn’t likely to do much good, but there was no way he was going to let Bones be killed without a fight.

“Wait!” Nyota said. “Leonard McCoy Arin’nn Haelar!”

Lilandra’s face twisted in irritation. “Gladiator...stop,” she said.

The Imperial Guard stopped; they turned to their Empress to await further instruction.

“What did you just do?” Jim asked Nyota.

“The Shi’ar have an ancient law, the Arin’nn Haelar. It’s a duel of honor, and when invoked, it cannot be refused,” she explained. “I’ve issued this challenge in our names.”

“In everyone’s name? Including mine?” Sulu didn’t look too happy about this.

Everyone else ignored him. “It’s the only way to buy us time to save Leonard,” Nyota continued.

“Good thinking, Lieutenant,” Jim said before turning his attention back to Lilandra. “Well?”

Lilandra narrowed her eyes. She held her wrist to her mouth. “Technician, beam us up.”

The transporter lights whirled around them, Shi’ar emissary and Federation officer alike. It only took a virtual instant before they were on board the Shi’ar Imperial flagship. They stood in the middle of a large theater in which sat dozens of aliens, all of whom had a stake in the day’s events. Armed guards surrounded Jim and his crew.

“Lilandra, what’s the meaning of this?” Jim asked. “We parted as allies; more than allies, we parted as friends. Bones was your friend.”

“I still consider you all my dearest friends,” Lilandra said, and indeed, she sounded sad. “I owe you more than I could ever possibly repay.”

“Then what’s the problem with letting us handle Phoenix, which we’ve already done by the way.” Jim stepped forward from Bones to face Lilandra.

“The Phoenix is simply too powerful for you to contain,” Lilandra said. “It is the living embodiment of life in the universe. However, it also has the power to burn suns and extinguish star systems. While Phoenix was a benevolent entity when it saved us all from my brother and the horrors of the M’Kraan Crystal, this is no longer true.”

A view screen flickered to life, and on it was an image of Dark Phoenix absorbing the energy of a star.

“As seen here,” Lilandra explained, “Phoenix attempted to consume the D’bari star, which would have annihilated the entire system. Fortunately, the system is uninhabited, but what of the next time?”

The Enterprise crewmembers all looked at Bones, who stood with his head bowed.

“Leonard...” Nyota began. “You couldn’t have...”

Bones didn’t answer; indeed, he didn’t have to.

The others stared at him in stunned silence.

“What your footage doesn’t show is that Bones had enough control over the Phoenix to make it pick an uninhabited star system deliberately,” Jim argued. “It also fails to mention how he controlled the Phoenix enough to prevent the deaths of your crew.”

Murmurs came up from the crowd at this, and some of Jim’s crew looked relieved.

Lilandra was unmoved. “While that may be true, there is no telling if McCoy will be able to exert his will over the Phoenix in the future. Suppose the next time Phoenix’s mind is truly dominant. The risk is too great.”

“It also does not take into account the circumstances surrounding the doctor’s transformation,” Spock added. “He was a victim of mental tampering and control. His lashing out was a result of severe mental trauma, and we have sought the aide of a therapist who specializes in such areas.”

“If someone tampered with his mind once, who is to say it will not happen again?”

“You propose to not only punish Doctor McCoy for an offense that did not injure any party and in fact is not a crime, but you also wish to punish him for potential future crimes that he may or may not commit?” Spock raised both of his eyebrows. “That is not only a miscarriage of justice, but it is highly illogical.”

“It also ignores one important fact,” Jim said. “Phoenix has been bound within his mind. It won’t act again or take him over. It’s already been handled.”

“Phoenix is controlled,” Bones said, startling them all. “For now. We’re still tethered together, Jim.”

“So long as you are bound, the risk of you becoming the Dark Phoenix cannot be ignored.” Lilandra gestured to her guards. “I am truly sorry, Doctor McCoy. Take him.”

Bones stood as still as a stone. He made no move to fight or retreat.

Jim shook his head. “Wait a minute; Lieutenant Uhura issued you a challenge, Lilandra. The Arin’nn Haelar, was it? It’s my understanding that you can’t refuse it.”

Lilandra frowned. Before she could answer, a humanoid-looking alien in a white and blue suit approached her.

“Empress, the Kree agreed that the Phoenix entity be executed,” he said. “Nothing was said about any so-called duel of honor. I do not know that the Supreme Intelligence will abide such a request.”

A green-skinned alien with ridges in his chin inclined his head. “As much as it disgusts me to agree with anything this mudworm says, the Skrulls have also not agreed to this duel. Empress Rk’lll needs to be consulted as well.”

“Very well,” Lilandra answered. “I must consult with my allies before answering, Captain.” She gestured with her staff. “You will all have the use of my Ready Room in which to wait.”

Jim nodded. “That’s fair.”

“Araki,” she called, and the Imperial Sage stood next to her. “Show them the way.”

“Yes, Majestrix,” he said as he began. “Come this way, Captain.”

Jim took Bones by the arm and led his crew to the appointed chamber.

There was nothing more to do than wait.

-----

It didn’t take long for Lilandra to consult the Kree Supreme Intelligence and the Skrull Empress. Surprisingly, they agreed to the Arin’nn Haelar.

“You will have your duel,” Lilanda said to Jim once she arrived back in the Ready Room. “Although I fear you will live to regret it.” She bowed, and several guards came to her side. “Per the traditions of the Arin’nn Haellar, you will have one day to rest and prepare. My ship and its amenities are yours. The duel begins tomorrow at dawn.”

Jim and Bones were shown to a suite the guard said was for honored guests. After being assured his friends were given similar accommodations and a quick call to the Enterprise to explain their situation, he and Bones stepped inside their room to rest.

At least, the plan was to rest.

There was a large picture window; they orbited Earth’s moon, and so they had a stunning view of the earthrise.

Throughout all of the waiting back in the Ready Room, Lilandra’s speech about the duel, and even the walk to their room, Bones stayed silent. Something got to him, although without the rapport Jim couldn’t figure out exactly what it was.

Normally, Bones being so quiet would have caused Jim to make a lot of jokes at his expense.

Not this time.

Jim believed in Bones; he believed in him more than he believed in any other person. Sure Bones had a gruff outer-shell, but he was full of compassion and even optimism. Jim knew how strong and capable he was, both as a doctor and as a man.

As a person, Jim knew he was right to have faith that Bones could control the Phoenix, and that he deserved a chance to prove it.

As a leader...as a leader, Jim could see exactly where Lilandra came from.

Oh sure, his responsibility was to his crew and to uphold the Federation’s ideals; it was absolutely nothing compared to the burden that Lilandra shouldered as the Majestrix of a galactic empire that put the Romulans’ to shame. Either way, they were in the position of having people’s lives, for good or ill, depend upon their command decisions.

It turned his stomach, but he understood her point. Dark Phoenix was a menace, and as long as the Phoenix force was within Bones’ body, there was a chance that he would return.

“I’ve been a captain too long,” Jim said as he propped one arm up against the window.

Bones didn’t answer. Jim heard him move around; it sounded like he took off his clothes.

“I don’t agree with her believing that executing you is the only way, don’t get me wrong,” Jim explained. “Why not let us run some more experiments to see if you and Phoenix can be separated from each other first? Besides...I don’t like her belief that if you were to become the Phoenix again, you’d automatically become Dark Phoenix. There were mitigating circumstances that she refuses to take into account.”

Jim sighed.

“More to the point, I offered Nero compassion, and this was after he destroyed Vulcan. No, while I see why she feels the way she does, I still think she’s wrong. If I were in her place well...it’d be a lot more like erring on the side of mercy, I guess. There but for the grace of God...”

“Regardless of the outcome?”

Bones speaking startled him so much he lost his train of thought. Jim turned to face him; he sat on the bed, having removed his jacket, cravat, shoes, and socks.

It was the look on his face that got Jim, though; he had never seen Bones look so bleak before.

“In a...well, I hate to use the word tantrum, but that’s what it amounts to...I trashed my closest friends, flew deep into space, and decided to consume a star…”

“After you scanned the system to make sure it was devoid of life.”

Bones continued as if he hadn’t heard him. “Then I crippled Lilandra’s newest battle cruiser...”

“You could have killed them, but you held back.”

“Then I came to Earth and trashed my closest friends a second time.” Bones looked down at his hands. He picked at his cuticles. “It took the combined will of myself and Spock to bind the Phoenix and turn me human again. How long do you really think that’ll last?”

Jim opened his mouth before closing it. He walked over to the bed and knelt on the floor in between Bones’ legs, taking his hands in his. “Are you giving up? Because I can’t do this if you’re giving up.”

“I’m a realist, Jim, I’ve always been a realist. Realistically, we’re on borrowed time. So long as this force is still bound to me, there’s a chance that I’ll become Phoenix again. So long as there’s a chance that I’ll become Phoenix again, Dark Phoenix is looming around the corner.” Bones closed his eyes. “I’m not worth it.”

“I don’t ever want to hear you say that again,” Jim said. “Of course you’re worth it. You’re worth everything, Bones, and it really pisses me off to hear you say otherwise.”

Bones didn’t say anything.

“Look,” Jim spoke, and it caused Bones to open his eyes. “We’re fighting tomorrow, because if we don’t, Bones, it’s like saying that you can’t be rehabilitated. That you can’t be fixed. I refuse to accept either of those. You’re kind, and you care more about saving others than you do yourself. You need help, not punishment, and that’s all there is to it.”

Again, Bones didn’t say anything.

Jim stood. He looked down at him with a fond, yet irritated, expression. “I can see I’m going to have to work harder to chase those storm clouds away.”

With that, he pushed on Bones’ shoulders; Bones took the cue and lay on his back. Jim quickly took advantage and lowered himself so that he straddled his hips. He unbuttoned the white dress shirt. “You know,” he said in a whisper, “when I saw you in this outfit the other night, all I could think of was getting you out of it.”

“Funny enough, I picked up on that,” Bones remarked.

“Oh good. I was worried that I was too subtle.” Jim took his hands and opened the shirt, running his hands over Bones’ chest. “So since we’ve got twenty-four hours, and Lilandra said our every need will be catered to, I’m thinking we should partake in some good old-fashioned hedonism.” He leaned down to kiss Bones on the throat. “We should spend the next day in bed is where I’m going with this.”

“You don’t say.”

Jim smiled into his skin; if Bones was sarcastic then Bones felt better.

Mission accomplished.

“I wonder if Lilandra’s chef knows how to make Chinese food,” Jim wondered as he moved his hands down to unfasten Bones’ belt. “I guess we’ll find out in a few hours.”

Bones snorted, and then his eyes darkened with that same bleakness from before. “Jim...”

“No,” Jim said as he looked up. “No more dwelling. No more what if-ing. We have each other right now, Bones. That’s all we need.” He smiled with more cheer than he had to admit he felt. “That’s all we ever need.”

Some of the shadows left Bones’ eyes, and they became a clear green-gold. “I love you, darlin’.”

Jim’s smile brightened. “I love you, too.”

Bones’ eyes widened. “Jim...”

“Let’s not call attention to it, okay?” Jim said with a sigh. “I just...my issues seem really small and if I don’t, I might not get another chance. So just...leave it.”

Bones leaned up so that their faces were close. “As you wish.” He stroked Jim’s hair before kissing him.

The kissing turned hungry, and they fell together on the bed.

-----

Nyota Uhura pulled her hair down from its customary ponytail, running her fingers through it to smooth out any knots.

“I’m thinking about calling a masseuse,” she said, almost to herself. “My neck and back are killing me.” Spock placed his hands on her shoulders from behind. He began to rub them, soothing away the tension. “That feels lovely,” she said with a sigh. “Thank you, Spock.”

“You are welcome.”

They stood in companionable silence for a time as he massaged her neck and shoulders.

“You lost your temper earlier,” Nyota said as she bowed her head to give him better access. “It’s unlike you.”

“I gave myself away with the usage of the phrase ‘miscarriage of justice’.”

Nyota smiled. “To me, and perhaps to Jim, but not to anyone else; I didn’t think you would feel so strongly about this situation.”

There was a long pause, and Nyota knew it was because Spock had to gather his thoughts.

“Had the doctor actually acted without thinking, resulting in the destruction of inhabited worlds as casually as Nero destroyed Vulcan, I would feel differently. Had his actions also not been the result of severe mental trauma and instead were simply because he had to the power to take them, again I would feel differently.” He slid his hands lower on her back. “I realize I am discussing my personal feelings, rather than speaking in terms of logic, but as Jim is fond of saying, ‘it is what it is’.”

Nyota nodded. “I think that’s valid.”

“I would even agree,” Spock continued, “if Lilandra’s proposal was to destroy the symbiosis between Doctor McCoy and the Phoenix. I think perhaps the relationship is no longer beneficial to either party; the doctor, while still capable of acting with rational thought, and while it was exacerbated by Wyngarde’s manipulations, has been changing in subtle ways since the possession began. They do say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

“You really think he’s been corrupted?”

“I think that any living creature with limited awareness would be by housing an entity such as the Phoenix. It is not a reflection on him; it is a reflection on the nature of the relationship.”

“That makes sense,” Nyota said with a gasp as his hands found a tight knot. He gently, yet firmly, worked it out.

“Likewise, I wonder if perhaps the Phoenix is becoming...for lack of a better word, confused by the doctor’s human experiences and emotions. While neither can exist without the other, it has perhaps become something akin to a codependent or even abusive relationship.”

Nyota’s eyes shot back open. “That is a terrifying thought.”

“It is sobering, indeed,” Spock agreed. “I do not even know if the relationship can be sundered. The Phoenix may not be willing to let the doctor go.” He looked over her shoulder and off into the distance. “I believe that we should be given the chance to try before ordering the doctor’s execution. While no one has ever dealt with a situation such as this, it is not acceptable to simply write it off as hopeless.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Nyota said with another sigh as the knot finally loosened. “I was worried you wouldn’t be willing to stand with us tomorrow.” She thought for a second. “I was also worried I was letting how much I care about Leonard cloud my reaction to Lilandra’s decision.”

“Perhaps Lilandra feels she has something to prove by being so harsh; after all, she is a new ruler. It is logical for her to demonstrate how severe she will preside over the Empire. However, she has made this decision without the benefit of allowing Doctor McCoy the chance to defend himself. Indeed, she has completely bypassed a trial and gone straight to passing sentence. The Terran expression of ‘might making right’ is most applicable to this situation and her decision.”

To anyone else, Spock would have sounded mildly annoyed.

To her, he sounded disgusted.

“She has afforded him a trial by combat, at least.”

“’Trial by combat’ is a deceptive name, as it is not in any way, shape, or form a true trial. There is no contest of reason; there is no procuring an explanation of hard evidence by both sides. A jury of the accused’s peers does not determine it. Calling it a ‘trial by combat’ is actually an insult to the concept of a fair trial.”

“You feel very strongly about this,” Nyota said after a moment.

“If we were on New Vulcan, this situation would be moot.”

“This is true, the Vulcan legal system is rather elegant,” Nyota agreed.

“Even the Terran system is refined enough and would grant him the benefit of a trial with properly prepared counsel. They could even have him face a court-martial and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” His hands massaged her lower back. “Lilandra has bypassed all of these for the sake of the justice that she personally feels is to be done.”

Nyota nodded. “It’s understandable that this would bother you so much, then. She’s letting her fear over what could happen cloud her judgment over what is happening.”

“Exactly.” Spock rested his hands on her hips, and Nyota brought her hand up to touch his face.

“Do you think we’ll win tomorrow?” she asked.

Spock was silent. “We are facing the premier members of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard.”

“I know.”

“They possess superpowers. We do not.”

“I know.”

“They also are more seasoned and well-trained in this type of combat...”

“Spock.”

Again, he was silent.

“The likelihood of our success is almost too small to compute.”

Nyota closed her eyes. “I thought you would say that.”

Perhaps wisely, he chose not to ask her why she posed the question in the first place. Instead he brushed his lips across the back of her neck.

“We’ve faced hopeless odds before and won each time...” Nyota mused. “I wonder if perhaps we won’t be so lucky tomorrow.”

Spock didn’t answer her, but the way his grip tightened around her waist told her everything she needed to know.

Just as it was likely they would not succeed, it was equally likely that they all would not come back from it. According to the books, the Arin’nn Haelar was not a duel to the death...but it was possible that one or several people would die.

That one or several of her friends would die.

Nyota tried to prepare herself for that.

-----

Scotty was frustrated.

Part of the reason why he worked so much was because he couldn’t stand having nothing to do. He hated being idle; it made him feel useless and antsy. He did very badly with downtime. Relaxing was something he didn’t really get.

So being stuck on the Imperial Flagship in a fancy suite all alone was actually taxing and frustrating.

At first, he paced. Then he watched the Earth move in orbit. He found paper and a pen of all things and came up with a device to split the Phoenix from the Doctor. Scotty frowned at his drawing; it looked like it might have the unfortunate side effect of lobotomizing him.

Well, he could always go over it with Spock; he might pick up on something that Scotty failed to see.

He then drew up schematics for a type of containment egg in case McCoy should become Dark Phoenix again before the splitter could be built21 .

This was also not an ideal solution, as Dark Phoenix would not be able to be released from it. So even if they fixed the splitter so that it wouldn’t fry his brain, there would be no way to get it on him. Not unless someone went in the egg with him.

Scotty blanched; while he had no doubt that the captain would be crazy enough to volunteer for it, it was still kind of a terrible plan.

He pushed the drawings to the side and stood to pace again.

Instead of pacing through his suite’s living area, this time he wandered the whole room. The bed was likely to stay untouched, as his nerves hit him too hard to sleep. While Scotty was a highly trained Starfleet officer, and he had faith in his friends’ skills...he had a bad feeling about this duel.

They fought the Imperial Guard once before, and they barely held their own. He didn’t think they would be so lucky a second time; all they had were their phasers and the clothes on their backs.

He wandered into his bathroom. It was quite large, and something caught his eye. There was a shower, of course, and sinks. All were made of a gleaming polished stone similar to Terran marble. It was really quite lovely, but that wasn’t what caught his attention.

What caught his attention was the large, deep, elevated soaking tub that stood in the center of the room22 . It appeared to be big enough for six people. Jars sat around it of various oils and liquids.

Scotty’s face softened.

He hadn’t had a proper bath in years.

Without wasting another second, he went over to the tub, searching it for its plug. A control panel sat built into the tub’s edge, and he ran his hand over it. It lit up, and while he could not read the Shi’ar language, he was smart enough to deduce which part was the on button. He selected first the button to close the plug and then to turn on the hot water.

And he wanted it hot.

Fortunately, it was so hot that it steamed. It was perfect.

He looked at the jars of colorful liquid sitting on the tub ledge. He opened each one, smelling their contents. They all smelled nice, but none of them exactly smelled familiar. After some deliberation, he dumped in all of the red and purple ones. Bubbles formed in the water, and the combined scents were exotic, like rich spices. He stripped out of his uniform and underwear, kicking his boots across the room as he did so.

It didn’t take long for the tub to fill up most of the way, and he turned off the control for the water. He then slid into the tub, closing his eyes as the incredible heat of the water hit him. “Aye, that’s brilliant,” he sighed. The water was on the edge of being too hot, and Scotty soaked, reveling in it.

For once, he was able to shut his mind up and let go: no problems to fix, no deadlines, no ship emergencies.

Maybe there was something to this whole “relaxation” thing after all.

Scotty sank down in the tub so that the bubbles mostly covered his face. Doing nothing more than sitting in the water, he didn’t even grab any soap. He just closed his eyes and breathed. After a long period of this, a chime sounded. He straightened back up, pushing a button on the console display.

“Yes?”

It is I, Pavel’s voice called over the intercom. May I come in?

Scotty brightened. “Sure.” He pushed another button, and the front door opened to his suite. He heard some awkward shuffling. “I’m back here, Pavel,” Scotty called.

Pavel paused in the doorway before smiling and making his way towards the tub. He sat on the edge of it. “This is not how I would expect you to spend your off time.”

“I’ve been known to indulge every now and then,” Scotty said with a shrug.

Pavel nodded. “Well, you deserve it.”

They looked at each other for a while, and Scotty’s cheeks turned red.

He had to admit, he found Pavel quite attractive. They danced really well together, and they worked together even better than that. Sure he was young, but age didn’t matter. He knew Pavel felt the same way.

Just...how to address it?

There was a long silence.

“I am suddenly very aware of the fact that I’m naked,” Scotty announced. He then winced. Yes, calling attention to that fact would surely break the ice.

Pavel blinked a few times before turning red. A shy smile formed on his face. “I could be naked too, if that would make you feel better.”

Scotty cleared his throat. “Well, I...”

His doorbell chimed.

Scotty pushed the button on the console. “Yes?”

It’s Hikaru. Is Pavel with you?

Pavel made a face. He started to shake his head no, but Scotty didn’t notice.

“He is, come on in.” Scotty looked up at Pavel, who frowned. “Oh. I mean...”

It was too late, though, as Hikaru came into the room. He nodded at them both as he leaned against the counter. “Do you guys have a minute?” he asked. Scotty gave Pavel a curious look; the navigator huffed a little and rolled his eyes.

“Yes, but we were in the middle of something,” Pavel said. Hikaru looked at Scotty in the bathtub, and then looked back to Pavel, who still sat on the edge of the tub.

“Oh.” Hikaru got a sheepish look on his face. “I can...come back. Tomorrow even. Or never. Or...I don’t know.”

“You’re fine,” Scotty said with a shrug. He and Pavel had the whole night, and Sulu needed to talk. Things would keep for a few minutes. He did notice Pavel huffing out a little annoyed breath, though. It faded into a placating smile aimed at his roommate.

Pavel could be a wanker sometimes. That wasn’t news.

“So anyway, this duel thing,” Hikaru began as he paced across the tile floor. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with fighting for Doctor McCoy.”

Pavel and Scotty looked at each other for a second.

“I think we figured that out already,” Scotty answered. “You’ve made it pretty clear how you feel about the doctor having his powers.”

“Right, but,” Sulu stopped; he looked lost. “I don’t know that I agree with what Lilandra’s saying either.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, killing him seems...I don’t know, isn’t that a bit much? Shouldn’t we try other things first?”

Pavel’s eyes widened with surprise.

“I mean, if she wanted to split the Phoenix from him and send it back into space, I’d be all for it. There’d be no question that I wouldn’t fight with you guys tomorrow. But ordering his execution...” He began to pace anew. “That just doesn’t seem fair. He’s done a lot of good; none of us would even be here if not for him smuggling Kirk on the Enterprise during the Narada incident. It just doesn’t seem right to...to write him off like that.” He stopped and looked at both of them again. “Right?”

Again, the engineer and the navigator looked at each other.

“I seem to recall you were ready to cut him down last night,” Pavel said.

“That was different,” Sulu said with a shake of his head. “He was Dark Phoenix then. To stop Dark Phoenix, yeah, I would have taken him out. Spock has stopped Dark Phoenix, though. He’s just a man now. It’s not really the same situation. I think separating him from Phoenix is better than just killing him in cold blood.”

“You’ve already answered your own question,” Scotty said. “It doesn’t hurt to think out loud, though.”

Sulu nodded. “Yeah.”

Pavel smiled. “It is good to hear you say that, Hikaru. I was afraid you would not stand with us.”

“So was I,” Hikaru admitted. “I think I just decided that I’m with you for good.”

“Glad to hear it,” Scotty grinned as Pavel stood and gave Hikaru a hug. They parted, and Scotty smiled at the two of them.

“Well, I better go now.” Hikaru began to edge towards the door, and he looked somewhat embarrassed. “I interrupted. So I will stop now. Interrupting, I mean.” He gave a little wave to them and headed out of the room.

Pavel turned to look at Scotty. “So.”

Scotty’s cheeks flushed again. “So.”

Pavel’s smile turned wicked. He toed off his boots and socks as he pulled his clothing off. Scotty barely had time to register the fact that he was naked before he did a cannonball into the bathtub. Water splashed over the sides and onto Scotty’s face.

He wasn’t angry, though. He thought it was hilarious.

Pavel surfaced from the water with his curly hair hanging in his eyes. He grinned at Scotty. “I think we should stop talking now, don’t you?”

Scotty moved close to him in the tub. “Most likely.”

Pavel’s grin turned into a secretive smile. He closed the distance between them, and they kissed.

And indeed, there was no more talking.