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"You deliberately stopped me, Jim! I could have saved her! Do you know what you just did?" Even in his angry bewilderment McCoy bit back the other words that were in his mind - 'You could have saved her, you were nearer than I was'- for he could feel the tension in Kirk's body, and understood that there was more here than he knew.
And Spock confirmed it as Kirk moved to lean against the wall. "He knows, Doctor; he knows."
McCoy watched as Kirk slowly straightened. Behind him, he was only half aware of the crowd gathered round the limp body. His doctor's instincts were touched, but he could ignore them; he knew from the way her body had been flung forward by the truck that Edith Keeler was certainly dead, had died instantly. Kirk, however, he could help - his anger had passed, leaving only the bewilderment. Knowing that they would explain, recognising that Kirk was suffering from shock, he moved forward.
"Come into the mission, Jim," he said, gently now.
Kirk shook his head. "We must get home. The Guardian..."
"Not yet, Captain," Spock cut in. "First we must return to our room; we must dismantle the apparatus I constructed, for should anyone mechanically minded discover it they might be able to surmise something of its purpose and cause the premature discovery of computers."
"Yes... you're right, Spock." Kirk gave one last look at the milling group that split up as an ambulance arrived, then turned away. "Come on -- the quicker we get it done, the better."
As they went, Spock dropped a few paces behind Kirk, pulling McCoy back. Quickly, quietly, he explained the situation.
"That time round... didn't I try to stop her making such a mistake?" McCoy asked.
"You couldn't. I did not tell the Captain, but in the alternate future I also saw a 1930 newspaper article. The headline was 'Down and out dies saving social worker'. In that future, Doctor, you died saving her."
"I see..." McCoy studied Kirk's back. "Someone had to die in that place at that moment..."
"Yes, Doctor. Your death in this time period - any of our deaths - would be unimportant; no-one would be affected. But hers... While her death is undoubtedly a tragedy - she has done much to help others - it saves millions of lives in the future, and provides for the future welfare of your entire planet - and other worlds beyond. The Captain knows that, although he has not yet accepted the fact. But he will. It was another Command decision; he will not let it damage his life, any more than any other such decision that has sent a man to his death has done. He would not be the man he is if he did not feel those deaths; but neither would he be the man he is if he did not accept them without being overwhelmed by guilt."
McCoy said sadly. "I know. "
They worked quickly to dismantle the makeshift computer that Spock had constructed with such time and effort, piling the valves and tubes and sockets and switches and wires, all carefully separated from each other, in a corner of the depressing little room. A collection of radio spares, almost valueless... Kirk and Spock resumed their Starfleet uniforms, carefully retrieved from the basement and hidden here, leaving their stolen clothes folded on the bed.
Spock looked up. "Guardian!"
The deep, remembered voice sounded softly. "You may return." A faint outline showed beside the wall.
"Come, Doctor," Spock said. He and Kirk turned, side by side, ran towards the vaguely circular shape, and jumped through it. McCoy hesitated for a second, sure that they would cannon into the wall - his memories of his trip through the time portal to here were tenuous, like the mist that partially obscured the wall behind the shadowy shape; then as his friends vanished, he followed.
He was only slightly surprised to find himself on a desolate planet, standing beside Spock with Kirk in front of him, facing Scotty and Uhura and Galloway and Mancini; and no more surprised than his friends to hear that - for the rest of the landing party -- only seconds had passed during the days they had spent in 1930.
Kirk sat alone in his cabin. He had never felt so guilty - so depressed - at any death he had ever felt responsible for.
He had sent crewmen - and women - to death before during his career. It was part of his command responsibility. But they were people who had chosen a life of danger; people for whom death was a familiar companion. Edith had not chosen such a life; she had chosen a life of service to others, a life devoted to helping others.
Because she had died, many men would go hungry to bed tonight... No. Not 'tonight'. 'Tonight' was... what? Three hundred years ago. Tonight - now - millions of colonists were alive on planets not discovered back then... planets that would still be undiscovered if Edith had lived.
If Edith had lived... he, James T. Kirk, might never have existed outside the protected radius of the Guardian. Certainly Spock would never have been born, for Earth and Vulcan would still not know of the other's existence.
Spock would never have been born.
Strange how that thought began to reconcile him to the fact of Edith's death. Yes, he had loved Edith... admired her, respected her... would happily have spent the rest of his life with her, had it been possible. But Spock would never have been born. And Spock complemented him, completed him, in a way that Edith could never have done. Kirk knew no words that could explain the intensity of his need for Spock's friendship, and now he did not even try.
Kirk moved to the intercom. "Mr. Spock, report to my quarters."
They would speak together, recalling Edith and her goodness... and in the Vulcan's quiet wisdom and compassion, Kirk knew he would find peace.