DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2023 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Only the Dead

by Djinn



It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.Albert Einstein


Only the dead have seen the end of the war. — George Santayana



"It's the smell, isn't it?"


Chapel whirled, not expecting La'an to be right there, so close behind her as she stood staring down at an empty biobed. "Excuse me?"


"Of carnage. That's what people don't understand. They can imagine the sights...sort of. Maybe think they can imagine the sounds people make as they die. But it's the smell that they never think of."


"Or the taste." She'd experienced that. When blood and guts aerosolized, when they landed on her hair or her lips and then hair blew into her mouth in the dusty night air or she licked her lips and immediately regretted it.


By the time she left J'Gal, she barely noticed any of it.


But she noticed the lack of it in air so sterile and crisp on ships and Starfleet buildings that it felt like she was breathing pure oxygen. She assumed explosions when someone dropped a crate on metal floors, and it took her a long time to not squint in the bright-white of a Starfleet hallway, as she shone equally brightly in the white of a nurse's uniform.


On J'Gal white was useless, would have soon been red, or pink, if washed. Only the peaceful could afford white scrubs. Only those who expected no casualties could think bleach would take out all evidence of death.


And La'an was right. No one thought of the smell.


"You lied to the captain." La'an didn't sound upset so she just watched her as she walked to Joseph's office. "He's gone?"


"Working out."


"Alone? Hmm." The sound was a calculation without words, La'an asking her for something she wasn't willing to give her or anyone else.


How bad is he? That was the question she hadn't quite asked.


"He does that. From time to time. It's like Tai Chi, only you know, him." Her tone was natural, her voice gave nothing away. This wasn't the first time she'd lied for Joseph, and she doubted it would be the last.


"Don't worry. I won't tell. I love him too." She rubbed her finger under her eye, and Chapel thought she finally understood the meaning. Our little secret. Only it was a big secret, a secret that would die with Dak'Rah. The answer to who exactly was the butcher of J'Gal—and why.


The why was just as important as the who, and no one that wasn't there could possibly understand.


But this woman came the closest so Chapel rubbed under her eye, and La'an nodded and left her alone.


Not in peace, though. There was no such animal.




Spock sat across from Christine and studied her. She had—finally—returned to him, but she was managing to keep him from touching her by moving, constantly moving, the moment he came near her.


"I have noted the closeness you share with Doctor M'Benga."


She sighed and met his eyes, her drink halfway to her lips.


"Is there something I should know?"


"Like what?" Her tone was just shy of confrontational. Since the visit of Ambassador Dak'Rah, she had sounded that way.


He did not like the sound. It was not the Christine he fell in love with.


He had not realized the wells of darkness she held. That she covered up by smiles and personal warmth.


It occurred to him that he really did not know Christine at all. "Were you and he involved?"


She took too long to answer. That was his answer. He had learned this during their time together. That truth came quickly from her and lies...lies were crafted carefully—and slowly.


"I retract the question. It is not my concern." He could see no relief on her part. "Or is it?"


"During the war, sometimes, yes. But it wasn't what you think. 'Together' meant something else entirely. It was a form of survival. Of therapy." She met his eyes fearlessly. The answer was long in coming but he could tell it was also the truth.


He would have to reassess his understanding of how she answered questions. "I see."


"You don't see. You can't possibly see. War..."


He waited, but she did not continue. "I could see. A meld of our minds."


"No." The word was out so quickly it was beyond the truth. It was, he thought, a raw, pulsating wound that he wondered now why he had never noticed.


"I did not mean to distress you further."


"I'm not distressed, Spock." She downed her drink in one long swallow—a move also at odds with how she'd presented over the time he'd known her. Normally, she sipped her drinks. Scotch did not disappear down her throat in such a rush.


"I regret my mistake."


She stood, kicking out the chair. "Stop it. Stop apologizing. Here are the facts. One: I carry secrets that aren't just mine. Two: I won't share them. Three: You have no right to them. Some voyeuristic desire to understand me better by experiencing what I did. Just believe me. It. Was. Hell."


He almost expected her to charge out of his quarters, but she came to rest at the view screen. He chose to say nothing.


"I love you, Spock. You're...free of all this. And that's beautiful to me. But you can't expect me to be free of it. Not when the butcher of J'Gal was on our ship." She turned to look at him and her eyes were dry—he thought there would be tears. "I grew up on J'Gal. I arrived a girl and I left a woman who saw everything that hate was capable of and those experiences stabbed their way into my soul. I know, to you, the idea of a meld is a pure thing. To me, it's too much."


"I accept that. I will not ask to share our minds again."


"I'm not saying never. Just...not when I'm so raw."


"I trust you will tell me, then, when you would welcome such a thing."


"Bet your fiancée is looking pretty good about now, huh?" She turned back to the view screen.


"I am here. I am not on Vulcan seeking her forgiveness."


"Maybe you should be. Maybe Vulcan is where you belong."


"You do not mean that." He got up slowly, careful to avoid angering her further if she did not want him touching her.


She turned to him, taking the steps to close the gap. Her lips on his were sweet—as always. Her hands on him, firm and questing—as always. "No," she whispered, "I don't mean that."




M'Benga paced out the movements of the meditative martial steps. He heard the door open, heard twin footsteps, could tell by the scents that it was La'an and Christine. La'an washed her hair in sandalwood shampoo. Christine's perfume smelled of jasmine. "To what do I owe this visit?"


Neither was dressed to work out. La'an carried a security carryall she set down next to her as they both sat.


"Just checking on you, boss." Christine stretched her legs out and leaned against the wall; he remembered times that she'd wrapped her legs around him, in a supply closet or one of their tents. When things had gone from bad to horrible. When they'd lost someone they'd been sure they could save.


It had never been romance. It had never been just sex either. It had been the only way at times that they could truly care for the other.


They had never reached for each other since. And he was happy for her with Spock, even if he didn't foresee a happy ending. But he wasn't sure if she would leave Spock or if Spock would leave her, just that there would be leaving and someone left behind.


He hoped, for her sake, she would leave Spock, once she realized he could never stay where he was now, in this emotional halfway world. Like J'Gal when firing ceased but would soon resume, Spock too would eventually take up logic again, hew to things Vulcan.


But that was not his problem.


La'an sat cross legged and watched him with no expression. She had changed and he had seen her expression when Kirk's brother was on the ship. She was hurting and wanting, both at once and it had to do with him.


He thought perhaps she'd met him when she was off the ship, but he had not asked and she did not offer.


"And your reason?" he asked her but she only smiled and gestured for him to continue.


So he did, moving as gracefully, as mindfully, as he could.


Then he heard it, Christine humming the song that used to play on repeat in the earphones he wore when off duty. He slowed and turned to them.


La'an was listening, and then she smiled and began to hum in harmony, an almost discordant type that spoke to him of broken hearts and broken limbs and broken dreams.


And at the end, a d'k tagh wielded by a ghost, into first one Klingon and then another, a blade that almost hit its mark, until its mark slid out of reach. Escaped and became the face of peace. Of second chances.


Until he would not leave him alone.


Until, finally, the weapon found its way home and a war criminal wearing ambassador's clothing and saying things about redemption—before he said nothing at all—lay at his feet


M'Benga crashed to his knees on the deep mats and stared at them. They didn't stop humming and he took up the song, the words that went with the music, and got four words out before he began to cry.


Neither of them moved. Neither of them stopped humming.


And he wept to the accompaniment of the two people who meant most to him in this world, who understood him best.


His hands shook and he curled into a fetal position and sobbed for himself and his daughter—who was free of him at least. Free to roam the stars and be the best of them, not a killer like him.


The humming stopped and he sat up.


"Joseph," Christine said very firmly, "the Butcher of J'Gal is gone."


"Yes," La'an said very gently, but in a different tone, so he knew Christine had not shared everything with her. "It is time to let him go." Then she pulled the carryall around and opened it, turning it so he could see.


"This is all of it, I think," Christine said.


The Protocol 12. He felt a sense of relief as he nodded.


"Christine explained it to me. What it does, how, how long it works for."


"It is poison," he whispered.


"Maybe so. But when I was off the ship, I heard rumblings that the Gorn were coming. This drug would help us. This would be an advantage." She pushed the carryall to him. "Make more and we will save lives."


"And if the Gorn do not come?"


"Then we will destroy it. But I know the Gorn. What are the odds they won't come?"


He sat frozen, not wanting to reach for the drug, and at the same time wanting to make more, wanting there to always be a good supply because evil walked among men, casting a shadow that looked no different, and his formula would help stop that evil.


"No one else can know." He turned to Christine. "No one. The Vulcans practice a thing called a—"


"A mind meld. Yes I know. I've made it clear that I don't want to do that. Spock is most respectful of my preferences."


"You lie to him?"


"I withhold. For now. Until I don't need to."


"He will not like that."


"He has accepted it. And Spock can compare and contrast Sun Tzu with whomever he likes, but he is no warrior. The three of us are."


"And the rest?" La'an asked softly. "Ortegas? Others who were in the war?"


"Not all who fight are warriors and you know that, La'an. There's a difference." She stared at La'an until she nodded, then turned to him, met his eyes, her blue ones as pitiless as he'd ever seen them.


Sometimes, he wished the lovely young nurse he'd first met had never come to J'Gal.


But he wouldn't have survived if she hadn't. And maybe she wouldn't have survived being there without him.


"I will make more. You have a safe place to keep it? I do not want to store it in sickbay."


"I have stashes. I'll share their locations once we have enough to hide away."


She got up and walked out, leaving him and Christine staring at each other over the drug they both hated.


"I do not wish to be the Ghost again."


"If it's the Gorn, you'll be protecting the Federation. Innocent people will be saved."


"Yes, Christine. You are right. But also that is what they always say right before the killing starts."


He could see she was not going to argue with him. But how could she?


They both knew he was right.