Sand Yosemite was a place of beginnings. And endings. That's the way it had been in Kirk's family, for as long as he could remember. Iowa was home. But Yosemite was....that place. That one special spot on the planet that beckoned, like no other. No matter the circumstances, good or bad, Yosemite was always there to give comfort. And it always would be. In memory and in heart, even if the family somehow lived long enough to see El Capitan reduced to dust, by the passing of the ages. Most families probably had somewhere that resonated with them like that, Kirk reflected, as he gazed into the softly flickering flames of the campfire. Spock and McCoy had departed ten minutes previously, leaving him alone. Alone with his thoughts and alone to attempt to put something to rest. Once again, there was an opportunity to possibly make a difference. Well, he was very determined that this Kobayashi Maru test was not going to defeat him, either. Someone was in need of the depth of consoling that was only necessary after the loss of a life. Death had finally come for one who had narrowly escaped its clutches on many occasions. No one escapes forever. Even Spock had only been granted a temporary reprieve, Kirk knew. Sometimes, you end up paying for the party with your dearest blood. The horrors of Deneva were an ever-present reminder to him of that fact. Shadows lingered, even in the brightest of light. Even in a place as special as Yosemite. It was as if the shadows were the dark masks of Time, itself....a macabre parade of grotesque clock faces, all endlessly repeating the same mantra: "Sooner or later, I shall have my way!" Kirk's own inherited collection of clocks was a double-edged sword. Pleasant memories and painful reminders, joined together in weaving the tapestry of the universe. Time. Kirk defiantly wrenched himself away from the reaching shadows and glanced at his chronometer. His visitor would be arriving within moments. He looked up to the stars for a last bit of inspiration. He had never failed to find solace and help among them, especially from the vantage point of Yosemite. The familiar bright glow of transporter effect on the other side of the campsite signaled his visitor's arrival. When the materialization was complete, the visitor stepped forward into the illumination from the fire. "Captain Kirk....your message said you wanted to see me. Here." "Hello, Captain. Thanks for accepting my invitation. Pull up a log. I thought you might find it peaceful here. I certainly do. It's where I like to go when I want to get away from it all. Doctor McCoy, on the other hand, prefers Regula." The visitor managed a slight smile. "That joke has accumulated a considerable amount of mileage, over the years." "I still think it has many more miles to go, before it sleeps." Death. The Big Sleep. Kirk couldn't seem to keep even the light-hearted small-talk from coming around to the subject at hand. He uncomfortably shifted his position. "Problems with the captain's log?" Kirk looked across the fire in surprise. "Your mood definitely has promise...." "I'm really trying...." Kirk seized the opportunity. "No matter what anyone else says, what happened was not your fault. I want you to know that....and he would have wanted you to know it, too." "I....appreciate that. It just feels like there's more I should have done....more I should have known." Kirk pressed ahead. "Someone else was unaware of a phaser change and almost got everyone killed, by an asteroid, inside a wormhole. Does that deserve endless recriminations?" "No...." "Alright, then. We can't blame ourselves for every death that takes place on our watch. The universe is full of unknowns. We can meet them, but we're never assured how things will turn out. It goes with the territory. At least the one who died on your ship went out doing what he wanted to do most....making a difference. That doesn't happen in every case. I often wonder how it will go for me, when my time comes." Kirk rose and came around to the other side of the fire. He offered his hand. The visitor warmly clasped it and then drew him into an embrace. "Thank you, Captain Kirk....what you said means more to me than you could know." When the embrace was over, Kirk produced a small object from one of his pockets. "There's one more thing. You might be surprised at how much he and I corresponded, over the years. He left me this little bottle of sand. It was one of his most treasured possessions." The visitor gazed at it with almost reverential awe. He was quite certain of its origin. "The sand is from....that planet, isn't it?" "Yes. As you know, they never allowed him to return. It's all he had left. They wouldn't have approved, if they had known that he kept it. He wouldn't have cared. They never would have been able to get it away from him, while he was alive. I think that I can....understand the kind of feelings involved." Kirk held the bottle tightly for a moment. Losses of his own, throughout his life, threatened to overwhelm him but he gripped the emotions as tightly as he did the bottle, and soon managed to continue. "I think he would feel it fitting for the sand to be scattered here, in this place....and on this world where both of their lives began. I think he would want you to assist me." "I would be....honored." When the sand from the far away planet had been distributed, by its two worthy guardians, and left to the care of its newly adopted home, the visitor paused before calling for beam-up. "Captain Kirk? Please call me John." Kirk smiled. "And you can call me Peter." It was the best of endings, it was the best of beginnings. It was Tuesday.