"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." - William Ross Wallace.
Sometimes, life threw you things that had to be done, no matter how much like giving up it felt to do them.
That was how Jim felt, sitting in his car and staring at the single-storey sprawl of redbrick building in front of him. It was an obnoxiously sunny day, the grounds bathed in light, and even the welcome sign seeming somehow rude in the face of what it was.
St. Joseph's Hospice, sponsored by The David McCoy Foundation and St. Luke's Cancer Hospital.
He shivered and opened the door.
The hospice - for a hospice - had looked...nice...on its website. It wasn't stupidly expensive - though what did that matter now? - and it was large enough to have many on-site medical staff, but not so large as to be as cold and impersonal as a hospital. The grounds were well-kept, and littered with benches and picnic tables, and he could see the odd patient out with their families and friends.
Enjoying their last days.
After all, St. Joseph's Hospice was one of the worst kinds. Patients came in alive, but not one of them ever left that way. They came in with a variety of things - cancers, tumours, genetic disorders, brain damage, strokes, AIDS, even things as mundane as old age and time, mixed with things that would never, ordinarily, kill a man.
St. Joseph's was a hospice for the terminally ill.
And that was why Jim was here.
It was like being in a church - he felt the urge to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible as he slipped past the double doors and into the reception area, which was empty. There were three other doors - one leading into a back room behind the reception desk, and two leading off into other rooms. From somewhere, he could hear a television; in the other direction, the faint bars of some classical piece.
It seemed...obnoxious, to hear evidence of life in here.
Shifting uneasily on his feet, Jim tapped the bell on the desk and immediately felt guilty for the summoning chime. The classical music stopped, and he winced at having disturbed the peace already, having not been here for five minutes.
There were footsteps, and a man appeared.
Not just a man, but a gorgeous man in a white uniform, hands folded behind his back and an impassive, unreadable face staring at Jim with neither judgement, nor pitying welcome. A tall man - Jim's height, but the way he held himself, he seemed to be taller - with a slender physique and a flawless face framed by dark, dark hair and a pair of thin, wire-framed glasses clinging to the bridge of his nose.
A man that, quite frankly, would look a hell of a lot better without the uniform, and had quite possibly just walked straight out of Jim's fantasies.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Er," Jim fought to get his staring under control. Because a hospice for the soon-to-be-deceased was a really cool place to trigger your libido. Not. "I have an appointment. With, um, Ms. Uhura and Dr. McCoy."
The man didn't show a flicker of surprise - or pity, or anything else that Jim didn't want to deal with. He simply nodded. "I will alert them as to your arrival. May I have your name?"
"Uh, Kirk. Jim Kirk."
"One moment, please."
And then he was gone. And even though he really had to get out of the habit of seeing death in everything, Jim couldn't help but compare him to a ghost.
Uhura was clearly the business and administrative arm of the hospice - she swept through a brief hello and goodbye, before disappearing again to answer a ringing phone and muttering something about 'obnoxious, fantasising government busybodies.'
"Ignore her," Dr. McCoy had said, taking Jim into a small, private office that was apparently the room behind the reception desk. "She gets our funding and our support; the medical staff under me handle the patients themselves."
"And you?" Jim probed.
"I do as I'm told," Dr. McCoy said, and grimaced. "Uhura has quite the arm on her."
Jim snickered, to his own surprise, and some of the weight in the air lifted slightly.
"Look, this goes more or less how you want it to go," McCoy said. "You want a few tours, a few weeks to make your decisions, you go ahead. I don't want anyone signing anything who isn't sure about it. The staff'll be happy to talk to you; so will some of the patients if you pick the right ones...avoid Dr. Puri, he's the bitterest son of a bitch I've ever met, and I'm a divorcee."
Jim stared, and McCoy snorted.
"I don't sugarcoat things, Jim," he said, and shrugged. "Some people like things being all dressed up and shit, and some don't, and I'm willing to bet that you don't."
"Yeah, you'd be right," Jim said sourly.
"Well, there you go," McCoy said. "Some people accept what's coming, and some don't. Puri hasn't, and he makes damn sure everyone else realises that."
"I'll just avoid asking the patients anything, if you don't mind," Jim muttered. "I'd...rather not talk about it."
"Suit yourself," McCoy said lightly. "If you want myself or Uhura to talk to, or explain anything, or show you round, you'll need to book ahead. But if you just fancy a look round, hunt up any of the free staff..."
"What about that dark-haired guy?" Jim asked.
"The guy who went to find you. Tall, dark hair, polite like it's the eighteen-hundreds?"
"Spock? You mean Spock? Wait, you mean you want to talk to him?" McCoy snorted. "Sucker for punishment, you are, if you ask me. The man's about as friendly as a rock."
"So why does he work here?"
"Doesn't; he's a volunteer."
"Same question," Jim parried.
McCoy shrugged again. "Uhura's in charge of staffing and resources, not me. All I know is you're damn lucky if you can get ten words out of him in a day. Counsellor Atkins is just about ready to shoot him; mind you, he pisses off Counsellor Atkins so I guess that makes him alright in anyone's book."
Jim laughed outright then, for the first time since walking out of St. Luke's Cancer Hospital three weeks ago, and McCoy grinned.
"See? No need for a counsellor if you can still find it in you to laugh," he said, then sobered. "Spock's usually around. Good hearing; smack the bell and he'll show up eventually. He's like Lurch or something. And he'll answer your questions if you pin him down with them. But like I said - take your time, figure out what you really need out of this, and then - and only then - we'll talk contracts."
"You don't get all booked up?"
"There's always room for one more around here," McCoy said, and his face softened. "You mind if I ask how long?"
Jim swallowed. "Seven months to a year. And...a year is being generous about it."
"Well, look at it this way. You got seven months before you have to make any decisions."
"The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it." - Ernest Hemingway.