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There were several A-spectrum suns in the area; two of them had planets. Scout vessels had determined that on one of these planets there was a pre-sapient feline race; subsequent investigation had proved that there was a possibility of these creatures developing intelligence - eventually. The Enterprise was carrying three specially trained scientists whose primary job was to examine the distribution of the beasts. Previous investigations had indicated that the distribution was sparse; they were common enough where they occurred, but their presence was local. Were the different groups of the same species, or were they different, but possibly related, types? What was the relationship between the groups? Lastly - and most difficult - what was their level of intelligence? To assess this, one at least of the creatures would have to be captured - and it was known they had rather nasty claws. Although they were feline the claws were not retractable, so they were blunt - but they were well able to tear great gouges in anyone the cat attacked.
On a planet in the other solar system, the Federation had set up an unmanned recording station which was gathering data on the solar wind in the system. Unfortunately, since the various suns were quite close together, the solar wind data tended to be confused. Interpreting it all was a considerable challenge for Federation scientists.
Despite the problems of interpreting the data, the visit to the station was perfectly standard, even although it was advisable for them to wear protective suits - the atmosphere was oxygen-high, but there was also a high level of background radiation; the suits would double the time the scientists could safely remain on the surface. Because it was so routine, Kirk decided to collect the scientific data first. Two or three orbits should be long enough for a scientist to collect the records and check out the systems. Then they could head for the other planet, with straightforward routine accomplished.
Maybe four orbits Kirk conceded as he remembered that it was nearly a year since the station had last been visited - by the Lexington - so the recording units would be almost full.
As Science Officer, Spock went down to collect the record tapes and check over the machinery - and he decided to take Chekov with him. It would all be good experience for the young officer.
When they entered the station, everything appeared to be normal, but in the middle of the check all hell let loose. There was an explosion; both men were sent staggering by the force of it. Spock landed sprawled on top of Chekov, who hit his head and shoulder against the edge of one of the machines as he fell, slashing his suit and gashing himself quite badly.
The Vulcan lay, half-stunned, for a few seconds. He was roused by a steady crackling that was getting louder with every moment. He raised a dazed head to look at the computer he had just been servicing, and staggered to his Feet, pulling the semi-conscious Chekov up with him. The computer complex was afire, blazing fiercely in the oxygen-filled atmosphere, and it was clear that nothing he could do would control it. He dragged Chekov outside, and urged him to stumble a few yards to get away from the flaming building. From a hundred yards away they watched as the station quickly burned itself out, the flames spreading rapidly - the high oxygen content of the atmosphere ensured that.
"What happened, Mr Spock?" Chekov managed.
Spock shook his head. "I have no way of knowing, Ensign, though I suspect that I may have inadvertently caused something to spark. All we can do now is report what happened." He pulled out his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise."
"Spock - we were just about to call you. What's happening down there?"
"There has been an explosion. We are returning to the ship. Mr Chekov is slightly hurt. I will give you a full report when we are aboard."
McCoy met them in the transporter room.
He ordered them both to Sickbay, of course. Spock was unsurprised; and as usual, knowing that it would worry McCoy if he failed to protest, insisted that there was no need for him to be checked out. He went, however, rather less unwillingly than McCoy realised.
In Sickbay it soon transpired that both men had picked up slightly larger doses of radiation than was safe, presumably because they had been outside the building and the additional shielding that would have afforded for longer than usual, and McCoy packed them both into beds. Chekov went willingly - he was beginning to feel slightly sick. Even Spock, while he continued to make the protest that he knew McCoy would expect, was glad to lie down.
Privately more worried than he let them see, McCoy went to his office to call Kirk. "It's radiation poisoning," he said. "They'll both be on the sick-list for several days at least; and I have no idea what the long-term effects, if any, will be."
"Let me know as soon as you do," Kirk said.
He turned away from the intercom with an inward sigh. Spock, sick. Steady, reliable Spock... who was only off sick if he was injured in some way. He smiled slightly to himself in spite of his inner worry, thinking that McCoy would probably find it difficult to keep Spock in bed.
And Chekov. That left him with no really experienced navigators. All the rest of the navigators were even younger than Chekov, and while they mostly showed promise, he would have liked the more experienced Chekov available during the next day or two. They were now well into the area affected by the solar winds from the various stars, and the region was subject to considerable turbulence. The eddies and currents in space caused by the solar winds could be quite dangerous.
He turned his attention to the young navigator currently on duty. Mason had considerable potential, and Kirk knew it; but he seemed to be incurably lazy. Sometimes Kirk wondered how he had ever summoned up the energy to pass the Academy's exams. Then, apparently without trying, he would produce a piece of brilliance that made his previous laziness all the more annoying. No treatment, no variation of treatment, had been successful in turning Mason from an erratic officer into an efficient, reliable one. Kirk hadn't entirely given up hope of finding a formula that would work, and produce some response, but he didn't have much hope. He had begun to feel that Mason would be his first failure.
"Mr Mason - set course for Hamra Five," he ordered.
"Aye, sir... Course laid in, sir."
"Is the solar wind affecting your calculations, Mr Mason?"
"Negative, sir. No effect so far," Mason replied after the most perfunctory of checks.
"Keep watching," Kirk ordered. "We'll be passing between two stars soon, and one of them is reported to be at sunspot maximum - it could be dangerous."
"Aye, sir." Mason thought about it briefly, then put the matter out of his mind. Kirk was always pushing him, setting him unnecessary problems to work out. This was undoubtedly another such problem - totally unnecessary. He had never stopped to consider that a difficulty faced in a trial situation could be considered more dispassionately than in the heat of an emergency, and that if he had faced it in a test situation he would be more able to react quickly and efficiently in a real emergency. He didn't like having to think unless it was absolutely essential.
He allowed his mind to wander a little. That pretty yeoman he had spoken to at breakfast time... what were his chances of getting her to his room that night...?
He was deeply involved in his fantasies when the ship shuddered and jerked off course, snapping him out of his abstraction.
"Compensate, Mr Sulu!" Kirk exclaimed. "Mr Mason - what happened?"
"I ... I don't know, sir."
"We're being pulled into a solar eddy," Sulu reported.
"Warp eight - try to pull free."
"Warp eight, sir... we're clear."
"Resume warp one."
"Warp one, sir."
"Mr Mason - do you know yet what happened?"
"I'm afraid not, sir." Mason was frantically checking his console without any clear idea of what he was looking for.
"But... you navigated us right into the eddy," Sulu exclaimed.
"What's that?" Kirk snapped.
"The instruments were showing the eddy clearly, sir. I thought Mr Mason had allowed for it until we were pulled in."
"Well, Mr Mason?" Kirk asked grimly.
"I ... I didn't realise that it was an eddy, sir," Mason excused himself.
"Mr Mason. I admit that Mr Sulu has far more experience than you do. In spite of that, however, the reading for a solar wind eddy is one thing that even the most inexperienced navigator should be able to recognise," Kirk said, his voice icy. "I'm afraid that I cannot consider this mistake excusable. You have behaved with extreme incompetence, Mr Mason; your carelessness might have wrecked the ship, with the loss of every life on board.
"You are entitled to endanger your own life, but not in a situation that would endanger the rest of the crew."
Mason stared at him, shaken by the iron in Kirk's voice. He had never realised the Captain could be so ... so unreasonable, his mind whimpered. He had never been able to bear anger; all his life he had dodged it by avoiding committing himself... only this time he hadn't managed it. But surely the Captain wasn't so lacking in understanding as to blame him for not recognising something he had never seen before - except during training, but surely that didn't count? Nor had the angry voice stopped yet. The words drifted over his head, half blocked by the trembling in his mind.
"Incompetent... careless... lazy... wasting time... wasting the money that was spent on your training... wasting your potential..."
"No!" he gasped, his voice breaking. "No, I can't..." He buried his face in his hands, sobbing.
Kirk stared at him in blank amazement. He had expected excuses, a whole spate of them, and was fully ready to answer each one of them; he wasn't expecting this child's response. He glanced at the Security guards on duty.
"One of you, take Mr Mason down to Sickbay," he ordered.
It was a tired and worried McCoy who met them in Sickbay. He still hadn't ascertained whether or not there would be any lasting damage to either Spock or Chekov from their exposure to the radiation; the last thing he needed was a hysterical crewman taking up his time.
"What happened?" he asked irritably.
Mason, who had begun to quieten a little on the way to Sickbay, was set off again by the annoyance in McCoy's voice.
"Oh lord!" McCoy exclaimed. "Here, get him onto a bed." He reached for a hypo and gave the hysterical Mason a quick shot. Mason subsided in the unconsciousness of tranquillised sleep. McCoy glanced enquiringly at the guard.
The man explained what had happened, adding, "Mr Mason kept saying, all the way here, `I never saw anything like it before. I didn't know what it was.'"
"Hmm. All right, thanks. I'll see to him. You'd better get back on duty."
As the guard left, McCoy gave a resigned sigh and turned his attention back to Mason. He gave the unconscious man as full an examination as he could - for some of the tests, Mason would need to be conscious - including an encephalogram. The results were not promising. He studied them for a while, unhappily, then re-ran some of the tests. Even incomplete, the diagnosis was unmistakeable.
Mason had suffered a complete nervous breakdown.
He turned to the intercom. "McCoy to Bridge."
"Bridge. Kirk here."
"Can you come down to Sickbay, Captain?"
Kirk glanced round the Bridge. The relief navigator was a steady young man who didn't show half the potential Mason had done, but who had proved himself to be wholly reliable. If he wasn't sure, he asked; and while it made him a little slow when he was faced with a learning situation, he had never had to ask twice, and he would probably become a steady, if uninspired, assistant navigator, even though he was unlikely to rise to be Head of Department. He wouldn't go wrong - if in doubt, he would ask Sulu.
Kirk glanced at Leslie, who was standing in at Spock's station. "Report, Mr Leslie."
"We appear to be clear of the region immediately affected by the solar wind turbulence," Leslie replied.
"I'll be straight down, Bones."
He found McCoy in one of his most irritable moods. In the few minutes since he had called Kirk he had found time to run one more check, and had realised that Mason's breakdown was likely to be permanent.
Kirk took one look at his face, and immediately jumped to a wrong conclusion. "Spock?" he asked anxiously.
"No, not Spock!" McCoy snapped. "Your latest victim, Captain. Mason. He's had a full and probably permanent nervous breakdown. He'll have to be assigned to rehabilitation, with no certainty that it can do anything for him. I've told you before about pushing these young hopefuls too fast, Captain. They're not all brilliant, like a certain James T. Kirk. Most of them need time to develop. I'll be logging this breakdown as your fault entirely, for expecting too much of him too quickly."
Kirk listened to McCoy's accusation with mixed feelings. There was relief at knowing that Spock was all right - or at least no worse. There was a trace of annoyance that McCoy was so worried about Mason, who certainly didn't deserve much consideration after his negligence. There was also a feeling of guilt about Mason that he knew to be irrational, since, contrary to McCoy's belief, he had not pushed Mason particularly hard; he had done no more than tear the man off a strip that was well-deserved. The combination of emotions caused Kirk to flare up.
"That's enough, Doctor! You're exceeding your authority!"
"I have every right to make such a report, Captain, and you know it. I have to state what, in my opinion, is the reason for his condition, and in my opinion, that is it. You expect too much of your young officers, push them too hard. This may teach you a lesson, but I doubt it. You're too pig-headed, too sure that the almighty James T. Kirk knows best. You've begun to think your judgement is always infallible. You'll keep on expecting too much of your subordinates, and sooner or later you'll cause another one to crack up - and when that happens, don't say I didn't warn you! But I tell you this, Captain. You've ruined Mason, probably permanently, and I hope you're proud of yourself!"
"I said that's enough! In my opinion that man was lazy and careless, and if he couldn't stand being disciplined for making an avoidable and potentially fatal mistake, then he's well out of the service."
"No regrets, Captain? No shame for ruining his life? Only a godlike feeling of satisfaction that you've got rid of a crewman you consider useless? Is that all you feel?"
"Doctor, now you're presuming on our friendship. You have the right to make such a report, but I'm damned if I have to listen to you moralising about it!" He turned to go, then swung back. "Running the ship is my job, and I'll be obliged if you remember that. Your job is in Sickbay, and I'll be further obliged if in future you limit your activities wholly to where you belong." He stamped out.
McCoy stared after him, knowing that he had gone too far, and suddenly realising that there was no way he could apologise. Because what he had said was the truth - exaggerated, perhaps, but still the truth. Kirk did tend to push the young officers. Granted, he didn't expect anything of them that he hadn't been able to do himself, but he had been an exceptionally able cadet. McCoy sighed. He could have put it more tactfully... but it had hurt to be accused of presuming on their friendship when his reaction had been caused by entirely medical anger.
He went out to check on his patients, and found Spock awake and staring towards the office door.
"What happened there?" Spock asked quietly.
"If you heard enough to know that something happened, you probably heard enough to know what it is," McCoy replied flatly.
"You've quarrelled with the Captain about Mason?"
McCoy nodded. "He wasn't worth quarrelling about, either.
"Jim's right - if he made an avoidable mistake and couldn't stand being disciplined over it, he's better out of Starfleet. But I still think Jim pushed him too hard."
Kirk returned to the Bridge in a foul temper. It wasn't helped by the fact that McCoy was right; maybe he had expected too much of Mason - but he'd pushed Chekov as hard, and several other young officers as well, and none of them had broken down under it. But McCoy didn't need to be so... so insensitive to his feelings on the matter. McCoy should have realised that he was worried about Spock... too worried to be wholly concerned about anyone else; then he realised that McCoy was probably just as worried about Spock, and that Mason's breakdown had taken McCoy from tending the Vulcan.
But even understanding that didn't help Kirk forgive McCoy for the way he had spoken. He could forgive the words, he realised, but not the tone of voice McCoy had used. Maybe his reaction had been rather childish, but he was still the final authority on board. He had no intention of allowing that authority to be eroded by an over-zealous doctor, especially when he had allowed that same doctor a great deal more freedom of movement and speech than was normally permitted to ship's medical staff.
A wave of desolation went through him as he realised that he had probably lost McCoy's friendship for good. Even if he could bring himself to apologise for his attitude, he couldn't expect McCoy to forget.
In Sickbay, McCoy decided that Chekov's condition wasn't as bad as he had feared, and let him return to his own quarters, though not back on duty. Spock, however, showed a more positive reaction, possibly because his copper-based blood had reacted differently to it. He decided to keep Spock in for a little longer.
Although he still felt far from well, Spock fretted against McCoy's decision. He was anxious to return to the bridge, where Kirk was by now undoubtedly blaming himself for Mason's collapse; but there was nothing he could do to change the surgeon's mind.
Bored, he began to watch Mason, who was conscious again but lying gibbering to himself. McCoy hadn't been able to pick out anything of what the sick man was saying, but Spock, with his sharper ears, could follow a little of it, and didn't like the tone of what he heard. The man's attitude seemed paranoid.
He mentioned this to McCoy, who shook his head. "Hardly, Spock. He had a complete nervous breakdown, remember. Unnatural speech patterns are quite likely, and considering the circumstances leading up to the breakdown, it's quite possible that he feels victimised."
Spock was not convinced, and when McCoy was called away an hour or so later to deal with a man taken ill and collapsing in Engineering, the Vulcan got out of bed the moment the door had closed behind his unsuspecting friend. Ignoring the dizziness that pounced as soon as he stood upright, he padded quickly over to the surgeon's desk.
It took only a few seconds to pull up Mason's psychological profile on the computer.
Spock knew that McCoy would regard his action as unethical, but he felt that he had to do it. McCoy had already refused to apologise to Kirk for his insubordinate behaviour, but if there was positive proof that Mason was abnormal...
He found proof. There were definite indications of instability in the profile, and Spock found himself wondering why Starfleet had ever accepted the man for training in the first place, or passed him out as ready for Starship duties in the second. The indications were not strongly marked, but on the basis of them Spock knew that he would not have accepted the man. It was certain that whatever job Mason had taken, he would inevitably have cracked, unless it was completely undemanding. He did not have the temperament to handle any sort of pressure.
Spock was still lost in thought, bending over the viewer, when McCoy came back, having packed the sick man off to bed in his own quarters - the man had simply picked up a bug of some kind, relatively harmless, that had caused a sudden but temporary weakness.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Spock?" McCoy asked.
"Checking out a theory, Doctor. I suggest you examine this record."
McCoy obeyed, then looked up at Spock in horror, his mind whirling. He should have checked Mason's profile as soon as the ensign collapsed, before he called Kirk down, before passing any judgement - but he had been too worried about Spock. He had allowed himself to form an opinion on the basis of surface appearances rather than checking all the facts. In short, he had failed to give his full attention to Mason.
Spock was speaking again. "On the basis of this evidence, Doctor, it would seem that your assessment of the situation was incorrect. Can you not apologise to the Captain?"
Slowly, McCoy shook his head. "Not after what he said to me, Spock. You can tell him if you want; if I do, he'll think I'm just making excuses, and I'm not sticking my neck out again."
"Doctor... have you reported to him personally since...?"
"No, Spock. I've sent him official reports via a yeoman, as per the book. As I will continue to do unless he apologises for what he said. I was not taking advantage of anything; I made a medical judgement as Chief Medical Officer. It was my duty to state what I believed was the cause of Mason's collapse. The fact that I now realise I made a mistake doesn't alter that."
Once he was released from Sickbay, Spock made his way to the Bridge. He hadn't seen Kirk during this time, either; Kirk had studiously avoided Sickbay in case he ran into McCoy... despite his desire to visit Spock.
Kirk looked round as he entered. "Spock! You're quite fit again?"
"Yes, Captain." He hesitated. "Captain, could I have a word with you in private?"
Kirk glanced at him, guessing what that word would be. "If it's about Dr. McCoy, Spock, the answer is no."
"No, Captain," Spock said, with an inward sigh. "It is about Mr Mason."
Kirk got up and followed Spock into the elevator. Neither spoke until they were in Kirk's quarters.
"Well, Mr Spock?"
"I have been watching Mr Mason while I have been incarcerated in Sickbay, Captain, and I came to the conclusion that he is paranoid. I found an opportunity to study his psychological profile, and it shows definite abnormalities. The man should never have been accepted for Starfleet, Captain, and he would eventually have broken down anyway. Dr. McCoy confirms."
"Nice of him." Spock winced inwardly at the tone of Kirk's voice. "However, I believe he could have noticed it before, when Mason first came on board, for example, even if Starfleet missed it."
"There has been no need to study Mason's profile until now, Captain; and at the time when he first broke down, Dr. McCoy was too busy to check it as well as running the tests on him..."
"You needn't make excuses for him, Spock," Kirk said coldly. "I realise this situation does make things... difficult for you; but I would appreciate it if you would remember that from now on, my dealings with Dr. McCoy are official only, as I have no doubt he wishes his dealings with me to be."
Spock looked at him, and gave up. Normally, if Kirk knew he was wrong he would apologise immediately; this behaviour was uncharacteristic. But he had heard enough of the original quarrel to realise how deeply Kirk must have been hurt; and although as a Vulcan he was incapable of bearing a grudge - that would be illogical - he knew, as a Human, how easy it was to he deeply hurt. His crewmates hurt him often, without realising it - even Kirk himself had hurt him once or twice, and he knew himself to be the one man that Kirk would not want to hurt under any circumstances. He could guess that Kirk wanted to make up the quarrel; he knew McCoy did. But both had been too badly hurt to be willing to make the first move. He could tell each of them that the other regretted the quarrel, but that didn't guarantee anything. Each would simply say, "Then why doesn't he come to me himself?"
Spock was still trying fruitlessly to think of a way to bring Kirk and McCoy together again when the Enterprise reached Hamra Five; routine checking of the space involved had slowed them considerably. As Kirk had said, he felt himself in an awkward situation. These men were both his friends; he loved them both - though he would never admit it in so many words - and, even though he knew it was illogical, in this dilemma he felt himself disloyal to each in his friendship with the other.
The party of specialists beamed down to start their studies on the felines. Spock, as Science Officer, was expected to accompany them, at least for the initial part of the expedition. Kirk decided to go too. He liked to get the feel of an alien environment, and the only effective way to do so was to go down.
The initial phase of the investigation was quickly carried out. It was fairly easily established that the beasts had fanned out from a common centre as their numbers grew; their distribution in groups was solely due to the availability of food; they gathered where there was plenty of grazing for the herbivores that were their main source of food, although by observation they discovered that the creatures also ate tiny rodents and beetles - or something closely resembling beetles. The groups didn't actually mix, but during four days' observation it became clear that if a member of one group approached another group, it would be accepted - with reservations, perhaps, but accepted.
On board the Enterprise McCoy sat in his office and fretted. He knew Kirk and Spock were down there; he hadn't liked what he had heard about the feline claws. He knew the time to try to capture one of the creatures must be getting close - and he found himself wishing he were there too, to see that Spock - and Kirk, he admitted to himself - were all right. He would not apologise, but he was becoming desperate to accept an apology. He kept thinking back to occasions when Kirk had saved him... to one incident in particular, when he had been a very new, untrusting and unfriendly crewmember, and Kirk had risked a terrible death by burning to save him, succeeding at the cost of a badly burned hand...
He knew that the scientists had come up with a cage in which to capture the necessary specimen, and planned to bait it with food, but he wasn't happy about it. Too many things could go wrong...
On the planet things were not going quite as planned.
They had set three baited cages as traps, a little way apart, and had successfully caught one of the felines. Verrier, one of the scientists, was the first to see that they had been successful; he had gone over to the cage to check it, when he was attacked by another of the beasts; one of the largest they had seen. He screamed as it rushed him, and tried to dodge away, but it followed him as he ran. Catching up with him without too much effort, it raked him with its claws several times, then fled as the other men came running, attracted by the scientist's cries.
Kirk took one look at Verrier, and turned to Spock. "Have him beamed up to Sickbay right away," he ordered.
Spock checked the injured man quickly. "Captain, I think he's too badly hurt to be beamed up before getting any attention. I think we should call Dr. McCoy down to attend to him here."
Kirk's lips tightened. "Very well, Mr Spock, if you think it advisable."
He turned away as Spock pulled out his communicator. Why couldn't Bones apologise? He'd seen the profile now, he knew he'd misjudged Kirk, so why couldn't he say so? He would be prepared to meet Bones halfway - more than halfway - but he wouldn't make the first approach. Not after the way Bones had spoken... As he strode over to join the other scientists clustered around the cage, he noticed that the other felines had not gone far; although they were poised as if ready for flight, they were watching the men gathered around the cage intently, and it seemed clear they were concerned about the welfare of their packmate.
When the intercom buzzed, McCoy grabbed automatically for his medical kit. There could be no other reason For the call. God, not Spock or Jim, he prayed as he flicked the intercom.
"Mr Spock calling you from the planet's surface, Doctor," Uhura told him. "One of the scientists has been attacked."
He let out his breath in a sigh of relief. He would have preferred that nobody was hurt, but if someone had to be, then it was a cause for relief that it was not one of his friends.
Despite everything, he knew he still thought of Kirk as his friend.
Kirk was nowhere in sight when McCoy materialised. The doctor didn't know whether to be glad or sorry; he had managed to avoid meeting Kirk at all since their quarrel, but somehow he felt that if they could meet, a look might be enough to let them make contact again. On the other hand, he could be wrong; Kirk might simply ignore him, and by doing so exacerbate matters - if indeed they could be made worse. But Spock was waiting, and led him to where Verrier lay a little distance from the cage where the other scientists were busy with tricorders. He had been moved to the shade of a bush, but that was all; they had felt it better to wait for the doctor to arrive rather than trying to apply first aid. Then the Vulcan removed himself, disappearing in the direction of the cage.
McCoy bent over Verrier, checking him quickly. His first thought was that the scientist wasn't as badly hurt as all that; he could have been beamed up - then he realised that Spock might have done this deliberately, hoping that somehow by forcing Kirk to meet McCoy under these circumstances, the breach might be healed. It showed a deviousness that McCoy would not have considered the Vulcan capable of; but if this was in fact his idea, it seemed doomed to failure by the simple fact that Kirk was nowhere to be seen.
He pulled out a hypo. It would be kinder to Verrier to sedate him while he cleaned out the gashes the feline's claws had inflicted. He had just got it out when he heard a snarl, and looked up. Facing him was one of the cat-like creatures, large and looking dangerous. Had the creature come back for its prey?
As it sprang he dodged desperately, whirling to remain facing it. It charged again; he dodged again... In his fixed need to avoid being caught by it, he forgot even to call out for help - and there was no-one in sight. Even Verrier seemed to have been struck dumb in the need to avoid attracting the cat's attention.
Not far away, Kirk sat on a boulder wondering if he was being childish again in not at least seeing what McCoy's report on Verrier's condition was. But he was somehow afraid to see McCoy. He had tried - successfully - to avoid the doctor since their quarrel; he hoped that if they did meet, something would make them look at each other... make contact... but he was afraid to try, afraid that McCoy would snub him... and in so doing, make things completely unmendable. If indeed they were mendable now.
He was snapped from his abstraction by a snarling sound.
He leaped to his feet, and ran. As he came out from among the boulders he was horrified to see that a feline - perhaps the same one, perhaps a different one, he had no way of knowing - had come back. It was attacking McCoy, who was, at least for the moment, unhurt, dodging frantically as the beast charged; but it was obvious that McCoy couldn't keep it up much longer.
Without stopping to think further, Kirk rushed forward. Nothing mattered except that Bones was in danger. He couldn't use his phaser at this range because of McCoy's proximity to the beast, but if he could get closer...
The big feline saw him coming, changed direction with startling suddenness, and charged towards him. He went down under its claws, feeling them tear down his arm. He gripped its throat fiercely, holding it away from his own throat with all his strength, knowing that that strength was running out of him with his blood. Then the beast collapsed, and he saw McCoy holding a hypo - and Spock running up. The last thing he was aware of before he fainted was the anxiety on McCoy's face as he looked down at Kirk... and even as he fainted he knew he could apologise now... for in that look McCoy had made the first move - or had he, running in like that...?
McCoy rushed both men up to Sickbay. He forced himself to deal with Verrier first - after all, he was the first one injured, and had already had to suffer more pain than necessary because of the sequence of events. McCoy cleaned out the gashes and disinfected them, bandaged them, and dismissed Verrier to his quarters with instructions to take it easy and do no more than process data - if he felt he had to do something. Then McCoy turned his attention to the still unconscious Kirk.
He cleaned out the gashes on Kirk's arms, noting as he did so that they looked worse than Verrier's injuries, even though Verrier had been more extensively mauled than Kirk. He ran a diagnostic scanner over the arms and frowned at the results. He injected Kirk, and continued with the cleaning and disinfecting of the gashes.
The door opened, and Spock came in. McCoy glanced round at him, nodded, and went on.
"How is the Captain?" Spock asked
"I'm not sure," McCoy replied. "Somehow the cuts have become poisoned, but it can't have been anything on the cat's claws - Verrier was okay."
"You mean you don't think the creatures have poisoned claws, Doctor?"
"That's exactly what I mean, Spock."
Spock looked at Kirk's arms, at the long gouges that were fast becoming a really angry red. "I instructed the scientists to cage the creature you sedated, Doctor, while it was still unconscious. I will go back and see if there is, in fact, any harmful substance on its claws."
"Well, for heaven's sake, be careful," McCoy muttered. "I don't want you as a patient too."
"I always endeavour to be careful," Spock replied with dignity.
Kirk was still unconscious when Spock returned. He brought back some peculiar-looking wet mud.
"This was adhering to the creature's claws, Doctor," Spock said. "I am inclined to suspect that it is dust from the surface adhering to Mr Verrier's blood on its claws."
"You think it's Verrier's blood, not some other liquid?"
"Yes. It would appear that this was the dominant male of its group, probably protecting its territory and its pack. It would therefore be Mr Verrier's blood on the claws."
McCoy made a face. "Would you analyse it for me, Spock?" he asked. "I don't really want to leave the Captain yet; he seems to be getting fevered."
"Is there no medication you can give him to reduce the fever?"
"Not until I know what caused it."
Spock nodded, and went through to the lab.
He was soon back, but during the few minutes he was away Kirk began to mutter in delirium. Try as he might, McCoy could pick out nothing of what Kirk was saying, except that he suddenly exclaimed clearly, "Look out!"
On his return, Spock handed McCoy the report on the bloody dust, and the doctor checked it quickly.
"You know what is wrong?"
"I think so." He moved to the medical cabinet, checked its contents, and took out a vial. He transferred some of its contents to a hypo, added a little distilled water, and injected Kirk. "He should be all right now."
Spock nodded. "Then I will leave him in your capable hands, Doctor."
"Wait... Spock..." McCoy was suddenly nervous at the thought of being left alone with Kirk.
Spock looked straight at him. "If you simply show your normal concern over the Captain's condition, I think you will find that you have nothing to worry about," he suggested, and left.
McCoy stared after him, then turned back to Kirk. He bent over, examining him, trying to control his face... he had no intention of letting Kirk see how he cared if he could possibly help it - not unless Kirk made the first move. He would not... presume... on Kirk's past friendship...
Kirk's eyes opened, to look straight up into McCoy's worried ones.
"How are you feeling, Captain?" McCoy asked, formally but very, very gently.
Kirk smiled up at him. "I'm fine, Bones... thank you."
"I'm the one who should be thanking you," McCoy replied. "You saved my life."
"And you saved mine. So we're quits. How long are you going to keep me here?"
"Well, if you really want to, you can go to your own quarters... but I'd rather you didn't." He hesitated, then said abruptly, "Captain - about Mason..."
"Let's forget out Mason, shall we?" Kirk asked.
McCoy gave a relieved grin. "I should have checked his profile first though, Jim. Only I was worried about Spock."
"So was I."
They smiled at each other, both relieved that their quarrel had not, after all, been final. McCoy turned to the intercom.
"McCoy to Bridge."
"Bridge. Spock here."
"Jim's conscious, if you want to come down and see him."
"I'll be straight down."
Was there a note of relief in Spock's voice? If so, he would never admit it... but McCoy suspected that Spock was relieved that he and Kirk were once more on speaking terms.
Spock entered and crossed to Kirk's bed. He looked from one to the other, and they smiled back at him. He seemed to relax.
The trio was once more complete.