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Kirk relaxed for the first time in a full fortnight.
For a fortnight he had known the terrible diplomatic strain of carrying an explosive group of Ambassadors and their retinues, and trying to keep the peace between them. His personal view of their behaviour was unprintable; the only one who seemed to behave according to his status was Sarek - and Sarek had spent the major part of the trip in sickbay. It would have been difficult enough if he had been fully fit, Kirk reflected; but he also spent part of the journey in sickbay - though not as long as McCoy would have liked, if he had had his way.
Several factors had combined to force McCoy to release the Captain from sickbay. The importance of the diplomatic mission, for one; it was essential that the various Ambassadors did not fully realise how near they had all been to death. In addition, Kirk felt - and at heart, McCoy agreed with him - that since Spock and Sarek had not spoken as father and son for eighteen years, it would be only tactful to give them the opportunity to communicate freely and privately. So McCoy agreed to let Kirk leave sickbay after two days, on condition that he spent very little time on duty, and most of the time in his quarters, preferably in a horizontal position.
But in spite of doing a minimum of work, there had been considerable strain on him. The diplomatic personnel quarrelled like children, he reflected, and with as little real provocation. In his more charitable moments, he gave them credit for being sensible people under working conditions, and tried to convince himself that the petty quarrelling was caused by their reaction to the difficult conditions under which they worked. In his more irritable moments, he decided that they were a bunch of undisciplined idiots masquerading as useful members of society.
And although he had been taking things easy, in accordance with his promise to McCoy, he was feeling very tired. Maybe he had been doing too much... except that he was sure he hadn't. He had felt all right... well, reasonably all right... when he had first come out of sickbay. His back had been sore, especially when he moved unwarily, but now he felt plain tired. It was an effort to stand up straight... come to that, it was an effort to sit up straight.
Oh, well, the last of the Ambassadors was on his way down to Babel now; and the crew was due some leave. It would be very pleasant not to have any responsibilities for a day or two, other than the routine ones connected with the running of the ship; and even so... Spock would be back on duty in a couple of days. He would take a lot of weight off Kirk's shoulders.
Uhura turned from the communications console.
"Message from Starbase 11, Captain."
"Oh, no," he thought. "Don't say it. Don't say they're going to send us out again already without a break." Aloud, he said, "On audio, Lieutenant."
He was right. They were ordered out again, without a break. They had to make a rapid rendezvous with a survey ship that had found a supply of a rare drug much in demand for the treatment of heart conditions in certain races of the Federation. A survey vessel could not travel nearly so fast as a Starship; the Enterprise was assigned to pick up the drug and rush it back to Star Base 11.
He allowed himself to slump down in his seat for a moment. It would be a routine enough trip, he reflected; no annoying diplomatic personnel to complicate matters. No strain. Perhaps he would be able to rest.
He left Sulu with the con, and made his way slowly to the rec room, where he got himself a cup of coffee. He debated getting something to eat as well, but decided that he was not hungry.
He was sitting drinking it, and wondering just what was wrong with it, when McCoy joined him.
"I've just heard from the Vulcan medical authorities that Sarek will definitely be O.K., Jim. My experimental surgery was fine - even with you throwing the ship about like a... a..." He stopped, looking closely at Kirk. "Jim, are you feeling all right? You haven't been overdoing things, have you?"
"I'm fine, Bones. Just a bit tired; too many diplomats, I reckon. That lot would have exhausted a statue." He yawned. "I'm thinking of going to bed now; we've a rendezvous to make, but we don't leave until morning. How's Spock?"
"Beginning to wonder if you've forgotten he exists," McCoy said drily. "I'm letting him out of sickbay tomorrow for restricted duties, same as you."
Kirk sighed. "Yes, I suppose I have neglected him recently," he admitted. "Those blasted diplomats... You too, Bones - I could have found more time to come and see him if you hadn't made me promise to spend so much time on my back. And anyway, I didn't want to butt in."
"An odd five minutes wouldn't have been butting in," McCoy pointed out.
"Bones, you agreed with me that we should give him as much time as possible with his father."
"Yes, I know, but this last couple of days I got the impression that he'd have liked to... well... show you off to his father."
McCoy nodded. "You're his, Jim. His friend, found without any parental influence. Unlike his prospective wife, who proved to be so worthless. Of course he wanted to let his father see the worth of the friend he found for himself. If I'd had the sense to realise it quicker, I wouldn't have let you out of sickbay at all. And don't say that's a Human reaction. Spock's Human enough to want to do that, even though he might not ever admit it. He'd come up with a logical reason for having you and Sarek socialising. But that's his real reason. By letting you out, I prevented you and Sarek from seeing much of each other; and by staying away so much, you kept Sarek from seeing you. Oh, they both realised you had your duties, and that you were far from well... Sarek knows you nearly killed yourself pretending you were all right so that Spock would be free to give the blood for the operation."
"Meaning that Spock knows too."
"Come on, Jim. You're looking far too tired. I'm going to see you in bed before I leave you. Are you sure you've been resting enough?"
Kirk got up wearily. "Yes, I've been resting. I've been resting until it's a wonder I haven't put down roots and got stuck to the bed."
"Then maybe I'd better get you back into sickbay for a check."
"Bones, give me a break! It's just nervous strain from too many diplomats."
"Sure, Dr. Kirk. I'll let it go for tonight, but if you're still as tired tomorrow, I'm having you back in before you can say 'Babel'. So take your warning. If you have been overdoing it, stop it now."
He settled Kirk in bed, waited until the Captain had fallen asleep then left quietly.
Kirk woke next morning feeling unrefreshed. His back was aching; his head throbbed. He was having trouble seeing, too; everything was blurred a little, and he definitely had to concentrate on focussing. In addition, there was a humming sound in his ears. He was hot, too hot - yet he found himself shivering. He had to force himself to his feet, and once upright, had to hang onto the bed to keep from falling.
The intercom bleeped for attention. He forced himself over to
"Message for you from Starfleet Command, Captain," Uhura's voice came. There was an odd note in her voice, he thought.
"Put it through, Lieutenant."
The message was brief... he found himself unable to assimilate it properly, aware only of a deep, cutting grief. His mother... It was so long since he had been home. He hadn't even managed to get home when Sam died. She had understood... but it didn't make it any easier to bear the fact that he would never see her again. He couldn't even get home for the funeral... that was part of the burden of Starship life, the complete severance from home. But the emotional ties were still there... even though home was now a beautiful lady who travelled between the stars, and his family was now a mixed group of men and women for whom he was responsible... and two brothers who were, if anything, even closer to him than Sam had been. He broke the contact, knowing that the ship's grapevine would pass the word round almost instantaneously. He would not be alone in his grief... yet the sympathy of these people who were his family now wouldn't help...
He was still sitting staring blankly at the empty screen a few minutes later when Spock came to his cabin, brought by the news on the grapevine. Spock didn't bother buzzing... he simply walked in.
He crossed to Kirk and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Kirk looked up at him; the sudden movement made him dizzy, and he sank into grateful unconsciousness.
Spock caught him as he fell forward, his unobserved face showing his anxiety. No grief should have this effect, surely? Then he felt Kirk's skin. Its dry, febrile heat alarmed him; he swung Kirk up into his arms and headed for sickbay, his mind a confusion of emotions.
McCoy glanced up as he came in, and started to his feet as he saw Spock's burden.
"He collapsed as I went in just now," Spock said. "He feels hot, fevered."
"Here..." McCoy indicated an examination couch, and Spock laid Kirk gently down onto It. McCoy bent over the couch, diagnostic scanner busy. "I noticed last night that he wasn't looking right, but I put it down to just plain tiredness. He said himself that he'd had a surfeit of diplomats this last few days." He rolled Kirk over gently, and turned his attention to the injury on his back, an injury that had been closed and healing nicely when he last examined it, four or five days previously. He drew in his breath sharply as he saw it.
The wound, which had been well on the way to recovery when last checked, was now an angry red, slightly swollen and oozed pus when McCoy gently pressed the sides of it. McCoy's lips set in a grim line. He turned away for a hypo to take a blood sample, and nearly collided with Spock, who was examining the wound intently.
"Spock, I'd get on better if you stayed back a bit. Why don't you just get back to the bridge, and I'll let you know as soon as I have anything?"
"Doctor, you informed me that the Captain's injury was healing well, and that he was quite ready to be released from sickbay. You released him while keeping me in; which was a totally unnecessary proceeding. There was nothing wrong with me. It would have been more to the point to have released me, and kept the Captain in bed."
"Spock, the strain on your body processes because of that drug was intense. I had to be certain there were no lasting effects - if only because you were, in effect, a guinea pig for the drug. Jim's injury was straightforward, and it was healing; it was almost healed."
"Have you been checking on it every day, Doctor?"
"No; there wasn't any need to. It was a clean cut. When I last saw it, four days ago, it was closed and looking perfectly healthy. Now will you stop trying to tell me my job, and go and do yours!"
"Doctor, part of my job is making sure you do yours properly."
"Well, I won't be doing it properly if you keep on getting in my way. "
Spock turned, almost reluctantly, and headed for the door. There, he paused, looking back. "Doctor, I don't know if you've heard yet, but the Captain has just received a message telling him of the death of his mother. I do not know if the knowledge will make any significant difference to your treatment of him now, or even if the knowledge will necessitate any difference in the treatment."
"Have you any idea how he took the news?"
"No, Doctor. He collapsed as I went in to see him." Spock turned and went out without another word.
McCoy looked after Spock for a moment as he left. He could only guess at the intensity of the Vulcan's feelings, but he sensed that Spock was worried, very worried, both about Kirk's collapse and about how Kirk would react to the news of his mother's death. As McCoy turned back to the still unconscious captain, he was aware of a parallel worry. The wound had been healing - indeed, had almost healed. What had caused this resurgence of infection? And - more important - Kirk was tired out, weak from the injury and exhausted from the worry of transporting the Babel delegates. In his exhausted state, how would he take the news? He had taken his brother's death very well, but he had been less worn then, and in addition had had the problem of solving the Denevan situation and the worry about Spock to take his mind off his loss. But the death of a parent... even one he hadn't seen for several years...
McCoy resolutely turned his mind from pursuing the useless speculation of how Kirk would react. He would soon see. He thought instead about cleaning out the wound and trying to discover what it was that had infected it.
The swelling seemed to be full of pus, so he lanced it, and found that he was right; it was a concentration of pus that had caused the swelling. Once he got that cleaned out, he disinfected the opened cut and put a dressing over it. Then he went to get the pus analysed.
With one of the lab technicians set to work on the analysis, McCoy returned to his Captain's side. Kirk lay there unmoving, his skin flushed, sweating in fever. McCoy chewed at his lips as he checked Kirk's temperature, already 103 degrees and rising. Whatever infection had got into the wound, it was pretty potent.
He checked the cut again. It was already oozing more pus.
Spock returned to the bridge, his mind a confused jumble of thoughts. He trusted McCoy - the surgeon had saved his life more than once, and had just saved his father's life in an operation performed under the most trying circumstances - but he had been careless with Kirk during this mission. He had allowed Kirk out of sickbay far too early so that he could perform that same operation and while Spock admitted that he appreciated the action on the part of both his friends, he disapproved strongly of the fact that Kirk's life had been endangered in the process. Then, after Kirk had been readmitted, McCoy had again let him out too quickly. Now Kirk was suffering from this new infection...
Sure enough, the analysis showed a concentration of germs. But the germs were of a type previously unknown - there was no record of them in the medical computer.
McCoy's lips tightened. The Captain was already very ill; researching an antidote to previously unknown germs would take up a great deal of time that they could ill afford. But where could he have picked up an infection from unknown germs?
Of course! From the Orion. The germs must have entered the wound when Kirk was stabbed, but hadn't shown up until now. They had taken this long to incubate.
Alien germs. They were either completely harmless or desperately dangerous. It was hard that Kirk should have fallen prey to the latter when he was already below par.
He assigned the technicians to work on researching a serum for the infection, and went back to Kirk. The Captain, if no better, was at least no worse.
McCoy hesitated, then flicked on the intercom.
"McCoy to bridge."
"Bridge. Spock here." The Vulcan's voice was cold, over-controlled. McCoy shivered involuntarily, remembering the unfriendly nature of Spock's last exchange with him.
"The Captain has contracted an infection from what I believe to be an Orion disease. I have initiated research to discover a serum for it."
"I see. Was there no way to predict the ailment?"
"No. The scanners only show up diseases for which they are programmed. This is a completely new disease. It could have been completely harmless - "
"But it wasn't."
"No, it wasn't."
"Doctor, if you had kept the Captain in sickbay, you would have notice the initial symptoms much sooner."
"Not necessarily, Spock. I saw him last night, remember. He looked tired, nothing more."
"If he had been in sickbay, would you not have realised that his tiredness wasn't natural?"
McCoy stared at the intercom for a moment without speaking, then he leaned forward and switched off without replying.
In the event, the research turned up an antidote rather faster than McCoy had dared to hope for. It wasn't exactly a miraculous cure; it took some time to work; but the fever broke fairly quickly, even though it took two or three days before Kirk was well enough to be allowed up. And even then, McCoy kept him in sickbay instead of permitting him to return to his own quarters. Spock's accusation of carelessness had made him feel rather guilty - though he would never have admitted it to the Vulcan!
Unusually, during this time there was no sign of Spock. Once he was assured that Kirk would recover, he seemed to lose interest; he neither visited sickbay nor contacted McCoy on the intercom.
McCoy noticed that Kirk was a little restless; he seemed to spend quite a lot of time watching the door, fidgeting irritably. McCoy could only guess that Kirk was looking for the truant Spock.
There was one other thing that worried McCoy. Kirk hadn't mentioned his dead mother... not once. But he was very quiet. Just restless. McCoy suspected that Kirk was brooding over the two things - Spock's absence and his mother's death. And knowing Kirk, he guessed that Kirk thought that Spock might be... silently accusing him of neglecting his family obligations, by remaining away from him. Yet - what were his family obligations? He had written his mother as regularly as it was possible for any Starfleet officer to do; and now that she was dead, there was nothing, nothing at all, that he could do. Even the funeral arrangements had been made and carried out by others, of necessity...
Eventually, on the fifth day, with Kirk well on the way to physical recovery but far from well psychologically, McCoy went to see Spock.
He found the Vulcan in his quarters, gazing abstractedly at an empty viewscreen. Spock seemed to be hardly interested in his presence.
McCoy stared at him. "What's wrong, Spock?"
There was a short silence. "Nothing is wrong, Doctor, I am merely meditating. I would be obliged if you would say what you have come to say quickly, and then leave me in peace." His voice was as cold and distant as McCoy had ever heard it; their friendship, the many dangers they had shared, might never have happened - it was like listening to a total stranger speaking.
"All right, Spock. I've come to you about Jim. This may sound silly to you; but Jim needs you. He needs you right now. Just why, I don't wholly know - and the way you're behaving, I doubt you'll be any good to him. But there's something, some reason he needs you. He keeps on looking for you, and when someone comes in to see him - Scotty, Sulu, any of the others -- and he sees it isn't you, I can see he's disappointed. Whatever he wants you for, it isn't something I can help him with, or he'd have asked me - "
"Perhaps he has learned not to trust you wholly any more, Doctor. After all, you nearly let him die recently." The very calmness and unemotional delivery of the speech made it the more hurting. "Tell him I will come to see him after he is released from Sickbay. I find I do not wish to encounter you." He turned, and left McCoy without another word, moving through to his sleeping cabin.
McCoy stared at the closed door in shocked silence.
He let Kirk leave sickbay the next day, without mentioning to him the response Spock had made to his appeal. Kirk had enough on his mind - he, McCoy, had no intention of adding to his worries.
Spock looked round from the command chair as Kirk entered the bridge, and rose.
"Are you quite well, Captain?"
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Spock." Despite himself, a little of his hurt at Spock's neglect showed, and he knew Spock was aware of it.
"Did Dr. McCoy not give you my message?"
Kirk shook his head. "What message?"
"I told him to inform you that I would see you after your release from sickbay."
Kirk looked at him. "What was wrong with coming to see me in sickbay?"
Spock hesitated. "I would... prefer to tell you in private, Captain."
The atmosphere on the bridge was electric. Everyone knew that Spock and McCoy hadn't exactly seen eye to eye over this latest illness of Kirk's; but no-one knew any details. It seemed they weren't going to, either.
"Very well, Mr. Spock. Let's go down to my quarters. Mr. Sulu, you have the con."
They went down in silence. In the elevator, Kirk watched Spock's set face unhappily. He had enough to feel guilty about, without having to worry about anything else just yet.
In his cabin, Kirk sat, waving Spock into a seat. And waited.
Spock didn't seem to be quite sure where to start. He looked uncertainly at Kirk, who gave him no help. He had enough to think about without trying to make things less embarrassing for an awkward First Officer.
At last, Spock said, "I find it... difficult to... to excuse Dr. McCoy for nearly letting you die, Captain. He let you out of sickbay far too early, not just once, but twice - "
"He agreed, very reluctantly, with my decision, Spock," Kirk cut in. "The first time, I considered Sarek's life too important to lose. I had intended to turn command over to Scotty as soon as you left the bridge, but the emergency arose before I could do that. The second time, there was nothing seriously wrong with me; I could well afford to stay in bed in my quarters. You and Sarek were the ones who were really ill, and needing all McCoy's attention. The germ I picked up - that had nothing to do with the other condition."
"Dr. McCoy should have kept you in sickbay until he was certain that there would be no ill effects from a wound given by an alien."
"Spock, are you trying to tell McCoy his job? He took all the obvious precautions and it wasn't his fault they weren't sufficient - " He forced a smile. "Try to remember the number of times he's saved your life... and mine... and your father's, under the most trying of circumstances. Balance that against one alien disease he failed to diagnose before it developed, and you don't have much to criticise him for."
Spock failed to meet his eyes. "I have tried to. I find... I would willingly entrust my own life to him... my father's life... but I am unwilling to entrust your life to him again."
"Spock, that's not logical."
"I know. Nor do I know of anyone else who would be even half as efficient. I cannot understand what is wrong with me. I should not feel this way. He has given so many reasons why I should trust him, yet..."
Kirk looked at him sympathetically. "You're over-tired, Spock. That's all." His feeling of loss, temporarily pushed to the back of his mind, suddenly re-emerged with redoubled force. His face twisted in the intensity of his grief.
Spock reached out to him, kneeling at his side. "Jim! What is it?" His hands were gentle on his Captain's shoulders.
Kirk allowed the tears to flow, Spock's very gentleness breaking him. It was the first time he had allowed expression of his grief. He leaned against Spock, who, with instinctive sympathy, slid an arm around him and moved the other hand to hold Kirk's head to his shoulder. Kirk relaxed completely, sobbing unrestrainedly. Spock continued to hold him comfortingly. When at last the racking sobs ceased, Spock still held Kirk to him.
"I haven't seen her for so long," Kirk whispered. "I couldn't. She understood. Like your mother understands. But I know she missed me, would have liked to see me sometimes... "
"I know, Jim. But I am sure she accepted - as my mother accepted -- that we cannot live our lives as children. The time must come when the young grow up and want to make their own lives. When that time comes, the mothers worth having let their children go... as yours did, as mine did. And she knew that the work you are doing was - is - important, not just for her, not just for your family or your own planet, but for the entire Federation, and possibly even for more than that. If there was a price to pay for that... by not seeing you... I am sure she paid it willingly..."
When at last Kirk lifted his head from Spock's shoulder, there was a kind of peace in his eyes. The Vulcan released him, and they looked at each other for moment in a near-embarrassed silence.
"Thanks, Spock," Kirk said quietly. Some of the tension seemed to leave the Vulcan. He permitted himself to smile slightly - then without another word, he slumped forward in a dead faint.
Kirk leaped for the intercom. "Kirk to sickbay! Bones, Spock's just collapsed in my quarters!"
"On my way." The intercom went dead.
Kirk bent over the unconscious first officer, shifting his limbs into a more comfortable position. "Spock... Spock..."
The door slid open. McCoy ran in.
He slithered to a halt at Kirk's side. "What happened?" he asked as he bent over the limp figure.
"We'd been talking. Then - he just collapsed."
McCoy ran his scanner over Spock, and frowned.
"What is it, Bones?"
"That blasted drug. I thought he was all right... but there's something wrong now - a delayed action effect, I suppose; there wasn't any sign of marrow malfunction when I let him out, I'll swear it by everything I know. But there's definite signs now of a blood condition caused by marrow deficiency."
Kirk stared at him in horror.
McCoy called sickbay for a stretcher, and rushed Spock back to a bed there. Kirk went with him. He watched in a grim-faced silence as McCoy gave Spock an injection; then another; and another. After the third, McCoy glanced up.
"That should hold him."
"How serious is it?"
"I'm not sure yet. It was what I was afraid of all along... but he seemed to have got away with it. I don't know why it took so long to show up."
"Bones; would it cause unusual reactions to given situations?"
"It could; with a blood ailment, and a deficiency such as there is here, the brain could - probably would - be starved of blood... or at least of nutrients in the blood. The injections I've given him will be all right for a while; but I'll have to find something for the marrow deficiency or he'll be on injections for the rest of his life."
Kirk drew a deep breath. "You've got to come up with something, Bones. I don't care what it takes, you've got to!"
"Jim, do you think I don't know that? He's my friend too, remember - even though you two are far closer to each other that I can ever be."
"Don't worry, Jim, I'm not jealous... at least, not much, and that only very occasionally - like when I want to do something for one of you and can't... but the other one can."
Kirk looked at him, feeling guilty. It was true that he and Spock were much closer to each other than they were to McCoy, but he hadn't realised that the surgeon was aware of it. McCoy grinned reassuringly at him, and turned back to Spock.
Kirk, somewhat unwillingly, went back to the bridge. There was nothing he could do in sickbay; he knew McCoy would let him know as soon as he had any news, and the rendezvous was close. He had to be on the bridge.
They made the rendezvous and exchanged the drug, then set off again at warp six for Star Base 11. Once on course, Kirk called sickbay again.
"Sorry, Jim, not yet. I'll let you know as soon as I'm able to. I promise."
"I know, Bones."
Kirk paced restlessly across the bridge, realised that his restlessness was probably infectious, and left the bridge, turning command over to Sulu as he went. He went to his quarters, but found himself unable to concentrate on anything there. He moved out into the corridor again; paused in front of Spock's door. He hesitated, then went in.
He sat at Spock's desk and rested his head on his hands, his elbows propped on the desk. Spock...
In sickbay, McCoy was harrying his technical staff. Spock still lay unconscious; definitely unconscious, not in a healing trance. Every now and then McCoy moved back to check him, and every time found no change... but the deterioration caused by the deficiency was bound to increase soon. Injections could only do so much...
At last one of the technicians came running, holding out a phial. "This worked on the marrow sample, Doctor," he gasped.
McCoy grabbed it, filled a hypo and injected Spock, staring anxiously at the diagnostic board as he did, knowing that it would take time to work. But it needed less time that McCoy had feared. Almost at once, the blood readings began to shift to a more normal level. Spock opened his eyes, and looked up.
"How do you feel, Spock?"
Spock looked at him, considering the question. He raised an eyebrow; then said, "Surprisingly well, Doctor. What happened?"
"That drug you took to increase blood manufacture in the marrow had an adverse effect, but it took until now to show up."
"I see." Spock glanced round, made certain that they were alone, and went on with an effort. "Doctor --- I wish to apologise for certain remarks I made recently. I... know that we have every reason to trust your skill..."
"It's all right, Spock. Just forget it." McCoy turned to the intercom. "McCoy to bridge. Spock's come round, Jim. He'll be all right."
On the bridge, Kirk relaxed as he heard the note in McCoy's voice. "Thanks, Bones. Tell him - I'm on my way down to see him."