A massive heave, and the weary climber hoisted himself to the top of the rise. He swore under his breath as his foot slipped on some loose stone, threatening to send him spiraling back down the way he had come. He struggled to recover his balance, knowing he would soon find that which he was after. With the practiced eye of a trained hunter, he scanned the valley below, seeking his quarry. There? No. There! With cold deliberation, he raised his weapon and fired.
Far below, just coming into open ground from a wooded area, Spock of Vulcan seized his companions arm and hauled him unceremoniously back into the cover of trees. The two narrowly missed being hit by the bolt that sizzled into the ground where they had stood. Spocks keen hearing had barely detected the incoming threat in time.
"What the!?" Captain James T. Kirk sputtered in surprise and confusion.
"It appears that we are under attack, Captain," Spock observed. "I suggest we locate a place of safety."
"Lets just get out of here. We can try the ships sensors again. Maybe theyll detect something this time," Kirk replied as he reached for his communicator, but Spock stayed his hand.
"Sir, I remind you of the necessity of maintaining radio silence this close to the border. That was Klingon disruptor fire, and no doubt there is a Klingon ship in orbit in addition to the Enterprise. Our attacker will certainly try to track us. Concealment is our only option at this time."
Kirk paused a moment, then nodded, "Youre right, of course. Lets go."
They continued to press further back into the underbrush and soon located a secluded rocky niche extending partially underground. "Here, Spock. It looks like this offers us the best protection." Kirk climbed in. "I just hope it shields us from their ships sensors as well," he muttered as the Vulcan followed.
They huddled in the cramped space for what seemed like hours, though Kirk knew no more than thirty minutes passed.
Damn! He hadnt liked this assignment from the beginning. It simply "felt" wrong, he had told Spock, but couldnt find a logical explanation for his concern about the "distress" signal Starfleet had ordered them to investigate. Normally, he would have welcomed the diversion from another routine star-mapping mission, even though the signal had come from a planet near the Federation/Klingon border. Maybe especially because it had come from that region in space, Kirk admitted to himself wryly. But there was something about that previously inhabited but now deserted planet that raised warning flags in his mind. I should have paid attention to those flags, Kirk thought, if not at first, then at least after they had arrived to discover ships sensors were unable to locate any life forms. That had raised more flags: a distress signal from an uninhabited planet?
On the unlikely chance that sensors had missed something, or had been blocked by something unseen below, Kirk decided to beam down himself to investigate. He dismissed Chekovs objections casually, implying that his concerns were unfounded. The planet was uninhabited after all. And Spock had insisted on accompanying him, despite Kirks attempts to dissuade him.
They werent very serious attempts, Kirk had to admit. After all, he could have ordered Spock to stay aboard, and the Vulcan would have obeyed. But he had refrained from issuing the order, secretly grateful for his first officers presence at his side. The two of them had always worked better together than alone.
At least McCoys still safely on board. The doctor had protested loudly at being left behind, but Kirk was adamant. "No, Bones, the fewer that go down, the better. If we find someone who needs you, well get them back up here where you can do more for them with full access to your equipment." McCoy had finally acquiesced, reluctantly, but Kirk was thankful the doctor wasnt here with them, under presumably Klingon attack with no way to safely contact the ship. It was bad enough that he and Spock were stuck there.
Kirk blinked, forcing himself to the present, and glanced over to his friend, who had been running periodic tricorder scans of the area. "Anything, Spock?" he asked quietly.
"Negative, Captain," Spock whispered back. "It seems...wait" He touched a forefinger to his lips, cautioning Kirk to silence as he studied the instrument reading again, then pointed to the forest in front of them and to their left. "Multiple life-forms approaching from each direction," he advised. "Definitely Klingon."
"Phasers on maximum," Kirk ordered as they crouched even further down in their make-shift shelter.
Moments later, the Klingons were there, swarming the area, almost falling over the outcropping of rock that covered the two Starfleet officers.
Kirk and Spock pressed their bodies to the dirt, almost willing themselves to become part of it. The effort almost worked. They might have escaped detection, had not one of the searchers peered into their cramped niche and caught a flash of the captains white, short-sleeved tunic. Kirk blasted him point-blank in the face for his trouble. A second later, Spock felled the next nearest Klingon. They each managed to terminate one or two more before a disruptor was shoved roughly in the captains face. Kirks finger dropped from the trigger, and Spock ceased firing without order; he would not risk his friends life against such impossible odds.
"Out!" the Klingon ordered, and the Enterprise officers obeyed, promptly though reluctantly surrendering their phasers and other equipment. Kirk counted a party of thirty before the Klingons bound his and Spocks hands behind their backs, blindfolded them and forced them to move off quickly in a direction he couldnt determine. Only the hand clamped on his elbow kept him from running into trees.
Inwardly, Kirk viciously berated himself, wishing he had ordered Spock to stay on board the Enterprise. The ship could ill afford to lose both her senior officers; and, perhaps even more importantly, Kirk experienced the bitter pain of knowing he had probably led his closest friend into death. And yet they were still alive; why, he didnt know. Khmyr Klingons were not known for taking prisoners.
The forced march continued. After a time, Kirk could tell by the terrain that they had left the woods and were apparently in an open field. The ground beneath his feet changed again; a well-worn path or a street of some sort, Kirk guessed. He was surprised to find himself being guided up a small flight of stairs. He heard a door open and was prodded into what he sensed to be a building. He was led down a corridor and into a room where the blindfold and wrist bonds were removed. As he blinked to clear his vision, he saw Spock receive the same treatment.
The Vulcan managed to edge over to stand beside his captain. "You all right?" Kirk asked.
"I am...undamagedand you?" Spock returned, following Kirks lead in refusing to disclose any name or rank to their captors.
"Ive been better," the Human muttered as his gaze took in the crowd surrounding them.
One of the Klingons stepped forward and spoke in heavily-accented English. "I am Kalath. You are, of course, Captain Kirk and Commander Spock of the Enterprise. You both are well known to the Empire. My compliments on your prompt response to our signal. You are now my prisoners.
Kirk was stunned. "Your signal? How did you fake a Federation distress call? What do you want of us?" he demanded.
Kalath chuckled, but there was no mirth in the sound. "How is not for you to know. As to what I want, that will be answered in time."
Suddenly, Kalath snapped out a guttural phrase in his native language. Several Klingons grabbed Spock while one seized Kirk, and they separated the two, hauling them to opposite sides of the room.
Kirk instinctively fought to free himself, his eyes bidding Spock to do the same. Spock struggled, but not even his Vulcan strength could overcome the four Klingons holding him.
One of their captors separated himself from the group and advanced slowly toward Spock. He held a dktagh, the standard Klingon battle knifea weapon viciously designed to disembowel with varying degrees of thoroughness.
Using the guards restraining his arms as support, Spock swung his legs up and forward, planting a solid kick in the approaching Klingons chest. It was a valiant effort, but fruitless. Two more guards each dove for a leg, pinning the Vulcans knees firmly to the wall. The attacker Spock had sent reeling approached again. Glowering, he spat in Spocks face then slugged a hammer fist into his midsection. Spock exhaled explosively, but otherwise gave no reaction.
The Klingon raised his knife and drew it slowly across Spocks chest, rending fabric and causing a thin line of green blood to well and drip. Kirk watched, horrified into momentary silence as several more cuts were inflicted. Finally, he found his voice.
"Dont think about it, Spock. Look at me." Kirk tried desperately to divert his first officers attention. "Remember the chess game, the times in the gym, the truths weve shared."
Spock met his gaze evenly. "Pleasant memories, Captain," he agreed. "I trust we shall have the opportunity to build more."
The knife wielder stepped back, seeming to admire his handiwork. Apparently unsatisfied with his subjects lack of response, he struck Spock with a vicious backhand blow that threatened to snap his neck. He landed several more before another Klingon joined him, then a third. Together, they continued to pummel the helpless Vulcan with resounding blowsgreat, heavy-handed impacts that to a Human would have been fatal.
Kirk raged, but his strength was no where near Spocks. The Klingon held him easily, forcing him to continue watching.
Several of the surrounding Klingons produced weaponswooden clubs and heavy leather strapsand joined the assault.
With each blow, Spocks body jerked fractionally. The Vulcans eyes were veiled, distant, but Kirk wondered how long his friend could endure.
"Let him go, you bastards!" Kirk snarled. "At least give him a chance to defend himself."
As if in answer, the six Klingons holding Spock fell away, not wanting to get caught in the flurry any more than they already had. Spock went down amid a hail of clubs, straps and boot heels, thrashing convulsively but making no sound. Whether he fought back or writhed in agony, his captain could not tell. Several times, Kirk thought he heard the sickening crunch of breaking bone.
"Spock!" he screamed. "SPOCK!"
As he fell, Spock knew that any offensive attempt was futile. He concentrated on defending vital organs, staying alive until such time as he and Kirk (hopefully) would be reunited and able to attempt escape. Blinding pain consumed his entire being as the blows continued to fall; finally conscious thought faded.
"Enough!" Kalath snapped, his hand raised.
The assailants stepped back from Spocks still form, and Kirk glared at them, feeling a cold, murderous fury rise within him.
"You will now escort the captain to my office," Kalath directed the guard still holding Kirk in a vice-like grip. "It is time for our ... discussion."
"Wait!" Kirk implored as they began to lead him toward the door. "Let me see to Spock. Is he still alive?" His pleas went unheeded, though, and he was forced from the room. A last, desperate glance over his shoulder showed the Vulcan lying on the floor, still as death. It was just as well, better for Kirk not to see what else they did to his first officer.
When Kalath entered the office, Kirk rose. His hands were clinched at his sides, the knuckles a bloodless white. He watched silently as Kalath crossed the room and sat at a long table; then Kirk approached the Klingon.
"What is it you want from us?" he grated.
"Why, nothing, Captain," Kalath replied almost cheerfully. "Nothing at all. I am after no Starfleet secrets or materials of any kind not even your ship, though that would be a great prize. Nothing you might offer would interest me." Kalath leaned across the table, his nose almost touching Kirks. Jim forced himself not to draw back from the rank stench that assailed him. "Dont you understand?" Kalath continued, his voice a menacing purr. "I merely want to see you suffer and suffer greatly. Small enough repayment for the trouble youve caused the Empire, dont you think?" He straightened and began pacing the room.
Kirk shot him a venomous look. "Why dont you just kill us and get it over with?"
"That would be too easy, Captain," came the reply. "It is also not my purposeyet. In time, perhaps, but not now. As I said. I want to see you suffer. And what better way to do that than attacking what each of you cherishes most. In your case, that is Spockyour friend. Suppose I was to torture you instead of him. First, you could not withstand as well as he can; it would be over much too quickly. Secondly, while he would undoubtedly be troubled by seeing you injured, he can control his emotions far better than you. Little satisfaction would be gained from that. So I chose him. Your reactions to his treatment, your obvious compassion for him has been most entertaining."
Kirk launched himself across the table, blind fury in his mind. He tackled the Klingon, and they went skidding across the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. Before he could begin beating Kalaths face to a bloody pulp, Kirk was picked easily off his opponent by the guard who had waited outside. Kalath got easily to his feet, his dignity unruffled. He straightened his tunic and continued, seemingly oblivious to the interruption.
"Mister Spock, on the other hand, requires a different tactic. Next to your well-being, Captain, what is it that your Vulcan values the greatest?" Kalath turned, awaiting an answer.
Kirk stood frozen in defiant silence, trying to blot out the terrible implication of what Kalath had said. No! They mustnt!
"No matter," Kalath waved his hand, dismissing Kirks lack of response. "I already know the answer. His Vulcanness, of course. The mental training and all that it entails. If that were taken from him..." Kalath let the sentence trail off. An evil smile played about his lips.
Kirk struggled futilely to free himself. "You Klingon son-of-a-bitch!" he spat. "If you think Im going to stand by while you slice apart his mind!"
"Captain, it seems you have little choice," Kalath laughed mockingly. "Now, if you will follow me, I have something to show you which you may find interesting."
Propelled by the guard still holding him in an unbreakable grip, Kirk followed down several corridors. Kalath finally stopped beside a large door and opened it. The guard thrust Kirk inside and slammed the door behind him.
Kirk turned slowly, studying the room although there was nothing to see. The chamber was totally barren. Suddenly, his attention was drawn to one wall which seemed to shimmer. The shimmering faded to reveal a window into the next room. Kirk damned all Klingons to the lowest recesses of hell as he saw the figure in the adjoining room. It was Spock.
Spock, beaten and bloody, was spread-eagle against the far wall of the other room. His limbs were held by wide metal bands embedded in the wall itself. His head was secured by a similar band across his forehead. Directly to one side sat a tall machine that could be angled in various directions. It ended in a funnel-shaped piece which was pointed at Spocks temple. If Kirk had taken time to examine it, he would have seen that it resembled a centuries-old dental X-ray machine. He did not take the time, however. Pressing himself against the window, he yelled to his first officer. Spock gave no response, and though his eyes were open, there was no indication that he saw Jim either. Kirk yelled again only to be cut off in mid-sentence by Kalaths voice coming over some unseen speaker.
"Save yourself the trouble; he cant see or hear you. You will find the demonstration of our tool most interesting, however."
Suddenly, the Vulcans body went rigid in its bonds. Though Kirk could see no beam emanating from the machine, it was obviously now in use. He watched helplessly as the tendons in Spocks neck corded and sweat began to bead his upper lip. Kirk was frantic. He thought back to what Spock had told him of the Klingon mind-sifter and wondered if the Vulcans mental defenses could withstand this assault as well. Spock had avoided serious effects of the force four setting; but knowing Kalaths intention, Kirk had no doubt that the intensity of this session would be much higher. If Spock had been shielding from the pain of the physical beating, those shields would already be taxed and could not hold up indefinitely. His deduction was confirmed by Spocks reaction.
Spock jerked his head minutely to one side then the other against the metal band. The veins in his arms stood out against writhing muscles. His eyes went wide, and the sweat was now running down his face.
Kirk felt the searing pain in the Vulcans mind as if it were his own. He could stand it no longer. "Stop it, damn you!" he yelled to the four corners of the room. "Do what you want with me; just stop this!"
But Kalath gave no answer. Nausea rose in Kirks throat as he watched Spock continue to struggle against the torment. He could not bear to watch; neither could he tear his eyes away. "Oh, Spock," he whispered, "would that it was me instead of you."
A great, dark force assaulted the Vulcans strained shields, slicing through his weakening defenses as neatly as one of McCoys laser scalpels but as painfully as if a dull, rusty knife was being used. Though he had given no indication, Spock had sensed Kirks presence and regretted only that the captain was being forced to watch this part of his abuse as well. Spock knew he could endure what he must, but he had hoped that Jim would be spared this final humiliation. Wave after wave of pain assailed his mind, and he knew he could not resist much longer. His head continued to jerk, and his body twitched as if a current of electricity were being run through him. Then the shields gave way, and a white-hot agony engulfed him. An involuntary scream tore its way free. He abruptly sagged in his bonds as darkness mercifully took him.
Rage and grief vied for priority in Kirks heart and mind. The thought of Spocks possible death being so meaningless was more than he could bear. He heard the door open and barely resisted his desire to kill as the guard entered to escort him to a holding cell. Once alone, he paced and waited and found himself breathing a prayerpleading for Spocks life and sanity. Kirk was not doing too well himself. The stress of having been forced to watch his friends physical and mental torture had played upon his nerves like harp strings. He wondered if he would ever stop shaking.
The door to his cell burst open, and Kirk whirled to see two burly Klingon guards enter. Between them they heldmore accurately draggeda figure Kirk barely recognized. With a soft cry, he started forward, but a raised disruptor warned him away. The guards hauled their burden over to one of the rough-hewn stone bunks, deposited it therenone too gently, Kirk notedand left without a word. A low moan came from the battered figure, a sound so filled with anguish that it tore at Kirks heart.
Crossing the room, Kirk knelt beside his friend. He scarcely recognized the one with whom he had served for so many years. The angular face was swollen and bruised, smeared with a mixture of blood and grime. Unnatural welts held cuts from which the green blood still oozed. A tattered shirt covered the scarcely moving torso. Kirk gently ripped away the remaining cloth to further assess the injuries and gasped in horror.
The contusions beginning on the Vulcans face continued down his chest, arms and abdomen and disappeared below the belt line. Knife cuts criss-crossed with welts where straps, fists and clubs had connected. Also evident were unusual marks from that ultimate instrument of torturethe agonizer. There did not seem to be an inch of flesh the Klingons had not brutalized. Running his hands down each of Spocks legs, Kirk concluded that they were both brokenone in several places. "My God, Spock, what have they done to you?" he rasped.
If he had ever wished for McCoy, it was now. He had no way of determining the internal injuries he was sure existed. He tore a remnant off the tattered shirt and dabbed gently at the gashed flesh, trying to clean away the worst of the blood. The Vulcan stirred slightly, moaning again. Leaning closer, Kirk called softly, "Spock. Spock, can you hear me?" He reached out to touch his friends shoulder, then drew back, unwilling to cause him further pain.
Spocks eyes flickered open weakly and stared, unseeing, for a moment. Then he seemed to focus on his captain. "Jim," he whispered, his cracked lips barely able to form the word.
"Its all right, Spock. Im here. Youre safe now. Just lie still. Youre pretty banged up, and any movement could cause more damage." It took all of Kirks control to speak steadily as he tried to convey a confident reassurance he did not feel.
Spock drew a breath, then gasped suddenly. His face contorted as excruciating pain shot through him. A strangled cry tore from his throat. Kirk paled. He had never heard such agony in one sound. Shuddering, Spock gasped a measure of control. When he was finally able to speak, it was slowly and with great effort.
"They...tried...to break...me. Nearly succeeded. Prolonged...exposure. Highest...setting. Mental shields...eroded. Cant...mask pain...or...use...healing...trance." He paused, his whole body trembling. Those few words had obviously cost him more strength than he had.
Kirk fought back tears as he tried again to comfort his friend. "I know, Spock. They worked you over pretty good. But youre safe now. They wont hurt you any more." His voice hardened with conviction. "I wont let them hurt you again. And well find a way out of here; I promise you." One part of his mind vaguely wondered what had possessed him to make such an insane promise, one he saw no way of keeping.
"Unlikely, Captain." Spocks words came weakly. "I am...not...functional. You must...find...a way...to escape...alone." He shuddered and tried unsuccessfully to subdue the pain that danced like fire along every nerve.
"Like hell! I wont leave you here!" Kirk declared vehemently.
"If you...do not...we...will...surely...both...be killed," Spock gasped. "I would...prefer... to die...at...the hands...of...a...friend. Do...not...make...me...beg, Jim. Release...me... from this...and...go."
Kirks throat constricted so tightly he could scarcely breathe "I cant do it, Spock. I cant...kill...you." He paused as he saw the Vulcans eyelids slowly close. "Talk to me, Spock. Youve got to stay with me, or you could go into a coma."
But it was too late. Spock had already slipped back into unconsciousness.
Rising, Kirk paced the room, his mind searching frantically for some solution to their current predicament, some means of escape. Once, he heard two guards coming down the hall. They stopped and jingled the bolt, testing its security. Kirk took a protective stance in front of Spock, keenly aware of how vulnerable his friend was, and ready to defend him with his life if necessary, but the guards passed without entering. Kirk resumed his pacing, fighting for coherent thought through the massive tide of emotions threatening to overwhelm him. He knew time was running out. Spock would die unless he got him back to the shipand soon.
Suddenly, something within Kirk snapped. He began pounding the walls. The sounds he made were somewhere between a scream and a growl as his rage surged out of control: anger at the Klingons for their sadistic cruelty, frustration at the seeming hopelessness of the situation, but mostly impotent fury at his own inability to do anything to ease his friends suffering.
Finally, he calmed and returned to Spocks side. Hard as it was for him to accept, he knew he could do nothing. Nothing, that is, except stay by Spock until the end. The Vulcan would not die alone. Kirk didnt know how long he sat there, but finally, despite his resolution to the contrary, he felt himself sinking into a deep, troubled sleep.
In the corridor outside, an unseen silhouette flitted silently from shadow to shadow. Coming to the door of the only occupied cell, it quietly slipped the lock and entered.
Kirk was jolted awake by a hand suddenly clamped over his mouth and the feel of a phaser at the base of his skull. He stiffened, but before he could struggle, a voice whispered harshly in his ear.
"Quiet, fool. Im here to help you."
Kirk stiffened again, this time in disbelief. That voice! He knew it. But...it cant be! How?
As if reading his unspoken thoughts, the voice came again. "Yes, it is me. Although you have no reason to, you must trust me if you wish to leave here alive. Do I have your silence?"
Kirk nodded once, slowly, and as the hand dropped from his mouth, he rose and turned to face the Romulan Commander. A hundred questions flooded his mind, but only two came forth.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in quiet tones, mindful of the danger surrounding them. "Why would you help us?"
The Commander jerked her head once, sharply, and replied. "Unimportant, Captain." Handing Kirk the devices, she glanced at Spock for a long moment, then abruptly turned on her heel. "See that he lives," she whispered as she disappeared through the door. Kirk stared after her, shaking his head. He would never know what she had been doing on the planet.
Turning again, Kirk bent over his unconscious first officer. He checked and found that Spock was still breathing barely. Kneeling, he gathered the Vulcan tenderly in his arms, flipped open his communicator and spoke softly, urgently into it. Moments later, he felt the tingle of the transporter beam.
He looked up to see familiar walls solidifying around him. His relief at being home again though was overshadowed by concern for his friend. McCoy was already there, mediscanner whirring over the still form Kirk so gently cradled.
"Damn it, this is a fine time to have sent Chapel off on a secret mission." The doctor swore vehemently under his breath his gaze locked with his captains. "What happened down there, Jim? Thank God M'Benga's here. Skull fracture, intracranial hemorrhaging, collapsed lung, ruptured organs, broken bones. Im not sure I can save him." His stark blue eyes were nearly wild with grief.
The transporter room doors slid open, and two medics bearing an anti-grav stretcher came in. As he helped the doctor place Spock on it, Kirks voice came in a husky whisper: "You have to, Bones. You just have to."
Kirk followed McCoy and the stretcher out of the transporter room, pausing only long enough to press the comm button and bark an order to his helmsman. "DiFalco, set us a course toward the nearest starbase. Sulu, Warp Nine, now." As they hurried through the corridors to Sickbay, he gave McCoy the concise summary of the causes of Spocks injuries that the doctor needed to plan adequate treatment.
Six grueling hours of surgery later, McCoy stepped back, wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, "Ive done all I can. Its up to him now. Itll be touch and go for a few days."
"Will he live, Bones?" Kirk asked, not looking up from where he stood beside Spocks bed.
The doctor looked at Kirks haunted eyes, weighed the facts in his mind, then slowly circled the table to stand beside his friend. He laid a hand on the captains shoulder. "Its difficult to say, Jim. I stopped the bleeding into his brain and eased the pressure, repaired the organs, even managed to save his lung. But hes lost a lot of blood, and head injuries are always trickyyou know that. He may have a sub-arachnoid bleed; hell, even the lung could go again." McCoy stopped as he felt the captain stiffen beneath his fingers. After a brief moment, he continued, "His Vulcan stamina is all thats kept him alive this long. By all counts, he should already be dead. Hes lucky you got him here when you did."
Kirk cast the doctor a rueful glance. "Yeah, thanks to the Romulan Commander."
"The Romulan Commander? Here, on the Federation border with the Klingons?" McCoy asked. "What on Earth would she be doing out here, and why would she help you and Spock?"
"I have no idea why she was down there, but as to why she helped us escape, I guess its like she said. She didnt want to see usespecially Spockdie."
"She must really care for him," McCoy agreed gruffly. "Thats one hell of a lady." Returning to his prognosis, he continued, "Anyway, if he remains stable, Spock should stand a chance. My main concern then would be if there was any permanent damage."
"Such as?" Kirk faced his chief medical officer squarely, a note of suppressed panic in his voice.
"Well, the pressure on his brain may have already damaged or destroyed some cells, which could lead to any number of things." McCoy shifted uneasily, averting his gaze. "The other part of it is his Vulcan mind training. You said Spock himself admitted his mental shielding ability against intrusion and pain had been eroded by the mind-sifter. Theres no telling to what degree or how long it would take to rebuildif it could be done at all. Other parts of his disciplines could be affected, too: his telepathy, his emotional control." Damn! He hadnt meant to tell Kirk all that. This man had a way of wringing the truth from him.
Shaken, Kirk lurched for a chair. A hundred thoughts swirled through his head. Damn Kalath! He had extracted his vengeance on Kirk well enoughforcing him to watch helplessly as Spock was tortured, both physically and mentally. However, that was a hurt Kirk knew he could survivebut only if his friend recovered completely. If not...well? While he knew Spock would never abandon him, he also knew that any permanent change in the Vulcans psyche would change their friendship forever. Spocks disciplined mind was the anchor of their relationship; they both knew that. Without that stability, Spock would not consider himself worthy of his place at Kirks side. And Kirk would never forgive himself for allowing the damage to happen. Groaning, he rested his head in his hands.
McCoy came up beside him again. "Now take it easy, Jim. Thats all just guesswork. It could be that as his body heals, whatever damage that damn machine did will heal, too. We just have to wait and see."
Kirk looked up, despair etching his face. "How could I have let this happen, Bones?" he asked softly. The naked guilt in his voice stunned the doctor for a moment.
Roughly, he grabbed Kirks shoulders and jerked him to his feet, shaking him to keep the captains self-recrimination from taking hold. Hed seen it coming; he had known hed have two patients to treat.
"What do you mean let it happen?" he demanded harshly. "Just what could you have done to stop it? Answer mewhat?!" McCoy hated using that tone, but he had to snap Jim Kirk out of it.
The captain tore himself out of the doctors grip, spinning again to face him. "If he dies or doesnt recover, Ill...itll be..." Suddenly trembling, he staggered to the chair again.
"Be your fault, Jim?" McCoys voice suddenly held more compassion than Kirk had heard in a long time. "No. You could have no more known what would happen down there than I did when I freed him from that Denevan creature. And theres no way you could have stopped it either." He crouched in front of Kirks chair and forced his friend to meet his gaze. "I know what youre feeling. I felt the same anger and guilt and helplessness on Platonius with Parmens games. But you cant let those feelings take over. Spock wouldnt blame you for what happened. He needs you now, and you cant help him if you go off the deep end."
Kirks trembling was approaching seizure intensity, and he had gone several shades paler. He hunched over, his body shaking with the cumulative stress.
McCoy rose, grabbed a hypo and pressed it to the captains arm without a word.
"What was that?" Kirk croaked.
"A tranquilizer," the doctor replied. "It wont put you out, but you need to relax. Youve been traumatized as much as Spock, but youre just now letting the shock catch up with you."
Helping the captain to his feet, McCoy guided him to the bed next to Spocks and eased Kirk onto it, then turned to check Spocks monitor. Returning to the captains bed, the doctor asked, "Feeling a little better now?"
Kirk nodded silently, knowing McCoy would see right through the lie.
The doctor held his gaze briefly then, satisfied for the moment that Kirks sanity wouldnt snap, McCoy continued, "Okay, I know you need to talk about it...and we will, but for now just rest awhile. Ill check on the both of you soon."
Once inside his office, McCoy pulled out a hidden bottle and poured some of its contents into a glass. He never drank while on duty, but God! He needed one now. He threw the scalding liquid down his throat and sat down heavily at his desk. He had to be the strong one here, he realized, but it could be so damned hard sometimes. He might be getting the trauma third-hand, but it affected him deeply as well. His two best friends were out thereone probably dying and the other with his sanity hanging by a thread. He suddenly felt very, very old. Roughly, he brushed away the tears that spilled down his cheeks.
When McCoy returned to check on his patients thirty minutes later, he found Kirk had moved the chair and was sitting by Spocks bed. He ran the scanner over his captain and reached for another hypo.
"Make it mild, Bones," Kirk said tightly. "Just enough to keep me off the ceiling."
"It is," McCoy answered as he pressed the shot home. He stared at the two of them, shaking his head. He knew it would take more than a tractor beam to move Kirk from the Vulcans side.
Over the next three days, Kirk left Spocks bedside for only moments at a time, when necessity demanded. He ate practically nothing and refused all the doctors attempts to get him to lie down and rest or sleep. McCoy was there as well, monitoring Spocks panel almost constantly and providing the ear the captain needed as he recounted the horrors of those few hours. The doctor said little, just listening, being there for Kirk as he poured out his rage and grief and fear. No one saw what went on behind the closed door to McCoys office. No one witnessed the shaking hands or heard the muted cries as the doctor struggled to deal with his own feelings of pain and uncertainty over his friends futures. No, he had to be the strong one.
The middle of the second day, McCoy was finally able to stop pumping tranquilizers into the captain when it seemed that Spock would indeed live. They both heaved a joyful sigh of relief at the news. "But hes not out of the woods yet," McCoy warned. "You say he cant use the healing trance, and monitor shows hes not in a coma, so why hasnt he woken up?"
Kirk nodded grimly and settled himself to wait out the next phase. Each hour seemed like an eternity. McCoy had just dozed off in his office when Kirk came flying in like some wayward torpedo.
"Bones! Bones!" he yelled, arms gesturing wildly while a wide grin threatened to split his face. "Spockhes awake!"
"Thank God," McCoy exploded, bolting from his chair. Together, they hurried to their friend.
"Well, Mister Spock," McCoy drawled, finishing his first exam of the now conscious Vulcan. "Id sayall things consideredyoure pretty lucky. Youve started to heal up all right, and that should continue. I dont have to tell you, though, that without the healing trance, your recovery is going to be Human slow. Youre going to have to take it easy for awhile. Understand?"
Personally, McCoy thought it was a little too soon to celebrate, although he did not say this aloud. He still had tests to run to determine whether there was any cellular damage in the Vulcans keen brain, and he had to monitor for any further bleeding which could cause a relapse. As to the mental disciplineswell, he was way out of his depth on that score. But he pushed those thoughts aside and let himself rejoice in the fact that Spock was once again with them, if but for the moment.
Upon finishing the surgery, McCoy had placed an immobilizerthe electronic equivalent of a body castaround Spocks body from the neck down. With the Vulcan unable to shield against his pain, McCoy could not afford to allow any accidental or pain-induced movement to cause additional damage to the delicate, newly-healing organs and bones.
Spock had divined all this immediately and made no effort to move, though his dark eyes glittered with pain as he fought back the intense agony that wracked his whole body. His eyes now rose to meet McCoys gaze.
"Understood, Doctor," he managed to get out. "My compliments on your skill, and...my gratitude." The pain in his eyes faded for a moment to be replaced by a look of thanks beyond words. Abruptly, the agony returned. Spocks breath came in ragged, shallow gasps, and he kept himself from crying out only by sheer will.
Kirk gripped McCoys arm. "Give him something, Bones." His words were almost pleading. "I cant see him suffer like this."
"Way ahead of you, Jim," McCoy replied as the hypo hissed against Spocks neck. "This should take the edge off."
Slowly, the Vulcans breathing evened, and Kirk saw the clenched jaw muscles relax somewhat. The pain reading dropped dramatically, and Spock seemed a bit more comfortable, though he continued to tremble slightly. The K3 indicator still was too high.
"Looks like we need just a little more," the doctor muttered.
A second shot, and Spock was able to turn his head to face the captain. "Jim," he said softly, undisguised pleasure in his voice at seeing his friend again. The faintest of smiles curved his lips.
Kirk stepped closer and gazed down into the warm Vulcan eyes. "Spock. Its good..." He swallowed hard, closing his eyes to hide the unshed tears that glistened there. Opening his eyes again, he continued, "Its good to have you back."
Kirk reached out his hand; his fingertips brushed Spocks cheek, needing the contact to reassure himself that his friend would recover. Then he quickly withdrew his hand, knowing the shields were weak and not wanting to inflict his own torrent of emotions on the Vulcan.
"Jim," Spocks voice came again. "I...understand. Your touch I can accept."
Those words, so softly said, so full of caring, filled Kirks heart to nearly bursting. He saw that Spock wantedyes, even neededthe touch as much as he did himself. Kirk reached out again; a warm hand half-cradled the Vulcans head.
Observing his two friends as they conversed quietly, McCoy considered their closenesslike that of brothers almost. No, he thought. They are like brothersbrothers of the heart. What is it Spock calls it? Thyla. Yeah, thats it. Thyla.
As their conversation continued, the doctor slipped silently from the room, hiding his own tears from the two who didnt even notice him leave.
Satisfied that Spock was now recovering, Kirk allowed himself to go back on active duty, but spent all his off-shift time in Sickbay with his first officer. They talked, Kirk filling Spock in on the progress of the Enterprises minor repairs at Starbase 64, relaying the get-well wishes of the rest of the crewMcCoy had refused to allow other visitors until the Vulcan was "much more up to it." They played chess, Kirk handling both sides but moving Spocks pieces as the Vulcan directed. And sometimes they were just together in that comfortable silence of all friends which needs no words.
And each day, Spock grew stronger and more alert. McCoy was, in fact, astounded by the Vulcans speed of recovery, unaided by the healing trance. Spock was gradually able to tolerate greater doses of the painkiller, while actually requiring less and less. It soon evened out.
After a week, McCoy released the immobilizer field, applied light-weight casts to the Vulcans legs, a rib-bracer to his torso, and began a light physical therapy program. Spock was released to his quarters and, in McCoys words, "very, very light duty, to be performed only from his cabin."
The next day, a bitter truth came out.
Kirk buzzed for admission at Spocks cabin doors. At the Vulcans command, the doors slid open, and Kirk entered to find Spock sitting in total darkness, his back turned.
"Spock, is something wrong?" Kirk asked.
Spock ordered the lighting to half strength as he turned his motor-chair toward Kirk. As Spock was still unable to walk, McCoy had provided him with a device similar to that which Christopher Pike had used on the journey to Talos IV, but without the life support unit.
Kirk caught the look on Spocks face, and the fear he had thought was gone rose again. With a sickening certainty, he knew what he was about to hear.
"Yes, Jim," Spock replied, not even trying to hide his frustration. "McCoy was right on both counts. The injuries I received from the mind-sifter have healed, but only to a degree. I am unable to meditate, the shields have improved just slightly, and my control is...marginal at best." Spock looked up, stark grief in his eyes.
Kirk crossed the room and couched at his side. "Give it time, Spock," he said, his voice low, comforting. "Youre still not fully recovered. It could all come back."
Spock shook his head, negating what Kirk said. "Do you remember the night I regained consciousness? The night you held my head all those hours?"
Kirk nodded. How could he forget.
"Your thoughts and feelings tilled my mind that night. I could not shield. I did not object," he added quickly, sincerely. "In fact, I welcomed it. But tell me, did you feel any response?"
Kirk stared at him guiltily, not wanting to answer.
Spock continued, "You have told me, Captain, that in our previous melds, you felt my presencemy thoughts answering yours. Did you feel anything that night?"
"No!" Kirks reply was an anguished whisper.
Spock raised his hand. "If you will permit me," he murmured.
Kirk nodded again. The request was unnecessary. Permission had always been granted.
Spocks lean fingers spidered over the side of Kirks face, seeking the familiar paths. They held there for long minutes, then gently dropped away.
Kirks eyes spoke the answer his voice could not.
"You see, Captain," Spock began again. "It appears that I will not fully recover."
"You dont know that yet," Kirk interrupted.
"Damn it, Jim!" Spock exploded, cutting him off. The Vulcans hand crashed down on the table, nearly going through it.
Stunned, Kirk watched silently as Spock gripped the tables edge with both hands until he could once again speak calmly.
"You do not understand. How can I accept being less than what I wasthan what we were?" Spocks words were bitter, edged with pain and despair. "I am unfit to serve you in this condition."
Kirks voice was firm but gentle. "Youre the best first officer in the fleet, and my friend. That hasnt changed; it never will."
Spock turned his chair away. The silence stretched taut between them.
"Youre a part of me, Spockthe best part." Kirk tried frantically, desperately, to hold on to what he felt slipping away. "I cant let that go."
The Vulcan sat as if carved from stone.
Kirk turned and left the room, fearing his worst nightmare was about to come true. The guilt and self blame was back in full force, turning him inside out.
He did not see the tears slip from the Vulcans eyes or hear Spocks voice echo his captains parting words: "...part of me..."
"I dont know what to make of it, Jim," McCoy said later in Sickbay when Kirk told him of the conversation. "It might be that he was fighting so hard against that mind-sifter that when his shields crumbled, he was huddled so tight down there somewhere that now he cant reach out even when he wants to. Outside forces can come in, but"
"Like trying to use two communicators when one is broken. Or a dog thats been beaten so much that he cant bring himself to go even to someone offering a treat," Kirk finished, jumping as usual to his conclusions.
McCoy smirked wryly. "A rather bizarre analogy, Captain, but thats about right. Thats my best guess, anyway," he corrected himself. "I sure cant help him on this. And I've checked with M'Benga who's been busy covering my regular duties. Neither of us know what else can be done."
Suddenly, Kirks expression brightened. "Bones, how about..." Quickly, Kirk outlined his idea.
"You just might have something there. Ill try and make the arrangements. M'Benga has some friends that could help. You talk to Spock and see what he thinks."
The Enterprise departed from the starbase, heading straight for Vulcana Regar, a Vulcan colony world. After two days, they settled into orbit at their destination. The three friends gathered in the transporter room to welcome some very important visitors. The last of the casts and braces had come off the previous day, and Spock was walking on his own again, although somewhat stiffly.
McCoy watched tensely as the Vulcan healers, Silek and TNia, materialized in front of them. This would be the most important medical consultation of his career. If matters did not go as hoped, Spock would be lost to them forever. The Vulcan had already made clear his intention to resign if he could not regain his former mental abilities.
"There is no guarantee, of course," Silek began, "but it is logical to make the attempt. The odds of success are favorable. We have dealt with victims of the mind-sifter before."
Kirk locked his knees and forced himself to remain standing as relief washed through him like a tidal wave. McCoy covered his cheer with his usual brusqueness. "Logic? Odds? What kind of prognosis is that? Spocks professional life is on the line, and theyre talking logic!"
"Important decisions must be based on logic, Doctor. A fact you would do well to learn," Spock said, cutting in before McCoy could further embarrass himself.
"Why, you" McCoy bristled back, ready for another round in their never-ending war of words.
"Not now, Bones," Kirk cut him off sharply. Turning to Spock, he gave a half-hearted grin. "I guess youll be needing some privacy?"
Escorting the healers to Sickbay, Kirk and McCoy led them to a private exam room, where the door was politely, yet firmly shut in their faces.
Spock lay back on the exam table reluctantly, trying to control his growing nervousness. He did not wish this exam, this intrusion upon his wounded inner self. But he knew it was necessary if he was to have any hope of remaining with Kirk. The unspoken friendship he held for his captain had carried him through more than one kind of hell. He trembled visibly as each of the healers settled a hand on his temple. The merging of their consciousness with his was abrupt, painful. No! his mind-voice cried involuntarily. No, get out of my mind! Leave me alone!
As natural telepaths, the healers were capable of discerning Spocks thoughts, even though he was unable to actively project them. Control, Spock, Silek intoned to him mentally. Control your fear. We will not harm you. We wish only to help.
"Do not fight us, Spock," TNia spoke aloud. "Open to us. Let us find what we need to know."
Spock thrust aside his anxiety, forcing intellect to overcome the instinctive resistance. He lowered what little was left of his mental shields and allowed the connection to flow. Two other minds merged fully with his, drifting back to the time of his capture, through the brutal tortures, the difficult, incomplete recovery. Silek and TNia probed as gently as possible, examining the battle-scarred areas of his mind.
For the most part, the meld flowed smoothly, though not quite painlessly for Spock. There were some tense moments. At one point, the healers had to physically restrain him as he writhed mentally under the insistent telepathic probing. Gradually, though, they were able to determine what they needed to know, the strength of Spocks reactions playing a large part in their decision. Silek and TNia eased back from the central focus of the meld, drifting through other, less painful areas as they soothed the raw sting caused by the intrusive link. Slowly, the meld was dissolved, leaving Spock shaken but resolute and restored.
Throughout the entire ordeal, Kirk and McCoy waited impatiently outside, nerves strung tighter than anyone would think possible. M'Benga checked in on them, offering what assurances he could before returning to the extra duties he'd taken on during this time. Kirk and McCoy thanked him as he went into handling the daily sick call. The captain and the chief medical officer took turns sitting and pacing, the forced inactivity only adding to their tension. Kirk paused in what seemed like his twentieth mile of pacing. He leaned against the bulkhead and forced himself to breathe evenly as he tried to ignore McCoys muttering, something about "...those green-blooded, pointy-eared quacksno sympathy or bedside manner at all." Suddenly, they turned as the closed doors slid open, revealing the solemn-faced healers and a pale Spock behind them.
"The examination and treatment are complete," TNia told them tonelessly. "Spocks injuries were severe, but not irreparable. With our help and guidance, Spock has regained full capacity in the disciplines."
Kirks legs nearly crumpled as relief washed over him. McCoy caught the captain and helped him remain standing. Spock raised an eyebrow. "Really, Captain, I expect this sort of emotional display from the doctor, but"
Kirk laughed as the two Vulcan physicians radiated disapproval. "Sorry about my outburst, Healers, but you have my gratitude."
McCoy clasped Kirks shoulder. "Mine, too. Thank you."
"One does not thank logic, Captain Kirk," Silek lectured.
"But we are gratified to have been of service," TNia finished.
"Do you have any instructions for Spock, medically speaking?" McCoy inquired.
"Only that he return to his duties as soon as possible. Logic dictates that work is the best therapy."
"Captain, if youll permit me to escort our guests to the transporter room? Im sure they have other patients with needs more pressing on Vulcana Regar," Spock suggested.
"Very well, Mister Spock. Report to me on the bridge in one hour," ordered the captain.
"Make it two, Jim," the doctor objected. "Id like to give Spock the once or twice over before I certify his return to active duty."
"Of course, Doctor. Now, if youll excuse us?"
The trio of Vulcans left Sickbay without another word to Kirk or McCoy.
As Spock strode out the doors of the turbolift to the bridge, McCoy saw the flash of the first real smile to come from the captain since the Vulcan had regained consciousness. "Permission to resume my duties, Captain?"
"Granted, Mister Spock. Granted. Navigator, set course for N Hydrae Three. I think we have an assistant chief medical officer there who may need our help."
"Course laid in, sir," came the reply from DiFalco.
"Mister Sulu, Warp Factor Seven."
The doctor stayed on the bridge for a minute, bouncing on his toes and grinning to himself. All was right with his world once again.
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