“I hate space,” McCoy muttered, and squinted against the hot, dry breeze that greeted him as he materialized planetside. Chekov rushed forward, his strained expression speaking volumes.
“Doctor. The captain is this way.”
The away team’s shuttle sat ten meters to McCoy’s left, and just beyond that (where Chekov now lead him) was a trailhead crowded with pale green, blue, and gray plant life. McCoy was no botanist, but they looked like other desert flora he’d seen, and this region of the planet’s northern continent was dry and dusty. Purple, powdery dirt and blue sand crunched and billowed under his boots, and barren, jagged, black and brown mountains ringed the flat valley they’d been studying. Overhead, the star system’s orange supergiant glared down between thin, high clouds.
The trail wasn’t much of one; McCoy wondered what had formed it, then decided on the instant that he didn’t want to know. It meandered between spiked, flared, tree-like growths and winding vines with bulbous leaves and tiny, intricate flowers. Chekov explained as they walked.
“We were taking samples of these small bushes, and one of them had a kind of pod in it that sprang up and popped open, and something like pollen came out.”
McCoy sighed. He could feel a headache coming on. “And he took a great big deep breath of it didn’t he.”
Chekov ducked under a low branch, looking sheepish. “Ah, well, he sneezed. And he seemed fine at first, but then he had to sit down and his breathing sounded labored.”
The uncertainty in Chekov’s voice triggered McCoy’s doctorly instincts. “You were absolutely right to call me down.”
The clearing opened around them in short order. It was roughly five meters across and half-carpeted with a yellow- and gray-leafed groundcover that formed larger, knee-high piles in some places. McCoy spied one of the aforementioned bulbs lurking in the otherwise unassuming clumps; its colors were darker than the rest of the plant, and it was covered with long, fine, white hairs that stirred in the breeze.
Jim was propped against a low rock cluster, leaning over and, to McCoy’s displeasure, panting. Yeoman Rand was standing nearby with a canteen of water, which Jim refused when she offered it. He looked up as Chekov and McCoy approached, revealing bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils.
I am going to lock his ass on the ship from here on out, McCoy decided, and said, “Stop being an idiot and drink some of the water.”
Jim made a face, but accepted the canteen with a murmur of thanks and sipped at it. Rand shot McCoy a grateful look.
Not wanting to drink water while they were in single-digit humidity was a bad sign. McCoy set his case down next to Jim and popped it open. “Didn’t your mama teach you not to shove your face into strange plants?”
“I didn’t shove my face into it, it attacked me.”
He handed his tablet to Rand and took out a tricorder. “And I’m sure you didn’t do anything to provoke it.”
“How would I provoke a bush?”
“Jim, if there is anyone in this galaxy capable of antagonizing a plant, it’s you.” McCoy grimaced at the readings and sent them to the tablet. “Rand, Chekov, I want to take some scans of you as well. You first, Chekov.”
“Yes, Doctor.” Chekov looked panicked, and McCoy couldn’t blame him. It was only his second away mission, and though he, Jim, and Rand were the last people to leave after an uneventful week of Spock's science team poking into everything, coming back with a sick captain had to feel like failure.
“That’ll do, kid. Rand.”
Rand, at least, was holding up fine. McCoy wondered if he could convince her to switch to medical. Of course, it would mean medschool, but--
Jim coughed hard, doubling over, and came back up looking at his hand. It was gleaming and wet with mucus and something yellow, but not anything red. McCoy sent his readings from Rand and Chekov to the tablet, then went to Jim’s side and snagged his wrist, examining what he’d coughed up with a critical eye.
“I hate plants,” Jim said, his voice hoarse.
“Ironic considering you grew up on a farm in the middle of farm country.” McCoy squinted and nodded at his kit. “Rand, get me a tissue and a collection vial.”
“I think you mean ‘entirely understandable’.”
Rand gave the tablet to Chekov, who was watching the proceedings with something akin to horror. She took McCoy’s tricorder and handed him the vial and tissue; he wiped off Jim’s hand, stuffed the tissue into the vial, and gave it back to her in exchange for his tablet from Chekov.
Jim turned his hand over, looking at it in a mystified fashion. “Did you just--collect whatever I coughed up?”
Altered. Also not good. McCoy frowned at his tablet. “I don’t like what I’m seeing here. You’ve got elevated levels of all the wrong antibodies. So do Chekov and Rand, but not as high, and they’re not reacting like you are.” McCoy set the tablet aside and pulled out an injector along with three vials, one empty and two filled with an opaque blue liquid, and loaded one of the later. He gestured at Rand and Chekov. “I’m going to inoculate both of you with this right now, then we’re taking him back up.”
Chekov’s eyes widened, and McCoy sighed. “Don’t panic on me, Chekov. It could just be a reaction to these plants, but we need to get all three of you back on the ship.” Rand, for her part, took the shot without hesitation, and maybe Chekov was reassured by her calm demeanor, because he relaxed some and offered his harm as well. McCoy sent Chekov to the shuttle for a gurney and to report back to the ship, then gave Jim his shot (he didn’t protest; yet another bad sign) and loaded a new, sterile vial for a blood sample while Rand monitored him with the tricorder.
Chekov made it back with the gurney in under five minutes, and once McCoy had his sample they set to strapping Jim down. They were just finishing when Spock arrived.
“Commander. To what do we owe the pleasure,” McCoy asked, keeping his eyes on his work.
"Yeoman Rand and I will remain and take samples of the plant life. We will return as soon as we have covered the immediate area surrounding this location and the shuttle landing site."
McCoy gave him a brief glance. "Absolutely not. Everyone's getting back on this shuttle, including you." He checked the straps, locked the blood sample into his kit and traded his tablet to Rand for the tricorder.
"An answer to the captain's condition may very well rely on data gathered here at the site of his exposure, Doctor."
"And you can gather it to your heart’s content with drones and probes, that’s what they’re for."
"Drones are far too clumsy to entrust with this level of--"
McCoy faced Spock. "Listen. The last thing this ship needs is you and him both out of commission, and the longer we stick around, the more likely that’s going to happen. They’re all three reacting to something around here, and last I checked, you’re half-Human, so we can’t take chances. Anything else you want to do down here, you're doing it via remote."
Spock's eyes narrowed a fraction. "May I remind you who is in command of the ship when the captain is incapacitated, Doctor McCoy."
McCoy reigned in is temper. "And may I remind you, Commander Spock, that you're not the Chief Medical Officer. I am." He leaned down and shut his kit with enough force to make Chekov flinch, then stood with it in hand. "And my medical orders are, he's leaving, they're leaving, you're leaving, we're all leaving."
Spock stared at McCoy, and McCoy stared back. They’d been working up to this, oh yes they had. Finally, something in Spock's eyes changed, and he said, "Of course, Doctor. I defer to your medical expertise."
McCoy scowled at Spock and didn’t reply, because he was sure to say something that would escalate the situation, and that was the last thing they needed just now. He jerked his head at Chekov, who moved to help him with the gurney.
As they guided the gurney down the trail, Jim raised his head and asked Spock, sounding confused, “Why are you guys fighting?”
M’Benga worked with Spock to analyze the spores and Jim’s reaction while Chekov and Rand (neither of whom became symptomatic, to McCoy’s relief) helped Sulu prep a set of drones and probes to continue the planetary survey from orbit. Jim stabilized once the first round of medication got to work on him, which took some (if not all) of the edge off McCoy’s concerns.
“You could cut him some slack, you know,” Jim said.
McCoy was going over M’Benga’s notes while preparing an injection of the serum M’Benga and Spock had put together. “Why, because he tried to be a moron and put himself at risk?”
“Because he was trying to help you help me.”
That gave McCoy pause. He glanced up from his tablet. “He doesn’t get to do that at his own expense. You’ve cornered the market on that, last I checked.”
“He’s the First Officer, Bones, when I’m out of commission--”
“Don’t you even start with me,” McCoy snapped. “It’s bad enough you, the damned captain, go running around on an alien planet and suck up a lungful of spores that you react to. Now you’re defending him riding on down there to your rescue and maybe costing us our First Officer too?” He leaned over and gave Jim the serum shot without an ounce of warning, and was more satisfied than he should have been at the flinch it produced.
Jim sighed and sagged against his pillows, looking winded. “He was trying to help you.”
“That is not the kind of help I need.”
“Yeah.” Jim shut his eyes and said, “I’m sorry.”
McCoy felt a mild pang of guilt, because the serum wasn’t going to be a fun ride, but was able to mediate it with the knowledge that Jim deserved it. “Oh, I know you are,” he said, trying to sound gruff and not succeeding. He adjusted the rest of the fluids and medications supplied by the bed. “Don’t try to leave until M’Benga or I sign you out.”
Jim whispered, “I won’t,” and not a minute later his head rolled to one side and his breathing became deep and even. After a final check of his lungs (all clear), McCoy left Jim’s chart with M’Benga and went back to his office.
Spock showed up when he was midway through his analysis of the full lab reports. McCoy paged through the charts, only sparing a second to look up at Spock. “Mr. Spock. What can I do for you.”
Their disagreement on the planet’s surface was the furthest thing from his mind, given it was one in a string of many that promised to be on-going, but apparently not from Spock’s. “I apologize, Doctor, if my presence on the planet’s surface implied I did not trust you to handle the situation.”
McCoy replayed the sentence in his head a handful of times, then set down his tablet and peered at Spock. “Did you just apologize to me?”
“I am quite confident that of anyone on board the ship, you are the most qualified to address any issues surrounding the captain’s health and well-being. It was not my intent to suggest otherwise.”
McCoy wanted to bask in the novelty of Spock apologizing, but there were more pressing issues to address. He groaned and ran his hands over his face. “That’s not what pissed me off, Spock. What pissed me off was you putting yourself in the same situation. Bad enough I have to keep him from getting himself killed, I really don’t have the time or energy to do it for both of you.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “You believe the captain lacks the necessary concern for his own survival?”
“Now that’s the understatement of the century.” When Spock’s expression didn’t change, McCoy snorted. “Haven’t you been paying attention to anything he does?”
McCoy hadn’t meant it to be an accusation, but he saw Spock take it for one (and later would be impressed with himself for noticing, because Spock was nothing if not difficult to read). McCoy held up a hand to forestall any reaction. “I didn’t mean you’re a bad or inattentive First Officer. Just...” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Look, I know you and Jim got off on the wrong foot, and you didn’t know him at the academy, and you barely know him now. But he’s damned young to be a captain, and entirely too willing to jump into high risk situations he wouldn’t even remotely consider sending anyone else into. It’s a bad combination, considering we’re out here surveying random planets no one’s really looked at very closely.”
Spock seemed to think this over for some time. “You are correct that the captain and I are not so acquainted as we could be. I am often uncertain on how best to work with him in such a way as to minimize the risks to the ship and its crew as a whole, and the captain himself in particular. It is not always clear to me what approach to take.”
McCoy grunted. “The best approach is to tell him, ‘No, you stupid jackass, you’re not doing that’.” Spock stared at him, and McCoy dismissed the suggestion with a shake of his head. “Nevermind, that’s not really your style. How about this: point out the reasons why endangering himself is bad for the crew. That is guaranteed to get through to him.”
“You believe calling on his sense of responsibility for them will, when it can be directly correlated to his own safety, be a more successful tactic?”
“This was Pike’s ship, Spock. I don’t know how much you know about them but that’s pretty important to him. This crew was Pike’s responsibility and now they’re his. You want to get through to him, tie it back to the crew.”
“And this will induce an emotional response which he will be more likely to respond to.” It was both a question and a statement.
“I’m not saying you should guilt trip him--” McCoy paused to think that over, then waved a hand. “Actually, I am saying that. Just, whatever works, okay?”
Spock nodded, though it seemed to be in acknowledgment rather than agreement. “Thank you, Doctor. I will consider these options for future use.”
McCoy took up his tablet again. “And feel free to drag me in if you need to. But be careful how often you do that; he’ll notice if we gang up on him too much.” Spock frowned (in as much as he made facial expressions at all), and McCoy said, “I’m serious, Spock. This isn’t a one person job. Trust me, I should know.”
Spock’s features eased. “Thank you for the offer of your assistance, Doctor. I will bear it in mind.”
McCoy made a low sound and said, “You’re welcome,” and Spock took it for the dismissal it was.
And Jim wants a five year mission, McCoy thought, and went back to the lab data.