It starts like this:
James T. Kirk, captain of the fleet flagship U.S.S. Enterprise, coughs. Spock lifts a brow, Jim ignores him. The cough isn’t bad, as coughs go, so no one comments.
Except the cough persists, soon accompanied by shivering.
"Captain," Spock tries. He's silenced with a glare. From the communications station, Nyota Uhura shoots him a sympathetic glance.
The captain's condition continues to deteriorate. Kirk stands, sways, and braces himself against his chair.
Spock appears beside him. His expression betrays nothing; his eyes betray everything. He's concerned.
"Mr. Spock," Kirk croaks, pausing to cough, "I'll be in my--"
"Sickbay," Uhura says, voice stern as she too stands from her station. Everything about her body language dares Kirk to argue with her.
The captain grimaces. "Sickbay," he agrees unhappily. Out of every member of his crew, Uhura is the one he's most likely to listen to for the simple fact that he has yet to win an argument against her. (Besides, he suspects he's going to pass out in the next five minutes, anyway, which means he won't have to listen to Bones bitch at him, so he figures now's as good a time to get checked out as any.)
Spock helps keep Kirk standing as they make their way to Sickbay, Uhura trailing behind. Neither man question her-- they know better.
In the turbolift, Spock notices a strange rash on the captain's arm. He points it out to Kirk who mutters something about an alien liaison at the last starbase they stopped at and that it's probably nothing to worry about.
Dr. Leonard McCoy pounces on them when they arrive in Sickbay-- apparently Hannity called ahead giving the chief medical officer and captain's best friend time to build up a full head of steam. He's waving his tricorder and cursing at Jim even before he's on a biobed.
McCoy takes Spock aside and begins interrogating him in a hushed voice. No one bats an eyelash; this has become standard operating procedure when it comes to Jim Kirk being injured. The captain simply cannot be trusted when it comes to his health.
Head nurse Christine Chapel takes Spock's spot beside Kirk and, together with Uhura, the pair shuffle their captain over to a nearby biobed. Christine is all quick directions and gentle comfort as she tends to Kirk's immediate needs.
Uhura watches, hugging herself because something just doesn't feel right about this whole thing. It's just an isolated incident and yet... she feels like it's the beginning of something. Something bad.
(Only that's not really how it starts, not really. They just don't know it yet.)
Spock's in command and no one is particularly happy about that. He has Uhura put out several messages, including a shipwide one asking anyone experiencing any strange feelings to report to Sickbay.
If this thing Kirk has is at all contagious, they want it contained.
It just figures the captain would get sick on my day off. This irritates Janice Rand, captain's yeoman (which doesn't mean "babysitter" but she swears it may as well on days like this), to no end.
It's just so-- typical of Captain Kirk. He simply cannot take care of himself. (How he managed to keep himself alive for twenty-two years before joining Starfleet has been a source of endless speculation during her tenure aboard the Enterprise. So far, no solid theories have been realized.)
Her brush doesn't so much stroke as stab at the canvas as her mind wanders. She's been painting in an effort to calm her frayed nerves. Thus far it hasn't much helped.
Janice isn't even seeing what she's doing, not really. Not until it all becomes blurred before her eyes-- colors muddled together in a nonsensical way.
Until-- she touches her cheek and it's wet. Janice turns to face herself in the mirror and she doesn't recognize the person she sees there, doesn't understand what's happening.
She shouldn't be this upset. She doesn't even know why she's upset like this in the first place. It isn't like this is Kirk's first time in Sickbay or even his first mysterious illness but this feels different. And not in a good way.
Putting her brush down, Janice hugs herself. She stands like that for longer than she'll be willing to admit later.
When Uhura comes to check on Kirk after her shift, Nurse Christine Chapel is with him. "No luck?" she asks, lips in a firm line.
"No luck," Christine confirms with a shake of her head.
The rash has spread now from Kirk's body to his face. No one, not even James Tiberius Kirk, looks cute with splotchy pink boils and skin tinged green. His face seems locked in a grimace and it's disheartening to see. Jim Kirk doesn't show pain easily (for a human).
Christine takes Uhura by the arm and leads her a few steps away. "Dr. McCoy thinks it's an allergic reaction to something only we can't figure out what it is, since he hasn't been off the 'ship in over two weeks." Apparently the alien liaison has been discounted somewhere along the way. "We're trying to make him more comfortable but I don't know that there's anything we can do until we find out what it is that's making him sick." She frowns and it's worrying. "He's getting worse, Nyota, and I'm not sure--" She looks away. "McCoy's really worried; he's not even cursing at Spock or Kirk anymore."
None of which is good, both women know.
Uhura touches Christine on the hand when she notices her friend biting her lip. "What is it?" As if they needed any more trouble.
"It's just-- I feel like something strange is going on," the tall blonde admits after a moment. "Sulu came in complaining of a hurt knee and it looked like his ACL had been recently torn and hastily healed only there's no record of him ever hurting himself. And when I went to heal the muscle damage, I got the strangest sense of déjà vu." Her blue eyes lock onto Uhura's brown. "I've never had déjà vu like that before. I really felt like I was reliving something like... a memory just out of reach or--" Christine shakes her head. "I don't know."
Hugging her around the waist briefly, Uhura can't stop herself from frowning. "I know what you mean." She sighs. "I've been feeling the same way."
Chapel sighs. "I should've expected something like this." Off Uhura's confused look, she explains: "It's Thursday and nothing's gone wrong for nearly two weeks now. We were due."
The quiet laughter the two women share is hampered by their ongoing concerns. They pretend not to notice.
Spock decides their best bet at finding answers to what might've caused the captain's allergic reaction is to backtrack. He reasons it's logical because they've ruled out everything on board, so it must be something else they've recently encountered-- no matter how improbable the idea seems. And, even though the captain is but one crew member, they need him running the ship and he can't do that in his current condition, so. Logical.
(He has a feeling his father would not approve of this circular reasoning. He doesn't care.)
Making friends has never been a primary goal for Nyota Uhura. She's social, especially when compared to her boyfriend (although that's hardly saying much), but also something of a homebody.
Gaila used to scold her for it because that isn't how Orions have fun, and she didn't yet understand the concept of friendship-- with the boundary of not having sex or even an interest in sex. Companionship, Nyota had explained, was not about physical stimulus (at least, not alone) but spending time together bonding intellectually.
That had begun their weekly ritual of girl's night in. Initially the pair spent it together teaching each other about their respective cultures and partaking in the "usual" girly activities. As time has passed, however, girl's night in has become more than an educational experiment. Gaila's continued weekly nighttime visits to Uhura's quarters is a testament to that.
Tonight is no exception. Gaila arrives with some kind of alien chocolate mousse she'd somehow convinced the chef to whip up that she's excited to try.
Nyota wants to share her friends excitement, she does, but the image of Jim Kirk laying still on the biobed just won't leave her alone. Kirk is never still for very long, not while conscious-- it just isn't in his nature.
Living with someone gives a certain insight to that person and Gaila has put down the dessert to place a comforting arm around her friend's shoulders within minutes of entering her quarters. "What happened?" Off Uhura's surprised look (gossip is known to travel faster than light onboard the Enterprise), Gaila adds, "I spent all day in one of the 'lift shafts fixing the paneling," with a shrug.
"Kirk's sick," Uhura says without preamble.
Gaila's eyebrows knit together in concern. (Although she'd been upset with Kirk for using her, his insistence that she join the crew of the Enterprise had gone a long way to smooth things over between them-- among other things.) "How bad is it?" The way she asks, it's obvious she recognizes the gravity of the situation.
Leaning into Gaila, Nyota frowns. "He's-- I don't know. There's a mystery factor that's causing McCoy trouble." She looks at her hands helplessly. "He's worried. So's Spock." (And she would know.)
"Wow." Gaila squeezes her a bit tighter.
"Yeah." Uhura laughs but it's not a happy sound. "Definitely not our usual conversation." They generally keep to life updates, recent reading and things like that.
Gaila laughs, as well, and it's just as hollow as Uhura's. "No, it's not." She sits, tugging Nyota down beside her. "But that's okay." The pair snuggle together and share the mousse Gaila brought and try not to worry. (They don't really succeed where that last bit's concerned.)
The Enterprise has been traveling as exact a path from whence they came as is possible, since Spock gave the order to turn back. They're speeding along at high warp because time is of the essence but it's still twenty-nine hours before anything remarkable occurs.
A planet in their path has been mistakenly classified as "Class B"-- mistakenly by them. It was previously noted as "Class M" but for reasons unknown this has been changed via the Enterprise computer.
The senior staff have a wide variety of opinions about what, if anything, this means:
Uhura says, "We should send a message-- maybe the planet has some kind of life that can help us."
"Nozhing vill get through zhe magnetic poles," Chekov advises with an uncharacteristically grim expression. (He has taken to the captain and is not handling his deteriorating condition well.) "No comms, no transporters-- nichego."
Sulu chimes in next, "I could pilot a shuttle to the surface."
McCoy is standing with his arms crossed, scowling fiercely. "Why? What's this planet got that we think'll help Jim? We're wastin' time!"
"Do you have a better suggestion, doctor?" Spock doesn't mean it as a slight; he is genuinely hoping McCoy does because they are working with next to nothing.
The frown on the doctor's face is all the answer needed.
Janice Rand, the captain's yeoman and not generally a staff meeting participant so much as note taker, clears her throat. "I think we should go down there," she offers in her soft but pressing way. "There's something off about this whole place." She shakes her head, a faint blush on her cheeks. "I have this feeling like I've been here before but..." There are no logs, no records. This is not a place known to them.
"I've been having that same feeling," Uhura admits, lips thinning. (She doesn't like things she can't explain, especially not when they're hurting her crewmates.) "Like there's some kind of missing puzzle piece to my memories." She nods her chin to the holographic iamge of the planet floating above their table. "Like I should know this place somehow."
Most of the others nod their ascent. "It is decided then," Spock announces. "Lt. Sulu will lead an away team." He would have preferred leading the team himself but the captain of a starship is meant to stay aboard in case of emergency and, even if Kirk frequently insists on ignoring that regulation, Spock cannot do the same. It's simply not in his nature. "Take Chekov, Uhura, McCoy--"
"Take Chapel," McCoy says with a ferocity he usually saves for his patients. "Kirk's condition has been steadily worsening; I can't leave him."
Spock considers arguing but decides to abide his request. Christine Chapel is a capable medical officer and has shown an aptitude for away missions. She should fit fine. "Chapel, Giotto, Galloway and Flynn."
Sulu nods. "We'll meet in the shuttle bay in ten."
The staff files out save Spock-- and, he notices belatedly, Rand. "You have something you wish to say, Yeoman?" He phrases it as a question out of courtesy; he reads it as fact from her body language.
"I want to go on the away mission, sir." Her voice is quiet but her gaze never wavers.
Spock tilts a head, considering. "That would be highly irregular."
Rand straightens a little. "I know."
It's unlike her to make such a request; it pique's Spock's curiosity. "What is your reasoning?"
There's a brief pause before she answers: "I-- need to do something. Please. I should be there." If nothing else, she seems very convinced of this fact.
Spock has absolutely no logical reason to grant her request. The denial is right on the tip of his tongue. And yet-- "Permission granted, Yeoman. I will advise Lt. Sulu of the addition to the party."
A smile lights up her face as Rand backs toward the door. "Thank you, sir. You won't regret this."
"See that I do not." It isn't quite the stern warning it ought to be.
There are many types of away missions, a great number of which seem to go badly (most often when Kirk is leading the team). This mission is by far the worst.
At first, it's routine enough. Given the planet's barely habitable environment all away team members wear protective suits to keep the majority of their skin (and things beneath the skin) protected. They spread out, trying to get readings or even just a gauge of what it is they're looking at.
The air tastes thick when they breathe and the landscape is more toxic swamp than anything else. There are pools of some sort of sulfur acid mix and the only roughage looks hard, like it has to be to survive here. (And it probably does.)
Any animals are keeping their distance, apparently, as the team spreads out to take readings and samples. Anything that might help the captain-- as if the answers really are here. (As it turns out they are but how would they know?)
As it happens, Uhura and Rand are the closest when Chapel lets out a noise of surprise. Both women have their sidearms in hand the next moment, taking stock of everything happening around them.
When Uhura is assured nothing will be jumping out to attack them in the next few moments, she looks at Chapel.
Christine's cheeks are tinged pink, her expression a bit sheepish as she holds her tricorder loosely in one hand and roots through her pack with the other. "Sorry, I just--" She finds the PADD she's been looking for, she pulls it out and holds her tricorder up beside it. "These readings. They reminded me of the captain's, so I wanted to compare and..." She tuts quietly. "Similar but not the same." She reaches down and takes a sample all the same. "Maybe it'll help." There's a bit of hope in her voice but the worry lines on her forehead remain.
"Maybe," Uhura agrees, patting Chapel's arm comfortingly. "Can't hurt."
Rand, who has been maintaining a slight distance to keep an eye on their surroundings, clears her throat. "Um, I think something's happening over there." She points back toward the shuttle and the trio turns in time to see a phaser blast released.
There's a moment of complete stillness between the women and then they're off, racing toward the light with their weapons drawn. (Even Chapel who doesn't carry a sidearm most days because she's a healer not a soldier.)
The scene they arrive upon is not anything any of them expected. Galloway is laying sprawled, a close range phaser burn on his suit. Christine drops to her knees on impulse, checking for signs of life instinctively.
"Do not bother," a calm, stilted voice rings through their minds. "He is dead."
"Why?" Chapel demands, looking around anxiously. "Why have you killed him?"
The same voice responds and this time it's clear they are not being spoken to verbally but telepathically. "We did not. He was the architect of his own demise."
Uhura puts her free hand on Chapel's shoulder, frowning at Rand. "Does this scene look right to you?"
Galloway has his weapon in hand but this looks nothing like a suicide and, despite none of them being security, they all know it.
Everything freezes and something ripples through their minds simultaneously. They relive a memory that is not their own.
Standing. Phaser drawn. Heart racing, eyes seeking.
There is something indistinguishable in the distance. Something bad.
Flynn is shouting. "Get help! Find the others!" She's being pulled away-- against her will by this something.
Tense. So tense. Fight or flight. It's too easy to pull the trigger.
(The world slows.) Plasma discharge. It moves away, toward the something else.
The plasma makes a sudden, sharp u-turn. Inexplicable. Impossible.
Reality. The discharge comes back full force.
There's no time. Can't move. Can't even make a sound.
And then-- darkness.
There's some sort of release and their minds are their own again.
If only it were as easy to digest what they've been shown. Three sets of eyes are instinctively staring into the distance as if they might find Flynn simply by looking hard enough.
Rand recovers first, swallowing and turning to the other two women. "His phaser should have been set to stun," she says quietly.
Chapel nods sadly. "If it had been he wouldn't have--"
"This wasn't his fault," Uhura cuts in sternly. She watches as Christine closes Galloway's eyes with a pinched expression. "He was responding to seeing one of his crewmates abducted."
"We think," Janice points out, eyes scanning again. "Who knows what really happened?" She takes a sharp breath. "We know one thing for sure now, though."
Nodding, Christine straightens into a standing position again. "We aren't alone here."
The trio bring Galloway's body back to the shuttle and leave a message for their crewmates, in case they return. Then they head toward the place Flynn disappeared.
There is a general assumption that they can trust the story they were somehow shown-- as if a being that could imprint something directly into their minds wouldn't be able or have reason to lie to them. They aren't idiots, though, so all three have their phasers drawn and maintain a defensive formation.
It does little to calm the nerves.
When the tension becomes too much, Christine breaks the silence that's grown between them. "I hate this planet. Seriously. Hate."
"Doesn't seem to be too fond of us, either," Janice points out as one of the sulfur pools bubbles at them in an unsettling way.
Uhura shakes her head. "I just wish we could get a signal through all this magnetic interference." She's been scanning the area periodically hoping for a break in it-- not that it would do much good if no one else is able to receive. "But I think it's getting worse."
Christine's at the rear, so she steps out of the undergrowth last. "Could that be why?" She's pointing to the mountains they've happened upon.
"Quite possibly." Uhura isn't willing to make any firm assertions-- she's not a scientist. But she thinks they could be interfering with signals, depending on what the rocks are made of. Maybe.
The terrain has changed some and there are well worn paths into a larger cavern nearby.
Janice nods her chin toward the jagged opening. "Should we..?"
The uselessness of her scanner has only increased and Uhura shuts it firmly. "Well, we're not going to get any answers from out here."
A hand on her arm stops her, though, and it's Christine wearing a concerned expression. "The beings on this planet are obviously powerful." They have to be to implant mental images from who knows how far away, not to mention abduct a seasoned security officer like Flynn.
"I won't order you to come," Uhura replies, a crease forming between her brows. "But I can't just walk away when we might have a chance to find some answers."
Christine shakes her head. "That's not what I meant. I just want to make sure we're walking in there with our eyes wide open."
Janice brushes a few flyaway blonde hairs back. "We are."
The women share a solemn moment before heading out again.
For all their searching, they only have to step a few meters inside the cavern to find what they've been looking for. Flynn, Chekov, Sulu and Giotto are laying awkwardly by the side of the cave, unconscious but otherwise apparently unharmed.
Christine immediately moves to tend to them only to be stopped by some kind of invisible force. In fact, all of the women are suddenly being held in place.
This is when the aliens decide to reveal themselves. There are five of them, a mixture of females and males by the look of them. They have perhaps half a meter of height on the average human and a grayish skin tone. Their ears are more small holes than anything else and they appear to be completely hairless.
"The last have been arrived," the tallest among them says. His voice sounds almost mechanical and the words awkward and unfamiliar, as if he were speaking another language entirely.
Another alien nods. "Yes. The others remain-- skyward."
Uhura is the first to speak. "Why have you taken our friends?"
"The young and old male find us," the tallest explains. "We cannot allow that any know of us. We bring the woman and other man here; the Galloway die. This we do not want. We need know what you know to know no others know of us."
It takes a moment for Nyota to absorb what he's saying-- which is saying something, since linguistics is her thing. "You want to know if anyone was told of your existence." Her brows furrow. "But you must know our communications systems aren't working. How would we--?"
"Not you. The before males. The Vul-kan." He nods to the woman and man to his left.
The couple turn toward each other, close their eyes and hold their hands up, palms facing each other. A bluish glow grew between them and then, in a flash, Spock is standing between them.
The tallest points to Spock. "The agreement has broken. You promise us no one will know us, yet you return."
There is perhaps the barest hint of agitation about Spock. It isn't something easily noticed but to those that know him well, the slight tightening around his mouth and narrowing of his gaze. "I am not familiar with what you are referring to."
"Your telepathy will make helpful." The aliens join hands with the woman on the end by Spock placing her free hand on his cheek.
It's like diving inside his mind, the way the memories flow over everyone present.
Kirk, McCoy, Irizarry, Aristeides and Sulu are spread out, exploring. The captain is grinning, laughing as he teases the doctor.
Disapproval. Amusement-- smother. No feelings, only work.
Kirk lifts a flower and sniffs deeply.
McCoy scolds, "With your luck you'll turn out to be allergic to that too, kid."
Kirk laughs again.
"Captain, that is not appropriate behavior." This from within.
More laughter, this time McCoy joins in.
They've moved from the swamp-y area toward the mountains. Only Sulu and Irizarry are within view now and they're taking samples for the geology department.
Scanner out. Looking at compositions. Concentrating--
Sulu lets out a cry. He falls hard, his leg bends awkwardly-- wrong.
Lift Sulu, Irizarry helps. Make for the cavern.
Settle Sulu. Irizarry wanders to explore, make certain there aren't any dangers.
Busy. Sharing calm. Not aware enough.
Then-- "You may not know of us."
Surprise. Unwelcome emotions. Push them away. Focus.
Humaniod alien. Unknown species.
Irizarry is motionless but conscious. Afraid.
"Now that we are aware, what will you do?" from within.
The largest humanoid responds, "You may not be allow existence." He is perhaps a tiny bit regretful.
Consider. "And what of the rest of the crew?" A small loss for the greater good, while regrettable, would be logically acceptable.
"We will draw others here," the apparent leader says. "Skyward can forget. Forget planet, never know us."
Nod. Perhaps acceptable. Perhaps Kirk will have an idea-- he usually does.
McCoy is upset, cursing and complaining from where he hunches over Sulu. Aristeides and Irizarry stand aside. They are scientists, frightened and out of their depth.
Scientist second, first officer first. Constantly reaching new depths with Kirk.
Standing beside the captain. "If you can make them forget, why can't you make us forget?" A legitimate question.
"Can block not erase," the leader says. "Unconscious would still know."
Kirk's eyes are wide, earnest. "Our brains cannot access the unconscious-- ours or others."
The leader points. "This one, the Vul-kan, can."
Hope, tiny and curious. "If I place the proper mental blocks, it will not be an issue."
"You will go. You will change electronics. We will remove knowledge." The expression of the man speaking is grave. "You will not return."
If they return, they will not survive. No one speaks this truth, yet it is somehow known.
Spock recovers first, perhaps because he has telepathic abilities or perhaps because they are his memories they've been reliving. "You think we did not keep our word." There's no question but it still bears mentioning.
The tallest, who was not the leader in the memories but is clearly running the show now, gives a Look that cannot be mistaken for anything other than what it is: obvious disbelief. "You are here."
"An unfortunate coincidence," Spock says, "but a coincidence nonetheless." He touches his forehead. "Surely you can see this."
The alien blinks. "Even if this is truth, still you know us. Your idea failed. There is no alternate."
Spock looks at Uhura and that's all they need to see to know that he cannot find fallacy in their logic. This is the time James T. Kirk would jump in-- if he weren't currently ill onboard the Enterprise.
Moments like this are do or die.
No one is more surprised than Janice herself when she suddenly speaks up: "If you kill us, more will come."
For the first time, all attention moves to the blonde yeoman. "Explain." It's not a request.
"If we don't return, more from our 'ship will come looking for us. If the entire 'ship doesn't return, the Federation will send more 'ships." Janice licks her lips. "Now, I'm, uh, not saying you couldn't handle it but the more that come here, the more likely someone will slip through the cracks." She takes a breath. "We made some mistakes before, no one's denying that. But, now that we know what they are, we know how to fix them.
"It might require more work now," Janice admits, "but then it'll be over. Otherwise..." She shrugs. "Who knows how long until you have peace again?"
There's a long moment where no one speaks. The tall alien moves until he's standing directly in front of the blonde who isn't even supposed to be on this mission. "This is sense. We will hear more."
The team plus Spock return to the shuttle and head back to the Enterprise. From there they move quickly on multiple fronts.
Spock and Chekov work to rewrite the computer records, histories-- anything official that mentions either visit to the planet. They invent a cover story explaining both the captain's sickness, shuttle use and Galloway's death. (It replaces the visit to the planet with a meeting with mercenaries nearby but not too close to the actual coordinates of the planet. The story ends with the mercenary 'ship being eviscerated, effectively explaining the missing other party.) They also reclassify the planet as inhospitable once more and advise not to move in too close claiming shifting polarities wreak havoc on 'ship systems.
Sulu fixes his medical file and the various coordinates recorded by the shuttle and Enterprise navigation systems.
Uhura sifts through the various subspace and internal messages. Rand helps by searching through personal logs. (She comforts herself with the knowledge that she won't remember any of this, particularly since it's an egregious invasion of privacy. Also, some of the logs are kind of... strange.)
Giotto and Flynn insist on having a real service for Galloway before their memories of events are altered and no one feels right refusing them. In fact, the entire away team (minus Spock who cannot find logic in completing a ritual none will remember) attends with the pair because they really can't have anyone else from security attend without potentially raising more issues with the aliens and their agreement is already tenuous at best.
Chapel takes the flower containing the spores Kirk so recklessly inhaled straight to McCoy. They work with the science department to find a cure for the captain's allergic reaction. It's a tense few hours but they come through and Kirk escapes the reaper once again. (He's always been lucky that way.)
When they've finished Spock contacts the aliens by projecting his thoughts. He explains the story they invented-- something they hadn't done previously-- and advises them to alter their memories accordingly.
The aliens agree and Spock puts his blocks into place. It's the last thing anyone does before the world goes blank and resets to a new reality.
(Not that they're aware of that once it's done. That's the point, after all.)
It ends like this:
Jim Kirk coughs-- once, twice, three times. He blinks his eyes open slowly, as if it pains him.
McCoy is at his side nearly instantaneously, waving a tricorder over his prone form, muttering under his breath to the computer-- or maybe himself. It's hard to tell where the doctor's concerned.
"What happened?" Kirk wrinkles his nose in displeasure when he realizes his voice is raspy from disuse. "Last thing I remember, I was... brought here by Spock and Uhura." He makes a face. "Remind me to thank them for that."
Snorting, McCoy pauses to address his patient: "You should. You were damn near death this time, Jim."
Kirk squints as if that will help change his perspective, perhaps bring him understanding. "What hit me, Bones? I feel like I've been put through the ringer."
"Honestly, kid, we still don't really understand what the hell it was. Some kind of poison-- or maybe just a sedative or somethin'." McCoy shrugs. "Whatever it was, your body couldn't metabolize it." He shakes his head. "Not pretty."
Trying to preen in a biobed after being seriously ill isn't an easy feat but Kirk makes an attempt all the same. "As if I could be anything but pretty. Please Bones." His expression moves toward serious, though, as he continues regaining his bearings. "So what'd I miss?"
McCoy crosses his arms over his chest, a frown tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Oh, you know-- this an' that. Spock's been runnin' the show, so I've been hidin' out down here mostly. From what I've gathered, though, there was some kinda search for the folk who put you down an' a scuffle ending with us on top." His lips twist into a smirk. "Ol' green blood spewed some nonsense about logic but I think you might actually be growin' on the hobgoblin."
"Careful, Bones-- that almost sounded like a compliment." There's laughter in Kirk's eyes as he coughs a couple times. "Don't worry, I won't tell."
"Shuddup and get some rest, kid." McCoy's voice is gruff and annoyed but his expression shows fond amusement. "I know you're gonna sneak outta here before you're fully healed. The least you can do for my nerves is get as well as possible 'fore ya do."
Kirk grins as he closes his eyes. "There's the old man I love to annoy. Tell Spock I want a full update on our status and reports detailing what all I missed these last days."
All McCoy offers is a noncommital, "Mm-hmm," in response but Kirk's already unconscious again. There's a fond smile on the doctor's face-- the sort he never lets show when his friend's aware-- as he watches over him for a few moments before returning to his duties.
(Only that's not really how it ends, not really. But this is where most stop the story all the same.)
Although he's out of Sickbay, Kirk has been banned from duty for another twenty-four hours. Still, there's no surprise on Janice Rand's face when she enters his ready room to find him seated behind his desk, reviewing all that's been happening since he fell ill.
"Doctor McCoy's not going to be happy if he hears you're out of your quarters," she says by way of greeting. There's a stack of PADDs in her hands that she places on his desk. "I believe one of the conditions of your release was that you were going to stay in bed..?"
Kirk grins and it's all boyish charm and innocence that he cannot possibly still possess. "You won't tell on me, will you, Randy?"
Janice gives him a Look. "I might if you keep calling me 'Randy'," she replies dryly. "Tell me you've at least eaten something healthy today."
"Are we counting ice cream as healthy?" he asks hopefully.
Kirk doesn't look particularly bashful. "Then no."
Rolling her eyes, Janice goes to the replicator. "Chicken soup, warm." The food materializes in front of her and she brings it to the captain, placing it on top of his work. "Eat."
He wrinkles his nose. "But replicated food is so... rubbery." It's the sort of whiny complaint that doesn't befit a starship captain.
There's no sympathy on her face. "Then next time feed yourself." She straightens and begins to move away when Kirk catches her wrist. "Sir?"
"I read Spock's report on the away mission." His gaze meets hers directly. "You insisted on going. You saved the crew."
Janice's cheeks flush, and she backs up a step but doesn't tug her wrist from his loose hold. "It was just-- a feeling. Luck."
The captain stands. "Maybe." He smiles a little and it's the most sincerely happy he's ever looked. "I'm putting a commendation in your file."
Her jaw drops and she gapes openly as she struggles to find her voice. "Sir, you don't have to--"
"I know." Kirk's still smiling in that same way and Janice is starting to become visibly unnerved in response. This reaction only increases when he brushes back some of the wisps of hair framing her face. "But your quick thinking saved us all and you should be recognized for that."
"Thank you." Her voice is breathy and he's standing close to her and everything about this moment feels meaningful. In this moment, something is happening. Something important.
This is how the story really ends:
A gentle kiss in the captain's ready room. It's a first kiss and it won't be the last. It's the start of something new and unexpected-- except, perhaps, to Gaila who has a sixth sense about these things.
(But that's another story entirely.)