"This is great... just great," says the man peering into the box at his feet.
"I must disagree, Doctor. I see nothing great about our situation."
"It's called sarcasm, you green-blooded computer."
Spock waits until his companion has straightened to a normal height to continue. "What do you propose we do?"
The man, Leonard McCoy, looks sharply at him. "You're always the one with the suggestions, Mr. Spock."
He says nothing, for if he has to answer that remark he would have to admit he is unable to think of a viable recourse for their present circumstances. Perhaps no one would fault him for it, but Spock is deeply disturbed nonetheless.
McCoy seems to understand. In lieu of pressing the matter further, he flips open his communicator and contacts the Enterprise. "Two to beam..." The man looks into the box at their feet and corrects himself. "Three to beam up."
They reform on the transporter platform on the starship. The lieutenant manning the console blinks in surprise at them. McCoy sighs. Spock steps down to the lower deck. The third arrival places his paws on the edge of the open box and sticks his tiny nose in the air. Then he yips quite insistently.
"C'mere," McCoy growls, stooping down to tuck the furry little package into the crook of his arm.
The door to the Transporter Room sides open, and the man in red who hurries inside, exclaiming, "Mr. Spock, we just heard—" He comes to a standstill as he spots Dr. McCoy and the puppy. His expression of unease turns to horror. "It cannae be!"
"Apparently it can," Spock responds without inflection.
The Chief of Engineering flounders for some time before regaining the ability to speak. "But... how?"
"That we must figure out, Mr. Scott." Spock inclines his head slightly to the resigned-looking medical officer standing behind him. "If you will take our—" He hesitates, wincing internally at the thought of addressing a drooling animal with the title of someone he respects.
"Patient," McCoy supplies helpfully.
Yes, that will do, decides the Vulcan. "—patient to Sickbay, Doctor, I shall be along shortly."
"Come on, you," McCoy says, gently manhandling the puppy, who is now impatiently attempting to crawl up his shoulder. His look of resignation turns to worry as he passes by Spock. "Keep in mind I'm a doctor, not a veterinarian—but I'll try my best."
The Vulcan nods. Spock, Mr. Scott, and the still-stupefied transporter operator watch the pair leave the room.
"What do we do?" the engineer wants to know, echoing Spock's earlier question with the same degree of uncertainty.
"Only that which we can," by which Spock means everything we must in order to restore Captain Kirk to his former glory.
Mr. Scott also seems to understand him. The man remarks, "Aye. In the meantime, I'll mind the store as Jim would say," and walks away, shaking his head.
Spock heads for Science, already preparing mentally for what he suspects will be the most challenging project for he and his team have experienced to-date.
"Captain, I would advise against..."
"Mr. Spock," the man in question chides his first officer lightly, "I'll have none of that."
"None of what, sir?"
"Pessimism," Kirk announces, "or sore losing. You agreed to come along, and you agreed that I am in charge. Therefore we will proceed as I say." Jim tosses a hat at the Vulcan. "Put this on."
Spock is slower to obey than usual. Obviously the Vulcan is beginning to realize that whatever plan Jim has in mind to celebrate his victory will not be to Spock's liking.
Kirk grins once the hat is firmly situated on his companion's head. Next he offers a pair of mittens. "Now these."
"Captain," the Vulcan starts once again.
Jim silences him with a look.
Spock dons the mittens. He seems to have finally given in, for he says, "If I have deduced our destination correctly, my current attire will be insufficient to maintain satisfactory levels of warmth."
"Of course," Jim agrees readily. He unearths the last object from a pile of clothing and equipment and hands it over with a smile. "Suit up, Spock."
Minutes later, when they arrive on the surface of a very beautiful planet, the kind poets might laud as a winter wonderland. Jim is eager to get started. He begins packing snow between his gloved hands.
"Prepare for your first lesson," the captain of the Enterprise declares to his second-in-command, turning around to face his opponent of the next hour.
Spock just stares at him, uncomprehending, through the small uncovered portion of his face between woolly cap and scarf.
"In snowball fighting!" Jim finishes, taking aim with his weapon of choice. He hits the Vulcan right between those unblinking eyes.
Thirty minutes later
Christine knocks on the edge of her boss's open door, looking around the frame. "Dr. McCoy?"
Leonard glances away from his computer. "What is it, Christine?"
"We just received a call from the surface of Vega III."
The doctor frowns. "What? From who?"
McCoy's hands jerk away from his console. "What in tarnations is he doing down there? Vega III is an ice planet!"
Her serene reply is, "Mr. Spock has requested your immediate assistance."
Leonard is already hurrying around his desk as the woman speaks, looking torn between outraged and flustered.
Chapel smiles slightly and presents a suit pack from behind her back. "You're going to need this, sir."
McCoy snatches up the pack on his way out the door. "For god's sake, that Vulcan has finally lost his mind!"
Some time later
The snowball clips the edge of Dr. McCoy's thermal wear just as the man himself is dragged backwards behind a large pile of snow.
"I implore you, Doctor, do not make yourself a target," he is chastised.
"Damn it, Spock, who said I wanted to be part of this?"
Spock hands him a tightly packed snowball in lieu of answering.
Leonard starts to peek over the top of the snow fort, only to have Spock jerk him back down with the instructions "Fire on my mark."
The doctor mutters under his breath, then declares, "I'm going to knock his block off this time. Forcing you—a Vulcan—to endure this miserable cold for some silly game."
Spock blinks. "I did lose the chess match."
Leonard purses his mouth. "Jim knows better."
The Vulcan looks away, seeming to scrutinize their surroundings—and the odd silence and lack of missiles from the opposite camp. "Your concern for my well-being is appreciated, Dr. McCoy. However I would argue that I am not miserable."
Spock might have said something else that is equally astonishing if not for the large shape that suddenly launches itself over the top of their fort with a mighty roar and plants oversized snowballs in both their faces. Said shape tackles them to the ground with an oof. McCoy flounders, cursing in a language no one would have guessed he knew. Spock lies stunned in the snow, looking up into the face of his grinning captain.
"Not even reinforcements could save you," Kirk says with no small amount of triumph as he hauls his Vulcan friend into a sitting position. "Although it was rather sneaky of you to call in backup, Spock."
McCoy rocks upright, swiping snow off his face. "Damn you, Jim!" he snaps. "You cheated!"
Jim raises his eyebrows. "You dropped your guard. How is it cheating if you drop your guard?"
Leonard seems about to say something else (something likely to describe exactly what he thinks about his captain) but his gaze catches on one unraveled end of Spock's scarf and, shouldering Jim aside, he wraps it back into place around the Vulcan's neck and lower face. "Now look what you've done," he complains. "Spock's forgotten how to talk." The doctor pauses before teasing, "Maybe I should be grateful."
Intelligence flares in the Vulcan's eyes at that, and Spock works his mouth free of the scarf. "You are to be disappointed, Doctor. I am perfectly hale."
Jim drapes an arm over McCoy's shoulders and squeezes the top of one of Spock's. "I won this round, gentlemen." His tone turns magnanimous. "Would you like to try for two out of three?"
Leonard catches Spock's eye and for a few seconds neither of them say anything. Then Spock gives a sharp nod, as if a conclusion has been reached, and informs Kirk, "Let us proceed."
"Excellent!" Jim jumps to his feet. The look he gives them is both fond and a warning that they are about to be thoroughly trounced in the second round of snowball fighting, a sport of which he considers himself a champion.
Leonard waits until Jim is out of hearing range before he says, "Make the call, Mr. Spock."
Spock draws out a communicator from the inner pocket of his outfit. "How many would you recommend?"
"All of 'em," decides McCoy, smiling wickedly. "It's about time this crew showed its captain what uniting for a cause looks like." His smile grows wickeder. "And tell everyone to bring their camouflage gear."
"Very good," Spock agrees. He flips the tiny device open. "Spock to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise."
"Take his legs. I've got this part. On the count of three, lift. One... two... three!"
The two men strain upwards, pushing up from their lower bodies, only for their strength to inevitably fail.
"Damn it!" one of them curses. "Again."
Grunting and groaning they try a second time—and fail again.
One of them sits on the ground and wipes his arm across his sweaty brow. "We need more people."
"What we need is damned super str—wait a minute." The other man quickly scrambles around the darkened cavern for their only working communicator. "Commander Spock," he barks into it, "we need you here!"
"Acknowledged. On my way."
"Do you really think he can move it, Doctor?"
"We won't know until we try, Lieutenant." The doctor hunches over and rubs at a scraped elbow. The name stitched into his jacket reads McCoy.
The lieutenant casts an inquisitive look at the long, unmoving object next to them. "What is it?"
"Don't rightly know." McCoy's dusty face glances skyward to the stalagmites of the cavern. "I heard there's a species living in these tunnels. They're hard to find unless you know where to look."
The lieutenant's eyes widen. "The Horta."
"Yeah, that's the name."
The younger male indicates their inert companion. "Do they all look like this?"
McCoy activates his tricorder and not for the first time runs it over the rock carved with unsettlingly accurate human features, which upon first discovery they had assumed to be a fallen statue. "I wish I could say. All I know is..." His visage tightens. "...this stone is alive."
The lieutenant shudders.
Commander Spock arrives shortly thereafter. He appears to be as intrigued by their discovery as they are—and becomes even more so when McCoy shows him the readings from his tricorder that indicate life, however muted. The doctor takes the commander aside for a brief moment with a request: "Spock, I need you to... look more closely at that rock."
Spock tilts his head in a questioning manner.
McCoy repeats, "Closely. Do you understand?"
It is apparent, then, that the Vulcan does but his only response is "I will try."
The doctor and lieutenant step aside as the Vulcan kneels beside the rock.
"What's he doing?" the young man wants to know as Spock splays his hand against the temple and nose of the eerily human face.
McCoy shushes him.
For a long time, Spock is silent. Then he detaches himself and stands, his gaze never leaving that face of a man in repose. When he sways all of a sudden, McCoy quickly moves to his side to support him.
"Spock, what is it?"
"His name..." Spock explains in a rough voice, "...is Kirk. James T... Kirk."
"Kirk," McCoy echoes sharply. "No. That's impossible!"
"Highly improbable but not impossible," murmurs the Vulcan. He looks at the doctor, then. "The mind I felt does not lie."
"But that's not Jim!"
Spock pulls away without warning, as if finally realizing that they are holding on to each other out of shock.
McCoy's relief is visible when Spock amends, "He is not our Jim."
"Of course not. There's no resemblance." Still, McCoy looks shaken.
The lieutenant looks between them, face paler now than at the start of the conversation. "What should we do?"
McCoy glances at the rock and swallows. "We couldn't lift it."
"Doctor..." Spock falls momentarily silent. He removes a communicator from his belt. "Spock to Enterprise."
"Enterprise acknowledging. This is Lt. Uhura."
"Lieutenant, is the Captain available?"
"He just left for his quarters. Shall I page him?"
Watching McCoy, Spock replies, "Affirmative."
While they wait for Kirk to answer their call, Spock and McCoy continue to study one another in silence.
"If it's Jim," McCoy says at long last, "even it's not our Jim..."
Spock finishes gravely, "He cannot stay here."
The doctor nods, knowing full well that Spock mirrors his sentiment, that walking away from any form of their best friend and captain is beyond either of them. No, Jim—including this strange, mute, trapped version of him—can never be left behind.