Their prison dissolved, and the Enterprise transporter room formed around them, and Jim had never been more relieved in his life. As soon as the beam released them Bones was on his feet, and all of them were glad to see the medical team that was already waiting.
Either it was a precaution, or when they'd located their lifesigns the sensors must have picked up abnormal readings—enough to make it clear that Spock was in some kind of distress or medical trouble.
"It's about time," McCoy huffed. "Help me get him on the gurney." There was one there, with the medical team led by Nurse Chapel.
Jim didn't know if Spock had even realized anything had happened. He was still crumpled over the captain's shoulder.
"Transporter room, have you got 'em?" It was Scotty's voice, over the intercom, and transporter chief answered in the affirmative as Chapel and the male nurse with her helped Bones haul Spock up off the transporter pad. Jim followed them up, still supporting Spock until he was sure they had him. The Vulcan was obviously still in pain, but the metal rings—
They were still glowing. Jim wasn't sure why part of him had assumed (hoped?) that leaving the planet would neutralize them. Then again, orbit wasn't very far for such an advanced civilization as their captors to send a signal.
A warning knot in his gut tightened, just before the glowing bracelets flared much brighter and Spock started to scream.
Jim didn't wait for Bones to yell at him to tell him what he already knew. He bolted for the intercom and punched it. "They're not happy we left!" McCoy shouted anyway.
"Scotty, get us out of orbit! Away from the planet! Maximum warp, now!" Jim ordered.
"Do it now or Spock is dead! Heading doesn't matter!"
There was a quick affirmative, and a moment later Jim felt the faint rumbling of the deck under his feet that told him they were moving, and fast. Satisfied, the captain hurried back to the medical team just as it hurried out into the corridor.
"We have to get those things off of him. If we're not far enough away in time—"
Bones cut him off. "Don't you think I know that! If we can keep him still enough I could probably get them off with a surgical laser, but we've got to get him to sickbay for that." That, of course, would explain why the med team was all but sprinting down the corridor—as fast as they could go pushing a gurney with a thrashing Vulcan as its cargo.
Jim ran with them, helping Chapel to hold Spock while the male nurse did most of the pushing and Bones rummaged through the fresh med kit his team had given him and tried hyposprays—heavier doses than he'd had access to in their prison. He seemed to be hoping something would help—something would calm Spock, or knock him out, or maybe just counteract the effects of the bracelets long enough to make sure he wouldn't die on them before they could free him of them.
Nothing seemed to help at all, but what did he know? He did know that Spock was still screaming when he could actually manage to get any air, and that McCoy became more and more tight-lipped the closer they got to sickbay. Chapel, to her credit—considering the rather large crush on the Vulcan science officer that everyone knew she had—remained level-headed.
It was all something of a blur to Jim from that point. They rushed Spock into the surgery ward, got him on an operating table and strapped him down, but restraints only did so much. They needed more in the form of orderlies holding him still, because sedatives had no effect and the last thing they needed was for Bones to cut his hand off.
Jim found himself holding one arm down while the doctor started on the other, trying to cut through the metal ring.
Spock was weakening. Without anyone telling him Jim knew they were running out of time. His first offer was still shouting and struggling against the pain, but his movements were less pronounced and his cries weaker and becoming fewer and farther between—finally more desperate gasps than anything else.
"Bones, what's taking so long!"
"He told you this metal was unfamiliar! It's strong. It's working, the cutting laser's getting through, just not fast enough."
"Speed it up!"
"Not if you don't want me to kill him myself!"
Kirk swore loudly. "Why aren't we far enough away?"
One by one the orderlies were peeling away, unneeded, and in a panicked bid to keep his friend with them Jim unstrapped the arm he was keeping down and held it, squeezing his first officer's hand. "Spock, we'll have these things off of you soon, just hold on. Don't go anywhere, do you hear me? That's an order!"
It drew Spock's attention, focused him somewhat, and Bones didn't say anything, didn't break his own concentration, but something in the tilt of his head told Jim he approved of the effort.
He heard McCoy quietly ordering a stimulant from Nurse Chapel, and he knew he had to keep Spock's attention. This was going downhill fast.
The hand in his squeezed back weakly, and Spock fought to focus on him. "Jim—"
"Good! Good, talk to me."
Spock shook his head once. "Jim—" He cut off again, in a shout this time, when a sudden spasm ripped through him. For a moment he was squeezing Kirk's hand much more tightly, but then the strength in the grip was abruptly gone again. The Vulcan's eyelids were dropping.
"Bones!" He looked up to check the progress. "You're more than halfway through that thing; how is it still working?"
"How am I supposed to know!"
Spock shouted again, but then the bracelets were suddenly a little less bright. Both of them. Maybe they were starting to gain enough distance.
At the very least, it allowed Spock to focus on his captain a bit better. "Jim," he gasped. "Please, I must—if I am to—I am sorry, I must….please…"
There was too much adrenaline fogging his mind; Jim didn't realize what Spock meant until the Vulcan released his hand and tried to reach for the captain's face. His arm fell back, too weak, and Jim caught it and pulled it up. He didn't know why Spock was trying to meld now, but he knew he couldn't say no if he could help. Maybe it could keep Spock here long enough, give him strength…Jim didn't know, but he held his first officer's hand to his face and leaned closer to make it easier for him to position his fingers.
Pain. The first thing he felt was the pain and he doubled over; he thought he heard himself shout but he wasn't sure. He felt the apology, too—not in words; nothing quite in words—but Spock was sorry. He had no strength left with which to protect Jim from the pain and he was free to disengage at any time, but Jim could also feel how important this was. Whatever Spock was trying to do needed to be done, and Jim held on.
More apology. This was taking longer than it should with the pain hindering him, with his mind already attempting to shut down.
And all of a sudden Jim knew that Spock believed he was going to die.
NO. No no no. You're not going to die.
Jim, please do not fight. I must—
You are NOT going to die!
There was more slipping through as their minds grew closer, and Jim knew it but he wasn't paying attention to it now.
Damnit, Spock, you're not going anywhere—
It was all gone. The link was broken, and Jim was catching Spock's arm as it dropped again. Everything inside him twisted. His first thought was that the battle was lost and Spock was gone already.
Then he heard the clatter on the floor. He looked down at his feet and found the metal ring, dark and open of its own accord.
They'd made it far enough away from the planet.
"Spock…?" The Vulcan was still now, and quiet save for the difficulty breathing that had remained. For a moment he found Kirk's eyes again, but then he was unconscious.
McCoy gave him another hypo, and Jim swallowed in relief as Spock's breathing evened out in his sleep. He glanced at the arm he was still holding. Something from the retracting bracelet had scratched or punctured the skin and there was a small amount of green blood smeared on the inside of Spock's wrist, but the area where the offending device had rested seemed otherwise unharmed. Jim called the small damaged area to the doctor's attention before carefully lowering his first officer's arm to the table.
"Will he be all right?"
Bones let out a heavy breath, already studying the readings on the display above the table. "I don't know, Jim. He almost died; he would have in another minute or two. We've got to stabilize him, assess any real damage…why don't you go eat something and get some rest and I'll call you as soon as we know anything?"
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He didn't know what to say anymore. What to do. He was too tired. But he didn't want to leave until he knew Spock was all right, and there was nothing wrong with that right now, was there? There were no other pressing emergencies. He wasn't needed on the bridge. He didn't have to be the captain at the moment.
McCoy looked at him long enough to figure all of that out for himself.
"Or you could just rest in my office."
Jim managed a brittle smile. "Thanks, Bones."
He found an intercom panel, let Scotty know they could stop the mad dash, and did just that. Whether he wanted to be or not he was asleep almost before he found McCoy's chair.
Jim heard his name faintly, felt a hand on his shoulder, but it was remembering what had happened just before he'd drifted off that really woke him.
"Take it easy, Jim, he's all right. He's stable and resting."
The captain looked up groggily at McCoy. "What? Good…good. Uhm…how long have I been out?"
"Just an hour or two. You need more, and that's an order, but I thought you'd want to move to your quarters now."
Jim rose unsteadily to his feet, really feeling the drain of the past 24 hours or so now that any adrenaline was gone. "Sure." He moved past Bones, but at the doctor's office door he turned right instead of left. He couldn't leave just yet.
McCoy knew where he was going. "Jim, he's going to be fine. Go to your quarters and sleep. And eat something soon, all right?"
"In a minute, Bones. I trust you. I just want to check on him for myself. Captain's prerogative." And he was already there, turning the corner into the main ward. Only one bed was occupied. Spock was in patient garb now, a blanket pulled up to his chest and sleeping. The monitor above him softly beeped out readings that looked relatively normal for a Vulcan, as far as Kirk knew.
He let out a breath that he almost felt he'd been holding for days.
"It really is only sleep," Bones provided without prodding. "He may not come out of it for a while—which is just fine in his condition—but that's all it is. No Vulcan trances or any such thing; he's probably too weak for any of that anyhow. But there's no need for it. Even after all of that at the end there's no real damage—nerves over-stimulated, yes, but not damaged. Nothing time and rest won't fix. It was the shock to his nervous system that would have killed him, not any physical damage."
The doctor was quiet for a moment, before he continued more quietly. "That last bout sure took a hell of a lot out of him, though—took everything he had, really, to hold on long enough. You may be the only reason he managed to do it, too."
Kirk shook his head slightly. "I don't know, Bones. I sure didn't feel like I was doing much. He still thought he was going to die…he'd resigned himself to it. I could feel it, when he was trying to meld with me. I knew it. He was only holding on because he had to do something first. With the mild meld. I..I don't know what." As he thought about it, more came back, and he was swallowing. "But he was done, Bones. As soon as he'd….whatever he was trying to do…he was going to let go. It was over for him."
He paused, as something else came to him. Something else he'd felt. There was a new knot in his gut now. "He just wanted the pain to end."
McCoy looked just as troubled as he was over all of that. "Then I guess we'd better be damned glad that signal had a limit."
Jim nodded wearily, and both of them were silent for a long time.
"Bones, are you sure he'll be all right?"
"Physically, yes. It'll just take time for him to get his strength back. Other than that…we won't really know until he wakes up." The doctor shrugged. "But this is Spock we're talking about."
"Right…" Jim cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'll check in on the bridge." When McCoy looked like he would protest, he quickly added, "No more than ten minutes, and I'll be on my way to my quarters. Does that satisfy you?"
"I suppose it'll have to."
Jim thanked him for the update again and left sickbay. He took his time on the way to the bridge, trying to lose himself in the Enterprise, his home, glad to be back in it, trying to forget the worst parts of the last day or so.
Even though it was actually the middle of the current day, he expected to find a skeleton crew on the bridge—junior officers holding down the fort while those like Scotty and Sulu and Uhura and Chekov slept. He knew them and he was sure they hadn't while he and the rest of the landing party were missing.
But they were all still there. It was plain enough looking at them that they hadn't slept, but they were there just the same.
"Captain!" Uhura said first. At her call the others swiveled in their chairs.
Jim blinked at them, still just outside the turbolift. "What the devil are all of you still doing awake?"
"Waitin' for news, sir," Scotty said, standing from the center seat. "The situation seemed pretty dire when you came aboard."
"Doctor McCoy didn't contact you?"
"A bit after you took us off warp he called up ta tell us all ta turn over the bridge and get some sleep, but nothin' more."
"You had the con, Mr. Scott. If anything was wrong he would have let you know."
The engineer sounded almost skeptical when he answered. "Of course, Captain, it's only—"
Uhura cut in. "It's just, when you called from the transporter room, sir, we could hear…" She trailed off uncomfortably.
"Everything," Sulu finished for her. "We could hear everything."
"It didna sound good, to say the least," Scotty added quietly. "Couldn't well leave the ship to the junior officers if we were ta have another crises on our hands."
"Is ewereything really all right, Keptin?" Chekov asked.
There was quiet for a moment, and then Uhura asked the question they were really asking anyway. "Is Mr. Spock all right, sir?"
Jim was tired enough that it took that long for everything they were saying to process—for him to realize why they were still here.
They'd heard everything in the background, when he'd called Scotty from the transporter room to order the jump to warp. They'd heard Spock screaming, McCoy barking orders, his own panic, all of it. They'd been concerned for Spock, first, of course. Perhaps they'd even worried that he hadn't made it—that he hadn't and it wasn't something the captain and doctor wanted to announce immediately. Neither of them emerging from sickbay for the past two hours probably had not helped to keep such a worry from formulating.
That was his fault. He'd been asleep on his feet, really, when he'd called the bridge again to let Scotty know they could drop out of high warp. He'd been brief. He'd said nothing about Spock, and he should have, especially as awful as he must have sounded by that point.
They must have really been afraid that Spock might be gone and no one wanted to tell them yet. Scotty's last comment told him, too, that they'd been concerned about the effect such an event might have had on their captain if it had occurred. They'd been worried about both of them.
At this point, on this particular day, after everything that had happened, realizing anew just how much his senior staff cared—about him, Spock, each other, all of it—was very nearly too much for Jim to bear.
"Yes," he said quickly, before the lump starting in his throat could take shape. "Yes, Mr. Spock is all right." All of them visibly relaxed at that. "It's difficult to explain beyond that and I won't try, but he'll be all right." He gave a tired chuckle. "And I'm sure that the doctor will be more than happy to let all of you knew when visiting hours are once he's awake. But for now he's resting, and so should we, I think."
There was a chorus of relieved 'Aye, sirs' and Jim smiled. The smile was much more genuine this time.
Jim stayed on the bridge long enough to see the relief crew get there, and to make sure that the rest of his senior staff did indeed all head straight to their quarters, too. Only then did he retreat to his own. A sonic shower and what of a meal he could get down later—his yeoman shook her head at how little it was—and he was asleep again.
Sleep, however, was fitful now. He dreamed, but the dreams weren't entirely his own and he didn't understand how he knew that, either. He only knew they were, for the most part, nightmares, and that they woke him.
He sat up quickly, automatically clinging to the only pieces of the dreams that had been good—or less than horrible. It was those pieces he was able to retain, and from them he inferred much of what the rest had consisted of.
It also gave him an idea of where all of it had come from. Spock…
Jim got to his feet and found a shirt. As soon as his door opened into the dim nighttime corridors he knew he had slept quite a while.
He made his way quietly to sickbay. There weren't many personnel there. There would be a couple of nurses and one of the lower-ranked doctors on call for emergencies for the night, but they were nowhere to be found in the front compartments of sickbay. They were likely back in the offices or labs, doing long-needed paperwork or lab tests with the downtime.
That meant there was no-one in the main ward to bother him when he went in and sat on the edge of the bed next to Spock's. He studied his first offer's sleeping face, and he'd hoped to find it peaceful. He'd hoped his hunch was wrong.
It wasn't, at least not entirely. The Vulcan's face seemed troubled, even in sleep. Jim glanced up worriedly, but the indicator on the monitor he'd come to know so well at Deneva—the one that indicated pain—did not show anything out of the ordinary. Spock was technically fine, just as Bones had promised him.
"Jim? What are doing in here at this hour?"
Speak of the devil. Jim twisted in surprise where he sat. "Bones? I could ask you the same thing. Weren't you supposed to be getting some sleep, too?"
"I did. Then I came back. Couldn't sleep anymore."
Jim shrugged. "The same for me, I suppose." He hesitated before asking the next question, waiting for the doctor to make his way over. "Bones…do Vulcans dream like we do?"
"Not nearly as often as we do, but yes. Though I would guess Spock's dream activity would be at least a little closer to ours than a normal Vulcan. Why?"
"What about nightmares?"
"That's just a type of dream, Jim; if you can have dreams, then—why are you asking?" Jim nodded to Spock, and the doctor looked. "Oh…well, I suppose they do," he relented after a moment. The doctor let out a breath. "I wouldn't blame him, after everything that's happened to him."
"No…" Kirk trailed. "Still, it's just…strange to think about. Because even if it is a bad dream and even if it actually affects him, you know he'd never admit to it when he wakes up."
"Of course not. He's a Vulcan."
"Exactly. And strangely enough maybe it's for that reason that I'm worried about him."
"You don't have to tell me twice; I was worried about him when all of this had hardly started," McCoy huffed.
Jim smiled a little. "Not like you to admit that."
"Well excuse me for caring when some blasted alien goes off torturing a man that happens to be my friend—green-blooded hobgoblin or not. I didn't get a chance for much of that last time; I was too busy worrying about the colonists and worrying later that Spock had been blinded permanently and that I was the cause of it. This time I can feel whatever I please, so I will." Bones pointed an accusing finger at the captain. "And if you ever tell him I said any of this I'll categorically deny it."
"I know you will. Don't worry, Bones; your secret's safe with me."
"It damned well better be. Now what else is bothering you? That's not all of it. I can tell."
Jim looked at Spock again, running over what he could remember of the dreams. "I don't know…it's hard to explain. You didn't…feel what I felt, when he tried to meld with me. We can say we're concerned, and we've said things like that before, but we've never really known, have we? There's never really a way to know whether he's always as unaffected by things as he says or if its all just Vulcan stoicism, except for the few instances in which it's been clear. When he found out I was alive after what happened on Vulcan, for instance. We all knew that was emotion. There was no way for him to explain that away; we only let him do it because we respect him too much. We let him keep his dignity because we care; because we know how much it means to him. We picked at him a little, sure, but in the end we let it go because there was nothing else we could do. There's never been anything else we could do. It's the way things work, being his friend.
"But…" Jim shook his head. "I don't think we can just let it go this time. He tried to meld with me, and I think there are…pieces. Things left behind. I know this time. I know he…felt things. I haven't sorted much of it out yet, what's in here, it's all vague," he said, tapping his temple, "because the link wasn't complete. But I'll figure it out. I don't know what's going to come to the surface when he wakes up, if anything. Knowing him, beyond insisting that he won't need nearly as much time for recovery as you'll try to insist on he'll act exactly the way he always does, like nothing's happened at all. But I think I'll know the truth this time, whatever it is."
"Which all means what?"
All of that talking, but he was at a loss now. "I have no idea. That we can help him, maybe, if I know. If he needs help. I'm not sure."
"Well good luck with that. I'm glad you're the one with Vulcan leftovers in your head and not me," McCoy snorted.
Jim just shrugged, but then he smiled again faintly and Bones was looking at him strangely. "I've got one thing straight, at least," he said in explanation. "It was the only thing that was really clear.
"Yes…I know Spock was…thankful, that we were with him, to use as neutral a word as possible, as I'm sure he would. Not that he would ever say anything about it to us or anyone else anyhow. But he was…he was grateful that that he wasn't alone; that he didn't have to go through any of that alone. I think maybe he was thinking about Deneva—how much he isolated himself those few days, literally and figuratively, to deal with the pain, and that it was different this time. We were there, the whole time. When it was at its worst and we didn't leave his side…you were right, Bones. He noticed that."
Now McCoy was swallowing. "Well…you know, it was all we could do. Nothing special…"
"It was to him."