Something about the way Spock looked at him before he left put Jim at ease. The very few hours he still had in which to sleep before he reported back to sickbay became hours that he slept well. It was first deep sleep he'd had in days. Even if it didn't last very long, it helped.
When he returned to his first officer's room he found Spock sleeping, and for the first time in while the Vulcan's sleep, too, seemed more peaceful. Uhura, sitting on the stool at his bedside, held one of his hands with one of her own and read softly from a PADD she held in the other.
She looked up and smiled gently. "He's all right for now, sir. The sedatives are working at the moment. He asked me to read to him; I just didn't want to stop once he'd fallen asleep." She shrugged a bit. "I think maybe it made me feel better to be doing something even more than it helped him."
"I've been gone for hours."
"Well I had to take a few breaks. But we can still hear when we're asleep, Captain. It's often the sounds we hear around us as we sleep that are incorporated into our dreams. I thought if I kept reading as much as I could it might help to keep his rest easy."
Jim came to the bedside opposite her and looked down at his friend. It was still clear he wasn't well—his breathing still off, sweat on his forehead, and he was pale even for a Vulcan—but he looked much more at ease than he ever had since this had all begun again.
"It seems to have worked," he said appreciatively.
"I don't think it was only me. Whatever you said to him before I came back in, sir…something must have gotten through."
Jim sighed. "Well I'd certainly hoped so."
He traded places with Uhura and bid her goodnight, encouraging her to get some sleep herself. She glanced at the sleeping Vulcan again and nodded. "I just may be able to."
The captain was glad of it—of all of it—but he knew that if it had been that long, the quiet couldn't last much longer.
He was right. Within half an hour he was glad Uhura had gone and that Bones wasn't here, either. The nurse came in to be sure it wasn't anything other than the usual, and it wasn't. She was waved away. When she was gone Jim sat on the bed again like he had last night—had it really only been last night?—because doing it made him feel like he was doing something the way reading to Spock had helped Uhura. So he gathered his friend up against him again and held on, because there was nothing else he could do.
This time Spock found his hand and squeezed it, and Jim knew Uhura had been right.
When Scotty called him down to the labs the labs just after midday the next day Jim went as quickly as legs would carry him.
"I think we've almost got it, sir. We've identified the correct type and strength of pulse ta use; we've tested it on half of the samples and they're all as dead as a warp engine with no dilithium. Now we only need ta perfect the delivery. Before the day's out we should we ready."
"I thought you said it would be closer to two days."
"Well we haven't been ta bed t'all since I told ya that yesterday, sir."
Jim's eyebrows went up. "Scotty…"
The engineer smiled a bit. "We're all right, sir. That's what coffee's for, after all, and the good doctor's been supplyin' us with stimulants as long as we promise we won't keep it up for too long. We all know we need an answer, Captain. We can't let Mr. Spock suffer, now can we?" Scott made a face for a moment. "I was up there earlier today, sir. To check in on him. I know t'isn't a pretty sight. I promise ye we'll have this figured as soon as we can."
"You really are a miracle worker, Scotty."
"Well let's not say that just yet, sir. It has to work first."
Either way, after that it was difficult to go back to the bridge and sit there. He could have left again; he could have gone back to sickbay. He could have done that every day, captain's prerogative, with nothing pressing on the bridge, but it reassured the crew to have him in his seat through his usual duty shift. He'd been doing it for them, and if he could do it today too then he would.
So he stayed until his shift was up, but then he went straight to sickbay. He found Scotty there, showing what he and the science teams had rigged up to the doctor. It looked like a modified medical device—one of the ones used to repair head injures, but with an extra attachment and some circuitry rearranged.
"Bones? Scotty? Is that it?"
"Supposedly," Bones answered skeptically.
"We've tested it on the rest of the little beasties and it knocked 'em right out," Scotty put in. "Every test. We don't have any more of them to try to kill, sir. It's this or nothing."
The doctor shrugged. "They seemed to have modified it correctly; meaning it still works like it's supposed to, medically, with the added function of delivering the electromagnetic pulse safely. It shouldn't disrupt any of Spock's systems, but I can tell you a medical team and I will be standing by with a defibrillator and unmodified neural stimulator and anything else we might need, just in case. I'm not taking any chances."
"Of course not," Jim agreed.
Scotty nodded in agreement as well, knowing the situation was serious enough that the assertion was no reflection of their estimation of the skill of himself and the teams he'd been working with. It was merely caution.
"All right," McCoy sighed. "We'll be ready in a few minutes."
So this could all be over in less than half an hour. Jim certainly hoped that was the case. But for now, he and Scotty could do nothing but retreat to Spock's room and wait.
Spock tried to move when he saw them, but he couldn't really. He winced and fell back. Jim went to the bed and rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. The Vulcan looked awful, was barely conscious, and Jim couldn't help wonder morbidly—angrily— how many attacks he'd had today. "It's all right, Spock. I told you we'd have you out of this soon, didn't I? They're nearly ready."
He sat on the edge of the bed at Spock's side, and didn't interrupt Scotty as the engineer launched into the details of what they'd done. It was a bid to keep the Vulcan awake. McCoy had instructed them to wake him up if he wasn't awake, and to keep him that way. It would be easier to tell if it their attempt was working if he were conscious, but at the same time it would be better not to put anymore drugs into his system before they tried this.
Spock started to drift off again anyway, and Jim shook him a bit. Spock opened his eyes, but he grimaced.
"I know, Spock. You're exhausted and you're hurting, but if you'll just stay with us a little while longer this might all be over soon. All right? Just stay awake for me. Can you do that?"
The Vulcan made a quiet sound of pain, but he nodded weakly. God, he already looked so much worse even than he had this morning. Jim exchanged a worried glance with his chief engineer. This had to work.
Thankfully it wasn't long after that that McCoy and Nurse Chapel rolled a cart in, with two other nurses and Scotty's modified neural repair device.
Bones came to the head of the bed to make a few adjustments on the monitor to prepare for the procedure. "There," he said finally. "That's it. I guess we'd better try this if we're going to. Spock?" He glanced down at the Vulcan, who nodded once more. "All right…"
"Do I need to move?" Jim asked.
"If anything we're not expecting happens you need to move," Bones told him. "You're fine for now."
But he didn't want to be in the way if there was an emergency. He slid off the bed and went around it anyway, retreating with Scotty to the opposite side to be out of the way.
Out of the way, but still close. Scotty hung back a bit more, but Jim moved close to the edge, and a hand found Spock's arm. He wanted his friend to know he was there. Spock knew, of course, but he was still so near unconsciousness Jim thought the contact might help.
He exchanged a knowing glance with McCoy. "You just can't be touching him when the pulse is applied; safer that way," Bones reminded him.
"The doctor is correct," Spock agreed quietly.
Jim smiled a little. "It's all right, Spock; I wasn't going to argue."
McCoy and Chapel made certain Spock was flat on his back, and applied Scotty's modified device to his forehead. Bones activated something that seemed to allow him to control it from his tricorder, and then nodded that he was ready.
"Spock?" Jim asked.
The Vulcan raised his eyebrows tiredly. "I believe the expression is 'I am as ready as I will ever be.'"
Jim chuckled once, and pulled his arm back. Inwardly he crossed his fingers. "Sounds good to me. Go, Bones."
The doctor let out a breath. "Well. Here goes something. I hope."
We all hope, Jim answered silently.
McCoy activated a control on his tricorder, and the device on Spock's forehead began to hum. There was another sound a moment later—a deeper sound, presumably the pulse or the sound of the small device delivering it—and Spock's eyes closed and for a moment nothing happened. Or maybe it had worked. Was working.
But the doctor was scowling at his tricorder, and Scotty reached for his own.
"Damnit," McCoy swore. "It only—I think it only knocked out about half of them. And they're dead all right, but—"
"The rest of them have adapted somehow," Scotty filled in in frustration, looking over the readouts on his own tricorder now.
Then why was Spock so quiet? His eyes were still closed. He was too quiet, but if anything else were wrong McCoy would be saying something by now—
"Jim, the rest of them are compensating! Rearranging! They're—"
Spock's arm nearest him shot up from the bed, the hand catching his own arm. It squeezed so tightly it was painful and then Spock was sitting up quickly—something he shouldn't have been able to do.
"There will be no further attempts to thwart us." It was Spock's voice but it wasn't Spock. Not-Spock was sliding from the bed, pushing Jim back. His arm was being twisted. He couldn't pull away or it might be broken; certainly Spock's body at normal strength had the ability to do that, and it seemed these machines had the ability to force Spock's muscles to action. "Any further attempt against us will result in the prolonged suffering of your companion."
"Captain—!" Scotty was moving to help him, but Jim threw out his free arm.
"Don't!" He focused on Not-Spock and glared fiercely. "Prolonged suffering? You've already prolonged it long enough!"
"Do you wish us to end it? To end his life?"
Not-Spock pressed him into the wall, and the twisting of his arm was starting to hurt a lot more. It twisted farther. "No. You do not wish that. You believe you can stop us, if you continue to try. You cannot. Perhaps we should threaten to end his life immediately, instead, if you attempt to interfere again."
Jim bit back a cry of pain. "Why!" he demanded. "What's the point of doing this to him!"
"We serve the Ancestors and their descendants, and the sanctity of their first homeland. You violated it. Then you attempted escape. This one must may the price of your punishment."
"So you're going to kill him? Is that it?"
"He will die. Your insolence only prolongs his suffering. We heard through his ears of your plan to destroy us. It allowed us to adapt enough of us in time to avoid that destruction."
Jim's stomach dropped at that. Trying to tell Spock he would be all right yesterday had meant ruining what chance he had? Was it really his fault?
"We'll stop you," he swallowed. "We won't let you kill him."
Not-Spock twisted his arm further, and this time he did cry out.
"Bones, stay back!" he gasped. "All of you! That's an order!"
Not-Spock still looked at him coldly, and now tilted the Vulcan's head. "We warn you, Captain. If you attempt to counter us again there will be consequences. This one will die with or without your efforts, but as you can see we are capable of controlling him completely. He cannot fight us, as you have also seen. There are things which we can do that would be worse that what we do to him now. Beyond simple, physical pain. We could force him to kill you, James T. Kirk, and everyone on this ship for whom he cares. We could force him to gain control of the ship and cause it to self-destruct. He would suffer much more, knowing what he had done, if we were to do any of those things."
"We will. If you continue to resist us. If you do not, if you leave us be, we will only continue in the vein in which we have begun. This one will be dead in 2.876 days, and we will deactivate."
Jim didn't know if it was pain or panic or both, but he knew he had to try talking these things, even if it sounded a lot like begging. What else did he have? They couldn't reason with these things' creators; how could he expect to be able to reason with their machines? "Please! Don't! What can we do? Don't just—"
Not-Spock did not answer. He released Jim's arm which a wrenching motion that hurt nearly as much as everything else put together and served to shove him down the wall at the same time. The captain ended up on his backside on the floor against the wall, cradling his arm. Above him Spock went abruptly limp and crumpled backward.
Scotty caught him as best he could and lowered the Vulcan to the floor. Spock was already thrashing, himself again but in pain. He was coughing through his cries, almost choking, and green blood leaked from his nose and the side of his mouth. Either those machines were doing that on purpose or however they'd taken complete control of him had actually done some damage somewhere.
"Bones—!" Jim managed.
The doctor was already running, around the bed and dropping to his knees at the Vulcan's side. Chapel and the other two nurses followed with the cart, and answered quickly when McCoy started barking orders. There were hyposprays and scans and more scans and hyposprays, until at least Spock could breathe and he wasn't bleeding any longer. When it was quieter the nurses left the room on request.
They hadn't had time to move him; he was still lying on Scotty's knees when the activity cleared and Jim could really see him again. The captain himself had remained where he was, against the wall and just enough out of the way. The doctor and the engineer were about to move Spock back up to the bed when the Vulcan called out.
The captain pushed himself forward on his knees, using his undamaged arm to help bring him to his friend's side. "I'm right here, Spock."
Spock was still in pain. That much was clear. And for the first time there were tears on his face. When he spoke what he said made that make more sense.
"Jim, you must kill me," he gasped. "They will—they will do what they threaten. They will endanger you, the ship, if…if…i-it will not take much provocation. The risk is too great. You must kill me. I will die any case. Do not take the risk. Kill me. Now."
"Are you crazy? We can't do that." He squeezed his friend's hands with his one cooperating one. "We won't."
Spock was looking at the injured arm he held against his chest. "I do not take this lightly, but I do not want to be a danger to the ship. To you. Not…again. This time it is not something I can…can fight, Jim. I cannot. They were correct in that. Please, Jim, you must—" He cut off and shouted in pain, as if they didn't want him to continue. "You must kill me! Please!"
"You're not getting out of this that easy!" McCoy countered heatedly. "We're not going to do that, Spock!"
Jim squeezed tighter, the Vulcan's hands, trying to keep his attention through the pain. "Don't you understand? We're not giving up!"
"Then…then the brig. I must be guarded. Restrained. They—ah!" Then he was shouting again, writhing.
"Captain, I'm sorry," Scotty was saying. "It should have worked. This should'na have happened!"
"It's not your fault, Scotty. They knew what we were going to do. They adapted themselves—enough of them to survive to accomplish their mission. That's my fault. I told him." Jim felt sick himself now.
It took several long minutes, but Spock quieted. The pain died down for now. None of them moved except to shift hold of him, and Jim couldn't do much in that regard. He only had one arm to work with until his injured one was seen to. By the time Spock was quiet again McCoy had him, braced against his shoulder. The Vulcan was unconscious by then.
"2.87 days?" the doctor muttered angrily. "At this rate I'd be surprised if he made it through tomorrow."
"They'll do exactly what they say, though," Jim said grimly. "They'll draw it out exactly that long, and then they'll kill him. Unless we do something." He shook his head. "And I just…wanted shore leave to come around. I wanted to get him home to recover, and now I might not get him home at all."
Mr. Scott and the doctor just managed to pick Spock up enough to get him back on the bed, Jim helping as much as he could. It was more the Vulcan's awkward size than anything; he'd lost any excess weight by now. Jim left Bones to tend to him, and dragged Scotty from the room.
Shore leave…he was having an idea, but he wasn't going to make the same mistake he'd made last time. Spock was sleeping, but his ears were working. Those things could hear him if he was anywhere in earshot. He didn't stop until he and Scotty were all the way out in the corridor and several sections away.
"Captain, what is it?"
"How far from the shore leave planet are we at maximum warp?"
"Shore leave, sir? How is this the time—"
"Scotty, everything on that planet was manufactured, not illusion. If anyone knows enough about advanced machinery, maybe they do. Maybe they'd help us. Their medical technology is far behind ours, too. Doctor McCoy was dead in appearance, by all our tricorder scans…for several minutes. Yet when they were through he was alive and well and you couldn't tell he'd ever been hurt. They didn't seem to want anyone to die there; maybe if we brought him down to surface…"
Maybe it was a desperate move, but it was the only one he had at the moment.
Scotty was nodding by now. "Of course. It's worth a try, if there's nothing else. We'll be looking, but in the meantime I can give ya warp eight. Maybe nine to alternate with every now and then. It'll be about two days even at that. We'll be cuttin' it pretty close, but I think we can make it."
"Good. Get to engineering; I'll call the bridge and order the course change from here. Have the warp engines ready as soon as you can, and let them know when they are. I'll be in sickbay if you need me, but don't bother asking when you alternate to nine if and when you can do that. Just…get us there, as fast as you can."
"Right away, sir."
Jim did as he said he'd do; while still far enough away from Spock he punched an intercom panel and called the course correction and the speed at which they'd be traveling to the bridge. He made sure they knew that Scotty had complete control of said course and speed for the next two days until they arrived at their destination.
Then he went back to sickbay, because there was nowhere else he could bear to be now.
When Spock blearily opened his eyes again only McCoy remained in the room with him, absently taking tricorder readings that would be of no real use and tucking the blankets around him.
"I should be restrained," the Vulcan tried again. The attempt was half-hearted. He had no illusions that the stubborn Doctor would listen to him.
"Shut up, Spock. I'm not going to do that now, and you know Jim wouldn't either. If anything happens he'll…do what he has to do. You know that. He's a good captain."
"Anyway, I'm sure he'll be back, but he took off with that look on his face."
Spock did not have to ask what the doctor meant. Jim Kirk had many 'looks' but in this case he knew it would mean that Jim truly did not plan to give up. Perhaps something had occurred to him. But he had been wise to leave the room if that were the case.
"I am content with your company, Doctor," he answered quietly. His voice rasped. He did not like it any more than he ever had, but at least now he was not ashamed.
His vision was not clear, but he thought McCoy grimaced. "Spock…damnit. I'm sorry. You don't deserve any of this. All you did was save my life."
Spock swallowed. "I would not change my actions."
"That's ridiculous. Of course you would. I'm not worth all of this."
"I would have done the same for any shipmate, and you are my friend. And I have come to understand that that is an important thing, indeed."
The doctor made some sort of face again, and Spock thought he saw something bright—light, reflecting, near his eyes. Tears? But…
"Damned…Vulcan…if you die on us I'll never forgive you, you understand? Don't try me."
"No, Doctor…I would not dream of it."