"That pointy-eared, bowl-cut son of a bitch!"
"All right, how about, 'That stubborn, hard-assed, stiff-necked, hidebound, cold-blooded, bowl-cut son of a bitch'?"
"Still culturally blind," said Kirk, resisting a smirk.
"He's holed up in his quarters not talking to anyone and I'm the one with the problem?"
"It's Kal Rekk," said Kirk, checking the monitoring equipment before sealing up the pack and nodding to Ensign Myles.
"I don't care if it's Surak's birthday! You need a science specialist with telepathic ability down there, and Lieutenant Stoddard's in Sickbay with the Caladric flu! Spock's supposed to be available in cases like this ... and what the hell is Kel Rack, anyway?"
Kirk shook his head. "Culturally blind," he said, as McCoy crossed his arms and Myles put the last of the equipment on the Transporter pad. "Ask the computer. And leave Spock alone! He needs this, and Myles and I will be fine. Won't we, Ensign?"
"Aye, sir," said Myles, in his thick, Welsh accent.
"Fine? Fine?! Six highly-trained security specialists have died down there, and five more are heading for the psych ward on Starbase Twelve as soon as you get back, and nobody knows what's going on there, except that all the survivors are talking about nightmares involving ravenous plants! What the hell are we doing on that planet, anyway?"
Kirk shrugged, wanting nothing more than to get down, place the equipment and leave as soon as possible. "It has the highest concentration of dilithium crystals in this sector—"
"Which we haven't been able to get at for the last six months because everyone we send there gets killed or goes insane," said McCoy.
"Mining has always been dangerous, Bones. Now if you'll excuse me," said Kirk pointedly, "I'd like to get down there and place this equipment before site nightfall."
"You do that, Captain. I'll be waiting here with a gurney or two."
"Ah, we won't need that, Doctor," said Myles, turning a gap-toothed grin on McCoy.
"Tell that to the Triffids," muttered McCoy, his worried face the last thing that Kirk saw as he dematerialized.
Kirk came to with a headache the size of Saturn and a sense of thickening stickiness pooling on his right eyelid. He guessed it was blood and assumed it was his own until he opened his left eye and saw a cyanotic hand with a gold ring on the third finger hovering just to the right of the bridge of his nose. With a sickening sense of what he would discover, he felt for the wrist in the hope of getting a pulse, only to find a huge, gory chasm cooling as the flow of blood slowed. He'd recognize the ring anywhere. "Myles," he said, sadly.
Giving himself a quick internal check, he gathered that he was lying flat on his back on lumpy ground, and that he could wiggle fingers and toes. Cautiously, he felt up along the cooling arm and found, a bit to his dismay, that it was still attached to a shoulder and torso. He didn't need to check to see that Myles was dead, but he would anyway, just as soon as he could figure out how to move more than his arm. The relative ease with which he dislodged Myles's arm from his own face confirmed his suspicion that the man hadn't been dead all that long. He wiped his hand on his tunic and then wiped the pooled blood away from his eye.
As he waited for the disorientation to fade and more muscle control to wake up, he noted that he was in a cavern whose high, earthen ceiling boasted a rough hole. He could see a moon through that opening, for which he was grateful. "Must have fallen through on materialization," he muttered. "I've had to find caves before, but this is the first time the cave's found me!"
His back began to hurt, and he tried to move to relieve the pain. He cried out at the blinding flash of agony, noting from some faraway observation point that the sound of it echoed in a way that he didn't expect from walls made of earth. "Damn!" He felt a sweat break out, and forced himself to still as he considered his next move.
He knew he could move his right arm and hand. This was good, since his communicator was on that side. After a brief inward debate about the whole idea of moving anything when he probably had a spinal injury, he chanced it and found that he could also move his left arm, though not as well as his right. Or at least, he couldn't feel it as much. He thought that he might have a pinched nerve, as well as a back injury, and reasoned from the night sky that he'd been there for at least a couple of hours, depending on how quickly the sun set and which moon that was and what its particular orbit was like. He wondered how long it had taken Myles to die, and what had caused the apparently fatal wrist wound.
Tentatively, he sent a signal to his toes, testing his earlier thought that he could wiggle them – first left, then right – and thought he felt the tips of them make contact with the insides of his boots. He gathered a breath and tried flexing his left foot. Peering down his body without moving his head, he thought he could see a boot toe moving in the faint light afforded by the moon. Then he tried his right foot. Not a lot of movement, and a distinct feeling of numbness that was both reminiscent of pins and needles and something he'd remembered experiencing with the neural paralyzer Bones had slipped him on Vulcan a few weeks ago. Not the best of signs, although certainly not the worst if he could still move his toes. Now, if he could just reach his communicator....
It was something of a triumph when he managed to ease it out of its holder behind his back, even though the pain of the slightest movement was both excruciating and terrifying. Every time he shifted, every time he felt that flash of doom, he pictured his life as a cripple. He didn't let himself picture his death, even though he was alone. As he lifted the communicator to his face, he prayed, "Please, let this be the one time someone actually hears me." He flipped open the screen and heard it switch on. "Kirk—" He swallowed and cleared the hoarseness from his throat. "Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise, come in...."
He tried bringing his left hand over to tweak the frequency and cried out at another jolt of pain. "Okay," he said, as steadily as he could. He thumbed the dial with his right hand, listening to it tweet and splutter. "Kirk to Enterprise.... Enterprise, come in."
"Kirk to Enterprise. Enterprise. Enterprise, come in. Enterprise.... Uhura, Spock...?"
Kirk realized he had tensed as the pain from his back overwhelmed the pain from his head. He lay back for just a moment to gather himself.
He was drifting in a sea of pain. Its waves lapped at him, slapped at him, pummeled and overwhelmed him. Everything hurt in every way and he couldn't escape. He was captive and adrift, alone and overrun. He screamed out his agony as he felt his bones ripped from his body....
Kirk awoke, gasping.
He was sweating profusely – with fever or fear, he couldn't tell. Or maybe it was pain. The shock had worn off, and he had no medkit with him. He remembered insisting to McCoy that he wouldn't need one. He'd only be down there for ten, twenty minutes. Thirty, max. The ship would have his coordinates and communicator signal. They could pick him up if anything went wrong.
He could hear the smarmy persuasion in his own voice as he remembered saying that and winced in disgust and regret. The thought of eating his words reminded him that he was incredibly hungry, but that idea would not be productive. He tried to raise his communicator to his lips again, but found that his arm had gone to sleep. Then he noticed that the moon wasn't in the same place. How long had he been out?
He sighed and grasped the communicator, studiously ignoring the pain until it began to subside. Then he started to rotate his wrist in an effort to regain circulation. The worst part was flexing the biceps. If he wasn't careful, he went too far and caused his back to shriek at him. He wished he had a medkit. He wished he had Bones.
He finally raised the device enough to activate it and speak into it. "Kirk to Enterprise." His voice sounded a lot rougher than it had, but he hadn't the energy to try to smooth it out. "Enterprise come in. Enterprise.... Somebody, please come in. Spock? Uhura? Scotty? Bones? Spock...." He barely remembered to flip it closed before he let his arm fall – and felt his back protest – and shut his eyes. Just a moment of rest....
There were things in the sea with him. Flotsam and jetsam, creatures, driftwood. Plants. Bodies. "You call to them," a voice seemed to say. Only it was a feeling more than a voice – a feeling that communicated ideas and thoughts the way sentient voices did. Ideas, thoughts and pain. "You call to them," the feeling said again.
"Yes," said Kirk.
"You call to them."
"Yes, I call to them," said Kirk. Only he realized he wasn't saying it with his mouth.
"You hear We I."
Kirk had felt the press of minds before. Or rather, in this place, he thought he had. "Who are you?"
"You call to the others of You. They call to you."
A spark of hope turned into a flood of pain. "I hurt."
"So do We I."
"Who are you?"
"We I are Here."
A misunderstanding of concept? "Where are you?"
"We I are here."
"We can help you. Where are you?"
"We I are here. You cannot help We I."
"I am hurt. The ones who call to me can help you."
There was a long pause and Kirk felt himself slipping away.
"One of You calls loudly," said the feeling.
"You hurt bones." The feeling rose and squeezed and deafened.
"I didn't mean to hurt Bones," said Kirk, gasping through the crush of feeling.
"You hurt bones. You hurt We I." The feeling was angry, but let up a little on Kirk.
"I don't understand." As the crush lifted, the pain soared and silenced Kirk.
"You hurt We I. The one of You is here. The two of You hurt. We I hurt." The feeling left and Kirk screamed.
The scream woke him, and for long minutes Kirk didn't realize that it came from him. It took him even longer to realize that it wasn't coming from his mouth. The scream was inside his head, rooted, painful, not all of his own making.
The presence was familiar, though he didn't know why. Or rather, the why that he felt didn't make sense. "Spock?" Spock?
But the presence didn't speak back. And really, it couldn't have. Kirk had seen Spock perform mind melds before, but he'd had to be at least in close proximity to the subject, if not actually touching them. This must be an illusion. A fever-dream brought on by the infection he was sure must be spreading from his injury. Bones was right about the fate that had befallen everyone who'd ever been sent to this place. They'd all died or gone mad, and Kirk was pretty sure he was on his way to one or both of those ends.
You hurt Bones. You hurt we/I. How did they/it know? And why were they/it so angry about that?
The one of you is here. The two of you hurt. So Spock was somewhere on the planet? Somewhere in Kirk's head? And he was hurt? "I told Bones to leave him alone." God, his voice sounded bad! He was probably thirsty, though he didn't feel it. Probably should feel pressure to urinate, but didn't. Kidney problems. Great.
Kirk noticed a shift in the light and saw the last vestige of moon disappear over the edge of the hole in the roof. Probably just as well, since he really didn't want to look too closely at anything right now. He closed his eyes and thought of Spock.
The buzz at his door came later than the crew would normally dare to attempt – "Come!" – which meant that it must be someone who knew him pretty well and might have something good to drink on him. Or her, but Uhura wouldn't impose at this hour except by hail, and Rand – Rand had left. He missed Rand, but it was probably for the best that she'd transferred. He heard the swish of the door, and fully expected – hoped – to see McCoy with some sort of oddly shaped bottle and matching glasses in hand. He didn't like to drink alone, and didn't feel like bothering anyone. Not tonight. Not after the mission they'd just been through.
Kirk turned quickly. "Mr. Spock?"
Spock stood at the door, hands locked behind his back. "I ... request a day of leave."
"Just one day?" Kirk peered at Spock's face, wondering how it could look unruffled and troubled all at once. "I think we can manage that. Any particular date you have in mind?"
"One week from today."
"You sure it has to be then? If you could make it two more days, we're due to put in at Starbase—"
"It must be one week from today," said Spock, looking down slightly and away.
"Are you all right, Spock? Do we need to take you anywhere?" Kirk only realized he had moved when he found Spock's eyes rising to meet his from two feet away.
"I am ... well, Captain."
"You don't sound too sure, Spock." And why the formality when we're off duty?
"It is a personal need," said Spock, at last.
Kirk felt himself go pale. "Do you need to go back to Vulcan?" he asked, trying to see whether or not Spock's hands were shaking.
"Were we traveling in that vicinity, it would be preferable, but—"
Kirk went to the comm unit instantly.
That voice always stopped Kirk in his tracks.
"I am not encountering the same difficulty that necessitated leave on Vulcan."
Kirk nearly slumped in relief.
"Although that incident is pressing upon me in such a way as to necessitate my request for leave."
Kirk sighed in exasperation and turned back to Spock. "Are you sure you don't need to go to Vulcan?" He forced his face into a teasing smile. "I wouldn't want to tear the ship apart trying to turn her around every few hours like we did last time."
"I am deeply sorry for the trouble I caused," said Spock, bleakly.
Kirk rubbed at his forehead and sighed away a dollop of tension. "I'm sorry, Spock. That wasn't your fault. I was just teasing." He looked at Spock again and saw the weariness there. "Have a seat," he said, waving him into the visitor's chair across the desk from his own, where he now placed himself. "We can take care of the official stuff while you tell me what this is all about."
The stony silence asked a familiar question.
Kirk looked up and stared the standard answer at Spock.
Spock sighed and sat. "The date I request is that of Kal Rekk," he stated, as Kirk filled in the star date.
"Kal Rekk.... Forgive me, Spock, but I don't recall you taking that holiday before."
"Last year the date occurred on my unscheduled day. However, that was interrupted by the unfortunate events on Psi 2000 and the necessity of avoiding any repetition of them during the reiteration of those three days."
Kirk winced in sympathy. "Those were hard days," he said, softly.
"No more so than many that have come since," said Spock, equally softly and with a tone that made Kirk look up from his work. For just a brief moment, Spock's face was open, readable.
Kirk felt something inside of him give way, as it did more and more with Spock, these days. He resisted the urge to reach across the table and squeeze Spock's arm. "It wasn't your fault, Spock."
It wasn't the first time those words had been spoken, but the look that passed across Spock's face told Kirk not only that his logical friend hoped in a rather emotional way that it would be the last, but that they were both thinking about exactly the same incident on Vulcan. "I need the time to contemplate it in silence," said Spock, at last.
"I understand," said Kirk, letting his own guard down to honor Spock's gesture. "Although from my standpoint, you have nothing for which you need to atone."
"So you have indicated." But Spock's voice was troubled. "However," he said, before Kirk could respond, "it is not just the events on Vulcan that require my attention."
"Oh?" Kirk brought up the week's schedule on the viewscreen.
"I find that my psychological processes have been somewhat ... affected by my meld with Nomad, and I must put them in order. Given the ship's schedule, Kal Rekk seems the most appropriate time to do that."
Kirk glanced through the various rosters and nodded at Spock's acuity. "As usual, you're right, Mr. Spock. I see that it also falls on your day off again, so I don't quite understand why you require leave." He looked sharply up as a thought struck him. "Unless you intend to take it on Elysium."
"Whilst the name of that planet would imply a certain quietude for those who seek it—"
"The place is lethal, Spock! Besides, the Klingons are after it for the dilithium supply. What if they show up while you're taking your day of solitude?"
"I am well aware of the dangers to be found on Elysium, Captain. It was never my intent to take such a leave there. However, since contemplation and solitude on that day would be most beneficial and I must confine myself to my quarters, scheduled leave seems the best way of ensuring that I will not be disturbed."
Kirk smiled. "Perfectly logical, Mr. Spock. I'll make sure that nobody disturbs you for twenty-four hours. Or would you like a Vulcan day following ShiKahr time?"
"That would be eminently satisfactory, Captain."
Kirk understood the translation for that to be, 'You couldn't have made a better suggestion, and if I weren't the logical being that I am, I'd probably kiss you for it.'
He grinned and entered the data into the log. "Done! I hope you have a very restful day of contemplation, solitude and – whatever atonement you need to make."
Kirk ached for Spock. Wanted the presence in his mind to be Spock's, if for no other reason than to say thank you, and goodbye when it came time.
A sad touch caressed something in his mind and he smiled, imagining it might be Spock, hearing a phantom 'Jim'. That sound always affected him, always riveted him and made him want to run to it. Although the thought of running made him tense his legs instinctively and that made his back scream and his mind seek solace in memory, again.
"How did Kal Rekk start, Spock?"
Spock moved a pawn and steepled his fingers together. "You are attempting to distract me from the game."
"Apparently it's not working," said Kirk, contemplating his options, or lack thereof.
"Agreed," said Spock.
Kirk didn't even try to glare at Spock. "I'm not on my game tonight."
"You have had much on your mind."
"I always do. Doesn't explain why I'm not on my game."
"Shall we set it aside until our next opportunity?"
"I ... yes, I suppose that would be best." Kirk rose dejectedly and turned for the door.
"Were you not interested in the answer to your question?" asked Spock, rising in turn.
"Oh." A wave of warmth passed through Kirk. "Yes. I wasn't sure you wanted to tell me."
Spock moved to the food synthesizer and ordered his evening tea.
Kirk sat cross-legged near the fire pit and took the cup that Spock offered him. "I love this stuff," he said, letting its fragrance waft through him. He and Spock both knew that it would take at least fifteen minutes before it was cool enough for him to be safe sipping it, but that was half the point of it.
Spock settled himself near Kirk, close enough for companionship and far enough away for ease of conversation. "It is said that on the coldest day of the coldest winter Vulcan had yet known, Surak, father of all we now hold true, was journeying in his youth across a desert to seek vengeance for the killing of his best friend when a sand fire developed near him. He ran for a cave, prepared to stay there for the minutes or days of its duration. The noise was unbearable as the sand fire settled outside the cave, nearly driving Surak mad with pain and sensory overload. But Surak fought with himself to survive in the desolation of spirit, and found that by concentrating on his sensory input, he could will the noise away.
"In his solitude, he thought about his journey and his reasons for making it. When he thought of his friend's death and became angry, the noise would return. When he refocused on the sensory input, the anger would dissipate, along with the noise. In the silence and calm necessary to maintain his sanity, he was able to examine the series of murders and deaths that had led to his T'hy'la's killing. In his shame at helping to develop the weapons that his clan used to harm others, he grasped new understanding about the lethal folly of his undertaking and resolved that he would never again participate in an act of violence against another being.
"He remained in the cave for a full Vulcan day before the sand fire passed, and he completed his journey, offering atonement to the rival clan for the harm he had caused. It is said that their conversation was the beginning of Surak's mission."
Kirk remained silent, letting the images of the story and the sound of Spock's voice settle in his more important memories. "Thank you," he said at last.
"You are welcome," said Spock.
They spent a time Kirk would never quantify in silence as they sipped their tea.
He had no sense of how long he'd been there. He knew he'd seen the moon vanish, and that he hadn't seen daylight, so he imagined that he hadn't been there for more than – what was the solar cycle of Elysium, again?
Sixteen earth hours, supplied a very Vulcan-sounding voice inside his head.
Ah, yes. Sixteen hours, and Spock was the very best hallucination he could possibly have. Well, that or Bones with Saurian brandy and a detox pill for later. Assuming that Bones had fixed him—
"You hurt bones!"
The feeling slammed into him and he knew that he cried out, because this time, he knew he was conscious. "I'm sorry, Bones!"
"You hurt We I!"
"Who are you?" cried Kirk. "Let me help!"
"You stop hurting bones!" The planet shook underneath him and Kirk felt every pebble, every rock, every bump beneath his spine.
Kirk screamed in pain. "You're hurting my bones!" And then his eyes widened. "What is your name?"
"We I are."
"What are you?"
"We I are Here."
"You keep saying that! I don't understand!"
"The two of You are here. The two of You hurt. You hurt bones." The feeling was sad, now. Tired. And in great pain.
"I don't understand. I want to help you," moaned Kirk, pouring his emotion into it.
Elysium. Spock's voice was faint, pained.
Kirk bitterly regretted that Spock's rest had been disturbed, if that was indeed Spock in his head.
Jim. We I. Elysium. And the presence was gone.
Kirk hurt all the more for the loss. "Whatever I've done – whatever we've done, I'm sorry. Don't hurt him. Don't hurt Spock."
"We I are tired. We I hurt. We I end." The planet shuddered again.
"We/I Elysium," muttered Kirk. "You are here. You are Here! You are this planet!"
We I are Here. You are here."
"We hurt you. We hurt your bones. The dilithium mining! Dilithium constitutes ninety percent of your crust—"
"Ninety-seven point six two five percent," said a very solid Vulcan voice from somewhere behind Kirk.
"Spock!" Kirk's hand shot into the air. "Spock, where are you? I can't move. Can't see you."
A firm, velvety hand enclosed Kirk's. "I am here, Jim."
"I tried to reach you," said Kirk, resisting the urge to tear up in relief.
"As I did you," said Spock, his voice unsteady.
"We have to get the Federation to stop mining here," said Kirk, clinging to Spock's hand.
"Not only that, we must repair the damage done to the creature's carapace," said Spock.
"So that was you I heard?" Kirk wasn't sure of his pathway to that conclusion, but it seemed to fit somehow.
"Yes, Jim." The voice was a caress, though Kirk was sure that Spock didn't mean it as such. There was some fumbling, and Kirk felt the movement transmitted through Spock's hand. Then there was the whirring of a medical tricorder.
"I've got a spinal injury," said Kirk, gritting his teeth against a wave of pain.
Spock was silent in that intense way that always meant he was surprised and—"Fascinating!"
"You appear to have been spined," said Spock.
"Spined?" Kirk really wished he had the energy for a suitable quip.
Spock knelt down next to Kirk, never letting go of his hand, and ran the medical scanner down Kirk's arm and along his side. "Readings indicate a biological organism has punctured your spinal column in three places. It is much like the spiny rays in many of your catfish species." Spock shifted to sit, setting Kirk's arm across his lap. "If you'll permit me..." He moved the scanner under Kirk's back, where there had been a hollow between rocks.
Kirk gasped, more in anticipation of pain than the event of it.
"Forgive me, Jim."
"If you'll tell me what's going on," said Kirk.
"There is no venom, though there is a substance reminiscent of certain chemicals in the Vulcan brain that facilitate psionic function."
Kirk moved his head, able to glimpse a little of Spock's face in the increasing light coming through the hole. "Can you separate us?"
"Not safely on my own, and this chamber is shielded against transporter and communications technology." Spock twisted and bent, capturing Kirk's arm in delicious heat between torso and thighs as he peered under Kirk's spine with eyes and scanner.
The feel of another living, breathing being made Kirk aware of just how much he had missed it. Not just in this cave, but also for all the weeks he'd cut himself off from it. And then he realized that he'd been stuck to a living being during the time he'd been here, and that that living being might be dying. "Spock—" There was an awkward moment when he realized that his hand was squeezing and petting Spock's thigh in his eagerness to reconnect with life. There was an even more awkward one when he realized that he didn't want to let go.
"I'd suggest a meld," said Spock, not seeming to care about or possibly even notice Kirk's hand.
"How are you going to meld with it?"
"Through you. Though there is a risk."
"There's always a risk," said Kirk, impatiently. "I'm sorry, Spock," he amended, patting Spock's thigh. "Look, I can't stay here forever, and McCoy ... where is McCoy, anyway?"
"He is at the principal mining site, no doubt still protesting that he is a physician and not trained for replacing stolen planetary artifacts."
Kirk laughed and then wished he hadn't, as his back clenched around the spines he now knew were there. "Spock...." He let go of his friend's thigh and twisted his hand to try to find Spock's.
Spock took it.
"Take the risk. I trust you, and we all need it to happen."
In the dim lighting, Kirk could see Spock's head as he contemplated Kirk's words. And then Spock nodded and shifted. "That is logical," he said, though his voice sounded anything but.
Kirk squeezed Spock's hand in silent acknowledgement and let him take the lead.
Spock released Kirk's hand once again, this time placing it gently by Kirk's side.
Kirk heard more than saw Spock rubbing his hands together in slow preparation. This time, though, it seemed to take longer. "Spock," he said, gently. "It'll be all right."
Spock nodded, the faintest hitch of breath audible only as he leaned forward and positioned his fingers – beautiful fingers, Kirk had always thought – on Kirk's face. "My mind to your mind. Your thoughts to my thoughts...."
There was that tender, vulnerable voice Kirk had always heard. The voice he'd always known was there, many layers of friendship ago, before they'd ever played their first game of chess. Kirk let himself sink into it and found a warm, vibrant, infinitely relieved presence. He felt like dancing with it, but schooled away the urge. 'Vulcan', he told himself. 'Be good, Jim.'
And then in his mind, there was the unmistakable sound of Vulcan laughter. No. Spock. Spock's laughter. And the awful shame of what he'd done to Spock on Omicron Ceti III came rushing back to him and he all but wept. "I'm so sorry, Spock."
"It is of no consequence, Jim."
Kirk felt a sort of mind-kiss, for want of a better term, and then a frisson of unresolved guilt wafted through to him. "I'm glad you're alive, Spock." He tried to feel something as delightful as the mind-kiss had been back to Spock – he certainly felt the right emotion for it – but it turned into something clumsy and he found himself falling into a deeper place and felt Spock's shock. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to stumble in here uninvited."
"You were invited," came Spock's mind-voice.
Kirk didn't trust himself to speak – or think. He became dimly aware that his hand was stroking Spock's back outside the meld, and thought that if he went any deeper into it, he wouldn't be able to feel anything on the outside.
"Yes, that is true," said Spock. "Are you uncomfortable here?"
"Are you holding yourself back from seeing my thoughts?"
"Selectively, yes. It is a matter of privacy."
"Whose? Yours or mine?"
Kirk laughed within the meld. "I ... like it here, Spock. It's weird, but good. Very good."
"I am glad."
Kirk could swear that Spock kissed his forehead within the meld, but dismissed the illusion. Then he felt a laugh from Spock and knew that he'd been right in the first place. "I'd return the gesture, but the last time I tried, I intruded."
"It is no intrusion when you are wanted. However, there is urgency here. Elysium is dying."
"Do what you need to do, Spock. I trust you." Completely.
Spock shifted in the meld, curling around Kirk protectively. "I would speak with the being we know as Elysium."
"We I are here."
"I am called Spock. I speak to you through the one called Jim."
"We I know You. You hurt bones."
"We did not mean to injure you. We did not understand. We did not know that you were alive or sentient."
"Another of You is trying to repair We I. We I are not a dwelling."
"That other of Us is called McCoy. He is a healer. Can you tell Us what you need?"
"We I can."
"Can you release the shielding around Us so that I can tell McCoy with our communication devices?"
"We I are tired."
"We want to help you. It takes energy to maintain your shields."
"Spock of You is right. I will lower shields."
A wave of gratitude suffused the meld and Kirk could feel Elysium take it in, as though it were elixir.
"Jim, I must stay in the meld with you for a little longer. Can you tolerate it?"
Exhausted beyond the point of coherent thought, Kirk managed the mental equivalent of a sloppy kiss to Spock's hair in assent and promptly fell asleep.
The next time Kirk awoke, he was in Sickbay. McCoy was bending over him, sans Saurian brandy.
"You awake, yet, Mr. 'I don't need a medkit'?"
"All right, all right, I was wrong!" Kirk sat up and groaned at the peculiarly ghastly discomfort of feeling open wounds in his spine. "Really wrong...."
"Yes, you were. And don't you dare go back to sleep!"
"You're going to your quarters right now! We need the bed space for the damned flu everyone's getting, so you're dismissed as of right now." McCoy helped him carefully to his feet and handed him some clothes.
"Where do I change?" said Kirk, noting all the coughing, wheezing, pustule-ridden patients around him.
"Wherever you can find the space, man! You've never been plagued by modesty before."
"Good point," said Kirk, fumbling off whatever they'd put on him in Sickbay and pulling on his familiar clothes as quickly as he could.
"Welcome home, Jim," said McCoy, looking and sounding both exhausted and relieved. "Now get the hell out of my sickbay!"
It took Kirk about six hours to read all the reports on the incidents on and fallout from Elysium. At the end of it all, he took two showers: a sonic to get him clean, and a water to help his spine relax and to wash away all the physical and mental cruft of his experience – and his reading. It wasn't easy discovering that you'd spent the better part of two days hooked up to a sentient, highly intelligent space woodlouse with not only the size but the longevity and ability to curl up into a planet-sized ball and just let life come to it.
He wondered whether there were others like her, others with whom she could mate. He shuddered a bit at the imagined thousands more of them as the result of such a coupling, but then reminded himself of just how lonely she had been. Although being pinned by her spines hadn't been that pleasant a thing, except for the meld with Spock.
Where was Spock, anyway?
Kirk sighed and took the connecting route through the bathroom to Spock's quarters. It was the shortest path, and he was still in sufficient pain that that was an issue. He knocked at Spock's door.
"Enter," said Spock.
Kirk did, and couldn't help but be flattered as Spock didn't quite manage to school away the look of joy on his face as they laid eyes on each other.
"I am deeply pleased to see you, Jim."
"As I am to see you, my friend," said Kirk, realizing that he had his hands on Spock's shoulders without having thought about it. With great effort of will, he let go. "I've been reading your reports, Spock. You've been busier than usual while I was lollygagging in Sickbay."
"You were not 'lollygagging'," said Spock, taking Kirk's elbow and helping him gently into a chair. "McCoy informed me that had the meld taken any longer, you would have been irreparably paralyzed or worse."
"I really shouldn't have gone without a medkit." Kirk shook his head. "I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't mean to cause everyone so much trouble." He looked up. "You look like you haven't slept for days."
"I have not slept since Kal Rekk," said Spock. "But that is of no consequence. Kaiidth. Your experience with Elysium prevented the death of an ancient and venerable creature."
"Can you imagine what it must be like? Curling yourself up into a ball in the silence and emptiness of space long enough to let life just find you and make a life on you? Caring enough about every creature and plant on you that you stay curled up like that, even when interfering organisms come along and chip away at you? She was in agony!"
"And yet she felt the better for having that experience, in the end," said Spock, quietly. "She felt that she should renew her interest in life after her time with you."
Kirk snorted. "I seem to have that effect on people."
"Yes, you do," said Spock.
"Spock...." Kirk dared to reach for his hand. "I'm sorry your day of silence was disturbed."
"Your absence robbed me of my quietude," said Spock.
"I missed you, too," said Kirk, squeezing Spock's hand. "Spock...."
"Could I stay here tonight? With you? I don't want the nightmares that are likely to come if I sleep by myself, and you're ... welcome."
"I worry that I will hurt you," said Spock.
"I think we'll be all right," said Kirk. "You found me in a remote cave inside a giant pillbug. Seems to me you'll be able to figure out how to keep things safe when you're touching me. Unless, of course, you don't want to. Or you have foot-long quills that want to puncture my spine—"
"I do want to, and Vulcan anatomy does not allow for such attributes."
Kirk rose wearily and tugged Spock towards the bed. "I'm very glad to hear that, Mr. Spock."
Spock stopped and turned Kirk towards him, seating him carefully once again, this time on the edge of the bed. "You must be careful while your spine is still recovering," he said, in a low, soft voice as he knelt before Kirk. One by one, with infinite care, he pulled off the boots and set them aside. Then he helped Kirk out of his tunic and let him deal with the pants until pushing them off became too painful for his back.
"Thank you," murmured Kirk. And then he found himself under the covers and waiting with briefly renewed vigor for Spock to join him, loving the feel of Spock's skin against his own. He kissed Spock's forehead lightly, with much more grace than he'd managed in the meld. He delighted in the feel of Spock's slightly clumsy kiss of his cheek in return, wondering just how deeply he'd fall this time when he fell asleep.
It was as he was contemplating this that Spock's sleepy, "You're welcome" made it clear that he had nothing to worry about. Except, perhaps, learning how to shield his thoughts a bit more. He fell asleep smiling against Spock's pillow.