Kirk woke to the sound of howling wind and a sharp pain in his side.
“Captain, are you awake?”
Spock. He was with Spock. He was with Spock on the planet. They had beamed down to evaluate it for shore leave for the crew.
“Yeah. Yeah, Spock, I’m awake.” Kirk tried to sit up, but was assailed by a wave of nausea. He fell back again.
“Do not try to move, Captain, you will only aggravate the parasite.”
Parasite? “What parasite, Spock?”
Kirk struggled to sit up again on an elbow, but this time his stomach wasn’t so forgiving and he rolled over on his side and was violently ill. A cool hand pressed against his forehead and guided him back to the makeshift bed he was stretched out on.
“Please, Captain, be still. I have been able to retard the parasite’s rapid gestation with sedatives, but I have had to lessen the doses as the storm does not seem to be abating, and we have a limited supply.”
Kirk breathed deep to try and ward off another wave of nausea. “Back up, Spock. What storm? What parasite?”
Spock’s cool hands were on Kirk’s face and neck, gently wiping away the cold, clammy sweat that always seemed to come with emptying one’s stomach contents. “How much do you remember, sir?”
“Uh, the planet…we beamed down to see if we could release the crew for shore leave. McCoy hadn’t caught up with us, yet. It was just you and me, right?”
“Correct, sir. The ion storm surprised us, Captain. None of my previous atmospheric readings indicated any storms in the area. McCoy was not able to beam down, and neither can the Enterprise beam us back up until the storm passes.”
“How long has it been?” Kirk asked. As he started to get his senses back under his control, he felt an odd pressure in his belly. It wasn’t pain, not quite, but it wasn’t comfortable either. He lifted a hand to massage the area, but Spock’s fingers closed around his wrist and firmly pressed it back to the ground.
Kirk tensed. “Spock, what’s wrong? What about this parasite?”
“You were…attacked…for lack of a better word, by an indigenous life from.”
Kirk became conscious of the pain--this was definitely pain--in his side. “My side?”
“Yes, but it is only a small puncture, sir, not life threatening. Your discomfort is being caused by the venomous saliva from the life from’s bite irritating the wound.”
“Okay, so what else?” Kirk asked. He was sure there was more even without looking at Spock, which he couldn’t seem to do because of the darkness of whatever shelter they were in and the fact that he couldn’t get his eyes to focus. “You said ‘gestating’…”
Spock paused, trying to chose his words. “You are…pregnant, Captain.”
Kirk let out a bark of laughter. “Have you finally managed to locate your sense of humor, Spock?”
The silence was answer enough.
“Jesus, Spock! What the hell!” Kirk started to sit up again, but the nausea pushed him back, and so too, did the pressure in his gut. It instantly doubled and nearly knocked the wind out of him. His hand flew up before Spock could arrest it again, and he felt the slight swell of his belly beneath his palm.
Spock put a hypo against his shoulder. “Captain, it is imperative that you remain still. The lower we can keep your heart rate and metabolism, the more we can retard the creature’s development inside you. I have been studying it closely in the last few hours, in as much as the tricorder will allow. It is lodged in your abdominal cavity. I have detected small amounts of a very potent poison present, but as you are still alive, I must deduce that this poison is a defensive mechanism to be released if the gestating organism is threatened in any way.”
Kirk felt like he was going to be sick again. “And just what constitutes a threat, Spock?”
“I do not have enough information to determine this. However, I recommend we err on the side of caution and do as little as possible to impede it’s progress.”
Kirk pulled his hand away from his belly, disgusted. “Can’t you just cut it out with your phaser, Spock?”
“Inadvisable on multiple levels, sir. If I were to start cutting and the parasite released the poison, you would die instantly, and we have no antidote. If I were to successfully remove the organism without it releasing the poison, I do not have the proper medical equipment to treat the resultant wound, and you may die of blood loss or shock before the Enterprise is able to retrieve us.”
“Great…” Kirk groaned as whatever was inside him moved. His stomach revolted and he dry heaved against the rocks again.
Spock’s hands were on him once more, pulling him back, wiping his sweaty face, but this time he did not lay him back on the palette. He insinuated himself between Kirk and the rock face and pulled him back to rest against his chest.
“Wow, Spock,” Kirk said breathlessly. “That’s some bedside manner you have.”
“You are developing a fever, Captain. Your body functions will increase with it. My lower body temperature permits me to absorb your body heat, thereby lowering your over all body temperature and keeping your body functions at a lower level.”
“Gee, Spock, and I just thought you were starting to like me.”
Spock was silent a moment. His voice was much lower when he spoke. “I must admit that I am somewhat uncomfortably chilled in this environment. Close contact will benefit us both.”
“Mmmm.” Kirk sighed, feeling more comfortable already, propped against Spock’s hard chest. “I never really thought about that. You’re probably pretty uncomfortable most of the time aren’t you, being used to a planet so much hotter than Earth.”
“I am Vulcan, Captain. We do not take comfort into consideration.”
“Liar,” Kirk said. “You’re half human.”
Spock was quiet.
“That’s not a bad thing, Spock,” Kirk said. “I mean, it’s not, is it? We’re not so bad, are we?”
“If you will allow me to reserve judgment on Dr. McCoy, then I will say that, no, on the whole, humans are a hearty and generally well developed race. Though, seriously prone to overestimating the importance of emotion.”
Kirk smiled at Spock’s dry, unintended humor, but said, “Most poets would disagree with you, Spock. They say its our feelings that define us as humans.”
“A perfect example of my point.”
Kirk laughed. The movement aggravated the parasite inside him, and it lashed at him. He gasped in pain. Spock’s arm tightened around him, and his free hand went to Kirk’s belly, where he spread his fingers wide and the thrashing stopped.
Kirk tried to catch his breath. “I think that was my spleen it just kicked. What did you do, Spock?”
Spock kept his hand on Kirk’s midsection. “I believe the organism is somewhat responsive to empathic influence. I attempted to calm it.”
“Well, it worked. Thanks.” Kirk tried to shift without moving any more muscles than necessary. “Check laughter off the list of things that aren’t threatening I guess.”
“Captain, it appears any movement whatsoever is considered a threat. It is possible that this creature traditionally gestates inside other lifeforms that have been paralyzed by the venom in the saliva of the parent’s bite. Human biology may not be susceptible to the paralytic.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, but Kirk found that only gave him room to dwell on what was growing inside him and the strange sensations of movement were making him feel sick again. He needed conversation.
“Spock, how are you?”
Spock hesitated, and Kirk could imagine the frown on his face. “I do not understand the question, Captain. I am uninjured, and we have not been planet-side long enough for our lack of food or water to have any deleterious effects on my system.”
“Just... ‘how are you’, Spock? Overall, I mean. You’ve been through a lot the last few months, and I haven’t really seen you grieve at all.”
“I am Vulcan—,”
“Yeah, yeah, you don’t grieve. I get it,” Kirk finished irritably.
Spock did not reply for nearly a full minute, then spoke slowly. “We do grieve. We just do not allow it to consume us, especially in the public eye.”
“Sometimes you have to let it consume you, Spock. In order to let it run it’s course. If you keep it all bottled up, then it just gets worse.”
“That sounds distinctly like something the doctor would say,” Spock replied.
“He did. To me,” Kirk said. “I was pretty bottled up myself when he met me on the flight to the Academy. It took him a while, but he eventually got the cork loose.”
Spock considered this. “I had always imagined you to be very forth coming in your emotions.”
“Nah, not when I was young—younger—anyway. I had issues of my own.”
“Yeah. Him. My mom, too, I guess. She just couldn't’ seem to stay around much. I think I reminded her too much of him. It hurt her.”
“It must have been very painful for you,” Spock said quietly.
“Yeah.” Kirk lifted his chest just a little to reposition himself against Spock. Spock instinctively tightened his grip and aided his efforts. For just a second they were both distinctly aware of how intimately they were pressed together. Kirk continued hoarsely,
“Well, I never really had anybody who wanted to take the time or effort to straighten me out, but McCoy used his fatherly skills on me and—“
“Yeah,” Kirk turned his face up, a little smile on his lips. “Didn’t you know that? He’s got a daughter. Wont’ talk to him anymore, but he’s got one.”
“I could not have imagined,” Spock replied.
“So, back to you and your bottle, Spock. What about it? What do Vulcan’s do to grieve?”
“We meditate. We analyze the emotion and compartmentalize it. When we have examined it fully, we put it away.”
“Put it away? Just like that? It never comes back out to haunt you in the dark of the night, huh?”
Spock’s silence was answer enough.
“You know,” Kirk said softly. “I’ve heard you.”
Spock did not answer.
“I’ve heard you in your quarters at night.” Kirk felt Spock’s breath hitch in his chest behind him, and he instantly regretted crossing that line. Spock moved behind him, gently lifting him away and then lowering him to the ground. He picked up his tricorder.
“I should take readings on the storm system. It is possible that it has nearly blown itself out. The Enterprise may be able to contact us soon.”
“Spock, I’m sorry—“
But he was gone.
Kirk lay back and tried to focus on the dark above him, anything to keep his mind from the increasing pressure behind his navel. He tentatively felt his belly and the swell had increased just a little. The parasite was still growing. He wondered just how big whatever this thing was, was likely to get. He wondered, too, when it was done growing, just how it intended to make its exit; but that thought and the images that came with it brought on a sharp wave of nausea, and Kirk shoved it out of his head.
He wanted Spock to come back--needed him to come back--and distract him. He had stood in front of the Academy classes and the Admiralty and pretty much said he didn’t believe in fear the day he’d met the Vulcan. But right now, he couldn’t catalogue the crushing feeling in his chest as anything else, and it just didn’t seem as bad when Spock was around.
He must have dozed while Spock was out, because he came awake with a start and instantly wished he hadn’t. The thing inside him felt like it had doubled in size and the pressure had become a definite pain. He felt it move and then move again, and it felt like an expanding and contracting. He groaned and rolled to his side, curling in on himself. Spock was by his side instantly.
“Captain, are you in pain?”
“Yeah,” Kirk gasped. “Yeah, you could say that. Spock, I think—I think its time. It wants out.”
Spock reached into the emergency medical kit and pulled out the hypo loaded with the last dose of sedative. He pressed it to Kirk’s neck. Then he gently pushed Kirk back onto his back and forced his knees down. He spread his fingers over the low swell of Kirk’s belly and concentrated.
The creature did indeed want out. It was time to escape, time to be born. It needed open air. Spock flexed his fingers, and his mind, and exerted a command of calm over the primitive consciousness. It stilled beneath his hands. He did not dare move, though, for fear that the lack of contact would break the false calm. He could also feel the sedative working on Kirk’s system.
“Better?” Spock asked.
“Better…” Kirk breathed. He relaxed a little and tried to lie as still as possible beneath Spock’s steady hands. “What about the storm?”
“It is dissipating. I calculate another twenty minutes and the ion levels should be low enough for beaming.”
“Good. Good.” Kirk concentrated on breathing even and shallow. He whispered his next words. “Spock, I’m sorry.”
Spock did not move or speak. He sat, head bowed over Kirk’s body for several minutes. Kirk felt a strange sensation in his chest. Besides the fear, there was…anguish. He had hurt Spock, for his own selfish reasons, and he wanted to sink into the rock beneath him and disappear and leave the man in peace. He squeezed his eyes shut and a single tear crept out and ran down into his hair. He felt cool fingers against his hairline, wiping it away.
“Do not be sorry. You are correct.” Spock took a breath, replaced his hand on Kirk’s midsection. “She used to always tell me that.”
Spock nodded. “She allowed me to be Vulcan for as long as she could stand to, but when she saw that it was becoming self destructive, she would try to get me to share with her.” He took a long, shuddering breath. “I never did.”
Kirk felt another tear slide down his face.
Spock’s communicator chirped.
“Enterprise to Commander Spock, come in, please.”
Spock pulled out his communicator, still careful to keep a hand on Kirk. “Spock, here. Mr. Sulu, I need Dr. McCoy beamed down at once with a surgical field kit and a nurse.”
“Yes, sir.” Sulu went off comm for just a second relaying the command. Spock could hear McCoy in the background, yelling questions, but nonetheless on the move. “Sir, is the Captain injured. We couldn’t raise him.”
“His communicator was lost, but he is here with me. He is stable, but he needs immediate medical attention.”
“I’ll have Scotty beam him to sickbay,” McCoy’s voice cut across the channel.
“No!” Spock snapped, more forcefully than necessary. “The nature of his injuries does not permit beaming.”
“Right. I’m on my way,” McCoy replied, and the comm went silent.
Less than a minute later, McCoy, Nurse Chapel, and two armed security men materialized inside the cave.
“Okay, Spock,” McCoy said, motioning for the security guards to set up lights on the perimeter, and hunkering down on Kirk’s other side. “What have we got?”
“The Captain was infected with a parasite which has been gestating inside him over the last four point three hours. I believe it has reached term. I administered a sedative to slow his body functions and am currently in contact with organism.”
“Contact?” McCoy asked sharply, pausing in laying out the field kit beside him.
“I have been able to exert an empathic influence on it that has retarded its movement, but if I break contact, I do not know what will happen.”
McCoy looked up at the tone in Spock’s voice, and was shocked to see fear in those dark eyes. He looked down at Kirk, who was drifting in and out of consciousness now. “Jim, it sounds like I need to work fast. I’m going to give you a local anesthetic, but I don’t guarantee you won’t feel something.”
“Doctor, there is the possibility that the organism has a self defense mechanism involving poison. Once you make an incision, it will release the poison. The Captain will die.”
McCoy swore and opened up his tricorder. He swore again at the readings. “Yeah, I see it Spock. Goddamn ugly thing! Poison glands. Well, I’ll give him a shot of digitalis, that should hold him until we can get him to the ship for the actual antidote. Hopefully, the glands go inactive once the creature reaches full maturity.”
He motioned to the security man closest to him. “Hand me that quarantine container and stand by to move fast once I open him up.”
McCoy pulled out the laser scalpel. He looked at Kirk. “You ready?”
Kirk nodded again. He looked up at Spock. Spock looked across at McCoy and at the doctor’s nod, he lifted his hands from Kirk.
The pain was instant and horrible. Kirk bucked upward, thrashing as the organism twisted inside him, ripping at soft tissue and vital organs.
“Hold him!” McCoy shouted.
Spock grabbed Kirk’s shoulders. The security guard leaned on his knees. McCoy cut straight through Kirk’s uniform and into his abdomen in one smooth, practiced motion. The smell of scorched fabric and skin permeated the air and Kirk gagged. Spock wrested his head in his hands and looked down into his eyes, holding him captive with that superior Vulcan strength.
Kirk felt the horrible pressure in his belly release and then the world turned strangely warm and started to drift away from him.
“Jim! Damn it, don’t you do it! Don’t you die on me!”
McCoy’s voice came from a great distance. Kirk could feel him closing the gaping incision he had made, and he could feel Spock’s hands on his face, his sharp knee pressing down on a shoulder, holding him.
“Enterprise! McCoy. Get us up to sickbay. Now!”
Spock did not move as they materialized on the floor in sickbay. McCoy, however, moved like a lightening strike, grabbing hypos and yelling instructions to nurses. They didn’t even try to get Kirk off the floor. Spock dared to break Kirk’s now vacant gaze and saw blood everywhere. Kirk’s uniform was saturated in it, but it was the blue tinge of his lips and edges of his eyelids that was more frightening to Spock.
Jim…do not leave me.
“Chapel, get me another shot of antihistamine and some prithalamine for any infection,” McCoy ordered, setting back on his heels.
“Doctor?” Spock asked.
“I got it, Spock. He’s good.” McCoy leaned over to lift Kirk’s eyelids, looking at his pupils, and check his pulse. “His color’s starting to come back. I think he’s out of the woods. That was one nasty poison, but the digitalis did a good job against it, until I got some Sortisol in his system. That stuff can combat anything.”
Relief swamped Spock’s senses. His muscles gave out without warning. He dropped forward over Kirk, just barely catching himself on his hands.
“Whoa!” McCoy stepped around and took Spock by the shoulders. “Spock, are you all right? Come on, let’s have a look at you.”
McCoy dragged him over to an exam bed, while Chapel and two orderlies lifted Kirk onto a gurney and took him into the next room to clean him up and put him to bed.
“You look okay,” McCoy said. “I don’t see any injuries. I think you’re just worn out.”
He looked up and was met with Spock’s tortured gaze. His face a maze of confusion and need and fear. McCoy felt his own gut twist in apprehension. He had always said that one day Spock was going to crack wide open, but he hadn’t figured it would be on his watch.
“Spock, what happened down there?” McCoy asked slowly.
Spock shook his head, unable to speak. He tried to straighten his shoulders, and pull himself together, but his body was not obeying him. Perhaps he had exerted too much energy trying to calm the creature. That had to be the explanation. It could not be because he had glimpsed the future for one tiny second without Jim Kirk in it. It could not be because if that man were to die then something vital and integral to Spock’s own well being would die with him.
“Spock, you come in here with me. You need some rest.” McCoy put a hand on his shoulder and gently guided him into the adjoining bay where Kirk had been stripped, cleaned, and tucked into a bed. McCoy pushed Spock down onto the adjacent bed. “You just lay back and sleep, or meditate, or whatever it is you do.”
“Doctor, I assure you I am quite all right,” Spock objected feebly, but even he was not convinced by his words. McCoy just looked at him and then turned and left.
Spock lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes. His body was exhausted, as McCoy has deduced, but his mind would not rest. Where had Kirk gotten through his barriers? At what point had he become such an intrinsic part of Spock’s own existence? There was no moment that he could pinpoint, but he was as sure that he needed that man in his life as he was sure he needed air to breathe.
Kirk sighed softly on the bed beside him, and Spock reached out tentatively and covered Kirk’s hand with is own. In sleep, Kirk turned up his palm and threaded his fingers through Spock’s. Spock closed his eyes again and slept.
When Kirk woke up this time, he was disoriented, and he tried to lurch out of bed and landed in a pair of strong Vulcan arms.
“Captain, it is all right. You are on board the Enterprise. You are well.”
Kirk’s hand went to his midsection. “The parasite?”
“Dr. McCoy successfully removed it, though it was a close thing.”
Kirk saw a shadow pass over Spock’s features. “That close, huh?”
Kirk relaxed back on to the pillow, and Spock released him. “So, am I back in operating condition?”
“The doctor will have to be the final judge, but I believe you are fully back to normal.”
“Ah, I see you’ve decided to join the land of the living again,” McCoy said, coming into the room.
“How long was I out, Bones?”
“About ten hours. You two sleeping beauties weren’t waking up for the second coming, I can tell you.”
Kirk frowned and looked over at Spock, but McCoy answered for the Vulcan,
“He was exhausted. I haven’t seen his levels so low since he got stuck by that Delaian battle blade a couple weeks into the tour. God, that was a nasty clean-up job.” McCoy scowled at both of them. “You two lay off it for a few months, huh? I’ve had about enough of patching you up.”
“When can I leave, Doc?” Kirk asked.
“I’ll run a final scan on you here pretty soon, and then if you check out, you can go back to your quarters, but I’m keeping you off duty for the next three days. Consider it maternity leave.”
Kirk scowled hard at him, but McCoy just smirked and left.
Spock stood silently watching McCoy’s retreating back. “I’m quite sure I was not that bad. The knife wound was significantly more dangerous to my health than my mental excursions on the planet below.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Kirk said quietly. Spock looked down at him, confused. Kirk smiled sadly, picking at the blanket. “Those were a couple of the worst hours I’ve ever had to live through.”
Kirk looked up and Spock was taken aback by the sheen of tears in his eyes.
“When I thought you were going to die, Spock…well, it felt like I’d die right along with you. I—I just couldn’t come to grips with being on this ship, going on the next mission…living through the next day, without you.”
Spock lifted a hand and covered Kirk’s on the blanket. Kirk rotated his hand to thread his fingers with Spock’s just like he’d done those hours ago in his sleep.
“I—,” Spock began haltingly. “I, too, found it very difficult to envision the future without your presence.”
Kirk squeezed Spock’s hand lightly. “So, where does that leave us…Commander.”
“I believe…Jim, that it leaves us little choice, but to do as your human poets say and, ‘follow our hearts.’”
Kirk smiled. “That sounds pretty good to me, Spock.”