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Chapter Text

“Ready, Bones? We’re waiting for you!”

An exasperated sigh reached the young captain’s ears.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Can’t you let me breathe two seconds, for pity’s sake? I’m sure the hobgoblin is right on time, but I’m not Vulcan, so don’t rush me or go find another ‘volunteer’ to go down with you!”

Jim rolled his eyes. What was the point in being the captain if your crewmen didn’t even obey your orders? Specifically, if your first officer and chief medical officer, each in their own stubborn and frustrating way, didn’t pay any attention to what you told them to do? Certainly, he didn’t have much experience, and he was very young for the job, but if he hadn’t been aboard the Enterprise three months ago, Earth would not exist anymore, so… A bit of respect for the hero he had become didn’t seem a big thing to ask for.

Really? Are you that pretentious?

Well, no, he wasn’t. But he would have loved a bit of compliance, especially in front of other members of the crew. Spock never contradicted him publicly, but, away from prying ears, he didn’t refrain from questioning almost every decision his new captain took. Sometimes, Jim wondered why the Vulcan had decided to come back on board if he had so little esteem for his superior. McCoy, on the other hand, acted with his friend as he always had, and didn’t hesitate in talking to him as informally and familiarly as he did back at the Academy, on various subjects such as food (as if James Tiberius Kirk had any kind of influence over the Enterprise replicators), sickbay’s equipment, Starfleet orders or the first officer’s ‘insensitive and tactless behaviour’ towards new recruits.

Anyway, those two didn’t show him overflowing respect, and now Jim began to understand what his teachers in the Academy felt like when he refused to fulfil their orders in front of a whole classroom…

He could hear a little mocking voice whispering in his ears: It’s called karma.

Jim was waiting on sickbay’s doorstep, excited and a bit anxious to beam down for what would be his first diplomatic mission on planet Ponantis II – the opportunity to prove he wasn’t only an obnoxious and lucky brat begging for recognition, whose only achievement had been to be lucky…

The protocol stipulated that for this specific contact (with a peaceful species who had already been approached twice by the Federation), he had to be with his first officer. Okay, why not. Spock would certainly not lighten the mood (the Ponantians, who were fighting the Glosians, were hoping a fair arbitration from the Federation and didn’t seem in the mood for jokes anyway) but his presence reassured Jim somehow, although he would never admit it, even under torture. He could also pick out another member of his crew, and as he didn’t need Uhura to translate anything, the Ponantians being multilingual, he had chosen without the slightest hesitation. Bones wasn’t particularly elated to hear it (in fact, he was less than pleased to beam down with Spock, for they didn’t exactly get along, one being ice and the other fire), but he had very little choice in the matter.

Jim took two steps towards the CMO’s office and picked up a strange, muffled sound, which sounded suspiciously like a sneeze.

“Bones?

“Yeah, I’m coming!”

 McCoy’s answer was punctuated by two other sneezes. The young captain sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Bless you. Don’t tell me you’re sick?” he asked, popping his head at the door just in time to see his friend stifling a forth sneeze in a handkerchief.

“Don’t tell me you don’t have someone else to bother?” Bones answered with an irritated sniffle. “I have a cold, Jim, I’m not dying.”

Of course he wasn’t dying (why did he always have to make such melodramatic statements?), but maybe it would be better if…

“Don’t look at me like that, captain,” Bones sneered. “I’m coming, whether you like it or not.”

“No, it’s just that you’re a little… grumpy when you’re ill,” Jim answered with a grin he hoped seems natural. “I don’t want you to spoil my so well-prepared mission on Ponantis.”

“Thank you for the compassion. They have copper-based blood, just like that pointy-eared first officer of yours. I can’t contaminate them.”

“You know Spock isn’t my first officer. I don’t have my name on him.”

Anyway,” the CMO resumed harshly. “You’re the only person I can contaminate on this mission, so if you’re afraid for yourself…”

“You know that’s not what I mean. I don’t mind catching a cold. But if you’re not well, you’d better stay and have some rest. You’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately.”

“Don’t even try that that with me, Jim. I know you don’t like being around sick people. But you insisted that I come with you, so I’m coping with you.”

Kirk sighed. He wasn’t afraid of contagion, and accepted his predicament with philosophy when he was sick, but when his friends were ill, he stupidly panicked. Phobias were hard to control.

“Jim, you chose me for a reason. Please let me be judge of my own health condition. Last I heard, I was the chief medical officer.”

The young man shrugged and smiled. If Bones wanted to play it this way…

“Okay, so hurry up, because last I heard, I was the captain.”

The physician obviously wanted to reply, but a vicious sneeze snuck on him and he turned hastily to muffle it in his upraised shoulder.

“Damn cold! Ready when you are.”

Spock was waiting for them in the transporter room, hands clasped behind the back, stiff and with not a hair out of place – perfectly Vulcan as always. He had come back aboard the Enterprise, when no one expected him anymore, and Jim had been sincerely pleased. The way they had managed to sneak up on the Narada, progressing as if they had always known and understood each other… He wondered how they could have been merging so deeply without even touching (a pat on the shoulder and, well, a murder attempt by choking had been their only physical contacts so far). And under three other emergency circumstances, more recently, this union had proven very efficient, as if they were two parts of the same entity, moving in a perfect ballet which left very few chances for their opponents.

But with regards to friendship… Well… Spock wasn’t really gifted for human emotions. He barely talked about himself and acted as he didn’t want to link with anyone on the ship, Nyota being the exception disproving the rule. Jim had tried to break the ice, but the Vulcan seemed reluctant to let himself go even for a game of chess, as if showing any sign of anything more or less personal towards the captain (or any human) was not possible, even if he had been wishing to do so (which Kirk doubted). Yet, the young man knew there was more in Spock than met the eyes and he was not going to give up so easily.

He had imagined that a common mission could bring the three of them together, or, at least, calm things down between his old friend and the commander. Jim knew they had a lot in common, more than they wanted to admit – the scientific curiosity, the respect for life, the professionalism, and so many other things – but when they had to interact, they were just like two opposite magnets, irresistibly repelling each other.

The first officer greeted them with a short nod and raised an eyebrow (this expression was now his trademark and it had already earned him a nickname – among others, less kind – from the chief medical officer) when McCoy sneezed harshly in his elbow before getting up on the transporter pad.

“Dammit!”

He fumbled in his pocket, took a handkerchief and blew his nose, glaring at Spock, apparently ready to fire if the Vulcan dared to comment on the matter. But he did not (and Jim was grateful for it – the last thing he needed now was a verbal fight between those two before they had even left the ship), and the Enterprise dissolved in front of their eyes when Scotty cheerfully activated the transporter pad.

Chapter Text

“Can’t you consider putting an end to this war? You could trade knowledge instead of blood. The Federation would be glad to help you rebuilding your civilisation in exchange of a peace treaty signed by both your people and the Glosians.”

Probius, the tall humanoid sitting in front of Jim sighed and shook his head (twice the size and volume of a human’s).  Bones wondered how it could stay put on their frail neck and shoulders; he would have liked to run a full examination of the Ponantians’ surprising anatomy, but maybe it wasn’t a good time to show medical curiosity.

“Regrettably, we cannot sign this treaty, captain Kirk. The Glosians have already violated such a pact twice, and we suffered very heavy casualties due to our own naivety. The city you can see around you has miraculously been spared, but our land is devastated. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that we desperately need your technological help.”

“Yes, to build weapons”, the chief medical officer muttered.

Fortunately, no one heard him, except Spock (no wonder, with those ears!), who shot him the Vulcan death glare (even McCoy, who wasn’t easily impressed, had to admit it was a bit scary). Leonard grinned and resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the first officer. Despite his complaints, he was happy to be here with his friend – he would have felt slightly offended if Jim had beamed down without his best friend at his side for his first mission – but Spock’s presence disturbed him.

Bones didn’t know how to react with the first officer. The humans he met usually understood that he was quick-tempered, pessimistic and sarcastic, but quite easy to reach, despite his fits of anger, bitterness and irony. He had naïvely thought Spock would understand it too, but trying to elicit an emotional response from the Vulcan was just like endeavouring to melt the great Isontis glacier on Delta Vega. McCoy had always been ill-at-ease with cold and neutral reactions, and when he was ill-at-ease, he overdid it, frustrated with the impassibility of his superior. He didn’t hate him, no, not really, but he irrationally wanted to push him to the limit, to see if he could force him to open, and the fact that he still had not managed after two months of chaotic collaboration irritated him even more. He wondered if Spock was able to answer with something other than blank looks, robotic orders and Starfleet regulation quotes.

For now, however, Spock was the least of his concerns (as, to be honest, was this shitty treaty): he really felt under the weather and wanted the meeting to end so that he could breathe some fresh air. The room they were in was very stuffy – apparently copper-based species needed a warm environment, if he could rely on the mad temperature the Vulcan kept in his quarters – and he started to feel suffocated. Maybe he had a mild fever, too. Maybe this stupid cold was taking his toll on him. It served him right for not taking any medicine before leaving the ship. He had an unfortunate tendency, despite being a medical man, to forget the need of his own body.

“Well, Captain, can I suggest that we leave this discussion for now?” Probius asked. “We would be honoured to welcome us in our hospital, Doctor McCoy. We have to face some complicated cases and your opinion on the matter would help us greatly. As for you, Mister Spock, if you would be so kind as to to follow Tanala, she will be happy to show you the laboratories where you can collect mineral and vegetal specimens from our planet, as it was planned.”

Spock stood up and turned towards the Ponantian called Tanala; he bowed in front of her, as their custom asked, and answered politely:

“Thank you for your courtesy.”

McCoy rose as well. He was about to thank their hosts when an unexpected and most unwanted coughing fit interrupted him. When he eventually recovered and straightened up after what felt an eternity, he was feeling slightly light-headed and more than embarrassed.

“Excuse me”, he muttered, burying his nose into his handkerchief.

“Are you unwell, Dr McCoy?” Probius’ voice was carrying a genuine concern.

“Just a bit of a cold”, the physician answered, blushing. “I’m sorry.”

“I hope you will recover adequately”, Probius said politely. “And now, captain, if you please, we could resume our discussions while I show you the very heart of our civilisation, our Cerulean Palace?”

“I would be honoured”, Jim answered with the appropriate gesture.

McCoy realised he had not replied nor bowed in front of his own guide, a short (at least for this species, since he was much taller than the three humans) and smiling young humanoid who was waiting next to him.

“Shall we go, Doctor?”

“Of course. Thank you”, he hastily added, and inclined his head before muffling a violent double sneeze in his sleeve.

He would be glad when this day would be over. The discussion had lasted at least three mortal hours and it was obvious they were not going to get the treaty signed. The two planets had been at war for too long and an unexperienced Starfleet captain was obviously not going to succeed where the more eminent leaders of the fleet had failed. As much as Bones trusted his friend’s skills, in particular his ability to lead people, he knew that diplomacy wasn’t exactly his strong point. Jim could talk with Probius for months and years, the Ponantiens would never change their minds. The only thing they wanted from the Federation were weapons.

Bones briefly wondered if Admiral Marcus, who wasn’t exactly pleased that such a young and unexperienced man had been trusted with high responsibilities, had not given him that specific mission in order to take him back the command of the Enterprise when Jim would fail.

When he reached those thoughts, he concluded he was being paranoid. What politicians wanted was none of his business. His business was to heal, and to take care of people, and to ease the suffering. Nothing more.

He followed the Ponantian along a maze of corridors and suddenly, they emerged outside, where a soft breeze was blowing. Bones could not help but open his eyes wide in front of such a beautiful sight. A magnificent terraced garden stretched to infinity, with huge and beautiful trees and flower-like monuments here and there that were in harmony with the vegetal life. Very far away, he could see a rock wall which seemed to surround the city.

“It’s wonderful”, McCoy said with sincerity.

“Thank you. Our people love gardens. After the Long War, we had to take refuge here. We concentrated in this city the very soul of our civilization. The jungle which surrounds our city is wild and dangerous, but we managed to domesticate nature here and we are safe thanks to our great wall and force field. No wild animal has ever dared to approach the city, and no one can reach us from the sky.

“Everything seems to be here only for eyes’ pleasure”, Bones marvelled. “So far, I have seen nothing ugly or even… practical.”

“You are correct, Dr McCoy. All our technical installations are under the ground or, for the bigger ones, such as the force field generator or our energetic production, in specific parts of the jungle. We can go there with little shuttles, since we do not master teleportation, as you well know.”

Bones swallowed painfully (his throat started to hurt badly) and managed to suppress a new bout of cough.

“I see. You are aesthetes.”

“Exactly. Everything here is beautiful and has to be preserved. That’s why we cannot afford to lose the war against Glosia.”

“Maybe war isn’t necessary”, Bones tried, knowing it was a waste of time. “Maybe you could have peace with your neighbours.”

“I’m afraid it’s impossible. You see, we are two very small planets in this system, and our resources are running out. We need control over the other three planets, where life is impossible but where we can find energy and raw material which are necessary to the development of our civilisation. We cannot lose ground.”

“The problem is that you’re doing that at the cost of the destruction of another civilization!” the CMO protested. “Maybe you could exploit the potential of the other planets together with the Glosians instead of murdering each other? You know our captain will not give you our weapons, don’t you?”

He had spat those last words a bit more bitterly and tersely than expected. But, hell, he was a doctor. He saved lives. He hated those who wished to sabotage his work by torturing / killing their own kind (or any intelligent lifeform, for what mattered) with lame excuses…

“Yes, we had been told that your species could be very stubborn and idealistic at the same time”, the Ponantian commented.

Bones was taken aback by the coldness of his voice, which had been so friendly not thirty seconds ago. He wanted to apologise – What was he thinking, dammit? That was supposed to be a diplomatic mission! Maybe his fever was higher than he thought. – but as he opened his mouth to explain that he had said more than he meant, that he got carried away… he felt the sting of a hypo on his neck.

His last coherent thought was Dear Lord, why me?

Chapter Text

Spock repressed a sigh – a human weakness – and looked around.

The Ponantian he had just pinched on the neck was lying in his cell and there was no one to be seen in the corridor. The Vulcan easily slipped through the half-open door. He was free, but his abductors, just before throwing him into this cell, had taken his communicator, his tricorder and his phaser. In these conditions, how could he alert the Enterprise or do anything useful? Given the fact that the Ponantians did not use technology (they considered it ‘an error of taste’) unless it was absolutely necessary, he knew he would not find a computer that could have helped him locating the captain or Dr McCoy.

Which meant he had to leave it all to chance, as he could not use logic. He found that thought displeasing and immediately dismissed it.

When he had felt the sharp sting on his neck on his way to the laboratory, his first and instinctive reaction had been to fight. Surprised by his strength, the four Ponantians that had attacked him from behind had administered him another dose of sedative. In the meantime, Spock had thought that resistance would lead him nowhere for now. Had he tried to fight back again, they would have called for backups and locked him in a cell with maximum security, so he just pretended to fall asleep. The sedative, intended for humans, did not work on him – he was a bit nauseous, but it was a small price to pay for freedom. Then he had let Ponantians drag him into this cell, where he had waited, lying still on the ground, the moment they would check on him, and when someone had entered the room and bent over his motionless body, he just had to raise his right arm and practice the Vulcan pinch.

Now he wondered what was the right thing to do. 2.25 hours had gone by and Spock could only assume that the captain and Dr McCoy had been imprisoned in the same way he had been, for there was no logic in killing them. Obviously, they were held as hostages and would be released in exchange for the weapons the captain was not willing to give to the Ponantians. As long as they needed them, they would let them live. However, Spock had no idea where the other two humans had been imprisoned.

He took a deep breath and went out of his own cell, closing the door behind him and hanging the heavy key at the bronze nail planted on the wall to that end. The corridor was marked out with massive doors and similar keys hung up at similar nails. The Vulcan walked silently through the empty corridors, listening at every wooden door, trying to pick up any sound, but not daring to call for his crewmates.

When he reached the ninth door, his trained ears picked up the faint sound of a sneeze through the thick wooden panel. Unexpectedly, Dr McCoy’s carelessness for his own health had been helpful. Had Spock been the captain, he certainly would have not authorized a sick man to beam down for a diplomatic mission, but in this case James Kirk’s thoughtlessness had proven useful. Spock took down the key (the Ponantians really lacked caution by leaving their prison corridors without any watch) and inserted it in the keyhole. The creaking resulting from the process resounded in the empty corridor, but fortunately it didn’t draw anyone’s attention.

The physician was sitting on a bench of stone – the only furniture in the room – and he raised his head when he heard the faint noise coming from the door. His eyes widened in surprise when he recognized the intruder. He took a deep breath, probably to express his astonishment, his relief or his gratitude (whatever the human was feeling at that moment, Spock could not tell), and immediately started to cough. The Vulcan entered the room, closed the door behind him and took a step forward while the CMO was desperately trying to regain control over his own body.

Spock had always been at the same time fascinated and disturbed (in a Vulcan logical way, of course) by the outward signs of mild illnesses the humans regularly had to deal with. Those physical proofs that a virus had entered their body was unknown to Vulcans, whose immune system protected them from those disadvantages. When he saw McCoy’s eyes fill with tears while he was still struggling with his coughing fit, Spock briefly wondered what he could do to help him, although he knew it was only a perfectly normal physiological reaction, the body fighting to expel the pathogen. In a gesture that seemed awkward even to him, he put a clumsy hand on the physician’s shoulder. He did not know if the man needed comfort, but it sounded painful and Spock wanted his full attention for the explanation he was about to give him.

“Doctor, are you functioning adequately?”

McCoy, who had stopped coughing eventually, looked with astonishment at the hand on his shoulder, and the first officer removed it swiftly. Surely that was not the thing to do right now.

“Of course I am!” McCoy barked in a hoarse voice that pointed out the contrary. “Functioning adequately… I’m not a computer! Can’t you ask me if I’m well enough, as anybody would?”

“Doctor, I believe that is exactly what I asked you”, Spock answered, wondering why the chief medical officer always seemed to be offended by the Vulcan’s words.

“Were you imprisoned too? How did you manage to get out of your cell?”

“The Ponantians are not aware of the Vulcan nerve pinch”, Spock answered flatly – and he was surprised to see the man giggle. He had not intended to be sarcastic, had he? He had just stated a fact.

“You’re a resourceful man, Mister Spock”, McCoy said with a smile, jumping from irritation to cheerfulness without logic. “There’s more to you than meets the eyes. Okay, what do we do now?”

“I believe our priority is to find the captain.”

“He is in the room in front of me.”

“How can you be so sure of it?”

“Have you been drugged too?”

“Yes, but the sedative had no effect on me. Apparently they do not know anything about Vulcan physiology.”

“That’s good for us. I’ve been drugged and I woke up about an hour ago. Jim was yelling at the Ponantians. I’ll skip the details, I’m sure you can imagine what kind of insults he used.”

No, Spock did not imagine any of them, but as such technicalities were not important, he did not ask for explanations.

“And suddenly, he stopped.” McCoy’s voice was worried. “I had my ear pinned against the door and I’m sure I heard the sound of Jim’s door opening. A few seconds later, he stopped yelling.”

“You mean they silenced him.”

“Yes.”

“But you do not know how.”

“How could I possibly know it? I have been imprisoned here for more than two hours!”

A harsh sneeze interrupted him and Spock took this opportunity to cut off his recriminations.

“Doctor, we have to flee from those cells and from the planet.”

The man’s eyelids fluttered and he shivered, ready for a sneeze that never came. Then he sniffed and rubbed his nose with annoyance.

“What’s your plan, Spock? I’m all ears!”

“From what I heard from our jailers when they thought I was asleep, they contacted the Enterprise and threatened our lives in exchange for the ship’s weapons. I don’t know what was Mr. Sulu’s exact answer, but they gave him twenty-four hours to comply.”

“What prevents Sulu from beaming down with an emergency team?”

Spock shook his head negatively.

“A 10.6 magnitude force field protects the whole sub-continent from intruders and fire. No one can beam down or up unless this force field is shut down...”

“… and the force field control panels are outside the city”, McCoy said, to Spock’s great surprise.

“How do you know that, Doctor?”

“No machine nor technology must be visible in the city. The Ponantian who was supposed to pay with me a visit to the hospital told me this. The smallest machines are under the ground, the greatest outside the walls. Now that I think about it, he did talk about the force field and told me that the control panels were into the jungle, not far from here.”

“That is an interesting information.”

McCoy winced.

“Yes, but not very reassuring, if it means we have to go into that jungle. Because I imagine your plan is to cut that force field –”

Another bout of coughing prevented the human from finishing his sentence. This time, Spock did not move, waiting for the fit to subside.

“Yes, it is indeed, doctor. But you do not seem in a fit condition to –”

The CMO cut him off abruptly.

“Spock, what do you suppose they’ll do in twenty-four hours if Sulu doesn’t give them the weapons they asked for?”

“They will kill one of us, probably, to show their determination”, the first officer answer calmly.

That was the logical answer, after all. And if he took the idea a bit further, he had to add that McCoy would be the first on the list, having the lowest rank. But he was almost sure that such an hypothesis would not ease the chief medical officer’s anger, so he decided to stop talking.

“Yeah. I agree. And I’d rather be out of here when it happens. My health condition is absolutely not dangerous. I suggest we get moving now.”

Spock hesitated. Logically, he should leave Dr McCoy behind, for he would delay them in the jungle. He was not at the best of his health and could compromise their mission. On the other hand…

On the other hand, it was always better to have a doctor with you. And he could not let the man here to be executed.

“Do you need to sneeze? he asked. When we are in the corridor, we will have to be silent.”

He saw the anger lightening in the human’s eyes. Anticipating the CMO’s reaction, Spock once again put his hand on McCoy’s shoulder. It seemed to have a soothing effect or, at least, to puzzle the man enough to silent him. In both cases, the result was a positive one.

“Doctor, I do not mean that you are a burden”, he said, hoping he had understood correctly the man’s angry reaction. “But we do need to be silent if we want to succeed.”

“I don’t know when I’m gonna sneeze!” McCoy groused. “It’s quite unpredictable, you know.”

“Yes, I am well aware this is a very inconvenient reflex of your species.”

McCoy’s eyes widened.

“You mean you Vulcans don’t sneeze?”

“No, we do not.”

He seemed bewildered, but there was no time for anatomic comparisons.

“Doctor, we must hurry.”

The man nodded his agreement and stood up from the bench. No sound from the corridor. They crossed silently, took the key that was hanging at his place, opened the door and entered carefully in the room, ready to confront a Ponantian.

James Tiberius Kirk was here indeed, and alone in the room. But as soon as he saw his face, Spock knew something was wrong. Very wrong.

 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as the chief medical officer saw his friend’s red neck and face, the dilated pupils and the mad smile on his lips, he knew exactly how the Ponantians had silenced him an hour ago. He hastily closed the door behind them, because if he was not mistaken, Jim was not going to be discrete. That is, even less discrete than usual.

The Ponantians didn’t know much about Vulcan physiology, but they knew nothing either about James Tiberius Kirk’s strange reactions to almost every known product in the universe – even to mild sedatives. Bones was sure they had used a harmless sleeping drug to silence their prisoner, but Jim’s weird immune system had decided it was incredibly dangerous and his cells needed to fight back. Preferably neutralizing the captain’s few functioning neurons. Fortunately, there was no immediate danger for Jim (McCoy was more than pleased he didn’t have to handle an anaphylactic shock right now). For his immediate surroundings, however, it was a different matter.

The captain’s (scary) smile widened and he rushed towards the first officer.

“Hey, Spocky! How are you? I’m sooooo happy you found me at last! Let’s go fight the Panont… the Ponan… these bastards and get back to the ship! Right, Spocky? You’re with me, right?”

That was not exactly discrete, and no doubt the Vulcan was about to make some smart and logical comment about it, but Jim didn’t let him speak. Before he had time to react, the captain’s arms were already around him and he was hugging him, his head leaning on the first officer’s shoulder. He seemed delighted with the situation.

No need to say that Spock wasn’t. At all.

“Captain, what are you doing? We must be silent!” Spock hushed, trying to get rid of the strong embrace. Was there a small hint of panic in his voice? McCoy couldn’t tell but it was clearly not as neutral as usual.

“Oh, come on, my little Vulcan”, Jim chuckled. “It’s all right! Do you know I like you? You seem to believe I don’t, but I do like you. Really. We make a great, great team, don’t you think so?”

The physician saw Spock’s ears turn green, and if their situation had not been that critical, he would probably have started laughing hysterically. The sight of the stern and uptight first officer tenderly hugged by his friend was absolutely hilarious.

What was less funny was when the captain turned towards the chief medical officer, ready to fly into his arms. Bones tried to slip away, but the young man’s quickness and weight were too much for him and he stumbled while Jim held him tight, paralyzing his arms in an affectionate but suffocating embrace.

“Oh, Bones, don’t be jealous!” At this point, Leonard almost choked with his own saliva. Jealous? Of a living computer? “I love you! You know that, don’t you? Don’t you, Bones?” There was almost panic in Jim’s eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, love you too,” Bones mumbled, torn between embarrassment and amusement. “My God, what did they do to you? I’ve never seen you so… out of your mind.”

Jim started to giggle.

“Don’t know, but it’s fun.”

McCoy tried – to absolutely no effect – to turn towards the first officer.

“Spock, he said,” feeling an annoying tickle in his nose, “he must have been drugged with a heavy relaxant and… Jim, please, let me go!”

Leonard sniffed and tried to get free, but the young man continued laughing nervously and refused to release him until Spock grabbed the captain’s arms and forced him to step aside from the chief medical officer, who turned quickly and sneezed harshly in his cupped hands.

“Thank you, Spock. That was completely unhygienic.”

“I think this is not our main problem for the moment, doctor,” the Vulcan stated, directing his look toward Jim, firmly holding the captain’s hands in his to prevent him from doing stupid things again.

McCoy sighed.

“You’re right. What are we gonna do? He’s completely unpredictable. He could start singing in the middle of the corridor and not even realise the problem.”

“How long will it take for this product’s effect to wear off?”

“I don’t know. Could be minutes, could be hours. Jim tends to… react quite strongly to unknown medication.”

“Do you mean this could be the result of an allergy?” Spock asked, skilfully crushing Jim’s wrists in one of his hands and preventing him from moving with the other (Vulcans were strong, a fact for which McCoy was grateful: alone, he would never have managed to master the young man).

“Yeah, probably. He’s just… well, high.”

High, yes. And considering his current state, McCoy didn’t want to think about the way down – it should be epic, if he knew Jim well (and unfortunately, he did). Spock frowned at the word ‘high’ and surreptitiously looked up to the ceiling, but McCoy chose not to comment. He had other pressing issues on his mind. There was no time to tease the first officer for being utterly clueless in front of a human metaphor.

“We cannot leave the captain behind.”

The Vulcan’s blank voice irritated Bones, as it always did. Couldn’t he pretend, at least, to be worried by the captain’s condition or their critical situation?

“Of course we can’t!” he yelled, triggering another painful bout of cough. “Jim, can you be silent?”

The young man looked at him like a puppy dog.

“Yes, yes, of course I can,” he gasped. “Are we escaping?”

He seemed as excited as a six-years old boy on Christmas Eve, which wasn’t exactly reassuring. Spock released him, ready to do whatever would be needed to silent him, but the young man remained quiet, glancing at the first officer with defiance.

"Yes, we are,” the Vulcan answered. “We have been locked into the great wall surrounding the city. There are no windows, but I saw a stair when they dragged me in the cell. It must lead us to the edge of the wall. When we are out, we must find a way to leave the city in order to cut off the force field.”

“Spock, we have no weapon and no communicator,” Bones pointed out.

“I know, doctor”, the first officer answered calmly. “If you see a better option, please, feel free to share it.”

McCoy opened his mouth, but found nothing intelligent to answer. No, he didn’t have a better plan – Jim usually planned and he followed, but for now Jim was out of the equation, considering he was very busy trying to reach his nose with his tongue.

Which only left Pointed-ears and himself.

And his cold, which was being increasingly inconvenient. He was shivering despite of the heat and he could feel his heart pounding in his head.

Great.

“No, I don’t have anything to suggest.”

Spock insisted.

“Do you think my idea is preposterous? Do not hesitate in telling me so if it is your opinion. I do not want to force you to escape if you do not believe this is the right course of action. Maybe we have a better option that I did not see.”

McCoy looked at him suspiciously – the Vulcan had never been so… kind? to him. Was he being sarcastic? He seemed genuinely ready take into account what he would say, but…

“I am being sincere, doctor.” Leonard almost jumped, and suspiciously wondered to which extent that Vulcan telepathic voodoo needed physical contact. “I am aware that this plan is not flawless and certainly dangerous. You may reject it.”

“No, I can’t see any alternative, so let’s go. We have to leave this place as soon as possible. Jim, be silent, okay?”

The captain nodded eagerly, still chortling like a child but managing not to make too much noise.

They went off the room, Spock first, Jim and McCoy behind him, and carefully closed the door. The stair was exactly where the first officer had said, and they climbed silently until they reached the roof. No guard. Bones had not sneezed and Jim had remained silent. It seemed that luck was with them for once.

Then the CMO looked down and realised that the wall was at least 30 feet high, and surrounded by a river that seemed deep and cold.

“Okay, what do we do now?” He searched for a stair, a ladder, anything that could help them reaching the other side…

“WE JUMP!” Jim yelled happily. And the second after, before Spock or Bones could do anything, he had jumped indeed, feet first, like a child in a swimming pool.

McCoy, slack-jawed, watched him falling and landing in the river with a loud splash. Spock, next to him, didn’t allow his expression to betray anything of his supposedly non-existent feelings, but the physician could bet he was exasperated and ready to nerve-pinch their stupid and childish captain as soon as they would catch up with him – because, now, they didn’t have the choice, did they?

“I hate water,” he mumbled, and then remembered he was speaking to a Vulcan, whose planet had been 90% composed of warm and dry deserts, with no oceans.

Spock raised an eyebrow, and they both jumped.

The water was cold.

Chapter Text

Spock glanced at the chief medical officer, who was walking behind Jim on the small path they had found when they had come out the river. The man had refrained himself from shouting at the captain, which was a good thing. The noise would have most likely drawn the Ponantians’ attention. But Spock was convinced that if McCoy had made no rude remark, it was because he was freezing and too busy maintaining a semblance of control over his own body. Obviously, the cold water had not improved his illness and the Vulcan started to wonder whether it would not be better to stop now and try to build a fire.

He had forced his team mates to move away from the city, find solid and thick sticks which could be used as weapons and walk as quickly as they could, to put some distance between themselves and the Ponantians. It was very unlikely that their enemies would come into the jungle, as they seemed to be afraid of it, but it was still possible. But they had been walking for 2.42 hours and Doctor McCoy seemed exhausted. He had been coughing repeatedly during their walk, complaining now and then but holding tight, keeping the same fast pace without asking to slow down when it was obvious his only wish was to stop.

Spock considered for a moment their options. He decided that there was no point in continuing in those conditions.

“We should settle down here for the night,” he suggested, pointing out a sheltered clearing. “It will be dark in no more than two hours and we need to get dry.”

It was not really cold and the wind was not very strong, but the sensation of the breeze on their wet uniforms was less than pleasant. Jim smiled shyly but did not answer. He seemed, for some reason, to be afraid of his first officer. The fact that said first officer had dragged him out of the water without any kindness and then pushed him into the jungle, because he was pouting and refused to follow them, could explain his distrust. Spock hoped the captain would recover soon from the relaxant, because handling a ‘high’ (whatever it meant) James Tiberius Kirk was even more strenuous than following his (sometimes questionable) orders when he was in his normal state.

That was a human thought, he realised. Maybe he was tired too. Maybe he needed to rest too.

“This is the most wonderful sentence that has ever passed your lips, hobgoblin,” McCoy mumbled.

He sat on a rock, breathing heavily, and closed his eyes.

“Are you all right, doctor?” the Vulcan asked, noticing the shivering of the human’s body. He had chosen human words to phrase his concern and hoped Dr McCoy would notice it.

The CMO quickly turned and muffled a sneeze in his sleeve.

“It’d be a lie if I told you I’m perfectly fine,” he replied tersely. “But I’ll survive, thanks.”

A harsh coughing fit somehow mitigated the obvious sarcasm in his voice. Spock wisely chose not to answer and asked Jim to help him to find some dry wood for the fire. They were pacing up and down the clearing, picking up sticks, when suddenly the captain pointed an accusing finger at Dr McCoy:

“It’s not fair, he’s not helping us!”

“The doctor needs to rest,” the Vulcan answered, trying to sound severe – and apparently managing, because the young man retreated hastily and continued his job without a word.

“My God, you’re absolutely terrifying”, the physician sneered.

“The captain is not himself,” Spock answered defensively. “He behaves like a child and someone needs to talk to him like an adult.”

“Spock… it wasn’t a reproach. And he’s right, you know. I should be helping you.”

He sniffed again and stood up – and immediately stumbled, unsteady. Spock, who had foreseen this, quickly came up to the man and grabbed his arm.

“Sit down, Doctor.”

McCoy did not protest (that was in itself a clear sign of his exhaustion) and dropped back on the rock, shivering. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and buried his running nose in it.

- I’m sorry, this is completely disgusting.

Spock looked at the physician’s soaked handkerchief he had been using since the morning. Of course, the fall into the river didn’t improve anything.

“Take mine, doctor, it is still wet but perfectly clean.”

McCoy looked at the white cloth with a mix of envy and suspicion.

“Keep it, you may need it.”

“I certainly do not need a handkerchief, doctor. Vulcans are not prone to infectious illnesses.”

“Then why on Earth do you have a handkerchief?”

Spock wondered whether it was necessary to answer that they were not on Earth, but he decided against. He had already heard the expression from Nyota and, even if he did not understand the human need for metaphors, he acknowledged it.

“It is part of the uniform. I thought it might be useful one day, to clean off a wound for instance, but I assure you that I will not need it.”

The CMO took it and gave him a grateful and sheepish look.

“Thanks, Spock. I’m a nuisance, am I not?”

The half-Vulcan in him did not fully understand the human need to take the blame on themselves when the fault obviously did not belong to anybody, but it was a pleasant change from the grumpy and irritable officer he knew. He tried to answer with sincerity and once again let his hand on the physician’s shoulder for three seconds. Physical contact was not something he was comfortable with, but that was something he could do. His human side had the impression it would be useful this time.

“Do not torment yourself, doctor. You are not a nuisance, you are ill. This is hardly your fault.”

“I shouldn’t have come in the first place. I’ve been neglecting my own health and here’s the result. I’m sick and I’m a burden to my superiors.”

He shivered again. Spock had very little experience about illnesses but he could clearly see that the fever was urging the physician to say things he would never have admitted under normal circumstances. Before McCoy had time to continue his useless self-depreciation, Spock cut him off:

“Doctor, Vulcans have a word I find appropriate in our situation: Kaiidth. What is, is. You cannot change the past. Maybe you should think about what we can do now to improve our situation.”

Jim interfered noisily, throwing at their feet a great amount of wood.

“So, do we light this fire?”

Spock raised an eyebrow and McCoy chuckled. Even in a daze, the man could be really efficient when he decided to.

Two minutes later, the fire was lit, thanks to the first officer’s knowledge of the planet’s rocks – a reason why he wanted to settle in this clearing, which was not too far from the river and provided enough igniferous rock and wood to start a fire. The chief medical officer and the captain drew their hands closer to the heat and Spock allowed himself to relax a bit in front of the flames.

“This is heaven,” McCoy sighed. “I thought I’d never be warm again.”

The Vulcan could do nothing but to agree to this statement. Cold was one of the most unpleasant sensations he had ever experienced and he avoided it as much as he could. Living aboard the Enterprise and its constant 21°C was a minor discomfort and now he was used to it. But jumping in a freezing river was not exactly what he had in mind when they had escaped. And he could not help but wonder what would have happened if the captain had not done so. Had they hesitated in escaping, maybe they would have been taken prisoners again. One of them could have been executed as an example. They were cold, but they were free.

Kaiidth.

The silence that had fallen on the clearing was only troubled by the crackling of the fire. It was getting darker and the first stars started to appeared above their heads.

Spock heard the noise before the others and immediately put the stick he had chosen as a basic weapon into the fire. The creature was very silent, but his Vulcan ears could perceive its slow approach, behind the captain’s back.

“Doctor, remain silent and prepare to run,” he said blankly. “Jim, put your stick in the fire and don’t say a word.”

Puzzled, they complied without a word, which was surprising, but he did not have time to wonder about their sudden calm and obedience. Maybe they had felt the danger too.

“Spock, what is it?” the chief medical officer whispered.

He did not answer and chose to concentrate his energy into the fight that now seemed inevitable. Then he stood up slowly, avoiding any sudden move, his right hand holding tight the white-hot stick he was going to use as a primitive weapon against the creature. He could see it now. It looked like a panther, agile and feline, but with the skin of a rhinoceros, not as big but seemingly as powerful. A predator, ready to jump on its prey.

Maybe going through the jungle was not such a good idea after all.

Kaiidth.

Chapter Text

McCoy sighed, sneezed, swore, coughed and sighed again.

“Spock, for heaven’s sake, don’t be stubborn, let me have a look at your shoulder!”

“I am functioning adequately, Doctor, and I do not require medical assistance.”

“Oh please, Mr Logical, who’s the chief medical officer of the Enterprise? You? Or me?”

The Vulcan’s look clearly meant he didn’t trust McCoy’s skills as a doctor. Leonard stupidly felt hurt by this distrust he did not think he deserved. He was a good doctor, he was professional, and even if Spock didn’t like him, he should have acknowledged his abilities. Anyway, Vulcan stubbornness apart, there was no way he’d let a potential patient without care, no matter how obstinate (and, in this specific case, probable masochistic) he was. McCoy firmly pushed away Spock’s left hand that was trying to prevent him from approaching, and tried to remove the tattered uniform from the wound. The Vulcan quivered in pain (functioning adequately, in a pig’s eyes!), but said nothing.

“It’s not pretty,” McCoy mumbled. “I’m afraid this rhino-panther-thing claws were poisoned.”

Although the wound was (thank all the universe deities) not very deep, all around the skin was inflamed. An orange bodily fluid was oozing from it, mixing with the green blood. For the first time in his life, Leonard was happy he didn’t skip xenobiology when he was at the Academy, and grateful to his teachers. Thanks to them, he knew enough about Vulcan anatomy to be aware that such a reaction was necessary to discharge the toxins. Which was not exactly reassuring, but not as worrying as it could have been if he hadn’t known anything about Vulcan immune system.

“Let me try to clean it.” He tried to joke. “See, if you hadn’t given me your handkerchief, I could have used it.”

“I have a handkerchief,” Jim proposed with a generous smile.

The physician did not condescend to look at the item he was offering.

“Considering how many allergies you have and the number of times you blow your nose in this disgusting thing you dare call a handkerchief, I’m afraid it’s not an option. But thanks all the same,” he added hastily. Jim looked hurt, betrayed and on the verge of crying.

It really was time the sedative effects wore off.

Bones kneeled to the river and gently started to rub Spock’s wound with his hand. The wound wasn’t bleeding anymore, but he didn’t like the fierce inflammation of the skin.

The fight against the “rhinoceros-panther” had lasted less than five minutes, but it had been one of the longest minutes of McCoy’s life. He wasn’t exactly prepared for these kinds of adventures. Yes, he knew what laid ahead when he had enlisted in Starfleet, but he had never anticipated that much action. When the creature had approached, it had been so silent he didn’t even notice it. If Spock had not been here, surely Jim and himself would not be here anymore either.

The Vulcan had not hesitated a second before stepping in front of his two companions, holding the burning stick he had chosen carefully hours ago and put into the fire. The animal had growled, and suddenly jumped so high Bones had shouted and closed his eyes, but a Vulcan’s reflexes had nothing to do with those of a human. The panther’s fangs and claws had touched nothing but thin air. Then Spock had struck, swift and precise, and the creature had retreated with a growl before reporting his attention towards Bones and Jim.

McCoy, whose panic had risen to extreme level, was holding the wooden stick he’d picked up randomly while they were walking, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to fight efficiently. To his left, Jim seemed to have recovered some lucidity, but when the creature attacked, he was too slow to dodge the paw that aimed at him. However, Spock was even quicker: before the humans had time to say or do anything, he had rushed towards the panther and had rolled on the floor, arms and legs tangled with the animal’s limbs. McCoy had seen the claws tearing the Vulcan’s shoulder, and then the two sticks, Spock and the captain’s, in the same fluid movement, had pinned the creature to the ground.

McCoy really would have wanted to help, to do anything, but he had been unable to move. He had even forgotten how to breathe. And even now that everything was over and the creature dead, and that they were safe (at least, as safe as can be in this damned jungle) he could hardly refrain himself from trembling. He needed to do something – anything – and the only useful thing he could do was to heal the Vulcan. He cleaned the wound as softly as he could, forgetting his own fears, trying to get his breath back to normal. He rose and went for some plants he knew to be a powerful antiseptic and applied it on the first officer’s shoulder.

“That’s the best I can do for now. Okay, try to move your arm. That’s right. How do you feel?”

“Perfectly functional, doctor.” The Vulcan looked at him with a new respect. Bones felt a bit less useless. “May I ask what this plant is? I am not familiar with it.”

“It’s called thaleisidia”, McCoy answered trying to keep a new coughing fit at bay. “It helps cicatrisation and sanitizing the wound. Of course, it’s not as powerful as a good antiseptic hypo, but we’re lucky to have some here.”

He wasn’t able to continue his explanation: the cough had finally won over his will. He had the impression that his lungs, bronchia and trachea were on fire and he felt incredibly weak. All the more since his two companions were looking at him with concern. And Spock being concerned was a first. For the last months, McCoy had hoped to see a flicker of humanity on the Vulcan’s neutral and stern face. He should have been happy about this proof of emotion, but he felt terrible and didn’t have the courage to welcome the change.

“Bones, you’re shivering.”

Jim’s voice wasn’t back to normal, but is was less excited and childish than it had been during the last hours. The relaxant’s effect might be lessening. Maybe the adrenaline had helped, too.

“The captain is right, Doctor. You need some rest. Stay near the fire. I will stand guard during the night.”

“Spock,” the CMO protested (weakly), “you need to recover from your wound. I’ll stay awake.”

“Doctor, with all due respect, I am more fitted for this task.” For the first time since he’d known Spock, Bones understood he didn’t say it in order to humiliate the person he was talking to. He was stating an objective fact: even wounded, he remained stronger and more efficient than any human. “We cannot ask the captain, for he is still…” He hesitated and uttered the word with some perplexity. “… he is still ‘high’, and you are too ill to be watchful. My hearing faculties have not been impaired and I can easily remain two days without sleep.”

The physician knew the proverbial stamina the Vulcan had been granted with, he didn’t have any arguments and he felt so exhausted he could have fallen asleep anywhere. He thanked Spock and lied down on the ground, as close as he could to the fire. Immediately, Jim did the same.

“How are you feeling?” the young man whispered.

He sighed. He felt terrible. His head was pounding, he was unable to breathe correctly and the fever made him nauseous. Every muscle and every join in his body ached and trembled uncontrollably. He sneezed twice.

“I’m all right, don’t worry.”

The captain arched an eyebrow in a perfect imitation of their first officer.

“Do you really think I’m gonna believe you? You’re shivering,” he repeated. He seemed more preoccupied by his friend’s health than with the dangers of the jungle. Rely on Jim to have his priorities right.

“Well, I’m cold, if you want to know… Jim, what are you doing?”

The captain had come closer and was now holding him in a gentle and comforting embrace which had nothing to do with what he had done when they were back in the cell. It was a much more controlled gesture, but that didn’t prevent it from being extremely awkward.

“Come on, Bones, don’t make such a fuss, it’s only logical to share body heat. Don’t you agree, Spock?”

The first officer’s, who was looking at them from the rock he’d been sitting on, remained inscrutable, but Leonard could have sworn his eyes were smiling.

… Or he was more feverish than he thought and he was getting delirious. Yeah, that was way more probable.

“As long as I am not involved in your… cuddling, I will agree that sharing body heat in dire circumstances is logical indeed.”

Jim chuckled.

“You see? Even Spock’s okay with it.”

McCoy relaxed a bit. In fact, he was so cold he would have welcomed any warmth with gratitude. With the fire heating his back and his friend protecting him from the wind, he was feeling much better.

“Jim,” he protested weakly, “you’re not in your normal state. Tomorrow you’ll regret this.”

“Why should I?”

“Because you risk contagion? Because usually, you don’t really like to be around sick people? Because it’s weird? Pick any reason.”

Jim shrugged.

“For now, I’m all right with it. Why don’t you take advantage of it?”

Bones felt his mind drifting away and curled up in his friend’s arms. Jim was right. Maybe tomorrow he would be ashamed, but for now, this was warm and comforting…

“Eh, Spock!” he said, giggling. “You know you have a great bedside manner?”

The Vulcan didn’t answer, but he rose and put some wood into the fire, and that was the last thing Leonard saw before sinking into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Spock concentrated on the world around him, the crackling of the fire, the hoot of a distant bird of prey, a leave fallen from a tree. Thanks to his ability to control his mind, he had managed to remain completely oblivious of his own pain, but Dr McCoy was right, the animal’s claws were probably poisoned. Despite his will power, he could feel the paralysing sensation infiltrating in his muscle. Had he chosen to linger on this sensation, he probably would have felt the painful war his cells were fighting against the toxin induced by the creature’s claws. He had to divert his mind from it. Pain was a thing from the mind. And the mind could be controlled.

He suddenly heard a soft whimper and turned his head towards the two humans laying near the fire. At some point the captain had loosen his ‘logical’ embrace and turned on the other side, leaving the physician cold and shivering. Spock had fed the fire twice, trying to keep the physician warm, and he was about to do it again, when another moan escaped from McCoy’s lips.

The Vulcan stood, came closer and understood the man was having a nightmare – something he had never experienced personally, because the members of his species did not dream. For some seconds, he watched the human moving restlessly in his sleep and noticed the thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. The experience seemed to be quite distressful.

“Dr McCoy?” Spock whispered, softly shaking his shoulder.

The CMO blinked and almost immediately turned away to sneeze in his elbow.

“ What is it, Spock? Is there a problem?” he asked with a thick sniffle.

“I am sorry to wake you up. You seemed… distraught in your sleep, and I thought you would prefer…”

He was not sure how to end his sentence, and his mind was distracted by the unnatural heat emanating from McCoy’s body (approximately 1.1°C higher than three hours ago, when Spock had touched the Doctor’s shoulder).

“Oh. Well, thank you. It wasn’t pleasant indeed.”

He frowned and shivered, as if he remembered a distressing part of his nightmare.

“How do you feel, Doctor?” Spock asked. “You are obviously running a fever and…”

“Oh, please, tell me something I don’t know!” McCoy sniffed again, sat near the fire and buried his nose in the handkerchief the first officer had offered him. Then, noticing that Spock was still looking at him, he added with a sigh: “It’s all right, Spock, don’t look at me like that, I’m not dying, it’s just a cold. Or the flu,” he added after a moment of reflexion. “But it’s nothing to worry about. Don’t tell me you’re worried?”

Slightly offended by the sarcasm, the Vulcan straightened.

“Doctor, you know that I am immune to this kind of human emotions.”

“Of course,” McCoy answered with a grin.

He came closer to the fire and Spock noticed the shuddering had not lessened.

“Can I… help you in any way?” he asked.

The physician looked at him with defiance, as if there was a trap somewhere.

“What? Wanna cuddle me too? No, thanks.”

The first officer raised an eyebrow. Had he been human, he would have sighed, but, being Vulcan, he did not let his frustration show in any way. He could not help but wonder why this human always had to bicker and banter. Why could not they have a real conversation? This question had been in Spock’s mind since the first day they had met and he was only beginning to understand and accept the fact that he would probably never get any answer, precisely bevause Doctor McCoy and himself could not have a real conversation.

“Cuddling would be illogical, doctor, as my inner temperature is far less elevated than yours, therefore would provide no comfort to you.”

“Oh, sure, you’d be more useful if we were lost in a burning desert and dying from the heat. Have you noticed that copper-blood species are always colder than iron-blood species? I think you Vulcans are the lowest of all. Don’t you find fascinating…” Spock could have sworn McCoy had winked at him. “…that there are so many species all around the universe, and that each and every one of them is different in its characteristics – and yet, humanoids can understand each other and bond and even have children…”

As if he suddenly remembered he had one of these children in front of him, the doctor gave the Vulcan an apologetic look.

“Don’t misunderstand me, Spock, it’s a great thing. Mixing species is obviously a great thing, biologically and culturally speaking.”

Spock was surprised by the burning conviction he had perceived in McCoy’s voice, and even more surprised to find himself entirely agreeing with the chief medical officer, for the first time since they have met. He glanced at the human and noticed the teeth chattering.

“Doctor, maybe I could…” He stopped, uncertain about what he should say or do now. “I cannot and am unwilling to share my inexistent body heat, but we have other ways, on Vulcan…”

He cut off as realisation hit him. On Vulcan? Vulcan did not exist anymore. And would never exist again. He found himself breathing slowly to chase the horror of the vision which had haunted him every day since the destruction of his native planet. McCoy was watching him with a sympathetic look.

“I never told you, because it’s not the kind of thing I say easily, even more when I have to say it to you, but I’m sorry for your loss, Spock. I grieve with thee. Tushah nash-veh k’du,” he finally added softly. Then he laughed uncomfortably. “I know three sentences in Vulcan and that one is one of them. I hope I did not say anything… inappropriate.”

The words were very quiet but genuine. The first officer, surprised that the physician knew the Vulcan ritual sentence, nodded in thank.

“I acknowledge and appreciate your sympathy, Doctor. As I said, we have ways of… comforting each other, when an accident occurs, or in case of an injury. I could alleviate your symptoms, even if I do not understand them entirely.”

“Oh. And how would you do that? A mind-meld?”

Once again, Spock could not help but feel surprised. Very few humans were aware of his species’ specificities. Very few humans took an interest in Vulcan culture.

“Are you familiar with mind-melds, Doctor?” he asked, curious to know where he had learned about them.

Shaken with a violent coughing fit, McCoy could not answer.

“Are you sure this is a mere rhinovirus?”

The physician shrugged.

“A bronchitis maybe”, he rasped. “Anyway, to answer your question, I’ve read about mind-melds. I read everything I can about the species I am in charge with aboard the ship, you know. I’m not completely stupid.”

“I never said you were,” Spock protested.

But he had to admit he was favourably impressed. He had never met a medical officer who had bothered reading that much about his species.

“Nevertheless, it was not a full mind-meld I was suggesting, but merely a relaxation technique. It means that I will not have access to your mind, if that is what you fear.”

“I must confess I’m ill-at-ease with it, yeah. I’m puzzled by this whole telepathy business: can you read people’s mind just by touching them?”

“If there is a skin-to-skin contact, I can indeed,” Spock answered. “My mental shields alleviate the connexion, but that is one of the reasons I would rather avoid any physical contact. It makes my interaction with humans, who do not know how to protect their minds from the intrusion, easier for me. But if I am prepared, I could help you empty your mind and fall asleep. No telepathy would be involved. I assure you it works with humans and it has proved quite efficient. Of course it would not remove the symptoms but…”

“You did it with Nyota, didn’t you?”

The Vulcan was surprised with the physician’s perceptiveness. He should reconsider everything he thought about Doctor McCoy, now that he could have a civilized relationship with him. Maybe sick humans were easier to handle? Anyway, he much preferred this McCoy, who was curious and empathetic, over the McCoy he knew, who was sarcastic and irritable.

“Yes. Twice.” That was the most personal thing he was able to say. He certainly was not going to provide the man with more details. “Would you like to try?”

The physician started coughing again.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the fever talking, but yeah, sure, if you think you can make me feel better.” He closed his eyes and turned his head rather suddenly to the side. The sneeze was particularly strong and it surely hurt, because the CMO winced and took a shuddering deep breathe. “I can’t see how it could worsen things.”

Spock raised his left hand – the right one being incapacitated for the moment – and gently applied his fingers on the man’s face. Immediately, Dr McCoy tensed and stiffened, but the Vulcan remained perfectly still, trying not to intrude too harshly into the human’s thoughts and feelings. He just poured the idea of rest, and calm, and comfort, into the physician’s mind. It was a bit more difficult than it had been for Nyota, but not as hard as he would have thought.

“How do you do that?” the CMO slurred, already half asleep but resisting to Spock’s influence.

“Do not resist, Doctor. Do not try to understand. Just relax and let yourself go.”

Miraculously, he complied. The second after, he was asleep, and the Vulcan knew there would be no more nightmares for the rest of the night.

Spock allowed himself a half-smile before feeding the fire with some more wood.

Maybe, after all, he could finally get used to the human concept of friendship.

Chapter Text

When Jim woke up, the first thing he felt was his heart pounding in his head. Second, the awful taste in his mouth. Third, the churning of his stomach.

He opened his eyes and blinked, unable to remember what had happened or why he was here.

Where was he, by the way?

“How are you feeling, captain?”

Spock’s voice startled him and he jumped awake, moaning as the pain became stronger in his head. He had to concentrate intensely not to vomit.

“Could you whisper?” he moaned (which was quite undignified, but he couldn’t help). “I don’t know exactly what happened yesterday, but what I’m sure of is that my body doesn’t agree with 99% of the events.”

“Believe me, it could have been much worse, considering your unsurpassed talent for getting yourself and others into trouble.”

Jim turned his head towards McCoy, who was sitting on a flat rock near the river. He forgot every preoccupation he had since now when he saw his friend’s sickly complexion and dark circles under the eyes. He stared intensely at the CMO while a familiar anguish crept through his guts and lungs and throat; he wanted to talk, to say something, but he didn’t manage. Typical. Bones shook his head with a smile that could be sad, or frustrated, or bored.

“I’m not in tip top shape, but I’m gonna be okay, Jim, don’t worry. Imagine someone forced me to jump into a freezing river.”

“The water was not freezing, Doctor,” Spock corrected. “The temperature…”

“Oh, sorry for the inaccuracy, hobgoblin. Next time, I’ll make sure to bring a thermometer. Or is it that you found it warm?”

Jim winced. Now he remembered. The river. The jungle. The fire. The creature.

He remembered everything.

He blushed. Did he really hug Spock? Did he really fall asleep spooning Bones? Did he tell his teammates he loved them?

“Oh, my God, I’m sorry. I… I’m so sorry, I wasn’t myself yesterday. I don’t know what… I mean, it’s…”

McCoy chuckled and started coughing again. Jim tried to explain the numbness he had felt the day before, but he couldn’t think straight and he stammered on the words. He wanted to be miles away from his crewmates, first because he was ashamed of his behaviour (yes, yes, he really hugged Spock, yes, he spooned Bones, and yes, he told both of the men he loved them), second because he couldn’t stand when people were sick around him.

“Jim,” McCoy eventually said, fighting the coughing fit, “it’s all right. I’m all right, Spock’s all right, and, what’s more surprising, you are, so stop worrying and breathe, okay?”

Spock’s brow furrowed like a question mark. He didn’t understand what the problem was. Hell, Jim didn’t understand it either. He just knew that being around sick people paralysed him. It was physical, it was a gut reaction and he had absolutely no control over it, no matter how many times he tried to rationalize his fear, how many times he repeated over and over again how illogical and crippling his behaviour was. He could feel his heartbeat getting faster and faster, his ragged breathing, his hands shaking…

But not now. Not in those circumstances. Even when he wasn’t on his ship – his ship! – he was the captain. He had to take decisions. He had to face the situation. He had been relying on his teammates because he was incapacitated by the drug, but it was over now. He needed to regain control of his body and mind.

He stood up and swayed.

“You all right, Jim?” McCoy asked when he saw he was moving as fast as a rheumatic turtle.

“My head is killing me and I feel I’m going to vomit, but apart from this, everything’s great,” Jim answered with a calmness that surprised even himself. “Spock, I didn’t even thank you for protecting us yesterday evening. How’s your shoulder?”

The Vulcan cocked his head and answered blankly:

“I can use my left arm, captain.”

McCoy immediately headed to the first officer:

“Dammit, Spock! Couldn’t you tell me…”

He looked at the wound and shook his head, biting his lips. Jim could say that it wasn’t pretty – and he wasn’t the doctor here. The cut was infected and judging by the colour of the skin – an inflamed green – it seemed that the poison was spreading in the first officer’s arm.

Really, they made quite a team today.

“We do not have time for this, Doctor,” Spock said firmly, moving Bones’ hand apart. “We are not far from the force field and we need to cut it off.”

“Wait! How do you know where the force field is?” Jim asked. “Did I miss something yesterday?”

The look from his two crewmates obviously meant that he had missed a lot of things.

“I have seen a map of the planet on the Enterprise,” the Vulcan stated. “I did not know what the constructions in the jungle were, but as the doctor told me, it has to be the electronic devices that are too vast or high to remain unseen in the city. The biggest is not far from here. Logically, it must be the force field.”

“You… saw a map of the planet and you memorized it?” Jim could hardly believe it.

“Affirmative.”

“And yesterday, when you dragged us through the jungle, you knew where you were leading us?”

“Affirmative.”

“Do you also know far we are from the force field?”

“I would estimate five kilometres. Not more than six.”

“You’re creepy, Spock, you know it?” Bones asked. He seemed as astonished as the captain was.

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow.

“Creepy, but useful,” Jim added with a smile. “You are amazing. How much time do we have left?”

“Seven hours point forty-two.”

“That’s creepy too,” McCoy mumbled before sneezing harshly into the handkerchief Spock had given him. “And then people wonder why I call you a green-blooded computer…”

“Thank you for the compliment, Doctor,” Spock answered dryly. Jim wondered if he was being intentionally funny or if Bones’ sarcasm was lost on him. Something had changed between those two, but he couldn’t place it.

It seemed that Spock had picked some edible plants before the two humans awoke (in fact, it seemed that the Vulcan didn’t sleep at all, but he wasn’t in the mood for discussing this point) and Jim forced himself to eat some. Leonard didn’t manage a swallow and when the Vulcan advised him to eat (in a much gentler way than he was accustomed to), the CMO answered politely that he just couldn’t contemplate eating because he was nauseous. They didn’t even banter or fight or anything.

“I already told you, Spock, I just can’t eat for now.”

“Doctor, allow me to insist. You did not eat yesterday either.”

“Because you slept last night? Spock, I appreciate the… offer, and I wanted to thank you for helping me sleep yesterday evening, but you really should take care of your own health rather than worrying about mine. I promise I’m not going to collapse. I am… functioning adequately,” Bones added with a genuine smile.

The captain could have bet that Spock’s lips had slightly moved. That was a first. Jim wondered vaguely whether he had fallen into a parallel universe in which it would be logical for Spock to “help McCoy sleep”, and for McCoy to thank him heartily for it.

Yes, Jim had certainly missed a lot.

However, there was no time to wonder about the obvious improvement between his CMO and his Vulcan first officer.

They finally got moving, not as quickly and not as silently as he would have hope, but he couldn’t blame the chief medical officer for the muffled cough or sneezes that erupted from him from time to time. They had been walking with some difficulty through the very dense vegetation for about an hour and a half, when suddenly Spock froze.

“What is it, Spock?” Jim asked in a whisper.

He really, really hoped it wasn’t another freaking creature, because incapacitated as they were, he didn’t believe they could confront it.

“Captain, can’t you see the building?”

He was pointing at something behind the green curtain of trees and bushes, but Jim couldn’t see a thing.

“I’m afraid my human eyes aren’t as efficient as yours, but it doesn’t matter. What do you suggest we do now?”

Spock was looking at Bones with what could have been mistaken for worry if Vulcans were able to feel such emotions, Jim thought – and then he understood that he was evaluating the physician’s level of stamina, and probably his stealth ability in the present moment.

“Doctor,” the first officer said slowly, “I mean no offense, but as we cannot be sure that you will be silent, I think you should remain here while the captain and myself…”

“It’s out of the question,” Jim cut him off. “We do not part ways, it’s too dangerous here. We’re not leaving anyone behind.”

And certainly not Bones, he thought.

The Vulcan stiffened, but answered nothing.

“He’s got a point, Jim,” Bones said weakly. “I won’t be of any use and…”

“The three of us are incapacitated in a way or another. The only way to get through it is to stay together. You two never agree. Why does the first time have to be now?”

He wanted to add Why against me? but he managed to keep his childish and petty complaints for himself.

“I don’t want to endanger you,” McCoy explained.

“And I don’t want you to face another dangerous creature on your own. Spock, I don’t know what’s the more logical thing to do, and I don’t care, okay? We. Do. Not. Part. Ways.”

“You are the captain,” the Vulcan answered – and his voice was icy cold. “What is your plan to cut off the force field?”

“I think I’ve got an idea…”

Chapter Text

For some seconds, Bones wondered when and if he had ever heard a plan as stupid as the one Jim had just submitted to them.

The answer was no.

He also wondered if the relaxant the Ponantians had injected him had lightened the captain’s head. He had a close look at his friend – determined look, pupils back to normal, measured gestures… No, Jim wasn’t under the drug’s influence anymore. He was just being his usual self, completely reckless and unaware of the danger.

A quick look towards Spock seemed to concur that the first officer agreed with the CMO’s analysis (but he probably had long stopped to wonder about Jim’s state of mind and decided he was only behaving illogically under all circumstances). That was a big first. But of course, he would not disown his superior twice in less than ten minutes, so he remained still and silent, disapproval written on every inch of his face and body.

It was really funny how the Vulcan managed to show his supposedly non-existent feelings with such a blank expression.

“I’m sure they think we are dead,” the young man explained when he saw his plan wasn’t as successful as he expected. “The Ponantians never come into the jungle, they use small shuttles to go from a place to another because they fear whatever lives here. With good reason,” he added with a concerned glance towards Spock’s shoulder. McCoy was concerned too; the wound was purulent and needed to be cleaned as soon as possible. “They obviously assume we are dead. They will be relieved to see us, considering our presence allow them to resume negotiations with the Enterprise. I’m sure they won’t even think we’re planning anything if we surrender. And if we show weakness, they will drop their guard. This building isn’t that big, there shouldn’t be much guards, they don’t expect any attack, from us or from anybody else. They don’t know we’re aware of the force field – Hell, I wasn’t aware of it two hours ago!”

McCoy sighed, massaging his temples. Jumping into the lion’s den seeped foolish and even a bit suicidal, but he couldn’t imagine a better alternative. He couldn’t imagine any alternative at all, to be honest. He was feeling more and more dizzy. He had slept suspiciously well and was a bit ill-at-ease at the idea he was in debt with Spock (God knows how he would have felt today if the Vulcan had not used his telepathic skills to help him). But the symptoms had struck back at him during their walk towards the force field and he was wondering how long he’d manage before collapsing.

He was glad that they didn’t choose a furtive approach, because he wouldn’t have been unable to stifle the last one if his life depended on it. The captain exchanged a look with his first officer, and Bones felt at the same time irritated and touched that they seemed to worry for him.

He sneezed twice into his upraised shoulder. When he opened his eyes, swallowing the nausea, he noticed that his two companions were watching at him. He would happily have done without this embarrassing attention.

Suddenly, without prior warning, it started raining.

No, pouring.

Bones wondered what he had done to deserve such bad luck.

“Just what we needed”, he mumbled, sniffling quite miserably.

“I believe, doctor, that this violent rain is precisely the opposite of what we need.”

The physician repressed an urge to laugh, knowing that such a reaction would probably destroy whatever seemed to have timidly appeared between himself and the first officer. Trust, maybe?

“Sarcasm, Spock, sarcasm. You’ll manage to understand it with the time, don’t worry.”

The rain intensified, soaking their uniforms that had been so hard to get dry last night. Bones coughed, shivered and realised with utter dismay he’d better sit down now if he didn’t want to collapse on his way to the building. A cold hand – well, cold in comparison with his own feverish skin – grabbed his right and a very cold hand did the same on the left side.

“See what I mean, Spock?” Jim asked tersely. “We can’t stay here, under the rain, and wait for something to happen. Bones’s not well, your shoulder worries me and has to be taken care of, the quicker the better. And I’m going to throw up any minute now. I mean, I have controlled my stomach, but… whatever they injected me with, my body doesn’t like it. Believe me or not, I’d prefer to throw up on a Ponantian rather than on you.”

“Believe me or not, I’d prefer it too”, Bones agreed.

He didn’t understand how his friend was able to joke in a moment like this, but he was grateful for that gift. He was sure Spock repressed himself from rolling his eyes and sighing at the sight of this human silliness.

The first officer nodded curtly, and they moved to the building.

Jim didn’t disappoint them and did, in fact, vomit on the feet of the first sentinel they saw. McCoy noticed distractedly that the Ponantians didn’t wear shoes. Well, too bad for the poor guy.

It wasn’t very difficult for the three of them to appear weak and incapacitated – Jim had fallen on his knees, Spock was paler than usual and moved with difficulty and Leonard was coughing his lungs out.

The guard had called for backup as soon as he saw the three men, and two more Ponantians were running in their direction.

“We… surrender”, Jim croaked, panting. “My friend is wounded and I am ill. We need to…”

He collapsed, and had McCoy not known he was pretending, he would have rushed to help him. Two sentinels bent over his body.

Spock was surreptitiously getting closer to the third.

The poor bastard doesn’t stand a chance, Bones thought when he saw the Vulcan’s left hand raise and his fingers descend upon the Ponantian’s shoulder. He fell with a muffled sound. Spock turned towards another guard and nerve-pinched him in a split second while Jim was imprisoning the third’s arms.

A minute later, the three Ponantians were neutralised and gagged, and the three men had taken their weapons.

And – thank all known and unknown deities – they were safe from the rain.

Jim wiped his mouth and winced.

“Are you all right, captain?”

“Don’t worry, Spock, I’m feeling much better now. I think we’ve been discrete enough, since no one’s been shooting at us… Now we just have to search the place and hope we find the force field command panel.”

Bones shook his head. He was completely appalled by the complete absence of anticipation. He shot a desperate look at the Vulcan, who shrugged discretely. After all, what could they do? Neither him nor Spock had any convincing argument to prevent Jim from running into the danger.

They entered the building.

For some minutes, they walked silently on the corridor, under the green and red neon lights. The building seemed unoccupied, but all doors were locked. This time, there was no key hanging from an old nail: the electronic device that controlled the doors proved very complex and efficient. Of course, they didn’t dare to shoot, for fear of alerting guards or soldiers.

“All right”, Jim whispered after ten minutes of useless walking, “we have to find a Ponantian if we want to find that stupid panel.”

“Sir, I believe the Ponantians are about to find us”, Spock answered with a gesture towards the CMO, who was eventually losing the inner battle against his sinuses.

“Bones, no, not now!

McCoy knew his face was probably the most ridiculous ever, but he couldn’t help. He could feel the sneeze (more probably, considering the previous fits, the sneezes) build in his nose. He geared up and pressed his knuckles on his nostrils, while his breathing became irregular and his eyes closed without his consent.

He managed to stifle the first three sneezes – pinching his nose and incidentally risking a ruptured eardrum – but the fourth exploded and the sound reverberated in the empty corridor. Jim rolled his eyes and sighed. Spock raised his usual eyebrow but didn’t express his disapproval more openly in front of this typically human weakness.

“Sorry”, Leonard mumbled with a pitiful sniffle.

Why on Earth had he chosen to enlist in Starfleet?

He didn’t have time to consider this difficult question, because two Ponantians appeared at the corner of the corridor. Bones had hoped his last sneeze hadn’t drawn anyone’s attention, but of course it was too much to ask, and, as Spock was very fond of saying, there were no such things as miracles. The physician raised his weapon but he just couldn’t shoot. It was lethal, there was no possibility to set these things on stun and…

The Vulcan did not have his qualms and he fired first, aiming at their first enemy’s shoulder. The Ponantian, wounded, dropped his weapon. Jim tried to do the same, but his hand was shaking and he missed his target. He rolled on the floor and avoided the humanoid’s shot by a hair.

Bones still couldn’t manage to shoot, but the weapon was heavy and could be used in another way: he aimed at their enemy’s head and threw the gun. Knocked out, the Ponantian stumbled – and Spock just had to nerve-pinch him.

“Wow. Bones, that was great.”

Jim turned towards the sentinel who was lying on the floor, blue blood dripping from his shoulder:

“A shout, a gesture, a whisper, and we will not hesitate to pull the trigger. You will silently lead us to the force field control. I hope I will not have to repeat my warning.”

The Ponantian, apparently terrified, shook his head quite frantically. Kirk gave the first officer his best arrogant and exasperating smile.

“You see, Spock, my plan wasn’t that hopeless after all.”

Chapter Text

Honestly, although Bones and Spock seemed to strongly disagree with it, his plan was brilliant. Proof of this was the fact that they were now standing in front of the force field panel control, safely protected by an electronically shut steel door. Jim refrained himself from sticking out his tongue at his crewmates. It would not have been worthy of the great (and modest, of course) captain he was. The Ponantian who had led their way was now on the floor, silenced and knocked out by a well-administered nerve-pinch. It really is very useful, Jim thought. He couldn't hide the deep admiration he felt for his first officer. Without him, they wouldn't have left their cells in the first place. Spock really had to show him how to do that nerve-pinch-thing…

Spock's voice cut off his inner thoughts.

"Captain, I am disabling the force field. We should be able to communicate with the Enterprise from here. There must be a frequency Lieutenant Uhura will pick up. I do not doubt that she will locate and contact us in a short while."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, sir, that Lieutenant Uhura is obviously watching for all frequencies coming from Ponantis."

The tone meant 'my girlfriend is more than qualified for her job, don't you dare say the contrary' – and Jim didn't intend to disagree. Of course, Uhura was monitoring all frequencies from the planet. Of course, the woman was efficiency personified, he knew it better than anyone.

"I'll open a channel then", Jim answered, "but there are risks that the Ponantians may spot it and locate us. Be ready to fire."

Spock nodded curtly.

"Kirk to Enterprise. Come in. This is the captain speaking. Come in, Enterprise. Come…"

"Captain?"

Wow. Uhura wasn't just efficient, she was brilliant.

And dangerous, but that was another problem for another time. No wonder those two ended up together, Jim thought while Spock was taping away on the panel to free the city from the force field.

"Uhura, you are amazing. Tell Scotty to lock on these coordinates and to beam us up immediately."

"How many people, sir?" she asked with consumes professionalism, but there was a small crack in her voice.

"The three of us, lieutenant. Your boyfriend needs medical care, but he'll be all right."

"I need medical care too", Bones mumbled before sneezing again. "See?"

Jim chuckled. They didn't care about discretion anymore.

"Yeah, but it's less urgent than Spock's shoulder, I guess. Bless you, by the way."

"I am fully functional, Captain, and…"

"Yeah, I know, you're all right because you're Vulcan and Vulcans are invulnerable and all", the CMO cut him off. "Your right arm is completely paralyzed, but you're fully functional. Right. Sure."

The Vulcan didn't bite back, which was surprising. Normally, when McCoy talked, he immediately contradicted him – and vice-versa. On the other side of the line, Uhura huffed. Jim interpreted the sigh as half-amused, half-relieved.

"They didn't kill one another, Captain?"

Jim chuckled.

"Surprisingly enough, they didn't. They even managed to act almost civilly with one another. I can hardly believe it myself."

Jim expected a protest from one of the interested parties, but nothing came. A comfortable silence fell upon them. It was clear that something had happened the day before between those two, and Jim was curious to know what.

… But for now, they needed to get back to the ship.

One day out of the Enterprise and he already missed her. Sometimes it frightened him to see how quickly he had become accustomed to ruling the ship, as if he was meant for it.

He suddenly felt the familiar tingling sensation and the Ponantian building disappeared.

Ten seconds later, the three of them were safe aboard the ship and Scotty was welcoming them with his usual enthusiasm. McCoy let out three very loud sneezes and immediately yelled orders to the medical team Uhura had efficiently summoned in the transporter room:

"Nurse Chapel, prepare an antiseptic hypo – the one on the second shelf in the pharmacy, labelled "XS21". Don't get it wrong, it's the only that's fit for Vulcans, I've done the mixing myself. I'll also need material to clean a wound, and some anti-venom. I'm sorry, Spock", Bones added, turning towards the Vulcan. "I'll have to use it on you, but I'm afraid you it will make you nauseous. In my defence, I hadn't exactly planned that charming little trip all around Ponantis, and the fact that you'd have to fight a venomous panther. Jim, come with me too, I want to have a quick check on you. Sickbay, everyone!"

Jim knew protesting was useless but he had something more important to do right now.

"I'll be in sickbay in half an hour, Bones, I promise. But you know – strike when the iron is hot, and all. I need a discussion with our Ponantian friends. As soon as I'm finished with them, I swear you can fill me up with antihistamine."

"You all right, Captain?" Scotty seemed a bit worried. Kirk offered him a reassuring smile.

"Perfectly all right. Bones's just being a bit paranoiac, that's all…"

"I'm right here, Jim, you know?"

"Orders, Captain?" Scotty asked.

"Tell Sulu to hail the Ponantians on screen, I'll have a nice little chat with them. I'm sure they'll be positively delighted to hear from me."

The three of them walked together to the elevator. Spock was looking at Bones as if a second and maybe a third head had appeared on his neck.

"You have made an antiseptic fit for Vulcans?" he asked slowly.

"What?" McCoy was still inspecting the first officer's shoulder with suspiciousness, as they walked. "Oh, yes, because you'd have a strong reaction to what I give to humans – there is a chemical component your species is badly allergic to."

"But…"

"Spock, when it became obvious that healing my first officer was going to be much more problematic than anticipated because of his mixed heritage, of course I got prepared for it! I told you I'm not as stupid as you think. Deck five," he added as he walked into the elevator.

The Vulcan opened his mouth, but no sound came. Jim chuckled. Bones was about to say something, but a violent coughing fit prevented him to do so.

"Doctor, I believe that you should retire in your quarters, heal yourself and rest."

"To be honest, Spock, I didn't intend to run a marathon."

"He's right, Bones. You deal with Spock's problem, you check whatever you want with me and you go to bed."

"Yes, Mum. But if you're not in sickbay in half an hour, I'll come and fetch you on the bridge, and, believe me, you don't want me to hypo you in front of the crew."

The CMO and his patient left the elevator and the captain went on his way to the bridge.

The negotiations with the Ponantians lasted eight minutes and seventeen seconds: the time for Jim to threaten them with a formal complaint about how then had illegally imprisoned three official Federation representatives. The leader apologized profusely, promise to sign the peace treaty with the Glosians and ended up begging Jim to be magnanimous.

When the young captain arrived in sickbay right on time, the adrenaline rush was wearing off. Despite his recent 'diplomatic' success, Jim felt drained and a bit under the weather. He sat on a chair with a sigh. The relaxant the Ponantians had administered him still made him nauseous, he had chills and felt light-headed…

He had obviously dozed off, because he suddenly jumped awake when he felt the sharp sting of a hypo in his neck.

"Ouch! Bones, what…"

"Hey, calm down! While you were asleep, I patched up your first officer. He's as good as new."

Kirk looked as the Vulcan, whose shoulder was wrapped in a bandage and who seemed, indeed, in far better condition. He was standing near the door, hands clasped in his back, waiting for orders. Bones' tricorder was now whirling over the captain's sensitive head.

"As for you, Jimmy boy, you're all right too, your allergy wasn't really bad, compared to what it could have been. I mean, I know you and it's a miracle you're out of it with nothing more than a headache and a nausea. However, …"

Bones looked at the screen and bit his lips, obviously torn between amusement and embarrassment, maybe even guilt. Jim understood suddenly.

"Don't tell me you passed me your cold? Bones, If I'm sick, I swear I…"

"You what, Captain? I told you you were going to regret your 'logical cuddling' one way or another. What happened to 'I'm all right with it'? What happened to 'Bones, don't be jealous, I love you'?" Now Bones was being sarcastic, and Jim couldn't help but blush. God, he had said that – he really had said that to his best friend. He hadn't heard the end of it. "I told you that sharing body heat wasn't a good idea, but you didn't listen. It's no one's fault but your own."

Jim sighed loudly. He had deserved it.

"Okay, Spock, get out of here before we contaminate you!"

"I am immune to human viruses, Captain," was the polite answer.

"Of course you are, with that green-ice water you call blood," McCoy chuckled. But instead of uttering the usual stream of complaints about the incoherence of Vulcan anatomy, the physician gave Spock a pat on the forearm – a gesture he would certainly not have done two days ago.

"Doctor, the fact that my blood is not the same colour as yours pleases me no end. I believe that red is too… passionate for my species."

They both looked at the Vulcan in disbelief. Two days ago, Spock would certainly not have answered that.

"God, Spock, humour and self-mockery in the same sentence?" McCoy sneered, hand on his chest as if he was deeply shocked. "I don't know if I will ever recover from it."

Jim's heart expanded in his chest. Their first diplomatic mission, which seemed desperate two hours ago, had succeeded in ways he (and probably his superiors) couldn't have imagined. They had all managed to get out of the trap safe, if not entirely sound. And – more important – he didn't know what was going on between his first officer and his chief medical officer, yet it suspiciously looked like trust, and maybe even friendship.

He certainly wasn't going to complain. A cold was a small price to pay after all.