Spock raised an eyebrow as he was unceremoniously bumped out of the way by an ecstatic Leonard McCoy. Their newly-reverted captain grinned and scrambled up, meeting the physician halfway in a huge bear-hug. His CMO pounded him on the back, smile warm as Georgia sunshine.
"Bones, it's good to be back," Kirk said, blinking suspiciously into shoulder of the doctor's battle-torn blue scrubs.
McCoy leaned back, both hands on Kirk's shoulders, scrutinizing him carefully. "You're all right, Jim?"
"I feel…extremely tired, and shaky," the captain admitted, and indeed he was rather pale, and unsteady on his feet. "But I think that's to be expected…how I'm not dead, though, I have no idea. This room literally blew up in my face." He looked over McCoy's shoulder, meeting Spock's equally mystified gaze. "I don't understand exactly how I survived - there was just this huge blast of light that I assume was the disruptor exploding, and then everything sort of blurred for a while until I sat up and realized the hull had barely been breached. Why isn't there a hole the size of an asteroid in the side of my ship?"
"More importantly, why are you not in the same hypothetical condition, Captain," Spock replied with dry humor. "Your survival defies all logic, as does the condition of this room."
Kirk snapped back into attention with a jolt. "Any casualties?"
"Only the Klingon Bird of Prey, moored too close to our port bow as she was. Apparently the full blast of the explosion was funneled outward in both directions, both into the corridor here and outside the hull, where the Qeh was moored. No innocent casualties aboard the frigates or the Enterprise."
"Thanks to you tackling me when the bulkhead blew out, Spock," McCoy added. "My knees are still shaking, I tell you."
"That might also be due to the fact that a mind-fusion, however amicable, is physically draining upon even a Vulcan, and much more so upon a human. I am also aware, Doctor, that you did not take advantage of your time in Sickbay to tend to your own injuries at the Klingons' hands," Spock said pointedly.
He received a blue-eyed glare that could have corroded neutronium. "They worked you over pretty good too, y'pointy-eared hypocrite - don't think I didn't notice you deadened both our pain receptors when you were pokin' around in my head!"
Spock didn't even look the least bit repentant. "Doctor, I assure you, I did no 'poking.' The blame hardly lies with me, for being forced to navigate through such a disorderly and hopelessly chaotic mind."
"It was akin to piloting a hovercar through a crowded spaceport, blindfolded and with a disgruntled passenger constantly giving unwanted and entirely useless advice over one's navigational skills."
Glaring belligerently, McCoy poked him in the chest with a bony finger. "You callin' me a backseat driver?"
And yes, that was definitely the equivalent of a Vulcan eyeroll. "I believe, Doctor, the expression is, if the footwear fits…"
"Jim! Catch him, Spock!"
Having been watching this exchange with ever-widening eyes, their captain finally chose that moment to give vent to a faint, almost sob-like laugh of relief, before his knees buckled under him.
"Nngh," Kirk mumbled, blinking hazily up at them as he was hastily settled into a reclining position against the transporter pad. "Yeah, okay…I really don't feel well, Bones."
"And no wonder; you were in pretty bad shape after jumping just a few years - you just aged over a decade, and it's been a hectic day anyhow. Your body probably has no fuel left to burn, not to mention we haven't checked with the Insonti people yet to see if there are aftereffects of the final transformation. Just lie there and rest 'til we can get you to Sickbay, kid," McCoy murmured in a soothingly familiar tirade of medical nonsense.
One hazel eye slitted open again. "Not a kid anymore, Bones," Kirk said with a ghostly grin.
Spock rose to his feet, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like thank Surak, and stepped to the doors to ascertain the status of the rest of the corridor and call a Medical team, leaving their CMO to tend to their semi-conscious captain.
Kirk's eyes flickered open again as McCoy settled down beside him on the floor with a muffled grunt. "If Spock deadened your nerve receptors and then chopped that connection a few minutes ago, you have to not be in very good shape, Bones," he said softly.
"'M fine, Jim. Just too old for this kind of thing," was the testy response. "Chasin' a holy terror of a kid and then a teenager all over this flying tin can for four months, and then having to host an open house for the hobgoblin in my head to top off the whole shebang…I do not get paid enough for this."
The captain laughed, weakly flopping one arm over his eyes. "I can't imagine…none of you could possibly have gotten paid enough to deal with me as a child. I was a little hellion, as anyone in the family would tell you."
"That you were, Jim. Oh, and while we're on the subject - next time a First Contact wants you to participate in some 'harmless' alien ritual, do us all a favor and let Spock do it instead, will you?" McCoy groused, leaning his pounding head back wearily on the steps. "Four months of star-charting is enough to make the most dedicated crew antsy, cute kid captain or not."
Kirk turned his head, rolling slightly on his side. "You'd really rather have had a baby Vulcan running around telling crewmen five times his age how illogical they are?"
McCoy shuddered expressively, and the captain smiled, letting his eyes flutter closed again.
"By the way, Jim…how much do you remember?" the doctor asked curiously, with interest both medical (how do I treat a patient who's got two sets of overlapping memories?) and personal (please Lord Almighty, don't let him remember me changing his diapers or smacking his hand for gnawing on Scotty's communicator).
A soft exhalation was his only answer, indication that the man's body had finally called it quits and was temporarily shutting itself down after its abuse, and McCoy sighed, resigned to getting his explanations at a later time. He started in surprise as Kirk's head finally slumped over to rest on his shoulder, but didn't have the heart (or energy, actually) to move the exhausted captain.
Spock returned a moment later, followed closely by the welcome sight of Christine Chapel and a squad of familiar Medical personnel.
"Shut up," he warned, before the Vulcan could do more than raise an eyebrow at their position.
"I said nothing, Doctor," was the unruffled response.
"Yeah, maybe it's just echoes up in here," he muttered, tapping his temple with a finger.
"Doctor McCoy," Chapel was saying in his ear, and he blinked up at her worried face. "Doctor, I know you're in no condition to be working but I can't understand the readings I'm getting off the Captain."
"Lemme see," he sighed, and took the scanner from her. "Hmm. I think they're probably normal for the situation, Nurse. From what Mr. Spock and I could get from the Insonti people, the Regenratron literally rewrites the body at a cellular and nervous level; this just looks like his cells are regenerating at an abnormally fast rate - which fits with the nervous exhaustion and nutrient depletion."
"It also would explain the unidentifiable energy buildup in this room," Spock mused aloud, looking up at the single crack along the ceiling. "The amount of cellular energy being released at the atomic level due to his final retransformation must have shielded the Captain from the force of the disruptor explosion."
"That, or they built a failsafe we don't really understand into the device's processes to make sure that a kid wouldn't accidentally get himself killed because he was made more vulnerable due to the process," McCoy offered thoughtfully. "It'd make sense, given how much they care for their own children. Would kind of defeat the purpose to transform somebody, supposedly for their benefit, only to have the child then die of some obscure childhood illness or accident due to vulnerability."
"I shall contact the Insonti later this evening, Doctor, to see if our questions can be answered satisfactorily."
"You'll do no such thing, Mr. Spock," Chapel said sternly, ignoring the incredulous look she received in return. "Just how long were you going to try to hide the fact that you have fractured ribs, a bruised kidney, and what I'm only guessing is the clan matriarch of all migraine headaches?"
"One does not emerge from a Klingon interrogation unscathed, Nurse. And Doctor McCoy is solely to blame for the headache."
"Did I ask who was to blame, Mr. Spock?" the nurse returned grimly, extracting a hypospray from her kit with a dangerous rapidity. Spock eyed it with what amounted to Vulcan trepidation. While Christine had long since gotten over her crush on their gentle First Officer, and while the two had become actually quite good friends during their five-year mission, she also knew that Spock was still a bit unnerved by her, and she used that fact to her advantage on occasion.
"With our Chief Medical Officer also down for the count - stop trying to get up, Doctor McCoy, or so help me I will sedate you - you'll be taking orders from me for at least the next twelve hours. Would you like to walk down to Sickbay, or be carried down?"
"I take it there is no third option."
"Negative," she replied sweetly.
"I shall walk, in that case."
"Excellent. Doctor McCoy, you are not so much as moving a finger unless you want that floating rib of yours puncturing a lung!" she fairly bellowed, causing even the seasoned male nurse who was strapping Kirk down on a gurney to jump, startled.
"Nurse, I am Chief Medical Officer on this ship!" McCoy snarled, swatting away a brave young intern who was about to lose an eye trying to inject a painkiller into his superior's arm.
"With all due respect, Doctor McCoy, you are relieved," Chapel retorted. "Now hush, or I'll give you a hypo full of naptime before you can blink. Anya, get Captain Kirk to Sickbay and don't let any of the crew gawk at him along the way. They'll have plenty of time to see him once he's recovered."
"I see your impeccably gentle bedside manner has been successfully emulated by your nursing staff, Doctor," Spock observed with thinly - very thinly - veiled sarcasm.
"Trained by the best," Nurse Anya called mischievously over his shoulder, leading the way out of the room at the head of the unconscious captain's hover stretcher.
"I can get up by m'self, you young fool," said 'best' was currently snarling at his well-meaning interns, which in Spock's opinion did not make for a well-founded argument regarding the human's being a paragon of Medical expertise. "I was treatin' busted ribs b'fore y'all were teething, and don't you forget it!"
Chapel's worried eyes flicked over to him, both of them familiar enough with the physician to notice the deepening of his accent, indicating either extreme fatigue, stress, or physical pain - and most likely in this case, a combination of all three.
"Doctor McCoy -"
"Nurse," the human growled, swaying on his feet after being all but hauled up there by his two slightly-freaked-out interns. "We just had three hundred-odd people come back from being abducted by human traffickers. Each of them need a psych eval before they can come back on duty. I'm nowhere near the top of that list, and if you can't obey that order then you can darn well find someone who can!"
"Nurse Chapel," Spock said quietly, seeing the woman looked dangerously close to tears, "please allow me?"
Chapel nodded, worrying at her lower lip as McCoy braced himself with one hand against the wall, his face a sickly shade of gray, breathing shallow. "Sir, I've given him the strongest painkiller we have for humans, and his pain readings are still all over the charts, to say nothing of his mental state," she said in a quiet undertone. "I'm honestly more worried about what a psych eval would show for him than I am for the girls who were in the Orions' cells with me. The Klingons...didn't need their prisoners in top condition, like the Orions. They didn't need to be gentle."
Spock's lips tightened slightly, the only outward indication of the still-hidden turmoil roiling under the surface.
"I will see that he reaches Sickbay within the next five minutes, Nurse. Nonetheless," Spock continued ruefully, "however tactlessly stated, he is correct; the Enterprise must be within reasonable crew performance as soon as possible, especially the Engineering and Maintenance crews. The ship will be unable to travel until at least they are cleared to begin repairs, and we are not equipped nor supplied to keep seventy Orion prisoners aboard for longer than one week."
"Understood, sir. I'll begin immediately, but I'd recommend everyone on board get at least six hours' sleep before we put them to work. Otherwise we'll have people crashing halfway through beta shift tomorrow."
"A sound plan. Please implement it on my orders, as the Captain has been temporarily incapacitated, and ensure you are in the first off-duty shift once the ship has settled. We will need a functional Chief Medical Officer as soon as possible."
"Acknowledged. We'll have at least a skeleton crew ready for you before ship's night." Curt and all business, Christine gave her unsteady CMO one last worried look, before moving toward the transporter room doors, signaling the interns to precede her.
"Nurse," Spock reached after her, not physically touching, but giving the illusion of doing so.
Chapel glanced down at the aborted gesture, and her eyes softened. "Yes, Mr. Spock."
"Do not take his current state as a personal affront to either your expertise or your affection for him," the Vulcan said quietly. "He is…I believe the human term is, dealing - with more than just the physical effects of the last twelve hours."
She smiled, briefly, and inclined her head in graceful acknowledgment, ceding the field. "If I don't see you both in five minutes I'm sending a team after you with those special half-human meds that turn your stomach, I'm giving you fair warning, Commander," she called lightly over one shoulder as the doors closed behind her.
Spock's eyebrows slowly returned to their normal position as he turned to face off against a very surly Chief Medical Officer, who looked about three seconds from collapsing in an ungainly heap of stained black-and-blue upon the durasteel flooring.
"Nurse Chapel is most competent in her field; the evaluations will begin momentarily," he said directly, both a rebuke and a reassurance.
McCoy looked up at him, something like relief showing in the one eye which was not still swollen from his interrogation with the Klingons. "Good," he said, the tone clipped with masked pain. "Poor kids'll be lucky to not be seriously traumatized after this mess."
"The 'kids,' Doctor, are Starfleet officers, and were prepared to be but were never physically assaulted in any way, according to Nurse Chapel," was the quiet rejoinder.
"I'm hearin' a but in there somewhere…" the doctor declared suspiciously.
Spock stood before the slumped human, hands clasped behind his back to hide their unsteadiness at discussing the horror he would rather have lived a century without discovering. "Doctor…I cannot help you if you refuse to permit me," he finally said in barely disguised frustration.
McCoy squinted at him, one arm still wrapped protectively around his midsection. "What, you want to help Chapel run a bone-knitter on me?"
Spock took one uncontrolled step of frustrated reaction into the human's personal space, only then realizing just how low his controls and how non-existent his shattered mental shields were. This was a dangerous conversation to have while he was not in control. He inhaled in a slow breath, and exhaled slowly.
"Doctor," he repeated, in a more modulated tone. "How can you be so attuned to the psychological needs of your crew, who were only threatened with the worst kind of assault known to humanoids, and yet refuse to acknowledge that, to a Vulcan, you were subjected to a crime of precisely the same level?"
The human's eyes widened, obviously in shock, either at his openness or at the fact that the two were comparable.
"Yes, Doctor - as I said before, such a mental violation was in times past punishable by death in my culture, and is regarded as the ultimate horror: kae'at k'lasa, directly translated into your Standard as nothing less than Mind-Rape. The typical Vulcan reaction to such a crime is not dissimilar to how your people regard pedophilia; a despicable crime which violently and painfully takes from the innocent without their consent."
He paused, again to rein in his shattered controls at the idea that such a thing had happened, sometime on his watch. How had he permitted it, how had he not seen it happen? How had any of them not seen? They had much to answer for.
"It is unspeakable, Doctor - and after unlocking that mental room to me today you cannot expect to be able to force the door closed once again."
McCoy's eyes closed as he sagged against the wall, lowering his face into his shaking hands. "I don't want to deal with this right now, Spock," he pleaded quietly.
"I have no intention of forcing you to do so - to do anything," he specified quietly. "But you will concede Sickbay and its responsibilities to your staff, and you will take the proper time to recover; should you refuse, I will be forced to relieve you of duty on the record until you have."
Face still covered by his shaking hands, McCoy nodded silently.
"Allow me to escort you to Sickbay?" he asked, with a deal of hesitation. He was so out of his depth at this point that drowning would be a colossal metaphorical understatement.
"You may have to - get somebody t'help you," the doctor murmured, as his eyes finally rolled up in his head and he pitched forward without the aid of the nerve pinch Spock was fully prepared to administer had he met any more resistance. Vulcan strength notwithstanding, the physician's lined face showed he could be dropped on his head and probably not feel a thing at this point.
So fragile, these humans! So unable to protect themselves from a violation over which he, an innocent bystander, was still reeling in horror. So valiant, so trusting, even after such a betrayal. Not for the first time, he wondered if Vulcans truly were the stronger species.
"Don't tell Jim," was the slurred injunction he heard as he swung the unresisting human up in his arms, careful not to jostle the doctor's head.
Spock closed his eyes for a moment, safe from human observation of the very unVulcan gesture of frustration.
Where would he even begin, if he desired to discuss the matter with the Captain? Where would he begin when it was time for McCoy to discuss it? Where had this even happened, hidden so well that none, including he, had ever suspected such a horrific crime against one of their own?
And where could he find the being responsible for perpetrating the heinous act, so that he could see the chkariya met the modern equivalent of the unfortunately now-extinct death penalty for such a crime.