Spock completed his 211th lap next to the biobed. It was really much more than that, he was certain, but he’d lost count on numerous occasions.
Which disturbed him greatly.
Objectively, he realized he was acting highly illogical. He should be meditating, or resting, or helping Doctor McCoy determine what was afflicting himself and the captain.
But his brain didn’t seem to want to focus on anything productive.
Bringing a hand up, Spock rubbed at his temples in frustration and began his 212th pace towards the door. He’d had over three hours to attempt to control his emotions but had so far been unsuccessful. There was a heaviness in his chest and his mind that he recognized belatedly as sadness. The words his best friend had spewed in the corridor nagged at his attempts for stability, the way Jim had dropped to the floor and remained unresponsive since stabbed coldly at his heart, the uncertain territory they’d ventured into with whatever was affecting Jim snuffed out any flickers of hope.
They had rudimentary facts, puzzle pieces that didn’t seem to fit. No answers. No solutions. No way to fix what was going on.
Spock turned on his heel and stalked back towards the biobed. He’d completed yet another lap in his unrelenting pacing, but he was no closer to control.
He had first tried to categorize his emotions, order them neatly in a line as each one popped up. But quickly, Spock had given up on that plan, as they surged and swelled at varying intervals and with no rhyme or reason. Unable to keep track, anticipate, or properly process them all left him frustrated. It also left him ashamed, his inability to solidify his composure foreign and irksome.
Before meeting Jim, Spock had prided himself on his overt Vulcan-ness. He may have been half human, but he acted almost entirely Vulcan. Always disciplined, always calm and calculating. He immersed himself in the world of facts and figures, finding refuge amidst the certainties and unfailing ways of science. Numbers never lied. People did.
But then he’d been assigned to the Enterprise. And then he’d gotten James T. Kirk as his captain.
The comfortable routine of his ways unraveled inch by inch. With every interaction with Jim, Spock felt a new piece of his human side come to life, coaxed to the surface by a smile, a laugh, a touch. It should have scared him more than it did. He should have hated this surging of feelings. Yet…he didn’t. It felt right.
Days, weeks, months, years. All passing, Spock becoming a little more human each time.
Jim showed him the strength to be found in his emotions. Praised the unique outlook he brought with being both human and Vulcan. Their connection, their bond, ever deepening. Spock shouldn’t have been so comfortable showing Jim the feelings he usually tried so hard to ignore or suppress. But he’d realized that Jim was not someone he needed to hide from. His best friend made him feel seen, heard, valued. Never looked down on him for his background, never ridiculed him for his objectivity and detachment, as so many others had.
They’d become friends gradually, Jim wearing down Spock’s defenses with his cheeky grins and playful teasing. Chess games, shared meals, long talks about nothing in particular became their norm. And for the first time in a long time, Spock didn’t feel so alone.
Wherever Jim went, Spock was not far behind. They worked effortlessly as a team, a command relationship that was the envy of other Starfleet ships. Spock was proud of this. Proud of all the two accomplished together and the high performance of the Enterprise.
And then one day, one moment in particular that Spock would never forget. That changed everything.
Jim had walked him to his quarters across the hall after finishing another normal night of chess and conversation. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual. And then as Spock had opened his door, Jim had placed a hand on his upper arm. Physical touch was an agreed upon facet of their friendship; Jim was one of the few people that Spock didn’t mind having near him, or invading his personal space. But there was something swimming in Jim’s eyes that night, the goofy grin he was wearing, the warmth emanating from the friendly touch. It probably hadn't meant anything to Jim, but it had meant everything to Spock.
As Jim had said goodnight and gave his arm a squeeze, Spock realized something with astounding clarity: the undefinable emotion he’d been feeling for as long as he could remember, the emotion that had always been there since the moment he’d met Jim, was love.
Spock sighed. He’d lost count again.
Wearily, he sat on the edge of Jim’s biobed. His concern for the captain ensnared him, blue and soft and billowing. It was followed by a crushing wave of despair, pewter gray, cruelly staining the fabric of his mind, droplets disintegrating any shred of light. And then a fierce torrent of helpless anger, red and hot and blinding.
That thing inside Jim was poisoning him. And there was nothing he could do.
Spock could still feel the darkness, the unknown malice staining his memory. Its corruptive presence had been overwhelming when Jim had hit him. The touch had been brief in time, but profound in its conveyance. Long fingers traced the growing bruise on his cheek as Spock remembered sensing the evil coursing through Jim’s veins, the captain valiantly fighting but slowly weakening, losing. The thing corrupting his best friend was winning. It wanted to control, to multiply, to devour. Destroying species from the inside out. Extinguishing life with provoked violence until it was all that was left. Waiting for its next victim.
He should never have let the captain go off by himself.
He should have insisted he get checked out the minute they beamed back.
He should have realized sooner that something was horribly wrong.
What if delaying treatment negatively impacted Jim’s chances of survival?
What if he couldn’t determine what the “it” was?
What if it completely took over Jim and the man he knew was lost forever?
What if it killed him?
It would also kill you, Spock reminded himself.
But...it slowly dawned on him that he wasn’t feeling symptoms of any kind. No lightheadedness that had affected the captain, no uncontrollable rage or drive for violence. That was bewildering. Maybe it was slow acting. Or maybe it wasn’t passed through dermal contact…
Spock looked down at his hands in hopes of finding some clarity in an unsuspecting place. They were knitted stiffly in his lap, bouncing in conjunction with the nervous bobbing of his knee. That anxious tic hadn’t surfaced in quite some time.
A flash of color caught his gaze.
To his dismay he noticed a streak of burgundy saturating the front of his shirt. When he was holding the captain, Jim’s face must have brushed against his blue top. Another perfectly pristine uniform, tainted. It was sticky where it had leaked through to adhere the fabric to his skin, the drying liquid an uncomfortable sensation.
Unwittingly, he heard Jim’s cruel voice echoing in his ears.
Never fit in.
I thought Vulcans didn’t feel.
They felt more painful than any phaser blast or broken bone he’d ever experienced. Jim, who knew him better than anyone, took his deepest fears, the pillars of his self-loathing, and hurled them back at him with patronizing disgust. Knew exactly what to say to bring him to his knees. To tear at and crush his soul. They were words spat in anger, and the logical part of Spock knew Jim hadn't meant them. But he couldn’t deny how deeply they wounded him.
A low moan snapped Spock out of his stupor.
The Vulcan got to his feet and moved hesitantly towards the top of the bed. He watched Jim’s hands curl into the blanket, his head moving side to side as the captain fought his way back to consciousness.
“Jim?” Spock tried again, more quietly this time.
Confused, owlish eyes blinked up at him. It looked like the captain was about to say something when abruptly, a panicked expression filled his gaze.
Jim shot up into a seated position. He was gasping and coughing, sounding like he couldn’t catch his breath. Clawing desperately at his throat, Jim’s scared eyes found Spock’s. The vital monitor began to beep incessantly, loudly reinforcing that something was wrong.
Spock grabbed Jim’s shoulders and searched his face, hating the terrified expression he saw.
“Ca-can’t-” The captain gasped harshly. “N-no a-air!”
Jim grabbed at Spock frantically, his fear palpable. Loud gasps, bleak battles to take a breath, filled the isolation room. Spock released his hold on Jim and tried to pry the captain’s hands from their vice-like grip in his shirt.
“Jim. I need to go get Leonard. You have to let me go!”
But he wouldn’t.
If anything, he clutched Spock’s uniform even tighter. Jim was shaking his head and staring pleadingly at his best friend. There was something he had to say while he had the presence of mind to say it. Before whatever was inside of him clawed to the surface.
“I-it. Bl-blood. N-no.” A strangled gasp. “T-t-touch. Sp-sp-spread. K-ki-kills!”
The harsh coughs Jim dissolved into fearfully stabbed at Spock's heart. “Shh, Jim. Don’t try and speak. Just let me get-” But the rest of his words died in his throat.
The transformation was almost comical. Suddenly, the captain stilled, ceasing the unsuccessful efforts to catch his breath. He stopped fighting, stopped struggling. Everything just stopped.
Jim was staring past Spock, eyes unfocused. The abrupt change was unsettling, the newfound silence sounding foreign to Spock’s ears.
And then Jim slowly turned to face him.
Spock couldn’t suppress a shudder.
Those eyes that were usually so full of life and love, warm and gentle, now were distant, harsh, cruel. The darkness was once again in control.
“It” was back.
With a strength that surprised the Vulcan, Jim launched off the bed, using the hands that were tangled in Spock’s shirt to propel the two men roughly to the floor. The captain landed heavily on Spock, while Spock’s head collided sickeningly with the ground. Jim connected one punch, then another. A third painful blow to the face finally snapped Spock out of his shocked daze.
He ignored the dark waves that probed his mind from Jim’s touch and raised his arms to cover his face. Bucking his hips, Spock managed to shift Jim off balance enough to worm out from beneath him. He had an opening to deliver a blow of his own, but couldn’t bring himself to do so.
Jim’s eyes were wild, his teeth bared. The open hostility in his gaze didn’t make Spock nearly as scared as it should have. Instead, it just filled him with immeasurable sorrow.
This was not a man he knew or recognized. And he wouldn’t be able to do more than play defense. He couldn’t hit Jim if he tried.
Spock dodged a wild swing and got to his feet, putting some distance between him and the captain. He glanced towards the door. It would have been too much to hope for Bones to be walking in that very moment.
No such luck. Not that he believed in that sort of thing anyways.
A wave of dizziness surprising him, Spock shot out an arm towards the wall, his vision blurry. Damn. This was an unfortunate development, and one he hoped was merely a result of his rough landing on the sickbay floor and not a first sign that he’d been infected. It also significantly increased the likelihood of the fight swaying in Jim’s favor.
He shifted his eyes over towards the captain. Jim’s hands were raised, seeming like a boxer in a ring. There was no remorse or hesitation evident in his stance, no uncertainty in his dark gaze. He needed a plan, and quickly. Spock looked frantically around, before his eyes skated behind Jim and noticed the communicator positioned on the wall. If he could just get over there, keep Jim at a distance, he could contact Bones, or really anyone, for some help…
Slowly, he began to skirt the outside of the room, his back to the wall. Jim followed his movements, the two beginning a circular dance around the room. As Spock glanced towards the wall, assessing the distance between him and the communicator, Jim lunged.
The force of the movement slammed Spock into the wall before he crumpled to the floor, his mind fuzzy and gaze swimming. He should have seen the attack coming. The two had been in enough skirmishes together for the first officer to know exactly how Jim would fight, his movements and techniques, his strikes and retreats. As his back hit the ground, Spock recognized that his probable head injury and his uncontrolled emotional state were hampering his ability to focus.
A very unfortunate development.
Even as he felt Jim’s weight on him, effectively pinning him to the floor, Spock couldn’t bring himself to fight back. Which was entirely illogical.
His self-preservation, his instinct for survival, was absent. It failed under the overpowering urge to not harm Jim. Not hurt him no matter what. That thought surmounted all else, screaming louder than every impulse and reflex and drive. He looked into his best friend’s eyes, the cold fury unrecognizable, and he calmly rationalized that Jim might kill him.
He could feel Jim’s hands sliding around his throat and Spock still couldn’t believe what was happening. Jim wouldn’t do this. This wasn’t possible. But as the pressure tightened and he suddenly found it more difficult to breathe, he realized he was very, very afraid. And he probably should have fought back.
Because yes, Jim would never hurt him. But this wasn’t Jim.
He clawed at the hands on his throat, his vision already darkening around the edges, while his mind filled with the thoughts that often visited those near death. Snapshots of happy memories. His mother. His friends. Jim's laugh. Fears of the unknown. What happens after death? Who will remember me? Have I done all that I was meant to do? The bitter pill of regret. Never getting to see Jim smile again. No more shared moments, conversations, or new memories to make. Never telling him how much I love him.
He’ll take that secret to his grave.
Above the crashing deafness that accompanied his losing battle with consciousness, he thought he might have heard the protective seal of the room opening. He even thought he heard the chief medial officer’s familiar voice, gruff and temperamental as usual. In any other situation Bones’ obscene language would have him rolling his eyes and commenting on the unnecessary vulgarity. But he was otherwise preoccupied and barely registered his loud cry.