In retrospect, this was usually how these things began.
They were on a fairly routine mission: meeting with the residents of Patroclus-A to discuss further trading with the Federation, showcasing some of Starfleet’s pertinent discoveries to entice them further. There had been no reason for Kirk himself to beam down with the four other members of the mostly science officer landing party - Spock was fully capable of handling things on his own. But they had been in deep space for some two weeks now without docking, and that occasional urge to feel the earth beneath his feet had once again sprouted within him.
He had given his stern first officer the flimsy excuse of “wanting to ensure that diplomatic relations with the alien population went as planned”, and though he said nothing, he knew Spock saw right through him. The mild amusement in his expression always gave him away to Jim.
The meeting had gone without a hitch, as the citizens of Patroclus-A were a polite people, though slightly disconcerting due to their multiple appendages and lack of eyelids. They were adequately amazed by what the Federation had to offer, and Jim marked the mission as a success.
The landing party was returning now to the edge of the city - something about the energy source that the capital city used having a repulsive reaction with the technology used in the Enterprise’s transport system meant they had had to err on the side of caution. As such, they had been taken by shuttle and then left to walk the rest of the way to the outskirts of the city where they had first beamed down, which were blanketed in fields of flowers and crops.
Kirk was tired, as he knew his crew was. After they had showcased all of their technological advancements the rituals of this planet had demanded a social event, and as diplomats of the Federation they could hardly refuse. Jim had never been one to say no to a party.
Still, it made walking the two miles back afterward all the more exhausting. As captain he could hardly make such a paltry complaint, so he trudged on, only exchanging a wry look with Spock beside him. He simply raised an eyebrow in silent agreement, but Jim smiled sunnily back, then looked behind them to the rest of the landing party.
When he judged they had put enough distance between themselves and the city he came to a stop, his team halting with him. Chekov leaned on the shoulder of one of two of the science officers, pulling off his shoe to dump out the rocks and dirt that’d somehow collected in it and making a noise of distaste.
Kirk chuckled, “You’ll all be back to your quarters soon enough, Mr. Chekov, no need to worry. Good work today, people. Starfleet will be pleased to know that the Patrocl- ow !”
He had been reaching for his communicator at his hip while speaking, not looking, and had accidentally cut himself on the thorns of the plant beside him. He stepped away immediately, clutching his stinging finger up to his face to take stock of the damage.
Spock stepped forward, his attention to the plant that had been the culprit. It was deep purple with sharp electric green thorns, as tall as Spock himself and just as spindly. Kirk turned away, having seen enough, just as Spock pulled out his tricorder.
“Curious. I’m unfamiliar with this specimen, but it seems to be a different one altogether from the majority of the ones in this field. It does not flower in the same way, and seems to secrete some sort of substance in its thorns.” He glanced back up to Jim. “You had better make a visit to Medbay when we return to have it checked just in case, Captain.”
Kirk waved his other hand, lifting it to wipe the small bit of blood spilled onto the hem of his uniform shirt. “It’s just a small cut, Mr. Spock, nothing to concern Bones over. But I’ll put a bandaid on it when we get back if that’ll make you happy.”
“I see no reason why my emotional state should have anything to do with your treating your wound.” Spock said, and Kirk laughed.
“Alright, then.” He lifted up his communicator, still shaking his head, “Mr. Scott, five to beam up.”
Four ship days later, Jim had forgotten about the events entirely, and was taking the opportunity of a Friday evening off-duty to visit McCoy. He knew for a fact that his CMO had no pressing patients at the moment, and that meant the circumstances lined up perfectly for the rare occasion of Bones breaking out his hidden personal stash of alcohol for a good “bitchfest”, as the doctor liked to call it.
It had been some time since they had been able to spend time together without the stressors of an emergency, and it was nice to sit down and catch up with his old friend. No one could ever make him genuinely laugh like Bones could, and at last he felt the burden of being a starship captain drain away for a few hours. The alcohol definitely played a part as well - his friend had always stocked the good stuff.
McCoy was currently ranting about some error he had found in a journal article that could potentially risk the lives of non-human species being treated if allowed to continue to be printed. Or so he said. Jim was for the most part letting it just wash over him, returning his friend’s frustration even as he failed to understand at least half of the words being thrown around.
He rubbed aimlessly at the cut on his ring finger, scabbed over now but still noticeable. The bandaid had fallen off after two days while he was in the shower, and he hadn’t bothered to replace it.
“What was surprising was who of all people agreed with me on sending that strongly worded message to the journal.” When Jim stared at him blankly in the second he paused, Bones clapped his hands together. “Why, it was Spock! With how stubborn that bastard is with me it sometimes feels like if he’d disagree with me if I said the sky was blue! What color is it on Vulcan again anyway?”
“Red.” Jim’s ears had perked up on hearing his XO’s name. “When did Spock have time to agree with you about xenobiological malpractice?”
Bones took another swig before replying. “In the Mess today, while I was telling Chris Chapel about it. He and Uhura joined her and he was rude enough to interject in the middle with a question about specifics. Pointy-eared menace.”
Jim laughed, as the moniker was delivered with such distaste for a story about their friend agreeing with the doctor, and with behavior so decidedly Spockian . He kept laughing when Bones attempted to give him an unimpressed look that slipped due to the good spirits the Saurian spirits had put him in.
Suddenly, however, like a switch being flipped, his laughter morphed into a series of dry coughs, as if there was something lodged in his throat. His vision blurred somewhat as the fit continued, and he saw McCoy’s expression change as he moved around the desk and gave Kirk a few steady pats on the back to help.
With another particularly loud cough, something hurtled out of Jim’s mouth and into the hand he had pressed over it, finally bringing an end to his fit. He coughed perfunctorily a few more times before he was able to settle enough to take a drink, his throat clearing soon enough.
“Jim?” Bones’ voice was filled with concern. “What just happened?”
Kirk opened his fist to see what had been the cause of the unprecedented attack. In his hand were three long dark blue flower petals, with thin intricate red veins. They were small enough to all fit in the palm of his hand, and yet he could not conceive that they had been in his throat choking him not five seconds ago. They were utterly unfamiliar.
He looked up at Bones, who appeared to be just as shocked as he felt.
There was no escape from Medbay after that. McCoy immediately dragged him in for testing, the stern line to his mouth unyielding to Jim’s protests. He underwent the good doctor’s evaluation all while clutching the remaining one of the petals he had coughed up; the other two had been taken away for identification and study. It was nothing like he had ever seen before, and he knew in his gut it was alien somehow.
A half hour later, he was still confined to the biobed when McCoy returned to his side, the grim look in his face indicating that while he had results, Jim wouldn’t like them.
“Lay it on me, doctor.”
Bones held the PADD to his chest, his expression unbudging. “You really do have a knack for getting into the rarest and strangest trouble you can find, don’t you? And, damn it, Jim, but now it might just cost you your life.”
Kirk sat up. “It’s that serious?”
McCoy just hands him the PADD in silence, allowing him to read.
Hanahaki disease. a rare psychobiological illness usually passed on by exposure to the venom secreted in the thorns of the Sideritis plant. It affects those plagued with perceived one-sided love by growing the favorite flower of their object of affection within the patient’s lungs. Over time, this can result in loss of proper airflow, leading to death without intervention.
Kirk scanned the whole thing quickly, reading aloud, and when the words continued to not add up he reread it again. “The Sideritis plant… that wouldn’t happen to grow on Patroclus-A would it?”
“I don’t know, Jim, I’m a doctor not a botanist! That’s not what I’m preoccupied with here.”
Jim looked away, a hand pulling at his own hair in frustration. How had this happened? “One-sided love? Unrequited love?” he asked aloud.
“I don’t know who you gave out your heart to, Jim, but you’re going to have to ask for it back. This could have some serious consequences down the li-”
McCoy cut himself off just as Sulu entered, carrying, Kirk noticed, one of the other petals.
“Captain. Doctor McCoy. You asked me to identify this flower petal?” Sulu seemed bemused, but otherwise characteristically unfazed, “I’ve only seen one like it before, sir, in an arboretum, but I’m fairly sure about the assessment. You would do better to ask Mr. Spock, though.”
“What, why?” Kirk asked.
Sulu placed the blue petal on the desk, shrugging. “My assessment is that this petal is from a Favinit flower, which is native to the surface of Vulcan.”
No way. There was no way.
McCoy had turned to glare at Jim so quickly he was sure his neck could’ve snapped. He avoided it, although his jaw tightened as he came to the same conclusion. “Thank you, Mr. Sulu, that will be all.”
Sulu nodded. “Should I send Mr. Spock down to verify, sir?”
“No! No, that will not be necessary. In fact, there’s no real reason he has to know about this at all, right, Lieutenant?” Kirk smiled, trying not to look too badly like he was pleading.
“Uh, right, sir.” And with another baffled look, his helmsman left, leaving Jim with no choice but to face Bones.
“Listen, before you start, I’m sure it’s only a small cru-”
“That’s what this is all about?! That Vulcan first officer of yours that’s always walking around with so much stubborn, mechanical condescension he’s perpetually looking down his nose? Whose every other sentence ends with logic? That’s who you’ve caught a near-fatal disease over! This thing only works for strong feelings, Jim!”
Kirk held up his hands, “I didn’t choose for this to happen, Bones, did I? Any of it!”
“You never cease to amaze me sometimes.” Bones fell into the chair usually reserved for visitors beside Jim’s bed. “I mean, of all people. Spock!”
Jim felt the elbows he had been propping himself up on give way, and he dropped down into the pillow, his only view now the off-white of the sickbay’s ceiling, and a speck of blue paint so small it’d escaped detection.
It made sense. Honestly, what didn’t make sense was how much it made sense. Spock was his right hand man, his first officer - he spent almost every waking moment with him, and they worked seamlessly together as a result. But it was much more than that. Even with so many shifts spent in his presence, didn’t Jim always find himself pushing for more - under the pretense of relaying strategy, check-ins, chess matches? Didn’t he seek out Spock’s eyes in any situation, as if always wanting to know his thoughts, his point of view? Didn’t he get a specific sort of joy from eliciting a reaction from him, emotional or otherwise?
Wasn’t he aware from the first moment they were introduced of how attractive the Vulcan was, and how hard he had had to stamp down on forming an attachment beyond professional feelings right away? It was becoming apparent much too late that he hadn't been nearly as successful as he thought.
And with that came another disheartening revelation: his having this disease guaranteed that Spock did not feel the same.
“Spock.” He agreed to Bones, who looked at him like he had grown a pair of Andorian antennae.
“We’ve got to do something about this, Jim. Those flowers are a choking hazard at best, and a genuine cause for alarm at worst! They’ll begin growing inside you in earnest if we allow this to continue.”
“Is there a cure?”
Bones extended his hand for him to return the PADD and then pulled up the information once again. “Other than the other person falling in love with the victim in return and confirming it? Technically, yes.” Although this seemed like good news to Jim, the doctor’s eyebrows furrowed. “A complete surgical removal of the flowers.”
“That’s not all. Removing the flowers means the feelings completely go away too, but this is a pretty rare disease, so the effects haven’t been fully studied yet. There’s also a small but distinct chance that removing the flowers can lead to some of the memories of the other person disappearing, and in some cases losing them altogether.”
Jim considered it for a moment, a Spock-less memory, while looking at the petal in his hand. He then swung his legs over the biobed and stood up. McCoy’s expression was as sobered as he’d ever seen him.
“Then that’s that, isn’t it.”
“There’s no way Spock is going to be falling in love with me soon, and there’s about an equal chance in hell of me consenting to forgetting him.” Kirk pulled down his green shirt, righting his uniform so as to purposely not look at McCoy.
“This disease - it’s manageable isn’t it? I guess I’ll just have to try and be less lovesick in the future.”
Bones stood up too, aghast. “Jim, you can’t be serious.”
“I can’t give him up like this, Bones, you understand that. I refuse to. Better to have loved and lost, than… however the saying goes.”
“You could die!” McCoy exclaimed, as if it bore repeating.
Jim smiled, though even he knew it was obviously feigned. “Now where have I heard that before?” He turned to leave, needing to stew in his quarters alone about this. “Thanks for the brandy, Bones, I’ll see you later.”
And with that, he walked out of the Medbay with his head held high and overwhelmingly aware that his heart was precariously full.
The problem, as Kirk wished it would, did not simply go away.
It was like being aware of the condition had suddenly brought it to the forefront of his mind, as he slowly began to suffer those same coughing fits with increasing frequency, all resulting in a myriad of those same Vulcan petals.
Little, everyday occurrences now became choking hazards. During a routine visit to engineering with Scotty he had passed by Spock in the halls only to cough up a petal the second the man was out of earshot. A day later he was on the bridge when he found himself accidentally watching Spock lean over his station, and had to subsequently excuse himself to heave into a bag in the lift. The next morning he had woken up and immediately had to vomit, leaving an entire flower floating in the toilet, the cost of having a particularly vivid dream. The instances kept adding up, and though they were still relatively mild he could feel them worsening, making him weaker. Twice now, Bones had threatened to pull rank on him and demand that Jim be confined to sickbay.
To make matters worse, the crew was beginning to notice as well. Both Uhura and Chekov had been giving him worried looks, with Scotty even asking him in private if he were under the weather. He had been avoiding Sulu’s gaze, paranoid that the helmsman might make a connection between his coughing and the flower he’d been asked to assess. Kirk had thus far extricated himself from each of his friends with smiles and assurances, but he knew he couldn’t fight them off forever.
Unfortunately, Spock himself had picked up on his condition as well, and was of course the hardest to brush off. His first officer had noticed his coughing fits the most out of everyone, with how much time they spent together. In fact, Kirk hadn’t noticed just how attached at the hip they were until he was having to switch around certain shifts and deliberately reroute his path around the ship to avoid Spock, for dread of him glimpsing one of the petals and deducing what was going on immediately. Kirk wouldn’t put it past him, and it was currently his greatest fear.
For Spock to find out what Jim was now suffering from would bring a level of awkwardness that had never been present within their dynamic, and could potentially unbalance possibly the most important relationship Jim had. It was not just their status as a command team at stake here, but also the time and hard work he had put into building such a close friendship with Spock, to the point where he could not see himself without the Vulcan at his side.
To jeopardize all that with this deeply human weakness; for although he had never seen love as such, he could not imagine Spock would understand it in the same way. Before this, he had never cared to imagine what his reaction would be should the Vulcan find out about the feelings Jim harbored, but now it was all he could think about.
Would he be sympathetic, hiding his disgust behind his shields? Or would it be palpable all the same, with the flowers as physical proof that Jim was involving him in this. Spock would be outwardly courteous, of course, but Jim knew that the revelation would make him uncomfortable, not the least because he was his commanding officer. Any progress they had made over the course of the mission would be unraveled as Spock would rebuild the very shields Jim had broken down, and their friendship would never be the same as a result.
Jim could not allow that to happen.
But no matter how many times he told himself this, it was still hard to distance himself from Spock. In the week since his diagnosis he had declined the offer of a chess match twice now, feigning having to catch up on paperwork or a headache. Spock had nodded in understanding, but Jim knew how to read him and saw the rejected look in his eyes for what it was. Guilt rose in him even as he knew that the two and a half hours spent with Spock in his quarters, all traces of their positions shed, would either expose his flowery secret or break him down into a confession. Or both.
And yet as they both entered the lift after the end of a long shift, his first officer more stoic but intent than usual, he was helpless not to look at him and ache for his company.
“Spock,” he found himself saying, “Would you be up for a few games of chess tonight? It’s been some time since we last played, and I wouldn’t want you to get rusty.”
Spock’s eyebrow raised, just as he knew it would. He looked pleasantly surprised underneath his thin veneer of impassivity, even with Jim’s little zinger. “That would be amenable, Captain. I’ll join you in your quarters in one hour.”
The lift came to a stop, depositing him at the deck which held his labs, rather than their quarters. Jim hadn’t been aware of any pressing research Spock was conducting currently, which told him just how out of touch the two of them had become since this damnable disease of his had struck. The realization stung, even as he knew why he had put the necessary distance between them in the first place.
He smiled weakly, “I’ll see you then, Mr. Spock.”
Spock nodded, and when the lift closed mercifully behind him Jim immediately leaned back against the wall and let the flower that had rose from his throat free.
Later, he realized that he should have known better than to have tested his limits. Spock was across from him, his full attention and concentration on the board before him, and yet it was taking all that Jim had in him to remain seated and not run off to the bathroom.
Spock unfortunately had the tendency to glow in the uncluttered atmosphere of his quarters, and the dimmed lighting did Jim no favors where the other man’s high cheekbones and liquid brown eyes were concerned. Even with his intent focus - especially with his intent focus - on winning his third game tonight, he was transcendentally attractive.
Kirk swallowed hard against the buildup in his chest.
“Jim,” he heard, and he glanced back up to see Spock looking at him questioningly. “I have just made my move.”
“Oh sorry, Spock, I must’ve zoned out somewhat.” Jim concentrated on the chessboard for distraction, only to see that he was being robustly beaten in his mind’s absence. No matter, his focus had returned now, and he set about rebuilding his strategy and closing the gap that had appeared in his defenses.
“Jim, may I ask a question of a somewhat personal nature?” Spock broke through, in an uncharacteristically muted tone.
Kirk was on alert immediately, but replied regardless, “Yes, of course, anything.”
“I have noticed that for some days now, your behavior has been slightly amiss, and though your productivity and efficiency as Captain have not diminished in any way, you seem to be in lesser health than normal.”
Jim sighed. “This again? I’m fine, Spock, it’s nothing. Just a small bug, it’ll be over with soon enough.”
“I have observed that you have been struggling with symptoms of unease and distress for approximately 10.3 days now, which is not in accordance with any ‘bug’ that I am aware of.”
“I’m fi -”
“I merely wished to inquire after your well-being, not just as your closest subordinate, but as your friend. Your welfare is of great importance to me, and I would like you to be well, especially if there is something within my power I may do to help.”
Spock was not one for florid or frivolous exclamations of affection, and Jim had never once expected him to be. He had always been confident in their friendship and their bond as captain and first officer, and trusted it to get them through many dangerous situations just as he knew Spock did. Their actions had always spoken louder than words, and he could count on Spock to cut to the chase. But to hear Spock’s concern for him put so plainly made him alight with affection.
He could feel it rising within his throat, and hastily reached for the tea he had replicated for them a half hour previous. It was a Vulcan blend that Spock was particular to, but that he had privately realized early on was a somewhat acquired taste. Jim tried to give it a go during every chess match but each time found himself with a cup full of cold, oddly spicy tea - though he was grateful for it now, as he drained it with no other option, his face screwing in disgust.
Spock looked alarmed. “Captain, you are acting most strangely - should I call Doctor McCoy?”
Jim coughed, shaking his head through it. “No, no, that won’t be necessary. He is already informed of everything he needs to know about the situation, I promise you.”
“Captain, I must insist that-”
“Leave it, Spock.” Kirk said, steel in his voice coming through without intention.
Spock backed down immediately, and Jim felt a rush of guilt at his friend being chastised merely for looking out for him. He sighed.
“Listen. Dr. McCoy is fully aware of my symptoms and I have full confidence in his abilities. I will be fine, Spock, it’s nothing to worry yourself over.”
“I was not worried,” Spock claimed, even as his shoulders relaxed immediately at his words, “merely checking in with you regarding your well-being and your overall performance, as I said.”
Jim smiled, unbidden. “Is that so?”
Spock nodded. “Oh, yes. I have often observed that humans can have exceedingly fragile constitutions, but with the medical technologies now available I have no cause for real concern. And as you know, Vulcans are incapable of worrying.”
“Incapable, Mr. Spock! Now you may be going too far.”
“Hardly, Captain. Likewise, Vulcans are incapable of lying.” His eyebrow raised, and though his expression was totally innocent Jim knew he was being laughed at. He found he didn’t mind. This was his favorite version of Spock.
“Also,” Spock looked pointedly at him, before moving his queen a level, “I believe that is Checkmate.”
When Spock took his leave twenty minutes later, Jim was not surprised to find himself barely holding in three entirely intact and fully blossomed Favinit flowers.
An old mentor at the academy had once told him that just like misery, disaster bred company. They were on the heels of the Enterprise’s latest brush with danger - an unexpected severe ion storm they had just managed to escape without taking too much damage. And even then it had only been through a combination of impulsive and frankly reckless maneuvers by his crew that they had managed to come out intact.
Kirk was only coming off of the adrenaline high now, and as they made their way to engineering to assess the recovery process he could feel the exhaustion settling into his shoulders. He wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and lose himself to a heavy, deep sleep, but he blinked against the desire, hoping that from beside him Spock would not notice.
He wasn’t very lucky, as his ever-perceptive first officer cleared his throat. “Captain, may I suggest that after we meet with the engineering staff that you make a detour to your quarters? I am sure that now that the disturbance has passed there will be little else that would absolutely necessitate your presence on the bridge, and I am quite capable of overseeing our progress to Starbase 15.”
Jim snorted and came to a stop in the middle of the hallway. “Are you suggesting I skip out on the rest of my shift for some shut-eye, Mr. Spock?”
Spock’s brows furrowed, his expression completely innocent. “I do not believe I did, sir. I merely did not want you to find yourself superfluous, especially since a cursory analysis would indicate that your time would be better spent on recuperation from your recent condition.”
“Superfluous,” Jim repeated. “Is that so?”
Spock made a gesture not unlike a shrug, “Your absence would be felt, of course, but unless there is cause for alarm we would be quite adept for the remainder of Alpha shift.”
Jim could no longer keep a straight face and he laughed quietly, rubbing at his temple once before he shook his head. “There’s just one more hour left, Spock, I’m sure I’ll be able to hold out until then.” He patted Spock’s right arm and resumed walking.
“Of course, Captain.” Spock inclined his head and followed, looking for all the world as if he hadn’t said anything out of place.
Coming from anyone else, the offer to cut class and go to bed wasn’t out of place - but if Jim were to tell himself from two years ago that the austere and taciturn Vulcan at his side had been the one to suggest it, he would have scarcely believed it.
But in that time Jim had grown to know Spock much better, and he knew now that there was far more to him than met the eye. Spock was just as firm and prudent as he had first appeared, but it went deeper than that. He was quick on his feet and had a calculating mind that could keep up with any question Jim threw at him. He was deeply curious and equally as kind, going out of his way to help if he knew he could. He was proud and he was selfless and he kept Jim right, and at the end of the day he was as sensitive and caring as the rest of the crew, if one just knew how to read him.
He looked sidealong to him, to find his lips still twitched into that almost-smile of his that made Jim’s stomach turn with fondness.
“Spock-” he began, but a cough tore its way up his throat before he could even figure out what he was going to say.
The coughing did not stop, even as he saw Spock look at him with the high climbed eyebrows of alarm. “ Jim! ” He was aware suddenly that there was no denying the disease now, that he was now being finally forced to reckon with it, in full view of Spock himself no less. He leaned against the wall as another bout racks his body on the heels of the first. Tears were jumping into his eyes, eventually blurring his vision so badly he squeezed them shut, before his consciousness began to go out completely and made them close in earnest.
The last thing he saw was Spock’s hands, reaching toward him.
When he comes to he is on a biobed, McCoy above him checking his vitals. He suppressed a moan as another cough was startled out of him when he opened his mouth. He spits out a hated dark blue flower.
“Spock?” he mustered, trying to sit up, before coughing once again for a long stretch.
Bones let him finish, wincing. That gesture alone spoke volumes. “He’s here, just outside. I could hardly get him to leave. I didn’t let him see you because of all the flowers you keep spitting out, but I can’t make any promises that he didn’t already see some.”
Jim lay back down, his gaze to the ceiling. McCoy cleared his throat, looking away as well. “He carried you here, burst in with you unconscious but still sputtering, scaring me half to death. It was a fight just to demand some privacy.” He looked at the door, as if Spock were still out there.
Out came more blue petals, as Jim envisioned the scene in his mind.
“Listen.” Bones’ voice was grave. “I don’t know how to cure this, Jim. The only solution is-”
“No! Not that. That's the very last option you should consider, Bones, do you hear me? Only when you’re truly desperate.”
“I’m truly desperate now ! D’you think it's easy for me to watch this happen to you while I have to sit on my hands? Out of your own volition, no less!”
Jim shook his head, still firm. His eyes were back on the paint fleck on the ceiling. “It’s a last resort only.”
Bones sighed, and let him sink finally into unconsciousness. He distantly figured that it was a hypo, before the black curtain beneath his eyelids took over once more.
Spock, who had been raptly observing from just outside the room, now spoke. “Please explain.”
McCoy pressed a hand to his face and sighed. “It’s something called Hanahaki disease. Caused by the venom of that plant you two encountered a while ago entering one’s bloodstream. It affects someone in love with someone who doesn’t love them back. There is only one sure fire cure I can find on the systems.”
“The last resort that the captain referred to.”
If McCoy took issue with his eavesdropping, he does not let on.
“Yes. Surgery can be done on the victim’s lungs, to have the flowers growing within removed entirely, meaning that their airflow and the other systems affected will no longer be blocked. However,” McCoy’s expression was grave. “it means that they will lose all feeling for the person they were in love with.”
“The feelings would cease to exist?”
“And then some. In the cases that I have researched, sometimes even some memories of the person are lost, as they were so entwined with the love they felt for them.”
Spock was quiet once again. “But doctor, did you not say that the flowers only grew if the victim were to fall in love with someone who didn’t return the sentiment? Why then would they not wish to part with those memories, and distance themself from the experience?” Why would Jim have put his life in danger for someone imbecilic enough not to love him back?
McCoy’s expression was grim before, but something settled within him that made it even more so, as if he had just resigned himself to an unfortunate fact. “That’s just who Jim is. ‘Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all’, that’s what he said to me.”
“Most…” Spock looked away, from both the doctor and his captain, “illogical,” he finished, because ever since they had first met that had been the very word to describe James Kirk.
Bones seemed to understand his meaning for once, as he just nodded solemnly, eyes returning to his patient. “More than anything, the kid’s stubborn.”
“This person, could we locate them and bring them aboard?” Maybe if they were to see what their arrogance had dealt, they could come to reason? It was desperation, and Spock knew it.
However McCoy merely shook his head. “That’s not what Jim would want.”
Spock began to pace. It was not an action that he was accustomed to, but his next words provided an explanation for the behavior, “What would the captain do, were the roles reversed?”
McCoy needn’t respond, they both knew the answer. If the roles were reversed Jim wouldn’t rest until he found a solution that saved his friend’s life, whatever else was going on outside the ship be damned.
“This plant…” Spock broke the silence that filled the room beside Jim’s steady heartbeat and the rhythmic hum of sickbay. “Have we confirmed if it is only indigenous to Patroclus-A?”
“I ask because there was a plant Mr. Sulu brought to my attention some days ago that was mainly indigenous to Vulcan, but years later had been found elsewhere in the same galaxy, having grown successfully as my people spread out.”
McCoy pulled out his PADD immediately, his fingers moving frantically. “By Jove, you could be onto something, Mr. Spock. Just because we’re unfamiliar with this disease doesn’t mean others are!”
“Computer, search databases for planets and societies in which the Sideritis plant is known to grow.”
“ Working .” Spock and Bones shared a look of pure mutual desperation. “ The Sideritis plant has been documented to grow in the Patroclus system, the Bolarus sector, Morop, and Klaneep .”
“The Bolarus sector… isn’t Ensign Pagella from Cryptography native to the world Bolarus IX? It is highly doubtful whether she would know the relevant information, but-”
“But it’s a chance, and Jim would have taken it.” McCoy finished for him. Spock nodded wordlessly, and hurried to the communicator to page the ensign.
The next 7.28 minutes passed in stressful, agonizing quiet before Ensign Pagella arrived. She was a nervous thing, but this emotion was only betrayed in her fidgeting with the hem of her uniform and the slightly darker azure tint to her already blue cheeks. Otherwise, she was keen and straightforward, understanding the situation before them with a speed that Spock would have appreciated had circumstances been different. She was alarmed when they told her that their only solution had been surgery.
“Among the Bolians this disease has another name, translated to the ‘Lovesickness’. There was a rather vile outbreak of it some ten years ago, where it had mutated to affect anyone who had been infected with love at all, whether their sentiments were returned or not. For a time it devastated that sector of the city.”
“But did your people manage to find a cure?” Bones hurried her along.
Pagella nodded solemnly. “There is a custom to make a tea from the crushing up of the Sideritis’ seeds. It had been an ‘old wives’ tale’, as you may call it, said to heal a lovetorn soul, but somehow it was discovered that when this tea was consumed by one who had been cut by the plant’s thorns it would kill off the flowers growing within the victim's lungs.”
Spock did not need to meet the doctor’s eyes to know those blazing blues were shining. “Spock! He has a chance!” He instead looked over to the unconscious body of his captain, of the man he held most dear to him.
He took a breath and then raised himself to his full height. He stepped toward the communicator on the wall, and pressed the button. “First officer Spock to the bridge.”
“Chart a course for Patroclus-A, immediately. Warp speed 6.”
“What?” is all Scotty managed, no doubt confused by the sudden change, especially in speed. “Sir, we have orders to deliver that cargo to Starbase 15. Patroclus-A is in the total opposite direction!”
“I am well aware of that, Mr. Scott.” Spock said tersely. “I will be up there to explain the change in course momentarily. Now chart our course, Lieutenant, immediately.”
There was no way, as acting Captain, that Spock could avoid responsibility and remain by his friend’s side in the Medbay, especially as they navigated their way across the star system to a planet they had left two ship weeks ago. Considerations had to be made concerning the distance they were now traveling, how to explain to the residents of Patroclus-A their reasons for suddenly and somewhat threateningly entering their orbit, not to mention excuses to be made to Starfleet - and that necessitated his presence on the bridge, and demanded his authority. Through all this chaos, however, Spock still found his thoughts straying frustratingly to Jim coughing violently then going absolutely still in his arms, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
How had this even happened? How could anyone see Jim for what he was - compassionate, clever, and determined - and not love him in return? Spock could not fathom someone not immediately falling in love with the captain once his attentions were on them, and now due to their stupidity all he held dear was in danger. Unless they managed to make it to Patroclus-A in time.
The anxiety of it all was beginning to affect him emotionally, and would impair his performance if he did not tamp down on it effectively. He could allow no margin of error in this mission, not with Jim’s life in his hands.
Luckily, he had much to distract him and keep him alert and under control, and the next few hours passed as if they were happening to someone else. He worked almost as if on auto-pilot - dictating to Lieutenant Uhura what he intended to report to Starfleet, and how to explain their presence to the planet below. He beamed down to the surface himself, Lieutenant Sulu and an ensign from the arboretum in tow to assist him in choosing the right plant specimen, and to handle it with care. He brought the seeds to McCoy’s office, where Pagella immediately set to work making the tea, having retrieved her mortar and pestle passed down to her by her relatives from her homeworld that resided in her quarters.
As they worked, Spock attempted not to get in the way by “ hovering ”, and found himself returning once more to the captain’s bedside. Jim was still fighting for consciousness, that much was clear from how his face was screwed up in pain as the flora battled its way out of him. Spock could not help but feel another sick pang of anger at whoever had spurned him, for causing this suffering and being unable to see the gift that was the love of this man. This man who meant everything to him, if he only had the wherewithal to put it into words sooner.
He placed a hand on Jim’s shoulder before he could stop himself. Suddenly, the man’s eyes shot open in front of him.
Kirk took a deep inhale before his eyes focused on Spock. He made to sit up, and failing that, settled for reaching up and clutching one of Spock’s wrists in his, the other going to his arm.
“Jim!” Spock exclaimed, caught off guard. “Jim-”
“Spock.” Jim swallowed, and closed his eyes for a brief moment before he returned his intent, searching gaze upon Spock’s face. “Spock, I have to tell you something.”
Spock opened his mouth, but Jim shook his head tightly, speaking over him in a voice ravaged by the coughing earlier. His hold on Spock’s wrist moved to his hand, and he grasped it tighter. “No, no. I have to say this. And I have to say this now.”
“It’s you, Spock. It’s always been you. I don’t want to go- knowing that I never got the chance to tell you but- Spock .” Jim coughed once, dry and empty, but soldiered on. “You are loved. Very fiercely, and very much. And if this is the consequence of that then so be it, because I am a better man for having known you, and having loved you, Spock, and I don’t know who I would be otherwise.” A tear slipped down his cheek as he coughed once more, something else falling from his lips, but Jim smiled, another human oxymoron. Spock felt as though he had been robbed of all speech, and all he could do was cling on.
“Jim!” The precarious moment is broken by McCoy rushing in, a steaming mug held between his hands that he pushed toward Kirk. “Drink this. No time for questions, come on!”
Jim does as he is told, releasing Spock’s hand to clutch at the mug, drinking it at a pace no doubt agonizing due to the temperature. A minute later he produced an empty cup, and a frown overtook his features as he gagged once. “What the hell was tha-”
The end of his sentence was forgotten as he lost his fight and fell back once more, his eyes slipping shut as he dropped again into unconsciousness, this time with a much more peaceful look on his face.
Spock looked to the doctor, who shrugged, taking the mug from Kirk. “We finished early.”
His attention had been called elsewhere however, by the discovery of the strangely familiar petals now laying on Jim’s lungs. He lifted one up to the light and caught McCoy’s expression, which had gone curiously blank.
What felt simultaneously like hours but also mere minutes later, Jim opened his eyes to the now familiar fleck on the ceiling, and the peripheral view of Spock sitting beside him.
He turned his head slowly to face him, suddenly aware of an ache in his chest that made quicker movements seem inadvisable. “How…” he began, only to find his voice almost gone completely. He settled for a hoarse whisper. “How long?”
Spock looked at him, a not quite-smile on his face, though there was something thoughtful in his expression as well. He glanced back down to his hands, where Jim could not see. “Just under an hour. The tea contained certain sedative properties that we did not expect, but Doctor McCoy assured me that your sleep was perfectly natural.”
“And the…” again Jim trailed off.
“The flowers within you have begun to die off,” McCoy said suddenly, appearing out of Jim’s left field of vision. “I expect you’ll pass them over the next two days before they’re gone for good.”
Jim nodded, laying his head back down. The effort of attempting to speak while also holding himself up seemed too great. “That tea - what was it?”
Bones smiled, patting his shoulder before also giving him a swat on the cheek. “I’ll let Spock here explain that bit to you, I think. I’m glad you’re alright, Jim.”
Jim gave him a grateful nod, before watching him retreat. He turned his head carefully to Spock on his right side. “Well?”
Spock did not answer for a moment, and Jim was about to prompt him again when he moved and saw finally what held his focus. In the long fingers of Spock’s hands was a neat blue Favinit petal. The words stopped cold in his throat.
Spock’s gaze raised to his then, his face not impassive but the emotion leaking through somehow impossible to define.
“During my childhood on Vulcan, my mother attempted multiple times to grow a flower garden not unlike the one she had had when she lived on Earth. While her initial attempts had been to try to grow those same flowers she had grown in her first garden, she soon found that the Vulcan soil was dry and callous in a way that would not easily suit those Terran plants. My mother was determined, however, to maintain her hobby.”
Jim did not know where this was going, even as his heart had already climbed to his throat. Spock so rarely spoke about his adolescence at all, let alone his relationship with his parents, and despite his anxiety his curiosity peaked.
“In this pursuit, she began to study and collect flowering plants from all across Vulcan, testing their aesthetic value and her own talents as a gardener in the designated plot of our back yard. I would often accompany her, and this time with her is among some of my most treasured memories of childhood.” He lifted the petal once more, up to the light and within Jim’s view, “This one, the Favinit flower, took some trial and error, but once she was successful in making it blossom, I soon found it to be my favorite.”
“Look, Spock,” Jim finally broke through, and began to sit up. He didn’t know where this was going, but he knew he needed to apologize somehow. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you muddled into this. It’s completely my fault and, these feelings, these emotions - you don’t have to worry about them at all, okay? I know I’ve probably made you uncomfortable but-”
“On the contrary, Jim, I have not been made uncomfortable at all.” Spock interrupted him, a familiar eyebrow raised in - if Jim read him right - amusement .
“No?” he breathed, baffled.
Spock nodded. “No, indeed. I would say that I am experiencing the closest state to euphoria I can reach, with regards to your revelation.”
Jim closed his eyes for a long moment before opening them again. Spock was still looking at him with that impossibly warm gaze, that made Jim almost shudder to meet dead on. “Explain yourself, Mr. Spock.”
“Well, Captain, it is actually a common misconception that Vulcans cannot lie. While it is true that we are unable to tell explicit falsehoods, we are capable of repressing some of the truth. This is the case especially with truths we wish to repress from ourselves.” Here Spock ducks his head, eyes back on the flowers. “As a result, however, I believe I caused you some undue pain. For that, it is I who must apologize.”
“No, Spock, you can’t have-”
“I have loved you for a very long time, Jim.” He glanced up at Jim’s intake of breath. “As I worked to bury it from myself and you, however, I unwillingly made you believe that your feelings were unrequited, which allowed the disease to take hold. This is not the case.”
Jim looked at him, really looked at him. Spock was all sharp angles and elegance, the calamity of the day not shown at all in his appearance except for in the subtle ways that love and time had taught Jim to understand him. He was nervous, somehow, and Jim found that anxiety matched inside himself as well. They were always on the same page that way.
He chuckled as he sat up, making Spock’s eyebrow climb once more in confusion. This made him laugh more. “What a pair we make, eh, Spock?” He held his hand out then for the flowers.
Instead, Spock touched his two fingers to Jim’s, completing the Vulcan kiss in the ozh'esta gesture he’d seen Spock's parents make. Jim felt a sharp but pleasant tingle in response and grinned, awestruck, looking up to find Spock matching him with a small smile of his own and a delightful green blush.
“Spock?” When he hummed in question, Jim curled their fingers tighter together, and pulled him forward. “I love you.”
It was as if watching a sunrise. Spock’s rigid shoulders dropped, and a sheen of happiness took over him that Jim could feel through their connected fingers. “And I you, Jim.” He took a seat on the bed next to him, scooting closer. “I am curious, however. Could I kiss you the human way, as well?”
Jim grinned even wider, if possible. “Why, you needn’t even ask.”
He felt Spock’s hand come to rest on his cheek, and his eyes slipped shut as he became imbued with happiness, all thoughts of flowers gone from both mind and body.
The next morning they walked to the bridge together, matched step for step as always, Jim doing his best to hide the grin that kept trying to climb up his face. They had agreed to be subtle about their change in their relationship, but it was all he could do to keep from stealing glances at Spock beside him, reveling in the fact that he could do this freely now, without flowery consequences. However, as they rode up the lift, he noticed Spock stealing his fair share as well, and he was helpless to let his smile escape.
Spock raised an eyebrow, “Is there something amusing, Captain?”
Kirk snorted, looking straight ahead. “Oh, I’ll tell you what’s amusing, Mister Sp-”
He cut himself off just as the doors opened, thrusting them into public again. Spock made a soft noise that could have been a snort had he been someone else, and Jim resisted the very childish urge to poke him in the side. Instead, he stepped onto the bridge to Uhura’s station, attempting to refocus.
Uhura smiled when she saw him, as did many of the crew, likely aware that he’d survived yet another near-death experience but equally unlikely to draw undue attention to it. Kirk was very grateful for that loyalty, and vowed to pay it forward every day that he was in command of this vessel.
“Scotty,” Jim called the engineer over, and watched Spock gravitate across to the communications console as well, and addressed the three of them.“Miss Uhura, update me on what I’ve missed if you please.”
After judging that he and Spock had had enough privacy, Bones had barged back in, and told him that he would be allowed out of sickbay only if he promised not to complete a jot of ship’s business until the start of Alpha shift. He had included Spock in his threat, unfortunately, and as such Kirk knew nothing beyond their close escape from the ion storm.
Uhura’s lips pressed together, and she glanced at Spock before she addressed Kirk, immediately raising alarm bells in his mind. “You have four messages from Starfleet Command, sir, about our overdue delivery to Starbase 15, and our detour to the Patroclus system. They didn’t like that we ignored their denial when we asked about turning around.”
“Our detour to where ?” Kirk repeated, looking between his officers in astonishment. “Why are we in the Patroclus system?”
Scotty appeared sheepish, and shrugged. “It was Mr. Spock’s orders, Captain, when you were in sickbay. Just that the planet had something that would save your life, and it couldn’t wait!”
Kirk fixed his best captain’s disapproving stare on Spock, who had the audacity to not even appear guilty, though he didn’t meet Jim’s eyes.
“Well, Mr. Spock? What do you have to say for yourself?”
Spock just shrugged. “If it would make you happy, Captain, you may tell them that I am at fault completely for our detour, due to an emotional outburst.”
A beat passed, before Uhura suddenly giggled, and everyone around them broke into laughter as well beside him and Spock, who simply raised his signature eyebrow. Jim smiled, and despite knowing that he would have some severe bullshitting to do now with the admiralty, he could not stop the flood of love he felt for the other man rising in his chest.
Spock quirked a small smile in return, and Jim knew the feeling was mutual.