DISCLAIMER: Star Trek and all the characters belong to Paramount, Viacom and whoever else had a finger in Roddenberry's pie. The story is copyright (c) 2003 by Joanne K. Seward. Originally published in Encounters IV.

One Nerve Left

Joanne K. Seward

Seated on the 'patient' side of the desk, James T. Kirk met the concerned blue eyes of his chief medical officer and sometime father-confessor. He picked up the glass McCoy had placed in front of him, wondering where to start.

"I guess it all began a week or so into this assignment, Bones. Chekov had a silly printout pasted above his console on the bridge. There was nothing special about it, just a bit of typical 'fleet humor. He must have downloaded it from one of the bulletin boards. I even chuckled at it myself," Kirk recalled, looking into the glass as though he could view the scene in its amber contents.

McCoy listened quietly, nodding, and doing what he called an 'eyeball' exam. Kirk was past-due for a physical, but the CMO knew it wasn't worth the effort it would take to get him to submit. Besides, he already knew what he would find: blood pressure up, an increase in irritability and a higher incidence of tension headaches. Then he'd have to re-examine Jim in a couple of weeks to see if things were back to what passed for normal in a starship commander. It would be much easier for all concerned to simply wait.

Kirk was still talking. "The next aberration -- if you can call it that," he added wryly, "was this odd-looking figurine that suddenly sprouted on Sulu's console. If you could have seen it..." Kirk paused, shaking his head as he pictured the Martian-red hair pointing straight up from a naked, humanoid body.

"I have," McCoy interjected, smiling at the memory.

"Well, then, you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, when I questioned Sulu, he explained it was a 'good luck troll' sent to him by a cousin back home. You can believe I raised my eyebrows at that one, but I let it pass. After all, it was securely fastened to the nav-console, and not likely to go flying during rough maneuvers.

"A few days later, there was this tiny potted plant at the Science station -- some sort of cactus, I think. Kind of odd-looking ... Spock's explanation was perfectly logical." Again, Kirk shook his head, putting a slight emphasis on the word 'logical.' "He said the plant was a gift, and he had not had time to take it to his quarters prior to reporting for duty.

"I took his word for it." Kirk gave a little shrug. "What else could I do? Besides, I was glad there was someone in the crew who felt comfortable enough around Spock to present him with a token of his or her affection.

"But today was the final straw. Uhura had this printout stuck on the side of the comm panel... It was a drawing of an irate person, with frazzled hair and glaring eyes. The caption said something like, 'I had one nerve left, and you just got on it.' Maybe it was because it looked exactly the way I felt, but suddenly I couldn't stand it any more.

"I ripped it off the console," Kirk continued, remembering uncomfortably how he'd thrust it at a suddenly-apprehensive Uhura. "I suggested that she find a better location for her art gallery. Then I grabbed Sulu's troll and Chekov's printout, all the while quoting the pertinent sections of the Starfleet manual regarding the `personalization of 'fleet furnishings and equipment.' It must have been quite a performance ... I think I even frightened Scotty. He'd been working at the engineering station. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him palming that little doohickey he keeps there. My God, Bones! That thing has been on this ship longer than I have."

Kirk finished his explanation and leaned forward in his chair. He raised the glass of the potent Saurian brandy, sniffed it, then sighed. "I guess I just lost it, Bones."

"I'll say," McCoy commiserated, unable to resist a tiny smile. "But, after all, it's not the end of the universe. They'll get over it, and you will too. And for what it's worth, I doubt you frightened Scotty. He doesn't scare easy."

"Mmm, I suppose." Privately, Kirk wondered. After all, he himself was known for what Scott called his 'bendings.' Why couldn't he permit his crew the same leniency he afforded himself?

McCoy noted the ambivalent reply. "You will. Believe me. It's just this assignment that's doing it. Sitting here on the edge of Klingon space, pussyfooting around, drills day and night, plan A and plan B, and just in case, plan C... Everyone is on edge. Your people know that and will make allowances." McCoy hoped he wasn't talking through his hat. Rescuing Klingon defectors on the fly wasn't exactly an everyday occurrence, and the captain's wasn't the only fuse that was a bit shorter than usual.

"Sure," Kirk affirmed. It wasn't like him to lash out at his crew, though. Perhaps it had been the drawing's resemblance to the way he was feeling, burdened with the full responsibility for the highly placed defector reaching political asylum. Or if that wasn't enough, there was the fact that he loathed undercover assignments.

"Why the hell can't we just drop him off at Vulcan ourselves, instead of going through all this ridiculous rigamarole of handing him over to Sarek?" he muttered.

McCoy smiled again. Kirk had apparently forgotten all about his presence.

"Your feelings couldn't have anything to do with Sarek not being exactly your favorite Vulcan, could they?"

"Who says he's not my favorite Vulcan?" Kirk asked indignantly.

"I do," McCoy said boldly. "And you would too, if you were being honest. In your book, Sarek rates just above T'Pau and T'Pring."

"Dammit, Bones. They all treat Spock like he's somehow less than a person. Why did Sarek marry an Earth woman and go to all the trouble of having a hybrid child if he was going to treat him like damaged goods?"

McCoy understood the captain's feelings, but he didn't share them. The last time the ambassador had been aboard the Enterprise , he'd spent most of his stay in Sickbay, recovering from the emergency cardiac surgery McCoy had performed on him. The CMO had been privy to things no one but Amanda would ever see. He knew the Vulcan loved his son. Sarek might not call it that, and he'd never let it show, but the feeling certainly existed. "I think that's just Sarek's way of hiding the pain he feels at Spock not following in his footsteps," he said gently.

"Maybe," Kirk conceded. He shook his head, then, returning to the original subject of conversation, continued, "The worst of it is, none of that junk would have distracted my crew one bit. They're above that sort of thing and I should be, too, but lately... That phaser drill today was the worst I've ever run. Efficiency was down to ninety-three percent, and it was my fault. That's just not good enough. Not here ... not in spitting distance of Klingon space."

McCoy knew better than to ask what Kirk would do with that extra seven percent if he got it. He'd done that once, years before, when they'd both been new to the Enterprise and working together. "I'll take it and I'll use it," had been Kirk's emphatic reply. Taking a sip of his brandy, McCoy neatly avoided his previous pitfall. "What was Spock's reaction to all this?"

The grimace that crossed Kirk's face was almost answer enough. "Nothing. Not then, anyway. When we went off-shift, he said my action had been 'in accordance with regulations, and would I like to go for a workout?'"

McCoy risked a grin, shaking his head all the while. "Ouch!" They both knew that was about as close to criticizing the captain as Spock would get. "So..." he prodded.

"So, we went for a--"

Just then the comm unit on the desk signaled, and the Vulcan's deep voice issued from it, requesting the captain to contact the bridge.

Kirk reached across and tapped the switch. "Kirk here, Mister Spock. What is it?"

"We have received the signal, sir."

"Here we go," Kirk mouthed to McCoy, then speaking into the audio pickup, replied, "Okay. Institute the prearranged course change. I'll be up in a minute."

"Affirmative, Captain. Spock out."

The connection was severed, and Kirk was left staring at McCoy. "At least the waiting is over," he said with a sigh.

* * *

On the bridge, all was as calm as could be expected, given the situation.

Kirk slid into the command chair. He did his best to put his doubts behind him, as he listened carefully to his first officer's recitation.

"...Lieutenant Uhura has received the request for political sanctuary from the scout ship as expected, Captain. The scout is being pursued by three other Klingon vessels. It is maintaining a substantial lead. Likelihood that it will reach Federation space before being apprehended is good... Eighty-seven point three five percent."

"Will they follow him into Federation space?"

"Unknown," Spock replied. "Given the position held by Kern..." The Vulcan raised an eyebrow, allowing Kirk to draw his own conclusion.

Kirk nodded, lips pursed, abdominal muscles tightening. "I think so too." He took a breath, then let it out slowly. "Okay, then. Mister Chekov, have phasers ready, photons on standby. We may not get out of this one without some fireworks. Sulu..." he said, then waited.

The slender Oriental man looked back over his shoulder at Kirk, his usual smile nowhere to be seen. "Pre-plotted course has been laid in, Captain, and we're scanning for weapons build-up on the pursuit vessels."

"Shuttle bay reports ready, Captain," Uhura relayed.

Kirk nodded again, glancing over to where Scott was manning the engineering station. "Is that tractor beam ready, Mister Scott?"

"Aye. It'll be ready when ye need it, as will the enhanced rear shields," Scott replied grimly. He had no more liking for this mission than the captain. "Don't ye worry, sir. We can pull that scout in and wrap her in our shields like a babe in its mother's arms if we have to."

"Very good, Scotty. It'll be up to you then. Let's try to get her inside, but if we can't--" Kirk broke off with a slight shrug. The shuttle bay doors were the acknowledged weak spot of Constitution-class ships.

The engineer nodded his understanding. "Aye, sir."

Once again, the waiting commenced. Kirk could feel the tension of the officers around him. Added to it was his own. If he botched this mission, he'd be lucky if he could land a job as a moon shuttle conductor.

"We are coming into tractor range, Mister Scott." Spock's voice broke the stiff near-silence.

"Going into arc, as planned, Captain," Sulu's voice added.

"The scout has crossed into Federation space--"

"Pursuers are arming weapons."

"It's going to be close..." Scott's words were barely audible as he bent over his instruments.

"Too close. We cannot do it, Captain." Spock's voice remained calm, the hooded sensor turning his skin an odd shade of blue.

"Go to plan B," Kirk commanded tersely, his eyes never leaving the scene depicted on the huge main viewer.

"Implementing plan B," Scott responded, "Locking tractor beam ... now."

Kirk watched as the engineer used the tractor beam with infinite precision, maneuvering the scout ship within range of the larger ship's shields. He forced himself to sit calmly, exuding an air of relaxed confidence as his people worked around him.

"Got her!" Scott exclaimed.

"Shields up!" Kirk snapped. He hardly heard the affirmative echo. Leaning forward as though he could personally propel the Enterprise through space, he ordered, "Get us out of here, Mister Sulu."

"Going to warp... " Sulu paused for an extended second, "... in ten, nine, eight..."

"Pursuers have crossed the border and are firing phasers. Incoming--"

The steady countdown continued. "Five, four, three..."

The bridge shook as phaser energy connected with the enhanced shields.

"Do not respond," Kirk cautioned. "We don't want to start a war, just get that scout ship away safely. Go, Sulu--"

The Enterprise went. Despite inertial dampeners, the bridge crew was pressed into their seats as the great ship shifted from sublight into warp. Her engines whined, protesting the added strain of the tractor beam and the expanded shields.

"Entering asteroid field, Sair."

Kirk acknowledged the report, his lips pressed tightly together. This would be the tricky part. The field was all that remained of a destroyed solar system. The astrogation department had spent a great deal of time plotting the motion of the hundreds of hunks of rock, some of them the size of small planets over the last few weeks. Still, it was impossible to be certain they hadn't missed something. And 'something' that came in the form of solid rock could be a real problem. Then there was the added problem of keeping track of their pursuers. On the positive side was the fact that the Klingons would be experiencing the same difficulties.

"Ve have lost the pursuing ships in the field, Keptin."

Kirk let out a sigh. "How long, Mister Spock?"

"Thirty-six minutes, standard." Kirk noted the lack of decimal places, but didn't mention it. He was in no mood to tease his precise first officer. "So all we have to do is manage to elude those three ships for the next half hour... A piece of cake," he concluded dryly, eyes never leaving the boulder-studded vista on the main viewscreen.

Sulu glanced over his shoulder. "We're approaching the large asteroid, Captain."

"Excellent, Mister Sulu. Go to sublight. Uhura, alert the shuttle bay. We'll be dropping shields soon. They're to get that ship in as fast as possible. Full security measures are to be maintained." Kirk craned his neck to meet his first officer's eyes. "Sorry, Spock. No offense to your father. Kern may be on the level, but he's still a Klingon."

Spock returned the look, dark eyes full of understanding. He too, did not trust Klingons.

Kirk continued his instructions to the communications officer "See to it the occupants are supplied with anything they require... Oh, and send my compliments and those of Mister Spock, with our excuses--" He waved a hand in the air, finishing, "You know the drill, Lieutenant." The truth was, his officers did know the drill -- so well in fact, that Kirk sometimes felt redundant.

"Aye, sir." Uhura busied herself with the comm panel, routing the messages to their proper destinations.

Over Sulu's shoulder, Kirk watched the warp indicator on the nav-console carefully. The moment it winked out, he snapped, "Shields down. Get that ship in, now!"

It seemed like hours before the shuttle bay crew signaled the scout ship bearing the defecting Klingon, General Kern, was aboard. Immediately, Kirk gave a curt nod and the shields were reinstated.

"Okay, Mister Sulu, she's all yours. Take us to Ambassador Sarek. Let's keep a sharp eye out for those other ships."

Twice during the next half hour, they neatly avoided encounters with Klingon pursuers, each time hiding out in the 'shadow' of one of the larger asteroids, playing dead and waiting for the other ship to move on. Tension was running high when Uhura pivoted in her chair. "We are being hailed by the courier, sir."

"Put them on, Lieutenant, scrambled," Kirk replied. He waited for her go-ahead, then said, "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the starship, Enterprise."

"Vulcan diplomatic courier Surak, Captain," came the expected reply, accompanied by a code spoken first in standard, then repeated in Vulcan. "Do you have a delivery for us?"

Spock listened carefully. He nodded, and Kirk replied, "We do, Surak. We also have three pursuing vessels. Spock--" He turned toward his first officer. The Vulcan immediately complied with the unspoken request, relaying as much information as they had on the enemy ships.

"Affirmative, Enterprise--"

"Captain!" Kirk could hear the tension in Sulu's voice. "There's something off the Surak's starboard bow."

"Surak, maintain your shields," Kirk commanded, then to his crew, "Let me see."

All eyes fastened on the viewscreen, where a predatory form was taking shape, wavering into sight.

"Romulans?" Chekov asked softly, recalling the cloaking device Kirk and Spock had worked so hard to acquire.

"More likely Klingons, Kirk corrected. "They have some sort of alliance."

"Captain." Kirk looked up to find the first officer standing beside him. Outwardly, the Vulcan appeared calm, but to one who knew him as well as Kirk, his concern was evident. "The Surak cannot withstand an attack from that ship."

"Understood, Spock." Kirk half-turned toward Uhura. "Standard warnings, Lieutenant." Thumbing the switch on his chair arm, he continued, "Surak , this is Enterprise. You have a hostile vessel off your starboard bow. Maintain your shields." Not missing a beat, he asked, "Any response from the unidentified vessel, Uhura?"

"No, sir. They're ignoring us."

"Are you sure you're getting through?"

Uhura shot him a look. "I'm getting through, loud and clear, sir. They just don't want to listen."

Kirk nodded, watching the viewscreen.

"Their phasers are coming on line, sair," Chekov reported. "Targeting Surak."

"Sulu, get us between that ship and the Surak."

The helmsman was already working his board. The starship moved to intercept, but the tight quarters of the asteroid field were against her now. The newcomer had a distinct advantage.

"Unidentified ship is firing."

The bridge crew watched helplessly as the enemy ship's phasers stabbed out at the tiny courier vessel. "A direct hit. Surak's shields are down."

Kirk turned his attention to the engineering station. "Scotty, the shields--"

"No!" Spock interrupted, not looking up from his scanner. "The Surak is experiencing fluctuations in her antimatter containment field. If it fails..."

Scott's eyebrows flew up, but he threw a look at Kirk, waiting for further orders. Glad for the weeks of drills, Kirk hit the toggle on the arm of the command chair. "Transporter room. Plan C. Get a fix on the lifeforms aboard the Surak and beam them over here the instant we drop our shields."

"Aye, Bridge."

Sulu looked back at Kirk. "They're maneuvering, sir."

"Be ready to get us out of here yesterday," Kirk responded. "Have phasers ready, Mister Chekov."

"Surak's engines could go critical any time now." Montgomery Scott's words were clipped, his lilting burr absent under pressure. His finger hovered over the button that controlled the shields.

"Bridge, I have transporter lock on to two lifeforms."

A distant part of Kirk's mind recognized the voice as Kyle's. "Acknowledged, transporter room." Without taking his eyes from the viewscreen, Kirk gave the order. "Lower shields, Mister Scott." Punching another toggle on the arm of his chair and speaking in the direction of the pickup, he said, "Medteam to the transporter room."

"Locking phasers on the Enterprise."

Under his breath, Kirk murmured, "Come on, Mister Kyle. Come on..."

Again Kyle's voice issued from the speakers, "Materializing now-- Got them, bridge."

"Shields up," Kirk barked, then, "Fire all phasers."

"Firing all phasers."

"Shields up," Scott affirmed, as destructive energy lanced out of the Enterprise.

"Unidentified ship has fired--"

If the bridge had been a scene of quiet activity before, now it was controlled pandemonium.

"The Surak is goin' to blow!" Scott's voice held a note Kirk was formerly unacquainted with.


The helmsman complied before Kirk had completed the terse command. Spock's voice was an island of calm in a stormy sea. "Matter/antimatter explosion will take place in forty-six seconds."

"Turn her into the blast, Sulu," Kirk ordered. "We'll have to ride it out." For the second time that day, the captain felt himself pressed back into the command chair by forces too great for the dampeners to handle. Crewmembers who hadn't been seated when the blast hit were thrown against bulkheads and consoles like so many children's toys. Lights flickered and instrument readings flashed. Acrid smoke and angry sparks erupted from an auxiliary panel, but the bridge crew was helpless act, compelled to rely on the Enterprise's built-in fire control system. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the starship slowed as the great energy of the Surak's destruction dissipated.

Kirk scanned the bridge cautiously. Crewmembers were picking themselves up from the deckplates, brushing themselves off and checking for broken limbs.

"Damage reports coming in, Captain."

"Anything serious, Lieutenant?" Kirk turned toward the comm officer.

"Just the bruise I'm going to have on my posterior," Uhura joked, one hand rubbing the affected area.

Kirk forced a tight smile, recognizing Uhura's way of reassuring him. He thumbed a control on the arm of his chair. "All decks, institute damage control procedures." Switching channels, he asked, "How are our unexpected guests, Mister Kyle?"

"Doctor McCoy just carted them off to Sickbay. He said there was nothing life-threatening, but he wasn't taking any chances..." Kyle paused for a second, then added, "Uhh, Captain, he left a message for you..."

"Yes?" Kirk had an inkling of what was coming.

"I don't think I'd better repeat it, sir. It might burn up the comm system."

"I see. Consider the doctor's message received and noted, Lieutenant. Kirk out." He pivoted toward the Science station. "What about the unidentified vessel, Spock--" he said, then his eyes opened wide at the sight of his first officer, green blood dripping into one eye. "Spock!" Kirk was out of the command chair and at the Vulcan's side in an instant.

"I am essentially undamaged, Captain." Spock accepted a first aid wipe proffered by a nearby ensign. "The unidentified ship appears to have been destroyed by the blast."

"Are you certain?" Kirk inquired, not sure whether he was requesting reassurance on the Vulcan's condition or that of the vessel which had attacked the Surak. He watched intently as the Vulcan wiped the blood from his face.

Spock's uninjured brow rose. "As certain as it is possible to be with a ship which possesses the ability to appear and disappear at will."

"Right." Kirk almost suspected his first officer of sarcasm. "Debris content?"

"Consistent with the materials present in the construction of unidentified ship. Unless her captain had the presence of mind to flush the disposal tubes--"

"And you don't think he would..." Kirk lifted his eyebrows, waiting for Spock's reply.

"I do not... There are few who would retain the presence of mind to take such an action in the face of a matter/antimatter blast."

"True. In that case," the captain nodded in Sulu's direction, "we'd better set course for Vulcan. Mister Scott, I'm certain you'll want to oversee damage control procedures personally."

"Aye, sir," Scott said with a smile. "That I will." The engineer disappeared into the turbolift at once. Kirk continued to issue orders. "Keep a sharp sensor lookout for those other Klingon ships as well as any more cloaked vessels. Uhura, notify Starfleet of what happened and our new destination.

"As for us," Kirk's golden eyes locked on the Vulcan's dark ones. "I believe you and I will pay a little visit to Sickbay, Mister Spock." He smiled, not giving the Vulcan a chance to refuse. "I'm sure you'll want to check on your father and I'm equally certain Bones will want to take a look at that cut on your head. Mister Sulu, you have the conn."

A chorus of 'ayes' followed as Kirk ushered his first officer into the lift. Just as the doors began to close, the captain poked his head out again. "Oh, and Uhura? Better have security transfer the Klingons to the observation deck until the services has quarters ready for them."

* * *

Kirk and Spock stood in the corridor, watching Leonard McCoy adjust a narrow tube leading to Ambassador Sarek's arm.

"That was a nasty gash on your leg. You lost a bit of blood, but you're lucky, Ambassador Sarek. The Enterprise is probably the only ship in the fleet that even stocks T-negative."

"Luck had nothing to do with it, Doctor. The Enterprise was chosen for this mission after careful consideration. The possibility of my needing a blood transfusion was not part of the criteria."

Kirk grinned up at his first officer, reading relief in those dark eyes, then raised a finger to his lips. The sight of McCoy treating the dignified Vulcan ambassador the same way he treated his own captain was a delight to be savored.

Unaware of their presence, McCoy grinned and shrugged. "See what I mean?" he chuckled.

Sarek raised a salt-and-pepper eyebrow, for a moment looking incredibly like his son. "Doctor, the belief that random factors can affect--"

Kirk decided it was time to make their presence known. Stepping into the room, he said, "Don't bother arguing with him, Ambassador. Believe me. You can't win."

"The captain is correct," Spock confirmed, taking up a position at the side of Sarek's bed. "Arguing with the good doctor is, in many ways, similar to wrestling with an Otegian eel. Regardless of superior logic, you will find yourself undone."

The ambassador turned to face the newcomers. "Captain Kirk, Spock." He regarded his son solemnly. "You are injured, Spock."

Spock's hand moved to the wound in reflex. "It is not serious, Father, I assure you."

McCoy was immediately all business. "Let me be the judge of that," he said, urging Spock to an empty bed and reaching for a feinberger.

"Doctor, truly, it is nothing. I merely struck my head on the edge of the scanner. Were it not for the blood, I would not even be aware of the damage."

"Unh-hunh... How many fingers do you see?"

Spock resigned himself to the inevitable. "Two."

McCoy murmured a doctorly "Mmm-hmmm," as he ran the instrument over the first officer.

"Bones?" Kirk found himself worried by the protracted silence.

"He'll live," McCoy pronounced. "He's gonna have a dilly of a headache for a while, but he'll definitely live."

"I believe I said as much," Spock commented, sitting up and swinging his legs down onto the floor.

McCoy leaned back against an instrument cart. "I just like to be sure, Spock. Around here, people have a tendency to say they're fine even when they're not. Only way to find out for sure is to heck 'em out. Now, if people were to tell m--"

"Enough, Doctor," Kirk interrupted. "We get the point."

"Glad to hear it," McCoy replied cheerfully, "seeing as you're one of the prime offenders. Spock, why don't you sit here and keep your daddy company for a while. The captain and I have some things I'd like to discuss, and since it doesn't look like Sarek is gonna take my advice and get some sleep..."

Spock accepted this outrageous utterance calmly, merely lifting an eyebrow in the ambassador's direction, curious as to how Sarek would respond.

"Your company would be more than welcome, Spock," his father replied just as calmly.

McCoy rubbed his hands together, trying not to bounce. "It's settled then. We'll see both of you later." He got a firm grip on Kirk's forearm, aiming the captain toward the door. Suddenly he spun around to face the first officer. "I almost forgot. Would you like something for that headache, Spock, or do you prefer the pain to a queasy stomach?"

"The pain is quite manageable, Doctor," Spock said austerely.

McCoy nodded knowingly. "Somehow I thought you'd say that. C'mon, Jim. Let's get out of here and let these two entertain each other for the time being."

Kirk stared at the doctor for a moment, then with a backward glance at his first officer, rolled his eyes skyward. Leave it to McCoy to make it seem like he was the one who was lingering!

The doctor led the way toward his office. He waved the captain in, but Kirk shook his head. There was a Klingon general cooped up on the observation deck, and the captain owed him a visit and an explanation. First however, there were things he needed to know. A frown creased Kirk's forehead as he asked, "How bad is it really?"

McCoy leaned against the bulkhead, arms folded over his chest. "There's an outside chance of a slight concussion. I'd keep him for observation, but you know what that would entail, so I'll settle for letting him sit and talk to Sarek."

"I see. What about Sarek's condition, and that of his pilot?"

"Sarek had a nasty cut on his thigh. It nicked the artery, but he'll be fine. The pilot, Selek, is in worse condition. Concussion, a broken arm and assorted second degree burns. He's in a healing trance right now. M'Benga says he probably won't come out of it for somewhere between eight and sixteen hours, but when he does, he'll be good as new."

Kirk nodded. "In that case, how would you like to accompany me on a visit to a defecting Klingon general, Doctor?"

"Aww, Jim, do I have to?" McCoy protested.

The corners of Kirk's mouth turned up at the CMO's comical expression. "No. I just thought it might be a welcome change from all that green blood in your Sickbay."

McCoy considered for a moment, then he said, "Nah, I better not. I wouldn't want to take a chance on my pointy-eared patients overpowering Geoff or Christine and breaking out."

The captain found himself grinning whole-heartedly for the first time that day. Should Spock or his father decide to 'break out' of Sickbay, McCoy's presence would do little to deter them. If he hadn't been in such a hurry, Kirk would have stayed a while to rib McCoy on his delusions of power.

* * *

The next few days passed uneventfully. The three ships which had pursued Kern into Federation territory were not seen again. Just to be on the safe side though, Starfleet decided to beef up patrols of the Klingon border, increasing both frequency and the number of ships assigned to the area. As Kirk had expected, the Enterprise was ordered to deliver Ambassador Sarek and the defecting Klingon to Vulcan.

Sarek and his pilot were released from Sickbay less than one day after they were rescued from the destroyed courier ship. The ambassador spent a good deal of time in deep discussion with the former Klingon general. That time which was not spent in Kern's company, he occupied in long walks and quiet conversation with his son, a fact which gave Kirk a sense of satisfaction.

Kirk also spent some time with the ambassador, but more with General Kern. He personally escorted the general on a tour of the Enterprise, taking care to avoid areas of a particularly sensitive nature. As he showed Kern around his ship, he was relieved to note the disappearance of a number of the decorations which had irked him so. They would have been difficult to explain in any case, and to a former Klingon officer...

It was in the course of this tour that Kirk discovered it had been Commander Kor who'd described him to the elder Klingon. Although Kor had termed Kirk 'that stripling Human,' he'd been impressed by Kirk's force of character. It was Kor's grudging admiration that prompted Kern to request Kirk's ship as part of his defection plan. Though he no longer believed in the Empire's methods, Kern had known the only way he could hope for success was with the assistance of one who was as determined and as educated in the arts of war as those he was trying to escape. Kirk, he had concluded, was admirably suited to the job.

* * *

Lieutenant Uhura swivelled in her seat. "We are being hailed by Vulcan Space Central, Captain. They acknowledge our presence and request that we assume standard orbit."

Kirk nodded in her direction, then said, "You heard the lady, Mister Sulu. Standard orbit."

"Standard orbit, sir."

Kirk got to his feet with alacrity. "Well, Mister Spock." He gave his satin 'dress' tunic a little tug, then hands on hips, asked, "Shall we go and see our unexpected passengers off?"

"Of course, Captain." Spock stood as well, falling into position at his captain's side. "However, to call them 'unexpected' is somewhat illogical, don't you think?"

Kirk grinned as he stepped into the 'lift. "Not really, Spock. We certainly didn't expect to have them with us for this long, nor did we expect to be making this stop at Vulcan."

The doors slid closed, cutting off the rest of the conversation from the highly interested bridge crew. With a collective shrug, they settled down to the less than arduous business of maintaining a standard orbit.

Sarek, Kern, and their respective pilots were already waiting in the shuttle bay, along with an honor guard dressed in Security red. McCoy was the last to appear. In his arms he held a bouquet of long-stemmed yellow roses from the Enterprise' botanical section.

He stepped up to Sarek and extended the flowers. "For Lady Amanda. She mentioned roses don't grow well in Vulcan's climate."

Sarek accepted the offering graciously. "Indeed, that is correct. My wife will be pleased with your gift, Doctor." To Kirk, he said, "You have my gratitude, along with that of the Federation, for your assistance, Captain."

A Vulcan saying thank you? Kirk fought hard to keep his surprise from showing. Borrowing a phrase from Spock's repertoire, he replied, "We come to serve, Ambassador." He turned to Kern. "I know Ambassador Sarek doesn't believe in it, but good luck anyway, General."

Kern bowed gravely. "Thank you, Captain."

Spock had asked for, and received, permission to pilot the Klingon scout ship to Vulcan. Deciding it was time to go, he led the way to the vessel which would be handed over to the Federation scientists eagerly awaiting this first opportunity to examine a Klingon craft. Naturally, he and Scott had already gleaned as much technical information as could be learned from one small ship, but there were still regulations to be complied with.

Sarek and Kern followed the first officer into the small ship along with Selek, Kern's nephew, and a number of security guards to uphold the honor of the Ambassador and General Kern.

Just before Spock sealed the hatch, Kirk stepped up to the opening. "Don't forget to signal when you're ready to come home, Mister Spock."

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at the nonsensical reminder, but replied simply, "I shall not, Captain." Then he touched a control and the hatch slid into place with a solid 'thunk.'

Kirk and McCoy left the shuttle bay. They watched from the observation window as the sleek Klingon ship lifted off the deck and moved into the blackness of space.

"So, Jim..." McCoy said as the small craft banked, moving out of visual range. "As long as you have nothin' important to occupy you, why don't you come down to Sickbay and let me do that physical you've been avoiding for the last four weeks?" He started walking, unobtrusively shepherding the captain toward Sickbay.

"Who says I have nothing to occupy me?" Kirk's voice rose a notch as he kept pace with the physician. "With Spock off gallivanting, who do you think is going to take my place on the bridge?"

"Scotty can do it. Now that he's lost his new toy, he's gonna need something to keep him busy," McCoy answered, picking up his pace.

Kirk speeded up as well, all the while glaring at the CMO. "Doctor, I think you had this planned all the time!"

McCoy's eyebrows rose. "Naturally. How else could I ever get hold of you long enough to run a physical?" he asked, stepping into the turbolift.

Kirk shot a dirty look in his direction, choosing to remain tight-lipped all the way to Sickbay.

McCoy ignored the blistering silence. Picking up a scanner, he waved toward an examining table. "Just take your shirt off and lie down. If you cooperate, you'll be out of here before Spock even lands that thing."

"Hmmph," Kirk snorted bleakly, but he complied, stripping off the tunic and lowering himself to the padded surface. "Awww, Bones. It's cold!" he complained.

McCoy chuckled. "Sorry," he apologized, in a voice laced with insincerity.

Kirk's gaze moved here and there, looking for anything to occupy his mind. He found it, pasted securely to the wall of the examining room, right next to the terminal McCoy used to enter data into the bio-computer. He let out a soft moan.

"What is it, Jim?" McCoy frowned, brows lowering, circles appearing as if by magic under his eyes. Kirk had been out of sorts for the last couple of weeks, but there had been no overt sign of illness or injury. "Is something hurting you? Something you haven't told me about?" he encouraged.

Kirk jabbed a finger toward the wall, then covered his face with his hands, trying to hide the smile which was threatening to obliterate his features. "Et tu, Bones?"

McCoy looked in the direction Kirk had indicated. "Oh ... that." He had the grace to blush. Kirk sneaked another peak at the drawing of a huge hammer looming over an old-fashioned computer keyboard and the caption that read, "Hit any key," and began to chuckle.

"At least I know your sense of humor is back," McCoy said, starting to chuckle himself.

"Where... Where did you get it?" Kirk asked.

"From Spock," McCoy replied. "He gave it to me in return for that cactus... The one you didn't like," he reminded the captain, allowing his laughter full rein. It halted abruptly when Kirk sat up and swung his legs down from the exam table. "Hey! Where do you think you're going?"

The captain grabbed his tunic and headed for the doors. As they whooshed open, he turned, and still grinning, replied, "To look for a silly picture to paste on the arm of the command chair!" Then he turned on his heel and strode out of Sickbay.

"Aww, heck!" the doctor grumbled. "And to think I almost managed to do his physical..." Recalling something he'd seen on the ship's bulletin board only last night, McCoy hurried after the captain, a huge, crooked grin transforming his features.

"Hey, Jim!" he called. "Wait! How about, 'To err is Human; To forgive is against Klingon regulations?' There's no picture, but Chekov is a fair artist. Maybe he could draw one for you... Or if you don't like that, how about 'To err is Human; To forgive is against Starfleet regulations.' I think that's even better. Jim? Jim..."

Kirk simply groaned and continued walking.

The End