DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Joanne Seward and is copyright (c) 1992 by Joanne Seward. Rated PG. Originally published in Lone Star Trek #5.

Snafu

Joanne Seward

Thwack!

Kirk resolutely pushed the offending branch out of his face, and rubbed the already reddening welt it left behind, attempting without success to dry his cheek. He gave silent thanks for the hooded jacket which kept his head dry in this planet's ceaseless rain. Situation normal, he thought, all f____ up.

McCoy, plodding behind, ducked, then let out a long dismal sigh as a spray of huge water droplets pelted him. At least he'd avoided the branch itself, he mused. "Big deal. One branch out of a hundred."

"Bones?" Kirk's voice held an unvoiced question at McCoy's complaining tone. It also held a lot of menace for anyone unwise enough to bother him right now. McCoy, through years of experience, read that tone clearly.

"Nothing, Captain." Just the way he said it, emphasizing the rank, informed Kirk that his chief medical officer knew precisely how irritated he was, and for once, was watching his step.

"I won't bite, Doctor. Promise." He turned halfway around, and made the childish gesture of crossing his heart with a damp, and slightly shriveled fingertip, wishing this one time he'd remained aboard the Enterprise. Hell, he wished they'd all remained aboard the ship.

"Damn!" McCoy swatted at one of the many annoying insects buzzing around them. "Maybe not, Jim," he replied sardonically, "but just about everything else in this damned jungle does."

"Doctor," Spock interjected, "as I attempted to explain earlier, these insects appear to be largely attracted to moving targets, no doubt a trait which evolved due to this world's peculiar flora. Given botanical specimens which are so highly motile, it is only logical that the fauna would respond to that particular stimulus, the way fauna on your own Earth respond to color and scent. If you would cease your unnecessary batting motions, the insects would undoubtedly ignore you, much as they are ignoring the other members of the landing party."

Kirk gave a mental snort as another branch caught him just below where the earlier one had struck. Highly motile! A fancy way of saying "incredibly flexible." In fact, what this place reminded him of, was a jungle inhabited by a thousand different types of weeping willows. Creeping willows, too, he thought. Kirk looked around. Not one of the various trees, bushes, or vines surrounding them had a decent solid trunk. Not even the ones that were as big around as his thigh and looked as solid as young oaks. Everything he touched, bent and swayed in front of him, and as far as he could tell, he'd been hit by at least one of every genus and species.

He slapped at a mosquito. At least it buzzed like a mosquito. What it really was, he could care less at this particular moment. Right now, all the captain of the USS Enterprise really wanted was some hot food, a cup of coffee, or maybe some Saurian brandy to warm him up, and his own comfortable bunk aboard the ship, none of which was going to materialize for another four days. "Damn," Kirk quietly echoed McCoy.

"Captain, it would appear that you have taken more than your share of the 'hits'. Perhaps I should take the point position." The Vulcan first officer stepped past the doctor to walk alongside Kirk, indicating with a glance the assorted scrapes and abrasions presently adoming the captain's normally smooth face.

"Thanks, Spock. If I were in a better mood, I'd tell you there's no reason for both of us to get all cut up, but I'm not, so you're more than welcome to it." Kirk held out his hand in an 'after you' gesture, then fell into step behind the Vulcan, giving a little shiver as he did so.

"It's gettin' to you too, hunh?" McCoy eyed the captain carefully as he waved his tricorder in a wide sweep.

"Yeah. How're the rest of the landing party holding up?"

"'Bout the same ... cold, wet, and hungry. I hope we can find something dry to burn. They're gonna need it."

"Bones, that's about as likely as finding a whale on Vulcan. Besides, we set up the tent this morning and it's equipped with portable heaters and lamps. They're far more efficient than campfires." Kirk was referring to the latest in temporary living quarters being used by Starfleet.

Certain shuttles had been outfitted with special tents which fit into a compartment on the bottom of the shuttle, and could be set up in minutes by merely pulling them out and locking several support rods in place. They were far more commodious than the shuttle itself, allowing everyone some much needed elbow room during extended periods of time spent planetside.

"Yeah, but heaters don't do the same thing for morale as a campfire. Why'd Starfleet want a survey on this planet anyway?" McCoy asked, although he already knew the answer. He looked around at the lush, if wobbly vegetation, then down at his booted feet, covered by several inches of muddy water. Orange muddy water, at that.

"Reports say Mendas is ideal for growing several different rice hybrids, including Pseudo-oryza sativa." Kirk repeated the explanation he'd given several times before, feeling a sense of satisfaction as the multi-syllabic name rolled smoothly off his tongue. The quadrotriticale episode had left him determined never again to find himself similarly uninformed if he could in any way prevent it, even if it did mean staying up late at night rereading Spock's reports. "The Federation is always in need of additional sources of food, and it looks like this might be a good one," he added.

"Well, if it is," McCoy's drawl came out full strength, "I, for one, will not be puttin' in a request to be part of any colony they establish here."

"That makes two of us, Doctor McCoy."

"I'd say it makes more than that, Captain." Uhura's dusky voice came from several feet behind. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to live here. Why, we haven't seen the sun once since we beamed down, and that's almost three days ago now. Usually when you think of a jungle, you think of heat, but it's downright cold on this planet."

"Agreed, Uhura."

"I, too, agree that the air seems chilly, Lieutenant Uhura, however, the median temperature has in fact remained at eighteen degrees Celsius, and it is presently the winter season in this hemisphere. The weather should be more than suitable for the intended purposes. In fact, everything we have so far learned about this planet would seem to indicate it will neatly fill the Federation's requir--" Spock's words were rudely interrupted by a sneeze issuing from somewhere behind McCoy.

"Bless you, Uhura."

"Thanks, Doctor McCoy." The communications officer paused to blow her nose, grateful that she was garbed in the same, long (and even more important, water resistant) pants and field jacket as the rest of the survey team. If she'd been wearing her standard shipboard uniform, there wouldn't have been any pocket to pull a tissue out of. (Although she and other female officers, had been known to stuff them in various convenient locations. The tunics tended to be too large in certain areas anyway.) "What I want to know, is why I received the honor of going along on this particular assignment," she muttered under her breath to the physician, who was now walking alongside her.

Kirk, whose hearing sometimes seemed to approach the level of acuity which his first officer enjoyed, turned back and grinned at her. "After listening to your sighs every time I assigned a landing party and you weren't included, Lieutenant, I finally decided it was time to let you off the ship. Therefore, you have no one to blame but yourself."

"Next time, could I read the weather report first, Captain, sir?" She grinned back, her warm brown skin flushed with exertion, an answering smile crossing her face. Discipline had understandably relaxed after the first three or four drenchings they had received, not to mention various unplanned slips and falls in the slippery goo under foot. Even the two recently assigned ensigns had given up coming to full attention at the sound of Kirk's voice.

McCoy chuckled damply as a few errant drops of water ran down his cheek. "That goes for me, too, Jim."

"You both know the old saying, I guess you just didn't give it much credence."

"Which old saying is that, Captain?" McCoy swiped at the drips on his face.

"The one that says 'be careful what you wish for'. Uhura wished for landing party duty; I'd say she got it, with a vengeance."

"You can say that again," Uhura sniffled, then grabbed for another tissue. "Right now, I'm wishing I had a whole box of tissues. I feel another sneeze coming on."

McCoy gave her a sidelong glance, but said nothing, merely continuing to wave his tricorder in even sweeps, collecting information to feed to the Enterprise computer when the ship returned from her supply rendezvous with the science/medical vessel Blackwell.

* * *

Several hours later, after returning to camp for the night, the doctor was again surveying the communications officer. This time his intent look was joined by a feinberger, which he had run over her several times. "Looks to me like you caught a cold, Uhura. I can give you some medication that should make you feel a little better, but the best thing is old fashioned bed rest. I don't have the specific antiviral agent that would knock it out completely, and without that, it's better to just treat the whole thing symptomatically."

"Are you sure it's a cold, Doctor? I feel so itchy, I thought maybe it was an allergic reaction to some plant or something." Uhura sniffed again, then began to rub her eyes vigorously.

McCoy grabbed her wrists, holding them so she had no choice but to stop. "It'd be odd for you to develop an allergy that fast, Lieutenant, but I suppose anything is possible. I'll give you something for the itching too, but until it takes effect, you're gonna have to resist the urge to rub your eyes. The last thing we need with the Enterprise out of range is a scratched cornea."

"Aye, sir." Uhura coughed, then sniffled again.

McCoy pulled a hypospray out of his medikit and adjusted the setting, then pressed it to her arm, the characteristic hiss filling the small space. "Right, then I want you to get into that sleeping bag and go to sleep. I'll tell the captain you're not to be disturbed for anything less than a supernova. That includes general chores, so relax and get some rest." McCoy put his equipment away, then patted her shoulder and strode out of the sleeping area into the main body of the tent.

Kirk sat on a small folding stool, waiting for the doctor's report.

"She'll live, Jim, but she's gonna wish she wouldn't for a few days. Looks like a typical, garden variety head cold, sneezing, sniffling, the whole bit. I wish we could get her to someplace really warm and dry, but that's impossible, so I gave her something to ease the symptoms and help her sleep. Other than that, all we can do is wait."

"Mmmph," Kirk replied, arms folded across his chest. He glanced around the tent, presently inhabited by himself and the five other Enterprise officers. "How about the rest of the landing party?"

"Well, with the exception of you and Uhura, everyone looks fine. You, on the other hand, have quite a shiner there." McCoy leaned over, examining the discolored area surrounding the captain's eye. "Does it hurt much?"

Kirk touched the bruise surrounding his eye gingerly, and suppressed a groan. "Mmmhmm. Must've been a branch. Can you do anything for it?"

"Yeah." McCoy rummaged in his pack and brought out a small blue item. He folded it in half, giving it a twist, then shook it vigorously, and handed it to Kirk. "Hold this on it."

"Chemical ice, Doctor?" Kirk eyed the blue pouch, a look of disbelief on his expressive features.

"Well, what did you expect? Protoplasers and cosmetic surgery? I have to carry all this stuff, you know!" He rummaged again, this time producing a single dose tube of some sort of salve. "Here, put this on the cuts and scratches. It should help."

"Thanks, Bones." Kirk broke the seal and began to gently dab the ointment on his injuries, wincing every so often. "What about Spock, how's he doing?"

"Pretty good, considering. He apparently packed plenty of warm clothing, so he's really not much worse off than the rest of us." McCoy observed Kirk for a moment, then reached for the tube, exasperated. "Here, give me that. You hold the ice pack on your eye and I'll do the rest. It hurts just watching you." McCoy went methodically about the business of rubbing the ointment into the cuts. "I'll tell you one thing, next time someone tells me the median temperature of a planet, I'm gonna ask for the complete weather report." He paused, anointing one last scratch. "There. You'll do."

"Thanks again, Doctor." Kirk sighed, one eye obscured by the flexible blue pouch. "I wish when StarfIeet ordered this survey, I'd never gone along with it. Without the Enterprise available to bail us out, things have gotten mighty uncomfortable down here."

"Since when has Starfleet given you your choice of assignments, Jim?" McCoy asked reasonably. "Besides, there are no dangerous animals here, and we haven't found any vegetation that is more harmful to the majority of humanoids than your basic Terran poison Ivy. We have food and shelter, not much privacy maybe, but all things considered, I'd say we're in pretty good condition. Uncomfortable perhaps, but nothing dangerous."

Kirk listened to McCoy's response in amazed silence. It wasn't like the doctor to smooth over difficulties. It was more his style to enlarge upon them. "Isn't that supposed to be my line, Bones? Anyway, thanks for reminding me. I guess all this rain is getting me down. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd better go see how dinner is coming. With Spock in charge of 'KP' tonight, we'll all be eating ferns and roots if I don't watch him."

* * *

Almost exactly twenty-four hours later, Kirk and McCoy were once again having a tete-a-tete. This time however, the captain's tone was far more dejected. Today had been the roughest day so far, with heavy downpours preventing the team from traveling more than six kilometers from the shuttle, most of it through ankle deep, rust-colored mud. Once again they had been forced to remain in close contact, not spreading out in the wheel configuration as had been planned aboard the Enterprise. By the time they returned to the shuttle/tent for the night, everyone was cold and soggy, despite their 'weather proof' clothing.

"I don't know, Bones, I'm beginning to wish I had insisted we wait until after the Enterprise returned from her rendezvous with the Blackwell. At least we would have someplace to really get cleaned up. Right now, I could stand a good shower." Kirk pressed his fingertips to his forehead, wincing when they encountered the bruised area encircling his left eye.

McCoy chortled wickedly and waved a hand in Kirk's direction, making little puffing sounds at him. "Phew! Right now, I'm forced to agree. You sure could!" He stopped teasing though, when he noticed the way the captain touched his head. The physician knew that gesture too well. "Headache?"

"Yeah, and I don't think your little pills are going to do one bit of good. If we'd waited for the Enterprise to finish the mission with the Blackwell, we'd only have been a week behin--"

"Ifs and maybes are of no importance, Captain." McCoy could use his emotions the way other people use tools, and he did so now, allowing Kirk to witness his annoyance. "Starfleet said 'jump', and you said 'how high?'. Whose decision are you questioning anyhow? Yours? You didn't have one to make. Spock's? He only had the reports Starfleet gave us, and nothing in them indicated this type of weather. Either way, it's of little use to us. Someone at headquarters goofed, and we're the ones who have to deal with it. So we do it, that's all. If you've told me once, you've told me a million times, the secret of command is never to second guess yourself."

"You've got it wrong," Kirk corrected. "The trick is never to let your crew know when you're second guessing."

"So what the hell do you think you're doing now, Captain?" McCoy thrust his hand out to Kirk. "Here, swallow the pill and slather the ointment on the new scratches, then get out of my way, 'cause tonight I have KP, and if my stomach is any indication, it's already way past dinner time."

Kirk accepted the pill and the ointment, then feeling chastened, trailed after McCoy. "Aww, Bones, you're not crew, you're my CMO. It's okay to second guess myself to you," he said as they entered the main area of the tent.

"Oh-h-h. Is that how it works?" McCoy started rummaging around in the pack containing the landing party's supply of dehydrated foods, all the while mumbling and throwing out disparaging comments about whoever packed the rations. "How's chili sound?"

"Fine, so long as it's hot." Kirk sat down on one of the indispensable camp stools and began setting up the fleet issue portable stove. The stove was little more than a power pack with a special heating surface fitted on top, and was ready to use in moments. The entire stove and cooking utensils fitted into the special pack which held the rations. McCoy whimsically insisted on calling it the 'kitchen caboodle'.

A shadow fell across Kirk's features. "Coffee, Captain?"

Kirk looked up to see Spock holding out one of their lightweight recyclable mugs, filled with steaming brown liquid.

"Where did you get that, Spock?" Kirk questioned, accepting the mug, but curious all the same, since he'd taken the stove out of its storage sack himself only moments before. "I thought you said we should use the facilities aboard the shuttle itself as little as possible, in order not to drain the batteries."

"I did. However, Ensign MacEvoy brought along a something he calls a 'hot pot' which has its own power pack. He had not bothered to use it prior to today, since there had been no reason to do so. However, since my warning concerning power usage, it occurred to hin that it would be quite useful. In it, he is able to heat enough water at one time for two mugs full of a hot beverage. I took advantage of his generosity and procured the coffee for you, Jim." Spock turned toward the physician. "He has promised he will bring some over for you as well, Doctor, as soon as the next increment is heated."

"Thanks, Spock." McCoy threw enough ration packets for the six members of the landing party into the collapsible stew pot he had taken out, then added water from the waiting bucket, which someone had already filled at a nearby stream, and set it on the stove. "How is MacEvoy? He wouldn't let me look at him after that fall he took today." He gave the food a quick stir, checking to see that the edible outer wrappers were dissolving, then placed the lid on the pot and looked up at the first officer, waiting for a reply.

"The ensign is in acceptable condition. He is cold and wet, as are the rest of the landing party, and is suffering from several minor contusions and abrasions, however I believe he will survive." Spock met Kirk's eye and he added dryly, "I do believe however, that he is attempting to emulate your behavior, Captain."

Kirk looked surprised, hazel eyes widening slightly, until he felt the pull of the injured skin around his eye.

"Great," McCoy muttered, checking the pot and thinking back over the events of the earlier part of the day. The young ensign, Sean MacEvoy, was one of Speck's proteges from the science department. He and his almost inseparable cohort, Maisy McMurphy (or Mickey and Mack, as they were more often called) were the two most junior members of the landing party. MacEvoy specialized in xenobotany and agriculture, while McMurphy's ruling passion was geology.

This afternoon, shortly after the landing party had packed up the remains of their lunch, and resumed the survey, Mack had tripped over a hidden root, then slid partway down a muddy hillside. He ended his acrobatic feat with a close encounter with a one of the wobbly Mendasian trees. The resounding 'thunk' with which he collided had been all the more amazing, given the slender and flexible nature of the native vegetation.

"That's all I need, another martyr on my hands. I don't suppose you told him the captain very nearly died one time, due to a 'little' infection he didn't want to 'bother' me with, did you, Spock?"

"I regret to say I did not, Doctor." Spock looked mildly abashed, if that were possible on a Vulcan.

"I'll talk to him after dinner, Bones." Kirk tried to reassure the physician.

"Wonderful. What will you tell him? How to evade physicals?" McCoy scowled as he gave the chili another quick stir.

"Of course not. I'll order him to let you look at his injuries. That was quite a fall he took."

"I'll say. I could've sworn I heard something crack when he hit that tree."

"As did I, Doctor, however when I questioned the ensign about it, he assured me it was nothing other than some sort of 'good luck charm' which he often carries." Spock's expression was one of extreme distaste. It had shocked him, that so promising a young scientist should resort to a primitive belief in charms and talismans.

Kirk noted the look on his first officer's face and chuckled. "Don' worry, Spock, I doubt Ensign MacEvoy is going to take up painting his face and dancing around waving beads and rattles. Lots of people carry good luck charms. More often than not, they're fully aware of the absurdity of the notion, but hang on to them for sentimental reasons. Not logical perhaps, but not nearly as bad as what you were thinking, if your face was any indication."

"Thank you for that assurance, Captain. While it does not completely set my mind at ease, at least it does offer an explanation for this sort of behavior."

Kirk laughed again, then met McCoy's eye, still grinning at what Spock would say if he told him that he, himself, had been known to carry certain articles because he considered them 'lucky'. Better keep that confidence to himself, Kirk thought. He didn't want to see that Vulcan eyebrow raised in his direction just now.

* * *

Dinner was a pleasant meal. Despite the heavy rain drumming down on it, the ultra light tent kept them dry, while the built-in portable heaters did an excellent job of heating the small space. Kirk thanked whatever gods looked out for deluged campers, for the foresight which prompted Starfleet to make the heaters part and parcel of the tents. It would have been awkward had they needed to resort to the old 'phasered rocks' method of heating. It tended to drain the weapons' power packs rapidly, and while entirely safe in a cave or other stony environment, might have caused problems with the new polymers with which the tent was constructed.

Kirk wasn't certain, but he suspected heated rocks would have caused the tent fabric to melt. Besides, he thought, picturing the scene, it would have been damned messy bringing wet, muddy rocks in every night. Yuck, he thought, and gave a mental chuckle at the juvenile nature of the comment.

Kirk put down his empty dish and sat back, feeling much better than he had an hour ago. It's amazing what a full stomach and dry socks could do for a person, he mused, as he allowed the sound of his officers' voices to flow around him. He glanced around the assembled group, assessing the condition of the landing party. Uhura seemed better than she had last night when they made camp. Although her nose was still red and her eyes were a bit teary looking, whatever McCoy had given her must have helped some. MacEvoy, on the other hand, looked the worse for wear, his fair young skin darkening in numerous spots from the tumble he'd taken. Kirk had observed the cautious way he moved as he lowered himself onto his stool, and made a mental note to speak to him before they bedded down for the night. Ensign McMurphy was scratched and bruised too, but seemed to be cheerfully holding her own.

McCoy also bore his share of cuts and scrapes, but amazingly, the doctor looked better than Kirk would have expected. That was something he always forgot about McCoy. Despite his slender build and delicate appearance, the physician had a better than average ability to roll with the punches. He also tended to be a little more cautious than Kirk's other officers, maybe because he knew precisely what damage could be inflicted on the body of a sentient being, maybe due to an odd sense of responsibility (if anything happened to him, who would patch up the rest of the crew...) or maybe just healthy self interest. Anyway, the doctor was in pretty good condition tonight, Kirk thought thankfully.

Finally his gaze fell upon Spock, and for a second, blurred. Kirk blinked, then blinked again, and the haziness passed. That had been happening all day. Must have gotten something in it, he thought, as he turned his attention back to his friend.

The Vulcan looked distinctly bedraggled, Kirk noticed, quite different from the neat appearance he usually presented. His face bore as many scratches and scrapes as Kirk's own, and a smear of green blood mixed with orangish dirt on a high cheekbone did nothing to help. As Kirk watched, Spock gave a slight shiver, which he quickly controlled. The captain's eyes narrowed and a frown crossed his face.

Until tonight, the landing party had been using the entire tent, which was actually rated for anywhere from six to twelve people and was set up almost like two 'cabins'. From now on, Kirk decided, they would not open up the other half, which they had been using as sleeping quarters. Instead, they would use only one side of the tent, which would mean less space to heat, and would require that they remain closer together, sharing their body heat. From prior experience Kirk knew he had no desire to be saddled with a sick Vulcan. Spock seldom became ill, but when he did, it tended to be life threatening. Not a good idea under their present conditions. Kirk wiped his eye again, careful of the bruise surrounding it, then got up and made his way to Mack's side. He'd issue his order for the ensign to let McCoy check him out, then they would all turn in for the night.

* * *

The following day was the best they had experienced. It had stopped raining shortly after Kirk and Spock rose at planet dawn, and a light breeze had sprung up. They conferred in whispers so as not to wake the rest of the team, finally deciding to delay breaking camp for an extra hour. This would allow the tent time to dry, and incidentally give the other members of the landing party that much extra sleep.

"Everyone is exhausted after yesterday, Spock. I wish we could just take the day off, but I don't dare. With the weather on this planet, tomorrow we could have a hurricane. We'll just have to make do with an extra hour." Kirk blinked and his fingers moved unconsciously to his face. "Maybe I'll close my eyes for a few minutes, too. This black eye is kind of annoying."

"That is not surprising. It does not appear appreciably better than it did thirty-six hours ago." Spock looked at the eye in question, noting it was even more colorful than it had been and appeared to be slightly swollen.

"That's just how black eyes are, Spock. Its bound to look worse before it looks better. Wake me in fifty minutes if I fall asleep."

Spock nodded and responded, "Affirmative, Captain."

Kirk inched back into his sleeping bag, careful not to awaken McCoy, who was snoring peacefully. It's a wonder he can sleep through all that noise, Kirk thought wryly. He acknowledged to himself he was glad for the short respite. He could certainly use the extra sack time; the previous day had been arduous (and disheartening) for every one involved. It didn't matter that he was already dressed, all his clothing looked the same at this point (as did everyone else's): rumpled, and somewhat muddy. Luckily the uniforms were specially treated and shed most of the dirt they collected, as well as water, otherwise the entire landing party would have looked like walking mudpies by this time, Kirk thought as he snuggled into the bedding. He was asleep almost before he closed his eyes.

The first officer watched Kirk for a moment, then turned and strode quietly to the camp stool positioned closest to one of the heat vents, an expression suspiciously akin to a smile flitting across his angular features. It went unseen by the sleeping occupants of the tent, as did the slight shiver which wracked his slender frame. He was experiencing increasing difficulty in maintaining his body temperature and an irritating tickle in the back of his throat made him more than usually aware of his maternal ancestry. It would appear that he had contracted Uhura's cold. No matter. Spock had no intention of allowing either Kirk or the doctor to become aware of his condition. An hour's meditation would be useful in assisting him to regulate his body's reactions to the infection and perhaps even go part of the way to curing it.

* * *

Exactly one hour later, the Vulcan touched his commanding officer's shoulder and woke him with a word. He had taken the liberty of allowing Kirk the full hour's rest, assuming the captain would most likely never be aware of the minor deception, since Spock had taken note that he had not bothered to check a chrono before going to sleep. In his fatigued state, Kirk's time sense, although excellent for a human, would never be accurate enough to notice a missing ten minutes.

"Time, Spock?" Kirk rolled onto his back and peered up at his first officer.

"Indeed, Jim. Shall I wake the others?" Spock looked around the tent. The remainder of the landing party had hardly stirred since he arose almost two hours ago. It was indeed regrettable that they could not use this day to recover their energies.

"No, let me wake up first. McCoy can be a bit hard to take when he first wakes up." Kirk pushed down the sealer on the side of the sleeping bag, then crawled out.

"Doctor McCoy can be a bit 'hard to take' any time he chooses. It is merely your own condition which makes it appear worse, first thing in the morning." Spock's words were calm, his expression knowing.

"You're probably right, and that's why I want a chance to clear my brain before I have to deal with him." Kirk made his way toward the circle of camp stools where they had eaten dinner the evening before.

"I made some coffee for you."

"Thanks, Spock." Both men were speaking in near normal tones now and the sleepers began to stir. Uhura and Ensign Mickey were the first to rise, followed shortly by Mack. Doctor McCoy was predictably the last one up, although as Kirk murmured while nudging the CMO with his toe, if anyone had been hurt or injured, McCoy would have been on his feet almost before anyone else knew what happened. "I don't know how he does it, but it's almost like some sort of telepathic response. Bones always knows when he's really needed."

"Urgghh... Same way you always seem to know when your presence is required on the bridge." McCoy groaned, then struggled to sit up, taking in the sunny light shining through the thin fabric of the tent. "Hey, the sun's out."

"And the grand prize goes to Leonard McCoy!" Kirk quipped. "See how smart he is when we let him sleep in, Spock?"

"Indeed, rest would appear to at least double the good doctor's mental abilities."

"C'mon, you two, layoff. I just woke up," McCoy groused, but his heart wasn't in it.

"And if you don't hurry up, you're not going to get any breakfast, Bones. I want to have the tent stowed and be ready to go in forty-five minutes."

"All right, all right, I'm movin'. Boy, talk about impatient people."

As it turned out, it was a little over an hour before they were able to move out and Kirk had no one to blame but himself. As he battled to stow his side of the tent in the special compartment (it had to go in just right, or the compartment wouldn't close properly) an unwary move brought Kirk's hand into contact with an inner edge of the metal storage compartment. The captain inhaled sharply, then cautiously withdrew a hand already covered with blood.

Uhura, who had been working alongside Kirk, took one look at it, grabbed his wrist and lifted it so that it would be above the level of his heart, then with a quick exhortation to "hold it there" called to McCoy. Almost before Kirk could respond to his situation, he found himself being escorted Into the shuttle proper and seated in one of the cushioned seats.

McCoy shouted for someone to bring his kit, then began examining the wound. "Let's see, Jim." The physician noted the pallor of Kirk's skin and was glad they were seated in the shuttle, not somewhere in the middle of the Mendasian jungle right now. The injury was not severe; luckily the cut was a clean one, and it had somehow missed damaging either the underlying blood vessels or nerves, but all the same it was a bloody mess. Literally, McCoy thought, eyeing the flood of red which covered Kirk's hand and wrist, and was dripping steadily onto the deck plates of the shuttle with noisy little splashes.

Ensign Mack deposited the requested medikit on the seat next to the physician, then drew back, making room for Spock to approach Kirk's side. He felt more than a little awkward, looking on as the doctor took care of his captain's injury.

Kirk gasped, as McCoy began to cleanse the wound, shooting a dirty look at the doctor, then he turned to face the first officer. "Spock, whatever I got cut on is as sharp as a knife. Better see If there's some way of fixing it so no one else gets hurt. When we get back to the Enterprise, Scotty can do a permanent repair on it. Ow! Bones!"

"If you'd just hold still..." McCoy looked up at the circle of faces surrounding them. Work had ceased with the captain's injury. "Spock, why don't you take Mickey and Mack outside, and finish up with stowing the tent, while I take care of the captain?" The doctor's tone of voice made it clear that although he had phrased it as a question, he had, in fact given an order. Spock nodded to the two ensigns and headed for the door, followed by McCoy's voice. "And be careful, y'hear? Wear gloves if we have them, I don't need any more like this. Uhura, I'd appreciate it if you'd stay and give me a hand."

"Of course, Doctor McCoy. What do you want me to do?"

"Hold his hand." McCoy grinned at her reaction, then pointed the communications officer to the seat next to Kirk. After instructing her on just how he wanted the captain's hand positioned, he began digging in his medikit.

"Uhh, Bones... what are you planning on doing?" Kirk recalled McCoy's comment from the other evening, regarding protoplasers and such, and he experienced a sickening vision of McCoy stitching up his skin with a needle and thread.

"What do you think I'm doing, Jim? I'm going to take care of your hand." McCoy glanced up and was startled by the look of dread on Kirk's face. "Jim ... anybody'd think this was the first time you'd ever cut yourself. Relax." He removed a protoplaser from his kit, and turning it, began to repair the damaged tissue.

"I thought you said you didn't have any protoplasers along." Kirk's voice held a mixed note of surprise and relief, as he felt the tingling sensation of his skin being forced to repair itself.

"What?..." The doctor looked up from his work. "Are you out of your cotton pickin'-- Of course I have." McCoy thought for a moment. "Oh, right ... now I understand. Did you think I was going to sew your hand up, Jim? C'mon, be reasonable. What I meant the other night, was that I didn't have any fancy stuff along. There are different protoplasers for different jobs. This one is for basic mending, as it were, and I never leave the ship without it. What did you think I used on Mack's leg, for godsake?" He shook his head, realizing that he hadn't actually told Kirk how he had treated the young man, injuries last night, just that he had done it. "Boy, talk about gullible! I wouldn't have believed it. You didn't really think I was going to stitch you up, did you?"

"Well, for a moment there, when you asked Uhura to help..."

"I asked Uhura to help because you were going to get awfully tired trying to hold your hand up while I was workin' on it in this rotten light, and I figured you'd want Spock to oversee putting the tent away, especially after this happened."

McCoy examined the injury closely, then held the protoplaser over it for a moment longer, checked it once again and replaced the instrument in its case. "Okay, Uhura, much as you and Jim are enjoyin' this, you can let go now." He pulled out one of his handheld scanners and ran it over the captain, then handed him a couple of tablets. "Here, swallow these, they're mineral supplements, mostly iron, then I want you to drink as much water as you can. It will help replace the blood you lost. You were bleeding pretty good there, for a measly little cut on the hand. And," he added in a voice that would brook no opposition, "I want you to take it easy for an hour or so."

Kirk looked a little annoyed, but he'd been expecting this. By the time they finished packing the shuttle and moving to the next set of coordinates ordered by Starfleet, an hour should just about be up.

And so it was that the landing party, minus the captain, finally finished stowing the tent and took their seats. Kirk glanced at his newly mended hand, then at the instrument panel of the shuttle. "Mister Spock, perhaps you had better drive today."

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at the phrasing, but took his place in the pilot's seat. He waited for Kirk to take the copilot's seat. Instead, the captain turned to Uhura and gestured to the seat next to Spock. "Lieutenant ... it's all yours."

"Why, thank you, Captain." She clearly had not expected this. Everyone knew Captain Kirk preferred to pilot the shuttle himself, unless Spock or Sulu were aboard.

"It's the least I can do after you held my hand while Bones performed 'surgery'," the captain explained with a winning smile.

A half hour later, Spock set the shuttle down at the next survey location, and they again began setting up the tent. Once again, Kirk sat out the activity, as McCoy's designated hour had not quite elapsed. He was literally itching to get going, with the newly healed hand undergoing the odd, tickly pulling sensation, unique to wounds sealed with a protoplaser. Only McCoy's stern eye kept the captain from picking at it.

Finally though, when he began to think he couldn't stand another minute of waiting, Spock decreed everything done to his satisfaction, and McCoy declared Kirk fit for duty. Shouldering their packs and tricorders, the landing party headed out.

Although conditions could hardly be considered good, compared to the previous day, they made excellent time. When the sun was almost at the zenith, they came to a raging stream. Even to one of Kirk's adventurous nature, it looked forbidding. The captain eyed the current, then glanced at his first officer. "What do you think, Spock?" He unconsciously wiped at his eye, noticing that his fingers were stiff with the cold. Despite the first partially sunny day they had experienced on Mendas, the air was still chilly, and the wind, which had begun that morning, had not abated in the least.

Spock scrutinized the racing water. "Unwise, Captain. I suggest we follow the course of this stream, until we reach a location where it is safe to ford it."

"Hallelujah," McCoy murmured, gratefully.

Kirk ignored the interruption, merely nodding his head decisively. "All right then, let's stop here to eat and rest. McMurphy, you break out the rations, Uhura, get the heater set up."

The captain had noticed Spock's continued efforts to hide the shivers he was experiencing and was glad he had made certain they began carrying one of the extra heat units after their first frigid day on Mendas. Kirk himself had cold hands and feet, but the rest of him was feeling sticky (and no doubt smelly, too, if his nose hadn't been so cold) from perspiration.

"MacEvoy, which would be easier, that hot pot of yours, or setting up the stove to make hot drinks?" While it wasn't raining, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds again and tired muscles were feeling the strain of plodding through the thick clingy mud, while being slapped and scratched continuously by the overhanging branches. All the information they'd gathered indicated that the soil and climate of this planet were excellent for the grains the Federation wished to grow, but the thought entered the captain's mind, that he was more than glad he wouldn't be one of the ones who cleared this land. Give him a Midwest prairie any day.

"The hotpot, sir." MacEvoy opened his pack and pulled the pot out, moving stiffly. McCoy's scan had revealed no major injuries, but the young man did have a slight stress fracture in his right leg. McCoy had administered a metabolic accelerator, along with a mineral supplement (similar to the one he had given Kirk) to help the ensign's body replenish the minerals it would require to repair the fracture, urged the bone to begin knitting together with his protoplaser, then sprayed on a temporary plasticast, and instructed MacEvoy, "Take it easy on that leg, son." The ensign had sighed, thinking he'd have little choice in the matter, with the old fashioned cast on his leg. As things turned out though, he quickly discovered the cast didn't do nearly enough to prevent his shin from aching almost unbearably.

"Right." The captain spoke, drawing the ensign's attention back to the matter at hand. "Then you take care of the drinks; Doctor McCoy will give you a hand." Kirk paused at the odd expression on MacEvoy's face.

The ensign broke into a grin, his fair skin flushing at his temerity and responded, "A leg would be better, if it's okay with you, Captain."

"It's fine with me, Ensign." Kirk returned the grin, glad the boy was reacting so gamely, then he turned to survey the landing party. The only ones without chores were himself and Spock. He stepped over to the Vulcan, attempting to read the first officer's expression. He couldn't do it, which only served to reinforce his gut feeling, that Spock was experiencing difficulties, and attempting to hide it from him.

"Well, Mister Spock, care to tell me about it?"

"Captain?" Spock turned a blank face to Kirk, his Vulcan face.

Sometimes Kirk backed off when he got that look from his first officer. Today, he was having none of it. "You keep shivering. I noticed last night, and again today. Are you okay?"

"I am wel--"

Kirk interrupted brusquely, "Don't tell me you're 'well,' Spock. I've known you too long for that nonsense. Whatever's wrong, is it serious, and what can I do to help?"

Spock sighed. It was difficult to maintain a secret around James Kirk. "You are correct, Jim. I am not perhaps one hundred percent well. I am experiencing difficulty maintaining my body temperature. It is no doubt a temporary condition and will pass as soon as we return to the Enterprise."

"I see." Kirk surveyed him, noting the bruises and scrapes, the slightly off color of the Vulcan's skin. "Maybe you caught Uhura's cold. Tonight, I intend to use only half of the tent, so we'll be closer together. That should help a little; I don't want you sleeping on the end, again, either... And if things get any worse, I want you to let McCoy check you out. That's an order." James Kirk stared at his friend. "Understood, Spock?" He'd been planning this confrontation since last night, aware that the Vulcan wouldn't disobey a direct order. Unfortunately he ruined the ending, irritably brushing the back of his hand over his left eye, as he attempted to clear his vision.

"Understood, Captain." The Vulcan nodded, but his attention had already been redirected by Ensign McMurphy calling out his name. Otherwise he might have noticed Kirk's action and been concerned. "I believe Ensign Mickey has prepared lunch."

Kirk's eyebrows rose and his eyes widened at the sound of his first officer using a nickname. "Et tu, Spock?" he grinned.

The Vulcan's eyebrow angled, as he responded wryly. "It does seem unavoidable, since the majority of the crew refers to them in that manner. When one uses the correct appellations in regard to the two ensigns, no one appears to know who they are. I have therefore conceded defeat and taken to using the 'nicknames' they have chosen."

"You know what they say..."

Spock looked at him Inquisitively.

"When In Rome..." Kirk quoted.

"Indeed..." Spock met Kirk's gaze Ingenuously. "It is the logical thing to do."

The captain shook his head ruefully, chuckling as he followed Spock to the side of the female member of the Celtic duo. "Maybe ... but I never thought I'd live to see the day."

* * *

Lunch passed quickly, with conversation revolving around the scientific aspects of the survey. Soil composition and water absorption rates figured highly, as did temperature ratios and aspects of the Mendasian seasons. When they were finished eating and had taken a few extra minutes to relax (and attend to the call of nature), Kirk gave the order to clear up the site of their picnic and head out (it had been a picnic, in comparison to the previous days they had spent on this planet). Twenty minutes later the landing party was once again slogging through the mud, this time following the bank of the rushing stream which cut through the valley they were presently surveying.

Conversation was kept to a minimum, it being of the utmost importance that they pay attention to their footing. Kirk had signaled for Spock to take the lead, partly because he wanted to keep an eye on the Vulcan, partly because he himself was feeling unaccountably fatigued and his eye was bothering him again. Not that it hurt or anything, but every so often it was as though a veil passed over the pupil, clouding his vision. It was annoying, but probably of no consequence, he thought. The tender area surrounding the eye was a greater source of annoyance, if only because it created a target for every dangling branch. McCoy had chosen to remain in the rear, seeing to it that Mack didn't get into any trouble. The doctor had already given Kirk orders to go slow, ostensibly on the ensign's account, but in actuality because he was spotting more and more signs of potentially dangerous fatigue among the landing party.

When they had hiked upstream for nearly an hour and a half and come to no crossing which the command team was prepared to attempt, Spock slowed, waiting for the captain to come to his side.

"Captain, I suggest that we turn back. It would appear the recent rains have affected this stream, and if we are to follow it much longer, we will risk being caught far from the shuttle in the dark."

Kirk eyed the sky, attempting to find the sun, which had been playing hide and seek with them for the entire day. "What time is it, Spock?"

"I would suspect that it is approximately three hours until planetary nightfaIl."

"What, no decimals? You're falling down on the job, Mister." Kirk grinned at the eyebrow which ascended superciliously.

"Since I have had no opportunity to make scientific observations, it is illogical of you to expect such precision, Captain. However, if you prefer, I estimate that dusk will approach in two hours and complete darkness will follow forty six point three standard minutes after that."

"Thank you, Spock." The captain adjusted his pack, then turning to face the rest of the landing party and reported, "Mister Spock says we'd better head back to the shuttle, or we're going to be out after curfew."

McCoy grinned at the Vulcan's nonplused expression, brown eyes wide, one brow crawling toward his hairline, then turned around and began heading back the way they'd come.

* * *

The next day passed peacefully (or as peacefully as could be expected when six people were forced to spend all their waking and sleeping hours in close, damp, proximity to each other). They shuttled to the next set of coordinates, aware that this was their last day on Mendas, assuming all had gone well with the Enterprise's assignment. The weather remained pleasant, comparatively speaking, with the sun visible for at least two or three hours, and no rain to speak of. The ground of course remained wet and, given the density of the vegetation, there were still occasional showers when someone dislodged a branch, but morale had improved with the appearance of the sun. The survey went well, as they managed to cover more ground than they had on any other day. Even Spock was satisfied with the results.

As a fitting end to the mission, Uhura, whose voice was much better than it had been for several days, serenaded them that evening after dinner with a series of ballads and songs, both remembered from her childhood and collected on her travels with Starfleet. McCoy had pulled out a supply of powdered cocoa, which he'd been saving as a treat, then surprised both Kirk and Spock, who'd known the beverage was somewhere, by producing a package of marshmallows, which he proposed to toast over the portable stove. The captain was able to convince him it wasn't a good idea, so instead they had the marshmallows in their cocoa, even Spock unbending enough to accept a mug of the hot beverage, although how much he actually consumed, no one was certain.

The following morning they woke late, since the ship wasn't expected until around noon, to the sound of rain pelting the roof of the tent, but this time it had no power to affect them. They would be going home today, back to the Enterprise and civilization, hot showers and clean sheets, and most important of all, dry clothes that really felt dry.

When the captain's communicator emitted its electronic chirp shortly before the appointed time, Kirk flipped it open, a thousand watt smile gracing his battered face as he greeted Mister Scott. He ordered the shuttle bay prepared to accept their begrimed vehicle, then the members of the Mendasian survey team took their places for the last time, Kirk and Spock seated in the two forward seats. "Take us home, Mister Spock," the captain commanded with aplomb, and the Vulcan, with his customary caution, ran a quick glance over the instrument panel, then did just that.

They disembarked as soon as the shuttle bay had repressurized, then Kirk turned to the members of the landing party. "I'd like to thank you all for a job well done. It wasn't pleasant, but we did what we were sent to do. I want everyone to get a hot shower and into some dry clothing, then we'll have a short debriefing so the Science Department can begin collating our data. Afterwards, you're all off duty for the next forty-eight hours."

Ensigns Mickey and Mack looked like their young faces were going to burst, until McCoy stuck a monkey wrench into their celebration. "Better make that 'you're off duty after I check out that leg, Mack. You, too, Captain, that eye is still pretty ugly."

"That's a contradiction in terms, Bones, but I'm in no mood to argue. Let's just say everyone has forty-eight hours off after they finish with you in Sickbay. I'll see you all in the main briefing room in one hour."

The two young ensigns tendered their thanks, then headed exuberantly out of the shuttle bay, as Uhura shouldered her pack and approached the captain. Whatever she intended to say remained unsaid though, for just then, the intercom whistled, and the voice of one of her subordinates requested that Captain Kirk contact the bridge.

Sandy eyebrows rose, then Kirk headed for the wall communicator, followed by Spock, Uhura and McCoy. "Kirk here."

"Scott here, Captain. Sorry to be a bother t'ye when you've no more than set foot on the ship, but there's a priority message coming in from Starfleet."

"Live or recorded, Mister Scott?"

"Commodore Peters, live, sir." They could hear the apology in the Scot's voice. Everyone knew that Peters' main accomplishment at headquarters was his ability to put an entire roomful of the brass to sleep within twenty minutes of his entering it. His verbose pomposity virtually assured that result.

Kirk suppressed a groan. "Route it to my quarters; I'll be there ASAP."

"Aye, sir." The channel went dead and Kirk glanced at the three officers surrounding him, then shrugged. "Well, another day, another dollar, I suppose." He headed for the nearest turbolift, still followed by the landing party, minus Ensigns Mickey and Mack.

"I could get you off on medical grounds, Jim," McCoy offered as they stepped into the car.

"Nah, then I'd only have to listen to him later, or else he'd insist on bending Spock's ear, and that would be a disaster." With hardly a break, Kirk added, "Deck five, officers' quarters."

Spock looked at the captain, his silent features questioning Kirk's assessment of his abilities to deal with the commodore, as the car began to speed through the shaft.

Kirk met his gaze and replied. "Face it, Spock," he shrugged, holding his hands In front of him, as though he were showing the Vulcan something. "You'd probably tell him to 'spit it out'. Politely of course, but firmly nonetheless, and although we may all consider him a jackass, he's an influential jackass. We don't want to take a chance on offending him. Besides, he's probably just looking for the results of the Mendasian survey. One look at me in my present state and he'll be glad to accept whatever tidbits I choose to give him."

"And I'll be right there to see that he does," McCoy chimed in.

Kirk looked at the physician, hazel eyes wide, then he shrugged again. "If you think it will help, Bones." All four of them stepped out of the lift. Uhura nodded in the captain's direction then headed for her quarters. As though divinely predestined, Spock and McCoy fell into formation, with Kirk sandwiched between them. "Do you wish me to accompany you as well, Captain?"

They had reached the door to Kirk's quarters. The captain surveyed his first officer. Under the ship's artificial lighting, Spock looked even more disheveled than he had down on the planet. "No, Spock, you go and get cleaned up. I'll let you know what Peters has to say as soon as I can." He'd been going to say 'as soon as I can get rid of him', but that struck Kirk as being too blunt, even for him. Besides, the knowing look in the Vulcan's dark eyes informed Kirk that Spock was fully aware of the unspoken words.

"Affirmative. I will see you in the briefing room, then."

"Right, Spock." Kirk turned to his door and it slid open with the old familiar whoosh. He stepped inside, followed by McCoy, and for a few moments savored the indefinable sense of 'home' even a starship cabin can come to possess. With a sigh, he crossed the room and dropped into the desk chair.

The captain rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the sudden tension in them, then pressed the button which stilled the flashing light on his comm unit, instantly producing an image of Commodore Peters, also seated at a desk, on the screen in front of him. It wasn't the Commodore's office at HQ, Kirk thought, then the horrible realization struck him that it looked a lot like the VIP quarters at Starbase Ten. Damn! Kirk sent out a quick prayer to the powers that be, that Peters wasn't about to order them to come and ferry him someplace.

"He's not in San Francisco," McCoy murmured, stepping into the range of the visual pickup. If Peters was going to bug Jim Kirk after the week they'd spent on that blankety-blank, water logged planet, McCoy intended to see to it that the Commodore realized just how poorly timed his call was.

"Captain Kirk," Peters never called anyone by their first name. "I see I've caught you at a bad time. However, it couldn't be helped."

"You have caught me at a bad time, Commodore," Kirk replied baldly, folding his hands on the desk in front of him. "We've just returned from Mendas and I'm sorry to say that the data hasn't been collated yet. As you can see it was a bit messy..." He made a little gesture indicating his mud-spattered condition. "The reports we received from Starfl-"

"Mendas can wait, Kirk. Right now we have an emergency on our hands."

"An emergency, sir?" Kirk's attention was caught, despite the niggling thought that what might be an emergency to Peters, would almost certainly not be one to him. Or the rest of the fleet, for that matter. He couldn't have been more wrong.

"Kirk, there's been an outbreak of Spican measles on Lonara's Planet, and they have no vaccine available whatsoever. I've already rerouted the Blackwell to Lonara's, but they haven't got enough vaccine to handle it either. With her superior speed, the Enterprise can pick up additional supplies here at Starbase Ten, and arrive at Lonara just about the same time as the Blackwell."

"Of course, Commodore. Let me call the bridge and I'll give you our ETA--"

"Never mind, Kirk, just get here as fast as you can." The commodore paused. "And you'd better get your ship's surgeon to look at that eye. It's pretty ugly looking." The screen went blank.

McCoy quirked an eyebrow. "Told you so," he remarked blandly.

Kirk ignored him. "Well, so much for the Mendasian survey. Spican measles..." Kirk swivelled his chair so he could see McCoy's face more clearly. "How bad, Bones?"

"Bad enough. And if they don't have any vaccine, it's not just going to be a matter of dropping off supplies. They're going to need assistance. The Blackwell is primarily intended for med/research... She won't be able to handle this alone. I suspect we'd better be prepared to stay and help, Jim."

"Whatever... Peters didn't say so, but..." The captain thought aloud. "...Maybe no one has had a chance to consider it yet. You're right, that will probably be our next set of orders." His tone changed. "Do whatever you think is necessary, Doctor. In a case like this, I'd rather be prepared." Kirk pondered for a moment. "What about our crew? Are they vaccinated?"

"Most of them. Some of them are probably due for boosters. I'll have to run a computer check on it."

"Let Chapel take care of it. You go shower and get into some clean clothes and don't worry about the briefing. If there's anything you want to add to the records, we can put it in later."

"Funny, I was going to say pretty much the same thing to you, Captain."

"Don't worry about me, Bones. I'm going to call the bridge and order the course change, then I'm heading straight for a hot shower and you won' see me again until I'm as shriveled as a prune."

"Good, but I do want to take a look at that eye, Jim." McCoy raised an eyebrow at him, his blue eyes serious.

Kirk touched the bruised area. Funny, he mused. For the first time in days he had forgotten all about it. Maybe all he'd needed was to stop thinking about how cold and uncomfortable he was. "It's just a black eye, nothing to worry about. I'll come down when I get a chance. You go and set things in motion down in Sickbay." Kirk paused. "And Doctor, remember, officially, you're off duty. Try delegating. It works."

McCoy snorted as he turned to leave the cabin. "How would you know?" he inquired sarcastically. "You've never tried it."

"I have it on good authority." Before McCoy could phrase the question, Kirk retorted. "Yours."

* * *

As it turned out, it was two days before McCoy saw Kirk again. Neither the captain nor the CMO had actually managed to take any time off. McCoy's computer check discovered a large number of crew members who required updates on their vaccinations. The majority of them could have waited until their next scheduled physicals, had they not been going into a situation where they would almost certainly be exposed to the disease, but that wasn't the way it was. He and the rest of the medical staff had barely finished rectifying that difficulty, when the other shoe dropped.

As McCoy had predicted, the Enterprise was ordered to remain at Lonara's Planet and render any and all assistance they could. That meant getting Sickbay ready for the overflow of the Lonaran 'hospital'. Since Lonara's Planet had only been colonized ten standard years before, McCoy suspected they would essentially be taking over the medical care of the affected colonists. That way, the planetside medical staff would be able to direct its attention to vaccination and prevention.

Meanwhile, Kirk had found himself dealing with a number of bureaucratic idiocies when they arrived at Starbase Ten. He and Spock had beamed down. Managing to cut through the red tape in record time, they had then been given the unwelcome information that Commodore Peters intended to accompany them to Lonara's Planet aboard the Enterprise.

Kirk inhaled deeply, then, followed by Spock, set out for the Commodore's temporary quarters, determined to convince Peters there was no necessity for him to journey to the site of the epidemic. As they walked, Kirk spoke a single word in a soft, speculative tone. Despite his sensitive hearing, Spock had to ask the captain to repeat himself.

"What? Oh, I was sort of talking to myself, Spock. What I said was 'SNAFU'."

The Vulcan looked thoughtful, running through the numerous languages he had more than a passing knowledge of. "Snafu?" He tried it out. "I do not understand, Captain."

"No, I don't suppose you do. It's an old Earth acronym, came from the military. It means situation normal, all uh..." Temporarily unable to think of a synonym which began with "f", Kirk's fair cheeks reddened. "...screwed up."

"That does not make sense, Jim. In that case the acronym would most likely be--"

"Substitute another word for screwed, Spock," Kirk said tersely, mildly embarrassed. As far as he could figure, Vulcans hardly ever cursed, and when they did, he doubted that biological functions entered into them. They probably used mathematical values or something equally logical.

"Situation normal, all f..." Spock met Kirk's eyes. "Of course... Fascinating."

All the captain could do was grin at the slightly shocked look on Spock's face.

The grin left him quickly enough when they arrived at Peters' temporary quarters. For once the captain's golden rhetorical ability had been unequal to the task he attempted, and it was Spock who finally got them off the hook, by appealing to the commodore's belief in his own importance. The Vulcan calmly pointed out that it would be highly illogical for one of the commodore's high rank, a being of inestimable importance to Starfleet, to deliberately place himself in a situation where he could conceivably come into contact with the acutely contagious disease. Were that to occur, as the commodore already knew, there would be no alternative but for him to place himself in quarantine. Commodore Peters must certainly be aware of how difficult it would be to exercise his command, when forced to maintain contact with Starfleet and his subordinates through the use of communicators.

When the doors of the VIP suite finally slid closed behind them, twenty minutes after they'd first entered, Kirk looked respectfully at his first officer. "Whew! That was a close one. I don't think I could put up with Stuffy Peters aboard the ship for very long. If he weren't lucky enough to come down with Spican measles, I'd probably be trying to find a way to infect him by the second day. Good thing you didn't give him time to realize that as a StarfIeet officer, he'd most likely already been vaccinated." Kirk grinned, then continued conversationally. "By the way, Spock, I have never heard you deliver a bigger pile of bovine excrement than you did in that office."

"Indeed. Are you implying that my reasoning was a 'load of bullshit,' Captain?" Spock met Kirk's gaze, dark eyes shining with what the captain presumed was concealed laughter,

"No-o-o...I wouldn't say that." Actually Kirk had never heard Spock utter that particular phrase before and he suspected he was mildly shocked. Perhaps that had been Spock's motive. "Just, thank you."

Spock didn't bother with the old 'thanks are illogical' line. He'd given that up long ago where Kirk was concerned. "I believe the proper reply is, 'You are welcome, Jim'."

* * *

And so it was the next time the CMO and the captain met, it was on the bridge of the Enterprise, as Kirk alternately cajoled, commanded, and ultimately begged his chief engineer to allow them a little more speed, in their errand of mercy. Scott finally, grudgingly, agreed to an insane (from his point of view) warp seven. Kirk responded with an exasperated, "Thank you, Mister Scott," then he hit the toggle on the arm of his chair which would sever the connection to Engineering. Or that was what he intended. In reality, he missed the switch and accidentally hit one of the myriad other buttons, which emitted a raucous squawk before he was able to prevent it. McCoy, who'd been leaning on the back of the command chair, was startled upright. "Jim!"

"Sorry, Bones. These controls are all so close together, sometimes I get the wrong one." Kirk turned his attention to the navigation console. "You heard the man. Warp seven to Lonara's Planet." His hand moved to his left eye which was still bothering him, although most of the discoloration had faded to a brownish yellow. "You had something to report, Doctor?" Kirk was feeling irritable, his shift was almost over, and he was in no mood right now for McCoy's complaints.

"Just that everything is in readiness for the Lonaran patients, Captain, and a reminder you could use some rest. I don't think you've taken an hour off since we returned from Mendas."

"Good work, Doctor, on the first, and as for the second, I did so, Anyone can tell I don't smell nearly as bad as I did two days ago," Kirk grinned, trying to force himself into a better mood. It didn't work very well. "I'm going off duty right now, so don't start bugging me, Bones." He swivelled the command chair to face Spock's station. "You have the conn, Mister Spock."

"Affirmative, Captain." The Vulcan rose smoothly from his seat and came to stand at the side of the command chair. Kirk stood and stepped down to the left, as Spock slid in from the right. It was a move they had perfected over their years together.

"Bones, if things have calmed down in Sickbay, maybe you could give Spock your notes on the Mendasian survey." Kirk paused for only a moment, then added, "I'll be in my quarters if I'm needed." He marched to the lift, and when the doors slid open he stepped in decisively. "Ow!"

The CMO and first officer turned, as did the rest of the bridge crew, to see what could have caused their captain to utter that sound. It was not one they were accustomed to hearing from Kirk's lips.

Kirk turned and glared at them, his hands on his hips. "Well, don't everybody stare! Didn't anyone else ever bump their shoulder getting into the turbolift?"

The doors slid together with a whisper, as the assembled officers turned their attention back to their work. The captain was in a testy mood, but after all, he was entitled once in a while. Compared to the heads of several departments, Engineering and Medical being two that came rapidly to mind, Captain Kirk's temper was incredibly even. If he felt like blowing off steam once in a while, no one was going to complain.

Except for McCoy. He remained facing the turbolift doors for several moments after they had closed entirely, then he moved around to the side of the command chair. "Did it sound to you like I was being dismissed, Spock?"

"It did, Doctor." Spock perused, then signed a datapad which Uhura brought over to him.

"That's not like Jim." The Vulcan looked up at the physician as he continued. "And it's not like him to be clumsy either."

"I would hardly call the captain 'clumsy'."

"For godsake, man! What would you call it? First he hits the wrong control and sets off a racket that could be heard in the Klingon Empire, then he crashes into the edge of the turbolift door."

"The captain is weary. He has had no opportunity to recover from the Mendasian survey."

"I know that, Spock, but I don't know... Something tells me something is wrong."

"That sentence is fascinating, grammatically speaking." Spock looked into McCoy's blue eyes, seeming to search his soul. "Have you seen Jim's eye, Doctor?" He kept his tone even, his words so soft, McCoy was forced to incline his head close to the Vulcan's to catch them.

"Only in passing. Quick passing at that. It looked better than the last time I saw it, the bruises are beginning to fade."

"Yes..." Spock was thoughtful. "However, it occurred to me earlier today, that it seems somewhat swollen, and I have noticed a tendency on the captain's part to touch it quite often. He appears almost unaware he is doing so."

"Yeah? You sure about this, Spock?" McCoy peered at the Vulcan. A raised eyebrow and the steady appraisal of the deep set eyes beneath it assured him. "Yeah, you're certain." He thought for a moment, then asked, "When do we reach Lonara's Planet?

"At our present speed, approximately thirteen hundred hours tomorrow, ship's time."

"Okay. Then I'll leave him alone for tonight, but first thing tomorrow morning, I'm gonna have Captain James T. Kirk down in Sickbay for a little talk and a quick once over." McCoy gave a characteristic little nod, then began to rock back and forth on the balls of his feet, looking most pleased with himself. "I've been meaning to look at that hand of his anyway."

* * *

As it turned out though, it was a little more than ten hours later that McCoy again laid eyes on Kirk and under less than auspicious circumstances. Shortly before two hundred hours, the doctor's comm unit shrilled, waking him from a deep sleep. He bumbled his way to the desk in the darkened cabin, barking his shin en route, stubbornly preferring not to turn on the lights, in case the call was a false alarm.

"McCoy's All Night Pizza, Lenny speaking." Sometimes the physician's sense of humor could be oddly warped, and two a.m. was one of those times.

"Bones?" Kirk's voice over the intercom was strained.

At the sound of it, McCoy snapped alert. "Jim? What is it? What's wrong?" The doctor wasn't jumping to conclusions, Kirk wouldn't call him in the middle of the night for nothing.

"My eye... It's ... hurting."

It must be more than just hurting, McCoy knew, for Jim Kirk's voice to sound like that. Had it been 'hurting', the captain probably would have at least waited until morning. "Okay, Jim. Are you in your quarters?" Best to be certain, before he headed for the wrong location, he thought. The captain had been known to be in some odd places at two in the morning.

"Yeah..." The affirmative trailed off into what the doctor suspected was a muffled groan.

"Hang on, I'll be right there." McCoy cut the connection and grabbed the medikit which was never far from his reach. He headed for the door, then did an abrupt about face, hitting a button on the desk comm. He didn't wait for the other person to respond, but began speaking as soon as the connection was made.

"Spock? Something's wrong with the captain. He just called me, and I think you better get down there. He sounds..." How to say that Captain James T. Kirk sounded scared? "Just get down there, Spock."

"Very well, Doctor. I'm on my way"

Once again McCoy headed for the door, this time grumbling over the fact that the Vulcan hadn't even been confused at receiving a sudden, rather incoherent call in the wee hours of the morning. McCoy's heart wasn't in the griping, though, as he strode down the corridor to the captain' quarters. He was too concerned by the note of fear he was certain he'd detected in Kirk's voice. The captain didn't scare easily, McCoy knew that as well as he knew his own name. If Jim was frightened, whatever was wrong must be pretty bad. McCoy cursed himself for not insisting on checking him over before this, then hit the buzzer next to the captain's door. He thought he heard another moan.

"Jim?" The door slid open immediately. Kirk was seated in the chair behind his desk, his elbows on the desk, head in his hands. McCoy strode to his side, noting the dim lighting. The captain's breathing was ragged and again he made a small sound, then muffled it, moving his head, but keeping his hands plastered to his left eye.

"Let me see, Jim." As McCoy pried the captain's hands from his eye, the door opened again, and Spock stepped into the room. He looked around him. "Lights."

"No!"

McCoy looked startled, but the vehemence in Kirk's voice left no doubt of the degree of discomfort he was experiencing. "Captain, Jim, if I'm going to find out what's the matter, I have to be able to see... Lights, increase to one-half Intensity." The physician took one look at the captain's eye, and almost wished he hadn't. He immediately commanded the computer, which controlled many of the life support services, to resume the previous level of illumination.

"Doctor?" Spock came to stand next to the physician.

"I don't know yet, Spock." McCoy pulled out a hand held scanner and ran it over the captain, appalled at the pain level it showed. "Jim, we have to get you down to Sickbay. I can't do anything for you here."

"Okay ..." Kirk replied gamely. He took a deep breath and pushed himself up from the chair.

"It will be a hell of a lot easier if you let me get a gurney." McCoy already knew Kirk wouldn't like that idea. He put his arm around the captain, aiding him in the dim light, feeling the trembling which Kirk was unable to control. McCoy attributed it not only to the pain, but weakness from the fever his scanner had detected.

"Bon--"

The physician didn't even let him get the word out. "Jim, be reasonable, you can hardly see out of that eye, you're in excruciating pain, and light makes it worse." McCoy stood his ground.

Spock took a good look at the captain and made the decision for him. "Sickbay." He depressed the stud on the comm unit as McCoy led the captain to his disordered bunk.

"This is Sickbay." A young voice, sounding tired.

"Spock here. Dispatch a gurney to the captain's quarters, stat." McCoy raised an eyebrow at the phrasing.

"Aye, sir. Should I wake Doctor McCoy?"

"The doctor is already present."

"Wait! Tell 'em to call Chapel. I'm gonna need her."

"I heard, sir," the disembodied voice from Sickbay replied, fully alert now. "A gurney is on its way, and I am contacting Nurse Chapel."

"Very good. Spock out."

Spock moved carefully around the openwork divider, into the captain's sleeping quarters. Kirk lay on his back on the bed, hands again covering the distended eye. McCoy was seated at his side, carefully taking readings and talking to him softly.

"Can you see out of your left eye, Jim?" McCoy heard Spock move to the foot of the bunk.

"A little ... light..." Kirk's breath seemed to come in gasps, but McCoy's scan had revealed that it was due to the pain and not a symptom in itself.

"You mean you can see the light?"

Kirk nodded.

"How about this, can you see how many fingers I'm holding up?"

"Not really ... blurry ... hurts to try." Kirk was obviously struggling to speak, much of his attention centered on the pain. "Bones, what's wrong with my eye?" He reached for the physician's arm and missed by centimeters.

"You seem to have some kind of infection." McCoy took the captain's hand in his own and held it, giving a gentle squeeze then relaxing his grip. "I won't be able to tell you any more until I do a thorough scan down in Sickbay." McCoy looked toward Spock and jerked his head almost imperceptibly. "I'm gonna give you something to ease the pain, but it's gonna make you sleepy, too." McCoy stood and gave Kirk's hand a pat, then released it, as Spock, interpreting the physician's signal, moved over to assume the spot he'd vacated.

McCoy checked, then double checked the dosage in the dim light. Reassured, he inched past Spock and pressed the hype to Kirk's neck. Spock looked up, startled. He knew the physician reserved that particular location for what he considered emergencies.

"Now just relax, Jim, and let the medicine do its job, okay? Try not to fight it." McCoy's voice was soothing, the voice of a father speaking to his sick child.

"Mmmph..." Kirk's primal grunt seemed to guarantee the hype was already taking effect. His fingers moved on the rumpled sheets, and Spock, seeing the motion and realizing its meaning, reached out and took his captain's hand in his own, offering the comfort of touch to his human friend as McCoy had moments before.

* * *

Two hours later, after numerous tests and visual examinations, McCoy still didn't know much more than he had, although what he'd seen was enough to make the veteran physician feel ill. Kirk's eye was swollen to nearly twice its normal size and filled with greenish pus. The pressure alone was enough to have caused the agony he'd been undergoing.

"At least he's not feeling the pain now." McCoy's murmured softly as he turned the sleeping captain over to the head nurse and entered his office, where the first officer was awaiting his report.

"As far as I can tell, there's some sort of foreign object imbedded in his eye, but its hard to say for sure, Spock. Chris is prepping him for surgery now. I'm gonna clean the whole thing up and see If I can find out what started it. You should try to get some sleep. It'll be a while before I have any news, and we'll probably reach Lonara's Planet before he's awake again."

"What about Jim's vision, Doctor?" Spock met the blue-eyed gaze of the CMO.

McCoy sighed. "Jim will always be a man of vision, Spock... Whether he'll be able to see out of his left eye..." He shook his head, forcing himself to meet the Vulcan's direct gaze. "...That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish."

The answer could have sounded flip, but Spock knew the physician well enough to realize he was speaking the truth as he saw it. Perhaps McCoy's offhand manner was his method of dealing with an emotionally charged subject. "Very well, Doctor. Inform me if there is any change." Spock would have preferred to remain, but he knew it would be illogical. There was nothing he could do in this situation and he would be in the way. His own desires were contrary to the captain's needs. He unfolded himself from the chair he'd been seated in and left the physician's office, wishing illogically he had done something before events reached this point.

McCoy sighed again, shaking his head. Unless he was mistaken, that was one guilt-ridden Vulcan who had just exited his office. He stood and headed for the surgical suite. Chris would have Jim ready for him by now.

* * *

Three and a half hours later, an unusually long time in this age of computerized medicine, McCoy finally emerged from surgery. Chapel was seeing to it the captain was comfortably installed in the isolation unit the CMO had taken to calling "Kirk's cubby," the captain spent so much time in there. The doctor moved stiffly toward the showers reserved for the medical staff. He'd been up all night and it was beginning to show. "I'm gettin' too old for this stuff," he muttered.

A passing nurse, turned and looked at his boss. "Sir?"

"Nothing, son. Go on with what you're doing." Talking to himself, too. The kid would think he was crazy.

McCoy showered quickly, then tugged on a clean uniform, thinking all the while about the minute fragment of organic matter he'd removed from Kirk's eye. He'd sent it down for a complete lab report, but McCoy had a strong suspicion it would turn out to be a piece of Mendasian flora, most likely an infinitesimal piece of the branch which had given the captain his black eye. It had lodged in Jim's eye somehow then been aggravated to the point of causing the massive infection McCoy had just spent hours cleaning out. He thought too about the amount of laser debridement he'd performed. The scans McCoy had performed had been inconclusive as to whether there had been any damage to the internal workings of the eye; with it so irritated, it had been difficult to tell, even with the incredibly accurate scanners available to him aboard the Enterprise. They would just have to wait and see. No matter what, it was going to take some careful reconstructive surgery around the eye. The captain was just lucky that it was so easy to regenerate the various tissue types which surrounded a human eye.

The physician had already made a short report to Spock as soon as he exited the surgical suite. Clean and neat, he headed for the captain's room. There was an extra bed in there; McCoy often joked he kept it just for those special occasions when both Kirk and Spock tried to get themselves killed. This morning he would occupy it himself, catching a few hours rest while Jim slept off the anesthetic.

His last coherent thought before he tumbled into a series of chaotic dreams was that this whole episode needn't have happened. Damn Jim Kirk and his Quixotic sense of responsibility for the entire universe! Why couldn't he stay safely on his ship like all the other starship captains?

* * *

The Enterprise joined the Blackwell in orbit around Lonara's Planet at thirteen twenty hours and her Sickbay was filled almost immediately to overflowing with people beamed up from the colony below. The majority of them were children, Spican measles being essentially a childhood disease, but several were in their teen years and at least two were adults. Like most childhood diseases, the dangers lay not in the illness itself, but in the side effects of the disease. Also, as with many other childhood diseases, it was far more severe in adolescents and adults than in its younger victims. Christine Chapel, who like McCoy, had taken a short nap on one of the medibeds, measured the situation instantly, then began directing the medics in the placement of the Lonaran patients and seeing to it their medical records were duly entered in the computer, while McCoy immediately began rounds of his domain's new inhabitants.

* * *

On the bridge, Spock resolutely sat out the waiting time. He could do nothing down in Sickbay, would only be more in the way now that the Lonarans had been transported to the Enterprise. He straightened his spine against the soft padding of the captain's chair, as always, less than comfortable there, forcing himself to maintain an upright posture. Except for the abbreviated report McCoy had given him directly after the surgery, he had heard nothing from Sickbay. Admittedly there had been little to tell, Kirk was still unconscious, and McCoy had gone to sleep as well for a short time, but by now the anesthesia must have begun to wear off. He would wait until the remainder of the vaccine was transported to Lonara's Planet, and then he would pay a visit to Sickbay. Once again he reminded himself of the human maxim that 'no news is good news'.

* * *

Jim Kirk was swimming underwater, floating on the currents, allowing himself to drift slowly toward the surface. That was how it felt, but why wasn't it getting any lighter as he swam upward? He should be starting to see sunlight shining through the water. Now that he thought about it, he felt rather odd. And he still couldn't he see anything around him. It must have something to do with his eyes... Kirk attempted to move his hands toward his eyes, to discover what was causing the odd, constricted sensation ... to find out why he couldn't see!

The restraints held fast, preventing him from moving. Where was he and why was he being held like this? His respiration and heartbeat raced as he attempted to fathom why he was being held prisoner. Terror at not knowing filled him.

"He's coming around now, sir."

Kirk knew that voice -- why couldn't he place it! And that sound, far away, but definitely there, the sound of ... children?

"Take it easy, Jim-boy, you'll have your blood pressure so high, my instruments won't be able to measure it." A familiar gruff voice.

Kirk found his own. "Bones?" It was coming back to him now.

"Here, Jim. Relax. Everything is gonna be fine, so long's you don't go thrashin' around and ruinin' my handiwork."

"I remember now ... I woke up, and my eye was hurting..."

"That's right. There was a foreign body imbedded in your eye. The lab just confirmed that it matches up with the data on one of the plants we observed on Mendas. A massive infection resulted from the irritation of the conjunctiva. I performed surger--"

"Bones!" Agitated again, Kirk made an abortive attempt to grasp the physician, suddenly afraid to ask just what McCoy had done. "Bones!"

McCoy glanced at the monitor over the captain's head, then placed his hand on Kirk's arm, offering tactile reassurance. Jim Kirk could be the most intensely private of men, but McCoy knew he responded well to physical contact, and he would be needing it now, to help him remain in touch with the world he was unable to see. "Take it easy, Jim. Your eyes are bandaged to protect the delicate tissues, and I've got you tied down so you don't do any more damage. I spent more than three hours screwing around with that eye, and I have no intention of letting you undo what I did!"

Now that Kirk was more coherent, he recognized the feel of the restraints across his chest, arms and thighs. He also recognized the sensation of the elastifoam bandage swathing his eyes. "Why both eyes?"

"It works better that way. If I only bandaged the injured eye, you'd strain the other one tryin' to make it do the work of both."

"Okay, Bones. I understand. How about removing these restraints now?" He forced his voice to remain calm, inserting a note of command, hoping to convince McCoy of his rationality. It wasn't wholly successful.

"We-e-l-l-l," McCoy replied, drawing the word out. "I suppose it'll be okay," he suited his actions to his words, "but I want you to lie really still. I'm gonna leave the side rails up though. I apologize for the inconvenience, but that's the way it is for the time being." McCoy knew how Kirk hated what he called 'that caged feeling'. He glanced at monitor again as he continued his report and was relieved to see the readings dropping. "I can't tell as yet whether your vision will be affected. We'll know more when the bandages come off. I can tell you that you were lucky, Captain. Very lucky. If that infection had gone untreated much longer, I doubt I could have saved the eye. As things stand now, it's a wait and see situation. Outwardly, you're gonna need a bit of reconstructive surgery, but we should have you back to your boyish good looks in no time." McCoy paused, then added in a different voice, "Are you hungry?"

"A little. I think." He couldn't even feed himself in this condition, Kirk thought morosely. "How long before the bandages come off?" He hated feeling helpless. He wouldn't even let himself think about what he would do if his eye were damaged irreparably.

"Talk about your enthusiastic responses! We'll see about taking the bandages off tomorrow." McCoy didn't tell Kirk he had no intention of leaving them off just yet. "For now, I'm gonna send one of the nurses in to feed you and I don't want to hear you wouldn't eat." McCoy gave Kirk's shoulder a little rub and a squeeze, then he began to walk away. "Oh, and by the way, don't you dare try to get anyone else to lower those railings either, Captain. I've left strict orders on that subject."

"Killjoy," Kirk muttered grumpily, feeling even more helpless at the thought of being spoon fed by one of the bright young nurses Sickbay seemed to abound in.

As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as bad as Kirk had expected. Chapel turned up bearing his meal, removing any embarrassment he might have felt with one of the other nurses. After all, he thought, this wasn't the first time she'd fed him this way.

Chapel placed the tray on the bedside table, raised the bed to a sitting position, then lowered the rails, speaking cheerfully. "You'll be much more comfortable without these."

"Uhh..." Kirk didn't want them replaced, but he didn't want Chapel to get into trouble with McCoy either.

"Don't worry, Captain. I know Doctor McCoy left orders for them not to be removed, but I think we can dispense with them for the time being, as long as you promise not to move around too much." She pulled up a chair for herself next to the bed. "I hope you like cream of chicken soup and chocolate pudding. Coffee too, although Leonard probably wouldn't approve of that. It won't hurt you though, and it will make you feel much better."

"Thanks, Chris. Right now I can certainly use something to make me feel better." Kirk smiled, thinking how strange it felt to smile without being able to see the person he was smiling at.

"Just doing my job, Captain. Here, try some of this soup. It smells delicious." She skillfully spooned the soup into him, followed by the pudding, managing not to spill a single drop, all the while keeping his mind busy by reporting on the Lonaran situation. When the last drop of pudding had been eaten, Chapel handed him the coffee, which she had placed in a covered cup. "If you're careful, you can manage the coffee yourself. It has a short straw in it. Here, give me your hand." She positioned his fingers on the straw, just above the level of the cup lid. "The straw is only a couple of centimeters or so taller than the cup, so as long as you now where it starts, you can drink it by yourself without poking yourself in the eye." She knew through long experience how important it was to prevent a patient from feeling helpless, and knowledge of Kirk's temperament made it even more imperative.

"Thanks again, Christine." He smiled again, truly grateful for the small sense of independence she had given him.

"You're welcome, Captain. I think you have a visitor, so I'm going to get this tray out of here." He could hear quiet movements, then Chapel's deep voice instructing someone not to allow him to become agitated. A moment later, he was able to discern the sound of someone entering the room and taking the seat Chapel had occupied, then Spock's voice issued from nearby.

"Captain, I have been conferring with Doctor McCoy. It would appear the random factors were in your favor on this occasion." Spock reflected it was perhaps good that Kirk was unable to witness his features at this particular moment. His stance of Vulcan non-emotion was already rather precarious In Kirk's estimation. No doubt, his appearance at this time would topple it completely.

"Yeah, Spock, that's what Bones told me, too. At least I think that's what he meant. He said I was lucky I didn't lose the eye." Of course, how much good it will do me, if I can't see out of it is another matter.

Spock read the thought in the tightening of Kirk's mouth, but he said nothing. They would deal with that problem if, and when, they must. Any other course of action would be illogical. Instead, they spoke for a short time about the measles epidemic on Lonara's Planet. Spock described in detail the situation on the planet, and the efforts of the Enterprise and the Blackwell to assist. He informed Kirk of the exact number of confirmed cases of Spican measles, then told him of the more seriously affected colonists who had been transported to the ship. He was just completing his report seven minutes later when Chapel returned, bearing a hypospray.

"Time's almost up, Mister Spock." She walked to the captain's side, taking his arm in her hand. "I have your medication, sir."

Kirk felt the cold nozzle of the hypo, then he heard its hiss.

"I'll be back in a few minutes to check on you, Captain." She patted his arm gently, then left them alone again.

"Wonder what was in that?" Kirk asked.

"Most likely an antibiotic. You have been suffering from a severe infection."

"Yeah..."

Spock could tell from the muffled tone of Kirk's voice, that the hypo had contained more than the antibiotic he had hypothesized. "I believe it would be well for you to rest now, Jim. You are fatigued. I shall return later."

"Drugged," Kirk corrected. "Thanks, Spo..." He drifted off.

One eyebrow crawled up Spock's forehead as he pondered the way the captain had immediately discerned the presence of a sedative while in his present state. He shook his head slightly over the abilities of this human to whom he was inextricably bound. Noting the readings on the monitor above the bed, Spock settled in to watch over Kirk until Chapel returned, recalling prior occasions on which he had done the same.

* * *

The following morning brought two pieces of good news from the Lonaran colony. First, there had been only two new cases of measles reported overnight, and second, all the colonists had now been inoculated. Although it was impossible to predict whether some of those who had been vaccinated since the arrival of the Enterprise were already harboring the virus, it was certain the vaccine would at least cut down the number of new cases of Spican measles. Now, all the colonists could do was care for those already ill and wait.

* * *

Aboard the Enterprise, another waiting game was being played out. McCoy had seen to it that Kirk was kept sedated for most of the previous day. After all, as he'd explained to Spock shortly before midnight, ship's time, it wasn't as though the captain could do anything productive In his present condition, and McCoy had no intention of listening to Jim complain about it. Besides, if he was awake, McCoy knew that Kirk would spend the entire time worrying. "Better he should rest, Spock. He can certainly use it," McCoy had commented one of the many times he found himself nearly failing over the Vulcan when he went in to check on the captain.

But now the time had come to remove the elastifoam bandages and find out just how far the damage had gone. Even the most recent scans which McCoy had performed had returned strangely inconclusive results. They would just have to find out the hard way whether there had been any loss of vision or not. He looked down at his heavily sedated friend, the side railings of the diagnostic bed back in place. How come Jim Kirk always looked so damned defenseless whenever he was sick or injured, McCoy queried for what was probably the billionth time.

McCoy hated keeping Kirk so heavily drugged, but he knew all too well how unlikely it was the captain would remain still, given half a chance to do otherwise. "Jim, I'm going to remove the bandages. Do you want me to get Spock down here?"

Kirk stirred, recognizing McCoy's voice. It came from somewhere to his left, he decided, and far, far, away. He was still groggy from the effects of the strong sedatives McCoy had administered, drifting on the current of drugs in his bloodstream, unable to focus, suspended in the multicolored darkness resulting from the sensory deprivation he was experiencing. He felt oddly removed from the Jim Kirk he knew himself to be. Despite that, and the opaque foam covering his eyes, he could sense the physician's tension. He also sensed, in some distant part of his brain, that a great deal was riding on what happened in the next few minutes. Just what, he wasn't certain, and overcome by drug induced lassitude, he didn't know if he cared. "No." The single syllable was muffled.

"You sure? McCoy was concerned by the confusing scans he had received. If something was seriously wrong, he would have preferred to have the Vulcan around when they found out what it was. Illogical, he knew; what could Spock do if Jim had lost the sight in that eye? Still, the doctor would have felt better if Spock were present.

"Un hunh. Go ahead..."

"Lights to one quarter," McCoy commanded. "Okay, Jim. Then I'm going to remove the bandages. I don't want you to strain to see. Just relax. It will be blurry at first, and the light will probably hurt your eyes even though I've dimmed it. Just take it easy."

Kirk sensed movement at his other side, then slender fingers grasped his hand where it rested at his side. He recognized the touch of Chapel's strong but gentle clasp. "Relax, Captain." Her voice, closer than McCoy's had been, sounded sweet and low. Kirk pondered the nurse's touch, enjoying the comfort it supplied, as McCoy worked at removing the layers swathing his eyes.

Chapel was something of an anachronism, Kirk thought hazily. In an age of computerized healing, she seemed to believe that touch alone could heal the sick. The captain wondered distractedly if it came from being around McCoy, or if this seemingly illogical belief was Christine's own. Either way, it complemented McCoy's style perfectly. The captain floated back to the present, aware of someone speaking his name.

"Jim? Are you listening to me?" McCoy dropped the last of the bandages into the disposal chute, then repeated his words again, wondering where Kirk had gone off to. "Captain, I want you to open your eyes now."

"'kay, Bones." Suddenly Kirk wished he had not turned down McCoy's offer to call Spock down to Sickbay. He tensed, then felt Chapel's hand squeeze his reassuringly. Slowly, as though it had been months instead of a day since he'd done so, Kirk forced his reluctant lids to part, then almost instantly they fluttered closed again. "I cant... lights too bright."

"Lights, down another five percent." McCoy glanced up, waiting for the reduction to take effect. "Remember, Jim, I told you they would hurt a bit. I just need you to open your eyes long enough to do an accurate scan." McCoy's voice gave away nothing, but Chapel knew he wasn't pleased with what he had discovered so far. Despite the massive doses of antibiotic which were being administered, the area around Kirk's eye was still grotesquely swollen. Apparently the cephlazine just wasn't cutting it, as far as this infection was concerned.

Kirk tried again to open his eyes, this time attempting to focus on the spot from where McCoy's voice had emanated.

"Good, Jim," the physician encouraged. "Now, look here and tell me how many fingers I'm holding up." McCoy held up his hand. It was a crude test, but would do for the time being.

Kirk fought to focus on the fuzzy image. "Three ... since when have you had such fat fingers, Bones?" He let his eyes close again.

Chapel smiled at the captain's response, but McCoy just grunted. While it appeared that nothing had happened to the captain's sense of humor, it was obvious that his vision was distorted. Some of the distortion could be accounted for by the residual swelling, and even the drugs still in his system, but how much, there was no way to tell. Not yet.

"Okay, just let me get a good scan and then you can go back to sleep." The little sigh the captain emitted and the readings on the monitor over his head were making it clearer by the moment, that he was still more than half out of it. The doctor would get whatever scan he could, and come back later. "C-mon, Jim-boy, open up one more time."

Kirk pried his eyes open one last time and McCoy quickly waved his feinberger over them, then he patted the captain's shoulder. "Go to sleep, Jim. I'll be in again in a little while."

Again Kirk's eyes fluttered closed, his breathing already lapsing Into a slower rhythm, but his hand remained firmly wrapped around Chris Chapel's fingers. She began to extricate them, but McCoy shook his head. If Jim Kirk needed someone to hold his hand right now, he, for one, was not going to deny him.

* * *

A short while later, while he was checking on one of the Lonaran patients, a nurse relayed the message to McCoy that Mister Spock was in his office and wished to speak with him as soon as possible. McCoy grunted in the time honored manner of the medical profession, then he ran a last scan of the child in front of him. Taking the datapad proffered by the young woman, he scribbled an illegible signature on the release form, then told her to see to it the child's parents were contacted, and strode to his office, a preoccupied frown on his craggy features.

Spock was waiting, seated In the chair across from the physician's desk when McCoy entered, his fingers steepled, the inevitable question on his lips. "How is he, Doctor?"

McCoy dropped into his chair opposite the Vulcan. "Other than the left eye, fine. I just took the bandages off a few minutes ago. He definitely has some vision in that eye at any rate, but it's hard to say how much. He's still drugged up pretty good, so it'll be a while before we get an accurate scan. The thing that bothers me the most is the swelling has hardly gone down at all."

"I assume you have continued administering an antibiotic to counteract the infection?"

"What do you think, Spock?" McCoy didn't even bother acting annoyed with the first officer for questioning such a basic point. He was too tired and down. "Cephlazine."

"A most potent medication."

"Mmmm. Jim has always responded favorably to cephlazine before, but this time it's just not working." McCoy thought for a moment, then hit a toggle on his desk comm. "Jantzen? Has Chris come out of the captain's room yet?"

A soft 'ahem' at McCoy's door made him glance up. "Never mind, Jantzen, here she is. McCoy out."

"The captain is asleep."

"Good. Chris, I want to take him off the cephlazine and try him on biocillin. Use a skin patch, then he won't give us a hard time every four hours when we try to get him to hold still long enough to administer it."

"Yes, Doctor." She paused, hands clasped in front of her, hesitant. "Leonard, the captain has never taken biocillin. You know how many possible side effects it has..."

"Believe me, I know. I'm just hoping he doesn't break out in spots or something." McCoy glanced at the Vulcan seated across from him. Spock's face had something that could only have been described as a 'funny look' on it. "Spock, what is it? Are you all right?" McCoy began to look around for his scanner. All he needed was to have Spock get sick too!

"I am well, Doctor. However, you have given me another path to investigate, as it were." He thought for a moment then continued, "I will require access to the captain's complete medical files."

McCoy thought about reminding Spock access to those flies was the domain of the Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, and his alone, but knew he'd be wasting his breath. Besides, Spock's computer expertise could have those files open without his clearance almost as fast as with it. Maybe faster, since McCoy always had to think for a moment before he remembered his access codes. "You've got it. Where will you be working? "

"My quarters, for the present."

"Right, I'll transfer the files to your terminal then."

Thank you, Doctor," So saying, the Vulcan strode from McCoy's office, nodding as he passed Chapel in the doorway. McCoy watched him go, shaking his head, "Thank you, too, Mister Spock." Two pairs of blue eyes met, then their owners shrugged in tandem. "Better get the captain started on the biocillin, Chris."

* * *

Ensign MacEvoy peered into his viewer again, this time searching for the specific compounds listed in the memo he'd received from Mister Spock. He wondered idly why the science officer had requested a further analysis of the fragment Doctor McCoy had removed from the captain's eye and more particularly why now, when he was supposed to be going off duty,

Luckily, when he'd explained what he was doing to Mickey, she'd understood he couldn't leave the lab until the analysis was completed. Instead of complaining about their ruined dinner plans, she'd quickly offered to bring back some food from the mess hall, suggesting they make believe it was a picnic. That was the good thing about Mickey (one of many good things, he thought, looking over her rounded body and curly strawberry blonde hair). She understood what this job entailed and knew it didn't always end when the chrono said it was time to go home.

"That's a negative. What's the next one on the list, Mickey?" MacEvoy was worried about the captain, like everyone else aboard the Enterprise, but since spending time with him under the less than ideal conditions during the Mendasian survey, the ensign felt as though he had gotten a chance to see a little of the man underneath those captain's stripes. Even though he was a relative newcomer to the Enterprise, he could feel the beginnings of the loyalty which bound the crew of this ship so tightly to her captain, taking root in him.

"That's strange..." commented McMurphy.

"What is?" asked MacEvoy, looking up from the screen at her.

"I recognize this next one, my father uses it. I'm almost sure that's what it is. If I'm right, it's an ophthalmic solution. I'm pretty certain this was the chemical breakdown in the brochure the doctor gave Dad." Ensign McMurphy's flawless ivory brow wrinkled suddenly. "Dad says his sight is just as good as it was when he was twenty, but what's the connection between the captain's infection, a tree on Mendas, and a prescription for eye drops?"

"It's a pretty weird list, Mick. Some of them ana ordinary botanical compounds found on a dozen worlds, others are pharmaceuticals, like that one, and others, I just don't recognize them at all." He pressed his finger to the viewer, making a half dozen minor adjustments in rapid succession. "Wait... I think... yeah, that's it. See, right there..." He sat back and let her look into the viewer in front of him. "That's the first positive." He yawned loudly, then looked around for the list Spock had given him. "How many more to go?"

* * *

Several hours later, the Vulcan turned up in Sickbay again, this time with a dual purpose. The first reason was of course to visit Kirk, who was finally awake and relatively coherent. The second was to inform McCoy of a possibility discovered by the science department after he pointed them in the correct direction.

A distracted McCoy paced the corridor outside of Kirk's 'cubby'. The biocillin, promptly fulfilling its reputation, was irritating Kirk's stomach and making him almost impossible to live with.

"Thank God you're here, Spock. Listen to that! Maybe the sight of your skinny Vulcan hide will do him some good. If not, at least you can always put him out with a nerve pinch. My nurses have taken about as much as they can handle. If we don't do something soon, they're gonna shoot him full of sed-a-eeze. The only one who'll stay with him for more than a couple of minutes is Chris, and even she's beginning to lose it. And here we are with a Sickbay full of Lonaran kids suffering from Spican measles. Can't you just hear them telling their parents all about the new words they learned on the Enterprise? The worst of it is, I don't even think the biocillin is working. The swelling still hasn't decreased significantly."

The Vulcan matched steps with the human doctor, hands clasped behind his back. "Indeed, Doctor. I do not believe a neck pinch will be called for, however, I shall at least be able to commiserate with the captain, regarding the effects of your noxious potions." He paused and held out a small object to McCoy, circumventing the retort which was forming on the doctor's lips. "Perhaps this will be of some assistance in reducing the inflammation surrounding Jim's eye."

"A data tape?" McCoy accepted it, frowning, his thoughts bounding back to what the Vulcan had said before he left Sickbay so abruptly, earlier that day. "Spock, does this have something to do with that 'other path' you were going to investigate?"

"It does, and I believe you will find it quite informa--" The Vulcan broke off, as a series of oaths erupted from Kirk's room. They were followed by a harassed looking Nurse Chapel. "Perhaps I had better see if I can reason with the captain," Spock remarked placidly as he listened, one brow climbing. "Fascinating... I did not know that the captain could employ vulgarities so imaginatively." He stepped away from McCoy, leaving the doctor to deal with Chapel's justifiable annoyance.

"Just ignore him, Chris. You know how biocillin is. It's the drug talking, not the Captain."

"Funny, Leonard, it sounded a lot like James T. Kirk." She stalked off towards her own tiny office, the picture of affronted dignity.

* * *

"Captain..." Spock stood in the doorway, surveying Kirk for the first time without the bandages. Though the light was dim, he could see McCoy had replaced the restraints, although they were considerably looser than they had originally been.

"Damn it, Spock, will you get these damned things off me!"

"I do not believe I would do that, even if Doctor McCoy had sanctioned it. In your present condition, it is all too likely you would do yourself, and possibly others, bodily harm. I am pleased to see you feeling so much better, however. The last time I looked in on you, you were asleep." Spock made certain the door had closed behind him.

"I'm not feeling better, Spock. I feel like I'm going to puke my guts out and I want to do it in the head, like a civilized being."

Spock's eyebrow rose at Kirk's assertion, a gleam of humor in his dark Vulcan eyes. "Jim, I doubt you are going to, as you so colorfully put it, 'puke your guts out'. You are contributing to the linguistic education of numerous children from Lonara's Planet, though."

Kirk made a sound of the type that would normally be accompanied by hitting oneself in the forehead with the heel of one's hand. "The Lonaran kids... I forgot about them. Now I feel even worse." He looked worse too, Spock thought. "I really do feel like I'm going to be sick."

"I am well aware of the sensation, since most of Doctor McCoy's medications do not agree with me completely, either, but I do not believe Nurse Chapel would have left you alone, even given your verbal abuse, were you in serious danger of vomiting. Besides," he said, looking significantly in the direction of the IV catheter strapped to Kirk's arm, "I believe it has been some time since you have had any solid food." Spock stepped closer to the bed and scanned the glowing monitors over Kirk's head. "How is your eye?"

If appearances were any Indication, he mused, studying the swollen, bruised face on the pillow, it was no better, and perhaps worse than it had been the night McCoy performed the emergency surgery. A chill sensation passed through him. Perhaps his hypothesis was wrong and the information contained in the data tape would be useless.

"I don't know. Everything is blurry, but as far as I can tell, both eyes are blurry, and Bones said only the left one had been affected."

"I see. That would appear to be a positive indication then."

"Mmm. Maybe." A black cavern ringed with gleaming white teeth. He grinned, embarrassed, looking almost like himself for the first time since Spock had entered the isolation cubicle. He shrugged his shoulders as much as he could with his arms still held by the restraints. "Sorry, my hands are kind of tied up."

"So I see. Are you feeling any better?" Spock suspected that he was indeed, although how long it would last was another matter. He had read up on biocillin, and it did indeed have quite a list of ugly side effects.

"Mmm, a little, now that you're here. How come someone who insists humor is illogical, is always able to jolly me out of a bad mood?"

* * *

McCoy sat at his desk and wearily dropped the data tape in the slot. He scanned the information Spock had provided, then suddenly his blue eyes bugged out at one particular item the Vulcan had flagged for his attention. Why hadn't that occurred to him? Ignoring the intercom, he bellowed, "Christine, get in here!"

* * *

Two days later, all the Lonarans had been returned to their colony and the only patient remaining in Sickbay was a greatly improved Kirk who lay on the medibed, enduring one last scan, as well as the tirade McCoy was ringing over him. The physician had been holding his anger in for the last four days, out of concern for the captain's health, but now, in his medical opinion, Kirk was up to taking what was coming to him.

The physician placed the hand held scanner on the instrument cart less than gently. "I don't know how to get it through that thick skull of yours. You're not indestructible. Dammit, Jim, if you would just tell me when something is bothering you, instead of waiting until you're nearly dead, I'd be a happy man." Kirk took a breath and began to interrupt, but it was like trying to stem the naked power of a star gone nova.

McCoy strode away from the bed, then turned to peer at its occupant, his face red with the pent up rage and fear of the past days. "You could have ended up blind this time, and it wouldn't have been a matter for a new cornea or regeneration. The only possibility would have been a complete transplant and you know how seldom those are successfully done nowadays. You owe Spock and that young Ensign MacEvoy one hell of a big thank you. They put in a lot of extra hours figurin' this one out. Even now, you're still going to require some minor reconstructive surgery."

"I know, Bones, but you'll take care of that," Kirk tried to placate him, knowing this was one more demonstration of the doctor's caring. "...And about Spock and Mack, I intend to find some way of showing them my grat--"

"Showing them your gratitude! Is that what you were going to say? How could you ever do that? It's just like every other time you've nearly gone and destroyed yourself--"

"Doctor, I did not know berating your patients was now accepted medical treatment." McCoy spun around to face Spock, who stood in the doorway of the isolation cubicle, hands on slender hips, a conscious imitation of Kirk at his best.

"With some of them, it seems to be the only thing that works, as you of all people should know." The doctor turned back to Kirk who had grasped the opportunity when McCoy's back was turned to sit up and pull on the neatly folded gold tunic which lay waiting on the foot of the bed.

"Can I go now, Bones? I promise to take it easy for a few days."

"Yeah, half shifts and only two hours of paperwork tops, and not all at once, either. Leave the rest to Spock and your yeoman. And see to it you use the cephlazine patches. A new one every day until they're all used up. Don't think just because you feel better that the infection is gone..."

"Right, Bones. Will do. I know the drill. C'mon, Spock." Kirk headed for the door, McCoy's voice trailing after him. "And make sure you adjust your computer screen the way I told you to save on eye strain. Spock, I'm holdin' you responsible for that one."

"Indeed , Doctor, I will see to it." And all the other injunctions which Jim would most likely ignore. The Vulcan met the doctor's blue glare, his own dark eyes reassuring. He had every intention of seeing to it that Jim Kirk allowed himself the time necessary for his body to mend. There was a new regulation on the books, restricting command personnel from missions which would place them in unnecessary danger. Spock intended to see to it the reg was not overlooked aboard the Enterprise. He doubted it would ever be possible to protect this particular human from all the dangers surrounding him in his chosen field of endeavor, but he would do his Vulcan best.

"Ship's status, Spock?" The captain walked slowly, still feeling a little tired from the effects of the high doses of H-Istalazine fifty and cephlazine McCoy had been pumping into him. At least he'd been off the biocillin ever since Spock and Ensign MacEvoy discovered the swelling wasn't caused by the infection but by an allergic reaction to a chemical compound in the plant which had struck him and become imbedded in his eye. When McCoy first started Kirk on the course of antihistamines, he had pointed out the fact that only Kirk could manage to get a black eye that combined an infection with an allergic reaction. He'd also said the swelling probably would have gone down by itself eventually, once the irritant had been removed, but possibly not before it had caused scarring which could have destroyed Kirk's sight for good.

McCoy watched them go, listening to Spock's deep voice cataloging the events which had taken place in the last few (nightmarish) days. An ineffable relief flowed through him at the sight of Kirk, proceeding under his own steam. The captain's vision still wasn't back to normal, but it was good enough that he didn't need to remain in Sickbay. McCoy lived In dread of the day when that wouldn't be the case and the sandy-haired captain's injuries would be beyond his skill, or that of their Vulcan friend to repair.

This time it had been only a fluke which had led to Spock's sudden intuitive hunch (although the Vulcan would deny such an illogical name for it). Who would have ever expected to find what essentially amounted to the newly discovered 'miracle' cure for presbyopia, just sitting there in the pulp of a tree, on a planet light years away from any human inhabitants. It had taken researchers years of work to develop Retinax Five, and there it was, growing in the wild on Mendas.

McCoy shook his head as he walked down the hall toward his office and the bottle of Saurian brandy waiting for him there. Leave it to Jim Kirk, one of the infinitesimally small percentage of humans known to be allergic to Retinax, to discover it in its natural state. He wondered what odds Spock would have calculated for this one. He shook his head once more. Probably would have been beyond even Spock's abilities to figure that one out, he thought, then stopped as he came even with Chapel's office. Maybe Chris could use a drop of brandy too. Between the convalescing Lonaran children they'd had aboard, and the captain's unusual bad temper, she'd had a few rough days.

McCoy tapped softly on the door. This time, he wouldn't even yell. Last time he'd done that, he'd thought she was going to let him have it with the loaded hypo she was holding.

"Hey, Chris, it's safe to come out. The ogre ... uh ... I mean, the Captain, is gone."

* * *

Captain James T. Kirk relaxed in the comfort of his own cabin for what seemed like the first time since they'd returned from the Mendasian survey, allowing the waves of weariness to crash over him. He'd put in his half shift, then Spock had accompanied him on a short tour of the ship, ending In Botany, where Ensign MacEvoy was working on a new project the Vulcan had designed. After allowing Kirk to express his thanks to the youngster for the overtime he had put in, Spock had inexorably escorted the captain back to his quarters, pointing out he was still convalescing, and Kirk, for once. had not argued, admitting he was tired.

Soft classical music was playing in the background, some of it accompanied by poetry, and he'd adjusted the temperature controls to a slightly higher than normal level. Now he lay on his own bunk, leaning back against the piled up pillows, eyes closed, basking in the healing warmth. It's good to be home, he thought. Finally.

For the captain of the Enterprise, the days since he and the landing party had beamed up were a tangled recollection of rushing around, attempting to deal with the bureaucratic messes, while subliminally aware of the discomfort from what he had thought was a 'black eye.' All this was paved over by a confused memory of searing pain mixed with bad dreams and harrowing reality. Kirk knew it was going to take some time for him to sort out what was real and what had been the result of pain and the drugs used to conquer it.

Spock had come back to check on him a while ago. Not that the Vulcan would admit that was what he was doing, but there had been no logical need for them to go over the Mendasian survey report that would be sent to Starfleet yet another time -- everything had been neatly cataloged and listed, right down to the components of the tree with which Kirk's eye had such a violent encounter. Nor had there been any reason to discuss the Lonaran situation. Spock and the medical department had dealt with that, too, in a logical and business-like manner, coordinating the efforts of the Enterprise, the Blackwell, and the Lonaran medical facility. In fact, Kirk thought, it was almost as if he hadn't been needed at all. Talk about two edged thoughts. he mused. On the other hand, that was he point of having a captain, to hone his crew to the point where they could function without him if necessary. It was ironic, though, considering he could vaguely remember telling McCoy to try delegating some of his responsibilities.

There was a chime at his door, and Kirk chuckled, as he called out his customary 'come'. Situation, normal, for this ship, he thought chuckling again as he recalled Spock's reaction to the acronym. Funny, the way it kept popping, unbidden, into his mind lately.

"Don't you even ask who it is?" McCoy stepped into the cabin, then rounded the grillwork dividing the captain's 'office' from his sleeping quarters.

"Nah, I was expecting you." Hazel eyes, one still puffy and slightly bruised looking, twinkled up at the doctor in the dim lighting.

"Right... Well, in that case, you know that I wanted to say I'm sorry for bawling you out like that today."

"There's no need, Bones, I got the message loud and clear." Kirk smiled a gentle lopsided smile, his expression one of understanding. The day McCoy didn't yell at him for taking chances would be the day he knew he'd pushed his friend's love too far. He hoped that day would never come.

Blue eyes met green-gold. "Yeah... I guess you did. Sleep well, Jim."

THE END