A/N: Posting late again--server issues combined with the fact that this chapter is hella long (over 9,000 words). Couple notes for the chapter: Lots of medical references here. I'm an English major, not a doctor. Ergo, some stuff might be wrong. Let me know if there are issues--I'm always glad to learn more. Also, I didn't have a lot to go on for the mind meld section, so... do with that as you will. This chapter has a lot of inspiration from LittleFairy78's Supernatural story "Sleep Eternal" (which you can find the link to in my favorites), so mega thanks to her for the inspiration (and for letting me use her story as my muse for this story).

Also, some bad news on the posting front--I'm going on vacation next weekend, and due to the sudden increase of my social life (I have one of those? Who knew?) it's going to be impossible for me to finish another chapter before I leave. Therefore, the next chapter will be posted July 31. Hopefully the length of this chapter, plus the one or two oneshots I'll be posting next week will make up for the long wait.

Finally, thank you to everyone who's read, reviewed, fave'd, etc. Your support is immeasurable. If anyone ever has questions/ideas/suggestions, feel free to let me know--I'm always looking for new input. And thank you to potterwatch and zookitty for teaming up to help beta this chapter. You ladies are astounding and far too good to me. All the remaining mistakes belong to me.

Disclaimer: Star Trek doesn't belong to me. I'm sure y'all are astonished.

He was walking with Sulu when everything changed. Something was wrong.

Really, really wrong.

Jim's entire body was tingling and burning, and his legs suddenly had no energy to keep walking back to their temporary quarters. The temperature had gone up at least twenty degrees, and Jim could feel his tongue stick to the roof of his parched mouth when he tried to swallow.

"Captain? What is it?"

Jim looked up at his helmsman in bewilderment and saw both confusion and concern clouding Sulu's eyes. His lips tingled and his tongue felt clumsy as he tried to talk. "I feel kinda--"

He wanted to say "weird," but things suddenly went dark and he inexplicably lost control of his mouth. He felt his knees buckle as he heard Sulu cry, "Captain!" He frantically tried to get his arms out in front of him, but they wouldn't move, he couldn't get anything in his body to move, and he was still falling, his face was going to smash into the floor--

A pair of hands grabbed at his shoulders, stopping his fall, and his head jerked forward limply. Jim wanted to say Nice catch but he couldn't because his lips wouldn't move, and he knew Sulu was the one supporting him, but he couldn't see the pilot because he'd even lost control of his eyelids, and this complete and sudden lack of control was really starting to freak him out.

Then he felt his body shift backwards. There was a moment of disoriented panic before Jim realized that Sulu was simply lowering him to the ground. The stone floor felt cool through the fabric of his dress uniform, and his skin went from burning hot to freezing cold in less than a second. Any other time, he'd be shivering violently, but apparently whatever just happened to him prevented him from shivering as well.

He felt Sulu tapping lightly at his cheeks, as if trying to wake him up--all good in theory, except for the fact that he already was awake, so there really was no point to it. "Captain?" Sulu called. "Jim? Jim!"

Oh, sure, now you call me by my first name, Jim thought wryly. Two years as captain and he still was working on that with pretty much everyone except Bones. He was pretty sure it was a losing battle, but since he didn't believe in no-win situations, it was one he'd keep on fighting.

He felt Sulu place two warm fingers on his neck, just above his jugular. See, it'll be fine, Sulu, he tried to reassure mentally. I still have a pulse. It'll be fine. I can't move a frickin' muscle, but I'm sure it'll wear off--everything's fine.

Judging by the blatant panic in Sulu's voice as he bellowed for Spock, however, everything was not fine--which really confused Jim. It wasn't as if his heart was stopped, after all--Jim was pretty sure he'd be unconscious if it had.

He heard familiar footsteps pounding down the hall (and, yes, it would really be nice to at least have control over his eyelids so he could see). "What happened?" Spock demanded in a clipped tone that did nothing for Jim's stress levels. Spock only used that tone when he was extremely stressed, and it was a bad sign if Spock was letting that much emotion show in his voice.

"I don't know! We were just walking and he collapsed," he heard Sulu explain. A moment later he felt warmth encircle his wrist--Spock's hand, judging by the much higher temperature of the skin touching his.

Then Jim felt breath ghosting over his chin and he would've recoiled if possible. Someone was really invading his personal space, and it was all the more uncomfortable because he couldn't see who it was. "His breathin's too shallow," Scotty declared from just above him before moving away.

Jim heard the familiar chirp of a communicator. "Spock to Enterprise."

"Uhura here, sir."

"Beam us up now," Spock ordered curtly. "Make sure Dr. McCoy's on hand."

"Aye, sir."

Jim was impressed--if he were to get a transmission from Spock with that much blatant concern, he'd be demanding to know what was going on. Although right now, he really just wanted to be back aboard the Enterprise. Bones would fix him up--of that he had no doubt.

The tug of his arms across two different sets of shoulders jerked him from his musings. The disorienting movement of the unseen world around him made his head spin, and if his muscles could work, Jim was pretty sure he'd be throwing up right about now. It was probably a good thing he couldn't--Spock had been far from happy the last time Jim had thrown up on him.

"Is he gonna be alright?" Sulu asked in a tone that made something inside Jim clench with fury. He was supposed to reassure his officers, not be the reason they worried. Especially when he was feeling fine.

Other than the whole can't-move-a-muscle thing, of course.

Spock's tone was troubled when he replied, "I do not know." That, more than anything else thus far, made Kirk panic inwardly. It was a rare occasion when Spock was this open with his emotions, much less about admitting uncertainty.

Jim thought he was fine. So why were the others so worried?

He felt the tingly push-pull of the transporter, and a moment later his feet reconnected with the pad. They'd barely arrived before he was being tugged forward again, the sudden movement making his head bob around a bit.

"What the hell happened?"

Jim had never been so relieved to hear Bones' gruff-because-I'm-worried tone. Bones will fix this, he thought, trying to ignore the nauseating movement of being lowered onto a waiting gurney as Sulu offered a hurried explanation. He heard the soft beeps of a tricorder and sighed inwardly in a relief. In moments the device would tell his crew they had no reason to be so worried--

"I'm not finding a pulse!"

If he could have, Jim would have blinked in surprise. Come again? he wondered as Spock and Bones lowered the gurney down. He was cold and paralyzed, true, but he was also fully conscious and still alive--so why the hell did everyone think otherwise?

Jim was so lost in thought he barely had time to register the movement of his head being tipped back before his nose was pinched shut and a pair of lips pressed down on his.

Oh god, Jim thought in horror as Bones blew air into his lungs. He'd thought Scotty was invading his personal space when he was listening for Jim's breathing back on Pilar, but it didn't even come close to this. When he regained control over his body, Bones was never going to hear the end of it.

Also, it was time to implement a requirement for all members of the medical team to brush their teeth four times a shift. Just because.

Bones lifted his mouth away and asked, "Anyone here know CPR?"

Jim nearly missed Uhura's response as he felt the CMO's hands settle over his sternum. Shit, he inwardly whimpered as Bones started pressing down on his chest firmly. His muscles might not be working, but the pain receptors were completely functional, and they were practically screaming at him every time Bones pushed down.

"Then get ready to breathe for him," Bones barked between compressions. Jim felt his head jerk a little with each strong compression, and he decided that after this, he was never going to accuse Bones of being weak ever again.

"Now," Bones ordered, and Jim had just enough time to notice the desperation that made his best friend's voice crack before a much softer pair of lips closed over his to blow two breaths into his lungs.

Jim tried to make the situation less awkward by pretending that he was really drunk and trying to kiss a girl (and failing miserably)--which worked for a millisecond, before he remembered that this was Uhura kneeling over him and pressing her lips against his.

Spock was going to kill him.

Then he heard Bones order Chekov to radio Chapel, and his heart sank a little. Bad enough that his senior officers had to be here for this--to see their captain lying lifeless on the floor--but Chekov was still too young. He was still a teenager, not even old enough to be considered legal drinking age on Earth--

The sharp pain of Bones shoving his ribs down to try and get his heart started drove the rant from Jim's mind.

"I just don't understand," he heard Sulu declare softly. "He was fine less than an hour ago!"

And I'm still fine! Jim thought furiously as Bones finished up the second set of compressions. Why doesn't anyone believe that?

He felt fingers pressing against the pulse point on his neck as Uhura breathed for him again. Please, please, let there be something, he silently pleaded.

"Damn it, still nothing!" Bones spat, resuming compressions. Jim wasn't sure how he was doing it, but Bones was managing to press even harder this time, and he was fairly certain his ribs wouldn't be able to hold out much longer under this amount of pressure. "Don't ya even think about givin' up on me now, Kid," the CMO grunted fiercely, and the underlying panic in his voice would've made the breath catch in Jim's throat if Bones wasn't trying to cave his chest in. Even the doctor's frantic movements weren't enough to jolt Jim's mind from its newfound revelation.

Bones thought he was dying, Jim realized in horror. They all thought he was dying.

The sharp crack of a bone breaking registered a split second before the white-hot pain did. Once it hit, though, it drove out all coherent thought from the captain's mind except for a steady stream of, Pain pain pain oh god pain! He wished for the blissful ignorance that resulted from unconsciousness, but apparently whatever had caused him to appear dead kept him from actually falling into unconsciousness, leaving him fully aware of the pain and completely unable to do anything about it.

Then Bones restarted his compressions, and the pain levels Jim thought couldn't get any higher did, and all he could think was, This is going to kill me.

Bones was yelling something, and he could hear Chapel's voice replying, but their words were lost in the painful roar thundering in his ears. The compressions stopped, and Jim regained enough coherent thought to register the feel of a plastic mask being placed over his nose and mouth. The pain in his chest flared as air was forced into his lungs, causing his ribs to expand.

"Negative on any brain or other neural activity, sir," Chapel suddenly announced from near his head, and Jim would've snorted if he could have.

Guess that proves what you've told me all along, Bones, Jim thought. I really don't think. Judging from the lack of any type of smart remark, though, Bones wasn't thinking along the same lines at the moment.

Something slick and cold (which was a mildly impressive feat, considering his skin was already freezing) was suddenly placed on Jim's chest. He barely had time to think, What happened to my uniform? before Chapel announced, "Charging. And… clear!"

A jolt of electricity raced through Jim's body, making him arch up before crashing back painfully onto the gurney. The scream racing through his head was so loud Jim was surprised Spock couldn't pick up on it telepathically. The pain was enough to make him miss what Bones was saying, but the results were more than clear when he felt the slick coldness placed back on his chest. Oh, please no, he internally moaned, frantically try to gain control over something in his body. If he could just get someone's attention, maybe he wouldn't have to--

Electricity coursed through him again, and his thought processes were drowned out by his silent scream. Over the roaring in his ears, Jim heard the soft beeping of the tricorder and he waited, hoping for good news but fearing the worst.

"No," Bones whispered. Something crashed to the ground, and two fingers pressed against his neck while another hand grabbed his wrist. Jim's throat clogged (or would have, if his muscles weren't paralyzed) as he sensed Bones lean in closer. "Don't you do this, Jim--don't you do this," the doctor hissed fiercely. Jim felt a small drop of water land on his chin, and it took a moment before he realized what it was.

A tear.

It wasn't much--Jim highly doubted Bones even knew it had happened, let alone cared, but to Jim it was like a hammer blow.

Bones was crying because of him. Because he thought Jim was dead.

And suddenly, any remote humor in this situation fled. If Jim ever recovered from this (and that was starting to look less and less likely, he admitted to himself), he was pretty sure he'd never be able to use any of this as blackmail against his crew--not even the CPR bit. Not when they were this upset about it.

Bones was growling and pressing down on Jim's chest again, but Jim hardly noticed the spike in pain. He was too furious--furious at Bones for thinking Jim would possibly die now, furious at himself for not being able to show some sign that he was alive, furious at whatever had caused this to happen to him.

Because, as Jim was quickly starting to realize when Chapel placed the defibrillator paddles on his chest and Bones gave him two more rescue breaths, whatever was causing this type of paralysis couldn't possibly be natural. Somehow Jim had become a target, but that wasn't what ticked him off the most. By messing with Jim, they messed with his crew.

Nobody messed with Jim Kirk's crew and got away with it.

Then Chapel pressed down with the paddles again, and Jim lost his train of thought as the pain consumed him once more.

The compressions resumed briefly, until Spock said something that made Bones pause. "He's not dead, damn it! This is Jim Kirk. He drives cars off cliffs, gets himself shot, gets strangled, beat up, and a hundred other idiotic and childish things, but he doesn't die!"

You got that right, Jim agreed silently. He sighed inwardly as the CMO stared compressions again. I just wish you still believed it.

"You hear me, kid?" Bones muttered, increasing the pressure again. "You do not get to die on me! Not now."

In the haze of pain that followed, Jim lost track of how many sets of compressions and breaths Bones performed. The only thing that registered in his mind besides the pain was the silence that filled the transporter room. Jim quickly decided the silence was worse than the pain.

But, like the pain, there was nothing he could do about it.

He heard Bones shift a little before the fingers were back at his throat, and a moment later he felt Bones press his ear against the skin above his heart. C'mon, Bones, he thought desperately. I'm still in here! Don't give up on me

Then Bones moved again, pulling his hand away from Jim's neck to grab his wrist with shaking fingers. Jim felt his friend's head turn until his forehead was pressed against Jim's chest, uncomfortably near the broken rib. Warm air ghosted over the freezing skin on his side as Bones whispered, "Call it."

No, Jim thought as Chapel announced the time of death. Bones, no! I'm right here. I'm right here!

Bones gave his wrist one final squeeze before pulling away. "Chapel, let's take him down to sickbay," he ordered, and Jim would've shivered if he could have. He had never heard Bones sound so defeated before--not even on the nights where he'd had to track the older man down at a decrepit bar somewhere to jerk him from memories of the wife and daughter he'd been forced to leave behind.

Though to be honest, on those nights Bones was drunk to the point of almost passing out. Perhaps he was always this morose before the alcohol. Either way, Jim would be just fine if he never heard that tone in Bones' voice again.

The gurney supporting him suddenly jerked, jostling his rib and bringing the nausea back with a vengeance. No one spoke as the gurney was wheeled forward, but Jim was surprised to hear everyone in the transporter room following him out.

They didn't all need to come. So why were they?

The unseen world around him spun every time the gurney rounded a corner in the corridor, and the slow but steady movement caused air to flow over his bare chest, making him even colder than he already was. At the moment, he'd do pretty much anything for a blanket or a mug of coffee.

Although if he had to choose one thing he absolutely wanted, he'd definitely like to be able to move right about now so he could stop this somber procession. Between the steady pace of his crew's footsteps, the lack of conversation, and the occasional sniff from somewhere near his left shoulder, it felt far too much like a funeral march--especially considering the fact that he wasn't really dead. Just completely unable to move and in a lot of pain.

The halls were practically empty during Delta shift, so they only passed a few other crew members during the journey to the lift. Jim heard a couple of stifled gasps as he was wheeled into the lift, but no one asked what had happened. He figured the looks on his friends' faces were more than enough to explain the situation.

The turbo lift vibrated for a moment before the doors slid open, and Jim immediately recognized the familiar, medicinal smell of sickbay--which really bothered him when he thought about it. If he wasn't breathing, how could he smell?

"Let's wheel him over to the corner to start the preliminary," Bones said softly. The gurney's path altered slightly before it came to a stop. Then Jim was lifted without any warning, and the following pain and nausea nearly prevented him from registering that he was being transferred onto one of the bio-beds. The mattress was freezing--the temperature regulator must have been turned off, which made sense for a dead body but only made Jim that much more miserable. He'd hoped to at least warm up a little.

"Y'all don't need to stay," Bones declared from someplace near Jim's right hand. "I'll inform you of my preliminary findings when I'm done."

"We need to know what happened," Sulu replied firmly from his position by Jim's feet, and while Jim couldn't see the others, he had a strong feeling they were all nodding in agreement.

Jim half-expected the CMO to angrily order everyone except Chapel out, but instead the older man simply sighed wearily. Jim was even more concerned now--this behavior wasn't like Bones at all.

"Medical log: Stardate 2259.248," Bones stated flatly. Jim heard the quiet whir of the ship's computers as they began recording the doctor's report. "Captain Kirk was beamed aboard after collapsing while on a diplomatic mission on the planet Pilar. Scans indicate the captain was in ventricular fibrillation immediately prior to his return to the Enterprise. Repeated attempts by myself and Head Nurse Christine Chapel to revive him, including use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation, failed, and he was declared dead at nineteen-hundred hours. Beginning preliminary autopsy now."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Jim thought frantically as he heard Bones move closer to the bio-bed, flashes of old crime show holovids filled with depictions of primitive scalpels and saws running through his mind. You might not believe me, Bones, but I'd really like my heart and lungs to stay inside me.

There was a soft whir of a machine that moved from his head down. "Scans reveal no sign of pre-mortem illnesses or injuries," Bones declared quietly. "Heart tissue scans appear normal. Ribs two, four, and five on the right side are severely bruised, while rib three on the same side has a clean break approximately two inches from the sternum. These injuries are consistent with the consequences of cardiopulmonary resuscitation."

The whirring sound faded. "Chapel, draw three blood samples and begin a full blood panel," Bones ordered.

"Yes, doctor," Chapel replied.

Jim felt the remains of his dress tunic being pulled away, and flinched inwardly when a needle was inserted into his arm. Hands began probing through his hair as the needle slid out again. "No signs of any blunt force trauma to the cranial region," Bones announced.

Then a pair of fingers pried his left eye open, giving Jim a chance to finally see something. Bones' face was directly above him, and Jim was shocked at how much the man seemed to have aged since the last time he saw him, only mere hours earlier. His eyes were particularly distressing--they were dull, glassy, and filled with pain. C'mon, Bones, I'm right here, he thought desperately. Look at me!

Bones released Jim's eyelid, and everything went momentarily dark before his right eye was pried open. Jim saw a flash of anger and despair cross Bones' eyes before they went dead again. "Sclera are normal," he declared, letting Jim's eye close once more.

The fingers moved down to pull Jim's lips away from his teeth. "Gums show no signs of discoloration. Skin is pale, blue-tinged, but the color does not seem to be a result of anything other than the lack of blood flow. There appears to be no outward signs of poisoning."

"He was itching at his neck not long before he collapsed," Sulu offered.

Bones didn't respond verbally. Instead, he gripped Jim's right shoulder and rolled him so he was lying on his left side. The movement jostled the rib, which didn't surprise Jim too much, even though the pain was nearly overwhelming. He'd suffered through broken ribs before and knew all too well how everything in the body seemed to connect to the ribs, especially when they were broken.

"No signs of rash or puncture wounds on the neck," Bones said quietly, gently rolling Jim onto his back again. "Back appears free from trauma as well."

"Initial blood scans reveal no signs of abnormalities, sir," Chapel called. "Full results should be available in an hour."

Jim heard Bones sigh deeply. "Based on my preliminary examinations, it appears Captain Kirk died of natural causes," he declared grimly.

I'm not dead! Jim screamed furiously inside his head. I can hear every damn word you're saying!

"Tha' cannae be right," Scotty protested. "The lad's nae even thirty!"

"I know!" Bones snapped. "But I'm telling you, nothing's showing up. For all intents and purposes, Jim should still be alive!"

"Perhaps a reasonable elucidation shall be discovered upon a closer examination," Spock suggested. If he could have, Jim would've swallowed at the idea--he was pretty sure a "closer examination" would actually kill him. Not to mention the fact that being cut open would freakin' hurt.

"Damn it, man, you actually expect me to cut him open? Right here?" Bones exclaimed. Jim could hear a hint of hysteria lacing his best friend's voice.

"Quite contrary, Doctor," Spock replied in the tone Jim privately called the you're-being-an-absolute-idiot voice. He heard that one a lot. "I believe that due to the circumstances of the…" Spock trailed off, and Jim knew he was considering his next words carefully. "Due to the circumstances of Captain Kirk's passing, it would be logical to have the complete autopsy conducted at Starfleet Medical."

Jim heard Bones suck in a deep breath through his nose. "Alright. C'mon, you three, better give you a proper examination, just to be safe," he declared wearily.

Footsteps moved away from the bed as the others followed Bones over to another exam area, leaving Jim alone for the first time since this ordeal began. He strained to listen to what McCoy was finding--he really didn't want anyone else in his crew to have to experience this--but the voices were too soft and too far away for him to catch what they were saying.

He sighed inwardly, feeling restless. He was cold, his chest ached, and he wanted to do nothing more than move his fingers enough to hold a phaser and shoot whoever had decided it would be amusing to do this to him and his crew.

I don't know what's worse--the fact that I don't know who did this, or the fact that I have no clue how they did it, Jim mused. Sure, the Pilarians weren't the friendliest people he'd ever encountered, but there had never been any signs of open hostility towards him or the rest of the landing crew. Hell, other than the funky juice that made Scotty sick, Jim had never seen anything that could've been considered a weapon--not even in the plant he and Sulu had toured.

But then, maybe a Pilarian didn't do this to him. After all, Jim was damn sure he saw someone duck behind the warp core manufacturer in the plant--someone with far too much muscle mass to be one of the slender-bodied Pilarians. It had definitely been humanoid, though--he'd seen a distinct five-fingered hand just before the figure had disappeared from sight.


Jim's train of thought crashed to a halt when he heard the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears--the heartbeat no one thought he had. But I do have it! he thought frantically. I do!

He strained to hear what the others were doing. He still couldn't hear any words, but from what he could hear, it sounded like no one had left yet. Please, please come back here, he silently willed. I still have a pulse!

Except… he couldn't feel or hear his heart beating any more. Which was beyond odd--why would he hear the heartbeat in his ears when he wasn't even thinking about that, and then not hear it when he was trying to?

Jim snickered to himself. "Beyond odd" was turning into a pretty apt description for this entire trip. When--he refused to think if--he regained control of his muscles and they figured out just what was going on here, this trip was definitely going down as the most bizarre mission he'd ever experienced--and that was counting the time the air on a new planet turned everyone's skin bright green.


Jim frowned. He'd definitely felt and heard his heart beat that time. But when he tried to feel it again, there was nothing. Which meant either he only heard his heartbeat when his mind was distracted… or his heart was really beating that slow. It had been at least a minute between the two heartbeats. Jim wasn't a doctor, but he knew enough to know it shouldn't be possible for him to still be alive with his heart pumping that slow. And he couldn't even tell how he was breathing. He never felt any air moving through his nose, and his ribs never expanded to take any air in--something he'd definitely know because of his cracked rib.


As soon as he felt his heartbeat, he started counting off the seconds the way he'd learned as a child. One Mississippi, two Mississippi

His count was thrown off when he heard Bones announce, "Alright, you guys are all cleared."

There was a brief pause before Spock declared, "Return to your stations. There is much we need to do."

Good job, Spock--keep them moving
, Jim approved silently as he heard the others softly agree. Don't let them get too caught up in this. I'm not worth that, even if I were dead.


He started counting again, ignoring the sound of the sickbay doors sliding open. Bones and Chapel were talking softly, but he didn't try to listen to their words, instead focusing on counting the seconds between heartbeats.

At sixty-eight Mississippi he felt his heart beat again. He counted once more, reaching seventy Mississippi before the next beat. So around seventy seconds, give or take a couple seconds, he decided. No wonder no one picked up on it.

"Better pull the partition," Bones declared. Jim heard him walking towards the bio-bed. "Don't need everyone coming in here to gawk."

C'mon, Bones, don't give up so easily, Jim mentally shouted as he heard Bones punch a command onto a nearby control panel. I'm still here!

There was a whirring sound, which Jim assumed to be the partition Bones had mentioned. Silence fell over sickbay as the whirring faded, and Jim could sense Bones looking at him. Please, Bones…

"I'll be in my office, Chapel," Bones suddenly said gruffly, hurrying away from the bio-bed. Jim heard the nurse sigh as the door to the CMO's office slid open and then closed, and Jim sighed inwardly with her.

Chapel's footsteps were soft as she approached. "I'm sorry, sir," she whispered.

Jim would've screamed in frustration if he could have. You've got nothing to be sorry for--I'm not dead!

There was a snap of fabric, and a moment later a thin sheet settled over his body. Oh, you've got to be kidding me! Jim thought in annoyance as the sheet tickled his nose.

Chapel sighed. "It's just not right," she declared as the fabric was tugged away from his face. She tucked the sheet around his torso, gently tugging his arms out and laying them on top. The movement pulled at his ribs, but Jim ignored it.

"Dr. McCoy would probably accuse me of being sentimental," Chapel commented as she adjusted the sheet and smoothed out the wrinkles. She chuckled softly. "He's not really one to talk, though, is he?"

Definitely not, Jim agreed, wishing the sheet would provide more warmth than it currently was.

Slender fingers started combing through his hair. "I'm worried about him, sir," she confessed quietly as she continued to smooth his hair.

You and me both, Jim replied silently. While it was nice to have someone actually talking to him, it was extremely frustrating not to be able to respond and quite annoying to know Chapel assumed she was talking to a dead person.

"The medical staff's always known how close of friends the two of you are," Chapel continued. "Were," she amended after a moment. "And I've always worried that something like this would happen. I just… never thought it would be like this."

The fingers in his hair stilled. Chapel's hand lingered for a moment before moving away. "I'll take care of him, sir. I promise."

I know you will, Jim thought, listening as the nurses footsteps retreated away. He knew from first-hand experience that Chapel was as bad, if not worse than Bones at acting like a mother hen.

And as frustrated as Jim was at the moment, it was surprisingly reassuring to know that someone was going to watch after his best friend if he didn't manage to recover.

"Attention, Enterprise," Spock suddenly announced over a ship-wide message. "This is Acting Captain Spock. I regret to inform you that shortly before nineteen hundred hours today, Captain Kirk collapsed while conducting diplomatic business on the surface of Pilar. Despite the medical team's best efforts, he passed away shortly thereafter."

There was a long pause, and Jim really wanted to bang his head against something in frustration. I. Am. Not. Dead!

"I have discussed our situation with Admiral Christopher Pike. He has ordered the Enterprise to return to Earth immediately," Spock continued, and Jim felt his heart sink. They'd already told Pike?

How on earth was he going to get himself out of this mess when he couldn't move and everyone thought he was dead?

"Given our current location and planned speed, we should arrive in four days. Spock out."

That statement made Jim frown internally. Their current location wasn't all that far from Earth--at Warp Four, it would take less than two days to get there. So why was Spock planning on taking four?

The swish of doors sliding open was momentarily distracting, and Jim listened to the familiar stride as Bones left his office and walked out of sickbay. Jim had a strong feeling that the CMO was heading up to the bridge--probably to meet with Spock.

Spock was planning something. Jim felt a little hope stir within his chest, along with an exceeding amount of frustration. If it was going to take four days for the Enterprise to return to Earth, then Spock had to be up to something--which meant he was suspicious about what had happened down on Pilar. It gave Jim hope that maybe his stubborn first officer would figure out what was wrong with him, but it was frustrating to not be able to talk with Spock and find out what he was planning.

On the other hand, the other plus of taking so long to get back to Earth was that Jim now had that much more time to try and beat whatever was keeping him from moving. Jim didn't know a lot about medicine--he left that to Bones--but he knew that poisons eventually passed through the body, provided the person didn't die first. Since Jim wasn't dead, it stood to reason that whatever was affecting him would eventually pass as well.

However, the major problem with that was the fact that his heart rate was so incredibly slow. If his heart was only beating once every seventy seconds or so, Jim figured his blood couldn't be moving all that much. And he knew that if his blood wasn't moving all that much, then it would take a lot longer for the poison to be filtered from his blood and removed to the point where he would be able to move again.

So the big question was: Would four days be long enough for the poison to run its course?

There's really no choice but to hope so
, Jim decided. Because if it wasn't, no one in Starfleet would ever know that Jim Kirk died at the unsuspecting hands of a medical examiner during autopsy, not in the transporter room of the Enterprise.

All of this had to be because of the person Jim had spotted in the Pilarian production plant. Something in his gut told him that if he figured out who that person was, they'd have a much better understanding of what was going on around here--and he'd never doubted his gut instincts before. But as much as he tried, he couldn't place the species of the figure he'd seen. It had definitely been humanoid, but Jim wasn't sure if it was actually human--the speed it used to disappear behind the warp core manufacturer suggested it wasn't a typical human, at least.

That didn't really narrow it down, though. Jim hadn't spotted any identifying features other than the general body shape, and all he really knew was that the person was wearing dark clothing.

Although… now that he thought about it, Giten had been quick to chalk it up to Jim's imagination--which was odd, considering the ambassador had stated only a few people were authorized to be in that room. Either the Pilarians weren't all that worried about security (which didn't add up, since the building was one of the main parts suppliers for their starship fleet), or Giten knew a lot more than he was letting on.

Which, as much as Jim was reluctant to jump to conclusions (he'd done that too often at the beginning of their five-year deployment, and it had never ended well), seemed possible, given the Pilarians' shifty behavior, especially during their initial meeting on the planet.

That raised another issue, though--if the Pilarians were hiding something, why would they contact Starfleet now? They'd never really shown an interest in joining the Federation before, so why start when there appeared to be some kind of covert scheme going on?

Unless they were after the Enterprise specifically, Jim thought. As the flagship of Starfleet, the Enterprise was a logical target for enemies to go after. She'd completed many successful missions since the Narada incident, and Jim was well-aware that his reputation was spreading just as fast as the ship's.

But the possibility that someone had targeted his ship and his crew just because of their reputation made Jim's blood boil. He was admittedly protective of his crew--they were under his command, after all, and it was his job to make sure they traveled through the unknowns of space as safely as possible. He was supposed to protect them from tragedy, not be the cause of it.


In the relative silence of sickbay, the beat of his heart sounded incredibly loud in Jim's ears. What kind of poison can make the victim appear dead when they really aren't? Jim wondered. He'd read up on several different neurotoxins after they'd rescued Pike from the Narada to try and help figure out what was wrong with the then-captain of the Enterprise. In all of his research, he'd never found any indication of a known pathogen that could have this kind of effect on the human body. The stronger neurotoxins affected all of the muscles, including the heart and diaphragm, which meant that the victim would die without the aid of a ventilator.

And yet here Jim was, completely paralyzed, on no machines, and still alive with a barely beating heart.

The worst part of that was he had no idea when he could've been poisoned. Sulu and Spock had eaten the exact same amounts of the exact same food as he had, and no one in the landing party had ever been alone. So when could he have--

The bug bite on his neck, Jim suddenly remembered. Something had stung him on the neck, just below his hairline as he walked back with Sulu. It hadn't hurt much--in fact, it had more itched than anything, and Jim had barely noticed it at the time. He'd been bitten by enough strange bugs in his lifetime to not think anything of it, and he'd figured if there had been any dangerous bugs on the planet, Bones or Spock would've warned him about it.

Unless there was no record of there being any such insects on the planet and no chance of detecting it with the scanners. "The properties in the soil covering Pilar can often cause strange interferences with interstellar scanners," one of the Pilarians had said.

Which, now that Jim thought about it, was a piss-poor excuse. He'd never heard of any kind of soil being able to interfere with scanners enough to prevent them from detecting buildings several stories tall. Electrical storms and magnetic fields, yes, but soil? No.

And even if that were true about Pilar's soil, Jim was damn sure one of the previous diplomatic Federation envoys would have made note of it for future reference--that kind of interference had the potential to create a lot of havoc for a landing party, especially if the planet's population was hostile.

Still, it was possible that this was the result of some strange alien bug, even if the Pilarians were less than trustworthy. Jim snorted inwardly at the thought. That would be his luck--get bit by the one species of alien insect with venom powerful enough to paralyze his entire body.

"I always thought the job would kill ya, Kid," Bones said suddenly, and if Jim were able, he probably would've jumped a foot off the bed. He'd been so lost in his musings that he hadn't heard the CMO approach. Bones sighed. "Just thought it'd be in a blaze of glory, not on some kiss-ass diplomatic mission."

And that right there should be a sign that something's not right, Bones
, Jim thought wryly. There's not nearly enough blood.

"I'm getting too old for this kinda thing," Bones griped as he moved closer to the bio-bed.


The heartbeat was almost deafening as it reverberated in Jim's ears, but much to his chagrin Bones didn't notice, instead grabbing a chair from somewhere and dragging it closer to the bed. Jim waited nervously as he heard Bones sit in the chair. He could feel his friend staring at him, and he had a sinking feeling that he was about to hear things that Bones would never typically say aloud.

"Damn it, Jim," Bones murmured, and the brokenness in that whisper was enough to make Jim worried and pissed off--worried about how Bones was handling this (because obviously he wasn't) and pissed off at whoever (or whatever) had injected him with the toxin that put him in this state.

"I'm sorry," Bones whispered just as Jim heard another th-thump. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you."

You didn't
have to, Bones, damn it! My heart just beat! I'm still here! Jim thought furiously. Why the hell couldn't you be a mind-reader?

"God, I'm such a failure," Bones breathed, and the despair was enough to make Jim's mind stop ranting. He felt the soft vibration of something resting on the bio-bed. "Couldn't save my father… couldn't save my marriage…" Bones continued, voice filled with bitterness, and Jim would've swallowed if he were able.

Bones was venturing into uncharted territory here. Jim knew how much the older man regretted how his marriage had ended--he saw it every time Joanna sent a message--but he'd never once heard Bones mention his father before.

And really, when he thought about it, it bugged him. Bones was his best friend, but he didn't know squat about the man's past. He'd been curious, sure, but Bones had never wanted to talk about it, and Jim knew better than to push the issue when Bones didn't want to talk about something.

Maybe it was time to change that. Clearly something from Bones' past was haunting him. Bones had helped him deal with his own past more than once--maybe it was time to return the favor.

Jim tried not to think about the possibility he wouldn't have the chance anymore.

Bones sighed a little. "Guess it makes sense I couldn't save you. Seems like I can't save the things that mean the most to me."

Jim vaguely registered the fact that Bones had gripped his wrist, but his mind was racing too much to really notice. He'd gone his entire life thinking that no one could possibly care for him. On one level, he knew his mother loved him, but he also knew that every time she looked at Jim, she thought of the man she'd lost in outer space. Jim had long accepted it, and he'd loved his mother all the same, but… he'd never thought anyone would be all that sad if he'd died.

Apparently he was wrong, and that realization practically floored him.

Then Bones' grip tightened, and Jim suddenly realized where the older man's fingers were placed--right over his pulse point. Don't let go, Bones--please don't let go, he pleaded silently, frantically trying to figure out how many seconds had passed since his last heartbeat.

"I can't do this again, Jim. I can't," Bones whispered, voice thick with emotion. Jim wasn't sure what he meant by "again"--probably something with his father--but he mentally shouted, You don't have to! Just hold on a few more seconds! Please, let it be only a few more seconds…


Jim cheered silently when he sensed Bones suddenly stiffen. The fingers holding his wrist shifted slightly. Long seconds passed, and Jim could sense Bones' shoulders slumping. No! he thought frantically when Bones' grip loosened, then inwardly sighed with relief when his friend didn't let go completely. "Damn it," the CMO hissed. "I'm such a--"


Yes! Jim exclaimed mentally as Bones paused mid-sentence, tightening his grip as he shifted again. I'm still here, Bones. I'm still here!

As the seconds ticked by, Bones murmured, "This can't be… I must've imagined it again. There's no way…" He trailed off again, but his grip didn't loosen this time, and Jim would've grinned widely if he were able to.


The chair squeaked as Bones stood. The sheet resting across Jim's chest was tugged down slightly, and then he felt his friend press his ear against the skin over his heart again, causing pain to shoot out from his broken rib. "C'mon, Jim," Bones muttered. The CMO's cheek and hand felt uncomfortably warm against his own freezing skin, but Jim ignored it and counted the seconds. …five Mississippi, six Mississippi…


"Oh my god," Bones breathed as he straightened up.

Yes! Yes, yes, yes! Jim shouted in his mind elatedly. At least now if it took longer than four days for the poison to clear his system, he wouldn't have to worry about getting cut open--no way in hell would Bones let that happen.

He heard the CMO moving around, and suddenly the temperature regulators kicked on. Bones must've activated the monitor, Jim thought, grinning inwardly as the bed started warming up his freezing body.

Bones dropped Jim's wrist and took a couple steps away. Jim heard the comm chirp before Bones called, "McCoy to bridge."

"Spock here."

"You need to get down to sickbay. Now," Bones declared tersely, and Jim cheered again.

Yes! Now we're getting somewhere!
he thought as Bones grabbed his wrist. This he might be able to tease Bones about--he was being awfully touchy-feely at the moment.

Although, if their positions were reversed he'd probably be doing the same thing, Jim admitted silently. Damn it, he grumbled. All this blackmail material and I won't even be able to use it.


"Damn it, Jim," Bones declared, and whatever he'd seen on the monitors must have been good news because Jim could hear the grin in his voice.

The turbo lift doors hissed as they slid open, and a moment later, Jim heard Spock's familiar stride. "What have you discovered, Doctor?" Spock queried, a definite trace of confusion in his tone.

The grin was still obvious in Bones' voice as he declared, "Just watch."

The room was silent for a long moment. "I do not understand--"

"Wait for it," Bones ordered, cutting Spock off mid-sentence. Jim laughed inwardly, practically sensing Spock's eyebrow rise. "Just a couple more seconds."


"What… what does this mean?" Spock asked softly.

"He's alive, Spock," Bones replied. "Jim's alive."


"I don't know," Bones said honestly as Jim thought the same thing. "His heart's only beating once every seventy-two seconds, and I think that's how often he's breathing, too."

Seventy-two, huh?
Jim pondered silently. He'd actually been pretty close, then. Not a bad method for keeping short amounts of time--he'd have to remember that for the future.

"It is impossible for a human to survive for long with such vital signs," Spock replied. "And yet…"

"Jim's always tried to do the impossible," Bones finished, and Jim's inward grin widened. "Makes sense he would be doing it now."

There was a pause. "What is the likelihood that this is result of natural causes?" Spock asked.

"Slim to none," Bones replied. Jim felt the fingers wrapped around his wrist tighten. "Someone did poison him," the CMO growled.

"It appears so, Doctor," Spock declared. Judging by the anger Jim could hear in his voice, the Vulcan was ticked. "By all outward appearances, the would-be assassin must have used some kind of neurotoxin to create the appearance of death."

That's what I thought!
Jim thought in response. The thought made him pause. Hmm. Does that mean Spock's thinking more like me, or that I'm thinking more like him?

"I can think of four compounds right now that could pass through the standard blood work undetected," Bones affirmed. "Problem is, none of those are meant to last this long. With each one, the patient dies if there's no antidote or some other kind of stimulant administered within an hour."

"It is possible that we are facing an unknown pathogen, as we are currently conducting business with a relatively unknown species," Spock pointed out. There was another pause. "Is it possible to maintain an acceptable level of brain functions when the vital signs are at this state?"

"No," Bones replied, sounding a lot less happy than he had before. "Jim's heart's not beating often enough to send blood moving through his veins, and his respiratory levels aren't high enough to have a healthy amount of oxygen in his blood. And Chapel did a neural scan when we were trying to revive him. There was nothing." He sighed, and Jim felt his wrist drop back to the bed. "Hell, maybe he's just as far away from us as he was when we thought he was dead."

No, Bones! I'm still here! Jim thought furiously. I'm still right here!

"There is a way to find out," Spock declared slowly.

There was a moment of silence as both Bones and Jim tried to figure out what the Vulcan met. "No, Spock," Bones declared firmly. "I won't allow it."

"Any other scans or tests you may attempt will yield inconclusive results due to whatever pathogen has put Jim in this state," Spock protested. "A mind meld is the quickest way to determine if his mind has been unaffected by these events."

"And what happens if it has?" McCoy shot back, folding his arms. "What happens if Jim's mind is gone and you try and meld with him? What's to stop that from rebounding on you?"

Well, that didn't sound promising. But then, Jim knew he was fully conscious, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Unless the toxin could somehow interfere with Spock's abilities. It had obviously interfered with the neural scanner already--as far as Jim knew, the poison could make Spock think he was melding with the mental equivalent of a brick wall. And the chances of that affecting Spock both mentally and emotionally were higher than Jim was comfortable with.

Suddenly Jim wasn't sure what he wanted to happen. In any other situation, he'd never allow Spock to take the risk--especially not for him. But on the other hand, he really wanted everyone to know that he wasn't really dead so they could get to work on figuring out just what the hell was going on around here.

"I shall be able to detect such a problem before it occurs," Spock replied calmly. "I would prefer to have you remain conscious during this procedure, Doctor, but I am ready to proceed as I feel is necessary with or without your presence."

Jim winced inwardly as he remembered his first encounter with the nerve pinch. Definitely not the most pleasant of experiences, he thought.

"I don't like it," Bones growled, and Jim could practically picture the scowl on Bones' face.

"Your disapproval is duly noted, Doctor," Spock answered wryly. There was a moment of silence before Jim suddenly felt Spock's warm fingers pressing against key points on his forehead. "Our minds, one and together," the Vulcan murmured quietly.

And suddenly everything shifted. Jim went from seeing the darkness of his eyelids to a strange combination of that darkness and the last view Spock had seen out of his own eyes--Jim's body lying lifeless on the bio-bed.

Then he felt a familiar consciousness brush against his--warm, dry, much like Vulcan had been during his brief moments on the planet. Spock?

A flood of emotions swirled around him--his fear, Spock's despair, his frustration, Spock's anger, and the relief they both felt moved around them, merging into one as Jim felt the other consciousness merge and yet remain separate from his own. This was thankfully much less chaotic than the first time he'd melded with this universe's Spock.

Jim, Spock greeted, his voice echoing softly around them. You are well.

Yeah. As well as I can be in this state, anyway.

What happened?

Instead of answering, Jim brought up all of his memories from the moment they'd beamed down to the planet. Spock's curiosity was evident as he watched the replay of events. Fascinating. You have been aware this entire time?

Yeah. Whatever paralyzed me didn't let me fall unconscious.

Dr. McCoy may not be pleased to hear that, Spock thought as the pain of Jim's broken rib and the memories of the electrical surges passed through both of them.

It wasn't his fault.

I never implied it was. That will not change the fact he will not be pleased.

As Spock continued to examine Jim's memories, the captain caught a glimpse of some of Spock's--his conversation with Pike, the meeting in the conference room, and the discussion with Giten flashed through both their minds. Jim sensed the struggle Spock had endured to try and keep his emotions from overwhelming him. Awww… you missed me!

You are the captain of the Enterprise. The loss of your presence is highly detrimental to our mission.

Uh huh, Jim thought wryly as Spock focused on the memory of the figure near the warp core manufacturer. I have no idea who that could be, he confessed.

An external point of view can be helpful at times, Spock replied thoughtfully as the memory replayed again. Perhaps we can reach a conclusion together.

They watched it several more times, each trying to find anything that could help them figure out who it was.

Suddenly they both saw the same thing at the same time. You've got to be kidding me! Jim exclaimed as Spock declared, That is quite illogical.

Then suddenly everything went black again as Spock terminated the mind meld, and Jim's mind reeled with the revelation they'd just discovered. Spock's hand had slid off his forehead onto the bio-bed, and he could hear the Vulcan panting softly.

"What? What did you see?" Bones demanded.

Jim sensed Spock's hand curl into a fist near his head as the Vulcan grimly declared, "Romulans."