A/N: Shamelessly indulgent H/C. Warning for possibly squicky descriptions of medical issues.
It's another away mission gone wrong. We can never have too many of those, can we?
Beta'd by ggo85. Thanks so much!
Comments welcome as always.
Leonard hissed as he nearly slipped for the third time on the moist, mossy ground of the forest. His wet uniform was chafing him uncomfortably and his waterlogged boots squeaked. "This is all your fault," he snarled at Jim. "Had to play the fucking hero again."
He slapped at his neck in irritation. He was being pursued by a cloud of tiny, buzzing insects that were probably infecting his blood with deadly alien bacteria with every bite. God help the poor souls who ever tried to colonize this backwater planet.
Jim looked just as miserable and bedraggled as Leonard felt. A thin film of sweat covered his forehead. His gold shirt was muddy and damp, and torn in places where it had caught on the thorny bushes they were pushing their way through.
God, it was hot. Leave it to Jim to get them stranded in a godforsaken rainforest, humid and steamy, with dense foliage that slowed their progress. Initially, they'd tried to walk along the river bank, but when it became too steep and slippery, Jim led them further inland.
"You were drowning. I was trying to rescue you." Jim's tone was sullen, as if he regretted his altruistic impulse.
"I wasn't about to drown. I'm a strong swimmer and I was doing fine until you showed up!"
Jim scowled. "You looked like you were floundering—"
"I was just grabbing for my medkit, and I would have been able to reach it, if you hadn't splashed around and sent it out of my reach!" The kit was lost somewhere at the bottom of the river.
Leonard was furious with himself for the loss of his equipment. He'd taken the medkit off its shoulder strap, holding it in his left hand as he walked along the river bank. He'd been collecting samples for botanical and biochemical analysis, rummaging in the kit for more holding containers for the specimens. When he'd slipped, he'd managed to keep hold of the medkit, but the swirling whitewater had snatched it away within seconds.
Jim had been nearest, and had dashed for the river bank to try to grab him back. He'd tossed his phaser and communicator onto the ground and whipped off his belt, hoping to use it to pull Leonard back. But by then, he'd floated too far away, and Jim had jumped in after him. Leonard was grateful they hadn't drowned as they were buffeted by the swift current. When the rapids had finally washed out, allowing them to climb up onto the bank—thankfully, not too far from each other—they were long out of earshot of the landing party, and surrounded by dense jungle terrain.
"Stop making such a fuss, Bones." Jim's tone made it clear that his patience was nearing its limit. "We only floated a couple of kilometers downstream, and I yelled to Thompson and Sulu to wait for us at the camp. We just need to walk back to them. Shouldn't take more than an hour or two, and then we can beam down another medkit."
Leonard grunted in reply, lacking the energy to argue any more as they plunged deeper into the forest. It was beautiful, lush with exotic flowers and feathery fern-like plants, but Leonard was in no mood to appreciate the surroundings. The heat and the dampness were making him short-tempered and surly.
He followed Jim's lead through the trees, letting him do the difficult work of pushing the thick branches aside and clearing a path for them. When one of the branches slipped out of Jim's grasp and slapped Leonard in the face, he didn't even curse, unwilling to break his stony silence.
"Sorry," Jim muttered.
From time to time Jim would glance backward at him, giving him a questioning glance to see if he'd calmed down yet. Leonard just glared back coldly at him.
It was ironic. Leonard had been looking forward to their mission, a simple botanical survey of an uninhabited planet, thinking that he could use the time to reconnect with Jim. They'd been out of sorts with each other lately, both buried in their work and taking out their stress on each other.
But once on the planet, there hadn't been time for them to really talk. They were supposed to collect samples, analyze the local water supply, and conduct biochemical tests, to help determine whether the planet could be colonized. The first day, they'd worked in pairs—Kirk with Sulu, and Leonard with Thompson—accompanying the botany specialists on their exploratory forays around the area. The initial results were encouraging. There was ample water available, both from the river and from natural precipitation. It was a little heavy on the mineral content, but reasonably safe to drink. The chemical composition of the surface soil, which was a bright yellow-orange color due to the large deposits of iron and aluminum oxides, was potentially compatible with Terran organic matter—in other words, it could be farmed.
On the second day, Jim had offered to team up with Leonard to collect the botanical samples. "I'll pick the flowers, you analyze 'em," he'd said, looking relaxed and happy.
"Use the gloves, you hyperallergic fool. Don't touch any of these plants until we know more about their composition."
Jim had looked insulted. "I grew up on a farm, city boy. I won't blow up into a balloon from touching a few plants." Leonard had glared at him until he'd given in, and they'd set off along the muddy river bank.
Then Leonard had slipped, Jim had jumped in after him like the heroic fool he was, and here they were. Now they were alone and had plenty of time to talk, but Leonard was unable to emerge from his resentment and discomfort, and Jim seemed to feel the same.
Leonard maintained his righteous silence for fifteen minutes, deliberately walking just slower than Jim until they were separated by about twenty steps. When they arrived at a small clearing, Jim stopped and waited for him to catch up, looking back at him with an expression of impatience.
Leonard felt irrationally irritated. "Keep going, damn it. You don't have to slow down and wait for me like some elderly uncle."
"Then stop walking like an old man and keep up with me," Jim snapped.
"You're taking us too deep into the forest. We're getting too far away from the river." Their plan was to retrace their steps by following the river back to the place where Leonard had fallen in, which was about ten minutes from their camp.
"I can still hear it," Jim said reasonably. Leonard could hear the rush of the water, too, just barely. "And it's easier to walk through the trees. The river bank was too steep."
"This is a jungle. There's no telling what's in here." He wasn't sure why he was being so argumentative; maybe it was the heat, or just the aftermath of his terrifying plunge into the cold river. "If something happens, we have no way to protect ourselves." Because you threw away our only weapon, was his unstated complaint.
Jim sighed loudly. He was clearly aggravated by Leonard's attitude, although his response was mild. "I think we're safe enough. We scanned it from the ship, and there are no large predators."
"Well, I'm sure the small predators will be relieved to hear that," he said acerbically. In an alien environment, as Leonard well knew, even an insect or a strain of bacteria could be deadly.
"We're making decent progress this way." Jim spread his arms in an exaggerated gesture of invitation. "But nobody's stopping you from taking the lead, if you think you can do better."
Leonard ignored the pointed hint, pretending not to notice how Jim's face and hands were reddened and scratched from pushing back the branches. He had no real objection to the path Jim was taking, but he was filled with a prickling anger that wouldn't let go. "No, I wouldn't want to usurp your position, Captain. I'm sure you know best."
Jim's lip curled in annoyance. "What the hell's the matter with you? It's my job to keep you alive and safe, even if it means jumping into whitewater rapids to keep your stupid head above water while you're splashing around trying to save your medkit."
Leonard didn't want to acknowledge any of the truth in that statement. It was easier to latch onto the insult and fling it back in Jim's direction. "Oh, I understand now." His voice was edged with sarcasm. "You were too busy watching out for my welfare to remember that Thompson's a champion diver and you're a landlocked fool from Iowa who barely passed his Academy swim test."
"Thompson was two hundred meters away!"
"It was a reckless stunt. If you'd just waited half a minute, I would have gotten out by myself, with my kit!"
"I'm in command," Jim said angrily. "I had to make a quick decision."
"Well, you've obviously found your calling, then."
"And you obviously love to sit back and criticize every damn thing I do!"
Leonard could hear an honest note of hurt in his voice, and felt momentarily ashamed. He sighed. "Forget it, Jim, let's keep going. We can talk about this later."
Jim didn't say anything, but his mouth tightened and a muscle twitched in his jaw. Then he whirled around and stalked off, leaving Leonard to follow. He didn't look back.
Leonard again kept a measure of distance between them. He was sweating heavily, and his thirst was beginning to interrupt his angry internal monologue. We need to stop to drink, he thought. Jim should know that, but if he's too worked up to suggest it himself, I'm going to have to—
He heard Jim give a sudden, sharp cry of pain and saw him crumple to the ground, clutching his leg. All thoughts of their argument flew out of his head as he raced to Jim's side.
He could hear Jim cursing furiously as he knelt down beside him. "Fuck! Damn it, I wasn't watching the ground, I should have seen-"
"Move your hands. Let me look, Jim," Leonard said urgently, peeling Jim's hands away from where they were clutched tightly around his lower leg, and pulled up his pants. There were two clear puncture sites, bleeding slightly, just above the top of his right boot.
Snake bite. Leonard felt his stomach plummet. A dozen scenarios ran through his head, all of them bad.
"Wasn't looking and I stepped on it. God, that was so stupid—"
"Did you see what it looked like? Where'd it go?" Leonard whirled around, hoping to spot it, but there was nothing moving in the thick undergrowth nearby.
"Green and yellow spots, thick and flat, about two meters long." Jim's voice was shaky. "Went back through those plants over there."
"How do you feel? Does it hurt?" Leonard grabbed his wrist; Jim's pulse was racing, and he was pale and sweaty. He looked scared.
"It burns a little," Jim said with a grimace. "Shit!"
"Calm down, Jim. It might not even be poisonous." Leonard didn't want to frighten him further, but he held out very little hope that the bite would turn out to be innocuous. The two puncture sites probably meant a snake with fangs and venom sacs. Venom was meant to incapacitate the snake's prey, and almost always caused tissue damage. If the snake had released its venom, there was a strong chance that it would be poisonous, dangerous, and probably highly unpleasant...but Jim didn't need to know that yet.
Jim took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment, making a visible effort to calm himself. When he opened his eyes again, the look of wild fear in his eyes had receded somewhat, although he still looked worried. He extended a hand in Leonard's direction. "Help me up, we can't stay here."
"What? No!" Leonard shook his head, pushing Jim's hand back down. "You shouldn't move at all. We have to keep the limb immobilized." Keeping Jim's leg still and below heart level would slow the spread of the venom.
"No, listen to me, Bones. We have to move. First of all, there are snakes here," he said with a dry laugh, "and I'm not too interested in lying right here waiting for any more to show up."
Leonard nodded, looking around nervously. "Fair point. But—"
"And secondly, you were right, we've got to get closer to the river." From where they were sitting, the water was hidden from view. "Thompson and Sulu will come looking for us, eventually, and they'll follow the river downstream. If we're here, they might go right by without seeing us."
"You told them to stay at the camp," Leonard reminded him. "They can't talk with us, so why would they—"
"They won't wait more than an hour or so. If they can't raise us on the communicator, they'll assume we're injured or unable to respond in some way, and they'll come looking, believe me. It's standard procedure."
Jim sounded more confident now. He was a natural leader; at the height of a crisis, he was calm and focused. It was precisely this quality which had inspired his crew and impressed the admirals in the Narada incident. "We just need to be able to see and hear them when they do. We can't be more than a few kilometers downstream, so they'll be here in two or three hours at the most." He smiled slightly. Leonard realized with a guilty start that Jim was trying to reassure him.
The scenario Jim had described was comforting, and he wanted to believe it, although he knew Jim well enough to suspect that he was lying. There was something false in his tone, as if he wasn't being completely truthful. Either he wasn't nearly as sure as he claimed that the men would come searching for them, or there was something else that he wasn't saying.
Either way, though, this wasn't the time to pursue it. "All right, Jim. We'll move back to the clearing, and then we'll stay put until they get here. Don't put any weight at all on your right leg, and try not to move it too much." He crouched down next to Jim, hooked his arm over his shoulders, and heaved him upright as smoothly as he could. They hobbled together back through the trees for about twenty meters.
At the edge of the clearing, Leonard set him down gently, letting Jim lean back against a tree. The grass here was shaded—for now, anyway—and the river bank was clearly in sight.
Jim grunted and winced as Leonard straightened his leg out in front of him. "I'm going to take off your boot, Jim. Try to keep your foot still."
Jim nodded, biting his lip as Leonard grasped his leg just above the bite, keeping it steady as he pulled on the heel of the boot. It was an awkward position, but the boot eventually slipped off. He was about to toss it to the side when Jim stopped him. "Wait. Get my boot knife."
Leonard raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You carry a boot knife?" He examined the boot, feeling around inside it with his fingers. Sure enough, there was a thin, short-handled blade sheathed along the back. "Since when?"
Jim looked a little sheepish. "Since I became captain."
Leonard's mouth dropped. "Christ, Jim, you're the captain of a starship, not a pirate on the high seas! Why do you need a knife if you've got a phaser?"
"For situations like this, obviously."
Leonard cracked a smile at the mental image of Jim swashbuckling his way around the galaxy. "Does Admiral Pike know about this? I'm not sure he'd approve."
Despite his grim mood, Jim flashed him a smile. "It was his suggestion, Bones. He has one, too." He paused, and the grin faded. "Had, I guess. Doesn't need it anymore." Jim's mood darkened visibly, and his expression became determined. "Cut me, Bones."
Jim nodded his head at the knife in Leonard's hand. "Make a cut over the bite and suck the venom out."
"Jim…" Leonard sighed.
"You have to do it quickly!"Jim sounded a little frantic, but his gaze was resolute.
"No." Leonard sat back on his heels, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "Where did you get that idea? Snake bite hasn't been treated like that for hundreds of years. It doesn't work and it would only do more harm than good."
Jim looked both relieved and disappointed. "Read it in an old book once. There was a character that got bit by a snake and couldn't get to medical help for a while." Leonard wasn't surprised; Jim was full of bits of arcane knowledge, and he had a passion for antique, real-paper books. "I took Emergency Response training, and all they said for snake bite was to get the victim to medical treatment as soon as possible. But we can't do that, so…" He left the sentence unfinished, but the implication was clear.
Leonard carefully stuck the knife in his belt. "Just sit back and relax, Jim. There's not much we can do but wait for Sulu and Thompson to get here."
Leonard looked more closely at Jim's leg. He noted with dismay that the area around the punctures seemed to be swelling already, and a purplish bruising was spreading out beyond the margins of the bite. Definitely poisonous, then. Jim would probably start exhibiting symptoms soon enough.
He could feel panic rising in his gut. He had absolutely nothing at hand to treat a snake bite, and without access to the medical facilities on the Enterprise, there was precious little he'd be able to do for Jim if things turned bad. Jim needed a dose of polyvenin, the sooner the better, not to mention the sophisticated medication and palliative care available on the ship.
"You'll be okay, Jim," he said, feeling absurdly that he wanted to hear his own words of reassurance. "We'll be back on the ship in a few hours. Just rest." He paused. "Does it hurt much?"
"Starting to." His expression was controlled, but Leonard could see the tension in his jaw. "Should have waited for you. You might have seen the damn snake…"
"Stop blaming yourself, okay? For that matter, I should have kept up with you." If I hadn't been feeling so angry, he thought.
"Listen, Bones…I'll be okay. You should leave me here, find Sulu and Thompson. It'll be quicker." He spoke calmly. "Just keep going and keep the river on your left."
"I'm not going anywhere, Jim. They'll be here in a little while." He had no idea what complications might develop, and the thought of leaving Jim alone, at the edge of a jungle, to deal with a snake bite alone—as a doctor, he couldn't justify it. "You'll be fine until then. Let's just see how things develop. How're you doing?"
"I feel kind of dizzy…a little tired. Maybe I should lie down." If Jim was making a suggestion like that, he was feeling a lot worse than he was letting on. Leonard reached out a hand to the side of Jim's neck. His heart rate was elevated, but the dizziness and weakness were signs of a drop in blood pressure. This was not good.
Jim started to lower himself down, but Leonard stopped him, pushing him back upright against the tree trunk. "You have to keep your heart higher than the bite. Just sit back and rest." Jim nodded, twisting his shoulders uncomfortably against the tree trunk. "Hang on." Leonard maneuvered himself so that he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with Jim. "Lean on me, kid. Get some sleep if you can. I'll watch for the others."
"What's going to happen to me, Bones?" Jim mumbled, leaning his head back against Leonard's shoulder, closing his eyes.
"I don't know, Jim," he said gently, hating the uncertainty as much as Jim did. "We'll just deal with it as it comes."
Jim slept fitfully for almost an hour. Leonard stayed as still as he could, trying not to disturb Jim's rest, grateful for every minute that he was able to sleep. When he wakes up… He didn't want to complete the thought.
He kept an uneasy eye on the injured leg, which was swelling quickly. The purplish discoloration had spread along his calf so that it now stretched from his knee almost down to his ankle. Progressive swelling with purpura, he diagnosed automatically. The venom seemed to be cytotoxic, assaulting the tissues and muscles near the bite.
The forest was unbearably quiet. From the timetable Jim had described, Leonard imagined that Sulu and Thompson might have already started on their search downriver, but it was really too early to expect them. Still, every broken twig that he heard made his heart quicken.
Jim finally stirred, blinking awake with a groan. He pushed himself off Leonard's shoulder, shifting uncomfortably. His gaze landed on his right leg. "Fuck, that looks bad. Why's it turning purple?"
"It means the venom is spreading, Jim," Leonard told him reluctantly. "How do you feel?"
In response, Jim leaned to the other side and vomited. Damn, another bad sign. Leonard stroked Jim's back as his stomach convulsed. His shirt was damp with sweat. The back of his neck was hot; his fever was climbing.
When Jim had finished retching and spitting, Leonard eased him back gently against the tree trunk again. Jim was sweating and trembling slightly, breathing quickly.
"Shit, I don't feel so good," he whispered hoarsely. "How long has it been, Bones?"
"Since the bite? About an hour."
He swallowed tightly, making a face. "Get me some water, will you?"
"Sure, Jim. Uh…just wait here."
Jim smiled weakly at his feeble joke. But as Leonard left, taking along the discarded boot as the only available container, Jim's expression settled quickly back into a tight grimace, his brow furrowed in pain.
Leonard hurried to the river's edge and made his way carefully down to the water. The sky was clear, and the midday sun beat down fiercely on the back of his neck. The Enterprise was up there somewhere, he knew, but it wouldn't be much help in a rescue without their communicators. The ship's sensors could identify the existence of carbon-based life forms within about a ten-kilometer radius, but they weren't accurate enough to pinpoint their location through the planet's atmosphere.
He looked up along the river bank as far as he could see, hoping for a glimpse of a gold or blue uniform, but there was nothing but the unrelieved green of the forest.
Cupping his hands in the cool water, he drank deeply to assuage his own raging thirst, then rinsed the boot in the water, scrubbing off as much of the cake-on mud as he could. He filled the boot up to the ankle; it seemed watertight enough. He glanced one last time up the riverbank, which was as quiet as before, then hurried back to the clearing.
"Here," he said, dropping heavily down beside Jim and placing the boot in his hand, "Drink up."
Jim sipped cautiously from the upper edge of the boot, then made a face. "It's salty."
"Yeah, well, you have only yourself to blame for that. Your feet must have sweated."
Jim paused, looking at the boot doubtfully. "Are you sure it's safe to drink?"
"Least of your worries, kid." Bones smiled grimly at him. "Drink it all."
Examining Jim's leg, Leonard could see that the edema had spread above his knee, and his calf had swelled to nearly twice its normal size. He prodded the swollen area gingerly; the skin was hot to the touch. "Does it hurt?"
"That's a fucking stupid question," Jim hissed at him through clenched teeth. "What do you think?"
Chagrined, he patted Jim's arm. "Just…try not to move too much, okay? It'll slow the spread of the venom."
Jim stared bleakly at the leg. "Tell me what to expect." His voice was tight and he wouldn't look at Leonard. "I want to know what's going to happen."
No, you don't, he thought. "Let's just wait and see."
"No!" Jim bit out. "I'm in command, I have to know."
It was a fair point, but still, he ducked a direct answer. "I'm not sure. You'll probably get pretty sick, Jim. It's not going to be an easy ride."
Jim shook his head, then raised his eyes and looked at him squarely. "Don't avoid the question. You're my CMO. I want a more detailed answer."
Leonard sighed. He had a better idea now, based on Jim's symptoms, of how the next hours would unfold. As a doctor, he didn't feel comfortable lying to his patient, but he had no qualms about omitting information that might be detrimental to his mental state. While he understood Jim's need to maintain some sense of control over the situation—or at least prepare himself mentally for what he was going to face—he wasn't about to share some of the more frightening scenarios running through his mind: hypotension, thrombocytopenia, necrosis, and multiple organ failure.
"You already know some of the symptoms, Jim," he said in the matter-of-fact tone he used with his surgical patients. "Dizziness, nausea, weakness. You might have some problems with your circulation or your breathing. Your leg is swelling pretty badly, and that's going to get uncomfortable." The pain would get progressively more severe, he knew, but Jim didn't need to hear that. He'd find out soon enough anyway.
Jim seemed satisfied with his response. "Okay, Bones. Thanks."
"Just lie back, Jim. Save your energy."
Jim squirmed, flexing his left knee and shifting his right leg. Leonard placed his hands lightly on Jim's right knee and ankle, holding the leg in place. Hoping to distract Jim from the pain, he said, "Well, I know what's going in my report about possible colonization of this hellhole."
Jim laughed breathlessly. "What are you talking about, Bones? It's a fucking paradise."
"Too many insects."
Jim wiped a shaky hand across his sweaty forehead. "Yeah, and too damn hot here." He sobered. "Hot tempers, too."
Ordinarily, Leonard might have made some cynical response-half apology, half evasion—saying that his next mission had better be on a planet with a cooler climate. Jim would probably make a joke about Delta Vega and ice monsters, and they'd make it over the hump, leaving too many things unsaid as usual, but ostensibly back to normal.
But seeing Jim so vulnerable seemed to lay something bare in him. "Hell, I'm sorry, Jim. I should never have said what I did. I don't know what got into me."
"No, I want to know. Something's eating at you. Tell me-" His voice caught, and a little moan escaped his lips. "Ow. My leg's killing me."
"I know, Jim. Let's just forget it." He took the knife out of his belt and used it to split the seam of Jim's pants leg, relieving any potential pressure from the edema.
"Come on, talk to me. I need something to distract me anyway." Jim's lips twisted in what was supposed to be a smile, but looked more like a grimace. "I'll make it an order if I have to."
Leonard laughed, relaxing just a little. "Won't help. I'm declaring you unfit for duty."
"You need at least one other witness to do that. I'm still the captain." His expression turned serious. "So spit it out."
Leonard fixed his gaze on Jim's hands, which were fisting his yellow command shirt, twisting and worrying the fabric. It disturbed him to see this visible expression of his discomfort, but it was easier than looking at Jim's face. "I don't know. It just seems that something's been off for a while between us. Things have changed."
"Of course they have. We're not cadets anymore. I'm the captain of a starship now, and you're my CMO. You've got to expect that things will be different."
Leonard nodded. "Well, I for one am glad to get out of that damned red uniform, but you have to admit, Jim, that we're both a lot busier than we used to be."
Jim's blew out an impatient breath. "So? You're a surgeon, Bones. I know you don't mind working long hours, so what the hell is bothering you?"
"It's not your fault, Jim," he hedged. "You're in command, and I know the Admiralty's giving you hell for every little thing. I see how hard you're working. You're doing all you can—"
"Stop patronizing me!" Jim said testily. "I can take it. Just tell me what's wrong." He shifted his weight, trying to find a more comfortable position, and gave a small groan when he accidentally jarred his leg.
It wasn't right to have this conversation now, when Jim was so obviously suffering. Leonard knew that he should be downplaying the issues, letting Jim conserve his strength and keep calm. But he was well aware of the fact that this was the first opportunity in months that he'd had any decent amount of uninterrupted time to talk to him. Speaking to Jim like this was the reason he'd been looking forward to going on the planetary survey, although he'd have given anything not to be having this conversation under these circumstances.
"You want to know what it is?" he finally asked, unable to keep the resentment out of his voice. "Every time I see you, even after your shift, you're surrounded by other people. You're conducting personal interviews and having breakfast meetings. You're sparring with Sulu and playing chess with Spock. You're at the god damn center of everything."
"What, you're jealous? I'm just getting to know my crew, for God's sake!"
"I'm not jealous!" he denied. Jim raised a doubtful eyebrow, and he felt the blood rush to his cheeks. "I just think you're overdoing it. You'll get to know the crew in time. Why are you in such a damn hurry? We'll have five years together."
"There are hundreds of people on board, Bones. They're all important, every last ensign and yeoman!"
"Never said they weren't." Leonard sighed, then admitted, "I miss you, Jim. I don't know how we can be living on the same flying tin can and never see each other, but it's true. Even when you're off duty, you're never around."
"I'm never off duty," Jim grumbled. "I'm the captain."
"You're more than just the captain. You're Jim Kirk. You used to know the difference."
Jim scowled. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you're allowed to be human. Nobody expects you to be what you're not. You're going to burn out at this rate, working double shifts and living on five hours of sleep a night!"
Jim's angry glare faltered and his shoulders hunched defensively. "Too many people are watching me, waiting for me to fail. I can't let that happen, Bones."
Leonard raked his fingers through his hair. He wasn't sure he could put his feelings into words; he'd never been good at this kind of conversation. He took a deep breath and then said slowly, "I don't want you to fail, Jim. But I ruined my marriage because I put everything aside for my career. I was hardly ever home, and I never made time for Jocelyn. I put every last bit of energy I had into my job—I loved my job, Jim, and I still do—but I won't make that mistake again. I make time for what's important to me."
Jim looked away, staring into the trees off to his left. After a moment, he said slowly, "So you're saying that I don't make enough time for you." He glanced back at Leonard. "Or that you think you're not important to me."
"I'm just saying that things have changed. I don't have to like it." Leonard sat back, blowing out a tense breath.
He couldn't stand looking at the remorseful expression on Jim's face. In the quiet, he could clearly hear his breathing, quick and shallow. "It's worse, isn't it."
"A little." Jim shut his eyes, sagging back against the tree, and didn't elaborate. Leonard's stomach churned helplessly.
"It's been an hour and a half," Leonard said finally, unwilling to bear the silence. "Sulu and Thompson'll be here soon."
Jim gave a noncommittal grunt, and Leonard frowned. "Something you're not telling me, Jim?"
"I think it might take a little longer." Jim opened his eyes and gave him an apologetic look. "I hope I'm wrong, but…I think they won't get here so soon." He shifted his position again, drawing his left leg up and turning slightly onto his side.
"Why not? You said yourself that we're not far away." He tried to keep the alarm from his voice. Jim was getting restless and agitated, which were indicators of his increasing discomfort. Leonard had been counting on an evacuation within the hour.
"Were you watching the river bank while we floated downstream?"
"No," he said irritably. "I was too preoccupied with trying to avoid the rocks and keep my head above water, but I guess you weren't. What the hell did you see?"
Jim didn't answer right away. In the quiet of the clearing, the loudest sound was Jim's breathing. "The river bank's pretty eroded for most of the way. They won't be able to follow it directly. They'll have to cut through the forest, and that will slow them down and make it harder for them to find us."
Leonard bit off a curse. Walking through the jungle would be time-consuming and difficult, as they'd already found out. The men would have to forge a path and detour around natural obstructions, and even with the help of a tricorder, they wouldn't be able to navigate very easily.
"They have phasers," Leonard countered, grasping for any piece of good news. "They'll be able to cut through the brush."
Jim shook his head. "They can only use the phaser on its lowest setting, to avoid starting a fire. It won't speed them up by much."
"Well," he sighed, "that's not so good, Jim." Understatement, he thought. That was very, very bad news. For want of anything else to do, he reached out a hand and felt Jim's forehead. His fever was higher.
"I know. Listen, Bones…" Jim looked at him imploringly. "You need to go for help."
"No, Jim. I'm not leaving you here." He was becoming increasingly worried that Jim might develop respiratory distress or go into shock. "We'll just wait a little longer, that's all."
Jim's eyes were fixed on his leg. "It's getting worse. It hurts like a bitch and it's making me sick. We're wasting time, just sitting here."
"I'm not walking back into that forest alone. Hell, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a Boy Scout!"
"You'll be fine. Make sure you can always hear the river. Just walk carefully. Pick out a walking stick and poke the ground in front of you before you take a step. Watch out for snakes," he added with an ironic twist of his lips.
"I'm not going, I said!"
"I'm not asking you, I'm giving you an order." Jim had the knack of lowering his voice when he wanted to be particularly persuasive. Even lying there, ill and pale, his eyes blazed and his voice had a commanding tone.
Well, two could play at that game. He raised his voice and spoke in the authoritative tone that he used to intimidate hapless residents and uncooperative patients—including Jim. "I'm your doctor, and you don't order me around. In my medical judgment, you need me here."
Seeing Jim's scowl, he added in a softer tone, "Besides, I'd probably get lost myself. All these plants and trees look alike to me. You wouldn't want to have to send a search-and-rescue after me, would you?"
He could see that Jim was wavering. His situation wasn't desperate—not yet—and he knew that Leonard wasn't kidding about his abysmal field skills. Sending him off into the forest might well make things worse for the both of them. And Leonard was willing to bet that he didn't really want to be left alone in the forest, to deal with whatever symptoms might come up on his own.
So when Leonard shook his head firmly and said again, "No, Jim. I'm not going," he was relieved to see that Jim just nodded in acceptance.
"Well, maybe you're right," he said. "You couldn't navigate your way out of a turbolift." He paused, then said quietly, "I'm sorry."
Leonard sighed. "Damn it, stop apologizing for everything! It's not your fault. Just some bad luck."
"No, not that…" Jim reached out a tentative hand to Leonard's arm, giving it a squeeze. "I'm sorry. You're right, maybe I've been too busy. I didn't realize… You're my best friend. I should have made more time for you."
Leonard's mouth quirked in a small smile. "Yeah, you little shit, maybe you should've."
"I need you, Bones. Don't give up on me just yet."
He stroked Jim's sweaty hair back from his forehead. "Haven't given up. Just…take some time off for me, once in a while, all right? Don't force me to call you in for an early physical as an excuse to see you."
Jim shuddered. "You don't have to threaten me." He looked down at his leg again. Dark blood blisters were rising around the site of the bite. "It's going to get bad," he said flatly.
"I'll be right here with you, Jim." It was the only comfort he could give.
The next hour dragged on as Jim's condition worsened, and Leonard felt progressively more helpless. The leg was painful just to look at: swollen from the top of his thigh all the way down to his foot, covered with large hematomas and blood blisters. He could only imagine what it felt like to Jim.
Returning from his third trip to the river with a boot full of water, he could see Jim moving restlessly. As he came closer, he could see that Jim was vomiting again, holding his stomach and moaning.
Leonard quickly stripped off his blue shirt and used the knife to cut off one of the sleeves. Dipping it in the water, he used it to wipe down Jim's face and neck.
"Fuck, it hurts," Jim moaned. "Where the hell are they?"
"I don't know. They'll find us soon." He gave Jim the bootful of water, helping him to hold it up to his mouth. Jim's hands were trembling, he noted with dismay. His fingers were swelling up like sausages.
"That's what you said an hour ago!"
"I know you feel bad, Jim, but you'll make it," he said soothingly. "Relax and try to slow your breathing."
"How the hell am I supposed to relax with my leg on fire?"
"You can do this, Jim. Come on, deep breaths, okay?"
His words seemed to provide a hollow comfort. "It looks fucking horrible, Bones." Jim's breath hitched in what was almost a sob.
"Don't look at it, then," he said firmly. "All you need is a shot of polyvenin and a couple of rounds of stem-cell regen,"—and probably a muscle graft and some intensive physiotherapy—"and you'll be good as new."
"It doesn't even look like my leg anymore, purple and black and—"
"Stop it, Jim! Try to think of something else." Even to his own ears, his advice sounded feeble.
"Something. I don't know. Just try..." His voice trailed off. Picking up the damp sleeve again, he mopped Jim's face and neck. At least it was something to do.
"It's your fault, too," Jim said suddenly.
Leonard felt another wash of guilt. "I know. I should have kept the kit strapped on..."
"Not that," Jim ground out. "You're always holed up in Medical like a hermit. Sick calls and physicals…inventories and damn clinical trials…"
"Jim, just drop it, okay? We'll talk about it when we get back to the ship."
"No! You said to think about something else. I want to talk about it now!"
Leonard knew that Jim's bad temper was a reaction to the pain, but his words grated nonetheless. "Well, what did you think would happen when you made me CMO? That's my job, damn it! I take care of sick people, I do surgery, and I conduct research, and all of those things are time-consuming."
"See? You're the one who's never around, Bones," he said resentfully. "You even sleep in your office half the time!"
"Sometimes people need a doctor at night, genius. Medical is where I work."
Jim was quiet for a moment, averting his eyes from Leonard's sharp gaze. "It wouldn't kill you to come up to the Bridge once in a while," he muttered.
"What?" Leonard raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Jim, I don't have time to lounge around the Bridge…"
Beneath Jim's glare there was a hint of pleading. "Make time, Bones. You send me a daily report on the crew's health, don't you? Come up and give it to me in person."
"Jim, I'm too busy for that."
"No. Listen to me. I've been thinking about this. You're a trained observer, and you're responsible for the mental health of the crew. You can watch the interactions of the command team."
"I'm not interested in watching Uhura shoot you down when you flirt with her, or listening to you and Spock bicker over regulations."
"You wound me, Bones. We're way past that. Just shows how long it's been since you've been up to visit." Jim flashed a quick grin, although his brow was furrowed. "Uhura's teaching me Andorian and we have a totally professional relationship." Leonard raised an eyebrow in doubt. "Really. And for your information, I don't flirt, I compliment. Uhura's totally cool with that. And Spock and I don't bicker. We occasionally have conflicting interpretations about the regs, but—"
"I'm a doctor, Jim! It's not my place to be on the Bridge."
"It is if I say it is," Jim said stubbornly. "The crew needs to see more of you, and not just during their physicals and when they're sick. Hell, they're scared of you."
"Now you're projecting, kid. You're scared of doctors, so you think everybody is."
"Doctors are scary, Bones, and nobody likes to come to Medical."
Leonard was ready to object again, but he stopped, considering. Jim wasn't wrong about the crew needing to feel that he was approachable. He knew that he had a reputation for being less than sympathetic to his patients, when they injured themselves through their own stupidity or gave themselves an STI that could easily have been prevented with a little forethought and precaution. He didn't believe in coddling people who were essentially healthy. And he knew that some of the crew—and Jim was at the top of the list—thought of medical care as something to be avoided at all costs.
Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to let the crew see him as a little more accessible. And from what Jim had said before, it was clear that he felt a lot more stressed about the captaincy than he was letting on. If Bones could give him a few minutes of companionship in the guise of a medical report, then it wouldn't kill him to fit that into his schedule. After all, the captain's health was one of his main priorities as CMO…and Jim was his friend.
He was inclined to agree for another reason, although he didn't want to admit it to Jim. The fact was, he loved seeing Jim in his element, confident and energized, at the hub of the ship. And he might be just a little jealous of the Bridge crew, who got to see this side of Jim every day, while he was busy doling out vaccines and conducting research.
"Well…" he drawled. "I guess I could do that. Since there are valid medical reasons for being there."
"That's an order, Bones." Jim sounded marginally more cheerful. "New policy. Chief Medical Officer spends a few minutes each shift on the Bridge…to tell the captain what an awesome job he's doing."
Leonard laughed. "You obviously haven't spent enough time with me lately, kid. But fine. The ship's doctor will report to the captain once a shift on the bridge and conduct observations on the morale and functioning of the Bridge crew."
"Good idea. I approve." Jim flashed him the first genuine smile he'd seen from him in hours.
"Don't get cocky. I'm serious. It's my job to evaluate your fitness for duty, among other things. If I see signs of stress among the command crew believe me, I won't ignore them. I'm your friend, Jim, but I've got a job to do."
"Wouldn't expect anything less, Bones."
"And the captain will share his evening meal with his CMO whenever possible, because the dumbass has been ignoring his doctor's orders about what constitutes a well-balanced diet."
"Don't you dare mess with my meal chip, Bones. I've got limited choices as it is."
"Then don't tempt me, Mr. Walking Fucking Allergy. A protein bar isn't a meal, and you need to eat more vegetables."
Jim shivered suddenly, and Leonard's smile faded. "What is it, Jim?"
"I feel…funny. Pins and needles in my fingers. And I'm cold."
Leonard moved around until he was sitting next to Jim, leaning back against the tree trunk. He placed one arm around Jim's shoulders, and hoped to hell that the men would come soon.
Another half hour passed. Leonard began making short forays into the forest every five minutes, shouting for Sulu and Thompson until he was hoarse. He tried to keep his features composed when he came back, not wanting to alarm Jim, but he was deeply worried and unable to hide it very well. Jim's skin was pale and splotchy, his eyes sunken. He was moaning almost constantly now, barely able to converse.
Leonard returned from his third trip, frustrated and almost frantic—Where the devil were those two fools, standing around gathering roots and berries?—to find Jim lying on the ground, curled onto his left side. "Can't sit there anymore," he gasped.
"Come on, kid, don't lie down."
"Leave me alone…" he grated out. "God, this is bad…"
"I know, I know. Hold on just a little longer… Sit up." Leonard grasped his shoulders and tried to pull him back up, but Jim lashed out with his right arm, breaking his grip with surprising strength. He began pulling up his legs, trying to flex his swollen right knee.
"No, Jim!" The last thing Jim should be doing was bending and moving his injured leg, which would circulate the venom even more quickly through his system. "Keep your leg straight and stop moving around!"
When Jim didn't respond, Leonard grasped his leg above and below the bite, straightening it and holding it steady with as much pressure as he dared. Jim keened in pain and kicked out with his other leg, pounding his heel into the ground.
"Damn it, Jim, lie still!" Leonard yelled.
"Please, Bones, let go, it hurts!"
He hated to cause Jim any more pain, but he refused to release the leg. "No! Sit up, and calm down. If you try to bend your leg it'll just hurt more."
Half-sobbing and moaning, Jim finally struggled back into a sitting position. He shoved the damp blue shirtsleeve into his mouth and bit down on it. An agonized groan tore from his throat, and Leonard felt his own heart pounding in sympathetic tension.
Finally he slumped against the tree trunk, breathing hard. "Fuck. It comes in waves."
"I know. Just hang on a little longer."
"Pike's gonna kill me," Jim wheezed. "Dying like a fool on some uninhabited planet."
"You're not dying, Jim." But his words felt insincere, even to his own ears.
"Feels like it, though… You didn't tell me it would be this bad." Leonard could hardly bear to look at Jim, his face splotchy, red, and sweaty. His lips were pulled into a thin line, and his eyes were wet.
"I was hoping it wouldn't get this bad, kid. And you didn't tell me it would take this long for Sulu and Thompson to get here."
"Do something, Bones… Please…" His breaths were shallow and quick. "I can't take this much longer."
Dyspnea and tachypnea. Jim was heading into respiratory distress. He wouldn't last much longer, and Leonard was going to have to sit by and watch him deteriorate and suffer, unable to do more than offer him sips of dirty water and hold his hand.
A cold chill ran through him as he made his decision. "That's it, Jim. I'm going to go find them. We can't wait here any longer…"
For a moment, Jim looked stricken. Then his expression calmed and he nodded. "Good… Go."
Leonard stood hesitantly. "Jim…you're sure? Maybe I should—"
"No!" Jim shook his head vehemently, then met his eyes directly. "Go now. Listen to me. Use the knife… Mark the trees so you can find your way back." He was breathing hard, struggling to get the words out. "Make clear notches on the branches and leave a trail that you can follow. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of you."
How could he keep functioning, even at a time like this? "Jim, you'll be okay," he said with as much sincerity as he could muster. "I'll find them, I promise."
He plunged into the forest without looking back, wondering if he'd find Jim alive when he returned.
He raced forward as quickly as he could, calling for the other men , trying to remember Jim's advice. Listen for the river. Watch where you step. Notch the trees as you go.
The trees were dense, blocking out much of the slashed through them angrily, furious with the way they seemed deliberately to be impeding his progress. The thought of Jim lying there in agony, frightened and alone, sent a rush of adrenaline through him. He hardly felt the scratches of the branches as they snapped back at him.
"Sulu, we're over here!" he yelled. His voice seemed muffled by the dense growth. "Thompson!"
Nothing. God damn it all to hell.
He was an accomplished doctor, with multiple degrees. He'd published papers in some of surgery's most elite journals. He was good at what he did, and he knew exactly how to save Jim. He'd spent the past hour going over each separate step in his mind, streamlining his motions, reminding himself which medications he'd need and where each was stored on board, planning the instructions he'd bark out to the medical staff who would swarm around Jim's stretcher as they raced down the corridors of the Enterprise. And all of it was useless, wasted knowledge, because he was stuck slashing through the dense foliage with a knife, pushing aside branches, and shouting for help as he ran. What good was all of his training, if he was reduced to this primitive, nightmarish race against time?
He hurried on, feeling increasingly desperate, not caring when the branches whipped up to scratch his face and hands. Jim might be dying while he ran through the forest, shouting for help. He was struck by a sudden image of Christopher Pike's face, so proud and affectionate, as he shook Jim's hand in the Starfleet ceremony. The thought of having to inform him of what happened, if he didn't find help soon, made him nauseous.
It suddenly struck him, in a moment of selfish horror, that if Jim died here on this planet, he'd be left alone. Not alone on the planet, as he had no doubt that he'd be found eventually, but alone on the ship.
He'd followed Jim out here. It had never been his plan to serve on a starship. When he enlisted, he'd imagined taking a spot at Starfleet Medical in San Francisco, or maybe at a large medical complex at some nearby starbase. He'd never intended to go this far. But by their third year at the Academy, Leonard had realized that he couldn't let Jim go off by himself.
Jim would never admit it, and had certainly never talked about it, but Leonard knew: he lived in fear of being abandoned. He'd had his suspicions, from the hints Jim dropped about his childhood and the missing family members who never seemed to show up for holidays or Academy ceremonies.
But it was only when he'd seen the look on Jim's face during the frantic rush to board the shuttles at the beginning of the Narada incident—when Jim had realized that he was being left behind, grounded while all the other cadets were leaving—that Leonard had finally put two and two together. He'd never seen such a bleak expression on anyone's face, and even in the midst of all the preparations, he knew that he couldn't just leave Jim standing there.
It was the same stricken look Jim had given him when he'd told him that he was leaving—leaving to find help, but leaving-and he stopped short, chest heaving.
Jim had told him to go. He knew he needed help and he'd agreed that it was the right thing to do. But Leonard knew that as far as Jim was concerned, Leonard was abandoning him.
He was good at hiding it, just like he'd been in the shuttle hanger ("Yeah, go. Be safe."). He hadn't asked Leonard to stay, and Leonard had been so desperate to believe that he was doing the right thing that he'd dashed off without looking back. He had no doubt what the look in Jim's eyes would have said, if he'd had the guts to look back.
Leonard whirled around and began retracing his steps. Shit, shit, shit! He raced back over the trampled plants, grateful at least that it was easy to follow the path he'd slashed through. He continued to yell for Sulu and Thompson, but his feet were carrying him back to Jim. He thought he might have heard an answering shout, far away and off to his left, but he didn't stop to listen.
Damn his pride and his I'm-the-Captain bullshit. And damn Leonard's own foolish need to do something, that made him ignore his instincts and set out on this useless search.
Jim was dying. But he shouldn't die alone.
Jim was curled on his side again as he reached him, trembling and wheezing, but breathing, thank God. Leonard dropped to his knees behind him, pulling his shoulders up onto his lap. Even that slight movement was enough to make Jim cry out in pain. "Sorry, sorry," Leonard murmured. "That's it, now you don't have to move anymore."
He wrapped one arm around Jim's abdomen, and used the other hand to wipe his sweaty face. Jim's eyes were closed, but tears were leaking from his tightly shut eyelids. "I'm here, Jim. Lean back against me."
"Bones…" Jim whispered. "You came back." He could hear the men clearly now, shouting for them.
"Over here!" he yelled, as loudly as he could. He thought he could see a flash of bright blue, moving through the trees.
He bent his mouth to Jim's ear. "Course I came back, idiot. Bringing the troops in, too."
"Didn't want you to watch me…"
Watch me die, Leonard understood. Jim had sent him away because he didn't want Leonard to have to let Jim die in his arms.
"I know, kid." Jim moaned softly, and Leonard felt his heart clench. "I figured that out, after a little bit. I'm so sorry, Jim. I shouldn't have gone."
Jim shook his head. "Told you to go."
"You were compromised, kid. I shouldn't have listened. You're a good Captain, but you can't keep me away." Leonard could feel Jim trembling. He hugged him tightly with both arms, rocking slightly. "Quiet now. Is this better?"
Jim nodded. "Better… Just hold me…"
"I won't let go, kid. We'll have you back up on the ship in no time."
The turbolift deposited Leonard on the Bridge. Uhura smiled at him in greeting, but no one else seemed to take much notice of him. His visits were becoming routine.
The Captain and his First were conferring together over a data PADD, heads bowed. Leonard walked casually around behind the captain's chair, to the spot he was gradually beginning to think of as his.
From this position, he had a clear view of helm and navigation. Chekov had been giving Sulu doe-eyed, frankly interested looks for the past two weeks, and today was no exception. Catching Jim's eye, Leonard inclined his head surreptitiously in their direction, and Jim nodded minutely and grinned. Something had gone down between the two of them, but he'd have to wait for dinner with Jim to get the details.
"Doctor," Spock said formally. Clasping his hands behind his back, he said stiffly, "I would like your expertise on a medical matter that has come to my attention."
"Spock!" Jim began, in a voice that sounded suspiciously like a whine. "I told you, I'm almost completely recovered, and—"
"I understood that you'd been restricted to light duty only, until the doctor has determined that your leg is fully recovered."
"I'm glad someone around here listens to me," Leonard huffed, turning to glare at Jim. "I only agreed to let you take alpha shift on the condition that you spend most of it sitting in this chair. Nothing strenuous. It's only been two weeks, Jim. You'll need at least another two of physical therapy. What's the fool been trying to do, Spock?"
Jim sent him a dark look. "I don't think that you should address the captain as a fool--"
Spock sent him a sideways glance that Leonard almost thought was amused. "The monthly departmental inspections begin tomorrow."
"No, Jim. No walking around the ship, no Jeffries tubes, no catwalks, nowhere near Engineering at all."
"I'm not a god damn invalid," Jim grumbled. "I'm a little slow, still, but I can walk."
"You need to give your body a chance to heal," Leonard told him, not without sympathy. Jim was glowering at him, but Leonard met his glare right back. Jim's leg was still bandaged heavily, and he knew, as Jim did, that his newly-regenerated muscles were weak and unsteady. He watched Jim work his way painfully through his evening therapy sessions, and he knew how much recovery was still ahead. "Until then, though, you need to stay off the leg as much as possible."
Jim drummed his fingers on the side of the chair in frustration. Spock lowered his voice. "Perhaps we might delay the inspections for another week, captain, and conduct them without warning, in arbitrary order. Your leg may be healed enough by then to conduct some of the inspections on your own."
Jim nodded, somewhat resentfully, but Leonard was glad to see that he restrained his reaction. "Fine. We'll do them in a week, then. Carry on, Mr. Spock."
"Come on, Jim," Leonard said. "Alpha's over."
Jim sighed, then allowed Leonard to help him up from the chair. "You take your job too damn seriously, Bones." He limped slowly over to the turbolift.
"It's your own fault." The doors closed behind them. "You were the one who invited me up here, kid."
Jim grinned. "Don't remind me. Let's get something to eat."
"Sounds good." Bones smiled. "As long as you eat some vegetables."