He was happy for the sudden chill when the shuttle hatch opened. Faradan loomed over him, regarding him with a doleful eye.
"Give him something," Faradan said.
Jody gave him an injection and he felt the surge of energy. They helped him stand up and he tried to support himself as best he could as they started out.
For a long time, initially, he thought the fog was in his mind. Then he realized it wasn't. It seemed to make Jody and Faradan nervous, and Faradan kept stopping and consulting a box, which turned out to be a compass.
He didn't know how long they walked, stumbled and fell on the flat terrain that for all he knew was a strip of land in between two endless chasms. The fog was dense and moved in spooky forms by a breeze that at times waxed to a driving wind.
The drug started to wear off. He started thinking he was back in the Field of Flowers on Azara, being dragged to Tulok who lay dying. He began to struggle. Faradan cursed and let him fall to the ground.
"He was already hallucinating during the shuttle ride," Jody said, leaning over him protectively.
He felt his bonds being cut and moaned with the painful freedom of his arms, shoulders and neck. He got another shot in the neck – less effective this time – and Jody and Faradan lifted him up again, hooking his arms over their shoulders.
"You're almost home, Jim," Jody pleaded.
Her face was very close to him and when he looked at her his eyes focused. Then he stood, of sorts, and nodded.
They started moving again.
Spock had already seen them approaching in the fog. At ten yards' distance, the group fragmented into three figures.
"Doctor!" he warned, "don't move from the trajectory!"
McCoy stopped in his tracks. He had been navigating by their compass a few steps ahead of Spock and his burden, the semi-conscious Royal Faradan in a fireman's hold over the Vulcan's slim but incredibly strong shoulder. He peered at the group ten yards away and cursed when strands of fog floated in, shrouding the trio. It was all he could do not to break into a run.
Then the fog parted and he saw that they too had halted. He recognized William Faradan and Royal's wife, Jody Faradan. And Jim in between them.
"Stay where you are, Mister Spock!" Faradan yelled. "The Doctor will bring Royal and Jody will bring your Captain! No tricks!"
McCoy handed Spock the compass and received the bulk of Royal Faradan, who outweighed the Doctor by thirty pounds and did little to help their combined balance. Off they lurched, aiming for the other duo. Though they were still mere silhouettes in the fog, McCoy could see that Jody was a small woman and was equally having trouble with Kirk, who moved like he was drugged. But as long as Spock and Faradan didn't move and as long as they stayed within visual range, they could sway all they wanted.
As they approached and the fog between them became thinner, McCoy's alarm exploded. Kirk wasn't just drugged. His face was deadly pale except for the flushed cheekbones. His eyes were sunken, his lips cracked. His breathing was shallow and halting. But most worrying were his eyes, glassy and empty, like there was no one there.
"Jim!" McCoy cried out, letting go of Royal.
Jody in turn didn't reach for Royal, who landed with a thud and a moan. Instead she held Kirk until the Doctor had him securely.
"What have you done to him!" McCoy swore, struggling to keep a firm grip on Kirk. He could feel the wild flutter of his heart, the heat of his body.
"He has a high fever," Jody said urgently, "because his body is withdrawing from the oxalica, and he's dehydrated- -Doctor!"
McCoy had already started back toward Spock. The anguish in her voice made him stop and look at her over his shoulder.
"Please tell him I'll make it right."
McCoy nodded and moved on.
Spock helped McCoy lay the Captain on the ground for a quick checkup. Kirk was delirious, repeating a word over and over again. McCoy leaned closer.
"What is he saying, Doctor?" asked Spock.
"Four? Or flower. Either four or flower. We need to get him to the Enterprise. I'll navigate. Quickly, Spock!"
Spock lifted the Captain up and over his shoulder.
They hardly looked back at the Faradan.
The Doctor and Nurse Chapel were arranging the Captain on the biobed, hooking him up to an IV and a respirator. Spock was glad for the Doctor's confident decision making, his sure and quick movements. There was none of the blood and none of McCoy's anguish, like last time. Spock knew the Captain would make it.
He turned away and pressed a button next to the screen in the wall.
"How far are we from the planet, Mister Sulu?"
"Twenty-two light years, Mister Spock. The Faradan vessel is moving away as well, as planned."
With the turn of the dial Spock turned on the aft view and magnified. The Faradan ship was moving fast, and he half expected her to jump into thin air again.
Instead, she burst into ball of light.
"She blew up!" came Sulu's shocked cry. "Mister Spock, she blew up!"
McCoy joined Spock in front of the screen and caught the last contraction of the bright explosion.
"She told me," the Doctor said excitedly, as if suddenly remembering. "Jody Faradan. She asked me to tell Jim. That she would make it right."
McCoy was informed by a quiet bleep from his panel that the Captain had woken up. He walked to the one-way window in his office and to see Kirk blink. He didn't run out to join him. Something in Jim's face held him back.
Then Kirk did a strange thing. He made the effort – the Doctor's panel bleeped, loud and clear, the effort it cost the patient – of lifting his head and quickly, almost furtively scanning the room. McCoy frowned at the strange mixture of fear and longing that was plain on his friend's face.
Jim stopped at a corner, then smiled at something that was not there. If anything, it was that mischievous smirk of old that startled the Doctor, rooting him to his spot.
Jim's eyes closed in pain – the panel bleeped louder - and his head fell back against the headrest.
McCoy hurried into the room.
"It's okay. The headache is part of the oxalica withdrawal. But you're nearly there."
Kirk panicked at the sight of the hypospray and tried to slap it away. The movement was so slow and weak McCoy caught his hand and brought it down with ease while injecting the drug.
"It's a mild painkiller," he explained softly. "You're on the Enterprise. You're safe."
"I'll never be safe," murmured Kirk with a sad resignation that broke McCoy's heart.
"It's all over, Jim," the Doctor countered with emotion. "Their ship exploded as they pulled away from the planet. I think she did it, Jody Faradan. She told me to tell you that she'd make it right. You're safe now, they can't come after you again."
The unchanged look on Kirk's face told the Doctor that his answer had missed the mark.
"What is it, Jim?" he asked gently.
"A popsicle," said Kirk.
"A blue popsicle in the shape of a space rocket, blueberry flavor. Can you swing it, Bones?"
Had Jim lost his mind? He seemed fully awake now. Still a bit melancholy, but so hopeful McCoy couldn't refuse the request, couldn't even bring himself to question it. He walked over to the sick bay food synthesizer. It took him a minute to locate the program, then brought the result, already dripping onto a little paper plate, over to the patient.
"You're not going to eat this, are you?" he asked uncertainly.
Kirk laughed with genuine happiness. It was shortlived, and quickly drained him, but McCoy found himself smiling along.
"No, Bones, no," Kirk shighed. "Put it there, will you, on the floor?"
He nodded at the corner of the room that had attracted his attention before. Apparently, he was still seeing something there.
When he looked up, the Captain was sound asleep.