Happy Thanksgiving, everyone
Kirk had been conscious for a while now, and Dax had kept himself available in the small Sick Bay. He was ready when the Captain pulled away the oxygen mask and gasped,
Dax put down the equipment he had been sterilizing and regarded the patient from across his desk. His condition had improved over the last twenty hours. The pleural drain was finally making a dent in the fluids in his lungs, and he would soon be off the mask and onto a nasal canula. Dax had upgraded him out of the critical range - it had been the first time he had seen the Boss happy about losing a bet.
But there was no denying that the cost to the patient had been considerable. And now that he was fully conscious, he was also trying to assess his physical condition. The painkillers were surely masking any sensations, but there was no avoiding the continued difficulty breathing and the presence of the machines, the bandages.
What Dax had seen of this man so far told him to give him the news straight. He watched Kirk's response closely.
"Your most immediate discomfort is due to pulmonary edema, fluid accumulation in your lungs. That's why you're so short of breath, you're on about 50% of normal lung capacity, when not in distress. The treatment is working but it's important that we prevent you from coughing up more blood and doing more damage, so don't overexert yourself. Coughing also aggravates your broken and bruised ribs. An older injury?"
Kirk's face remained closed and, aside from the strain of having to struggle for air, revealed no emotions. He was, simply, waiting for the rest.
"Then," Dax pressed on, "there is the fact that you were hypothermic for an extended period of time. This has affected your heart and you are receiving treatment for cardiac arrhythmia. Your heart is strong, and with time it should right itself, but it is again imperative that you do rest."
He wasn't done yet, and Kirk knew it.
"As for your external injuries, you have lost all fingers on your right hand, the two smallest ones on your left hand, two toes on your right foot and I'm still assessing your left foot. Once you get out of here the Federation physicians will be able to replace these, but anything other than some crude prostheses is beyond my skill and technology. Other injuries are minor and pose no threat or permanent damage."
A few seconds, then a narrowing of the eyes.
"You say—'once—you get—out of—here'."
Finally, Dax thought, a reaction. The words, though hard-won, barely whispers in between gasps, were sharp with contempt. Dax took care to answer in as neutral a tone as possible.
"I will leave the details to Commander Stephenson, but I can tell you that when we are done here, it is our intention to return you and Lieutenant Johnson to Starfleet, alive and as well as we can manage."
Kirk turned his head away in a stubborn no.
Dax approached carefully. The Captain's face was a mask of anger, or fear, or grief – Dax couldn't tell. His eyes were shut tight. His lower lip, pressed tight, trembled. Dax said nothing. He gently replaced the mask over his patient's mouth.
Two days later Kirk was back in control of himself. His breathing was easier too, and he no longer had to struggle with the mask as he was upgraded to a nasal canula. All this helped him pull off the perfectly arrogant tone.
"And why should I believe you?"
Defiant. Superior. It's how he would confront a Klingon! Dax thought.
"I have played the recording of Grale's call and the confirmation from Alpha Base that the rescue was successful," Stephenson sighed.
"Falsified," Kirk retorted.
"You are still alive," Stephenson came back.
Dax could see his Boss was rapidly tiring to this game.
"I'd fetch a good price, I've been told."
"I give you my word!" he rejoined.
"And I give you my word, Commander," with sudden vehemence, "that the moment-you let me go I will hunt-you down, you and-all your men!"
That took the wind out of him. He paled, his head fell back against the pillow. The bio alarm sounded a few anxious beeps.
When Dax looked up at his Boss, the latter had recovered.
"Then I think we have established, Captain Kirk," Stephenson said grimly, "when the real test of my assertion will come. You will just have to wait until then!"
He turned on his heel and walked out of Sickbay.
"Why," Dax began, barely able to conceal his fascination, "do you play with fire? If you think he is your enemy, why push him?"
He was astonished to see a tight smile appear on Kirk's lips.
"I push, he pushes…" The Captain attempted with affected indolence, but some bitterness slipped in. "Let's just say, Doc, that I don't want to wait that long."