Kirk felt blind as he attempted to appraise Spock's condition in the gloom. It was easy enough to tell which leg was injured; the swelling made that clear enough. But judging by the wet sound of Spock's cough, there might well be an internal injury.
If only Doctor McCoy were here, but it was no use wishing.
Kirk yanked off his outer uniform tunic and wrapped it snugly around the Vulcan's lower leg. Very little protection, but all he could do for now. Feeling chilled in his damp t-shirt, he forced his mind from the tantalizing scent of water.
"We're moving on," he said as much to himself as to Spock. "Here, I'm going to help you stand."
Bringing the Vulcan's arm over his shoulders, he tried to ease him upright-common rescue procedure, a simple enough maneuver, but Kirk had not reckoned with his own weakness.
"Captain...no," Spock protested in pained gasps. "Go on...leave me."
"And what would Uhura say about that?" Gritting his teeth, Kirk slowly straightened under the Vulcan's weight and took a faltering step back down the passage. Spock was not giving him much help.
"Damn it!" Kirk flared. "Come on, try!" His voice cracked and he stood fighting a dangerous sense of panic. "Just a little farther," he urged in a throaty whisper, "one step at a time."
Somehow he managed to move Spock along, backtracking to the last dimly lit tunnel intersection. From there, he headed down a branch that Spock had previously bypassed. They made slow progress.
Talk, Kirk told himself, keep moving, keep talking, say anything. "I never told you about...that leave on Bright's Station." Spock seemed to grow heavier with each step. "Bones and I went into this...little club...and there was a Biotone Synthesizer..." The Vulcan was a vague silhouette, all but lifeless, head hanging low. Kirk paused and gave him an anxious shake. "You with me?"
The head stayed down. Spock managed a ragged whisper. "No...no more. Now you see...the logic..." And he succumbed to another strangled fit of coughing.
Kirk staggered but kept his balance long enough to ease Spock to the ground. He held him until the spell subsided and the Vulcan lay still in his arms, each breath causing an ominous bubbling sound.
Just then he would have given anything for the muscle to pick up his friend and carry him. He would have given everything to be spared this one decision. Torn, he brushed Spock's temple with his fingertips and winced at the heat. Just when the Vulcan needed him most, Kirk saw no choice but to leave. Brushing the pebbles from a patch of ground, he gently lowered Spock's head.
"You win," he conceded, "but I'll be back...even if it kills me."
Rising, he turned from Spock's body and hurried on down the tunnel. Gradually the way brightened and he began to run with reckless strides, committing each twist and turn to memory. Enticing currents of fresh air drew him into a cavernous area where the floor rose toward a glowing green aperture. Pounding ahead, he burst through the leafy barrier.
Kirk stood blinded by a sudden wash of daylight. Footsore and winded, he fell to his knees under the glorious blue sky and shouted for joy.