Another mission that was too close for comfort. He lies in a spare unmonitored hospital bed, as the strange creature that was the catalyst for all this looks on. Her other personality's destructive power was nearly the end of the crewmembers that came within a 52m radius of her until we successfully located the machine causing her turmoil and lured her away before shutting it off. We still know nothing of the civilisation that placed it there, or why she was alone on that planet. These are questions for later. She is currently aboard for medical tests, although for the moment Dr. McCoy is otherwise occupied with the more urgent casualties. Instead she has brought a game of knotted string to occupy herself. He, on the other hand, is lying unconscious under the influence of a tranquillising hypospray. He has a punctured lung, and he needs to be prevented from moving too much in his sleep while the regenerated tissue is still fragile. I am monitoring him to ensure he doesn't wake. My eyes are aching slightly from lack of rest. My hand is resting close to his, kept a careful few inches away, as is my habit now on these sickbay vigils.
“You care for him.” This from the alien, the cause of his pain, as she observes me gazing at him. Her voice is high and grates on my ears.
“Of course,” I retort. “Starfleet has no finer asset. Furthermore, he-”
“No.” She shakes her head slowly as if speaking to an obtuse child, not a grown man. “You care for him.”
I meet her eyes and her meaning hits. Several sensations wash over me. Guilt, first of all, for having been caught staring so obviously at him without his knowledge. Shock, at hearing it said by a stranger. Then fear, because if he is even semi-conscious, he may hear her accusation and I, fatigued as I am, may be unable to deliver a convincing denial...
It is at this stage that I realise the silence has stretched on far too long for a convincing denial at any rate. I look quickly away from both of them, staring instead at my feet. The left one is scuffed, the black torn away where the trap set by the machine's creators nearly caught myself and Ensign Richards. It has been a difficult mission. This unexplored section of the galaxy seems full of dangerous mysteries. Not many of the senior crew have been able to fully rest from their duties in several days. Of course, I would not leave my post at all, despite Dr. McCoy's protests. I could not while he was known to be in danger. Once again, I just managed to save him. The alternative is not one I can let myself contemplate.
“...Yes,” is all I can reply at this point. The admission barely even hurts any more, merely brings with it a sad air of the inevitable. I have spent far too much of my time over the years fighting it. So now, knowing that this strange attraction exists yet knowing nothing will ever come of it is hardly any easier, but it is progress. That is what I tell myself every day when the urges surface. To tell him, to touch him, to... no. I cannot. I will not.
She gazes for a time at my back, then turns again to busy herself with the game.
I look up again and stare at my own hand, its placement now seeming foolish, a meaningless attempt to pretend to myself that he would want this, committed neither to denying nor grasping. It clenches at nothing on top of the sheets and I make myself move it. He stirs slightly and I tense, ready to call for assistance.
Then he relaxes. It was nothing. I bring my hand to rest in my lap and sit back, resuming my vigil as nothing more than a fellow crew-mate. All I can ever be for him. All I will ever be to him.
There is no sound for a long time, save the soft click of her game of knots, and the sound of his shallow breathing above the constant hum of the Enterprise.