Three more days came and went, and McCoy was becoming increasingly irritable by the hour. It infuriated him that he could not run tests on the boy who he believed was terminally ill. Spock had, every day, entered his quarters, and each time, Ventus had gone into his bathroom until he left, even waiting for two hours until Spock decided his other duties were more pressing and left.
By the fifth day, even Spock began to grow anxious, though he would never admit it, even to himself. He did not know why the boy interested him so, or why it bothered him so much that he had completely shut them out so suddenly.
While he was off-duty in his quarters, Spock looked over the records of the night watchmen, a task he had taken up to keep tabs upon the ship’s crew. He was intrigued to find that Ventus had been logged leaving each night around 0100 hours to socialize with the night shift, who were usually asleep during the day. Spock had not doubt he visited them because they were the ones least likely to say anything about his condition to a senior officer. As far as they knew, he was also out during the day, and the captain and himself were already aware.
That night, around 0100, Spock waited in the corridor until Ventus emerged from his quarters. He had donned the same outfit he had worn the day he had arrived upon the ship. His scarf was now higher up, covering his chin and jaw.
As Spock walked up behind him, Ventus asked, without turning around, “Why do you care so much?”
Spock followed him into the turbolift. “Why do you hide?”
Ventus was silent, no reply forthcoming. The turbolift doors opened on the engineering deck, and he walked out, Spock tailing him.
“Have you ever been completely isolated and shunned, with people giving you big fake smiles and telling you stupid lies to keep you happy, when you know that it’s all a sham?”
Spock stared at the boy’s back. “No, I have not.”
“Then why should I tell you why I hide? You wouldn’t understand, anyway.”
They entered the engine room, where several officers looked up upon their entrance, grinning, or offering Ventus a wave.
“You have become well acquainted with this engineering shift,” Spock remarked.
“You never answered my question. Why do you care so much about me?”
“It is my duty,” Spock replied.
Ventus finally turned and gazed at him. “No,” he said bluntly. “If that was all it was, then you wouldn’t have made such an effort. I would have known, after all those people who would check up on me out of obligation, not because they really wanted to. You genuinely cared enough to annoy me every day with your intrusions. I would have recognized false sincerity.”
It was Spock’s turn to be silent. He had no response to that. That might have been it—why he had checked up on him so often. But he couldn’t explain why it had mattered so much to him. And it seemed illogical to have been emotionally influenced into checking up on him.
“You don’t even know why you cared, do you?” Ventus asked, almost sadly. He looked over at the engineers, going about their work. “Not that it matters, really.”
“I think, perhaps, you reminded me of myself,” Spock finally said after a few minutes of brooding silence. Ventus looked up at him in surprise. “You were a stranger in a place that was like your own world, yet so different. Perhaps I feared that you had decided to shut it all out, instead of adjusting to a place that seemed to go against what you are. And then you refused to acknowledge what is happening to you. Do not think that I have forgotten about your arm.”
Ventus sighed and looked away again. “Ah yes, the cause of the big fake smiles and stupid lies.” Maybe it was that he had finally begun to trust him, or maybe just because Spock had listened, and he wanted to confide in someone. Whatever the reason, Ventus turned back towards the turbolift and said, “I want to show you something.”
* * *
In his quarters, Ventus awkwardly removed the scarf with his right hand. Easing off the extra sleeve, he removed his shirt, leaving his torso and his scars exposed. His left arm, most of the left half of his torso, and creeping about his throat as if to strangle him, was an intricate, decaying black pattern. It was intricate, and appeared to almost form rose-like shapes that were burned into his skin.
“What is it,” Spock asked softly.
Ventus gazed at the ground sadly. “On Valerii, it’s called Rose Flower. It is very rare, but it infects and destroys the body and mind. But it isn’t contagious, despite Starfleet’s worries. It’s caused by a certain type of spore from a rare tree occasionally found on my planet. We try to contain them, but by the time we realize another one has grown, it has already painfully claimed a life.”
“And you had given up hope.”
Ventus slowly donned his clothing once more, then sat down upon his bed before he replied. “Not a single person has ever survived Rose Flower. The tree mutates, and we couldn’t keep up with it. Each vaccine is outdated by the time it’s finished.”
Spock didn’t know what exactly possessed him to do so, but he walked over and sat down next to the self-mourning boy, who made an odd, hiccupping noise, as if he was about to cry.
“It’s why I was on that shuttle. The others on it were adults used as guinea pigs, and two other people who had contracted Rose Flower. They’d doubted the shuttle would work, and since we were already going to die, or were in the case of the adults, useless… ‘Why would it matter?’” He said the last part very bitterly.
“It matters very much. No life should be so callously thrown away.”
Ventus made another hiccupping noise and buried his head in his hands. “Tell that to the Planetary Committee.” Ventus’ shoulders shuddered.
After a moment of hesitation, Spock put a hand on the boy’s back, fighting against reeling away from the assault of the boy’s emotions. Ventus leaned over against him, and Spock did his utmost not to stiffen at the touch. For several minutes, Spock sat and comforted the boy, listening to his ragged, emotion-racked breaths. Finally, Ventus straightened up. “I’m… I’m sorry,” he snuffled, wiping his face with his arm. “I shouldn’t have dumped all that on you.” He turned his head slightly away, as if embarrassed. But it was clear by his entire posture that he wasn’t anywhere near fine yet.
Spock looked over at the personal computer on the table that was displaying the time. 0200 hours. His shift started in four hours, and he had gotten no sleep, not that he really needed any every single night. He looked back over at the boy. For once, he decided, it might be exceptional for him to be late for his shift. After all, it was his orders to take care of Ventus. And it would not be acceptable for him to just leave him now.
* * *
“Spock? May I come in?”
Spock, Kirk, and McCoy looked over at the open turbolift from where they stood in discussion on the bridge. After a week, Ventus was reduced to limping to where he wanted to go, and it took some effort to move the joint of his right shoulder. The Rose Flower was creeping up higher upon him as well, starting to crawl out from under the scarf.
“You know, you don’t need permission to come aboard the bridge, Ventus.”
Ventus smiled faintly at Captain Kirk. “Yeah, well…” He hobbled down the step towards them.
“Ventus, the Federation has made contact with Valerii, and has entered into the beginning steps towards accepting it into the Federation,” Spock informed him. “One of their requests is to have you back.”
Ventus snorted, then cringed in pain. “Ach. Ow. Well, you can tell them—”
Sensing where he was going by the tone of his voice, Spock gave him a pointed look, and Ventus quieted.
“Well, I’m not going,” Ventus said adamantly. “What’s the difference? At least the people here genuinely care if I live or die.”
Kirk, surprised by his bluntness, said, “It’s your home.”
Ventus looked up at Spock. “No. You can tell them it was my choice, that you had nothing to do with it. I’ll record something, if you want. But I won’t.”
Kirk and McCoy exchanged a knowing look. It was clear the he had taken a liking to Spock, and looked up to him. “Very well, then,” Kirk announced. “I’ll see what I can do. Until… then
… you may stay here.”
* * *
Spock gazed almost sadly out at his family’s land. It was there, by Ventus’ request, that he was buried when, two weeks after he had decided to stay on the ship, the Rose Flower caused his brain to shut down. According to Ventus, it was a custom on Valerii for those who succumbed to Rose Flower be buried, not cremated, so that the memory of he or she who was taken too soon by the disease was not forgotten. He had asked his mother to, when she could, go out and remove the sand from the tablet he had placed over Ventus’ burial place. She had accepted, knowing exactly how much the boy had meant to him, even if he didn’t.
He turned and walked away from the final resting place of the boy who had grown up on a world where a father hardly meant anything, but had in a short time, grown to respect another in the light of a father, and the tablet that read:
After all, that is what Spock’s name meant, on Valerii.