All his life, McCoy had tried to be a gentleman. Not because he had grown up in the belly of the South or because his more traditional grandparents had expected it of him, but because since the very beginning, McCoy himself had held an old-fashioned (archaic) view of right and wrong. He never so much as jaywalked in his youth, not minding the extra minutes it took to reach the nearest corner, and when he went into medical school at the tender age of twenty, he did everything by the book, followed every procedure exactly as he was told, and thanked his professors with hearty southern gratitude. “Yes ma’am” and “no sir” were things that came unbidden from his mouth whenever he was nervous, or happy, or drunk, and every woman he had ever dated during his sparse experience with the whole thing had described him as having the hands of a surgeon and the heart of a gentle boy. This was normally said with laughter or affection, and so McCoy had never considered “southern gentlemen” to be an insult. Not really.
It was hard to be a gentleman, however, when he was surrounded by morons.
“What on Earth made you think combining alien chemicals was a good idea? Good God man, I’m a doctor, and even I know not to make modifications to the engines without testing these things first!”
The secondary engineer winced but looked—in true engineer form—unrepentant.
“Mister Scott said—”
“Oh, Mister Scott.” McCoy scowled and poked Lieutenant Kyle in the side with his small laser wand. Kyle winced again.
“Well, maybe you should ask Mister Scott about his opinion on second-degree burns from radioactive chemicals?” His prompting was met with only silence. “No? Then maybe you should listen to your kindly ship doctor and not combine dilithium with an extremely unstable isotope from an unanalyzed alien planet!”
“Yes, Doctor,” Kyle answered, a mumble. McCoy wondered if he’d hear about it later—bullying the engineers wasn’t exactly good form—but then he decided he didn’t care.
Damn morons. It was just a bad day in general for ship-wide accidents and even those who weren’t normally clumsy or foolish were affected by a recently-damaged artificial gravity…unfortunately, often in dangerous, lasting ways. Already that morning he’d healed a broken back, three burns (all engineers from Scotty’s latest adventure), and a chipped tooth, and judging by the expression on Christine’s face when she walked in, his afternoon was not going to be any better.
“Yes, Nurse Chapel?”
Her lips pursed, a sure sign of catastrophe.
“Doctor, apparently there was an accident in science lab seven; we’re getting reports of injuries now.”
McCoy sighed and dismissed the newly-healed Kyle with a pat on the back, scowling even before he turned to see the polite face of his head nurse.
“Well, send ‘em in.”
It took long hours to treat the series of patients with minor burns, taking almost as much time to heal individually as he suspected they would if they were just to let them heal naturally, but there was whining and complaining and he was two seconds away from kicking out the whole lot of them when suddenly, no one was left.
Nurse Chapel looked rather impressed.
“Doctor McCoy, I do believe that’s the fastest you’ve ever used a dermal regenerator before. Ever think about going into cosmetic surgery?”
“You mean give someone a new nose when they already have one as good as nature would ever give them? Don’t insult me, Christine.”
She shrugged and packed up the spare things she carried to work with her every morning, McCoy realizing belatedly that her shift had ended. Hell, his shift had ended; if there was such a thing as overtime on a ship in hostile space, he was just racking it up.
He suddenly found a tray of hypos terribly interesting: anything to avoid looking at her face.
“You have plans for the evening?”
She beamed; he saw it reflected on the counter when she looked at his back.
“Yes, actually! Roger sent me e-flowers today, and he promised to call. Isn’t he wonderful?”
McCoy smiled to himself, barely, at the obvious love-light sparkling in her eyes.
“Yeah, he’s swell.” Lucky was what McCoy meant to say, but he couldn’t. He might’ve wished Christine all the best, but he could admit to being jealous, just a bit, at the thought of some scientist a thousand light-years away getting to come home to a pretty blonde who loved him, even when he wasn’t there. “Have a good night, Christine.”
“You too, Doctor. Don’t work too late, and—Mister Spock!”
The surprise in her voice amused McCoy a bit—too much. Everyone knew she had a crush on their Vulcan officer, just like everyone knew it made Spock—and Uhura, to a lesser degree—extremely uncomfortable. Just like McCoy privately knew Christine would never betray Roger, even if Spock had given her the opportunity.
Jealous, old man?
McCoy shook his head and began filling the hypos at the counter, listening to the awkward conversation with half an ear until he thought his hair might curl from secondhand embarrassment, and then he turned.
“Nurse Chapel.” She jolted, and McCoy saw enough of her soft smile to know that she’d been distracted, as much as six-foot-two of Vulcan could distract anyone. “Roger?”
She looked guilty for half a heartbeat, and then she expressed her goodbyes a second time before jogging off down the hallway. McCoy just shook his head at how very not relieved Spock looked.
“Well? Do you aim to come in all the way, or are you waiting for her to come back?”
Spock moved inside as quickly as he could but not too quickly, and McCoy just shook his head again.
“Not at all, Doctor. May I sit?”
“Yeah, sure.” Spock sat on the nearest biobed, and McCoy frowned. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I was acting in science laboratory seven this afternoon.” The statement, as all of Spock’s statements were, contained just enough information without betraying any of the unnecessary details.
“For the explosion? That was six hours ago! Don’t you know an injured officer is about as useful as a trapdoor in a canoe? Good God man!”
Calm down, boy; people will start to think you care about the elf!
“I appreciate the concern, Doctor, but it is unnecessary.”
McCoy scowled and pulled out his tricorder, noting the way Spock said “doctor” without inflection and the way he didn’t lean back, not even when McCoy pushed at his shoulder experimentally.
“The hell it is! I’m not your babysitter; everyone else’s, sometimes, but not yours. Now, where does it hurt?”
Spock, in response, rolled onto his stomach and pulled the two layers of punched-hole fabric off his back, exposing a neat series of cuts and gashes and openings that still had sparkling clear shards in them. The area around the wounds was dark green and swollen, and hotter to McCoy’s experimental touch than it should have been.
McCoy whistled and went to the nearest drawer, retrieving a strong antiseptic, a pair of gloves, and—wincing—a pair of tweezers. There were some things that just had to be done by hand.
By the time he’d returned to the biobed and Spock’s still form, he was angry.
“Glass? You have glass in your back and you waited six hours to come to sickbay?”
Spock didn’t flinch when the tweezers in McCoy’s hands found the first slice, pulling it out and setting the vibrant green fleck on the metal medical stand nearby.
“Doctor, your anger is—”
Spock cut himself off when McCoy’s instrument had to pull slightly harder than before to remove the next piece; this one was almost an inch long, and McCoy was impressed, more than he could say, that Spock didn’t make a sound when he went for the third. Didn’t flinch.
“Unnecessary, I know. Dumbass Vulcan.” The words were grudgingly fond, and Spock stiffened, McCoy placing a hand on his lower back to keep the skin from bunching, from pushing the shards deeper.
“You should not speak to a commanding officer so disrespectfully, Doctor.”
“Acknowledged.” Then, because McCoy knew he could hear him: “Pointy-eared, green-blooded, computerizeddumbass…”
Spock didn’t respond; after two years, he knew to recognize the goading when it showed up, and after seeing Spock in sickbay for something or another at least thirty times the first year alone, McCoy knew he didn’t have an advantage quite like he did in his own territory.
“So, why’d you delay so long?” Spock was silent, and McCoy wanted to keep him talking, mainly to distract from the way he had to dig for the tiny triangle of glass near his shoulder.“No, really. If you’d waited much longer, you might’ve been in a heap of trouble. As it is, some of these pieces are deep enough in your muscle that—ah-ha!” McCoy held it up in triumph, and then showed it to Spock with a flourish. “See? Got it.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Spock’s voice was strained, and McCoy patted an unmarred shoulder in sympathy.
“Need a pain killer? You have twenty more at least, more if one breaks.” Spock didn’t answer right away, and McCoy had removed another before Spock pushed out a response.
McCoy imagined he was tired, if he was willing to accept something for the pain. Out of more sympathy than he probably should have felt considering Spock’s actions had been Kirk-level dumb that evening, he gave him a strong one, one that would leave him feeling no pain and floating on clouds in a minute.
And—because he was nothing if not moral, despite how he might have appeared in the past—he patted Spock once more on the shoulder to get his attention before he resumed his work.
“Spock, you’re gonna be loopy in a minute. If you want to not say anything embarrassing, I’d just not talk at all.”
Spock didn’t respond then either, but he flinched instinctively when cold, sterile metal touched his back again. McCoy was happy to see that after three more slivers of glass, the drugs had kicked in, and Spock didn’t react at all when he had to nearly gouge out a particularly stubborn piece.
“Hey, Spock? You with me?”
Spock rolled his head to look at him, not looking any different from usual except for the dilation of his pupils. McCoy was just glad he was conscious; it wasn’t like he operated on anything but guesswork when it came to medicating his half-Vulcan colleague.
“I was distracted. In the lab. And…I did not wish for anyone to see me like this. I did not think it was so serious.”
The statement was the barest murmur, and McCoy nodded, like he understood. A part of him wondered what had the ability to distract Spock, with his alarming, almost creepy focus, but he didn’t ask. None of his business.
“It happens to the best of us.”
Spock was still staring at him, and McCoy blinked slowly, swallowed against the dryness in his throat. Spock mimicked the motion, perhaps unintentionally, and McCoy forced his mind not to stray, not even a little.
“Nyota wants children.”
McCoy jerked, but thankfully, the only result was to send the sliver he held in the air skittering across the floor below.
“Doctor, you know I cannot have children.”
McCoy knew. He’d been a surgeon a long time, and while Spock’s anatomy was neither completely Vulcan nor completely human, he was wholly infertile. If McCoy remembered correctly—and he did, because Spock’s existence had been big news in the scientific community for years—none of the Vulcan scientists in charge of his conception had checked to see if he would be fully functioning, as they’d expected him to die within the first year of his birth.
Spock had surprised them all.
“She left, huh?” McCoy heard his voice turn gruff, knew it was as much a response of what was left of his sympathetic nature as the need to not sound like that boy he’d used to be.
“It was her decision. Logically, if I cannot give her what she wants…”
Spock shrugged, just barely; it wasn’t smart, not when someone was performing surgery on his back, but that was the problem with those drugs, or love: it made fools out of everybody.
McCoy just continued to work. Thirteen down.
“Better to seek greener pastures.”
“Doctor, I do not understand.”
McCoy took pity on him.
“Well, it wouldn’t have made you happy if she’d stayed, and you’d known she wanted something else. It wouldn’t have helped anybody, but at least now you can find someone who doesn’t want kids and she can find someone who does. Who can.”
The entire thing came out sounding less comforting than McCoy had intended for it to, but what could he say? He was no psychologist, but Spock—emotionless, hybrid Spock—had about as bad a tale of woe as he’d ever heard.
“Do you have children, Doctor?”
McCoy nodded absently even though Spock couldn’t see it, and pressed at the flesh under his hands, looking for the microscopic fragments of glass that no doubt remained. No good; he’d have to get an x-ray.
“One. A daughter with my ex-wife.” It was said so casually that McCoy was rather proud of himself, proud that the statement held none of the pain or bitterness that still lingered when he thought of Jocelyn.
“I want children, Doctor.” Spock sounded about as close to heartbroken as McCoy was sure a Vulcan ever did, and he patted him on the lower back this time, just above the waistband of his pants, never so much as glancing away from the expanse of wounded skin in front of him.
If Spock looked as depressed as he sounded, McCoy didn’t think he had the right to see it.
“Spock.” Spock made an affirming noise, and McCoy patted him again, this time on the shoulder. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Spock.”
“For a computer, Doctor?”
McCoy shrugged, and reached for the tiniest slice of glass, the last one he could see.
“Computers, Vulcans. They’re all the same.”
Spock didn’t say anything, and McCoy just gave him a quick shake before letting go, his voice turning brisk.
“Okay, Spock. A quick x-ray and a sealant, and then you’re done. They’ll scar, probably, but I don’t suppose you care much about that.”
Spock’s head lolled in response, and McCoy went to get his x-ray before he could inevitably begin commiserating with his drugged commanding officer.
He deliberately ignored the fact that the sympathy was already there.
McCoy didn’t say anything about Spock’s late night visit or the drugged stumble of a walk he enacted back to his quarters, not because he openly respected him (although he probably did in some secret corner of his mind) but because doctor-patient confidentiality was something he’d never broken, not even on his worst days. He still thought about it for hours, thought about it in terms of poor guy and wondering what the hell Spock had left out. Uhura had always seemed like something of a reasonable lady, and it was odd—very—to think that she’d leave the man she’d been seeing for the past two years or more over something that seemed so surmountable in modern times. Adoption—heaven knew there were enough orphans. Artificial genetic reproduction was all the rage on some of the more science-oriented planets. Cloning was possible, even, to some extent. It seemed almost ridiculous that being unable to reproduce biologically with one sperm and one egg had caused such a rift, and as McCoy went about his day, he made plans to pester Spock incessantly until he got answers.
Except, of course, Spock was about as open to questioning as a stone wall, and probably less forgiving.
“Doctor McCoy.” The greeting was stiff and formal, and McCoy hesitated before entering the turbolift. He wondered if Spock illogically blamed his doctor for the un-Vulcan candor of the night before, and if there was any way he could respond without flipping his lid.
“Spock. How’s your back?” The question was polite as well as necessary, and of course Spock didn’t appreciate it; he was like Jim in that way.
McCoy scowled, and the turbolift had changed directions twice before he thought he could respond coolly about the entire thing.
“Spock, I’m a doctor. I need a medically meaningful answer.”
Spock raised an eyebrow, doing his best impression of an annoyed Vulcan.
“They are healing without obvious detriment to my movement or my position on the ship, and the sealant you placed on them last night has been mostly effective at keeping the wounds closed.”
“Entirely. Doctor, perhaps you should have someone check your hearing.” The neutral prodding was effective, and McCoy forgot that he’d been about to demand Spock return to sickbay before he bled out of his clothes.
“Now, you listen to me! We don’t all have foot-long ears like you do—”
“Doctor.” The interruption was smooth, and it successfully distracted McCoy from the rant that might have—might have—been building. “Did you say they would scar?”
McCoy shrugged, and the turbolift stopped, two ensigns entering. He waited until they left before responding.
“Yeah, most of them, probably. There’s no real way to stop that—”
Spock interrupted him a second time, and McCoy thought he might have imagined the underlying urgency in the whole thing.
“There are medically approved methods to reducing the appearance of such blemishes, correct?”
“Yeah. Cosmetic surgery.” McCoy glanced at Spock, and saw him standing stiffly, staring at the door. “Don’t tell me that you—”
“I was under the impression that doctors were supposed to be impartial, Doctor.” The subtle disapproval cut, and McCoy scowled.
“And I was under the impression that Vulcans weren’t vain!” he snapped out, but Spock didn’t flinch, didn’t so much as shift.
“It is not unreasonable to desire an aesthetically pleasing partner, Doctor.”
The point—that Spock was planning to date again, and so soon—went over his head.
“Maybe not, but—“Anybody who minds a few scars is shallow; he didn’t get a chance to finish, because the turbolift slowed to a stop.
“Your stop, Doctor.”
McCoy left, all but stomped out, his feet automatically carrying him to the mess hall, ready to dismiss the entire thing.
As the doors begin to close, however, McCoy slapped out a hand to stop them.
“A week. They should be all healed in a week, so your first appointment can be then. 1400 hours.”
“It’ll take a while, Spock,” he warned, wondering if Spock’s belief that he had to be “aesthetically pleasing” was enough to warrant weeks of work. “There were dozens of them last night, and they might not all scar, but most of them will.”
McCoy removed his hand, and the turbolift doors closed, effectively ending the conversation. And—because McCoy was hungry and because he was a professional after all—he didn’t call down another turbolift or hit the comm button to continue their discussion, didn’t do what he suspected Spock was expecting.
As he ate his lunch, however, the thought remained.
McCoy hadn’t been lying to Christine when he’d said that he found cosmetic surgery kind of ridiculous on the whole. Certain times it was warranted—accidents meant that people sometimes lost limbs or damaged their face beyond what they were comfortable with, and he was all for trying to blend into society when the alternative was people looking at you with disgust—but he didn’t understand it most of the time. A person was unique, every mark life made on them special; even two people identical down to the last chromosome were different because of their different experiences, and he thought it was nothing but a good thing. A bumpy nose? Beautiful. A receding hairline? Amazing. Birth marks, scars, skin discoloration? Perfect.
Of course, Christine said it was because he was a good-looking man that he didn’t understand the appeal. Jim said it was because he tended to date people who were more average-looking these days, since beautiful, beautiful Jocelyn had broken his heart. McCoy didn’t care what they thought; no matter which way he looked at it, the tiny scars on Spock’s back—mere pinpricks, more like freckles, really—were just not worth the time.
Like with so many things with Spock, he just didn’t understand his motives. There were twenty-two of them, tiny impressions in his flesh, and McCoy wasn’t kidding when he said they looked like freckles. He kind of thought they gave him character, but if he wanted them gone he wanted them gone, and Starfleet regulations didn’t have anything on superficial surgery; it was really up to him.
McCoy grumbled as he pulled on his gloves and Spock lay down, neither of them saying much of anything to each other. Well, not intentionally.
“Don’t know why you want them removed. You can barely see ‘em, and it’s not like potential girlfriends immediately ask to see your back.”
McCoy emphasized the statement by pushing into the skin around the freshly-healed marks, checking to see that the flesh had enough give. He hadn’t thought he’d have to use a softening lotion on Spock—he was certainly young enough—and he was glad that his initial thoughts were as right as Jim’s usually-crazy ideas. He was glad of it, because it would make things so much easier if he didn’t have to drug him again. Who knew what Spock would say if he did? Answers, probably, but Spock would most likely never forgive him if McCoy heard his actual secrets.
Of course, there were still some things that were…odd about the scars. Vulcans didn’t tend to share much about their anatomy and biology with the medical community at whole so he couldn’t be entirely sure, but his limited-experience with scar tissue on Vulcan skin was that the scars came in green as their blood, maybe a bit darker. Spock’s, however, were brown like tree bark, and McCoy really didn’t know what that meant for anything.
So—like with most things having to do with Spock—he guessed.
“Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t know how much you looked into this procedure—probably a lot, since it’s you—but I’m going to pull the individual molecules of your skin to cover and merge with the scars.” He tapped a thin wand, the tiniest of machines, against his starting point of Spock’s lower left shoulder. “Because it requires a fair bit of radiation, the longest session can only be an hour, max, and there would probably be…oh, two of them per session, maybe. Afterwards, I have a cream that you need to put on the altered area to keep the skin from rejecting the reformed cells—” McCoy set the small bottle in Spock’s line of sight before continuing. “—and the intermediate period between each session has to be a minimum of a week. We’re not going to push it, either, so I’d say at least ten days after this first session; people react differently to the radiation, and we don’t want your skin cells multiplying into a new appendage or anything.”
“I understand, Doctor.”
“It’ll feel a bit like burning, too, so I have some numbing drugs that—”
“No, Doctor. No drugs.” Spock’s voice was almost sharp, and McCoy shrugged; so much for trust.
“Fine, it’s your show. What do I know? I’m only the doctor.”
Spock’s chest rose and fell in what might have been a sigh but was definitely exasperation, and McCoy scowled at the back of his head.
McCoy reached for the first mark, and his free hand landed just over the top of Spock’s ribcage, on the soft flesh near his upper arm. Spock flinched.
“Hey, hold still! Do you want a pockmark made from radiation?”
Spock didn’t answer, and McCoy repeated his previous action. Spock flinched again. No, not flinched– jerked.
“What the hell? Spock, are you ticklish?”
“Not at all, Doctor.”
McCoy poked him in the side, and something that sounded like a quickly cut off laugh emerged.
“It certainly looks like you are to me.”
McCoy suddenly started to laugh, and Spock whipped around to stare at him.
“This is no time for amusement, Doctor.”
“It’s not amusement. See? We’re just…Spock, this is just so damn awkward.”
And it was. McCoy was looking at someone who was perfectly healthy, and without the urgency of possibly fatal injuries or sickness, he couldn’t say that being professional was all that easy. Certain things—like being ticklish—were just so bizarre; after all, it wasn’t like people were ticklish when they were drugged or bleeding to death.
Spock stiffened impossibly, and lay back down. This time when McCoy touched bare skin, he held still, probably through sheer force of will.
“It would not be ‘awkward,’ Doctor, if you were a professional.”
McCoy should have been offended. Would have been, in fact, except Spock was ticklish. It was just such an unexpected treat.
“Maybe. But I tell you what; we’ll get all friendly like, just for right now, and I’ll talk to you instead. Keep your mind off of it.”
And man, he could almost hear that eyebrow going up. Too bad it was a little bit difficult to be intimidating when you were lying on your stomach.
“A conversation with you is hardly a distraction, Doctor.”
McCoy started talking anyway, but hell if he knew why he chose the subject he did.
“Let me tell you about my daughter, all right? Her name is Joanna—I used to call her Jo-Jo, but she’d be too old for that now probably. She’s…eleven? No, ten.” McCoy ran the wand over Spock’s skin in the answering silence, learning the depression of the scar before he turned it on. Spock did flinch that time at what must have been a sudden sting, and McCoy massaged the skin in small circles with the tip.
By the time the first few surface layers had been removed, McCoy was able to resume talking with the sort of ease he wanted to project.
“She’s the prettiest little thing. Blue eyes, brown hair; I guess she looks a bit like me, but thankfully her face is all her mother’s, damnit all.” If Spock wondered about the contradiction, he didn’t ask.
“And let’s see… she likes lemon bubblegum. Peach cake. Strawberry-mango shampoo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her eat meat, but not for moral reasons, I mean, she’s just a kid; she just thinks it tastes dirty. Last time I saw her was…oh, about three years ago. She was wearing pig tails, and doing well in school, and she called me ‘papa.’”
McCoy trailed off, and he was glad that Spock was looking away, that he probably didn’t care or wasn’t listening. He wiped his eyes all the same with his sleeve, knowing it would be only too obvious if there were suddenly tears on Spock’s back.
Damnit all…you’re too old for this.
“You have not seen her for three years?” The quiet question was a surprise, and McCoy nodded as he continued to circle the small mark. The skin was looking hazy underneath the bright lights, and McCoy thought it was his eyes, but then the surface seemed to drift up towards him: loose cells. He pushed harder, and answered absently.
“Yeah. Her mother moved, and I have a forwarding P.O. box but no comm number; that information must have gotten lost in the mail.” McCoy forced out a gruff laugh and then stopped, remembering abruptly that this wasn’t Jim he was trying to deceive, and that a laugh wouldn’t fool Spock any more than a holograph would fool a hungry animal.
“Surely that is illegal.”
“Maybe. By the time I had a break to pursue it, I’d already been promoted and assigned.” McCoy didn’t add that he’d been assigned Enterprise, or that he’d stayed because Jim needed someone on his side with everyone in Starfleet expecting him to fail. After two years, he thought his role was obvious at this point, especially to someone as attentive as Spock.
“I grieve with thee.” The statement was surprising, from Spock, from anybody. McCoy shrugged, but although the motion was casual, he still took several minutes to compose himself, to say what he wanted to say.
“I’m not grieving. I just wish…I wish I could see her grow.” McCoy swallowed, and he widened the circle he was tracing, hoping the new sensation would distract Spock appropriately from the rasp in his throat. “I mean, I’m not having any more kids. Never again. She’s the only one.”
“So certain, Doctor?”
“Yeah. I just…not another woman. Another relationship.” It was funny that McCoy circled back to that, hilarious really, when he’d just been going over opportunities for Spock and Uhura not too long ago, and coming up with all those other options that were possible these days, that science said were options. But…in his country-doctor mind, there was just something special about a man, and a woman, and a baby.
There’s those archaic ideas again…
He guessed Spock and Uhura’s now-commonly-known breakup really wasn’t that hard to understand after all. And—if the way Spock relaxed under his hands was any indication— Spock probably understood the point he was trying to make all too well.
“Not another woman, Doctor?”
McCoy nodded, murmured out a soft “yeah,” and continued to move his wand back and forth in silence until the tiny pinprick of a mark was no longer visible at all. He checked his watch; twenty-one minutes.
“All right, Spock. A half an hour more, and next time, it’s your turn to keep the conversation up.”
And before the silence could really follow this pronouncement, McCoy launched into a favorite story of Joanna’s about a kitten with mittens.