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A Friend in Need

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“Ohhh, no. No, no, no, no, we’re not doing this again!” McCoy slithered down the rocky slope, free hand scrabbling for purchase but finding none. He didn’t care; as long as he was still conscious by the time he reached the bottom, a torn fingernail or two was the least of his worries.

All right, make that more than two. And not just fingernails either. Lurching upright, McCoy cursed at the sight of blood dripping from his arm and across the tricorder at his hip. Dammit - if that thing gave out, he might as well be relying on sutures and hand drills. He wiped his bloody hand across his pant leg, wincing, then scrubbed at the casing with his clean sleeve.

Spock wasn’t moving. Sprawled on his stomach less than a meter away, it was impossible to say if he was even still alive. He had to be; didn’t Vulcans love to claim they were built more sturdily than humans? McCoy dropped to his knees, praying that this time, at least, Vulcan arrogance would turn out to be justified.

He hadn’t even seen Spock start to slip, focused as he was on his own ungainly descent. All he’d heard was the slide and tumble of stones, and then the thud of a body hitting the ground. Spock’s head was bent into an awkward angle, one cheek mashed into a pile of sand, but McCoy resisted the impulse to move him. Instead he reached for the tricorder, tugging it loose with a pained grunt.

Neck and spinal cord intact; no obvious signs of concussion; a whole lot of bruises but no broken limbs. Well, that was a start. Hopeful, McCoy moved the scanner across Spock’s midsection. It beeped once, softly, and then a second time. Its warning light started flashing just as McCoy saw the readout, and all the blood drained from his face.

“Sonova...” He gulped down a breath, fiddling with a setting for a clearer reading. The simple movement sent pain shooting up his arm, but he clenched his teeth and set the instrument aside. “God dammit, Spock. Why does this always happen to you?” Because of course, of fucking course Spock was bleeding internally; if McCoy didn’t know any better, he’d have said the man was made of glass. Heavier than glass, though, and not all that easy to lift using only his good hand. But after all the times he’d half-dragged an injured Spock across some wasteland - which, if you asked him, was becoming an irritating habit - that hardly came as a surprise.

There was ridiculously little blood. After turning Spock over, that was his first, almost relieved thought. His second thought was that, no, that actually wasn’t a good thing at all. A localized wound often meant easy treatment, but as he started to peel away the tattered shirt, it was clear Spock’s injuries were the opposite of that. His entire side was bruised, greenish and swollen. He must have hit some obstacle on his way down: too blunt to pierce skin, but heavy enough to mess up the organs underneath.

“Doctor.” Spock stirred. “How… did…” His eyes fluttered open, then widened abruptly.

McCoy’s hands reacted before his brain did; grabbing Spock’s shoulders, he held on tight for a moment, then carefully eased him flat onto his back. “Easy, now. You took a nasty tumble off that hillside.” Leaning on his heels, he took in Spock’s labored breathing, the sheen of sweat coating his face. Vulcans could slip into shock just as easily as humans; if that happened, it would make this bad day… oh, only infinitely worse?

Spock shuddered, then seemed to make an effort at composure, folding his hands on top of his chest. After a few seconds, he gave McCoy a strained look. “How bad, Doctor?”

McCoy squinted down at his tricorder, more and more galled at the readings it was spitting out. “Bad enough. There’s no doubt you’ve got internal injuries, but it's hard to say how serious, and there’s no way I can fix them here. We need to get you to the medbay as fast as possible, or God help us, I can't say what the consequences will be.”

“That is… unfortunate,” Spock said. “Though I fail to see why you would invoke God's assistance… rather than that of the Enterprise. In any case, I do not believe...” He grimaced, hands spasming across his chest, as if the pitiful stab at humor had already been too much. “… I can walk out of here,” he finished, hoarsely.  

“Well, I’m not going anywhere without you. We’ll get you to the ship, if I’ve got to carry you there myself.” Were there predators out here, this close to the village? McCoy recalled the village elders hinting at it yesterday, just before Jim and the others left. The ship’s sensors hadn’t picked up anything, but he’d be damned to put his faith in a piece of technology; he wasn’t leaving Spock alone out here, no matter what the sensors said.

“Carrying me to the ship… will not be necessary, Doctor. I believe you might find it… rather difficult, seeing as the Enterprise is in orbit and we are not.” The raised eyebrow was only slightly less acerbic than usual. “There are only three-point-three kilometers left to walk, before our communicators will operate again. The mineral deposits that hamper their function…”

“Are concentrated around the village,” McCoy snapped. “I know, Spock. I’m not a geologist, but I’m not a complete amateur either.” Or maybe he was, for not having insisted that Spock and him leave along with the others. But no, Mister ‘I require one more night of readings to complete my data’ had wanted to stay; and of course Jim, sadist that he was, left no opportunity untried to saddle McCoy with Spock during missions. But there’d been no real danger in staying. Even the way back should have been easy enough, if not for last night’s rain washing out part of the road. Spock, with that damn Vulcan stubbornness that McCoy still couldn’t tell was deliberate or not, had even told Jim ‘he’d vouch for the doctor’s safety’. Safety, his ass. McCoy should have known by now that, when Spock made that kind of statement, the one in need of saving usually turned out to be him.

The medical tricorder beeped, startling him; an avalanche of new data started spilling across the screen. McCoy didn’t need more than a quick glance to tell him just how screwed they were.

“Doctor…” Spock was white as a sheet, his eyes rolling backwards. He actually tried to prop himself up on his elbow, but sagged back with a choked-off cry.

“Lie still, dammit! Your spleen just ruptured. I’ve got about one minute to stop the haemorrhage, or you’re gonna bleed to death right here.” McCoy started digging through his instrument pouch, looking for… yes. The dermal regenerator. Designed for precision work, but he’d used it for emergency field surgery before. Crank up the intensity, and it would sterilize any damaged tissue, knotting it together for long enough to get a patient stabilized. Worked like a charm… and hurt like hell. But there was no time to give Spock something for the pain, so they'd have to make do.

Spock bore it stoically for about ten seconds. Then McCoy must have hit a bad spot and he cried out, the sound echoing eerily in the not-quite-Earth atmosphere.

McCoy wasn’t sure what was harder: knowing exactly what went on beneath Spock’s skin as the damaged organ was brutally sterilized and patched together, or what he was seeing on Spock’s face. He worked as fast as he could, but that didn’t feel even close to good enough; it never did, and as he finished and put away his instruments, he realized with odd detachment that his hands were trembling.

A wave of dizziness passed over him, and he stifled a curse, shaking it off as he grabbed Spock’s limp arms.

“Spock. You hang in there. It’s over, I’m here.” He blinked down at Spock’s pain-filled face. Spock’s eyes were open and his shoulders were shaking, tears trailing down his dirt-caked cheeks. Something in McCoy’s chest turned itself inside out; he squeezed Spock’s arms more tightly, as if to snap him out of it by sheer strength alone. “Just… fight it, Spock. D’you hear me? You’re gonna be fine.”

Slowly, Spock’s breathing evened out. It might have been minutes, or far less, but when he blinked up at McCoy, he looked a little closer to himself again. “I heard you, Doctor.” Shaky sigh. “I believe… I can manage now. Thank you. Though I am wondering… what, exactly, would you have had me fight?”

McCoy frowned, sagging back on his heels. Was Spock doing that thing where he was laughing at him without moving a muscle? But this didn’t feel very much like that. He picked up the abandoned tricorder and started running it across Spock’s side. “Forget about it, Spock,” he muttered. “It’s just, ah… For a few seconds there, it looked like you were losing…”

“Control?” Spock said. He was looking up at McCoy with a puzzled expression, as if trying to solve some fascinating scientific mystery. “You are referring to my crying out." Spock sounded frighteningly rational for someone who’d been weeping in agony all of five minutes ago. “Simple logic, Doctor. Why would I expend energy on attempting to be silent, or even to hold back tears, when said energy is far better directed elsewhere?” He hesitated. “Unless, of course, it is you who find my reaction distasteful.”

“I’m a doctor,” McCoy snapped instinctively. “Good God, man, you think I find my patients distasteful?” But Spock’s voice had been small and none too steady, although a life-threatening injury would do that to a man. A voice in the back of his head told him to stop wasting time. Spock might be stable now, but that just meant he’d die if McCoy didn’t get him to the ship in two hours, instead of the two minutes that it had been before. But he was feeling more than a little light-headed himself, and his focus slipped the moment Spock cleared his throat.

“Not all your patients, clearly. And I would not presume to comment on your bedside manner.” The tone of Spock’s voice suggested he was about to do exactly that. “But…” Spock shifted position, then gasped, his eyes squeezing shut. McCoy stopped his hand inches away from Spock’s face, pulling back a fraction of a second before Spock blinked up at him. “Doctor,” he said weakly. “Why does my loss of control unnerve you so? You often berate me for my so-called lack of emotions… but when I do express them, it seems it is you who are incapable of bearing it.”

“You sound like my ex-wife.” That was out before he realized. But the moment he said it, he knew it was true. What was it that Jocelyn used to tell him? That he expended all his energy on his patients, then ran out of empathy with the people who loved him most? She’d been both right and utterly wrong. With his patients, empathy came naturally to him, but only because he could afford it. A wife, though, or a little girl… Knowing they were just as fragile, just as likely to end up broken as any patient he came across - that thought had been a lot harder to bear. And so he’d kept them at arm’s length, buried himself in his work and pretended everything would be just dandy, even when things were already falling apart. Which was why she'd left him.

He'd been trying to do better, and he thought he had. Serving with Jim Kirk, who wore his heart on his sleeve… How could he have given less than his all to Jim, or stopped him from getting under his skin? So he'd become the caregiver, the confidante, and Jim had never given him cause to regret it. Spock, though… Spock was something else.

It wasn’t just that he was Vulcan. That made him an easy target, yes, but it didn’t even begin to explain the rest. Part of it was knowing how far Spock had come. Farther than him, some might say, and maybe that was exactly where it had gone wrong. The thought that a Vulcan, who happened to be his friend, would be more at ease with being vulnerable than he was… What was the old saying? As long as he could focus on the splinter in Spock’s eye…

“I just realized… nothing wrong with your eye, Spock,” he muttered. “Seems I just needed an excuse to keep from seeing the beam in my own.”

“I… beg your pardon?” Spock’s voice reached him from what sounded very far away. “Doctor?” Spock repeated. Then, “Leonard. Are you all right?”

The pain in his arm was a persistent throbbing, easy enough to ignore while he'd been working on Spock. But when he lifted a hand to inspect it, he found that it was slick with blood.

“Doctor, the blood. Is it yours?” If he didn't know better, he'd say there was actual panic in Spock’s voice. McCoy started to shrug it off, meaning to say he was doing just fine; then the ground slid out from under him, and he found he couldn’t say a damn thing anymore.

He came to with a jolt, cheek mashed against a piece of tattered fabric that he realized, too late, covered Spock’s injured side. He started to push himself up, but flopped back onto his belly when his vision blurred.

“You seem to have lost a great deal of blood.” Spock sounded ragged. McCoy cursed and tried to roll away from where he could jog Spock’s bruises further. “Doctor? We should attempt to stop the bleeding. We both need medical attention, but… I do not think I can walk far enough to where we can contact the Enterprise. It will have to be you.”

“Spock, I’m not leaving you here.” He finally managed to get to his hands and knees, only to have agony shoot through his bicep the instant he tried to put weight on it.

Something cool and metallic was pressed into his hand; a hypospray, he guessed. Spock must have got it from the medkit while he was out cold. “Use this, Doctor. It should help with the pain.”

McCoy scowled at the hypo; he was so dizzy he could barely make out the contents, but they looked plausible, at least. “God help me, Spock, if you somehow managed to load this with a sedative instead of a painkiller…”

“Then you may properly flog me the moment you are conscious again.” Had he imagined it, or did that sound almost affectionate? “But I believe I took the correct vial.”

The hiss of the hypo against his arm was reassuringly familiar, just like the tingle that spread down from the injection point. McCoy reached for the medkit, found a dose of tri-ox and shot himself with that, too. After tossing away the empty vials - yeah, sure, it was littering, but so would be leaving their bodies here if they died; if they didn’t, there would be plenty of time to clean up after themselves - he took a closer look at his injury. It looked bad, and for a couple minutes it must have bled profusely. But most of the blood was already congealing, and the flow had slowed to a trickle. He thought about the dermal regenerator, decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. They’d patch him up on the ship, if he could make it there. “Bleeding’s almost stopped. This looks worse than it is, Spock. I’ll be all right.” Now, if he could only get rid of that damned dizziness and the feeling of cotton having been stuffed into his brain. “How are you holding up?”

“The pain is manageable.” Spock’s forehead creased as he looked McCoy up and down. “But perhaps you should rest until the painkiller takes effect. I would prefer that you did not…” He gestured vaguely at his middle. “… pass out on this side of my abdomen again.”

McCoy snorted. “I see your point.” A few minutes of rest sounded like a goddamn dream. He considered crawling over to Spock’s other side, but decided against it. Better to wait until the tri-ox kicked in. In the end, he just lay down on the spot, head turned so he could keep an eye on Spock's breathing. In an impulse, he reached over and patted Spock’s arm.

“About earlier,” he said, realizing he still hadn’t answered Spock’s question - or at least not in a way the man could comprehend. “I don't find your loss of control distasteful. The opposite, maybe. There’s part of me that admires you for it. If a Vulcan can find the courage to express his emotions, including the tough ones… then I guess I got no excuse not to do the same.”  

Spock breathed out audibly. “Doctor, I had no idea -”

“I lost a family,” McCoy barged on, “because I didn’t have the gall to tell them how terrified I was to see them hurt - to have them whisked away by some freak accident or disease, or even worse, through something I caused myself. And now I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. Joanna, maybe, but Jocelyn doesn’t want me near her, and who am I to tell her she’s wrong? I used to think I had it coming. That I did it to myself. I never thought I’d find another…” He swallowed. “… family, out here. The risks we take each day, you and Jim and Uhura and Scotty and - I could lose any of you, any time, and I don’t know what I'd do if…” He covered his face, mortified to feel his eyes burning. The effort made everything start spinning again. God. His head…

“The vertigo should pass in a moment. Try to breathe slowly.” There was a movement at his side: Spock, reaching for his wrist to feel his pulse.

“Huh. Your bedside manner isn’t half bad, Spock.” The words came out muffled against Spock’s arm.

Spock’s hand on his wrist was strangely comforting, and for some reason, he didn’t seem about to let go. “Doctor… we may not be related by blood, but you should know that I, too, consider you family. I would not hesitate to lay down my life for yours. Not merely because I owe you, but because I can think of few people who deserve it more. For you to believe you are undeserving of such loyalty…” Long pause. “I do not think I find that acceptable.”

“You don’t find -” Oh, no, no, no… Dear god, and there came the waterworks. A sob tore at his chest and he fought, futilely, to gulp it back down. “Fuck.” He pressed his good hand against his mouth. I’m sorry. I - I don’t -”

Spock’s hand tightened on his wrist. “Leonard. It’s all right.” There was no way in hell a Vulcan could ever sound that gentle, but somehow Spock pulled it off. “There is no need to fight it. Not for my sake.”

McCoy was lucid enough to realize all of this was just a reaction to the blood loss and drugs, but not quite so lucid, it seemed, to be able to make the tears stop. At some point, hiding his face against Spock’s sleeve actually turned into him burying his head into Spock’s shoulder; but Spock didn’t resist the half-embrace, nor did he comment on the moist stain on his tunic when McCoy finally let go.

When his head cleared, he sorted through their belongings, packing what he needed before he could head out: water, emergency gear, his medkit. He still felt shaky, but the prospect of a march across the desert no longer seemed impossible - just unappealing as hell. That was progress, he guessed. And Spock was right: it wasn’t as if they had a better option.

Spock was observing him silently, not looking judgmental so much as… protective? As he stood, McCoy forced himself to meet Spock’s eyes.

“Did you tell the Captain?” Spock said, watching him hoist his pack onto his good shoulder. “About losing a family, and… finding one?”

“Jim knows.” Of course he did. The crew was Jim's real family as much as it was McCoy’s. “At least I think he does. I, uh, never actually told him.”

“Then perhaps…” Spock inclined his head. “You should consider doing so.”

McCoy swallowed. “Yeah. Maybe I should.”

He started his weary trek towards rescue with Spock's words still churning through his head. The tri-ox was starting to wear off, and his chest was burning, but he still moved, doggedly putting one foot in front of the other. How he made it across four - or three-point-three, which Spock would have pointed out wasn’t nearly four, but screw that - kilometers across the washed-out road, God only knew. But he finally saw the marker they’d left to indicate the edge of the mineral deposits, and, not far beyond it, his communicator chirped.

He just managed to croak: “Emergency, one to beam up…” when his legs gave out and he hit the ground face-first.

 *

The first thing - no, strike that. The second thing he saw after he came around was Jim’s face hovering over him, close enough that McCoy could see the capillaries in his eyes. The third was Spock lying on the next bed over, entirely conscious and, apart from a bandage wrapped around his waist, not even looking much the worse for wear.

The first thing he’d seen was the ceiling of his medbay: bright, white, and meticulously clean, and although he rarely got to look at it from this vantage point, it was still one of the most comforting sights in his life.

Jim grinned down at him, the relief in his face making him look years younger. McCoy realized, with a jolt, how good it felt to be on the receiving end of that kind of scrutiny for once. “Physician, heal thyself; is that what I’m supposed to tell you, Bones?”

McCoy started to give him the finger, only to realize his hand had been bandaged along with his arm. In an impulse, he winked at Spock, then said, “You know I love you, right, Jim?”

Just the expression on Jim’s face made that worth it. Settling back, McCoy watched him throw Spock a look that clearly asked ‘delirious?’, which Spock replied to with a raised eyebrow and a shrug.

“Sure, Bones. I know.” Jim’s voice had that peculiar, high-pitched quality that meant he was trying to humor him. Not that McCoy particularly minded it. “I, uh... love you too?”

“Damn right you do,” McCoy said, smirking up at the ceiling and pointedly not looking at the other bed. He was sure Spock could tell that it wasn’t just Jim he meant.

 

*