Chapter 1: Chapter One
The hardest thing of all, after returning with Jim, Scotty, and Uhura from the other universe—from that warped, funhouse-mirror version of his home and his friends, of every ethical and moral code to which he had ever devoted himself—wasn't facing Spock again. He'd expected it to be, but two brief, almost inconsequential encounters had proven that his friendship (yes, he was willing to admit it as long as no one else was listening) with the first officer wasn't in jeopardy. Spock and his counterpart in the other universe were just too different, no matter what Jim seemed to think. (Where the captain had gotten that idea was an entirely different puzzle, one that he had pondered briefly and then deliberately put aside. He suspected that any strong similarity that Kirk had seen—thought he saw—was more wistful self-delusion than anything based in reality, but he didn't want to take the chance of convincing himself otherwise, not after … Well.) In any case, their Spock, all sharp curiosity and personal space and infuriating Vulcan logic, was nothing like him—facial features beneath that ridiculous goatee aside. Even semi-stunned as it was for those first few days, McCoy’s mind had no trouble distinguishing between the two.
It wasn't sleeping—which he'd thought might come in a close second. He'd had a few restless nights, sure, slept with the lights on for about a week to drive away that sense of someone else in the room with him. Within a few days, though, he'd lost the overwhelming sense of being followed everywhere he went—of never being quite alone—and after that faded, he'd found that his sleep cycle settled back to normal. There were never any nightmares, even in the immediate aftermath. He didn't know why, but he was grateful.
It wasn't even reporting the incident. He'd never really expected that to be a problem anyway. Jim hated reading reports, and as the captain had been present in the other universe and would assume that anything of significance had been verbally reported to him at the time, there was every reason to suspect that he wouldn't comb the reports very thoroughly. Spock didn't really do Kirk's reports along with his own, no matter what ship rumor indicated—even Spock didn't have time for that amount of paperwork—and so there was no reason to worry that the first officer's careful eye would pick up any vagueness or inconsistencies. A carefully worded phrase or two regarding the 'sickbay incident', as he had started to think of it—no lies outright, but circular phrasing enough that even Spock and his finely-honed sense of Vulcan misdirection would have been proud—and he was home free. When his copy of the electronically signed report appeared on his personal monitor, without comment or addendum, he wasn't certain whether to be disappointed or relieved.
No. The hardest part was the memories of that other universe—not his own, but the other Spock's. A remembered lifetime of cold calculation, of ruthless scheming, of everyday distrust and casual bloodshed seemed to have bound itself into and throughout his own thoughts, ready and even anxious to assert itself at the slightest opportunity.
It was confusing, and exhausting, and horrifying.
The first time was three days after they had returned, and it took him completely by surprise. McCoy remembered the place (Conference Room 1) and the circumstances (a minor disagreement with Scotty over power priority for the upcoming mission) like they had been branded to his brain. He, the captain, and Spock were listening to Scott's reasoning for Engineering priority, given the possibility of gravitational fluctuations in the upcoming regions of space. McCoy himself had already stated his case, and was somewhat irritated that Jim seemed to be leaning toward Scotty's argument. He was opening his mouth to add an additional counter-argument when a surge of cold rage nearly buckled his knees, accompanied by a flash of memory—hands gripping an officer from behind, the quick jerk of a knife, the spray of blood from a severed carotid.
It was no officer he'd ever known, though, and certainly nothing he'd ever done.
The shocked fear nearly drowned him. The memory faded, left him speechless and nauseated. He swallowed whatever he had been about to say—he couldn't even remember, and it suddenly didn't seem important anymore—made some excuse, and fled the meeting. He caught the odd look that Jim sent after him, but McCoy managed to get a grip before the next time they met. If the captain remembered the incident at all, he must have assumed it was over. Whatever it was.
The memory repeated twice by the time he reached his office, and possibly fifteen times total by the time he went to bed for the night. Just what was happening? And how did he make it stop? Repetition eventually brought recognition, though—it was the other universe he was seeing, and the hands … yes, the long, thin fingers certainly belonged to the other Spock.
This was his, then. His assassination, his memory.
Now McCoy's, as well.
He was repulsed, and he wondered if he was going crazy.
Weeks passed, and the memories continued. At times, they were uncommon and distant—two on one day, one the next. At times, it was if a holovid was skipping on the same five-second scene over and over. At times, specific emotions triggered them—irritation or anger or even, heaven help him, simple contentment. At times, the replay in his head seemed entirely independent of anything he did or felt. At times the memory changed—the other Kyle going down beneath an agonizer, an officer shrieking in the booth, another assassination, blood spattering the corridor walls—but mostly the first one remained, clear and stark, as shocking and terrifying each time as it had been the first.
At times, he had to remind himself that they were not his own.
Maybe he really was going crazy.
He fought the images. The memories. He tried pushing them back down where they came from. He tried thinking of other things. He talked to himself over the top of them—inside his head, of course, there was no need for everyone else to wonder if he was going insane, too. He hummed over them. When they were particularly strong, he dug his fingernails into his palms, and the physical pain grounded him. He gave himself routine doses of the strongest non-addictive anti-anxiety agent in sickbay, and made sure that no one else had access to his file.
None of it seemed to make any difference.
His work wasn't affected, thankfully. He could still think—could still plan, consult, diagnose, operate. Laugh. Argue. Drink a brandy with Jim in the evening. Maybe he had to concentrate a little harder, but overall … everything continued on the outside exactly as it had before, and no one noticed a thing. He was angry with them sometimes for that, but the anger was ridiculous, given how hard he worked to hide it. As much as he might want his friends to see that he needed help, he couldn't afford for anyone to find out.
What if he was crazy? He would have to leave the Enterprise—his friends, his job. His life.
No, he couldn't risk it.
He spent hours researching mind melds and telepathic attacks. There was little information to be found on the first, and plenty on the second. None regarding the two combined—apparently either Vulcans didn't telepathically attack others in this universe, or such attacks were well hidden. Given what he knew about Spock and about Vulcans in general, he suspected the first and was grateful for it. He wouldn't wish this on anyone—whatever this was. It meant he was still in the dark, though, because none of his research found any paper or site that even hinted at follow-up symptoms like his.
He was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, with no end to any of it in sight.
Maybe that was why McCoy found himself outside of Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda's quarters the evening before the Enterprise reached the neutral planetoid Babel to deliver its load of delegates for the Coridan admission vote. He was out of other options, and he was desperate, and he was tired. So tired. He had come to know Amanda as her husband recuperated in sickbay. Spock's mother was a compassionate, discreet, highly intelligent woman. She was also a human who had lived among Vulcans in a very intimate manner for a good portion of her life. Surely if anyone would be able to speak of the usual follow-up effects to a mind meld, it would be she. McCoy was fairly certain by this point that his symptoms were not usual—but then again, his mind meld had not been, either. If he could feel his way through this, gain just an impression, from a human perspective, of how melding was supposed to be, maybe he would have some new direction or lead to follow.
Amanda opened the door herself, instead of simply calling for him to enter. Her smile lit her face when she saw him, and he wondered again how such a vivacious woman ever managed to fall in love with a Vulcan. The Lady Amanda was truly a wonder, and a woman to be reckoned with.
She motioned him inside. "Doctor! Come in! I'm afraid that Sarek isn't here, he hasn't returned from his nightly meditation yet, but I expect him before too much longer."
McCoy entered, pushing away the nerves that rolled his stomach and dried his mouth. "Actually, ma'am, I knew that the Ambassador would still be out. I, uh … I hoped that I might be able to talk with you for a few minutes. Confidentially."
She seemed surprised by that last addition, but didn't hesitate. "Of course, Doctor." Amanda gestured him toward the couch, moving toward the low table against the wall. "Would you like tea? I believe there's brandy here as well, although we haven't looked since our arrival." She flashed him a rueful smile. "As you know, Vulcans don't drink much alcohol, and I'm afraid I've lived on Vulcan for too long to still have much of a taste for it."
"No, thank you." McCoy forced a return smile, settling gingerly on the edge of the couch. The Lady Amanda sank into the desk chair.
"Very well. How can I be of assistance, Doctor?" For the first time, a shadow crossed her features. "Is this about Sarek's heart? I hope that—"
"No, ma'am," McCoy rushed to assure her. "Not at all. Your husband is perfectly healthy—more so than he's been in years, I'd say."
She pressed a hand to her own heart, smiling again. "I'm relieved. I can't tell you how difficult the last few days have been." Amanda shook her head. "It's so hard to fret about the ones you love when they insist upon being staunch and logical even from their sickbeds." She snorted softly, a wry, delicate noise, then laughed and refocused her attention. "But, one can't expect anything else, I suppose, from marrying a Vulcan and raising a Vulcan son. Now. What brings you here this evening, Doctor? You've been so much help to us since we boarded, I confess I'm anxious to help you in any way I can."
McCoy hesitated. Once he opened his mouth, there was no turning back. He looked into her expectant gaze and took a long breath. "I've been doing research on the after-effects of mind melds in non-telepathic species. Humans, specifically." All right, that was all true. So far, so good. "I wondered if you had ever participated in a meld, and if so, you might be at liberty to give me your impressions of the days after—if you noticed any residual effects, or if everything seemed to just go on as usual after the meld ended."
"Hmm." Amanda sat back. His request was obviously a surprise, but she didn't appear offended or reluctant. "How interesting. You have need of this research on the Enterprise? I suppose, as all the various species mix more and more …"
Her voice trailed off, and she smiled wryly. Remembering the fighting and general chaos that had dominated the Enterprise over the past days, McCoy couldn't help a faint chuckle himself. The intermingling of so many different species was nothing if not an adventure ...
He returned his mind to the topic at hand. Now was the time for caution. "We've had use for mind melds in our own missions, a time or two. I've never seen any ill effects, but there's not much in the literature, and I prefer to have a baseline of knowledge if this is going to be something that we're going to be seeing. Not everyone reacts the same way to drugs, or allergens, or different environments. I'm trying to get a handle on whether people might react differently to mind melds, and what those different reactions might entail." He was deep into a lie now, despite that the individual words were all technically true. McCoy felt a stirring of remorse, but pushed it away. He didn't have any other options.
"Yes, I see. Quite wise." Amanda's brow wrinkled as she thought. "I have participated in three melds during my time on Vulcan—two with my husband and one with a Vulcan healer. I can't say that I remember experiencing any after-effects." She hesitated, thinking again, and then shook her head and shrugged. "No, nothing residual at all, to my memory." Amanda smiled, sitting forward again. "Vulcans are most meticulous in such matters, Doctor, especially when non-telepathic races are involved. Spock, indeed, was always even more careful than most." She laughed, a soft, sad sound. "In everything that he attempted, poor child." The sadness fled, and she grinned suddenly. "I assume, of course, your mind melds here involved him." McCoy didn't bother to answer, as she didn't really require a response. Spock was, after all, the only Vulcan posted to the Enterprise. "You need not worry that he will not take scrupulous care of any mind in his charge, Doctor."
Wasn't your Spock, though. "No, I was never worried about that," McCoy answered her truthfully. Her information confirmed his own suspicions, but didn't really help him any. He felt his way out onto a limb. "Have you ever heard tell of any human who did experience residual effects? Repetitive memories from the meld, maybe, or from the Vulcan who performed the meld?"
Her eyebrow lifted, an uncanny reflection of her son. "Memory transfer? No, I …" Amanda paused and frowned, obviously searching her own memories. "No, I can't say that I've ever heard of such a thing." She tilted her head. "Have you had someone experience this, or seen mention of it in your research?"
"I …" How to answer without giving himself away? "I believe so, during a mission several months back. There seemed to be … what I guess you could describe as residual, repetitive memories from the Vulcan who initiated the meld." McCoy tried to push away the disappointment, and the flash of blood spattering against the corridor wall, and the surge of fear that came with it. "There isn't anything that I can find in the literature, though, and I wondered if someone with experience might know more."
"Not I." She shook her head. "But, you should speak with my husband, Doctor. He is far more conversant on this topic than I am. If anyone would be able to help you, it would be Sarek."
That was the last thing he wanted, to drag the Ambassador into this. "No thank you, ma'am." McCoy stood, and Amanda rose with him. "There's no need to bother Ambassador Sarek with this, he's got more than enough on his plate right now." He drifted toward the door. "Thank you for your time, Lady Amanda, I won't take up any more of it. I—"
"Doctor!" Amanda followed. "I'm certain my husband wouldn't mind, especially if it can aid in your research. He'll return very shortly. Surely we could at least ask whether he—"
"No, it's all right." McCoy turned back to the Lady Amanda, took her hands in his, and squeezed them. "Again, thank you. It's been a pleasure to—"
"Ask me what?" The dry voice sounded from the doorway behind him. Amanda looked over his shoulder, and McCoy whirled around, his heart thumping. He hadn't noticed the door open. Obviously, however, Ambassador Sarek had heard something of their conversation even from the hallway.
He'd have to remember those sharp Vulcan ears, the next time he decided to talk outside of Spock's door.
"Sarek!" Amanda moved around him and took her husband's arm, drawing the Ambassador into the room. "Dr. McCoy came with some questions regarding—" She broke off suddenly and looked back, obviously remembering the 'confidential' part of McCoy's request.
It was difficult to say no now, though—not without implicating himself. McCoy hesitated, then nodded slowly. He would just have to be careful in his wording, keep things short, and take his leave as soon as possible. He looked back to Sarek, and found the Ambassador's dark eyes on him.
"Sarek." Given permission, Amanda launched into an explanation. Sarek returned his attention to his wife. "Dr. McCoy has been doing research regarding the residual effects of mind melds on non-telepathic species—humans in particular. He came to ask about my experiences regarding mind melds, given my time on Vulcan, and I'm afraid that we've run into a bit of a puzzle. I suggested that you might be able to help better than I."
"A puzzle, my wife?" Sarek looked back to McCoy. "What puzzle is this?"
"Residual repetitive memories from the Vulcan who initiated the meld." Amanda shook her head. "I told him that I'd never heard of such a thing, but Dr. McCoy indicated that he'd seen such a response after a meld several months ago. I didn't know what to tell him, I suggested that you might have more knowledge of such a thing—whether this type of effect had ever been reported."
The dark Vulcan eyes narrowed, and McCoy stepped back against their sudden weight. Sarek was silent for a long moment, and even Amanda seemed confused. "Sarek?" She looked from her husband to McCoy, and back again. "Is there something that—"
"Doctor." Sarek's cultured voice was tight. "I'm afraid that I must question you regarding the circumstances of this particular meld."
Sarek knew something. Blast. McCoy took another step back, wondering how to control the situation. The best defense, he supposed, was a good offense … "I'm afraid I can't discuss it, Ambassador. The matter is confidential, a doctor-patient privilege."
"And yet, you discussed it with my wife."
Real irritation stirred, and he seized it gratefully. "Not details! I would never discuss—"
"Indeed, he didn't, Sarek." Amanda frowned. "He gave me no specific information."
"Look." McCoy circled around them both, headed for the door and safety. "I didn't come here to take up your time, Ambassador, and this really isn't crucial. I'll do some more—"
"Dr. McCoy." Sarek's brittle voice brought him up short. When the Ambassador spoke again, McCoy was glad that he had remained facing the door. "The effects that you describe have been reported only very rarely on Vulcan, and only in association with a non-consensual mind meld." Amanda's sharp intake of breath mingled with her husband's next words. "This is a grave crime among my people, and so I must ask again, despite your doctor-patient privilege, for details regarding the meld in question."
McCoy took a long, silent breath, and didn't turn around.
The silence was heavy, a tangible weight.
"Doctor." Sarek's robes rustled, but he didn't approach. "If such a meld has occurred, the Vulcan Council must know the identity of the perpetrator. He or she must be removed from—"
"It doesn't matter." McCoy bit off the words, battling both the sudden, unreasoning fear and the flood of the other Spock's memories into his mind. "He's not … it's a long story, but it was a … a universal transposition." It was classified information, but at this point he didn't much care. "We were in a different universe, a kind of a violent mirror to our own. He won't … he's still there. He won't be bothering anyone here." The last thing he wanted was to tell them that the perpetrator had been Spock. Their son.
But, not their son. Not really.
Another long silence, and then Sarek did circle around to face him. "We, Doctor?"
"Blast it." McCoy passed a defeated hand over his face, and looked away.
He was so tired.
Sarek's voice was weary. "Doctor, please be seated. We have much to discuss."
There was nothing to say—no protest in the face of Sarek's knowledge. McCoy followed the Ambassador back into the room and dropped heavily onto the couch, burying his face in his hands. Amanda sat primly on the opposite end of the sofa, her face alight with horror and compassion, and Sarek took the desk chair. He sat silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts before he spoke.
"Dr. McCoy. Before anything else is said, I must know—how is it that my son has not provided these answers for you, and appropriate exercises to manage the aftermath?" Manage the aftermath. The words swam in his mind, taunting and inviting. "He is your colleague—your direct superior, I believe—and is well-versed in both the history and the techniques of mind melding. I find it illogical that he would not—"
"Spock doesn't know," McCoy sighed, and it didn't matter for the moment that he was interrupting the Vulcan Ambassador. "I never told him."
Sarek tilted his head, and for an instant he looked so much like Spock that McCoy was forced to choke back a laugh. "When your report was made known, however …" He trailed off as McCoy shook his head, and then straightened, understanding. "You concealed the incident?"
Concealed. Yes, he supposed that was what he had done.
The Lady Amanda's silent compassion was soothing. Safe. Sarek's dark eyes pinned him again. "For what purpose? As a physician, you understand the need for transparency in regard to such occurrences."
"I don't …" McCoy trailed off, as he really considered the Ambassador's words. "I don't know why," he finally admitted, quietly. "I don't … it was my own stupid fault I was alone with him in the first place. Maybe I was just embarrassed at what I'd gotten myself into."
Sarek frowned, minutely. "Doctor, you cannot accept responsibility for—"
"I know. But I guess …" Even now the memory made him shudder, and brought with it an encroaching darkness. "Maybe I just didn't want to talk about it at all."
"Indeed." Sarek nodded, absently. Amanda slid closer to McCoy, and after a brief hesitation, placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. McCoy looked around quickly, smiling his thanks into her questioning eyes. Despite his fears, it was such a relief for someone to just know … Her hand tightened. Sarek continued. "And after these … residual memories began to take hold?"
He laughed bitterly. "I thought maybe I was going crazy, and I didn't want …"
"I see." And McCoy got the feeling that he actually did. Sarek paused again, his dark eyes hooded. "Doctor, I will tell you what I am able. The residual memory effects of which you speak are, as I have indicated, associated only with forced mind melds, and only in non-telepathic races."
McCoy nodded. "I see."
"Additionally, it seems to be the case that the residual memories grow stronger the more strenuously the victim attempts to combat them. Paradoxically, it is only after they have been accepted, integrated, that they begin to fade. At least, this has been the case in the past. I have not personally—"
Something in the words, the description, sparked against the vast banks of medical knowledge stored in McCoy's mind. The physician in him tensed, triumphant. "Obsessive-compulsive disorder."
Sarek tilted his head, confused. "Pardon?"
Amanda, however, was already nodding her understanding. "It is a human condition, my husband. Not seen on Vulcan, or even often still on Earth."
"Obsessive-compulsive disorder." McCoy shook his head, swearing softly. "It's a condition that involves repetitive, unwanted thoughts. They're usually counter to the personality of the patient—violent thoughts in a primarily peaceful person, for example—and for that reason are extremely distressing. The harder you fight them, the stronger they can become. It's …" Relief flooded him. Having a name to put with it didn't fix anything, but even so … it gave him a sense of control that he had been sorely lacking. "It's not the same, of course—what I've been facing are outside, imposed memories, but it's possible that …" He shook his head. "An obsessive-compulsive-type syndrome. It makes sense." He squeezed his eyes shut, tightly. "That bastard." Irritation followed fast on the heels of understanding. "I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner. How I could have missed—"
"Doctor." Amanda's voice was soft. "You were telepathically injured, confused and alone. We seldom see our own infirmities clearly, no matter what our profession."
Hmm. She was absolutely correct. It was the reason that Starfleet prohibited its doctors from serving as their own physicians, except when no other was available. Or tried to, anyway. None of them much followed that rule, of course …
"I guess so." McCoy blew out another long breath, the anxiety returning. Obsessive-compulsive disorder—even a pseudo-version—was chronic, and difficult to treat. No laughing matter. "What do I …" He looked to Sarek. "I guess before I start planning out a treatment on my own, I should ask what methods they've used for … this situation in the past."
"It has been a two-fold process, and has proven satisfactory, according to records."
Satisfactory. It wasn't hugely encouraging, but even 'satisfactory' had to be better than what he had now.
Of course, 'satisfactory' could also mean anything, coming from the Ambassador.
"First …" Uncharacteristically, Sarek hesitated. Despite that his expression never changed, McCoy tensed. Somehow, he didn't think that he was going to like this. "The first step is a mind meld."
He was on his feet before Sarek's words had finished. Amanda rose with him, gripping his arm when he would have backed away. "Doctor, please …"
"Dr. McCoy." Sarek's tone was cool, as calm as ever. "I understand your reluctance, but I request that you hear me out." McCoy forced himself to a halt, and nodded despite the screaming, the panic in his brain. "Very good." Sarek rose, approaching slowly. "Mind melds must be both initiated and terminated using very specific telepathic steps, in order to avoid damage to the minds involved. In the case of a non-consensual meld, most often it has been the case that such steps were not properly followed. It is difficult to explain to one not versed in such methods, but this causes a … telepathic 'friction', which may in fact be the primary cause of the residual effect. When the perpetrator terminates the meld improperly, the 'friction' may trap alien memories within the victim's mind."
All right. It made sense, in a crazy, Vulcan sort of way. McCoy nodded for the Ambassador to continue. Amanda's cool hand rested firmly on his arm, grounding him.
"The purpose of this new meld is to disperse this effect, returning the damaged mind to its original state."
Hope kindled, briefly. "And, this will disperse his memories, as well?"
"It will not." The tiny flicker of hope died. "By this point, the memories are no longer completely alien. They have become a part of your own mind."
"But I don't want them!" McCoy snarled, then snapped his mouth shut. Blast, blast. He couldn't lose it here, not in front of the Vulcan Ambassador …
Amanda pressed his elbow, gently. Sarek nodded. "I understand your frustration, Doctor. However, you have seen these memories. You know them now. They cannot be simply removed, and they will not be easily forgotten."
"Right." McCoy looked down, fighting the bitter disappointment. "You said two steps? What is the second?"
"Structured meditation, to help the mind accept and properly process the alien memories. Once that occurs, the residual memories have, in most instances, faded into the subconscious, and although they do continue to reappear, they do so far less frequently."
Meditation. Of course. Couldn't ask a Vulcan for help and get around that. "All right, then." He took a long breath. It was stupid to be as nervous about the cure as he was about the problem. "How do I …" He hesitated. It seemed like asking a lot, from this particular Vulcan. "Is this something you're willing to show me? I'm not normally very good at—"
"I am more than willing to perform the meld, Doctor, and with your permission, will do so before you leave tonight. It is a simple procedure, requiring only minutes. I suggest that we approach my son regarding the meditations, however. I realize that—"
"Wait a minute." McCoy's heart sank. That meant explanations, and apologies, and uncomfortable discussions. Besides, meditating with Spock sounded like a recipe for disaster… "I don't know about—"
Sarek's expression was severe. "Doctor, I understand that it may be uncomfortable to do so, given that you have previously concealed this assault from him." Assault. Not incident. McCoy's mind shied away from the word, true as it was. "However, I must insist that it now be reported—both for your sake, and for that of the Enterprise and her crew. It is not—"
Crap. "I understand, Ambassador." McCoy looked away. This was it, then. There was no putting it off, no hiding it anymore. Jim would know, Spock would know—both what had happened, and that he had kept it from them. And if someone up the line decided that he was no longer able to function in his current role, he would—
"Doctor." Sarek reclaimed his attention. "Although the situation which you now face is rare, the success rate of this treatment in cases of record has been more than satisfactory. There is no reason to expect that it will be necessary to remove you from your position." McCoy raised an eyebrow, a little surprised that Sarek had so quickly caught on to his concern. One of Sarek's own eyebrows crept up. "However, if you do find this question raised, I will expect to be notified. I shall … handle the situation."
Well. That was promising, at least. The Vulcan Ambassador was willing to go to bat for him. The tension began to fade. Not many could stand up to Sarek for long. McCoy looked down at Spock's mother, who smiled, encouraging.
"Dr. McCoy, I know that Spock will be anxious to assist you. I have seen over the past days that he—"
"My wife." Sarek's voice was dry. "Spock is Vulcan. He will be anxious to do nothing. However, he—"
Amanda shook her head, an exasperated smile playing around the corners of her mouth. "Of course, my husband." She tugged at McCoy’s arm. "Come, Doctor. Please, sit down. Let my husband help you."
He sighed, and let her lead him back to the couch, and sank down on the cushions. Sarek came to sit opposite him, pushing back the wide sleeves of his robe. McCoy's heart rate rose as the long, dry fingers settled onto the meld points. The touch was light, impersonal.
Nothing like the last time …
"Doctor." Sarek's voice was dry. "You will be required to breathe."
Breathe. Right. McCoy released a long breath, and took in another. Sarek held his gaze for a moment, cool and somehow reassuring, then closed his eyes. McCoy followed suit, sinking into the meld.
Chapter 2: Interlude - Meld
He had been two before, once. It had been different that time—painful, and frightening. Humiliating. He had been completely without control, then. He had been unimportant—nearly nonexistent—dragged along through a lightening tour of a thousand memories only because his presence was necessary. Because it was his mind that they inhabited, his thoughts that were his other self's focus.
He had felt the raw, burning static spread around them, clinging and sticking to everything they passed. It wrapped around him, as well, until his nerves screamed and his mind pounded, throbbing in time with his heartbeat. It burned hotter, grew thicker the faster they moved, the more they searched, and even though his other self eventually released him, the fire never quite had.
He didn't notice it anymore, once he had become only one again, but at times he felt … odd, and couldn't remember exactly why.
He remembered now, though—now that he was two again. The burning was fresh, and sharp. Overwhelming. It surprised him, like a muscle that he hadn't known was sore until using it. It distracted him, so much so that he almost didn't notice the silent presence beside him. With him. Around him.
His other self stirred, gently.
The fear, the humiliation surged, and he tried to separate. Tried to pull away, to make himself smaller.
To protect himself, somehow, at least in some measure.
It wasn't necessary this time, though. His other self was calm, and quiet. Gentle. Not like last time, not rough and sharp and careless. This time his other self waited (to become acclimated? To give him time to acclimate?) and somehow he knew that he was an equal. Not a shadow of his other self, but half of a whole.
Two, but himself, and free.
Not like last time.
A sluggish memory surfaced, although it was … not quite right. The faces were … wrong, the places … off. He tried to move away from it, to replace it with people he knew, places that felt right, but his other self held firm. Testing, examining. For the first time, he felt trapped.
His other self released the peculiar memory, and released all control to him.
The fear receded.
His other self stirred again, and another memory drifted close—himself, in a guest room with a human woman and a Vulcan male, the reassuring pressure of the woman's hand on his arm. Exhaustion, helplessness. Hopelessness.
The promise of release.
He understood, suddenly. Remembered. And he released control back to his other self, before he could change his mind.
His other self moved slowly, backwards from that moment and that promise, and although he knew that the memories were coming from him—that somehow he was providing them, although he wasn't conscious of doing so and he couldn't have said how—he also knew that his other self was directing their slow progress. Following, somehow, the raw, numb trail that wound throughout everything that he now was and now knew, gently coaxing forth the familiar, weary pain from all the creases and hidden places in his mind.
He was wary of disturbing it all, of playing with fire, but only at first. As the pain, the raw burning, rose to the conscious surface, his other self overtook it, engulfed it, leaving behind a cool, dizzy emptiness.
Already, it was easier for him to breathe.
The going was slow, to start out. So much was involved, nearly everything of what he was. He might have been embarrassed, to be laid so open before another … but, then again, it was not another. Not exactly. In any case, the relief was such that he didn't care, that he gladly traded his pride and his walls for peace.
The memories grew strange again. A transporter room—familiar but not. His captain, his shipmates—familiar, but not. The face behind the transporter controls—familiar, and yet decidedly not …
Fear stirred, sluggishly.
His other self balked, momentarily.
He was too close, though, his momentum too great. He couldn't stop, and he didn't want to. He only wanted it over. The memories continued—to a sickbay that was familiar but not his own, to the smooth flat cool of a wall at his back, to the pressing force of fingers at his face. To the familiar features, at odds with an unfamiliar dark beard and unfamiliar burning eyes, hovering close to his own …
His other self recoiled.
A flood of unfamiliar memories overtook him, memories that were not his—and yet they were. He was two, and they belonged to his other self.
Spock. Spock as he knew him. Spock as his other self knew him. Spock as he greeted his parents near the shuttle bay. Spock as he stepped onto the transport that would take him to Starfleet Academy, away from Vulcan. Spock as he refused admission to the Vulcan Science Academy. Spock as he …
No. No. His other self was wrong. Confused. Had not had the time or opportunity to process it, as he had. Their Spock was not this Spock. Perhaps they shared features, perhaps they shared a name, but there was nothing else similar about them. They shared nothing.
No matter what Jim thought.
His other self heard. Of course. Felt his protest.
Engulfed the memory, numbed it, followed him into the other memories—the ones from before. The ones that the other Spock, the one who was not theirs, had viewed. Had studied. Had taken. The ones of himself, the captain, Uhura, and Scotty onboard the ISS Enterprise. The ones of his own Enterprise, glistening and peaceful and safe. The ones of their own Spock—of the anger, the fighting, the collaboration, the humor. The affection. The friendship. The trust.
He opened himself fully, so that his other self could see, could understand what he already knew, and why he knew it. Why he had always known, without convincing.
Their Spock was not that Spock.
His other self calmed.
Yes. It was, of course, logical.
His other self was cool, and quiet, and … distant.
The burning was no more—the raw numbness faded to a dull ache which would pass, given only a little time.
Now that the pain was gone, he was amazed that he could have ever become accustomed to it. Its absence made him lightheaded. Unsteady.
His other self retreated.
Where before he had been two, he was once again only one.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
McCoy walked the corridors of the Enterprise with Sarek, matching the Ambassador's silence and his stride, contemplating the ways in which he'd screwed this thing up.
They were almost too many to count.
First, he should have reported the incident the minute that they had all transported … No. That wasn't even the first thing. First, he never should have put himself in a position to be alone with the other Spock. It violated all their Starfleet training regarding hostile forces, hostage situations, and enemy lines. They had been alone, in dangerous surroundings and on a tight time schedule. He should have gone along with the others to the transporter room, or at the very least insisted that Scotty or Uhura stay until he was finished with his impromptu first aid. Come to it, what had any of them been thinking, splitting up three to one at that point? They were all idiots, every one of them.
Second … yes, he should have reported the assault immediately. Even now, though, knowing that very thing was coming at the end of this short walk, his mind shied away from it. Why? Why did he have such a hard time with the idea? Was he, as he had told Spock's parents, embarrassed by what had happened? It was the first thing that had popped out of his mouth, but after thinking it over for the space of the lift ride to the crew deck, that didn't seem right. It wasn't his fault—at least, no more than it was Jim's, or Scotty's, or Uhura's. (All idiots. Right.) What, then? Was it just plain awkwardness about how to bring it up? So, Jim, while you were off getting the transporter ready, Spock—the other Spock, you know, the one that you tried to convince to save their Enterprise, their Empire, and their known universe—backed me up against the wall and … Well, that was definitely going to make for an uncomfortable conversation, however it played out. Was it really that either, though? Could it be nothing to do with Jim, but a reluctance for Spock to know? Was all of this dragging his feet just a desire to keep the Vulcan unaware of the depths to which his counterpart in the other universe was willing to sink?
Maybe. Maybe it was all three. Maybe none of those had anything to do with anything. It was difficult to focus, at the moment. His mind was still … tender, almost, from the meld. Tentative, maybe. Blurry. Like a wound that itched and ached as it began to heal. Whatever the case, he wasn't going to find this answer now, on the way to Spock's quarters. He abandoned the attempt, and went back to his list.
Third, once the symptoms—the anxiety, the memories—had started, he should certainly have corrected his oversight (is that what he was calling it now?) and revised his report. Even if he hadn't gone to Jim, he should have at least talked to M'Benga, rather than just dosing himself day after day and hoping the combination of drugs and whatever else was going on wouldn't affect him. It hadn't, that he knew of … but there'd been no guarantee of that, especially at the beginning. Anything could have happened, and no one would have had the slightest idea how to pick up after him if something had gone wrong.
He'd been reckless and irresponsible, both with his own health and potentially with that of others.
Fourth, he shouldn't have gone to Amanda.
No, that wasn't right. He couldn't regret that. Maybe, he shouldn't have gone to Amanda so near the end of Sarek's meditation time, when there was a higher chance of being found out by the Ambassador.
Really, though … McCoy couldn't actually regret that, either. He was grateful for Sarek's expertise and clarity. He was glad that this private horror was finally not so private anymore. He was relieved beyond words to know that there was help for him—that even though complete remission may or may not be possible, there was at least no reason to live in fear, day in and day out. So, no … he didn't regret Sarek's interruption of what was supposed to be a private conversation. But his actions tonight, both those already taken and those he was about to take, would have consequences—not all positive, and not only for him.
What he did regret, more than anything, was that he had unintentionally placed Spock in the position of having to learn about the attack in Sarek's presence.
It was almost enough to make McCoy turn around and forget the whole thing. He had watched father and son during their recovery in sickbay. He had seen the awkward maneuvering, the careful attention to a new and somewhat uncomfortable truce. Oh, there had been a few light moments, but mostly when Amanda was in attendance. The atmosphere always changed drastically once the doors closed behind her. He had noticed Sarek's not-always-successful attempts to avoid open criticism. He had witnessed Spock's 'game face'—or, he supposed, 'Vulcan face.' Whatever McCoy called it, Spock had been at his Vulcan finest in sickbay, all logic and discussion and emotional void. It was a state which usually sparked McCoy's immediate ire, and yet … There was an underlying uncertainty here which he had never before associated with Spock. A desire to please—an anxiety, almost. It was a little sad, really, when compared with the brash assurance of the Spock who normally inhabited the Enterprise. Knowing what he did of Spock and Sarek's background, McCoy had forgone his usual gripes about the Vulcan vibes in his domain. He had given them space, and time, and hoped for the best.
And now, this. He hoped that Spock would forgive him, when it was all over.
McCoy had tried to steer things away from the confrontational approach. There were other, less abrupt ways to handle this. It seemed that 'less abrupt' and 'logical' were not necessarily compatible, though (blasted stubborn Vulcans) … and in any case, he had known Sarek's mind was made up from the second they left the meld. It was like arguing with Spock at his most stubborn—times five.
He had opened his eyes, and looked into Sarek's dark, carefully blank expression, and thought back to the Vulcan's distraught confusion within the meld. Judging by the Ambassador's appearance, it might all never have happened. Apparently, though, Sarek's face wasn't as completely unreadable as he thought. As the Vulcan lifted his fingers from McCoy's face and moved back, Amanda stepped forward, her hands clasped anxiously.
"Sarek, what is it? What's wrong?"
No. McCoy was surprised at the force of his reaction, at his desire to keep this from her. It was unfair, of course. Amanda was a strong, intelligent woman, and she was as much a part of this now as any of the rest of them. But … she was also Spock's mother. For the briefest instant, he wished that it wasn't necessary to tell her—both for her own sake, and for Spock's.
Sarek's voice was dry. "It is nothing, my wife. Only—"
"Don't you give me that, Sarek." Amanda's lips tightened, and she came to stand face to face with her husband. "I know nothing, and this is most certainly not it." Sarek turned his gaze away resolutely, to the back wall. Her eyes flashed, and she turned to McCoy. "Doctor …"
It was necessary, though. McCoy took a long breath, then slumped back into the couch. "Lady Amanda, the alternate universe that we—"
"Doctor McCoy." Sarek's voice was hard. "My wife does not—"
"Indeed, I do, Sarek." Amanda's brittle tone cowed even the Ambassador. McCoy would have been amused by the speed with which Sarek's eyes cut away, if the situation hadn't been what it was. "I am tired of you keeping secrets from me! First your heart, next what? I will not be coddled and tiptoed around. I am your wife, not your child." Sarek remained stone still. Amanda looked back to McCoy. "Please continue, Doctor." For the first time, she hesitated. "That is, if you're able. If it's not too much. I apologize, I'd nearly forgotten that—"
"I'm fine, ma'am. " It wasn't precisely true, but at the moment, the term worked as well as any other. McCoy rubbed at his jaw. "Do you remember how I said that the alternate universe was a … a kind of mirror of our own?" She nodded. "It was more than similar. It was … we were on this ship. The Enterprise. It existed there, too, in that other universe. It was almost exactly the same. Many of the same people were on board, too, especially within the command crew. The, uh …" he faltered. "The incident took place in sickbay, when we were almost ready to try for home. The, uh …" This was even harder than he had expected. "The other—"
"It was Spock, wasn't it?" McCoy looked up in time to see the blood drain from her face. Amanda put a hand to her mouth. "Spock did this …" McCoy and Sarek sprang off the couch together, and between them, lowered Amanda to a seat on the cushions. McCoy gripped her ice-cold hands.
McCoy rubbed her hands briskly between his. Sarek hovered on her other side, radiating something akin to anxiety for the first time since McCoy had met him. "It was not Spock, Lady Amanda." She looked up, quickly. "It was Spock's counterpart." Sarek's frown deepened, and McCoy forged on before the Ambassador could say something that he would only have to argue with. "He … it was Spock, but not our Spock." He squeezed Amanda's hands tightly. "Not your Spock." He met Sarek's eyes, daring him to disagree. "You saw. You saw him, and you saw my memories of your son. I couldn't have lied to you if I'd wanted to, not in the meld. Right?" Sarek shook his head, slowly. "Then you know I'm right."
"Indeed." Even in the face of that truth, Sarek's agreement was slow in coming. It surprised McCoy—the Ambassador's strict, no-nonsense persona during the course of his visit had given the impression that little things like confusion and doubt were beneath him. They were fine for lesser mortals, perhaps, but not the Ambassador of Vulcan. "It is … logical."
McCoy barely managed to keep from snorting aloud. A Vulcan—not only a Vulcan, but this Vulcan—calling him logical. Would wonders never cease.
"But to think …" Amanda's distress had clearly not eased. "To think that in any place Spock could ever be capable of …" She shook her head, firmly, and met his eyes. "No, I don't believe it."
"Good. You shouldn't." She blinked, startled. McCoy sighed. This thing was so complex. Even though he'd had months to work it out in his own mind, neither of Spock's parents had that benefit. It was no wonder that they were having trouble with this—both of them. Logically, even the most highly trained mind would take at least a few minutes to incorporate such a personal shock. "Look." He sat beside her, keeping her cold hands clasped in his. "The sickbay in that other universe … It was like mine in a lot of ways. There was even a burn mark on a table that I remember putting there, months ago. But, it was also a chamber of horrors. There were instruments that I didn't recognize, and didn't want to. There was blood on the edges of counters and tables. The staff was … they weren't just apathetic, they were cruel. That was the kind of place that my counterpart ran, but it had nothing to do with me. I don't know what kind of warped, twisted mind is locked inside of that man who shares my DNA, but that is not me, and could never in any circumstances be me."
Amanda shook her head, earnestly. "Of course not, Doctor." Her hands grasped and pressed his.
"Well then." He grinned sadly. "The same can be said for Spock, right?"
She gaped for a moment, then actually giggled, softly. "Of course you're right, Dr. McCoy. It is, as my husband says, most logical." Amanda shook her head impatiently. "Please forgive me, I quite lost my—"
"Nothin' to forgive, ma'am." McCoy withdrew himself from her grip, and stood. "I understand, believe me." He rubbed his hands briskly over his face, and blew out a long breath. "Now I just have to figure out when and how to break the news. Not looking forward to that." Anxiety stirred. He could feel the memories pressing on the back of his mind, half-formed and insistent. "It'll probably wait until the delegates are delivered tomorrow, now's not the best time to—"
"We will proceed immediately, Doctor."
Panic gripped him. A knife, the angle of an exposed throat. Blood, spattered across the shining wall. A surge of fear, and guilt. The pain of fingernails in his palm snapped him back into control. McCoy rubbed his fingers across the smooth surface as he unclenched his fist, grateful that he hadn't broken the skin. He shoved away a vague disappointment—even though Sarek had warned him that the mind meld wouldn't fix the memories, he had still clung to some faint hope that the Ambassador was wrong.
"Ambassador, with all due respect, I don't agree. It's the evening before an event of fairly widespread significance, as you're well aware. This isn't the time to be a distraction from—"
"You may, of course, inform your captain at a date of your choosing. I suspect you may need time to prepare an addendum or rebuttal to your original report." McCoy bit back a grumble. High-handed Vulcan dictates … "However," Sarek continued, "as I performed the healing meld, there is information that must be imparted to my son in order for him to be most effective in directing your meditative efforts. There will be little time tomorrow. Tonight is the only logical alternative."
Blast. McCoy scrambled for another solution—for any idea other than throwing this thing in Spock's face while his father watched, alert for any hint of un-Vulcan emotion or reaction …
"Why don't you give me a few minutes? Let me go talk to Spock, fill him in, and then I'll page you when we're ready to start covering that kind of detail."
He might badger Spock about his emotions—or lack thereof—but it was painful watching it from someone else, especially someone whose approval Spock so obviously craved.
"That is an inefficient use of time, Doctor."
Right. He just stopped himself from huffing a very overt display of frustration. Amanda rose from the couch. "Sarek, perhaps the doctor is right. Perhaps he should speak privately to Spock at first, to—"
"My wife, I have shared Dr. McCoy's mind. He can say nothing regarding this event of which I am not already aware."
Amanda's eyes flickered to him, and suddenly McCoy knew that her concern was the same as his. She, too, was worried about Spock's potential reaction, about his … feelings regarding the news.
Spock's feelings. Which Spock himself would tell them didn't exist.
That, of course, was a load of bull hockey, and apparently they both knew it.
Amanda pressed Sarek's arm. "My husband, this may be a shock to Spock, as it was to us. It may be wiser to—"
"I remind you again, my wife, that Spock is Vulcan. He will react as a Vulcan." Sarek moved gently away from her. "It should not and will not matter who may be present during this discussion."
Ha. That was hypocrisy, if he had ever heard it. "Ambassador, I—"
"Dr. McCoy." Sarek moved to the door, casting a glance back at both of them which effectively ended the conversation. "Are you prepared to proceed?"
McCoy ground his teeth. Amanda was clearly unhappy, but merely shook her head slightly when she saw him looking. He took another long breath, and refocused. "Lady Amanda, will you be joining us as well?" Please say no, please say no. The last thing Spock needed was the presence of both of his parents, but it seemed impolite not to include her. Thankfully, she shook her head.
"No, I will not." She leveled a displeased glance at her husband, who looked away. Ha. This isn't over, not by a long shot. "Spock does not need the added distraction, I think." Amanda hesitated, then reached out and pulled McCoy into a swift, gentle embrace. "I am so sorry that this has happened to you, Doctor, but I am glad that you came to us. I am so pleased that my family is able to help you."
He froze for a moment at the unexpected contact. In a professional environment such as the Enterprise this type of display was rare, and the last place he had expected a hug was from the Ambassador's wife—unless it was from the Ambassador himself, and the universe would implode before that happened. Aware of Sarek's eyes on them, McCoy returned the embrace tightly for a brief moment, taking comfort in the warm expression of support. "Thank you, Lady Amanda." His voice was husky.
"Indeed, Doctor." She returned his smile and his nod, then retired to the couch as McCoy and her husband entered the corridor.
Now, he and Sarek stood in front of Spock's doorway, and he had no more idea of how to go about this than he had when they left Sarek's guest quarters. McCoy flickered a glance toward Sarek, and found the Ambassador's eyes on him. He looked quickly away, pressing the door chime.
"Come," Spock called. McCoy took a quick, deep breath and entered, with Sarek on his heels.
Spock was sitting at his computer, but rose when he saw the identity of his visitors. He rounded the desk and halted before them, folding his hands precisely behind his back. "Father." He nodded to Sarek, then looked to McCoy. "Dr. McCoy. How may I be of service?"
So polite, so formal with Sarek in attendance. Blast. McCoy rubbed at his forehead, glancing at Sarek. Kyle went down screaming beneath the agonizer. Sarek returned his gaze impassively. Spock tilted his head, one eyebrow rising slightly.
"Is there some problem?" He focused on Sarek. "Your heart is well, is it not?"
"It is, my son."
Spock shifted, almost unnoticeably. An uncomfortable silence descended. McCoy silently cursed the Vulcan inability to small talk, then decided that the best way to go about this was to just get it over with. Sarek wasn't going to turn and walk out that door no matter how much he wanted it to happen.
"Spock, I …" Blood against the wall, the soft thud of a body dropping. Blast. His head and his heart were pounding in time. "I need to report a …" No. He shook his head. "I, ah, glossed over an issue of importance in a mission report a few months back. I'm here to correct that, and to place myself on report for concealing an assault."
There. It was out.
It was also not at all what Spock had been expecting. The first officer didn't so much as twitch, but McCoy had gotten pretty good at reading him by this point in the game. There was a definite aura of bemused surprise in the uplifted eyebrow. Spock glanced to his father, then back to McCoy.
"Indeed?" McCoy nodded, once. "Which mission, Doctor?"
"The, uh … the alternate universe."
Spock's eyebrow rose even higher. "The ISS Enterprise?" McCoy nodded again. "Explain." Spock drifted back toward his desk, and punched a command into the screen. "Computer, display report regarding experiences in the alternate universe and on that universe's corresponding Enterprise, author McCoy, Leonard H., Doctor." The computer requested a stardate, which Spock provided—and it was a good thing it was asking Spock and not him, because he could barely remember information like that from two weeks ago, much less months past. Spock looked up from the screen and nodded for McCoy to continue. McCoy straightened, clasped his own hands behind his back, and fixed his gaze on the far wall.
"The four of us were gathered in sickbay, preparing to go to the transporter room for the attempt to return to our own universe. We were surprised by—"
"This is all in the report, Doctor, as is the fight that followed." Spock glanced up from the screen. "No one concealed—"
"Blast it, Spock, would you just let me talk for a second?"
Spock hesitated, then returned his gaze to the screen. "Continue."
"Thank you." McCoy grumbled for a moment, found the thread of his story, and continued. "The other Spock got knocked out in the fight, I thought he probably had a concussion. There wasn't much time, the others went on to the transporter room, but he wasn't moving and I didn't want to just leave him dying on the floor." Spock nodded, his eyes skimming the screen as McCoy spoke. "I had him up on the biobed, I was taking some readings, when … uh …" Crap. He looked over at Spock in time to see the Vulcan's eyes freeze on the screen, then flicker back to read a particular portion again. The first officer looked up at him, and there was suddenly nothing of bemusement left in the dark eyes—in fact, there was nothing at all.
It was time to just get this over with. "He knew something was wrong, or different at least, and he needed to know what, and he took the quickest route to get there." McCoy shuddered, and looked away. "And there wasn't anything that I could do to stop him," he added, his voice dropped to barely above a whisper.
Spock read for a third time, then stepped slowly out from behind the desk. "He melded with you?" McCoy nodded. "Without your consent?"
"Of course without my consent, you green-blooded computer, what do you—"
"Peace, Dr. McCoy." Sarek's cool voice cut into the start of what promised to be a good rant. McCoy turned his snarl on the Ambassador, but Spock spoke again before McCoy could tell Sarek exactly what he thought of the interruption. Or of his presence here at all, for that matter.
"Doctor, I …" Spock paused, and glanced toward his father. The expressionless mask tightened. "For what purpose did you conceal this? I do not understand what value you hoped to—"
He was getting sick of that question. "I don't know."
"Indeed?" Spock's eyebrow quirked, fractionally. "Such a decision is a significant step, given an unknown motivation. Are you certain that—"
"I guarantee, Spock, that there are about fourteen different reasons why I might have decided not to report this, and I have no idea which one is actually valid—or if any of them actually are." Fourteen might be stretching it, true, but it got the point across. "It didn't have anything to do with you, though." Again, that might be stretching it—but it was true at least in the direction Spock was likely to be considering. Something flickered behind Spock's eyes, and his gaze returned to Sarek
"Very well. And my father's presence here?"
"I have performed the healing meld, my son." Spock blinked. McCoy bit his tongue to keep himself from cursing out loud. Sarek needed to just shut up and let him handle this. "However, I have informed Dr. McCoy that you will be in a better position to guide him through the successive meditations. I have come to offer such information as you may feel necessary to this pursuit."
"Ah." Spock was wound tighter than a two dollar watch, beneath that thin veneer of Vulcan objectivity. McCoy wondered if Sarek had noticed this, but a quick glance at the Ambassador revealed nothing—which probably meant that he had not. Usually, when Sarek disapproved it was more than obvious. It made sense, though. Sarek and Spock had not spoken in years. Of course McCoy had a better handle on Spock's nonverbal cues. Spock offered a tiny bow. "I thank thee, Father." Straightening, he added, "Was your meld successful?"
"It was." Sarek folded his hands into the wide sleeves of his robe. "The telepathic friction has been removed."
"Very good." Spock cast a long, unreadable glance at McCoy, then returned his attention to his father. "That being the case, I do not believe that further information from the meld will be necessary. I thank you for your offer, nonetheless."
Sarek's eyebrow rose. "None, my son?" Spock remained still. "You understand that this conference will require my entire attention, once it begins. I will not be available to consult regarding this matter for some time, if you should indeed require further information."
"I understand, Father." Again, Spock glanced toward McCoy. "However, it would be inappropriate of me to request or learn private information from the doctor's mind unless that information were to come directly from him, with his full consent. Particularly in this instance, given that the necessity for these meditative sessions was brought about by exactly that."
Something within McCoy relaxed, something that he hadn't even realized was tense in the first place. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. Sarek was now the one bemused.
"Very well, my son. I respect your decision in this matter."
"Thank you, Father."
"Indeed." A rustling of robes, and then Sarek's voice, directed at him. "Dr. McCoy."
McCoy opened his eyes. "Ambassador?"
"I shall leave you now. You and my son have much to discuss, and for which to prepare." That was putting it mildly, at the very least. Sarek offered a half-bow. "I thank thee, for all which you have done for my wife and me during this voyage. It may be that we shall not meet again before we disembark. If that is the case," Sarek offered the traditional Vulcan salute, "live long, and prosper."
McCoy pushed away from the wall, but didn't even bother trying to return the salute. That attempt would be completely pointless. "Thank you, Ambassador. And you, uh, live long and prosper, as well."
Nice, McCoy. Very smooth.
Sarek nodded, then turned to Spock. The dark eyes stilled as the Vulcan Ambassador looked upon his son. Spock stood calmly, without any visible sign of movement or stress, until the elder Vulcan spoke. "My son. You are aware of my feelings regarding your career with Starfleet."
"I have not reconsidered my stance regarding the placement of Vulcans on Starfleet ships." Now, where was this going? Resurrecting this old argument was the last thing any of them needed right now … "However, I will say this. I have seen the doctor's mind, I have seen your counterpart who assaulted him. Regardless of whatever disparity exists in your personalities and actions, the fact remains that the two of you look very much alike. It was, indeed, a point of some distress for me during the meld." A muscle in Spock's jaw twitched. McCoy drifted closer, ready to launch himself into what was really none of his business, if he felt it necessary. "However, despite this incident Dr. McCoy trusts you implicitly, and he opened himself within the meld to show me many of the reasons why." Well, crap. The hobgoblin didn't need to know that. Sarek's head tilted. "It says much for your character, that his trust was not shaken even after such an incident."
Spock seemed uncertain how to respond. Finally, he nodded. "I am honored, Father."
"Indeed." Sarek turned toward the door. "It seems that I must meditate on this."
Darned Vulcan couldn't even give his own son a compliment without taking it away two seconds later … Spock's door swished shut behind Sarek's robes, and the Ambassador was gone.
The silence that fell was one of the most uncomfortable of McCoy's entire life—and that included some of the silences toward the end of his marriage, when he and Jocelyn had been hurtling toward divorce court at warp speed. Finally, McCoy sighed and collapsed back against the wall.
"I'm sorry, Spock."
Spock turned his gaze from the closed door. "For what, Doctor?"
"For …" McCoy motioned vaguely toward the corridor. "I didn't intend to drop this on you in front of your father, I know the two of you don't always—"
"Indeed, we do not. However, it makes no difference that Sarek was—"
"That's bull and we both know it, so don't even bother." Spock hesitated, then circled away from the door, back toward the center of the room. McCoy remained where he was, unsure what the Vulcan was thinking. When no clue was forthcoming, he tried again. "I am sorry that you had to find out about this in front of him, though. I'm sorry you had to find out about it in front of anybody."
Spock nodded, slowly. "Noted." He tilted his head to study McCoy. "My father indicates that your … trust in me remains … undamaged." McCoy glanced away, toward the ceiling, and nodded. This was, he was sure, only the beginning of the awkward conversations that were coming. "Therefore, can I assume correctly that your decision to withhold this information was not due to a … reluctance to face me?"
"No!" McCoy pulled his eyes from the ceiling, but Spock had, apparently, also decided to look anywhere but at him. "I mean, yes, you can assume that. I'm not afraid of you, Spock. I'm not even uncomfortable." He snorted softly. "You know that as well as I do."
"Indeed." Spock folded his hands into their usual position behind his back. "Very well." He looked back toward McCoy, finally, and the dark eyebrows furrowed. "I must confess, then, that I am quite perplexed regarding both your decision to confess the incident at this time, and your decision to approach my father with this dilemma rather than … me."
He was jealous! Or hurt, maybe. Either way, now wasn't the time to point it out, regardless of McCoy's natural inclination to do just that.
"I didn't intend to confess it at all," McCoy admitted. "And I didn't go to Sarek, anyway, I went to your mother. Sarek just … came in at the wrong time. Or maybe the right time, I don't know."
"Amanda?" Spock's eyebrow shot toward his hairline. "What information did you hope to—"
"I've been doing research for months on the effects of mind melds in non-telepathic species. I thought she might have some … you know, practical experience. Like with drugs, it's one thing to know the side effects on paper, but it's completely different to get that kind of information from real patients. In this case, I—"
"I understand." Spock hesitated. "You required research because of … my counterpart's memories?"
Ah. To the point at last. Spock did know the whole score. He was glad, actually—it would make the process so much easier. Fewer explanations that he didn't want to drag through.
"Oh, yeah." A knife flashed. Blood spattered on the floor, along the walls. McCoy blew out a breath, and looked away. "They, uh … they're not fun. Your counterpart is a brutal man, Mr. Spock." He regretted the words the moment they were out, but Spock seemed unfazed.
"Indeed." A peculiar expression crept over the Vulcan's face. "And yet, according to the captain, we were very much alike. One wonders how he saw so much of us in each other, given this truth."
"Jim saw what he wanted to see."
Spock frowned. "Explain."
McCoy sighed. "We were all stressed, and frightened." He rubbed at his forehead, hoping that the headache he felt brewing wouldn't decide to flare into a full-blown migraine. "I think that … and this is just my best medical opinion, but I think that seeing you in him was part of how Jim coped."
"Indeed." Spock considered for a moment, then nodded. "It is a logical theory, Doctor."
"Twice in one day," McCoy groaned. "I don't think I can take it."
"Very well." Spock paused, considering his next words. "As distressed as you were by my counterpart's memories, however, you still did not seek my help? Did it occur to you that I might have the answers you sought, without the need for such intensive research?"
"Of course it did, Spock." It was impossible to explain the confused jumble that was the human psyche to a Vulcan who approached every—most every—decision with the utmost in reason. "I just …" He shrugged unhappily. "I honestly don't know why. I'm sorry."
"Your apology is unnecessary, Doctor." Spock returned to his desk and tapped a few commands into the console. "Although I suspect that perhaps the captain may require a more complete explanation."
Yeah, Jim would probably be hurt, too. Well, he would just have to get in line.
"And he'll get the same thing I told you."
"I see." Spock caught his eye. "Perhaps, with proper meditation and a variety of methods by which to control these symptoms, you may in time come to a better understanding of the reasons behind your decision."
McCoy hadn't quite thought of that. It was a good, solid suggestion, though. "Yeah. That …"
"Is logical?" Spock's eyebrow quirked, even as he entered further information into the computer.
"Makes sense. Smartass."
Spock shook his head, standing. "I have placed you on a temporary leave of absence, for an indefinite time period."
McCoy tensed. Shrieking from the agony booth … "Spock …"
"Doctor, as you well know, an officer must be certified fit for duty by a competent medical officer after such an assault. Given that a significant length of time has passed since the incident, you will also understand, of course, the need for a more intensive approach to such certification."
Well, crap. Yet another way he had screwed this up. He should start writing them down. Frame them, maybe. Things not to do next time you … No, that wasn't funny. There wouldn't be a next time.
"Yeah. I understand." Blood on the walls …
Spock halted in front of him. "I will request a leave of absence as well, in order to more fully devote my efforts to this—"
"Spock!" McCoy shook his head. "I can't have you just ignoring your duties for the sake of—"
"This is my duty, Doctor." Spock studied him, too closely to be just a casual glance. So, he's already started. Fantastic. "If any other crew member had been subjected to such an assault, would this not be your recommendation?"
Huh. "Well, yes, I suppose."
"Then, we will proceed as I have outlined."
All right. He really wasn't looking forward to this, but there was no turning back. He nodded, reluctantly. "Okay. But, I'm telling Jim. And not tomorrow, either. He doesn't need the distraction right now." The flash of light against a knife …
"I'll write up an addendum to my report and present it once we're on our way out from Babel."
"Very well, Doctor. I shall leave it to your discretion." Spock paused, then ventured, "You are in some distress now, are you not?"
Blood splattering against the walls … "How can you tell?" McCoy looked away, suddenly embarrassed. "You never … noticed before."
Crap. He hadn't meant that the way it sounded.
Or, maybe he had …
"Indeed." Spock nodded, slowly, then offered, "I regret that. However, you will admit that, knowing the situation, I will now be far more likely to see the signs."
"Right." McCoy folded his arms, and glanced away.
"Perhaps we should begin immediately."
McCoy looked back around, surprised. "What, now?"
"Indeed. A few very basic steps, to help … take the edge off, as you might say, until we are able to begin a more intensive regimen."
It was on the tip of McCoy's tongue to refuse, but there was, he suddenly realized, absolutely no good reason to decline the offer. Now worked as well as any other time. He nodded, awkwardly. "I guess … sure."
"Good." Spock nodded, satisfied, and motioned to the deck. "Please be seated, Doctor." He'd never known why it was necessary to sit on the floor during meditation, rather than in a chair or on a couch. Maybe, he was about to find out. McCoy lowered himself awkwardly to the floor, while Spock dropped across from him with enviable grace. Once seated, the Vulcan crossed his legs and studied McCoy briefly. "Doctor, I … very much regret that this has occurred."
He laughed, softly. "Yeah, me too. But thanks, Spock."
"Indeed." Spock straightened, indicating his own stance. "You would do well to form a close approximation of this position. It will aid in the meditative efforts."
"Yeah." McCoy struggled to cross his legs beneath him, grumbling quietly. "You're going to have to fill me in on why that is, one of these days."
"As you wish."
McCoy finally settled, glowering at Spock and at his own crossed legs. This was ridiculous. "You know this is going to be a disaster, right?"
A glint of humor sparked in the dark Vulcan eyes. "Doctor, I anticipate no other outcome."
Chapter 4: Interlude - Report Addendum
Report: Universal Transposition post-Halkan Delegation, Stardate XXXX.X
Crew present: James Kirk, Captain; Montgomery Scott, Lt Commander; Dr. Leonard McCoy, Lt Commander; Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant.
Author: Dr. Leonard McCoy, Lt Commander
As previously reported, events in the ISS Enterprise sickbay immediately before retransposition left Spock, First Officer of the ISS Enterprise, concussed and unconscious. Capt. Kirk, Lt Cmdr Scot, and Lt Uhura left sickbay in order to prepare the transporter room for the retransposition attempt. Dr. McCoy remained with Cmdr Spock in sickbay to render medical assistance.
Dr. McCoy's original report indicates that Cmdr Spock regained consciousness shortly before the transposition was to occur and questioned Dr. McCoy regarding inconsistencies noted by the Cmdr between the crew of the USS Enterprise and their ISS counterparts. Given the short timeframe and the urgency that he reach the transporter room with due haste, Dr. McCoy gave Cmdr Spock an abbreviated version of the true identities of the crew from the USS Enterprise. Further discussion with Capt Kirk in the transporter room before retransposition made clear to Cmdr Spock the extent of the events which had occurred over the past days.
In reality, ISS Cmdr Spock was fully aware of the extent of the actions of the crew of the USS Enterprise in the alternate universe before any discussion occurred with Capt Kirk. Cmdr Spock regained consciousness in sickbay more quickly than anticipated, with no manner of the expected post-concussion disorientation. Finding himself alone with Dr. McCoy in sickbay, Cmdr Spock initiated a non-consensual mind meld in order to determine the facts regarding the previously noted inconsistencies, and to resolve the answers to subsequent questions and suspicions. Taken by surprise, and at a disadvantage as regards human and Vulcan physiology, Dr. McCoy was unable to avoid either the meld or the provision of the sought-after information; nor was he able to shield certain other incidental information which Cmdr Spock retrieved from his mind during the meld. After ending the meld, Cmdr Spock accompanied Dr. McCoy to the transporter room, where he engaged in further discussion with Capt. Kirk regarding the transposition and its ramifications for both universes.
Upon returning to his native universe, Dr. McCoy failed to fully report the events which occurred in sickbay between him and ISS Cmdr Spock, specifically the non-consensual mind meld. He instead offered a generalization of events which in no way indicated the truth of the actions which occurred. Having experienced in the following months psychological and physiological distress as a result of the meld, and being unable to effect a cure or relief of his symptoms by his own research, Dr. McCoy sought the counsel of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, the Lady Amanda of Vulcan, and USS Cmdr Spock regarding said symptoms. He also reported to Cmdr Spock, his immediate superior officer, for disciplinary action regarding failure to fully report events during a landing party and failure to report the assault of a crew member.
For further details regarding follow-up of this report, see medical file of Dr. Leonard McCoy, Lt Cmdr.
Submitted to James Kirk, Capt, by Dr. Leonard H. McCoy, Lt Cmdr.
He didn't chicken out, though it was touch and go for a while. The temptation to solve the whole 'Kirk situation' by submitting the addendum electronically and letting the captain come to him was almost too much. Even the thought of starting it all over again with someone new—and an awkward, out of the blue conversation it would be, because it wasn't like this was exactly an easy segue from any other topic—filled him with a strong, weary anxiety, and kept him second-guessing far longer than was his usual habit. He knew, though, that kind of back-door approach wouldn't sit well with the captain—wouldn't sit well with himself, either, for that matter—and he didn't buckle. It was a small victory, but right now McCoy was taking his wins where he could get them.
Actually, the anxiety turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, he did walk around for several days feeling as though he was three seconds away from losing his most recent meal—and as a consequence, couldn't work up much appetite for said meals. Luckily the general rush of their arrival at Babel and the disembarkation of their illustrious passengers (McCoy barely managed to avoid bouncing through the corridors crowing 'hallelujah' when the last of them beamed away) ensured that no one was paying too much attention to his current eating habits. On the other hand, that same anxiety went a long way toward crowding out the other Spock's memories, which had been distressingly active since the meld with Sarek. All in all, McCoy considered it a fairly equitable trade. Spock's father might have smoothed away the 'friction' that had caused his problems in the first place, but telepathically poking at it (McCoy's own terminology) seemed to have also stirred the foreign memories up again. It was taking a while for everything to settle back down, and familiarity didn't make the bloody scenes any more pleasant. Spock's initial meditation lesson, impromptu as it was, didn't offer him much more than a reminder that trying to suppress the memories would only make them stronger—which was an important first step, but didn't go very far toward solving the actual problem.
Not that he had expected much more from such a brief, awkward first attempt. Patience, Spock assured him, would be crucial to the process.
Which was just fabulous, because patience was such a strong suit for him.
To be honest, he really wasn't that worried about discussing the particulars—not anymore, at least. Familiarity did seem to be helping there. The more he talked about it out loud, got it all out in the open and away from the confines of his own shocked mind, the easier it all became. Confession, it seemed, really was good for the soul. Or something like that. In any case, his conversations with Sarek and Amanda, with Spock, and with M'Benga had gone a long way toward relieving the fear that people wouldn't actually understand what he was trying to describe to them—that they would think he was crazy, that they would treat him differently. That they would believe, even if they didn't say it out loud, that those gory, violent memories had somehow gained purchase inside of him because of something similar in his own subconscious.
That there really was something similar there.
That he would end up as alone with it all as he had been at the start.
It was all completely ridiculous, of course … but there it was. A few discussions over a couple of days couldn't come close to dissolving that glorious tangle of anxieties—it was all buried too deep to be that easy—but recognition at least took a lot of the sting out of its blow. It was strange. He was a doctor—a trained psychiatrist, even—but he'd still had no idea that all of that and more had been wrapped up inside of him until that first long conversation with M'Benga.
He'd known that something was off, yes—but not what, exactly, or how to make it stop.
Obsessive compulsive syndrome sucked.
M'Benga. It wouldn't have been his first choice to approach M'Benga before Jim. Given the strength of his friendship with Kirk, it was completely possible—probable, even—that the captain would not only be angry that the whole incident had been concealed, but also hurt that he was the last to know. So to speak. McCoy honestly wouldn't be able to blame him. Kirk should know before M'Benga. He should have known before Sarek and Amanda, and arguably even before Spock. It hadn't happened that way with the Vulcans, though, and he really didn't have much choice with his assistant CMO either. Kirk was busy with the delegates and with the Enterprise's arrival at Babel. The fact remained, however, that Spock had relieved McCoy from active duty, and that M'Benga needed to be told sooner rather than later that he was now acting as CMO. Spock offered to do it, but McCoy had no intention of hiding behind pointy-eared Vulcan logic in his own sickbay and said as much. Spock accepted his refusal without comment or surprise.
He was glad that M'Benga was generally a calm sort. It made their conversation good practice at least for approaching Kirk—who was generally not. M'Benga, to his eternal credit, listened in silence until McCoy wound to a halt, his slowly rising eyebrows the only clue that he fully understood the gravity of the situation. The assistant CMO sat back when McCoy had finished, eyed him for almost a full minute, and finally shook his head.
"I know." McCoy rubbed at his jaw, looking away. M'Benga sat forward.
"What do you know?" His colleague's tone was pointed, disbelieving even. McCoy straightened so quickly that his spine popped, but M'Benga held up a hand to stall his protest. "Don't, Leonard. You left this for a long time." Well, okay. He couldn't exactly argue with that. McCoy ground his teeth and forced a nod. M'Benga sat back again, typing notes rapidly into the pad on his lap that displayed McCoy's medical file. "And you know as well as I do that if we're going to move forward with this, I need to know exactly where you are now." Of course. McCoy nodded again. "So." M'Benga met his gaze. "Specifically, what do you know? Do you know how serious this is? Do you know that treatment's likely been complicated by the delay?" He lifted an eyebrow. "Do you know that there's no need or reason for you to try to do this alone?"
Despite the chiding, M'Benga's eyes were kind. The sick tension faded slightly, and McCoy reminded himself that the man knew his job. He wouldn't be assistant CMO of the Federation flagship otherwise. M'Benga also knew McCoy, and long experience had afforded him a fairly solid idea of which approaches would work on his boss and which wouldn't.
If this had to happen, he couldn't be in better hands.
Light glinting on a knife point. Red drops spattered against white walls.
All right, then.
"All three." McCoy beat the memory into submission, and rubbed at his gritty eyes with the heel of his hand, and handed over the responsibility for this mess to his friend. "More or less." It was long past time. His joints were fluid and his mouth tasted like sand … but it also felt good. Right. Like someone had re-inflated a collapsed lung and he could breathe again.
M'Benga nodded slowly, typing in another note. Then he set the pad aside, settled into his chair, and offered a sympathetic grimace. "Let's talk about that 'less' for a while, shall we?"
Huh. McCoy's agenda for the afternoon hadn't included an immediate counseling session. On the other hand, everyone else so far had just jumped right in. Why should M'Benga feel left out? Anyway, it was good practice in learning to go with the flow—not something he was normally that great about, unless it involved chasing around after Jim Kirk with hypo and medkit in hand. Otherwise he usually preferred to be the one making the calls. The coming months would be quite the lesson in self-control.
Sounded like a good time all around.
M'Benga was waiting, one long finger tapping gently against the arm of his chair. McCoy reeled his thoughts back into the present. The 'less'. Right. Where do I even start with that?
As it turned out, three hours was barely enough to scratch the surface. It was all the time they had, though, before M'Benga's scheduled training for the engineering medics forced them to call a halt. McCoy was exhausted by that point anyway, completely wrung out.
"Get some rest," M'Benga advised, typing again into the pad. "The next few weeks are going to feel brutal, best to gear up now while you can." McCoy appreciated the honesty, especially since he had already come to those same conclusions himself. M'Benga set aside McCoy's records. "No more benzos." McCoy scowled, but his colleague held up a hand. "For the time being, at least. Given your symptoms, I think we're better to move on to maroxetine, or maybe even archetavine if it doesn't make you too drowsy. Something directed more specifically toward OCD."
"I'm tired already, how would I tell?" McCoy shook his head, fending off a response. "Then again, no reason to make it worse, I guess." He cocked his head to one side. "It's not exactly OCD, though. My psych profile has never shown any tendency in that direction. The cause is completely external, and that whole class of drugs is older than dirt. No research on them for decades. You think they'll cover this case?"
M'Benga hesitated, then shrugged. "I think they're our best bet. Regardless of the cause, your body is acting like this is OCD. There's no reason not to start there. In any case, we're not depending on them to do the main work—that's up to Mr. Spock and his meditations. These are just adjunctive measures."
"Don't remind me." McCoy snorted, leaning back in his chair.
M'Benga's smile flickered, and he stood. "We'll hold off on them for a day or so in any case, to give me a chance to speak with Mr. Spock. I don't want to chance interfering with whatever he's hoping to accomplish—we want to support your efforts, not frustrate them."
"Or you. Absolutely." M'Benga paused. "Leonard, you'll get through this. I know it seems like a lot right now, but we'll manage it."
He almost laughed out loud, hearing the words that he himself had used so many times directed back at him. "Right. I know." McCoy grinned, and motioned toward the door. "Get out of here." M'Benga smiled faintly and started off. "Jabilo." His colleague turned back. "Thank you." It wasn't much, but he meant it. M'Benga nodded once, gravely, and disappeared into the outer bay.
McCoy rubbed his hands over his face and stared at the ceiling. That was over. Now he just had to work himself up to telling Kirk.
He wasn't looking forward to it.
Actually, if he was honest with himself, he wouldn't really mind talking about his little problem (as he had taken to calling it) with the captain. In fact … he was a bit surprised at how much he wanted to. Now that he had developed a degree of comfort with the topic, the opportunity to wrestle through it with Jim—to lay it all out in the open with someone who had no hand in his diagnosis or treatment but just the unbiased interest of a friend—was extremely appealing. What he didn't want to face—what made him just want to forget the whole thing and maybe never tell Kirk at all, because the captain didn't really need to know, did he?—was the chaos of those first few seconds. That inevitable rush of confusion and dismay and probably anger, and the hurried explanations he would be forced to spout in order to head it all off. The rough patch before they could manage any sort of calm conversation. It was stupid to feel so much dread over such a short little piece of it all … but then, this whole thing was kind of stupid. Real, and serious … but stupid too.
Real life. It was stranger than fiction, every time. No one would ever believe this if he didn't have the documented proof, the evidence of the healing meld and the word of two Vulcans—it was too completely ridiculous. OCD from being forced to mind meld with an evil version of Spock in an alternate universe sickbay of horrors.
Utterly unbelievable. And yet here he was.
In any case, it wasn't too likely that he'd get around to that conversation—not today, anyway. Jim was … well, Jim. He would read the addendum and either lose his cool over the word 'concealed', or go all brusque and crabby when he realized that he had misjudged—that his precious alternate Spock was not quite the sheep in wolf's clothing he had taken him for. Either way, McCoy would probably spend some very tense hours dodging landmines, and would have to hold off for a later time on any kind of deeper conversation about his experiences of the past months. It was okay, though. He could wait.
After all, tomorrow was another day.*
McCoy picked up the pad containing his addendum, took a deep breath, and stepped into the hall—only to collide painfully with Kirk, who was in the process of buzzing for entrance. They both stumbled back, swearing, and Kirk laughed, shaking his head.
"You're a lot more solid than you look, Bones."
McCoy clutched the pad close, glared, and rubbed at his bruised arm. "Not you, Jim-boy. You've been sneaking extra dessert again, haven't you?"
Kirk scowled. "Just who's the captain here, anyway?"
"Well," McCoy snorted, "we know who's not the doctor." He shook his head. "Anyway, you don't really expect me to let a perfectly good piece of leverage like that go to waste, do you?"
Jim grinned ruefully and leaned back against the wall, rubbing at his should. "No, I guess not." He eyed McCoy, straightening slowly. "Have you got a minute?"
What was this? Kirk wasn't acting like he was here for a celebratory beverage, despite that the loss of all of those diplomats was well worth one. Also (he eyed an overhead clock), it was 0920 hours. Not exactly the appropriate hour for that, although McCoy wouldn't be able to swear he hadn't been there once or twice in the past himself. Had the captain managed to find and yank open another can of worms already, then? They were barely a day out of Babel. Or … hmm. Or had he finally managed to review the most recent personnel rosters? McCoy glanced back at the clock. 0921. Yep, if Jim had taken beta shift this week, about right …
"I was actually coming to see you." McCoy struggled to keep the resignation out of his voice. Ready or not, here, apparently, it came.
Kirk picked it up anyway—or heard something there, at least. A brief frown flickered, and he motioned toward McCoy's door. "I'm here already. Shall we?"
Home turf was an unexpected gift, and McCoy readily agreed. Luckily, Jim wasn't one to play the 'you first' game, either—the door had barely closed behind them when he swung around on McCoy.
"Spock put you on medical leave. Two days ago." Kirk's brow wrinkled with concern. "Bones, what's going on?"
McCoy hesitated, running his thumb along the edge of the pad. He'd been considering different approaches for the last two days, and he still wasn't sure of the best way to do this.
"It's a long story, Captain."
The rank slipped out without his intending it—maybe an unconscious attempt to put some space between them, maybe an anticipation that the conversation would end up on that level anyway. Whatever the reason, it was an anomaly and Kirk noticed it. His frown deepened, and suddenly McCoy just wanted the whole thing started and over.
Kyle shrieked and buckled beneath the agonizer.
He shook the memory away and thrust the pad toward the captain.
"I have an addition to my report on the universal transposition, Captain. It's short, but I'll of course answer any questions that you have in depth."
Maybe he did chicken out, just a little.
Kirk took the pad, activated it, and ran a puzzled glance over its screen. It was easy to see the moment when realization started to sink in. The captain's shoulders and mouth tightened, his eyes flickered up to McCoy then back down again, and he began a slow, wide pace around the work area. McCoy straightened and clasped his hands tightly behind his back, preparing. The other Spock's memories looped in a continuous cycle, nauseating him, blood and screams and the thump of falling bodies. After maybe one of the longest five minutes in his life, Kirk's eyes left the report again and fixed on him.
"Will you be all right?"
The surprise focused him. It … wasn't the opening that he'd been expecting. The words definitely didn't match the brittle tone. McCoy hesitated. "Captain?"
Kirk waved the pad impatiently. "Psychological and physiological distress. I don't know exactly what that means—yet," he narrowed his eyes, "but will you be all right?"
Something inside of him warmed slightly. Even if he spent the rest of the morning being bawled out from here to Georgia and back, Jim had asked about him first.
He didn't give the man enough credit.
"Yeah, I think eventually." McCoy shrugged. "They say it might not necessarily go away—not all the way—but it can be pretty well controlled."
The captain looked back to the report. "Sarek and Spock?" And there it was, a sharpening in his tone that Jim probably didn't even know was there. Well, McCoy couldn't really blame him…
Kirk nodded slowly, once, then set the pad on McCoy's desk and turned sharply to face him. "Good. Then explain, Doctor."
The words snapped out, and McCoy straightened. Right. Here we go.
The facts were pretty basic, and didn't on their own take long to relay. Kirk's pointed questions and requests for clarification peppered him, stinging sometimes but drawing out details that McCoy himself didn't even always consciously remember.
"Wait." Kirk held up a hand, frowning. "No one stayed with you?" McCoy shook his head, even as Kirk's hazel eyes turned inward to search his own recollections. The captain's muttered invective was proof enough of what he found there. "How did that happen?"
Strangely, McCoy felt a need to justify the oversight. "We were stretched pretty thin, Captain. We were all on our own for most of that time, if you remember. It wasn't that unusual."
Kirk's scowl deepened. "Yes, I do." He rubbed at his jaw, obviously frustrated. McCoy felt the same. Safety regs were all well and good and necessary, but there were times when they just weren't workable—and days of breaking them had apparently made all four of them lax in a situation where the rules had been enforceable. The captain snatched up the pad and made a few terse notes. McCoy had a feeling they were all in for a regulations refresher in the near future, and hoped no one found out he was the cause. Spock's in-services were worse than watching paint dry … "Go on."
McCoy took up the thread again, stopping long enough to admit, when questioned, that he had no idea how the other Spock had recovered so quickly, and that he had been too surprised to really react at all when the Vulcan came up off the biobed.
"By the time I got my wits about me, he was between me and the door, and after that …" McCoy shook his head, and looked away. "That part's kind of fuzzy, actually."
He could feel Kirk's eyes on him, but the captain didn't press. He seemed to be handling the actual incident carefully, for which McCoy was grateful. It was embarrassing—as much as it shouldn't be—and he had already detailed it far too many times over the past couple of days. Instead, Kirk motioned again with the pad.
"Certain other incidental information. Anything … anything we should be concerned about?" Again, there was that hesitance to delve too deeply into the actual injury. Whether it was out of concern for him, or adherence to Starfleet's medical privacy standards, or some combination of both McCoy wasn't sure, but it relaxed him further, and made his answers quicker. Heck, maybe that was part of Kirk's reasoning, too.
"Well…" He offered a wry, twisted grin. "That depends on whether they ever find their way back into our universe, Captain."
Kirk's eyebrows rose, and he made another note. "We'll need to go through specifics then, eventually."
Kirk looked back up at him. "Not now, though, unless you want to."
There was a question in his voice, a request, but McCoy couldn't bring himself to offer anything. "Not really, Captain."
"Very well." Kirk nodded curtly, disappointment and acceptance vying in his tone. "Continue."
McCoy finished up, took them through the events in the transporter room and the beam-out back home. Kirk was silent for a long moment after McCoy finished, lost in thought. Tension and anger radiated from his rigid posture, from his white knuckles and the ticking muscle in his jaw. McCoy clutched his hands again behind his back. Finally, the captain laid aside the pad again and started a slow pace around the room.
"Why did you fail to report this, Doctor?"
It had been one of his least favorite questions over the past days, and he didn't like it any more this time. McCoy shrugged. "I can't really say, Sir."
It wasn't Kirk's way to easily accept that kind of answer. His voice sharpened. "Reporting any assault of a crew member is mandatory, Doctor. You know this. You're the Chief Medical Officer, it's your job to enforce it!"
"Yes, Captain." This was a little more like what he had expected. Actually, to be honest he was more than impressed with Kirk's restraint so far.
"Then what is this?" Kirk turned on him, gesturing sharply toward the pad.
McCoy hesitated. "I don't …" He grimaced, looking down. "I don't have an answer for you, Captain. I don't know."
The captain paused for a moment, visibly reining himself in. "There has to be something. Was it … were you avoiding the thought of the assault itself?"
"Was it because of our discussion in the transporter room, my urging him to be the one to make a positive change in their universe?"
Ah. Realization hit hard. Kirk was worried that McCoy hadn't reported it because of his attitude toward the other Spock, his hopes and the charge that he had laid on the Vulcan. That was the reason he was pushing. Unfortunately, even knowing that couldn't change McCoy's answer—and Jim would notice.
"Captain." He caught Kirk's eyes and held them. His voice was low. "I don't know." Kirk took a long breath, then looked away and nodded. McCoy folded his arms and leaned back against the wall, feeling the crackling tension in the room ease into … something else. "I've been asking myself that question for months, and I'm telling you the truth. Maybe …" Maybe once he and Spock had spent some time meditating, he'd have an answer like Spock suggested. He wasn't ready to look dependent on Spock in front of Jim, though. Not yet. He shook his head. "But right now I can't give you what I don't have."
The silence stretched between them. The flash of a knife. Blood on the corridor floor. McCoy moved to end it.
"Captain … Jim, it's not your fault."
It was only the truth. Or at least, as much the truth for the captain as it was for any of them. Kirk looked around quickly, and McCoy caught a dangerous glint in the hazel eyes—anger and fear and mocking self-doubt.
"He seemed so much like our Spock. I don't—"
"No he didn't."
Kirk stepped back, startled—whether by the interruption or the words, McCoy wasn't sure.
"He wasn't, Jim. He wasn't anything like our Spock." McCoy shook his head, pushed away from the wall, and began his own slow circuit. The memory loop sped up again, and he gritted his teeth against its force. "At least, I know you saw something in him, but he was … he was cruel, Jim." Kirk stared, and McCoy rushed on. Disillusioning Jim Kirk was not among the most pleasant tasks he had ever undertaken. "Not emotionally, not to take pleasure in it, but that almost makes it worse. It was … he was efficient about it. He used it to keep order, to enforce discipline, to … to weed out the ranks." McCoy shook his head, feeling the nausea bubbling up. "I saw inside his head, Jim, I saw what he was, and I've been seeing it for months!"
Kirk's jaw tightened. "You didn't see fit to let me in on that though, did you, Doctor?" McCoy tensed, but the captain wasn't finished. "Through all those follow-up meetings, all those jokes about sleeveless uniforms and facial hair, you never said anything! He hurt you, Bones, he assaulted a member of my crew, and you just let me go on believing that he was a positive influence, the answer to all their problems! You let me go on talking about it in front of you! If I had known, do you think I would have done that?" He circled around to stand face to face with McCoy. "Do you think I would have kept reminding you?"
It wasn't … something that McCoy had considered. It was legitimate, though—a real grievance that he was forced to acknowledge even as, to his horror, he heard himself shoot back, "This isn't about you, Jim." Kirk backed away, eyes narrowed, and McCoy mumbled an invective. "You know what … I didn't mean that. Sorry, Jimbo, I'm just a little on edge."
His words took away much of the offense, if Kirk's nod and slumped shoulders were any indication. The captain perched cautiously on the edge of the desk, and McCoy settled on the couch arm, and for a long minute neither spoke. Finally, Jim rubbed a hand over his face and sighed.
"I … how are you, Bones?" McCoy looked up, quickly, and Kirk waved his hand vaguely at the pad beside him. "All of the rest of it we'll have to address at some point …" A wry, hard grin crept onto his features. "You've already started, from your end, but—"
"No, Bones, you did what you needed to." Kirk shrugged. "I can accept that. But that's your business for now, and theirs, and … Spock's?" He lifted a questioning eyebrow, and McCoy nodded. "Yes." Jim stared over McCoy's head. "So right now, I think …" He was feeling his way carefully, planning after the heated words of a few minutes ago. "Right now I just want to know how you really are. You, not my CMO. And if you …" He shrugged. "If I can do anything."
If he could do anything. McCoy let out a long, pent-up breath. It was the same question with which Kirk had led this conversation, but expanded, more open, more focused on the response. He stretched, allowing gratitude and relief to mingle with the sight of blood and the glint of a knife, and suddenly felt confined. He stood abruptly. "Let's take a walk, Jim."
Kirk was confused. "A walk?"
"I've had too many tense conversations behind closed doors lately for my taste. Let's walk, we've got corridors galore, right?"
"Bones." Jim chewed on his lower lip, a mannerism that made him look about twelve. "If you don't want to—"
"I do, Jim." He shrugged. "I just don't want to do it in here."
Kirk frowned. "The corridors aren't all that private, if you hadn't noticed."
No. But maybe enough for their purposes. "Sure." McCoy started toward the door. "But if we keep moving, nobody's likely to hear enough to put anything together, and if we need to shut up for a few minutes, that's fine." He triggered the door. "I just want to be out and around. If I'm going to be spending the next month meditating with Spock, I need to get my exercise in beforehand."
The captain's eyebrows shot up. He hurried after McCoy, and the door swished shut behind them. "You're meditating with Spock?" The words were a combination of incredulity, concern, and strangled laughter, all welcome after the stress of the past thirty minutes. "And that's supposed to help?"
"Supposedly." McCoy shook his head. "We already tried it once, it … didn't go that well."
Kirk was still staring. "Meditate? You, Bones?"
"Laugh it up," McCoy scowled, relaxing into the camaraderie despite the insistent flicker of unwanted memories in the back corners of his mind. He'd have to face it all again soon enough, but maybe … maybe today he would get that talk that he wanted after all.
The first shock of the morning's news over, Jim seemed content to comply with that wish. They wandered aimlessly for hours, up lifts and down side passages and in circles, before ending perched comfortably on the floor of an empty equipment niche in a seldom-used corridor down from engineering, leaning comfortably against opposite walls like kids in a playground hutch. The conversation was predictable enough—blunt, humorous, tense, as exhaustive on the subject at hand as McCoy knew how to make it. He described, he pondered, he speculated, he bounced ideas off Kirk. He felt the months of tension begin to ebb, the hard knot that had taken up permanent residence in his gut begin to untie itself, and the captain (for once in his life) managed to overcome his own rather talkative nature and just listen, unless he was called on to respond or had something helpful to offer. It was … nice. It also felt a lot like playing hooky, which made the whole thing even better—although they were really still just a comm call away, and McCoy was on leave anyway. It was the kind of day you just didn't get in Starfleet, stationed on a tin can with four hundred other people out in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Milky Way, with more duties than you could possibly ever complete and another list waiting when that one was done.
Especially when you were senior officers and the ship was the Enterprise.
Eventually the conversation drifted. McCoy was bemoaning the necessity of putting one of his nurses on report for excessive tardiness—you know I'm not the biggest stickler for rules, Jim, but I can't even remember the last time she did show up on time—when Jim frowned, and sat up straighter.
"What about your disciplinary action, Bones?"
"Your report addendum said that you presented yourself for disciplinary action." Kirk scowled. "I wish you hadn't. Did Spock—"
"Jim." McCoy cut him off, laughing. "What do you think happened?"
Kirk surveyed his CMO carefully, then hazarded, "Nothing?"
"Exactly." McCoy folded his arms, leaning his head back against the wall. "Seemed to think that disciplinary action in this case would serve 'no logical purpose'."
"Of course." Jim relaxed, and grinned. "It does seem quite logical."
"Thank you, Captain."
The unexpected voice scared the crap out of McCoy, and actually drew a yelp from Jim. They jerked toward the corridor and found Spock standing just beyond their hiding spot, hands folded behind him, surveying them with a raised eyebrow.
"My apologies, Captain. Doctor." He included McCoy in his nod, then looked back to Kirk. "It was not my intention to interrupt this …" his eyebrow crept further up, "… meeting, but you did indicate that you wished to go over security's requisition orders before I approved them, did you not?"
"I did, Mr. Spock." The captain scrambled to his feet, and McCoy followed more slowly. Those extra years he had on Jim really weren't fair … Kirk turned back to him. "Bones?" He hesitated. "Are you good?"
"Yeah, I'm good." McCoy grinned, and swung in beside Jim. "I have work to do, anyway."
Spock's eyes narrowed. "I believe I placed you on medical leave, Doctor."
"I believe you did, too. But personnel reviews wait for no man … us included, Mr. Spock."
The Vulcan hesitated, obviously torn. "Indeed. However …"
"Let it go, Spock." Kirk waved an unconcerned hand. "If he wants to spend all afternoon checking boxes that say 'communicates effectively' and 'shows initiative' until his typing hand falls off, what kind of trouble can he really get himself into?"
"Considering that this is Dr. McCoy," Spock shook his head, "one can only imagine, Captain."
"Why, you …"
McCoy didn't really have anything to say, but he said it anyway, at length, trailing after his two friends down the corridor. To any outward glance, nothing had changed. That couldn't be further from the truth, though. Where only days ago there had been fear and isolation and pain, now there was support and friendship and hope—and who knew how much better it could be once he finally managed to put this whole thing behind him?
He guessed he was willing to trade a few meditation sessions to find out.
* Gone With the Wind, of course. Which I most assuredly do not own, either … ;-)
"Please be seated, Doctor."
"On the floor, right. Why is that again?"
"A position on the floor is not essential to the meditative effort. However, the—"
"Why is that all you ever see, then?"
A brief pause.
"Doctor, it would be best if you would allow me to complete my sentences before asking additional questions. You may find yourself in possession of the desired answers without the need to expend further effort on inquiry."
"Huh. Right, sorry."
"There is no need. However, I—"
"But why is it all you ever see?"
A faint sigh. Almost.
"Such positioning is often the only way to ensure both comfort of the body throughout the meditation period and proper opening of the diaphragm in order to facilitate the ease of deep breathing."
"How do you mean?"
"You are, unless I am entirely mistaken, a doctor, Doctor. Surely you retain at least some small vestige of anatomical knowledge which may be—"
"Now wait a minute. I—"
"—put to some use other than the torture of unsuspecting patients."
"Look. You may be the expert here, but—"
"Thank you, Doctor. To continue—as you surely recall, not only will a slumped posture or other insufficient back support collapse the diaphragm and lead to an inadequate oxygen supply, but it will also lead to discomfort of the body itself during a prolonged course of meditation. This is a circumstance to be avoided if at all possible."
"Well what does the floor have to do with any of that?"
"Have you seen any furniture aboard a starship which would provide an adequate amount of comfortable spinal support and also allow for an optimum ease of breathing?"
"Okay, you've got a point."
"I am honored, Doct—"
"Stuff it, hobgoblin."
"Name-calling is detrimental to the—"
"So is trying to get this old body down onto the floor."
"It is not my fault that the human body is—"
"Don't even get started."
"I only wish to observe that—"
"Let's just get on with this."
Another long pause.
"As you wish, Doctor."
Blue eyes open, hesitant.
"I don't think I'm doing it right. Nothing's happening"
A long sigh disguised as a deep, full breath.
"Doctor, your eyes have been closed for a total of twenty-five point seven seconds. I do not believe that enough time has passed to make such a judgment."
"Close your eyes. Even if nothing appears to be 'happening', as you say, familiarize yourself with the silence."
A soft snort.
"Not that crazy about silence."
One dark eyebrow creeps up.
"Indeed, it has been my observation that most humans are not. Silence itself seems to be, in fact, a rare commodity in primarily human settings."
"How do you stand the noise, then?"
"Doctor, we are not here to—"
"Learning to successfully banish intrusive outer noise into the realm of what humans would call 'white noise' was the long process of many years for me."
"Huh. So, it wasn't easy for you either."
"Indeed not, Doctor. The meditative process requires patience and repetition, and may at times seem difficult or unfruitful even to those well-versed in its processes."
"Right. Okay, then."
Blue eyes close again.
Brief silence, then another snicker.
"I know, I know. Sorry, Spock, I'm trying …"
"A focus word, once properly integrated into the meditative experience, will serve as an unconscious 'reminder' of this state. It will come to be an aid in the meditation itself, and it will also serve to assist in any necessary refocusing the mind during non-meditative periods."
"You mean, thinking about this 'focus word' will help redirect my attention when things start to … you know, get bad?"
"Precisely. Your mind will associate that word with the meditative state, and will draw upon the calm provided during said state."
"Assuming I ever manage to find any calm."
"Patience, Doctor. We are barely begun."
"Sure. So, what kind of word are we talking, here?"
"The word itself will be unique to you—there is no list of required or suggested words. However, it is usually best to choose a short word of one or two syllables if possible, one which will remind you in the beginning of your goals and help on a conscious level to draw you toward a deeper state."
"I don't … I'm just supposed to pick something?"
"Indeed." A brief pause. "If I might make a suggestion, perhaps words such as 'focus' or 'calm' or 'peace' would be appropriate to your situation."
A long, deep breath.
"Peace. I … yeah, I like that."
"So what now?"
"Combine the focus word with your breathing. Hear it in your mind as you breathe in, then silence as you breathe out. 'Peace' as you breathe in, silence as you breathe out."
"Are you prepared to begin, then?"
"I guess so." Brief silence. "Spock?"
"Are focus words a secret?"
"What's yours, then?"
"I do not have a focus word, Doctor."
"I am … beyond the need for such an exercise."
"What do you mean, 'beyond the need'?"
"This type of meditation is very basic. It is generally used by … Vulcan children, in the beginning of their training."
"Now, you wait just a cotton-pickin' minute. You're telling me that you're treating me like a ten-year-old, here?"
"This exercise is generally practiced by four to five-year-olds."
Long, dangerous silence, then furious muttering as the blue eyes close.
The chuckles increase.
"Doctor, attempt to focus. Remember your word, repeat it as you—"
A bark of laughter.
"Blast it, sorry Spock, but you weren't there. It was—"
"It matters very little at this time how Ensign Danell and Lieutenant Kramer came to be covered in replicated bread pudding, Doctor, or what they looked like. It is not at this time—"
"If you'd been there, even you would have been laughing, half the Engineering department was working on the—"
"I very much doubt it, Doctor."
"This wasn't … too bad today, right?"
"Your efforts are assuredly more focused than were those of your first attempts. Have you noted effects of any significance upon your repetitive symptoms?"
"The memories? I don't … I don't know. I mean, I think about all of this when they pop up, about the focus word, but I don't know if it's been making any real difference. Knowing that it's all an expected result of … well, you know… and that I'm not actually going crazy has made just as much of a difference, I think." Pause. "That's probably not what you want to hear, right? I don't—"
"Doctor, the point is to control and diminish your symptoms. All of these combined factors—our meditation sessions, Dr. M'Benga's treatments, your knowledge of the facts surrounding such an assault—will work in conjunction with each other. It is not a failure to admit that one factor out of the several is providing the most obvious relief at this time. It is probable that such will often be the case throughout this therapy, and indeed throughout your lifetime."
"Oh. Well … good."
"My focus word is distracting me."
"In what way?"
"I can't seem to get past it. It's just … drowning everything else out."
"I am breathing!"
"Doctor, I was not—"
"It's this darned focus word. It's in my way today."
Long, deep breath.
"Very well. We will start our session over. Perhaps a fresh beginning will assist you to … get past this block."
"Maybe. But I'm telling you, the word is just too loud today."
"Perhaps that is just you, Doctor."
"Why, you pointy-eared …"
Laughter rebounds off the walls.
A long, deep, silent Vulcan sigh, and a retreat into meditation of his own.
"It's not working today, and I don't want to do it."
"Look, I know you're trying to help, but not today."
"Doctor McCoy. Do you know of any reason that might be causing your meditation to be particularly unsuccessful at this time?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"This type of reaction is, you understand, not an uncommon one, or unexpected. As we have previously discussed, even those seasoned in meditation may find difficulty during certain—"
"Well, good for them. I don't really care right now, and I don't—"
"You failed to answer my question, Doctor. Do you know of some reason why—"
"It's been a long day, a lot of casualties from that landslide down on the planet. I've only been back on duty three days, I've just barely gotten my feet wet, and now this. We've been going since 0400, we lost two of them—young ones—and it's just … I'm stressed, and I'm tired, and all of those blasted memories are just loud today."
"Strong. It's all I've been seeing all day, blood and death both outside my head and inside, and I don't want to—"
"Doctor. Please sit."
"You're not listening to me! I don't want to try to go in there after it, I don't want to look at it or face it right now, I just want to go back to my room and—"
"Doctor McCoy. Sit. I will—"
"—I will lead you in a guided meditation today. Its purpose—"
"Its purpose will be to draw you away from the strongest of those memories. To calm your unconscious mind, and in doing so calm your symptoms."
"You can … you think that will work? You can actually do something like that?"
"Indeed Doctor, it is a well-known technique. I can of course offer no guarantees as to its success during this particular attempt, but we can only try."
A visible wince, and tightening of the eyes.
"Doctor, please be seated."
The deep Vulcan voice is gentle.
McCoy lowers himself reluctantly to the floor.
"Am I perhaps boring you today, Doctor?"
"You have yawned seven times since beginning our exercises. I do not—"
"Human physiology, Spock. Sometimes when we open our diaphragm and breathe deeply, it just sets us off yawning. Nothing to do with you."
"Not this time, anyway."
Two pairs of eyes open—one blue, one dark.
"Well done, Doctor. How do you feel?"
"Not bad. Things in general have been calmer over the past few days, though, so I think that's probably helping."
"And likely 'vice versa', as you would say."
"Ha. Probably. It's … it's nice, I don't … I haven't been feeling so anxious about it all lately."
"And have the memories diminished, in either number or strength?"
"Maybe a little of both—sometimes I can't tell at all, but sometimes it seems like definitely yes."
"That is excellent."
"What you wanted to hear?"
"It is exactly what is to be hoped for, Doctor."
"Well … good, then." A brief silence. "What've you got going on this evening?"
"I am joining Captain Kirk for chess. We have not played in some time."
"Huh. Well, have fun. I'm off to get a drink and catch up on my personal correspondence. I've had a letter from Joanna sitting there for a week waiting for a reply."
McCoy leverages himself off the floor, and drifts toward the door.
"Very well. Will your shifts over the next week allow for our sessions to continue without alteration?"
"Good. I'll see you here tomorrow, then." A faint grin. "Same Bat time, same Bat channel?"
A gentle snicker.
"Never mind, Spock. Good night."
I don't own Batman, either. I don't know if there's any real chance that McCoy would be familiar w 1960s TV ... but I couldn't resist. :-P