Lord forgive me.
McCoy collapsed. Slumping forward, he buried his face in his hands, unaware of the sharp sting of elbows hitting the desk. The three words beat against closed eyelids, squeezed each beat of his heart into a mournful, dysrhythmic cry, saturated the close air of the office.
The office where he strove to preserve life….. where he had been forced to retreat while death, death by his hand, was erased from his quarters.
The one place where, at that moment, he felt he had the least right to be.
“I thought it was, sir. Another error on my part.”
“I’m not counting them Bones.”
“Well, you might not be countin’ them Jim, but I sure am,” McCoy sighed heavily to the accusing silence.
There had been far too many.
Sure, he had recognized that Darnell couldn’t have died from alkaloid poisoning, even told Jim ‘not to tell him his business’……before promptly forgetting just that.
A first year intern could have told Jim that it wasn’t alkaloid poisoning, would have immediately noted that the plant material had been placed in Darnell’s mouth post-mortem. They knew better than to rely blindly on outside history. He knew better.
Hell, compared to today, as a first year intern, he had been better.
But not today. No, today he not only allowed himself to become so distracted that he didn’t even notice that the Borgia plant in Darnell’s mouth was completely intact, but to the point where he also forgot to order one of the most basic post-mortem tests available. Since when did he conduct an autopsy without checking a full electrolyte panel?! That skin pattern was so similar to the marks of the potassium-injecting leeches of Mephya, that an electrolyte panel should have been his first thought. Instead, he was so focused on Nancy…….on everything that was wrong with Nancy…..that he couldn’t even admit to himself that it was wrong.
From the moment he saw a different woman upon discovering Darnell’s body, he knew something wasn’t right. Sure, he may have been ‘looking at her through a romantic haze’, seeing what he wanted to see, but that wouldn’t make his gut churn, his chest flutter at the edge of nausea. No, that only happened when things were about to go bad.
And oh, did they go bad.
Because when Nancy showed up outside his quarters, he ushered her right in. He knew it was odd that Jim hadn’t told him that she was on board, even said so to Nancy herself, but he still took her in without a word to the Bridge. When Nancy began talking about the strength of his feelings and memories and how she preferred him…..well, he was uncomfortable, sure. He would not, no matter how much he may have cared for Nancy both in the past and the present, violate the sanctity of her marriage. But more than that, he was uncomfortable because what she was saying, how she was saying it, was wrong. The syntax, the diction, almost as if she were speaking a second language…..the seductive tone, a cruel mockery of the sweet choir voice he had fallen in love with so many years before, the manipulative pleas…. ‘if you love me’.....that his psychiatric training should have latched onto immediately….. People changed, sure, but this was just….wrong. And when she encouraged him to take that pill, to ‘just sleep’……
He took a sleeping pill.
During a ship-wide crisis.
Because Nancy told him to.
Not because Jim, one of his best friends, told him to…..Jim had suggested it, but McCoy had already dismissed the idea, on his way to the Bridge just as Nancy appeared at his door.
Nancy told him to take it.
And he listened.
He took medical advice from a suspicious-acting woman he had loved twelve years ago.
Taking the advice was wrong enough - what was worse was that he actually acted on it. There was a reason he hadn’t taken the medication when Jim brought it up. He was a doctor, dammit – he knew exactly how a sedative-hypnotic like zolmedin worked, exactly how it would affect him, exactly how difficult to impossible it would be to wake up quickly if there was a medical call.
But he took that little red pill anyway.
Because Nancy told him to.
The fact that he immediately tried to sit up upon hearing the medical alert was little comfort because, when Nancy lightly pushed him back down and told him to rest, he didn’t fight it.
He didn’t fight it.
Maybe he just couldn’t fight the medication any longer - he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
Maybe he thought that if he just got a little rest, he’d wake up with a clearer understanding of why his gut was churning that one word warning.
Maybe, in hindsight, the hypnotic force that Nancy….the creature….used to paralyze its prey had already been in effect.
But in the end, none of it mattered because he, Leonard H. McCoy, had knowingly put himself into a state where he couldn’t be reached in a crisis. Whether by the creature’s intent or his will alone, it didn’t matter. Barnhart died, Spock was attacked, and his hands had been lax in drugged sleep, rather than busy in knowledgeable healing.
The psychiatrist in him knew that he was being hard on himself, that he was only human, that he was bound to have off-days…….but that same training also whispered that his off-days could kill. He knew, with the rational, non-hurting part of his brain, that he couldn’t have prevented Barnhart’s death, that Spock’s physiology would have kept the Vulcan alive regardless of McCoy’s presence, but still the voice accused:
You weren’t there.
You weren’t there to care for Barnhart’s body in death, you weren’t there to treat and tease Spock’s in life.
Because you took the red pill.
Lord, forgive me.
McCoy scrubbed at his face desperately as that little voice rose to a screaming crescendo, suffocating him with self-castigation. A tiny part of the emotional, irrational storm in his head latched onto that red pill, tied it to Nancy, to all the hurt…..and started to blame the pharmacology even in the face of his own blatant ignorance of it. He had never liked zolmedin and its severe side effect profile, but he tolerated it as a last-option drug because, for some people, it worked. Some, like Jim, got the benefits without the lingering sluggishness, hallucinations, and other dangerous effects. In his despair, his anger, his sheer raging doubt…..McCoy suddenly found himself starting to hate that drug. He struggled through the flood, forcing himself to take a breath. He was a doctor – a professional, trained and experienced in properly weighing risk-benefit ratios with pharmacological knowledge. He wouldn’t throw away a medication simply because he had a bad experience with a patient, even if that patient was himself.
But several hours later, he found himself performing an unnecessary inventory of the sedative-hypnotic drugs…..and saw Christine glance away as she pretended not to notice the subtle shift of the small, red zolmedin to the back of the shelf.
And that night, when McCoy, unable to bear the echo of death haunting his quarters, passed the long hours in his office, immersed in a waking nightmare of rumination that shot his haunted blue eyes with a mockery of zolmedin red…. he pretended the sleepless night wasn’t his penance.
And the next night, when Kirk came down to sickbay seeking relief from an elusive rest haunted by the suffocating memory of helplessness and impending death, he already anticipated his prescription. As McCoy moved to the medication cabinet with a weary silence, Kirk held out his hand for the red pill.
And got a green one.
….And desperately tried to pretend he didn’t see the unspoken reason in McCoy’s struggling eyes.
Lord forgive me.