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John mentally cursed the pain shooting through his body, pressing a firm hand to the barely healing wound just under his ribcage. He promised himself that he would stay grounded for as long as he possibly could once this war was over. He would also get rid of whatever drugs he still had; he had learned the hard way to appreciate the healing factor.

He would do it all provided that, at least, he got back to Earth.

His shuttle floated pitifully through space he hoped was not Romulan, damaged by a bumpy landing and a bumpier takeoff on some backwater planet, with barely enough power to break orbit.

He let out a sigh, sending another jolt of pain through the right side of his body. His mission there was done, and he felt pretty much done with the MACO as well. He moved to the back of the shuttle and took the emergency medkit from under one of the seats. The entire tin can seemed way bigger once he was alone in it. He rummaged through the kit, but it was way too small to have anything that could help his bleeding.

Something bumped into the shuttle, shaking the entire thing more than any simple asteroid would and throwing the medkit away from him. He tried to stay conscious over the pain caused by the sudden movement, but the lull of the following silence – and blood loss – was far stronger.

*****

Leonard woke up in cold sweat, gasping as his eyes darted around the darkness. He was in his quarters aboard the Enterprise. "Lights, thirty percent," he called with his voice grave from sleep. He rubbed his eyes before looking at a clock he kept on his desk. 3:26 am.

He sighed, getting up to go into the bathroom. An exact century later, and the Romulan War still haunted him. He supposed it would continue to do so. Leonard washed his face, put on his uniform and made his way to medbay. He received some smiles and greetings from the few officers going about the ship at that hour, and he gave them a simple nod in response, but none of them came from the man standing in medbay.

"You should be anywhere but here," Geoffrey said simply. "You're on Alpha rotation, which doesn't start for another…"

"Four and a half hours, yeah, I know." Leonard walked further in, hands up in surrender but with a small grin on his face. "Can't a man seek some company?"

"You're the weirdest insomniac I know," Geoffrey huffed out. "What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"

"Looking for some company."

"You look ready to work."

Leonard leaned against a wall and shrugged. "Maybe that too."

"As if I'd let you." He chuckled, "Christine would also kick you out. Besides, there's not a lot going on here, thank God."

"Then," Leonard crossed his arms over his chest, "I'll settle for a cup of coffee."

"That's in the mess hall, not here." Leonard raised an eyebrow at him, and Geoffrey rolled his eyes with a sigh but walked into the office anyway.

Leonard followed, somewhat amused by the man's recurring attempts of lowering his caffeine intake. His little coffee packet was exactly where he usually kept it, which caused him to discreetly smile.

"If you know that's there, you've used it," Leonard commented from the door. "And you're welcome."

"I do usually end up on Gamma rotation, so thanks." Geoffrey threw it to him with a glare that Leonard completely ignored, walking instead to the replicator in medbay. Geoffrey eventually came to his side. "How do you even have actual coffee here?"

"State secret," Leonard replied with a smirk. Geoffrey rolled his eyes again, and Leonard laughed. "Listen, my insomnia is not caused by caffeine, so relax."

"Maybe not, but it'd really help if you could lower the consumption." Leonard turned to him, raising his own cup in an offering. Geoffrey shook his head. "I intend to sleep after I leave medbay."

"Alright."

They stayed in silence as Geoffrey made the rounds. There were no patients, but there was also nothing to talk about, in particular, so he quietly organized things while Leonard drank his coffee.

"When are we picking those emissaries up?" Leonard asked after some time, focused on the cup in his hand. "The Zylians?"

"Uh," Geoffrey stopped to think before turning to Leonard. "Some point during the beta shift, I think."

Leonard hummed as an acknowledgment more than any sign of approval or disapproval.

*****

When John came to, he wasn't alone in the shuttle. A slim figure stood over him, hands gently pulling some fabric from his wound. He flinched, pulling himself up into a sitting position. The figure backed away quickly, only stepping forward again at John's wince of pain. The wound was not much different from before, alright.

Blueish scales covered a good portion of their raised arms, as well as part of their face. They said something, John had no idea what, in some alien language he had never heard before. Granted, he hadn't heard that many.

Their voice was sweet in a way that not even the rather gruff language could hide, but they stopped talking, once he frowned, and tapped something onto a bracelet they wore.

They turned to him with a gentle expression, gesturing to their mouth and speaking a single word. They repeated the gesture once. "You," John started, the frown still on his face, "You want me to talk?" They let out a seemingly relieved sigh that John assumed to be 'that's exactly what I want'. "Alright…" He wasn't sure what to say. "I guess you have your own translator, which really helps." They simply glanced at the bracelet, some sort of device, he assumed, gesturing for him to continue. "It's hard to keep a one-sided conversation going, you know? Talking is pretty difficult as it is–"

"I can imagine," they said with a small smile. John stared at them, surprised, but didn't reply. "Well, assuming you can understand me," one other glance at the device, "My name is Ravel Chandra. Your vessel hit our ship, and your vitals were…" There was a single swish of their tail. "Confusing."

"That's a first," John spoke with a chuckle, immediately placing a hand over the wound. "How long ago was that?"

Ravel took a moment of consideration, looking toward the front of the shuttle. "Some… Ten minutes, I believe."

John hummed his acknowledgment and moved to get up, going back to trying to pilot the shuttle, but a surprisingly good grip on his shoulders stopped him from moving too much. Maybe he misjudged the strength of the alien in front of him. Wouldn't be the first time, considering the source of his injury in the first place.

"You're injured," Ravel spoke firmly, "And your vessel seems quite unresponsive, as well. All I ask is that you let me help."

*****

As Leonard expected, Jim requested, or rather, almost demanded his presence on the reception of the emissaries, saying that one of them was the medical representative in the Zylian Council and that it would be better to have him there.

The doctor fiddled with the collar of his dress uniform one last time before walking out of his quarters, heading straight to the shuttle bay. There, he found only Spock, standing off to the side of the door. The half Vulcan nodded his greetings.

"Hey, Spock," Leonard said simply, "Jim's already in there?"

"Indeed." Spock's hands were clasped behind his back. "The shuttle docked shortly before your arrival, Doctor."

Before Leonard could reply, the door slid open and both of them turned their attention to the oncoming voices and… Laughter. Spock raised an eyebrow the exact moment Jim walked through, followed by an older-looking scaled alien, clad in green robes. Leonard took a sharp breath in, unnoticed amidst all the noise. The scales on the male's arms and face quickly gained a blueish hue as he walked in and his tail moved in rhythm.

"Zoren," Jim turned to his two officers and smiled, "This is my First Officer, Commander Spock, and this is my Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy."

The Zylian bowed his head slightly, and the two mimicked the gesture in almost perfect synch.

"My name is Zoren Chandra," he spoke amicably, "I am the chief of the Zylian council." He looked between the three of them before a new set of steps drew his attention to the doorframe, "And this is my daughter, Ravel."

A familiar slim figure greeted them all with a small bow of her head, the violet robes flowing gracefully with every movement. If any of them noticed Leonard holding his breath for a split second, there were no comments on it, but a knowing twitch of her mouth told him it didn't go unnoticed.

And honestly, that only raised more questions.

*****

The ship was too big to be a personal vessel, but there was no one else beyond the two of them. Other than demanding a complete biological scan to the ship's computer, Ravel was completely silent on the way to the medical wing.

John had insisted he only needed the transport back into familiar space, but she had been equally insistent that they should at least stop the bleeding. In a way, he knew that she was right, but the idea of some unknown alien poking at the wound left him uneasy.

"You realize that if I had any ill intention on treating you," Ravel finally spoke once they crossed the door to the medical wing, "I would not have waited to ask, right?"

John was being all but dragged toward a bed, but he still turned to stare at her. His expression must have had, somehow, betrayed his surprise, because Ravel laughed as soon she turned to him.

"You are breathing out anxiety," she stated as if it were a simple matter. "It's not that hard to pick up on it."

"You're, what, some sort of empath?" It was her turn to frown at his words in confusion. "Uhm, you know…" John paused, searching for words as he lay down. He hoped the jolt of pain went unnoticed and that his expression didn't show it. "From some species that can read people's emotions?"

Her expression softened with a quiet "Oh." Ravel didn't answer beyond that; John took it as an affirmative. She pulled up the scan results with a crease between her brows, but she was particularly gentle with the following touches.

*****

Leonard wasn't surprised to see her interest in the rest of the ship die down once they got to medbay, so he stayed behind with Ravel. In spite of the rest of the delegation trailing after him, Jim didn't leave before mouthing "I told you" toward Leonard, being all but shoved through the door by the doctor.

"So, doctor," Ravel spoke in a low voice and a knowing tone once he turned back inside, "How is life aboard the flagship?"

"Oh, give me a break," Leonard groaned. Of course, she was the same alien he had met a century earlier. "You're not one to talk either."

Maybe his words came out a little harsher than he intended, but other than a glance at him, Ravel didn't seem bothered by it. She walked further in, actually examining some of the equipment and talking to the nurses.

"Say, Len," the head nurse walked up to his side, "They're gonna stay aboard for long?"

"You don't trust empaths, Christine?" He asked with a huffed laugh.

"Not really, no," she replied simply, "And I'm surprised you seem to."

Leonard shrugged. "I'm pretty sure there are worse things than that." Christine looked at him somewhat alarmed, but he pretended to not notice it. "They are staying for a few days. Maybe a week."

Christine groaned something under her breath and walked away from him. There was an amused laugh not too far from where he stood, and he turned to find Ravel watching him.

"There are worse things?" She asked in a sensibly low voice, once no one else was paying attention. "Like deciding space was a good idea?"

He rolled his eyes with a sigh, and instead of answering, asked, "Satisfied with our medbay?"

After a second of consideration, she nodded. "And the staff," she noted in a slightly louder voice. "They think highly of you, doctor."

"I've heard this before."

"And I suppose you'll continue to hear it." Ravel had a challenging glint in her eyes, silently daring Leonard to say something.

Leonard pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing once again. "How about we don't have this conversation in the middle of medbay?"

"Then, as the only face I know," she walked up to him with a smile, "Mind leading me to the mess hall?"

*****

"Is this high metabolic rate normal for your species?"

If the expression Ravel had shown was anything to go by, it was nothing but a genuine question out of simple scientific curiosity. She had well proved to be the medic she claimed to be when she treated him in spite of the unfamiliarity with humans. And she did well, too. He no longer had any trace of the drugs he'd been using to pass as a normal person; he was completely healed, standing up and free to explore the ship.

But the question caught him off-guard, and John stared at her in a second of uncertainty that she caught onto far too quickly.

"Sorry, I'll stop asking so many questions," Ravel hurried to say at John's hesitation. "Let's get out of here, the medical wing isn't the most welcoming place."

They walked in silence, Ravel leading them both to somewhere else as John followed a little behind. There was no way she missed what the pause could have meant, she was giving him space.

"Where is this ship going?" John was the one to break the silence, careful with his question.

Ravel shrugged. "Nowhere in particular," she paused. "Although, if you're thinking of asking for a ride, you might want to give me your name first."

John let out a chuckle at the comment. Her expression was impassive, but there was a hint of amusement in her voice. "Joseph Gallagher," he said without much thought. She regarded him with a doubtful expression for a short moment but didn't say anything about it.

"Alright," she stopped as the door slid open, and gestured for John to enter. "Let's see where I am supposed to drop you off, then."

*****

"Quit staring at me," Leonard spoke up from across the table. "Or are you just that out of it?"

"C'mon, Bones," the captain groaned in frustration, sitting beside Spock. "You never stick around for this sorta thing!"

"I'm here right now."

"Yeah, and that's the thing, isn't it?" Jim bore an unamused expression as he said, "You never join us, and then you do and won't tell me why."

"Wait a minute," the doctor rose his hand to stop Jim before he could continue, "You think there's some ulterior motive for me to be here?"

"I am inclined to agree with the captain, Doctor," Spock chimed in. Leonard turned a glare to him, which Spock simply ignored. "It is indeed a surprise to see how participative you have been so far."

"Maybe they just are a pleasant bunch to have around." Both of them regarded him with clear and simple disbelief in their faces. Each in their own way, of course. "You two are being ridiculous," Leonard said, standing up to put his already empty tray away. "And I have reports to write, so if you'll excuse me."

He didn't look back to the table as he left the mess hall, but he could hear Jim's mumbled "Oh, for god's sake" from the door. Leonard walked toward the turbolift, admittedly expecting to find a Zylian or two exploring the ship in all the curiosity they seemed to have, but there were no other faces beyond the usual crew members of the beta shift.

He arrived quietly in medbay, but Christine's expression turned into a glare as soon as she spotted him. "You better just be here for your PADD," she said curtly.

"There's hardly anything going on anywhere else," Leonard's tone was nonchalant, "I don't see the problem of getting started on some reports."

"The problem," Christine started on the same tone while he walked further in, "Is you overworking yourself. I'm pretty sure the Captain will have our heads if we let that happen again." Leonard rolled his eyes, ready to counter, but she didn't give him an opening. "And don't even try to play it down, you looked awful and somehow got even crankier than usual."

The words died on his mouth, and he paused at the office door. "Alright," he said after a beat of silence. "I guess I'll just take the PADD with me since I'm such a bad company."

"That's not what I said," Christine grumbled and turned to follow him in, but the sternness didn't reach her eyes. "We all just want you at your best."

"Of course," Leonard let out a brief laugh as he dug the device out of a desk drawer. "Gotta make sure your workload doesn't get any bigger."

"Stop twisting my words!" She playfully smacked his shoulder as he passed by her once again. "We do just want you to be okay."

"Yeah, I know." Leonard gave her a small smile. "You and Geoffrey don't have to babysit, though."

"Stay in your quarters for a whole night and we can talk about that."

Leonard left without another word, lest he make a promise he wouldn't be able to keep. He opened some files as he walked down the corridor, but only truly looked at them once he walked into the recreation room of the deck.

It was empty, but mostly due to what the room was used for. A starship was hardly a good place for physical therapy but, in a five-year mission, they had to improvise. The room was due for some reorganization, however.

Leonard sighed and made a mental note for later. He settled onto one of the few chairs inside, distant to the door, and started filling the paperwork he had left aside; the medical files were simple enough and could wait until later in the day. Mission reports and requisition forms? Not so much.

He could enjoy this kind of silence for a change, especially during escort missions. It let him focus. Babel was days away, even as the ship moved as fast as Scotty could possibly allow it to, and all Leonard could do was brace himself for not getting much done in the meantime.

He was almost done with the first batch of reports when, as if right on cue with his own musings, the door slid open and a Zylian – Ravel – walked in with huffed breaths, looking annoyed at something.

She all but threw herself onto a chair on the other side of the room, tossing a small device, not too different from a PADD, over to what was doubling as a table.

Leonard watched in silence, laying his own PADD on the table. Ravel didn't seem to have noticed him, as she began reading on her PADD, letting out small groans of frustration almost immediately. At some point, she stopped scrolling through the text, apparently reading the same section over and over.

She sighed, passing a thumb over the scales on the back of her hand and pulling lightly at a particular one. That had to hurt, Leonard assumed, as she grimaced after a particularly strong pull. She sighed, finally letting her shoulders sag, and ran a hand down her face before pulling her hair up in a ponytail that was much more familiar.

She frowned. And then turned to him. "Synvus," she spoke quietly, "What… For how long have you been there?"

"A while." Leonard gave her a small smile. "Fifteen minutes before you showed up, or something." He paused briefly. "Wait, what did you just call me?"

Ravel shook her head, "Doesn't matter." She turned her attention back to the PADD, and the absent-minded pulling of scales resumed as well.

Leonard took his own PADD in hands, returning to his work. It took only one report for an exasperated sigh to come out of Ravel. "So," the doctor started, still holding the device but not truly paying attention to it. "What did they want, dragging you out of the mess hall like that?"

"A council meeting of sorts," she said, completely turning to face him, "Which, despite my best efforts, doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

"I thought they wanted to end this war," Leonard spoke with genuine surprise, "What do they have left to discuss?"

Ravel's chuckle was one of frustration. "Their impossible demands." She looked back to the PADD for a second, then continued, "I think they want the status quo from before the war, but they don't realize that is what caused it in the first place…"

Ravel didn't say anything beyond that. It took a moment for the realization to strike Leonard. She had no reason to be there as a medic, let alone to review the terms of a treaty. "You're here as a mediator," he commented a little suddenly. The tension on her shoulders became quite visible as he continued, "You're the one in contact with the Velosic."

Ravel had a rueful smile. "Good to see you still have some reasonable thinking in you."

"Excuse me?"

"The flagship?" She looked at him as if what she referred to was obvious, gesturing to their surroundings. "After everything?"

"You're really not one to talk." There was a beat of silence as Leonard waited for some reaction, but it didn't come. "How much time did you even spend awake?"

"In total, some years." Her reply was simple, but Leonard kept his eyes on her, waiting for some kind of elaboration. She shrugged. "There was a lot happening, you can't blame me for not keeping track."

The ship shook before Leonard could even think of something to say. He stood up abruptly only to see the door slide open with a plasma shot of some kind coming in his general direction.

Getting out of the way wasn't difficult. The sight of who shot at him, however, made him freeze. He had made sure to get rid of everything, had been ever so careful. There shouldn't be any of them left. So just why the hell was he staring at a C24 mutant?

He was only brought back into the present when he hit the floor. The weight of a body pushed him down, out of the way of another shot. Ravel moved nimbly, all but leaping off of him toward the intruder in order to disarm them. They fired again, but her movement didn't falter.

But she was thrown across the room before she could actually get close. Moving on impulse and muscle memory, Leonard jumped to his feet and closed the distance between him and the mutant, taking the gun from them in a swift movement that ended with the rifle's butt on their jaw.

Leonard ignored the disproportionate crack he heard. He walked up to Ravel, evening his breathing the best could as he helped her stand up. Her focus quickly fell on the intruder, but she didn't let go of his arm.

"Breathe," Ravel spoke with a squeeze to his arm. Leonard vaguely felt her eyes on him as he did so, barely noticing his own ragged breathing. "Whatever you're seeing cannot be real, John, so just breathe."

"How–" he started in a glance, but another squeeze to his arm stopped the words from coming out.

"Rapid breathing and heartbeat, you look too pale to be healthy, and I know that a Krondurian war criminal wouldn't make you panic." Leonard turned his head, confusion clear in his expression. "We are not seeing the same thing, John."

The doctor turned back to the intruder. They were still a mutant for maybe half a minute but, as if it were all a bad hologram, their image flickered, being briefly replaced by a large black-scaled reptilian. It settled on a pearly white figure with no real distinguishable features.

A sigh escaped Ravel once she let go of his arm, and they slowly approached the body sprawled on the floor. Something didn't feel right. The skin seemed somehow… Brighter in the couple of steps they took. She tentatively reached out a hand to touch the creature's arm. It didn't stop growing brighter.

It was a warm burst of light, emanating from the body, that engulfed both of them.