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Disease and Danger

Chapter Text

“Enterprise to Mr. Spock.

Spock flipped his communicator open. “Spock here.”

Mr. Scott’s voice crackled from the speaker. “ Are ye ready to beam up, Sir? Storm’s a-brewin’ in the distance an’ we’ll lose transporter function sooner’n a cat’s sneeze .”

Spock frowned, more from the necessary interruption to his work than from Mr. Scott’s rather colourful phrasing. He had noticed the wind picking up, but he’d hoped for a little more time to finish gathering samples. “Very well. I request another minute to finish, then I will be ready for transport.”

Aye, Sir, ” Scotty said. “ I’ll grab t’others first . Enterprise out .”

Spock returned his communicator to its proper place and began packing up his samples. Darkasia Four had once been inhabited by a warp-capable society, but they had either left or died out centuries ago. Spock was gathering artefacts and samples from one of the ruins of their civilization to try to piece together what happened to the Darkasians. The other members of the away team were nearby, collecting their own information. Spock had lost visual contact with most of them a while ago, though he made sure to check in regularly with the Captain. He didn’t mind working on his own - in many cases he quite preferred it - but after some time he noticed a strange lack of something he couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t until he looked up, instinctively searching for Doctor McCoy that he realised what was missing: the good doctor’s nattering commentary.

Were Spock human he may have snorted with amusement. Strange how something that once seemed so excessive and unnecessary he now felt bereft without.

Spock snapped his sample case shut. No matter; he would be seeing the doctor shortly and undoubtedly be subjected to all manner of conversation, both one-sided and interactive. They would complete their duty shifts together in the science lab and then retire to his quarters or Leonard’s for dinner and other activities. Leonard had not specified what the other activities would be when they agreed to spend this time together, but it would be the third such occurrence since he and Leonard had started “dating” and Spock was given to understand that the “third date” had incredible significance on Earth.

Now was not the appropriate time to dwell on such matters, however. “Enterprise to Spock. Stand by to transport.

Spock opened his communicator. “Standing by.”

There was a brief pause and then Spock felt the dematerialisation and rematerialisation processes occur all but simultaneously. A moment later he stood on the transporter pad, looking down at the rest of the away team. Everyone was there except one: Doctor McCoy.

Spock stepped down from the transporter. “Where is the doctor?”

Jim clapped him congenially on the back, grinning. “Hold your horses, Mr. Spock. He’s coming up next. Said he was having some technical difficulties when Scotty spoke to him earlier.”

The expression on the captain’s face indicated he was amused by Spock’s question, which Spock found bewildering. As XO, he was responsible for the welfare of the crew. If it had been Danvers or Sulu missing, he would have made the same inquiry. But because it was Doctor McCoy, the captain seemed to be reading more into the question than was warranted.

Before Spock could correct the captain’s mistake, Mr. Scott spoke into the console communicator. “ Enterprise to Doctor McCoy. Stand by to transport.”

No response came from the console.

Spock glanced at Jim, whose hand slid from his back, a worried frown now overtaking his expression. “Try again, Scotty.”

Mr. Scott fiddled with one of the settings on the communicator and spoke again. “ Enterprise to Doctor McCoy. Please respond.”

Still nothing.

The captain walked over to the console and pressed a button. “McCoy? Bones, are you there?”

No response.

The captain glanced at Spock, who remained impassive, then at Mr. Scott. “Do you have a lock on his signal?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Bring him up.”

“Aye, sir!”

Mr. Scott adjusted the transporter controls and pressed the levers that would bring McCoy, conscious or otherwise, into the safety of the ship. Light shimmered as an inert form began to appear on the pad. It was thin, sprawling…

And certainly not human.

Sitting placidly on the transporter pad was a plant made of long vines that converged on a central root system. One of the many sprawling vines curled tightly around a Starfleet issued communicator; it stood out starkly against the vibrant green of the leaves.

“Uh, Mr. Scott,” the captain started, looking perplexed.

“I dunnae what to tell ye, Cap’n,” Mr. Scott protested. “That’s the signal I’ve been locked onto this whole time.”

“It’s a plant,” the captain said.

Spock stepped forward and pulled the communicator gently out of the vine’s grasp. A quick look confirmed his suspicion: the registration number indicated it was indeed Doctor McCoy’s.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Scott said to the captain. “But the scans show traces of McCoy’s DNA. And I’m not pullin’ up any other signs of human life down on the planet. Believe it or not, this is Doctor McCoy.”

The captain looked up at Spock. “Is that even possible?” he demanded.

Spock raised an eyebrow. “It would not be the first time an incident similar to this has occurred, Captain.”

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t believe this. My CMO has been turned into a plant. Scotty, did this happen before or after the beam up?”

Lieutenant Sulu stepped up next to Spock and checked the leaves on one of the vines. Spock dimly noted Mr. Scott’s avowal that he would need time to figure out what had caused the transformation, but he had other pressing concerns to deal with right now. “Is the plant healthy, Mr. Sulu?”

Lieutenant Sulu pulled his tricorder out and swept it over the plant. “It - he - er, the plant seems to be fine. It’ll need to be put into some sort of container soon though. To protect the roots.”

Spock nodded. “Very well.” He stooped down to gather the plant into his arms, but was quickly stopped by Lt. Sulu.

“I can do that, sir,” Lt. Sulu said. “I have soil and nutrient samples from the planet.”

Spock hesitated. The lieutenant was indeed the most knowledgeable person about plants in this room - perhaps the whole ship. Logically, Spock should be more than willing to let him take control of this particular situation. Nevertheless, it was with extreme misgivings that Spock stepped back and allowed Lt. Sulu to heft the unwieldy plant into his arms and whisk it away to the hydroponics bay.

“Mr. Spock.”

Spock strode over to the captain’s side. “Yes, Captain?”

“Spock, I want you to work with Scotty and see if this was another transporter malfunction or if something happened on the planet to cause this. I hope to heaven it was a transporter malfunction because if we don’t leave within a few hours we’ll miss our rendezvous with the Calypso , and all indications show the storm down there will last a lot longer than that.”

Spock’s stomach jolted oddly but he ignored it. “Yes, Captain.” His eyes darted automatically towards the transporter room door where Sulu had disappeared with the plant.

“Don’t worry, Spock,” Jim said quietly. “We’ll get him back.”

Spock dragged his eyes away from the door. “Of course, Captain. It would be illogical to worry.”

Jim flashed him a small, sad smile. “Of course it would. Gentlemen, I expect your report within an hour.”

---

Mr. Scott and Spock worked steadily, trying to track down any trace of a malfunction with intermittent scans of the planet just in case they could penetrate the storm enough to determine if the transformation did occur there or during transportation. They had no luck with either. Sulu returned after nearly the full hour had elapsed, plant cradled in his arms. There was now an enclosed container surrounding the plant’s - Doctor McCoy’s - delicate roots. The leaf-covered vines, however, were still free to move through the air. They did so, seemingly of their own accord. Sulu set Doctor McCoy down next to Spock, and one vine immediately wound itself around his arm.

“The container is feeding all the necessary nutrients into the doctor’s roots,” Mr. Sulu said. He, at least, seemed to have no hesitation about the plant’s true identity. “He should be a happy little plant.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sulu,” Spock said evenly. He carefully disentangled his arm from the vine and eased himself further under the transporter console. “Perhaps it would be wise for you to remove the doctor to somewhere safer, where he will not be in danger of being stepped on.”

Lt. Sulu gave him a look that Spock had learned to characterise as “sheepish.” “I thought you might like him to keep you company while you work. Er, both of you,” he added with a nod at Mr. Scott.

The illogical part of Spock’s mind, the part he fought against every waking day, agreed with Mr. Sulu’s assessment. However… “Mr. Scott and I have to work quickly, and it would be unfortunate indeed if the doctor were accidentally trod on. He would be better off in hydroponics or sickbay.”

“Yes, sir.” Sulu removed Doctor McCoy from the immediate vicinity. As he left, Spock’s sharp ears heard Sulu talking to the doctor as if he were a creature with the ability to hear. Curious. Another fallacy in human logic: what is the purpose of speaking to something that cannot hear?

Precisely fifteen minutes before the absolute latest the Enterprise had to leave to keep her rendezvous with the Calypso , Captain Kirk returned to the transporter room. “Well, gentlemen?” he asked. He leaned casually on the transporter console, but Spock could see the tension in his body. The captain was worried.

Mr. Scott shook his head. “It’s nothin’ t’do with the transporter, sir. Whatever happened to McCoy happened on the planet.”

“Damn!” The captain smacked his hand against the console. “We don’t have time to stick around and investigate. We’ll have to come back after the rendezvous.”

Mr. Scott stared at him, disbelieving. “Ye mean ye’re gonna leave him as he is?”

“Do you have any other suggestions? We cannot miss that rendezvous and the Calypso has only a short window to meet with us.”

Spock straightened up. “Permission to remain on the planet with a shuttlecraft and search for the cause of Doctor McCoy’s current condition.”

“Permission denied,” the captain said. “I need you with me, Spock.” He sighed and gave Spock a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, Spock. If we didn’t need to leave immediately, I would stay here for as long as it would take to make this right again. You know I would. As soon as the rendezvous is over, we’ll head straight back here. How long will it take us to get to the meeting point?”

“2.8 days at warp 7,” Spock said.

Kirk rubbed his forehead. “We’ll be pushing the ship hard as it is. We can’t delay any further. On the way back, if the ship can handle it we’ll come back at warp 9. In the meantime, we’ll make arrangements to have McCoy’s shifts covered in sickbay and hope to hell we don’t run into Klingons.”

“Aye, sir,” Spock said. The captain’s orders were clear and logical, and there was no use in arguing against them.

In spite of his agreement, Kirk seemed to think he felt disappointment or sadness, as he smiled encouragingly at Spock. “We’ll get him back, Spock.”

“Of course, Captain.”

“Scotty, can you put this thing back together on your own?” Kirk asked, indicating the transporter.

“Aye, sir,” Mr. Scott said.

“Very well, please do so. We’ll need it functioning when we meet the Calypso . Mr. Spock, with me.”

Spock obediently followed on the captain’s heel as they made their way down to the hydroponics bay. Kirk walked quickly and silently. Spock knew from past experience that this meant he was in deep thought, making plans and calculations. He would blame himself, Spock knew, for the doctor’s current predicament. He made the decisions he had to make, but he would not be pleased that he had to leave the planet that most likely held the key to returning his CMO to human form.

Spock would have made the same decision. He admired the captain’s practicality and steadfastness. Still, it would be...strange not to have the doctor around in the meantime.

Hydroponics was usually a quiet place, good for contemplation and respite. Spock did not go there often outside of his work duties, but he always found it enjoyable when he did. Today was different however. There was a buzz of frenetic energy as Lieutenant Sulu, Nurse Chapel, and Doctor M’Benga fussed around and assessed the plant that was now Doctor McCoy.

“Report,” Captain Kirk barked as they entered.

Nurse Chapel looked at Doctor M’Benga, who looked grim. “This is a little outside my area of expertise, Captain,” he admitted. “The plant looks healthy and we know how to keep it alive for the time being, but I couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to how this happened. How can a human be turned into a plant?”

“How can an adult human or Vulcan be turned into a child?” the captain asked rhetorically. “How can a human be turned into a dog? Space is full of mysteries and wonders, Doctor.” He stepped up to the plant and ran a gentle finger along one vine. The vine barely reacted more than a twinge; however, when Spock attempted to do the same, the vine immediately curled itself around Spock’s wrist.

“Is he aware of his surroundings?” Nurse Chapel asked. “Do you think he knows who is here right now?”

“Vulcans have a higher core body temperature than humans,” Spock reminded her. “He may simply be reacting to the heat.”

“Still, it wouldn’t hurt to keep talking to him like you normally would,” Sulu said. “Plants react positively to spoken encouragement and soothing music.”

“When was the last time McCoy reacted positively to anything soothing and gentle?” Doctor M’Benga asked with a fond smile. “He thrives on arguments and sarcasm.”

Kirk laughed. “We’ll leave that part of his care to Mr. Spock, shall we?”

“I shall be busy analysing the properties of the plant to determine any possible causes of the transformation,” Spock said. “I will not have the time to ‘take care’ of Doctor McCoy.”

Kirk looked surprised at this. “May I have a word with you, Mr. Spock?”

When Spock nodded, the captain pulled him over to a less crowded part of hydroponics. “I figured… well, Spock, he is your - boyfriend -”

Spock stiffened. “We have declined to use such appellations regarding ourselves, Captain. We are together in a romantic sense, but we are not ‘boyfriends’ or ‘lovers’ or -”

“Yes, yes, I see,” Jim interrupted thoughtfully. “Well, nevertheless, you are one of the closest people to him on this ship and have a unique attachment. I assumed you would appreciate the chance to ensure his wellbeing.”

Spock glanced back at the plant. It was true, he would prefer to take direct guardianship of the doctor, but… “I have little experience in caring for plants, Captain.”

“We’ll all help out, of course,” Jim assured him. “Especially Mr. Sulu.” Jim’s lips quirked up into a small smile. “You will need to keep McCoy close during your analysis anyway. Would you like me to make it an order to protect your Vulcan sensibilities?”

Spock gave him a dry look. “That will not be necessary, Captain. I will assist in the caretaking and protection of Doctor McCoy while he is in this transformed state.”

“Thank you, Mr. Spock,” Jim said gratefully. “I would say the doctor would be appreciative, but this is McCoy we’re talking about. Suffice it to say he will show his appreciation in his own unique way.”

“Undoubtedly.”

---

The room eventually cleared out with the exception of Mr. Sulu and Spock who stayed behind to do their separate analyses. They didn’t work together often, and Spock quickly wished they did not have to work together now as Sulu had a propensity toward chatter. Not to Spock himself, but to the plant. It was incongruous and distracting.

“- haven’t even begun to analyse the information we gathered about the Darkasians. Everyone’s efforts have so far been trying to figure out what happened to you,” Sulu prattled on. “We had to leave for our rendezvous, so I guess you’ll be stuck like this for at least six days, but the captain is confident we will -”

“Mr. Sulu, please send me your soil analyses,” Spock interrupted.

“Aye, sir.” There was a moment of silence as Mr. Sulu transferred the file to Spock’s PADD. At last it seemed like they would be able to work in peace.

But then he continued speaking to the plant. “What was I saying? Oh right, the captain is confident we’ll figure out what happened and get you back right as rain.”

“Lieutenant, must you carry on narrating?” Spock asked. “The doctor is incapable of responding.”

“I understand that, sir, but plants are very receptive to their surroundings. I want him to know he’s with friends and we’re going to do our best to help him,” Mr. Sulu said. “You could give it a shot.”

Spock let out the softest aggrieved sigh. “Thank you, no.”

Sulu returned to his happy narration and Spock slipped into a meditative state of mind perfect for drowning out the incessant noise.

---

A few hours later, Sulu left for the day and Spock was alone with the doctor in silence. At first it was a welcome relief, but then Spock found he missed the sound of the doctor’s voice when they would work together. He always had something to say, unless he was deep in thought. Was the doctor aware of his surroundings in this form? It was impossible to tell.

“Perhaps you would care to enlighten us?” Spock asked. His voice sounded odd to his own ears, speaking aloud in the empty room. Empty except for the doctor, who gave no sign of having heard. Spock sighed. “Very well.” He stood up and stretched, preparing to leave. “I hope you pass the night pleasantly.”

The plant gave no response.

Spock started to move towards the door, then stopped. He looked back at the plant, which did not move. It was completely illogical, but Spock did not wish to leave the doctor behind to spend the night alone. The doctor would, after all, probably have no cognizant notion that he was alone and therefore would not be bothered by it. Therefore it would be irrational for Spock to consider removing him from hydroponics and take him to his own quarters instead. Illogical, irrational, completely without any sense or reason…

Spock gently lifted the potted plant into his arms and strode through the door, making his way to his quarters. A few people in the corridors stared at him, but this was hardly the most unusual thing to have ever occurred on the Enterprise . Once he was in his own quarters, Spock cleared a spot for the doctor on his bedside table and set him down. He made sure the doctor had plenty of water and that the soil was well balanced before changing into his meditation robes and preparing the necessary accoutrements.

He found it difficult to settle his mind. It flitted uneasily through the events of the day, replaying certain ones over and over again. McCoy had said he was having technical difficulties before the beam up. What had those difficulties been? Perhaps they held the answer to the mystery of the doctor’s transformation. How long would this rendezvous with the Calypso take? And would it still be possible for the doctor to be returned to human form once they went back? Would the doctor’s mind still be whole and functional?

Spock’s heart jolted slightly, and he stilled himself, examining the response. What would it mean if they returned the doctor to his body only to find he had lost his mind? For the doctor, it would mean the end of his career, for starters. He would have to return to Earth, to be taken care of. Would his family assist, or would he have to be placed in an institution?

But these thoughts were not what had caused the jolt, Spock knew. It was something closer. Not so much what would happen to the doctor (though related), but how Spock himself would cope with the loss. There would be a hole left behind in his absence, unfillable at least for a while. Spock would have to work steadily to fill that hole back up with other things. Things that would not cause such a surge of dread somewhere deep in his psyche should they become lost to him once more.

It was untenable, this ache. Spock breathed evenly, tightening his control on the feelings until they were small enough to be unnoticed.

By the time he had finished meditating, it was very late. Spock changed into his sleepwear and turned down his bed covers before climbing into bed. The last thing he saw before turning off the lights was the plant sitting calmly beside him.

“Goodnight, Leonard,” he said softly.

---

In the days leading up to the rendezvous with the Calypso , it became a regular sight for one of the senior staff - mostly Mr. Spock himself - to be seen carrying a rather unwieldy plant through the hallways. If pressed, the humans would just shrug and say sheepishly that they thought Doctor McCoy could use a change of scenery so they were taking him to any number of places aboard the ship. Spock, on the other hand, would just coldly arch an eyebrow the few times someone dared call him out on displaying such sentiment.

“I have business to attend to,” he told one ensign rather sharply, “and no doubt you do as well. Perhaps you should focus more on your work than on your shipmates’ business and your poor performance ratings will improve, Ms. Schill.”

Ensign Schill went bright red from embarrassment and left; any inquiries after that never made themselves known to Spock.

An informal schedule developed, with everyone on the senior staff taking turns to make sure Doctor McCoy was well cared for. One time Spock witnessed Sulu taking over custody of the doctor from Scotty. Mr. Sulu frowned and peered closely at the leaves with such concern that Spock drifted closer, trying to determine what was the matter.

“He looks a little droopy,” Mr. Sulu said. “Did something happen?”

Scotty cleared his throat. “Er, well, you know it must be tough for him if he knows what’s going on, so I thought I might...give him some encouragement, like.”

Mr. Sulu laughed. “Did that encouragement come in the shape of a flask, by any chance?”

Scotty chuckled. “Aye, that it did. Just a bit of a kip.”

“It doesn’t look like you did any damage. I’ll just make sure he gets some extra water. I wonder if plants get hungover,” Sulu said.

Spock privately made a note not to hand the doctor over to Mr. Scott again.

Other odd behaviour began to crop up. Uhura was seen singing to the plant in the mess hall. The captain had a little table installed on the back of his chair so that the plant could sit there looking over his shoulder just like McCoy would have done were he human. Sulu continued to speak to it, providing it with regular updates; Chekov quickly joined in. Nurse Chapel monitored the plant’s health closely.

And then of course there was Spock. He still could not bring himself to speak to the plant in front of others, but every night he made sure he was the last one in custody of the doctor and brought him back to his quarters for the night. Then, in the privacy if his own space, he would give the doctor a rundown of his day, just as he would if they were on a “date.” He spoke passively, without emotion, but he could imagine - if he let himself - the quirk of a smile or the raised eyebrow McCoy would respond with were he human. A couple of times Spock even indulged in imagining what McCoy would say to him; these inventions more often than not ended in speculative arguments. These imaginary conversations were not illogical, Spock reasoned. After all, while playing chess one would have to anticipate one’s opponent’s moves. It was the same with Spock and McCoy’s verbal sparring.

The meeting with the Calypso seemed to last longer than the actual 4.6 hours that elapsed on the chronometer. At last they were free to depart and Captain Kirk ordered their return to Darkasia Four posthaste. The plant was beginning to look a little worse for wear, in spite of the crew’s careful attention to its well being. Spock had been analysing its composition, structure, soil content - anything that might tell them how and why McCoy had been transformed into a plant. So far, he had no answers. When they returned to the planet there was hope that maybe the solution would lie in the Darkasians’ ancient technology.

They were still a full day away from the planet at warp 9 when it happened. It was midday, so the bridge was full of personnel. The captain sat in his chair, McCoy perched carefully on his shelf. Mr. Sulu was examining his leaves and speaking soothingly to him. Spock should have been concentrating on his own work, but he could not help stealing glances behind him at McCoy. Uhura sat nearby, chatting idly with Nurse Chapel who had come up to look in on McCoy as well. Uhura’s console was monitoring all subspace frequencies but nothing was coming through at the moment, so she took the time to catch up with her best friend, trading idle gossip. Spock ignored them as best as he could, focusing instead on the soft words Mr. Sulu murmured to Doctor McCoy. Were he human, Spock might have felt jealousy at such a display.

Suddenly, Uhura sat up, startled.

Spock glanced at her curiously as she jabbed at buttons on her console, conversation with Nurse Chapel clearly forgotten. She let out a soft gasp. “Captain!”

“What is it, Uhura?” Jim asked, turning around in his chair.

“I - I don’t believe it! There’s a transmission coming through to us from Darkasia,” she said.

Spock sat up straighter; everyone else on the bridge not already paying attention to Uhura now turned their focus on her. The captain got up from his seat and adjusted his shirt. “From Darkasia? But how is that possible - there was no sentient life left there after the Darkasians left.”

Uhura cleared her throat. “No, but… Well, you’ll want to hear this for yourself. Audio only.”

“Put it through, Uhura,” the captain instructed.

A moment later a voice they all recognised filtered through the loudspeakers.

“- nterprise , come in damn you. McCoy to Enterprise , come in damn you. McCoy to Enterprise , come in damn you.”

It was a recording of McCoy’s voice, playing on a loop.

One by one every pair of eyes turned to the plant sitting motionless on the captain’s chair, then back to Uhura.

“It’s not the plant,” she told them. “The signal is definitely coming from the planet.”

Jim brought his hand to his face and rubbed his forehead. In spite of the tension evident around his eyes, he was smiling. “It’s not the damn plant. It was never the damn plant!” The smile faded. “Are we close enough to respond?”

“Aye, sir. Patching you through now.”

Jim lowered his hand. “McCoy, this is Enterprise . Do you copy?”

There was a moment where the recording kept repeating, a pause long enough that Spock began to wonder if the doctor was still capable of responding, but then finally there was a crackle and a fresh voice answered, “ Jim ?”

“Bones!”

Jim, goddamn you, where have you been ?” McCoy growled. “ I’ve been stuck on this planet for nearly five damn days and you -”

“I’m sorry, Bones, I’m so...so sorry. We’re coming back now. We had to go meet the Calypso . What happened to you? We ran scans of the planet and didn’t show any human life,” the captain said.

Long story, Jim ,” the doctor said with a sigh.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Jim replied. “We’re still a day’s travel away.”

Can Spock hear me?

Jim’s eyes flickered to Spock, who said, “I am here, Doctor.”

Damn ,” McCoy said. “ Well if you promise not to laugh at me, I’ll tell you exactly what happened, near as I can figure it .”

“I will not laugh,” Spock assured him.

I meant Jim. You, Spock - you’re not allowed to use this to belittle or - or bring this up in an argument ever . You hear me ?”

On any other day Spock would have matched his tone with a coy remark, but not today. He could hear the exhaustion and relief in McCoy’s voice, and it was enough to know that things had not been very easy for him. “I promise I will not.”

With that promise ensured, McCoy launched into the tale of what exactly befell him on Darkasia Four since the order to prepare for beam up.

It turned out the “technical difficulties” McCoy had experienced were a local monkey-like animal that had stolen his tricorder. He chased the “smarmy bastard” into a cavern, not noticing that he dropped his communicator at some point before entering the cavern. He wasn’t sure where he lost it, but he surmised it may have been the same plant that he’d accidentally cut his hand on ( which would explain why they found McCoy’s DNA on the plant, Spock thought). The cavern was large - a veritable labyrinth of passages and corridors, and McCoy promptly got lost. Something in the walls must have confused the Enterprise ’s scanners, hence why they found no signs of human life on the planet.

McCoy eventually found his way back to the cavern entrance only to find the threatened storm had come tearing in with full force. Communicatorless, unable to contact the ship, McCoy had no choice but to wait for the storm to break. He knew the ship would have to leave soon for its rendezvous, but he thought he’d have more time. The storm lasted for hours, though, and as time passed McCoy saw his chances growing smaller and smaller.

At last the storm broke and he was able to make his way back to the Darkasian settlement and search through their equipment before he found what appeared to be a transstellar communications device. It was, of course, nonfunctional but through some trial and error McCoy managed to get it working well enough to set up his recorded message. And wait.

Part of me thought you wouldn’t be coming back ,” McCoy admitted. “ Part of me thought maybe I didn’t get the right frequency or direction or whatever. Who knows? I’m a doctor, not an engineer .”

“We’re coming back now,” Jim assured him. “I’m sorry we had to leave you.”

Yeah, well .” McCoy grunted. He wasn’t quite ready to accept the apology even though he knew it was hardly Jim’s fault. “ I hope you’ve had as miserable a time as I have .”

“Absolutely,” Jim assured him quickly. “It was horrendous. Spock was unbearable without you to keep him in line.”

Spock’s eyes snapped to the captain, startled to think he had been anything other than his usual professional self. Jim sent him a wink. Ah. Human deception. Jim was simply playing into McCoy’s sense of humour.

Sure enough, McCoy laughed. “ I’ll bet he was. He was probably an absolute tyrant .”

“Indeed,” Spock said drily. “My behaviour has changed drastically without your acerbic wit nearby.” It was quite true, though not for the reasons McCoy probably thought.

McCoy snorted, then let out a sigh. “ Listen, I’ve been all alone down here for too long. I want to keep talking to you, but I need to go find myself some food. Will you still be here when I get back ?”

“Of course,” Jim said.

Spock ?”

“Yes, Doctor,” Spock assured him.

Okay. Good. Don’t go anywhere .” He sighed again. “ Maybe I’ve just gone mad and you’re not really coming at all.

“I do not believe you are hallucinating our interaction, Doctor. I am quite real, I assure you. As for your sanity, I can make no irrefutable claim as to its existence.”

McCoy laughed harder than he normally would have at such an obvious slight. “ Well fuck you very much, Mr. Spock. Now I know I’m not imagining things. I can barely figure out what you’re saying - there’s no way my mind made that up .”

“I am pleased to be of assistance, Doctor.”

Smug bastard .” Spock knew without seeing him that McCoy was smiling. He wasn’t the only one; Jim was smirking at Spock, and the other bridge officers were smiling openly or behind cupped hands. “Alright, I’m going. I’ll be back soon. McCoy out .”

Jim nearly collapsed onto his chair. One of the vines of the errant plant immediately wrapped around his shoulder. Jim glared at it. “Someone get this plant out of here. I don’t care what you do with it, I just never want to see it again.” He shook his head and looked at Spock. “We were complete idiots. I can’t believe I left him behind.”

Spock came to stand beside the captain’s chair. “You did what was necessary. He understands that.”

Sulu removed the plant from its little stand and took it away. It was illogical to be glad for the removal, just as it was illogical to be embarrassed about how he had been treating the plant for the last several days. They had acted to the best of their knowledge.

Still.

“I won’t tell him about the plant if you don’t,” the captain said slyly.

“I find that an agreeable solution.”

---

The next day, a very dirty, sweaty, and smelly McCoy was beamed onto the transporter pad, looking decidedly worse for wear. Spock and Jim were the first ones to greet him, Jim with an enthusiastic hug and exaggerated wince at the smell, Spock with a cordial nod. McCoy waved them both away.

“I need a shower and a cup of coffee and a huge meal,” he said. “Not necessarily in that order.”

“Go on,” Jim said, grinning. “You’re dismissed. I don’t want to see you again until you’ve shaved.”

McCoy ran a hand over his face and winced. “Aye aye, Captain.”

“You will also need to report to sickbay to be examined,” Spock reminded him. “And file an official report about your experiences on Darkasia Four.”

“I know, Spock,” McCoy growled. “Just let me return to being human first, then I’ll go about my official duties. I’m not a damn robot, you know.”

Spock nodded. “I am aware. Captain, I request permission to assist Doctor McCoy.”

Jim grinned at him. “Permission granted.”

Spock took McCoy by the arm and led him down the hall to the nearest turbolift. It felt good to be able to touch McCoy again - the actual McCoy, not a plant substitute.

“I don’t need help showering, you know,” McCoy informed him as the turbolift lurched into motion.

“I am aware,” Spock responded. “As First Officer, it is my obligation to ensure you take all requisite steps to reintegrating yourself back into your position’s duties.”

“Admit it, Spock, you missed me,” McCoy said.

“I am gratified to be within your presence after such a lengthy absence.”

“Close enough.”

Once inside McCoy’s quarters, however, Spock wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. He sat uneasily on the edge of the bed as McCoy disappeared into the bathroom and started up the water shower. Normally he would have used the sonic, but right now he “just wanted to feel human again, Spock, is that so much to ask.” McCoy indeed looked rather subhuman at the moment, swaying on his feet with exhaustion, so Spock elected not to cite how wasteful a water shower was while on board a starship.

“You could join me,” McCoy had said just before closing the bathroom door. “That way it wouldn’t be such a waste.”

Spock wasn’t sure if McCoy truly expected his offer to be taken up, but a couple minutes after the water started, Spock found himself unable to resist the temptation. He eased open the door and stepped inside.

McCoy peeked out from behind the curtain and swallowed. Spock was still completely dressed, but McCoy’s eyes swept up and down his frame nonetheless. He had seen Spock naked on multiple occasions, so his imagination could easily provide what his view could not see. “Does your offer still stand?”

McCoy blinked. “Yeah,” he said softly. “But, uh… if you’re expecting anything other than just being close, you’re going to have to wait until I’ve had some food and sleep.”

Spock shook his head and shed his shirt. “That is amenable. I wish to be near you.”

“Come on in, then.” McCoy twitched the curtain back into place and stepped under the spray.

Spock quickly shed the rest of his clothes and stepped into the shower with McCoy. He pressed himself up against McCoy, eagerly drinking in the contact. McCoy was buzzing with exhaustion palpable even without touch telepathy. Spock poured some shampoo from the wall-mounted dispenser and used it to lather up McCoy’s hair.

McCoy relaxed into his grip and let Spock work his way over his body, scrubbing him down with soap and then rinsing him off carefully. In spite of McCoy’s insistence that he was too tired for any sexual activity, his penis gave a brief twitch of interest while Spock washed and rinsed it. Spock had seen various parts of McCoy unclothed, but never in his entirety - and never below the waist before. Spock found he quite enjoyed the view.

By the time Spock turned off the water, McCoy was completely clean from head to toe and his eyes were drooping shut.

“I could sleep for a week,” McCoy said with a contented sigh as Spock guided him back into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around each of their hips. He carefully sat McCoy down and began to search for a depilator.

“Your nights on Darkasia Four were not restful?” Spock inquired. At last he found what he was looking for and returned to McCoy to start the process of shaving off his scruff.

McCoy snorted. “Restful? Are you kidding? What with all the wild animals and the rock-hard bed - I don’t think the Darkasians were big on comfortable sleeping, let me tell you - and the bugs skittering across my face, no. They were not restful. Not to mention they only lasted about five hours.”

Spock ran the depilator over McCoy’s cheeks, chin, and upper lip. He worked slowly, methodically, making sure to cover every bit of skin. “You are also malnourished.”

“A bit, yeah. I had my tricorder back at least so I was able to use that to figure out what plants were poisonous. Still, foraging has never been my strong suit.”

“I am pleased you were able to find enough sustenance,” Spock said.

McCoy’s lips quirked up in a smile. “I can’t believe it, but I missed you like hell, Spock.”

“And I you, Leonard.”

Depilation complete, Spock set his tool aside and, after only the tiniest hesitation, leaned in to press a kiss to McCoy’s lips. The doctor responded lazily but happily. When they drew apart, McCoy chuckled.

“Shoulda waited to do that after I brushed my teeth.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow in assent. McCoy wandered back into the bathroom to take care of that task on his own. A moment later he returned, looking highly bemused.

“Hey, Spock, do you know if Scotty got a plant while I was gone?”

Spock blinked, trying not to give away any emotion that may have cropped up at the mention. “I could not say,” he said evasively. “Why do you ask?”

“There’s all kinds of plant food and soil enhancers in one of the drawers in here. It’s sure as hell not mine.”

Spock could see no other logical solution, so he explained, in the briefest terms possible, what had occurred in McCoy’s absence.

At the end of it, McCoy stared at Spock for a long time before finally bursting into laughter. “You thought I was a plant!”

Spock frowned. “It was the most logical conclusion given the facts. It is not without precedent for our crew to be transformed into something other than their own selves.”

“Oh, sure, sure. And Scotty helped take care of this plant, did he?” McCoy asked.

“He did, until it was discovered he was giving the plant scotch.”

McCoy dissolved into fresh bouts of laughter. “And what about you?” he asked when he could speak coherently again. “What did your logical mind say about plant care?”

“I helped ensure the plant’s well being,” Spock admitted. “I housed it in my quarters every night.”

McCoy grinned at him, a mischievous sparkle in his eye. He abandoned his towel and put on a pair of boxers before climbing onto the bed. He tugged Spock to join him, though Spock was reluctant to do so for multiple reasons. “Why Mr. Spock, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you had a sentimental streak a mile wide.”

“Then it is a good thing you know better,” Spock said. “I should return to duty.”

“Mm,” McCoy said, eyes fluttering shut. “You’re attending to your duty right now, isn’t that what you told the captain?”

“It is. But I wished only to make sure you received the proper care you need: shower, shave, food, rest. You have not yet had food.”

“Exactly. So you have to stay here until I eat. And I don’t plan to eat until after a nap. So I guess you’ll have to stay with me for at least that long,” McCoy insisted.

“Your logic is flawed.”

“My logic is sound,” McCoy said. “You’re just too stubborn to see it. Just shut up and listen to me for once.”

Spock let his gaze linger on McCoy’s bare chest. “Perhaps you are right.”

McCoy grinned. “I want a recording of that.”

Spock shed his own towel and pulled on his boxers and undershirt before joining McCoy in his bed. “I will provide you with no such thing.”

“Spock?”

“Yes, Doctor?”

“Shut up and go to sleep.”

“I will not sleep, Doctor. I am not tired. I will merely stay here to ensure you acquire the rest you-”

“Spock?”

“Yes?”

“How can I acquire rest if you won’t stop talking?”

“Your point is valid. Sleep well, Leonard.”

“‘Night, darlin’.”

McCoy was asleep before Spock could point out that it was not, in fact, nighttime at all.