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Disease and Danger

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“Transporter Room to Sickbay. Doctor McCoy, please report to Transporter Room Three immediately. We, er...have a situation.”

McCoy was in his office, reading over a medical journal when the call came in. Lightning reflexes had him out of his chair and grabbing supplies. “What’s the nature of the injuries and how many?” Christine had been with the away team - was it so bad she couldn’t handle it on her own? Or had she been injured too?

“It’s not exactly….well, Doctor, I think you better come see for yourself. I don’t think anyone is injured.”

Frowning, McCoy snagged his standard medkit and stalked out the door. Who was on this away team? Jim, of course, and Spock. Christine. Sulu? Yes, Sulu too. And Lieutenant Sanders. And something had happened to one or more of them - a “situation,” Scotty had said. What the hell kind of situation couldn’t he just tell McCoy about over the comm?

The answer became evident the moment McCoy stepped into the transporter room and found it crawling with animals.

“What the hell?!”

Scotty flashed him a helpless look. “I dun understand it! They were all human when I started the beam up process, but when they materialized - well, ye can see fer yerself!”

Yes, McCoy can certainly see for himself, but he’s not sure exactly what it is he’s seeing. A dog, a cat, an inquisitive rabbit, one of those damn alien unicorn dogs, and a bearded dragon. “What happened to the away team?”

“That’s what I’m sayin’, man. This is the away team.”

The dog - a tall, handsome golden retriever - trotted over and reared up to put his paws on McCoy’s shoulders. Bewildered, McCoy offered him a hand to sniff, but the dog didn’t seem to care. It regarded McCoy gravely, something familiar glinting in its eyes.

“...Jim?”

The dog gave a happy bark and dropped to all fours to spin in a circle.

McCoy stared around him in wonder. He spotted a black cat regarding him haughtily from atop the transporter controls. He’d know that smug look anywhere. “Mr. Spock.”

The cat’s tail swished. McCoy could just hear him saying “Obviously” in his head. McCoy grinned. “Mr. Spock, you’ve got something behind you.” He pointed at the tail now whipping furiously in every direction.

McCoy sighed, his amusement dropping as suddenly as it rose. “Well, at least they still have their personalities. But how the hell did this happen?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Scotty admitted. He fiddled with some of the controls, then shook his head. “There doesn’t even seem to be any rhyme or reason to why each of them turned into a different animal. I cannae make heads nor tails of it - er, excusing the expression,” he added as Spock’s tail batted at his hand.

Something small and delicate pressed against McCoy’s leg. He glanced down to find a soft white rabbit standing on its hind legs, trying to get his attention. “Christine?” The rabbit’s nose twitched. “So which one is Sulu and which is Sanders?”

The unicorn dog lowered its horn and acted like it was charging into battle, sword drawn. At least, that’s what McCoy assumed it was doing. “That’s definitely Sulu,” Scotty said.

“Agreed. Making the bearded dragon Sanders.” McCoy sighed, and without thinking reached down to pick up the rabbit - Christine - before he accidentally stepped on her. Christine gave a cry of protest, trying to squirm out of his grip and/or bite him - whichever so happened to come first. “Ouch. Ow! Damnit, Christine, I don’t want to hurt you so just - OW.”

Christine managed to sink her sharp teeth into McCoy’s hand, causing him to drop her. She landed deftly and chittered a rebuke at McCoy. “Fine,” he muttered, fumbling for his dermal regenerator. “You can hop all the way to sickbay.”

“Good luck, Doctor,” Scotty said fervently. “I don’t envy you.”

McCoy shrugged. “It won’t be so bad. At least she’s small. She won’t be able to do too much damage if she gets into something in this body.”

“Sure, but the rest of them?” Scotty raises his eyebrows. “Keeping this lot from driving you mad until I can figure out the source of the problem is going to be a job and a half.”

“What do you mean? You - you don’t think I’m taking all of them back to sickbay?! Christine belongs there; the rest can, I don’t know, go back to their quarters until it’s all sorted.”

“And how d’you propose they get into their quarters?” Scotty asked. “Or get food from the replicator? I have no idea how long it’ll take me to track down the problem, and in the meantime someone will have to make sure the Captain gets fed properly.”

McCoy’s jaw dropped and he sputtered wordlessly before spitting out, “I’m a doctor, not a zookeeper!”

Jim barked at him, and McCoy could have sworn it was a little doggy laugh.

Scotty just stared helplessly at him.

“Fine,” McCoy growled. “But you owe me a huge bottle of whiskey. And you have to figure out what to tell the crew about why the Captain and First officer are out of commission until further notice, leaving you in charge.”

Scotty grimaced. “Deal.”

McCoy grabbed Christine by the scruff of her neck so she couldn’t fight back this time, then cradled her in his arms. “Good. And try to figure it out quickly . This ship needs her command crew.” He looked at the remaining animals now watching him impatiently. “Well? What are you waiting for, let’s go.”

They made an odd team travelling through the halls. More than one person whispered about McCoy’s new pets as they passed, and after the third or fourth, he found he didn’t have the energy to growl at all of them. It didn’t help that he was still carrying Christine and at some point Spock had decided hitching a ride was preferable to walking and was now perched serenely on his shoulder. McCoy privately swore he was doing it just to get under his skin. He, of course, would never admit it was actually working.

“Doctor…?” M’Benga gave McCoy a curious look, which McCoy brushed off irritably.

“For the love of God, don’t ask,” he groused. “All you need to know is that we’ll be taking care of these animals for the time being. Make sure they get enough food and water. Oh, and the cat’s a vegetarian.”

M’Benga frowned but didn’t ask for any further details. As McCoy settled down at his desk to try to sort out the biological side of this “situation” (honestly, why were they all different animals? Did it have anything to do with the last animal they had touched? Animal transportation? Had DNA gone haywire inside the pattern buffer?), Geoffrey knelt down in front of Kirk and gave him a scratch behind the ears. Kirk practically swooned with delight, his tail wagging furiously.

Interesting. Maybe the animal behaviours were more pronounced than McCoy originally thought. That could mean something, though he wasn’t sure what yet.

M’Benga pulled his hand away, and Kirk lunged forward, licking his hand eagerly to get him to keep going. When that didn’t work, he tried licking M’Benga’s face instead. McCoy nearly choked on his tongue trying to disguise his laughter.

M’Benga reeled to his feet. “McCoy...I don’t want to sound crazy here, but...did the captain just lick my face?”

“You could tell it was Jim, huh?” McCoy asked, impressed. “Yeah. No idea what happened, but Scotty’s working on it.”

“There’s no mistaking those eyes anywhere,” M’Benga admitted. “I think I’ll keep that little incident out of the official report.”

“Good idea,” McCoy mumbled. He was uncomfortably aware that Spock hadn’t moved from his shoulder. Damn hobgoblin had to make himself a nuisance no matter what body he inhabited. Pretending like he didn’t care, McCoy settled down to work.

---

Hours later, Scotty and McCoy were no closer to finding a solution. Scotty had informed the crew that the away team members were under quarantine until further notice.

“Damnit, Spock,” McCoy groaned for the fifteenth time in a row as Spock walked across his hands to try to read the computer display. He grabbed Spock by the scruff of his neck and set him on the floor. “The more you distract me, the less attention I can pay to getting you back to your less obnoxious self. Is that logical, I ask you?”

Spock couldn’t answer, of course, except to jump on his desk once more and walk directly into his line of sight.

Before McCoy could tell him off, however, a movement out of the corner of his eye distracted him. Jim stood by the door to his office, doing a little doggy dance and looking very distressed.

“What’s the matter, b- Jim?”

Jim wuffed softly and turned towards the door then looked back at McCoy, silently asking him to follow.

McCoy stood with a sigh. “Don’t mess with my computer,” he warned Spock, then trailed after Jim as he darted through sickbay. Christine and Lieutenant Sanders were curled up on one of the biobeds, napping. McCoy envied their ability to do so in the middle of such a ridiculous crisis.

Jim led him through the main part of sickbay and into….oh no.

The bathroom.

Jim stared at the toilet with a woebegone expression on his big doggy face. He looked up at McCoy, helpless. McCoy stared back at him. “Well, what about the sandbox the others have been using?”

Jim barked at him. “Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s too small. Sorry, I didn’t think that one through.” McCoy weighed his options, which were admittedly limited. “Look, just use the sonic shower and I’ll come clean it up afterwards. It’s the easiest thing to sanitize.”

Jim whined. McCoy had no idea how he managed it, but he actually looked embarrassed. An embarrassed dog, imagine that. McCoy reached down to scratch his ear reassuringly. “Don’t worry about it,” he said gruffly. “I’ve cleaned up a lot worse in my day. Some of which came from you. Remember that time you drank so much you vom-”

Jim barked loudly and pushed on McCoy’s knees until he took the hint and left the bathroom.

“Jim’s doing some private business in there,” McCoy warned M’Benga as he made his way back to his office. M’Benga nodded without looking up from his computer terminal.

McCoy retreated to his office and paused, surprised. In retrospect he should have expected this, and yet…

Spock was sitting in his chair, tail flicking as his little cat eyes scoured the information on the screen. He looked at McCoy, and McCoy could have sworn Spock smirked at him. “Out of my seat, Spock, before I decide the Hippocratic Oath is only for humanoids and not tiny felines.”

Spock merely stared at him and yawned, showing his sharp teeth.

McCoy sighed. “Fine, have it your way.” He grabbed Spock by his scruff once more and lifted him just enough to sit down, then settled Spock on his lap. Spock squirmed, trying to get loose. “Knock it off. This way we can both see the screen and read the information. It’s only logical, after all,” he added with a smirk of his own.

Spock continued to struggle, though he didn’t use his claws or teeth - a fact that surprised McCoy. McCoy wrapped both arms around the squirming cat and held him still. “Just settle down, already!” Spock gradually relaxed, though he made it clear he was not happy with this arrangement. McCoy wondered vaguely if Spock still had touch telepathy in this form. Surely not?

McCoy returned to reading where he had left off before Jim’s interruption. He quickly became absorbed in the information - so much so that he wasn’t sure when he had started petting Spock. All he knew was that the next time his attention returned to his surroundings, his hand was on Spock’s spine, and Spock...well, he was purring .

“I’ll be damned,” McCoy whispered.

Spock hissed at him. How he managed to hiss without pausing his purring, McCoy couldn’t begin to fathom. A soft woof from across the room told McCoy that Jim had rejoined them and was exceedingly amused by the situation.

“Nobody asked for your opinion,” McCoy informed him sourly. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. “This is getting us nowhere. I don’t think it’s biological at all. It must be the fault of that damned contraption. See if I ever get on it again, you mark my words.”

His hand continued to stroke Spock as he spoke. He reached up to rub Spock’s cheek, which caused the Vulcan to rub against his hand, spreading his scent. McCoy grinned.

“Scotty to McCoy.”

Careful not to disturb Spock too much, McCoy leaned forward to toggle the switch on his computer. Scotty’s face appeared on his screen, looking mussed but triumphant. “I think I’ve got the fix on what happened. There was a misalignment in the -”

“Never mind all that,” McCoy interrupted. “Can we make them human again?”

“Aye, that we can.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes with the whole menagerie. McCoy out.” He switched off his computer and looked down at Spock, who was eyeing him placidly. “Well, Mr. Spock, it looks like we won’t get to find out if you’re above chasing little laser dots after all.”

Spock chose not to dignify that with a response.

Ten minutes later, McCoy arrived in the transporter room with the whole away team, Spock once again riding on his shoulder as he carried Christine and Lieutenant Sanders. He set them down as gently as possible, while Spock leapt delicately onto the transporter pad. Jim and Sulu climbed up on their own and took their original spots.

“This had better work,” McCoy said, standing back.

“It will,” Scotty informed him confidently. He pressed some buttons on the console, and the animals shimmered out of view. A moment later, four humans and a half-Vulcan rematerialized in their places. McCoy let out an audible sigh of relief.

“Glad to have you back, fellas. Ladies.”

Jim looked down at himself as if he couldn’t quite trust his eyes. “Well done, Scotty.” His voice sounded a little rough with disuse. He cleared his throat and stepped down. “Well. I think we’ve had just about enough excitement for the day. Take the rest of the shift off and get some rest. You too, Bones.”

McCoy’s eyes twinkled as he winked at Spock. “Oh, I will Jim. But first there’s a little present waiting for me in Sickbay that I have to clean up.”

Jim went bright red; McCoy walked out of the transporter room, laughing his ass off. Spock, of course, just raised an eyebrow and chalked it up to human nonsense. No one ever mentioned him rubbing his face against McCoy’s hand again.

Chapter Text

The next time something went wrong, McCoy was already in the transporter room. He saw it happen. He witnessed first hand as the away team started to materialize and then blinked out of existence. His heart stopped for three full seconds as he watched Jim’s eyes widen with horror before vanishing entirely, and it felt like McCoy vanished along with them. Jim, Spock, Uhura, and two security personnel: Danvers and Hayashi. Gone.

“Bring them back,” he croaked when his heart started working again and his mind jumped into action. “Get them back, damn you!”

“Sir, I - I don’t - I didn’t,” sputtered the hapless ensign at the controls. He toggled a few buttons and nothing happened. “I don’t know what happened, I…”

“McCoy to Engineering,” McCoy snapped. “Scotty, get your ass to Transporter Room 2 on the double.”

“On my way.” Scotty didn’t stop to question what happened, and McCoy was glad someone had his head on his shoulders around here. He elbowed Ensign Aromdee out of the way, as if he could make any sense of the multitude of buttons, levers, and flashing lights. “How the hell does any of this work?”

“Sir, you can’t -”

“Don’t tell me I can’t,” McCoy snarled. “I saw them, they were almost here. Where did they go? Back down to the planet?”

“No, they didn’t…”

“Then where are they?! They can’t just vanish!”

“But...but they did. They...They’re gone,” Aromdee sputtered. “The Captain is...gone. I - I didn’t…”

Scotty dashed in at that moment and paused, taken aback by seeing McCoy behind the controls. McCoy stepped back and pointed accusingly at the blasted contraption. “Get them back!”

Scotty, bless him, didn’t waste time asking useless questions; he immediately took over the control panel and began tapping at buttons faster than McCoy could follow. He muttered to himself, words that McCoy caught individually but didn’t makes sense strung together. Scotty could make this right, he told himself. Scotty would bring them back. Scotty could make it so the last image he saw of Jim wasn’t his face contorted into shocked agony.

After a minute that stretched into eternity, Scotty looked up at McCoy. “I cannae bring them back, McCoy. There’s nothing left.”

The words thundered in McCoy’s ears; he felt a sense of vertigo grab hold of him and try to drag him down. A choked sound behind him reminded him that he had a job to do. Several jobs. He turned around and focused on Aromdee, who took a frightened step back.

“Report to sickbay, son,” McCoy said kindly. “At your earliest convenience. You’re off duty for the rest of today, too. Try to get some rest.”

Aromdee nodded and fled.

“I cannae believe it,” Scotty said. “How can they just be gone?”

“Damn technology,” McCoy said, though the words sounded hollow to his ears. “Man was never meant to…” He trailed off before he could finish that thought. He didn’t have the energy. “I’ll be in sickbay if you need me. Good luck.”

McCoy moved mechanically down the hall, only slightly paying attention to where he was going. He had official paperwork to fill out as CMO, and plans would need to be made. Funeral arrangements. Getting Scotty temporarily into the captaincy - or maybe permanently if that’s what Starfleet decided. They would need to be contacted of course.

Something brushed against the back of McCoy’s neck, but when he lifted his hand to see what it was, there was nothing there.

In sickbay, McCoy quietly informed Nurse Chapel of the situation. Her eyes filled with tears, but she simply nodded once and returned to duty. McCoy shut himself in his office and sat down at his desk, plowing his way through the necessary work. He wouldn’t let himself think - not until later. When he had time to mourn, he would. Right now, he was on the job and would do what was required of him. He was vaguely pleased to notice Aromdee had already made a counselling appointment, though with someone else instead of McCoy. Well, that was hardly surprising given how McCoy had snapped at him. He’d have to let Aromdee know it hadn’t been personal.

McCoy was so lost in thought and work he nearly jumped out of his skin when an antique paperweight on his desk toppled over.

“Jesus bloody Mary,” McCoy hissed. “What the hell?”

The paperweight was too heavy to be knocked over by a bit of wind - but there was nothing of that sort in his tiny office. The air was completely still. McCoy sighed and set it back upright again. A glance at the chronometer told him his shift was just about over. The rest of this could wait until tomorrow.

Scotty to McCoy.

“McCoy here,” he answered dully.

Sounds like you could use a drink. I’ve got a fine bottle of whiskey. A fittin’ tribute, what say you?

McCoy rolled his head on his neck, feeling his spine crackle. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. McCoy out.”

By the time he wrapped up and headed out, the paperweight was completely forgotten about.

---

“I dun wanna sound crazy, but I feel like they’re still here with us.”

McCoy looked blearily at Scotty. The bottle of whiskey was nearly empty, and McCoy felt numb. Too numb and not numb enough at the same time. “How d’ya mean?”

“I dunno, exactly.” Scotty waved his glass, a bit of liquid sloshing out. He paused to lick his thumb where the whiskey had landed, then continued, “I was on the bridge earlier, sittin’ in the cap’n’s chair ‘n I coulda swore Kirk was right there with me, tryna tell me somethin’.”

McCoy shook his head sympathetically. “It’s a tough chair to fill. You’ll learn to make it your own.”

Scotty frowned. “Nay, lad. I don’t mean like a figger… finger… figurative ghost. I mean there’s that as well. But I mean literally Kirk’s ghost sittin’ beside me on the bridge.”

McCoy blinked. “Scotty, I hate to break it to you but you sound crazy.”

“There’s more. Rand went to hand me a PADD t’sign an’ she let go before I quite had a hold of it and I thought it’d fall f’sure but it dinnae! It was like somethin’ else was holdin’ onto it for that moment before I took hold of it an’ could sign it.”

“Maybe you should check yourself in for a counselling session too,” McCoy suggested. “Taking over this command is stressful, and you-”

“Ye don’ believe me,” Scotty said. “Yer tellin’ me nothin’ unusual happened to you in sickbay after...after the incident?”

McCoy thought about the paperweight falling over. No, that was ridiculous. That was no more supernatural than static electricity or contagious yawning. “Nope. Sorry.”

Shortly afterwards, the bottle was empty and McCoy trudged his way back to his room to try to pass out.

---

The power of suggestion, McCoy decided a couple days later, was incredible. Ever since Scotty asked about unexplained phenomenon, McCoy started noticing weird things popping up all over the place. Small things, things he would normally brush off if not for what Scotty had said. Things like needing a hypo that was all the way across the room, only to find the hypo right there next to his hand. Things falling over without any force acting on them. Falling asleep with the temperature controls set to twenty degrees and waking up in the middle of the night to find they were set to thirty-five.

“Why does the ship even have a setting that high?” McCoy grumbled as he toggled it back down to twenty. He was groggy enough not to care that he was talking aloud to himself. “Only one person on this whole ship would ever want to sleep in that level of sweltering heat and he’s -”

He couldn’t bring himself to say it. He’s dead .

“He sure as hell doesn’t sleep in this room, that’s for damn sure,” McCoy concluded with a grimace. He sat down at his desk with a sigh. He was awake now even though the room was cooling off. He stared at his blank computer screen, eyes unfocused as he let his mind wander. Jim. Spock. Uhura. The two ensigns he hadn’t known well, but those three? He felt their loss as a deep ache in his chest that felt like it would never go away. Even Spock with his endless stoicism and logic. Pretending he didn’t feel a damn thing when McCoy knew better. Pretending…

McCoy blinked. At some point, his computer had powered up without him telling it to. It sat blinking, waiting for a command.

“Computer, power off,” McCoy growled, then climbed back into bed and ordered the lights off.

---

The next day, McCoy found himself jumping at the smallest thing. He wasn’t the only one, either. The crew complaints of objects moving on their own, computers acting oddly, and things going missing was ever increasing. The incidents seemed concentrated in four areas in particular: the bridge, the science lab, the mess hall, and of course sickbay. McCoy listened to each one and prescribed the same thing over and over again: rest and possibly counselling to deal with losing the members of the away team. That was another thing the incidents had in common: they mostly affected people who had been close to one of the dead crewmen. Half the people who came to him were convinced the dead crewmen were behind the incidents, while the other half were sure they were going crazy. Christine was one of the former, McCoy the latter - and it caused more than one clash throughout the day.

“I don’t think counselling is going to stop my hair from braiding itself,” Christine informed him sarcastically. “You know Nyota used to do that for me every once in awhile. Now she’s dead and yet I wake up with a perfect French braid that was done in my sleep. How, Doctor?”

“Ghosts aren’t real,” McCoy snapped. He felt groggy and helpless. “I have paperwork to do. Don’t disturb me unless it’s an emergency.”

Christine glared at him but only said “Yes Doctor” and retreated to her own desk. He knew he shouldn’t have snarled at her like that, and he would be sure to apologise later, but for now he just stormed into his office and took refuge behind his desk.

Ghosts weren’t real. They weren’t logical .

McCoy grimaced and made to sit down, but stopped short as he spotted something on his desk. A bright powder had been spilled all over the surface. He groaned out loud; could this day get any worse? He grabbed a container and moved over to his desk to sweep it all in to dispose of later. What he saw made him stop short:

The powder wasn’t spilled at random. It was spread out across the desk and letters had been carefully written in it, drawn as if by a finger writing in steam on a window.

C 7 NH 16 O 2 +

“The fuck?” McCoy whispered, his heart hammering in his chest. That was the formula for acetylcholine. A coincidence?

Or a message?

Only one person would give any meaning to acetylcholine in connection with Doctor McCoy. But he was dead. Dead dead dead dea…

“Spock?”

There was no response. The room was completely still.

---

“Okay, say… say I believe you,” McCoy said quietly. He and Scotty were in McCoy’s quarters after Alpha shift. McCoy had a bottle of bourbon out but had yet to pour any. He needed to be stone cold sober for this conversation. “Say I buy that the away team is still here, but as ghosts. How is that even possible?”

Scotty shrugged. “I never said I understood it. Just that it seemed like the only explanation.”

McCoy rolled the bottle around in his hands, staring at the label without really seeing it. “But… if their, well… souls are still here, then is there a way to…” He drifted off, not wanting to allow himself to hope...to think…

But Scotty was too quick; he had caught where McCoy was going with it. “We still have their patterns stored in the transporter matrix. If we recreate their bodies, would their be any way to tie their souls back in?”

“If that’s even what we’re dealing with,” McCoy murmured. “‘M not sayin’ I don’t believe in the soul, but if it does linger after death how come we can’t just pop it right back in after healin’ the body? It seems too easy. Too neat.”

“Plenty of people have died on this mission,” Scotty said. As if McCoy needed the reminder. “But we’ve never had somethin’ like this happen. We’ve never had ghosts before.”

“You think it was something related specifically to the transporter incident?” McCoy asked him. His memory flashed back unbidden to that moment when he saw Jim’s horror as he disappeared. “Maybe it...maybe they… Oh, hell, I don’t know.” He rubbedd his temples. “WWSS - what would Spock say?”

“He would say that once you’ve eliminated the impossible…”

McCoy swallowed hard. His mind ached for the oblivion promised by the alcohol he held, unopened still, in his hands. He set it down with a decisive thump. “I guess there’s only one real way to find out. Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Scotty asked as he stood up, ready to follow McCoy’s lead.

“Where this all started. Transporter Room 2.”

---

It took hours. McCoy’s head swam with the technobabble spewing from Scotty’s mouth every few minutes, but he did as he was instructed, trying not to let his hopes rise too high. At last, Scotty looked up from his programming and gave McCoy a grim nod. “Now or never.”

McCoy steeled himself. “Let’s do it. Nothing to lose, right?”

Scotty nodded. “They’re here with us, aren’t they?” His voice was hushed in the silence of the room. Nobody had been allowed to use this transporter since the incident until it could undergo a thorough inspection at the space station.

“I think so.” He could feel them, he could have sworn it. Unless it was that damn power of suggestion again.

But no. He was sure this time it was the real thing. A breeze, caused by nothing in the room except the air itself, ruffled his hair and then Scotty’s.

“Maybe we should try it, er, one at a time. Just in case something goes wrong?” Scotty said. McCoy nodded his agreement. “Alright, Captain. I know you’d want to go first. Get up on the transporter pad.” He cleared his throat awkwardly and glanced at McCoy. “Feels we’re talkin’ to ourselves.”

“I don’t know which would be weirder: if it turns out we’re wrong or right,” McCoy said.

Scotty shook his head and stepped up to the controls. “Rest o’ you stand back now. On the count of three, Captain. One...two...three.”

There was no flash, no bang, no magical puff of smoke. There was just the shimmer of the transporter reassembling Kirk’s body. McCoy held his breath, waiting for it to disappear again like it had last time, but now it steadied and stayed. But…

There was no animation behind those brown eyes. No twinkle, no fire. A soulless husk. McCoy snagged, defeated. They’d been wrong after all.

Suddenly the body on the transporter pad jerked as if zapped. The whole demeanour changed without warning; Kirk grinned at them, and McCoy knew this was really him.

“Gentlemen! You certainly took your time figuring out what was going on.” He stepped down and McCoy could have hugged him he was so relieved. Instead, he settled for bouncing on the balls of his feet and giving his friend and captain a glower that lacked any hostility whatsoever.

“Well, it’s not like you gave us a lot to go on. Steadying a fumbled PADD?” McCoy scoffed and held up his medical scanner. “Get off that damned contraption, Jim, I need to look you over.”

Kirk stepped down stiffly, his body and mind taking some time to readjust to each other. While McCoy examined Jim, Scotty repeated the retrieval procedure with Uhura and then Danvers and Hayashi. Spock came last, looking just as unruffled as ever. His eyes locked on McCoy, who scowled at him as he gave Hayashi the all-okay.

“Acetylcholine, Spock?” he demanded. “ That’s what you went with to get my attention? Of all the ridiculous arguments to bring up when I thought you were dead -”

Spock merely raised one artful eyebrow at him. “You were proving especially obstinate in realising we were not dead but instead lingered on the ship as noncorporeal beings. I felt it best to resort to a symbol you would not recognise as coming from any source but me.”

“Yeah, well, next time you play with the heat controls in my room you’re gonna have a nose to smell the sweat pouring off my body.”

Spock’s nose flared ever so slightly. “I do not believe temperature adjustment is required for me to be able to smell your...unmistakable scent, Doctor.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Kirk interrupted gently before McCoy could come up with a particularly scathing retort. “No matter how long it took, we’re grateful to be alive and whole again. Although I for one am not looking forward to the amount of paperwork awaiting me, nor the questions Starfleet is going to have about why we were all declared dead and then somehow resurrected. Congratulations, Bones. You’ve managed to raise the dead.”

“I’m no necromancer,” McCoy protested, but his mouth betrayed his delight at having his best friend back. He couldn’t stop grinning.

“Why didn’t ya give us some clearer sign earlier, Captain?” Scotty wanted to know. “Ye all didn’t give us a lot to work with.”

“It was weird,” Uhura said, hugging herself slightly. “We could move things around but only if we concentrated really hard. Communicating with each other was easy, since we were all operating on the same plane of existence. But physically trying to touch or move anything was like trying to get at it through an invisible brick wall. You could see everything, know where everything and everyone was, but to actually interact with it took a lot of blunt force.”

“Spock was the best at it,” Kirk said. “He was the one who came up with sending a clear, unmistakable sign.”

McCoy snorted. “Of course he was.” He shut off his scanner. “Well, you all seem to be in good health. You’ll have a lot of questions to answer tomorrow, so I suggest going to your quarters and trying to sleep. Something tells me noncorporeal entities don’t get a lot of shut-eye.”

“You’re right about that,” Hayashi told him, yawning. “I feel like I could sleep for a week.” She flashed Scotty and McCoy a grateful smile. “Thank you both for getting us back where we belong.”

She, Danvers, Uhura, and Jim filed out of the transporter room. It was late at night, so McCoy doubted they would encounter many crew members, but nonetheless he had the feeling rumours of their miraculous recovery would be circulating the ship by 0600.

“I better get goin’ too,” Scotty said. He patted McCoy’s shoulder on the way out. “Get some sleep, laddie.”

McCoy waved him off, then looked back at Spock who had stepped down off the transporter pad but had not made to leave with the others. “What’re you waitin’ for, Mr. Spock? A special invitation?”

“You have not yet examined me as you did the others.”

McCoy snorted at him. “Didn’t want to get near you with my gross smell,” he taunted.

“I never said your odour was unpleasant,” Spock corrected him softly. “I merely said it was unmistakable.”

The admission left McCoy tongue-tied and gave him a strange feeling somewhere in the region of his stomach - or possibly his liver. To disguise his bafflement, he switched his scanner back on. “C’mere, then,” he mumbled. A brief scan showed Spock was in perfect health for a half-Vulcan. Of course he was; McCoy had expected nothing else. “Healthy as a horse,” he pronounced and snapped the scanner off once more. “How do you feel?”

“Not even remotely equine in nature,” Spock informed him.

McCoy rolled his eyes. “Of course not. Let’s get out of here, Spock. You might not need as much sleep as the others, but this has to have been a trying experience even for you. I’ll walk you back to your quarters.”

Spock nodded amiably, and together they set off down the deserted hallway. Spock fell in step naturally at McCoy’s side. “I must confess, Doctor, I am immensely relieved to be back in my body. While existing in a noncorporeal form was fascinating, it was also immeasurably boring after some time.”

McCoy couldn’t help but laugh slightly at the admission. “I can imagine. Not much to occupy your mind on another plane of existence then, eh? Well, that figures. There’s just one thing I don’t understand, Spock.”

“What is that, Doctor?”

“Well, Jim and Uhura kept hanging around on the bridge, and Danvers and Hayashi were in the mess hall, and you were in the science lab - but you also ended up in sickbay just as often. Now the science lab and bridge make sense for you, since that’s where your closest colleagues are and they’re the ones who’d recognise you best. But why sickbay? Was it only you or was Jim there too?”

“The Captain accompanied me often, but he was adamant that staying in the places we frequent in our physical forms would be the best idea. Had you visited the bridge as you usually do, you would have no doubt been plagued by his presence constantly. However, you did not.”

McCoy shrugged. “I didn’t want to see Scotty in the Captain’s chair,” he admitted. “It would hurt too much.”

Spock hummed quietly, perhaps in agreement, perhaps annoyed with the illogic of McCoy’s words. “Be that as it may, I knew that if there was one person on the crew who would stop at nothing to get us back once he knew we were still alive, it was you, Doctor.”

McCoy gave him a sidelong glance, trying to figure out where the insult lay. “What’re you tryin’ to say, Spock?”

“That sometimes - though rarely - your obstinance is a handy trait.”

Ah, there it was. Good. McCoy was starting to worry the man had lost some of his senses. “You’re one to talk about obstinance,” he growled. He would have said more, but they had reached Spock’s quarters. Spock entered the code to open the door, then lingered waiting for McCoy to finish. McCoy grimaced. “Never mind. You get some sleep.”

“Very well, Doctor. I hope you sleep well.”

“Thanks, I probably will now that I don’t have an invisible Vulcan playing with my environmental controls.” McCoy frowned. “Hey, what were you even doing in my quarters anyway. Was Jim there too?”

“He was not. I thought you might prove more open in a half-awake state of mind. Unfortunately, that did not come to pass. Although I did observe a penchant of talking to yourself that I found quite fascinating.”

“I wasn’t talking to myself, was I?” McCoy shot back. “I was apparently talking to you.”

“You did not know that at the time,” Spock said.

“I knew enough,” McCoy blustered. He stepped up into Spock’s personal space and jabbed a finger at him, taking care not to actually touch him. “Now listen here, you pointy-eared…”

He trailed off as he realised Spock was only half paying attention to his words. The Vulcan’s nose had flared slightly again and he was breathing in deeply.

Unmistakable .

McCoy stepped back, blushing. “Never mind,” he mumbled. “G’night, Spock. Sleep well.”

He fled before his mind could read too far into what had just passed between them.

Chapter Text

"Bones. Bones, wake up. Bones .”

“Jim? What… Lights, 25%.” The room filled with a soft light, just enough that McCoy could see Spock’s pointy-eared outline hovering over him. He yelped, startled. “Jesus Christ, Spock! What are you doing in my quarters.”

“No, it’s me!” Spock hissed. “Bones, it’s Jim.”

McCoy stared at him. “Jim?” His brain couldn’t seem to catch up. Jim...was Spock? McCoy sat up a little, and Spock’s - Jim’s - hand reached out to steady him. His grip was way too tight, bruisingly hard. “Ow, Jim. Vulcan strength, remember?”

“Sorry.” Jim took his hand away, shaking it slightly. He looked a little disturbed. “Vulcan telepathy too. I forgot.”

“You could hear my thoughts just then?” McCoy crinkled his nose. It was one thing when Spock touched him and got a whiff of what McCoy was thinking - that was usually more of a punishment for the Vulcan than an intrigue. But Jim was a whole other basket of fish.

“Just a little,” Jim admitted. It was weird hearing his manner of speech coming from Spock’s mouth. “You’re not exactly at your most mentally alert right now, so not a lot is coming through.”

“‘Not my most…’ Now listen here Jim, just because you’ve got the pointy ears doesn’t give you any right to insult me at the ass crack of dawn,” McCoy started.

“Easy Bones, easy,” Jim said gently, sitting down on the edge of McCoy’s bed and resting a hand on his shoulder, careful to only touched clothed spots. “I didn’t mean it as an insult. I think Spock’s body has some sort of internal clock that woke me up in the middle of the night since he doesn’t need a whole lot of sleep. Meanwhile in my body, he probably won’t wake up for a few more hours yet. I should have gone straight to him but I thought you should know first. I’m sorry for waking you up.”

McCoy rubbed his eyes. “No, no don’t worry about it. I’m glad you came to me. I should probably check you over and make sure there haven’t been any other adverse effects of this...whatever this is. Let Spock sleep a bit longer. He’ll be glad for his beauty rest when he wakes up and looks in the mirror.”

“Now who’s being insulting?” Jim asked with a humourous glint in his eye.

McCoy winced as he slid off the bed and retrieved his medical tricorder. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop looking at me like you normally would. It’s really disconcerting to see Spock smile .”

Which of course only made Jim grin harder. McCoy ran his tricorder over Spock’s body but the results were the same as always.

“Nothing wrong with you physically,” McCoy murmured. “Other than the fact that you’re not in your right body. So what the hell could have caused this? The transporter again? Damn thing should be incinerated if you ask me.”

“I haven’t used the transporter since last week on Syriegna II. Besides, the effect would have been instantaneous.” Jim shook his head. “No, it must have been something that happened while we were asleep or else had some sort of delayed response. But what could have -”

A dull thump from the bathroom stopped his words. McCoy waved a dismissive hand. “Just Scotty getting up to pee.”

“I see.” Jim frowned, trying to remember anything unusual he’d done in the last few days. McCoy sat down next to him.

“Alien intervention of some sort? We didn’t go through a weird space phenomenon, did we?”

“Not that I recall,” Jim said.

“Doctor? Are ye awake in there? Why -?” The door separating McCoy’s room from the bathroom slid open and Scotty froze on the threshold, taking in the sight of McCoy and Spock sitting all cozy-like together on McCoy’s bed. His eyes flew wide. “My apologies. Dinnae mean t’interrupt.”

McCoy choked on thin air. “You’re not interrupting anything! We were just…”

“I had a small matter of medical urgency,” Jim said in a perfect imitation of Spock. “It could not wait until morning and the doctor was most willing to assist me.”

“Right,” Scotty said coyly. “Medical emergency. I understand, sir.” With a wink he stepped back into the bathroom and let the door slide shut behind him.

“Cute, Jim,” McCoy said sourly. “Real cute. Why didn’t you just explain it’s you, not Spock? Now the whole ship’s gonna be gossipin’.”

“They already are,” Jim said, resuming his normal air. “This ship is nothing but rumours and suggestions of who might be sleeping with whom. I’m just not sure if I should tell the crew what’s happened or if I should just pretend like everything is normal until we can get switched back. If we can get switched back.”

“There must be some way,” McCoy decided. “If you can get switched once you can get switched back. We’ll just work our way backwards, starting with that last diplomatic mission we just wrapped up the other day. The… what were they? The Ardroskins. See if something at their banquet has the ability to work this sort of mojo.”

Jim nodded. “Good plan. I’ll put in a course correction back to Ardrosia.”

“Need me to do anything in the meantime?” McCoy asked.

“Yeah.” Jim grinned wickedly, an expression on Spock’s face that made McCoy’s heart stop cold. “You get to go wake up our Sleeping Beauty.”

---

Spock took the news as well as could be expected. Rather than use his medical override to barge into the captain’s quarters, McCoy rang the chime. He could hear Spock moving within. There was a long pause, and then Jim’s form answered the door, looking far more pristine than it usually did at this hour.

“Sorry to disturb you,” McCoy drawled. “Can I come in?”

“Yes, that would be wise.” Spock stepped aside to let McCoy in. He looked so formal, standing there at parade rest in Jim’s normally casual body. McCoy shook his head. Spock said, “I presume the captain has already made you aware of the situation?”

“He sure did,” McCoy said. “Any ideas on what may have caused this to occur?”

“I can only make conjecture at this point,” Spock said. “However, I suggest we return to our last point of alien contact.”

“Already on it,” McCoy said.

Spock nodded. “Barring influence from an alien entity we did not knowingly contact, or some spatial distortion that affected only some of the crew, they are likely the source of the affliction.”

“Some of the crew,” McCoy repeated. “You think others may have been affected?”

Spock tried to raise an eyebrow - McCoy could see it in the way his face contorted - but Jim’s forehead wasn’t quite as limber as his own or McCoy’s. All he managed was a slight wrinkling of his brow. “Even if no one else was affected, the captain and myself would constitute ‘some’ of the crew.”

“A negligible percentage,” McCoy scoffed. “Oh lordy, I hope it was just you two. Imagine if half the crew were suddenly all switched around.”

“That would be an unwelcome outcome,” Spock said.

McCoy shook his head and pulled out his medical scanner just to make sure Spock was alright, even though he was sure he already knew the answer. “Jim thinks it’s best for the time being if you and he pretend to be each other. To reduce confusion, I guess. So you better loosen up a bit or else people will suspect something.”

“The captain is going to impersonate me?” Spock asked, sounding faintly alarmed. McCoy couldn’t exactly blame him - when he put it like that, it was a rather alarming idea. McCoy wouldn’t want Jim trying to impersonate him for any reason.

“He did a pretty good job in front of Scotty,” McCoy assured him nonetheless. “I think you’ve rubbed off on the captain more than anyone would have thought. Besides, if you keep your usual Vulcan uptightness in Jim’s body, you’re gonna give yourself one helluva back ache.”

“Indeed.” Spock attempted to relax his posture slightly. “Then I will do as you suggest… Bones.”

It was Jim’s voice, but something of Spock’s mannerisms still remained and to hear him use that nickname caused a shiver to run down McCoy’s spine.

---

A few hours later, McCoy headed down to sickbay to start his shift. He had every intention of checking in with Christine and then going straight to the bridge to watch over Jim and Spock and make sure they didn’t get into any trouble, but he stopped short upon arrival. Sulu and Chekov were sitting on biobeds next to each other but carefully not looking at each other. M’Benga, who had been on-duty for the night shift, waved him over.

“This is a new one, Doctor,” M’Benga said. “You might want to sit down.”

“Let me guess, their minds got switched around somehow? Sulu is in Chekov’s body and vice versa?” McCoy drawled. Well, this might actually be good news. Sulu and Chekov had also been part of the Ardrosia landing party. So had McCoy and about five other people, though, and they weren’t mysteriously switching bodies (at least, not that had as yet been reported). Perhaps they could pinpoint exactly what the four afflicted people had done that the rest of them had not.

“How did you know?” Chekov demanded from Sulu’s body. Good lord, it was weird hearing that Russian accent from Sulu’s mouth.

“You’re not the only ones.” McCoy sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll excuse you both from duty today. Unless you think you can do each other’s jobs?”

Sulu looked over at his own body and winced. “I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t get distracted,” he admitted. “What is the captain going to say if we’re both sick, though?”

“Trust me, the captain will understand,” McCoy said.

Sulu’s eyes widened. “Is he one of the people also...like this? Is he -” Sulu peered sharply at McCoy. “Captain?”

“What? Good lord man, no! You think I would put the crew’s health and well-being in the hands of James ‘What’s a vegetable?’ Kirk? Not a chance. Doctor-patient confidentiality is still a thing aboard this ship, Mr. Sulu, so I’ll thank you very much to keep your nose to yourself,” McCoy said sharply. Doctor M’Benga hid a smile behind his PADD as he signed the order to take Sulu and Chekov off duty.

“You’re all set for now, gentlemen,” M’Benga informed them.

“Take it easy for now,” McCoy added. “We’re already looking for a way to get this all sorted out.”

They left, and M’Benga followed shortly afterwards, after officially turning duty over to McCoy.

“I’m heading up to the bridge,” McCoy told Christine. “Call me if anyone else comes in wearing someone else’s face.”

Up on the bridge, McCoy made a beeline for the captain’s chair. Jim’s body sat ramrod straight, looking like it might break in half at the slightest jolt. McCoy winced in sympathy.

“Two more reports of the same affliction, Captain,” McCoy murmured in Spock’s ear. “And try to loosen up, will ya? You look like you’ve got a pole shoved right up your -”

“Understood, Doctor,” Spock said crisply. The ensign at the helm glanced back discreetly, shocked at the stiff formality the captain had just directed at the CMO. McCoy could just hear the wheels of the rumour mill adding more fuel: Spock was in McCoy’s quarters late last night and then the following morning, the captain was none too pleased with McCoy. Yeeup, that was just the sort of thing that would get people talking.

Still, at least Spock managed to relax a fraction of an inch. He even tried to smile, though it looked more like a grimace. “Might I inquire who has been afflicted?” he asked mildly. Well, what would have been mild for Spock. From Jim it sounded like he was chewing glass.

“Sulu and Chekov,” McCoy said. “You can pull up the official report in the logs. M’Benga was the one who looked them over.”

“Fascinating,” Spock said thoughtfully. He had that gleam in his eye that meant he was hard at work on a complex equation in his head. His body finally relaxed all the way, sinking into the captain’s chair. Jim swiveled around in Spock’s chair, watching them curiously. “This further propagates the theory that whatever caused the affliction originated on Ardrosia. We should be arriving back at the planet within ten hours and fifty-two minutes and we can make further inquiries at that time.”

Half the bridge was staring at Spock now. “Gee, Jim,” McCoy said pointedly. He was smiling but his eyes held a sharp warning. “You’ve been spending too much time around Spock. You’re starting to sound just like him .”

“Indeed, Captain,” Jim jumped in, sounding like a perfect imitation of Spock. “I find it quite refreshing. Doctor, maybe you could take a page from the captain’s book.”

Of course Jim would find amusement in all this. His face was perfectly serene but McCoy could hear the laughter lurking behind his words. “The last thing this ship needs is two robots running it. One is more than enough, Mr. Spock.”

Jim opened his mouth to retort, but then closed it, looking surprised. He turned back to his console and busied himself with his work. McCoy frowned, disappointed at the argument cut short. True, it was just Jim and not actually Spock baiting him, but it felt normal .

There was a beat of silence that went on far too long. “McCoy,” Spock said, trying to sound like the Captain and almost succeeding. “Perhaps it would be best if you return to sickbay until we arrive at Ardrosia.”

McCoy straightened up. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He’d thought to keep an eye on them, make sure they were staying in line, but it was clear his presence only made things worse right now. It made him feel strangely lonely. “You know where to find me if anything goes wrong.” He reached out and clapped a hand on Spock’s shoulder, an automatic reflex from the countless times he’d done the exact same thing to Jim. He started to draw back, embarrassed.

Spock caught his hand and held it in place for a moment longer. “Thank you...Bones.”

McCoy swallowed. “No problem.”

He slid his hand out of Spock’s weak grip and trudged back to sickbay.

---

“Are...are you sure?” The leader of the Ardroskins wrung his hands nervously. “Er, exactly what sort of anomaly is your crew reporting? Do you really think it may have come from us?”

“We are exploring all possibilities,” Spock said. “At least two of our crew members report a most unusual experience of having switched bodies.”

McCoy was back on the bridge ten hours later to witness Spock asking the Ardroskins about the body switching. He caught Uhura glancing back and forth between Spock and Jim, a look of triumph lighting up her eyes. Well, if the Ardroskins weren’t the cause of this anomaly then the cat was most definitely out of the bag.

“Switching bodies?” The leader’s hands fidgeted faster. McCoy was going dizzy just watching them. “Well now that...that’s...well.”

Spock waited patiently as the leader dithered himself into silence. “Is there any possibility the ceremony we participated in may have caused this?”

“No!” the leader exclaimed. “I mean...unless...that is… Well, did the affected crew members drink from each other’s cup of horg’nar ?”

Jim’s head jerked up in recognition. “Yes,” he said excitedly, completely forgetting he was supposed to be acting like Spock. “Yes, I had run out of horg’nar so I took a sip of Spock’s while waiting for a refill.”

McCoy glanced back at Sulu and Chekov, who were also present for the conversation. “Yeah,” Sulu acknowledged. “Chekov thought his tasted a little funny and wanted me to try it and see if I thought so too. It tasted fine to me.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” the Ardroskin murmured. “You see, horg’nar is a ceremonial drink. It has certain properties that cause souls to mingle and then inhabit each other’s bodies. Married couples often -”

Jim, Chekov, and Sulu all let out a chorus of protests. “I have a husband back home,” Sulu said, louder than the others. “I’m not married to Chekov.”

“No, no, of course,” the Ardroskin said apologetically. “You do not have to be married for it to occur. There must be some strong connection - a close friendship, perhaps. But the shi-trah will not occur between just any two people.”

“Is there a way to reverse it?” McCoy asked, cutting to the chase. They could quibble about how close was close all damn day if given the chance, but he wanted to know the bottom line.

“Yes, of course,” the Ardroskin said. “We shall prepare the horg’nar immediately for your affected crew to reverse the effects.”

Jim sat back down with a sigh. “Thank god. No offense, Mr. Spock, but I’ll be glad to have my own body back.”

“Indeed, Captain,” Spock said drily.

McCoy slid over to Uhura. “When did you figure it out?”

She grinned at him. “At lunch. The captain kept staring at my meatloaf with longing, and Spock had a salad.”

“How much did you win?”

Uhura’s eyes twinkled. “About a dozen favours, fifty credits, and a bottle of Saurian Brandy.”

“Come on, Bones,” Jim called out, heading for the turbolift. “I want you on hand in case anything goes wrong.”

---

There was less ceremony this time, as they just wanted it to be over and done with. Just like last time, the switching would not take place until both participants were asleep, when their mental defenses were lowered.

McCoy accompanied Jim to Spock’s quarters to wait it out. “Spock wants me to meditate,” Jim told him with a grimace. “But I can’t get my mind to settle down. I think I understand him a lot better now, though. Maybe you and he should try the shi-trah together.”

McCoy rolled his eyes. “Weren’t you listening, Jim? The two people have to have a close connection for it to work.”

Jim looked at him through Spock’s dark eyes. “Bones, how long are you two going to keep dancing around each other? You are close. In ways that I don’t quite understand but can’t deny. When you were on the bridge earlier and I was trying to needle you like Spock would, his body… it was like a muscle memory, almost. As soon as I tried to think of a witty response worthy of Spock arguing with you, his body responded physically. It thrilled at the challenge. His heart rate sped up and there was this feeling right about...here.” Jim placed his hand right where a Vulcan’s stomach would be. “Whatever you two are to each other, he definitely respects and admires you, even if only because you give him a good challenge.”

McCoy closed his eyes. “Don’t tell him I said this, but I enjoy it. The arguments. And I respect him too. The bastard.”

Jim gave him a Look. “That’s your problem - both of you; you don’t want the other to know how much you care. Him because of his damn Vulcan stoicism, and you… well, I just don’t know what your excuse is.”

“Why ruin a good thing?” McCoy asked. “We’re both perfectly happy ribbing each other to the ends of the galaxy and back. Why disturb the status quo?”

Jim sighed. “Because you could change the status quo into something even better for the both of you.”

“Or we could make things so unbearable one of us ends up transferring just to get away from the other. That’s not something I’m willing to risk.” McCoy stood up to leave, but Jim grabbed his wrist. McCoy yanked free. “Watch your damn telepathy, you idiot.”

“You never seem to mind when Spock touches you, in spite of his telepathy,” Jim said mildly.

“He knows how to shield his mind,” McCoy said. He can only shield so much , an unfriendly voice in the back of his head reminded him. “Look, I’m fine with the way things are. If he wants to change the status quo, then that’s up to him. But he’s gotta be the first one to make the move because it sure as hell won’t be me.”

Jim shook his head. “You’re both stubborn bastards.”

“Yeah,” McCoy said grimly. “Don’t I know it.”

---

The next day, McCoy went straight to Spock’s quarters and rang the chime. The door slid open to reveal Jim already there. “It worked,” he crowed happily. “We’re both back in the right bodies.”

McCoy pulled out his tricorder and gave them both a quick examination. “Perfect. Well, as perfect as you two ever will be.”

Jim got to his feet and headed for the door. “I’m just gonna head out. You two….talk.”

The door slid shut behind him, leaving Spock eyeing McCoy serenely and McCoy cursing Jim in his head.

Chapter Text

Transporter room to Doctor McCoy…

McCoy grit his teeth; he had a sinking feeling, and the hesitation on the other end of the comm was only making it worse. “What?” he barked.

Um…

He sighed. “Is anyone maimed or dying?”

Not exactly…

A high-pitched shriek sounded from the other side of the comm, followed by a burst of manic giggling. If McCoy didn’t know any better, he’d have sworn it sounded just like Jo getting into mischief with her friends.

“I’m on my way,” McCoy said.

Please hurry ,” pleaded whichever hapless ensign had had the misfortune to be assigned to transporter duty today.

“McCoy out.” He grabbed his medkit and a PADD to pull up the away team roster on his way down to the transporter room. As he had feared, it was just about the whole damn senior staff. In point of fact, McCoy was supposed to have gone down to the planet with them, but he begged off on account of needing to catch up on paperwork. It was supposed to just be a routine planetary survey, so Christine had gone in his place. In addition to her, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura had all gone down to the planet. So what had gone wrong this time? Their heads had been transplanted with broccoli? They were all merged together into one large mass of hands and feet? Their heads were literally up their own asses? McCoy vowed to put in a request for all transporters to be dismantled as a safety hazard, and then maybe burned just to be on the safe side.

Whatever McCoy thought he was prepared for, it was not this: a bunch of shouting children running around the transporter room while the poor ensign tried ineffectively to get them to calm down while not taking a step away from the transporter controls. Furthermore, the children were wearing baggy starfleet uniforms that threatened to fall off with every step. McCoy’s eyes zeroed in on a towheaded boy wearing command gold with - surely not - oh, no - yup - Captain’s stripes on the sleeve.

Oh, this was very very very not good.

In the middle of the chaos stood one little boy with dark eyes and pointed ears. He looked to be about seven or eight years old, though there was no telling with Vulcans. He watched the others as they crashed around him (playing Tag, it looked like) but did not join in.

It took McCoy approximately 3.5 seconds to size up the situation, put his fingers to his lips, and blow a long, sharp whistle.

The children froze in place, silence reigning for a brief moment until pint-sized Jim launched himself at McCoy. “How did you do that?” he demanded. “Can you teach me? Please?” He put his own fingers into his mouth and tried to blow but only managed to spit all over his hand.

“Maybe later,” McCoy told him. “What’s your name, son? And how old are you?”

Jim drew himself up proudly. “James Tiberius Kirk, sir. I’m ten years old.”

McCoy glanced around at the others; they appeared to be varying ages from six to ten, with Jim looking to be the oldest. Chekov, of course, was the youngest and absolutely tiny. To Jim, he continued, “Do you know who I am?”

Jim shook his head. “No, sir.”

McCoy suppressed another sigh. So this wasn’t like when they were all animals, then; they hadn’t retained any sense of their adult selves. “My name is Doctor McCoy. Something tells me I’m going to be taking care of you guys for a little while.” He held out his hand to Jim, who shook it solemnly.

“Where are our parents?” little Uhura asked.

“I’m afraid they aren’t here right now,” McCoy told her, kneeling down to her level. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

Uhura frowned. “I shouldn’t tell you.”

“It’s okay, Nyota,” Jim said, coming over to her and slinging a comforting arm around her shoulders. “He’s a doctor. He’s going to take care of us. He can’t hurt people, it’s his hypocritical oath.”

McCoy smothered a laugh. “Hippocratic,” he corrected.

Uhura looked up at Jim, then back at McCoy. She said, “My name is Nyota Uhura and I am eight years old.”

After that, Christine, Sulu, and Chekov all pushed forward to tell McCoy their names and ages. Christine (Chrissy, as she insisted on being called) was nine, Chekov six and a half, and Sulu was also eight. In the midst of the chaos, Scotty finally arrived, though he took one look at the children and nearly bolted.

“The transporter did this?” Scotty hissed at McCoy.

McCoy shrugged. “You got me. Who knows what that damn thing is capable of? That’s your job to figure out.”

“I wouldn’t trade you for anythin’,” Scotty informed him fervently. “Takin’ care of this lot’ll be a job and a half.”

McCoy waved a dismissive hand. Kids were easy. The first time Jo had asked to have a sleepover with her friends, McCoy’s colleagues had told him he was in for a world of trouble, but the truth was it was one of the best memories of Jo’s childhood. They were rambunctious and didn’t go to sleep until well past midnight, sure, and there had been one kid who was so homesick he had to leave early, but the rest of it had been a whirlwind of kids being...well, kids. There was something truly magical in that.

“C’mon, guys, let’s get out of Mr. Scott’s hair,” McCoy said. He gestured for Spock to join the rest of them. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

“S'chn T'gai Spock,” he said softly. “I am seven years old.”

“I’m the oldest!” Jim crowed. “That makes me second in command, right Doctor McCoy?”

“Maybe,” McCoy said. “We’ll figure it out in sickbay. Okay, everyone hold hands and don’t let go of each other. You’re going to follow me.”

Christine and Uhura, and Chekov and Sulu immediately grabbed onto each other, but Spock held back. Jim offered his hand. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll make sure you don’t get lost.”

Spock considered Jim’s hand carefully. At last he slid his too-long sleeve over his hand and used the cover to prevent skin-to-skin contact as he accepted Jim’s offer. Jim grinned. “We’re ready, Doctor McCoy!”

“Let’s move out, troops,” McCoy said, putting on his best military voice. The kids giggled. “There’s no laughing in Starfleet,” he admonished them sharply, which reduced them to even louder giggles. “March!”

People stared at them as they moved through the halls to sickbay. Even more than they stared the time everyone had been turned into animals because this time little Jim was still wearing his captain’s shirt. McCoy glared at anyone who looked like they were about to ask questions until they ducked their heads and hurried on.

Back in sickbay, the kids immediately broke formation and hopped up onto the biobeds, watching as they turned on. Jim grabbed a medical tricorder and waved it over Uhura. “Oh no, Nyota! You have space measles!”

“I do not!” Uhura protested. She lay down on one of the biobeds, staring up at the readings. “This says I’m in perfect health. I don’t have space measles.” She stuck her tongue out at Jim.

“Yuh huh!” Jim said. “That bed is broken. This tricorder is telling the truth. You have space measles. And you’ve got tongue-itis. That means your tongue is so swollen you can’t talk. So there.” He stuck his own tongue out at Uhura.

“Put that away,” McCoy told Jim, who reluctantly obeyed. McCoy began stuffing things out of sight, trying to childproof a decidedly unfriendly room. While the others jumped around and made nuisances of themselves, Spock slid up next to the doctor and stared at him. McCoy raised an eyebrow. “Can I help you?”

Spock shook his head.

“Can I trust you with a very important task?”

Spock considered the question carefully before nodding.

“Help me look for anything that could accidentally get broken by this lot.” He jerked his thumb over at the kids who were not trying to fit all five of themselves onto one biobed to see what the readings would say. “PADDs, medical equipment, stuff like that. Can you do that?”

Spock nodded. “I can.”

“Good. Go.”

McCoy grabbed everything he could find, while Spock brought him even more stuff. There were a lot of things that an imaginative or careless child could use to accidentally hurt themselves. By the time it was all safely locked away in cabinets, sickbay was almost completely bare. “Lord help us if there’s an emergency,” McCoy muttered.

Spock stared up at him, intrigued.

McCoy sighed. “Never you mind. Why don’t you go play with the others?”

Spock looked at the kids, who were now playing hide-and-seek (Chekov was “it” and counting loudly to one hundred), then back at McCoy. “What is the purpose of this game?”

McCoy arched an eyebrow. “To have fun.”

Spock doubtfully eyed Jim’s feet, which were sticking out of a cabinet he could barely fit into.

“To hone your tracking skills?” McCoy tried again. “If you’re ‘it,’ that is. If you’re the one hiding it’s purpose is to help you think logically on how to best outwit your opponent by engaging in subterfuge and misdirection.”

“Ah,” Spock said, nodding thoughtfully. “No, thank you.”

“Sewenty-six…..sewenty-sewen,” Chekov continued.

“C’mon,” McCoy urged, nudging Spock slightly. “You still have some time to find a good hiding spot.”

Jim popped his cabinet door open. “Spock, come here,” he hissed. “You can hide with me. Hurry!”

Spock hesitated. “It would be illogical for us to hide in the same spot, as that would increase our chances of both being found.”

“Eighty-four….eighty-five…”

“Then you better find yourself a better hiding spot quick,” McCoy told him. “Else he’ll getcha first for being right out in the open.”

McCoy could practically see the wheels turning in Spock’s head: he wasn’t officially playing so it wouldn’t count for Chekov to “get” him - but on the other hand, if he did play he could probably come up with the best hiding spot where no one would find him. But time was running out and there weren’t that many choices in sickbay. At the last possible moment, Spock dashed over to Jim and squeezed into the too-small cabinet with him. They shut the door just as Chekov got to ninety-eight.

“Ninety-nine…. one hundred. Ready or not here I come!” Chekov opened his eyes and looked around the room. He found Sulu first, hiding behind a supply cabinet. After a few false tries, he got Spock and Jim. The rest proved a little trickier. McCoy settled into a chair to ostensibly do some work, but mostly he was keeping an eye on the others. Jim and Spock gravitated naturally to each other, which McCoy couldn’t help but be grateful for. If anyone could bring a reserved Spock out of his shell, it was Jim with his natural charisma, evident even at this age.

Spock. Now there was a real pickle. Ever since that day Jim left the two of them alone in Spock’s quarters to “talk,” things hadn’t been the same for all that they were exactly the same. Oh, they had talked. And talked. And argued. McCoy even shouted at some point, while Spock’s voice remained as even as ever. He’d looked composed, but McCoy knew better - at least he imagined that he did. He would have sworn he saw a flush creep into Spock’s stoic face, would have bet anything that he’d gotten Spock at least a little riled up.

But in the end they agreed: things shouldn’t change between them. The risk was too great. So McCoy left Spock’s quarters determined that everything would continue as it was. And it did: they still argued and baited each other, they continued to show wary respect for each other’s strengths, they ate meals together with Jim… All perfectly normal.

But something had changed that day. McCoy couldn’t put his finger on it. Something had been triggered by the idea that things could change. That they could become...closer. They never said what “closer” would entail, but McCoy had a vague idea and he was pretty sure Spock did too. Touches between them now - not so rare as they once were but still hardly regular - sparked with a relentless energy. It made McCoy’s breath catch. When Spock caressed his face in a dark cave as McCoy lay dying…

It didn’t bear thinking about.

So far he’d managed to stave off the thoughts except for random bits of what if quickly stifled. Why did they rise up now as he watched Spock trying to fit in with the other children? He was just as serious, just as severe as his adult self, but there was something more here. Something McCoy had never glimpsed before: a desire to belong. A desire to give in to his human half because at least that would mean he fit in. He withheld, yes, but see how easily he caved to Jim’s urging. McCoy couldn’t help but wonder how Spock would have turned out had he grown up on Earth instead of Vulcan. Maybe he -

“Ow!” Sulu yelped. Spock stepped back, looking ashamed. McCoy hurried over to see what the problem was. The kids clamoured around him, all trying to explain at once.

“Hush, hush,” McCoy said gently. “One at a time. Jim, what happened?” He took hold of Sulu’s arm and pushed the sleeve up; he could see the marks where a tiny Vulcan hand had recently grabbed.

“Spock was just trying to get Hikaru’s attention,” Jim said. “But Hikaru was listening to what Chrissy was saying and wasn’t listening, so Spock grabbed him. He didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I swear!”

“I know he didn’t,” McCoy said soothingly. He ran a dermal regenerator over the bruises on Sulu’s arm. “There you go, good as new.” He turned to Spock. “No lasting harm done.”

Still, Spock didn’t rejoin the group. McCoy went over to him. “Su- Hikaru’s not mad at you. Is that what you’re worried about?”

Spock shook his head. “I do not feel worry,” he said stubbornly, even as his forehead creased in a frown. “I should not have allowed myself to play with human children. They are too fragile for my strength, my father says. My human cousins do not like to play with me because I accidentally hurt them sometimes.”

“Accidents happen,” McCoy told him. “Just be careful and you’ll be fine.”

“I...became excited,” Spock confessed as if it were a horrible secret. “I let that excitement overrule my judgement. I cannot let myself become excited again. I should meditate or study or -”

“Whoa, whoa, Spock. Calm down. It was just a bit of a bump.” McCoy kneeled down to Spock’s level. “If you don’t want to play anymore, that’s fine. But I don’t think that’s true, is it?”

Spock hesitated, then looked over at the other kids, longing clear in his eyes. He shook his head. “I want to keep playing,” he mumbled.

“Then you keep right on playing,” McCoy said. “I’m a doctor. If anything goes wrong, I can fix it. Trust me.”

Spock considered him solemnly. “I do.”

McCoy grinned. “Good. What’s happening now. Are you still playing hide and seek?”

“We’re trying to figure out who’s next,” Jim said. “Hikaru was found first so he should be it.”

“Fine, I’ll be it,” Sulu said, making a face. He closed his eyes. “One...two…”

The others, Spock included, scattered. McCoy went back to his chair, not even pretending to read now. If Spock had grown up on Earth, sure he might have turned out differently. But that might not necessarily be a good thing. McCoy sighed. What might have been didn’t matter - only what was. And what was was this: focusing on getting the away team back to their regular ages.

Speaking of…

“McCoy to Scotty.”

There was a long moment of silence before the response finally crackled in. “ Scotty here .”

“You sound frazzled. Sure you don’t want to switch places?”

Hah. Hah. And another hah. I ran several diagnostics with no luck. I’m about ready to take the whole damn thing apart but I’m not sure it was a transporter malfunction this time.

McCoy closed his eyes. Damnit. If it wasn’t the transporter, then what the hell could it have been? “Understood. Keep me informed, will ya?”

Sure thing. How are ye farin’?”

“Everything down here is just peachy.” McCoy grinned. “Jim’s keeping the other kids in line and Spock’s actually playing with them.”

Scotty swore loudly. “ I picked the wrong job.

McCoy laughed. “Language, Mr. Scott. There’s little ears nearby. McCoy out.”

“Mister, I’m bored ,” Sulu whined. “All the good hiding spots are gone. I found everyone except Spock.”

McCoy looked up. Sure enough, all the kids were gathered together again and starting to look restless. “Well, where’s Spock?”

Sulu shrugged. Chekov threw up his hands in exaggerated exasperation. “He has disappeared! He vill not come out even though ve call his name.”

McCoy got to his feet with a groan. “Where have you checked?”

“Everywhere,” they chorused. “There’s nowhere in sickbay he could be,” Uhura added.

“You can’t have checked everywhere. Did anyone see where he went?”

Jim shook his head. “We were busy hiding.”

“Maybe he left sickbay?” Christine suggested.

Jim cupped his hands around his mouth. “ Spock! ” he yelled as loudly as he could.

“Ow! Jim, knock that off,” McCoy said. “Y’all don’t wander off, okay? I’m going to find Spock.”

“I’m gonna help you,” Jim insisted. While the rest of the kids sat on one of the biobeds, looking bored and restless, Jim and McCoy set about turning all of sickbay and the offices upside down searching for Spock. They checked every cabinet, behind every surface large enough to hide a child, under every desk and table. Nowhere.

“Oh this just figures,” McCoy grumbled to himself. “He would be that kid. The one who does such a good job no one can ever find him.”

“Spock! Spock! Spock!” Jim called. “Come on, the game is over!”

“Mister, I’m hungry!” Uhura informed them. The others chimed in their agreement. “Spock, come out so we can eat, please!”

A thump came from nearby, so soft McCoy almost missed it under the others’ voices. “Hush up,” he commanded, and they fell silent. He strained to hear it again, but no more sound was forthcoming. McCoy climbed onto his desk and….yes, there it was. A section of the ceiling, slightly ajar. He pushed it open and found Spock’s dark eyes glittering down at him.

“Doctor McCoy, you are not part of this game,” Spock said disapprovingly.

McCoy held up his hands to catch Spock as he crawled out of the ceiling. “The game’s over. Didn’t you hear us calling you?”

“I did, but I did not want to betray my position. The others have not proved their tracking abilities to be superior to my survival skills.”

“Uh huh.” McCoy carefully climbed down, still carrying Spock. “How did you even get up there?”

McCoy could have sworn there was a glint of adult Spock’s normal humour in his eye as he said, “I cannot tell you that, Doctor. It would ruin the spirit of the game.”

McCoy carried Spock out to the main part of sickbay, carefully balanced on his hip. He didn’t put the boy down, and nor did Spock try to wriggle free. He merely accepted his current captivity and waited to be told what would happen next. The others weren’t so patient.

“I’m bored,” Sulu complained again.

“I’m hungry,” Christine said. Uhura made a huge pout and nodded her agreement. Both girls grabbed their stomachs as if in pain. “Sooooooo hungry!”

McCoy shifted Spock higher on his hip and glanced at the chronometer. It was nearly 1300 hours. “How would you guys feel about a bit of lunch, huh?”

The kids clamoured their approval. Even Spock sounded loud, his voice right next to McCoy’s ear as he said, “Yes, please.”

Fortunately, sickbay had a food replicator for patients who were too ill or injured to go to the mess hall. McCoy carried Spock over there. “Okay, what do you want?”

“No, let’s go out to eat,” Jim said. “I’m tired of being stuck here.”

“Me too,” the rest agreed quickly.

McCoy raised an eyebrow at them. Herding six kids - who made up the majority of the command team normally - through the hallways to the mess hall was not an appealing option. “No, we’re going to stay here.”

“Why?” Jim asked, voice high-pitched and grating.

“Because you keep whining at me,” McCoy replied.

“Sir,” Jim said in a voice that was meant to sound perfectly reasonable and not a trace of a whine anywhere. “We’d really like to go out to eat.”

“It’s the exact same food here as it is in the mess hall,” McCoy said. “What difference does it make?”

“This place is boring,” Christine said. McCoy had to bite his lip to stop from smiling at the irony.

“There aren’t any games or toys,” Sulu added.

“It’s vorse than school,” Chekov said.

The door to sickbay opened and in stepped a frazzled-looking Scotty. “Can I talk to ye privately, Doctor?”

“Not likely. The minute I turn my back on this lot, they’re probably going to be halfway down a Jefferies tube.”

Scotty looked vaguely alarmed at that, but pressed on. “Well, I’ve done just about everythin’ I can think of to the transporter and nothin’s wrong wit’ it. That is to say, nothin’ directly. See, I found a bit of organic material in the works that seems to’ve had an adverse effect on the rematerialization matrix and -”

McCoy adjusted Spock on his hip again. “Bottom line, Scotty.”

“Somethin’ from the planet what got on the team’s clothes is what caused this,” Scotty said grimly.

“Do you have a sample of what you think did it?”

“Aye.” Scotty pulled out a carefully sealed sample packet. “This should be the li’l bu- fiend what you’re lookin’ for.”

McCoy set Spock down and accepted the packet. “Thanks. I’ll analyze this and see if I can figure out what the hell happened. And if I can reverse it somehow.

Scotty let out a long breath. “I hope so.”

The kids, who had no idea what the grownups were grumbling about, looked at McCoy expectantly. “Does this mean we’re not going out for lunch?” Jim asked, disappointed.

McCoy grinned. “Actually, it means the exact opposite. I’m going to be busy in here, so Uncle Scotty’s gonna take you to the mess hall for lunch.”

“Wha - me - but - I -” Scotty spluttered as the kids cheered. “Are ye sure ye can’t -?”

“Sorry, Scotty,” McCoy called, making a beeline for his office. “Lots of important work to do, can’t be disturbed. Thanks so much, see ya later!”

McCoy almost missed the little shadow that followed him into his office, so when he turned around he nearly stepped on Spock, who sprang back. McCoy frowned. “What’s this? You’re supposed to go get lunch with the others.”

“I would prefer to remain with you and help you analyse your sample,” Spock said. “I’m very good at science.”

“I bet you are,” McCoy said gruffly. “But even little Vulcans need to eat.”

“I will eat from the replicator here,” Spock said. “I do not need to ‘go out’ with the others.”

“Spock, please for once in your life don’t argue with me,” McCoy said with a groan. “This sample is very important and I need to concentrate on it, which I can’t do if I’m worried you’re going to be crawling in the ceiling again.”

Spock shook his head hard. “I will not do that again, as the ceiling is not relevant to scientific research.” He blinked up at McCoy. “Please?”

McCoy almost relented. “Listen, Spock. The others will miss you if you don’t go with them. Look, they’re waiting for you now, see? Mister Scott will take good care of you. He knows just as much about Vulcans as I do. So don’t you worry.”

“I do not worry,” Spock said quietly, though he looked extremely apprehensive. “Very well, Doctor. I will go with the others. When we return, may I assist you?”

“Fine,” McCoy said. “Go on now.”

Spock hurried out to join the others. Scotty waved goodbye to McCoy and they left.

---

It was over an hour before McCoy returned to reality as the smell of food penetrated his deep study. He looked up to see Spock with a tray of food standing in his doorway. McCoy set down his PADD and held out his hands. “Well come on in, then.”

“Mister Scott said it was unlikely that you have eaten lunch,” Spock said, stepping inside and handing the tray to McCoy. “I brought this to you. You shouldn’t neglect yourself just because you have a lot of work, my mother says.”

“Your mother is extremely wise,” McCoy told him. He inspected the tray: a chicken salad sandwich, carrot sticks, and coffee. Plus a slice of cake for dessert. “This looks great. Thank you.”

Spock ducked his head, blushing slightly. “You are welcome.”

McCoy gestured him over. “You wanna take a look at my findings so far?”

Spock approached him and picked up the abandoned PADD, reading it over intently. A frown creased his tiny forehead. McCoy watched him carefully, tucking into his food as Spock read. Then, to McCoy’s confusion, consternation, and delight, Spock carefully eased himself onto McCoy’s lap and got comfortable before continuing to read.

McCoy wrapped an arm around Spock’s waist, holding him secure so he wouldn’t fall off. “You okay there?”

“Uh huh,” Spock said. McCoy’s lips twitched at the distracted response. Must’ve picked that one up from Jim , he figured. McCoy continued to eat his food as Spock read. At last, almost all of the food was gone and Spock had finished.

“So what do you think?”

“Why did the organic material cause a reversal of aging only up to a certain point?” Spock asked. “Why did it not continue at a steady rate of reversal?”

“Good question,” McCoy said. He made a note on his PADD. “Think we can stop the reversal?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah? How?”

Spock looked like his poor little brain might break it was straining so hard. “You have to reverse the reversal and then repeat the same process that started it in the first place.”

“True,” McCoy said. “Now I just gotta figure out how to reverse the reversal. That should be easy, huh? I could try engineering a strain of the same material that but with a slightly varied genetic code.” He was musing aloud now, talking more to himself than Spock. “The problem will be figuring out a way to trial it. I could apply the original material to a small sample of living material, get it to reverse, then try the antidote afterwards.”

“Doctor?”

“Hmm?”

“Is it us?”

McCoy looked at him curiously. The angle was hard to see Spock’s face fully, but when McCoy brushed Spock’s hair back he could see enough of him. “Is what who?”

“The subjects of your experiment. Is it Jim and the others and myself? Is that why we’re the only children on this ship?” Spock asked.

McCoy sighed. “Has anyone ever told you you’re too smart for your own good, Spock?”

Spock nodded. “My human relatives.” He looked up at McCoy. “How can someone be too smart?”

“Intelligence can get a person into trouble just as much as ignorance can,” McCoy said.

“Oh.” Spock thought that over. He set McCoy’s PADD down and leaned back against McCoy’s chest. McCoy was just about to grab the PADD and resume his research when Spock spoke again. “Am I like my father? As an adult?”

McCoy froze. Now there was a tricky question. “A bit,” he acknowledged. “You got some of his best traits. But you’re also a lot like your mother.”

Spock flushed bright green. “I do not want to be like my mother. She is irrational and - and human.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being human, Spock,” McCoy said carefully. It was one thing to debate the merits of Vulcan training over human emotionalism with a full-grown Spock who could handle himself. This was another matter altogether.

“The other kids make fun of me when I act human,” Spock confessed. “Their insults do not hurt me, of course, but I find it tiresome that they always try to provoke an emotional response from me and then look down on me for responding as such.”

“That sounds quite illogical of them” McCoy murmured.

“It is,” Spock agreed.

He looked so sad. He might claim that the Vulcan kids’ insults didn’t hurt him, but McCoy guessed that wasn’t as true as he wished it was. He cleared his throat. “You’re going to grow up to be a good man, Spock. Strong, intelligent, and - and probably one of the closest friends I ever had.”

Spock looked up at him in wonder. “I am?”

McCoy nodded. “You bet. Now I gotta get back to work so I can get that friend back. You’re a good kid, Spock, but this ship needs her resident Vulcan to make sure us emotional humans don’t completely ruin everything.”

“Okay.” Spock didn’t move. That was fine; McCoy didn’t need his lap just yet.

---

By the end of the day, McCoy was dead tired, the children were fretful and wanted to go home to their parents, and they were no closer to finding a cure than before. McCoy dragged the fussy children back to the mess hall for a dinner (punctuated by three temper tantrums and two fights) then to his quarters to settle down for a little while before bed. Sulu and Jim were refusing to talk to each other, but that was fine by McCoy - it meant less noise for his pounding head.

“You can read or draw or make arts and crafts,” he told them. “Whatever you want. Just do it quietly .”

Bedtime came early and with yet another set of complications. McCoy’s quarters weren’t exactly big, and the bed was wide enough for himself and maybe two of the children. For the others, he requisitioned an extra mattress, which he set up on the floor. Then of course came the inevitable arguments about who would get to sleep where. Chekov promptly declared he didn’t care where he slept, plopped down on the floor mattress, and was asleep in minutes. The others set up a complicated game of elimination using Rock Paper Scissors to see who would get the prized two spots on McCoy’s bed.

Spock won one of the spots but no one wanted to listen to how he had used statistics and logic to anticipate his opponents’ every outcome. After a bit of hassle, Sulu won the other spot. By the time McCoy got everyone changed into pyjamas, got them to brush their teeth and use the toilet, and taken care of all the little rituals (“My mom reads me a story”; “Wait, I can’t sleep without my teddy bear!”), he was ready to collapse. He fell asleep to the sound of tiny snores and whispering.

Halfway through the night a loud thump startled him awake. He became aware immediately of a very warm - and very large - presence against his back. “Wuzzat?” he mumbled blearily, turning over and finding himself face-to-face with a very adult Spock.

“I believe that was the sound of Mister Sulu falling off the bed,” Spock said.

“Yup,” Sulu confirmed from the floor. By the sounds of his voice, he too was back to normal.

“There’s not enough room on this damn bed for three full-grown men, damnit,” McCoy groaned. “Not unless we’re about to get real cozy.”

He could see Spock swallow hard in the dark. “I do not advise that idea. I should return to my quarters.”

“We all should,” Jim said, sitting up, careful not to touch Uhura or Christine, who were on either side of him. “We’ll figure out what the hell happened in the morning. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exhausted. And sore.” He groaned and cracked his back. “I should never have tried to do that backflip.”

“You were trying to show off,” McCoy said with a grin. “Good to know you were exactly the same as a kid as you are now.”

“Very funny, Bones,” Jim said. He stood up with a wince. “I’m going back to my own bed. Good night, everyone.”

The others followed him out one by one, trudging back to their own quarters and cataloguing various aches and pains along the way. At last, only Spock remained. He lingered somewhat, on the pretense of rearranging his now-too-small pyjamas and taking his time to collect his uniform. McCoy waved him off before he could start fussing with the spare mattress. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll deal with it in the morning. Spock?”

Spock glanced at him. “Yes, Doctor?”

“Sounds like you guys remember everything from this little...ordeal,” McCoy said.

“Yes, Doctor.”

McCoy cleared his throat. “Ah. Well, in that case I just want to tell you not to take it to heart. Those things I said.”

Spock cocked his head, puzzled. “I recall you only having good things to say to me, Doctor.”

McCoy blushed. “Yeah, exactly. Don’t let it go to your head.”

Spock regarded McCoy silently, something like a smile lurking at the corner of his mouth. “Very well, Doctor. And I will appreciate if you do not acknowledge the fact that I sat on your lap.”

McCoy winced. When he said it like that, it sounded so suggestive. “No problem. Say, why’d you do that anyway? I thought Vulcans weren’t exactly big on physical...whatever.” He’d almost said affection before stopping himself.

Spock hesitated. “When you carried me around sickbay, I - that is to say, my younger self - was taken by how much you reminded me of my mother.”

McCoy raised an eyebrow. “Oh, now that’s just what a guy likes to hear.”

“As you yourself said, my mother is remarkable. I should think you’d find the comparison to be a compliment,” Spock said.

“Oh, I do,” McCoy assured him. “It just makes me glad we’re not dating. I’d hate to have to worry about whether or not you have an Oedipal complex.”

“Indeed I do not,” Spock said, skating gracefully right over the dating comment. He stepped forward and reached out a hand to McCoy’s face. McCoy forced himself not to shy away. Spock’s long fingers traced the outer shell of McCoy’s ear. “My younger self was utterly fascinated by the shape of your ear. I first noticed it when you lifted me down from the ceiling. When I came to sit on your lap, part of my intention was to get closer to examine the shape.”

A shiver coursed down McCoy’s spine and his eyes drifted closed. He swayed forward ever so slightly, seeking a brush of lips to lips, thinking that maybe...finally -

Spock stepped back, leaving McCoy feeling bereft and cold.

“Thank you, Doctor, for taking care of us and attempting to find a way to reverse the effects, even though your efforts turned out to be superfluous. Good night.”

McCoy wanted to tell him to stay, but his throat seemed to be stuck.

Chapter Text

Bridge to Doctor McCoy.

Uhura’s voice rang crisp in sickbay. McCoy toggled the switch on his computer and her face appeared before him. “McCoy here.”

Your presence is requested on the bridge.

McCoy raised an eyebrow. Oh it was, was it? “I’ll be right there. McCoy out.”

He glanced at the chronometer - it was about 0915, which meant Jim should have been on the bridge by now, but if Uhura was calling McCoy rather than the captain, that meant something had happened that put Spock in charge. Because Spock had been avoiding McCoy for three straight weeks ever since the age reversal incident. At least, McCoy assumed he’d been avoiding him - it was hard to tell, what with all the avoidance McCoy himself was attempting to pull off.

They were civil towards each other, sure. More civil than usual in fact. So civil that most of the crew was under the impression they were having a huge fight. Which they most certainly were not, McCoy would have been quick to assure them had they asked (no one did). So what if they no longer ate breakfast together with Jim? So what if McCoy was conspicuously absent from watching Spock and Jim’s chess games? So what if Spock no longer casually fell in step beside McCoy should they happen to run into each other (so what, in fact, if McCoy turned tail the moment he spotted Spock coming down the corridor)? So what if they resorted to speaking to each other indirectly through third parties - or if it was unavoidable, directly to each other using clipped, formal tones and plenty of “Doctor McCoy”s and “Commander Spock”s? Their obligation to their jobs never diminished, their work efficiency never wavered. They never gave Jim reason to complain, except on a personal level.

It just wasn’t worth it. The dancing around each other, the crackling tension that neither of them seemed willing to take that last step to break. McCoy had dangled the bait, and Spock… he’d ignored it. Rejected it. Turned around and walked right out, and that was answer enough for McCoy.

The turbolift stopped and McCoy stepped onto the bridge, eyes immediately taking in the scene: the bridge crew nervous and worried, Spock pacing up and down in front of the captain’s chair. Whatever had happened was enough to get him worked up, then it must be big.

“What’s going on?” McCoy asked gruffly.

Spock paused his pacing just enough to nod slightly at McCoy. “Doctor. Our captain seems to be missing.”

McCoy frowned. “Missing?”

“Indeed,” Spock said. “He did not report for his shift on the bridge, he is not in the mess hall or gym or quarters, and he has not excused himself from duty.”

“Well, did you try asking the computer where he is?” McCoy demanded.

Spock raised an eyebrow. “Naturally, Doctor. But the computer seems to be malfunctioning. It is not working at its usual efficiency.”

“How d’you mean?”

Spock let out a noise that McCoy was sure he would deny being a sigh. “If you require a practical demonstration, Doctor… Computer, locate Captain Kirk.”

Captain Kirk is right here, Mister Spock ,” the computer replied.

“What the hell?” McCoy said. “Computer, locate Captain Kirk.”

Damnit Bones, I just told Spock! Why must I repeat everything?

McCoy stared at Spock, eyes wide. Realisation dawned on Spock’s face at almost the exact same moment.

“Captain?”

The computer did not respond.

McCoy, who had up until now kept a careful distance, stepped down into the main part of the bridge. “He must only be able to respond when you engage the computer. Computer, is that you Captain?”

Yes, Bones.

“I’ll be damned,” McCoy whispered. He felt like he needed to sit down. “Computer, how the flying fu- how did this happen?”

I am unable to speculate as to the cause of this phenomenon, ” the Jim/computer said. McCoy would have sworn there was amusement evident in the feminine, mechanical voice. “ All I know is I went to sleep human and woke up electronic. I am accessing all records from last night to determine possible causes.

“How very sensible of you,” McCoy muttered. “This wouldn’t be another transporter accident, would it?”

Unknown at this time ,” the Jim/computer said.

“Computer, send all relevant data to my personal computer,” Spock instructed, lowering himself into the captain’s chair. From habit, McCoy’s feet carried him to stand just behind the chair, hand resting on its back. “I will assist you in analysing it and finding a potential connection.”

“Anything I can do to help?” McCoy asked. This technological nonsense was way more Scotty and Spock’s field than McCoy’s, and he felt completely useless.

Spock didn’t look at McCoy as he replied. “At this time, I think not. We shall probably need your medical expertise later on, but for now perhaps it will be best for you to return to sickbay.”

“Now wait just a damn minute, you can’t just fob me off and -”

Spock cut McCoy’s words off with a sharp look. “Your opinion has been noted, Doctor McCoy. Thank you for your assistance in locating the captain. You will be kept apprised of the situation. Now I suggest you return to your assigned post aboard this ship.”

McCoy didn’t bother to keep the sneer off his face as he said, “Yes sir, Commander.” He snapped a sarcastic salute before stalking to the turbolift and returning to sickbay as ordered.

---

“Computer, locate commander Scott,” McCoy said later. He glanced at the chronometer: 1100. He couldn’t keep still any longer. He had to do something, even if it was just go harass Scotty for a while and get an update on the whole Kirk situation.

Commander Spock is on the bridge .”

“Damn, I - wait, did you say Scott or Spock?” McCoy asked.

Commander Spock is on the bridge.

“Computer, I want to know the location of commander Scott,” McCoy said, putting emphasis on the T at the end. “Scott. Locate Mr. Scott.”

Commander Spock is on the bridge.

“Computer,” McCoy said through gritted teeth. “Where is Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott?”

Commander Spock is on the bridge. Just go talk to him, Bones .”

“Like hell,” McCoy snapped. “He’s busy trying to pull your electronic ass out of the computer system, Jim, and he’s made it clear my presence on the bridge isn’t welcome. So take that and shove it up your nearest exhaust vent.”

The computer remained stubbornly silent. For good measure, McCoy flipped off the nearest console and went down to Engineering, figuring that was the best shot for finding Scotty. Unfortunately, that hunch proved false. He also checked the mess hall and a few other likely places before giving into the inevitable: Scotty was likely on the Bridge. Which meant if McCoy wanted to go talk to him, he’d have to put up with Spock’s presence.

McCoy stepped into the turbolift and hesitated, indecision warring in his brain. He should just go back to sickbay, but there was nothing to do there. He missed Jim; talking to him through the computer just wasn’t the same. If he could help somehow….

Spock had made it clear he wasn’t welcome on the Bridge right now, certainly. Well, as CMO McCoy had a million reasons to be on the Bridge. And if Spock tried to throw him off again, McCoy could cite any number of regulations…

McCoy sighed. He really should just go back to sickbay and wait until he was summoned.

Of course McCoy wasn’t really one to listen to what he should do.

As indecision waged war in his mind, the turbolift doors opened and none other than Spock stepped inside. Unless McCoy’s eyes were deceiving him, Spock hesitated ever so briefly when he caught sight of McCoy, who drew himself up slightly. His eyes flickered away, going for indifference as Spock turned to face the turbolift doors with his usual ramrod stoicism.

“Doctor,” he said, not looking at McCoy. “Where are you headed?”

McCoy almost informed Spock that it was none of his damn business, but the growl died in his throat and instead he said defiantly, “The Bridge. Same as you, Commander?”

“Indeed.”

McCoy grasped the guiding handle and said, “Bridge.” Silence overtook the compact space as both men steadily ignored each other.

The turbolift rose steadily, levels flicking by. Tension mounted, causing the air to crackle, but McCoy stubbornly refused to look at Spock. Was Spock looking at McCoy? Who cared? Not McCoy, that was for damn sure. No, if Spock was looking or wasn’t looking, it didn’t matter one iota, not one teensy tinsy itty bitty -

The turbolift jolted to a halt halfway between levels. The lights were still on, which indicated there wasn’t a problem with the power supply.

“Computer, resume turbolift,” McCoy barked.

“Unable to comply,” the computer’s feminine voice rejoined. It sounded no different from normal, but this was hardly a typical day. Jim was somewhere in the workings, and McCoy would lay down money he was involved in this somehow.

“Computer, goddamnit you sonofa-”

“Please restate request,” the computer said.

“Computer,” Spock interjected with a frown before McCoy could come up with anymore colourful invectives, “has the turbolift malfunctioned?”

“Turbolift C is currently out of service,” the computer said.

“Currently out of - now listen here, you,” McCoy spluttered. “It was working fine three seconds ago!”

“Turbolift C is currently out of service,” the computer repeated. This time McCoy could have sworn he heard Jim’s laughter in the words.

“Computer, is this malfunction related to the malfunctions of turbolifts A and D which prevented me from using them in the first place?” Spock asked. McCoy shot him a confused look; if he didn’t know any better, McCoy would have said he sounded sarcastic just then.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the computer insisted.

McCoy sighed and let his head thump against the turbolift wall. “Of all the harebrained, cockamamie nonsense you coulda come up with, Jim, this is definitely the worst.”

“Negative,” Jim said in the computer’s voice. “I have calculated that this scenario has a 38.4% chance of success whereas Chekov’s suggestion of getting you both really drunk and locking you in a closet has only a 13.8% chance of success.”

McCoy shot Spock an exasperated look, completely forgetting he was supposed to be ignoring the Vulcan. “I don’t even know where to begin. Success of what, exactly?”

“Success of getting you two to pull your heads out of your asses and make up, Doctor,” the computer said primly.

“We have not been fighting,” Spock said. He looked completely unruffled, as if he argued with his disembodied captain every damn day of the week. “Therefore, we cannot possibly ‘make up.’ As for the location of our heads, Captain, I can assure you mine is firmly on my shoulders and nowhere near my rectum. As CMO, I’m sure Doctor McCoy can attest to this fact.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” McCoy muttered darkly. “If anyone on this ship is in need of a good head-rectum removal procedure, it’d be you.”

Spock turned slowly to face him for the first time since entering the turbolift. “I beg your pardon, Doctor?”

McCoy smiled blandly at him. “Nothing, Mr. Spock.” He flipped open his communicator. “McCoy to Bridge.”

Of course there was no response.

McCoy groaned. “Great. This is just great. Jim trapped us in here with no way to communicate with the outside world until we… what? What exactly does he expect us to do?”

“He seems to be under the impression we are fighting,” Spock said, eyeing the ceiling with interest. McCoy followed his gaze to a removable panel. An escape hatch? “I am unaware of any recent animosity between our persons.”

“You’re damn right we aren’t fighting, Spock,” McCoy said. “Hear that, Jim? Things are just peachy between us.”

The computer remained silent.

“He does not appear to believe us,” Spock said.

McCoy bit off the sarcastic reply forming on the tip of his tongue. “And he calls us the stubborn ones,” he muttered instead.

“Doctor, if I lift you up, you should be able to access this emergency hatch.” Spock pointed to the panel he’d been eyeballing. “From there you should be able to climb the service ladder to the next level and proceed to the Bridge from there. You shall inform Mr. Scott of my predicament and urge him to gain manual control of Turbolift C.”

“Great plan, Spock,” McCoy said. “There’s just one problem: Jim has control of all the doors too. He’ll just lock me out and I’ll have to come back here.”

“Perhaps you have formulated a more effective plan?” Spock asked tightly.

“Sure. We sit here for a few minutes, then bring Jim back online and tell him we’ve made up. We’ve seen the error of our ways. I’ll make my best effort to come watch you get creamed at chess and you stop kicking me off the Bridge at every available opportunity, and we’re all old pals again -”

“Doctor,” Spock interrupted sharply. “If I have ever ‘kicked you off the Bridge’ it was for good reason, I am certain.”

If ?” McCoy repeated. “You sure that ‘if’ is the right word there, Spock? Because you did it just two hours ago.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about, Doctor McCoy,” Spock said.

“Oh? Does ‘I suggest you return to your assigned post’ ring any bells?” McCoy demanded, doing a rather accurate impression of Spock.

Spock stiffened. “Sickbay is your assigned post, Doctor. The captain’s leniency notwithstanding, in a potential medical emergency such as this, sickbay is where you would be needed the most.”

“You’re the one who called me up to the Bridge in the first place,” McCoy snarled, taking a step closer to Spock, hands linked firmly behind his back as if to prevent himself from giving into the temptation of smacking Spock a good one.

“I required your assistance,” Spock said evenly. He didn’t step away from McCoy; if anything, he seemed to be leaning forward ever so slightly. “Once I had obtained it, your presence on the Bridge was no longer necessary.”

“Use ‘em and leave ‘em, eh Spock?” McCoy’s lip curled up slightly. “Is that your logical view of us humans? Once we’ve ended our usefulness better push us under the rug so we won’t get in your way? Watch out, though. You push too many of us under there and you’re going to trip on the bump you created.”

“I believe your metaphor has run away from you, Doctor,” Spock said.

McCoy shook his head. His whole body seemed to be trembling with the release of emotions he’d been avoiding for weeks. “I don’t think so, Spock. What happened? Did I get too close to something?” His hands released each other and he made an abortive reach for Spock’s arm. “Is that why you didn’t -” McCoy sagged suddenly, stepping away from Spock and averting his eyes. He didn’t have the energy for this, not this time. “Never mind.”

But Spock wasn’t done. Quick as a snake he stepped into McCoy’s personal space and grabbed his upper arms - gently, but firmly. “Ask,” he commanded McCoy. “What do you wish to know?”

McCoy looked straight into Spock’s eyes. “Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?” he asked; it wasn’t the question he was originally going to ask, but it was as close as he was willing to come at this time.

Spock frowned. “It is you, Doctor, who has altered your habits in an effort not to be within social proximity to me.”

“Are you telling me you never once in the last few weeks went out of your way to make sure our paths didn’t cross?” McCoy demanded. He was bluffing, he had no way to know for sure, but he knew Spock….

Spock’s eyes slid away, evasive. “I could not attest to the veracity of that statement,” he said, letting go of McCoy.

McCoy should have felt victory at calling Spock out, but all he felt was a squeeze in the pit of his stomach. “There,” he said hollowly. “We’ve both admitted it. We’ve been avoiding each other. Now we apologise and make nice and Jim’ll let us out of here.” He flashed Spock a brittle smile.

Spock frowned. “I do not believe it will be so simple. The captain has stopped responding to us, but that doesn’t mean he has ceased to observe us. He has access to all security cameras, including the one in this turbolift. He will know if our truce is a fabrication.”

McCoy slid down the turbolift wall into a sitting position, suddenly too tired to stand up straight. “What the hell does he want from us?” he demanded. He looked up at the ceiling. “Are you listening, Jim? What the fuck do you want? Why can’t you just leave us alone? Not everyone can just brush off rejection and keep going like it doesn’t fucking hurt, you know.” The words tumbled out of his mouth, freefalling and a relief to finally say out loud. “You gotta give me more time. Things will return to normal, but not - not yet, okay? I just need more time.” He closed his eyes, wondering if Jim heard any of that and knowing full well that Spock had.

A rustle, a warm presence by his side, told him that Spock had settled down next to him; without opening his eyes McCoy could see him sitting in a tailor position, back perfectly straight. Was he looking at McCoy? It didn’t matter. McCoy kept his eyes firmly screwed shut.

“Doctor…”

McCoy didn’t open his eyes.

A soft touch on his hand made McCoy jerk away, eyes still firmly shut.

“Doctor, I request your attention. Please.”

McCoy let out a long breath but didn’t open his eyes.

“Leonard.”

McCoy’s eyes flew open and he stared at Spock, who was sitting almost exactly as McCoy had imagined him. The only difference was a soft curving in his spine and an expression in his eyes McCoy didn’t recognise - at least not from him. Worry. “I confess to some confusion. At what point did you feel rejected, and in what capacity?”

McCoy scoffed. “You know. Of course you know. Not even you’re so emotionally stunted not to realise what almost happened in my quarters after - when - the night you all were children.”

Spock blinked, and McCoy could practically see the little video recorder in his mind rewinding to that night. “I admitted to trusting you. And I likened you to my mother. I disclosed my attraction to the shape of your ears. And then I bid you goodnight.”

McCoy stared at him. “You’re missing a step in there, Commander.”

Spock frowned. “I do not recall any other actions taken that night.”

“Exactly,” McCoy said.

Spock opened his mouth, paused, thought better of what he was going to say. He considered for a moment longer, then shook his head. “I do not understand.  What am I missing?”

“The part where I practically begged you to kiss me and you just - you just left!”

Spock shot him a look of pure alarm. “I assure you, I have no recollection of you begging me to kiss you,” he said.

“Well not out loud, you pointy -” McCoy clamped down on the insult before it could add more fuel to the fire. “I practically threw myself at you. And you made it clear you weren’t interested. It stung a little, but I’ll get over it eventually. I just need to, you know, take my time before things can return to normal. I don’t know why Jim doesn’t understand that.”

“Leonard, I assure you I did not understand your intentions at the time,” Spock said softly. “Perhaps my memory is inaccurate but I did not then, nor do I remember now, any point when you indicated to me nonverbally that you wished to commit an intimate exchange of -”

“English, please,” McCoy snapped. “You’re saying I was being too subtle for your Vulcan sensibilities? What do I have to do, hold up a sign that says I’m attracted to you?”

“I am aware of your attraction,” Spock said. “I am aware of my own reciprocation. We have discussed this previously. However, I thought we agreed it would be outside of our best interests to pursue a romantic relationship while serving aboard the Enterprise .”

“Yeah, we did,” McCoy said. “But I thought maybe you had changed your mind. And if you knew I changed my mind too then you’d get the hint. Looks like I was wrong.”

“I had not changed my mind at that time,” Spock said. “Although my attraction to you did not desist, I was holding it in check because I assumed that our agreement was still standing. Perhaps if you had told me what you were thinking, I would have reconsidered.”

McCoy groaned. “Don’t say that. You’re just proving Jim right. He kept insisting I should just talk to you.”

“He was not incorrect,” Spock said reproachfully.

McCoy chuckled ruefully. “What a mess.” He wasn’t sure if he meant himself or his emotions or the situation itself. “What does your logic say right now about...this?” He waved his hand broadly to encompass themselves and the turbolift in general, this whole damn situation.

“Logic indicates that it would be unwise for us to enter a relationship if we cannot communicate effectively.”

“Uh-huh. What else?”

“That an attempt at a romantic relationship has a high chance of an unfavourable outcome.”

McCoy nodded. “That’s what I figured,” he said with a sigh.

Spock eyed him intently. “That is not all, however.”

“Oh?”

“Our conversation has proven something I have been suspecting for a long time now. The only predictable thing about a human - especially one such as yourself - is that you are unpredictable. Therefore, logic can only predict so much, since you yourself are a wild variable that can change at a moment’s notice. Therefore logically, one must throw all logic ‘out the window’ so to speak if one wishes to theorise on the outcome of a romantic relationship with such an illogical person,” Spock said.

McCoy stared at him, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Did you just say that logically you can’t listen to logic where I’m concerned because I’m so damn illogical?”

“That would be an accurate summation, yes,” Spock allowed. McCoy could have sworn he saw amusement in Spock’s eyes.

“Logically illogical,” McCoy murmured. “If I didn’t know any better, Mr. Spock, I’d say logic is more flexible than most Vulcans would want humans to believe. You could bend it any which way you want and get your desired results.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow. “Indeed? I’m afraid I must disagree with you, Doctor.”

McCoy couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ll bet.” He sobered suddenly, nervousness returning in a flurry. “So where does this leave us?”

Spock considered the question intently before leaning forward and brushing his lips against McCoy’s. McCoy’s eyes drifted shut, the better to focus on the soft, hot lips that inexpertly coaxed his own into opening up. He took control, guiding Spock gently; his hands drifted up to latch onto Spock - one on his bicep, the other on the back of his neck. Spock inhaled sharply and deepened the kiss. Whatever McCoy had accidentally transmitted with the touch, Spock was more than willing to accept. They only broke apart when the turbolift suddenly lurched back into action.

“Goddamn voyeur,” McCoy muttered under his breath, flipping off the security camera once more.

Spock climbed to his feet and reached down to help McCoy up. God, he was too old to be sitting on the floor like that. But the way his fingers tingled when Spock touched them made the ache in his back well worth it.

Spock didn’t let go of his hand until they reached the Bridge and the doors opened. If anyone was surprised to see Spock and a rather bouncy McCoy step out of the turbolift, they kept it to themselves.

“Welcome back, sir,” Scotty said, looking fairly relieved. “There was something wrong with the turbolift and we couldnae get in touch with ye. I dunno what happened, but it seems to have repaired itself.”

“Let us focus on returning the Captain to himself and then you may run a shipwide diagnostic,” Spock said, completely unruffled. “I believe you will find nothing out of sorts.”

“Yessir,” Scotty said. “About the Captain, sir. I believe we’ve figured out the source.” He pulled up a chart on his monitor; Spock leaned over his shoulder to look at it. McCoy peered at it too, but he couldn’t make head nor tails of the information. “This bump here we took to be a regular spatial anomaly, but further investigation revealed it was actually a brief encounter with a sentient species. Just before you and Doctor McCoy arrived, the captain discovered a message the aliens encoded into the ship’s software.”

“Convenient timing,” McCoy muttered.

“Display the message,” Spock said, shooting McCoy a raised eyebrow.

Spock read the message rapidly; McCoy barely had time to skim it before Spock straightened up and strode over to the captain’s chair. The gist of it indicated that these aliens they had encountered were noncorporeal entities but not so long ago had been humanoids who integrated technology into their lives so thoroughly they were basically cyborgs. In their existence, a starship could not operate properly without the captain’s consciousness being uploaded directly into the ship and the body being carefully preserved in the meantime. These aliens had become alarmed that the Enterprise , which they had probed from afar, was operating separately from her captain’s consciousness, so they had taken it upon themselves to remedy the situation. The message ended with a hearty you’re welcome and oblivious self-congratulations on the favour they had selflessly bestowed upon the Enterprise . The captain’s body, it seemed, was being held by the aliens for safekeeping.

Once they knew what happened, it was short work for the crew to head back to the coordinates where they had been probed and hail the aliens to open communications. Actually explaining what Spock wanted too much longer, as the aliens could not understand why he thought it best for his captain to be separated from “his love, his duty, his obligation.”

“They make it sound like a marriage,” McCoy muttered softly.

“Marriage...marriage,” one of the aliens (they called themselves the Traachtar) repeated, turning the word over in its mouth (a projected corporeal body the alien had insisted upon to make the Enterprise crew more comfortable). “Yes, exactly like.”

McCoy cleared his throat and spoke louder. “Well, I don’t know about you folks, but us humans like to have a little separation in our marriages. It’s not good to be together 24/7 you know. Or whatever your time system looks like.”

“But your ship will respond faster if your captain need only think his commands,” the Traachtar replied, sounding scandalised.

“We shall take our chances,” Spock said. “The ship’s operations are more than just the captain’s commands to the computer. He must also be able to command his crew.”

“He can do that from computer terminals, can he not?” the Traachtar asked, genuinely confused and distressed.

“Our computers are designed so that they are dormant unless directly addressed,” Spock explained.

“We can assist you in fixing that,” another Traachtar interjected kindly.

“We would much rather prefer to get our captain back into his body, thanks all the same,” McCoy said.

The Traachtar whispered hurriedly to each other in a language that made McCoy’s ears hurt. At last they returned their focus on the Enterprise . “We will do as you ask, though we do not understand,” the second Traachtar said. “Please give us one of your hours. Separating the captain from the ship will be a more arduous procedure than the initial integration.”

“We are gratified by your acquiescence,” Spock said.

“When you’ve done your reintegration, just pop him into sickbay, will you?” McCoy said. “I’ll need to check him over.”

“Very well.” The aliens popped out of existence as easily as they had first appeared on the Bridge.

McCoy straightened his uniform shirt. “If you need me, I’ll be at my assigned post,” he told Spock with a snappy salute. He darted into the turbolift before Spock could come up with a rejoinder. A smile lit up his face as he ordered the computer to take him to sickbay. Maybe things were going to be okay after all.

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.