A/N: So ... hello all! This little scene is one that was requested by several people after I wrapped up Equilibrium last year. I had always kicked around possibly writing it, and I have finally put something together - call it my own little celebration that McCoy got more than his customary three lines or so in the new movie. ;-P
This does not replace anything in the original epilogue (except that I did move the last line here, because it's ... well, the last line), so you won't miss anything if you don't remember the rest of it and decide not to read it. It's more of an extended scene. For those who do read it, I hope you enjoy!
Hot wind scoured the Vulcan sands, kicking up eddies and swirling currents. Silence wrapped them, heavier than the air itself, broken only by the scuff of boots and the distant calls of desert wildlife. Mount Seleya loomed over the approaching supplicants, stark and solid in the hot morning sun. McCoy drew a long breath in, let a long breath out, drew another in. He would normally have been worried about the prospect of a human trekking through the Forge for any length of time, but the Vulcans' sedate, almost rhythmic pace combined with the light clothing he had chosen allowed for his own physiology to keep up well enough. He matched his steps to those of Salin, hands clasped at the small of his back like the other witnesses, and kept his focus on T'Pana's sleek figure roughly ten paces ahead. He was still a little nervous, to be honest, given his complete lack of familiarity with any kind of katra ceremony. Salin had assured him that this was not a situation Vulcan had previously faced, though, and that the ceremony would be unique.
In other words, they were all just making it up as they went, and as long as he kept his mouth shut and followed the others' lead he probably wouldn't embarrass himself (or T'Pana) too badly.
A light jingling was beginning to thread its way through the gusting of the wind. McCoy looked up from his dust-covered boots. They were nearly on top of the mountain now, maybe five hundred feet out from the base of a tremendous staircase cut directly into the red stone. Two elderly Vulcan females swathed in white stood on the lowest step—priestesses, unless he had completely missed that boat during Salin's rundown. On either side of the stairs two younger females, both dressed in grey robes similar to those of the priestesses, stood stationed behind tall frames hung with tiny bells that caught and reflected the brilliant sunlight. The frames reminded him of some of the instruments he had seen at Spock's wedding, although these were too large to be carried. The women shook them, the frames swaying on stationary poles, and their chaotic tinkling reached out to draw the visitors in.
A gong rang out from high upon the mountain, and the carriers halted in their tracks. The witnesses stilled as well, and McCoy settled himself as the elderly priestesses left their post and proceeded regally across the sands. The wind whipped at them, rifling his hair and chilling his newly-bare jaw line even despite its heat. It was … comforting. He felt more like himself without the facial hair, and he was glad that Joanna had convinced him to shave. It was stupid, maybe, but he hadn't even realized the memories that clung to that beard until it was gone.
The jingling rose in a frantic wave, then cut off abruptly when the priestesses stopped before the katra carriers. There were sixteen in all, over half of the Vulcans rescued from Charen, and the line spread out for a good distance. One priestess stepped forward and spoke in an ancient dialect that the universal translator did not render. Salin's hushed voice murmured at his side.
"Although you yourselves were in need, you have offered a place to those who could not be saved, that their katras may rest upon the lands of their ancestors rather than in bondage upon a cruel and distant world. All of Vulcan reveres your choice." A ragged succession of half-bows rippled along the row of carriers. "You have now returned to your home and stand upon the sands of the Forge, before the sacred mountain and the Hall of Ancient Thoughts. What do you ask for these katras?"
The response rose from the carriers in modern Vulcan, without need for external translation. "Rest, priestess, among those others who have been granted a place within the ancient halls."
The first priestess bowed deeply before them. "As your actions have been honorable, so is this request, and it has been granted according to your stated desire. We will meld briefly now, to ensure that each katra brought before us would request the same." The lined, sunken eyes rose. For a brief instant her gaze lingered on McCoy, but moved on to the others before he could decide whether he should be uncomfortable. "Witnesses, approach."
All right, then. This show was on the road. McCoy took a deep breath and followed Salin forward, stopping just behind T'Pana. Neither of them touched her, but he was near enough to feel the heat radiating from her body and knew she would be aware of the same. The priestesses moved slowly to opposite ends of the line and stopped before the outermost carriers. Their long, bent fingers unerringly brushed the first facial contact points, and silence fell—words ceased, bells hung still, and even the wind seemed to lay down in respect.
The melds were indeed brief, so much so that he wondered how they could actually get any information in that amount of time. Still, McCoy was no expert on mind melds, his own couple of times on the receiving end notwithstanding, and he wasn't likely to figure it out here. Anyway, it was their turn now and he should be paying attention. He jerked his thoughts back to the present and his companions as the second priestess halted before them. T'Pana neither tensed nor pulled back when the wrinkled fingers approached her face. She might have been carved from the surrounding stone for all the reaction she conveyed, and McCoy felt again that reluctant surge of admiration for the Vulcan ability to master instinctive movement. It was over as quickly as the others, and in no time flat the two priestesses stood before them all again.
"The katras within are willing and gratified, and so we invite those who bear them to enter upon the stairway unto the temple." The priestess bowed her head. "Although this is a time-honored ritual and has been often performed without incident, we must acknowledge that this manner of procedure always bears with it a certain risk. Therefore, we ask each carrier before us to come forward on his or her own to state your intention again, in full knowledge of the path before you. Should you choose to proceed, continue on to the stairway and ascend."
Risk. There was always risk in any procedure involving either the body or the mind - he had been a doctor long enough to know that - but none of them had come this far only to turn back now. The first of the katra carriers stepped forward, executing another half bow before the elderly Vulcans.
"I am Sinra, priestesses, and I choose to release the living essence of the Vulcan T'Reyal into the ancient halls."
The wind lifted a haze of sand around them, battering hair and clothing. Sinra stepped around the priestesses, making his way to the mountain, and the next carrier stepped forward.
"T'Lathi, priestesses, and I choose to release the living essence of the Vulcans Sarith and T'Zal into the ancient halls."
She, too, approached the stairs, and another took her place. The list stretched, and the winds gusted, and the names shimmered in the hot, heavy air. Svayal. Sentir. T'Brin. Sartor. T'Gretha. T'Rel. T'Pana stepped forward, and McCoy knew it was the last time he would see her for ... well, who knew? He couldn't help it—he squeezed her arm gently as she moved away. She looked around, eyes flickering understanding and gratitude, and then she was gone. T'Kitha. Skola. T'Hesh. He knew it was his own human imagination, because the katras wouldn't be transferred until the priestesses finalized the ceremony in the temple, but it was almost as if he could feel them in the wind around him, swirling free at last beneath the Vulcan sun. Storon. T'Yla. Strangely enough, the winds seemed to be working on him, too—McCoy felt another small piece of the crushing weight that he had carried inside of him for the past months loosen and lift away. He was warm, and safe (as safe as things ever got when you worked for Jim Kirk, anyway), and free. It was time to let all the rest of it go.
The last of the carriers spoke their piece and mounted the stairway. The priestesses and their attendants followed. Around him, the other witnesses turned away from the mountain and began to make their way back across the sands to the transport site. McCoy took another long, deep breath, then looked over to Salin and flashed a grin. One dark eyebrow climbed, but the young Vulcan only shook his head and settled his pace to match McCoy's for the return trek. For once, McCoy was glad that Vulcans weren't into idle chit chat. He'd seen and heard so much today that his already overloaded brain was ready for a little bit of shut-down. He would have all the time in the galaxy to think about Vulcan metaphysics. Right now, he was just going to walk quietly and (he snorted to himself) soak in the ambiance of the Vulcan desert.
He was human, after all … katra carrying, at least, was one thing he would never have to worry about.