A/N: Originally published in Spiced Peaches XII, March 2008
He'd said once, in a moment of extreme weakness, that Spock had a good bedside manner. He'd never thought he'd get to see it in action on such a scale. The colony was dying and there wasn't a damn thing they could do about it. The water had been poisoned, on accident, by the drilling the miners had done in an attempt to get at some ore or another the Federation found valuable. They'd broken some kind of a natural barrier and the damn stuff had spilled into the water table. By the time the Enterprise had reached the colony world, the miners, their families, even the damn pets were all dead or dying from heavy metal poisoning. The particular ore they were after was highly toxic and there was no treatment that could remove enough of the metal fast enough to stop their internal organs from shutting down.
They'd entered orbit and the entire medical team and most of sciences had beamed down to try and do what they could, make everyone comfortable. The poison was a painful one and the drugs they had on ship would only have made it worse. The only thing they could do was make sure families stayed together, keep the little ones from seeing their parents in the last painful throws of death, and hold the hands of the dying. All 3,456 colonists were going to die and Doctor Leonard McCoy could only watch.
Kirk had stayed on the ship, calmly handling the comm traffic that was flooding in. He was there to keep frantic family members from getting to the surface and getting in the way, to stop the reporters and the voyeurs, and the looters. They weren't even dead yet and the scavengers were already circling the planet like vultures.
Spock had come down in the first wave. At first McCoy had been angry with the Vulcan. After all, they still had time. He could be up there with the ship's computers working on a miracle cure. In fact, McCoy had almost stayed behind hoping that he could work something out himself– save just one. In the end, he'd beamed down with the rest of the medical staff. There wasn't time for a miracle. There wasn't time for computations and experiments and hope. They knew from pervious experience just how long the colonists would have to live after such a massive doss. So Spock had come with them and he'd ordered his team to set up check-in points. The Vulcan had started organizing the entire operation, making sure everyone they rounded up into the make-shift hospital ward was tagged, named, and logged. He sent out teams to find people in their homes, make sure they knew exactly how many were in each house, marking the doors with paint. He'd set up a schedule of home visits so that no house was left alone for longer than two hours without an Enterprise crewmember checking on the occupants. He color coded the symbols for the houses; orange for those who still had a while to suffer, red for those in the last stages, and black for those already gone. Spock had included green for those unaffected, those with a chance to live. They never opened the green cans of paint and they'd run out of black twice.
It took three hours for Spock and his science team to get the planet running at peak efficiency. At four hours they had every colonist still alive accounted for. At five hours they had the dead tagged for removal and the toe tags drawn up for everyone else – Spock called it accepting the inevitable. At six hours there wasn't anything left to do but wait and watch them slip away, one at time. At seven hours McCoy found Spock doing just that.
The Vulcan was sitting next to the bed of what appeared to be teenage boy. The makeshift beds around the child were all filled with had been his family, the sheets already pulled over their faces. The child was in agony, but too weak to even wreath anymore – his pained breathing the only sign of life. Spock was holding his hand, talking to him about inconsequential things, asking questions the boy could not answer but trying very hard to give the impression that there was still hope. Spock's voice was low and melodic and if someone didn't know the Vulcan well they would never have detected the small hitches, the tiny wobbles in speech that showed Spock wasn't as unaffected as he would appear. The boy's breath wavered for a moment and Spock quickly reached a hand out to the child's temple and instantly his breathing evened out and Spock's head dipped a bit. Spock stayed there for the hour it took the boy to die, hand never leaving his temple, blocking what pain he could. Spock paused a moment after the last breath, hand still extended to the boy's head, and McCoy watched him make some kind of complicated hand motion over the child before pulling the sheet up. Spock stood there, still and silent, for a long moment than moved to the next unattended child and began the process again.
It went on like that for nearly 24hours. The strongest of the colony held out, frightening for all they were worth. They all died. McCoy lost track of how many he saw Spock with. The Vulcan never took a break, moved from dying human to dying human. Always he held their hand. Always he eased their pain, and always his head dipped just a bit lower. He always talked to them and he always made the same motion at their parting. McCoy had his own vigils, he couldn't watch Spock the entire time. But he caught glimpses, saw the looks the other medical and science team members threw the Vulcan's direction. Everyone else worked in shifts. Only McCoy and Spock stayed.
They were the last to beam up. The bodies were laid out neatly in rows, Spock's tags hanging from each one. Family's together, side by side in a small ocean of white sheets and silence. Another ship would be here in a matter of hours, equipped with cooling units to transport the corpses to the nearest Starbase where they could be claimed, assuming there was anyone left to claim them.
He stood with Spock in the transporter room and he watched the science officer give his report to the Captain. He saw the Vulcan's shoulders slump and he caught the tiny tremor in the Vulcan's hands as he handed over his tri-corder and data pad filled with the names and faces. Jim didn't say anything, didn't do much other than clap the taller man on the shoulder and tell him it had been a long day. Spock just nodded and walked out of the room, headed towards the Bridge of all places.
McCoy shirked the Captain, gave a tense report and went straight to Sick Bay and his liquor cabinet. He locked the door to the office and sat down heavily in his chair, kicking off his boots. Long day like hell. He stared into the amber liquid in his glass and cursed space. It was all so pointless. It was all a waste.
He didn't look up when the door opened. It had to be Jim, he was one of the only ones to have the security clearances to override the door lock. The Doctor jumped slightly when he caught sight of the blue uniform out of the corner of his eye. "What are you doing here?" His voice was harsh and he winced.
Spock didn't say anything, just sat down in the chair next to him and silently contemplated the wall before slowly closing his eyes and the Doctor could have sworn it was to hide a bit of moister that had started to form in the corners. "I did not wish to be alone." Spock's voice was quiet and McCoy had to strain to hear it. "I did not think it would be wise to leave you alone either." The Vulcan opened his eyes and stared intently at the doctor and McCoy had to remember to breathe as the dark eyes bore into him, filled with their own pain and suffering clearing visible for once. "Today was not a good day, Doctor McCoy."
"No," he took a deep breath. "No, it wasn't, Spock." The doctor took another sip from his bourbon and swallowed it roughly. "Got to hand it to you, though. I saw what you did for those kids." The Vulcan stiffened slightly in his chair and McCoy waved his glass and shook his head. "Don't get defensive on me, Spock. It was a good thing. Thank you. You did something for them I couldn't."
Spock turned away slightly and went back to contemplating the nature of the bulkhead. "It was all that I could do." He gave a rather un-Vulcan like sigh. "I do not care for being helpless, Doctor. It is against my nature."
"Tell me about it." McCoy picked up the bottle an poured a second glass, handing it to the Vulcan who surprisingly took it. "Seems to me we were both a little out of our element today." Spock nodded and sniffed the glass before taking a tentative sip. "Bit rougher on you though."
Spock looked up at him sharply and McCoy stood his ground, staring hard at the Vulcan. "Touch telepath, Spock. I know what it had to take out of you just to be next to them, let alone hold their hand." He paused, "or to block their pain."
Spock's shoulders dipped infinitesimally and some of the fatigue he had to be feeling filtered across his face. "There were more than I could help."
"They always are." McCoy was the one to turn away this time. "You did good with the kids, Spock. They're the hardest. I saw the others avoiding them. Thanks."
"There is no need to thank logic, Doctor. The children were frightened and alone. They needed solace and the knowledge they were not forgotten." The Vulcan sounded resigned and McCoy seconded the feeling.
They sat in silence for quite some time, going through a good part of the bottle of bourbon the doctor had opened. What could they really say? What was there to say about what they'd just saw, what they'd just done?
McCoy finished the last of the bottle and set his glass down with a soft thump. "I figured you'd be with Jim tonight."
Spock gave a tiny wince and set his own glass down. "I find that there are times where Jim's company is..." The Vulcan's mouth gave a slight downturn. "...not entirely satisfactory."
McCoy raised an eyebrow. "Thick as thieves you two."
Spock nodded but seemed less than sure. "Jim has developed certain expectations about me that are not always accurate."
McCoy snorted. "He thinks you aren't affected by this...this crap we do everyday, doesn't he? He thinks you're above all of it."
Spock nodded and looked slightly relieved if McCoy could believe it. "Jim honors me with his faith in my ability to control emotion during times of stress."
"Honors you my ass." McCoy leaned forward in his chair and thumped a finger on the table. "He thinks you're indestructible. Nobody's indestructible." McCoy ran a shaky hand through his hair. "I don't get how you do it, Spock. But somehow you do manage to handle all of this and maintain the Vulcan..." He fumbled for a word.
"You would normally say facade, Doctor." Spock eyed him carefully. "In many cases I find your instance on the existence of my emotions to be..." There was that slight frown again. "annoying." McCoy raised his eyebrow. "However," Spock slumped ever so slightly in his chair. "It is an accurate assessment at times." He eyed the doctor carefully before continuing. "It was not my intention to come here tonight to discuss my emotional wellbeing. I was concerned about your mental health after today's events."
McCoy cringed. "I won't lie and say I'm fine, Spock. This isn't the first mass death I've had to deal with, and God help me, it probably won't be the last."
"That fact does not change the very real truth of what we witnessed in the last 28.6 hours."
"No, no it doesn't." The doctor sighed and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them and leveling a hard stare at the Vulcan. "You know, you are welcome to come and talk, or just sit and have some company whenever you need it."
Spock raised his eyebrow. "Thank you, doctor." He seemed to reach some sort of decision and McCoy saw him visible collapse a little as a hint of the day's stresses showed clearly on his face. "It is common for humans to assume that Vulcans have no emotions or that we seek to suppress and ignore them. This is not the case." Spock cautiously accessed the doctor for reaction and McCoy carefully schooled his features to hide his shock at the admission. Finally, Spock hesitantly continued. "We seek mastery of our emotions, control of them so that we may retain control of ourselves and be mastered by logic rather than chaos." Spock looked up towards the ceiling. "In order to master one's emotions they must be accepted, analyzed, understood, and then moved past." Spock lowered his gaze to catch the doctor's eye. "Suppression is far easier and a great temptation."
"I think it would be." McCoy watched Spock's face and could have sworn a tiny smile might have fluttered and died at the corner of his mouth.
"I can assure you that is the case." Spock blinked slowly. "I am not adapt at the one, but I am highly skilled at the other." There really wasn't a need to elaborate. Spock gave another un-Vulcan like sigh. "While your insistence that I should express myself is irritating," the Vulcan did glare, "I have come to believe that you would not find a minor lapse in my control to be distasteful or startling." Spock eyed him carefully. "You have witnessed such a lapse today, doctor."
"I wouldn't call it a lapse, Spock. You were amazing today." McCoy smiled tiredly and took a chance and patted the Vulcan's knee. "I don't know what you consider mastery, but I don't think you could have gotten through all that with just suppression. It took an iron will to do what you did and nerves of steel."
"I find your faith in me strangely reassuring." Spock actually sounded surprised. "I am unsure if it is deserving."
"Spock," McCoy looked around the room exaggeratingly, "Don't ever tell another soul I said this, but you are the most amazing, irritating, infuriating, and down right aggravating creature to ever make my acquaintance." Spock raised an eyebrow. "But," McCoy reached across the table and put a hand on Spock's shoulder. "You are also the best example of a humanitarian, pardon the term, scientist, and explorer I've ever met. You'd also have made a damn fine doctor."
Spock's eyes lowered and he bowed his head. "Your words honor me, Doctor McCoy." He raised his hands in front of him and McCoy realized it was some sort of formal gesture. Spock raised his head, hands still in front of him, finger tips touching, and caught the doctor's eye. "I thank thee for allowing..." Spock's voice hitched just enough that he looked embarrassed and stopped talking.
"Anytime, Spock." McCoy was getting a little chocked up himself. "Anytime."