"An execution." McCoy repeated the words slowly, hardly able to believe them. "In less than an hour."
"Aye," Scott said. The man had come down from the bridge to give McCoy the news in person, and stood beside McCoy's biobed with his hands clasped behind his back and his head bowed slightly. "Lieutenant Uhura heard it herself."
McCoy struggled to sit up, no small feat given the bulky tissue regenerator he was strapped into. He'd known something was wrong since the emotions coming through his connection to Spock had changed a few minutes earlier, but he'd had trouble sorting out the discordant thoughts. Spock had become glad and devastated at the same time, as though he'd found Jim and lost him all at once. Unfortunately, he supposed, Scotty's news explained that well enough, and he shoved the alien feelings to the back of his mind yet again. "Well you've got to do something!" he told Scott.
The engineer nodded. "We've got sensor coverage enough to to be fairly sure we wouldn't be beaming any of our people into the walls, at least so long as we send them to the upper levels. We could beam a our teams down and start a search, but the place is overrun with nasties. As it is we wouldn't know where to start looking. We could very well be beaming our own men and women down into a slaughter."
McCoy opened his mouth to say that wasn't good enough, but Scott went on before he got a chance.
"Still, I don't see we have any choice. We'll beam down a full security contingent as soon as the transporters are ready."
"Wait," McCoy said. Scott looked at him, surprised. "You can't do that," McCoy said, and when Scott's surprise softened to bafflement he sighed. "Look, Scotty, I want Jim and Spock back too. But you can't...you can't risk so many people for this. Jim would never condone that. And what if you don't get there in time? What if they kill them as soon as our people materialize? How many lives do you think this operation is worth?" With the words came a terrible sense of deja vu. It hadn't been long since he'd had the same conversation with Spock in the maintenance shaft, only it had been Spock's and his and the slaves' lives on the line instead. He was weary of always having to be the one to remind his fellow officers of the human thing to do—the human thing, not the military thing or the Vulcan thing or the damnably loyal thing—even when he was sure he wanted his friends back more than anyone did. It was work being the ship's conscience. It hurt.
Scott was looking down at him now, his eyes narrowed. It was a look that reminded McCoy that no matter how cautious Scotty might be to when it came repairing his engines, he was also a man who believed that the best diplomat was a fully activated phaser bank. Jim would listen to the moral argument, and Spock would look for the logic in his statement, but Scott was a different sort of commander altogether. "Where I come from, Doctor," Scott said, "we don't leave our people behind. We're as ready as can be. So unless you can offer me an alternative, I'll be needed in the transporter room." He started to turn away.
"You can't—" McCoy tried again. There had to be some other way, some way that wouldn't involve the chaos and death a full assault on the facility would bring. When Scott only shook his head and kept going, McCoy resisted the urge to rip off the regenerator and follow him.
Of course it was all good and fine for Scott to give the order, but he wouldn't be here when the bodies started coming in, to see the destruction that fighting with disruptors in close quarters, when neither party had a quick retreat, could cause. And couldn't Scott see this wasn't just his usual cantankerousness, that this sort of counsel wasn't easy for him? For all he sometimes felt like the third nacelle to his friends' mythic relationship, the truth was he didn't have anyone else. Jim and Spock were his dearest friends, the two people closest to him in the galaxy, sad as the admission was. And what if the slavers killed them anyway? Surely, the connection between the Starfleet officers and the Starfleet invaders could not be that hard to make.
He wished again that Spock had just come with him, for he was sure that in this situation the Vulcan would have found some solution, some logical answer he just wasn't seeing, that might save both Jim and the carnage of a firefight. But his connection with Spock seemed to be only one way, unless... he had communicated with Spock before, hadn't he? If he could reach him now, surely, Spock with his time sense and location sense and whatever else sense would know, at the very least, where he was.
McCoy's eyes widened. "Scotty!" he yelled at the Sickbay door. "Scotty, get back here!"
A few minutes later, McCoy couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd lost his mind after all. Scott was by his biobed still, but he'd been joined by Chekov and Sulu, wielding tricorders and ready to record any information he could provide, Nurse Chapel, and Dr. M'Benga, who had placed a hand on McCoy's shoulder and was smiling down at him kindly.
"You'll have to concentrate," M'Benga advised him.
McCoy rolled his eyes to hide the apprehension he was sure would show otherwise. He'd never really trusted Vulcan mind mojo, and his experience with Spock's counterpart about the ISS Enterprise had only cemented his suspicion. Still, he reminded himself, it was his duty to his friends and fellow officers, and Jim and Spock were well worth whatever discomfort the attempt might bring. "I kind of figured that," he said lamely.
"An accidental continuation of a mind meld is rare, and it's rarer still that both parties aren't aware of them," M'Benga said, thankfully oblivious to his nervousness. "Are you sure Spock had no knowledge of your connection?"
McCoy paused for a moment, concerned, for the possibility that Spock had known and not said a thing had not occurred to him. But no, Spock's surprise at his occasional perception had seemed—and felt—real enough. Not to mention that surely, if the Vulcan had known, he would have ended the connection long before anything as embarrassing as this absurd séance could come out of it. "He couldn't have known." In any case, the circumstances it had arisen from had hardly been normal.
"Well, it shouldn't matter much anyway," M'Benga decided. "Now, in order to contact him, that is to reverse the direction of the flow, you'll first have to open you mind to him. Whatever you've been doing to suppress his thoughts and feelings, you'll need to stop. Only when the channel is completely open can you begin to broadcast your own thoughts, and communicate. If Spock knows where he is, he may be able to tell you, but you must be careful. It's hard enough for full Vulcans to transmit such specific information through a mind meld, and what you get could be slightly wrong, or warped."
Around him, Scott's eyes narrowed at this, Chekov and Sulu traded glances, and Christine bit her lip nervously. McCoy took another deep breath, forcing himself to calm. So it could go wrong. Good to know. Still, if he could do this, or at least do it well enough, he could save them both and half the security forces as well. McCoy nodded slightly to M'Benga to show he understood, breathed in and out again, and closed his eyes.
Spock's emotions were there, under the surface, as they'd been since McCoy had left the planet. Willing himself to forget his own apprehension, McCoy let the alien feelings wash over him. He had Spock's thoughts, his feelings. Slowly, ever so slowly, he could feel the remaining barriers between them crumble and he knew Spock's mind as well as if it were his own. The Vulcan emotions, stronger than any human's, crashed into him and for what seemed an eternity he let himself be buffeted by them, feeling Spock, knowing Spock. He was with Jim, his gladness at the reunion crushed unrelentingly, impossibly, beneath the irreparable weight of his guilt. He had tried so hard and failed to save his friend, his captain, his t'hy'la, a word McCoy had never before quite comprehended but which now filled him with such intense joy and sadness and longing and regret he understood why Spock had been willing to give up everything, to kill and die and sacrifice all he had for the man. But he knew it had been for nothing and he was dying after all, his life bleeding out inside him and a sentence on their heads, fending off unconsciousness and the instinctive Vulcan healing trance because he wanted to spend those last precious moments with Jim. McCoy felt tears on his face and they weren't his but they weren't Spock's, either, for Spock's eyes were closed and dry, his face pressed against Jim's warm shoulder where he'd fallen, Jim's arms wrapped protectively around his weary, beaten body. He wanted to melt into the embrace, to let it consume him as his desire to reach Jim had consumed him before, but he knew he had failed and that weight kept him from peace, indeed, it was heavier than he could bear.
He was drifting to the sound of Jim's breathing, of the gentle rise and fall of the body beneath him, counting breaths without registering their number. For all he longed to let go, to allow the darkness to settle around him for good, he could not leave Jim now. Perhaps in some time, before the executions began, so Jim could think he had died peacefully and himself find rest easier with that knowledge. He owed Jim that much. Certainly it was the logical course of action.
He'd had enough of his damn logic.
What? The incongruous thought took him by surprise, even in the swirling darkness behind his closed eyes, and he tried to focus on it. Unfortunately his mind was spinning, tired and awash in emotions he could no longer control, and it wasn't until the voice returned that he could force himself to focus into the darkness.
He'd better focus, if he and Jim wanted to get rescued any time soon. Of all the damnable times to get wishy-washy on him.
Spock frowned slightly against Jim's shirt, but the captain didn't seem to notice. Was he hallucinating? Perhaps, after all he had been through, he had begun to descend into madness as well. Certainly, his thoughts were more wandering, more circuitous and undefined, than usual. Yet the voice was strangely unmistakeable. Suspicious, and utterly confused, Spock ventured a thought into the void. Doctor McCoy?
Yes, his mind told him, sounding about as exasperated as one's own mind could sound.
It was illogical, and yet... he questioned it, what it was doing in his mind and how it had gotten there.
The answer came as a rush of urgency, a need for something from him, a flash of the meld he'd made trying to escape their captor on the surface, and the distinctive phrase pointy-eared hobgoblin.
Spock wondered how it could be, and supposed again it might be a hallucination.
The mind meld, McCoy returned. Never broke contact. Emotions in my head. Hobgoblin.
Recalling the storm of emotions he'd released since losing Jim, Spock could only respond with shame. To have subjected McCoy to them was wrong, for the doctor's sake and his own. He was sorry, he thought. So deeply sorry.
He was surprised, however, at McCoy's response. McCoy was sorry too.
What do you need from me? he asked. His meld with Jim had drained him and it was growing harder to keep his attention on their conversation, and harder to discern McCoy's thoughts in the comfortable darkness that shifted around him. It was altogether too tempting to let it take him, away from his broken body and the pain and the guilt.
We're looking for you. Tell me where they took you.
We? The darkness was swirling around him, and McCoy's thoughts seemed tinny and hollow, as though he were hearing them shouted from a great distance. He could hardly remember why they were talking, except he could still feel Jim's solid shoulder beneath his cheek, and that meant he still had something to do.
And with that, he gave McCoy all he knew.
The omnipresent hum shut off, abruptly, and Kirk tensed, turning his head toward the door. It was earlier than he'd expected, but waiting alone with Spock, the minutes had passed too quickly. His friend remained limp in his arms, and instinctively Kirk pulled him closer. So it was time. For an inimitable moment he felt a strange sense of calm, as though he should have expected all along that this was how it would end. He had faced impossible odds too many times to ever have expected that one day they wouldn't get the better of him. How else was he to die, if not in the line of duty, with his closest friend at his side. For though he had always thought, idly, that it would be better to die alone—alone enough, anyway, that the people who cared for him might be spared the pain of his passing— Spock's presence too felt right. He raised his chin and stared at the door, ready to face his executioners.
Then the door cracked open and he forgot his calm in an instant. For in the doorway, flanked by Chekov and Sulu and three security personnel with phasers at the ready, stood Scotty. Shocked, completely and utterly shocked, he could only stare.
"Thought you might be needing a rescue, Captain," Scotty said jovially, though Kirk could see the worry on his face as his gaze swept Spock's still body.
Kirk looked down at Spock, then back up to Scotty. "Help me," he said.
"We're already on it, sair," Chekov told him, grinning.
"We've found them," Sulu said into his communicator. "Not ten meters away from where Dr. McCoy said they'd be. Prepare for beam up."
"How?" Kirk gaped. He had been half convinced at first sight of them they were illusions, but somehow all his hopes and wishes had been granted. It wasn't too late.
"That," Scott said matter-of-factly, "will be a question for Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock."
Kirk looked down at Spock again, but the Vulcan's face was peaceful.
"They're ready to beam us up," Sulu reported.
"Now don't move a muscle," Scott told him.
Then the whine of the transporter enveloped them, and Kirk found himself materializing in the one place he had never though to see again: home.
Kirk swiveled around in the captain's chair at the sound of his name. He had returned to duty a little less than two weeks ago after a short convalescence (which had felt like years, but which McCoy and Dr. M'Benga both insisted had only been three days), and a busy two weeks they had been. After convincing Starfleet that he was, in fact alive and well—and that the bodies found must have belonged to unfortunate slaves from the compound, cleverly disguised as corpses—they had sent reinforcements and put him in charge of overseeing Starfleet operations to shut down the slaving facility. Said operations were going quite well, and the teams had begun the arduous process of identifying slaves and slavers alike, and returning the former to their homes and the latter to the appropriate penal colonies. Today, they were scheduled to hand over control of Catelus II over to the USS Huron. In addition, a ship full of human and Vulcan scientists to be dedicated to a study of the planet's magnetic field, would be on its way within the week. From his bed in the Sickbay, Spock had nearly smiled when Kirk told him.
"Bones," he greeted McCoy as the doctor stepped out of the turbolift. But his attention was stolen immediately by the lean figure following him, stiff and limping slightly, but walking under his own power and in uniform for the first time in two weeks. Kirk felt a silly grin alighting his face. Spock merely nodded once in return, but Kirk wasn't fooled. "Welcome back, Spock," he said.
"He's cleared for light duty, Jim," Bones informed him, patting Spock on the arm in what could only be described as a motherly fashion. Spock raised an eyebrow. "And a good thing too, since his climbing the walls in Sickback was starting to drive all of us a little mad."
Spock descended the pit steps to take his place by Kirk's chair. Kirk looked him up and down a little anxiously, but aside from the healing bruise on his cheek Kirk could see little outward evidence of his ordeal. The five-day healing trance he had sunk into, even as Bones and Dr. M'Benga had worked to repair the worst of the damage, had no doubt helped. Still, it had been touch and go from the start, and Kirk hadn't slept a wink until the doctors could assure him that Spock would be fine.
"I was not 'climbing the walls,' Doctor," Spock insisted. "Such an action would be wholly illogical."
McCoy sighed, the picture of exasperation, as he joined Spock on the other side of Kirk's chair. "You see what I've had to put up with all this time?" he asked Kirk imploringly.
Kirk looked between them, from Spock's expression of injured innocence to McCoy's scowl, his grin widening.
"I hardly find this amusing," Spock said at the same time as McCoy grumbled, "You're just happy 'cause you didn't have to spend the last solid week with him."
"So I take it all of that time and mental contact spend together didn't much increase your appreciation for each other's methods, did it?" Kirk asked lightly. It had been broken, McCoy said, not long after Spock had relayed what information about their location in the compound he knew, and as far as Kirk understood from talking to the both of them there had been no adverse consequences. Still, it was curious, and Kirk had resolved to ask Spock about it the next time they were truly alone—something which had been more or less impossible in Sickbay. For now, though, the mood was good enough he didn't resist the urge to jibe his two very different officers about it.
Still, at the change of subject Spock and McCoy traded glances, and Kirk could swear he saw the ghost something, an understanding perhaps, pass between them.
"On the contrary," Spock said after a moment. "I have learned that McCoy's mind is far more like that of a Vulcan than he lets on."
"And here I was going to say I'd found out that there is more to you than your damned Vulcan logic," McCoy said, "but if you insist on calling names..."
"Really, Doctor, I see no need to insult me," Spock said.
Neither of them quite seemed to know what to do when Kirk looked between them, then laughed, and couldn't stop even as the heads on the bridge turned around one by one to look at them. He had survived this adventure with his friends intact and by his side, and more than anything that meant all was right with the galaxy again. Bones and Spock were both looking down at him now, McCoy with a bemused grin and Spock with that peculiar little half-smile he reserved for the most important of moments.
"Sir?" Sulu asked.
"It's time," Kirk said, taking a deep, steadying breath. "Ahead warp factor three. Let's get out of here."
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