"This feels like a duel," Kirk muttered as he walked down the hall with Spock.
Spock glanced at him. "From human history?"
"Right. In a duel, each participant had a second who came along for…well, moral support, for all I know."
"This is not an act of combat, Jim."
Kirk stopped outside McCoy's room. "Yeah, tell Bones that."
Spock cocked his head. "Thus far I have failed to understand his hostility."
Kirk shook his head. "It's not hostility, it's defensiveness. Bones has some trust issues and a, uh, very sharp sense of self-preservation."
Spock nodded. "I understand he has been through a divorce and the death of a parent. Would this be related?"
Kirk paused, unsure if he really heard what he heard. His eyes ticked up to Spock, watching him suspiciously. "How did you know about his father, Spock?"
Spock raised his eyebrows. "The subject came up. I asked him if he lost a parent, and I surmised from his reaction that he had."
Kirk narrowed his eyes. What kind of fire did Spock think he was playing with? His friend appeared in desperate need of advice. "Okay. Spock. Trust me when I tell you you don't want to pursue that. Don't even bring it up. He won't even tell me what happened."
"I did not plan to mention it," Spock said quickly.
"Good. Then don't."
If nothing else, the meds staved off the headache. McCoy sank back further into his chair while the murmurs between Spock and Sarek droned on, willing the pounding migraine to ease up, since it was probably about to get a lot worse. He had skipped his last dose of lexorin at Sarek's suggestion, to ensure nothing interfered with the mind-meld. The end table by his elbow was the bearer of a hypospray and two refills, ready for him when this was all over. He felt a comforting jostle as a familiar hand hit the back of his shoulder. Jim Kirk clasped his shoulder and squatted in front of him, meeting his eyes. "Hey. Who am I talking to?"
"Me." McCoy rubbed a temple.
Kirk gave a sharp nod. "How's it going?"
Those wide-open, serious eyes were burning him. McCoy glanced away. "I don't know if it's better or worse without the meds," he admitted quietly, eyes grazing over Spock as he spoke softly to his father. "On the one hand, it feels like I'm losing myself. On the other hand, I'm getting tired of fighting something that's gonna win anyway."
Kirk squeezed his shoulder gently, offering a tightening of his lips that resembled a wan smile. "That's ridiculous. The only thing in the universe more stubborn than Spock is you."
"And you," added McCoy, "though I'll take that as a compliment." He hissed out his breath and braced himself. "Jim, about the little stunt you pulled."
Kirk's eyes, normally murals of varying emotions, evened out into a uniform expression of forced alertness. He was taking this seriously.
As much as Jim had matured, he still looked like a puppy dog sometimes. McCoy offered a wry almost-smile. "I know why you did it, and I appreciate the thought. You did the wrong thing, but..." There wasn't really anything to say after that. He released the rest of his breath.
Kirk gave a sharp nod, acknowledging the forgiveness. "Thanks. And uh." He made a sharp motion to the two Vulcans. "It's not that big a deal, the mind meld. It's kind of like watching a movie you can't look away from."
"Sounds like a ride in the park," muttered McCoy.
"What is it?"
Kirk's eyebrows settled low over his eyes. It was an intense Captain Kirk look he got when he was dead serious about something important. "I want you to let Spock do it."
McCoy tensed. "Jim."
"I'm serious, Bones. He's being driven just as crazy as you are."
McCoy gave him a dubious look.
Kirk heaved a sigh. "Okay. Think about it this way: you really wouldn't be letting any more Vulcans into your head than are already there."
The reasoning was preposterous. "You can't be serious."
"I'm dead serious," Kirk said solemnly. "Not to mention if you get in each others' heads, maybe I won't have to mediate between you two every time one of you decides to be an ass."
The last sentence was delivered not with humor, but with a trace of resentment McCoy was not used to hearing from the captain. He looked so sincere, in fact, that McCoy could already feel himself caving. "Fine." But because it's important to you, Jim, not Spock.
Kirk nodded once, then raised his voice. "I think we're ready over here, Spock."
McCoy nearly had a heart attack. The air felt too thick to breathe as Spock turned his face from his father, his sharp, dark eyes locking with McCoy's. The Vulcan commander did not move for half a second, then he walked briskly to McCoy, pulling a chair up to face him and sitting stiffly. McCoy tried to control his rapid breathing and the familiar nausea in his gut as panic pressed against the edges of his mind.
"Everything will be fine, Doctor," said Spock, almost reassuring.
To Spock's credit, maybe it was helpful to have a rational Vulcan in the face of his own irrational fears. McCoy's eyes slid closed, and he willed himself to calm down. Four years of psychotherapy, both as a student and as a patient, were not going to fail him now. His breathing began to even out an instant before he felt ten cool fingertips rest one at a time around both sides of his face.
"Relax," breathed Spock's voice.
Count backwards from ten. McCoy could remember the first time he was ever under general anesthesia, and how much trepidation there had been over being forced into sleep. When the drugs had hit his blood, he had found himself rapidly relaxing rather than spiraling into darkness. An instant later, he had been waking up.
"Our minds are merging."
He could feel it—a cold, impersonal touch, barely laced with juvenile nervousness. He almost pulled back, but the cold permeated, saturated his own thoughts. His heartbeat slowed as a stillness he had not known in years, if ever, smoothed over every anxiety. When he opened his eyes, the room had disappeared, and he floated in an endless glowing haze. Still he heard Spock's voice, this time as though it came from the expanse around him.
What is our name?
Our name—his and that of the disembodied voice in his mind, the sum, the whole. "Our name is Leonard," he replied, but that wasn't right. It felt like he had only told half the truth. He tried again. "Our name is Spock."
Our name is Spock. Where is our body?
"Our body is dead."
Where are we?
Why are we in Dr. McCoy?
The haze around him shifted, and all around him, McCoy could see a kaleidoscope image of a Vulcan leaning over an unconscious human and touching his face.
Remember, whispered Spock. Why us? Why the doctor?
"It was logical." The images became an older Vulcan and a younger human, the Vulcan raising a bloody claw to the human's astonished face.
The doctor was there when we needed him.
"We trust the doctor."
We cannot stay here forever.
"The doctor will take us to Mount Seleya."
Mount Seleya is gone. Where is there for us to go?
"To Omicron IV. To the new Vulcan."
That is impossible. Where else? Where can our people find a home?
An explosion. Agony tearing through his body like fire.
"It is lost. Omicron IV is our only hope."
Yes. It is.
"Of all the planets in the galaxy, so few are capable of sustaining life, and even fewer are unclaimed. Only one suited our purposes. Only one could become the new Vulcan."
"We are tired. We yearn to rest."
There was suddenly a flash of cold objectivity, like someone had thrown a bucket of water in his face. A different voice, neither Spock's nor McCoy's, spoke from the kaleidoscope around them.
You maintain such distance even during a mind meld. Let me show you something.
The kaleidoscope shattered. Spock-McCoy sat quietly in an empty house, one neither had seen before, but the ambassador knew well. The console sitting on the desk across the room had been black for hours—not merely on standby, with the Starfleet crest standing proudly in the center of the screen, but completely turned off. Every form of communication in the house had been disabled at his request. Breathing deeply, he sought the place in his mind that was reserved for the times he needed blankness, nothingness, a void for all emotion to fall into. It had never been this difficult to find before.
The doorbell rang. Spock-McCoy ignored it.
The doorbell rang again. Spock-McCoy opened his eyes and stood slowly, stiffly, the pain of despair shooting to his fingertips. He walked to the door, gathered himself, and opened it.
It was Dr. McCoy.
"Hi," McCoy said softly.
Spock-McCoy examined him. He was not aging well, the lines on his face deeper than the last time he had seen him, and his hair thinner and whiter than ever. More than that, Spock-McCoy saw the swollen redness around his eyes, and a mouth tightened with barely-suppressed grief. "Is this urgent, Doctor?" Spock-McCoy asked him, pretending not to know why the doctor had come.
McCoy nodded toward the house. "You gonna let me in, Spock?" he asked hoarsely.
Spock-McCoy hesitated, but denying the doctor, considering everything they had been through, would have been an inexcusable breach of etiquette. He stepped aside and allowed the doctor to enter.
Once the door was closed, Spock-McCoy turned around to face his old friend before any uncomfortable small talk could begin. "Why are you here, Doctor?"
McCoy, who had begun to examine the collection of Vulcan artifacts arranged neatly around the house, looked sharply at him. "Do I need a court order to visit you now, Spock?"
"I have been busy. There has not been time for casual entertaining."
The fire-light in McCoy's eyes flared up. "Goddamnit, Spock! You've been unreachable for days. I had to hop a ship to Vulcan just to make sure you hadn't killed yourself!"
"Suicide is illo--"
"Don't you say it! You know as well as I do that logic doesn't have a damn thing to do with any part of this!"
Spock-McCoy stared into the doctor's angry face, wanting suddenly to be somewhere else, anywhere else. "Why have you come?"
"Because I'm your friend, Spock."
"If you have come seeking comfort, you have come to the wrong place."
"I know that! I came here to tell you I'm here if you need me, okay?"
"Why would I need you?"
"Spock!" McCoy looked at him incredulously. "Did you not hear, or have I gone completely insane? Jim died."
Spock-McCoy sank into a chair numbly, allowing the doctor's words to pass like wind over his head. "I heard, Doctor. If you believe I am in need of companionship, perhaps our years of service together have taught you nothing about me."
"I know you, Spock!" snarled McCoy, planting both hands on the arms of Spock's chair and leaning in. "We served together for almost thirty years. I carried you around in my head. Don't you dare tell me I don't know you, you pointy-eared son of a bitch!"
"Please keep a respectful distance, Doctor," Spock-McCoy said evenly.
McCoy did no such thing. "Not to mention I'm the only living thing in the universe that still gives a damn about how you feel. Hell, I might be the only real friend you've got left. Have you ever grieved in your life, Spock? Really grieved, not just feltgrief? It's a process you might not be familiar with."
"I do not need your help," Spock-McCoy said with greater emphasis, rising to his feet and forcing the doctor to step back. "I will complete the Path of Kolinahr."
There was a breathless beat of hesitation before McCoy's eyes widened. "Spock. That's not the answer."
Spock-McCoy raised both eyebrows. "It is the logical path to take, considering the situation."
"Considering the situation, it makes you a damn coward," growled McCoy. "Running from your grief instead of facing it. You should be ashamed."
"Why must you continue this attempt to force your human values on me?" Spock-McCoy asked, feeling the whirlwind of staved-off emotion grow closer.
McCoy gnashed his teeth. "Fine. Take the Path of Kolinahr and turn yourself into a passionless logic-vegetable. Just do it for the right reasons, not to escape what happened."
"My reasons are my own business, Doctor."
"Like hell they are, as long as I'm your friend."
"Go home, Doctor."
"Jim died, Spock." This time when McCoy said it, there was a sense of benign wonder, as though he was overwhelmed himself by the concept. "We need each other."
Spock-McCoy could not need him. Spock-McCoy could not need anyone, or it would mean giving in to the grief threatening to cripple him. He was not capable of breaking down in front of the doctor, no matter how many times they had saved each other, strengthened each other, sacrificed for each other. Above all, he could not accept that Kirk's death changed anything, for the life's work he had bled into following the Vulcan way would be lost beyond retrieval, and he would be crushed beneath its weight.
Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living.
Yes, the doctor did know him.
We need each other.
"No," Spock-McCoy said softly. "We do not."
Slowly, McCoy drew himself back, taking a deep breath. "You're right. After all these years, I don't know you at all. But I still know you better than you know yourself."
Then he walked away for years, rarely seen or spoken to until Spock attended his funeral.
The older we become, the more aware we are of how little we understand.
The stilled, pale face in the coffin haunted his memories for the rest of his life.
How many chances did we have to speak with him again? After the Path of Kolinahr, we did not care enough to do so. What we had with Jim and the doctor was beyond friendship or family, yet we purged ourselves of them both. It was too much to bear. It was the greatest mistake and the gravest offense we committed in our life.
The shock of sudden grief cracked the mirror in which he could see McCoy's still body. Through the vacuum of space in which Kirk's body floated, there came the thin, high-pitched shriek in his mind and the repeated internal cry of No, no, no, no, as though he could will away an existence from which Kirk had suddenly disappeared.
Mother, Jim, Father, Leonard. We survived everyone we knew, one at a time. One at a time, we lost them all.
He stood on snow and ice and watched as the star that was his planet was erased from the sky. After years spent bowed in grief and solitude, he saw the face of Jim Kirk again. He saw Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. He saw McCoy, bitterer than he remembered him, but undeniably McCoy. He saw his own bloodied hand on the doctor's surprised face, breathed out, and did not breathe in again. The kaleidoscope around him showed every one of these images, every deep stab of grief and breath of hope, displayed as a host of deadly mirror-shards closing in.
We asked ourself why we chose the doctor to host our katra. Perhaps it was our only way to tell him of our sorrow that we let our friendship end the way it did, but that is a friendship he never knew. The only way to make amends now is to ensure that it never happens, that the young ones understand that they will need each other when the grief becomes too much for them to bear.
Losing Jim had been the hardest thing he had ever been through, and he had chosen to endure it alone. In doing so, he had forced the doctor to endure it alone as well. After years of sacrifices made for each other, of suffering and growing closer with each step forward, it had been the gravest betrayal he could have made.
Doctor, I am sorry.
I am so sorry.
A single shard of the kaleidoscope fell, followed by two others, and more, until every image of grief rained like fallen stars around him, burying him, overwhelming him as he struggled to stay afloat. The flood closed over his head, and he was sure he would drown. He lashed, struggled, and with a mighty push of his mind, broke to the surface. Reality exploded into existence around him, and Spock gasped as though it was his first breath in years.
His heart pounded like a hammer in his chest. He struggled to catch his breath, to breathe at all, as he blinked residual images away from his eyes. His fingers were still crushing into McCoy's bloodless face, and he pried them off as the doctor fell back in his chair, breathing hard. Spock clenched both shaking hands at his sides, trying to compose himself, but looked up as someone grasped his shoulder.
"Jim!" Spock blurted out before he could stop himself. He shot to his feet at exactly the same time as McCoy did. He paused, stopping himself before he could embarrass himself and glancing at the doctor. The doctor returned his glance at precisely the same instant. Spock held his gaze for a moment, and suddenly had the impression that he was seeing McCoy for the first time. He noticed the shape of his eyes, his posture, even the ever-so-slight frown lines around his mouth that had suddenly become familiar. He could see those lines deepening, being joined by other lines, deep creases of passion and a wisdom that was nothing like his own.
He could see the doctor lying in his coffin.
McCoy's eyes widened slightly, then his shaking hands grasped at the end table by his chair, causing the hypospray to skitter off the edge and onto the floor. He and Kirk both reached for it, but Spock made it there first, snapping up the hypo and setting it in the doctor's outstretched and shaking hand. McCoy jammed the hypo against his carotid artery harder than necessary and closed his eyes in blissful relief.
Kirk glanced uneasily at Spock, then patted McCoy's arm gently. "You okay?"
Spock sank shakily back into his chair, his knees too weak to hold him. McCoy followed suit, leaning back and opening his eyes to look at the captain. "I'm never doing that again," he said gruffly.
Sarek seemed to appear suddenly from the shadows, although Spock knew he only had that impression because he had all but forgotten his father was there. "What did you learn?"
Far, far more than I wanted to know. Spock took two more deep breaths to return his heartbeat to normal, unwilling to answer until he was fully composed.
McCoy was fitting another vial into the hypospray. When it clicked into place, he met Spock's eyes and offered it to him.
Spock stiffened, mildly insulted. "I do not need it."
The effect the words instantly had on both of them was startling even to Spock. Ordinarily, the doctor would merely shrug him off. Now, McCoy's eyes became two voids, widening as though unable to look away from something. Spock felt his throat tighten into a knot, and struggled to speak around it without plunging into the pit he could see opening before him. "But thank you," he said hoarsely.
McCoy nodded and quickly set the hypo back on the end table. Kirk awkwardly clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. "Spock?"
Spock glanced sharply up at Kirk. "There was no other plan. There is no other place for a colony. It is Omicron IV or it is nowhere." He stood, more solid on his feet this time. "Now if you will excuse me, captain, I would like to be alone."
Kirk gave a truncated nod, holding Spock in his eyes as though dropping him would break him. "You are dismissed."
Spock bowed his head briefly, then turned on his heel and left, willing the memories to stay behind.
They followed him to his room, cradled him in his bed, and in his sleep, he saw himself standing in the snow, with Kirk and McCoy lying dead at his feet while Vulcan was erased from the sky.
"After a couple questions, you got too quiet to hear, and then both of you stopped talking altogether. What happened, Bones?"
McCoy flattened his hand against Ambassador Spock's cryo-chamber, wishing he could be anywhere else without making the katra go into conniptions. "Nothing."
Silence fell between them, and McCoy was a nanometer away from asking Kirk to let him be alone before Kirk spoke up again. "We'll find a way to make this work."
McCoy looked at him incredulously. "How? I can't live like this forever. Even if I could, I'd have to be admitted to the Federation loony bin."
"Bones." When Jim Kirk said your name like it was a whole sentence, he meant business. "Ambassador Spock needs to be laid to rest on Vulcan soil. But what constitutes Vulcan soil?"
McCoy squinted at him, hoping he was going somewhere good with this.
Jim raised his eyebrows. "We can sneak the High Council onto Omicron IV--"
McCoy waved his hand rapidly to cut his friend off. "Hold it, hold it. You're not serious."
"I'm always serious." Kirk lightly punched the doctor's arm. "Like Spock said, when have I been able to defy orders and not get a medal for it?"
"It's not the medal I'm concerned about."