A/N: This is an AU that imagines Spock as the very first human/Vulcan hybrid born. The story takes place soon after the First Contact between Vulcans and humans and the creation of the Federation.
It is also an animal story, a story of friendship, a story of loneliness, and, as all things are, a story of love.
Shadows and Chance
We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet: and, amid all the forms of life around us, not one, excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us.
The Dalmatian was two, and its blood was all over Leonard's sleeves.
Now, he was a doctor, not a veterinarian, but any medical professional knew how to disinfect and stitch up a wound. So McCoy had run his portable sonic cleanser over the deep, bloody gash in the dog's foreleg and taken needle and thread to the creature. It wouldn't hold still long enough for his portable dermal regenerator to work, and he just happened to have a sewing kit on hand from working on Joanna's costume for her school play. He talked the thing down, stroking its long spine and then basically sitting on it to hold it still once it figured out what he was up to. After he'd cleaned the wound, McCoy scrubbed its ears and sent it back off into the park, wondering whose dog it was.
He didn't think much of it, after that, except to send his bloodstained shirt to the sonic cleaners. It wasn't that McCoy generally went around saving dog's lives, but the dog simply hadn't taken very long to repair, and he had been focusing on the complex experimental endovascular surgery he had to perform later that day. He'd been walking in the park just before the procedure was set to begin and barely managed not to be late for it. The surgery was successful and Ms. Miranda Hynes-Burnett's insurance company placed another ten thousand credits in his account, but that didn't matter much, because he had hundreds of thousands in that account, and possibly millions in another—he didn't really look anymore. McCoy and his doctor and nurse friends celebrated the occasion with beer and toasts to the inventor of nanotubular stent graft, and later, McCoy went out with his friend James Kirk for even more beer, and possibly some karaoke, but he wasn't sure by the time the following day dawned. He regretted a majority of whatever had happened, maybe, but thankfully he had the day off to wonder about it, and spent most of that day attempting to salvage his apartment. He was clean but deeply unorganized, and when he realized that he would have to either find all of his socks or go buy new ones, he figured it was probably time to start putting his clothes away in their drawers.
He went back to the hospital at four in the morning and spent until twelve noon on paperwork before being called to the ER for surgery on a woman who was actually a friend of his from med school. She had been in a appalling hovercar accident and had passed the golden hour, but pulled through after five solid hours of osteoregenerators running over her neck and the agonizing, delicate work that went into repairing her unraveled spinal cord. He hesitated at the beginning, considering recusing himself since they had gone on a date once, but that had been years ago, and recusing was for family members, friends, and partners, so he got to work.
It was dinner by the time McCoy was finished zipping her up. He had a meal injection from the cafeteria and did more paperwork until midnight before meandering home, feeding Tao (his Himalayan cat), and falling asleep with his tie still wrapped around his neck.
He didn't have to go in until noon the next day, so he slept until ten and cooked himself scrambled eggs while finishing up A Room of One's Own, which he had started reading a month ago and had forgotten about for a while. After he had finished breakfast and the book, he went for a short walk in the park at eleven, thinking of Shakespeare's sister, and ran into the Dalmatian again.
It barked happily at him and nuzzled his arm. Grinning, he knelt down and scratched its chest. The brute licked him heavily and he batted at its nose. He'd forgotten how much he loved dogs.
He picked up its paw and examined the stitches. They were clean and had actually been repaired at one point; he could tell by the different texture of thread. The new stitches were strong but rather clumsy. They would do the trick fine. He figured they would need to be removed in a few more days. The owner, whoever he or she was, clearly cared for the dog and would deal with the wound properly.
He let the Dalmatian go. It bounded off, snapping at tree leaves.
Kirk dropped by the hospital at around five, after he got off work. He bothered McCoy for a while. Well, not bothered him; McCoy acted like he was bothered but was secretly pleased, which Kirk knew. But McCoy had a surgery at five thirty, so Kirk left, and McCoy was arm-deep in a man's coelum for a while, working on his fractured spinal column. Occasionally he regretted becoming a neurosurgeon, and this was one of those times.
The days went like that, like they always had. He never had time to realize he was missing something, and if he did, he laughed nervously at the idea and chugged down another beer with Kirk or one of his doctor or nurse friends.
It had been almost a year since Jocelyn left. He just didn't know, anymore.
When his daughter Joanna finally came to see him, he got the week off, and the first thing they did was go to the park, and the first thing the park gave them was the dog.
McCoy always had trouble keeping up with Joanna in the park. Her honey-brown hair reflected the sun, marking her path over the verge, but she was constantly on the move, and he often lost her little form behind bushes and benches. Then he would see the telltale glint of her braids and intercept her, swooping her screaming into his arms. The child was cherub-cheeked and her eyelids were soft as flower petals to match the rose tint of her blush. She was remarkably thin and pale, a product of her condition, but she was his angel, and her beauty knew no bounds.
The Dalmatian bounded up to Joanna as they rested their feet on a bench. She squealed and hugged it tightly, standing to better engage the beast. McCoy chuckled at the pair of them—the girl only a little taller than the big, white-and-black dog. Joanna clutched at its neck as it tried to lick her ear. McCoy came over and bent to check the Dalmatian's leg. The stitches were gone, expertly removed. He smiled and stroked the dog's soft back.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps. There was a short, sharp whistle and the Dalmatian sprung away from them and towards the noise. McCoy glanced up and saw a tall, black-haired man watching the dog. McCoy waved at the man and the man raised his hand solemnly back, and walked away, taking the dog with him.
"Who was dat?" Joanna demanded. McCoy got face level with her.
"I don't know, hun-bun," he said, headbutting her gently. "Probably the dog's owner. Want a piggyback ride?"
"Yes!" cried Joanna, wrapping her arms around his neck. Chuckling, McCoy repositioned her and ran her around the park. She screeched and laughed and he felt full and solid again, hugging her and smelling the sun in her thin hair.
Over dinner, for some reason, he kept thinking about the Dalmatian and its owner. Dalmatians were playful beasts, and he'd be damned if that man looked like he had a sense of humor. He hadn't even waved back properly, just raised his hand like royalty or something. Not the right type of precedent to set with a Dalmatian.
McCoy frowned and poked his broccoli. Joanna did a passing imitation of him, scowling adorably and stabbing her carrots, which promptly flew off the plate. McCoy laughed and told her not to grow up to be like her old daddy as he picked the carrots off the floor.
Joanna went to bed, curled up next to Tao, who licked Joanna's face offhandedly a couple of times and then settled down on the little girl's stomach, purring like a propeller. McCoy stood in the doorway for what felt like hours, watching the rise and fall of them.
The next night, Kirk brought his dog, Luath, a hyperactive blond lab, to McCoy's, along with pork chops and scalloped potatoes. After dinner they watched Robin Hood. Joanna completed a precious picture, curled up on the big brown leather couch between Kirk and Luath (who looked weirdly alike, despite being members of different species), with Tao resting in her usual position on Joanna's stomach. Kirk rubbed Joanna's hair obnoxiously and Joanna made a face at him, protesting. Kirk laughed and teased her, and McCoy wished it had worked out between him and Kirk, but they simply weren't suited for each other. Kirk gave him a look that said everything McCoy was thinking, and they hugged tightly when Kirk left an hour later.
His bed felt so cold, that night.
Kirk dropped Luath off at McCoy's house before he went to work the next morning, fake-surreptitiously slipping Joanna a Snickers bar and then denying flat-out that he'd passed chocolate to the girl. Joanna, who had candy, a dog, a cat, and her daddy, looked just about as happy as she was ever going to be, at least until McCoy asked her if she wanted to go to the park, at which point he realized he'd proved himself wrong—now she couldn't be happier.
Joanna demanded to hold Luath's leash, which meant that Luath gave the five year-old a roller coaster-esque time (and McCoy occasionally worried for her safety), but Joanna enjoyed the whole thing greatly. McCoy leaned back on a park bench and watched Luath try to eat Joanna's pigtail, reveling in the spring air. The trees were beginning to look less skeletal, and the occasional blue chicory popped merrily out of the ground.
Luath gave an echoing bark. The Dalmatian was back. It bounded over to Joanna, greeting her enthusiastically. Luath sniffed the Dalmatian skeptically, then, convinced of its trustworthiness, got down on his forelegs and woofed, inviting the Dalmatian to play.
The Dalmatian's owner appeared over the ridge again; a solid, dark figure that looked further away than he was. He watched Joanna, Luath, and his dog for a while. After a time he descended the hill and came to sit next to McCoy, his features clearing as he drew closer. He was almost absurdly lean, with hollow black eyes and long, bony fingers. He was dressed in smart-casual, with a newsboy hat perched over his ears and resting low on his forehead. McCoy felt rumpled in his holey polo shirt and jeans, and still a bit offended that such a humorless man should own a Dalmatian.
"Is that your dog?" the man asked, nodding to Luath. His face was mostly in shadow from the cap.
"I have him for the day," said McCoy guardedly. "His name's Luath. Is the Dalmatian yours?"
"Yes," said the man. "Her name is Missus. My name is Spock. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Yours too," said McCoy, forgetting to introduce himself as he watched Missus frolic with Joanna and Luath. "I'm glad Missus's leg healed nicely. You did a good job takin' care of those stitches."
"Thank you. I was not aware—" Spock frowned over at the dogs. McCoy saw it too. Both Luath and Missus had stiffened and were staring intently at Joanna, who was looking curiously at them. McCoy saw Joanna's hands begin to tremble and leapt off of the bench, fumbling in his pocket as he ran towards her. Joanna fell to the ground just as McCoy reached her, the dogs growling and barking. Spock followed closely behind McCoy, who dropped to his knees next to his daughter, feeling detached from everything. Joanna had begun a seizure.
McCoy cradled her head in his lap and stabbed a hypospray into her neck, wincing despite his training at the sound of the blunt needle sinking into his daughter's flesh. Her convulsions slowed and stopped, and she gasped heavily before shuddering one last time and relaxing. McCoy picked her up easily, hugging him tightly to her, feeling the ends of tremors in her every muscle and wanting to tremble himself. Luath and Missus snuffled at Joanna's face, eyes wide with canine concern. Spock, his hand on McCoy's shoulder, leaned in closely, just as worried as the dogs, and McCoy forgave him for having the Dalmatian even though he was so serious, so touched was he by Spock's concern.
"You'll be fine, sweet pea," McCoy whispered to Joanna, who never reacted well to her seizures and was crying silently. "Ssh, daddy's here. Come on, hun-bun, let's go home." He stood with some difficulty; Spock took his elbow to help him up. Joanna let out a sharp cry when the dogs went out of her line of sight; McCoy tilted her in his arms so that she could see them and bent down again. Luath and Missus nuzzled her outstretched hand, whuffing softly.
"Doggies," said Joanna in a pitifully small voice. McCoy glanced over at Spock, whose face was significantly less icy than it had been earlier.
"If you would like, I could accompany you home," said Spock softly to McCoy. "I have no pressing engagements. And Missus has been trained as a service dog."
McCoy smiled at him, grateful. "Thanks very much," he said. "That would be wonderful. Oh, hell, I'm sorry. I'm Leonard McCoy, and this is my daughter Joanna. That scoundrel—" He pointed to the bouncing lab. "—isn't mine, he's my friend Jim Kirk's. I'd shake your hand, but…" He hefted Joanna apologetically.
"Of course," said Spock kindly. He and McCoy, trailed by Luath and Missus, started out of the park. He moved forward to look down at Joanna. "Hello," he said to her, tone simple but not condescending. "My name is Spock. The Dalmatian is my dog. Her name is Missus."
"Hi, 'pock," said Joanna, staring solemnly up at him. "I like Missus. She's naice."
"She is a nice dog," Spock agreed just as seriously. "She told me she likes you very much."
Joanna looked away bashfully. "Weally?"
"Really," said Spock. "She says that you are the prettiest girl she has ever met."
Joanna giggled. "My daddy says that a lot, too."
"He is nearly as wise as Missus, then."
McCoy felt much better by the time they made it back to his house. He tucked Joanna into bed even though it was ten in the morning—she was always tired after an episode. Luath, Missus, and Tao (who gave Missus a disdainful sniff but accepted her), curled up next to Joanna, right on the bed.
McCoy went back into the living room. Spock was still standing awkwardly by the door. McCoy invited him into the kitchen.
"They're all in bed," he said, opening the refrigerator. "Have a seat, Spock. Would you like anything to drink?"
"Some water would be nice, thank you," said Spock. McCoy poured them both glasses and sat down next to Spock at the kitchen table. Spock was still wearing his hat, although he had taken his coat off.
"Do you need to leave soon?" McCoy asked.
"No. I am with Starfleet; I am currently on shore leave. I have nowhere to be."
McCoy was interested. "I thought about signing up for Starfleet, but Joanna… I didn't want to leave her," he said with a shrug. "What do you do?"
"I am a science officer on board the USS Artemis." McCoy thought that fit him perfectly; he could easily imagine Spock in science blue, beaker in hand, exploring the universe and bravely doing science to it. "What is your occupation?" Spock sipped at his water.
"I'm a neurosurgeon," said McCoy, running his finger around the rim of his glass and not meeting Spock's eyes. It always shamed him, for some reason, to tell this story; he felt like he was bragging. "I was a GP 'til Joanna came along six years ago. It was evident in utero that she had severe neurological problems, so I went back to med school and learned all the lingo in about a year n'a half. Got hired by SF General a little afterwards, and now they keep me on call for special occasions."
"Impressive," said Spock. He hesitated, then reached up to remove his hat. Since he had invested some importance in the action, McCoy couldn't help but watch. He didn't gasp, but it was a close thing.
Spock's eyebrows did not extend flat across his forehead, but twisted to point upwards at the ends, and when Spock turned to place his hat on the table, McCoy saw that his ears tapered to a point at the tip. McCoy tore his eyes away from them and blinked at his own hands, slightly ashamed of staring so obviously.
"As you can tell, I am half Vulcan," said Spock quietly. "Forgive me. I did not wish to alarm you."
"Of course," said McCoy, trying to sound normal. He had never spoken to a Vulcan before, but he tried not to let it show. After all, it seemed that they were quite a lot like humans, and there was no cause for concern.
"How old is your daughter?" Spock asked, obviously wanting to put McCoy back at ease.
"Does her mother or father live with you?"
McCoy shook his head. "Jocelyn and I divorced a year after Joanna was born. Joanna generally lives with her since I'm always at the hospital, but I got visitation this week. I see her enough that I don't go crazy, but it's a near thing."
"I am sorry," said Spock genuinely. "Surely your work is quite important."
"It is," said McCoy. "It's generally experimental, 'less there's been a really bad trauma. I was always a good surgeon, but now—well, not to brag, but I'm really good; you can look me up."
"I certainly shall," said Spock. He paused for a moment; McCoy could tell that it was to ask something. "Would you like to have dinner with me on some later date?" Spock finally said.
McCoy was taken aback, but he smiled automatically. "I would," he said. The slight lines of concern and worry on Spock's face disappeared; until they were gone, McCoy had not noticed they were there. It occurred to him that Spock was very attractive. He watched Spock's face, checking for clues, but Spock kept the same polite expression.
"Tomorrow, perhaps? So that I can meet Joanna properly?"
"Of course," said McCoy. "Tell me a little more about yourself. You said you're just half Vulcan?"
"Yes, my mother is from Massachusetts," said Spock. "My father was part of Vulcan's diplomatic core. They met in this city, a few years after the first contact. I am the first half-human, half-Vulcan to be born."
McCoy was about to reply when the doorbell rang. Apologizing, he left Spock in the kitchen and hurried into the hallway. It was Kirk, hovering under the lintel.
"Hey," Kirk said quickly. "The boss let me out for a long lunch. Want to have a picnic in the park? I made sandwiches and sides."
"Actually," whispered McCoy, drawing Kirk aside, "I have company. Joanna had a seizure at the park, and this half-Vulcan guy donated his dog to the calmin' her down cause."
"Ooh, really?" said Kirk, clearly intrigued. "A half-Vulcan? I didn't know they made those. Can I meet him? Is he hot?"
"He's not ugly," admitted McCoy, aware he was blushing. Kirk elbowed him, grinning hugely. "Shut up," hissed McCoy.
They both heard footsteps and for a second, McCoy wanted to try and hide Kirk, just out of instinctual fear, and also because it was Kirk, but shoved the impulse down.
"Leonard?" said Spock, pausing at the door. McCoy had his hand around Kirk's upper arm and was still pretty red. Kirk had the biggest smirk on his face this side of the Pacific. He wrestled himself out of McCoy's grip and introduced himself to Spock.
"Hey there," he chirped. "I'm Jim Kirk, a friend of Leonard's. Nice to meet you." He held out his hand.
Spock took it for just a moment, even more expressionless than usual. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kirk," he said, almost coldly, if McCoy was hearing right. "I will be on my way, since the two of you seem to have an appointment."
"Oh, you don't have to go," said McCoy hurriedly, scrambling at his remaining dignity. "Jim dropped by totally unexpectedly, he can leave—"
Kirk started to say, "Hey!" but McCoy elbowed him in the stomach, and Kirk turned a magnificent shade purple.
"I was on my way out," Spock said smoothly. Like magic, Missus appeared at Spock's feet, tongue lolling. Spock pressed a sheet of screenpaper into McCoy's hand. (Spock's skin was incredibly hot, McCoy noticed, taking it.) "I will arrive at six tomorrow, if the time is convenient."
McCoy just knew Kirk was raising his eyebrows. "That's very convenient," said McCoy gruffly, rubbing his thumb over the screenpaper's smooth texture and doing his best not to shoot Kirk a horrible glare. "I'll see you then, Spock."
"And you, Leonard," said Spock, his eyes crinkling in an unexpected smile. "My best wishes for your daughter." He whistled to Missus and took his leave, tugging his hat low over his ears and eyebrows as he swept out the door.
"Six?" grinned Kirk, looking more delighted than McCoy had ever seen him. "A dinner-date with a half-Vulcan? That's kinky, man. You're moving up in the world. What'd he give you?"
McCoy unfolded the screenpaper, careful not to let Kirk see it before he did.
"His phone number," McCoy muttered, positive he was going to catch on fire any moment now from the embarrassment heating up his cheeks.
"Smooth," crowed Kirk. "And he's got a dog? Want to keep Luath for a while so you two can bond over canine concerns?"
"Hell no, Luath eats nearly as much as you do. And I can't out go to lunch with you—not that I would, since I hate you right now—because Joanna's goin' to need to rest for a while."
"Then we'll set up the picnic in the living room," said Kirk cheerily. "Grab me the cutlery? And, mind if I make some lemonade?"
By twelve, McCoy felt safe waking Joanna up and bringing her (and Luath and Tao) into the living room for lunch. He and Kirk had been munching on cucumber sandwiches (Kirk could be a gourmand if he put his mind to it) for the past two hours and chatting. Kirk took Joanna out for ice cream around two so that McCoy could do some paperwork and start to panic slightly about his date with Spock. He dragged Kirk and Joanna to the mall later that day for emergency shopping. Kirk, between bouts of giggling, helped him pick out an outfit.
The next day dawned bright and… rainy. "Fuck," said McCoy, staring out the window into the drizzle and remembering, after he had spoken, that he had sworn to himself that he would not curse when Joanna was in the house. "No park for you, Luath," he said, turning away from the dreary scene to rub the dog's ears. "I'll let you into the backyard, but I'm not gettin' mud all over my lily-white skin before my big date. That might or might not be a date." He paused to stare down at Luath, who blinked at him innocently. "I'm talkin' to a creature that eats socks. What has my life come to?"
The hospital called him in for an emergency cranial surgery at lunchtime. His nurse friend Christine kept Joanna for him while he treated a massive subdural hematoma.
"I had significant issues with the falx cerebri," McCoy said into the post-op mike as he scrubbed up. "Watch out for uncal herniation and other intrusions into the dura." He stuck his tongue out at Joanna through the glass. She was sitting in Christine's lap and waved sleepily at him. "As for the meninges, the Spock—uh. Spinal cord, excuse me. The, er, arachnoid could use a bit more stratic repair…"
"Nice Freudian slip," Christine said quietly to him as he left post-op, pulling on his jacket.
"How do you know about Spock?" McCoy demanded as Joanna hugged his leg energetically. He picked her up, sparing a kiss for her forehead and turning his scowl full on Christine.
"Jim and I went out for a few weeks," Christine reminded him. "We talk, and talked, sometimes."
"You mean you two did more than just—" McCoy cut himself off, glancing at Joanna, who was playing innocently with his hospital ID.
"Yes, we did," said Christine archly. "We had conversations, Dr. McCoy. Unlike some people I know."
McCoy winced. "I know I'm not very good at communication," he said guiltily. They had made it into the nurse station by now. Christine deposited her clipboard on the desk to hug Joanna goodbye.
"Jesus, you don't have to tell me," said Christine heavily over Joanna's head. McCoy had dated Christine, too, soon after he had finalized the divorce, but it had been a disaster. "Anyway, this Spock guy—he's a half-Vulcan, huh?"
"Yup," said McCoy, avoiding her eyes.
"And he's attractive?"
"Are you planning on having Jim keep Joanna overnight?" Christine asked interestedly.
"I'm goin' home," said McCoy loudly. "Goodbye, everybody."
"Have fun with your date," the on-duty (and some of the off-duty) nurses chorused, not even looking up from their charts.
McCoy let out a wrathful whimper and fled the premises.
Spock showed up a few seconds before McCoy's satellite clock said it was six. Kirk, there to sit for Joanna, stayed in the other room in a surprising display of restraint. Spock chatted with Joanna for a while until he said it was time to go, that they had reservations waiting at a restaurant.
Throughout the entire date, McCoy had no idea if it was a date until the very end of the night, when Spock kissed McCoy ever so lightly on the lips and left McCoy gaping at his front door. Which didn't mean that it was a bad night—it was a wonderful night.
Spock took McCoy to a medium-expensive new Tellarite chophouse filled with cautious humans not sure how to order Tellarite food. Spock, though, knew to ask for tak and ch'loy, with sykand as a side, items which were small on the menu but (as Spock mentioned quietly) were some of the few Tellarite dishes humans found palatable. The tak looked and tasted like pork barbeque slathered in mint sauce and the ch'loy was evidently some sort of fish salad. Both dishes were strangely incredible, but it was the sykand that knocked McCoy off his feet. It was a traditional family dish used in bonding ceremonies, and was served with a single utensil in a small copper kettle. In appearance, the stuff was badly-presented gray soup that tasted strangely like escargot, but the texture was more reminiscent of lobster bisque; either way, it was one of the best things McCoy had ever had.
"May I see you again?" Spock asked after he had kissed McCoy.
"Of course," McCoy whispered, trying not to fall over.
"Good," said Spock, and left—just like that. Leaving McCoy, of course, gaping at his front door.
McCoy stumbled inside.
"Oh God," he said preliminarily to Kirk, who popped out of Joanna's bedroom with eyebrows raised well in advance of the conversation.
"Really?" cried Kirk. "Tell me everything!"
"He," sighed McCoy, flopping onto the couch, "is already turnin' me into a girly-girl. This is terrible."
"No, it's awesome," said Kirk fervently, plopping down beside him. "Did he kiss you? Or did you get to third base under the table?"
McCoy took a moment to imagine how amazing that would be. "No, no third base under the table." He left a bit of a pause there to imply how tragic it was that this had not occurred. "Just a goodnight kiss at the door. Okay, actually, I wasn't even sure if it was a date, the whole time. We went to, uh, that new Tellarite place, that nobody can pronounce the name of—"
Kirk gave it a try; the result sounded like he had vomited in the middle of a sneeze.
"… yeah, no," said McCoy. "Anyway, we talked the whole time. Just, pure conversation. I've never hit it off with somebody before, like that. Except for you." Thinking about their meeting, McCoy grinned; he had thrown up on Kirk in a Chicago—LA transport a few years ago and they had been best friends ever since.
"Well good for you," said Kirk, sounding inappropriately self-satisfied. "Any arrangements made for later?"
"Vague ones, yeah," said McCoy. "By the way, how was my daughter?"
"Oh yeah, she was great," said Kirk, sounding like it had honestly not occurred to him that Joanna wasn't naturally his and that he was taken aback by McCoy's question. "We played games. She's asleep."
McCoy sent Kirk home and kissed Joanna goodnight and went to bed and fell asleep. Between all of it he didn't know what to think. He was ambivalent but hopeful and also after-the-fact nervous and, more than anything, a little silly with infatuation. A lot silly, actually. He really liked Spock, he could tell already, but he wasn't sure if that pleased him or not.
Spock called the next day, but McCoy was forced to delay their next meeting for a week—he was scheduled to go to a conference in Hawaii for five days starting in two days, and the hospital was having him finish up his paperwork before he left. He would be taking Joanna to the conference with him. In fact, it was less of a conference than an excuse for a trip to Oahu. McCoy was the guest speaker on the second day, and was planning on attending a lecture by the famous Nimira Walsh on the third day, but other than that, he would be hitting the beach and the tourist sites with Joanna.
The five days were:
Sun, cutting through razor-blade leaves, leaving sharp shadow-patterns on their skin as they walked down the busy streets. Sand getting in every crevice of everything, ever. Fruity alcoholic drinks also everywhere, but he never tried one, even when Joanna was asleep and it was 2 am and he wandered downstairs for some reason, to sit at a bar and sip water talk to none of the strangely attractive women and men who tried to chat him up, because God, he couldn't get Spock out of his head. The long, blue-green expanse of ocean, fronted by white crests and slick volcanic rock, and chasing Joanna across the lip of Diamond Head, catching her as she paused to stare at the endless waters in front of the backdrop of the pearl blue sky, blossoming with clouds. Driving all the way up to North Shore to watch surfers, but more importantly, the wind carding through their hair, fluttering like a thousand butterflies on the backs of their necks, and the scent of rain and flowers, and glancing over at Joanna while they were singing along to Hey Jude, and watching the music and the words twine up around her, wrapping her in a restorative mist, so that her hair shone brighter and her eyes looked calmer, and the little crease between her eyebrows disappeared in the song. And more than anything, on the last night, tucking her into bed and kissing her goodnight and taking Invisible Man out onto the balcony and reading and reading and reading and reading and turning the last page and staring up into the pinpoint, painted vastness of the stars and the dark sky and thinking, Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
He came back with that quiet thought in his heart, and a beginner's tan, and called Spock.
"Hello," said Spock, his voice like a beatitude.
McCoy smiled. "Hello."
Plans were made for dinner, again, but before that, he took Joanna back to Jocelyn.
It ached, leaving her. He kissed her a thousand times and crushed her ribs hugging her. He was terrible at goodbyes. There is a point in them where you have to ask your muscles to turn your body away, and it always took him ages, because he couldn't stomach voluntarily leaving her, except that he had to stomach it. It was a fact now, that he lived alone, without his wife and without his daughter, and truth of it stung every time. So he would say a final "Bye, hun-bun," and his eyes would leave hers, and he would feel sick in his bones as he walked on his own feet away from her.
After a while he lost the melancholy and convinced himself it was all fine. He had friends, didn't he? He had a great job, right? And so all was the same as before; just as hollow and cold.
Except now, he had Spock, and really, nothing was the same at all. He kept his house clean and read more books, but that was the only obvious change. Nobody could tell that he felt like he was on fire half the time. The fire was a warm, enthusiastic curl in his stomach, but an uncomfortable one; what if it lit up and destroyed all else? It worried him that the blaze had come from nowhere. He had felt like this with Jocelyn, and look where she had left him.
Weeks passed. Winter came and the trees dripped with ice in the morning; the fog rolled heavier off the bay and was so thick that it seeped under doors. Their ninth date, in early January, was McCoy's favorite.
"Idea," said Spock succinctly as McCoy buckled himself into Spock's retro-chic automobile. "Avery's."
"The grocery store?" said McCoy, brows knit. It was eight o'clock, and he had just gotten off of a long shift at the hospital. His feet ached, and he felt a little resentful that Spock didn't have something more sedentary planned. He unwrapped his scarf and draped it carefully over his knees, smoothing it as he waited for Spock to explain.
"Yes," said Spock, smiling at him. The expression was natural now, and McCoy was proud to provoke it. "I thought you would enjoy the variety. And I have heard that there is a good bookshop nearby that you could, perhaps, escort me to after our dinner."
"Flyleaf," said McCoy automatically, feeling a pulse of hope at the thought of tall beech bookshelves and thousands of crackled spines. "God, I forgot it was near there. Of course, Spock. That sounds wonderful."
Avery's was a wide, woody place with everything you could ever desire to consume to be found within its cedar walls. McCoy realized he was starving and dragged Spock straight to the to-go section. They roved among the rows of steaming, hooded buffet tables, scooping potato salad into cartons and discussing which salads to get. McCoy found a fresh from the oven chicken pot pie, smelling like his best Christmases, and got the tiniest bit teary remembering. Spock crafted a salad out of spinach leaves, feta cheese, apple slices, and olive oil that turned out to be one of the best things McCoy had ever tasted, despite his initial skepticism. They got chocolate covered strawberries for dessert, and McCoy wanted to laugh at how absurdly romantic it was when Spock, attempting to be composed, fed him one, stiff-necked but blushing a charming green.
Avery's had an outside annex, a little garden area containing twenty chairs and the accompanying tables. It was edged on two sides by hedges, on one by the store, and on the fourth by the street, quiet at night. Lights were laced through the hedges and across the lintel back into the store. Terra cotta warriors and cement planters overflowing with pale wisteria and heliotrope were interspersed among the chairs. A few other groups, couples, and families filled the space, murmuring into the darkness. McCoy rescued one of the last tables while Spock checked out. They didn't talk much over the meal; they rarely spoke while eating. McCoy was entranced, as always, by the things about Spock that seemed alien—the way he ate everything with a knife and fork, the different bones evident in his hands, and the shape of his eyes. Sometimes it was easy to think of Spock as merely foreign, rather than extraterrestrial, until the very light texture of Spock's inner eyelid caught the streetlamp at an angle and gleamed, or the curl of his hand around his bottle of juice made pronounced the hinge joint between his primary and secondary metacarpals, bending his hand like no human's would.
McCoy had a fear—an important one. That fear was failure. He had failed with Jocelyn—failed very badly—and he knew beyond even the fire that he would fail again. He did not want to destroy this, he thought, as he browsed with Spock, as they walked arm in arm through Flyleaf, learning about each other's taste in books. Spock surprised him by showing a deep knowledge of obscure science fiction and fantasy, which McCoy found amusing; he had no interest in these genres since they did not examine real life.
"I am surprised that you are of this opinion," said Spock, the barest hint of reproach in his voice. "Surely you know that the fantastic communicates the finest truths of all."
McCoy hesitated, and so Spock bought him Grendel, Tales of the Dying Earth, and Stranger in a Strange Land. McCoy, in retribution, purchased Don Quixote, The Fountainhead, and To Kill A Mockingbird for Spock, who had, Spock explained, been homeschooled by his father mainly in the subjects of science and math, with some Vulcan literature on the side. He had read few human classics and was fascinated by the idea of them.
"Vulcan literature consists of histories and treatises on factual events," said Spock. "This idea of a 'made-up story' existing beyond the traditional legends and tales is quite foreign. And that the same tale explores philosophical ideas rather than simply explaining them—quite brilliant."
"Your people sure are cheery," said McCoy dourly. "No wonder you got into space so quickly. Our ancients spent all their time philosophizin', not buildin' interstellar starships."
"How unproductive," said Spock, but with a smile.
As usual, Spock parked in front of McCoy's apartment, leaving his car running, and escorted McCoy to his door. They kissed, deeply, under the light, McCoy cupping Spock's cheek.
McCoy's lips brushed Spock's ear. "Are you interested in comin' up?" he asked conversationally. He felt strangely detached from the question.
Spock backed up slightly so that he could look at McCoy's face straight on. "I am not sure," he said slowly. "Are you interested in me coming up?"
"I think I am," said McCoy, wondering at Spock's hesitation.
"Then I have a question," said Spock. "What is this?"
McCoy's vision went a quiet, crackling white at the edges. "What is this relationship?" he repeated calmly.
"Yes," said Spock, his generally inexpressive face giving even fewer clues than usual.
"It's fun," said McCoy. "It's—nice. It's casual."
"Yes," said McCoy, barely keeping a question out of his voice.
Spock considered this and McCoy actually held his breath.
"Let us go inside," said Spock, his expression breaking suddenly into something unbearably, smolderingly sexy. "There is something I should tell you about a Vulcan's hands."
It was an exceptional night.
From it, perceptions and actions did not change immediately. They did the obvious things, like sit closer to each other and spend markedly more time together. But McCoy was keenly aware that Spock had not mind-melded with him, something he had thought that Vulcans did in intimate situations. He knew Spock was able to mind-meld; Spock had mentioned it, once, and McCoy had been understandably intrigued. So what did it mean? Casual, he'd said on the front stoop. Had he doomed himself? Or did he really actually care? It was so hard even to know his own emotions.
Something occurred to McCoy right before their twelfth date that probably should have occurred to him beforehand. He worried about it for an hour and then, in typical fashion, just decided to ask about it. They were finishing a pizza at Primary's and were walking back to Spock's car when McCoy spoke.
"So," he said carefully. "I've noticed you've been on shore leave for a while now."
Spock's step faltered slightly.
"Yes," he said. "About that." McCoy felt a twist of apprehension in his belly. "I have been meaning to discuss this with you for a while, Leonard, but I suspected that you might think the less of me once you know it. If I may—if I may tell a story?"
"A story?" said McCoy blankly.
"Yes," said Spock. "The tale is easier to tell in this form."
They reached Spock's car and got in it. Spock turned to face McCoy from the driver's seat, looking very serious.
"I'm worried," said McCoy suddenly.
"About what I am going to say," said Spock. It was not a question.
"First, let me say it.
"Imagine a person—we cannot call him a man, nor a Vulcan, because he is neither, and both—who is the first of his kind to serve in Starfleet. A significant amount of prejudice exists against him, as does quite a lot of good will, so that he gets promoted at the normal speed. He has lived on Earth all his life and been raised as a human, meaning that his comrades can see him as human if they wish, but oftentimes they see him as an alien, as something that has traditionally been an enemy, and even now, as something that is strange and foreign. Nevertheless, he loves the service; he loves the 'Fleet.
"He has been on the USS Artemis for two and a half years now. He is the head science officer and mans his station admirably. For a mission, his commanding officer and first officer beam down to an uninhabited planet with a science team. He remains aboard gathering equipment to go down in the next shift. But there is an emergency: the second officer, the chief engineer, is called from the bridge to deal with the unexpected failure of the impulse engines. As third officer, our half-human takes the captain's seat, at which point he is almost immediately faced with a pressing problem. Down on the planet, a mysterious black mass is threatening the landing party. It is massive, over two miles wide, and seemingly sentient. It has engulfed two members of the landing party, two of his top scientists. The captain's communicator is working and he commands the half-human to fire on the black mass with the ship's phasers.
"The half-human refuses to do so.
"The black mass, given time, returns the two scientists, who enthusiastically report that it is a new, exciting life form with the capability of easily transforming matter to energy. The landing party beams aboard. The half-human submits himself to Starfleet justice and is removed from duty. He is bridge-beamed back to Earth and placed on indefinite shore leave until the Artemis returns. When it does return, he will be placed on trial for intentionally disobeying the orders of a commanding officer in a life or death situation."
Spock had kept steady eye contact with McCoy throughout the story, but as soon as he finished, he looked down and away, as if giving McCoy leave to change his expression.
McCoy, of course, smiled.
"You couldn't hurt a fly, could you?" he asked Spock ruefully.
"I have killed insects," said Spock warily. "I try to avoid it, but—"
"Oh, you know what I meant," said McCoy, pushing right past it. "That's fine, Spock. Do you think you'll get off?"
"No," said Spock. "I will be discharged, and dishonorably."
When he said this, the resonant sorrow in his voice was so tangible that McCoy wanted, abruptly, to cry. He wrapped his arm around Spock and touched his neck lightly with his hand, brushing his thumb over Spock's oddly-placed placed jugular. The beat of it warmed his finger, and Spock dipped his head again, acknowledging the gesture.
After that, it was like a floodgate had opened. Once or twice a week he would go out with Spock for three or four hours. They would have dinner, or see a play or a movie, or go shopping, or just talk. And it seemed—well, McCoy had a hard time finding words for it. It seemed so natural being with Spock, like breathing; maybe that was one way to say it. But that was too easy. He scrambled around for a while in his brain, scraping at his knowledge of the English language in an attempt to describe Spock to Kirk one day over lunch. He could never manage anything more than a single stereotypical assertion.
"I'm with him," said McCoy, staring at his fork like it offended him, "and I'm home. Simple as that."
It frustrated him, his inability to say the things he felt aloud. He had never had the problem before. With Jocelyn, feelings could be articulated plainly: he loved her, and the phrase that everybody said encompassed it. Even with Joanna he could find the right words, if he reached into his knowledge of Shakespeare and did a lot of arm-waving.
He thought of Spock as a little off to the left and back of normal things and people, in a higher, singular place. Or maybe like one of those big, piebald gray pebbles that you found on clouded paths; the kind you noticed as beautiful and distinct before any of the others for no actual reason you could understand, but for a reason that made sense.
"I think of you that way," Spock surprised him by saying. "You are a very difficult man to speak of, Leo. I think I have you, and then you do something perfectly unexpected and I am blown away all over again."
But with all of that, McCoy still believed it would all fall apart. They had yet to mind-meld, and McCoy had yet to tell him everything—although what he counted everything, he himself did not know. But it seemed important that Spock know him inside and out before they were really together. Still—was that something he wanted? If Spock knew him, he would know him, and all his flaws and failings and fears would be like an open book. It scared him. And again, he knew that he would fail.
He had been feeling more serious than usual; he saw Kirk less often because Kirk was on some sort of top-secret mission, and Spock had recently gotten the news that the Artemis was expected back within the month and had become rather difficult to get a hold of. (McCoy felt this was understandable, however.) But Spock and Kirk showed up at his apartment at the same time one day. There was a slightly frantic knock and McCoy opened the door to see both of them very obviously not looking at each other.
He leaned on the doorframe, amused. "Can I help the two of ya?"
Spock was icy. "I came to discuss something with Leo," he said, "and retrieve my matériel folder."
"Leave it here last night?" asked Kirk interestedly.
Spock actually turned to him. "Yes," he said, and McCoy felt himself flinch in advance. "After a long round of delicious sexual intercourse. And how was your night?"
"Dangerous," said Kirk, utterly unfazed. "Let us in, Bones. I don't want to play the 'I-get-more-action-than-you' game with this kind man. It would be a shame for him to loose."
Spock's hackles were so high up they were about to start poking holes in clouds. McCoy escorted them hurriedly inside, kicking himself for forgetting how incredibly annoying Kirk was until you got used to him. Spock let Kirk go in first and then dragged McCoy into an alcove in the hallway.
McCoy expected a territorial kiss, but instead got a significant amount of anger. "That man's dog has gotten Missus pregnant," Spock snapped, crowding him and radiating even more heat than usual. "I had a DNA sample analyzed this morning. Missus is a purebred, and if that dog is as well—although I doubt it is—then their puppies have a significantly increased chance for cardiomyopathy, osteochrondritis, and hip dysplasia."
"Uh," said McCoy. "Sorry?"
Spock kneaded his brow. "Not to mention, the father's owner is… insufferable."
"You'll acclimate. Let's break the joyous news. I got some cigars from Turkey."
"Was that a laugh? That was a laugh!"
"I never laugh," said Spock solemnly. "Have I laughed since you have known me?"
McCoy realized this was true and it made him a bit sad. By this point, Spock had pulled him back out of the alcove and into the living room, where they found Kirk sprawled across most of the couch.
McCoy opened his mouth to ask how he did that, but Spock got there first.
"Your… canine… has impregnated Missus," he said more to the room at large than to Kirk. "Why did you not have your pet neutered?"
"That's wonderful. I always wanted to be a dogfather," said Kirk perkily. "Why didn't you have yours spayed?"
"I thought Missus would appreciate having children of her own," said Spock coolly. "This not the point."
"Here's your folder," said McCoy, rather urgently, trying to hand Spock a gray-blue envelope and diffuse the situation.
"Wait," said Kirk, looking pissed. "What is the point? Luath is as good as any dog. You're just offended that you didn't get to breed your Dalmatian." He emphasized breed nastily.
"Both of you," said McCoy, "shut up."
Spock's mouth snapped shut in some surprise. Kirk rolled his eyes and flopped back on the couch.
"Jim," said McCoy calmly. "Why are you here?"
"To ask if you wanted to have lunch tomorrow," said Kirk.
"Yes, I do. Well, not really, but I figure I ought to. Spock, do you need anythin' else?"
"Yes. I wanted to ask if you would like to tour Starfleet Headquarters."
McCoy was taken aback. "What? Really? When?"
Kirk perked up. "Can I come?"
"Of course not," said Spock, glaring at Kirk. He lingered. "Well. Maybe."
"He'll be good," said McCoy. "I heard it was a beautiful place. And they don't allow civilians inside all that often, do they?"
"They do not," Spock acknowledged. He looked at Kirk again and sighed. "As the father of my puppies, you may accompany us," he said, with an actual smile. Kirk gave a surprised laugh and McCoy, resigned, made them both some iced tea as a sort of defensive mechanism.
The next day, Spock brought them to Starfleet Command.
As Spock drove, McCoy asked Kirk, "So where do you work? I thought you worked for Starfleet."
"I work for the Federation," said Kirk. "Important difference. Starfleet doesn't like my branch of government very much."
"What is your branch of government?" Spock asked, pulling into a parking space.
"I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," said Kirk, and he smiled, but McCoy shivered a bit. He had never known exactly what it was that Kirk did, except that he had very strange hours and was sometimes gone for weeks at a time.
McCoy had driven by Starfleet plenty of times. The massive complex sprawled over the Presidio, glowing in the noonday sun. Spock had navigated his car into one of its many arms, and they had descended sharply underground and emerged into a well-lit, ultramodern parking garage—ultramodern but for the lack of automatic valet. "They like for us to walk," said Spock by way of explanation.
They took a glass elevator up and thorough a Wonka-esque spiral, glimpsing vague white and gray corridors and the occasional red security door, as well as thousands of students and staff, until they reached the atrium and were let out with a soft ding. Spock took them through security. Kirk was let through without any trouble after his retina scan; in fact, a few of the guardspeople scooted away from him with wary glances when they saw what was on the screen. McCoy was also let through, though he had to wear a visitor's badge.
McCoy hadn't noticed until he went through security that Spock was acting differently. His expression was guarded and his eyes had somehow gone colder than usual. He stood very stiffly, hands behind his back, and paced rather than walked. The guards greeted him politely instead than familiarly, although they clearly knew him. It puzzled McCoy. Spock was, he was well aware, by no means a people person, but he was more than capable of carrying on a casual conversation. Was he nervous about something? But nobody who Spock encountered seemed surprised by his stone-like appearance.
Kirk didn't notice it either, evidently. He bounded through the corridors like a grasshopper, poking around randomly as if he wanted to surprise whatever it was that he was looking for. Spock led them in the general direction of the laboratories, where he worked. Since he was on paid shore leave, he did not need to work, but he had told McCoy that after a single frustrating week of nothing to do, he had requested a task. Starfleet had been more than happy to put one of their best scientists back in the lab, and had given him the run of their experimental research equipment and a few assistants.
Things changed slightly once they reached the labs. Spock's assistants greeted him with a little less caution than the others McCoy had seen—but only a little less. What worried these people? McCoy wondered. It was only Spock; how was he scary? He was one of the nicest people McCoy knew. Maybe it was the stigma attached to his pending trial; maybe it was his Vulcan features. Whatever it was, it put McCoy on edge.
The assistants were young and shapely. A patient (and captivating) Swahili woman showed Kirk around the lab; he followed her like she carried the Elixir of Life on her person. Spock, trading an eye-roll with McCoy (which surprised the two assistants watching their interaction, McCoy noticed), brought him to a display case and opened it. He removed a long, flat panel of metal and angled it towards McCoy.
"This is a prototype of something that we have been working on," said Spock, activating the machine. "I do not generally participate in the development of new technology, but it seemed to me that Starfleet desperately needed a small device that could access the ship's main computer. The terminal stations around starships can never be placed close enough together to be practical, and the technology, of course, exists for an interconnected, multipurpose machine to be created. We are currently calling it a Starfleet access display device, but Starfleet does not like the acronym; it could be changed to personal access display device since each crewmember would be issued one."
"Very practical," said McCoy, watching Spock's demonstration of the machine's various functions. It was incredibly fast. Spock told him that it was coded to the fibers in one's uniform, so that, for instance, captains had access to more features, schematics, and general information than ensigns did.
Spock did biological and chemical research as well; those laboratories were even larger than the electronics department. McCoy asked to see the biomedical labs and had to be dragged away from the project list after thirty minutes. Kirk, unsurprisingly, was fascinated by the weapons lab and tried out the next generation of Starfleet phasers while McCoy and Spock watched.
McCoy was happy that Spock and Kirk seemed much more willing to speak and interact with one another now, but was still concerned about Spock. He had spoken with great enthusiasm about how much he enjoyed research, but once McCoy saw him at Starfleet, he became unsure. Did Spock actually enjoy his job? Was really happy? Suddenly everything seemed cast in shadows of doubt. Did he know Spock as well as he thought he did? Was their relationship going well at all? How much did Spock actually like him?
To drive the point home, they ran into a coterie of admirals as they were leaving. Admirals Mendez and Pike were decent enough fellows, but Admiral Cartwright, although outwardly pleasant, was well-known for being a parsimonious old toad. McCoy had met all of them at various functions and so they greeted him familiarly.
Spock went extra-expressionless when Mendez asked, quite pleasantly, why McCoy and Kirk were there. McCoy replied that he and Spock were in a relationship, which evoked carefully stilled reactions from Mendez and Pike and an actual, rather indignant gasp from Cartwright.
"You're dating this pointy-eared bastard?" he said, gazing at Spock with outright dislike. "I'd think an educated doctor like yourself could do much better than this criminal."
McCoy only felt Spock's hand on his arm when Spock squeezed it so tightly that the bone grated. He had never been so angry in his life. The rage fizzled coldly in his throat, like fiery icewine, and he directed a burst of purest scorn towards Cartwright.
"I'd think a Starfleet officer could learn himself a thing or two from Lieutenant Commander Spock about politeness," said McCoy. "An educated admiral like yourself should know a superior bein' when he sees one."
Out of the corner of his red-tinted vision, McCoy saw that Pike had to stifle a laugh with his hand, while Mendez let his smile show. McCoy didn't dare look at Spock, whose grip on his arm had tightened incrementally, then loosened.
"Whether or not Lieutenant Commander Spock is a superior being will be established at his trial," said Cartwright nastily, his nose wrinkling in almost comically highfalutin distaste. "Meanwhile, I will continue to hope that you come to your senses, doctor." He stalked away.
"Our apologies," said Pike to Spock and McCoy, Mendez nodding sincerely at his shoulder. "Brock has never been good at human interaction. We wish you the best of luck at your trial, Lieutenant Commander."
"Thank you, Admirals," said Spock, barely moving his mouth. He had, if anything, gotten stiffer once Cartwright had left. Mendez and Pike departed as well.
"Oh my God," said Kirk incredulously, staring after the three admirals. "I can go assassinate Cartwright, if you want. He deserves it."
"No one deserves death," said Spock. "Let us depart. I have a bad taste in my mouth."
They rid themselves of Kirk, who had to go "check in at headquarters—I'll see you sometime next month, Bones," and went straight to McCoy's house.
As they drove, the sun began to set rather magnificently. The road was angled so that the glass on the buildings all around reflected panels of light straight through the car, onto their features and clothes, so that occasionally, half of a face was cast in brilliant relief while the other was dark as a raincloud. The road rolled under them, cutting a vertical slice through the tall buildings so that before them only the westernmost edges of the sunset were visible. The clouds were thick and technicolor, a display of primaries and pastels unequaled in nature or by man. Variegated yellows and titians swept around the halo closest to the coin-size sun, and from them spread deep, sultry purples and royal blues. Between, pale lavender and the lighter blue of the sky broke through. And above rested the pinks, from rose to mauve, a mantel for the fireplace of the sun below it. When they reached home, the stars were just coming out.
Neither of them said a word from the moment Kirk closed the car door until they were standing in McCoy's kitchen, halfway through glasses of iced tea. McCoy spoke first.
"Are you always like that?" he asked quietly.
Spock stared at his glass, turning the cold cylinder in a slow circle in his palm.
"Yes," he said. "Starfleet is a very different place from the real world."
"They don't like you."
"I do suspect that they dislike me."
McCoy couldn't control what he was saying. The words seemed to just fall out of his mouth. "No, I was wrong. They hate you. Worse, they're afraid of you. Even Pike and Mendez—they were just bein' polite. And your assistants; I'd bet only that Swahili girl has any real respect for you."
"That is untrue. They all respect me. But you are correct, they dislike—"
"Why do you do that?" McCoy demanded, giving up on control and slamming his glass down on the counter so hard it cracked. "You don't have to be perfect around them just because you're somethin' different. They don't respect you, dammit. They think you're fakin', and they hate you for it."
Spock had not reacted to this outburst. He put his own glass down with deliberate slowness, and raised his eyes to meet McCoy's.
"I am faking," said Spock, and his voice rang with a bitter sincerity. "I do not know how to be human. I want to be human, more than anything else, but nobody will ever tell me how to go about it."
McCoy let out a raucous, angry laugh. "That's all it is? Spock, nobody knows how to be human. We all do it wrong. But the point is that we do it anyway."
Spock shook his head, his eyes empty and sad. "I do not understand."
"God, Spock," spat McCoy. "Of course you don't. And neither do I."
"Leonard, what are you trying to—"
"Go home," said McCoy in disgust, turning away from those eyes. "Think about it. If you can."
He heard Spock hesitate, then leave, his coat swishing softly. The door, open momentarily, let in the sounds of the city; the cars and shouts, and electric noises. Then it shut, muffling all.
McCoy threw his glass against the wall. It stained the white wallpaper sepia with tea, and the ice mixed with the shards of glass on the floor, pooling together. He threw Spock's, too, for good measure, and hit about the same spot. Then he went into his bedroom and sat on his bed and tried to breathe.
Tao rubbed her little head against his back, and he felt himself tighten momentarily with irritation. Then he glanced at her, and her leaf-green eyes were so wide and sweet that he swept her into his arms and petted her until she purred. He fell asleep very soon, anchored by the cat.
He awoke, showered, and dressed in something of a haze. His shift at the hospital started early. He glowered at his phone for a while, wondering if he should call Spock, but Spock hadn't called him, so that was that, and he left for work.
Three days passed. He spoke to Spock once, on the second day. Their conversation went like this:
"Leonard. This is Spock."
"I know. What do you want?"
A pause on the other end. "I am not entirely sure. But—it is good to hear your voice."
"And yours." Grudgingly.
"Are you angry with me?"
"No. Of course not. I'm sorry." The words in a rush.
"I am sorry." The same bitter sincerity from before.
"Well, then we both are." Irritation; a long pause. "Give me some time, okay? I'll call you later."
"I—yes. Whatever would be best Leonard."
"Okay. Bye, Spock."
McCoy ghosted through the third day until lunch, when Christine ambushed him in the corridor, a look in her eye like he'd never seen before, one that spoke of droughts and pestilence if she didn't obey him. He had just finished a small experimental procedure and was going to record his post-op statement when Christine grasped him quite unexpectedly by his starched lapels and hissed, "Leonard, you can't recuse yourself—"
"Paging Dr. McCoy," said the intercom, the voice at the other end as bone-chillingly calm as it had ever been. "Level 1, OP 1, code red."
"OP 1?" McCoy demanded of Christine as he burst into a run. "Code red? What's the patient's status?"
When Christine looked right at him, at the emergency stair, and said, instead of critical, "Terrible," McCoy knew.
By the time he had flown down four flights and into OP 1, he had steeled himself to reject the case. He couldn't be involved, he just couldn't, he thought, his mind scrambling to catch up with his beating heart.
"Thirty year-old half-Vulcan," said the on-call, speaking rapid-fire, and it was like somebody had punched him. "Massive internal hemorrhage and head trauma. You'll have to coordinate with Dr. Tran" (the best general surgeon in the city; she didn't even work at Downtown so they had to have called her in special) "about your procedures." The on-call paused to deliver even worse news and McCoy felt his knees actually go weak. "Today's some sort of Vulcan holiday," he said, slowing his words to emphasize them. "We can't get a hold of any Vulcans, and we've got nothing on reference about them. You'll have to do this blind; we're trying to get Mbenga on the phone, but he's hiking Kilimanjaro or something. Here's the patient's ERT file and his Earth history chart; good thing he's Starfleet." He shoved a thin folder of screenpaper into McCoy's hand and said "Good luck" as he pushed McCoy gently into the operating theater.
Any objections McCoy had to being on the case died in his throat as soon as he saw the patient. Laid out on the table, Spock looked like a broken doll. His face was barely visible under copious amounts of dried green blood. His hair was matted and muddy and chunks of his gray-green brain were visible above his delicate ears, which were hideously cut and scraped. It seemed as if all of his limbs were broken. His chest cavity was open, and his insides sparkled where they had washed off the grit. His left foot was gone entirely.
During the half-second McCoy gave himself to assess the situation, Spock's first finger twitched softly, and McCoy bit back a laugh of a sob. He couldn't possibly recuse himself. It had been silly to ever think he could.
Christine was there after he had scrubbed up, her big blue eyes shining with encouragement and pride. He wondered why she did not look worried until he realized that she actually thought he could do this, and crazy as it was, he felt many times better with her at his elbow as he picked up the first osteoregenerator.
The average major surgery took three hours; the average emergency major surgery took five. McCoy had once been involved in a twenty-two hour surgery, but that was a test case combined with an emergency, and nothing like it had ever happened to him since. Repairing Spock took eleven, but McCoy didn't know it. Tran had to back out once she had done the really critical stuff because she had gotten off the graveyard shift (and then some) before she was called in, so Yantel came in to finish up at the seven-hour mark. McCoy worked straight through, stopping twice to go to the restroom and once to devour a power bar. Christine stayed by his side the entire time, acting as his primary, and never switched off when the other nurses did.
McCoy was considered by professionals to be the third best neurosurgeon in the world, but even he did not know very much about the Vulcan brain—nobody really did. Dr. Mbenga, the best neurosurgeon and the leading human expert on Vulcan neurology, got on the phone with him from Hargeisa after the third hour of surgery. But the primary complication was obvious without Mbenga's help: Spock was neither Vulcan nor human, and his brain reflected this.
It felt like all of McCoy's life had consisted of, and would end with, putting Spock's brain back together. Piece by piece, he reconstructed what had been torn apart, gently rebuilding each bloody coil. When he finally plated the skull closed, his hands were aching like a crocodile had chewed them up, and he had been on his feet for so long that he couldn't feel them. Beside him, Christine reached up to turn off the camera.
The procedure was shown to medical students for years to come, but nobody saw what happened afterwards. McCoy left the room, sat down in a chair in post-op, and passed out. Christine found him five minutes later, after they had taken Spock to ICU-recovery. She and another nurse helped him to an empty room. He slept like the dead and woke up with a start five hours later.
It was dark. He threw himself out of bed with a sudden, maniac energy and burst into the hall, nearly giving the nurses at a station nearby heart attacks. He didn't even remember getting to ICU-recovery, just being there.
Kirk was sitting in Spock's room, talking quietly to Christine, who had big blue circles under her eyes. They both looked up at him, and they looked so tired that for a long moment, he utterly swamped with fear.
"Dr. Mbenga says that he is in a healing coma," said Christine, motioning for McCoy to have a look at Spock's charts and readouts. "He should be in it for, at the least, two days, because of the severity of his injuries. He says it's a Vulcan thing. Leonard, as far as we can tell, there is no lasting damage. The operation was very successful."
Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, McCoy sank into a chair. He stared at Spock. The man was covered in moss-green bruises. The Drs. Tran and Yantel had been able to put Spock's body back together. His foot had reattached and his bones were partially healed; most of his body was still wrapped in compression paneling. His life signs were strong for somebody in a coma. And most importantly, his brain showed significant electrical activity.
"The regents are probably going to call you in about this," said Christine. "They were made aware of your relationship after the surgery. They are most unhappy that you failed to recuse yourself."
"Fuck the regents," said McCoy. "What happened to him?"
"Missus ran across the road," said Kirk, speaking up at last. "He saved her. I talked to the officer who saw it. She was about to get hit by this massive transport, and he was just there all of a sudden and shoving her out of the transport's path. She's fine, by the way. I've got her at my place with Luath. I'm sure they're discussing how to decorate the nursery."
"Of course," said McCoy distantly. "Blues and pinks, I'm sure, or maybe a nice forest green."
Kirk said something else about getting off work because technically he hadn't left the city when he'd heard, and his trainee could go take down the government of Aruba without him, but McCoy wasn't listening. Two days. He could wait two days.
He waited three and a half.
Dr. Mbenga assured him that this was not unusual, but McCoy barely slept and ate next to nothing. Kirk shoved the occasional apple or cracker down his throat, and Christine made him take catnaps, at the very least. He went home a few times to feed Tao and shower. Once he went over to Kirk's to see Missus. He felt like killing the dog for putting Spock in danger like that, but when she licked his hand enthusiastically, he remembered that he'd met Spock because of her, and spent about an hour laying on the floor, nose to nose with her, petting her. Back at the hospital, the chief of medicine was about to take him off of duty and penalize him (McCoy could care less) when Spock, as quickly as McCoy had fallen asleep after the surgery, woke up.
McCoy tried not to gasp, but it was a near thing. There was no real warning. All of a sudden, McCoy looked up from the New England Journal of Medicine to see Spock's deep black eyes momentarily between slow blinks. He stood and went over to Spock's bed.
"Leonard," Spock said clearly after a moment. "How is Missus?"
"She's fine, you green-blooded hobgoblin," said McCoy, no real anger in his tone. "I oughta toss you out the window."
McCoy was amazed by how much better Spock looked. He tried to point this out to Kirk and Christine, but when he glanced around he realized that they had, considerately, slipped out of the room.
"I would vastly prefer that you do not defenestrate me," said Spock, wincing as he tried to sit up.
"Don't goddamn do that," said McCoy, hurrying forward. "For one, your bed is adjustable, and for another, you broke twenty-seven bones, not countin' the ones in your skull. I don't even want to talk about your brain."
"You looked at my ERTs?" said Spock, giving up on his plans to elevate himself manually and looking down at the controls on the bed.
"Didn't need to look at your ERTs," said McCoy. "It's the button on the right, you idiot. I operated on you myself."
Spock stared at him, finger hovering over the correct switch. "You operated on me?"
"'Course I did. What was I s'posed to do, let you die on me?"
"I had thought—another neurosurgeon—"
"I'm the best on this continent," said McCoy dismissively. "I'll probably get suspended for a few months. It's alright."
Spock kept staring at him as he brought up his bed. McCoy smiled, very hesitantly. Spock smiled back. And then he wiped his eyes.
"Shit," Spock said.
"Are you cryin'?" said McCoy.
"Yes," said Spock angrily. He made an exasperated noise and sniffed hugely. "I don't like this."
"Quit that! It's unnatural!"
"You are telling me," muttered Spock, reaching for a Kleenex and wincing when he extended his arm.
"My God, man, you don't have to do everythin' for yourself," said McCoy, grabbing the tissue for him and dabbing delicately at Spock's pale face. "You've been in a coma for the past four days. You're gonna have some trouble with a lot of things, I guarantee it."
"Wonderful," said Spock bitterly. "I look forward to being a limping invalid."
"Don't worry about it," said McCoy. "I'll be there to help you."
And he was. The regents summoned him later that day, gave him a stern talking-to that ignored entirely, and suspended him for three months. He went straight back to Spock's room and helped him eat his lunch.
It turned out that Starfleet had tried to contact Spock two days ago to tell him that his trial date had been set. Admiral Pike came out to see how Spock was, and McCoy was struck by how normally Spock acted around Pike. He was gratified, but also worried—had Spock's mesiofrontal cortex been damaged, meaning that he could not control his emotions as well? Afterwards, Spock told him that he and Pike had been, well, close, years ago. McCoy was rendered temporarily speechless. Spock found this quite amusing.
After a week in the hospital, Spock was discharged. He recuperated with McCoy's help. (Kirk had disappeared around the time Spock was discharged, and sent a few messages to both of them wishing them well.) After a month, there was no trace of the accident.
By silent, mutual consent, things were put on hold between them. They never so much as kissed while Spock healed, but they spent inordinate amounts of time together. McCoy did not entirely know what to make of it, but neither did he care.
He saw Joanna again, just for a weekend. They went to visit Spock and Missus, who was starting to be huge. She left, and McCoy felt the emptiness for a while. "You hit me, I ring inside," he said to Kirk over dinner once.
Spock did not invite him to his trial, but McCoy went anyway, accompanied by Kirk. They sat in the back. McCoy suspected that Spock knew he was there, but he could not honestly be sure. The crew of the Artemis told a story no different than the one McCoy had heard from Spock's own lips. The captain was a nice fellow, and actually, most of the crew seemed sympathetic to Spock's plight. McCoy was gratified that they all seemed to take Spock seriously, although none of them—again—would outright smile at him.
It so happened that Cartwright was on the three-man jury of admirals, along with Admiral Komack, whose ass (said Kirk, who had evidently been gathering Starfleet smalltalk for the last few weeks like a spider in the center of a web of gossip) was even tighter than Cartwright's. They were complemented by Admiral Rossa, a matronly older woman who did her best to defend Spock. Still, even McCoy would have convicted him. Spock did disobey orders, that much was clear.
He was honorably discharged because Admiral Pike, who turned out to be the presiding judge and a Fleet Admiral—quite outranking Komack and Cartwright, who were Rear Admirals and mere jurors—finagled it, saying that he'd have Komack and Cartwright impeached on misuse of power charges if they so much as motioned for a dishonorable discharge. And so, in front of the wide, full court, Spock removed his badge and surrendered it to Pike, who took it wistfully. The chamber was silent.
McCoy hurried to catch Spock at the entrance to the building. Spock exited, shoulders back, the uncertainty and anger as clear on his face as the sharp edges of the shadows around him. McCoy moved in front of him. Spock barely met his eyes.
"I'm sorry," McCoy blurted, standing a few awkward feet from Spock. "I'm so sorry."
"Yes," said Spock tonelessly. "Thank you."
Spock swept by like a dust cloud. After that, McCoy did not see him for a week.
McCoy had realized something, somewhere, and the something swam to the forefront of his mind and hovered annoyingly around his hypothalamus for that next week. The something was that he was not afraid anymore. He had no idea why. It was possible that, having failed, there was now nothing to fear. Or maybe it was that he could not guess where he stood with Spock, and as such, he had no way of gauging what his level of worry should be.
Whatever it was, he felt—well, he felt better, and he didn't even feel too horrible about feeling better, either. God knew what had lifted, but it basically made him confident. He suspected it was because he had realized something very significant about his relationship with Spock. The reason nobody in Starfleet liked Spock as much as McCoy did was because McCoy knew him. The expressions on Spock's face were expressions only he could see. Where the cast and crew of headquarters saw stoic disinterest, McCoy saw anxiety, fear, and kindness. He had trained himself to look in every crease of Spock's forehead, every twitch of the tiny muscles in his eye. Of course, it was more than simple perceptive power: it was the sacred knowledge of the inner workings of another being that allowed him to read Spock as well as he did. And so, McCoy knew he could do this—this relationship—if Spock gave him the opportunity.
The opportunity arose in the middle of the night, when McCoy's phone rang shrilly.
"Missus is going into labor," said Spock calmly. "Could you come over?"
It was drizzling. McCoy dressed carelessly and wrapped himself in a greatcoat. In his high-beams, the rain seemed frozen drop by drop. Spock's house was not far, and McCoy let himself in without knocking.
"I was unable to contact Jim," said Spock from the kitchen, not looking up as McCoy entered. He was posed over the sink, washing his hands. His sleeves were pushed to his elbows and carefully tied back. He looked grayishly tired.
"Jim won't mind," said McCoy. "How's the patient?"
"Still in labor," said Spock. "She birthed three puppies. I expect four more."
They went through to Missus, who stared with one great, pained eye up at Spock. They were in the small living room, which was quietly lit. McCoy had always been surprised by how plush Spock's house was. This room was blue, and the light of it textured everything, even their feelings; calm washed over them. The shadows of the room stood on their own, and spoke darkly but kindly of the things that they had seen. They would be, McCoy thought, good shadows to sink into. Somehow this was important.
"Ssh, Missus," said Spock, stroking her laid-back ears with care, while his other hand rearranged the tiny, mewling puppies. "I am here."
He looked over the dog, at McCoy. His expression was like a bright, new flame in an abandoned house, and it put things back where they were.
"This is incredible," Spock said. "Look—two months ago, a few tiny cells merged by chance, and then they grew and grew, and now they are biting at my fingers, looking for food."
McCoy nodded. He did not know what to say.
"It makes one think," Spock continued. "Out of so little, something large comes. I do not understand at all how this happens. I see the process, but empirically; this idea is beyond the reach of my heart."
Spock looked back down at Missus, smiling. He delivered the rest of the puppies and cleaned them. As they suckled, and as Missus slept, he and McCoy shifted to the couch.
"'I am mad with joy,'" said McCoy wonderingly. "'At least, I think it's joy.' What will you do, now?"
"Stop tilting at windmills," said Spock. "Perhaps I will join the Science Corps. I have many more things to do."
They wrapped their arms around each other. It was easy. Spock bent his head into McCoy's neck. His touch was like lying in the midsummer sun.
"I'm not afraid," McCoy went on. "I know how to be, now. Or at least I feel like I do, which is what matters."
"And I understand what you said earlier," said Spock. "About being human. It's harder than it looks."
"It's impossible," smiled McCoy.
"Not really," said Spock philosophically. "It just takes patience."
"You do not have to say it, if you do not wish."
"I won't," said McCoy. "It's too small a phrase. I need somethin' bigger." He was thinking of Jocelyn; of how he had told her he loved her and had meant it. If he said the same to Spock now, it would be an understatement of vast proportions.
"Do not worry about that now. One thing I have learned is that it is better to do than to say."
McCoy kissed him. "Good lesson."
Spock kissed him back. "I learn from the best."
He would be there all night, and he would be there when Spock woke up in the morning.