There was no danger now; this nightmare would soon come to a close. Now that this world's Commander Spock lay still and harmless on the table, McCoy, the intruder, had a chance to get a better look at him, while monitoring his vital signs.

In fact McCoy's medical intervention was finished, but he indulged himself in just a few moments longer, just to get a good, long look, as this would be the last he'd see Spock like this. The goatee was an obvious difference, almost mystifying to McCoy, who'd think that Vulcans would eschew something as potentially unruly as facial hair. The few hairs that skewed out of their neatly pressed place gave Spock a raw kind of appeal that gave the doctor a vague, dark thrill. Or perhaps that was just the adrenaline beginning to wear off.

One last look as he turned to leave, fully planning to heckle the "real" Spock affectionately when he returned, when the life signs monitor came to life with a sudden activity. He turned and was face to face with Spock. McCoy's breath caught in his throat, and his body felt weak from the sudden rush of fight or flight stress. He knew he'd never have a chance to fight this man, and there didn't seem to be much chance for flight, either. He was buzzing with a painful energy with nowhere to go.

For an intense moment they stared at each other, all familiarity and past affections missing, even though the dark eyes were physically the same as what what McCoy was used to. He didn't even breathe as this moment seemed to stretch, wondering with a sick dread what this Spock was about to do.

Spock took hold of his wrist in a cold, efficient manner. McCoy didn't even bother trying to pull free as Spock slid his legs off the table and started backing the doctor towards the wall. McCoy could not bring words or even a sound to his lips as Spock lifted his other hand to his face, just as he could not pry his gaze from Spock's.

The hand on his wrist tightened as the other brushed fingertips across his face. They were almost tender as they settled at McCoy's temple, cheekbone, and forehead. For a second, McCoy felt suddenly lighter; he relaxed, but it felt like he was being compelled to do so, like from the pull of a string. He tried to take advantage of this shift by attempting to call out, but the mood shifted once again before he could open his mouth.

His vision was blinded and he gasped what felt to be his last breath. He could no longer see with his eyes, but his mind was filled with images of no shape or texture or design he could possibly understand. He lost sense of his body and feeling, his physical sense blurred, meaningless compared to the storm inside his head.

It took effort to piece together enough power to realize this was a mind meld, but he couldn't believe it could be like this. He started trying to fight it as he felt the edges of his consciousness begin to fade. Soon the only thoughts that were clear were the ones of himself and the rest transporting to this world. The memories of what had happened were forced on him, suffered through, discarded, brought up again for cold comparison, all while a low, nagging dread clouded in the background. He realized Spock was searching his mind for his reason for being here, and in his probing, Spock let a part of himself fade into McCoy's mind.

Disconnected feelings of urgency, of a strange anger, and even a moment or two of triumph skittered across his consciousness, and they were getting stronger. Soon it was hard to tell from whose mind these random feelings and thoughts originated, and McCoy felt little more than a shell to hold memories to be used and discarded.

The severance of this link was more of a ripping, searing sensation than any sort of relief. Vague, wordless thoughts lingered in McCoy's mind even as he felt the other man's presence jerk itself out, and for a while he was too stunned to make any move. He would have slid to the floor had Spock not grabbed his arm and held him up.

Spock gripped McCoy by the back of the head, fingers clawing his scalp, and forced him to face him. McCoy reached for Spock's shirt, shakingly trying to keep himself steady. Waves of relaxing, soothing feelings passed through him, but he could already tell they were fake, so they did little more than paralyze.

"Go back to your crew," Spock said. It was the exact same voice as the one he knew, but with a coldness McCoy had never before heard from the Vulcan. "You don't belong here." He shoved the doctor off him and stayed behind, watching him stumble out the door to the safety of his own captain.

The lingering effects of the forced meld remained in McCoy's mind, as staggering as many screaming voices, but he willed himself to ignore it at least until they were safely back home. He had to be strong enough to remain standing on that transporter pad long without help, or risk having someone left behind accidentally. A fierce longing to be back home gave him that strength, and he almost had the will to look this universe's Spock in the eye when he told his unwanted visitors he was helping them leave.

It took everything he had to remain silent as his captain launched into a speech about morality, which was entirely too long in McCoy's opinion. Although it wasn't quite physical pain, Spock had left him with a maddening agony that would overtake him if he didn't get help soon.

On any other occasion the doctor would grumble about the potential, if rare, dangers of teleportation and maybe even cross his fingers belligerently as he waited to be beamed, but this time, he felt nothing but gratitude when he heard the controls and felt his mind drift into oblivion. Home, sweet home...

He let out a soft sigh as his eyes opened slowly. Already he was feeling worlds better, now that he was back in his own world. Already the air tasted sweeter. As his eyes cleared, he took notice of the ensign at the controls, and the bold, golden insignia pin on his shirt...

McCoy's stomach turned and his lips parted with a fierce gasp. He looked around frantically. Everyone, including himself, were dressed the same way. And to fatally confirm his fears, there was Spock, coming closer to the party at the transporter pads, complete with Imperial pins and finely groomed beard.

"No, no!" he blurted, stepping backwards, eyes fixed on Spock. He looked to the operator desperately, screaming at him, "No, there's a mistake, send me back!" He kept yelling as Spock got closer and the others eyed him, confused. "You didn't be--"

McCoy collapsed against Spock's body before he could finish his desperate plea, with Spock's fingers tight at the base of his neck.

"What was he talking about?" Kirk asked with narrowed eyes. He began to approach Spock, who was lifting McCoy's limp body into his arms as easily as if he were picking up a doll.

Spock emitted a slight grimace as he answered, "Nothing more than the doctor's typical foolishness. You know how irrational he can become after a simple transportation."

"But he said something about a mistake," Kirk pressed, his eyes growing even thinner, even colder. By now the others had drifted out of the transporter room. Even the ensign at the controls had taken off. "Was there a mistake, Spock?"

"If there were, you'd still be at the other universe," Spock answered with ease, although he looked impatient to dispose of the load in his arms. The heaviness of Kirk's expression lessened, so Spock headed down the hall, adding as he left, "Our McCoy has had a taste of a different world, and it would appear he would wish to return. A shame for him that is simply no longer possible." And without further harassment from Kirk or anyone else, Spock took McCoy to Sick Bay, leaving Kirk to spend no more than a half-hearted thought on the matter before directing his mind to the more important issue of reclaiming his ship.

////////

In another universe, another version of the Captain Kirk, Scott, Uhura, and McCoy re-materialized without a hitch. The Leonard McCoy that opened his eyes also felt his stomach lurch and his breath catch in his throat when he noticed the details of his surroundings. For a moment he stood still on the pad, gazing at the others, watching them laugh with each other, watching their obvious relief, and yet unable to feel it for himself.

There had been a mistake, he realized, searching for the Imperial insignia and not finding it. And if that weren't a dead give away, Spock's clean-shaven visage certainly was. He could easily tell that the transportation had worked for the others, but somehow, and for some reason, he was left behind, perhaps with this world's McCoy taking his place. It was fear that kept his mouth shut, however. During his brief stay in this universe, McCoy didn't have the chance to observe these people well enough to be able to predict them.

But as he began to step off the pad, he started to wonder if he should say something, and risk exposing himself as an enemy in their midst. Before he could muster the courage, the Spock of this universe approached him. McCoy drew back slightly, his eyes locked on the other's, but this Spock did not touch him. He didn't even attempt to touch him; he kept his hands behind his back and made no threatening move whatsoever.

"Are you alright, Doctor?" he asked, and McCoy would have been deaf not to hear that trace of concern in his voice.

McCoy stared for a moment, amazed. Soon the others were looking at him too, but not with any trace of malice or suspicion. They looked...concerned. The captain even came up to him and lay a few fingers gently on his arm, just barely touching him, but the look on his face was intensely worried.

"Bones?" he asked, and McCoy felt faint. He had no such nickname where he was from, unless insults could be considered nicknames. He didn't understand the reason for that particular name the captain had for him, but the soft affection in his voice as he said it was more than enough. "Everything alright?"

McCoy broke into a grin. "Yes," he said dreamily, taking them all in. "Yes, it is."