Well, I don't think there is very much to say about this. It's mostly just an introspective piece, exploring how the doctor and the Vulcan started to get past the whole 'abandoned Kirk on an ice planet'. You know- no big thing. Anyways, I hope that you really enjoy it; it'll be in three parts. Thanks for reading!
That Which We Find in Others
A Discovery (In Which Doctor McCoy is a Vulcan. Sometimes. And Spock Tries to Figure Out Why).
It was a source of constant irony for Spock that when called upon to save lives, Doctor Leonard McCoy became the perfect Vulcan.
Well, perfect was, in actuality, an exaggeration, Spock admitted. Doctor McCoy did not try to bury his emotions for all time, nor did he do so in pursuit of pure logic. It could not be denied, however, that a certain emotional distancing that took place, which was shockingly reminiscent of how Vulcans behaved. McCoy became cool, remote, snapping out commands that carried his usual strong vernacular and an even stronger southern burr but completely missed the sense of deeply felt emotion that usually filled his words. It lacked, as a matter of fact, all but the vestiges of emotion; his feelings may have seethed beneath the surface, roiling in the doctor's heart, but his face didn't show anything. He would push everything away to concentrate on his patient, to focus on the being that had just become the center of his world.
Occasionally panic surfaced, if the doctor didn't have the appropriate resources to save the one that needed saving, but even through that his hands would be sure, steady, would never stop moving, never stop working. The panic was strangely…absent, Spock thought, as if it was the panic of someone merely going through the motions, the panic of someone whose care and attention were not completely present.
Spock didn't believe in spells, didn't believe in magic of any sort, but watching Doctor McCoy's transformation from abrasive and overly emotional man to cool and collected doctor seemed almost supernatural to him, and was thus a constant source of fascination. He didn't understand why in a life and death situation Doctor McCoy reneged on all those principals of emotion that he was so fond of lecturing Spock about in order to provide his patient with optimum care, consciously or not. It was a marked difference from his behavior in more mundane circumstances, certainly; if a patient needed to be inoculated to go down to a planet, or have normal test run, he was perfectly capable of being the same legendarily gruff and caustic doctor, wielding a hypospray without care for any minute pain it may cause his patient, especially if the patient had incurred his ire. When breaking truly bad news, or when a patient was bleeding out on an operating table, or when the captain of the Enterprise was coughing up a blue slime that most certainly didn't belong in his lungs, however, his features would take on a reserved cast, something remote and untouchable as he worked to save them.
It was a dichotomy that was endlessly fascinating and endlessly confusing, a facet of the doctor's personality that Spock couldn't understand when viewed in light of all of Doctor McCoy's other interactions. Why only when a person was gravely ill? If he was separating himself from his emotions to become more clear-headed, why did he not always act in this fashion, since he was clearly capable of it? Why make the change at all, considering that he prized his emotions so greatly? Why?
So Spock studied, and learned, and wondered. A touch of guilt lingered deep beneath the surface occasionally, as Spock sometimes watched the transformations with the notion that he was invading the doctor's personal boundaries. He sometimes watched believing that he was viewing something intimate, something powerful, something that perhaps shouldn't be deciphered for fear of what could come of it.
Spock watched anyways.
He watched the blood stain Doctor McCoy's hands, watched his expression settle, watched the realization that someone was depending on him, and solely on him, to survive the coming seconds, minutes, settle into his bones. He would watch that caustic, rude man disappear, and watch the brilliant doctor emerge, watch as he snapped out sharp- but not heated, as they would be normally- commands to achieve what was needed.
He watched Doctor McCoy save lives.
It was at those times that Spock could see the doctor that Starfleet had assigned to the flagship, where the best of the best would take command. Though Doctor McCoy always performed his job efficiently and fully no matter the circumstances, the doctor that had been praised after surgeries that lasted for fourteen hours, the doctor that had been complimented for his innate understanding of xenobiology, the doctor that had complete command of his team was a myth to Spock in the initial stages of their acquaintance. He'd read the files of every member aboard the ship, of course, as it was his duty as First Officer- first to Captain Pike, now to Captain Kirk- to be fully informed, but to him, it had always been the faults- the scathing opinion of his patient interactions, the formal reprimands of his abrasive and nearly cruel words, and the heated emotions that had troubled his superiors that had stood out when Spock had finally met him. He could not, would not forget the words that Doctor McCoy had responded with, when Spock had informed him that he would be fulfilling the role of CMO with his predecessor's death.
"Tell me something I don't know!" the man had exclaimed, that southern accent tracing the words stronger than ever. Spock had thought him flippant, pointlessly sarcastic, and had spent a brief, precious half-second wondering if, after this entire mess was done, he should refuse to uphold Doctor McCoy's field promotion. Perhaps, if that was his response, he wasn't prepared for the responsibility, the pressure of being CMO.
However, after, when the details of the Narada incident had been ironed out, when recommendations were being written and courses of action dissected and paths for the future were being plotted with haste, Spock had been inadvertently exposed to the medical team that had been gathered under Doctor McCoy's wing. It was a meeting, one of the many that followed in the wake of the Narada incident. He'd arrived ten minutes early and expected no one else to be there, but when he'd walked into the conference room, he was startled to find a doctor that Spock did not know being berated by Nurse Chapel, Nurse Jacobson, Doctor Smith and Doctor O'iill for his criticism of Doctor McCoy. They'd stopped, awkwardly, upon his entrance, but the damage had been done. The doctor that Spock didn't know had left without further prompting, and the remaining medical personnel had spent ten minutes attempting and failing to make small talk.
Upon musing over the incident later, Spock found himself rather surprised. He'd expected solidarity, of course. It was to be expected, as it is often the case that people who go through times of great stress often bond, when in other situations their fundamental incompatibility would leave them unable to stand the other's presence. What he had not expected, however, was the downright adoration that every one of McCoy's doctors and nurses treated him with. He was not the eldest of the doctors that had been on the Enterprise, or even the most experienced for all he was a Senior Medical Officer, but he'd managed to set aside his emotions during the various attacks and get the injured as healed as possible, and fought to save lives- and won, mostly- when others on staff had been troubled over the deaths of crewmates, hampered by being forced to operate on dying friends. Whatever his fellow medical personnel had seen those harried few days had, without a doubt, bound them irrevocably under Doctor McCoy's command, and they would suffer no one else as a CMO.
The rather legendary nurse Christine Chapel, as a matter of fact, had threatened to leave Starfleet if she was not posted in the same place as Doctor McCoy, no matter where he was assigned. Though this had made the campus buzz with gossip, the buzzing got even worse when it was discovered that when questioned about his less desirable traits, Nurse Chapel had waved a hand dismissively, saying with obvious pride, "He's just a sweet southern gentleman under all those burs, sir." It left Spock wondering just what he'd missed then. Her appraisal was nothing like the man he'd seen and spoken to on the Enterprise. In the face of such illogic, he'd dismissed her words as nothing more than rampant human emotion, due to the unfortunate circumstances.
Until, of course, he saw the change himself.
It was not long after the Enterprise had returned to Earth. He had been charged with the task of tracking down the doctor, as he was late for a mandatory meeting and he wasn't answering his comm. With Doctor McCoy, it was always a guessing game. He didn't care very much for meetings unless it involved what his future assignment would be and who he would be working with; he'd rather spend his time doing what he could to help Starfleet rebuild. As a result, there were a multitude of places that he could be found at.
He wasn't alone in his thinking, of course. Many of people aboard the Enterprise had chosen not to take advantage of the leave time that they had been given, as they felt it was more important to help Starfleet in the wake of the decimation of the graduating class. Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov, for example, were equally bad at attending meetings, as they too went out of their way to help those around them, filling in for missing instructors or helping repair damage to the campus and thus were often distracted, forgetting the time. Nurse Chapel worked in Starfleet's hospital, helping to take care of the Vulcans they'd managed to save and helping the Vulcan High Council help map the genomes of all living Vulcans to see if the diversity was enough to ensure that there would not be an excess of inbreeding that would be fatal in the long run. Indeed, the entire bridge crew and a majority of the people on the ship were currently working to restore Starfleet in their admittedly limited free time, including Spock himself. On top of this, the majority of the crew, still had to finish their classes in addition to all the extra time that they were putting towards other projects.
Even so, Spock thought with a certain amount of ire that he'd never admit to, though I am as busy as anyone else, I still manage to make my meetings on time. Whenever Doctor McCoy missed a meeting, of course, he said hardly a word of apology, an effort the others at least made. His excuses varied. Sometimes he'd been teaching classes on xenobiology, sometimes he'd been working in the free medical clinic in the city, to help those who had been attacked that day but weren't Starfleet, or sometimes he was offering an ear to those amongst the cadets that suffered from survivor's guilt, amongst other things.
Spock didn't see any of those things as bad; on the contrary, they were all critical to the continuing existence of Starfleet. However, it rankled Spock, a little, that no formal reprimand was given, as there were plenty of others who were equally busy that managed to attend their meetings.
Then again, Spock could begin dancing to bad twentieth century music at the front of his classroom, and Starfleet Command would turn a blind eye; the men and women of the Enterprise were the golden children, the immortal cadets that could do no wrong in the eyes of the public and thus at Starfleet- for now, at least. The media was simply clamoring for an opportunity to interview those men and women on the Enterprise who had saved Earth, and Starfleet was more than willing to use the cadets to make themselves look good, especially in the face of the fact that Vulcan was no more. They needed something positive to offer; given that the formal inquiry- which, to be fair, had lasted a number of weeks and had inspected every nuance of every person's decisions onboard- had shown nothing that couldn't be reasonably brushed under the rug, Starfleet was more than willing to use the heroism to their own advantage to mitigate any PR damage. Even Doctor McCoy's dubious reasons for bringing the then-cadet Kirk onboard in the first place, or Spock's own equally dubious decision to retain command of the Enterprise was considered not to be reasons for formal persecution, though they were quietly assured that if such a thing were happen again, they would find themselves exiled to places that made Delta Vega look tame. Even the more public matter of Cadet Kirk's hearing over the Kobayashi Maru had been spun positively, and his interference was reconsidered to be a sign of the ingenuity that had allowed him to overcome the Narada in the first place. This was an accurate assessment, of course, but Spock felt it set a bad precedent, one that others were sure to take advantage of.
Shaking his head slightly, as though to dislodge his thoughts, Spock had entered Starfleet medical, in hopes that he would find Doctor McCoy there. When Spock finally tracked him down, he had been informed that Doctor McCoy was finishing up a surgery, and wouldn't be out for another hour or two. His emotionless exterior in the face of that pronouncement was enough for the nurse on duty to begin stammering, explaining that the doctor had been called in to help deal with a multi vehicle accident that had occurred when one of the magnetic strips in the city had failed. He had informed her that he would wait, as he suspected the doctor would simply pretend that he didn't get the messages Spock left, as he had done the first two times Spock had been sent on this particular errand. Spock had learned his lesson however, and now whenever he was tasked with tracking down the doctor, he knew to wait in a place there the doctor couldn't avoid him. Finally the nurse invited him to observe, as though hoping that proof would prevent Spock from making a mark on her record. Unwilling to disillusion her with the fact that he would do no such thing, as he was interested in seeing the doctor at work (as well as making sure that he attended the meeting) he had agreed, and then sent a message to Captain Pike to that end.
When the nurse took him to the observation room, he had not been expecting to see a cool collected man through the glass. He was hardly recognizable as Doctor McCoy. This man worked with surety, with calm, with absolute conviction that he knew what he was doing. It had been a shock to finally see what others had seen before him, to understand why Doctor McCoy had been placed as a Senior Medical Officer on the Enterprise despite being only a cadet. Spock knew it was unseemly and un-Vulcan to stare, but he couldn't help it- as it was, he had to concentrate on making sure his jaw didn't drop in surprise. He wondered how he'd missed it, when they'd all been on the Enterprise, but realized that it was a moot point; Spock had been more concerned with his mother's death, with getting the Enterprise back home, and working with Kirk to make sure that everyone and everything was accounted for. Doctor McCoy and medical bay had, as cruel as it sounded, been beneath his concern. He looked back on the time with some regret, now, realizing rather belatedly that Doctor McCoy's work hadn't ever really stopped; while Spock had been working on getting Acting Captain Kirk off the bridge for some sleep, Doctor McCoy had spent nearly thirty consecutive hours in surgery, seventeen of which had been dedicated to Captain Pike alone.
Since that day in the hospital in San Francisco, he'd been exposed to Doctor McCoy's personality shift exactly twenty-nine times in the past year on the Enterprise alone, not including the six times that he himself had been laying on Doctor McCoy's operating table, which Spock could only assume had evoked the same response. The acknowledgement of this aspect of the doctor had opened the door to other nuances as well, such as the little, silent kindnesses that he offered to his patients despite his acerbic exterior- laying a damp cloth against the back of Ensign Chekov's neck when he'd caught Andorian flu and was vomiting steadily for three days, offering to spend time with Kirk after he'd lost a crew member, touching people under his care to bring them comfort, even Spock.
He'd been unnerved and rather unpleasantly startled, the first time that he'd been touched as a patient. It was while the Enterprise was still headed home after the death of Nero, and Spock's mental shields could barely hold against the painful grief and joy and anxiety and fear in the minds of everyone around him, blazing like miniature suns all around him. A direct touch was almost agony for the emotionally battered Spock, and he'd flinched back from the touch. Doctor McCoy had taken it in stride, muttering something unsavory under his breath, involving touch telepaths and hobgoblins and several curses, but had restrained from touching Spock unless absolutely necessary, unwilling to bring a patient true discomfort, even Spock, despite the fact that Spock knew the doctor held little, if any, regard for him outside the medical bay. What brought Spock pain, however, brought his fellow patients no end of comfort; when the doctor had been forced to pick up a few hypos from storage, he'd touched his patients on the way, murmuring a few things under his breath as he did so, making sure that they were all as comfortable as they were going to be. His patients, in turn, had generally responded positively to the touch. Spock had filed away the moment for further examination.
It was because of that moment that he'd asked Jim, once, why Doctor McCoy touched his patients. He'd suspected, of course, but he wanted a confirmation from an actual human. Kirk had thought for a long set of minutes, and it was only the pensive brow that kept Spock from repeating his question. He was rewarded for his patience when Kirk finally said, sounded a little surprised himself, "I guess it's as simple as letting his patient know he's there. For a lot of people, aliens, whatever, medicine can be extremely…" Kirk shrugged his shoulders as he searched for the word. "Invasive, I guess is the best term. A lot of doctors see people at their worst, physically, mentally, emotionally. For Humans, as well as a lot of other races, touching can reassure the patient that the doctor is there, that he or she cares, that they aren't alone in this. It's an unconscious response, I suppose, that's been ingrained into our psyche for a millennia. It's a pretty big deal even outside the medical field, actually. If people don't get enough of the sensation of touch, from hugs and stuff, it's been proven that they can get a little…" Kirk's voice faded, leaving Spock studying his captain in contemplation, "messed up. Unfortunately, not many doctors do it these days; with all the fancy new equipment, a doctor doesn't even have to physically see a patient to diagnose ninety-eight percent of illnesses, so not many doctors bother to touch their patients. But Bones is just a southern gentleman at heart, and whatever bullshit he feeds you, he genuinely means it when he says something is for your own good. He understands the importance of being touched."
As Jim had said, the answer was deceptively simple. Spock had suspected the reason, true, but it was a little different to hear it spoken. The words held a different weight spoken aloud than when they were in his head. They felt heavier, more solid, and wormed their way into Spock's brain, repeating themselves at strange moments, like when he was attempting to meditate.
Captain Kirk's conclusion was reasonable, even. For a race such as humans, who lacked the ability to mentally connect with another, skin to skin contact would be necessary to ensure the other person is aware of your presence, aware of your feelings. This was a direct contrast to touch telepaths, for whom skin to skin contact was akin to having your deepest darkest secrets pulled out of you without your control. It was one of the reasons that as well as being unwilling to physically contact each other, touch telepaths were careful to avoid physical contact with others as well, so as to preserve a sense of privacy and equality for all races.
And yet the doctor showed no true discomfort in touching him in medical bay. His reserve and lack of touch was for Spock's sake and comfort, not his own. Though he had to know that when he touched the other man, he was exposing himself to Spock without getting anything in return, he never seemed truly bothered by it. Indeed, when they did brush skin, the only real feeling that Spock received despite his mental shield was a rather concentrated hum of patient-safe-no pain that buzzed in his bones and spread warmth through his body. Outside medical bay, of course, the story was often different, but inside at least, Spock could know that at all times Doctor McCoy would no more purposefully cause a patient discomfort than he would begin telling everyone of his love for space.
And so the state of affairs had been when a mission had gone terribly wrong.
It seemed, sometimes, that most missions went terribly wrong, through that was a bit of an exaggeration. Truly, most of the missions that the Enterprise had been sent on for its first year as flagship had been resounding successes. Perhaps, then, it was the fact that when things did go wrong, they went so absolutely, spectacularly and catastrophically amiss.
Such was the case now, where Doctor McCoy was racing alongside two gurneys. Captain Kirk was passed out from the pain, the sheer agony of having boiling oil come in contact with his skin having long since crossed even Captain Kirk's pain threshold. Too much of his body was slick with blood from the burns. On top of that, he was having trouble breathing, which amongst other things could mean he was allergic to the oil, for it seemed sometimes that Captain Kirk was allergic to every food and medicine that he came in contact with, no matter what kind of contact it was.
Spock was struggling to stay awake through the pain- which was quickly overwhelming even his tolerance- in order to try and give Doctor McCoy the details he needed of the time that they'd been held hostage, so the doctor could properly assess the damage. He knew that he was probably failing, as he couldn't keep track of his words anymore, yet found himself equally unwilling to slip into blissful unconsciousness, away from the incandescent pain. His rambling was stopped by a voice that he would have sworn was his father's. It reminded him nothing so much as the day he'd lost his mother, and he had spoken of his inability to control his anger, and his father had said, "I believe she would say, 'Do not try to'." It was a voice of stillness, of infinite sadness and infinite kindness buried beneath the Vulcan exterior.
This voice couldn't be Sarek's though, and the only reason Spock knew it couldn't be his voice was because of the southern burr that was so thick it was practically dripping off the words. "I've got you now, Spock. Just relax, I know about Jim. Let go." And there- there it was, that sadness and kindness buried as deep as the speaker could manage so that he sounded calm and collected on the surface and Spock stopped fighting in reflex. Then Spock was gone, falling away from the pain and into a regenerative meditative state in order to optimize healing.
Though Spock was disinclined to believe in luck, both he and Jim were out of the medical bay within ten days, provided they rest in their quarters for another two days and remained on light duty for the following four. Spock found himself not minding, oddly enough, as he was content to spend an unreasonable amount of time attempting to dissect Doctor McCoy's voice and inflection before he'd finally slipped into unconsciousness. He could come to no conclusions; he wasn't even sure what kind of conclusions he was supposed to draw from the experience.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. He had concluded that somehow it had been pleasing to hear the Doctor McCoy's voice, even if it wasn't quantifiable as anything other than what Captain Kirk called a 'gut reaction'. That conclusion wasn't enough, wasn't nearly enough to sum up the interesting conundrum that was Doctor McCoy. He was curious, beyond curious now. Spock was desperate to understand. It was like an irresistible itch, to pry and dig and find out why, now more than ever.
In truth, as much of his confusion was directed at himself as at the doctor; he could no more explain Doctor McCoy's actions than he could explain why his own fascination drove him to discover more. Spock was sure that had he voiced his thoughts and observations to Captain Kirk, the man would simply shake his head and declare that he should, "quit while he was ahead" because sometimes, "Bones was just Bones" and he was a "Human ruled by emotion, by your own description." In Spock's opinion, that sort of answer was not in the least satisfactory, even if it was accurate.
So he returned to his observations, and slowly but surely he found himself coming to the realization that unless he directly asked for an explanation, his observations would yield nothing comprehendible, let alone something concrete that would result in his questions being answered. He simply did not understand the emotional workings behind Doctor McCoy's actions. However, he didn't quite dare ask directly; he'd made inquiries in that direction, asking the doctor about critical situations, asking him about his emotions. All his questions resulted in, despite Spock's best efforts, were acerbic comments, cruel and disparaging remarks and a considerable amount of contempt that made anger flare in Spock's heart. He didn't understand the reason for the rage behind the doctor's comments, and relations between them worsened.
These questions also resulted in Doctor McCoy frequently seeking Captain Kirk out, and beneath his rude comments about Spock's behavior there was a desperation that even Spock could sense. As he had suspected, there was something there, something that made the doctor uncomfortable, something that he didn't wish to speak about. Though the doctor would have everyone believe that Spock was completely insensitive to the emotional needs of those around him, even he could tell that pushing the doctor would do more harm than good.
As a result, he tried his best to put the question out of his mind. It was a trick his mother had taught him. Sometimes, if one set aside a problem that was particularly troubling, the subconscious would work on it, and the next time the problem was revisited without the tension and frustration that was initially associated with the problem. Spock attempted the same thing, studiously ignoring the doctor when he saw him gently sedating Mr. Scott when the Chief Engineer had broken his leg in three places fixing his engines in the middle of a particularly nasty Klingon attack. Spock turned a blind eye to the doctor when he saw him bandaging Lieutenant Sulu's hand after the man heard that his mother had died. Spock paid no attention when Yeoman Rand came into the medical bay frazzled to the point of tears about her inability to get Captain Kirk to do his paperwork and Doctor McCoy kindly gave her some tips.
Then they were assigned to visit Isa Epsilon IV, an ice planet whose native people were interested in joining the Federation. One of the conditions to their signing the treaty was that the infamous Captain James T Kirk attend the signing ceremony; apparently, it was the Captain's deeds in the face of overwhelming danger and odds that had finally impressed them enough that they were willing to join the Federation. As the Federation had its eyes on the planet's dilithium supply, they were more than willing to force the Enterprise into attendance in the interest of getting the treaty signed before the I'Iaooii changed their minds.
As reluctant as Spock felt about admitting that he still felt guilt for the marooning of the captain on Delta Vega, he found himself willing to admit to his guilt over the decision ten times over if it would only stop Captain Kirk from complaining in his every free instant how much he hated ice planets, focusing his irritation mostly on where he'd managed to get snow during the course of his journey and about the monsters he encountered along the way. From Kirk's sly glances when he thought Spock wasn't looking, he was doing it on purpose in order to rile his First Officer, as he was wont to do. That didn't help Spock keep his irritation down, and finally he resorted to raising an irritated brow and directing a sharp comment at the captain, which didn't perturb the man in the least.
"Wait until you've got snow up your-" his eyes flickered briefly to Nyota who had raised an eyebrow of her own, daring him to finish the comment the way everyone on the bridge knew he wanted to. He considered the level of death that was contained in the look, and finished, "shirt, and then you tell me how happy you would be returning to a planet that possesses an extremely similar climate."
Spock couldn't help his rejoinder, "Considering that the average Vulcan is comfortable at a temperature exactly seventeen point two degrees higher than is maintained throughout the ship, being out in the snow and the cold will not make as great an impression as you may think, Captain. No matter where that snow may be found." That was not completely a lie, Spock rationalized, as he was of the opinion that cold was cold- it simply varied in intensity. That being said, San Francisco winters were the coldest Spock had ever experienced, and Delta Vega had an average temperature approximately one hundred degrees Kelvin cooler than San Francisco.
Captain Kirk simply stared at Spock for a moment before smiling widely. "Is that so," he mused without making the phrase seem as though it was anything but a rhetorical statement, while also giving the impression that he knew what Spock had been thinking. Spock wasn't quite sure how to interpret his conclusions, but had a feeling that it wouldn't bode well for the future. Though Spock had the urge to put a stop to whatever it was that Kirk was thinking before it blew up the Enterprise by accident, it was 19:00, and Nyota was indicating that a call was coming through for the Captain.
It was Admiral Pike, who greeted everyone on the bridge by name and with a wide, genuine smile. As illogical as the thought was, considering that Spock already had a father, he couldn't help but agree with Jim's assessment that Admiral Pike was like a universal father to the entire crew. They all wanted to do him proud, Jim perhaps most of all. As illogical as it was, Jim wasn't entirely wrong; Spock was as beholden as the rest of the crew to him, for Admiral Pike- then Captain Pike- had shown Spock genuine kindness when few others bothered to so much as approach him, let alone speak with him. He had been something of a saving grace those first few months, when Spock found himself inexplicably lonely, despite his Vulcan heritage.
They moved to business rather quickly; Admiral Pike gave them more details on the ceremony itself, supplementing the brief that Starfleet Command had already sent over. It sounded like a fairly typical ceremony; Spock, Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Ensign Giotto, Ensign Jacobson and Lieutenant Hari'chk'chk'cli would be attending a grand meal for all the parties involved, and then Captain Kirk would sign the treaty in his capacity as a Starfleet Captain. After three days of celebration culminating in a performance of how Io, their local hero, had managed to unite the I'Iaooii tribes, they would ferry I'Iaooii Gretch back to Earth, where she could begin her Ambassadorial duties. Finally, after exchanging a few more pleasantries, Admiral Pike signed off with the words, "We'll see each other on Earth in a couple of weeks. Try not to blow up anything irreparable before then!"
Before Jim could speak, Admiral Pike had signed off. After another couple of minutes of Jim grumbling under his breath about smartass admirals who always had to have the last word, the landing party actually began the arduous process of getting ready to land on the Isa Epsilon IV homeworld. It involved vaccinations, paperwork, and copious amounts of time going over reports over the cultural taboos, amongst other things.
They were to beam down just outside the main government facility, an enormous building named the Iai Alooi, which roughly translated into Federation Standard as "The Future Star". The building was the center in which all formal documents were signed, from marriage certificates to laws to treaties. It was made of some sort of shimmering purple stone, brilliant against the surrounding snow, both as the highest building on the planet and the only one in the area. The Iai Alooi was five miles north of their biggest city, Siaoo, the hub of both their government and trading. It was also revered as being the first building that Io had constructed, a miraculous feat, considering the tools and knowledge they'd had at the time.
As per I'Iaooii custom, they would beam down a few yards from the main entrance so that they might participate in the entering ceremony that all beings were invited to take part of. Of course, they were also beaming down a few yards from the main entrance because one couldn't beam into the building, due to some sort of electrostatic interference that had Mr. Scott swearing in particularly vibrulent fashion.
Being such a cold planet, one of the signs of I'Iaooii hospitality was heat, and as such, the Iai Alooi had been built over a natural hot spring, which every guest was invited to bathe in before any ceremony performed. In the baths, disputes were set aside, grudges relaxed, arguments suspended and anger disposed of, while they all partook of the baths and cleaning each other, that they might look forward to the future cleansed of bad feelings and intentions.
They had been, of course, willing to accept that the beings coming to them had different standards of modesty, and had agreed to let them keep as many layers as they felt appropriate on in the baths, so long as they upheld the I'Iaooii traditions, such as washing the backs of those who requested it and being amiable to all creatures present regardless of origin, amongst other things. After everyone had partaken of the baths, that evening the signing of the treaty would actually commence, complete with speeches and gifts. Finally, a banquet would last until late in the night, followed by three days celebration of the treaty and the new, official partnership, which Jim Kirk had a place of honor in. The I'Iaooii were a people once fraught with clan wars and petty disagreements, and had been unified under their hero, Io, who had saved from complete destruction when a planet-wide snowstorm threatened to wipe their entire civilization out. As a result, they wanted to honor the captain, who they felt had acted out of a similar courage and love for others. Thus, he had been invited to act as Io in the annual retelling of the story.
Spock shared a rare moment of exasperation over the captain's head with Doctor McCoy, each of them irritated with the man's nearly constant crowing over the fact that he was going to be acting as the local hero, as well as being lauded as a hero of the Federation; they'd both heard more than a few mentions of sex in conjunction with the comments, and neither of them were particularly interested in hearing about Jim's exploits.
Despite all the commotion, however, everyone on the landing party was prepared for the day when they actually beamed down.
Things went almost shockingly smoothly. The bathing before the ceremony was somewhat awkward, but nothing excessive; the landing party had generally agreed that they wished to cover up their genitals as their individual modesty dictated and did so, though it was odd for them to see their fellow crewman in so little clothing. Captain Kirk, of course, had no problem running around stark naked, exchanging stories with the I'Iaooii, who had became even more delighted with the man the longer that they had his acquaintance. Jim, for his part, seemed equally taken by the generally cheerful and positive natives, and was not in the least bothered by their different physiologies. The I'Iaooii were mostly hairy humanoids, their thicker body fat helping ensure that they survived their planet's cold, and androgynous bodies, at least to the Enterprise's crew's eyes. Kirk seemed to delight in washing the backs of those who asked, and having his back washed in return (once, of course, Doctor McCoy had ensured that the soaps they used would not react poorly with the man's infamously terrible immune system). Spock, of course, as a member of the Vulcan species who had helped deliver vengeance upon the man who had wiped out Spock's home world, was also admired, as was Doctor McCoy as a healer.
While Captain Kirk claimed the majority of the room's attention, Spock took a few moments to enjoy the simple luxury of the heated water against his skin. Even the occasional water shower that he indulged in didn't have water hot enough to feel pleasantly scalding against his skin, but the hot spring here was close. "Hot enough for you, you green blooded hobgoblin?" said a voice from behind Spock. As there was only one person on the Enterprise who dared to address Spock in that manner, there was no need to turn around to check and see who was speaking. The voice, normally filled with such ire when forced to speak with Spock, was considerably less heated than normal, presumably in keeping with their hosts' request to set aside anger and grudges and replace them with kindness.
"Quite so," Spock managed to respond in a neutral voice, keeping his surprise from his voice and face. The doctor had made it abundantly clear during previous encounters that unless Spock was ill or bleeding copiously, he should stay out of Doctor McCoy's path. While it seemed that Jim had managed to forgive him for his transgressions, Spock had returned the forgiveness, and a tentative friendship was in the process of forming, the doctor was what he'd heard Nurse Chapel refer to as a 'Momma Bear' who was 'not in the least interested in forgiving anyone or anything that had hurt his cubs'. Gender confusion aside, Spock agreed that Nurse Chapel had a point. Unlike Captain Kirk, who had been willing to admit that they had both made large mistakes during the course of their brief acquaintance, and had asked that they set aside their difference in the interest of running the Enterprise well, Doctor McCoy was dead set on heaping all the blame on Spock's side of the equation, despite Jim's frequent protests that he and Spock had moved past it. Spock's inquiries during the first months of their time on the Enterprise certainly hadn't helped.
Spock, of course, hadn't exactly pushed the matter, as the dislike that Doctor McCoy had for him was most assuredly mutual; Jim, at least, was highly intelligent and though full of emotion, he was uniquely capable of blending logic and emotion into a practical tool that made him one of the best captains under whom Spock had been stationed in his entire life. By virtue of intuition and logic, he knew when to press for answers, when to take a step back, knowing, almost before Spock did, what was and was not alright in this stage in their friendship. If he was considerably more inclined to touch that Spock was strictly comfortable with, well, it was hardly the worst of oversights, and he was gradually growing more accustomed to the physical show of camaraderie then he could have imagined. Indeed, where once he could not have imagined the great friendship that his elder counterpart had waxed so eloquently on, now it seemed more like the light at the end of the tunnel, almost shockingly comfortable considering their starting point.
In comparison, though Doctor McCoy was equally intelligent, he preferred to let his emotions rule. He was always pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to make Spock something he wasn't, constantly demanding that he be more human, as if that were the only side of Spock that mattered. It rankled Spock terribly, and Jim's attempts to reconcile the pair had been met with absolute disaster on all sides, though it could be argued that both Spock and Doctor McCoy were equally to blame for the shouting matches that so often ensued. If it weren't for those flashes of absolute calm that Spock himself had seen, Spock would have done all he could to prevent his association with the doctor in any capacity.
While he mused on his thoughts, the doctor grunted a little, and then dropped into the bath beside Spock, closing his eyes as he sank into the heat. Spock wasn't sure what to make of their close proximity. From their earlier encounters, he would have expected the doctor to make his way to the other side of the large bath and stay there, so his interactions with the half-Vulcan would be as limited as possible. As he watched the doctor settle beside him, finding what position made him most comfortable, Spock couldn't help raising his eyebrows. "The temperature is not too high for you?" he asked, in some surprise. Ensign Jacobson had attempted to sink into one of the pools earlier, and she'd yelped from the heat. Neither her fellow ensign nor the lieutenant had been able to stand it; neither had Captain Kirk, for that matter, and as a result, they were mostly partaking of the water that had been set aside for the occasion, which was considerably cooler. Spock had slipped into the water early on and sequestered himself in a corner so as to avoid an excessive number of requests to wash backs; his touch telepathy picked up every nuance of emotion from the I'Iaooii due to the bare skin to bare skin contact, and it had been wearing down his shields, but he had not thought it wise to refuse their advances in the interest of continuing relations.
Doctor McCoy had seemed equally uncomfortable with the process of washing their hosts' backs, for his own personal reasons, Spock was sure, but unlike his compatriots, who found the water far too hot for their physiology, the southern doctor seemed comfortable. Comfortable enough, it seemed, to sit beside Spock in congenial silence despite his earlier, mild insult and their past history of rancor.
He sat in the bath for a long enough period of time that Spock felt curious as to why Doctor McCoy wasn't overheating as a result, and said as much. Their hosts made inquiring sounds of their own, indicating their own interest. Spock found their inquiry pleasing to listen to; though their universal translator translated the sound to "Yes, we too are interested," the fluting, pure sound of their inquiry was not unlike that of his Vulcan lyre's highest note, and the noise rang throughout the room.
"Yeah, Bones," Jim added congenially, looking curious himself as he and the other crew members came to join them at the edge of the pool. Within moments, most of the room was paying attention to Doctor McCoy. Spock studied the doctor, wondering if the doctor's red flush was more a result of the heat of the hot springs or the attention that was being directed towards him.
"Nothing much to tell," Doctor McCoy said gruffly, but in a tone that was loud enough to carry to everyone in the large room. He stared at the ceiling as though he was gazing at something else entirely, and his southern accent thickened as he said, "After the Eugenics wars, when Atlanta was bombed, a natural hot spring formed towards the edges of the city, though no one knows why, considering that there's not exactly a whole lot of tectonic activity in Georgia. It's pretty famous, since it's the largest in the world. Anyways, me and my family went most years to the hot spring for vacation. You get used to the heat eventually. My dad-" here he blinked twice, rapidly, and Spock wondered if he had something in his eye, "My dad used to swear by the hot springs. He always said a little heat in the bones to melt away tension and worry was as good as anything medicine could do."
The I'Iaooii made an approving sound, a trilling noise. "That sounds like a saying we have here," said I'Iaooii Vera in a warm voice after a few seconds of silence. "Heat is good for the health and for the wealth. May it settle in your bones through all things, and warm your heart when there is ice."
Doctor McCoy loosed a quick half-grin at the amiable people around him, and agreed with a short, quick nod. After soaking for a few moments, the southern doctor groaned a little, and stood, sending little waves lapping across the pool. "Alright, that's enough heat even for my old bones," he said with a second groan.
"Don't be pulling that 'old' crap with us, Bones," Jim shouted from across the room, a laugh riding his words. "You're what, thirty-three?" Jim looked considering for a moment and then said, "Nope, you're right. You're ancient, Bones."
Bones scowled. "I seem to recall that a certain starship captain is only three years from seeing the other side of thirty himself."
"La la la la!" Jim called back. "I can't hear you."
Spock listened attentively, to see if the conversation raised any alarms, but clearly the I'Iaooii could sense the good humor that was undercurrent to the words; they seemed to have realized that the captain and doctor's words were lighthearted far faster than Spock had, in the beginning, and they all gave the chittering, low noise that was their laugh, which set off Jim, who laughed brightly.
Doctor McCoy grumbled a little more about hot-shot Starship Captains, and then wandered off to get ready for the ceremony, as did Captain Kirk and a majority of the I'Iaooii. Spock lingered for a few moments more in the blessed heat, reveling in the feeling of being warm from the inside out, something he so rarely had the pleasure of.
When they finally assembled, the ceremony went through without a hitch. The speeches were appropriately optimistic, the gifts were received well on both ends, the treaty signed, all without a single explosion, attempted assassination or general mayhem. If it weren't for the fact that Spock was not given to exaggeration, he might have said that he was about ready to die from the shock.
Indeed, it was a sentiment shared by the rest of the landing party; they were tense, at first, waiting for the other shoe to drop. However, as the evening wore on and nothing disastrous happened, even the sardonic Doctor McCoy seemed to relax. It was then that Spock truly began waiting for a disruption, but when the evening passed without intergalactic disaster, and the following two days were equally calm, Spock found himself relaxing by slow degrees. Of course, to anyone else, it simply seemed as though he had a bamboo rod in his back instead of a titanium-plated steel one.
Even so minute a change, however, had been noticed; Jim commented on Spock's slight relaxation often and at high volume, though the rest of the crew looked at him as though he'd lost his mind, as they could detect no softening in the cool Vulcan exterior.
Doctor McCoy agreed with his crewmate's sentiments, but Spock caught the doctor eyeing him in a considering manner. Though his skin prickled under the doctor's gaze, a small part of Spock hoped that this might be a turning point; they had managed to get through the last few days with remarkably little anger, and even Jim had noticed the drop in tension between them. Jim's wistful smile and declaration that, "It would be nice if this lasts," was enough that Spock held his peace, and believed that this could be continued in the future. His burgeoning friendship with Jim was important enough to him now that he wished to be able to spend extended periods of time with Jim's oldest and dearest friend without having to suppress the urge to re-enact the day that Vulcan was sucked into the singularity and strangle the good doctor.
When he'd communicated the way things were going last night to Nyota in a private communication, she had smiled beatifically and said simply, "That's good. If you three can learn to trust each other and work together, we'll be ready for anything. Between the three of you, we've got logic and intelligence, conscience and compassion, and intuition and pragmatism. And if you tell anyone I complimented Kirk, I will gladly spread your entrails across the bridge." Threat aside, Spock couldn't help but agree with her; they were a balanced command team in ways that most other ships weren't, even if the members of the Enterprise command team didn't always mesh on a personal level.
When Spock asked for Nyota's advice on how to continue the neutrality, she had paused, considering the question carefully. Spock felt a rush of affection for her, for this brilliant and compassionate woman; she reminded him, in a strange way, of Jim. They carried that same fiercely intelligence air, but both personalities were tempered by empathy and an innate understanding of others. In them, he could see the direction that he wanted to grow- balancing emotion and logic carefully.
Not that he'd ever admit it to the captain, of course.
Said captain was, at the moment, a little too preoccupied with his upcoming performance to be worried about how his CMO and First Officer were treating each other. Instead, he worried them with his own concerns, biting his lip anxiously as he said in an unusually anxious tone, "I'll do alright, right?"
"Wrong, Jim. You're going to fail and probably blow us all up at the same time." When Jim looked at Doctor McCoy, stricken, the man rolled his eyes and huffed out a breath. "Dammit Jim, I'm a Doctor, not a damn cheering charm. Of course you'll do fine! Perhaps you missed all the fawning adoration that was being piled on you the last couple of days, but I sure as hell didn't. Short of mocking their hero, I don't think there's anything that you could do to piss them off. Though heaven knows what you did to deserve it, you've got charm," Doctor McCoy finished gruffly, looking away.
Jim's smile blossomed, color coming back to his pale cheeks, and he turned to Spock. "Don't you have anything to say?" He asked, and the smile turned to an impish grin.
"I believe you are, as the saying goes, 'fishing for a compliment'."
At Jim's wounded face, Doctor McCoy burst out laughing, a hearty sound. "He's got your number," the doctor said through a grin as bright as Jim's had been just a second ago. He eyed the half-Vulcan for a moment. "And if I didn't know better, I would have said that was a joke," he said in a quieter voice, the smile still playing around his mouth.
With that peculiar pronouncement, he dragged Jim out to get ready, leaving Spock to stare off after him, feeling even more perplexed than he usually was in the doctor's presence.
The three joined each other and the other members of their party two hours later for the journey back to Iai Alooi from their residence in Siaoo, for another ritual bath and then getting ready for the evening's activities, which involved copious body paint and fur for Jim, and a pleasant meal for the rest of them in celebration. Jim groaned a little, but after a quick promise to bring him something to eat, he trotted off easily enough with the members of the I'Iaooii that were to be helping him.
Doctor McCoy and Spock, being the senior most members of the party besides Jim, were invited to bring out the final course of the meal, a large towering, wobbling concoction that Doctor McCoy said reminded him nothing so much as blue jello. He was in the middle of attempting to describe exactly what jello was, why it mattered that it was blue, and why anyone would voluntarily ingest hydrogenated collagen from animals when all hell broke loose.
When the building first started shuddering, Spock believed it to be an attack, and despaired at the overconfidence that had encouraged him to leave his phaser in the quarters that that had been assigned, as he had considered his natural strength an equal to that of the I'Iaooii, and had no reason to expect danger from their hosts. After that instant passed, and the shaking only increased, Spock realized what must be happening. Doctor McCoy and Spock shared a brief glance; McCoy had spent three years in San Francisco and Spock had spent over decade with San Francisco as his area of residence. They recognized the rumbling feel of an earthquake. Immediately, they moved away from the enormous cart that held the final course, standing together in one corner of the room. The two I'Iaooii, who had introduced themselves as I'Iaooii Isa and I'Iaooii Bran hurried to the other corner, their movements stilted as if they had not done this sort of thing before. Two rooms over, Spock could hear cries of dismay as pans and pots rattled ominously in the kitchen. Something enormous smashed, and the cries grew louder and more panicked. There were screams from the banquet hall too, cries of pain and worry as the entire building shuddered, stone grinding out a warning.
It wasn't warning enough, however. What happened next reminded Spock of nothing so much as Vulcan's earth, Vulcan's sky collapsing in on itself in one long, continuous sound. The building shuddered, tilted dramatically, and somehow the room was falling under Spock's feet, the cries of the I'Iaooii ringing in his ears, and Doctor McCoy's perversely loud gasp that Spock knew was in actuality a sound that could barely be heard.
And then there was darkness.