And now here is the final installment of That Which We Find in Others. I really hope that you enjoy it! Thank you, all you reviewers, and thank you those who have taken the time to read my story!
That Which We Find in Others
A Conclusions (In Which Spock Discovers More than He had Hoped, and Helps the Doctor Understand).
A shot of adrenaline had Spock jolting into action, forcing his heavy limbs to support him so he could shake the shoulder of the too wan, too injured man before him. "Doctor McCoy!" Spock exclaimed sharply as he shook the man's shoulder again. It jostled the doctor's broken arm and the doctor jolted forward with a cry of agony.
Spock froze as the doctor let out a series of pained grunts, his free hand clutching the upper arm of his broken one. A few tears leaked out as the doctor shuddered. "I'm sorry," Spock said instantly, remorse welling in his chest. "I did not intend to cause you pain, but I have done so anyways."
"S'fine," Doctor McCoy grunted. "S'fine. Just…careful. Be…careful."
Spock instinctively smoothed Doctor McCoy's hair back, as his mother had done so often for him. The doctor leaned into what was, for him, a pleasantly warm touch in comparison to his own clammy skin. Spock, his shields damaged from the cold and his own aches and bone-deep pains, was overwhelmed by a deluge of pain, fear, thankfulness that someone was here, gratefulness for Spock's touch, worry, and a soul-deep agony that this was the end, that it would stop here when there was so much more to do, to see, to discover.
Spock jerked away as though bitten, but Doctor McCoy's only movement was those dark eyes sliding open, focusing slowly on Spock. Good, then he remains cognizant, Spock thought, but the thought was offhand, barely recognized before it was dismissed the minute that the doctor began speaking.
"You'll…you'll havta watch ova Jimmy…" Doctor McCoy mumbled. "Fool boy…after his da, wants…indestructible. You gotta promise. Ain't…none that can do…what I did, butcha gotta…try. Tell him…sorry, love him. Tell Jo that…she'll always…she'll always…my baby girl. Think…about her all the time. Miss her. Love her. Sorry…I won't be there…Joss never let me…tell her…make sure she's safe. Promise, Spock. Both of them. They're family." Spock stared at Doctor McCoy as the man cried, silent tears dripping down his face. Spock would have said something, wanted to say something, to say that there was nothing to worry, that they would be rescued, but he couldn't lie, not here, not now.
"Doctor," he urged, hands coming up to touch Doctor McCoy, sending waves of reassurance through his touch as if he were a touch-telepath that could utilize such things. "Doctor, if I listen to you, you have to do something for me."
Doctor McCoy was still staring at him, but though the gaze was focused on Spock, Doctor McCoy's attention was entirely inward. "What?" he mumbled.
"A question, Doctor McCoy."
"Okay. But…but tell Nyota, Sulu…Chekov…Christine, M'Benga…I'll miss them. Sorry…I like them, even…if…even if…" Doctor McCoy took a deep breath that hitched as his ribs protested, "even if it didn't…seem like it. Good kids. They're…good kids. All of 'em…even if they're…not kids. Brave. Good people. Wish I knew…more like 'em."
Something in Spock rejected the words, tried desperately not to hear them, because Doctor McCoy was simply not allowed to die on his watch, not if he didn't want the strange mixed-up group of people who Spock looked upon with more emotion than he dared to admit even to himself to be irreparably damaged by the loss. So instead he said stridently, "Doctor, I will convey your messages in the event of your death," because he could do no less for this man than acknowledge that he was dying, but he did not stop there. "However, I feel it may be more prudent for you to share such conclusions on your own time, as I feel I am not suited to the task of conveying your emotions."
Doctor McCoy stared at him for a moment, then let out a little huff of air. "I s'ppose not…I think you'd do 'lright, though. No…no worse than…I'd do."
Spock took a deep breath, inexplicably warmed by the compliment, odd as it was, but there was no time to dwell on that. Spock knew that at best, the doctor had another half hour of consciousness, followed by another three or four hours, at most, before he bled out and died, long before the cold or dehydration could kill him. If Doctor McCoy was truly to die here, Spock could not let him pass on with questions still unanswered. That old obsession that Spock had been nursing off and on for one year, seven months and fifteen days flared again, and Spock was almost choked with the desire to understand the man dying in front of him.
"Doctor McCoy…" Spock began, and then paused, unsure as to where to begin, because his thoughts were swirling about, in a half-formed chaotic manner that would have made Jim grin and his father raise an eyebrow. Without conscious thought, the words just flowed out of him. He spoke about the first time he'd noticed the change, about when the doctor made that change. He spoke about how he didn't understand it, how he wanted to, because more than understanding the mechanism of the change, he wanted to understand Doctor McCoy, the man who Jim Kirk would die for- the man who was as much a father as doctor to so many on board. Spock didn't quite say that they could be friends, that the possibility existed precisely because they were so opposite, and he could never admit that when they argued the finer point of logic and emotion, Spock found the conversation intellectually stimulating and well-argued. Spock hoped that the doctor would pick up on everything he wasn't saying, however, even in his state.
He had to.
And when Spock had talked himself out, when the deluge of words slowed and stopped, he wasn't expecting the anger blazing in Doctor McCoy's eyes, fever bright in his face. Spock didn't understand where he'd gone wrong, but even he could read the finer points of human emotion after having spent so much time with them, both in San Francisco and on the Enterprise. "Doctor McCoy?" he said as evenly as he could manage.
"You damn fool," Doctor McCoy snarled- or rather, would have snarled, had he had the energy to properly express his ire. Even so, for the first time in several hours, Spock could see the true Doctor McCoy peeking out of the wan and exhausted shell that his injuries had forced him into. "You asshole. You'd really be so cruel as to bring up my greatest failing now, when I'm dying? You're like a dog with a bone about this- you can't just leave well enough alone!"
Spock didn't understand, and said as much.
"Of course you don't understand, you green-blooded hobgoblin. How could you, of all people, understand why-" Doctor McCoy cut himself off, glancing away from Spock.
"Why what?" Spock asked quietly. They were speaking from the top of an emotional precipice, Spock could tell, and his next words were carefully chosen to throw them off.
"Explain it to me, Doctor McCoy. If you do not, how can I be expected to understand?"
Spock could almost taste when the air changed between them, but Doctor McCoy nevertheless insisted on putting up a fight. "Because it's not logical," the doctor shot back, as furious as his injuries permitted him to be. "Because it's full of emotion, and personal connections. You know, the little things about life that Vulcans like to ignore as if they don't exist. Your people won't change, won't grow-"
Spock just stared at the doctor, silent in face of the barrage of insults and more upset by the words than he was willing to admit. Doctor McCoy seemed to falter in the face of Spock's steadiness, and he looked away first, muttering something under his breath that only vaguely resembled, "Sorry."
"Tell me," Spock whispered into the space between them, and it was truly a request, not a command.
Doctor McCoy sagged, all the fight leeching from him. "I…have to." He defended himself. He tried to muster anger as a defense, but mostly, Spock thought he looked sad, and old. Older than even the doctor had any right to be.
"Why?" Spock pressed.
Doctor McCoy thought for a long moment, and then said, pausing frequently to gather the strength to forge onward, struggling to concentrate and make himself understood. "In medical school, they tell you that you can't be too involved with your cases. Some people are there for the money, for the prestige- others are there because they are bleeding hearts, wanting to solve everyone's problem with a hug and a kiss and the magical power of love." The look that crossed Doctor McCoy's face was equal parts sardonic and dark, bitterness welling at the edges. "Those are mostly the people that drop out, when they realize that people who are aren't quite the way they imagined them in their heads. But no matter what your reasons are for going to medical school, you're expected to handle all the cases with the same amount of professional distance, so you don't get emotionally compromised."
Spock nodded his head- he could see where the teachers were coming from. As in other jobs where lives were at stake, being emotionally compromised could result in faulty decision making, which could have far greater ramifications. It would be no more reasonable to allow a captain of a starship have a personal vendetta against the Orion Syndicate to negotiate with them than it would be to allow a doctor whose child was on the operating table to perform the procedure.
"If you are compromised by the case, you are expected to do your duty and say so, and hand the case off to a doctor who has more…distance. It's not easy, I know." Doctor McCoy met Spock's eyes steadily, and it went silent and unacknowledged between them that Spock had failed in being able to see when he himself had been compromised. However, from Doctor McCoy's words, Spock knew that Doctor McCoy had once been in a situation very like his own, and made the same critical mistake, perhaps. Spock didn't quite dare ask, not when Doctor McCoy was finally answering his long-considered question.
"And that's all well and good- in theory. But medical school doesn't teach you about the reality of being a doctor any more than Starfleet does. There's no such thing as being completely uncompromised from the situation at hand. Believe me, even when you think you're not, you are, in the smallest of ways, and it takes you over by the smallest of degrees. So when they tell you that doctors should be emotionally removed from their cases, it's nothing but a pile of bullshit. On Earth, though, you can at least pretend. Maybe you don't know the kid in the emergency room who's vomiting blood, or maybe you only know that girl as the whore who comes in for her monthly shots. But other times, it's a neighbor, or your friend's brother, or your…father." Doctor McCoy faltered, weeping slowly again.
He drew in a ragged breath and continued, "And if you think it's bad in a city where there are a couple hundred thousand residents, where you might know three patients that you see all week, it's nearly indescribable to deal with it on a starship. We've got what, about five hundred people on the Enterprise? Sure, I don't know the name of everyone's childhood crush, but I know their name. I know where they're from. I know their likes and dislikes, what they're afraid of and why they're on the Enterprise. On a vessel even as large as the Enterprise, there's no such thing as an 'uncompromised' case. Just the other day, I set Ensign Iva's broken arm. I know the names of her parents, and how they send her weekly messages to make sure she's alright in space. I know the last…the last…" Doctor McCoy swallowed, hard, and the next words were barely audible and full of agonized defeat, "The last person to die on my table was in that Klingon attack, Yeoman Danners. He liked animals, and was constantly after the captain to let him take his dog on the Enterprise. He told me about the sweetheart he had back home, and how if they made it through the Enterprise's five year mission and stayed together, they could get through anything. I met his parents once, when we were on Starbase 41, and they had been in the Rigellan system for a vacation."
Spock was silent in the face of the admission. He'd never thought about it, not like that. It seemed a tragic and unforgivable oversight in retrospect. Spock opened his mouth to say something to the doctor and then shut it again.
There was nothing to say.
But the doctor was not yet finished speaking. "So I do what I can to save the people that I know on this ship, because I don't have a choice. I can't hand these people off to another doctor- it's not exactly like the other doctors onboard are any more emotionally distant. But I can't…" Doctor McCoy shook his head, and avoided Spock's gaze. "I can't do it, not always. When someone is dying, I could be a good doctor and comfort my patient. I could tell him all the pretty lies that doctors are supposed to say. I could be human for them. But if I did that, every time someone died because I wasn't fast enough, smart enough…I'd die too. I've been human for a dying man once- and it nearly destroyed me and everyone around me in the fallout. So I protect myself, and I stop being human for a little while so I don't get caught up in my own doubts and fears and worry and kill my patient. But the price I pay comes out of my patient's pocket- I can't even offer them sorrow as they are dying. And that, Spock, is why I am ashamed by it, because in that moment when being human matters most, I can't do it."
Spock was silent for a long time, as was Doctor McCoy. Even the tears that slipped out, slow and steady, weren't accompanied by even a hint of sound.
Spock had no idea how to respond. Though he was not touching Doctor McCoy, the emotions that had risen off the man as he spoke were strong enough to be tangible, and they crawled over his skin even now.
Finally, Spock spoke slowly, carefully choosing his words in hopes of properly expressing what he was thinking. "Doctor McCoy…I have an appreciation for your plight. I, too, find that it is not possible to make all decisions logically, though I might wish too. However, I also think that you are harder on yourself than others would be. I…if I were to die, if you were unable to save me, I would prefer that you be able to save others than hurt yourself dwelling on my death. I feel that any of the bridge crew would tell you the same. We would be…honored to know that you would miss us when we were gone, but someone who would desire that the end of your world would come with theirs…" Spock shook his head minutely, unsure how much the doctor was understanding of his explanation, then said, "There is a saying in Vulcan. 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one'. If to save people, you need to close off your emotions to save them…I believe I would rather have a cold doctor who saved my life than a doctor that comforted me as I died. Furthermore, I do not think that there are very few people on the Enterprise who would call you anything but…warm."
Doctor McCoy met his gaze with a shocked look, looking as though he wasn't sure that what he was hearing wasn't simply a strange hallucination brought on by the blood loss. "Really?"
"I…have observed that despite your acerbic exterior, you are…surprisingly kind. You offers considerate gestures to those under your care only when they cannot thank you for it; if they do manage to figure it out, you attempt to prevent their thanks with a crude remark. It is, however, hard to ignore that you nevertheless do these things for others without expecting reciprocation," Spock admitted, feeling as though the words were woefully inadequate.
Doctor McCoy blinked, and then said in a wondering tone, as if he didn't know what else to say, "I think the fact that you've observed me at work and drawn a positive conclusion against all odds is either the creepiest or sweetest thing anyone has said to me in a long time."
Spock could formulate no response. Neither was sure how to broach the topic and bring the conversation to it's inevitable conclusion. The longer the silence lasted between them, the harder it was to muster the will to speak at all, and thus the closer Spock was to simply falling asleep. He noticed distantly that while they'd been talking, the fact that Spock could no longer feel a large majority of his limbs had slipped by, as had the fact that Doctor McCoy had absolutely no color in his face. Both of them had stopped shivering, something Spock knew distantly wasn't a good thing. Spock stared at Doctor McCoy's face, noting that now that the man had stopped talking, the anger and shame he'd held onto so closely was fading away, smoothing his face and making him look years younger. He might have mumbled something, something about thanks, but the words were just out of Spock's grasp. He waited for a moment or two, trying to muster the energy to speak again but he found that now that there was silence, it felt so easy just to close his eyes, relax the tension in his body.
He tried to remember, he really did, he knew that he should continue talking…something about an injury.
But Spock had held on as long as he could, making Doctor McCoy speak with him. And now…
Now, well, the cold was just making it slip away.
When Spock awoke fully, he stared at the ceiling of the medical bay for several long moments, cataloguing his last memories and feeling briefly embarrassed about the fact that at the end, as soon as he'd convinced Doctor McCoy to reveal his feelings he'd fallen asleep, as though hearing the words had released the last hold keeping him awake. He squashed the feeling, unwilling to examine the emotion further, and began concentrating on his physical injuries.
His skin, mostly around his hands and feet, had that oddly-stretchy feeling he always felt when he had skin renewed by a dermal regenerator. His bruises had faded until they were nothing more than a dull ache, even the deepest, and though he was still exhausted, his mind was blessedly clear. He worked to sit up, and found it surprisingly easy. Though he had an IV, he was not hooked up to any other machines, supporting his conclusion that he was mostly healed.
He couldn't tell from medical bay what time it was, as the lighting depended largely on who was present at any given time and what their illnesses were. Currently, it appeared that he was one of two members in sickbay, the second member being ensconced behind curtains. He assumed it was Doctor McCoy and looked around, trying to spot someone who would be able to fill in the missing details.
Just as he was about to stand up and attempt to find someone, the curtains around Doctor McCoy's bed rustled, and Captain Kirk stepped out with Nurse Chapel, talking quietly to one another. Upon seeing Spock, they both gasped, looking surprised at the fact that he was awake.
"Spock!" Jim exclaimed, hurrying over. "I'm so sorry- I mean, we've been sharing shifts, but I kinda didn't expect you to wake up during mine, because let's face it, things usually aren't that easy, so I figured I'd be able to sit with Bones for a while." When he saw Spock blinking at him a little blankly, Jim stopped and then smiled. "Sorry…I just. We didn't want you to wake up alone- either of you. I kinda didn't expect you to actually wake up, while I was here." Jim immediately sat down in the chair that had been placed besides Spock's bed, placing a hand on the area that he presumed Spock's legs was under the thin hospital blanket.
Nurse Chapel, meanwhile, spent the next few minutes peppering him with questions designed to test his physical, mental and emotional health. He answered them as patiently as he was able, having to reassure her several times that he was suffering no ill effects of his entrapment before she conceded to leave him with a strict warning not to overtire himself and to call her at the first sign of discomfort. His true attention, however, was on the figure hidden behind the curtains.
It was several moments before Nurse Chapel could actually be persuaded to leave. She kept sending them looks over her shoulder as though she wanted to kick Jim out and make sure that Spock returned to resting. As she left, Jim raised a finger, indicating that Spock should wait. "Captain Kirk to bridge," he said into the ship communicator. "Uhura, Spock just woke up."
There was a startled gasp on the other end, and then several cries of happiness. Spock could pick out Nyota's voice from the bridge, asking if she could come down now. "Nurse Chapel wants him to rest," Jim responded, not unkindly. "And I can't have you leaving your post on the bridge. However, as soon as you're off duty…" he trailed off meaningfully.
"Thank you, sir," Nyota said, and she sounded grateful. "Shall I get Sulu and Chekov and Ithki on the way down?"
"I think they would appreciate it, even if you have to wake them up to do it. Tell Sulu and Chekov that it'll be fine if they're a little late for their shifts."
"Alright. I will see you then."
Jim released the communicator's button, and winked at Spock. "Since beta shift ends in about an hour, you'll be swamped with people soon enough. I think even Nyota can last that long. Even if you fall asleep again, at least we know you were awake." Jim smiled, but it was strained, and he kept glancing to where Doctor McCoy lay. "It's more than what we've had to go on. The last couple of days, waiting for you to wake up…were hard. We kept staggered watches. That's why Nyota and Ithki are on beta, instead of alpha with me, while Sulu and Chekov are on gamma. It was the only way to make sure someone was with the two of you at all times. I've been keeping watching during the second half of gamma, after Scotty takes the first watch. Nyota gets the first half of alpha all to herself, then Ithki second while Sulu and Chekov split beta."
Spock felt overwhelmed. He hadn't realized that the people around him believed him worthy of such vigilance. It made him wonder if the room temperature had suddenly risen to cause such and inrush of heat to his body. "It was not necessary."
Jim stared at him, and Spock was acutely aware of how clever the man was; he seemed to be aware of more than just what Spock had said. Finally, with a more genuine smile, Jim said, "Of course it was. You're our friend, Spock, and you're important to us. Of course we were going to stand watch." He said it so simply and kindly that it seemed more of a fact, not six people re-arranging their schedules for the sole purpose of watching over their friends. Spock closed his eyes for a moment, basking in how genuine his captain was.
Vulcans do not give thanks, however, so he simply nodded. He couldn't have spoken if he wanted to, not around the unusual lump in his throat.
Jim launched into a full-length explanation of the past couple of days without Spock needing to say a word. Leaning back in his chair and putting up his feet while Spock leaned back on the pillows, Jim began, quietly, so as not to disturb Doctor McCoy, "When the building came down, we were all separated. The way the building fell, the part that I was in ended up being mostly okay. The rest of the building kinda…collapsed in on itself, but the south rooms managed to remain mostly intact, so the I'Iaooii and I got out fine. The majority of the I'Iaooii, as well as our other crewmembers were in the main dining hall, and it collapsed with the room mostly exposed. We were able to beam them out. There were a few casualties on the part of the I'Iaooii, and Ensign Jacobson…didn't make it, but considering how many people were present, it was a miracle that so many people survived." Jim said the words roughly, however. Spock knew that Jim was probably dwelling more on the deaths of those few than the rescue of so many others.
"Those that weren't in the dining room, however, weren't so lucky. The entire rest of the building collapsed in on itself- there was nothing but rubble and chaos. After beaming out all the signals that we could lock on, we started excavating everything by hand. For a long time…we could only find bodies." Spock could practically envision the scene; body after body being pulled from the wreckage, Jim's strained face, part agonized at the loss of life, part relieved that the bodies removed from the wreckage were not that of Spock or Doctor McCoy. "You were lucky. The room you were in was the only room not near the south wall to collapse and remain mostly in shape; the way the other rooms landed, they were crushed, but because the ceiling fell flat where you were, it kept the room from crumbling. Unfortunately, it also meant it was buried under a lot of rubble. Even with our technology, it took us the better part of five hours to excavate it enough to actually get to you both."
Jim paled for a moment, lost in the memories, and Spock could imagine what he would have seen when the roof of their prison had been lifted: two wan, still bodies, barely breathing, the doctor injured and on the verge of death, Spock equally far gone due to the impact of cold on his physiology. He could envision Jim, Sulu, Chekov, Ithki and Nyota's strained and pale faces- for they would not have agreed to remain onboard when their own were injured.
Jim smiled brightly then, but it was too bright, and the smile couldn't hide the fact that Jim's face was covered in three days of stubble at least, never mind the deep shadows under his eyes, as though he hadn't slept in all that time. "So we found you in that room, got you out, and made damn sure that you were going to stay alive. That was three days ago. And…well, here you are."
Spock nodded. A thousand questions crowded in the forefront of his brain, but only one mattered at the moment. "Doctor McCoy?" he asked softly. The curtains said, of course, that the doctors didn't expect him to wake up any time soon, or they'd have withdrawn them to make sure that someone was there to see how he was functioning once he woke up, and withdrawing the curtain would allow them to see exactly when it happened. Actually, it made Spock wonder where the nurses and doctors were, but that question was barely acknowledged when Jim opened his mouth.
"He's…in a bad way," Jim whispered quietly, his voice croaking a little. "Frostbite on his fingers and toes that had to be healed. Intracranial swelling that needed to be relieved. They don't know how much, if any damage was done before the swelling was relieved, and they won't know until he wakes up. The broken bones were set and partially treated with an osteosetter, but they didn't dare do more than that, because they had to head off the beginnings of an infection, and if they'd set it all the way, they'd have sealed the infection into his bones. The bruises and cuts were mostly healed. His leg though…" Jim inhaled, breath wavering slightly. "The cold led to complications in removing the shrapnel, because it damaged the surrounding tissue even further. To safely remove the metal without removing half his thigh in the process, they had to do a partial regeneration of the tissue so they would only have to cut away a small portion of the flesh. Even so, there was a lot of damage. They think he's got an eighty percent chance of regaining full mobility, but even then he'll have a scar on his leg for the rest of his life. Assuming all of that goes off without a hitch, he'll still be in therapy for at least six weeks, after an additional two weeks of bed rest to let his bones and body heal the rest of the way. First though, he has to wake up."
Jim's face scrunched up a little as he put his head in his hands for a minute. There was another one of those quavering little breaths, then Jim lifted his head and smiled at Spock. "But like I said, you're awake, so that's great. We've all missed you. The bridge isn't the same without you, that's for sure."
They made small talk out of the ship's business, Jim discussing all the things done during his stay in the infirmary. Not long after, Nyota, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Ithki swarmed the medical bay, exclaiming in quiet voices how happy they were to see him awake, asking him if he felt alright, wondering aloud what he needed. Spock mostly listened after he initially assuaged everyone's fears; his one comment voiced that did not have something to do with either his ordeal or his current condition was that as soon as he was released, he wanted to take Ithki's watch over Doctor McCoy. The young Clavian had no problem with that, as she had no particular attachment to the doctor, but instead had been keeping watch for Spock. Her blue scales turned bright green with happiness as she repeated that she would be happy to see the First Officer back in the labs.
"It's not the same without you," she said. "I must coax out of our scientists what you manage without speaking. I am not sure how you do it, day after day!" She stretched her lips in a human approximation of a grin, revealing her pointed teeth. Teeth aside, she had a surprisingly warm smile. "Now, I need to return to the labs, or else my experiment is likely to form noxious fumes in the chemistry labs that will likely kill people." With that somewhat nerve-wracking pronouncement, she left, calling over her shoulder, "I am glad you are well, Commander Spock, and look forward to seeing you as soon as you get out of medical bay!"
"Us too," Sulu agreed, clapping Chekov on the shoulder. "We've got to get to the bridge." Sulu and Chekov stood and made their own exits considerably more calmly than Ithki had.
"Energetic, isn't she?" Nyota said dryly.
"Her work in the science labs as my second are commendable," Spock said. "But yes, she certainly seems to have an unusual amount of energy, even for her species."
Jim raised an eyebrow and laughed, with Nyota joining in with a considerably more subdued chuckle. Eventually, however, Nurse Chapel shooed everyone away, saying that Spock needed to rest. After switching out his IV for a fresh bag, Spock was ordered to sleep. The next day, he was released, and the day following that, he resumed his normal duties, including spending the latter half of beta shift sitting in medical bay, going over reports from the days he had not been on board.
However, three days later, Doctor McCoy still hadn't woken up. Doctor Michelson was reluctant to declare a coma, though, since the doctor was still breathing on his own, had normal brain activity and was still responding to external stimuli. However, if he continued to remain unconscious, something would have to be done.
Spock spent the six hours during which he sat at Doctor McCoy's bedside attempting to do work, but he mostly just spent his time staring at the doctor. Yellowish marks, the remnants of his bruises, peppered his skin. His arm was in a cast, while his leg was in traction; the other was heavily bandaged. His ribs had been wrapped as well, with his fingers and toes covered in a salve to help promoted healthy dermal growth, supplementing the work done by the dermal regenerator to remove the frostbitten skin. While in the rubble he had looked injured, ill, now he simply looked small, frail. The white bandages covering so much of his skin reminded Spock just how easily injured humans were. He felt the irrational urge to whisk the doctor away and sequester him in a place where this could not, would not happen again. Spock knew it wasn't possible, let alone logical, but the desire existed nevertheless.
The only conclusion Spock could come to was that Doctor McCoy, against all odds, had become a friend as dear as any of his others, though he fought to pretend he didn't have such feelings. However, it was a conclusion that could not be denied, not when Spock felt that surge of friendship, of happiness and something bittersweet every time he thought of Doctor McCoy's hesitant explanation of why he was ashamed. It made Spock admire the doctor- he wished to give all he could afford and then some, was more than willing to bleed if it meant his patients, his friends, didn't have to. The doctor was a person to be admired to the utmost degree, someone who acted for others before themselves. Spock wondered how he'd been so blind to it before. What he'd found in Doctor McCoy was worthy of acknowledgement, of…Spock wasn't sure how to give voice to the thoughts swirling in his head.
All Spock knew was that it was necessary for Doctor McCoy to wake up, because Spock had to speak of his thoughts, had to apologize for wronging Doctor McCoy- for now his dislike seemed petty, forged primarily in his own conviction of Doctor McCoy's childishness and lack of understanding of what it meant to make hard choices. In reality, Doctor McCoy was all too aware, and fought anyways.
He fought because he could act in no other fashion, because he was too compassionate, too full of love under that acerbic exterior. It made Spock want to act in a most un-Vulcan way and meet the doctor halfway and prove that while he was not unaffected by his hard decisions, he still acknowledge the fact that they needed to be made.
But Spock couldn't do any of that, couldn't accomplish any of those varied goals unless Doctor McCoy first awoke.
So he sat vigil, mentally counting and re-counting the odds of Doctor McCoy's chances of reawakening at all, his chances of reawakening in some impaired state, his chances of reawakening during Spock's vigil. The numbers were the only distractions from the way Spock's own thoughts ran around in circles, examining and re-examining his behavior, Doctor McCoy's behavior, their interactions, their personalities.
Even the numbers couldn't keep his thoughts out for long, and Spock couldn't help but hold onto the hope that Doctor McCoy would reawaken during his vigil.
Four long days passed in that fashion.
The medical team was getting desperate. Finally, Doctor M'Benga, one of the few doctors who was knowledgeable in Vulcan physiology took Spock aside for a moment and asked in a quiet voice, "Do you think doing a mind meld would help? It might be able to tell us if Doctor McCoy's mind is still intact, if he realizes that he's safe, if he's in pain or if there's some sort of damage in his brain that's preventing him from waking up." Doctor M'Benga studied Spock seriously. "I don't want to put undue pressure on you, and I'll understand if your refuse, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask."
Spock considered the question for several long moments. "While I acknowledge that it would be possible to decipher the answers to all those questions if I enacted a mind-meld with Doctor McCoy, my concern lies in the fact that if he does not accept me, if he does not accept the meld, I may do further damage to his psyche that would not be able to be repaired. In addition, it is extremely intrusive to enact a meld without explicit permission, on top of which, I have never performed a meld on a species that was not themselves telepathic to at least some degree."
Doctor M'Benga opened his mouth to speak, but Spock overrode him. "However, I also understand that there are few other options available to us at this time, and his mind is the one variable over which we have no control, as his injuries are healing. Therefore, I will wait an additional twenty-four hours, during which I will endeavor to study melds done between telepathic and non-telepathic species, as well as meditate in order to achieve a gentle and careful meld. If he does not wake before the twenty-four hours are completed, I shall do as you have asked."
Doctor M'Benga looked grateful, and Spock left medical bay.
Twenty-four hours brought no change. In addition to Doctor M'Benga, Nurse Chapel and Doctor Michelson, Jim, and Nyota were present, to add their silent support. Spock was in an almost dream-like state as he walked through the medical bay, thoughts focused inward, holding an active meditative state. He finally seated himself next to Doctor McCoy and spoke, voice sounding tinny and distant to his own ears, "During the mind-meld, it is critical that I not be moved. An inadvertent breaking of the link, depending on how deeply we are enmeshed, could result in the death of one or both of us. I do not know how long it will take, so it may be advisable to get in contact with New Vulcan if something happens and were are lost to proper consciousness." Spock didn't wait for anyone to answer, but instead rested his fingers on Doctor McCoy's meld points and fell into his mind.
Spock resurfaced on the shallowest layer of the consciousness of Doctor McCoy where thoughts were still rather faint, and emotions were not yet predominant. There was a grudging admittance, the sense that Doctor McCoy wouldn't normally let anyone into his mind like this, the sense that this was a privilege that was unlikely to be bestowed ever again unless circumstances were so dire that there was no other choice.
"We felt the circumstances warranted it," Spock responded to that sense of irritation and discomfort. "You have been unconscious for nine days, and have caused those around you great concern. I am here to inquire if there is a reason for this; if there is something I can do to alleviate pain or promote your return to awareness, I shall do so, and then I shall leave." The discomfort faded slightly, though the irritation remained.
Spock waited for a moment, but no other response was forthcoming, so he fell deeper into the meld, focusing on a place where the two minds could comfortably meet, a place where they could visualize self-images in order to communicate as though they were not enmeshed in each other's minds, but speaking to each other in person. It was not the way most telepaths would choose to communicate, but it would bring a sense of comfort to Doctor McCoy's mind, hopefully easing his urge to fight over his dominion, as though Spock was ready to forcibly take over his mind.
It was slow going, finding a space where the minds could coexist. Spock's instinct was to send thought-images and emotions to communicate, while Doctor McCoy desired to speak with words only and block Spock from true access to his mind. Finally, Spock managed to forge a room between their minds where the deeper parts of their personalities and thoughts existed independently, but where communication and visualization was still possible.
Spock blinked once as he stepped into the room. Doctor McCoy was already there, scowling as though Spock was a personal affront to all that was right and decent. "I was doing fine," he snarled. "I don't want any of this mind mumbo-jumbo. I've seen enough effects of telepathic communication that I know how damaging it can be if it's not done perfectly. Frankly, I have a personal aversion to madness, so get the hell out of my mind before I make you."
Emotion hammered Spock, a physical blow that knocked him to the knees in the room. "Curious," Spock managed to gasp out past what had felt like a hard punch to his solar plexus. "Tell me doctor, when your psi ratings were taken, did you score particularly high on the empathic scale?"
The good doctor's scowl deepened. "Now what does that have to do with the price of peas in Persepolis? I want you out!"
Spock shook his head. "Several times, even when I have had my shields in place, I inadvertently felt your emotions. Just now, your emotions almost managed to knock me out of the meld. The most probable reason is that you have an extraordinarily high empathic sense. If you were to put an effort into knocking me out of the meld, I would have a large amount of difficulty staying, assuming it could be done at all."
Doctor McCoy, as Spock had hoped, relaxed a little at the pronouncement; it reassured him that he was at least a little in control of the situation here. "What do you want?"
"Solely to ascertain the reason for your unconsciousness, Doctor McCoy. When I am assured that you will be joining us, I will depart, and not intrude on your mind any longer."
Doctor McCoy's chin jutted out in a rather predictable fashion. "And if I don't want to wake up?"
Spock looked at Doctor McCoy, nonplussed for a moment. "For what reason would you desire to remain in this state of unconsciousness?"
Doctor McCoy turned away, staring at the wall of the room as though he could see something other than the plain white walls that Spock had created. He let out a frustrated breath, running a hand through his dark locks. It drew Spock's attention to the fact that his mental image of himself didn't look much better than his exterior. His loose dark hair looked grubby as though he had spent three days straight in medical bay, his face rough with facial hair. Dark bags under his eyes, the stooped shoulders. His mouth was tight as he rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
"Doctor McCoy," Spock prompted.
"I'm tired, dammit," Doctor McCoy growled. He heaved a sigh. "Maybe I'm getting too old for this shit-"
Spock interrupted the doctor, saying, "You are not old, doctor. You are, in fact, in the prime of the average human's lifespan."
Doctor McCoy let out a hissing breath, irritated, "Not literally tired. Not physically. Just…I don't know. I don't know if I can do this anymore. After talking to you about everything, I kept thinking about everything I've done, thinking about patients that made it and patients that didn't. I don't…" Doctor McCoy sighed again, frustrated and unable to communicate.
Spock stepped forward, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with the doctor, staring at the wall without seeing it. "Doctor McCoy, you seem to be suffering from some mistaken conclusions about your relative worth."
Doctor McCoy whirled on him, opening his mouth so as to express the full extent of his rage, but Spock overrode him. "While I will be the first to admit that Captain Kirk has the loyalty and love of the crewmembers, he is not the only one." Doctor McCoy looked surprised and his mouth was snapped shut. "You, Doctor McCoy, it is you who heals their wounds and gives them comfort. Even you cannot have missed how the medical personnel follow your lead, how they speak about you as though you are the center of their universe. Surely you have also heard how many crewmembers speak fondly of you. Ensign Chekov talks about you often, though he seems to be under the erroneous impression that modern medicine was invented in Russia."
"The kid's only eighteen," Doctor McCoy blustered. "And it was just some cold towels while he was sick. It's not like I was doing any more than my job."
"And when Chief Engineer Scott was burned, and you made sure that every inch of his skin was healed before resting, despite having completed a double shift already, because the burns had made him delirious with pain, and he was asking for you."
"Well, if he was asking for me, then of course I was going to do it!"
"And he passed out three minutes into the procedure. There was nothing stopping you from giving the task to someone else."
"But…he asked for me. Of course I was going to do it. I wouldn't be able to look at him again if I didn't."
"And these are only two examples of the sort of man you are, Doctor McCoy. If you consider it closely, I'm sure that you will see that you are an extraordinary doctor."
Doctor McCoy shook his head, sounding pleading as he said, "I was just doing my job! All those times, every time, I was just doing my job!"
"And others, who do less than you, are they too doing their job? Do those who do not wipe the sweat from their patients heads, or who do not spend eighteen hours a day researching a cure, are they lesser doctors? If they do not spend days agonizing over a patient's death, if they who do not feel shame or are embarrassed at being unable to 'be human', as you put it, for their patients, even if it results in their own destruction, does it mean they are inferior? I implore you, Doctor McCoy, to listen to the words that I am saying, for I am confident in my conclusions."
For the first time, Doctor McCoy let out a small laugh, a genuine smile tucked into the corners of his mouth. "I suppose you have the ability to be kind after all, Mr. Spock. Only you can make those compliments sound like facts."
"I did not compliment you, as you believe. I did indeed simply state facts. You are an excellent doctor that an enormous number of the crew admires for your intelligence, kindness and ingenuity.""I'm blushing," Doctor McCoy drawled. He did not blush, however, though there was a certain softness around his face. "How can I resist such pretty words?"
Spock decided to ignore the fact that words could not be visually enticing, and said instead, "Do not resist. Wake up, Doctor McCoy and return to the admirable work that you have been doing for this ship. As I said earlier, Doctor McCoy, Captain Kirk may be the heart of this ship, he may have their loyalty, but you have their confidence. They are less afraid to go out into the unknown, because they know they have you on their side to repair the damage that is inflicted. I ask that you do not deprive them of your presence, but instead, come back to us."
Doctor McCoy stood quietly, face serious, holding a hand out to the wall. Images came to life on the wall, fantastic and realistic in equal numbers- Doctor McCoy flying a starship, holding a child, falling off a cliff, watching a rock bleed, sewing a wound. Doctor McCoy stepped forward, resting his head on the wall and loosing a long, strained breath.
"Yeah," Doctor McCoy said in a nearly silent voice. "Yeah, I'll come back."
Spock nodded, sharp and quick, and then prepared to leave.
"Spock?" Doctor McCoy asked.
"Yes?" Spock paused in his exit, half turning back towards the other man.
"I realize that Vulcans don't say thanks, but I hope you can take mine." Doctor McCoy studied him, and then smiled, slow and sweet and genuine and Spock wondered if the doctor realized how his aesthetics improved when he smiled. "Thank you, for not letting me give up in the cave, and taking care of me. Thank you for asking me that question; even if it was only to satisfy your curiosity, even if neither of us knew why it had to be asked and answered. Thank you for coming here and reminding me why I became a doctor."
Spock gazed at the doctor, a smile shining in his eyes if not on his face. "Though you are right in saying that Vulcans aren't given to expressions of thanks, I find that I can only say that your thanks, while kind, were not needed. I simply…helped your realize the reality of the situation."
"I'll give you your damn reality," Doctor McCoy grumbled, but there was laughter in his voice instead of the cool mocking that would have been present as much as two weeks ago.
"On the outside?" Spock questioned.
Doctor McCoy smiled again, bright and warm. "Yeah," he confirmed. "I guess I'll keep saving your collective asses for a little while longer." Then he scowled. "Though you could make my job easier if the pair of you stopped with the last-minute hair-brained schemes that you seem to think are so clever."
Spock shook his head, sensing that this was a battle that he could not win. Instead, he gestured with his hand.
The next breath, they both disappeared from the room.