Title: Watching the Watcher

Author: Still Waters

Fandom: Star Trek TOS

Disclaimer: Not mine. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.

Summary: Jim Kirk makes a decision when he learns Dr. McCoy isn't taking care of himself. Five times Kirk and Spock were called to watch over McCoy and one time they were already there. K/S/M friendship and McCoy working as a physician.

Notes: Almost four months, more scrapped ideas than I can count, and thirty pages later, here is, finally, the last chapter of "Watching the Watcher." This piece ties heavily into the second season episodes "Friday's Child" and "Mirror, Mirror" and takes place five years after the events in those episodes. I have set the timeline on the basis that each season of the show depicted a year of the Enterprise's five-year mission. Assuming then that these two episodes occurred during the second year of the first five-year mission, this chapter takes place during the second year of the second five-year mission. I have attempted to designate any dialogue quoted from the episodes with either italics or quotes, but, particularly in the case of the Capellans, there may be some phrasing borrowed for cultural consistency that is not specifically noted. I re-watched both of these episodes numerous times in order to accurately portray the events that took place and to try and create possible Capellan traditions. I hope I was able to do the material credit. In addition to Nurse Mara Govannen and Zan the orderly, I also borrowed a few paragraphs from "There Were Days" for one scene – it was exactly what I needed to expand the scene, so I adapted it here. Thank you all for your kind words, support, and patience as this tale has taken shape – I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the wonderful feedback and encouragement. Now that this story is complete, I hope to finish "There Were Days" before expanding on the back story of "Untitled" and then beginning another tale that has been forming. This is un-beta'd, so please excuse any blatant errors. Medical and episode notes follow as usual. Thank you again for welcoming me into this world.


6.

It all came down to the Capellan mission.

To Leonard James Akaar's coming-of-age ceremony.

To a five year grudge….

…..and a five year secret.

"He froze. They grabbed his wrist and he just…..froze."


They had a routine. In the final pre-mission hours, Christine would give McCoy an hour to prepare an initial medkit. She would go about her rounds, catch up on charting and other administrative tasks, and pretend not to hear the physician's quiet, wary rambling as his experienced mind began whirling with potential emergencies. Once McCoy disassembled the first kit, Christine would join him – she'd listen to the renewed rambling, validate the possibilities, dismiss the very few impossibilities (even as the Enterprise seemed destined to remove that word from their vocabulary), suggest other situations and treatments, and just generally act as a second medical mind and sounding board. McCoy would begin by musing on his usual pre-mission topics: what Kirk could possibly get himself into, what Spock could possibly get himself into, how he could possibly keep them alive long enough to get back to the Enterprise, and how to continue keeping them alive once aboard. Then he and Christine would move into the likely, followed by the unlikely situations that could happen to both the crew and the native population of the assigned planet. Between the two of them, they tended to cover most eventualities, and McCoy would give Christine a soft, grateful smile before doing what he always did: grabbing his medkit with steely determination, entering the dreaded transporter room, and taking his place at Kirk and Spock's side.

It was a routine that had served them well for seven years; one that she looked forward to continuing as she headed for the prep room…..

…..only to find an extra set of voices threatening that very continuation.

Christine frowned as she glanced around the doorframe to find Kirk leaning against the far wall, Spock a few steps away, hands behind his back, dark eyes splitting their focus between the only two men he called 'friend.' She groaned silently. Of all the times Kirk and Spock could have stopped by, it just had to be now? For someone who worked in a highly unpredictable field on an even more unpredictable vessel, Christine Chapel certainly wasn't blind to the irony of the fact that one of her greatest coping mechanisms involved the word 'routine.' As a nurse she thrived on the constant unpredictability, but outside her professional persona she found herself oddly comforted by certain routines and, to her embarrassment, found herself easily upset when they were interrupted or changed: biweekly tea with Nyota; monthly back-to-back readings of the newest issues of the Journal of Integrative Psychology and Annals of Complementary Nursing Techniques; closing her eyes at the end of a long day and listening to old holotapes of her father reading Sherlock Holmes in a perfectly studied Victorian accent…..

…..Pre-mission medkit assembly and discussion with McCoy.

Christine ducked behind the wall, leaned her head against the solid support, and forced herself to run through the deep breathing exercises she encouraged in all her anxious patients. Realizing the problems with her initial desire to stride in and kick two of her commanding officers out on the basis of nothing more than the interruption of a routine she valued, Christine pushed past her irrational need to "put things right" and peeked around the corner. Pulling in a deep breath, she chastised herself for such selfish thoughts. For all she knew, McCoy needed this conversation with Kirk and Spock right now.

"Hey Bones, does Johanna know she has a little brother?" Kirk's eyes shone with mischief as he leaned forward slightly toward his CMO.

Said CMO glared up at Kirk from the scattered instruments and medications on the table in front of him. "That's not very damn funny," McCoy growled, tucking another hypo into his kit.

Christine let that breath out hard as she watched McCoy's shoulders tense. Okay, maybe he didn't need this conversation right now.

"Come on, Bones," Kirk cajoled, "this is 'your' child…..our namesake…..being recognized as a Capellan warrior and officially assuming his role as leader of the Ten Tribes….."

"If he is the victor in today's combat," Spock interjected.

Christine rolled her eyes a split second before Kirk did.

"Thank you, Mr. Spock," Kirk sighed, exasperated as his attempt to lighten the mood hit an abrupt end.

Spock simply raised an eyebrow.

"Jim…." McCoy began.

Christine held her breath, silently shouting for McCoy to voice what his body language so desperately screamed.

Kirk interrupted swiftly. "I'm sorry, Bones," he apologized softly. "I don't like it either," he admitted, nodding down toward the planet. "Are you sure you're okay with this?" he focused a concerned gaze on McCoy's strained features.

"Jim, you said it best when we got the message - diplomatically, we don't have much of a choice. When the Regent of the High Teer of the Ten Tribes of Capella IV requests your presence at her son's coming-of-age ceremony, you can't exactly say 'no,'" McCoy pointed out with a weary chuckle. "Besides," he continued, "no outsider has ever seen this ceremony. We'll never get an anthropological opportunity like this again."

"You didn't answer my question," Kirk watched him closely.

McCoy simply looked up, locking eyes with Kirk in a deep, wordless response, before ducking his gaze to continue sorting through several medication cartridges, brows drawn in concentration. "I've seen this ceremony before, with the village children, so at least I know what to expect. I'm more worried about you," he met Kirk's eyes, reflecting a magnified image of that same concerned gaze back from blue to hazel.

Christine blew out her breath with a frustrated sigh. "Here we go again," she muttered to herself as McCoy shifted his focus to Kirk. Her mind focused on the conversation anew, seeking out the right place to step in.

"It's just not right, Bones…..children killing children," Kirk ground out, fists clenched angrily.

"But they aren't children anymore, Jim, not according to Capellan tradition and development. A five year old Capellan is nearly equivalent to a fifteen year old human," McCoy reminded Kirk with gentle firmness touched with mournful agreement.

"Fifteen year olds are still children," Kirk muttered.

McCoy's eyebrow quirked as he gave a Kirk a weary, weighted smile. "Chekov was starting first year classes at the Academy at fifteen," he pointed out.

"Chekov is still a child," Kirk sighed, stretching his back as if feeling his age.

Christine watched McCoy's left hand shift, immediately recognizing the gesture as an aborted attempt to rub the bridge of his nose. A slight turn of his head back to the scattered medkit sealed her decision - it was time to get their routine back on track. It wasn't about her irrational needs anymore – it was about his needs…..which, thankfully, just happened to fit perfectly with hers right now. Pushing aside her guilt at that thought while simultaneously cursing the depth of ingrained coping behaviors, Christine pulled herself together. Once McCoy started focusing on someone else, his own needs went unanswered.

This was where she came in.

Showtime.

"I wouldn't let Chekov hear you say that, sir," Christine nodded to Kirk's previous statement with a teasing smile as she strode into the room.

Kirk's head shot up with a sheepish half-smile.

Christine reassured him with a conspiratorial wink as she continued, "Because you just know that he would respond with half an hour on the benefits of youthful Russian genes."

She sighed, relieved, as McCoy's chuckle rode just under the current of Kirk's laughter. Even Spock appeared to incline his head in rueful agreement.

Christine turned to McCoy, her smile still bright as she surveyed the scattered vials with a professional air. "How many more vials of fibrephyton?" she asked, nodding toward the isolated pile of medication to McCoy's right.

A grateful smile lit McCoy's eyes as some of the tension slipped from his shoulders. "Another four would be great Chris," he replied. "Thanks."

"How much of that stuff do you need, Bones?" Kirk asked incredulously, staring at the six vials already set aside.

"With you two? At least that much," McCoy shot back with a pointed drawl, gesturing toward the table. "But considering its value in local venous and arterial coagulation in humans, Vulcans, and Capellans, I'd prefer to err on the side of excess this time," he finished, voice softening slightly as he added, with a hint of familiar, teasing humor, "if that's all right with you, Captain."

"Oh I'm sure the Captain would agree," Christine smiled sweetly as she returned with the extra cartridges. "As he most certainly remembers that each five cc dose uses a full hypo cartridge and that the dosing schedule of q ten…"

"All right, all right," Kirk interrupted, throwing his hands up in an 'I give up' defensive response. "Point taken, Nurse," he met Christine's gaze with dancing eyes before nodding to McCoy, "Doctor," he excused himself, touching Spock's arm lightly as he headed for the door. "I believe it's time we left them to it," he said to Spock, nodding back at Christine and McCoy.

"A wise decision Captain," Spock intoned, pleased warmth at the familiar teasing dance rippling just under the stern inflection as he followed Kirk out of the room.

"You know, sometimes I wonder where you keep all that sass young lady," McCoy grinned as met Christine's pleased smile.

"I pin it up with this mess," Christine grinned back, touching the tousled mound of hair at her crown. McCoy snorted back a laugh and she felt the last of anxiety's chill thaw with the familiar warmth of their give and take. "Besides, seven years with you could bring the Southerner out of an Orion, let alone a gal with distant Louisiana roots," she added.

McCoy chuckled. "I suppose we all rub off on one another out here," he gestured widely, beyond the walls.

"Can't say I'm not grateful sometimes," Christine said softly before sharpening her focus to the gutted medkit. She perched one hip on the edge of the table and reached across McCoy's workspace, moving the fibrephyton aside and lining the vials up alongside Kirk's migraine medication and Spock's antiemetic cocktail. She noted the record tape on Capellan obstetrics with a brief shake of her head before meeting McCoy's eyes with a ready smile. "All right, so tell me what you're thinking," she began.

McCoy's shoulders dropped into relaxed familiarity, the smile on his lips softening the sudden distance in his eyes as he began to think out loud.

Christine leaned into the table with a relieved sigh. It may have been irrational, but they both needed this. An hour later, McCoy gave her that warm, grateful smile, gathered up the medkit, and headed for the transporter room. Christine allowed herself another moment in that peaceful comfort, straightened her shoulders, and returned to work.

Routine.


Christine was reviewing McCoy's previous account of Capellan coming-of-age ceremonies when Uhura's soothing lilt brightened the room. "Hiya sugar," Uhura greeted. "Am I taking you away from anything?" she nodded toward the PADD.

"Nothing I wouldn't mind getting away from," Christine replied, pushing the PADD aside gratefully.

Uhura glanced down at the screen, sadness shadowing her expressive face. "I don't know how Dr. McCoy can stand it," she sighed. "Watching two young men fight to the death to prove their worth as warriors, and knowing he can't treat the victor's injuries or ease the dying's passing."

"Only the strong should survive," Christine quoted Capellan tradition softly.

"And only the strong could watch a child he delivered into this world fight the child of the man who led the coup on his father all while being denied acknowledgement of the very core of his soul," Uhura said. "A healer in a world that values death above life." She sighed heavily. "I don't know how he can stand it," she repeated mournfully.

"A patient asked him," Christine replied simply, "and he'll give you the Captain's and Mr. Spock's Starfleet reasoning about maintaining good relationships for continuation of the mining treaty and furthering Anthropological Sciences by obtaining an accurate account of the coming-of-age ceremony of a High Teer on a world that shuns outsiders….but what it really comes down to is that Eleen asked him. The patient that he treated through childbirth, the woman who named a child after him against all tradition on her world, requested his presence at the most important event in that child's life. So, he went." Christine paused, biting her lip thoughtfully. "And honestly, I think he's hoping some of those changes have stuck…..and that maybe, things won't end as they always have. It's said the Teer has the power to grant life. Maab granted Eleen back her life; maybe the child of that woman, the one who also finally allowed an outsider to touch her, treat her injured arm, guide her through childbirth, and teach her to want her newborn…..maybe she's taught that child that it's not a weakness to use that power."

Some of the darkness lifted from Uhura's face as hope flickered in her eyes. "Maybe," she agreed, smiling gently as she added, "he does have that gift."

Christine felt herself smile in return. Kirk's righteous passion for justice and Spock's serene logic easily overshadowed the subtlety of McCoy's quiet compassion and humanity…. .It was much easier to see the governments Kirk changed, or the science Spock improved than it was to see the people McCoy affected. She shook herself from her introspection, turning back to Uhura with a lighter smile. "So, what brings you down here, Nyota?" she asked warmly.

Uhura perched herself on the edge of the desk, the last of the sadness swept from her dark eyes as they brightened with camaraderie. "Mr. Roberts took over for a little while," she explained. "There's not much to monitor until the landing party checks in again – the Capellans have no transmitting devices or media to follow and the Starfleet mining team is too far from the settlements to pick up any activity…." Uhura grinned devilishly, "…so I took advantage of my position and gave my aching ear a rest."

"You pulled rank on Roberts?" Christine chuckled.

"Half an hour away from that earpiece does wonders for the spirit, sugar," Uhura laughed. "You know…."

The comm beeped twice, cutting Uhura off, before whistling to life. Christine was already on her feet at the emergency signal, implementing nursing protocol, when Scotty's voice followed with a brisk, "medical team to transporter room."

Uhura dropped lightly to her feet and sprinted to the wall comm. "Mr. Roberts, report!" her soft, sensitive lilt tempered down to steely, professional demand.

Mara rushed past with a gurney and code kit. "What level, Chris?" she asked, tossing Christine a tricorder with one hand while grabbing a wound kit from a passing orderly with the other.

Christine had her hand on the comm switch when Uhura spun around with a terse report. "The Captain made the initial call. Mr. Spock gave the final order to beam up. No details." Her voice softened as she laid a gentle hand on Christine's forearm. "I'll be on the Bridge. Keep me updated?" she asked quietly.

"Of course," Christine assured, placing her free hand on Uhura's, squeezing lightly. Uhura rushed off for the Bridge as Christine shouted for Mara to grab the Capellan kit she and McCoy had created. "The Captain and Mr. Spock made the calls," she offered by way of explanation.

"He would convince them to let him treat whichever kid lost," Mara scoffed as she parked the loaded gurney by the main doors. She glanced toward the triage room where one of the orderlies was preparing a biobed. "Zan, grab the Capellan kit, will you? Top of the crash cart, in treatment," she directed. At Zan's acknowledgement, she turned back to Christine, who was calling Scotty.

"Transporter room, Scott here," came the familiar brogue.

Christine immediately noted the tension in Scotty's voice. "Sickbay acknowledging call for medical team to transporter room," she let protocol drive her responses for the moment. "What level?"

She could hear the tension increase in Scotty's pause. "I cannae tell for sure lass. No obvious external injuries….he's unconscious, but still with us. Maybe a 'three?'" he hazarded a guess.

Christine frowned. Scotty was usually pretty good with trauma grading – he had been one of the first to attend McCoy's ship-wide course on triage and trauma leveling; a course McCoy had created so that landing parties and transporter room staff could give more accurate accounts to the medical staff being called in, allowing the proper equipment and medications to reach the injured parties faster. Sure, the distinction between a 'three' and a 'four' could be tough – both were indicative of a stable patient – but Scotty, the man who had made a reputation out of calmly bending the laws of physics during crisis situations, sounded….not quite panicked, but…..nervous.

"We're on our way, Scotty," Christine assured the engineer, motioning Mara and Zan toward the doors. "Can you put Dr. McCoy on with us as we go?" she asked. If McCoy could relay his initial assessment and treatment while they were en route, they would be better prepared to assist when they got there.

There was that pause again. "I'm afraid not….he's…."

Scotty cut off as Kirk's voice suddenly rose in the background. "Don't….come on Bones, breathe dammit!"

Christine gasped. They had all just assumed McCoy was busy. Fine…..but busy. She was already shouting for Mara when Scotty shakily confirmed what they already knew - "Now he's a 'one.'"

There was the panic.

Level one.

Critical.

McCoy.

"Mara, grab a mini-vent and a BVM and catch up to us," Christine sprinted for the laden gurney.

"What the hell is going on?" Mara ran for the supplies. "Is McCoy…?"

"….our patient now in respiratory arrest? Yeah," Christine confirmed as she began pushing the gurney out the doors.

"Shit. I'm right behind you – I'll have M'Benga meet us back here," Mara shouted at Christine's back.

With a quick wave of acknowledgement over one shoulder, Christine was gone. Racing alongside the gurney, stabilizing Zan's turns with one hand, she flipped open her communicator with the other. "Scotty, put me through to the Captain," she ordered.

"He responded after the second sternal rub," Kirk launched into a breathless report, "but the breaths are getting shallower and further apart."

"How long since the last breath?" Christine asked.

Kirk's pause was quickly filled by Spock's efficient, "Ten point three seconds."

"Dammit," Christine thought to herself. "Even if he breathes now, we're looking at maybe six per minute…." She brought herself back out of her head. "Let me listen," she told Kirk. She had to wait another twenty seconds before hearing the ominous gasp. "Captain, he's agonal – you need to start artificial respiration now." She glanced up at her surroundings. "We've just hit the transporter deck," she reported.

"Bones…" she heard Kirk moan desperately before Spock's voice returned with, "Are three second intervals sufficient, Nurse?"

Christine's eyes widened. "Keep him at every five until we get there please, Mr. Spock," she requested.

There was the barest hint of a pause before Spock replied. "Of course. I shall assist the Captain in maintaining that rate."

Christine softened. "Thank you, Mr. Spock." She sighed heavily. Vulcans tended to have a higher respiratory rate than humans. While twenty breaths per minute, one every three seconds, would not have been completely out of range for McCoy, sickbay tended to keep their human patients at twelve breaths per minute, or one every five seconds. Christine knew that Spock knew that fact. She also knew that that barely discernable pause was a deafening self-chastisement, recognizable only to those, like her, who knew the Vulcan well. His judgment had been clouded by a worry he'd be hard-pressed to admit…..and that fact alone told Christine more about McCoy's condition than any 'level one' label ever could.

Mara sprinted to her side, tossing the BVM on the gurney and slinging the vent strap higher on her shoulder. "M'Benga's ready and waiting for your report," she said as they rounded the corner, the transporter room coming into sight. "What've you got?" she nodded at the open communicator in Christine's hand.

"Responded to sternal rub times two, then went agonal. Captain's starting artificial respiration now, Spock is counting him through," Christine summarized.

"Shit," Mara ground out. "What the hell happened…?" She straightened as they reached the transporter room doors, all angry speculation gone as focused training took over.

The doors opened.

"Mr. Spock, report," Christine's clipped, professional tone led the way into the room.

"The Captain is providing effective breaths. Airway obstruction appears unlikely, however the Doctor has not yet regained the ability to self-regulate," Spock nodded for Kirk to give another breath.

Christine grabbed the BVM from the gurney, ran to the platform, and dropped to her knees at Kirk's side. "I'll take over, Captain," she said, eyes softening the brusqueness of the statement. Kirk moved aside as Christine placed the mask over McCoy's face, adjusted her fingers for a solid seal, tilted his head back, and began squeezing the bag. Mara began a vitals scan with one hand while setting the mini-vent controls with the other. "What happened, Captain?" Christine asked, meeting shocked hazel briefly before returning her attention to McCoy's chest.

"He froze. They grabbed his wrist and he just…..froze," Kirk's voice was rough with emotion.

Christine looked to Spock.

"The Captain's account is accurate," Spock supported, dark eyes shifting careful focus between Kirk and McCoy. "A Capellan warrior…." He paused, searching for the right word, "…disagreed with Dr. McCoy. He took the Doctor by the wrist and backed him against a cliff wall. The Doctor collapsed," he said succinctly.

Mara was relating the initial scan results to M'Benga. "Heart rate 45, resps 12 per Chris's bagging, O2 sat 97% from the mask, BP 100/70. Equal, bilateral chest expansion with delivered breaths, no obvious external injuries. Initial internal scan negative for fractures, hemorrhage, or organ dysfunction. Initial hematology and chemistry unremarkable, poison database shows no matches. You want Chris to switch to the vent? AC 12? 100%? You want any PEEP?" Mara nodded between each question in response to M'Benga's soft replies. With a final nod, she passed the vent mask to Christine. "AC 12, 100% O2, no PEEP," she relayed as Christine swapped the BVM for the vent mask.

Christine turned back to Spock. "He collapsed when he reached the wall? Did he hit his head?" she attempted to gather more of a history.

Mara began a cranial scan on that possibility.

Kirk shook himself out of his shock, the steady, focused leader returning to his voice. "No, his head never hit the wall – just his back. He was stable after he collapsed. Spock's scan showed normal vital signs and no injury – he only stopped breathing a few seconds after we materialized back here on the Enterprise."

"Cranial scan clear – negative for fracture, contusion, concussion, or hemorrhage," Mara reported to M'Benga. She nodded briskly at the reply and confirmed, "we're on our way." She motioned to Zan for the gurney. "Okay, let's move him."

Zan moved the gurney to the foot of the pad and locked the wheels before heading to McCoy's side to help the nurses lift him. He stopped in mid-step as Spock bent down, lifted the physician in one smooth, effortless motion, and laid him gently on the waiting gurney. Kirk took up a flanking position on the other side of the gurney from Spock, both of the officers close enough to be near McCoy, but far enough away to allow the medical staff to work. Christine remained at McCoy's head, stabilizing and monitoring the vent. Mara grabbed the gurney along with Zan, freeing one hand to hold the tricorder for a continuous vitals scan.

"Ready?" Christine asked her staff.

"Go," Mara confirmed, beginning to push for the doors.

The decks cleared rapidly as the team rushed through, whispered prayers, well-wishes, and offers of assistance trailing behind them. M'Benga met his staff at the sickbay doors. "Any change?" he asked, already beginning his scan as the gurney cleared the doors.

"None since our last report," Mara replied.

Spock moved around the gurney to Kirk's side as a soft beeping joined the familiar sounds of medical equipment. "Captain," he said with heartbreaking gentleness, looking down at Kirk's beeping communicator, "I believe Eleen is requesting an update on the situation."

Kirk stepped back reluctantly.

"Jim…" Spock laid a solid hand on Kirk's arm.

"Shit! Heart rate just dropped to thirty-five!" Mara shouted.

"Prepare one cc of atropine," M'Benga responded, stopping the gurney to get a more accurate EKG reading.

Kirk moved a step forward again, only for Spock to gently pull him back. "Jim, there is little we can do to assist the Doctor," he said softly.

"Thirty!" Mara's voice rose again.

Christine grabbed the atropine from Zan and administered the medication at M'Benga's nod.

"Let's continue please," M'Benga motioned toward the triage room. "Mara, I will continue monitoring – please prepare for a full cardiopulmonary and foreign material scan and have the cardio stimulator and crash cart at the bedside."

"Got it," Mara tossed M'Benga the tricorder and sprinted for the triage room.

M'Benga frowned at the reading. "He's dropping again – quickly please!" he pushed toward triage.

Christine propelled the gurney forward, freeing one hand to check a carotid pulse. "Twenty-five!" she shouted, leaning her head forward, closer to the room. "Mara, get another dose of atropine….."

Christine paused, glancing over her shoulder at the sudden, desperately pleading "Bones" that escaped from Kirk's lips, and the quiet, undistinguishable response from Spock. How many times had she rushed Kirk and Spock into triage like this? Seven years later, those two beaming up injured or dying had become almost routine. But McCoy…..he never materialized as anything less than fine – pleased with a mission gone well, raging at uncontrollable death, shouting increasingly Southern-tinged orders as he fought to keep a crewmember alive…but never like this. Never critical. Never in immediate, obvious need. The stubborn idiot always managed to hide any physical or emotional injury both while on the mission and in the immediate post-mission period, only becoming symptomatic much later once settled back on the Enterprise, thus requiring Christine to hold off yelling at him until she could call Kirk and Spock, as promised, to McCoy's side.

That was his routine.

Their routine.

As her thoughts raced, she looked back at Kirk and Spock again as she crossed the threshold into triage. Kirk, all tense, coiled anguish, torn between the emotional need to be at McCoy's side and the duty in the chirping communicator in his hand…..and Spock, a solid, steady presence, left shoulder lightly touching Kirk's right as he stood silently behind his friend in stalwart support, dark eyes churning with an all too human concern…..and she realized she didn't have to call them. They were already there. And as much as she didn't want McCoy to continue doing the stupid things that kept this particular 'calling and watching' routine going, Christine found herself refusing the alternative – not calling Kirk and Spock again because there was no McCoy to neglect his own health as readily as he maintained and fought for it in his patients.

So the fifth time, she didn't call them – they were already watching over McCoy.

And as the physician's heart rate dropped again, she just hoped that this time….

…it wouldn't be the last.


Two hours later, Christine returned to sickbay's main room to find Kirk pacing the length of two biobeds while Spock sat silent guard in a nearby visitor's chair, chin resting on steepled fingers, dark eyes tracking each of his Captain's steps with mathematical precision.

Kirk came to a surprisingly graceful halt, spinning evenly and seeking out Christine's eyes, searching for the answer he needed so desperately that even the time it would take to voice the question and response would be too long. Spock stood in one swift, fluid motion, moving to Kirk's right shoulder.

"He's still with us," Christine began, knowing that Kirk needed to know that fact before anything else.

Kirk's relieved exhalation caught in his throat as he noted Christine's weary half-smile, which spoke of both the fight completed and the road to come. "But?" he prompted, realizing there was more.

Christine sighed. "Come with me. You can both sit with him while Dr. M'Benga and I talk."

Spock's eyes widened at the uncharacteristic hopelessness that briefly flashed across Christine's face. Kirk's stiffened posture indicated an identical recognition and reaction.

A moment later, Kirk and Spock entered the one of the private rooms at the back of sickbay. Kirk's shoulders slumped. "He's still not breathing on his own?" he asked dejectedly, staring at the ventilator mask.

"He is, Captain," Christine clarified. "When he did start breathing on his own again, the breaths were a little too shallow to keep his oxygen level up. The ventilator is providing oxygen and a little positive pressure to help keep his lungs open. He's doing all the real work."

Kirk nodded, sinking into a chair at McCoy's left. Spock followed, but remained standing. "Go ahead, Christine," Kirk said quietly, signaling Christine to continue her report.

"Dr. McCoy is breathing on his own at a normal rate between twelve and sixteen breaths per minute. His oxygen saturation is holding well with supplementary oxygen. His blood pressure has remained within normal limits and his heart rate, while still a little low, is supporting his physiological needs. He's stable," Christine concluded.

"He's stable, but you're still worried," Kirk observed. "Why?"

Christine sighed heavily and looked to M'Benga. "Because we do not yet have an explanation for Leonard's condition," M'Benga said.

Spock raised an eyebrow. Kirk nearly jumped out of his chair. "Are you saying nothing's wrong with him?" Kirk's voice wavered, caught between deadly quiet and outraged shouting.

"Of course not, Captain," Christine said firmly. "It's obvious something is wrong," she motioned purposefully at McCoy's ventilator-obscured face and continued unconsciousness. "Dr. M'Benga is simply saying that we don't know what caused this yet."

Kirk sat back down.

"Leonard's system is showing a similar response to the self-induced hypnosis Vulcans use for healing," M'Benga pointed out the low readings.

"Indeed," Spock mused softly.

"However," M'Benga continued, frowning slightly as the heart monitor briefly dipped lower, "such as response in humans is generally not indicative of concentrated healing activity. It is more commonly attributed to an attempt to escape, to protect the mind from a perceived threat."

Kirk's brow furrowed. "So you're saying the reason Bones collapsed and nearly died is all in his head?" he tried to understand.

"That is not to say that it is any less serious a matter than a physiological injury," M'Benga reinforced. "The human body is capable of much strength, but the mind does have its limits."

"So, what do we do? If Bones can't tell us what was so bad that he basically shut down, how do we pull him out of this?" Kirk asked, desperate eyes shifting from McCoy's still form to Christine and M'Benga.

Christine glanced at M'Benga, read his barely perceptible nod, and took over. "You both said that Dr. McCoy collapsed after one of the Capellans grabbed his wrist and pushed him back against a cliff wall. Something surrounding that event must have triggered this response. We need you to tell us everything you can remember about what happened around that moment."

Kirk scrubbed his hands across his face wearily. "Leonard James Akaar had just won the battle. He had Maab's son, Meel, on the ground, sword against his throat…." Kirk began, eyes drifting in focused recollection.


"Meel, you are defeated. I am now Leonard James Akaar, High Teer of the Ten Tribes of Capella," Akaar proclaimed.

"And I am your man," Meel replied, releasing the grasp on his injured right arm, allowing the blood to flow freely into the sand. "It is my privilege to die for you, Teer." He met Akaar's eyes soundly.

Akaar raised his sword. Kirk and McCoy held their breaths. The sword plunged into the bloody earth at Meel's side. A cry rose from the crowd.

"As Maab, father of Meel, gave Eleen, mother of Leonard James Akaar, back her life, so do I, High Teer Akaar, give Meel back his," Akaar stated loudly for the crowd.

"You dare dishonor our laws?" A Capellan warrior stepped forward from the spectators. "You are the victor. He must die," he pointed roughly at Meel.

"You dare challenge your Teer?" Akaar countered icily, pulling himself up to his full height. "Do you say you will fight me, Kaam?"

Kaam glared at Akaar, but took a half-step back. "There are those of us who will not tolerate such disregard for our traditions…..for such actions more suited to Earthmen than Capellans."

Akaar threw back his headdress, claiming the Teer's sole right of wearing his hair free. He shook his head at Kaam's statement. "I do not hear your words, Kaam, and I will not hear them until you either accept my rule or choose to fight. As Teer, Meel's life belongs to me – it is my right to do with it as I please. You see my action as soft….Earthlike. You would accuse me of acting in the manner of those Earthmen's names I carry. What you do not see is that to be Teer, one must see far. I see that I may have use for Meel's life beyond this moment and so I give him his life today so that I may call upon it again tomorrow. It is my right."

Eleen stepped forward, a kligat in her hands. She presented it to Akaar with the traditional words, "Capellan warrior, High Teer, take this blade and carry it well. Let only death separate you from its touch." Akaar took the traditional weapon he had now earned the right to carry, and hooked it at his hip. Eleen turned back to Kaam, eyes burning. "The decision has been made. All is in order. He is Teer," she stepped forward into Kaam's space, challenging him to continue. Kaam melted back into the crowd.

McCoy let out a breath as Eleen and Akaar returned to the shaded overhang where he, Kirk, and Spock were observing.

"Ma'Koi, our child is now Teer," Eleen pulled herself up with a proud smile.

McCoy accompanied Eleen to Akaar's throne. As one, they performed the traditional welcoming gesture – clenched fist to chest, followed by outstretched arm and open hand. "Our lives are yours Teer Leonard James Akaar," McCoy and Eleen said in unison. "Do with them what you will."

Akaar returned the gesture. He watched McCoy's gaze stray to the wounded Meel as he began to walk away. "Ma'Koi," Akaar called the physician back. "Why do you look at Meel that way?" he gestured to the anguished compassion in McCoy's eyes.

"His tradition is different, Teer," Eleen explained, the quotations almost audible as she repeated McCoy's own words from five years ago, "It is to 'treat the sick and injured.'"

Akaar frowned. "You wish to treat Meel? To allow the weaker to regain a place amidst the stronger? I do not understand."

"Teer, Meel's wound is not life-threatening – he'll survive to fight for you again, but left untreated, that wound will affect his ability to use a sword or kligat, and then he'll be of no use to you. In your wisdom, you granted Meel his life. Allow me to treat that arm and he'll be strong when you call upon that life again in the future," McCoy said, weighing his words carefully.

Akaar nodded thoughtfully. "It is true – to be Teer is to see in new ways. Very well. Eleen shall accompany you," he waved them off toward Meel.

McCoy caught Kirk and Spock's eyes quickly as he followed Eleen to Meel's side. Eleen spoke first. "Ma'Koi has the permission of the Teer to perform his tradition. He will treat your arm."

Meel pushed himself into a sitting position. "I do not understand. I have lost. I am the weaker and, if it does not kill me, I must carry this wound until I do find death."

McCoy sighed. "You're not findin' death today," he drawled, "and if you let me see that arm, you may have a chance at not findin' death quite so fast tomorrow."

Meel looked to Eleen. "I…." he began.

"Your Teer granted you your life," Eleen reminded Meel. "It is your duty to keep that life strong for his use when it is called upon. Ma'Koi's hands are strange and soft, but they are also strong, and know much. He will give you back your strength."

Meel looked warily at McCoy before nodding at Eleen's words. "What must I do?" he asked.

McCoy knelt down and opened his medkit. "I need to touch your arm," he said, waiting for permission.

Meel's eyes widened. "You require touch in your tradition?" he asked incredulously.

McCoy held back an equally incredulous laugh. "Son, I'm a doctor – I can't treat a patient without touchin' them!"

Meel gestured toward the Starfleet mining operation in the distance. "You do not have machines for this too?" he asked, trying to understand how Starfleet could remove Capella's rocks without using their hands, yet McCoy couldn't treat his wound without them.

It was McCoy's eyes that widened next. "Would you trust a machine to do this?" he scoffed, selecting a hypo from the kit and laying it on top of the tricorder. "May I?" he nodded toward Meel's arm.

Meel nodded and watched, fascinated, as McCoy examined the jagged wound, probed the edges, and scanned the area. "I'm going to give you an injection to help speed up the healing," he explained. "I'm going to press this," he held up the hypo, "against your skin. You may feel a brief sting."

Meel looked almost offended. "I am Capellan."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Right," he acknowledged. "Here we go." He injected the medication, applied the dermal regenerator, answered Meel's sudden litany of questions, and finally stepped back, nodding at the now unmarred skin. "Well, that's it," McCoy closed his kit and leaned back on his heels with a pleased smile.

Meel stood rapidly. Still staring at the healed skin, he quickly performed the traditional gesture. "I thank you for your gift, Ma'Koi," he stated formally, unable to pull his eyes from the arm. "I shall present myself to the Teer now; that he may know my arm is strong for him once more."

McCoy chuckled softly to himself as Meel strode off to the line at Akaar's throne. Eleen stepped back, musing quietly on McCoy's 'strange hands.' McCoy gathered his kit and moved to place it back at his hip. A strong hand suddenly reached out and grabbed his left wrist in mid-motion, forcing the kit to drop from numb fingers.

"You taint Capella with your presence, Ma'Koi," Kaam practically spat McCoy's name as he pulled the physician to his feet. He squeezed McCoy's wrist tighter, holding the captured limb up and between them. McCoy's eyes widened and he froze, rooted to the spot.

"Eleen, Akaar, even Maab…you have weakened our strength. Maab had the knowledge to be a great Teer, but he sacrificed himself needlessly for the mother of this…child," Kaam growled, jerking his head toward Akaar's throne. "And now, he and Eleen call outsiders to our ceremonies and act softly as Earthmen do in the face of death…." Kaam began backing McCoy away from the fighting arena, toward the cliff face, eyes locked with McCoy's wide, unseeing blue, using the physician's wrist to maneuver the silent, compliant man away from the crowd. McCoy's back hit the rock wall. He swallowed reflexively, eyes still unblinking.

Eleen's voice suddenly rose above the open space. "Kaam, you will not touch our guest!"

Kirk and Spock were sprinting across the sand, phasers dropped uselessly to their sides, afraid the injure McCoy in the blast.

Kaam leaned forward into McCoy's face. He raised a hand.

McCoy dropped.

A kligat whistled through the air, embedding itself in Kaam's back. The Capellan hit the ground, dead.

Keel jogged alongside Eleen, reaching McCoy seconds after Kirk and Spock did. He pulled his weapon from Kaam's back and placed it back at his side. "I was proud to kill the Klingon with Maab's sacrifice. This child should not have acted against the guests of those whose lives Maab granted," he said.

Eleen looked down at McCoy. "Can you not treat him?" she asked Kirk and Spock.

"I am afraid he is the doctor, not us," Spock replied, taking up the medical tricorder and performing a basic scan.

"Bones? Bones, answer me," Kirk patted the physician's cheek lightly. He looked up at Spock. "Pulse and respirations are strong. I don't see any injury…..you got anything?" he nodded to the tricorder.

"Negative Captain," Spock said. "All physiological systems report normal."

"Except that he won't wake up," Kirk pointed out.

"Agreed, Captain."

Kirk glared at Kaam's body as he flipped open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Prepare to beam up landing party. Have a medical team meet us in the transporter room. Kirk out." He looked up at Eleen. "Is there some kind of poison Kaam could have delivered by touching McCoy?" he grasped for answers.

Eleen shook her head. "We do not have such things," she said. "What has happened to Ma'Koi?"

"We don't know yet," Kirk murmured.

"You are returning to your vessel?" Eleen asked, glancing up toward the sky.

"Yes. We have others who can treat him there," Kirk explained.

"How will we know when Ma'Koi is treated?" Eleen demanded.

Kirk chewed the inside of his cheek before taking McCoy's communicator and handing it to Eleen. "We can speak to you through this," he said, showing her how the machine worked, "and you can call us, like this," he demonstrated the settings.

"Captain," Spock directed Kirk's attention back to McCoy. "The Doctor's last breath was significantly shallower than his previous respirations."

Kirk dropped back to McCoy's side, placing a hand on his friend's chest. Spock called up to the Enterprise. "Now, Mr. Scott," he ordered.

Kirk made the traditional gesture to Eleen, along with a rushed promise to update her on McCoy's condition.

The transporter beam took them.


Kirk looked back up, returning to the present. "And then we were in the transporter room," he finished. "Does any of that mean anything to you?" he asked Christine and M'Benga.

Christine and M'Benga shared a glance before Christine responded thoughtfully, "It all started when Kaam grabbed Dr. McCoy's wrist. You said he froze…..he didn't move, didn't fight Kaam pushing him…..and when he was backed into the wall and Kaam raised a hand, he collapsed. Somewhere, something like that must have happened to him before…and it was traumatizing enough that a similar action brought the memories back strongly enough for him to shut down." She watched McCoy's face for a few moments silently, mind whirling through seven years of conversation and interaction with the physician, searching for anything that may have been relevant. "I can't think of anything he's mentioned in sickbay," she finally sighed. "Captain? Mr. Spock?" she asked.

Kirk and Spock turned to one another, locking eyes as if, even in their silence, their minds were working in tandem. Kirk was the first to speak. "I can't think of anything," he blew out a frustrated breath.

"Nor can I," Spock reported. He hesitated briefly before continuing, "however, I may be able to offer an alternative."

M'Benga straightened. "Mr. Spock, I do not believe a mind meld would be the wisest course of action at this time," he insisted. "We do not know what has caused this reaction in Leonard, and another presence in his traumatized mind may bring him past the point where we can retrieve him."

"I agree Doctor," Spock responded, inclining his head slightly to the left. "However, our greatest difficulty at this time is, as you have just stated, that we do not know what has caused Dr. McCoy's current condition. I do not suggest a full meld – merely a surface link. It will allow for safe, rapid separation if required, and, if the triggering event is not buried with the rest of his mind, it may allow me to observe images or feelings that can aid in your diagnosis, Doctor." Spock met M'Benga's eyes. "It is the only logical alternative left to us."

M'Benga's eyes flew to the monitor at Christine's sudden movement, narrowing at the sudden drop in McCoy's heart rate. Christine verified the scan, placed a hypo of atropine next to the ventilator, and locked concerned, but resigned, gazes with M'Benga.

"Very well, Mr. Spock," M'Benga finally agreed. He moved to Christine's side as she intensified her focus on McCoy's readings.

Kirk moved aside so Spock could take his place. "Careful Spock," he murmured, shifting worried glances between his two friends.

"Of course, Captain," Spock acknowledged. He sat down, mapped out the contact points on McCoy's face, and pressed down. The room disappeared.


"Doctor." Spock's voice resonated through the darkness.

Silence.

"Doctor McCoy." The darkness was unsettling. Spock had melded with McCoy before, and he never had to search for the physician's essence. McCoy's mind was usually, quite literally, illuminating. McCoy's sheer passion for life was a supernova, blinding light and searing heat, as native to each of his cells as the finely honed organelles and just as vital. The darkness from which supernovas were born rippled just under the surface, the gentle rush of waves on a primordial lake, equal parts sorrow, comfort and prescription. It was McCoy's humanity that always kept Spock from reeling – that gently powerful, earthy humanity tempered the heat of the supernova, found understanding and acceptance of the darkness, and left McCoy's mind a brightly lit place of passion, brilliance, attentiveness and, even in the midst of the human's staggering capacity for illogic…..peace.

As the seconds passed, Spock felt the subtle thrill of fear in his chest. He knew that only twenty point four seconds had passed since he first entered McCoy's mind, but he also knew McCoy. The darkness was wrong and as much as McCoy grumbled about "damn Vulcans messin' around in each other's heads", the physician respected the practice, saw its therapeutic values, and most importantly, always responded to Spock during a meld. Even in a surface link such as this, he should be able to feel McCoy's essence. For it to be buried so deeply…..

Spock acknowledged the fear for what it was – a strong emotion and a valid one, but not conducive to the task at hand. He recognized its existence with Amanda's humanity and dismissed it with Sarek's logic. It was illogical to deny the feeling, for it did exist, but it was equally illogical to let such a thing reduce his efficiency. He could not afford distractions – he needed to find McCoy….or, at the very least, something of McCoy.

Spock continued searching in a careful balance - pushing against the darkness while respecting the physician's innate privacy, skimming along the surface.

Sixteen point eight seconds later, he felt McCoy go rigid under his fingertips.

"Doctor McCoy!" Spock shouted over the sudden flood of panic in McCoy's mind. "Doctor, it is Spock," he stated firmly, hoping the familiar name would bring the physician past the surge of emotion.

McCoy fought harder.

Spock staggered under the sudden flood of images that burst through the emotion. He frowned at a split-second image of a bearded Vulcan. Bringing all his focus onto that moment, Spock realized that he was looking at a remarkably similar version of himself – one with facial hair, a cold stare… and the ability to strike fear into Leonard McCoy's heart.

Spock's mind went back five years to Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and McCoy's experience in the mirror universe. He remembered McCoy, as usual, insulting him on the Bridge at the end of it all. "Jim, I think I liked him better with a beard. It gave him character."

Something about his parallel universe counterpart…

Spock grabbed the image of the mirror Spock as it flew by again on a dangerous current of fear. Tucking the memory aside, Spock focused all his attention on projecting an image of his true self to McCoy's fracturing mind. Perhaps if he could calm the physician down, he could discover more about the other Spock's role in all this. "Doctor McCoy, it is Spock," Spock repeated, replacing the fear-tinged image of his mirror universe counterpart with a neutral image of himself on the Bridge at his station. "I am not here to harm you."

A flash of uncertainty overrode the fear, before McCoy succumbed to the terror again. Latching onto that moment, Spock gently began adding images of time he and McCoy had spent together – triumphant success in the medical labs as they found a cure for a virulent new strain of Rigellian fever; hour-long philosophical debates on the Bridge subsequently ended by Uhura's singing laughter telling them to take their arguments elsewhere; quiet evenings of chess and conversation with Jim.

"Do not be alarmed, Doctor," Spock reinforced the positive images. "Our minds are one…."

Spock hadn't thought it possible for McCoy's terror to intensify. He was in error.

Somewhere, machines were screaming.


Spock was still breathing hard, a full minute later, when awareness returned. He recalled strong hands grasping his shoulders…being torn from McCoy's mind…a sound….

"Spock, can you hear me? Spock, answer me!" Kirk's worried face swam into view.

Spock blinked rapidly, clearing his vision, as the shrill of alarms assaulted his ears. "Captain, what happened?" he bolted upright.

Kirk shot the same worried look at McCoy's bed where Christine and M'Benga were deep in cardiopulmonary emergency protocol. Christine switched the ventilator to take over McCoy's breathing while M'Benga administered the nearby atropine and called for another medication. Kirk looked back to Spock. "Bones went stiff, stopped breathing, and his heart rate dropped to twenty," he said. "M'Benga had to pull you out."

"Is Dr. McCoy…?" Spock began.

"Resps stable on AC of 12, heart rate up to fifty," Christine reported.

M'Benga sighed. "Well done. Maintain current settings." He turned to Spock. "Are you all right, Mr. Spock?"

"I am unharmed, Doctor," Spock replied. He suddenly spun to face Kirk as his mind cleared, recalling McCoy's memories. "Captain, five years ago, you, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura, were transported into a parallel universe during a magnetic storm above the Halkan planet, where you met another version of myself. One with a beard," he prompted.

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I remember. What about it?" he leaned forward in anticipation.

"There was little of Dr. McCoy that was not deeply shielded," Spock said, eyes flashing with brief distress at the memory, "but the image of a bearded version of myself was quite prominent…..as was Dr. McCoy's fear."

Kirk and Christine froze.

"My attempts to calm the Doctor were unsuccessful," a hint of frustrated concern tinged Spock's words. "He appeared unable to distinguish the difference between my presence and that of my parallel universe counterpart." Spock paused and shifted slightly in his seat. Christine went on high alert – for a human, that barely noticeable shift was nothing; for Spock, it was as near to outright fidgeting as he could get. "Captain…did my counterpart…."

Christine swallowed hard at Spock's hesitation.

"….did something occur between my counterpart and Dr. McCoy? Something that was perhaps omitted from your report?" Spock finally asked.

Christine's eyes widened. "You think the other Mr. Spock hurt Dr. McCoy?" she felt her stomach churn with protective anger. "And that the Capellan's actions today reminded him so strongly of that event that this occurred?"

"I believe it is a logical possibility based on the little data we have," Spock replied.

Christine frowned as McCoy's heart rate dropped momentarily before returning to its previous state. Her eyes drifted to the dark bruising already forming on McCoy's left wrist. "He didn't report any injury in the post-mission assessment," she recalled the Halkan mission thoughtfully before adding with a scoff, "not that he would of course."

Kirk chuckled weakly, resigned understanding rather than humor.

"But he didn't start showing symptoms of any hidden injury later on either," Christine continued. She bit her lip in concentration, trying to recall anything she might have missed.

"Captain, was my counterpart ever alone with Dr. McCoy?" Spock asked.

Kirk nodded slowly. "For a few minutes, yes. He stayed behind in sickbay to finish treating the other Spock's head injury." He remembered McCoy's harsh plea for more time. "He said he wouldn't be more than five minutes, and he wasn't. The other Mr. Spock brought him back to the transporter room in just under that time."

Christine's ears perked at Kirk's words – "brought him back."

Spock apparently picked up on the word choice as well. "You said my counterpart 'brought' Dr. McCoy to the transporter room. He did not 'accompany' him. Did Dr. McCoy appear to be in any…..distress at that time?" Spock's voice was low.

Kirk's brow furrowed in thought. "He was….quiet," he recalled, "but otherwise seemed unharmed." His eyes narrowed. "Spock, what are you thinking?"

A sudden memory of Scotty stopping by sickbay, "just checkin' in on McCoy", worry creasing every line of his face an hour after the landing party returned that day… Cold fear gripped Christine's gut as she spun for the comm, calling Scotty and Uhura to sickbay.

She knew what Spock was thinking.

"Captain, I must know….." Spock seemed unable to continue.

"Scotty and Uhura are on their way," Christine said hurriedly, meeting Spock's eyes with a shared concern.

Spock nodded gratefully at Christine's understanding and foresight. A few moments later, with Kirk nervously watching from McCoy's side, Spock repeated his findings and questions to Scotty and Uhura. "When Dr. McCoy returned to the transporter room with my counterpart, did he appear to be in any distress?" he asked the officers.

"Yes sir, he was nothing like himself," Uhura recalled immediately. "Mr. Scott had to lead him to the transporter pad and hold him up. He never said a word," her voice wavered with remembered concern.

"Aye, something happened," Scotty nodded vigorously. "I don't know what it was, but a man doesn't act like that without havin' been through a time. The other Mr. Spock had quite a grip on the good Doctor's arm bringin' him back in, but McCoy already had a bruise on his wrist…..an' there was nothin' on his face. If I hadnae walked him to the transporter pad and held him there, I don't think he'd have ever moved. I could feel him shakin' the whole time the Captain and the other Mr. Spock were talking," Scotty said.

Christine pulled Scotty to McCoy's left side. "A bruise like this?" she asked, lifting McCoy's wrist.

Scotty's eyes widened. "Aye, just like that – same place too." He whirled on Spock. "What's goin' on, Mr. Spock?" he demanded.

Christine could see every piece fall into cold, logical place in Spock's eyes. He stood up slowly to test his theory. "Nurse Chapel, if you please," he tilted his head to his side.

Christine walked over slowly, watching the monitor dip again. "He did it, didn't he?" she whispered. "Dr. McCoy's heart rate drops when he hears your voice…he's remembering the other Spock's…." she couldn't even find the word for such profanity.

Spock nodded in slow despair. "Observe, Captain," he spoke louder, gathering everyone's attention. At Christine's nod, he grasped her left wrist, held it up between them, and slowly pushed her back against the wall. Christine swallowed reflexively as an irrational surge of panic burst through her calm understanding. Spock raised his left hand to her face and let his fingers hover just over the familiar contact points.

"He forced a mind meld," Christine said quietly, as M'Benga closed his eyes in shocked disbelief.

"That would be the logical conclusion," Spock's voice was rough.

Kirk suddenly buried his face in his hands. "I didn't think…."

"Captain?" Christine prompted softly.

Kirk looked up, eyes black with despair. "The other Spock found me in the transporter room. He wanted to know why I had been acting so strangely. I told him he was wasting his time and he said that he knew how 'inflexible and disciplined' I was once I made up my mind. He knew I wouldn't tell him. But then he said….." Kirk swallowed hard as the words came back with slow, cold clarity, "But Doctor McCoy has a plentitude of human weaknesses – sentimental, soft. You may not tell me what I want to know, but he will."

Spock went ashen with the sudden confirmation. Christine and Uhura hurriedly lowered the Vulcan into a chair.

Kirk looked from McCoy to Spock, unparalleled guilt flooding his anguished eyes. "And I called him a man of integrity…." He laughed ruefully. "The bastard as much as told me he was going to force a meld on Bones and I didn't do a damn thing. I couldn't even remember until now." His laugh grew increasingly bitter. "Spock, I…."

"Captain, I will never understand the staggering human capacity for guilt – an illogical, and, at this time, quite inefficient, use of resources."

Kirk deflated. "Of course, Spock." He had known the Vulcan long enough to know not to take offense at that response, especially when it was obvious Spock was struggling with his own 'human capacities.' "Are you all right?" he asked softly, placing a gentle hand on Spock's arm.

Spock tore his gaze from McCoy and Kirk was taken aback at the intensity of emotion in those suddenly very human eyes. "I….shall be," he managed after a long pause. "Unfortunately, I do not know if the same can be said for Dr. McCoy." He glanced at Christine. "I believe the word you were searching for earlier was 'violation,'" he said roughly, clearing his voice before turning back to Kirk. "My counterpart's statement and the similarities between the Capellan's actions and my and Nurse Chapel's demonstration confirm that my parallel universe self did indeed force a mind meld on Dr. McCoy."

The room went silent.

"What my counterpart did is an abomination according to my people – a violation of the greatest magnitude. In Surak's time, such violations, as rare as they were, were punishable by death. Those Vulcans who perpetrated such acts were recorded to have subdued their victims in the exact manner in which my counterpart, and similarly the Capellan, did Dr. McCoy. A form of Vulcan….hypnosis, if you will. Pressure points on the left wrist slow physiological responses in the Vulcan male – grasping the wrist and using those points to force movement is a sign of power, just as backing a Vulcan into a wall, or somewhere where they cannot maintain their personal space, is a sign of disrespect. My counterpart, in that universe, would have acted with those facts in mind."

"And the Capellan just happened to act the same way, reminding Bones of the other Spock's…." Kirk paused, as if he couldn't bring himself to say the word.

"'Violation', Captain," Spock supplied firmly.

"Violation," Kirk swallowed hard against the word, "and, to protect himself from those memories, he just…..shut down."

"That would appear to be the case, Captain," M'Benga agreed softly.

Spock's eyes sparked. "I must admit that I am in great admiration of Dr. McCoy's mental strength. Vulcans who have been subjected to forced mind melds often go insane, and many have died under the strain of even a healer's meld. I have never heard of a Vulcan, let alone a human, surviving such a violation, especially without treatment, with their sanity intact. The fact that McCoy was able to hide this event for five years is most impressive. Such a severe response is indeed most logical in this situation," he watched McCoy's face, admiration warring with the despair still tightening his pale face.

Kirk sighed softly, emotion-filled eyes resting on McCoy. He drew in a breath and straightened, command persona pushing through that of anguished friend. "All right, so now we know what it is," he summarized. "How do we bring Bones back?" he posited to the room.

"Normally, under these circumstances, I would suggest a deeper meld, where the emotion could be isolated and validated, thus allowing the healing to begin," Spock began.

"But considering how Dr. McCoy's condition worsens even with your voice outside of a meld," Christine nodded to the monitors, "we would be more likely to lose him with that method, than save him."

Christine swore she saw Spock actually flinch with that understanding. "Agreed, Nurse," he said, voice low. "I attempted to place positive images of our friendship…."

Christine smiled softly at that admission.

"….in his mind, but I was not able to remain long enough to ensure Dr. McCoy recognized that it was I, and not the parallel universe Spock, that was present."

Kirk nodded. "Suggestions, Dr. M'Benga?" he asked the Vulcan specialist.

M'Benga tapped his fingers lightly against the mattress. "I agree that any form of melding would be more detrimental than beneficial to Leonard right now. If Mr. Spock established brief contact and did attempt to reinforce that Leonard was surrounded by friends, rather than enemies, I would suggest we do the same."

Christine smiled. "Time and a friendly voice, Doctor?" she clarified. Her mind drifted several years, back to an unconscious Captain Kirk lying in sickbay after a particularly disastrous mission. McCoy had spent several hours in surgery, repairing the physical damage, before taking a seat at Kirk's bedside to work on the psychological. With each treatment Christine performed that night, her hypo hissed softly through increasingly drawled stories – of McCoy's farmland upbringing, the laughter and trials of medical school, memories of times with Kirk and Spock that sent McCoy chuckling again just at the thought. He talked all night. When an orderly asked what he was doing, McCoy had smiled, a weary, but hopeful, knowing smile, as he responded, "Any doctor that tells you time and a friendly voice aren't just as important as surgery and chemistry has no right carryin' that title. When a patient's hurtin' too much to come out, givin' them a little time and positive conversation'll do what no hypo ever will."

M'Benga smiled, his mind obviously returning to that same evening. "Precisely, Christine," he affirmed.

"Just talk to him?" Kirk asked, half-baffled at the simplicity of the treatment and half-thrilled at the ability to be involved.

"Exactly, Captain," Christine said. "Remind him that he's on our Enterprise, and that Mr. Spock was telling the truth – that no one here will harm him. We can support him physiologically with the ventilator and cardiac meds, but he needs to know that it's safe to come back."

"Do we have a chance, Spock?" Kirk turned to his first officer.

"He's made it work on both of you," Christine supplied, nodding at Kirk and Spock before relating McCoy's words to the orderly that night several years ago.

Kirk nodded, satisfied that so long as it was McCoy's practice, that it would work.

Spock seemed to agree. "Yes, Captain," he replied, uncharacteristically refusing to switch to more quantitative language, "there is a chance."

"Then let's start talkin'!" Scotty proclaimed.

Kirk grinned, pulling his chair closer to McCoy's side. He gestured for Spock to join him. "All right Spock, where should we start?" he looked to his friend for a good story.

"I believe it would be best if I did not participate at this time, Jim," Spock's breath nearly caught on the despair as he tilted his head toward the monitors.

Christine's heart shattered at that almost imperceptible hitch.

Kirk scowled as McCoy's heart rate dropped again in response to Spock's voice. "Fine," he decided, "but as soon as Bones remembers where he is, you're taking over. There's no way I can get through those journal articles you two read."

A flicker of peace lightened Spock's eyes. "Agreed Captain," he nodded; a hint of familiar mischief in his lips at Kirk's teasing insinuation.

"Good," Kirk said, motioning him to a seat. At Spock's questioning eyebrow, Kirk clarified, "He'll know you're here even I'm the one doing all the talking."

Spock's other eyebrow came up in understanding acceptance as he moved from McCoy's left side where Kirk was, to sit on the physician's right.

Christine pushed back the sudden threat of tears. With Kirk on the left and Spock on the right, the two men had McCoy in the middle in a soul-crushing image of post-Minara protectiveness. If anyone could stand better guard against death than a passionately engaged Leonard McCoy, it was these two men, more brothers than friends, when that very guard himself was threatened.

As Kirk began to speak, Scotty and Uhura slipped out with a silent promise to return with more 'friendly voices.'

A promise they fulfilled beyond all thought.

Several hours after Spock's eyebrows took near-permanent residence in his hairline at Kirk's Academy stories, Scotty returned with drinks and old Scottish humor. Christine found herself staying in the room long past her medication and assessment duties were completed, basking in the sound of deep, uninhibited laughter.

For three days, McCoy's room was filled with voices.

Kirk's rock-climbing adventures as a midshipman.

Scotty's delight in the new engineering improvements he was implementing.

Sulu's frighteningly sentient plants and upcoming horticultural plans.

Chekov's recitation of world history, as invented by Russia.

Uhura's songs and ship's gossip.

…..And, on the second day, at Uhura's prodding, Spock's lyre.

"If it's your voice he fears right now, let your fingers speak to him instead," Uhura had said, strumming the Vulcan lyre softly as she handed it to Spock.

Christine maintained a quiet, steady presence in the background, laughing along with the myriad of newly discovered facets of the Bridge crew, adding her own stories here and there, watching McCoy's healing routine in action.

On the second day, she cheered with the crew as McCoy was downgraded to a simple oxygen mask.

On the third day, Spock answered Kirk's beeping communicator so the Captain could continue his story. Spock gave Eleen a thorough update from the bedside before signing off and resuming his attention on Kirk's tale.

Christine's grin threatened to split her face. "Mr. Spock, look," she pointed to the monitors.

Spock looked from the monitor to Christine. "I do not understand, Nurse. Nothing has changed."

"Exactly," Christine somehow managed to grin even wider. "You were just speaking…. right next to him….. and his heart rate never changed."

Anyone who said Vulcans couldn't smile with their eyes had never seen Spock in that moment.

Kirk let out a breath. "That's it, Bones," he encouraged. He looked to Spock. "Well Spock, what've you got?" he grinned.

Spock raised his eyes to the sky in a long-suffering gesture before turning pleased eyes to McCoy's face. "Doctor, I believe you would be interested to note the latest….."

The night passed with a steady stream of scientific jargon and a sleeping Captain, head pillowed lightly against McCoy's bruised wrist.

And on the fourth day, Christine saw one routine come to fruition while rejoicing at the knowledge that another would continue.

As Kirk and Spock quietly pored over a new mission assignment at McCoy's bedside, McCoy woke up.

Christine held her breath, hugging the doorway as Kirk leaned forward cautiously. He sifted through the dulled blue layers until he found the one thing he needed – recognition. He exhaled heavily, the sound of a man finally able to breathe again.

McCoy blinked sluggishly, heart rate rising smoothly as awareness returned. The clouds shifted and focused blue met hopeful hazel. Recognition sparked anew. Kirk grinned.

McCoy's eyes shifted to Kirk's side, where Spock was slowly lowering the PADD they had been consulting. McCoy locked eyes with the Vulcan and smiled weakly. Spock's eyes closed briefly as relief flooded his features.

"Welcome back, Bones," Kirk smiled, squeezing the physician's arm.

"Indeed, Doctor, your presence has been missed," Spock's face was carefully neutral once more, but nothing could keep the undercurrent of joy from his voice.

McCoy's lips twitched again, blue eyes shining before slowly slipping closed again in easy slumber.

Kirk and Spock shared a lingering look before settling back and resuming their vigil.

This was their routine – calling, guarding, healing.

Watching.

Christine rested her head against the coolness of the wall as relief flowed through her. They had done it again. McCoy was still here.

She looked to Kirk and Spock, quietly discussing mission objectives at the bedside. They simultaneously looked up to ensure McCoy was resting comfortably, that he was still with them. Christine met their gaze.

It was all in their eyes.

Someone needs to watch the watcher.

And as long as the watcher survived…..

….as long as McCoy survived…..

…they would all stand that watch.


*Medical/Episode Notes:

- In "Friday's Child", Maab is the Capellan that leads the coup and kills the Teer, Akaar. He supports the Klingon, Kras, until the end of the episode, when Kras doubts Eleen's word and Eleen forms a plan to draw Kras's fire. Maab gives Eleen back her life, saying that his "is now forfeit." He calls another Capellan named Keel, to stand ready, and when Maab dies distracting Kras, Keel kills the Klingon with the Capellan's traditional weapon, the kligat. Names were verified at the Memory Alpha website.

- In the brief scenes with Akaar in "Friday's Child", he is the only Capellan male without the full, habit-like head covering. Using this, I decided that only the Teer could wear his hair free in that manner, and so when Leonard James Akaar claims his title, he both receives the traditional warrior's weapon that he has earned, and removes his head covering in light of his new role.

- Meel, Maab's son, is an original character that I created. His back story is that he was proud to be the son of the man who granted Eleen back her life and allowed the true Teer to come to power, and so he volunteered, even though he was two years older than Leonard James, to be his opponent at the coming-of-age ceremony that would prove the victor a Capellan warrior, and would prove Leonard James worthy of being the Teer.

- When Eleen tries to get Maab and the other Capellans to fight, she asks "are you warriors or children?" The way she says "children", it sounds like an insult, so I made it one.

- "BVM" stands for "bag valve mask", also known as an "ambu-bag." It is used to deliver breaths to patients who are unable to breathe on their own.

- "AC 12" is a ventilator setting. "AC" stands for "assist control", where the ventilator delivers a pre-programmed number of breaths per minute. If the patient attempts to initiate a breath on their own, the ventilator takes over and delivers the preset percentage of oxygen and volume. AC 12 means the patient is getting 12 breaths per minute.

- "PEEP" stands for "positive end expiratory pressure." It is a ventilator setting that gives a patient some positive pressure on each exhalation, so that the alveoli (the grape-like air sacs at the bottom of the lungs that allow for gas exchange) remain open, rather than collapse.