Notes: Sequel to 'Here is a Place of Disaffection.' Took a while to tease everything out proper.
Spock was twenty-four years old, and he had found himself with a friend.
Vulcans did not have friends. Though a social species as much as Humans, in evolutionary terms, Vulcans based their connections on telepathy, not emotion (and never had based it on emotion, even in the barbarian days) and thus kept close those who were mentally beneficial, and rejected those who were not.
Those who were mentally beneficial were largely family, not friends. Although heat occurred every seven years, Vulcans were entirely capable of sexual intercourse throughout their adult lives, and entire clans of interrelated members had sprung up before the adoption of logic, bound together by the common ground of telepathic dependence grown from infancy.
Vulcans did not, with the exception of bondmates, typically find telepathic use for others that would affect their instincts. They did not, to use Human parlance, have friends.
And yet that was exactly what Spock had found.
The doctor spent much of his off-duty time in Spock's presence – usually arguing, but in Spock's presence all the same – filling the air with noise that would have been utterly meaningless coming from anyone else, and an annoyance at an absolute best. And yet, even when they disagreed on so many issues, it...
It did not matter.
It neither irritated in the Human sense, nor proved dismissible in the Vulcan sense. That they disagreed at all was...irrelevant, and Spock could find no other way to explain it bar for McCoy's overture of friendship to be true.
He did not understand.
The doctor was not wildly sociable by Human standards – he had his selection of associates aboard the ship with whom Spock observed him speaking – and that he had, apparently quite deliberately, sought out Spock's company (and continued to do so) despite having other options...
This did not make sense.
The pulsating pain that radiated from the marrow of the shattered tibia and up into his hip and the lower half of his spine was briefly cleared (before inevitably returning) by a wash of cool ocean mist as a hand came to settle on his forearm, two point four inches below the elbow.
"How you holdin' up?" a brief rasp of warm sand - thick, slipping through the cracks with the fluidity of water.
"I am not holding anything up," Spock responded flatly, not opening his eyes. The lights were painfully bright, and the bustle of sickbay around him nauseating in deference to his concussion and badly broken leg. His body was preoccupied, and adding to the influx of new data would not help matters.
"Well, you're not brain-damaged," McCoy muttered, almost darkly. "You're controlling the pain readout."
"I cannot control the readout."
"Fine, you're manipulating the pain so the readout ain't catchin' it. Don't get smart with me; I know how much three compound fractures is going to hurt."
"Are you making a point, doctor, or merely speaking?"
McCoy snorted - but through the fine mist still layering itself over the skin that he touched on Spock's arm prodded another sensation. A wave of warmth tugged and teased at the muscles, sweeping up to do the same to his eyes and mouth before dying, and Spock felt McCoy's amusement - felt it, as surely as if he had melded wiht the man while he had been laughing.
"Well, would you look at that."
"At what, doctor?"
"Your pain readings went up, and your stress levels stayed down," the sand was even warmer now, almost flushed through with heat. "Am I distracting you?"
"My shields are down," Spock confessed quietly. "Your emotions are...fascinating."
"Only because you're Vulcan and don't have 'em," McCoy snorted, and then his thumb moved in a light semicircle from the joint, passing lightly over the available skin and tucking into the crook of Spock's elbow briefly before returning along its path again.
Stroking, for lack of a better term.
The mist - sharp, clear, and distracting - tracked the same path, drawing Spock's focus away from the pain that was digging into the contours of his hip and upper leg easily.
"Nurse, low dose of codeine over here, please."
Humans were psi null and as such, their minds were disorganised and confused. Emotions were inseparable from their context, and often broadcast to the empathic or telepathic along with their surroundings in the Human psyche. Emotions, therefore, manifested themselves not as emotional response, but typically (to Vulcans, at the very least) as sensory responses - smells, temperatures, visions, even audible sounds. Some were uniform - the vague tug of amusement, or the boiling kettle of anger, flash-hot and uncontrollable - but others were not. Others were as unique as telepathic signatures, and...
The hand on his forearm squeezed lightly as the hypospray pinched his neck, and the mist dug itself into his skin with an odd tenacity for something so elusive.
He had never felt this before.
"Try and get some sleep," McCoy's voice dropped to a low murmur, patting his arm. "There's more codeine if you need it."
The mist drifted away; in the half-moments before sleep, Spock found that he missed it.
The padd dropped onto Spock's stomach and bounced once, and McCoy smirked at his visible surprise.
"Seeing as the patient won't stop trying to escape on a broken leg, I brought somethin' to keep him entertained," he grumped, pulling over a chair and sinking into it with all the gracelessness of a tired Human. "You're worse than my ex. Can ride a horse nine months pregnant, my ass."
"I would like to point out that I am neither attempting to ride a horse, nor nine months pregnant," Spock said dryly, taking the padd. His tibia had shattered badly enough that bone and nerve regeneration was necessary, and thus he had been grounded to the medical bay for the next week and a half at minimum.
"I'm not sure which would be worse in the middle of space," McCoy grunted. He was in vague need of a shave, Spock noted, and his time sense dutifully informed him that the doctor should, in all likelihood, be off duty.
"Should you not be resting, doctor?"
"Not ready for it yet," McCoy shrugged. "Figured I'd come keep you company. Nurse Teyman said you refused painkillers this morning."
"I am not in need of them."
McCoy squinted at him, then shrugged. "Alright. You want to suffer with it, be my guest. Wouldn't do to damage those masochistic tendencies of yours."
"I am not masochistic..."
"And I'm not a doctor," McCoy snorted. "I downloaded every page of the new VSA journal. In Vulcan and in Standard. Should keep you busy for at least half an hour."
Spock arched an eyebrow at him, and elected to ignore the somewhat obvious jibe.
"Here," McCoy leaned forward. "You said my emotions were fascinatin' the other day."
"You always feel emotions when people touch you?"
"Usually; it takes considerable effort to completely shield from every aspect of another sentient being when engaging in physical contact."
"Huh," McCoy mused, frowning slightly as though puzzling the information over. "Do they make sense?"
"Which means not ever," McCoy smirked. "Otherwise they wouldn't be fascinatin'."
"I have learned that most aspects of Human emotionalism are fascinating, if not wholly logical."
"Not wholly," McCoy muttered, almost to himself.
"In what way, doctor?"
"Never you mind," he said, clapping his hands on his thighs before rising. "I'd better get goin'. I'll be back in the morning, and if I find out you stayed awake all night reading, I'll sedate you for the during of the treatment."
As he left, Spock wondered when, exactly, McCoy's idle threats in the medical bay had become a normal part of life.
"Alright, you green-blooded masochist," Dr. McCoy stopped at Spock's bedside, hands on his hips and familiar frown in place. "Nurse Teyman tells me you've been complaining about being in here too long."
"Vulcans do not complain."
"You sure been doing a good job of it, I hear," he shot back. "Or are my nurses making it up about you wanting to go back on duty with a half-healed tibia and a badly bruised fibula?"
"My tibia is eighty percent healed, and fully fused, as your equipment..."
"Bein' in one piece doesn't mean you can use it yet!"
"I fail to see what being kept on enforced bed rest holds in benefit over sitting at my desk and completing at least some of my duties."
McCoy narrowed his eyes, then folded his arms. "If I let you finish up the bed rest in your quarters, will you obey my every medical order and stay off the damn leg?"
Spock paused, then swept his eyes over the busy and unsettlingly public sickbay. "Yes."
McCoy's eyes pinched tighter for a split second before he unfolded with a gusty sigh that conjured, for a split second, the image of a disgruntled sandstorm, if such things existed.
"Wheelchair," he said flatly. "And so help me God, you disagree with anything that I say about this, I will sedate you, have you strapped to one of the beds in the ICU, and order Hawkins to give you a bedbath."
With that somewhat disturbing announcement, he turned on his heel and left, leaving Spock to wonder briefly who Hawkins was and why receiving a bedbath from said person would be considerably more unpleasant than receiving it from Nurse Teyman, as he had been.
A moment later, the immobilising field around his right leg was deactivated and McCoy came striding back into view with a wheelchair and a support cane thrown across the back.
"If you use the cane, you can probably get into it yourself without having to be lifted," he said briskly, pressing the handle into Spock's hand and helping him sit up. A stab of pain rocketed up his wounded leg into his hip, but he suppressed the wince in the face of the doctor's surprising act of compromise.
McCoy, it seemed, had given up on using gloves around Spock; his hands, when they came to turn his legs and hips to the edge, and grip his waist for support, soaked heavy warmth through the thin hospital tunic. It rode up when Spock shifted to place his weight on the cane and drop down from the bed, and suddenly one of those hands was clasped about the bare skin over his heart, and the conflicting sensations of the cool mist of an Earth ocean, the heavy press of hot sand, and the sheer heat that always radiated off the Human body all pressed into Spock's skin.
It was...not unpleasant.
"Goddamn you're heavy," McCoy grunted, sounding slightly strained as he helped Spock into the chair. "Damn," he added as he deactivated the brake and slung a medical bag over his shoulder. "I think I just gave myself a hernia."
"You would likely be in considerable pain."
"Like you, right now?"
"Yeah, I thought so," McCoy muttered. "Double dose of codeine for you once you're settled. Might sedate you anyway, you know; that way at least I know you'll sleep."
"Why are you quite so sceptical of my willingness to adhere to medical orders?"
"Because the very first time I gave you a medical order, for a damn physical, you tried to wriggle out of it, and you've been squirming ever since," McCoy deadpanned as they left the sickbay. The hallway was warmer, and smelled less...hostile, in a strange manner, and Spock felt something minute inside him relax.
His quarters were warmer still, having been locked since the accident and thus not circulated with the cooler air from the recyclers upon the activation of the motion sensors within. The faint tint of incense on the air made that tension from the medical bay loosen a fraction further, and from the way McCoy glanced at him as he stripped back the covers on the bunk, it had been noticeable.
"Bed, painkillers, sleep," he said firmly, getting the chair as close to the bed as was physically possible. "I can drop by in the morning and help you through the shower, but when I say you don't use that leg, I damn well mean it."
"As you wish, doctor." Spock had no wish to use the leg; it throbbed, the pulsating nature of the pain returned, and demanded his attention as he systematically shut off his pain receptors one by one to release his mind for more productive tasks.
The transition to the bed was far easier than from biobed to chair, and Spock took the opportunity while McCoy removed the chair to a corner to strip off the paper-thin (and unreasonably scratchy) hospital tunic and settle down into the mattress and pillow gratefully.
The hands that closed around his knee were a surprise, to say the least.
"Whoa," McCoy muttered when he jumped. "Just administerin' a localised painkiller. It'll keep it at bay enough to let you sleep, but you try using it or moving around too much and you'll know about it."
The hypospray hissed, and McCoy's thumb brushed over the spot by Spock's kneecap almost...soothingly. That unidentifiable mist was back, almost ice-cold against the dull burn of regenerated (and sore) muscle in his lower leg.
"You wake up in pain, you call sickbay immediately, you got that?"
"'In one', doctor."
"Now you're a comedian?" McCoy griped, clipping a light heat wrap closed around the damaged leg and reaching for another hypospray from his bag. "Alright, one sedative comin' right up. This'll put you out for at least six hours. I'll drop by before shift in the morning and see how you're doin'. Frankly, I expect to have to let myself in, because you should still be asleep. Don't think I haven't noticed how little you sleep in the medical bay."
"Vulcans do not require..."
"Any time you feel like not bullshittin' your doctor, be my guest," McCoy grumbled, pressing the hypospray into the side of his neck and depressing it. "Alright. I'll see you in the morning, and then you can try to convince me why I shouldn't haul you back into observation."
"Because I am more comfortable here, and comfort is considered necessary to healing by most species," Spock said, the soporific effect of the sedative already beginning to twist its steady way into his synapses.
He did not remain awake long enough to hear the doctor's reply.
Vulcans tended to come awake instantly, and Spock was no exception, so he was alert and aware from the first chime at his door, and half sitting in bed by the time McCoy initiated the override, tricorder already in the air.
"How's the leg?" were the first words from the doctor's mouth, and as if on cue, the bone twinged.
"The discomfort is minor."
"Meaning there is some," McCoy said. "I'm putting you on a steady codeine prescription for the next four days, then we'll have another look if it still hurts after that."
"What purpose would looking at it serve?"
"You never know," McCoy muttered, stripping down the blankets without so much as a by-your-leave and unclipping the bands that kept the heated blanket in place. He did not, to Spock's relief, attempt to actually touch the leg, though his hand was hot on the underside of Spock's foot as he lifted the leg to remove the wrap.
The mist was more powerful - it was sharper, almost tangible in Spock's lungs as he breathed, and for a split second he thought he heard the crash of a wave at the door to his quarters; perhaps sleep added strength to Human emotion.
"I expect you'll be wanting a shower?"
"You expect correctly, doctor."
"If you use the cane, you can stand under the sonics for four minutes, which should be plenty. I'm sealing the door open, and you will call me when you're done to assist with walking."
His hands were once again overly warm when they came to help him up from the bed, a heavy arm wrapping around his waist without hesitation. The doctor was, as most medical professionals were, stronger than his size and career would have one believe, and while he once more grumbled about Spock's dense weight, his grasp was sure and confident, and his frame stable under their combined weight.
And most intriguing, the washes of mist flowing from every inch of his skin, until Spock's own skin felt almost damp from it when, factually, it was not.
Whatever the mist was, it shrouded the doctor, and Spock could not help but wish to identify it.
He was left in the shower, leaning against the back wall and cane in hand, for precisely three minutes and fifty eight seconds, but could not bring himself to pick at the time difference between three minutes and fifty eight seconds and four minutes, when the doctor's hand were wrapped in such an elusive, curious emotion. It wrapped itself into Spock's skin as though it belonged there; it clung with the intensity of a projected emotion from a low-level telepath, and yet Spock knew for a fact that Humans were not capable of such mental feats.
It was puzzling.
The most logical course of action would be, of course, to ask the doctor directly - it would be unsurprising, if the doctor made such overtures of friendship as he had, to find the source to be concern or worry, and McCoy would rather obviously know the emotions he was feeling more than Spock did at this current moment, and so Spock waited precisely until he was sat back down on the edge of the bed and McCoy had turned to his storage units to ask.
"Dr. McCoy, you are experiencing a powerful emotional reaction."
"Huh?" McCoy looked entirely bewildered for a moment, before his face performed an odd twitch. "Uh, yeah. Guess I am. Let's get you dressed and then I'll see what I can do about getting the galley to deliver something."
"Your reaction is...overpowering in your touch..."
"If it's makin' you uncomfortable, I can always grab a pair of gloves," McCoy offered, dropping a fresh pair of boxers and a t-shirt onto the mattress by Spock's hips.
"That would be unnecessary."
McCoy's mouth twitched. "So you don't mind - which is Vulcan for like it."
"To like it would be to..."
"Arms around my shoulders."
There was a pause while Spock used McCoy as leverage to raise his hips and allow the doctor to change his boxers for him, before he seamlessly resumed the line of enquiry.
"I am merely curious as to your emotional responses, and why they are so strong at this time."
"You're the telepath; you tell me."
"I am also not Human and therefore cannot establish what emotion is fuelling the imprints in your touch."
"Well, then," McCoy shrugged, loading up a hypospray with what Spock suspected to be another dose of the nausea-inducing codeine. "Put your Vulcan logic to use and figure it out. You've been trying to figure it out for a while now - yeah, I've noticed - and I'd hate to ruin the game."
"I am not playing a game, doctor."
"Alright, then I'd hate to ruin an education," McCoy shrugged. "Now I'm going to nip down to the galley and get you something that actually has calories, instead of the air you must eat for breakfast every other day of the week."
And then he was gone, and the mist with him.
Once he had been (more or less) force-fed breakfast, and McCoy had returned to the sickbay for his regular shift, Spock was left with padds and paperwork in bed, and chose instead to dedicate the time to proper meditation. He had only achieved very light surfaced meditation during his recovery thus far, and the growing disorder to his thoughts was beginning to be cumbersome.
Without his candles, incense or usual position folded upon his mat, he spent at least half an hour adjusting himself to the change in circumstance, processing the dull thump of the codeine in his systems, and separating himself both from the drug and from the pain.
Once free, his thoughts turned immediately to McCoy - to his assistance, to his company, to his care, to his surprising friendship that, even over several months, Spock had to admit he had not quite gotten used to. Why the brash doctor, with his emotional ways and sand-tongue language, would be bothered with the likes of Spock was a mystery, but it was one he perhaps should simply accept as true and leave alone.
And the fact was that Spock had formed an attachment in return. He...appreciated the doctor's company, and were he prone to his mother's more Human parlance, he would perhaps say that he enjoyed their time together. The doctor was a most fascinating man, although illogical and emotional in the extreme at times, and hid a powerful intelligence that appealed when they spoke.
And he was the only person Spock had ever touched where the emotional transference was not...burdening.
And then he came to it: that underlay of mist that had crept into McCoy's touch some time ago, and had been building since until it pushed out almost any other impression from him. The mist that brought clarity – sharp, almost painful clarity of thought that was simultaneously so Vulcan, and yet so emotional – and that hid, now, even under the sand of his voice.
Shorelines waiting in the deep...
Without a meld, of course, he could not decode the mist in its entirety, but the touches were not all fleeting, and the whispered impressions had lingered and drawn themselves into Spock's psyche as surely as words would have done, and when he followed their insidious, winding paths, he found...
His mind broke from the layers of meditation and he made some audible noise – perhaps a gasp – and the candle flickered from the shrine in the ruffled air.