Notes: Nothing much to say here. Have fun, blame Nicky, etc.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
The moment the words were out of the doctor's mouth, it was apparent that he was still displeased with Spock. Dr. McCoy was usually rather more approachable than usual when administering the routine physicals – regulations stated that they were still hands-on in many arenas, and as much medicine no longer involved touching the patient with the hands, there were many crewmembers who had never come into physical contact with a doctor before the annual physical, and found it uncomfortable or unnerving.
Any such consideration was distinctly absent from the doctor's voice.
"Commander, siddown or I'll make you siddown," he drawled, turning from the trolley with a small tricorder and a charged reader. "And get that damn tunic off while you're at it."
Spock said nothing, pulling himself onto the nearest biobed and removing his uniform shirt and undershirt obediently. If McCoy had decided not to like him, which was entirely the human's prerogative, then it was perhaps best to minimise the amount of time that this was going to take.
"Any unusual symptoms to report?" McCoy asked. Spock noted that he did not ask if Spock were worried about anything – either he did not care, or he had learned how to speak to Vulcan patients.
"You takin' the medication that Medical HQ prescribed?"
He suppressed a vicious wave of bitterness. The drugs, prescribed hastily in the aftermath of the destruction of Vulcan, dampened his telepathy so that the hole where his people had been was not so disturbing. It was little more than a mercy-kill; the drugs healed nothing, and he would have to cope with the pain when he was signed off as 'not likely to airlock himself or anyone else.'
"Any comment on those?"
McCoy eyed him with an unreadable look. "Uh…huh," he muttered, then either ignored it or let it slide, eyeing his tricorder readings. "Take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds."
Spock did so.
"Exhale just as deep. Try an' get all the air out."
The tricorder hummed as he obeyed, and the doctor made a note.
This was not procedure.
"Do it," McCoy snapped, and Spock swung up his legs to lie flat on the biobed. The tricorder emitted a low beep, and McCoy grunted, making another note. "Stay there."
Without explanation, he stalked off to the cabinets lining the back of the bay, and Spock stared blandly at the ceiling. Sickbay was brighter than the rest of the ship, and the smell familiar. Vulcans and Humans used much of the same antibiotic cleaning products in their medical establishments, and the smell of hospital was not alien to him at all. Neither did it elicit any positive response.
"Alright," McCoy had returned, ligature and white case in hand. "I need a blood sample."
"For what purpose?"
"For testin'," McCoy remarked sharply, snapping out the ligature and checking the clasps before reaching to tie it around Spock's bicep.
The shock was immense.
It was like being struck with an electrical current, and Spock barely suppressed the flinch. It was like a damaged console spark, or standing in the engine room at full warp and the hairs all over one's body standing on end with the sheer charge in the air. It was painful – he wanted to shy away, and only decorum prevented it.
And then, mercifully, McCoy removed his hands.
"Make a fist."
Spock obeyed, his whole arm feeling somewhat numbed by the shock.
The sampling kits were long enough that McCoy didn't have to touch him to pierce the vein and draw out a full vial's worth of blood, and Spock found himself illogically grateful for it. He knew why the doctor was frowning this time, but in the aftermath of such a sharp, unexpected shock, he failed to calm before:
"Don't like needles?"
"I neither like nor dislike needles."
"Uh-huh," McCoy snorted. "Heart rate's elevated, respiration's gone up, and that hand's shakin'. Does it hurt?"
"Then y'don't like needles," he said decisively, and removed it, capping off the vial and stowing it in the white case. His hands came back to remove the ligature – and for the first time, Spock experienced an absolute and complete desire not to be touched.
The shock hit him again, and he ground his teeth together.
Spock could not work it out. The shock had been too powerful, and his telepathy too weakened by the drugs he was on at the time, to isolate the cause of the shock beyond McCoy himself. And humans were incapable of any kind of electrical or bioelectrical output on that level. They were similarly incapable of telepathic or empathic projection, and while there was always the possibility that it had been McCoy's unshielded emotions, Spock had never felt such a sharp shock from someone's emotions – and he was in Starfleet. He had touched many extremely overemotional beings.
Whatever it was, it was unpleasant, and he did not wish to repeat the experience.
So when the diagnosis came back two days later that he was suffering from a copper deficiency and not eating regularly enough, along with a strongly-worded demand that he submit to fortnightly blood tests to check his levels stayed in line for the next six months of the mission, Spock was quick to request that one of the nurses perform the tests.
"I don't care who does 'em," McCoy growled. "Just get 'em done. If even one of 'em is late, I'll have Jim on your ass faster than you can nerve-pinch me."
That was an unappealing prospect in itself – Jim had taken, much like Nyota, to watching him with a pitying, wary gaze of late, and Spock would have hated it if he had had the energy to do so. But the prospect of that painful snap of something was worse, and he hastily arranged for the samples to be taken at the end of the gamma shift by one of the night nurses, before McCoy would come on shift at all.
Exactly five months and fourteen days into the mission, McCoy wrote off on Spock's prescription for the drugs.
"The rest of that mess you call a brain has stabilised enough, we might as well get you off 'em," he drawled. "You can't keep takin' 'em constantly, and I expect you want your freaky mind voodoo back."
Spock said nothing.
"You can stop right now," McCoy shrugged, pushing a thin medical padd across the table. "I'm putting you on a light sedative for nights because you can bet your ass it'll mess with your sleeping patterns. Only two a night, tops, and only then if you're having serious difficulty. I'd tell your girlfriend, too; people on sedatives can be hard to rouse, and it's a bad sign if…"
"I would rather not," Spock said flatly.
McCoy paused. "Everything okay between the two of you?" he asked eventually.
"That is not your concern."
McCoy raised an eyebrow – for all his disparaging remarks, he did occasionally mimic the oddest selections of Vulcan behaviour – and said, "Not unless it causes grief. Then it is."
"Alright, alright," he muttered. "I also want to keep checkin' your lymph nodes. The deltoideopectoral glands have a tendency to swell up in humans coming off similar drugs, and that's best caught early, so for the first two weeks…"
"Will Nurse Johnson be capable of the examination?" Spock interrupted.
McCoy stared at him, and scowled. "Don't think I haven't noticed."
"Is Nurse Johnson capable of this examination?"
"Now either you got a thing for Cassie, in which case may I remind you of your own lady waitin' in the comms department, or you got a thing against me, in which case…"
"Doctor, either answer my question, or I will locate Nurse Johnson and ask her directly."
McCoy outright glowered at him. "Yes, she's capable."
"Then I formally request that she be the one to perform it."
"Now look here…"
"Unless there is a reason why Nurse Johnson's examination would be inferior to your own, which you have just stated is not the case, or there is a reason why Nurse Johnson should not be examining my person at all, which is not the case under any of the welfare regulations in place, then my request must be adhered to."
McCoy gritted his teeth. "Fine. I'll add you to her lists."
"Then if that is all…"
"No, that ain't all," McCoy snarled. "You sit the fuck down and tell me – what is your goddamn problem with me? Sure, I may not have been all buddy-buddy with you when you came aboard like Jim decided to be, but you're outright avoidin' me, and don't think I haven't noticed."
"Clearly you have," Spock said coldly.
McCoy made a noise very close to a growl, which was faintly impressive given the unforgiving structure of the human throat. "Well, I want a goddamn explanation. You've been avoidin' me like I shot your puppy, Jim says you're outright reclusive unless Uhura drags you to some function or other, and judging by the way she's been slamming around the mess hall and the rec rooms, you ain't talking to her much either. You got a problem with us all of a sudden?"
Spock drew himself up. Trust humans to make connections where none existed. However he behaved with McCoy was wholly unrelated to his relationships with Nyota or Jim. They did not manage to electrocute him. "I believe that we are done here, Doctor."
"No we are not goddamn done!" McCoy shouted, but Spock was already out the door.
He did not relish the action, but the memory of the shock was fresh and ready in his mind and on top of everything, he was not entirely sure that he could control his reaction were to happen again.
She was gone.
Attempts at meditation were…fractured and unsuccessful, and her hesitant voice just kept drifting through his memory whenever he tried to clear the fog and find clarity. Her apologies, that phrase that even he knew to be clichéd, and the look in her eyes that she knew what she was doing, and yet could not stand not to do it any longer.
He wished, irrationally, that he could feel anger toward her, but he could not. How could he have done so? She had done the right thing. He could not possibly trap her into a stifling relationship with a collapsing partner. She needed her freedom, not to drown with him.
But without her…
He knew the feeling would pass. All did; once he could find his centre, he could meditate on it and control his reactions and move on. They could be friends once more, as they had been in the beginning, and everything would stabilise itself around this new fact.
If he could just…get there.
He ignored the chime of the door entry, and tried to draw himself into the first level of meditation. Jim had tried to enter several times, talking of talking about it through the door, but he did not understand. Talking therapy was a human treatment. Isolation therapy was a far more effective Vulcan one.
This time, however, his doors slid open.
He opened his eyes to find the doctor approaching, obnoxious and invasive, and eyeing him with an expression Spock had never seen before.
"I did not give you permission to enter."
"I'm the CMO, I can go wherever I want," McCoy returned flatly. "Anyway, Lieutenant Uhura called. She was worried."
"I am well. Leave."
"Entertain an old country doctor," McCoy said, folding himself up to sit cross-legged opposite Spock – he crushed the wave of anger at the presumption – and drawing his shoulder bag into his lap. The hated tricorder glowed in the dim room, and the whirring began again, crawling unpleasantly up Spock's spine.
"Why are you here?"
"I told you, Uhura called," McCoy said. "Seemed to think you weren't reacting all too well to the split."
"And you hope to solve this problem by distracting me from meditation?"
"I hope to check that you're as well as you say you are," McCoy returned, but he was not rising to Spock's words the way that he normally did. There was no bite or anger, mere calm resilience. "Your vitals are very low."
"That is partly the point of meditation – to rest the body as well as the mind."
"Uh-huh," McCoy said, tapping away. "Okay, look, how about we stop this?"
Spock quirked an eyebrow.
"You're tryin' to dance around me, and I'm tryin' to dance around you…"
"I am not dancing, nor…"
"Cut it out. Just be flat-out honest. You're not fine, and we both know it. I'm here in case you decide to do something stupid…"
"I am Vulcan."
"And you've not been really stable upstairs since Nero, no matter what low mental threshold Command like to set to reinstate an officer these days. You're getting there, but you sure as shit haven't recovered, and this isn't gonna help. So I'm here to assuage everyone's worry – including mine – that you might just do somethin' stupid."
Spock thought that he was being insulted, quite frankly.
"What do you propose, doctor? To shadow my every move until my mental state reflects your human presumptions?"
"Can it," McCoy snapped. "I propose actually coming out of this hidey-hole and spending some time with the crew. Stop Jim from having a neurotic fit. You do know how close he is to writing you off away team rosters? Without a single medical input from me?"
Spock narrowed his eyes.
"Don't you glower at me," McCoy grunted. "Now I can stay in here all night, or you can come out and stay where someone can keep an eye on you."
"I am not suicidal," Spock said, and watched a very faint shiver in McCoy's skin at the word.
"Maybe not," McCoy agreed. "Probably not, even. But the circumstances are enough that I'm not happy not knowing what you're up to. And all this tricorder is tellin' me is that you need a decent goddamn meal and a long sleep. Can't do shit about the meal, with the goddamn replicators on this hunk of junk, but we can do somethin' about the sleep."
"I can sleep here."
"You can sleep in a private booth in Sickbay," McCoy returned. "That way the scanners can keep an eye on you, your sleeping pills aren't within arm's reach, and Jim'll stop harassing me to share your medical records."
"He's an idiot; of course I won't," McCoy snorted. "Now git."
"I am not…"
McCoy reached for him, and Spock – still unshielded from meditation – was hit by what felt like a lightning bolt, searing from his toes to his skull and briefly cutting out every nerve between them for a flash of time. It did not hurt, because his nerves temporarily could not respond – it was a half-second paralysis, and he instinctively strained to get away from it at the same time as his intellectual higher functions strained to analyse and understand.
His body must have reacted to the brief paralysis, because suddenly McCoy's hand released his wrist and lunged for his clothed elbow, stopping the alarming list of his upper body and swearing profusely.
"This is what you goddamn get for holing yourself up in your rooms for twelve hours and not eating a damn thing!" he snarled. "Goddamnit, Spock, you're the only damn member of the crew I have to push a lower limit of nutritional intake for!"
His hands had left Spock's bare skin; he collected himself, and pushed the doctor sharply away.
"Do not touch me," he snarled.
McCoy paused, hands still hovering. He frowned. "Spock, if you're feelin' faint…"
"I am perfectly capable of moving under my own power. Do not touch me again, Doctor," Spock snapped, and wondered at the sudden tension in his own voice.
McCoy narrowed his eyes. It was not a glare, but a shrewd, calculating expression. "Your telepathy acting up?"
"Well, that right there was a pretty damn strong reaction. Either your body's acting up, or your mind acted up because of me. Which is it?"
Sometimes, Spock hated the doctor's particular brand of logic.
"If you will not leave me alone, then you will afford me the dignity of walking without unnecessary aid."
"If you can prove to me you can do it," McCoy returned, watching him carefully as Spock rose to his feet and extinguished the meditation candles on the idol. He rose as well after a moment, retrieving his tricorder and slinging his bag back over his shoulder. "Git. Now. I want scans, and I want 'em done proper."
"You will not be performing a physical examination."
"I will perform whatever the hell I damn well please," McCoy snapped. "Now move, before I sedate your ass and have you carried. You're spendin' the night in Sickbay, and if you even think about sneaking off to alpha in the morning before I've cleared you, I'll have you on mandatory sick leave for the next week, and lock you in there."
"You will do no such thing."
It did not take long for the doctor – and Jim, and Nyota – to calm themselves over Spock's withdrawal, though he failed to see the reason for their concern in the first place, but there had been one benefit to the night in the Sickbay: the scanners had recorded his sleeping pattern, and Dr. McCoy had been able to adjust his sleeping pills to work more effectively.
The downside was that only had Spock reinforced the first memory of that painful shock from McCoy's hands, but McCoy suspected that he was deliberately avoiding his touch. And McCoy was not a man to let things slide.
However, Spock was rarely injured, and illnesses were typically treated without physical touch regardless, and so it was almost ten months later before McCoy's hands came anywhere near him again.
Only this time, wearing gloves.
They had been attacked. A trio of Klingon warbirds had strayed into Federation territory with the intent, it seemed, of eavesdropping on communications channels between ships. The battle was a long, loud and fierce one, and Spock had been routed into engineering to help Mr. Scott attempt to prevent a major blowout in the auxiliary plasma banks.
They had not been successful in one case, and the fourth bank had exploded – and the next Spock knew, there were bright lights and that sickly smell of hospital, and someone shouting for assistance. He could feel his own blood, and the oddest sensation of warm water in his ears and running down his neck. The whole world seemed to be green when he squinted through the light and the blood, and he realised in a vague, detached sort of a manner that he quite obviously had a head injury.
Judging by the distinct sensation of a bracing field activating over his neck and shoulders, a fairly severe one.
"Shit," a familiar voice cursed, and McCoy's face swam into view. He looked distorted, as though Spock were underwater. "Spock? Can you hear me? Blink if you can hear me."
Spock did so.
"Okay, good – conscious, can still hear despite the leak – Nurse, I'm going to need the bone knitter on this fracture."
And then, quite suddenly, his hands appeared – blue, lined in fine wrinkles and traced with powder along the insides, and Spock flinched away. He could not handle – not with a head injury. The short-circuit was painful enough, disorienting enough, when he was in control – without that control…
"Damnit, Spock, I have to touch you!" McCoy exploded. "I know you don't like it but…"
"No," Spock – croaked, for lack of a better term. He fought through the pain and the haze to raise a hand and clasp at McCoy's scrubs. "It…will…confuse…"
"Hurt?" McCoy blinked. "Spock, I – well, it might a little, but we're going to put you under and fix you up and…"
"No," Spock insisted. "You…hurt…when you…touch…"
McCoy looked stunned. "I…I hurt you when I touch you?"
And then McCoy's face did something rather…alarming. It seemed to – crumple, almost, or collapse inwards slightly, the muscles relaxing in a way that was not ease, but distinct unease, and even through the haze, Spock regretted causing such an expression.
"Nurse," McCoy croaked. "I…anaesthetic. Now."
And then he was gone.
Spock woke with a severe headache.
The smell of hospital was all around him, and his nose and mouth felt arid and itchy from the lack of moisture in the air. He heard the biobed underneath him beginning to beep – presumably at his rising pulse – and then the hiss of the doors to McCoy's office sliding back.
McCoy's voice was – off. It was too quiet, too…soft. He had never spoken softly to Spock.
"Spock, can you hear me?"
Spock unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and cracked out an affirmative.
"Okay, good," McCoy's voice was still far too soft. "This'll be cold."
A moment later, there were ice chips on his lips, melting through to leak water into his mouth and offer some relief from the scratchy wire of his throat.
"Do you know what happened?"
"The plasma banks exploded," Spock managed to croak. His time sense began to kick in, and informed him that the croakiness was down to a five-day lapse. Ah. "I have…" his head felt…odd, "…had surgery?"
"Yeah," McCoy said. When Spock cracked his eyes open, the doctor was staring resolutely up at the readouts. "We had to go in and fix three bleeds, and stop your brain fluid leakin' out your pointy ears. Literally, I might add."
"Spock," McCoy glanced at him very briefly, before looking away. "Do you remember what you said when they brought you in here?"
Spock barely had to think about it. "I do."
"So…when you said that I hurt you when I touch you…"
"The implications of your conclusion are not wholly correct."
McCoy finally looked him in the face. "No?"
"What I was in fact trying to convey was that your touch is painful."
McCoy frowned. "What's the go- difference?"
"The former implies that you are in control of the pain response and potentially delibately eliciting it."
McCoy choked. "I…!"
"The latter," Spock drove on, "carries no such implication and allows for the possibility that the response is beyond your control."
McCoy subsided, but he still looked very…Spock could not put a name to it, but it was an unpleasant sort of expression.
"I'm a goddamn doctor," McCoy said finally. "My hands aren't meant to hurt people."
"It…" Spock struggled past the headache, the nausea and the fatigue. "It is similar to being electrocuted. The pain is…intense and very sharp, but over momentarily, and leaves a residual feeling of having been shaken. On the second occasion, you managed to temporarily override my own nervous system."
McCoy blinked, and a vicious stream of cursing interrupted the quiet.
"Spock, that's fucking dangerous. Why in the goddamn hell didn't you tell me about this sooner – what if I had – hell, I did touch you while you were out! I performed fucking surgery on your goddamn brain, and you're now telling me my hands interfere with your nerves?"
"Interesting," Spock mused. "They apparently did not – or I would surely be suffering some effect – during unconsciousness."
"What in the hell could – I need to run tests on myself, this is just…"
"Doctor, please," Spock interrupted sharply. "It is simply not possible that we are discussing an actual electrical charge of any magnitude, or you would have been interfering with ship's equipment and other crewmembers. More likely, as I am apparently the only one to have this problem and it is only present through physical touch, there is a telepathic element to it."
McCoy visibly stiffened. "Telepathy," he said.
"Indeed, although I have never received any sensation similar to that of electrocution through telepathy."
"Telepathy. You've been mucking around in my head?"
"I rather doubt we have touched minds, Doctor, or I would have noticed. However…" Spock paused. "It is, I suppose, possible that your surface reading…"
"Surface reading – the sensation gained from brief contact with beings broadcasting or neglecting to shield their mental activity," Spock explained. "Humans all have surface readings as they are a psi-null species."
"So you've just been accidentally picking up on my thoughts?"
"No. A surface reading is not so detailed. Furthermore, unless you consistently think about lightning, I would not be able to glean anything beyond the immediate…disorientation."
The tension in the doctor's frame unwound ever so slightly at that.
"I propose a test of sorts."
"What kind of test?"
"Surface reading is dulled but not eliminated through thin clothing."
"You want me to slap on a pair of latex gloves and poke you to see if it hurts or paralyses you? When you're sitting there with a head injury and a barely-healed cranial fracture?"
"The removal of your touch has always ceased the matter immediately, Doctor. I have no reason to believe that this instance would be different."
McCoy eyed him warily, then pivoted on his heels to the trolley. The snap of the gloves was obscenely loud in the quiet bay – night shift, 0550, Spock's time sense informed him dutifully – and then McCoy returned with a scowl.
"I'm not happy about this."
"Duly noted, Doctor."
"Well, might as well start with what needs doing," McCoy muttered. "I'm going to test your nerve function and blood pressure around the wound site. I'm going to press around the wound, and you tell me when you can feel my fingers."
And despite his resolution not to, and his control on the previous occasions, Spock flinched when the first brush of plastic shifted his hair, before it even reached his skin. He flinched, like a frightened child, and the pause between them was…
He wanted to call it horrific.
"Proceed, Doctor," he said firmly.
McCoy hesitated, then pressed down.
And all, quite suddenly, became clear.
It was a further three days before Spock was released from Sickbay to spend a further twenty four hours of recovery in his quarters, and the first thing that he did was to lock the doors behind him and proceed to the meditation mat to analyse what that brief spark of contact had revealed to him.
The latex had dulled the sensation enough that Spock was able to see it for what it was – much like blinding light obliterated everything until viewed through an appropriate filter or dulled enough to allow the eyes to function properly, the barrier between their skin offset enough of the shock to permit Spock to see it for what it really was.
He had been correct: it was a surface reading of McCoy's mind.
But it was so much more than that.
It was not merely McCoy's surface reading, but the spark off it striking off Spock's own mental signature. Like two flint rocks collided, a brilliant flare lit up between them on impact – and poetically, Spock supposed, the same could be applied to their behaviour. McCoy got under his skin like nobody he had ever known, and he could make a reasonable assumption that he was likewise responsible for the majority of the doctor's rages on board. They argued – it was a fact of life on the Enterprise.
Apparently, this was more than mere behavioural clashing. This was a mental collision as well, one fundamental and deep and unchangeable. And full-force, it hurt; diluted, it did not.
Upon his release, McCoy had – wearing the gloves again – attempted to perform one final visual examination of his now-intact skull, and had looked openly hurt when Spock had flinched away yet again from the touch.
Therefore, Spock could not allow the behaviour to continue.
It was typical – and effective – Vulcan psychology and parenting to neutralise an avoidance behaviour by maximising exposure to the cause. A child fearful of sehlats would be forced to study groups in the homes of families that kept them as pets. A Vulcan suffering from a phobia of heights would be given the window seat at the workplace furthest from the ground. And similarly, Spock knew to prevent the avoidance behaviour of McCoy, which certainly seemed to be having an adverse effect on the doctor's demeanour, would be to expose himself to the static shock more often.
This seemed like as good a time to begin as any, he supposed, eyeing the unnatural angle of his ankle. The pain was intense, but not unbearable; however, it was exceedingly cold on the surface of Heshas II, and the unnatural angle was compounded by the fact there was an extremely heavy rock pinning his other leg to the frozen rock beneath him.
He waited shivering for a full fifteen minutes before Jim returned with McCoy in tow, scrambling down into the crevasse without much care for their balance, McCoy snapped open the emergency kit before they even halted.
"Jim, get that beacon set up," he barked, kneeling beside Spock. "Here," he threw a blanket at him. "Get that around your shoulders. Can you feel either foot?"
"I can feel both of them."
"Good," McCoy said, then paused. "Spock. I don't have any gloves."
Spock hesitated, then nodded. "Very well."
"I'll try not to touch you too much, but…"
"It is well, Doctor McCoy. Do as you must."
McCoy snorted. "You're getting buzzed by my brain, Spock. You might as well call me Leonard."
There was an odd warmth deep in Spock's abdomen, and he wondered faintly whether he could progress that deeply through the scales of hypothermia in such a short space of time.
Spock paused. His instinct was to shield, to keep the intrusion out, but if their minds were as two flint rocks, perhaps…acquiescing would be the wiser action?
Hesitantly, and against his own ingrained instincts, he lowered his shields, rather than raised them.
His first thought was that he was right.
Instead of the violent collision of McCoy's mind, there was…it was still a distinctly static sensation – the hairs on his arms rose up under the blanket, and his nerves hummed with a strange, light warmth, and the more that his own mind gave way to McCoy's, the more the bolt of lightning split up into faint strands of electricity, like wires in a communications console, thousands of them wrapping around Spock's skin and hair and muscle and bone and sinew and mind…
The first traces of emotion began to make themselves evident – the sickening wrench of concern forced itself into his own abdomen from McCoy's anxiety, and that overlay of simmering calm typical of a medical professional, and underneath, burning on a low flame like a gas cooker –
Spock attempted to withdraw. He was too deep. He should not be seeing this. He should not – he felt himself flinch violently, almost a full-body shudder, and then a new mind crashed into the framework and wrenched them apart – Jim, his arms clamping down over Spock's shoulders and forcing him back into his own head.
"It's okay," he was saying. "It's okay, I know it hurts, but you're gonna be fine, you're gonna be fine…"
Spock shivered in his grasp, and did not even feel his ankle being set.
The desensitisation programme continued.
McCoy had decided, very early in their professional acquaintance, that Spock had 'as near as damn it a goddamn eating disorder.' Spock maintained that he merely prioritised critical work above food, and therefore consumed less in stressful situations. Either way, McCoy had long kept a very close watch on Spock's meal card, blood work and weight, and usually had him into the Sickbay at least once every three weeks for a check-up.
Thus it was that Spock was able, albeit 'on the sly', as Jim would say, to continue his adopted experiment – namely, was the clash between their minds less jarring and less dangerous for his systems if he simply let McCoy in?
And that was not something Spock had ever anticipated having to do.
As he continued to let McCoy further and further in, and downgraded his shields around the doctor, he began to notice more and more heavily that dark, burning gaslight underneath McCoy's professionalism and his more turbulent, shallower emotions such as annoyance and upset. It was soon ever-present, as obvious to Spock's mind – shielded or unshielded – as the original lightning.
He did not realise quite how used to it all he was becoming until the day that McCoy joined the command crew for a poker game, brushed his arm over dealing cards, and he flinched not from the lightning, but from the lack of the gaslight.
It was almost a year after discovering the gaslight that Spock finally confronted it.
It had taken most of that year to cease flinching from McCoy's touch at all – the shift between rapidly unshielding for him and reshielding for the rest of the crew was often taxing, and meditation took much longer to complete thanks to the residual emotion bleeding in from McCoy, even without its context. The lightning was a problem that did not fully disappear – if he shielded tightly, then McCoy's touch was like a lightning bolt across his temples, and had the same stunning effect as always. Without it, however, the charge was minimal, although the slight sensation of standing in an electrical storm never quite faded.
It was the gaslight, however, that presented the new quandary.
Not because of its problematic nature – it was unobtrusive, quiet, and tame compared to the shocks of their earlier acquaintance. No, it was the implications – and not in the least because, partly thanks to maximum exposure to the doctor since discovering the problem, and partly due to a large amount of exposure to his mind, Spock found his own gaslight when meditating on the problem some six months after the appearance of McCoy's.
Gas burned. To combine the two…
To combine the two would be to jeopardise McCoy's medical ethics. It would be to generate excessive amounts of bureaucracy for them both – and for Jim, who would have to initiate an automatic independence review into whether there was an abuse of rank or professional authority occurring, It would be –
It would be to be with…Leonard. Not McCoy, but Leonard.
Initially, he intended to do nothing – however, he had always been prone to occasional fits of human pique (he had, after all, left Vulcan on one, more or less) and…essentially obeyed such a fit when McCoy presented him with the opportunity, almost a year after breaking his ankle on Heshas II.
"Here's somethin' I always meant to ask," McCoy said, halfway through Spock's annual physical, gloves firmly sheathing those dangerous hands. "When you're getting that surface read –deep inhale."
Spock did as told, and waited.
"How much can you get without actually melding?"
"No actual conscious thought; that level of detail requires melding. However, emotional transference can be very detailed, and it is often possible to speculate on thought processes when the emotional process is obvious."
"Huh. So you're admitting that emotions are useful?"
"Only in the case of studying humans, Doctor McCoy."
McCoy snorted. "I bet you could learn a whole lot about yourselves too. Tell me if this hurts."
Spock flinched as McCoy's fingers dug into the bruise over his kidney. "It does not; and indeed, I have learned."
"For example, through your own surface reading, I have learned to recognise and identify similar emotional patterns between us."
"You…" McCoy paused, narrowing his eyes. "I sense a trick."
"Not at all, Doctor."
"…So what's this similar emotional pattern?"
Spock searched for the right word. Humans were spectacularly vague in such matters, and he despaired of them sometimes. He finally settled on: "Desire," and resigned himself to there being no better.
McCoy's gloved hands suddenly left his ribs.
"So you know that I…" McCoy made an odd hand gesturing a little like waving between them.
"I fail to see the problem, Doctor. I have stated that I myself experience similar…"
"Spock, we can't have this conversation while I'm giving you a goddamn physical."
"Would it not be possible to pass my medical care to Dr. Monroe?"
McCoy eyed him warily. "You want to have this conversation?"
The answer was simple. "Yes, Doctor."
McCoy simply stood and stared at him for the longest time, then said: "Alright. I'm passing you onto Monroe, effective immediately. You'll be rescheduled for a physical with her in the next week, and if we're going to do this, you don't get to use my title anymore. At all. Got it?"
"Yes, D- Leonard."
And McCoy smiled.
The electricity hung in the room.
It was, of course, a poetic and illogical thought, but the boneless languor sunk into every inch of Spock's body prevented too much concern. His nerves were humming, either from the electricity or the gaslight or the simple post-orgasmic, chemical-induced haze; he neither truly knew, nor truly cared, and the faint sparks that trailed up his arm after the fingers stroking along his skin did little to disturb his peace.
"Your hair's standin' on end." The voice rumbled out of the chest underneath his ear, and there was a quick tug to some of the raised hair on his forearm before the hand resumed its stroking. "Y'okay, darlin'?"
Humans were too hot to sleep beside; the sheets were tangled impossibly, and his skin felt vaguely sticky. There was a blossoming bruise on his shoulder, and a stinging bite in his neck, and the sore burn of the body catching up with the brain in matters of intercourse was beginning to interrupt his post-coital peace. His nerves were raw, almost trilling between the activity and the sheer electricity of the man holding him, and his mind wanted peace in solitude and meditation as much as the rest of him wished to remain a little longer.
He was in a lightning storm in space, and all was quite well.