IMPORTANT NOTE: Okay, so in my head there's a simpler version of this fic that ends with chapter 3, and then there's a kind of longer and decidedly more epic version that goes on a few more chapters. I'm not sure which one I'm going to write yet; depends on interest, so ya'll will have to tell me. :) I hope you like this chapter, and I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it and on what you'd like to see. Thanks so much for the support!

Also, disclaimer: Yeah, any dialogue with little Spock is pretty much just poached from the TAS ep and edited a little. That wasn't what I was concerned with writing. This is about Spock and McCoy. ;)

Chapter 2

Spock led him down into the valley and into the city. The closer they came to the Vulcan's family home the more things began to look familiar. It wasn't so bad, really. For a while Leonard allowed his mind to drift. He allowed himself to pretend this was any day on shore leave, following his bondmate through his native city.

There had not been enough of that; there hadn't been time for it. A year was hardly time for much. They'd had their extremely shortened something of a honeymoon, sequestered away on Spock's family estate until the effects of the Vulcan's Pon Farr released both of them. After that there were two shore leaves here, one longer and one shorter. That was all.

For a while McCoy let himself imagine he was there. This was one of them, or a third that had never taken place. He watched Spock's retreating form in front of him and told himself it was still perfectly natural for it to be there.

As they neared their destination, the illusion was broken. They happened upon on a group of schoolboys in the street near Sarek and Amanda's home, and Leonard would have recognized the features of the small one being heckled even if he hadn't seen the childhood pictures Amanda had shown him.

It wasn't as if he hadn't been aware Spock was bullied as a child. He knew Vulcan children were not emotionless from the start. It took training to suppress them, even for full Vulcans, and at this young age cruelty was still something that could happen. And happen it did. Hearing of it in passing, reluctantly, from Spock thirty years after the fact was one thing. Seeing it was quite another story.

They were at the outskirts of the path, but after a particularly digging insult by one of the young Vulcan boys to the smaller one in their midst McCoy nearly threw himself into the center to scatter them. His fists were already balled.

"Why I ought to—"

Spock physically stopped him from moving with an arm held out as a bar in front of him. "We must not interfere, Doctor. We are here only to preserve the boy's life," he said quietly.

"That's you you're talking about, Spock!" McCoy hissed back in annoyance. "That's you they're insulting. You sound as if you don't care at all!"

"Their words are meaningless, and I regret that I had not progressed to the point then of understanding that truth."

"It's not meaningless to me!"

Spock looked at him strangely, as if not understanding why it affected him so.

Well…then again, if his suspicions were right, this Spock would have no reason to understand, would he? If his McCoy cared for him at all in the same way Leonard had loved his own Spock, this Vulcan didn't seem to know about it.

Leonard made himself stop, and calm, and straighten. "Nevermind…you're right. Let's go."

By now they had been observed on the path, it seemed. Sarek, who must have come outside the estate searching for his son, found them instead—and also the scuffle of boys, moving out of sight now.

McCoy was quiet, and let Spock do the talking. He knew the words to say—the greeting and formalities—but this Spock didn't know that. He wasn't trying to hide any of it, really, but…he didn't know what he should do here. How much he should say, among other things. Did it matter? They were from different timelines entirely; would it matter how much they knew of what happened in each other's worlds?

When Spock introduced them he changed his own name, but there was no reason to change the doctor's really, and he did not waste time doing so. "I am Selek, a humble cousin descended of T'Pel and Sasak. My traveling companion is McCoy, a distant relative by marriage. We travel to the family shrine."

"She who is my wife is human. I was not aware there were other human relations within our clan," Sarek observed.

"The relation is really quite distant from us both; that is not surprising. We became closely acquainted only through our similar line of work in the sciences."

Well, that was close enough, Leonard supposed.

"I see. In any case, Cousin Selek, McCoy, you have a long distance ahead of you. You would be welcome to break your journey in my household for a time."

Spock bowed in thanks, and Leonard followed his lead.

"We would be honored to do so."

"Agreed, sir," McCoy added. "We thank you."

Speaking to Sarek as a stranger further removed any illusion Leonard had attempted to wrap himself in. As they followed Spock's father inside the estate it was all he could do not to allow the intrusion of painful reality to overwhelm him. Other memories persisted, too, but not ones he welcomed now.

As they entered the house there was the side of the entryway where he and Sarek and Amanda had stood to receive the callers to the house after the memorial service. Sarek, as perfectly Vulcan as ever, betrayed nothing in his features, but Leonard had seen his grief in the way he stood shoulder to shoulder with his wife and never dared to move from her side. He had seen their love, too, in the way they supported one another without words.

There was the dark corner McCoy had retreated to, when he couldn't take all of it anymore; the stoic greetings and cookie-cutter platitudes from the Vulcan visitors. There where Jim had stood watch and kept away prying eyes until he could make himself presentable again. There where Jim had let Amanda through, though, when she came to find him, because Amanda understood.

There was the bench just visible through a door's glass, on the balcony where later that evening Scotty brought down some of his best scotch to offer it to Leonard and the captain. The three of them were there most of the night.

And when Leonard came to himself, there was Amanda, smiling because she didn't know that future would befall at least one incarnation of her future self.

He wanted to apologize, but how and for what?

"You must be tired from your traveling," the lady of the house said once Sarek had introduced their guests and Spock and McCoy had offered her greeting. "Come, let me show you to our guest rooms. Certainly you must need rest, Mr. McCoy. I know how the Vulcan heat can affect we humans."

He did need rest, but he doubted he could get it if he tried. "I'm all right, ma'am, but thank you."

"Well I must show you your rooms, but if you're not too tired then, Mr. McCoy, I'd love to have a chat with you instead. It's been a little while since I've had another human to talk to." She winked in her husband's direction. "Not that Vulcans don't make for fascinating conversation, and I do love my husband so, but one needs the company of one's own species at least every now and again!"

Sarek, in true form, refused to acknowledge her efforts at teasing. He was silent as his wife amiably led their guests away.

Leonard followed her because he could do nothing else. But also a part of him was glad to see his mother-in-law happy again. Though it wasn't really again was it? This was the past, and—

Damned time travel.

He risked a glance or two at Spock, and however things had gone in his own reality the Vulcan did not seem unaffected by where he was and with whom. McCoy felt that, too. He understood much of why…likely much more than this Spock's McCoy understood. There had been long nights of sleeplessness for them both, when Spock told him those few stories of his childhood that he did know.

Why? Why were they here together? Was it really only time's fluidity? Nothing but mere chance? Or was there a reason?

His mother showed them to two guest rooms on the second floor, directly across a corridor from one another. Spock retreated for the moment to his own, for Amanda had shown interest in conversing with the doctor.

While he left them alone, he had the time to contemplate this McCoy's strange behavior. Whatever was causing it, it was clear to Spock that not only was something different about this Doctor McCoy, but something was bothering the human as well. He seemed disturbed and upset over something—perhaps something more than simply the events that had led the both of them here to save the life of his young counterpart.

While he knew this was not the Leonard McCoy who was his friend in his own reality, he found he cared just as much for the man's well-being.

When he believed the doctor to be alone Spock made his away across the corridor to knock on the door.

When a voice called for him to enter Spock did, to find a strangely quiet McCoy huddled against the pillows at the head of the bed. He didn't move when the Vulcan entered. He noticed the atmospheric controls for this room had already been turned down.

"Are you certain you are not ill, Doctor? I inquired before, however—"

McCoy shook his head, and moved to swing his legs from the bed. "I'm fine. Shouldn't we be keeping an eye on little you?" he asked as he stood.

"He has not yet returned to the household for the evening; his whereabouts are unknown to me. I remember being present at home for dinner on this day, but nothing before that and after what we saw occur in the street earlier in the day."

"Oh…" The doctor almost smiled. "Not even your memory's perfect, is it?"

"I was very young."

"You're also half human."

Spock resisted the urge to glare at this doppelganger of his own McCoy, and the doctor was smiling more fully now. Then, abruptly, he was not. McCoy was looking away and Spock was certain he saw tears in the man's eyes.

Spock recalled the rest of what he had observed.

"You seemed to know more of Vulcan customs than does your counterpart. You also, if I am not mistaken, seem to know this house. You did, in fact, shortly after we crossed paths, mention that you 'knew where I lived.' Yet the Leonard McCoy of my reality has never been to this place."

McCoy sat on the edge of the bed again. He dropped back onto it, really, as if his knees had lost a battle, and his face held an expression that Spock had come to recognize as resignation. In this situation, it seemed to suggest that the doctor was resigned to admitting something that he had not previously been prepared to admit.

"Yea, well, I'm not the Leonard McCoy of your reality. I'm the Leonard McCoy of mine, and in my reality I've been here more than once. I had good reason to be here. I was bonded to Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson's only son, after all."

A slight widening of his eyes and the climbing of his eyebrows was the only outward response Spock allowed himself at that. Inwardly, there was far more, but he refused to admit much of it even to himself.

"Was?" he asked quietly.

McCoy studied the floor. "My Spock is dead," he all but whispered. "Line of duty on an away mission several months ago. We couldn't get back to the ship and there wasn't time for a healing trance."

Spock found himself swallowing convulsively, and he was not entirely certain why. "I am sorry…"

It explained everything, of course. What this version of the doctor knew, and why he seemed conflicted. But there was still a certain amount of difficulty in believing it. When he considered himself and his own Doctor McCoy…

Their bickering was born of fondness, certainly—or at least by now it was—but to think of them bonded. Married…

He thought of it, and it should have been impossible to picture. But it wasn't.

He frowned. In any case, that was irrelevant. In this McCoy's future, he and the Spock he knew had been bonded. This McCoy had suffered a loss. McCoy was a close friend. Even though this was another incarnation of him, that could not be overlooked.

McCoy had only shrugged in response to his offered platitude. Now Spock moved quietly to the bed and perched on its edge, close enough to indicate that he meant comfort by drawing closer but not close enough to cause awkwardness. At least, that was the intention.

"This must be difficult for you," he offered in the way of sympathy.

"Well that's the biggest damned understatement I've ever heard in my life." Any anger quickly seemed to deflate. "Sorry…I can't expect you to understand, can I? You and your me…you aren't…anything, are you?"

"Colleagues. Friends," Spock agreed.

"But that's it. God, and it'd be just my luck if I ended up with the only reality where anything else ever happened and then it ended badly to boot. Wouldn't it?"

The Vulcan did not have an answer to that. He did know, though, that he had a suddenly overwhelming wish that he could dull this McCoy's pain. Conversely, he also knew that instead his presence was likely only making it worse.

"Would you prefer it if I were to…keep my distance, when possible, for the remainder of our time here?"

He took as proof of how much these realizations were affecting him when he remembered, too late, of the doctor's reaction in the desert when he suggested McCoy return to his own time and allow Spock to handle this alone. If he had wanted to stay away from his bondmate's doppelganger, he would have followed that advice. The Vulcan's question now was an erroneous one.

Spock was not quite surprised then, when McCoy reacted similarly to the way he had then—a kneejerk negative reaction, shaking his head as a hand moved quickly on the mattress to cover one of Spock's and squeeze it.

"No, I…I'm all right. You don't have to do that."

And because it was all he could do, really, for this man, Spock turned his hand over to properly hold the human one resting atop it. As long as he kept his mind carefully shielded it was not difficult or unpleasant.

In fact, it seemed rather the opposite of unpleasant.

The hand in his squeezed again, gently, and Spock understood it as thanks.

This Spock was proving to be as understanding, caring and gentle as his own had been, whether or not the Vulcan seemed to want to admit to those largely human traits. In any case, Leonard was more than grateful for it. It made a painful, awkward situation much less more so.

They sat in silence, the two of them, a strangely comfortable state, until Amanda came searching for them to invite them downstairs to dinner. It seemed good fortune, then, that Spock had not kept his hand long. It had helped while it lasted, but McCoy remembered how his Spock had been before they were together…so reserved, and protective of his mental shields. He didn't blame this version of the Vulcan for being the same now.

Downstairs was the boy they had seen in the street, whom Sarek formally introduced to them. McCoy couldn't help his smile; he'd only ever seen a Spock this age in pictures. Behind the boy, too, like a faithful shadow, was the beloved pet Amanda had also captured in many a holo. Leonard had seen those, too. Though he had to admit the sehlat seemed even larger in reality.

Leonard caught Spock watching the animal too—fondly, even—as they retired to the dinner table. "I-Chaya, I presume?" McCoy grinned, out of earshot of the others.

Spock gave him that look that meant he knew something he shouldn't, but it was more tempered now that the Vulcan knew why it was he knew such things.

"Sorry. I'm sure I know a lot more about your past than your McCoy does; if it makes you uncomfortable I can just be quiet."

"It is all right Doctor. You have nothing for which to apologize."

After dinner Spock indicated quietly that he would speak with his mother if he could, to try to gather information that might help them in their purpose. Leonard left him to do it, retreating to the room he'd been given. He paced, waiting, assuming the Vulcan would return here for them to confer once he had discovered whatever they might need to know.

He was correct, but when Spock returned, knocked on the door, and Leonard let him in he did not seem pleased.

"Spock? What is it?"

"I am…admittedly confused," he said, once the door had been securely shut behind him. "My mother tells me that Spock is not to undergo the Kahs-wan survival test until one month hence, and yet this is the date recorded for my death in the altered timeline. The 20th day of Tasmin. I remember it clearly myself…at least the events of my rescue in the desert. Yet I am not meant to be in the desert for a month."

Leonard thought about that for a moment, but it didn't take long to come up with something. "You know what it is? It's probably you pulling some stupid stunt."

"Doctor, I am a Vulcan. Even as a child I did not—"

"Exactly. You're a Vulcan. You're also stubborn. And at least as a child, might you have done something stupid if it had something to do with you being Vulcan?"

"I do not understand."

McCoy rolled his eyes and huffed. "Just trust me on this one, Spock. We need to take shifts keeping an eye on the kid's door."

"I suppose it is as logical a course of action as any…"

"You're damned right. I am capable of occasional logic, you know."

Spock only cocked an eyebrow, but they did as Leonard had suggested. Or rather, McCoy watched the boy's door while Spock made other rounds in case the younger Spock was to leave the house some other way.

Somehow, whether the boy knew he was being watched or not, he got past them both. McCoy didn't know this until the adult Spock came hurrying to fetch him. "Come. We must go quickly. He is already outside. I have seen him heading toward the mountains."

"How'd he get past you! Aren't you supposed to know your own tricks?"

"There is no time for argument."

They followed at a distance, sometimes losing track of the smaller, quickly-moving boy.

"I'm getting too old for this!" Leonard grumbled. He encouraged Spock to keep up with his younger counterpart, and lagged behind himself. He pushed as far as he could go, but he simply was not in nearly as good a shape as the Vulcan. He was perfectly healthy, but he was not young, and he was a human in Vulcan's atmosphere. None of that helped.

Eventually he lost sight of the adult Spock, too, and he tried not to let it worry him. He knew Spock, in some part of his mind, would be keeping up with him so as to find him later if he were too far behind. Spock would not abandon him. It was merely that the boy's safety was more important now.

Loud growling and screeching sounds abruptly told him he was not as far behind as he had feared. It was only that the rocks blocked his view. It also told him that whatever danger was to befall the boy Spock may already be upon them. McCoy forced himself to run faster, heart hammering in chest. If the boy died Spock would simply cease to exist. Or he would if he tried to return to his own time. Or something like that. Time would catch up to him, somehow, eventually.

And a universe in which Spock did not exist anywhere, in any version of it, was not one that Leonard wanted to live in.

The sounds stopped just as suddenly as they had begun, and Leonard panicked until he heard voices from around the corner. It was the younger Spock, thanking the older. Leonard rounded a corner to find a fearsome green-and-yellow-furred animal nearly as large as I-Chaya insensate on the ground.

"Do you think I will ever be able to do that neck pinch as well as you?" the boy was asking. That explained how the dangerous beast had been subdued, then.

"I daresay you will," Spock told him. "Come now." He turned to lead the boy back in the direction of home, and paused when he saw McCoy there. "I am afraid you have missed the excitement, Doctor."

"I can see that. I don't think I mind that I did," Leonard answered.

"You followed me. Both of you. Why?" the boy demanded, as he and the older Vulcan skirted around the unconscious Le-Matya.

I-Chaya was there too, following them. When McCoy remembered the sounds he'd heard he realized it had been a scuffle…not merely an animal threatening possible prey. The sehlat must have defended the boy, and Leonard found himself liking the lumbering old pet even more.

"You are concerned about the Kahs-wan ordeal," Spock answered as they began to walk back to the city.

"We figured you'd try something," McCoy agreed.

"I had to see if I could do it. A…personal test. I cannot fail."

"That is your father's wish?" Spock asked. He took over the conversation from there, and Leonard let him. He wanted to help, but then again Spock certainly knew himself better than anyone else. He should be the one to decide what to say to the boy that was him.

"Yes…and my mother's. They…they confuse me. Father wants me to do things his way, and mother says I should. But then she—"

"She is a human woman, with strong emotion and sensitivities. You are afraid when you see those traits in yourself."

"How can you know?"

McCoy watched the older Spock, and was surprised to see him come very near to that almost-smile of his. "There is some human blood in my family line. It is not fatal."

A joke! That was a joke. Leonard tried to keep his smirk to himself, but it wasn't easy. Then there were was the lump in his throat again.

"What you do not yet understand, Spock," the older Vulcan was saying, "is that Vulcans do not lack emotion. It is only that ours is controlled. Logic offers a serenity humans seldom experience in full. We have emotions, but we deal with them, and do not let them control us."

McCoy nearly stopped, listening to this as they walked, and then before he quite realized it all of them had stopped. It seemed they all knew there was something to contemplate. Leonard watched both of them, and though his own Spock had admitted to all of that, all that had just been said, much earlier…somehow he got the feeling that this version of the adult Spock had never voiced such a thing before now. He understood that it was not only a step for the boy to hear it, but for his older counterpart to say it.

Oh, Spock, what's kept you so isolated in your reality? Is it only chance, or is it my fault? The other me? Am I too stubborn? Are both of you? You have friends, but you're still so alone.

Every day he took solace in the fact that, at the very least, his own Spock had not died alone.

It was then, in the silence, that I-Chaya collapsed.

"I-Chaya!" The boy cried out, displaying some of the emotion that the older Spock dared not. But Leonard saw it in his eyes; he saw the surprise and the worry.

This was not supposed to happen.


The boy went to the animal's side and Spock followed him quickly without answering McCoy.

It was determined that the poisonous claws of the Le-Matya had struck the sehlat in their brief fight. I-Chaya would die if he did not receive medical attention. The sehlat, though, was too large even for the three of them to move.

"I can bring a healer here," the boy said quickly.

Spock nodded. "It is a long journey across the desert. There are many dangers. I will go."

But the boy's face hardened at that, straightened, into something Leonard had once seen so often on his Spock's face while he lived. That Vulcan determination. His own version of it. "No. This is my duty. No one else can do it for me." The boy looked at them. "It is logical in any case. I am younger and quicker. Will you stay with him?"

Both of them nodded, someone stunned—or at least McCoy was—and after thanking them the boy was gone.

Leonard watched the boy go, and when coherent thought returned he realized what was happening now. He realized they had succeeded. Soon this would all be over.

Once the boy was out of sight Spock knelt beside the ailing sehlat, and the animal snuffled at him and leaned its head into the Vulcan as if it knew, somehow, that this was still his master. Spock was murmuring to I–Chaya now, stroking the sehlat's fur in comfort, and perhaps it was a side of himself this Spock rarely showed, but Leonard had seen it every day in his bondmate. Only when they were alone, but…

McCoy didn't realize he was having trouble breathing until his knees went out from under him.

"Doctor!" There were hands on his shoulders. Spock. "Doctor, are you all right?"

"It's over. We did it. We…we have to go back," Leonard gasped. "I-I-I can't do that. I can't go back. You're not there. I…god, I'm sorry. I thought I was all right. I—damnit…" He couldn't breathe. His chest heaved and his throat was tight from the lump there, and his vision blurred something awful now.

Spock was still holding onto him by the time he could at least breathe.

"I am sorry…if there were something that I could do…"

McCoy looked up, glad at least that the tears hadn't progressed to his face. Spock was looking at him, all of that concern and he was so close now.

Keep yourself together, Leonard! He's not yours!

But he did let himself bring up a hand from the ground to touch the Vulcan's face. He didn't expect anything; he just wanted to feel the soft chiseled cheek under his palm once more, and Spock didn't protest.

But then Spock was letting him in. Whether or not it was intentional, he was doing it. Leonard saw it. He felt it. He saw the banter and the arguing that had gone on alone much longer for them than for himself and his own Spock. He felt the echoes of what this Spock felt, and he knew it, but this Spock didn't understand what it was that had him in its grip.

The human released a startled breath when all of this hit him, and Spock seemed immediately apologetic—as if it had been an accident—but McCoy shook his head. "It's all right, it's…" He swallowed. "You do care about him, don't you? Your McCoy."

The Vulcan's mouth opened and closed more than once before he answered. "I do not know if that is an accurate—"

Leonard let his hand drop back to the sand. "Of course it is. Why do you think you fight so much? Why do you think you get so angry, especially when you have to worry about him? Don't look at me like that. You get angry, and you know it. Been there; done that."

Spock blinked in confusion at the saying, and McCoy sighed. "I felt it, Spock, just now. I know what it is. I used to feel it from my Spock. It's not as…developed, I guess is a word for it, but it's there." Now the Vulcan wouldn't look at him, released his shoulders and sat back on his haunches, and McCoy knew he'd struck a chord.

He sat forward, shifting closer. "You want to know what you can do for me? Go back there, and stop being an idiot. If you can't tell him about it, show him. God knows my stubborn Vulcan was never any damn good at articulating anything, especially at the start. What got us started? Near the end of the mission's first year he dragged me into his quarters to gripe at me after that bit on the planet of the Onlies…when I took that serum before it'd been tested and it near about killed me. I don't even know what happened. We were arguing and then…you know, we weren't, if you catch my drift. But I do know he sure as hell started it."

Spock raised a tired eyebrow, but he did seem to understand.

"Anyway…" Leonard trailed off, and both of them were silent for a while. "I'm sorry about I-Chaya," he said eventually, gently. "He's not going to make it, is he?"

The Vulcan shook his head slowly. "Likely not. It is improbable that help will reach us in time." The fact seemed to pain him greatly, though just looking at him one might not have seen it if they didn't know him as well as Leonard did.

"Been there too," McCoy whispered. There was a tear or two, now. He didn't bother swiping at them. There were no more words. Human and Vulcan sat quietly with the dying sehlat; he was sleeping now and mostly free of pain, thanks to Spock.

Several minutes later Spock took Leonard's hand again, and this time it wasn't out of mere sympathy. It wasn't just the human who needed it anymore.

For right now, they needed each other.