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Sally Collard

 2267

Sickbay is quiet when you enter. The lights are low, the beds empty and there is no sign of the man you seek.

You have made an error. You had assumed the doctor would follow his usual pattern of seeking solace in a solo imbibing of alcohol after his shift had ended. You had relied on finding him alone and had, therefore, spent some time planning how to approach the subject you wish to discuss. To enquire about the captain's well-being with the ship's chief medical officer is certain to result in several minutes of distraction tactics and white noise before any useful information emerges and so you have come prepared.

But those moments of rehearsed conversation have delayed your arrival by eight minutes fifty-three seconds beyond the end of Alpha shift. Doctor McCoy has left.

It is not the first time you have miscalculated and been caught out this way. You wonder why you continue to search for structured order in the behavior of your fellow shipmates when experience tells you that, outside the confines of Starfleet shift patterns and protocols, Humans on this ship are defined only by their unpredictability.

You hesitate, breathe in the sterile air as you undertake an audit of the options now open to you.

You know both your error and your hesitation may be due to the dull drone of fatigue that throbs a beat behind your thoughts, but sleep is not on your list of options. It would perhaps be best to make another attempt to elicit a response from the captain's quarters. But, as you turn to leave, the doors open, and Nurse Chapel enters. It is apparent she is returning from the medical laboratory.

"Mister Spock. What brings you to Sickbay?"

"I had hoped to talk to Doctor McCoy. But it appears I have arrived too late."

She puts down her tray of samples and regards you with the combination of wariness and welcome which you find confusing each time you meet. You have seen Christine Chapel in the company of others forty-three times in the past three months and five days, but this is only the third time you have been alone with her since --

"Doctor McCoy's making a house call. He's with the captain."

"Ah. I understand."

And you do understand. Of course he is with the captain. It would not be rational to feel hurt that the captain has opened his door to Doctor McCoy when he ignored your chime, so you are not hurt. The doctor is also the captain's friend. And he is also worried.

"Well, in that case, Nurse, I will leave you to finish your task."

Yet you do not leave immediately. You are now more uncertain as to where you should go next and you pause for two point six seconds, and, of course, she notices.

"Mister Spock... is everything all right? I mean, with the captain. I've hardly seen him since you all got back. And Len won't talk about what happened."

You are not surprised. To talk about what happened would be a serious breach of regulations.

She takes a step closer. She seems to be searching your face for clues. She should know better by now. "Even Penda doesn't seem to know what really went on, and she was there."

That is because she was not there. Neither was Doctor McCoy for approximately ninety-four percent of the disrupted time flow. Only you were there as a witness to the full unfolding of events. Only you know what this one landing party has cost your captain and your friend. And yet he did not answer your door chime. He has not responded to your messages.

Vulcans do not sigh. So you do not.

"I am not at liberty to discuss recent events. The log has been sealed."

Sealed and sent to the top echelons of Starfleet Command buried beneath eight layers of coding and security protocols. A quarantine zone and warning buoys have been established around the site. And, despite this, you remain concerned.

You desire to discuss your concerns with the one man who knows firsthand the enormity of the threat. But the last time you attempted a conversation on this subject he lifted empty eyes and spoke in a stranger's voice and waved you away with a weariness that is like an alien life form when squatting on the shoulders of this man.

It occurs to you that the woman now looking at you with a slight frown may have a small proportion of the answers you seek.

"May I ask, Nurse, whether the doctor has been treating the captain? Has he administered any medication?"

Her eyebrows rise. It is an unusual question from the captain's first officer. Surely you should know if the health of your commanding officer is compromised.

You do know. And you suspect that he is compromised.

"Why, Mister Spock, you know I'm not at liberty to discuss the medical treatment of another officer. Patient confidentiality."

She has used your own words against you.

You clear your throat. "I was merely -- "

She smiles. She is teasing you. It would be easy to believe medical staff on this ship are required to complete modules in the science of Spock teasing.

"It's okay. The captain waived his rights as far as you're concerned a long time ago. You know he made a point of giving you full medical access to his records after what happened with that virus on Psi 2000 -- you don't need clearance."

The last words are indistinct as she becomes suddenly busy with the tray on the table. She is remembering the other effects of the Psi 2000 virus, and she is blushing.

Vulcans do not blush. However, it appears that the air temperature in Sickbay is somewhat elevated compared to the ambient norm. You must remember to mention this fact to the engineers.

She places the last of the empty sample bottles in the sterilizer. "So, yes, Doctor McCoy did take his medical kit to the captain's quarters. And I know he's been trying to persuade him to take some meds. He asked me to load the hypos with something for stress, something to help him sleep. But I doubt he'll have much luck actually administering them. What do you think?"

You think Doctor McCoy would have to invoke Regulation 121, Section A to persuade the captain to accept help from pharmaceuticals, and the doctor is unlikely to take such an extreme step. The captain may be compromised but he has done nothing to endanger the ship or her crew. His performance on the bridge has been exemplary, his paperwork has never been more up to date -- and no one has seen him smile since he returned.

"I am glad the doctor is offering assistance. And I think the captain needs to sleep. But I agree he will have difficulty persuading him to agree to treatment."

"I see." She switches off the light above the cabinet and turns towards you. "And what about you? Have you slept?"

She stops your automatic reply with an upward motion of her hand. "I know you'll tell me Vulcans don't need much sleep but those are some pretty impressive dark green circles you've got going there. And, as for Len, well, I don't think drunken stupor counts towards the sleep quota. He's a mess." She is thoughtful and the frown is back. "Spock, I know you can't talk about it in any detail. But I'm not blind. Something happened on that planet; something that's hit all three of you pretty hard."

You note that she has dropped the Mister. That she has moved approximately twelve centimeters closer to where you stand.

You clear your throat again. The dry air of Sickbay is causing some constriction. "You are correct that something did occur which has affected the captain. The doctor and myself were also involved. But I regret I am unable to --"

Unable to what? Think, feel, act? All of the above? The words die on your tongue as she takes another step forward. Her hand is now a mere twenty centimeters from yours. Part of you fears she will touch you. Most of you knows she will not -- she is free of the virus and well-trained in Vulcan protocol. And the smallest portion of you wishes --

"I can't help thinking there must be something I can do. Sometimes talking things through with a third party, someone who's not so close to the trauma can be helpful in these situations."

Her eyes are blue and calm. She has recovered her composure. You observe with surprise that you find her offer tempting. But it is, of course, impossible to 'talk things through.'

You step back, away, and this is what you say. "Thank you, Nurse. But I believe the situation will soon be resolved. The captain is a strong man."

This is what you do not say. "The captain is a strong man, but his friend is weak. His friend, who was there, who was a witness, is unable to help his pain. His friend lacks the ability, the knowledge, the understanding. His friend lacks. So how can he call himself his friend?"

And this is what you do. You nod and spin on your heel and leave Sickbay and the woman offering help before you make another error.

*****

The captain is sleeping.

You know this because the doctor told you as he left his quarters. You both pretended it was co-incidence that you were in the corridor when the doors opened and the doctor came out, allowing you the merest one point four second glimpse of the prone form within.

It is a sign of the doctor's concern that he does not mention your vigil, and that it does not occur to him to tease.

It is a sign of the seriousness of his condition that, contrary to your expectation, the captain has allowed Doctor McCoy to administer the medication he requires.

"I had to virtually tie him to the bunk. Thought I was going to have to call on you and that damned Vulcan neck pinch. But he gave in."

The doctor's face is pinched and grey. The words hang heavily between you. The captain gave in. This is new data and its effect is to ripple and reorganize your perceived universe.

"That is good news, Doctor. I believe sleep will be helpful in restoring his... equilibrium."

It is the wrong word. The captain is not an item of scientific equipment that requires calibration and balance. The captain is hard fire and warm steel and sharp instinct.

"I'm not sure, Spock. He needs sleep, sure, but he needs more than that. He needs to talk to somebody and he sure as hell won't talk to me. I don't think he's forgiven me for -- "

You interrupt. You are aware his words still haunt him, but this is not acceptable. "You cannot blame yourself. It is not logical. You did not know."

"Oh hell, Spock, don't talk to me about logic. There's nothing logical about how I'm feeling, about how he's feeling. And it hasn't stopped you from blaming yourself, has it?"

Despite your best attempt to control he sees you react. This man knows you too well.

"Hell, yes, Spock. Did you think I didn't know? Mea culpa is written all over that stone-faced Vulcan visage you take such pride in. So tell me, my oh so logical friend, why would you blame yourself for saving millions of lives, for setting time back on the straight and narrow? He wouldn't have stopped without you, y'know?"

"No, Jim!" Two words, five letters, a million irrational regrets. But you do not believe he stopped because of you alone. Jim Kirk is a creature of instinct, yes. But he is also a man of iron control with a strict moral code. You are sure he would have stopped.

You are almost sure.

"The captain acted to protect the needs of the many. He did what he had to do, as did I."

The words are mechanical and not entirely accurate. You cannot, dare not examine the half-formed accusation that disturbs your thoughts. It flickers as the newsprint did on that rudimentary screen you constructed long ago. "But now..." You stop, not quite sure how to phrase your question. You do not often admit weakness to the doctor but you need answers.

"Now he seems... I do not understand why he does not take comfort from success. Why he appears... so unlike himself."

"No, well, you wouldn't understand, Spock. No frame of reference."

The doctor looks unwell. His eyes are underlined in red; his skin is pale and sweating. "And I'm as much good to him as a tissue in an ion storm. There's not a lot medical science can do to heal a broken heart." His mouth twists and you know what is coming. This is a familiar pattern between you and you know he is reaching for that reassurance. "But then what would you know about broken hearts, you cold-blooded, pointy-eared automaton?"

His heart is not in the insult. And since you agree with his premise, you do not respond. There is a pause, then he dismisses you with a wave and stamps off down the corridor. You estimate a 98.3 percent probability that his next action will be to pour himself the glass of alcohol he denied himself earlier.

The captain is sleeping at last, and you know you are not performing at optimum efficiency. While you do not wish to sleep, a short period of rest is the logical next step. You enter your quarters which are adjacent to his and make the necessary preparations for meditation.

But the flame does not soothe; the incense smells bitter, and instead of inner silence, the scene replays from your internal data tape as you suspect it does in the room beyond the bulkhead.

It always starts at the point where the timelines converge -- those seconds slow and shimmer in your memory. The squeal of brakes, the noise of metal colliding with flesh, and the doctor's words, the words that haunt him still.

"You deliberately stopped me, Jim. I could have saved her. Do you know what you did?"

There was no time to explain. The doctor was in no state to hear an explanation as, sweating and swearing, he fought to reach the woman lying beyond the help of even twenty-third century medicine. And beside him, the captain, mute and hard-faced, and incapable of making a decision; hardly capable of placing one foot in front of another.

You had to use your considerable strength to manhandle both of them back through the door of the Mission and down the stairs to the basement. You knew it was imperative to retreat out of sight and, as her life ebbed away, as time shuddered and rebooted, you felt the tug of the vortex.

Flash frames and dizziness. Dust and ancient air. The incomprehension of the landing party who greet you as if you are the same people who left mere moments and a lifetime ago.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

The captain does not swear in front of the crew. But he is barely recognizable as their captain even as his pattern disperses in the beam of the transporter.

The doctor does not shut up. There are more words, hurtful words, in the transporter room and in the corridor beyond. Fortunately, you do not think the captain is aware of the words. He says nothing more. Grim and pale, he leaves the landing party and their questions trailing in his wake and disappears into the briefing room alone.

Only then are you able to pull the doctor back, to dismiss the others, to silence him with the look you rarely use but which has proved effective in the past. And only then does he listen to your summary, to the bare outline of the facts.

Once again you lack.

Oh, you can explain the physics, the two timelines. You can describe the pivotal role of one woman who stood unknowing at their junction.

But you cannot explain the chemistry. You lack the vocabulary to explain what you have seen between that woman and the man who let her die. You cannot describe how for a few short days he seemed a more complete version of himself. How his glow dazzled and warmed the room you shared as if, instead of thin soup and baloney, he had swallowed starlight.

And how, with mounting dread, you heard him plan a future that could never be.

*****

"Edith!"

The shout is loud enough to pierce the wall and reach inside your dreams. You are awake within an instant, and aware and on your feet an instant later. And, before those instants join to make a space for rational thought, you are using your override and standing in a darkened cabin that smells of him and fear.

He is making noises now that are far removed from speech, and you realize the scent of fear is not from him. The man so twisted on the bed is not the man who glowed and warmed the space you shared three centuries before. And, when you approach, the eyes are not his eyes.

"Was it her?"

The question and the clutching hand are from a stranger and, for a moment, you are reminded of another doppelgnger who masqueraded on the bridge and wore his clothes. A man possessed by instinct and raw feeling is anathema to the pure Vulcan you pretend to be, but this time the mirror image is refracted through white light, as if the Guardian has stripped him down to elemental pure emotion, leaving intellect and baser thought behind.

"Spock, was it her?" He sees you through a mist of meds and sleep and you cannot fathom what he means.

"Jim..." You hold his hand and feel the scouring grief as sand against your skin. And then, through sand, you grasp the horror of his question. He heard the scream.

He shakes his head, eyes now tight shut. "I keeping hearing it over and over... but I'm sure it's not her voice." His words are jumbled like a child. "It was someone else, another woman -- watching -- she saw the truck, she screamed. It wasn't her voice. But... Spock, you were there. You saw."

You drop his hand and back away shaking your head. The truth is there is a ninety-eight per cent probability it was Edith Keeler who screamed. You saw no female bystander. There were men, first four then two more who rushed into the road to help, no women. And you hate the half of you that just reduced those facts to numbers.

"Jim, I cannot be certain."

Later you wonder why you did not lie? He would have believed you. It would have offered comfort. Contrary to the myth you have propagated, Vulcans do lie when required, when there is an absolute necessity. So why did you not lie to comfort your friend? Another error. Another proof of failure.

But then it is too late. You watch the stranger disappear and the captain surface. You see him drag himself from sleep, his eyes go blank, his shoulders slowly straighten beneath the cloak of command and you marvel at the strength of will.

"Spock. What are you doing here?" The voice is of a different man. And the careful tone is so far removed from friendship that you could wish the stranger and his clutching fingers back.

"I thought I heard you call. But I must have been mistaken. Forgive me, Captain."

Forgive me. For watching you walk into such pain. For telling you to let her die. For failing you when you needed me most.

"It doesn't matter. I'm fine. Just talking in my sleep I guess. Those damned meds." And he dismisses you. "Go back to sleep, Spock. Really I'm fine."

A joyless smile, a shuttered look, a turn of shoulders. Is this how friendship ends?

*****

"Well, that's not going to keep you going through the rest of Beta shift." She is looking with distaste at the pile of leaves and vegetable protein you have arranged in neat piles on your plate. "It looks like something to be analyzed, not eaten."

You glance at her tray of processed carbohydrate and sucrose. "And perhaps a nutritional analysis of your chosen meal would be wise before consumption."

She laughs and sits beside you without asking, as if sharing a table in the mess is something you both do on a regular basis. It is, in fact, the first time Christine Chapel has ever sat beside you in this manner.

"Give a girl a break. It's been a long shift, and I could do with the sugar rush." She bites into a chocolate chip cookie with obvious relish. "Just don't tell, Doctor McCoy. He thinks he's got everyone from medical converted to his optimum nutrition program. No one can face telling him we've been falsifying the results since day one."

"And how is the good doctor?"

She puts down the cookie with a frown. "Not good. Truth is I'm worried about him, Spock. I'm worried about all of you -- but I'm working with Len day in, day out, and I've never seen him like this."

She's breaking the cookie into small pieces on the plate as if doing so will help dissect her thoughts. "He's swaying on his feet, letting M'Benga do all the hands-on stuff. And just as well -- he thinks he's hiding it, but he can't stop his hands shaking."

"Indeed." You process this information and berate yourself for neglecting another friend. If you were not so obsessed with Ji... with the captain, you would have seen McCoy's distress for yourself. "Thank you, for bringing this to my attention. I will act on your information." And you hear yourself, hear your sterile words, and see her wince.

What is wrong with you? It is as if, without the captain's friendship, you have lost the connection to a world beyond the data on your screen. You can feel yourself retreating with every passing day. You try again.

"I have heard it said that doctors make the worst patients."

There is relief in her laugh. "Oh, I don't know; try nurses. If it came down to a choice between nursing a doctor or doctoring a nurse, I think I know which I'd choose. We know it all -- from bandages to bradycardia."

"I believe that is true. You know a great deal, Christine. And I am glad you have shared your information with me. Doctor McCoy may need our help."

She is blushing at his compliment, covering her embarrassment by pressing her fingertip into the crumbs on her plate and lifting them to her mouth. You observe this with rather more attention than the action deserves.

"Yeah, well you know I'd do anything for Len. And talking of sharing, have you given any more thought to talking things through?" She looks up from her plate, her gaze direct. "I know you're still not sleeping."

"I can assure you..."

"Come off it, Spock. I'm a nurse. We're trained to observe. And what I'm observing right now is a sleep-deprived Vulcan."

"I do not require..." You are about to make the well-worn retort, but find you do not have the energy. "I find sleep does not come easily at the current time. I prefer to meditate." You lift a forkful of your salad and pretend more certainty that you feel. "I am sure this is merely a temporary state of affairs."

She raises an eyebrow in an almost perfect imitation of Vulcan skepticism. "I see. So this wouldn't have anything to do with what happened when you went through the Guardian portal then?"

It as if your salad has turned to ashes in your mouth, and you carefully place the fork back on your plate.

Your question is unspoken, but she hears it nonetheless. "Doctor McCoy talks in his sleep. He sleeps at his desk. And I'm not beyond a little gentle questioning when that sleep is shallow and alcohol induced." She sees your frown. "So sue me, Spock. I was worried. I needed to know. And I don't know it all. Just that this had something to do with a time paradox..."

Your voice is stiff. "That information is classified -- "

"And that the captain loved her -- a woman in the past -- I know she had to die or none of us would be here."

You are not sure which is more shocking. That she knows so much, or that she has put the events into words. To hear even a brief description of that pain spoken aloud is disturbing, not least because it suddenly becomes a finite thing, something that can be discussed.

"Nurse Chapel, this is not an appropriate topic for conversation. You must know disclosure would prove the gravest threat -- "

"God, Spock, no wonder you're all so screwed up. I can't imagine... Listen, if there's anything I can do. For you, for the captain."

"The captain will come through this. He is -- "

"A strong man. Yes, I know, you mentioned that before." Her voice is gentle. "He's stopped talking to you, hasn't he?"

It is unnerving for a non-telepath to look at you with what appears to be such understanding. You feel your shields rise in defense.

"The captain and I converse daily."

"I don't mean on the bridge. Listen, the rest of us are getting used to the whole non-communication thing, although there's not a crew member aboard who doesn't miss their old captain. But you two, I bet you've barely exchanged three off-duty words since you got back. Tell me, Spock, when's the last time the two of you played chess?"

And you cannot help it. You do not allow your face to betray you, but she is attuned enough to read the body language of straightened spine and shifted chair.

"Miss Chapel, the captain and I have a ship to run, and we do not always have the time to indulge in frivolous..."

"Oh bull, Spock!" The raised voice startles as does the language. You are beginning to wonder which alien race abducted the nurse you thought you knew and replaced her with this forthright, unflinching woman across the table. The few crew members left in the mess are beginning to stare.

She notices and drops her voice to a hiss. "I'm sorry, but that's bull. You two found time to play chess at least two or three times a week before you went down to that damned planet, even when we were lurching from one crisis to another. And, I don't know if you've noticed, but we're not exactly in crisis mode right now."

She is, of course, correct. It is fortunate that Starfleet has chosen this particular month to assign the Enterprise the task of testing the latest modifications to the sensor array. Mister Scott and his team might be flat out, and enjoying every minute, but the rest of the crew have time on their hands.

You have already mapped out a series of drills in order to keep them alert and occupied. In a previous life the captain would have teased you that your drills were too predictable and modified them with some booby traps of his own design, but today he waved them through with barely a glance and went back to his paperwork and orders about Deneva.

You try a different approach.

"The captain has a great deal on his mind. He does not need me to add to those pressures."

"Now that's where you're wrong, Mister Spock. He does need you. You two work best as a team. You belong together, and it's not just me saying that."

No, it is not just her. Another woman, three centuries ago made the same observation.

"And where, Miss Keeler, do you estimate we belong?"

"You -- at his side as if you've always been there and always will."

No, not always. Always and forever are words Humans use too easily. But when she said it, you did not correct her, believing it to be true. Another error.

You resist the temptation to close your eyes against the voice, against the remembered heat of his smile, his eyes reflecting the flames of the furnace. You wonder if you will ever see that smile again.

The thrum of fatigue is back and so is the headache. You rise from your chair.

"Miss Chapel, I appreciate your concern but I have further work to complete. Once again, I must ask you to refrain from referring to this topic and -- "

You are interrupted by a whistle from the comm unit in the corner.

"Bridge to Mister Spock."

It is a relief to leave her glaring and walk over to press the button.

"Spock here."

The relief is short-lived. "Mister Spock, you're needed in Sickbay. It's Doctor McCoy. He's" Uhura's usually calm voice cracks, and you have a sudden premonition of disaster. "He's collapsed. Doctor M'Benga says he's having some sort of fit."

*****

According to the Enterprise blueprints, the distance from the mess to Sickbay via the turbolift is 247 meters. Under normal circumstances it would take approximately 54 seconds to complete the journey. But these are not normal circumstances, and both distance and time appear to have abandoned their fixed relationship with the laws of physics.

When the sickbay doors open, the scene beyond hits your emotional shields with a force that almost overcomes. You clamp down -- reduce what you see to facts for analysis.

The captain is here. He looks at you and says your name.

Doctor McCoy is on the biobed.

His body is arched and his limbs are twisted at unnatural angles. The monitors are showing an erratic heartbeat. Dangerously high blood pressure. Increased respiration.

The doctor is conscious but not aware. He is shouting. His mouth is flecked with foam.

Doctor M'Benga and Nurse Carlotti are standing by the bed talking. He is holding a medical tricorder. There is a tray of hyposprays in the nurse's hands.

Speculation: M'Benga has administered anti convulsants, but they have been ineffective.

Speculation: M'Benga has been unable to diagnose the doctor's condition

The captain is in a state you've seen before -- eyes glittering, every fiber of his body controlled, his authority radiating in waves. He is dangerous in this condition, his words quiet but steely.

"Analysis, Doctor. What's wrong with him?"

M'Benga frowns at the monitors and looks again at the readings on his tricorder. "He's in shock, abnormal electrical activity in the brain, sodium levels elevated, kidney function impaired. But he has no history of epilepsy or renal failure. This doesn't make sense."

You cross to the bed, the opposite side and some distance from the captain. You tell yourself this is in order to check the data. His eyes meet yours briefly. For a moment, you feel the connection, as if your mutual fear for your friend is conductive. The moment is over before there is time for further assessment.

Because McCoy is shouting, something unintelligible, his body spasming off the bed. The captain leans down and holds his shoulders. It is taking all his considerable strength to prevent the doctor from falling to the floor and belatedly Carlotti attempts to secure the straps.

The captain speaks through gritted teeth. "Do something, Daoctor. He can't go on much longer like this."

"I'll try tri-carbamazapine." M'Benga nods to the nurse who hands him another hypo.

"No, wait!"

For a moment all motion around the bed ceases. The voice is that of Nurse Chapel. She has, of course, followed you to Sickbay. "Let me have a look at those readings."

You think it strange that Doctor M'Benga does not resist, that he hands over the tricorder with some eagerness. But then you remember he has worked with Christine Chapel for many months, that he is well aware of her degrees in biochemistry and medical research.

McCoy gives one last shout and appears to lapse into unconsciousness. She does not spend long on her analysis.

"Doctor, I'd like to try theta depramine." You recognize the growth factor. It is used to regenerate tissue.

M'Benga looks puzzled. "But he hasn't been injured. This can't be the result of trauma."

"I think he has." Her voice is calm. You see the captain watching her, considering.

"Explain, Chapel."

"He has been injured -- internally. I can't believe I didn't make the connection before. I should have..." She stops, gathers her thoughts, then says simply, "The cordrazine."

There is a sharp intake of breath. He remembers. The empty hypospray. The doctor transformed into a wild man. "But that was a week ago."

"Yes, but that stuff has a half-life. There's not much in the medical textbooks about an overdose of this magnitude, but what there is suggests cordrazine can hang around in your system for days after treatment. And Doctor McCoy had a hundred times the recommended dose. I think it's still in his bloodstream, and his body is attempting to flush it out --"

M'Benga interrupts, "Through his kidneys. Of course. That would explain the sodium levels. And the kidney damage." He turns to Carlotti. "Theta depramine. Now. And we need to set up peritoneal nano-dialysis."

The doctor's eyes are rolled back in his head, the whites showing. There is something fundamentally wrong with the image of the doctor strapped to a biobed, a patient in his own sickbay.

You know the captain feels it, too. His concern for his friend reaches you in ripples despite your attempts to shield. You think it is a pity that the doctor is unconscious. If he could see his commanding officer leaning over him now, hand grasping hand, he would realize there was no reason to fear a lasting grudge over words spoken in ignorance more than three hundred years ago.

The minutes pass, but M'Benga is still frowning at the medical tricorder.

"Renal function is improving but it's going to take some time to get those sodium levels down and to flush the rest of the cordrazine through. And I don't like the look of those electrical impulses. He's still having fits -- we just can't see it."

The captain and Nurse Chapel have the same idea at the same time. They turn to you, but you are a beat ahead and nod.

"Doctor, if I may offer my assistance."

"What do you suggest, Mister Spock?"

"I may be able to reduce the... fluctuations -- a light mind meld."

M'Benga looks dubious. "If you think it will help. I don't like to give him more medication while he's already clearing toxins from his system."

Chapel murmurs quietly to Nurse Carlotti, and they move away, dimming the bright lights.

The captain is looking at you. It is the old look, the one from before. The effect is as if, deep below decks, someone has reduced the artificial gravity. You will not hold his gaze, but you feel a sudden lightness and the inner voice that lists your errors is quiet for a time.

You find the meld points without difficulty. The doctor has always been easy for you to read, but as you drift quietly into his mind you find it even more chaotic than usual, synapses firing random thoughts, thoughts and instincts in a jumbled swirl.

Metal, sharp, stab, hard light, burning

You offer simple calming words -- remembering the exercises you used as a child, skirting on the outskirts of his memories, soothing not searching.

Dim, soft, grey dusk, comfort.

So tired.

Then sleep.

Sorrow. Regret.

Mere phantoms. Let them go.

There is pain here, old and dull, new and raw. You do not explore it. Just layer the soft words as a poultice to heal and numb.

Peace, still, rest

You can feel his breath in your chest, his pulse in your temple, and it is no effort to slow his thoughts, to deepen his exhalation. He sighs, and the patterns begin to lose their tension, to stretch and stream in a glowing, fading line of light. You sense his mind relax and retreat towards sleep.

You are beginning to ease back, to withdraw, when it happens.

Like a solar flare his mind leaps outwards and burns through your lowered shields. For a blinding moment your thoughts and his mesh and tangle. You cannot help but make a sound -- a moan of pain -- and your fingers clench, grip, then fall away.

"Spock!"

It is his voice. It is her voice.

"Spock, come back. Are you all right?"

You stagger back against the bed. Lift your tingling hands to your face. For a moment you cannot speak. Then the splinters resolve and reform.

"I... I am quite well, Captain, thank you."

Doctor M'Benga is at your side, tricorder whining. You blink and look around. The captain stands some 20 centimeters to your left. You can see he wishes to touch your shoulder but refrains. Nurse Chapel has no such qualms and is touching your face in an attempt to assess your pupil size.

"Sit down, Spock. You got quite a jolt there."

"I can assure you I do not require assistance."

But you find yourself swaying and disguise the fact by acquiescing to her request. "The doctor -- is he --?

M'Benga nods. "He's sleeping. A normal sleep. I don't know what you did, but it's worked. Looks like he fought it though..."

You do not wish to reveal what happened. Merely nod. "A peculiarly strong electrical impulse. It had no lasting effect. I am glad the meld was effective."

And you note that Christine Chapel is appraising your response in a way that makes you think she does not believe you.

*****

You saw him smile today.

Just a flash, as if someone had angled a mirror in a corner of the bridge.

Mister Scott had brought him the latest results of the sensor array modifications. He was taking great pleasure in pointing out how Starfleet's best and brightest back at Command had failed to notice the obvious conflict between lab theory and deployed practice. Mister Scott has, of course, improved on the modifications and is now rewriting the manual.

Anything that adds to the Enterprise's capabilities and proves once again he has the best crew in Starfleet is a subject guaranteed to absorb the captain. And, when Mister Scott made some joke at the expense of the "pen pushers" back at Command, the captain smiled. The entire bridge crew noticed; the wave of relief washed behind your station and warmed your shoulders.

But when you turned to face him the smile had gone. You do not think it is because you turned that he stopped smiling.

*****

Doctor McCoy has called you to Sickbay. You have heard he has made a remarkable recovery, and you are pleased to see he is out of bed and in his office when you arrive. On his desk in front of him stands some orange liquid in a tall glass which he raises in mock salute at your entrance.

"Good evening, Mister Spock. Glad you could join me."

In answer you raise an eyebrow.

He smiles. "Don't worry, I'm off the hard stuff. This is some revolting concoction of Chapel's. She claims it's full of vitamins and healing enzymes. Tastes like it, too."

"You would do well to listen to your head nurse, Doctor."

"You'll get no argument from me there. The woman's a genius." He takes a gulp and makes a face. "Just as long as she stays on the customer side of my bar. She makes a terrible cocktail."

You surmise the doctor has not called you to Sickbay to discuss beverages. But you know from long experience that some conversational preamble is expected before Doctor McCoy will reveal his objective so you sit at the other side of his desk.

"May I ask how your recovery is progressing?"

"Oh never felt better. I have the kidneys of a newborn babe. Thank God for nurses with degrees in biochemistry." He gives a wry grin. "Some physician I am -- can't even diagnose my own symptoms. Put it all down to... well, you know."

You do know. Unfortunately, your own symptoms cannot be attributed to an overdose of cordrazine. You are careful, however, to suppress any signs of fatigue in front of the Doctor.

The doctor drains his glass and shudders. "So, Spock, I have a patient I'd like your advice on."

This is unexpected. The doctor is not in the habit of consulting you on medical matters.

"I am happy to offer my assistance -- although, as you know, medical science is not my field."

"Yeah well, I'm not so sure this is medical. Symptoms are persistent headaches, an inability to sleep, withdrawal from interaction with other members of the crew, and weight loss."

You lean forward. This sounds like a description of someone you both know well. Someone who just shared a turbolift with you and who, in answer to your invitation to join you for a game of chess, stared at the wall and replied, "Not tonight, Spock. I have a pile of communications from Command to get through." Someone who has stopped shouting in his sleep because, you suspect, he remains conscious for much of the night.

You decide to go along with the doctor's game.

"I believe those symptoms may manifest themselves in Humans who have undergone some emotional trauma. Have you been able to discuss possible causes with the patient?"

"No, I haven't. I'd say he's blaming himself for something beyond his control -- he's got guilt written all over him. But he shows a marked reluctance to discuss anything personal. In fact, I'd say he's in denial about the whole thing. Won't admit he has a problem."

You nod slowly. "And is this affecting the performance of his duties?"

"Not so's you'd notice. But he's stretched pretty thin. It's my job to step in before he reaches breaking point. Any suggestions, Spock?"

You pretend to consider but in truth the answer is easily apparent. This is the conversation you had hoped to have before the doctor fell ill.

"You are the ship's chief medical officer. That means in certain situations you out-rank anyone on board. I would suggest you use your medical authority. Demand he comes to Sickbay for a full psychological profile."

You know you are allowing your tone to become urgent -- your concern for the captain to show -- but the doctor must recognize the importance of this matter. "It would be counter-productive to delay. I believe that after a traumatic experience it can help to talk things through with a third party, someone who is less close to the trauma." You frown. You seem to have heard these words before. "I mean someone who is trained to counsel and support."

"Yeah, I think you may be right, Spock." The doctor scribbles a note on his compuclipboard and turns it over on the desk. "Oh, there's one more thing. This crew-member, he's not Human. Well, not fully Human anyway." He leans forward and watches warily for your reaction.

You have walked into a trap. You stand abruptly and you are suddenly furious to find yourself shaking -- with rage or fatigue -- you are not sure.

"Doctor McCoy, I fail to understand why you would play these games when the captain needs..."

"Oh would you just forget the captain for five minutes, Spock? He's got his own problems, and he's working through them the way Jim Kirk always works through his stuff -- alone. God knows he's had enough practice. But right now it's this ship's first officer I'm worried about." His voice is weary. "Spock, you can't go on like this."

You look down at your fingers on the desk. They are white with the pressure you are exerting downwards. You fear if you do not leave now you will break something. You fear you would like to break something.

"I do not believe you have evidence to support your statement. I am performing my duties to the satisfaction of the captain. I have not missed a single shift in all my years of service on board the Enterprise, and I --"

The doctor stands and faces you with a glare. "That's enough. I know, Spock. I saw. The mind meld, remember?" His words sap the last of your energy, and you find yourself sitting, legs suddenly unable to hold your weight. "Yes, I know why you're so tied in knots. But it's no good me explaining. You need to tell someone about it. Put it into words."

"And who would you suggest I discuss this with, Doctor?" Your words are ice, even as you burn. "With you? Forgive me, but I do not believe you qualify as a disinterested party in this matter."

"No, Spock. I don't think that would be wise. But I do have someone in mind. She's qualified and, given what she already knew, I've now made sure she's fully briefed."

And you know before you look up, before you see the silhouette in the doorway, you know who it is before you hear her voice.

"Hello, Spock. Can I help?"

*****

Later you cannot quite remember agreeing to talk to Christine Chapel. In fact, you are almost sure you did not agree, not in words. But your actions suggest acquiescence. You have so little energy that it seems logical to move into a side room, then to sit here in a chair where you cannot see her, to close your eyes and drift. You know the doctor has left. Her voice is gentle but persistent.

"I think it might help if I ask some questions. I know the basic sequence of events. And I get why the captain is going through a tough time right now. But why the guilt, Spock? Why are you blaming yourself for the captain's pain? You didn't make him fall in love with that woman. He did that all by himself. And she was always going to die, she had to die, remember?"

Oh yes, you remember.

The marching, triumphant forces of fascism. Hope draining from the room with every passing second of footage. No space age, no democracy. No mistake.

The captain's confession. His back turned. Something terrible about the set of his shoulders. Already you knew what he was going to say. And already you feared for your friendship.

 "Spock, I believe... I'm in love with Edith Keeler."

"Jim, Edith Keeler must die."

 Christine is speaking again. You are not sure how she is following your tangled mix of thoughts and words but it does not seem to matter. You hear her as if via the ship's intercom, remote and far away.

"What happened, Spock?"

 "I told him, I told him she had to die." You are speaking in a whisper, as if reducing the volume of your words will make the truth easier to bear.

"Yes, but after that? After he found out. What did he do? What did you do?"

 He had left then. Left you with your valves and vacuum tubes and the smell of singeing circuits. And you had gone back to the screen, to the flickering newsprint that condemned a woman to death and your friend to hell. There is no mistake. That's what you told him but you must check, and check again. And now you can read more of the article from the alternate timeline, the one that ends with Nazi victory and a new dark age.

 That's when you see it. You read how the Edith Keeler of that future is single, childless and devoted to her cause of peace. The right idea at the wrong time. But this is a timeline with but one intruder from the future.

 Edith Keeler must die.

 Yes. That Edith must die. But what if there is another future Edith? A married, happy Edith with a devoted husband and a family to distract her from presidential meetings and her crusade. Is it not possible, even probable, that she, that they, could have a different future? And that with Edith Kirk tied to hearth and home the march of history would proceed as it was meant to do?

What if there is another way to change history?

Her voice is soft. "You didn't tell him, did you Spock?"

No, you didn't tell him. You barely allowed the thought to crystallize. And now you question why. You question your motives and your answers are dark and ugly. You failed your friend when he needed you most. Your error, your fault.

"Tell me, what if she had lived? What if they'd found happiness? What then?"

So many possible futures shimmer if one life is saved. Jim Kirk stuck in the past. McCoy too. You, an alien, trapped in 20th century New York, walking proof of life beyond this planet. Three men three centuries ahead of their time. Impossible to calculate the ripples of temporal dissonance.

"Spock, what would have happened if you'd told him?"

The roar of the approaching truck. Jim Kirk in love and feet away. Doubt in his mind. And a woman who deserves to live facing pain and death.

"I do not know."

"But what do you think would have happened. What does your gut tell you?"

You drop your head; your voice as bleak as your words. "I could not have stopped him. Or he would not have stopped the doctor. She would have lived."

"And you would have stayed. No re-boot. No second chance with the Guardian."

"No."

"So why, Spock? Why all this guilt?"

And the answer suddenly seems so simple.

"Because I could not trust him with the truth. I could not trust my friend."

*****

When you sleep you do not dream. You sleep as if you have not slept in several centuries and, in a sense, that is the case. Even in 1930 you had lain awake constructing circuits in your head. Now you sleep as if time is suspended -- a sleep with no thought and no recrimination.

And when you wake, she is there. She says nothing. Just hands you water because you are parched, and fruit because you are famished. And you do not say thank you. You have said all your words. She has heard them, and it is enough. But something has changed between you and when her hand touches yours you do not withdraw. You find it is not unpleasant to feel her touch. You will not act upon it. Not now. But something has changed.

*****

You have just lit the flame when the chime goes and the sound is so unfamiliar that at first you cannot place it. It has been a long time since anyone came to your quarters. And when he enters it is so unexpected you cannot, at first, find words to greet him.

"What's the matter, Spock? Were you expecting someone else?"

"My apologies, Captain. Please..." And you gesture to the chair beside your desk. But he does not sit. He paces, a restless wave of energy that seems to fill your cabin and sucks the air you need to speak.

He seems uncertain how to begin; picks up the Denebian crystal you keep on your desk and examines it.

"So... I've had a visitor."

You suspect you know which visitor.

"Indeed."

"Yes, McCoy came to see me. He seems to think we need to talk."

"I see." Your mouth is dry. "Did the doctor disclose a subject for discussion?"

He looks at you and there is anger in his eyes. He puts the crystal down with a bang.

"Oh come on, Spock. Stop playing the Vulcan in an emotional vacuum. This is me you're talking to."

You say nothing. There is nothing you can say. Despite his assertion, you do not know which man has come to your cabin -- your commanding officer, the friend you used to know, or the stranger of the last week.

He runs his hand through his hair; places one fingertip on the crystal and sighs. "He wants us to talk about what happened in New York, of course."

You cannot say, 'Indeed' again. You swallow hard. "I am not convinced such a discussion will achieve a useful outcome."

His eyes narrow. "You and me both, Spock. But I've learned to listen to Bones over the years. Don't ever tell him I said so, but he's usually right."

You allow yourself a small inward smile. You are certain you do not allow it to show, but he sees it anyway. It has always been impossible to fully shield your emotions from the captain.

"Your secret is safe with me, sir."

His lips twitch. "I never doubted it." And he looks at you for the first time. "You're pretty good at keeping secrets, aren't you Mister Spock?"

He is talking about trust. The foundation of your friendship. A friendship you have jeopardized; a trust you have betrayed.

Your words are careful. "I would hope you can rely on me. But I fear you have found that difficult of late." You do not have the words for this conversation, and you have to make a conscious effort to unclench your fingers. "Recent circumstances have made that difficult."

He leans against the desk. "Listen, I can understand why you don't want to talk about it. I don't blame you. And I know why you've been avoiding me."

This is puzzling. "I have not been avoiding you, Captain."

He does not appear to hear you. "It must be pretty tough on you, Spock -- all this angst and emotional excess. I know how difficult you find it. I've done my best to stop myself over-emoting all over your personal space but the last few days haven't been easy..."

Once again your universe ripples and changes shape. You have been working from a false premise; your data was skewed from the outset. You know the light level in the cabin remains unchanged yet your surroundings appear a little brighter.

"...and I know I let you down. I've been... working through some things. I'd just ask you to give me a little more time."

Is that pleading in his eyes? These words make no sense. "Jim, in what sense do you believe you have 'let me down'?"

He looks up then, at the use of his name. "Okay, not just you. But you're the one who bore the brunt of it. And that night -- you know where I went, what I did." His words are bitter. "I don't blame you for judging me."

That night. You know which night. The night you spent trying to do what you had already told him was impossible -- to narrow down the circumstances of Edith Keeler's death, to find a date. And wrestling with a dilemma that would not obey the laws of logic.

He did not come back that night. You had assumed he spent the hours with the woman he loved. And looking at him now you see that you were right.

"I did not and I do not judge you, Captain. You are in error."

He explodes off the desk, advances. "Well, why not? I sure as hell judge myself." He is pacing again -- with a sort of fury. "God, Spock, what sort of man am I? What sort of man learns he must let the woman he loves die, then goes off and knocks on her door and seduces her?"

"I am sure you did not intend --"

"Oh no, my intentions were strictly honorable. At least that's what I was saying in my head. I went there to say good-bye. Better for her, better for me, that's what I told myself. It wasn't as if I could change anything. She was always going to fall under that truck. Hell, in my timeline she'd been dead and buried for centuries. And I knew there was nothing I could do --"

"Jim, listen to me. There is something I must tell you --"

"Except that she didn't know any of that, Spock." He turns away, fists clenched. "She looked so hurt when I tried to... when I..." His voice is choked. For one awful moment you think he may be about to lose control. But he pulls himself straight, his back to you, as it was when he confessed he loved her.

"She stopped me talking and she kissed me. And that was it. I couldn't... I tried, I'm sure I tried... but I couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't... stop. We'd kissed before. But this was different. It was like..." He turns then, his face transformed. The glow you remember is back. "It was like coming home, Spock. But to no home I've ever known. It was as if I couldn't remember the meaning, even the... concept of loneliness. I know she felt it, too. We were lost."

You know with sudden certainty you are seeing a Jim Kirk no one has ever seen. To witness such vulnerability in this man is a terrible thing.

He looks down at his fingers gripping the back of the chair as if he does not recognize them. "It wasn't what was supposed to happen. I didn't mean to end up in her bed. But she was a woman way ahead of her time. I think you saw that."

You nod. "Edith Keeler was a remarkable woman."

"It wasn't her first time, but it felt like mine. As if everything in my life had been leading up to that moment. It was a sort of madness, Spock. History seemed irrelevant. Nothing mattered, not my career, not the Enterprise." He looks at you. "Not even my friends."

You wish now that you were fully Human. That you could reach out to touch, to offer comfort. There is a hard lump in your throat. You cannot swallow.

"Jim --"

"And then, afterwards. Afterwards it came to me -- it seemed so obvious. What if there was another way? Another timeline. One where she didn't lead a peace movement. We could go away, start a family, grow old together. Let history go on without us. I couldn't sleep for thinking about it. We had such a connection. She said it -- we spoke the same language. I was sure I could persuade her." His voice drops to a whisper. "When she woke up I asked her to marry me."

He sees your reaction and he thinks it is the second part of his revelation that has caused your shock.

"I told you. It was a sort of madness. And she saw it. She laughed, Spock. She touched my cheek, and she laughed. She thought we had all the time in the world, you see. And then she left. Said she had to serve breakfast, and we'd talk about it that night."

He sits then, sits at your desk as if he has no choice; as if a weight has shifted back onto his shoulders. The glow has gone.

"Mornings have a way of counter-acting madness. I should have come back. I should have talked to you. But I didn't.

"I walked. Didn't really know where I was going but I ended up on Brooklyn Bridge, looking down at all those ships, the cargo boats -- they'd taken weeks to cross one ocean. And I remember thinking just how far the world had to go before they launched a starship. And, of course, I saw my madness for what it was."

He rests his head on clenched fists. "One chance. That's what the Guardian offered us. One chance to put things right. How could I think marrying Edith would not change time? What if we had children? What about their children? A whole generation who weren't meant to exist.

"And she was right. I didn't belong. None of us did. 23rd century knowledge transplanted to the 20th century -- we might have resisted for months, years even, but we would have cracked eventually. And then there was you." He looks up. "You really didn't belong."

"No." You pause. "I do not believe the accident with the mechanical rice picker would have endured another recounting."

He laughs then, as you had intended, but the laugh becomes a muffled groan, almost a sob. He rests his head on his hands. "What was I thinking, Spock? How could I do that when I knew she was going to die? I betrayed everything I thought I believed in."

"You loved her, Jim." For once you do not allow yourself to shield yourself from his pain. You even welcome it. "You loved her, and she knew it."

"I think she knew it -- I told her. I'm not sure she believed me."

"She knew, Jim. I knew. I did not understand it, but now I think I knew from the beginning; from the moment she appeared on those basement steps." You look at him, at your friend, at the man you thought you could not trust, and your doubts seem ludicrous. Of course, his instinct had led him down the same path as your logic, and, of course, he had reached the same conclusion. Alone. "You did not come back that day."

"I'm not sure how I got through those next few hours. After I realized... But you know my capacity for self-delusion. Like you said, we weren't that sure of our facts. I wouldn't admit defeat. I told myself we might still have weeks, months perhaps.

"I even started thinking we could tell her... we could show her the future. I knew I couldn't stay; that if it worked we would get pulled back to our own time. But she wouldn't have to die. She didn't deserve to die, Spock."

"No." You frown at the idea of revealing the truth to someone with Edith Keeler's vision, her insight. As before, as always, he is ahead of you.

"Yes, I know. I still wasn't thinking straight. There was only one way to avoid changing history. Deep down I knew it, but I didn't want to face it.

"I couldn't wait to see her again. Had a whole plan mapped out for the evening. And then... she said his name, she said she'd seen McCoy... It was as if I'd fallen off a cliff. I saw you. And I left her standing there. I ran from her."

He has arrived at that moment. The collision of the timelines and the stuff of nightmares. And you are there with him. Shouting words that are not needed.

"No, Jim."

He already knew what he had to do. Even as he whispered her name he knew.

"She trusted me. And I watched her walk in front of that truck. And, coward that I am, I turned away. I held Bones back and I couldn't look. But I heard, Spock. I heard--" He swallows. "I heard her scream. I know it was her. I'm done with pretending."

He is looking at you now, a flat, hopeless look and the action you take is the only logical one available. You reach and hold his hand. And, for just that moment, time seems suspended. You have both travelled three centuries and a thousand light years from this quiet cabin.

And there has been another journey. A journey that continues since you do not know the destination. But someone has given you a map.

"Jim. There is something I must tell you."

And you begin to talk; to tell him everything. And the words come as if they have always been a part of you. And you know this conversation will stay with you forever.

Always and forever. Words Humans use too often. And Vulcans not enough.


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