Spock stood, transfixed by the swirling flakes of white. The blizzard had done more than just delay their evacuation of the science outpost on Kumar XII; it had evoked memories he had tried to suppress.
A feminine voice invaded his thoughts; a slender figure enveloped in fur appeared in his mind like a holo, taunting him, pleading with him to stay. He stared at the tear-streaked face, taking in the wide eyes, the soft lips quivering...
"Sonyak says this'll blow over by planet dawn, Spock," Leonard McCoy announced, entering the small room they had been assigned. "We can take the Galileo out in the mornin' to pick up T'Mar and T'Shale at Outpost Two and rendezvous with the ship only a few hours late. I just talked with Jim on the subspace radio to tell him about the delay."
"Thank you, Doctor," Spock said softly, not looking away from the window.
"There's nothin' left to do now but get some sleep," McCoy continued. "It's gonna be a long day tomorrow. You care if I take the bottom bunk?"
"That will be fine," Spock agreed indifferently, still not turning from the window.
McCoy moved to stand beside the first officer, looking out at the glittering flakes illuminated by the compound lights. He sighed.
Spock had certainly been double Vulcan the past few weeks. Even Jim Kirk had commented on it. McCoy knew why...at least, he had a sneaking good suspicion, but he had not said a word to the captain, nor to Spock. Perhaps, like Spock, he had told himself that it would go away if he ignored it long enough.
He cast a surreptitious glance at the first officer, noting the lines of exhaustion etched across his face and the newly acquired hollows in his cheeks. He had not been eating, and the resulting loss of weight made him appear more gaunt than usual. No, ignoring the situation was just not working. It might be the Vulcan way, but it wasn't doing Spock a damn bit of good. McCoy recognized the pattern: Spock's aloof restraint, his conspicuous absence unless he was on duty, the lack of appetite... Spock was withdrawing into himself in an attempt to cope, and this time it wasn't working.
"Spock," he began tentatively. "You did what you had to do. Stop torturing yourself."
"I fail to take your meaning," Spock said, his expression flat, but McCoy saw him tense, almost as if he had been dealt a physical blow. Turning away from the window, Spock took a step toward the door. "I shall be in the observation lounge in meditation."
"Stop it!" McCoy snapped, grabbing the Vulcan by the shoulders and swinging him around to face him. "You can't meditate this one away, Spock. Not this time. Do you know why? Because Vulcans have never conceived of a cure for a broken heart, and that's what you have!"
"Do not be insulting, Doctor," Spock said, his voice husky. Dark eyes met deep blue ones and sparked with denial, but McCoy stared him down.
"You loved her, Spock," McCoy said softly, his tone now gentle with concern. "Not just the Human part of you that you suppress and control, but the Vulcan half loved her, too."
Spock made no response at first, searching McCoy's expression as if it could provide an answer. Finally, he expelled a sigh, his posture sagging slightly, the haunted look returning. "What would you have me say?" he questioned.
"I'm not trying to get a confession out of you!" McCoy insisted, releasing his grip. "Hell, I don't need one! It's written all over your face. Believe it or not, I'm trying to help."
"I fail to see what you might help me with," Spock said coolly.
"What you're going through is not unique, Spock," McCoy replied gently. "This situation, letting go and making difficult decisions, is one we've all had to face one time or anther. It's hard. It hurts like hell, and you're no exception. And don't give me any crap about Vulcans not having those kinds of feelings. That's bullshit, and we both know it. C'mon, Spock, be honest. You've tried to get over this your way. Has it worked?"
Spock dropped his gaze. "Not to my satisfaction," he admitted.
"You're feelin' guilty," McCoy guessed.
"And great humiliation," Spock added slowly. "My actions were inexcusable. I can make no defense--"
"I'm not here to pass judgment on you," McCoy interrupted shortly. "Why should I bother when you've already done such a thorough job of it? Listen to me, Spock. It wasn't your fault! Did you send Zarabeth through the Atavachron in the first place? Didn't you offer to bring her back with us when you realized she was trapped there? When you found out she couldn't leave, weren't you willing to stay with her and let me come back alone?"
"You do not understand," Spock said, turning back to the window. "There is more to this than you know."
McCoy put one hand on Spock's shoulder. "Do you really think I haven't guessed?" he questioned gently. "Zarabeth loved you. You had lost your Vulcan inhibitions and reverted to a primitive emotional state." McCoy smiled slightly. "And let's not forget your Human half, Spock. I'm Human, and I was attracted to her. She was an exceptional individual, intelligent, gentle, a lovely lady."
"Indeed," Spock agreed. "A lovely lady who had suffered enough without the heartbreak of--"
"Losing you?" McCoy supplied. "Yes, it would've been hard, painful. But think, Spock. Given a choice, would Zarabeth have preferred to never have met you, to never have known the joy of what you shared? Even if it meant losing you in the end? There's an old Earth saying: 'It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.'"
"Are you saying that the memory of our time together would have been of comfort to her?" Spock whispered.
"Yes," McCoy said firmly. "That's precisely what I'm saying."
Spock made no comment, staring at the fragile, windswept flakes, wondering for the billionth time if he could have somehow done anything differently.
"You did what you had to," McCoy insisted, following his train of thought. "Now do what Zarabeth would want you to do. Accept your decision as sound, and keep the memories. Sarpeidon is gone. Zarabeth is gone. Our memory of her is all that remains. Make that memory a good one, worthy of a very special lady."
"The concept of finding comfort in a memory is one that I have difficulty accepting," Spock said in doubtful tones.
McCoy smiled sadly. "You can, Spock. Take my word for it. Let your memory of Zarabeth comfort you in your loss, just as her memory of you undoubtably did for her."
"I shall attempt to do that," Spock said softly.
"Good," McCoy replied, squeezing the Vulcan's shoulder before releasing it. "Now, I'm gettin' some shut-eye."
By the time Spock moved from the window, McCoy's regular, even breathing told him the doctor was asleep. He looked at the physician's peaceful expression, remembering all the times they had openly denied the friendship that existed between them. Even tonight, all that they felt had not been expressed; it was their way. However, Spock was grateful for his exhaustion, for the weakened mental shields which had allowed one unspoken truth to be heard, a psionic reassurance that McCoy had not dared to utter. It had come to him just before McCoy broke his grip on his shoulder, and the message was as heartfelt as any spoken word, the Vulcan expression of empathy, "I grieve with thee."
Spock dimmed the lights and climbed into the upper bunk, looking one last time at the blizzard which raged outside. "Farewell, Zarabeth," he whispered. "The memory of what we shared will be with me always."
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