Leonard McCoy was terrified.
Hed always believed that terror this deep and soul-shaking would come to him while staring at the business end of a disruptor, or when hed be able to feel a transporter tingle and know that something in the machinery guts had finally gone awry, just like hed always believed that it would, but the act that produced this terror was a simple one, a little Human thing. Spock was seated low on the log in front of him, his breath rasping in his chest, and McCoy was leaning over him and fussing and feeling for the pulse at his neck, and then he stood up and put his hands on his hips and cursed Jim Kirk for dumping them there and cursed Starfleetwelljust because, and he squinted through the forest that stretched in all directions, as far as he could see; and while he was doing this, as he was frowning through the trees and wondering how he might concoct a miracle out of pure desire, McCoy felt something hot and heavy come to rest against his lower chest.
It was Spocks forehead, and McCoys terror was instant and complete.
He immediately tried to mask it, knowing that even in his current condition Spock might be able to telepathically know the depth of his concern. On the other hand, he thought briefly, what difference did it make if Spock knew that his act of weakness had terrified him? Hed never been very good at hiding anything from the Vulcanand vice-versaso he might as well save all of his psychic energy for whatever the rest of the day would bring.
So he continued to do his job, grabbing Spocks wrist for a pulse pointpretending to ignore the weight on his chest and what it meantand he spread his legs and dug in, giving Spock as steady and sure a resting spot as he could. During this, he looked up and saw the little alien looking at him solemnly. Of course, McCoy was projecting. Who knew solemn with that face? No whites to the big black eyes, no discernible wrinkles, that little thick-lipped mouth in a perpetual round O of surprise, no hair. No ears that he could see. Tan-brown skin/hide. Male? Female? Who knew? And it stood there, barely over a meter tall, looking at them, and the only movements were its hands and their three tiny fingers that were nervouslythere you go, he thought, projecting againpicking at his little leather tunic.
"Yeah," McCoy said after clearing his throat. "Weve got a problem here, little buddy."
It politely chirped and gurgled back at him.
Jesus, I wish it could blink, McCoy thought. That black stare was unnerving.
The alien was a bonus, the last thing theyd expected with planetfall. Previous exploratory missions had found the little planet devoid of sentient life, but McCoy had known better the minute hed stepped out of the shuttlecraft and had stood in the sunlight and surveyed the scene around him. Generally hed found that planets as pleasing as this one held sentient life. He wasnt enough of a scientist to figure out why or how that seemed to happen with such frequency, but it did.
It was not unheard of for a perfunctory planetary once-over to miss a thinking being or two. It had happened before. These little guysand McCoy assumed that there were morecould live underground, or could be cold-blooded and missed by heat-seeking sensors, or could just be very shy and very careful.
Spock chose that moment to pull his head back from McCoys chest. The doctor looked down at the uncharacteristically disheveled black hair. If he still had his medikit, this would be a proverbial walk in the park. And if he had a scanner, he knew what it would show him. It would show him information that he didnt really want to see: pixelated profiles of lots of water in those dust sacks that passed for Vulcan lungs. He was far more concerned with that than he was with the injury that had precipitated the fall into the water. The projectile had had no barbs. It was smooth and small and had come out cleanly. Hed lost some blood, but not an alarming amount. But the cumulative effect sure as hell didnt help.
McCoy guessed that they were still at least five kilometers from the pick-up point. Spock had been a regular Vulcan trooper and they had gotten this far before the need for a stop, their little companion keeping up with them easily. McCoy weighed their options. It didnt take long. They didnt have many. Stay. Go.
"Spock," he said, leaning over, trying to ignore the ominous sound of his labored breathing, "can you travel?"
Spock didnt bother with the energy it would have taken to speak. Without raising his lowered head, he nodded.
"All right then," McCoy said briskly, hating himself for the forced stoicism he heard in his voice, "lets get moving." He turned away and fought the urge to grouse about their predicament aloud, and as he did this, he heard a dull thud and turned to see that, yes, Spock could travel, and he had done so on his own, right from the log down to the ground. McCoy knelt and turned him over. To add insult to injuryor actually injury to injuryhed cracked his head on a rock and fresh blood was welling from a wound on his forehead.
"Well, shit," McCoy said with feeling, and the little guy, now beside them, gurgled. Maybe with concern. Maybe sympathy.
So this was it, then, this spot in the middle of nowhere on an inconsequential, undersized planet. This is where they would wait. McCoy didnt want to think too deeply about what theyd be waiting for. Pick-up was by his calculation some two to three hours awayit was hard to tell for sure with a tricorder and their communicators resting at the bottom of a deep azure lakebut he wasnt sure that Spock had two to three hours left in him. If it had just been the wound from the projectile, McCoy believed that Spock wouldve been able to shake it off like a horse shakes a fly off its hidehed seen him do it before, plenty of timesand they would have been at the pick-up point already, waiting. But if the Vulcan had a weakness, they were his lungs, lungs adapted over the millennia to desert conditions but not so hot at surviving being half-filled with cold mountain water.
Suddenly weary and depressed, McCoy plopped down on the forest floor and pulled Spock up onto his crossed legs. He would need to keep Spocks upper body elevated to facilitate his breathing. He found a spot on his own uniform top that had already been torn by a branch, and he pulled until he had separated a ragged piece of it that he then dabbed ineffectually at the blood coming from the wound in Spocks hot forehead. He cursed, not for the first time, about the lack of absorbency in Starfleet synthetics, and he felt little fingers touch the side of his face. He started.
"blubbblu" the little thing said. Asked. Commented.
McCoy frowned and shook his head.
"Sorry, little guy. I dont understand you."
And then the little guy raised his arm and pointed unerringly in a certain direction, in the direction that they had been headed. There was no real trail here, and McCoy had been trusting Spocks homing instinctseven in a half-conscious state, far better than his ownand now this tiny native creature was pointing like he knew what he was doing, his formerly nervous fingers now still and sure. Then he pointed at his own chest, and then back in the direction of the pick-up point.
McCoy swallowed a surge of hope. Could it somehow understand their predicament? Could it be telepathic? Could it have actually been there near the clearing, minding its own business when the shuttlecraft landed and deposited the two of them here, and might it have been following them the whole time? McCoy had thought it odd that the alien had appeared instantly after Spock had turned away from the lake and back towards the forest and had unknowingly tripped the hunting trap. Hed taken the projectile in the hip and had tumbled backwards into the lake.
Without thinking about the medikit casually slung over his arm, McCoy had instantly followed. There was no fat on this Vulcans body, and hed hit the water and promptly gone under like a rock, and McCoy had kept his eyes nailed on him and had jumped right in after him, reaching out as he did so for an arm, or hair, or uniform material. In spite of his immediate efforts, it still took McCoy three deep, long dives to find him, and on the second, hed touched Spock and, lungs bursting, grabbed at anything he could. That anything had been, unfortunately, Spocks communicator, and it had slipped from his shaking fingers and dropped away from him. The third time, after allowing himself a few precious seconds to tread at the surface and gather his wits and fill his lungs, hed been successful, getting a handful of Spocks tunic and then kicking towards the surface like a man kicking up and away from the flames of hell, and when hed finally broken that surface, gasping for breath and pulling Spock with him, there was the alien at the side of the lake, watching.
McCoy had called for help, and the little guy had stood mute, and as McCoy had looked at it, hed wondered then at its incredible timing, and wondered if it had been the aliens trap that Spock had tripped. McCoys fear had overridden his sense of wonder, and hed bellowed at the little fellow as hed headed for shore, pulling Spock along behind him.
Lakeside, the alien had finally provided McCoy with the hand hed needed, and in another universe, another time, it would have been humorous, the little guy putting its back into it and gurgling down in its chest, tugging for all it was worth. And for a few minutes after hed collapsed on the shore, McCoy was not worth much himself. Hed been exhausted, and hed gasped for breath and automatically reached for his communicator with quaking fingers. It hadnt been there. It was in the lake, hed assumed, deep in it with everything else they needed, and now they were figuratively as naked as spacefaring jaybirds.
Hed known that he didnt have another deep dive in him, known that Spock didnt have the time for him to rest up and try it again, so hed rolled the Vulcan over and coaxed a river of water out of him, cursing the whole time.
Now, beside him, the little one began to coo and nod and said something along the lines of "bbllubllubu" and he gestured, pointing again, and somehow McCoy knew that it was a statement. He was going to do something, and McCoy hoped that that something was a trip back to the pick-up point to get help.
The doctor considered this. Maybe he should be the one to go. There wasnt a whole lot that he could do for Spock without a medikit other than be here. He pictured Spock coming to, alone, maybe in the dark, with no one but this tiny, burbling alien for company and comfort.
No. He couldnt do it. He couldnt leave him, even though he would prefer some kind of action over staying put and witnessing his friends certain deterioration. And if McCoy left him and he died here alone, hed never forgive himself. And Jim might be a little irritated, too.
"bublub." The alien turned and started to hurry away.
"Wait!" McCoys voice stopped him. The doctor looked around for something to send, something to scratch a message on, something the little guy could take with him that would tell Jim that they were in deep trouble. He glanced down at the green-smeared rag that had been part of his uniform top and held it out. "Take this with you," he said, staring hard into the whiteless eyes. "Show it to them. Thatll get the cavalry here."
The little guy took it, and for an incredible moment, McCoy found himself fighting down laughter that was bubbling up his throat. As hed spoken to the alien hed flashed on some holovids from his youth, and he pictured Jim Kirk leaning over, hands on his knees, looking down at the little fellow as Sulu said earnestly in the background, "Timmy, I think Lassies trying to tell us something"but he swallowed his urge as the alien bobbed his head and took the rag and tore out of sight faster than McCoy thought possible.
He sighed and leaned back on the log where Spock had been sitting and shifted the Vulcan on his legs. Theyd already fallen asleep, and were tingly bordering on painful. He squinted up through the trees and tried to calculate the time before nightfall. Pick-up was supposed to occur at sunset. He was generally not great on detail, especially when Spock was in the same landing partywhy bother then?but he did remember that, the sunset part. Although he hadnt been thrilled with the trip, he had looked forward to rising into the atmosphere at sunset. Hed done it before and it was gorgeous and exhilarating, one of his favorite things.
He moved again and pulled a rock out from under his left buttock. It was going to be a very uncomfortable day. For a whole lot of reasons. He decided that talking out loud would be a good idea. It would help him stay focused and upbeat, and maybe Spock would subconsciously concentrate on it and not slip away. McCoy had his concerns about Spock falling into a Vulcan healing trance, great for traumatic wounds and busted ribs, but of questionable value and a little scary when it came to faulty breathing apparatus. He cleared his throat.
"Spock, did I ever tell you about the time my cousin and I got lost in the swamp out behind my uncles camp? We were about seven or eight at the time. Scared the hell out of us...."
He had seen them come from the sky in a box. He had been alone when it had happened. It was his turn for the hunt, so everyone else was deeper in the forest, and hed stood behind a bush at the edge of the clearing, his fingers twitching, as the box opened and two large creatures came out. The box made a noise that made him cover the hearing depressions in his chest with his hands, and it went back up into the sky and disappeared.
Hed followed them, had come behind them, wondering at their size and the strange, harsh noises that came from their mouths. He was transfixed by the color of their tunics. He had never seen a color like that before. And so he listened and sniffed at the air for their odd smell, and even as he curiously followed them he considered also fleeing deeper into the forest, back to the safety of the rest of them.
His giver of life had always said that his curiosity and lack of care would render him without life one day. But he was swift and sure, and they never detected his presence. Not until the one with the pointed things on the sides of his head had tripped the string that he had set in hopes of killing a bbu. Now, as he ran towards the clearing where the box had come from the sky, he saw the moment in his mind, saw the change in the face of the one who had tripped it, saw the one with the growly noises jump in the water after him. It had scared him, and hed stood on the shore, watching the growly one come above the water and disappear, come above the water and disappear, and then hed come up and growledat him! He had truly wanted to flee then, but something had stopped him, and he had come into the lake as far as hed dared and had pulled and tugged on both of them with all his might. But they were giants, and he was small. It had taken a long time.
The growly one had made water come from inside the other one, lots of it, and hed growled the whole time and shook the one with the pointed things on the side of his head and made him get up on his feet and move.
Others of his kind had fallen in the water and had never come out of it, or had come out of it later, without life. Hed been amazed that the tall green creature had been able to rise and move at all.
Now, headed for the clearing, he easily vaulted a rock and thought about the flight of the spear as he did so. He had to learn from his mistakes. He had to prove himself to the others. He would have to lower the aim on the device when he returned. Calculating the height of the one who fell in the lake and where he took the spear, he knew that it would have soared far over the head of the largest bbu in the forest and would have sunk to the bottom of the lake. Just like the quiet one, the one with the pointed things on the side of his head.
"Well anyhow, Ive always heard that Romulan Ale and live-eels dont mix, but try telling that to James Tiberius Kirk when hes in a mood, and that night on Xylonail proved me right. Ive never seen Jim so sick. Im tellin you, he was greenno offense intendedand we had to stop the taxi about every kilometer so that he could get out of it and hurl."
McCoy put a hand to the back of his neck and kneaded at the tight muscles there. "But I dont suppose Vulcans hurl," he said reflectively. "Vomit, maybe. Regurgitate. But I really doubt that Vulcans have euphemisms for painful, embarrassing body reactions."
This Vulcan didnt. But then this Vulcan wasnt saying or doing much of anything.
Hed actually thought that Spock had stopped breathing about a half an hour ago. McCoy had been babbling about his Aunt Minnies house, going through it room by room, detailing each featurethe hideous wallpaper, the foul-smelling swagged draperies, the cats curled up in every available seatand hed suddenly been aware of Spocks stillness, and for ten silent seconds hed stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Spocks unmoving chest, ready to jump up from under him and begin artificial respiration. When he was just on the verge of moving, Spock started and his eyes briefly opened and he took a deep and ragged breath, as if hed simply forgotten to do so before, and then he closed his eyes and went away again. Shaken, McCoy moved on to the second floor, beginning first with the carpet on the stairway, shredded from feline claw-sharpening, and moving up to the upper hallway, where pictures of the McCoy ancestors hung on walls that actually leaned inward, tilting towards the hallway floor; and as he recited, his eyes did not leave Spocks chest.
"So how you doin?" he asked now, conversationally, as if Spock could actually hear him. "Listen, Im gonna have to get up and stretch my legs and relieve myself." He twisted out from under the Vulcan and pulled him back against the log, but Spock wasnt cooperating. He kept wanting to flop over on his side, so McCoy pulled a rock over and propped him up. He stood and studied his handiwork. Spock was still listing to one side, and his head was thrown back on the log, his hair, wet from perspiration, stuck untidily to his forehead, ears, and neck. His mouth was slightly open and the darkness of his eyelashes were startling against the paleness of his skin.
"Stay right there. Dont move." McCoy actually found it in himself to chuckle at that as he walked away. It was something of a relief to be able to boss Spock around and not have to pay the consequences. As he relieved himself, his back to their impromptu camp, he looked up into the trees. It was a truly beautiful place. Birds were calling and dappled sunlight played across the forest floor. It smelled piney, like in the woods at home, but with some faint spicy odor in it as well. He finished and stayed there, stretching, pulling at his sore limbs, peering through the trees, looking and listening for water. He could use some. He was dying of thirst. Finding none, he sighed and turned.
Spock hadnt moved, was in the same graceless and yet graceful position hed been left in, draped on the log and the rock, and looking over at him McCoy was startled to feel an involuntary sob move up his tight chest, seeking egress. He swallowed rapidly, but it came out of him anyhow.
He might lose him, right here in the middle of nowhere.
Spock needed badly to be in Sickbay, needed to be pumped full of antibiotics, and he needed his lungs drained and his wound tended, and there wasnt a damn good thing McCoy could do about it. And for about the hundredth time in the past four years, he wondered what in Gods name he was doing in Starfleet.
He was at the spot, his hands nervously tugging at the piece of material that the growler had given him. He believed he understood that the box would come from the sky again to get the two left in the forest. He was not sure how he knew this.
He found a log and sat on it. Periodically sat on his hands, too, to quiet them. He did not know how long he would be required to wait.
He was hungry. He had not hunted at all that day, unless he counted stalking the giants. He knew that in doing this he was shirking his duties to the rest of them in the forest. He had only been a hunter for two cycles, and he might lose the privilege if he failed, but then he was never sure about the hunting. He had hoped to be a storyteller, but a hunter had been needed when his time had come, and so that was what he was. He was not the worst that had ever been in all of time, but he was not the best, either.
But of this he was sure: his stories of this day would be told at night around the fire for many cycles to come, even if not by him.
Giants. And in a box from the sky. They would never believe it. And in spite of his fears and concerns, he allowed himself a small burble of self-satisfaction.
"First thing Im gonna do when we get back is put you on a diet," McCoy muttered as if he would brook no argument. There was none given. "You may look skinny, but I swear to God you must be as dense as a neutron star."
They were in position number seven. He shifted Spock every fifteen minutes or so. He had to, or leg amputation would be an excellent bet when it was over. He couldnt remember ever feeling this sore before. Position seven was a relief for his backit was against the logbut in this one, his legs were out in front of him, crossed to give Spock more height, and he couldnt feel them anymore. His arms were across his bare chest.
Spock wasnt interested in anything McCoy had to say. He was propped up on McCoys legs, his own legs stretching out to the right. Hed begun shivering an hour ago, and McCoy had peeled off his shirta paltry offeringand tucked it over his torso. It hadnt helped. There was a pallor to Spocks skin now, a waxiness that the doctor could not ignore.
"What am I doing here?" he asked angrily, a catch in his voice. "Why am I here on this God-forsaken planet a million light years from nowhere with you in my lap? What have I gotten myself into?" Spock couldnt answer that, so he continued.
"You know Spock, I look at Jim, and I wonder what he would have done back on Earth if not for Starfleet. I just cant imagine him doing anything else, can you? Selling used warp sleds? Teaching? In politics? Acting?" He shook his head and stared blankly out into the forest. "If Starfleet hadnt existed, they would have had to make it up, just for him. He was born for this. Made for it."
Oh, for that kind of surety, he thought grimly. To be born for something, to be perfect for it. He looked down at Spock.
"And you know what? Youre perfect for it, too. In a different way. Where would you be? What would you be doing if you werent here?" Breathing a lot easier than you are now, for one thing, McCoy thought morosely as he watched the unsteady cadence of Spocks chest and listened to the rattle of it. "Youd probably be in some diplomatic school back on Vulcan, and your father would be happier than a pig in slop."
McCoy studied the Vulcans still features, vulnerable in repose. What made me so mad at him that day? McCoy wondered...
It had happened in the mess hall, out in front of everyone. McCoy, Kirk, Spock and the rest of the command crew had been eating dinner together.
McCoy had been exhausted and knew that he looked it. He still hadnt recovered from his stint at the mercy of the Vians and their sophisticated torture machines. The empath had proved herself in the Vians test and had saved him, but he was still suffering from some serious incident hangover. He was cranky and irritable and plagued with cabin fever, and he said so. Spock, of course, corrected him. Cabin fever was a myth, he said. And he looked rested, tidy, and unflappable as he said it.
It had set McCoys teeth on edge.
And so it had started from there. They were on opposite sides of the table, and it had reminded McCoy of a table tennis match, with Kirk at the end of the tablebemused at firstwatching the match with the rest of them, back and forth and back and forth. It became about what it always became about: too much emotion and no emotion, logic and lack of logic, discipline versus loss of control, but it had gone on longer than usual, and Spock wouldnt stop, so he sure as hell wouldnt. It went beyond good-natured banter, beyond doing something for the amusement of others, beyond the unspoken lines theyd drawn in the sand long ago; McCoy knew it, could see it in Spocks stiff back and dark eyes, could hear it in the anger and in the tremor of his own voice as the battle escalated. But he didnt stop, hadnt wanted to really, and finally he threw his fork down at his plate and said that he should have just let those goddamned Vians take Spock instead of him.
"What made me think that I had to spare you, huh?" hed shot. "It probably cost me about two years of my life to do that. Id think even somebody as cold-blooded and heartless as you are could appreciate it!"
"That will do." Kirks voice was as cold as McCoy had ever heard it, and hed turned to look at the captain. Disappointment and dismay were clear on his face, concern clear in his eyes and in his frown, and McCoy had known at that moment that they hadfinallygone too far for him. The rest of those seated at the table had stabbed seriously at the food on their plates, looking as uncomfortable as Gorn in formal wear, their eyes anywhere but on the three of them at the end of the table.
McCoy and Spocks relationship, always wary, had turned positively glacial. And this little foray into the forest on this pretty planet was the result of that outburst, there was not a doubt in McCoys mind about that. Hed taken enough psych courses to know what James T. Kirk was up to.
Theyd been called to the Epsilon Delta star system. An unfriendly little pissing contest was brewing over a tasty, unclaimed asteroid field between the outer planets. Mining giants Uniminacon and Galminal Incorporated had parked their big processing rigs within eyesight of each other. No shots had been fired, no asteroids had been booby-trapped, no communications systems had been jammed. Yet. The Enterprise was ferrying Federation negotiators to the field in hopes of avoiding loss of life and limb.
The captain had called McCoy and Spock into his office and had solemnly handed them a compuclipboard with a list on it. McCoy had glanced at it: medicinal plants, herbs, trees with bark that cured cancer, phosphorescent fungus that prevented arthritis.
He was sending them on a scavenger hunt. Except he didnt call it that. He didnt call it anything, really. He just made it very clear that theyjust the two of themwere going to search for these things on that third planet out from the sun, and that theyjust the two of themwere going to spend the day there. Just the two of them.
So theyd left the Enterprise and the negotiators at the asteroid field and had taken the shuttlecraft to planet Epsilon Delta IIIthey had been at least smart enough not to fight over who got a window seatand Kirk and Sulu had left them there and had gone off to do whatever swash and buckle types do when they have a day to kill.
Jim Kirk had stood in the door looking at them before take-off. "Go discover something," hed said gravely, and the shuttlecraft had taken off, and without a word, Spock had turned and strode off into the forest, McCoy following at a trot.
Well McCoy had discovered something, thank you very much, captain, sir. He had discovered that he was mortal without working medical accouterments, and that Spock was mortal when it came to his lungs, and he had also realized that he was sick and tired of the kinds of God-awful surprises that visited you when you flew around in starships and landed on strange planets out in the middle of nowhere where you really didnt belong.
He rubbed his bare arms and frowned at the middle distance. He realized that he hadnt spoken aloud for several minutes. He cleared his throat and swallowed. "So Jims perfect for Starfleet, and youre perfect for Starfleet. Me? Im a doctor, and I got that part right. I should be a doctor. Just like my father. But Starfleet?" Uncomfortable, he grimaced as he leaned over and pulled Spock closer to his chest. "How did I end up here? What the hell was I thinking, anyway? Im not made for this. Im not made for it physically or psychically or emotionally. Youve seen that, Spock. Dont tell me that you havent."
"I shouldve hung my shingle out in some little Southern town. Charleston, maybe. Beautiful place. I should be back there right now, treatin gout and deliverin babies. I sure as hell shouldnt be here."
The box came from the sky, just as he thought it would. The sun was low when it appeared, a bright white spot that got larger and louder. He put his hands over his hearing depressions and stayed behind a bush as it landed.
Part of the box opened and two giants emerged. He felt his fingers convulse, and he gurgled in fear. He knew that he should move forward and show them the piece of clothing and make them follow, but his feet would not move. The giants were walking around the box now, looking out into the trees edging the open field, and making noises into small black boxes that fit into their hands.
Something made him take a stepperhaps the memory of the eyes of the growler as hed handed him the clothand then he took another, and two or three larger ones after that, and then he stopped.
The giants saw him. They stopped moving and their beady little eyes grew wide and showed more white. That sight almost sent him back into the woods. They made more noises, to each other and into the boxes, and then they hung the boxes on their body coverings and came towards him. He waited.
The setting sun caught the furry head covering of the giant in front. He had the same form as the ones he had left, but with round things on the side of his head and no growl, and his clothing and head covering and eyes were gold; and those eyes seemed different, more open, not like the eyes of the others. The others eyes had had lines around them, and were tighter at the corners.
The gold one stopped and showed his teeth, and it made the alien involuntarily burble and back up and nearly swoon. He had never seen that before, and he thought that he might soon be eaten.
But then he watched the teeth disappear as the eyes of the gold one saw what he had in his hand, and the giant came forward and tugged at it, and the alien released it to him. Now the giants eyes got small, and even though these creatures were new to him, there was a look on the gold ones face that he recognized. Hed seen it on the growler, and seeing it again, he made a noise low in his chest, knowing that he had done the right thing. He was no longer afraid.
The gold one looked at him and held up the cloth, that growly look still on his face. He nodded back at the gold one and turned and started for the forest. The giant followed and made loud barking sounds back to the other one, who ran to the box. The noise came again.
This time he didnt cover his hearing depressions as the white box rose into the sky behind him. He didnt have to. It no longer frightened him.
The pinkness to the sky was fading. It was getting dark and it was getting cold. McCoy had gone back to position seven. It seemed the most comfortable for him if he could ignore the loss of feeling in his legs. He could also pull Spock closer to his chest and keep himself and Spock warm at the same time.
But he didnt think it mattered to Spock if he was warm or not. McCoy had begun to realize that Spock was getting heavier on his legs, as if he were relaxing, as if he had somehow been applying a Vulcan rigidness to his spine that he was losing, as if he was giving up.
McCoy wasnt giving up. He was chattering like there was no tomorrow, babbling like a starbase disc jockey, telling convoluted tales from his childhood, sharing salacious shipboard gossip, and coming backalwaysto the question of what the hell he had been thinking when hed signed up, when hed foolishly thrown his fates to the cosmic winds and jumped on a starship.
He wanted a mint julepright nowand he wanted to sip it with other genteel folk on the raised deck of a vacation home on a lake. A lake with fat bass in the bottom of it, not communicators and tricorders and medikits.
"Yeah. I had my chances. I had my opportunities. There was that residency in Miami that I passed on. Woulda been great, except I had to live in Miami. And did I ever tell you that a friend called me about something in Rio"
Spock stirred and McCoy stopped. The Vulcan had hardly moved at all since crashing from the log, and McCoys heart pounded in his chest. Spocks eyes came open, and with a difficulty that was impossible to mask, they found McCoy and focused. McCoy tried for a lopsided grin.
"Well, hello there," he said cheerfully.
Spocks eyes closed and he swallowed. He opened them again and they locked on McCoy, then he frowned and struggled to speak.
"Easy, easy," McCoy cautioned.
"Doctor," he finally manage to rasp.
Pause. One long ragged breath. Another. "Will you ..."
Oh my God, McCoy thought. Will I what? Help him? Fix him? Say good-bye to Jim?
Spock closed his eyes, wet his lower lip and started again, eyes still closed, and McCoy was dismayed at the liquid tone of his voice, the nasalness of it when he finally spoke. "Will you ..."
Once more he stopped to rest. This was taking a lot out of Spock, and it was taking a lot out of McCoy to have to watch it. The message had to be an important one. Perhaps for his parents. For his father. Maybe in his delirium it would come out in Vulcan. McCoy knew that he had to listen, and listen carefully. He leaned closer.
Christ. Please. Unfailingly Vulcan polite to the end. As if he had to be polite right now. He should save his precious breath, McCoy thought. Spocks dark eyes finally opened and looked up, right into his, and he finished his message on a reedy, haggard breath.
"... shut up."
McCoy blinked Will you ... please ... shut up? Will you please shut up?!!
Something came out of McCoys throat. It sounded suspiciously like the sob hed tried to swallow earlier, but then it was followed by laughter, laughter that startled the birds above them who were settling on their perches for the night and made them squawk and fly away; and he kept right on going, laughing his cold and terrified old butt off, laughing so hard that it made Spocks head bounce up and down on his stomach. McCoy couldnt help himself. He was officially undone, and he pulled Spock up, putting the Vulcans back against his own chest so that he could avoid the belly-ride, and he still laughed, and kept right on going until he choked and coughed and tears came to his eyes; and he looked around and down at Spocks face and was gratified to see that he was wearing something of a weary but satisfied smile as he stared glassy-eyed out into the forest.
McCoy heard it then as his laughter echoed away, heard the sound of the shuttlecraft coming closer and hovering, coming closer and turning and wheeling around, searching. Searching for them. A sharp finger of light from the sky pierced the forest canopy, and he heard bodies crashing through the trees and brush, heard Kirks voice calling out for them, heard the little guy gurgling as he came.
It was absurd. Surreal. It gave him goosebumps, the hugeness of it, the shuttlecraft turning, Jim Kirk bounding through the forest towards them. They were being saved by Starfleets finest and by a little fellow who sounded a lot like a tropical fish tank, a little alien that they didnt even know existed in the whole of the universe mere hours before. It was wonderful, hysterical, magical, bigger than all of them put together. And Vulcans had no sense of humor they said, but Spock had made him laugh.
In McCoys darkest hour, Spock had made him laugh out loud like he hadnt laughed in decades. It had probably cost the Vulcan about two years of his life to do it, but the green-blooded son-of-a-gun had done it anyway, and he held this particular alien tight to his chest and began chuckling again, just thinking about it.
He called out: "Jim! Over here!" And he watched their tiny friend bounce over a rock and into his line of vision, and he saw Kirk behind him, panting and running and yelling into his communicator. Sulu made the shuttlecraft hover and twirl right above them for their pleasure, and he flickered the searchlight and laid on the old-fashioned air horn that they used only in the rarest of circumstances, and the little guy started and his fingers twitched and he looked as if he were going to do something, but then he stopped and didnt, and McCoy remembered why he was out here in the middle of nowhere, out here in Starfleet.
Kirk stumbled to a halt in front of them, his flushed face rushing through a freshman drama class of emotions: Worried. Relieved, but still concerned. A little pissed.
McCoy grinned up at him. "Were okay now, Jim," he said, and then he brought his eyes down to the diminutive alien standing in front of them.
Its eyes were luminescent in the reflection of the shuttlecraft searchlights, its arms and hands still. How could he possibly thank it for helping? He had no knowledge of this being or of its kind, had no notion of its tenets or customs, no verbiage that it would understand, no pre-programmed translator to help.
And as his brain launched this rational litany, McCoy let his heart move for him, and he shifted Spock on his chest, reached out his right hand, and took the aliens right hand in his own. It was dry and leathery and warm.
The doctor smiled. "Thank you, sir," he said sincerely. "Thank you very much for your help." And he gave the little hand a gentle shake.
"blup," it said, seemingly just as sincerely, and McCoy felt the long fingers curl around his palm.
McCoy nodded, and still holding the little guys hand, he looked up at the sky, gazing at the starlight that was peeking through the leaves. Theyd pull the Enterprise within range so that they could beam them up instead of using the shuttlecraft. Theyd be in Sickbay within ten minutes. Everything was going to be just fine.
Hed missed the view of the sunset from the shuttlecraft, but that was okay.
There would be others.
"In a box? Truly?"
He nodded. "Yes. In a white box, from the sky."
"And they were giants?" another asked him.
He tried to hide the gurgle of pleasure that he could feel beginning deep in his chest. It was always the questions from those of the fewest cycles that made him gurgle. They were the simplest, the purest. And always the same: In a box? From the sky? Giants?
"Yes," he replied. "Three times the size of you, little one."
Amazed bubbling sounds erupted from those of fewest cycles, those given the places of honor closest to the fire and to the storyteller.
"But," said one close to hunting age, "they were different."
"Very much so," he replied surely, his hands steady in his lap. He held the young ones round eyes in his. "I was there. They were very different from us."
"But no," the youngster insisted, shaking his head, his fingers nervously tracing the air, "I mean that they were different from each other. You have told us this for many cycles now. One had pointed things on the side of his head, and his color was different from the growler. Or so you have said."
He was surprised. In all of the cycles that he had told his story, this was the first time he had heard this observed. He looked hard at the near-hunter, who was twining his fingers to keep them still. The young one would be a good hunter. He could see things that others could not. He might be the best hunter in all of time.
"You are quite right. You have added to the story. It is true. They were each of them different. Just as we are." He beckoned. "Sit with me on the log, closer to the fire. Let us speak of how I might tell this story differently the next time."
And even though the young one was close to hunter status, he eagerly obeyed. The storyteller looked up to the stars, his eyes following the firefly embers that were rising into the sky, and gurgled contentedly.
He was very proud of his son.
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