It didn't feel like an ordinary neck pinch. With that, there was a flash of pain like a bad cramp and blackness, lasting till you awoke, groggy, with a crick in your neck that hung on for two days.
This was different. The pain was there, but less, and it diffused through his entire body. There was a waiting, too. An emptiness inside that longed to be filled. Then came the Voice, soft but heard in every fiber of his being, filling the lost and forgotten spaces of his brain. The sound echoed through his mind, thrilling places he never knew existed.
And he did.
Quickly, there was an expansion of time out of mind and a snap! Compression, like letting go of a rubber band, and then he was awake. Or was he? How could he be awake and still have this nightmare going on around him? Spock, trapped in the radiation chamber--damned stupid Vulcan!--McCoy could only stare in horror as those hands, so inadequately protected, tore the cover off the dilithium crystal housing and went to work to save the Enterprise.
Fast, he worked so fast, he was done and down and Jim was there, and damn it, Jim'll kill us all! I'll stop him at least, even though I couldn't stop...
"Stop, you'll flood the whole compartment!"
Scotty: "Sir, he's dead already."
Briefly, the captain was a dead weight in their arms. Then he was at the door. The transparent, inch-thick door, and McCoy's memory was burned with the image of his two closest friends separated in the last instant that they had most wanted, had most needed to share. God, he hurt.
Everything blurred after that. And McCoy's head was still awhirl with half-memories and unsorted feelings. His final examination of the body--the body, oh, God!--his ultimate breakdown, orders from Starfleet, and now they were on their way home.
Where was home? Georgia? Not now. As much as McCoy loved the place of his birth and growing up, he had become too used to the blanket of stars that surrounded him now to ever call any place on Earth 'home' again.
The Enterprise? Not now. McCoy walked the empty smoke-stained, patched-up corridors of the ship. He would never feel as Jim did about her, but in her own way, she had served him as well as she had her captain.
But the wounds were too deep. Not only the battle scars--honorably earned, God knew--but the aching emptiness of Deck Five, the echoing hallways that should be full of bustling purposeful crewmembers.
Then where was home? A burning vision hit him in the gut. He was on a high plateau, and the hot, dry wind tickled his nose with strange, tantalizing scents. He could smell the rain coming even though it was still more than two days away.
Rain was, of course, necessary, and yet the heat was comforting; it baked all troubles away.
Troubled, he was troubled...
"Spock! There you are!" His mother's voice broke into his deep reverie. Spock turned and tripped over his own two feet and fought to keep his balance as he sagged against the steel wall of Deck Five.
Nausea racked McCoy's body, but he won the fight.
"Damn! That's it--no more drinkin' startin' right now! That's all I need is to start having Vulcan hallucinations!"
He took a couple of deep breaths and headed for his quarters. He'd have a light snack and get some sleep. Everyone was out of Sickbay now, and they were headed to Earth on priority. If anyone needed him, they knew where to find him.
The Enterprise moved silently through space. There was no need for speed now; what was left of the training crew spent their duty shifts in a state of quasi-boredom unknown before on the Enterprise.
Newcomers, used only to simulators, they did not feel the eerie silence of a ship manned only with a skeleton crew. Scotty, hard at work as usual, had automated all but the most necessary functions. The time passed slowly, but steadily, each member of the crew wrapped in a strange, brooding silence that seemed to soak up conversation before it started.
McCoy looked up from his journal and stretched. At least, he thought, this is a good time to catch up on some reading. I'm about done with this, he wiped the screen. What next? Oh, yes. His fingers danced over the keys more rapidly and securely than they had ever moved before, as if seeking the information on their own.
The High Vulcan script that came up on the screen reminded McCoy of delicate wrought-iron work. Why on Earth? And how? Had he called that from the memory banks?
Slowly, subtly, there was a shift in his vision, and the filigrees melted into a precise lecture filled with logic and reason, blending into beauty and, ultimately, exquisite joy.
"The meld...of course!" murmured McCoy, with a flash of vision similar to the one he had had under the Teacher on Sigma Draconis.
"Yes, I see, I understand..." The Vulcan equations went suddenly back to being mosaics, and McCoy was left with a gaping wound in his mind. Where was the beautiful, precise order of the piece? He pushed a few more buttons, but all he succeeded in was pulling up a new medical journal. It seemed so chaotic and--disjointed compared to what he had just seen.
"Spock," he whispered brokenly. "Oh, Spock, is this what you had to put up with from us?" The easy tears sprang to his eyes again. He brought his fist down hard on the desk by the console. Damn it, Spock! he raged. Why are you trying to get back at me now?
A drink, he needed--oh, God, he needed...
No. Do not cloud your perceptions. It will not help.
It's helped before.
No. Only masked the problem. Calm yourself.
Yes. He was all right. He didn't really need that drink--never had. He had used it as a crutch all these years, a reason to socialize. He should see Jim. But Jim had been so distant since...
Well, boy, it's about time you came back to the land of the living. He punched the console again, this time with a purpose. "McCoy to bridge."'
"Kirk here. Problem, Bones?" The question filtered over the intercom in the usual way, but the voice that carried it sounded gravely tired.
That wasn't Jim, no matter what he said.
"Medical check, Captain. Report to Sickbay in ten minutes."
"Bones..." The pause seemed to indicate that the captain had caught on to the scheme. "Aye, Doctor. Ten minutes."
McCoy puttered in the examination room, pretending to ready it for Kirk, but in truth he was nervous. He and Kirk had not really talked since they had said their farewells to Spock at the ceremony. Without the tie forged by the Vulcan's existence, McCoy suddenly felt ill-at-ease about facing his long time friend.
Kirk strode into the room, looking more light-hearted than he had in weeks. "Well, Bones, have you finally decided to break out the rest of that Romulan Ale? It's about..." Kirk trailed off in confusion, looking at his chief surgeon.
McCoy felt his face go slack, his eyes widen. It was as if he saw, truly saw, Jim Kirk for the first time. He was...he was himself, whole and undivided. There were no doubts in this man. McCoy wanted to take a step towards him, to pledge his life and soul to his captain forever.
All their times together welled up in his mind, flooding him with memories, dark and golden. I am yours (and I killed him), I burned, and he is dead, your friend. Friend. More than that, ever more. The One who understood. The needs of the one; the needs, my needs. I need...
McCoy's knees buckled and Kirk just managed to catch him before he hit the floor.
"Bones, I think you're the one who might need that exam." His words were serious, but he kept the tone light.
McCoy sat heavily. "No, no, I'll be fine. I guess I'm just taking--Spock being gone--harder than I thought. Seems like it's hard to quit re-living the memories." Only they weren't right! He wanted to shout.
Jim Kirk looked at the doctor for a long moment. "Bones, it's hard for all of us. I know you always seemed to be at Spock, but I know how you felt about him. For God's sake, don't be ashamed that you can't push the memories aside in just a few days!" Kirk swallowed hard and paced around the room a moment.
McCoy had to break the tension. "Hey, I do have some of that Romulan Ale left. Shall we?"
It worked. Kirk gave him the famous grin. "Let's! But not too much. I still have to oversee the sealing of Spock's quarters."
"Is that really necessary? We have so few on board, no one would bother..."
"Regs, Bones. And Spock had some pretty rare Vulcan artifacts. I'm sure his world will want them returned."
"Yes, I suppose. What about his fire pot?"
"Hmm. I understand there's a special ritual for interring it in the family archives."
McCoy almost chuckled. "Those Vulcans have a ritual for everything, don't they?"
He felt the heat, but it was not from the dry wind that lightly brushed his cheek. It was in him. The heat that drove--that maddened. His eyes were red-glazed, and the smell of the woman was thick behind his nose. He called her--he demanded-- but she would not. He must speak, he must, somewhere the strength would come. He must before he was too late, before he was consumed...
"Bones?" Kirk's hand, cool on his shoulder. The heat in his mind and blood drained away, leaving him shivering inwardly. What was happening to him? He was not crazy, he was not!
"Sorry, Jim, guess my ale capacity ain't what it used to be. To life!" He held up the glass, and Kirk clinked it with his.
"Thanks, Bones. You always know when I need an extra pep talk. And listen--I need you, too, so you take care of yourself, okay?"
The earnestness in Kirk's eyes made him want to weep yet again, so he waved the captain out of Sickbay brusquely. "I am a doctor, remember, Captain, sir? I know how to take care of myself."
But when Kirk had left, he sank weakly back into his seat. Spock's quarters sealed. The last link cut off, gone. It was so sad, and he was so old, so tired and stiff. He was at once acutely aware of the stiffness that had been growing in his knees and shoulders, and elbows over the past years. It seemed as if he could hear the very bones and cartilage in his body gritch together when he moved.
Wait--I'm only sixty years old--still young, still passing my own physicals with flying colors! Then why do I feel so old, so heavy and weighted?
If this is what I have to put up with as a Human, no wonder I'm so irritable all the time!
"Who said that?" McCoy grated, clutching his head. Sleep, I need sleep. He headed for his quarters, weaving slightly as he went.
McCoy didn't see the captain too much after that, didn't have much contact with any of the small crew, but he knew they were almost there, almost on Earth, and certainly going to stay there for a while. The thought gave him no comfort. He had never felt less at ease in his life.
But where did he want to go? Where to belong? As the ship neared Earth, the doctor took to wandering the corridors in his spare time--a lot these days. There were few enough crewmembers not to notice and comment on the spare, haggard figure roaming the floors of the Enterprise.
In just a few hours, they would be docked at Starbase. They would be on Earth. A great relief welled up in McCoy, only to be quenched by a greater turmoil. Why could he find no peace? He felt as though he were climbing a never-ending mountain, and every turn he took was wrong.
The peak grew in his mind, stone by arid stone. The place of pilgrimage, holiest of holies. It stood out against the orange sky like blood on snow.
My metaphor, thought McCoy smugly, there's no snow on Vulcan. The doctor shook his head to clear it. Spock, why can't you give me any peace?
Peace. Quiet. Sanctuary. Where has Spock found his inner calm?
Yes, whenever he was disturbed, he meditated in front of the cold flame in his quarters. Sealed. Beyond my reach.
The door was marked off, a warning to stay away, that there was death here. How can I? thought McCoy, his hands reaching for the seams in the door. The doctor stepped into the still warmer-than-normal dark of the Vulcan's cabin. It enveloped him, but he could see his way to the alcove. The leftover scent of...incense? Spices from Vulcan?...alerted his nose and brought on faint, odor-triggered memories that were not his own.
He stumbled to the stool and slumped into the familiar Position of Thought, but the calming mind would not take over. He remained in turmoil, his thoughts a chaotic pool of emotions, memories and pain.
They were entering the approach for docking with Starbase 1, Kirk was glad to be home, anxious to be off again, full of mixed feelings pulling him one way and another. Would he ever be able to slow down?
The docking procedure was almost complete when the alert sounded. In less time than the rapid-fire exchange with Chekov took, the captain was at the gaping door to Spock's quarters. There were no signs of a phaser blast or mechanical forcing, but who on board was strong enough to pry open a sealed door with only bare hands? Who indeed--now?
Kirk stepped into the dark cabin, fancying he could still feel the hot temperature and heavy pressure the Vulcan had kept in his living place.
Jim, you must find me--why did you leave me on Genesis? I could not touch...He does not understand--is too afraid...what is happening to me? None of these thoughts are mine! Have I cracked up completely? I--I--I--I--NO! We! Jim--the mountain--the only way. Go to the top of Mount Seleya! You must...
Climb the steps
Kirk's strong arms were around McCoy and the doctor could feel his warmth and concern. He knows what he must do. Now I can sleep. The captain took all of the doctor's slight weight as McCoy fainted.
The glaring lights allowed no rest. The drugs waged war in his emotion-torn body, and his mind was on the brink of collapse.
McCoy huddled on the hard med-table, eyes tightly shut. Genesis was beyond him now--the only thing that could help. Somehow, the thing inside his mind, the delusion, the paranoia, term it what you will, McCoy thought derisively, the voice cried out to something that was still on the newly born planet they had just left. And it alone could heal him.
His one try had failed. He had been too much changed by the thing, and everyone could tell, and no one wanted to help.
He left us both. You in your black coffin on a baby planet, and me in a stupor not even knowing where I am!
Why did you leave??
The thought burst through McCoy's mind, threatening to voice itself in a scream. He huddled deeper into the fetal position.
Cold. It is so cold here, and the lights hurt. I have tried too hard and all my friends have left. No one will listen. I am cold inside and out.
McCoy's knees were almost up to his chin, his eyes clenched shut against the constant glare of the lights.
The warmth of the hand on his shoulder went through the layers of clothing and straight to his heart.
The well-loved face held suppressed laughter. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
He knows what's wrong! The relief and joy at seeing Kirk again flooded McCoy threatening to break what tenuous control he had. And on top of it all, Kirk, of all people, was threatening to give him a hypo?! He'd had enough of those recently, thank you!
"Lexorin? What for?"
"You're suffering from a Vulcan mind-meld, Doctor."
Of course! Sinking back on the bed as Kirk administered the spray, McCoy let the information sink in. So that's what it's like to be a Vulcan!
"Why that green-blooded son-of-a-bitch," he began lovingly. He felt ready for anything...
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