The scene before him didn't change—neither combatant looked around or acknowledged him in any way—but something in McCoy's posture, in the set of the blue-clad shoulders, convinced Spock that the doctor had indeed heard. Carefully, slowly, he rose from his crouch behind the convenient boulder to take better stock of the situation.
It was a dry world, dusty and full of sharp, jagged edges, and the precipice upon which they were situated was no different than the rest. The footpath fell away beneath him, hugging the side of a steep incline of scrub brush and graveled rock until it swung out of view around the hill. It was on that curve that what was left of the battle raged—although it was obvious to Spock even at a glance that the two men were fighting toward very different endings. Silently, he stepped away from his cover, taking care not to kick rock or scuff the ground.
It wouldn't do to startle McCoy into something that he would later very much regret.
Montrose saw him, of course—on his back, facing up the hill, the rogue Admiral had a clear view of Spock, and of Lieutenant Lincoln, who was crouched still further up the path, talking softly on her communicator. He met Spock's eyes for the briefest moment, and a smirk flickered across his face, wiped quickly away with a gasp when McCoy tightened the hand around his throat and dug the disruptor deeper into his ribcage. Spock took a single step down the trail and then stopped, hovering uncertainly. The scene was deeply disturbing, but there was every possibility that any sudden movement on his part would be the catalyst that would set McCoy into action.
They simply didn't know enough about Montrose's experiments to predict the reactions of those affected. McCoy was the only one who had seen what was happening, who had invested any amount of time and effort into the mystery—and he was obviously now in no condition to advise Spock on any course of action.
Assistant Security Chief Tara Lincoln crept toward his position, and Spock stepped once more into the shadow of the boulder, away from Montrose's gaze but still with space to watch. If McCoy made any move, he needed to be ready.
"That was Kai. The captain and the others are uninjured."
"And yet they are unconscious."
"Sedated, sir. With a low dose of a common sedative. Just enough to keep them out, Teffner said, not enough to do any damage."
Spock eyed the two men at the edge of the trail. "Have they been implanted as well?"
Lincoln nodded. "Aye, sir. All three."
The captain and both of the other missing crew members implanted—and all three sedated with a harmless dose of a harmless sedative. It was logical, given what they knew of landing party's capture and subsequent escape, to surmise that perhaps McCoy himself had sedated them, in order to keep the full effect of Montrose's experimental implant from overtaking them.
In order to keep them safe from each other.
Someone, however, would have had to remain aware. On guard. And when Montrose and his people had found them …
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Remain at your position." Spock took a long breath, then stepped back out onto the open trail.
"Remain." Lincoln's jaw clenched, but she nodded and faded back behind the boulder. Spock took two slow, careful steps downhill, and raised his voice again, pitching it softly but to carry. "Dr. McCoy!"
His call, more urgent this time, finally produced the desired result—at least, McCoy looked around. He saw Spock's position, and whipped the disruptor around, keeping his hand firmly clenched around Montrose's throat.
Spock nodded calmly, assessing the doctor with a quick eye. The full-blown pupils, the shaking hands told him that the experimental implant had taken full effect—if the unlikely sight of Leonard McCoy attempting to both strangle and shoot a man had not already confirmed as much. His mind raced. The implant produced agitation to the point of rage, to the point of thoughtless action. To the point of murder. It was the experiment's intended result, turned now on the one man who had seen and tried to prevent it before it went too far.
Before it was too late.
"Commander Spock!" He looked around toward Lincoln. "I have a clear shot, sir. If I can stun him …."
"Negative, Lieutenant. We do not know the effect that a stun will have on the electrical impulses generated by the implant."
She nodded. "What about Admiral Montrose? We could take him out of the equation."
Spock considered, and shook his head again. "They are in contact at multiple points. The stun would likely carry over to the doctor."
Lincoln subsided, swearing softly beneath her breath. Montrose's voice drifted up the hill, amused and taunting.
"What are you waiting for, McCoy? You've wanted to be rid of me for weeks, now's your chance …"
They were battling toward two very different ends, indeed. Montrose knew well that he was finished—that Kirk and Starfleet and the Federation Council were now fully aware of his clandestine work. He knew that nothing but a lifetime in prison awaited him. The only triumph left was to take down with him the man who had finally exposed his actions.
"Doctor!" Spock called out again, quickly, before McCoy could react. It was true that Dr. McCoy and Admiral Montrose had been, as Kirk had termed it, 'locked in mortal combat' since the moment that the (former, Spock was certain) Head of Starfleet Medical had boarded the Enterprise several weeks ago. McCoy's feelings for his ultimate superior were … distinctly uncharitable, at the best of times. Now, whipped into a frenzy of uncontrolled agitation by Montrose's implant …
It spoke volumes about McCoy's character that the doctor had hesitated thus far, that he had held himself and his disruptor (and where had he obtained one of those?) in check, and had refused to fall prey to the Admiral's manipulations. Spock couldn't be certain how much longer the doctor could hold out, however. It was imperative that he control the situation until an acceptable resolution could be found.
McCoy whipped the disruptor around again, and this time, Spock spread his hands and tossed his own phaser aside. "You will not harm me." His mind was screaming against the illogic of placing his life in the hands of a wistful belief. It was, however, as Jim would say, the only play currently open to him.
Montrose snorted laughter. "You're in over your head, Commander. You have no idea what you're fighting. This implant was designed to—"
He choked into silence as McCoy's hand squeezed his throat. The disruptor, still aimed unerringly at Spock's heart, trembled.
"Back off, Spock."
Spock took one slow step forward. The disruptor stabilized. Lincoln uttered a wordless protest. Montrose's eyes glittered.
"I will not." He halted his forward movement, attempting to trap McCoy's eyes with his own. They were unfamiliar, disquieting—the blue completely swallowed by the black. "The captain and the others are safe. You no longer have need of this." He nodded briefly toward Montrose. "Stand down."
"Do you know how many people died during my trials, McCoy?" Montrose's voice was gravelly with the effort of speaking around McCoy's chokehold, but he forced it out. "How many went insane? It took years to perfect this. I—"
McCoy snarled, and turned on the Admiral. Spock moved forward, quickly. "Doctor, you do not wish to do this."
The disruptor came back up. Rage and desperation radiated in equal measure from the strange black eyes. "What do you know about it, you logic-loving, green-blooded—"
"I know that in your right mind, you would never willingly stay so long on the edge of a drop-off such as this." McCoy froze, for a bare instant, and his gaze flickered toward the trail's edge. Spock took the opportunity to inch forward two steps more. "You once trusted me to aid you against just such a fear, even in the face of your doubts regarding my methods." He tilted his head. "Will you not trust me again?"
It was unfortunate that he was still so far away. Projecting a suggestion of calm through the intervening rock was a desperate ploy of last resort—but he would still rather that it be open to him, just in case. Montrose was babbling again, something about his supporters and the continuation of his work even from prison, and about the monies they had received from the Orions already. McCoy stiffened, and the disruptor pulled back around toward the Admiral.
Spock moved closer. "Doctor. I know that you once stood alone before T'Pau and a subcommittee of the Vulcan High Council, and swayed them to your thinking. You need not fall to this." He allowed the dry disdain into his voice, the disgust that any rational, ethical being would hold for a man such as Montrose. The Admiral glared. McCoy stilled. His grip did not loosen, but the disruptor drifted slowly toward the bare rock trail. Spock took a long, silent breath.
He was still not close enough …
"Mama always said he had a way of calming me down when I was about to lose my head."
Spock seized at the memory, illogical though it was. "I know that you once risked a violent storm and your mother's wrath to rescue a dog who became your constant companion. You never told me his name, however."
"A dog?" Montrose barked out a laugh. "Commander, this is desperate and ridiculous. Doctor McCoy doesn't care about any dog. He cares about—"
"I know that your mother forgave you, and grew to love the dog as well." It was ridiculous. It was illogical to stand here and discuss trivialities when so much was at stake. However, McCoy had fallen completely motionless, and Spock did not wish to give Montrose an opportunity to speak again. McCoy's mother …. "I also know that your mother produced a particular baked good to which you were quite partial, and which you were unable to consume because of your allergy." A few steps closer, and he was able to see the back of McCoy's tunic rising and falling in quick succession, the shock and agitation translating into hyperventilation. "And that although an entire meal on Barand was laced with it, you did not wish to embarrass our host by—"
"Doctor?" Spock quirked an eyebrow, uncertain.
"The dog, you green-blooded computer. I named him Toby." McCoy made a visible effort to slow his breathing. The hand holding the disruptor still shook. The grip on Montrose's throat did not loosen. "And it wasn't just some 'baked good', it was my mama's pecan pie, famous across three counties …"
"Indeed. A great loss."
A few more steps, and he would be close enough to attempt a telepathic calm, if necessary. Montrose wriggled impatiently and kicked at McCoy's restraining knee, reclaiming the doctor's attention. As Spock glanced toward the Admiral, he caught sight of the trail upon which they now stood, winding down the side of the hill and away into the distance.
"Doctor!" McCoy jerked, and Spock lowered his voice, chastising himself for the momentary lapse. "I know that you have one thousand four hundred and seventeen miles yet to traverse of the Appalachian trail, and that you have a daughter anxious to traverse it with you." McCoy's intake of breath was sharp, and shaky. "I also know that if you do this, you will not easily look Joanna in the eye again."
Montrose attempted a sudden surge to his feet, but McCoy slammed him back down, and dug the disruptor back into the Admiral's side. A tense silence fell, and Spock, aware of the disruptor's position, made ready to step back again.
McCoy's voice snapped out. "Put me out, Spock."
He froze. "Doctor?"
"Put me out, I don't want to do this!"
Spock covered the remaining ground in two large steps. He closed a quick hand over the nerve junction in the doctor's neck and went down on one knee, catching McCoy as he slumped sideways. He removed the disruptor gently from the limp grasp with his free hand and tossed it over the edge. Giotto could send someone to retrieve it later. He looked away from its trajectory into Montrose's furious, disbelieving gaze.
"Dogs and pecan pies?" The Admiral shifted, and Spock dug a quick knee into his gut. "I've worked for years on this implant. There's no way that—"
"Admiral." Spock pinned Montrose with a chilly gaze. "I am Dr. McCoy's friend, his colleague, and his shipmate. You are merely a man who understands neither him, nor anything for which he stands." He forced away the very real anger at the memory of his unconscious captain, at the feel of the limp form in his arms—at the thought of what Montrose could have done, if no one had discovered his work and he had been able to move forward with his plans. Spock was … satisfied, when his voice came out as calm and as cool as if he were reporting routine figures from the science station on the Enterprise. "It is utterly illogical for you to believe that this could have ended any other way."
He swung away from the Admiral, pulling McCoy with him, and nodded once to Lincoln. A quick phaser burst sent Montrose into unconsciousness.
Sickbay was quiet. Kirk and the other two landing party members, having been safely sedated during the worst of the implant's effect, had been treated and released the day after returning to the Enterprise. Only McCoy remained, on a biobed near the rear of the bay. The doctor was propped up on a mound of pillows and scowling at something on a data pad when Spock entered, but he set it aside quickly at the Vulcan's approach. He eyed Spock for a long moment, eyes returned to their usual piercing blue, then chuckled softly and looked away.
"Dogs and pecan pies. Mr. Spock, you never cease to amaze me."
"Indeed." Spock folded his hands behind him. "Fortunately, your general tendency to talk of irrelevancies provided an ample selection of distraction material."
McCoy coughed and leaned back. "True." His head came back off the pillow, and a grin spread across his face. "But I guess this means you actually listen, huh?" He had no answer for that. McCoy's grin widened. "You do! You listen when I talk." He rubbed his hands together. "That's fabulous. I've got a whole mess of stories to—"
"Do not get ahead of yourself, Doctor. I merely—"
"Thank you, Spock." The words were an abrupt, breathless rush. McCoy looked away, quickly, and crossed his arms. Spock hesitated, then simply nodded.
"I was pleased to assist, Doctor."
"I don't know what I would have done, if I had—"
"You would not have."
McCoy looked quickly back around. "You think so?" Spock nodded. "What makes you so sure?"
It was a question he had asked himself several times over the last few days. Given the research he had performed since returning to the Enterprise, logic clearly indicated the possibility—even probability—that McCoy would have eventually fallen to the implant's influence. Even so … Spock did not truly believe that the doctor would have killed Montrose.
Such a belief was not rational—it was, he was forced to acknowledge, based purely on instinct, and as such, he was not prepared to admit to it.
Especially to Leonard McCoy, of all people.
"A calculation of the odds clearly indicates—"
"Don't quote odds at me, Spock." McCoy snorted, and leaned back again. For a moment, a comfortable silence settled, and then one blue eye slowly crept open. "This doesn't mean I have to be nice to you from now on, does it?"
Spock quirked an eyebrow. "Indeed not, Doctor. I would hardly know you, if such were the case—which may prove detrimental, the next time that—"
"Good." McCoy crossed his arms, looking satisfied. "Cause I don't think I could handle the strain."
"There is also that, Doctor."
"There is that indeed, Mr. Spock."