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Five Times Spock Leaned Something New About Leonard McCoy ...

Chapter Text

He had never had occasion to study the old-style photographs on Leonard McCoy's desk. The framed mementos were tucked behind and beneath the stationary monitor, all but out of sight to everyone except the person sitting directly in front of said monitor. As Spock had no reason to sit in Dr. McCoy's seat or to work from his computer, the small items had never drawn his attention. He had noted them from behind, of course, as a matter of familiarity with the room and its contents—he had had abundant reason to sit across the desk from the CMO over the years—but by this time the worn wooden frames had faded into the background for him, as items of little interest or consequence.

It was while he paced the CMO's office, waiting for McCoy to return from a rather lengthy examination of one of his Science Ensigns who had been exposed during a landing party to a particularly virulent form of the local influenza virus, that he completed a turn and found himself face to face with the pictures themselves. It was not logical to pace. Spock was perfectly aware of this. The expenditure of energy in such a useless manner served no foreseeable purpose, yet he was loath at this time to sit calmly in one place. His Science team had taken every precaution against exposure before beaming to the planet's surface. He himself had ensured that the list of safeguards had been fully implemented, and had instituted routine thirty-minute check-ins from the time that the team entered the infected area. Starfleet was insistent that the geological factors of the infected area were of importance in the development of this particular strain, and although Spock's protests that the planet's geology was stable and would not in fact change in the two weeks that it would take for the residual pockets of live virus to die off went unheeded, he was determined that no member of his team would be put in unnecessary danger over such an ill-timed venture.

No one, of course, expected the air filter in one of the bio-suits to malfunction. The suits were checked monthly, and this particular suit had been certified only eight days prior. It had taken him less than half an hour after returning to the Enterprise to track down the error. Suit Eight, it seemed, had been one of the suits damaged during its last use, a survey of a rather inhospitable planet that had ended in a rock-slide and a rescue mission. Rather than discarding it, the Security lieutenant in charge of suit maintenance had patched it—badly—and replaced it in the lockers. Disaster might still have been averted during the routine inspection, if not for a simple missed line on the inspection form. Suit Seven checked, Suit Eight marked.

Exposure of a bright, promising young woman to a potentially deadly virus.

McCoy had already assured Spock that she would not die. Ensign Wilsky had noticed and, in a rare moment of logic for a human, reported her labored breathing almost immediately. The counter-agent had been administered with more than enough time to spare, and the current examination was only to determine the extent of exposure to guide palliative treatment until the virus was finally flushed from her body. Ensign Wilsky's health was not, therefore, the reason for his current predicament.

No. Rather, he was attempting to determine how so many things could have possibly gone wrong with one bio-suit, despite the rigorous procedures in place aboard the Enterprise to ensure against just such an occurrence. This type of incident was unacceptable. Mr. Scott was already supervising a complete detail and inspection of the remaining bio-suits, and Security Chief Giotto the protocols for determining which suits would be patched and which would be discarded. Still, how to guard against sheer error?

Spock's logical mind had been spinning fruitlessly around that question for the better part of three hours, and the lack of acceptable resolution was, he suspected, likely responsible for his current reluctance to remain in his seat while waiting for the results of McCoy's examination.

The flash of color on McCoy's desk caught his eye and he stepped toward it, amenable to a distraction from his rising agitation. His eyes passed over one of the photographs, of Leonard McCoy at a much younger age posing with a large dog against the backdrop of dirt road and wooden fence, and settled on the second. Spock reached out and gently removed it from beneath the monitor, brushing away the light film of dust from the top of the frame.

The picture itself was dark around the edges, lit near the center by the glow of a campfire and near the top by the riot of stars against a night sky. The firelight splashed against a young face—a human child, a girl of perhaps twelve, waving a long stick with a white blob on the end toward the photographer. Despite the orange discoloration from the fire, Spock could see the brown hair and startling blue eyes. This was, no doubt, Joanna McCoy.

He was somewhat surprised to realize that, despite the several years he had served with McCoy, he had not yet viewed an image of the doctor's daughter. She was, Spock decided, very like him.

A grin split the girl's face, and she was waving toward the camera with the hand not occupied by the roasting stick. A light coat indicated a chill in the air, but an absence of real cold. Spock wondered where the picture had been taken—if McCoy and Joanna had been engaging in what humans called 'camping,' or if they had simply built a fire somewhere close to home in order to roast … whatever it was that hung on the end of the girl's stick. The background was dark, full of shadows, and in any case Spock was not familiar enough with Georgian geography to make any sort of determination even if he could see the surroundings.

His eyes returned to Joanna's face, alight and relaxed, and he was still pondering what sort of outing might have brought the doctor's daughter such obvious delight when the door swished open and McCoy himself ambled into the room.

"Well, good news, Spock. Your ensign is very lucky. And very smart, to get herself back up here as fast as she did. She'll only need a couple of days on a nebulizer, a couple more off duty, and she should be good to go. My only question now is what to do with the blockhead who—" McCoy broke off and raised an eyebrow, gaze falling to Spock's hand. Spock looked down, noted that he still held the photograph, and set it quickly back on the desk.

McCoy circled toward his chair, and Spock also circled back to his usual seat—although, he chose to remain on his feet. The doctor picked up the frame and eyed it for a moment, and Spock was rather pleased to note that McCoy did not seem upset. The doctor could be a private man, when he chose, and it had not been his intention to pry.

"The Appalachian Trail." McCoy grinned at the image, setting it back down. "That was the year Joanna was thirteen, I think. It's hard to remember exactly, the years run together sometimes."

"Appalachian Trail?" Spock raised an eyebrow. It was not a Terran attraction with which he was familiar.

McCoy nodded, and flopped into his chair. "A two-thousand-mile-long trail through the Appalachian mountains. Been around since the early twentieth century. Joanna and I decided when she was seven that we planned to walk the whole thing someday."

Spock stared at the frame, remembering the young girl grinning out from it. "Doctor. A two-thousand-mile walk is a significant endeavor for anyone, much less a thirteen-year-old—"

"Oh, good grief, no!" McCoy threw back his head and laughed. "You can't possibly think … Forget Joanna, Spock, can you picture me taking a two thousand mile hike?"

Spock tilted his head, and drifted around to the front of his chair. "I admit, having witnessed your protestations regarding walks of any length, it does not seem in character."

"You got that right." McCoy shook his head, still chuckling. "Little bit at a time, that's the way. Take a week or two here and there, mark bits off the master map as we complete them. We've managed about five hundred miles, so far." He shrugged. "Got a ways to go yet."

"Indeed." Spock lowered himself into the chair. He was, admittedly, intrigued. Such a use of free time seemed utterly out of character for the doctor, and yet the fond, nostalgic smile that stretched across McCoy's face said otherwise. "It does not seem an endeavor to which you would look forward. I did not believe that you enjoyed … sleeping out of doors."

"Well…" McCoy dragged the word out, leaning back in his chair. "I don't, normally. Gotta make your own heat—and yes, I am perfectly capable of building a passable fire, thank you, even if you and Jim insist on just igniting the nearest patch of dead grass with your phasers—gotta make your own food, stay warm, stay dry, stay relatively clean. Gotta sleep on rocks and dirt, pee behind trees. To be honest, it's just all way too much work to be my thing." He stared at the photograph again, his eyes distant. "But, there's something about backpacking through the woods with your little girl … days alone together, watching her chase chipmunks and make s'mores, …" S'mores? Spock was uncertain of the term, but had no desire to interrupt. "… laying there at night with her snuggled into your shoulder while you teach her the constellations. That's not just 'sleeping out of doors,' Spock. That's …" McCoy trailed off, and sighed. "That's a little piece of heaven, right on Earth."

The doctor's voice had taken on a tone that, if not melancholy, held a certain hint of sadness. "Do you intend to continue your quest, Doctor?" Joanna was older now, in medical school, and McCoy himself did not return to Earth for years at a time.

"We do." McCoy shrugged. "It's a bit harder to find the time now, not that it was ever that easy to begin with, but we've got a while yet before I'm too infirm to move." He snorted. "At least, if this ship and you people don't kill me first."

Spock raised his eyebrow at the sudden change of subject. "Us people, Dr. McCoy?"

"Well, some of you, anyway." McCoy swiveled around to face him, slapping a hand on the desk. "What I want to know is, who is the joker who thought he could just slap a patch on a torn air filter? Don't they train these kids to use their brains?"

Spock folded his arms and leaned back. "Indeed. However, it seems that a refresher course might be in order. As well as a course on how to read and fill out inventory paperwork."

"Good luck with that. If you can figure out a way to do it without sending them into a coma, let me know. I'll adapt it here for medical inventory."

"I shall certainly do so. However, I find myself at a loss as to how to proceed with that particular endeavor."

"Hmm." McCoy rubbed at his chin. "I wonder if there isn't something that we can …"

As the doctor spoke, Spock watched him carefully polish the glass in the small wooden frame then tuck the photograph back under his monitor where it belonged. He then focused his attention on McCoy's thoughts regarding two-person inventory systems and manual as well as electronic inventory sheets—but all the while, in the back of his head, was the unexpected picture of a man and his daughter in the Appalachian wilds, stretched out together beneath the brilliant Terran starfield.

Chapter Text

The Barandi were, as a whole, more obsessed with hospitality than any species that Spock had ever encountered—which was, in fact, saying something.  The bulk of the Enterprise’s interaction with the Barandi Council in the three days since entering orbit had been dominated by enthusiastic ritual welcome, culminating in a nightly feast which rotated between each Council member’s home in turn.  As the Council consisted of seven members, and as no one could be skipped or left out, they were due for at least four more nights of heavy eating.  The crew, fortunately, had been permitted a single representative each night—much to the Barandi’s obvious disappointment.  However, the Senior Officers were expected at each of the banquets, and so Spock found himself once again dining with Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, and a plethora of enthusiastic Barandi Council members, family members, and lesser functionaries.  The company was pleasing, and the food was, as always, exquisitely prepared.

He had little expected, upon arriving at Barand, that within three days’ time he would be fighting the quite irrational desire to never eat another thing, for as long as he lived.

Barandi formal dining consisted of, apparently, ten courses, each of which must be savored and commented upon during the meal conversation.  Skipping a course was not precisely an insult … but it did, as Scott discovered the first night, result in the rather chagrined disappointment of the host, who then proceeded to question the choice at length in order to determine what had gone wrong and to present a suitable substitute.  The need for such a substitution also seemed something of an internal cultural faux pas, an embarrassment before other Barandi that something unsuitable had been offered the honored guests. It was, in the end, easier to simply eat what was set before them.  Kirk had explained Spock’s dietary restrictions before arrival, which allowed him a little latitude—the slices of ghorant haunch that now adorned the others’ plates had been substituted on his with a light, lemony salad.  Still, the three courses that had gone before had quite filled him, and he ate slowly, watching his human companions curiously to see how they would fare.  Even Kirk, before the banquet, had confessed privately that he’d had enough to eat for the entire rest of the visit.

In fact, however, Kirk seemed to be doing well for himself.  He had as usual been placed near the head of the table—this night, across from Council member Klaris Royer and beside Dolmena Royer, the councilwoman’s mother and the reigning matriarch of their rather extended family.  The captain had turned a full helping of what Dr. McCoy called ‘the Kirkian charm’ on the old woman, who appeared to be giving as good as she got.  Both were obviously very much enjoying the company and the game, and Kirk’s food was disappearing from his plate almost as if he didn’t even notice he was eating it.

Scott was sitting several seats down from Spock, working his way gamely through a large portion of meat and arguing amiably with a group of Barandi about a pulley system which had been recently built—for what purpose Spock was uncertain, as he had not been truly listening.  The Security ensign who was the night’s crew representative seemed to be quite enjoying the feast, as well as the attention of the three young males within speaking distance of her own seat.  She was chatting easily, without a trace of nerves or self-consciousness, and Spock made a note to view her file.  Such poise in the face of alien cultures was an invaluable asset in multiple disciplinary fields.

When Spock’s gaze fell on McCoy, however, he paused.  The doctor, usually an easy and gracious conversationalist in such situations, was hunched over his plate, pushing the meat around unenthusiastically with the Barandi equivalent of a fork and nodding listlessly in response to his nearest table companion.  Spock frowned, remembering that when the last course, a cream-based soup of some sort, had been cleared away, McCoy’s bowl had remained more than half full.  The servant had glanced askance at the doctor, but McCoy had flashed a grin and complimented the chef—it was enough to distract the man from his mostly-untouched food.  Spock frowned.  McCoy was well-briefed on this mission and on the cultural significance this species attached to eating.  It was unlike him to openly ignore such items, even in the face of the minor discomfort they had all been feeling.  He would need to speak to McCoy once they had been shown to their rooms, remind him of the consequences of an unintentional insult to this newest of Federation peoples.

He was beginning to look away when McCoy reached up to scratch at the back of his neck, and then pulled on the tight collar of his dress suit.  Rolling his head with the motion, McCoy caught him looking.  Rather than growl about minding his own business, or even just turning away, McCoy dropped his hand, returned his stare to his plate, and muttered, “Hot in here.”

McCoy’s table companion didn’t hear the words—they were low, pitched for Spock’s ears alone—and she continued to chatter merrily.  Spock sat back and studied the doctor anew, nodding once as his own conversational partner made a particularly emphatic point regarding the trade laws that had been signed between Barand and the greater Federation.

It was not hot.  In fact, Barand’s temperatures were extremely pleasant for humans, and the cool of night had offset any increased temperature from the crowd of people in the dining pavilion.  He wondered briefly if McCoy was actually warm, or if he was simply making an excuse for pulling at his collar—and if the second, why he felt the need to do so.  The gesture was not elegant, per se, but Spock understood the discomfort of the Starfleet dress uniform as well as anyone.  Even if it was illogical to comment upon it.

As he continued to watch from the corner of his eye, McCoy scratched at his neck again, and rubbed absently at his forearms.  Spock’s eyes narrowed.  Was it his imagination, or was the doctor’s face slightly redder than it had been upon entering?  McCoy had consumed, from the level in his glass, no more than half a serving of the local alcohol, which was fairly weak compared to that of other worlds.  He was surely not intoxicated.  McCoy pulled at his collar again and took a deep breath.

A very faint wheezing reached Spock’s ears.

He was about to rise, uncertain what action he planned to take but equally certain that something was amiss, when a laugh rippled down from the table’s head.

“Indeed, our alliance with the Federation has brought so many new and wonderful things to us, Captain.  The foods, for example!  So many new and exotic choices, so many that complement our own dishes so well.  For example, I would wager you didn’t know that a product from your own Earth features heavily in tonight’s repast.”

“No.  At least, I don’t recognize anything.”  Kirk grinned at Dolmena Royer.  “What is it?”

“Pecans, Captain!”  She clapped her hands together, her delight rippling through the pavilion.  “Your pecans can be made into a sauce which we use for a dozen different purposes.  It enhances our native flavors, it softens the proteins in our meat—would you have guessed that this ghorant had been marinating in pecan sauce for the past three days?”

Kirk grinned—more, Spock was certain, at the lady’s enthusiasm than at her news.  “I would not have guessed it.  It’s gratifying to know that you are able to find such use for Earth’s products.  This kind of sharing is what the Federation is all about.”

“Indeed.”  The elderly lady squeezed Kirk’s arm.  “And we’re making good use of it tonight, I assure you.  There are very few dishes you’ll see here than haven’t been enhanced by the pecan sauce in some way—my cook is quite enamored of its properties.”

A small movement across the table caught Spock’s attention.  McCoy, who appeared to have paused with his fork halfway to his mouth, glanced at the meat and then put it back into his plate, untouched.  The doctor rubbed vaguely at his arms and eyed the table, his expression suddenly wary.

The answer clicked.

He had no idea how serious this issue might be.  That being the case, it must be addressed immediately, before it had opportunity to worsen.  Spock stood, making his excuses to his startled table companion.  “If you will pardon me, I believe I must check in with the Enterprise.  I will return shortly.”

“Of course, of course!”  The man waved him away, and Spock rounded the table to the doctor’s position.  McCoy was rubbing at his neck again when Spock approached.  From behind, the skin was a startling, raised red.  He touched McCoy’s arm briefly, bent close, and murmured, “Please come with me, Doctor.”

It was a point of further concern that McCoy neither protested nor demanded some reason for the interruption.  He merely nodded and stood, rather hastily.  Spock nodded briefly to McCoy’s dinner partner, then turned away.  Across the table, Kirk halted his conversation with a hand to Dolmena’s arm and shot him an inquiring look.  Spock made a vague gesture which he knew would reassure Kirk, and strode toward the pavilion exit with McCoy at his heels.

They exited into the lavish gardens behind the pavilion, moving beyond the servants and tables set immediately outside the door flap.  Once into the shadows of the first hedgerow, Spock turned toward McCoy.

“Do you require assistance, Doctor?”

McCoy leaned over, resting his hands on his knees.  The wheezing was audible now, even beyond Spock’s sensitive range.  “It’s the pecans.  I’ve been allergic since I was a teenager—ate my mama’s pecan pies without any problem the whole time I was growing up, and then suddenly one day, bam.  Hives, breathing problems, the works.  It was a stab in the gut the first time I had to pass up a piece and watch everybody else eating it …”

“Hmm.”  Spock surveyed the doctor in the bright silver moonlight.  “It appears that you have significant urticaria now, as well.”

“Yeah, itches like crazy.  I started noticing something was wrong halfway through the soup.  Didn’t know what the problem was—who’d have ever guessed halfway across the quadrant an entire meal’d be laced with pecans—but things don’t always get bad.  I thought if I laid off and moved on to the next dish I might get by with just a good rash.”

Spock frowned.  “As a doctor, you know better than to ignore—”

“Right,” McCoy snapped, some of his usual fire returning.  “But you gotta admit, the situation’s a little trickier than just dinner in the mess hall, here.”  He shook his head and took another long, painful breath.  “Anyway, that plan wouldn’t have worked for long, not if the whole table’s full of it.”

“Indeed.”  Spock removed his communicator from his belt.  “Are you able to counteract it?”

McCoy snorted, then coughed.  “Don’t have my medkit with me.  Doesn’t really go with the dress uniform, you know?  Anyway, it’s not standard gear for a diplomatic meal.  I usually keep a few antihistamines in my pocket just in case, but I gave those to Scotty earlier after he cut himself open on that plant with the teeth.”

“We may need to review those protocols.”

“Seems that way.”

Spock flipped the communicator open.  “I will request a beam-out.”  He hesitated.  “Or, do you wish to stay?  I am unaware of the potential severity of your allergy—perhaps if Nurse Chapel beams down a suitable treatment?”

“And then what?”  McCoy shook his head.  “I just sit there and watch everybody else eat for the rest of the night?  That sounds like a barrel of laughs.”

It was indeed a significant problem.  “It is possible,” Spock spoke slowly, working through the idea in his head, “that we might explain the situation to Councilor Klaris, request alternative—”

“You’re kidding me, right?”  McCoy wheezed out a laugh.  “After Scotty didn’t eat that one dish and the place almost collapsed around our ears?  Can you see the pandemonium if we told them I couldn’t eat anything?”  His expression turned serious.  “And the embarrassment?  Klaris would never be able to show her face in public again.”  He shrugged.  “And it’s not really her fault—allergies are pretty much unknown here, it’s not something she would even think to check.”

“Perhaps.”  Spock nodded.  “However, if they are to host alien races it would be in their future interests to make note of such things.”

“Yeah.  But not tonight.”  McCoy took another long breath, scratching at his neck.  “Sorry, Spock.  I’m not gonna collapse or anything—least I hope not, it’s never been that bad before … but I need to go.  I need a hypo of the good stuff and some cream for these hives.”  He hesitated.  “Do you think it’ll cause problems if I leave?”

“I will ensure that it does not.”

“Okay.”  McCoy shot him a lopsided grin.  “Thanks, Spock.”

“Indeed.”  Spock spoke briefly into the communicator, and a moment later the transporter effect removed McCoy from his sight.  He tucked the communicator back into its pouch and re-entered the pavilion.  Kirk looked up as he did so, frowning when he saw that McCoy was absent.  Spock motioned the captain down, then made his way to the head of the table.  “Captain.  Dr. McCoy was required onboard the Enterprise.”  He turned to Councilor Klaris and her mother.  “The doctor asked me to pass along his regrets, and his appreciation for the meal.”

Both women nodded, obvious disappointment tingeing the understanding.  Kirk frowned.  “Is there a problem?”

“Not serious.”  Spock hesitated.  “An allergic reaction to attend; it was determined best for Dr. McCoy to beam aboard.”

Kirk eyed him for a long moment.  The captain knew that whatever had happened, it was more involved than this explanation.  He also knew that a diplomatic function wasn’t the time to dig for answers.  He nodded, once.  “Very well.  Thank you, Mr. Spock.”

“Indeed, sir.”

Spock returned to his seat, and his meal, and his dinner companion.  The man picked up where he had left off and Spock listened absently, allowing his eyes to roam the multitude of alien dishes stretched along the table.

Pecans.  Indeed, who would have thought?

Chapter Text

The sun was fast setting over Kendar II, and the last of the excavation teams were slowly drifting into camp for the night. They had conceded the search for live victims days ago, and were now simply searching for bodies buried beneath the rubble. The final count of dead was estimated to be roughly ninety-five, at last tally—a significant and disheartening number, but one that could have been much worse in a colony of near ten thousand. Spock took the final team's report from Lieutenant Tamlin, who simply handed it over without a word and started away, eyes down and shoulders slumped.

It had been a trying couple of weeks, and as much as the crew of the Enterprise was in excellent physical health, the psychological ramifications of daily recovering severely injured colonists and now dead bodies from the rubble was beginning to take a substantial toll.

"Lieutenant."

Tamlin turned on his heel. "Aye, sir. Sorry. I wasn't—"

"Lieutenant, I only wished to indicate that your efforts here are much appreciated, by the captain, by me, and by the colonists, as taxing as they may be for you and your team."

The young man took a long breath, then nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Spock. I only …" He trailed off and looked for a moment as though he would say no more, then blurted, "I wish we could have done more. I wish we had gotten here sooner." He shook his head, and even the fading light could not hide the fatigued tears building in his eyes. "We found the twins today, the ones that were supposed to be in the daycare center and went home with their aunt instead? They were, uh …" Tamlin stopped, shook his head, and swiped an angry arm across his eyes. He stared at his sleeve as if surprised by the wetness, and then scrubbed at his eyes again. "Sorry, Mr. Spock."

"Do not be." Spock hesitated, then decided that he was ill-equipped to offer further comfort. Better to send Tamlin on his way than to make a statement that would sound, to an exhausted human, brusque or uncaring. There were others on the Enterprise staff better able to handle such an endeavor—most notably, the man who currently occupied the Medical headquarters tent across the square. "I apologize, Lieutenant, for keeping you from your meal. Eat and sleep well."

Tamlin nodded, and a small, tired smile played across the corners of his mouth. "Thank you, sir." He turned then and disappeared into the dusky shadows of the tent field after the rest of his team. Spock cast a quick glance over the report, then filed the data pad away with those from the other teams and started across the dusty square. He would return later to collect them and correlate the data. He intended to be up quite late, but did not know McCoy's intentions and did not wish to disturb the doctor once he had taken to his bed. Or, more accurately, his cot. The Medical personnel had been inundated with casualties since their arrival at the Kendar II colony, and although they had finally been able to switch from triage mode to a more long-term care plan, they were still overwhelmed and utterly spent. Sleep had been a luxury, as of late, and Spock had no intention of depriving anyone, especially the Enterprise's notoriously irritable CMO, of any much-needed rest.

Such a course of action seemed … unwise, for any number of reasons.

This interaction with Tamlin, however, was only the most recent in a series of concerning encounters over the course of the last day and a half. Crew morale being, of course, of utmost importance, the situation bore addressing sooner rather than later, and as light currently shone beneath the tent flaps of the Medical office, Spock expected that McCoy was, for the moment at least, still awake. There was, as humans were so fond of saying, no time like the present.

Spock halted before the doorway and took a moment to reinforce his controls against the onslaught of grouchy, overworked physician that surely awaited him. Then, he knocked briefly on the reinforced metal frame. As expected, a voice responded almost immediately. "Come in!"

He pushed the tent flap aside and ducked through the low doorway. The tent was larger than many of the others, but still cramped—room for a desk, a file cart, a couple of chairs, a cot, and little more. McCoy was sitting between the desk and the cot, leaned back with his feet propped on the extra chair, reading from a data tablet in the light of an overhead lamp. His posture was hunched, and the lines beneath his eyes were pronounced. Exhaustion radiated from every pore in his body. When he saw Spock, however, one corner of his mouth turned up, and he laid the tablet aside.

"Spock! What brings you by?" McCoy lowered his feet gently from the extra seat, nuding it away from the cot. "Have a seat, stay a while."

Spock barely managed to cover his surprise. A pleasant greeting was the last thing that he had expected, given the circumstances. He nodded briefly. "Doctor. How is Medical progressing?"

"Can't wait for my report, huh?" McCoy groused, but the words held no real bite. He shook his head. "Things are coming along. Shock and grief are slowing things up at this point as much as any real physical injuries or other concerns. Still, we let about twelve more out of the hospital tents today. Sent most of them to the shelter tents, two or three of them still had homes to go back to." The doctor shook his head. "Which I'm still not certain is a good idea. Might be a psychological benefit to be back under your own roof, but the water situation is far better in the tents, and who knows what else those houses have going on? I know they've been certified as safe, but …." McCoy shrugged, and let out a long breath. "I don't know. I just hope none of them overdo it trying to put their lives back together overnight and end up back here."

"Indeed." Spock circled cautiously toward the offered chair, uncertain what to make of this new, milder version of the Enterprise's CMO. When he rounded the desk, he stopped. McCoy was not alone. Stretched along the unoccupied cot and across the gap to McCoy's chair, with head laying contentedly in the doctor's lap, was a large brown dog. One dark, liquid eye opened as Spock came into view, studied him without interest, and then slid slowly closed again. Spock looked back to McCoy and caught an amused light in the tired blue eyes.

"You seem to have … an admirer, Doctor."

McCoy snorted a laugh. "Surprised, Mr. Spock?"

"By the fact, or the species?"

"Funny." McCoy scratched gently behind the floppy ears, and a sound between a whine and a sigh escaped from the animal. "He started following me around a couple of days ago. Don't know where he came from, but nobody seems to recognize him. He might be from one of the outlying farms, maybe, or …" McCoy stopped, and shrugged. "Or his people might be dead. Who knows?"

"Indeed. Both are equally possible." Spock tilted his head. "He seems quite content."

"He should be," the doctor grumbled. "Blasted thing's had more than half the cot the last two nights, and between all the kids that keep trying to feed him off their plates, he's probably never been fatter. Sleep, eat, play a little fetch here and there … Nothing wrong with that life. Wish I had it myself."

Spock eyed the narrow cot. "You allow him to sleep with you?"

McCoy hesitated, his expression shifting from annoyed to resigned and back. The dog whined softly, nudging at the doctor's hand with his nose. McCoy absently stroked the shiny head. "Well … I admit, he, uh … he reminds me of my dog from home, when I was growing up. I haven't …" The CMO shrugged, and the action was strangely defensive. "I haven't had the heart to kick him out." McCoy leaned his head back against a support beam. "I still miss that dog sometimes. We were like this." He held up his free hands, fingers crossed, then shrugged. "Besides, it's not like I've been getting a lot of use out of the cot myself."

"I was unaware that you had a pet as a child."

"Got him when I was ten." McCoy lifted one eyebrow. "Remember that day you were looking at the picture of Joanna camping?" Spock nodded. "Did you see the other picture? That was him." Spock nodded again, remembering the photograph he had more scanned than actually viewed. "Part redbone coon, part … whatever else he was." McCoy snorted. "And I was lucky to have him, let me tell you. I'm still surprised sometimes that Mama let me keep him, after it all."

"It all?" Despite the pressing discussion and the late hour, Spock's interest was piqued.

"Yeah. I, uh …" The doctor suddenly laughed softly. "I was a bit of a terror growing up."

Unlike the hikes through the Appalachian mountains, this was news that Spock could easily imagine. He quirked an eyebrow, more for the effect than out of any real surprise. "Indeed, Dr. McCoy?"

McCoy's grin split his tired face, and he laughed again, louder. "Indeed. A rapscallion, Mr. Spock."

Spock pulled his chair away from the cot and sat. "I find that I have little difficulty picturing such a scenario."

"I thought you might not." McCoy shook his head, and continued to rub behind the brown ears. "I was independent and argumentative, and gone half of the time, off who knows where. Never got into any serious trouble, but got close enough a few times to make my folks pretty unhappy. We had some tense times there, for a few years." He shook his head. "Anyway, we were visiting relatives out in the country one weekend when a storm front started to move through. We had been out taking a walk, my mama and her cousin and my sister and I, and we headed back to the house when it started to get dark off to the west. About halfway there, I saw this half-grown dog trotting down the side of the road, looking like he had nowhere to do and wasn't in any hurry to get there. I wanted to stop and play with him, but Mama and her cousin said we had to get back. I was mad, of course, and spent the next ten minutes or so letting them both know about it, and then just when we were about back to the house the tornado sirens started."

Tornadoes were not something that existed on Vulcan, and Spock had never heard such a siren for himself. However, he understood that to be exposed without shelter on a rural road was not desirable during such an alert.

"I was worried about the dog, and I took off after him. Mama was screaming at me to come back, but of course I couldn't be bothered to listen." McCoy shook his head, and Spock read the regret in the action. "I put her through a lot, my mama." He sighed, then went on. "I found him finally, shoved up into the bushes. Hiding from the sirens, probably—or the thunder. It was close, by that point. I grabbed him, he didn't fight me much, and started back. By then it was raining pretty hard, and then the hail started. I found a culvert under a drive off the main road just in time—we hadn't been in there long before the hail was as big as my fist." McCoy held up one hand, fingers curled tight. "So, we waited it out, and then headed back—about three hours and two tornadoes later. Didn't see either one of those, thankfully." He allowed the hand to drop, and snorted. "Stupid. I was a stupid, stupid kid."

With a human mother of his own for reference, Spock was surprised as well that McCoy had been allowed to keep the animal.

"I believe all children to be … somewhat lacking in prudence, Doctor."

McCoy's grin was sly. "Even Vulcan kids?"

"All children." Remembering some of his own misadventures, Spock decided it was best to move the conversation along before the doctor became too curious. "How did you convince your parents to allow you to keep the animal?"

McCoy shook his head. "I still don't know, to tell you the truth. I got back to the house, and Mama came running out and hugged me, then gave me a tongue-lashing so long and loud they could probably hear it in Louisiana, and then didn't talk to me again for two weeks. I don't really recall anything else about it, other than that I was allowed to keep him as long as I did what I was told and stayed out of trouble. The second I stepped out of line again, he would be gone."

Spock tilted his head. "And, was this bargain successful?"

"For all involved." McCoy absently rubbed at the long, lean brown body sprawled across him. "I was so afraid that she would follow up on that threat, and that if she didn't my daddy would, that I made absolutely sure over the next few months to be a model citizen, as it were. After a while, it wasn't so hard anymore—I found out I could behave and still have fun, and there was a lot less fighting involved. Both at home and … elsewhere." McCoy shook his head. "He was good for me, that dog. Mama always said he had a way of calming me down when I was about to lose my head, and I guess maybe she was right."

Considering that McCoy, who could be downright nasty when exhausted and overworked, was here before him behaving in a calm, rational, and even friendly manner, Spock felt that McCoy's mother had certainly been correct.

Possibly, it wasn't wise to agree so readily.

McCoy looked down at the dog on his lap and sighed. "Had him until I was nineteen, he eventually died of cancer. But, he was a good, gentle dog."

"Indeed." Spock nodded slowly. "It seems that you were fortunate to catch sight of him, then."

"Absolutely." McCoy's grin flashed. "Even Mama eventually agreed with that."

Spock lifted an eyebrow at the current dog. "What will you do with this one when we are ready to depart?"

The doctor snorted. "I have a line of kids about three miles long that would be more than happy to have him, if no one claims him before then. I'm sure somebody's parents will oblige." He rubbed one floppy, silky ear between his fingers. "He'll have a good home, I've got no worries about that."

The blue eyes were a touch wistful, and Spock determined that it was time to move on. "I regret the need to 'talk business', Doctor—however, I did come here with a purpose other than this animal."

"Right. Of course." McCoy nodded and straightened, the CMO of the Enterprise dropping effortlessly back into place. "Fire away, Mr. Spock."

"I believe we are having something of a morale problem among the excavation teams—or at least, that a concern over such is warranted. I have had three worrisome conversations with various officers only today—I believe the task is beginning to tell on many of the less seasoned officers."

"Blast," McCoy growled. He rubbed at the back of his neck and glared at the ceiling. "Yeah, I noticed earlier when I was talking to Kai that he seemed a little wild-eyed. I was going to do some looking into it, and then one of our crush patients threw a clot, and it just completely slipped my mind." He muttered under his breath, and Spock's sensitive ears picked up several Standard invectives. "I don't know what we can do about it if we intend to keep up this pace. I tried to talk a couple of days ago about throwing in some more breaks, maybe even rotating people back up to the Enterprise for a while, but colony governor kept insisting that we kept at it. 'Give these people some closure as soon as possible,' he says." McCoy's jaw clenched. "I'm all for that, I understand the need for closure as well as the next guy, but people are about to collapse. They're exhausted, and they're dealing with ugly, nasty injuries, and with bodies that just … aren't nice." The doctor's entire frame tensed, and he sat up straighter. "We can't just tell them to suck it up and—"

The dog whined, and opened his eyes, and nosed at McCoy's hand. Receiving no immediate response, he bathed the doctor's fingers with a large, wet tongue. McCoy snatched his hand away, swearing, but immediately returned to stroking the soft ears. Before Spock's eyes, the physical tension melted away. McCoy slumped back into his chair, shaking his head.

"Look, you've got the latest numbers from the teams, right?"

"Indeed. I intend to correlate them tonight."

"Good. Can you come back when you're done?" The doctor leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "We can put together something for Jim, rest schedule and counseling recommendations, and he can take care of the governor."

"I will do so. 0800 hours?"

The dog settled his chin back into McCoy's lap and grumbled, low in his throat. "Sounds good." McCoy scratched at the long brown back. "Once Jim gets it into his head that his people are overworked and stressed, the governor doesn't stand a chance."

He grinned, lazily, without opening his eyes. The dog's breathing deepened.

Fascinating. And frankly, incredible.

It was unfortunate that Starfleet would be unlikely to approve a funding proposal for kennels aboard the Enterprise….

Chapter Text

"Come in!"

The doctor's voice drifted through the closed door, muffled and distant. Spock glided obediently through the opening, into the unoccupied work area of McCoy's quarters. As the door swished shut behind him, a thumping noise and muttered cursing drifted from the living space. Spock approached the partition and peered cautiously around.

McCoy was buried to the waist in the tiny corner closet, rummaging among the upper shelves. Another crash and invective emerged; however, the doctor himself remained mostly hidden from view. After a few moments, Spock cleared his throat.

"Dr. McCoy?"

"Blast it all." McCoy backed out of the closet, glaring. "I know I put it in here somewhere. And it's not like the thing is palatial, there's only so many places it could be."

Spock hesitated, attempting to make his way through the jumbled pronouncement. He rather suspected pronoun confusion of some sort, and as to the specific subject …. Spock debated the merits of requesting clarification, then decided that, all in all, he would rather remain unaware of the source of McCoy's current ire.

"Doctor, I am here as requested, to discuss the latest draft of your paper. If now is not a convenient time, I can certainly—"

"Nope, now's good." McCoy was rummaging in the closet again. "I'll be right out, this shouldn't take me more than a minute …." Another crash, and another curse. Spock repressed all curiosity about the matter. "Look, Spock." McCoy poked his head out of the closet. "Why don't you pull it up and take a look? It's in with the other papers, working title is 'Vulcan'."

"Your originality is stunning, Doctor." Spock moved toward the desk. McCoy's growl sounded hollow—he had apparently returned to his search.

"It's a working title, hobgoblin."

"Indeed. Very working, it seems." Spock slid into the desk chair. "I have already read the draft you sent last night. I have no need to—"

"I've actually rewritten a couple of paragraphs since then. Something in the bit about the ratio of copper blood cells to platelets wasn't coming out right, and I completely overhauled the part dealing with the …" The rest of McCoy's sentence was lost into the back of the closet. It was of no consequence. Spock had located a link to a folder labeled "Vulcan" on the primary monitor screen, and he tapped lightly on the icon.

The link revealed a single document, and his hand froze halfway to opening it. This was … not a paper, certainly. No. The document was untitled, but bore instead the electronic version of the Crest of the House of Surak, as well as the Seal of T'Pau, the clan matriarch.

His mind locked, and spun.

For what purpose could Leonard McCoy have possibly received a direct communication from T'Pau? The only time the two had met, as far as Spock knew, was at the time of his …. His mind shied away from that, even now. He well remembered the embarrassment—yes, embarrassment, it was illogical to deny such a vibrantly painful, vibrantly present emotion—of being forced to reveal the details of pon farr to outsiders, of losing his logic and his reason, of being rejected before T'Pau, before the captain and Dr. McCoy. The horror and the anger of knowing what he had done, the despair, the sheer relief of seeing Jim alive and whole on the Enterprise. The nights of fruitless meditation, the months of convincing himself that if his human friend did not hold the day's events against him, he should surely not hold them against himself …

"Wrong file, Mr. Spock."

McCoy's voice was hard, and rough. A hand reached over his shoulder and jabbed at the icon, closing it abruptly. The Crest and the Seal disappeared, but not his memory of them. Spock turned in the chair, and speared McCoy with his eyes. He was on the verge of asking, of demanding to know … but something in the doctor's own eyes stopped him. They were icy. Withdrawn.

Unwelcoming.

"I said it was in the file with the other papers. Not on the primary screen." McCoy tossed a small brown box onto the desk. It rattled when it hit, and Spock spared a brief thought that this must have been the object of McCoy's search through his closet.

The box's contents were of even less interest to him now.

"We can do this later, Spock."

It was a dismissal, if he had ever heard one. Spock rose, slowly. "Doctor …"

"I'll send you the new draft tonight at some point." McCoy settled heavily into the abandoned seat, then turned pointedly toward the monitor.

Spock remained for a long moment, gaze moving between McCoy and the now hidden screen, attempting to find some way to re-broach the subject without inciting the doctor's wrath. Eventually, he was forced to concede defeat without making the effort. It was very seldom that McCoy fell silent in any situation, and Spock, accustomed to a veritable rush of words so passionate and enraged that they tumbled over each other in their haste to break free, was never certain how to read that silence.

Or how to break it.

Or whether to break it.

In this instance, despite the curiosity setting his brain afire, he decided that such an attempt would be of little avail. Instead, he simply nodded.

"As you wish, Doctor."

Spock turned on his heel and started toward the door, wondering vaguely what had just occurred. He was only halfway to his destination when McCoy sighed heavily behind him.

"Spock."

Spock halted, looking around. The doctor hesitated for a long moment, then tapped a few commands into the monitor, shrugged, and motioned toward the screen. He rose and backed away, leaving the chair open.

Perhaps he should offer to respect McCoy's privacy. It was obvious that even now, the doctor was not comfortable with this action. After a moment, however, Spock crossed back to the desk, sat silently, and focused on the contents of the file that now lay open before him.


 

Dr. Leonard McCoy

Chief Medical Officer, USS Enterprise

Lieutenant Commander, Starfleet

I bid thee greetings from the Vulcan Council, and also from the House of Surak. Peace and Long Life to you and to yours.

The purpose of this missive is to inform thee that the Preliminary Assembly has determined, by a margin of eight members to five, that we accept such explanations and assurances as thou hast offered in thy recent deposition regarding the events which did occur during the koon-ut-kal-if-fee ritual of which thou was witness, and of which thou didst alter the outcome by thine actions. This Assembly therefore declines to submit your case before the full Council, and considers the matter settled and closed. Thou may be assured that Starfleet has removed any reprimand regarding this incident from thy official record, at this Assembly's request, and that thy name has been cleared also in the annals of Vulcan. Thou art free to return to this planet at any time, should the need or desire arise.

Such is the binding decision of this Preliminary Assembly, Stardate 3373.2

McCoy—

I would say a word to thee. I warned thee not to interfere in the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, and when I gave thee permission to create a more equal test, thou didst deceive me. When this Assembly was convened I was convinced of thy guilt, and of thy disdain for our culture and our ways. Thou hast convinced me, nevertheless, that what thou did was not from disdain, but was indeed from thine own form of logic—that if thou could bring both of thy shipmates through the test alive, that thou should avail thyself of the opportunity. That, indeed, thou could do nothing less.

The function of the sacred kal-if-fee is to slake the pon farr. The death of one combatant is not, and has never been, its purpose—primary or otherwise. As such, and as all of Vulcan holds life in high esteem, I cannot condemn thee for taking what was, for thee, a logical alternative to the death of thy captain. I therefore offer my admiration for thy quick thought, and my congratulations on the success of thy endeavor. I also offer gratitude for thy part in diverting what would surely have been a point of contention between Vulcan and the greater Federation.

I would also offer this advice: Do not deceive me again.

Live Long and Prosper.

T'Pau, of the House of Surak, Assembly Head


 

He read the contents through three times. Then he rose, abruptly, and turned on McCoy.

"Explain."

His own voice was as sharp, as hard as McCoy's had been. The doctor took a single step back and looked away.

"About a week after your … uh, your wedding, or what there was of it," McCoy shrugged again, apologetically, "I received a communication from Vulcan that a Preliminary Assembly was being formed by the Vulcan Council to investigate my actions during the kal-if-fee. They, uh … they weren't too happy with me, for interfering. The Assembly's investigation was to determine if I should be brought up on charges before the Vulcan High Council for disrespect regarding an alien culture, and whether the Vulcan Council would push Starfleet to issue a reprimand and a dishonorable discharge."

Spock frowned, searching his memory, but he already knew what he would find. "I had no knowledge of this."

McCoy snorted. "No. You were still working through the last of the chemical imbalance from the pon farr, and dealing with all the backlash from what had happened with Jim. It didn't seem like you needed anything else on your plate."

He took a moment to control his rising frustration. "Therefore, you and the captain decided that I should not know of this?"

"No!" McCoy shook his head, folding his arms in a clearly defensive gesture. "No, I didn't …" He sighed, and finally met Spock's eyes. "Jim never knew about it, either."

Spock's eyebrow shot up, surprise crowding out some of the less-controlled irritation. "How …" He stopped, considering. "How is that even possible?" he finally asked, tilting his head to study the doctor. "Even if you had somehow managed to keep such an accusation from your direct commanding officer …" he aimed a pointed stare at McCoy, who suddenly found the ceiling quite interesting, "… surely the captain would have been informed if—"

"Jim had a lot on his mind, too, with trying to smooth things over with Komack and pretty much a whole planet full of delegates on Altair VI."

"Indeed. However, Starfleet would have—"

"The JAG office received the same copy of the complaint that I did, at the same time. I know Admiral Layton, he was finishing up at the Academy when I was starting out. I contacted him the minute I realized what was going on and asked if he would delay informing Jim until after the Assembly's investigation, if I promised to comply fully with all requests and demands." McCoy moved away, beginning a slow pace of the small work area. "It's irregular, but he agreed, and he assigned me a case worker out of his office to handle all of the details."

Spock turned to follow the doctor's progress, frowning. "I do not understand why you would wish to conceal this. The captain and I were both present during the incident. Our statements would have added to your defense."

McCoy grinned, absently, and leaned back against the wall. "I appreciate that, Spock. But … I don't know whether they would have even accepted your witness, given the circumstances." It was a logical concern, as much as Spock was loath to admit it. "And Jim …. Well, he wasn't involved, other than being on the receiving end of my hypo. I didn't want to put him in the position of having to defend actions that he had nothing to do with, in case things ended up going south. He's already got enough trouble with the brass on his own, you know, and depending how things turned out, defending me could have been a big strike against him."

"You saved his life, and my career. He would have done so without hesitation."

"I know!" McCoy shook his head. "I know he would have. That's why I couldn't give him the option."

It was, unfortunately, also logical. Spock studied his companion for a long moment, wondering how the man had managed to undergo such an intense procedure as an inquiry by a subcommittee of the Vulcan High Council without ever showing the extra strain—without altering his usual behavior, or accidentally speaking of it, or somehow in some other way alerting his commanding officers.

Then again, McCoy was short-tempered on a daily basis. It was entirely possible that the doctor had been able to successfully use his own natural irritability to hide any additional strain. Spock made a mental note regarding the possibility of such a ploy, for future reference.

He glanced back at the screen, zeroing in on one particular line. "How and when did the deposition take place?"

McCoy nodded. "Remember the shore leave I took to Starbase 3, about a month after Altair VI?" Spock nodded. They had dropped the doctor off on the way to a routine supply run and returned for him three days later at the completion of the assignment. "The JAG office set up a room in the Starbase offices for the hearing." He shuddered, shaking his head. "That was the longest day of my life, let me tell you. Full screen viewer, full dress uniform, thirteen Vulcans shooting questions at me from 0800 to 1730 without a break."

Spock's frown deepened. "The Assembly did not recess in order for you to take nutrition at any point? Surely the members were aware that humans cannot—"

"Oh, it wasn't even lunch I was worried about, by the end." McCoy rolled his eyes and blew out a deep breath, finally relaxing. "I thought my bladder was going to explode, though. Literally. Explode."

The irritation rose again in a wave, and again Spock paused in order to address and discard it. He was not entirely successful—an extended meditation period would be required when he returned to his own quarters.

"And what was the substance of their inquiries, that it was so necessary to convene for an entire day without break?"

This time, McCoy's grin was affectionate. "I think you're actually angry at them, Spock."

He leveled a withering glare at the doctor. "I am expressing a well-founded concern over the lack of—"

"No, I don't think so. I think you're mad at them for not giving me lunch and a potty break." Spock decided that it was best to simply not respond to such a ridiculous accusation. McCoy chuckled softly and leaned his head back against the wall. "They went through my records, went through my quarterly evaluations since I entered the service, did a lot of questioning of my motives, my understanding of the ritual, my understanding of other parts of Vulcan culture, my understanding of Vulcan anatomy, my reasoning for other decisions I've made in the past. They went through my Academy grades and reports from my professors. They basically turned my entire Starfleet and professional career inside out, trying to figure out what made me tick."

It was more difficult this time to control his impatience. "And such detail was necessary to determine that you intended no disrespect in the context of one alien ritual?" Vulcan as he was, this still seemed to him a blatant abuse of power—an obvious attempt by the Assembly to intimidate their single human witness.

Unfortunately for them, Leonard McCoy was not a man who intimidated easily.

The doctor, at least, seemed to have developed some peace over the matter during the intervening years. McCoy only shrugged. "Apparently. I got T'Pau's letter about a week later. Haven't heard anything from anyone about it since."

Spock eyed the doctor for a long moment. It was difficult to know what to think or do, given this new insight. Possibly, meditation would help him to assimilate it into a more logical perspective. He was certain that it would help him to solidify further questions regarding the incident. At the moment, however, an apology seemed the next logical step. Necessary, even, given that the doctor had taken such actions for his, Spock's, benefit. When offered, however, McCoy waved it away.

"Don't. If I hadn't acted as I did, Jim would be dead, and you'd either be in prison or dishonorably discharged, or maybe dead too somewhere. I knew there would probably be repercussions when I lied to T'Pau, and I did it anyway, and I've never regretted it. Not then, not during the inquiry, and not now. And if I had been discharged, or sent to Vulcan prison, or whatever else the Council had in mind …" McCoy grinned again, the affection back in his eyes, "I still wouldn't regret it."

Spock glanced again from McCoy to T'Pau's letter on the monitor, then back. How to accept such an openly warm sentiment? He was not human, he did not know the appropriate response to such a declaration. After a moment's hesitation, Spock straightened, and folded his hands behind his back. "Doctor, if you will not accept my apology, I hope you will at least accept my gratitude."

McCoy nodded, slowly. "That I'll take, Spock." He pushed away from the wall. "And do you know how you can pay me back?"

One eyebrow rose, slowly. "How, Doctor?"

"You can review my paper."

Spock tilted his head, studying McCoy. It was obvious that the doctor was as ready as he to be through with the discussion.  For the moment, at least. "Of course. I shall review your revisions immediately."

"And Spock?"

"Yes, Doctor?"

"Open the right file this time."

Chapter Text

The sky was finally beginning to lighten. Spock drifted from the small hollow that had served as the team's meager campsite back onto the trail, squinting against the fiery line of orange that traced the far horizon. Above, the cliff loomed stark and unrelenting, rising for perhaps another two hundred eighty-three feet before leveling off at the top. Below them the drop continued, sheer and unrelenting for another three hundred twenty-six feet until it was swallowed by the forest carpeting the valley floor. He stood at the ancient wooden railing and watched a flock of silver birds that they had not yet cataloged skim above the treetops, the light from the sunrise reflecting in twinkling bursts off their wings. The small moon was lush, aesthetically pleasing and replete with all manner of life forms. The cool, crisp morning breeze buffeted him, unhindered so high up by trees or structures or by the lower hills. It stirred the rock dust from the trail, sent it swirling toward the green land below, and Spock wondered again what manner of people had built this high, narrow passage, and what had been its primary purpose. Even as stable and well-hewn as it was, it surely could not have been meant for everyday travel or cargo transport. It was simply too impractical—too long, too narrow, with no entrances or exits other than the single rock stairway that led up to it and the single rock stairway that would bring them down again at the far end.

What, then, had been its function? Such a risky, long-term endeavor was simply not undertaken for no reason—especially when other paths, other options, were available.

Fascinating.

The Enterprise had left the survey team of forty-five on the moon's surface three days ago and had moved on to Mirena Prime, another planet in the system which supported sentient life—current life, though in little more than a primitive state. The teams aboard the ship would be taking scans and documenting what they could from orbit, in order to determine if an undercover Federation team should be sent to study the developing humanoid culture in more depth. They were set to wrap up their work and rendezvous with Spock's team on the moon in another four days' time.

Such an evolving culture would, of course, have been an intriguing study; however, Spock privately admitted that he quite preferred his current assignment. Given that his team was planetside—or perhaps more accurately, moonside—and that any sentient occupants of the moon were long extinct, his people were offered hands-on opportunities for study that would not be available to the crew members who had remained aboard ship. The expedition upon which this specialized team was currently embarked, to map and catalog the remains of a remote jungle village that also served as the far gate for the peculiar cliff path that stretched across dozens of miles of the jagged rock face, was one such opportunity. Or it had been, until Ensign Carena had been overcome by seizures barely two hours after they had reached their remote destination.

"Spock! Are you just going to stand there gaping all morning, or are you going to give us a hand packing up here?"

Spock closed his eyes for a moment and centered himself before turning. It was fortunate that Dr. McCoy had been a part of the specialized team, given that they had faced a medical crisis in a remote area with little in the way of equipment to aid them. He had yet to meet any other physician or healer, in any place or of any species, as capable of handling an emergency medical situation as Leonard McCoy—though Spock had no plans to ever admit as much. However, the doctor had not been especially pleased with the idea of a hike through an uncharted jungle, and his enthusiasm had not grown over the course of the several days that they had been separated from the main camp. Since he had certified Ensign Carena fit for travel, and since the team had left the tiny village behind and set out on a return trajectory, McCoy's temper had devolved from grumpy to outright surly.

Spock would be … pleased, when they rejoined the others and he was afforded some separation from the doctor's constant grumbling.

"I will of course carry whatever is required. However, as we removed very little from our bags and there is not much 'packing up' to be done, I determined that a survey of the—"

"Survey. Right." McCoy stuffed the last of the blankets into one of the packs, zipped it closed, and tossed it to Spock. "Always with the surveying. Can't just concentrate on getting us back to base camp. Nope, we've gotta keep documenting."

Spock caught the pack easily, and pulled it around to his back. "The primary purpose of this mission is exploration and survey, Doctor." He snapped the straps together, shrugging his shoulders to readjust the weight.

"Except suddenly we've got seizures, with no history and no obvious cause. Seems to me that trumps exploring, however 'fascinating' this place might be. Unless logically it doesn't matter that—"

Spock took a long breath through his nose, then cut the doctor off before he was tempted to respond in kind. Right now, trapped together on a narrow cliff trail along with three other crew members, was not the time for such an altercation. "We are, in fact, returning to base camp. If you will remember, our original plan was to remain in the remote location for two more days."

McCoy snorted. "There is that, I guess."

"Doctor McCoy." Ensign Carena looked up from her current task of attaching her bedroll to her pack. Her expression was chagrined, as it had been since the decision had been made to leave the village early. It was illogical that she should feel responsible, since she had obviously done nothing to purposely cause the seizures; however, Spock was quite certain that, illogical or not, the young woman felt guilty all the same about how the expedition had turned out. "I'm feeling fine. There's no reason that we can't do some surveys, take whatever readings we can on the way back."

"You felt fine just before you started seizing, too." McCoy shook his head, though, then dug a handful of nutrition bars out of his pack and tossed one to each team member. "At least everybody needs to eat before we go. The last thing we need is for anybody to get dizzy and fall off the side."

"Such an incident is highly unlikely." Nevertheless, Spock unwrapped the bar and took a bite. There was, for the moment, no reason to forgo breakfast.

"Says you."

"Indeed."

They finished breakfast in short order and moved away from the indentation in the cliff face that had served as their overnight shelter—one of several they had seen since setting out. The even lines and balanced form of the little nooks gave the impression of carving rather than natural wear, and Spock wondered again if shelter for travelers might have been their intended function. Such would seem to indicate rather consistent passage, and might place the primary purpose of this trail as a pedestrian highway of sorts—as illogical as that seemed, given their admittedly limited current knowledge base of this people.

It was the type of thing that intrigued and drew him in, these cultural mysteries. He looked forward to comparing notes, filling in pieces, beginning to build an idea and a roadmap of this long-dead civilization when they rejoined the main camp.

They spent the morning moving at a semi-brisk pace, stopping at regular intervals to photograph or scan or record their surroundings, or the valley floor below. They soon had a pattern down. Biologist Lieutenant Haron and security officer Lieutenant Danielson, who preferred to walk on the inside, busied themselves with the cliff face, the trail and any skyward observations. Spock and Ensign Carena studied what they could of the landscape below.

Dr. McCoy brought up the rear, radiating displeasure with the entire process.

By the time their lunch break was over, Spock had concluded that he would be forced to confront the doctor, as unpleasant a task as that might be. He sent the others ahead, indicating that he wished to readjust the load between his pack and McCoy's. When he was certain that the crewmen were out of earshot, he turned back to find McCoy waiting, one eyebrow raised.

"Doctor?"

"Don't 'doctor' me. Just get on with it. I know you're not really interested in repacking."

Hmm. That McCoy knew he was about to be reprimanded was proof that he himself understood his attitude to be sorely lacking. Curious, and … annoying.

That is, if Vulcans could be annoyed.

He compartmentalized the emotion away to deal with at a more convenient time.

"Doctor McCoy, I am aware that this expedition was not among your first choice of assignments. However, we are here, and we have work to accomplish. No manner of complaint will change or remedy that fact. I expect that you will, from this point forward, desist and lend what expertise you are able to our endeavors."

"What expertise I am able." McCoy snorted. "That's nice. Thanks, Spock, you're a real shot in the arm."

"Doctor, I—"

"No, don't bother." McCoy waved him off. "I hear you loud and clear. Be happy, play nice." He crossed his arms, leveling a ferocious glare at what Spock assumed to be the entire moon. "Joy."

This had gone … less well than Spock had hoped, and pursuing it further did not promise to improve the outcome. He decided to simply leave things as they were, and hope that the doctor would comply throughout the afternoon. He gathered their packs and swung his own over his shoulder, holding out the other. McCoy snatched at it, and for the briefest moment, their hands touched.

A surge of strong emotion rippled through him, and only just before he cut it off with his shields did it occur to him that it was not at all the emotion he would have expected.

Spock tilted his head, considering. McCoy stopped in the middle of jerking the pack buckles closed and glowered at him. "What now?"

No anger—or at least, very little. No boredom or even simple annoyance. No. The predominate, overriding emotion that he had sensed from the doctor was fear—strong, all-encompassing, bordering on panic.

"What?"

"Doctor." Spock made to fold his hands behind his back, and when his pack blocked the motion, dropped them at his sides. He hesitated, aware of the potential minefield which he was about to traverse, and then plunged ahead. "What disturbs you?"

It took McCoy a moment to understand, but only a moment. He snarled, backing away. "Get outta my head, you—"

"Doctor, as you are perfectly aware, I am not and was not in your head. However, the fact remains that I am a touch telepath, and that we did, in fact, touch."

McCoy glared, silent for nearly a full minute—but Spock could play that game far better than McCoy. Finally, the physician sighed and shook his head.

"Fine. It's the cliff. It's really … heights are really a problem for me. Long story, I'm not going into it, but I don't …" He sneaked a glance toward the edge of the trail, and even crowded against the smooth stone, his face paled. "It's not good."

Spock lifted an eyebrow, bemused. "It was your idea to take this route back, rather than the jungle path."

"I know!" McCoy shook his head and muttered something beneath his breath that even Spock's ears couldn't catch. "I know. And I stand by that, regardless of …" He took a long breath. "Spock, I don't know what caused those seizures. She has no history, no family history. She's not on any drugs that could cause them, and I couldn't find anything in her system that could account for it. But the fact remains that we just spent two days slogging through a jungle with a whole mess of unknown plants and animals and chemical structures. It could have been any of it, or none of it. But this," he gestured at the bare rock around them, "is a much more controlled environment. Much less likely to set her off again." McCoy's jaw clenched. "And I want to avoid that if at all possible, because …" He cut a glance toward the path where it wound around the next turn, and even though there was no sign of the other officers, he lowered his voice. "Things were not good. I didn't tell her this, but I was getting some brain wave and respiratory readings that I really didn't like. I don't want that happening again, especially out here where I've got nothing but a tricorder and a medkit to treat it, because I can't guarantee it wouldn't be worse the next time."

Spock frowned, taking in the news. "Is it possible you may be able to isolate the cause once we reach the equipment at the base camp?"

McCoy shrugged. "Anything's possible. At this point, I just don't know."

"Is it your opinion that we should be concerned about this reaction occurring in other crew members?"

"Of course we should be concerned." The doctor rubbed at his jaw. "I just don't know how concerned. It's possible that this was a completely isolated incident, that something on the trail reacted with something specific in her blood chemistry and set her off. It's also possible that there are little seizure triggers all over the place." He sighed. "Until I isolate the cause, your guess is as good as mine."

"Indeed." Given the seriousness of the situation and McCoy's current state of mind, Spock chose to forgo his usual comeback—that Vulcans did not guess. He nodded slowly, considering how this information would affect the rest of their survey time. It could considerably curtail their activities, but McCoy was correct—until they knew for certain exactly how widespread the danger might be, they could little afford to take chances. "I will alert the base team."

"What are you going to tell them?"

It was a good question. "I am not yet certain. However, generalized precautions and a medkit with each team would be wise."

"Yes, it would."

"Thank you, Doctor." Spock quirked a dry eyebrow. "I am honored."

"Go jump off a cliff, you green-blooded—"

"I was under the impression that was an eventuality you were anxious to avoid."

McCoy tensed, and eyed the trail's edge and the narrow wooden railing. "Right."

Spock considered his companion. "Your decision to suggest the cliff trail despite your own phobia was … of the highest ethical standards, and surprisingly logical."

"Ha. Don't do me any favors."

"Indeed? I was about to suggest a possible solution. However, if you—"

"What kind of solution?" McCoy squinted suspiciously. "Because, I've pretty much already emptied every anti-anxiety hypo I had with me, so if you've got something else …"

"Do you recall the incident with the Melkotians, Doctor?"

McCoy frowned, thinking back. Spock saw the exact moment that the OK Corral appeared in the doctor's eyes. McCoy turned a glare on him. "Oh, no …"

"It would be more than possible to—"

"You're saying that you could …" McCoy trailed off, and blew out a deep breath. He was obviously reconsidering, and Spock remained silent, allowing him the space to do so. Finally, McCoy rubbed at his forehead. "Wouldn't it be dangerous to convince my mind that the cliff's edge was safe?"

"It would indeed. However, I could not do so in any case, as I am only able to convince your mind of that which I believe myself. I do not believe the cliff edge to be safe—however, I do view it as a … minor hazard which can be safely negotiated with the appropriate amount of caution." The doctor nodded, silently. Spock waited, and when McCoy did not speak, continued. "I understand that mind melds are not a procedure with which you are typically comfortable, Doctor. However, we will not reach the trail's end until mid-morning tomorrow, at the earliest. Surely you do not wish to continue in this manner for an entire day longer." It took little effort to dry his voice. "I quite assure you, the rest of us do not."

McCoy actually coughed out a laugh—a promising sign, Spock hoped. "No, I'm sure you don't." He shook his head. "Sorry about that, by the way. It's just ... it was either that, or be a petrified mess this whole time."

"I believe you have been that, in any case."

"Thanks."

"There was no need to hide it. It is not an unusual fear."

"No, I know, but …" McCoy shrugged, and moved on. It was obvious that he did not wish to discuss the matter in depth. "Will this be … permanent?"

"Unfortunately, we do not have the time required to ensure a lasting change. It will, however, continue for more than enough time for us to reach the main camp."

"Right." The doctor leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes. "I hate this idea."

"I am aware, Doctor." Spock stepped closer. "Would you like me to proceed?"

"Yes, blast it all." There was very little rancor in McCoy's voice, simply a weary acceptance. Spock moved in, and was about to initiate contact when McCoy's eyes popped open again. "Nobody hears about this, right, Spock? If it gets out that I needed Vulcan mind voodoo to walk a twenty-foot wide trail back to camp, I—"

"Indeed, Doctor." Spock suppressed a flash of completely illogical humor at the doctor's ridiculous worry, and spread his fingers over McCoy's face, carefully connecting to each of the appropriate contact points. "My lips, as you would say, are sealed."

Chapter Text

"Dr. McCoy!"

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.

"Mr. Spock."

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.

"Lieutenant?"

"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.

"Commander…"

"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.

"Stay back!"

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.

"Doctor McCoy!"

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—"

"Toby."

"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."