"I'm sorry, Spock. There was really nothing I could do."
Spock nodded wordlessly and stared at the bed, his eyes locked onto a sheet-covered lumpy form.
McCoy didn't have any snide remarks for once. He just placed a hand on Spock's shoulder and squeezed. "Are you okay?"
Spock nodded again. It wasn't his first brush with death by any means, and every death was sobering. But this… This was more than mere compassion for another's suffering, more than regret at the loss of a life. This was grief, and it gnawed at his soul.
"Are you sure?" McCoy asked. "It's okay if you're not. I know you were fond of her."
Spock didn't trust his voice to remain steady, so he only nodded again. She looked so small, so fragile. There was a part of him that longed to pull the sheet back and look at her one more time, but there was an equal part that didn't want to see. If he didn't see, it might not be real. If he didn't see, he didn't have to believe it.
"Nurse, call the Captain down here please."
"Right away, sir."
McCoy moved a chair next to the bed and gently pushed Spock into it. "Jim will be here in a few minutes," he said. "Can I get you something? Something to drink?"
Spock shook his head, his eyes still on the sheet.
"Do you want to see her?" McCoy asked, reaching for the edge of the sheet. He hesitated, watching Spock's face for any clue, but Spock gave none. McCoy pulled the sheet back.
She looked like she was sleeping. Spock watched her, waiting for her eyes to open, waiting for her to breathe. Waiting for McCoy to grin and tell him it was all just a grim joke. But McCoy wasn't smiling, and his eyes were bright behind a sheen of unshed tears. And she wasn't moving, she just lay there, silent and unmoving, the life gone from her delicate body.
"You can touch her if you like," McCoy said. "She's still warm. See, look?" He reached out and skimmed his fingertips behind her ears.
Spock silently willed her to move, but she didn't.
"Say something," McCoy pleaded. "Do something. Don't just sit there with that blank look on your face."
He was dimly aware that the door slid open, and he heard footsteps approach him from behind. McCoy stood and met Jim halfway.
"What happened?" Jim asked.
McCoy gestured to the bed and Jim looked, then swallowed hard and looked at Spock.
"If I'd known he was going to take it like this, I'd have called you before I told him," McCoy said in a low undertone. "Seriously, Jim. You'd think that was his mother in that bed."
"I can hear you, doctor," Spock said softly.
McCoy looked at Jim, who edged closer to Spock and knelt in front of him. "Are you going to be all right?"
Jim reached up to grasp Spock's face and turn it towards him. "Look at me, Spock," he commanded. "I am sorry. I do know how you feel right now."
Did he? Could he? Spock stared at Jim, wondering if he had the slightest idea how he was feeling. He had lost so much in the past year, but those had been mind-numbing blows. That pain was too much to endure—the shock of it had anesthetized him to the worst of it, and even all these months later he had not fully come to terms with the fact that his homeworld and everyone and everything on it simply no longer existed. It was too much to process, to much to understand, and no matter how many times he relived those few minutes in his nightmares, there was some kernel of delusion buried deep within his brain that refused to believe that the reality was any more real than the nightmares.
But this-- he had no choice but to accept it. It was right there in front of him. He couldn't deny it.
"Spock," Jim whispered, pulling him against his chest. "Why don't you take the rest of the day off? I'll put you down for bereavement."
Spock nodded, pulling away. He appreciated the gesture. He knew that bereavement wasn't meant to apply to pets.
"Do you know that she adored you?" Jim asked. "You were her hero."
"To what end?" Spock asked bitterly.
Jim looked at McCoy. "Did she suffer?" he asked.
McCoy shook his head. "No. She just went to sleep."
"If you hadn't taken her," Jim told Spock, "she would have died months ago, and in agony. You gave her a wonderful gift."
Spock knew that Jim was right, but it didn't soothe the pain he felt at her loss.
"Come on," Jim said, standing and extending his hand. "Let's go back to your quarters and you can lie down for a while—"
"I would prefer not to go back to my quarters," Spock said.
"Then why don't you lie down in mine?" Jim said firmly. "Come on."
Spock allowed Jim to steer him to his quarters without protest, but when Jim indicated the bed, Spock shook his head. "I do not wish to lie down."
"Will you drink some tea if I bring you a cup?" Jim asked.
"I simply need to meditate. I need to master this… this…"
"Grief," Jim supplied. He slid his arms around Spock and pulled him close, swaying gently. "Why master it?" he asked. "Just let it out."
Tempting. It was so very tempting, but this grief was only a fraction of the heavy mass that weighed down his heart.
"Now is not the time to succumb to my emotions," Spock replied. "I need to master them."
"All right, but promise me something?"
"Promise me that 'mastering' your emotions doesn't mean purging yourself of them. Promise you're not going to talk yourself into never loving again."
"She was a rodent."
"Valdena," Jim stressed, "was a pet."
Spock didn't look at him.
"So, what if I die tomorrow? Is your eulogy for me going to be 'He was an ape'?"
Spock tried to tune him out. He didn't want to think of Jim dying. Jim refused to be shut out.
"It doesn't make you less a person to mourn for a rodent. It makes you more a person to have loved one."
Jim opened his arms and Spock came to him, resting his head against his shoulder, conceding that he was right. He grieved for the loss of a small, rabbit-like creature that had no place on a starship, but a place in his heart.