McCoy had not expected the message. Dead men do not stay in touch, and as he had assumed him to be dead, there had been no reason to expect it. Still one day, after two years of silence, it had lit up on his comm console, and now he was on an interstellar cruiser, attempting to be as argumentative and nasty towards the stewards as possible in the hope that they would leave him alone. He did not want to be waited upon, just as little as he wanted to undertake this journey. The appearance age had given him, of a bent old man with white hair, was one he despised, because it made people imagine that he needed help and would not mind being pampered. Trying to compensate for that, he attempted to be as contrary as he could muster. These kinds of cruisers had become much faster now than when he first went into space; the journey only took four days now, and it was much more comfortable than he imagined it would be. Still, he would not let anyone imagine he was pleased, least of all his waiting host. Two days into the journey, he realised that he could have ignored the invitation or sent an answer telling him what he thought he could do with his logic and his “sincere wishes” for all he cared, and from there he could have continued his life as before, however unsatisfying it was. Possibly, despite all the bitterness and cynicism, loneliness had driven him here, as loneliness had driven him to the stars the first time. He still did not comprehend the tug of those burning masses of gas or of the void they existed in. Even now, after decades of retirement, he felt their gravity pulling at him, and still he knew that his urge to travel the stars had been small in comparison with some others’. Can’t be natural, he thought to himself as he battled against the feeling of fearsome exhilaration at the shaking of the engine.
When the cruiser finally arrived and they were transported to the surface by shuttle, there were no familiar faces waiting for him, only a stony, uniformed driver who explained that the Ambassador was unable to come to bid him welcome. In fact, his host did not show himself for the entire day, but the only people McCoy met were nameless staff who did their utmost to make him feel comfortable. He despised the discrete bribery, especially considering how well it was done. After listing all the things he would accuse the man when he saw him, he fell asleep, better than he ever thought he would outside his own home.
He had breakfast on his own the next morning. The day seemed as if it would become very hot indeed towards noon, but now the temperature was acceptable even for a human. While the old doctor sat looking out of the large window, eating his breakfast, the door opened and there were approaching footsteps. When the guest looked up, they stopped, and he tried to decide where he should start.
‘Well,’ he said curtly, looking at the Vulcan who stood in the middle of the room.
‘I assume that you will threaten me with physical violence,’ Spock said, his face unmoving. He had certainly aged during these two years – the lines in his face had deepened, his eyes had darkened and his hands grown even thinner – but all the same he looked better than he had the last time they met.
‘You have some nerve, don’t you?’ McCoy hissed. ‘I should strike you, if I weren’t so damned weak nowadays.’ Something flickered in Spock’s eyes, but his face remained unmoving.
‘I do not see a reason for such extremes between friends, Doctor.’
‘I don’t count cowards among my friends, Ambassador,’ he retorted. The Vulcan inclined his head and said after a moment’s thought:
‘May I explain why I asked you to come to see me?’
‘You’d better have a damned good reason,’ McCoy said, but, arranging the cutlery and wiping his lips, he stood. With a nod, Spock nodded towards the door.
‘Let us go outside – the weather is relatively mild.’
He led him through the winding corridors of the house until they reached a set of doors, which let in the red light of the sun when he opened them. They descended the steps, McCoy slower than only a year ago.
‘Where’s your father?’ he asked, looking around the garden they were in now.
‘On a diplomatic mission to Nausicaa,’ Spock answered. ‘In his absence, I am the master of the house. Doctor, if you would walk with me?’
The pace they picked was slow, but he did not speak yet and seemed unaware of McCoy’s gaze burning into him. At last, he stopped and crouched down slowly to align himself with one of the plants.
‘This garden was my mother’s innovation,’ he said quietly. ‘She made my father import Terran roses, among them this plant. Since I came to live here, I have tended them.’ His hand had been wandering over the plant, finally coming to palm one of the tiny flowers. For a moment he watched it solemnly in silence. ‘You know, Doctor, that I have always had… trouble accepting my human heritage.’
‘Not always,’ McCoy interjected quickly.
‘No, not always,’ he admitted, standing up again and turning his back to him. ‘But for many years, it was something shameful. You must understand, Doctor, that this is a genuine feeling, not mere… foolishness.’
‘I don’t think you’ll convince me about anything to do with genuine feelings,’ he said venomously. Spock turned, looking quizzically at him.
‘What is your meaning?’
‘You’ve never been able to accept your emotions – you’ve always seen them as something alien – something diseased.’
‘As you yourself said, not always,’ the Vulcan said in a measured tone. ‘There are feelings I have accepted whole-heartedly.’
‘They’ve never seemed to matter that much to you. As soon as they get too acute, you run,’ he pointed out. At that, Spock actually sighed.
‘Doctor McCoy, I do not believe you quite understand me,’ he said, turning to him, his eyes sincere. ‘I loved Jim. There was never any doubt about that.’ A part of McCoy wanted to say, yes, I know that – I’ve never doubted it, while another wanted to say, I believed it until you did what you did.
‘Do you think that makes what you did all right?’ Spock averted his eyes and looked over the desert stretching out beneath the cliff the house was perched on instead. They were silent for a long time. ‘You know, most of us do not have two identities, so we can just swap when something bad happens – claim that that isn’t me, and go off to a safe, protected life again.’
‘Is that truly what you think I did?’ Spock asked.
‘That’s exactly what you did.’
‘My reasons… were clear,’ he said stoically. ‘I explained them well.’
‘You didn’t need this logic mumbo-jumbo,’ McCoy snorted. ‘You needed therapy.’
‘You show surprising ignorance, Doctor,’ Spock pointed out. ‘I am a telepathic creature, and I had suffered telepathic trauma. Thus it was only logical…’
‘Damn logic! It’s not about the telepathic trauma, you idiot,’ he shouted, not able to keep his calm anymore. ‘It’s not just some technicality of a broken bond. You were mourning, didn’t you understand that? And you couldn’t handle even that natural emotional process, and you made it into something morbid?’ The Vulcan looked down, and for a moment he seemed almost human.
‘Of course I was aware of that,’ he said at last. ‘I followed the only way open to me.’
‘Eradicating all emotion?’
‘It was too painful. I have never learnt to deal with such things.’ He seemed to hesitate, then added: ‘Not when Jim has not been there to help me.’
‘See, that’s part of the problem,’ McCoy said, and realizing they would be staying here for quite some time, he moved to a stone-bench in the shadows nearby. ‘You could never let yourself be human when Jim wasn’t a part of the equation. That’s projection, you know – letting his humanity be yours.’
‘Yes,’ Spock sighed. ‘You are quite right. Please, Doctor McCoy, if I may explain… It is after all the reason why I asked to you to come here.’ The elderly doctor was silent for a moment, then said:
‘I thought you were dead, do you know that?’ When Spock had left Earth, he had seemed in a bad enough state for it to lead there. McCoy had never seen grief take such a toll on anyone; it had seemed to etch itself into every line in his face, it seeped into his voice and infected his blood and his mind. Not a broken man –a shattered one, McCoy had thought of him as. The man standing a few feet from him now was not shattered, but cracks stills seemed to run in his being. He had not yet rid himself of the absence by his side. When he did not answer, McCoy said: ‘I guess you failed the Kolinahr again?’
‘No,’ Spock said, coming to sit down on the stone bench as well. ‘I was quite successful.’ The human surveyed him.
‘I see you still have emotions, Spock, however good you might be at hiding them,’ he said.
‘It will take some explanation,’ he said, and, after pausing for a moment, he spoke. ‘Jim’s death… shook me deeper than anything has ever done. You are right that it was not only the trauma of the bond being broken. It was deeper even than that.’ He turned half towards him, but did not look at him; instead, he stared towards the desert. When he spoke again, there was emotion in his voice. ‘It was beyond anything I can explain. It tore at my very being. Seeing him in such pain… and that pain was at last the only thing which seemed to define him. I assume, Doctor, that you would say that it was a grace that he died and did not have to suffer more. I should be grateful. Part of me was, and I hated that I could wish death upon him. Part of me was not, and I hated that I could wish pain upon him.
‘Fifty-two years, Doctor. Fifty-two years, four months, seventeen days since we bonded. I could tell you the exact percentage of the days I have lived which I have spent in his company… and suddenly I knew that the percentage from that point would only decrease. I have never known such sincerity as with him, and now…’ He fell silent. ‘It is beyond comprehension. I am a scientist, Doctor – I require understanding, and this was something far too great for me to understand. It was only a question of whether it would ruin me before I ruined myself.’
‘But it didn’t,’ McCoy said after a moment of silence.
‘It did not,’ Spock said, closing his eyes now. ‘I knew that my only chance for survival was the Kolinahr. It was not an easy choice, but the only alternative was emotional chaos, madness… and death. At that point, Doctor, I was quite capable of suicide. It felt equally logical.’
‘So you went to Gol,’ McCoy offered, feeling disquiet at Spock’s honesty. He had no idea what had happened to him beyond that point, but whatever it was, it must have scarred him deeply if he was willing to share it this way.
‘Yes. The Masters thought I would never be able to achieve Kolinahr – I was too old, too… prone to emotion. To them, emotion is a substance which induces dependency rather than anything else. And then, of course, there was the bond. It complicated matters further.’ He pressed his eyes shut again. ‘You are of course familiar with the phenomenon of phantom pains in amputees, Doctor.’ He did not wait for an answer. ‘At times I still felt the bond, as if it were unbroken. Sometimes, there would be sensations or thoughts, even – sometimes… only pain, but whether a memory of Jim’s, or my own...’ McCoy bit his lip.
‘Why didn’t you mention that before?’ he asked.
‘I am not certain,’ Spock admitted. ‘Possibly as the bond is a very personal thing – I am not used to speaking of it. Even with Jim, I seldom spoke of it. Even now…’
‘Does it still hurt?’ There was a minute nod.
‘You make me digress, Doctor,’ he then said. ‘The Masters and the other disciples did not think I would be successful, and at times I thought they were correct. Still, I continued.
‘It took me five Vulcan seasons to reach my goal, but then… I succeeded.’ He went silent, and McCoy realised that he was holding his breath, as if in anticipation.
‘How did it feel?’ he asked in a hushed voice. Something reminiscent of amusement flitted over the Vulcan’s face.
‘Feel? I did not feel at all, Doctor. I would like to say I felt relief, but there was not even that. Only… logic. In retrospect, there was something quite beautiful about it, but at the time, I had no sense of aesthetics, or of pain or love or any of the things I had been dominated by.
‘They call it the Time of Truth. The name is not misleading. I saw the web of the universe, and saw that I myself and my pain were so small, so inconsequential…. Everything which did not adhere to logic lost its importance. I was aware of it, but I did not heed it. I was set free from all those things.’ Once again there was silence.
‘I stayed at Gol another two seasons,’ Spock continued. ‘True disciples of the Kolinahr often isolate themselves, to meditate and practice logic with undivided concentration. I should have followed suit, of course. I wish I could say it was an emotional urge which made me leave, but it was perfectly logical. I had not communicated with my father for a long time, so with the permission of the Masters, I left Gol to see him.
‘I wonder what I expected – I cannot remember now. At least not the welcome I found. You see, Doctor McCoy, I had always thought that my father had practiced the Kolinahr in his youth and kept to its principles. He always seemed to perfectly logical to me. But then…. I arrived, and when he came to greet me… There was true pain in his face, and the first thing he said was, “I grieve with thee, my son.”
Spock shifted a little and then stood up, but did not step away from the bench. The red sunlight danced over his face, casting it in sharp relief. There was no mistaking the grief lingering in his features.
‘It seemed wrong,’ he said last. ‘Illogical. He knew the pain which I did not have any longer. And I realised that the reason why he knew my pain was that he had felt it himself. Even if my mother had been dead for so many years, he still carried that grief. But I did not share in his grief – not even in the shape of my own.’ He looked at McCoy for the first time since he began his explanation. ‘It takes a logical reason to break the Kolinahr, once it has been achieved. Simple longing for emotion would never have penetrated my mind. But the fact that someone else suffered in my stead – and suffered for me and my inability to feel that pain – was enough. I returned soon afterwards, and the Masters gave their consent. Possibly, they were not surprised – they did not imagine me as someone of great resolve.’
‘How do you break the Kolinahr?’ McCoy asked.
‘Much as it is achieved,’ Spock answered. ‘Deep meditation, fasting, strength of mind… But there must be someone to guide the subject. It is easy to wander and be utterly ruined by such a thing.’
‘Sarek?’ The Vulcan nodded.
‘My father and I have not always… seen eye to eye, especially not since he remarried. Still, he volunteered to help me, and there was no one else. I was gratified – if I could even be such a thing in my state. It was by no means an easy process. My shields were very strong, and, possibly as a result of that, my mind was weak. Those shields had kept me alive, and taking them away, necessary as it was…
‘It should have been a gradual process. I do not know whether something went wrong, or whether my mind simply functioned in another way – because of slight differences from full Vulcans or because of my recent experiences – but when I finally managed to dismantle a part of the principles I had engrained so deeply in my mind, the others broke down, almost without warning.’ He looked down, as if ashamed.
‘My emotional conduct when they broke was… disgusting. As it happened, I almost hoped my father would not bear it, but reject me again. He did not. In fact, he surprised me at his tolerance of my display of emotion. Understand, Doctor McCoy, that not only the newest, strongest shields were overcome. All shields, even those I have had since I was a child, broke. I had no restraint left.’ Spock turned and looked at him meaningfully, and McCoy tried to imagine the man completely out of control. It was a frightening thought.
‘What happened?’ he asked at last. Spock looked away again.
‘Everything I had ever felt assaulted me. Most of all the sorrow, which I had never let myself face. I lay there, overcome and… weeping – in much worse state, even, than after Jim died. And my father…’ He cut himself off, and McCoy wondered whether his voice had hitched for a moment. The Vulcan centered himself and continued. ‘My father,’ he said, swallowing, ‘did something he had never done before. Something so human it shocked even me.’ Once again he paused, and he was silent for such a long time, the listener started to doubt whether he would continue. Still, he continued.
‘He embraced me. He… held me, even while all those emotions ran amok within me. He willingly shared them with me. Even now, I… cannot understand his actions.’ As if to mark the end of his story, he sat down again, gaze wandering over the empty garden and hand resting on his chest.
‘And now?’ McCoy asked after some time.
‘I am attempting to… recover.’ He seemed to fumble for the word, as if he did not know what to call it. ‘To rebuild my shields. Now, I am at least functional. That is why I contacted you - I felt I would be able to explain. Still I am far from restored. I doubt I will ever be.’
They were silent for a long time, both watching the sun slowly climbing the sky. The heat was getting worse, but McCoy wanted to finish the conversation here.
‘Your father remarried because of logic,’ he pointed out. ‘It was a matter of survival. You’ll have to do the same, come a few years.’ Spock looked away, his hand still lingering on his sternum.
‘No. That is impossible.’
‘You’ll have to, or at least find someone.’ When he still did not answer, McCoy shifted and said: ‘It’s only about bodies, Spock – a simple urge to reproduce which needs to be gotten rid of. It’s easily done. There must be someone.’
‘You do not understand, doctor McCoy,’ Spock said, interrupting him. ‘I could never remarry. I should never wish to do so. As for when biology makes it necessary… that will be another question.’
‘You can’t just let it kill you,’ McCoy insisted, but was silenced by the look Spock gave him.
‘Doctor, you are quite mistaken when you claim it is merely a reproductive urge to be dealt with. Pon farr, however unpleasant, is more than that. It is a meeting of minds, or should be. It is nothing I could take as lightly as you suggest, and there is no-one, no-one at all, whom I could even consider to replace Jim, be it only for one night.’ McCoy sighed.
‘Well,’ he said with a shrug, consoling himself with that there were still a few years left until Spock needed to make up his mind, and hopefully at that point, logic would once again be a possible tool of argument. Deciding that it was useless to press further, he pushed it to the back of his mind and started to ponder what he had been told instead. When he looked at the Vulcan sitting beside him, what he saw was someone only barely bearing his toils, still worryingly shaken. Then again, he reflected, some people mourned for much more than two years. Some people mourned their entire lives. Still, it was not logical, and McCoy thought that it would take longer before Spock truly became the person he had been before this. Despite that his thin frame still gave the impression of someone who was emotionally unstable, the doctor thought he saw some kind of sincerity in Spock. It was as if the pain had taken Jim’s place, joining with him in some kind of morbid symbiosis. Perhaps that was enough to satisfy Spock’s self-destructive urge, which he had always had to some extent. He had always seemed far too ready to put himself in harm’s way for Jim’s sake, and possibly he was still doing it, torturing himself on the memory of the man he had loved.
Now, he noticed that Spock moved. The hand which he had held against his chest wandered upwards, and he slid his fingers under the collar of his robe. When they reemerged, they were holding a chain, which he seized and drew out and then over his head. Now, McCoy saw that on the chain, there hung a circular pendant. Spock caught it in his palm, his grip tender but possessive, and watched it as he wound the chain around his hand. The human looked on for a long time in silence, but just when he was about to ask about the unfamiliar object, the Vulcan spoke.
‘Jim was the only person who insisted on celebrating my birthday, even if it is not a Vulcan custom, and he always claimed to hate his own birthdays. But this…’ He grazed the pendant with his free hand. ‘He gave it to me the twenty-eighth of April – the anniversary not of my birth, but of when he found me on Genesis. The twenty-eighth of April 2326, the same year he…’ His voice faltered; this time there was no doubt about it.
‘What is it?’ McCoy asked, finding the polished pendant suddenly mesmerising.
‘A message,’ he said. ‘Him… speaking. Nothing more. When I regained some portion of control after my shields were broken, the first new emotion I felt was fear, that I had discarded it somewhere. I had not. I have made a habit of always wearing it – a piece of the true Jim, and not some phantom created by my own pain.’ Then he seemed to snap into attention. ‘I am sorry, Doctor McCoy. I should not have presented it. I could never show it to anyone else.’ McCoy acted on impulse. Without reflecting on whether it would be welcome or even proper, he extended his own hand and, coming to cover the pendant, he gently closed Spock’s fingers around the object.
‘Then don’t,’ he said, keeping his hand there for a moment before drawing back. When he did, he uttered some silent farewell to Jim, as if this indeed was a part of him. ‘Keep it to yourself – God knows that you if anyone would need it.’ Spock nodded, his face remaining concentrated. For a minute, McCoy thought he had lapsed into some light meditative state, but then he noticed something catching the sunlight. The man blinked, and a tear released itself from his eyelashes. In silence, he watched as it trailed down his cheek, running in the lines of the skin light the remains of rain seeking a dried-out river-bed. That was all there was, and still it struck McCoy that that was the greatest show of emotion he had seen from the Vulcan. When he found his voice again, he said:
‘I’m sorry, Spock – I truly am.’ Spock did not answer, but only inclined his head, as if acknowledging his presence. They remained sitting on the bench in the rose-garden, silence taking the place of the absence between them, until the sun reached the highest point in the sky.