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Story Notes:

A sequel/companion story to All That We Can Be, Not just What We Are.  (Starts before the events of that fic.)

 

- — - — - — - — -


"That went swimmingly well," McCoy observes darkly as the door shuts, signaling the exit of Yeoman Hart—the last crewman who needed patching up after today's debacle of an away mission.  Spock stands out of his line of sight, silent and unhelpful and now the only other person in sickbay.

"You know," McCoy continues, keeping his voice deceptively conversational as he cleans and puts away his implements.  "For any other officer I'd say walking into that trap was a completely understandable mistake."

Spock still doesn't respond, and McCoy risks a glance.  The Vulcan stands at rigid attention.  It isn't an unusual pose—stiff-necked and stubborn as he is—but there's something off about him that McCoy can't place.  Something he would almost describe as nerves, which is at complete odds with the first officer's usual smug, cool aura.

"Don't think for a second you're fooling me," McCoy says, and he crosses his arms as he turns to face Spock.  "I've had my eye on you for more than a week now.  You're downright restive, Spock, and near as I can tell you haven't eaten in three days.  Even for a Vulcan that can't be good." 

"Do you have a point, Doctor?"

McCoy wants to roll his eyes, but he quirks an eyebrow instead.  It's less effort, plus is has the advantage of looking more professional.  Just once he'd like someone to come to him before there's a problem.  He holds his irritation in check as he says, "The only reason I haven't said anything is that it didn't seem to be interfering with your duties."

"And you are no longer confident in that assessment."

"Tell me different."

Spock watches him silently instead, not offering so much as a word of explanation.

"Let's play a game, Spock."  McCoy takes a step forward, even though instinct tells him to keep his distance.  He reminds those instincts that he's a doctor, thank you, and Spock may well be a patient in need.  "Let's pretend I'm the chief medical officer and you're a member of this crew exhibiting strange symptoms and erratic behavior.  You don't want to talk?  Fine.  But at least get on that table and let me examine you."

For a moment Spock looks like he might bolt.  His eyes widen a fraction, his nostrils flaring in an expression that looks almost human, and then it all disappears.  Hidden behind a wall of apathy that's as sterile as the sickbay walls and as convincing as McCoy's ex-wife's poker face.

"An examination will be unnecessary, Doctor," says Spock.  "I am already aware of what ails me."

Perfect, thinks McCoy, and doesn't bother trying to conceal his displeasure.  His lips purse in disapproval, and he raises an eyebrow that could challenge Spock's own quizzical default.

When clarification isn't immediately forthcoming, he says, "Go on, then. I'm overcome with anticipation."  'Just idle curiosity,' he almost adds.  'It's not like that kind of information would help me perform my basic duties or anything.'  Spock's posture stiffens further, a feat McCoy would've thought impossible.

"You have, I assume, reviewed Starfleet's updated medical file on Vulcan physiology?" Spock asks.

"Of course I have."  McCoy schools his features into his most neutral expression: the unbiased, attentive look that puts nervous patients at ease and conveys the message 'I'm a doctor, I'm on your side, let me help you.'  He's right on the verge of necessary information, and he needs to approach it analytically.  Clinically.  Not in the grips of lingering annoyance.  His voice is neutral as he says, "It's still a little sparse."

"Nonetheless you will find your answers there.  I do not wish to discuss the matter further.  It is called 'Pon Farr'."

"Oh hell," McCoy mutters.  There are plenty more colorful words he'd rather use. 

He'll save those for his log.  In the meantime, he's got some research to review.

 

- — - — - — - — -



McCoy considers ordering Spock confined to quarters, but in the end he lets the Vulcan leave sickbay with a modicum of his dignity intact.  It's a gamble, especially given what he knows, but he also knows that order shouldn't come from him.  It's not his place.

"McCoy to Kirk," he says, hand steady on the control panel as he contacts the captain, already bracing himself for an unpleasant briefing.  "Sir, I need to see you in my office."

 

- — - — - — - — -



It's well into third shift by the time he finishes filling Kirk in on everything he knows about Vulcan biology—which seems like next to nothing, and he can't help feeling that he's letting Jim down.  Even facing extinction—and well aware of the need for other Federation physicians to be versed in their physiology—Vulcans have proven reluctant to divulge any more than the bare basics on certain sensitive topics. 

He gives Kirk every scrap of information he has, and it still sums up to barely more than 'Sorry, sir, your first officer is in heat.  There's nothing I can do for him.  He might die, by the way.'  Which is helpful information.  Really something Jim will be able to work with.  McCoy clasps his hands behind his back and tries to shake the feeling of futility from his skin.

"How long does he have, Bones?"

"I wish I knew.  He's as tight-lipped a Vulcan as I've ever known."  McCoy can already see the spark behind Kirk's eyes that reflects the captain's brilliant strategic brain at work, trying to process the meager information and turn it into a plan.  "Jim, there's got to be more to it.  There must be a way I could help him, if I just had more information.  The medical file is incomplete, and Spock won't talk to me.  Maybe if you were the one to ask him…"

"Consider it done," Kirk says with a decisive nod. 

McCoy doesn't know why instead of relief there's a settling dread in his gut as he watches the captain turn and retreat through the hissing sickbay doors.

 

- — - — - — - — -



He knows he should call it a night once Kirk has gone.  Thanks to the mission crisis, he's worked through two full shifts and is edging into a third—he needs to crash.  But it feels like having a patient on the operating table, and he's bitterly helpless against the energy keeping him awake.  He works through the next week's duty roster to pass the time, then does inventory ahead of schedule for the first time in weeks. 

Nurse Chapel finally kicks him out, when she walks in and finds him there at the start of the next shift.  She cites a whole list of regulations at him, with an eyebrow quirked the entire time that says 'You know better than this, Doctor'.

McCoy glowers but grudgingly caves to protocol.  He gets himself back to his quarters and lies down, knowing full well that he won't doze off.  After listening to his chronometer tick away for twenty minutes, he finally doses himself with a mild sedative. 

If his sleep is doped and dreamless, at least his body gets some rest.

 

- — - — - — - — -



First shift is giving way to second when he returns to duty, and McCoy discovers a new conundrum: there's no discreet way to contact the captain to ask if he's spoken with Spock.  Kirk will be on the bridge at this hour, surrounded by crew.  McCoy could just call and ask for another meeting, but the last thing he wants is to drag the man away from his post if there's nothing new to discuss.

He's about to do it anyway, when the object of his concern makes the question moot by walking into his office.  Spock looks cool and collected, calm in a way he hasn't for days, and he stands at attentive ease in front of McCoy's desk.

"You look chipper," McCoy observes dryly, not ready to trust the hinting sense of relief. 

"Doctor, with your permission I would like to return to active duty."

"You sure you're up to that?"  McCoy stands slowly, never breaking eye contact, but Spock's face holds impassive and unreadable.

"My condition has stabilized," is all Spock says.

"I'll need to run some tests before I can clear you for duty."  McCoy moves around him, towards the door and the rest of sickbay, but he already knows what the tests will say.  He's going to approve Spock's request.  Spock is standing there steady and healthy and completely competent to return to his post.

Leaving McCoy with nothing but his desperate curiosity to know how, and only one person to ask.

 

- — - — - — - — -



It shouldn't be difficult to catch Jim alone, but the man seems to be actively avoiding him.  It's one excuse after another until McCoy finally corners him in the captain's quarters.  Kirk's eyes are dodgy, his demeanor a relaxed façade over a pit of unease that McCoy's pretty sure is contagious. 

"Bones, what can I do for you?"  Kirk drops into a slouch at the foot of his bed and starts taking off his boots, like his hands need something to keep them occupied.

"I thought you should know, I cleared Spock to return to active duty."

"I know."  Kirk gives him a look that's almost a smirk.  "Besides, he's sort of hard to miss on the bridge."

"I just wondered if you ever had that talk with him," says McCoy.  He might be imagining the nervous swallow he thinks he sees, but something tells him it's as real as this conversation.

"Yeah," Kirk says, emphasizing the affirmative with a vigorous nod.  "Yeah, I did.  I talked to him."

"And?"

"And what?  He's fine now, right?  You approved him for duty, things can get back to normal, what else do you need to know?"  Kirk's face is set in an expression of bemused bewilderment, like Bones is the one being slow here and Jim is just waiting for him to catch up.  It might even be convincing if Bones didn't know his friend so well—if he didn't recognize bullshit when it was shining behind Jim's eyes.

The captain stands suddenly, a mostly fluid motion, but McCoy is watching more carefully now—he sees deliberate focus on the man's face, belying the ease of the movement.  Suddenly the dread in his chest has a target.

"Jim, what did you do?" he asks, voice a startled, crooked whisper.  It feels too loud in the dimly lit quarters, but infinitely quieter than the disbelieving chorus of 'No way in hell' that's echoing through his head.  Because it's insanity, but his friend has had plenty of opportunities through the years to prove that yeah, he's a little insane.

Kirk's face loses the cocky smirk, dropping from arrogant grin to somber stare in the slow span of a heartbeat.  The bullshit falls away leaving an expression that's intense and genuine and completely impossible to decipher.

"I did what I had to, Bones."

"Jesus, Jim," McCoy breathes, but the captain meets his gaze steadily.  There's a challenging edge to the look on his face, a fire glinting behind his eyes.  McCoy swallows and says, "Were you planning on filling me in at some point?  I am your chief medical officer."  What he wants to say is 'You were supposed to talk to him, not fuck him.' 

And then Kirk smirks again, a familiar quirk of his lips that's all too recognizable as a deliberate shield—the blustery wall he puts up when he doesn't want to show his hand.  "Had a feeling you might disapprove, Doctor." 

McCoy knows the use of his title—now of all times—is meant to piss him off, and it comes damn close to succeeding.

"Are you…?"  'Okay? McCoy wants to ask, but he trails off when it occurs to him there's no point.  Kirk would never put his ship at risk by avoiding sickbay if he were seriously injured, and for anything short of serious he'll probably refuse treatment on principal.  McCoy won't get any useful answers by asking if his captain is all right, so he closes his mouth and lets his face convey the concern for him.

The silence is stubborn and heavy, and he tries to ignore the sting that comes from knowing Jim wasn't going to tell him about this—as a doctor or as a friend.  It twinges like betrayal, and he forces himself to meet Kirk's stare.

"Are we done here?" Kirk finally asks.

"Yeah."  McCoy takes a step back and doesn't know what else he can say.  "Yeah, we're done."  He turns to make his retreat, wishing he could be instantly on the other side of that door instead of having to cross the space on foot.

"Bones," Kirk interrupts.  McCoy almost doesn't turn around, but there's a softer note to the captain's voice, and it halts him mid-step.  When he turns, he finds a new expression on Kirk's face, sheepish and apologetic.  "I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

"Don't let it happen again," says McCoy, moderately placated.  Wry humor has crept into his words unbidden.  "You make my job hard enough as it is.  Last thing I need is for you to start keeping things like this to yourself." 

Kirk smiles, and if it's not a promise then at least it's a compromise.

 

- — - — - — - — -



It's two days later that an uglier thought occurs to McCoy.

He can't afford to think about it at the time, because they're smack in the middle of an emergency mission to aid an unstable world.  The Enterprise is on red alert, the entire crew in crisis mode, and the doctor's brain is busy with more important things like medical triage.  There are dozens of wounded from the planet's surface, and even with reserve personnel pitching in, sickbay is nearly overrun with patients.

It's not until hours later, when the stabilization of the planet has been noted in the ship's logs and the Enterprise is en route to the nearest starbase for maintenance, that McCoy is able to revisit the idea.  It's an ugly suspicion, a fear that hits him out of nowhere—bolstered as he thinks back and remembers the deliberate care behind Kirk's movements when the captain told him what happened with Spock.  When Jim didn't tell him what happened with Spock, McCoy realizes with a jolt.

He doesn't like the conclusions he finds himself reaching. 

It's an imbalanced equation.  Vulcan strength.  Human frailty.  A need mounting to madness on the one hand, and on the other a captain that barely knows how to admit when he's hurt. 

"Damn it, Jim," McCoy mutters into his empty quarters. 

He spends the next couple of days watching carefully, and trying like hell to be discreet about it.  They reach Starbase Seven on schedule, and the Enterprise is left jarringly quiet with most of the crew taking advantage of the station facilities. 

He could corner Kirk now.  Ask him to confirm or deny and put the entire mess of questions to rest once and for all.

In the empty officer's mess he sits at a table across from the captain and asks, "How are you feeling, Jim?" 

Kirk just looks at him like he's crazy and says, "I'm fine, Bones.  How's your chicken soup?"

On deck five, just outside sickbay, McCoy tries not to ask again, but can't quite help it.

"I feel fine," Kirk tells him again, but this time there's sympathetic concern in his eyes.  "Is everything okay?"  Which is exactly what McCoy needs: the captain worrying about him

On the barren, inactive bridge McCoy catches himself staring.  He's not fast enough to look away, and he's sure his face when he's caught is just shining with all the frustrated worry he's been storing up.

"If you're trying to test whether I've spontaneously developed telepathy, the answer is no," says Kirk.  "And you're starting to freak me out.  Stop looking at me like you're about to diagnose me with some horrible disease."

"I'm your doctor, Jim.  I'm entitled to be concerned for your wellbeing." 

"My being is perfectly well, thanks."  The brush off is light, which doesn't tell McCoy  whether he should believe it.  It's definitely a cue to drop the subject, but apparently he's not following direction so well this week.

"Jim, tell me," he says.  "Honestly.  Is everything okay?"

The captain looks at him like he's sprouted an extra eye, or maybe a set of blue antennae.  "Of course it is," he says.  "Why wouldn't it be?"

It finally occurs to McCoy just how futile it is to ask.  Reality has no bearing on the answer, because Kirk could never accuse his first officer of the things McCoy suspects.  There's too much loyalty there, too many close calls and rough scrapes and near misses—a friendship and camaraderie that McCoy has seen progress from antagonism to something he's pretty sure he'll never wrap his head around.  Whatever crimes Spock may be guilty of, so long as Kirk knows no one is in danger he won't do a damn thing about it.  He sure as hell won't let McCoy step in.

So McCoy is left watching.  Trying to catch some tangible sign that something is wrong. 

He doesn't record his suspicions, not even in his supplemental log.  There will be plenty of time for that later if it turns out he's right, and at the moment he's too busy praying that he's not.

 

- — - — - — - — -



The morning they're due to depart on their next assignment, it occurs to McCoy that if Kirk won't give him a straight answer, someone else might.

He sits in his office, hesitating on the verge of making the call.  His skin itches with the discomfort of anticipation, but there's no time like the present—especially with Kirk off ship making nice with the starbase commander for the last couple of hours before departure.

McCoy finally reaches for his console, pressing the button on the left.  "Sickbay to Spock."  He hopes his voice doesn't give too much away.

"Spock here," comes the detached reply.

"Can you spare a minute, Commander?"

"Is there a problem, Doctor?" 

McCoy can't read anything from that damned calm Vulcan tone.  "You could say that.  I need to see you in my office when you've got a moment."

"Understood," says Spock, and the channel goes blank.

With no idea how long he'll have to wait, it occurs to McCoy that maybe he should have told Spock to put some rush into it.  For all he knows the Vulcan will wait until the end of the shift, and by then Jim will be back on board and the Enterprise will be riding off into its next crisis.  For his own peace of mind, McCoy would rather have this conversation with the captain completely out of the picture.

He's surprised when Spock appears only twenty minutes later, stepping almost cautiously into the sanctum of McCoy's office.  He stands there by the closed door with his hands clasped behind his back, eyeing the doctor with unflappable ease.

McCoy wonders how much of it is a front.

By the time it occurs to him that he should probably say something, Spock is already speaking, words calm and crisp as he asks, "There was something you wished to discuss with me?"

"Yes.  Please, have a seat."

"I prefer to stand," Spock responds, and that can't be good.  If he's already on the defensive, then there's nowhere for this conversation to go but downhill.  McCoy stands deliberately—no way he's going to sit there craning his neck while he tries to make his point.  He rounds his desk and leans against the front edge, crossing his arms and meeting Spock's questioning look head-on.

"Doctor," Spock says when the silence persists.  "What is it you wished to discuss?"

"I think you already know the answer to that, sir."

There's nothing in Spock's demeanor to convey discomfort.  He doesn't flinch or twitch or shift his weight from one foot to the other.  He just quirks an eyebrow and says with infuriating ease, "I would prefer not to jump to conclusions."

"You and Jim," McCoy bites out, for a moment too angry to say more.  He takes a slow breath and forces his emotions and suspicions into a manageable box, so he can approach the topic professionally.  "I need to know what happened."

"Would it not be more logical to ask the captain?"

"I'm asking you.  I already know the final score, Spock, it's the details that I need.  How else am I supposed to know what to make of this mess?" 

"Doctor McCoy.  What is it, precisely, that you are asking?"  There's deliberate caution in the question, the first tangible evidence of just how carefully the first officer is treading, and McCoy feels it like a slap in the face—it's finally too much.

"What do you think I'm asking, you green-blooded Vulcan?"  And suddenly McCoy finds himself in motion, standing and pacing and not stopping until he's right in Spock's face, his own breath rising and falling heavily in his chest.  "What did you do?" he growls, and then more calmly, "I saw him the next day, Spock.  I know he was in rough shape and hiding it.  So you tell me.  Where else am I supposed to go with that?"   

McCoy half expects Spock to say something dismissive in that cold, taunting tone of his—the one he reserves for their strongest disagreements, as if the smug superiority in his voice alone is enough to carry the logical high ground.  The tone that could almost be described as humor, if it didn't always leave McCoy wanting to hit him squarely in the face even at the best of times.

But Spock's expression remains somber.  Hard and careful and earnest, meeting McCoy head-on with a dark intensity that the doctor feels like a solid weight in his chest.

"Your conclusion is a logical one," Spock concedes, inclining his head in a quick gesture of acknowledgment.  "But it is inaccurate."

"Inaccurate," McCoy echoes.

"Yes," says Spock, and McCoy is gratified to see that there's something in the Vulcan's eyes that looks almost like discomfort—or maybe he's just projecting, because McCoy is feeling pretty discomfited himself right now.  "While you are right to inquire," Spock continues, "your concern is unnecessary.  Everything that transpired between the captain and myself was entirely consensual."

"Really."  McCoy resents his own lingering skepticism, wishes like hell he could just accept the statement at face value.  He's never known Spock to play it tricky with the truth except in dire circumstances.  But these circumstances are pretty dire, and he needs more.  He needs to be completely convinced, and this bare reassurance falls short.

"Vulcans never lie, Doctor."

"I wish that were good enough."  McCoy retreats a couple of paces, just far enough to return to perching on the edge of his desk.  Spock watches him intently, back stiff and one eyebrow high.

"I do not know how else to convince you," Spock admits.

"Swear to me," McCoy growls.  "You swear to me, on something I can believe, that whatever you took he offered willingly."

Spock's silence is heavy and considering.  Patient.  He's obviously thinking the demand through, and McCoy finds himself holding his breath.

"I swear to you on the memory of my mother," Spock says softly.  "I took nothing that was not freely given."

And now, goddamn finally, the dread dissipates.  McCoy's eyes drift shut, exhausted and relieved, and he uncrosses his arms to grip the smooth edges of his desk in both hands.  When he opens his eyes, Spock is still staring at him, perhaps waiting for some cue or dismissal. 

"Thank you, Spock," he says, for lack of anything better.  Spock's only response is a curt nod, but he doesn't move to leave.  Perhaps he can hear more of McCoy's unasked questions in the cool office air.

"So."  McCoy coughs and tries to ignore the settling cocoon of awkward that permeates the room.  "Where does that leave you two?  Medically.  Is there anything I should know?"

"No, Doctor," says Spock.  "Not so far as I am aware.  The bond should cause no medical difficulties."

"You're not going to go into a coma if he gets knocked out on a mission or something?"  It seems silly, but for all Bones knows about this blasted Vulcan mating cycle it could happen—and Kirk getting hurt on a mission, that part is pretty much a given. 

"Certainly not," says Spock, and now he almost looks amused.  "While physical side effects are not unheard of, they are never so severe as that."

"Good," McCoy mutters.  "Good.  And what about nonmedically?" 

"I do not understand."

"I mean your relationship, Spock."  And god but McCoy would like to be anywhere else in the galaxy besides having this conversation right now.  "Maybe it's none of my business, but you two need to be able to work together.  So I'm asking anyway.  Where do you two stand with each other now?"

"To be truthful, Doctor, I do not know exactly where the captain and I 'stand'."

"That's not the most reassuring thing you've ever said."

"I can assure you that our working relationship remains unhindered.  And that the situation is otherwise tolerable."  Spock looks almost sheepish, although McCoy couldn't put his finger on why if the ship depended on it.

"Tolerable," he snorts. 

He's got a thousand more questions, but no right to ask them.  He has what he needs to for his medical logs, he knows there's no need to worry about the ship's steady function, and he's reasonably sure the captain is fine.  The rest isn't his business unless Jim decides to make it his business.

"Was there anything else?" Spock asks, bland as ever though his posture is no longer the stiff, rigid line of a moment before.

"No."  McCoy stands and returns to his chair, reaching for the nearest semblance of work at his elbow.  "No, that's everything.  Thanks for stopping by."

He doesn't look up until the heavy swish of his office door—open then closed—tells him he's alone.

 

- — - — - — - — -

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Sequel can be found here:

 

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