Why the hell they didn’t tell me I will never know. Hell, Jim didn’t tell any of us, but I think Spock knew straight away. It was so goddamn business as usual, the whole thing. How was I supposed to know? Jim walked into the briefing room with his usual tired smile; his way of informing us beforehand that he didn’t like the orders, but couldn’t find a way to squeeze us out of them. There was only one subtle change this time, and it was so goddamn small, you couldn’t possibly see it.
He stumbled slightly as he passed Spock’s chair. Very slightly. For like a millisecond, I think. Didn’t lose his balance or his poise, just an imperceptible pause before he reached his seat. He looked at Spock as he sat down. That’s when I think Spock knew.
A simple reconnaissance mission, he told us. Pre-warp culture, ready to take the final step. He beams down, takes a few scans, and beams back. I didn’t even bother protesting. I was sure Spock would jump in, like he always does. Did. Whatever. But Spock was strangely silent. Scotty asked why the captain needed to go down himself, and Jim mollified him with some elaborate explanation about security clearance of pre-first contact missions. He then told Scotty what kind of equipment he was going to need, and they discussed the details for some time.
I could feel Jim’s eyes on me once or twice, as if he was asking me why I didn’t express my usual less-than-courteous view on the matter. But I was too busy watching Spock. I couldn’t tell you how many times we’d been in situations such as this over those twelve years. Spock could tell, probably. Well. Anyway, normally, our resident Vulcan would have been all over Jim already, lecturing him about starship captains not being expendable, whereas first officers... Jim would either overrule him, or in rare cases agree, and sometimes, more often than not, they would have a fight about it. It was almost a ritual dance between them by that point, one both expected and predictable.
But this time Spock was silent, not even offering his goddamn logical opinion. I wondered briefly if he had had enough and decided to skip the usual routine altogether. I chuckled to myself thinking that after so many years, it should seem reasonable. Spock, of all people, should have caught up on it faster, but the truth is, he loved to fight with Jim. It was one of the few ways he allowed himself to express his concern on legitimate grounds, and he never once passed the opportunity in my recollection.
Not this time, though. He didn’t object, didn’t ask any questions. He just sat there, watching Jim, as Jim talked to Scotty and kept shooting quizzical glances at me, while I watched Spock. I felt myself in a goddamned triangle of watchers and it didn’t feel right, even though it was to a point amusing.
Finally, Jim and Scotty reached an agreement about everything, and Jim looked up at Spock, preferring to ignore me for the moment. Well, no surprises here. He looked at Spock with a quiet seriousness that I’ve rarely seen in him. There wasn’t a sign of his usual tamed aggression, like ‘What the hell are you doing in my chair?’ or ‘Don’t tell me how to live my life.’ There wasn’t a hitch of stubbornness, like ‘I’m right even if I’m wrong because I’m the captain so you can all shut up right about now.’ There wasn’t, in fact, anything in his eyes but some kind of total acceptance, unconditional and unwavering.
I frowned at this because it wasn’t like him and because I couldn’t grasp it. What the heck was going on?
Anyway, that was when Spock finally broke his code of silence and said, without inflection, ‘Captain, request permission to join you.’
Well, that explained things a little. Spock didn’t want to miss his part of the fun. Or perhaps he could sense, with this uncanny internal radar of his, that Jim couldn’t be swayed to stay and going with him seemed the only logical alternative.
I almost smirked at that. I knew the two of them so well. Jim would bite his head off now, probably very gently, but he’d bite it off anyway. If Spock loved to fight with Jim, then Jim simply loved to fight. He was born with that spirit of defiance sewn under his skin, making it itch at all times, like he’s got an incurable rash or something, and forcing him to disagree with everything around him—just because. Fighting is the way he responded to most stimuli, if not all of them. It was just the degree of it that varied.
And Spock, of course, was so much fun to fight with on any battlefield, save when he had a lirpa in his hands. Trust me, I know. I wouldn’t have been grappling with him for so many years in our endless verbal duels if he wasn’t a goddamn conversational genius. I mean the man would flip you face down, walk all over you, do a totally logical little jig on your dead body, and you’d be calling him a green-blooded hobgoblin for as long as you had the breath for it, but you couldn’t deny that he had class.
Anyway, my point is, Jim loved fighting with Spock just as much as Spock loved fighting with Jim. Maybe a little more. Jim was a sucker for victory, and Spock was simply too easy. The moment Jim would start losing to him, he’d pull rank on him, and Spock would snap closed like a shell. It was always effective, but Jim never liked this method, ‘cause after Spock would snap closed, he would stay closed, no matter how many kindly friendly smiles were sent his way. It was his own trademark form of protest against foul play. He would totally ignore Jim, and if there was anything Jim Kirk hated more than being ignored then I never knew it.
And then Jim would go and do something incredibly stupid yet again, and he’d be hauled back to the ship on his shield, probably dripping blood all over the transporter room, and I’d have to summon the devil himself to help me patch him back together. And when the perky bastard would open his eyes, like nothing happened, Spock would forgive him whatever he’d done the last time in celebration of that simple fact. Guess I can’t blame him. Jim had been doing this for years to both of us, Spock and me. It’s been too long to remember now, but I’m willing to bet that my common touch with Spock started exactly there, over the captain’s sick bed, all those years ago.
Heaven knows, sometimes Jim and his damned flippancy just got to me so badly, I wanted to cause him bodily harm. More than that, I wanted to kill him. He’d put me through too many night vigils I’d rather never recall again. Too many close calls. Too many heartaches. A heart isn’t just for pumping blood, you know. At least, mine isn’t. Jim was just asking for it, and how I managed to restrain myself I won’t ever know. I don’t know how Spock survived through all this. I mean, it was bad on me, and I wasn’t even him. I never knew how he made it. I only know that he’d finally had enough.
So, I was waiting for Jim to tell Spock to piss off, tell him he’d go alone and that’d be the end of it. Jim might have had an adrenaline mania, but he hated when Spock was the cause of that adrenaline. Wait a minute, I got it. There was one thing Jim hated more than being ignored—it was Spock risking his neck. Kind of illogical if you ask me, but what have you.
Anyway, it never happened. Jim just looked at Spock, and then he smiled like I’d never seen him smile before. I don’t mean that he grinned like an idiot, because he did that pretty often. Nope, this was a different kind of smile. Very soft, completely devoid of that ever-present flirting edge of his. He smiled like the goddamned Mona Lisa. I always thought hers was a condescending kind of unbecoming smirk, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, no one really does know why she’s smiling the way she is, right? And she’s making it look like she knows we’re all idiots for not seeing the truth that’s right under our noses. She’s a blasted enigma, that old hag.
And so was Jim. He smiled that strange smile at Spock and said, ‘Permission granted.’
Seriously, that’s all he said, just two words. Permission granted. No arguments, no questions, no nothing. Spock, damn him, just nodded curtly and left, like it was all perfectly normal. Jim must have caught me staring, because he leaned over, clapped me on the shoulder and smirked. ‘What’s up, Bones? Never saw two people having a civilized conversation?’ And then he left, too, smug son of a bitch that he is. Was. Oh hell.
I was blinking and muttering all the way back to Sick Bay. I remember thinking that maybe Jim and Spock finally did grow up, crawling out of diapers for Jim and junior high school snit for Spock. It’s not like I’ve never seen them agree on anything. But something was wrong, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I’m not the right guy for riddles, you know. Spock was the patient one, he loved puzzlers. Me, always hated them. I always thought that most people could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by speaking plainly. Ain’t as difficult as certain half-Vulcans made it sound.
I had a lot to do, some routine check-ups and the like, but I was in a snarky mood. The planet fall was the next day, and I put it out of my mind. Ever since Chapel quit on me and stayed on Earth to work for Starfleet Medical, I feel like I’m alone here. I don’t know what it is with this woman that I could never find my right footing with her. Anyway, I pulled a double shift that day and I was pretty cranky by the end of beta.
That was when Jim and Spock showed up on my doorstep.
I gaped at them. See, it wasn’t unlike Jim to drop by sometime, share a drink and talk. Spock was a more rare visitor. He usually only came if he was troubled by something or thought that I was. The thing was that they never hit on me together unless it was prearranged. But I was too tired and distracted to stay put-out for long. Jim brought brandy. Spock surprised me by joining us. In my entire memory, he had only consumed alcohol a couple of times, and it was almost never a good sign.
Everything seemed fine though. Both of them were utterly relaxed and I was too tired to care anyway. Both those guys were younger than me, you know? Like much younger. Spock, with his Vulcan lifespan, barely out of adolescence. And Jim who grew and developed until he was fifteen, and then only grew.
Oh dear, I love this man. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I do. I fell for him the first time I saw him when he was twenty-two and raging havoc in my infirmary. Now, don’t go thinking anything nasty on me. If the word ‘love’ means ‘sex’ for you, then you’d... Actually, then you’d have made fast friends with Jim of that era, but I doubt it would have gone further than that. Jim was like that, he could be incredibly lighthearted on occasion, but he never toyed with anybody’s feelings and never cheated on those he was hooked up with.
That’s what always amazed me most about him—he was kind. Despite everything that had happened to him, all the misery and humiliation, he never did turn evil. You should have seen him with kids. And all those who became infatuated with him? By God, I’ve never known another man who could turn you down the way Jim Kirk did. No hurt feelings, no egos bruised. For someone with a reputation of an intergalactic playboy, he was pretty damn sensitive.
Spock’s another story. I could tell you that I love Spock, but I don’t really like what my stomach’s doing when I try to say it. I can’t tell you how many times I wondered if that man was born into this world with the single purpose—to annoy me. Anyway, apart from Chapel—who, mind you, was drugged at the time so you can’t really hold it against her—I doubt there were more than a couple of people who dared say that to his face or even about him in his absence. One was his mother. If there ever was another, then I never met them.
His mother is a curious woman. Manners, and charm, and class, and all. His father’s intimidating as hell, but if you had a son like Spock, you’d look like you’ve got a bad case of food poisoning which wouldn’t go away, too. Between the two of them, it’s no wonder the guy grew up to be a walking contradiction to anything most people consider natural.
Trouble is, I kinda like him. Spock had class. He was the only person I knew who got you wondering if he was insulting you on purpose or if it simply came to him naturally. Jim once said that he could think of no one who could return the ball the way Spock did, and I have to agree with him.
There was certain elegance about him, which you couldn’t quite catch. Spock could pull off phrases like, ‘Pardon me for mentioning this, sir, but you have stepped into my personal space, and I regret to inform you that if you do not vacate immediately, I will be forced to break your neck.’ Okay, I don’t think he’d ever actually said that, but he didn’t have to. He would just look at you, with that damned eyebrow raised, and you’d wish for a parachute. My point is, he could if he had to. The son of a bitch made you feel ill-mannered first and dead only second.
The sad irony is, if Spock wasn’t Spock exactly, I could have married him. Or someone like him, anyway. Yeah, I’m that masochistic. Jim had long since started calling us an old married couple, and after twelve years of bickering, it’s kinda hard to deny his point. Marriage, as I have discovered, is the shortest way for two people to drive each other crazy, and not in any good way, and for that purpose, Spock and I were suited perfectly. On the other hand, we didn’t really have to get married to continue, and thank heavens for that. I never wanted my own cause of death to sound like a paroxysm of fury inconsistent with life functions invoked by yet another outrageous act of the green-blooded computerized hobgoblin anyway.
But I digress and you’ll have to deal with it. That night before land fall, Spock and Jim came down to my lair. I can’t tell you exactly what we talked about. Some old times, some new times. Spock spent an hour nursing one drink, and then left me and Jim alone to finish the bottle. For the love of me, I can’t remember what it was about, but we laughed a lot that night, well past midnight. It felt good.
We connected, Jim and I. Always had. Not the way Jim and Spock connected and not the way Spock and I clashed, but in the most human way imaginable. Our roles were second skin to us: I’m the doctor and he’s the captain. But it was always good to drop them and just be Jim and Bones for a while. Dammit, I’m pathetic. I can’t even tell you when I’ve started referring to myself with the stupid nickname Jim attached to me.
It’s a funny thing about nicknames. If it’s a good one, usually everyone picks it up. Well, mine was a good one, but Jim was the only one who ever used it. Spock of course, with his super-enhanced sense of propriety, probably found it too familiar. He’d never even come to using my name, always calling me doctor, with that particularly nasty ironic inflection that never failed to get under my skin. Sometimes, when he was pissed as hell in his Vulcan way, he’d drop the ‘doctor’ and I’d just be McCoy. But as far as I know, Jim and Uhura are the only two people who managed to get on a first name basis with him.
Back in my office, Jim finally noticed I was all but falling asleep on my desk.
‘C’mon, Bones, let me take you home.’
We walked to my quarters, and I was leaning on him half the time. Well, Jim was always pretty tough to put under the table. And did I mention he was younger? At any rate, neither of us found it unusual. He slid his arm around my waist, and I had mine around his shoulders, and I think we even sang something as we walked. Or, tried to.
Jim was a good friend. He didn’t just drop me at my door, he guided me to my bunk, saw that I didn’t miss it as I fell over it, and pulled my boots off. There was only one strange thing he did, or I think he did, because I was almost unconscious by then. I can’t be sure, but I think I felt him touch my face briefly, pressing his palm against my cheek for a moment. I wanted to ask him something, but he just laughed, ‘Sleep, Bones,’ and left, and I didn’t think twice about it. I probably wouldn’t have at all, if things went differently. But of course, they couldn’t.
I wasn’t asked to come to the transporter room the next morning, but I did it anyway. Partly because I wanted to complain to Jim about the mother of hangovers I woke up with and see if I could blame that on him, and partly... Hell, I don’t know. I could have told you that I came because I felt something, but that just wasn’t true. All I felt was a rampaging migraine. And in truth, I came over because that’s what I always did when I didn’t have any urgent medical procedures scheduled.
Scotty was there at the controls, and it didn’t surprise me then. I asked him about it later, and he said he wasn’t sure what made him send our COs down himself that day. He didn’t do it often, and he most certainly wasn’t prone to sentimentality. As it was, I just nodded at him, and he looked at me with amusement, and made some kind of sly comment about a late night. I was in the middle of my answer, pretty annoyed I might add when Jim and Spock entered.
There wasn’t anything unusual about them, either. They weren’t in uniform, but neither were they in disguise, just civilian clothes. They looked collected and relaxed, and somehow complete. I can’t explain it. It was like coming home after a very long day, or concluding some kind of long running project. Nah, it just escapes me. But that was the feeling that I received. Completeness. Only without any kind of joy or disappointment. Just a feeling of closure.
Spock nodded at me aloofly; Jim smiled. While Spock walked over to Scotty to give him the coordinates, Jim clapped me on the shoulder, deliberately hard, and asked, the slimy bastard, about my headache. I snapped something at him, and he just laughed.
‘Ready, Captain,’ Spock said, coming over.
Jim nodded, and they walked towards the platform, stopping just shy of it. They looked at each other. Jim grinned. Spock lifted an eyebrow. I don’t know what was so different about it, but I’m pretty sure Scotty felt like I did, that we weren’t supposed to be in the room. Jim leaned forward, ever so slightly, and I had a feeling he wanted to touch Spock, but didn’t. Spock, that sneaky son of a bitch, was nothing if not perceptive. He placed his hand on Jim’s arm and then did the strangest thing. He actually took one small step back, maintaining their contact, and bowed his head curtly and respectfully, like he was giving honors or something.
Blast me, but it sounded like a salute. That certainly wasn’t routine. Such formalities between them were long gone, if they were ever present. And it looked even stranger, combined with Spock’s very informal hold.
Jim smiled at him and said softly, ‘Thank you, Spock.’
Just that, a simple thank you. I didn’t know for what, it certainly didn’t sound like it was for anything more important than passing a table salt. But I knew that it was important. I knew, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it so fast.
They didn’t waste any more time. Or maybe they didn’t want to risk me starting to ask questions. They climbed onto the platform and took their usual places, Jim up ahead, Spock just behind his left shoulder.
And they were gone. For a moment, I had a strange feeling that as the beam engulfed them, Spock moved closer to Jim, but I dismissed the idea. There couldn’t be any logic behind this action now, could there? I shrugged, listened to Scotty calling back the duty tech and walked out. I had a Sick Bay to run after all.
Two hours later, hell broke loose.
In the end, no one was able to make heads or tails of what happened on the planet. The reports and intercepted transmissions were all contradictory and didn’t make any sense. Some said a head of state was assassinated, some said an attempt was made but failed. We couldn’t make out anything, except for the fact that there were bombings and heavy fire on the surface, when one major nation had apparently declared war on the other.
We didn’t know what was happening and we had our hands full. Five Klingon battle cruisers against one Enterprise—till this day I don’t know how we made it. But it was fire, blood and hell, just as it was on the surface. I didn’t have any time to think, because the Bridge was smashed, and Scotty was organizing a command center in my Sick Bay because it was the most heavily shielded part of the ship. I barked at him because we suffered heavy casualties and the last thing I needed was more people there, and he pretty much told me to go to hell, and I laughed like mad because we were already there.
I don’t know how we made it. I don’t know how he managed to destroy two of the attacking vessels, seriously damage the third and get us out of reach of the other two. I don’t know, and I couldn’t care less at the time. I had over three hundred wounded people on my hands, and I really couldn’t spare a thought for battle tactics. To be quite honest, I couldn’t give a damn. I hated Scotty at that moment, I hated myself, I hated everyone and everything around me. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be in hell. I hated everything so much that my hands started to shake and I had to goddamn pull myself together, and I think I might have crushed a couple of teeth as I was doing it.
We made it through. We sped up to Starbase whatever, and they had to tractor us down, because we couldn’t stop by ourselves. I was on autopilot by then, and I couldn’t stop if they asked me to. They didn’t. They just knocked me out when I wasn’t looking.
When I woke up, my first thought was that I might have killed dozens of people, because I couldn’t remember any of the treatments I administered, and what I did remember scared me to death. So I found the nearest computer terminal and checked the Enterprise casualties list to find the names of those that I could have mistreated. I felt a surge of relief when most of them hadn’t slid to the bottom of the deceased section. And then I felt like dying.
Right there, at the bottom of the page, were the names of my two best friends.
They never found the bodies, you know. But I never had any hopes. The planet was such a mess that it was now considered uninhabitable. Stories told by the refugees were blood-chilling, and I saw the pictures. If Jim and Spock weren’t with any of the refugee convoys, they were down on that planet. And if they were there, they were dead.
I don’t know what hit me harder, honestly. The fact that they were dead or the fact that they knew they would be. I never found out what their orders were, to kill or to prevent the killing. The planet was in dispute between us and the Klingons, the political activity down there was high, and knowing Starfleet, anything was possible. It didn’t really matter. In all honesty, I couldn’t care less.
They knew, the goddamn bastards. They knew. They knew and they didn’t tell me. Jim obviously knew from the start that it was a suicide mission, a one-way ticket. And I’m damn sure he was at liberty to either take Spock with him or not, and he left the choice to Spock. How did Spock know? Hell if I can tell. Maybe they discussed it earlier, or maybe he simply sensed the truth somehow. He knew Jim couldn’t back down. He knew his place was at Jim’s side.
It seemed selfish to me at first that Jim would take Spock with him when he could have ordered him to stay. But the more I think about it the more I see that it’s the other way around. After twelve years of being each other’s alpha and omega, leaving Spock behind deliberately when they both knew what was to come would have been inhuman.
I knew that Jim was afraid of death. He wasn’t afraid to risk his life or anything, he was never a coward. But objectively he feared that great black void, like any reasonable human being with a heart. And suddenly his ‘Thank you, Spock’ had gained a whole new meaning. It wasn’t just for everything they shared in the past. It was for the fact that Spock would be with him when it happened. Holding his hand? Oh, God, I sure hope so. I hope they had that chance.
What did Spock fear? I don’t know. He used to be scared to lose control of his emotions, but it had happened to him so many times that I simply can’t see this fear retaining its novelty. He was afraid for Jim’s life, but having met their sentence, there was no point of continuing to be afraid of that. Spock was nothing if not a man of logic. I didn’t know him half as well as I probably should have, I see that now. But I will hazard a guess that one thing Spock was afraid most of was that Jim would be hurt or die without him. Would need him and Spock wouldn’t be there.
Well. That’s two fears they took care of neatly.
It hurts as hell that they didn’t tell me. I can tell you, I feel betrayed even though I do understand. They said good-bye, blast them. That was what that little get-together in my office was about. I wonder what they did afterwards. I don’t think either of them slept that night. Probably played chess through the night in Jim’s quarters. Yes, that would have been fitting.
God, I can’t do this. I’m thinking about it, and it’s eating me up inside. I don’t know what I would have done if they told me. No, damn, that’s not true, I do know. I’d have asked to go with them. And of course they would have refused. We would have probably spent that last night fighting till our throats were sore, and then Spock most likely would have put me out with his blasted nerve pinch, while Jim held my hands.
I hate them. God, I wish I could. But the truth is, I’d give a world to see Spock’s eyebrow crawl up on me again. Hell, I’d give out a whole galaxy to see Jim smile.
I’m a pathetic old man and I know it. It has been years since all of this had happened. I have forgiven them a hundred times and I have un-forgiven them even more. It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, but these days I’m about as sparse with my emotions as any Vulcan. It takes a lot to get a rise out of me. I have seen too much and sometimes I think that I have seen it all. But I still find myself wondering every now and then if they managed to hold hands at that last moment.
And I still hang a wish on every star that they did.