I'm back after a little hiatus writing a story for the new Legends 9 and another yet-to-be-released zine by Doctor Beth. This work originally appeared in Enter-Comm 7 many years ago but has been updated and rewritten to fit the archive. I had hoped to get it posted for K/S Day but just missed it by this much!
This one is for Nora who always said it was her favorite. I hope you still like it now, old friend, should you encounter it.
“So don’t say ‘hello’, Spock,” the older man called over his shoulder as he worked. Growling to himself, he slammed about the kitchen as he put everything away and leaned against the kitchen counter to catch his breath. Quietly Leonard McCoy cursed the stubborn Vulcan for his pigheadedness, knowing that he was as much at fault. All they had of the life they once lived was this core of conflict between them, a shadow of the relationship they had had when they were aboard the Enterprise, and little else.
Dammit! Why did Spock’s refusal to speak now bother him so much? It was a rhetorical question, of course, as he knew what was happening. After all the losses his Vulcan patient had had over the last few years, showing his difficulty in producing speech was simply one indignity too many so Spock refused to speak. He would have tried for Jim Kirk, but Jim was not here so the stubborn Vulcan remained silent.
Groceries put away, McCoy came back into the living room, his temper cooled as he reverted to doctor and caretaker. “Are you still comfortable?” A nod signaled yes. “Do you want me to turn on some music? Do you want to talk?” The silent replies were negative. “OK. I’ll just sit here with you a while.”
McCoy picked up a long-fingered, still hand casually. Over the years he had become well accustomed to touching and being touched by the formerly reticent Vulcan. First Jim and now you, he thought angrily. Dammit, Spock, it’s not right. Both of you should have outlived me by years, But he was touching a telepath, he remembered, so he kept his touch gentle and removed the anger from his mind as much as he could. Sensing his conflict, Spock regarded the physician suspiciously. They both knew what was happening and knew that it was inevitable. He raised an elegant winged eyebrow which was his form of asking a question now.
McCoy nodded. “I’m OK, Spock, or at least as well as I will be for a while. You saw to that, my friend. You saw to a lot of things.”
In his mind McCoy saw again the vision that began this nightmare – the explosion of the experimental reactor the Enterprise had been called on to check on Beta Muchiya 7. The initial request had indicated that there was some instability in the reactor, but the first landing party was appalled to realize that the reactor was already near critical mass when they arrived. As Spock and his captain were making one last trip to try to avert catastrophe and save the planet for colonization, there was an explosion.
The frantic rescue parties searched the debris for several hours before a moan from the semi-conscious First Officer drew their attention. Under the Vulcan’s protective body they also found their captain. Spock had taken much of the radiation in an effort to save Jim Kirk. At first, both Kirk and Spock had appeared so badly injured that it did not seem they could live, and when they did it seemed like a miracle. But the joy of their recovery was short-lived when the report on the effects of that particular form of radiation was received.
Jim was the first to show signs of the radiation poisoning. Nerve tissue, especially when human, was particularly susceptible to this form of radiation, and the rapid deterioration of the nervous system of that vital, energetic man was agonizingly difficult. Death was a relief to him and to the much-loved friends he left behind. Spock had begun to die on that day, McCoy felt, as it was the last day he attempted to walk unaided or even seem to care about his own health. His will to live had seemed to evaporate on the day of Jim’s death, and McCoy could not find it in himself to push Spock to do differently. He knew how close the pair had been and knew that Spock had only opened himself to the extraordinary human who had been their captain and no one else.
Now Spock’s time, too, was limited – a matter of hours or days, McCoy suspected. Control on his upper extremities was deteriorating. He could no longer walk but was still able to assist in moving himself. He no longer had complete control of much of his own body except those expressive dark eyes. McCoy smiled, remembering the first time Jim had made that remark to him. He had teased his friend mercilessly about the impassive Vulcan and Kirk’s fertile imagination. It was only when Jim became so terribly ill that McCoy could see the grief and anguish the Vulcan experienced – most of it mirrored in those expressive eyes.
McCoy’s world had long ago narrowed to endless routine. The Enterprise, removed from their lives by only a few years, seemed centuries away as the strong, commanding figure of Spock in those days bore little resemblance to dependent figure McCoy now viewed. Day after day, he bathed and helped exercise the deteriorating Vulcan body, and although McCoy knew that Spock found it tiring if not actually painful, there was still never a cry of pain or discomfort, or a complaint. The Vulcan still insisted on doing as much for himself as he could but had refused to speak since the condition began to affect his speech, resulting in this endless, one-sided conversation on the physician’s part. McCoy found that particular form of Vulcan dignity confusing but understandable, especially considering the many humiliations Spock had endured without complaint.
He squeezed the long, warm Vulcan hand he held affectionately. “I need to get you up for a while, OK?” The answering nod was an angry negative. “You know you have to keep this up, Spock.” ‘No’ was signaled. “You know we have to keep this up, Spock,” ‘No’ was signaled again. “Our agreement was that I use no extraordinary efforts, Spock, when the time came. I’m not. This is just good old basic medicine.” There was a reluctant nod of acknowledgment.
Through his mind a scene flashed again. Although he had maintained a careful facade of determination with everyone, McCoy hated Spock’s rapid physical decline in the weeks and months after Jim’s death. The former first officer encouraged McCoy to return to the Enterprise, but he had insisted on remaining. Initially, it was out of loyalty to Jim’s request that he look after Spock, then out of his growing affection and respect for the Vulcan and the dignity with which he was facing death. So it had been particularly difficult the evening that Spock chose to discuss the topic with McCoy.
“I’m beginning to think you’ll live forever,” McCoy had retorted angrily when the subject was broached. “You may yet. We don’t understand this radiation much. Besides, I don’t think now is the time or the place to discuss it. It’s a beautiful spring evening, Spock. Shut up and enjoy it.”
“Doctor McCoy,” the calm, deep Vulcan voice came back through the growing darkness on the balcony where they sat. “You are being characteristically obstinate. I realize my death is not imminent, but I do wish to assure myself that you understand my wishes in the matter.”
The older man sighed. How could he deny Spock this? “OK, Spock, if you insist. Let me here what you have to say.”
“I...I have been thinking of Jim...and the way he...how it ended.” McCoy flushed with shame at his earlier banter. “I want you to understand my wishes...how I want it...when the time comes.”
“Yes, tell me, Spock. I need to know,” McCoy encouraged, realizing that this conversation might as well happen now. He really did need to know even if he did not wish to have this discussion.
“I do not wish to be maintained by machinery. When my body can no longer sustain my life, do not hold on to me, McCoy.”
“Spock...I…” McCoy’s voice trailed off, unable to continue. Another loss after Jim’s death seemed unthinkable.
“I want your word – now – that you will do this for me,” the Vulcan pressed gently. “Do not keep me past my time. Have I your word?”
“Spock...I...Spock, please...not now,” McCoy put his face in his hands miserably, knowing how poorly he was coping with this simple, important request. Distantly, he heard the whir of the motorized wheelchair Spock needed now, and he felt a warm hand on his.
“I do not wish to distress you needlessly, but I must know your thoughts on the matter. If you cannot...I must make other arrangements while I am still capable of doing so.”
The gentle statement galvanized the doctor into speech. “No, Spock, don’t make other arrangements. I want to see you through this. I...I will do it your way. Just don’t – don’t send me away. I…”
“You promised Jim.” The gentle remark was level, even, and full of understanding, but McCoy flushed nonetheless. “Do not be embarrassed, I understand. If it had been I who...went first, I would have made the same request of you.”
Blindly, McCoy turned to embrace Spock, mindful of the Vulcan’s reticence but needing the contact anyway. He had never felt as impotent as he did in that moment. After a moment, warm arms encircled him slowly, patting, soothing, attempting to comfort. When the storm had passed, McCoy remained in the circle of those same arms. Full of wonderment at what had occurred, he feared that the slightest movement would break the spell. He had never felt closer to his Vulcan friend than at this moment.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, Spock. I don’t know what got into me.”
Spock then released his hold on the doctor, and McCoy straightened. “You did not cry when Jim was ill, Doctor. You did not cry when he died. As you have so often reminded me, human emotions must be released. Why have you not taken your own advice?”
Shamefaced, McCoy did not act initially as though he would respond. Then he muttered, “There just never seemed to be time, Spock. Jim was so sick, and then there was the funeral with all those people.”
“...and you did not wish to upset me.”
McCoy smiled a small, wistful smile. “Jim would be amused to hear this conversation, wouldn’t he?”
Spock hesitated before saying, “There is something Jim did not tell you, something that I think you should know, Doctor. It may make things easier for you later.”
“You mean you’re keeping secrets from me, Spock. I didn’t think that was the Vulcan way.
“Our secret was only between the two of us.” He hesitated before saying, “You know that Jim and I were very close. What you do not know, Doctor, is that Jim and I were bonded.”
“You mean married? Is that what you’re telling me, Spock!”
“Yes, I am. Jim and I had bonded only months before the explosion. We did not tell you as our union violated several Starfleet policies.”
“A first officer and the captain married?” he laughed. “You bet your skinny butt it did. Why on Earth did you do it?”
“This is one of the reasons. If one of us died, then the other would not spend a lifetime alone. You have commented about my rapid decline after Jim’s death. I wanted you to know that it has not been your medical skills that were lacking. The bond is gradually drawing me into death as well.”
“Why would you do that, Spock?” the physician exploded. “You could have had decades more.”
The Vulcan glanced away, then turned back to face the physician directly. “I do not wish to live without him, Leonard. I could not bear it.”
Silence fell as they both reflected on their memories. At length, in the darkness, McCoy heard Spock say, “Then there are two things I must ask of you - that you meet your own needs and express your feelings as you would and that you let me die in the manner which I prefer.”
His mind was still spinning from the revelation. Through the darkness, McCoy reached out to cover the graceful, long hand. “Yes, Spock, I’ll do it your way.”
“There is one other request, a very personal one, that I would make of you. When my time comes, would you take my katra, my living spirit, and that of Jim. We are together. You may decide to take us to Vulcan to be placed in the katric arch or keep us within you. That shall be your choice.”
Having his two best friends with him after their deaths? Why would he say no to that? “Of course, I will, Spock. You just tell me what needs to be done and it will happen.”
He had made a promise that he didn’t completely understand at the time. In the shock of learning that his two best friends had married without his knowledge, McCoy had taken a while to re-examine his life and all of his friendships he’d had aboard the Enterprise. Eventually he began to see that what Spock had asked for was the only way his Vulcan friend could be happy. Spock would never be complete again without Jim. The idea of having them both within him seemed to be a win as well, and for a while he gave it no further consideration.
Now it was time for him to fulfill his promise – to Jim Kirk as well as to Spock. He lifted the Vulcan body off the pillows and eased the Vulcan into a seated position. Mindful of the dark head which rested unsteadily on his shoulder, McCoy knew that the fluid which was accumulating in Spock’s lungs would eventually take his friend’s life, but he had long ago agreed not to use the only method which save him. No, he corrected himself mentally, machinery would not save Spock’s life, only extend it. He held the warm body against his, wondering how much longer it would be possible or necessary. For a long time, he sat like that – absorbed in his thoughts -before lowering Spock back to the bed.
“Are you hungry?” the doctor asked, managing to sound much cheerier than he felt. The answer was negative. “You really should eat something.” Feeding had become another humiliation for the proud Vulcan, and McCoy didn’t push it when the second response was also negative. He himself was hungry, and McCoy considered fixing their meal anyway but Spock’s dark gaze held him. Irrationally, the physician wished that he could hear that deep voice again, but he knew there was little chance of that. Fighting a sudden swell of exhaustion and frustration, he relaxed back into the seat.
A noise disrupted his sleep. Sleep! McCoy jerked to wakefulness, fear pumping adrenaline uselessly into his system. Quickly he reached for the light switch, checking Spock’s condition. Dark, frightened eyes met his, and he recognized the source of the noise which had disturbed him. The Vulcan’s breathing was labored, rasping, and he was bathed in perspiration from his struggle to breathe. He had managed to move his uncooperative body body down on the bed to try to reach the sleeping physician but could not.
“...fright...ened…” he rasped, his voice only vaguely resembling what it had once been.
Flushed with shame, McCoy lifted Spock once more to a sitting position, and after a while the difficulty eased. “Gods, Spock, I am sorry. I don’t know how I could have dozed off like that. Are you all right?”
Spock’s expression was calmer now, and he nodded reassuringly at the anxious physician. But there was a grim despair in that expression which reflected McCoy’s thoughts as Spock slipped a shaky arm around McCoy to steady himself. Oh, gods, McCoy thought, it really is beginning. How can I handle this? His thoughts returned to Jim and the blissful lack of awareness which had accompanied his final days. Poor Spock, he thought sadly as he stroked the still-trembling back, there will not even be that relief for you – not until after many more struggles. Damn Vulcans and their superior physique.
He eased the lean body back onto the bed. “I’m going to raise the head of the bed some more to see if we can’t make you more comfortable. OK?” The response was affirmative. When he had finished, McCoy looked at his patient again. “You understand what this means, don’t you?”
“Yes,” was the nodded response.
“If this is the way it’s going to be, you’re going to have a rough time of it.” Dark alien eyes regarded him almost in amusement as if to say that no one’s dying was ever easy, regardless of the method of death. “Do you want out now?” he asked. The response was negative. There was a wary look in the Vulcan’s eyes. “No, Spock, I’m not proposing it. I’m just offering you the option that we have already discussed.”
Without further comment, McCoy administered an injection of tri-ox which eased the Vulcan’s breathing somewhat. Spock began to drift to sleep as the combination of easier breathing and fatigue pulled at him. The silence over the hours became frightening, and McCoy considered calling someone to join him in his vigil. But there was no one. Jim was gone. Spock’s parents were on another diplomatic mission. The Enterprise was somewhere far away in space.
We are that much alike, Spock, he thought. We were both always too busy with careers and Star Fleet that we left little time for people – except Jim. Now here we are – both of us at the end of our lives – and we have no one except each other. Then he thought of Joanne, his beloved daughter, who he had left behind to escape the unpleasantness of a marriage gone wrong so long ago. Sometimes they had exchanged only a few letters in a year. Maybe sometime he should consider returning to Earth, he mused.
He monitored his patient’s condition carefully, checking pulse and respiration, injecting the increasingly useless tri-ox periodically to keep Spock comfortable as long as he could. Once he angrily added a massive overdose of sedatives into the hypospray, but he knew then that he could not do it, even at Spock’s request.
McCoy was deep in thought when he realized that a dark pair of eyes were focused on him. He grinned crookedly in embarrassment. “Caught me daydreaming, huh? I make a poor nurse, don’t I? Amusement gleamed in the dark eyes, and Spock almost smiled. “Are you feeling better now?” Spock nodded affirmatively.
“Do you know what I was thinking about, Spock?” he asked rhetorically, “I was thinking about Jim and those first days on the Enterprise. I’ve been thinking about the Enterprise and the past, you know, and the people I’ve known.” He could sense Spock’s encouragement to continue, and he did, drawing on memories bright and dark, strange worlds and stranger customs, the crew of the ship who had been their friends and companions, through everything. He talked through the night until his voice was hoarse and the dawning light was appearing.
“Damn,” he swore softly when he realized he had kept his patient awake much of the night. “I must be losing my grip. You get some sleep now.” The “no” response was frightened, panicked. “What is wrong, Spock? Don’t you want to sleep?” The answer was a forceful negative.
Spock’s breathing was again becoming labored. There was little else as a physician that McCoy could do for his patient, but there were things he could do for his friend.
“Are you still frightened, Spock?” The Vulcan was slow to respond, shamefaced, but the answer was a hesitant “yes”. “I wish you would talk with me.” No. “I know you still can.” No. McCoy grasped the thin shoulders firmly. “I don’t blame you. I would be scared, too. I wish you would talk with me, but I won’t push. I think I understand.”
He lifted the slim body with the Vulcan’s assistance, eased himself onto the bed, and then settled Spock back upon his chest “Maybe this will help some,” he said noncommittally. As an afterthought, he murmured, “I can’t go all the way with you, Spock, but I’ll go as far as I can.” There was a hint of gratitude in the still face, and a long hand covered his. McCoy massaged the taut shoulders soothingly
“Free,” Spock whispered softly he tried to look back at his physician , “soon...I shall be...free.” His eyes lightened as he glanced around. “Remember.”
McCoy was aching with fatigue and stress, hungry, and full with the need to urinate when the slim body began to spasm in his arms. He managed to slip from beneath the lashing body and ease it to the bed. Smoothly, he injected an anti-seizure and moved to create an airway. He could not. He threw his body across the Vulcan’s, trying to minimize the seizure while he worked toward creating some source of oxygen. It was only the beginning.
Leonard McCoy wandered aimlessly down the busy street in the human sector of ShiKahr, his pain and loneliness in sharp contrast to the busy, pleasant scenes he passed. He went by the restaurant where he had had dinner with Montgomery Scott and other Enterprise personnel who had attended Spock’s funeral, and he remembered with fondness Scotty’s encouragement to return to the Fleet. That part of his life, he felt, was over. Without Jim or Spock he was without an anchor. From the restaurant came Earth music and the sound of pleasant, human conversation, An ancient classical song which reminded him of home. The words drifted to him, and he heard “...just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.” It was a favorite of his. A tall, dark haired man looked at McCoy, and the doctor started to call to him. It’s not Spock, his brain screamed, and he shut his mouth abruptly and dropped his hand before he could wave, feeling very much the fool. Damned Vulcan, he swore, why did you make me care about you?
He had come here to bring Jim and Spock home to the katric arch. Having two other beings in his skull, he had found, was not simple, and he knew that they needed to be a twosome rather than part of a threesome. So he had cooperated with having their spirits to be placed within the arch this morning, leaving him alone in his own head for the first time in weeks.
He found himself sometime later occupying a park bench alone, his hours of wandering an indistinct haze in his mind, the Vulcan heat beginning to drain his stamina. Pulling out his last letter from Joanna, he read it again as though he might draw some purpose from her words that he had somehow missed. Joanna, my beautiful Joanna, he thought, how can I come back to you now? I left you alone for all those years, and every time you tried to get closer I went further into space. But fate tricked me, Joanna, and I learned to care again. My two friends taught me to open myself and love again. Somehow I don’t regret it, even if it broke my heart twice, but I do wish I could stop hurting. He flipped on the vidi-cube they used to keep in touch, and the image that was Joanna began to speak.
“Dad, I heard about Commander Spock’s death on the news this morning. I am very sorry to hear that he is gone and know how difficult this must be for you.” Her blue eyes shimmered with sympathy. “Harlan and I have discussed it, Dad, and we want you to come home – if you want to be here. There’s plenty of space here if you want to stay with us or you can take a place in town. The kids would love to have you stay. We all would. Daddy, why don’t you come home now?” A single tear slipped down her cheek.
He turned off the cube with a jerk and sat staring at the small insects flying about his head. For some reason he didn’t quite understand, they reminded him of his boyhood in Georgia, fishing in the creek, and racing home when his mother ran the bell.
“Leave him alone!” The yell shocked McCoy out of his reverie, and as he wiped his face he observed a group of boys taunting another. The lone boy was straight and slim, alien in appearance, but lacking the serene, aloof appearance so typical of his people. His lone defender was a short, freckle-faced blonde lad of about the same age who ignored the overwhelming odds against him to stand, fists raised, challenging all comers. Though he was no larger than most of the others and smaller than some, the crowd of boys seemed unwilling to take on the lone defender. Muttering and calling names, the other boys moved away.
“You should not have done that,” McCoy heard the alien child say as the others walked away. “You could have been injured.”
“I didn’t like those odds,” the other child said. They turned and walked away – together.
McCoy’s eyes stung with fresh tears at the memory of another twosome who resisted the odds to become friends and hoped that these two could find even a fraction of the love and devotion that those two men had found to give each other – and him. They were quite a pair, Jim and Spock, probably the best command team Star Fleet had ever mustered. “I feel it a great privilege to have been part of that team.” Them sudden realization rendered him abruptly speechless, and he sat mesmerized for long minutes. “I love you both. I always will. You’ll always be the best part of me. But you are gone, and I’m here alone. People weren’t meant to be alone. I know you understand that I have to continue, to build a life for myself. The thing is, I don’t know why I didn’t understand that before.”
He stood, his mind racing with the possibilities. Wiping a last tear from his eyes, Leonard McCoy moved deliberately toward the street. He had to make that call, and there were flight arrangements to make. Hell, he didn’t have time to waste. He was going back to Georgia and his other great love, his daughter Joanna.
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