21: Memory Meld 1

“Aww, Spock! God, I can’t stand it when you cry,” McCoy protested, his hands fluttering indecisively between holding Spock close and shaking some sense into him. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, just… please stop.”

Spock steadied his breathing, though still shedding unrestrainable tears, and looked at McCoy.

“Do you truly think,” he began, his voice sounding strange in his own ears. He paused and started over. “But you must, for I can feel your emotions on the matter. You think that I was… that I am merely using you to rid myself of those symptoms?”

“Well, no — I mean, ‘using’ is a strong word, and it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it—”

“But you think I am taking advantage of your willing nature, only to discontinue the relationship as soon as it becomes inconvenient or… uninteresting?”

McCoy’s mouth opened to contradict him but no sound came out. His thoughts and feelings made it evident to both of them: he was only now realizing that that was exactly what he had expected.

“What of all the things I told my father?” Spock pressed. “Do you think I did not mean them? That I was deceiving my own parent?”

“W—Well, y’know, after he caught us like th—that,” McCoy stammered, “I figured you’d need to tell him something so he wouldn’t think you were, uh… y’know… being promiscuous or anything….”

“Leonard,” Spock enunciated slowly, hoping to drive his words home, “I would not deceive my father. It is not in my nature. True, I am half Human, but most of my life and training has been Vulcan, and I assure you, we do not make a habit of prevarication.”

“Okay, but you might’ve… y’know… exaggerated a little bit,” McCoy hedged, showing some of his usual argumentative mettle. “Just making things seem… not quite so bad.”

“Oh, Leonard,” Spock sighed, close to tears again. “Why do you find it so difficult to understand that I truly care for you? Is it because we have argued about so many issues over the years? Or do you believe me incapable of deep feeling? That my attraction for you is such a small thing that I can ignore it or dismiss it at will? From my medical troubles alone, you should realize I would not have experienced such debilitating effects were I capable at all of controlling them.”

“No, Spock — it’s not you; it’s me. And I mean it when I say that.” McCoy had squeezed his eyes shut to avoid meeting Spock’s but his emotions were beating against Spock’s heart with PAIN-SADNESS-LONELINESS-FAILURE. “I just… I don’t dare believe it, all right?” he confessed at last. “I’m scared of believing you when you say that because… I’m afraid it’ll only hurt worse when you leave me.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Spock protested, raising his voice in frustration.

Everybody leaves me!” McCoy responded.

Spock froze, realizing that those words had been dredged up from the deepest, darkest pit of McCoy’s psyche. Every fiber of his being believed them… and was consumed by the pain they represented.

“Leonard,” Spock whispered, cradling his lover’s face in both hands, willing him to open his eyes. “Leonard, please. I want to understand… I need to understand… where all of this is coming from.”

“No… you don’t…. Just… never mind! Forget it,” McCoy babbled, trying to pull away from Spock but failing. The Vulcan was not about to release him.

“Tell me, Leonard… or better yet, show me. Please.” Spock drew McCoy closer until their foreheads were pressed together, their noses touching; McCoy could not avoid his gaze now. “Let me meld with you… see your memories. I know it will be painful, Leonard, but… I must understand why you cannot believe me — why you cannot believe in yourself — so I may better assist you.”

“Why?” The whispered word was almost drowned by the tumult of McCoy’s heart.

“Because I want you to be happy.” Spock gently kissed him, trying to convey more than simple attraction with the contact of their lips. Looking into McCoy’s mind, Spock could see the pain and despair that had long been in residence there; but he also found a small hint of hope. Hope against hope. “Leonard, will you trust me?” he asked. “I will not injure you; any pain will come only from reliving your memories. But will you share them with me?”

McCoy still hesitated, so Spock waited, knowing his lover needed to agree to this on his own.

“You really… want to know?”

“I do.”

McCoy licked his lips and swallowed, closing his eyes as though conferring with himself.

“All right, then. But… let’s get you wrapped up again… or at least raise the temperature.”

Spock smiled, touched to realize that regardless of the situation, the doctor’s first concern was the wellbeing of others. His smile turned sad, however, when McCoy picked up the blanket Spock had discarded and wrapped him in it again.

“He has so much love to offer…. Why has nobody loved him reciprocally?”

“Do you, uh… need anything to do this?” McCoy glanced around the room. “A crystal ball or… I dunno… smoke and mirrors?”

“I only require you to relax and open your mind,” Spock told him. “Please sit and make yourself comfortable.”

“All right….”

McCoy grabbed the other blanket and chose an unsullied spot of the couch. When he had settled in, clearing his throat a couple of times, Spock drew near and straddled his lap. After tying the corners of his blanket together to ensure that it would not slip off, Spock placed his fingertips on the various psi points on McCoy’s face.

“Just relax,” Spock murmured in his ear. “Take me to your earliest memories… your thoughts to my thoughts….”

As McCoy’s breathing slowed and his body calmed, pictures began to form in his mind. They were a whirlwind at first but Spock guided them to grow still, then selected one filled with sunshine — a happy memory.

Leonard was very young, with only a few words at his disposal, but he knew the sunshine was a good thing. Being out in it, under the big willow tree, was his favorite part of the day. Running in circles chasing the old dog, who would never quite let him catch her, was his favorite game. His mother was there, watching and laughing. His father was not, but since that was usual, Leonard did not know to miss him. He delighted in everything he saw. He found a stick and threw it for the dog; the dog ignored it and licked his face, making him scream with laughter. When he tired of running, his mother offered him cookies and milk. He was happy.

Spock held warmth of the golden light from that moment in his heart, willing himself and McCoy to remember it. He knew it might be a small thing, but even so it could help ward off the darkness he feared was to come. He carefully selected another image, as though in a museum gallery where the pictures were doors to that scene.

Leonard was in a strange place that smelled funny. He was older now and had been in school for a while. He noticed that a lot of people were wearing black. Nana was wearing a black dress and looked tired. He clung to her, hoping she would have some candy in her purse.
“Would you like to say goodbye to Bumpa?” his mom asked.
“Where is Bumpa?” Leonard asked, confused. She picked him up and took him across the room to where Bumpa was lying in a large wooden box with a lid. He was surrounded by flowers. “Where is Bumpa going?”
“We don’t know,” Nana answered. “Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it’s like.”
“Is it… like school?” Leonard asked. He liked his teacher and classmates well enough, but he wished he didn’t have to stay there so long.
“Maybe.” Nana smiled for the first time that day. “Maybe it is.”

Spock felt McCoy grow pensive, but at least he was not sad yet. The images in the interstices of McCoy’s memories were lined up in chronological order and seemed to be bigger and more vivid the more important they were. Spock chose the next one that seemed significant.

Leonard was in Little League and his team had been doing well. This was the last game of their season and his dad had promised to come watch him play — he had never been able to get away from the hospital in time to before. Leonard kept checking the stands as he warmed up to go to bat. “He’ll be here,” he kept telling himself. “He said he would — he promised.” Finally it was Leonard’s turn to bat. He struck out on the first pitch, didn’t swing on the second, then hit the third one up over the shortstop’s head and beyond the outfielder. While it wasn’t a home run, it let the runner on second base come home while Leonard comfortably got to first base. He followed the coach’s directions and made it to second; then a wild throw on the other team’s part allowed him to slide into home. His team won, nine to five, ending the season on a high note. But Leonard’s dad had never shown up.
His mom and Nana took him out for ice cream, a rare treat to have before dinner, but even his favorite chocolate fudge ripple didn’t taste as good as it usually did. When they got home, his mom told him to shower while she made spaghetti with meatballs, another of his favorites. As he came down the stairs, cleaned up and in his pajamas, he heard his dad’s car pulling into the driveway, the soft hum of the engine turning off a moment later. Ordinarily Leonard was glad to have his dad home, but today it was just… too late.
“Hey, Lenny,” his dad said as soon as he walked in the door. “Sorry I couldn’t make it — I had a patient take a turn for the worse. We had to do emergency surgery, and it was touch and go for a while, but we got him through. So, how was your game?”
“You
promised,” burst out of Leonard’s mouth before he could stop it. “You promised you’d make it! And you didn’t make it a single time!
“I know, Len, and I’m sorry, but I have to take care of people’s lives. That patient might have died if I hadn’t stayed to help him—”
“I don’t care!” Leonard shouted. “I don’t care if your stupid patient dies! You promised to come—”
The most startling thing in Leonard’s young life happened at that moment: his dad slapped him, hard, across the face, knocking him to the floor.
“Don’t you ever talk like that, young man!” His dad’s voice was low and rumbling, menacing. “You don’t know how good you have it! There are kids your age in the hospital, sick and even dying, while you get to go out and play with your friends. Don’t you dare pretend that your convenience is more important than someone else’s life! Do you understand?”
Leonard could not answer, too stunned to think. His dad leaned down to haul him off the floor and shook him.
“I asked you a question! Do you understand? Your wants are not important compared to people’s lives!”
“David! Stop it — you’re scaring him,” his mom intervened.
“I should damn well think I am! What have you been doing, letting him talk like that? If you didn’t spoil him all the time—”
“I am
not spoiling him! If you were ever around, you would know that!”
His dad released him to stand up and respond to his mom; Leonard saw his chance and escaped, running up the stairs to his room and locking his door. Then he curled into a ball under his blankets where he finally allowed himself to cry, hurt and confused. “But he
promised,” he repeated to himself, unable to comprehend why he had been slapped when he was not the one who had broken his promise. He cried so hard that he grew sick to his stomach and had to rush into his bathroom to throw up the ice cream, but he still couldn’t stop the tears. When someone pressed the chime at his bedroom door, he did not hear it at first.
“Lenny, it’s me,” his mom’s voice came through the intercom. “Won’t you have some dinner?”
“I d—don’ wanna!” he said, hiccupping.
“Oh, Lenny…. Will you let me in?”
He considered refusing, but then again his mom would never hurt him. He crept to the door to enter the lock code. She knelt and gathered him into her arms before he could protest.
“I’m sorry, Lenny…. Daddy should not have hit you.”
She held him while he let the last of his tears fall, then washed his face — horrified to learn that he’d been sick — and took him downstairs for a late spaghetti dinner.
“Where’s Dad?” Leonard asked, worried that he might be struck again.
“He’s not here. He’s… at Nana’s.” His mom’s face looked like someone had pinched her. “I told him not to come back until he’s ready to make things right with you. But there are some things that you and I need to talk about too. Like how important life is.”
After his mom had talked to him, he understood why his dad had been so angry — what Leonard had said that had been so wrong.
“I didn’t mean it,” he told her, “and I’ll never say it again.”
“I know you didn’t, sweetie,” she assured him. “Maybe we should go visit some of the children in the hospital. That way you’ll understand why Daddy’s work is so important.”
Leonard thought this was a good idea, so a few days later they went to the children’s ward with a few stuffed animals as presents. He met two boys around his own age — one who was learning to walk on his new artificial feet and another who had to stay inside a sealed tent to protect his weakened immune system. It was an experience Leonard would never forget.
But his dad didn’t have time to come see him at the hospital, either.

Spock pulled away, breaking the meld, since he sensed McCoy’s deep sadness. Returning to the present reality, he saw tears streaming down the man’s face, which he leaned in to kiss away.

“Leonard… what is it?” he asked, stroking his temples.

“Just… thinking of what might have been,” McCoy mumbled. “What different choices I could have made….”

“You were only a child; you couldn’t have understood.”

“I was a brat. I didn’t even know how spoiled I was.” He sighed, then pulled Spock into a tight embrace.

“Leonard… if this is too hard… we can stop.”

Immediately Spock realized that this was the wrong thing to say, since McCoy’s thoughts became self-taunting: “See, he doesn’t want to deal with your shit either — you stupid crybaby! No wonder everybody leaves you behind; no one wants to listen to your whining!”

“Leonard!” Spock said sharply to get his attention. “I do want to know the rest of it — all of it — and I’m not going to give up on you. But I don’t want to hurt you by forcing you to relive the most painful moments of your life. If you don’t want to do this now, we can continue some other time.” Spock rubbed his cheek against McCoy’s and returned his embrace, wishing he knew of more effective ways to comfort a Human. However, his reassurances seemed to work. After a moment of consideration, McCoy let out a long sigh.

“No… go ahead. I’d rather get this over with.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

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