1: Empathy

A blinding wave of pain engulfed Spock, sending him crashing to the floor of the long-abandoned building. Even before he could fully regain his breath, McCoy was beside him, assessing his injury.

“Stay down!” the doctor ordered. “I really don’t want to burn you again just to keep you in one piece.”

“I would prefer that… as well,” Spock replied between gasps. “Perhaps I should not have… looked up at the ceiling — it seems to have pulled… on the scar tissue.”

“Oh, you think?” McCoy growled. His right hand landed on Spock’s bare stomach as he examined the wound, causing a flood of emotions to envelop the injured Vulcan, who could not even begin to block them in his current state. WORRY-WORRY-FEAR-WORRY-WORRY-RELIEF. Spock flinched at their intensity but did not bother to remind McCoy that he was a touch-empath; he knew that contact was an instinctive thing for the Human, a reflexive act to try to convey comfort.

“Well, you didn’t tear it completely loose, but if you do that again I’m gonna have to cut out the old scar and re-brand you with a new one. So I suggest you don’t fucking move for a while.”

Spock nodded. “I will defer to your… medical expertise.”

“You’re losing more blood, though,” McCoy muttered, still peering under Spock’s shirt. “You’re going to need some water soon, even if it makes you bleed quicker. I’ll go down to the river and get some. Stay here.”

“How will you carry it back?”

“With my bare hands, if need be,” McCoy snapped. “But I should be able to scavenge a tube of some sort from the wreckage of our crash.”

“Doctor, if you return to the site, there will be a greater chance of the enemy finding you.”

“I know that, Spock, but it’s getting dark so we’ll have to shelter here for the night, and I need water too. Just stay still and try not to hurt yourself any more.”

Finding himself in no position to argue, Spock watched McCoy jump down out of the circular structure, then turned his scrutiny back to the writing on the ceiling and walls. He tried to focus on the patterns and commit them to memory. His vision became distorted, as though he were looking through unbalanced lenses, which told him that his injury was affecting his cognitive faculties. He took a deep breath and attempted yet again to will the pain away. It was a discipline of Vulcan meditation: by acknowledging the pain and giving it a place to exist, then closing off that place and relegating it to the back of one’s consciousness, he should have been able to ignore its effects. At least in theory. It was the second theory of the day that had been proven to be, as McCoy would say, “horse shit.”

Spock realized he had drifted off when he was startled by the grunts McCoy made as he hoisted himself back up into the chamber.

“Here, drink as much as you can. I tried to filter it through my sleeve, but if it’s full of parasites, well, then so am I.”

Spock complied as the doctor lifted him with one arm and held the container to his lips. The water tasted metallic but was refreshing after his ordeal.

“So you were saying,” McCoy began as he gently laid Spock down again, “that the writing in this building is the same as on that artifact the Fabona tried to give the Teenaxians?”

Spock nodded, realizing the doctor was trying to distract him from the pain in the only way he could. “Yes. Although the artifact had been scanned and proven to be inert, perhaps our proximity to this planet activated its homing beacon, thereby precipitating the attack.”

“Just our luck to have it on board when we came here,” McCoy grumbled, sitting down next to his patient.

Spock suddenly opened his eyes, startled. “I do not believe it was a coincidence,” he stated, resisting the urge to sit up. “If this is where the artifact originated — the one place where it could be reactivated — it is highly improbable that the Enterprise was asked to come here on a rescue mission by chance.”

“Are you saying it was a trap? To lure us here with that thing?”

“That would be the logical conclusion.”

“Well… damn! But how would they have known we had it? Even if they knew the Fabona were sending it to the Teenaxians, we were supposed to have gotten rid of it by now.”

“Yes…. However, the fact is we had not… and I logged it in the archive vault. Anyone who has access to unclassified Starfleet records could have found that it was still on board.”

The two exchanged glances, Spock’s clear and calculating, McCoy’s horrified.

“So you’re saying those bastards who attacked us… have access to our records?”

“Or had bribed or blackmailed someone who does.”

“Dammit!”

For once, Spock was inclined to agree with McCoy’s sentiment.

“We need to warn the others… if there’s anyone else still left,” McCoy finally said, almost to himself.

“Leonard, it is highly unlikely that they captured our crew only to murder them. With their superior technology, it would have been easy to simply shoot down each escape pod. The fact that they captured them instead would indicate that they have some purpose for them — perhaps forced labor of some sort — but for the moment, I believe it is safe to assume that most of them are still alive.”

“Small mercies,” McCoy replied in a whisper. “There’s no telling what horrors they’re going through.”

“Which is why we must try to locate any survivors not captured by the enemy and attempt to rescue those who are.”

McCoy met Spock’s gaze with weary resignation. “In the morning, though. We can’t go around stumbling in the dark with no map or any idea of where we’re going. At least we have some shelter here… such as it is.”

Spock watched with mild curiosity as McCoy lay down beside him.

“C’m’ere. Use me as a mattress,” the doctor told him while gingerly slipping one arm under his head. “I know I’m no bed of roses, but we’ve got to keep your core temperature up. And right now this is the best I can do.”

Having grown stiff already from lying on the cold floor, Spock knew the doctor’s suggestion was logical. He struggled to turn onto his uninjured side, and from there McCoy helped him to lie face-down on his Human chest. The warmth of McCoy’s body was a welcome respite.

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“Are you comfortable?”

“Yes. Are you?”

“As snug as a bug in a rug,” McCoy deadpanned.

Spock found himself smiling in spite of their circumstances. He knew the floor could hardly be called “comfortable,” having lain there himself, but his companion’s sarcastic bravado was a welcome reminder that not all had been lost. When McCoy placed both hands on Spock’s chilled back, trying to warm him, some of his emotions seeped through the fabric of Spock’s uniform: PROTECT-PROTECT-WORRY-PROTECT-PROTECT-FRAGILE-PROTECT-PROTECT-PRECIOUS. Although it did not surprise Spock that the doctor, contrary to his words and demeanor, was devoted to every single one of his crewmates, the sheer passion behind his feelings came as a shock. There was a heat there that far outstripped the physical warmth McCoy was offering him, a depth and breadth and strength of care that Spock had rarely experienced before.

Nyota’s feelings for him were communicated in lightning-bright flashes of intense concern and adoration, tempestuous and beautiful, or languid, sultry satisfaction and glowing appreciation on the rare occasions when they made love.

Jim’s was a shimmering shower of white-hot sparks, like iron striking iron on a blazing forge. Overwhelming at times in its brilliance, yet always with a challenge that dared Spock to do better, to challenge Jim in return.

But McCoy’s emotion was an altogether different entity. It felt as vast as the fathomless reaches of space, as unending as the perpetual nuclear reaction of a star, as bright and powerful and impossible to stare at as a red supergiant. And yet there was healing in it, a palpable sense of making right what had gone wrong, of willing open wounds to knit together and infusing life and health into failing tissue.

It took Spock’s breath away.

He lay there, struggling to maintain control over his own emotions — which were fighting for dominance in his weakened state — and tried to absorb the full impact of it.

“Humans often mention ‘healing hands’ in their vernacular,” he considered with renewed respect. “Perhaps there is more to it than the metaphorical sense….”

As McCoy’s breathing slowed and he drifted into sleep, the strength of his feelings grew somewhat muted and easier to bear. Now Spock could notice something else of interest: McCoy’s heartbeat. Like Nyota’s, it was far slower than a Vulcan’s. Also like Nyota’s, it reminded Spock of his mother. It had been a long time since he was a child young enough to permit her to hold him close; since her death, he had come to regret not accepting her shows of affection more. The slow, steady beat had always had a calming effect on him. He drew in a deep breath, then let it out as he counted the beats. He realized he was warm now and as comfortable as could be expected with such a serious injury. Even his logical mind could experience gratitude for the doctor’s excellent care. His emotions, rising dangerously close to the surface, were suffused with it.

“Goodnight, Doctor,” Spock thought as he closed his eyes. “I would most likely not be alive now if not for your expertise. If we get out of this… when we get out of this, I must find a way to thank you sufficiently.”

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