6: Down the Rabbit Hole

McCoy contemplated his drink — at this point almost pure bourbon with only faint traces of tea, by Spock’s estimate — before plunging into his story.

“I’m sure you know I was married once… divorced now, though not by choice. That’s the trauma I haven’t gotten over. I’m not even sure it’s something I can… not that I blame my ex for everything, but she did pull the rug out from under me on that one. I told her right from the get-go that my residency would be a rough time, but she swore she could tough it out. Hell, she let me move in with her for my last year of med school to save on rent… so I thought she knew what she was getting into.”

He took another sip and let out a noisy sigh before continuing. Whether from the effects of the alcohol, the subject matter, or sheer exhaustion, Spock noticed that his drawl had become more pronounced.

“The problem was, even I didn’t know what a spell of hell my residency was gonna be. I couldn’t have expected it — it was pure bad luck. The head of the surgery department died suddenly of an aortic dissection, so I had to take over his duties until they hired a replacement. Better pay, which Cynthia liked at first, but a helluva lot more responsibility for me. I was a nervous wreck, always worried that my patients would die on me because I’d done something wrong, made some rookie mistake….”

Spock could sense the worry and nervous tension building up in McCoy just from recounting that time.

“I often went days without leaving the hospital, but I kept telling her that it was only temporary, that it would get better soon… except it didn’t, because the administrators were arguing over whether they should hire from the outside or promote me — without ever bothering to ask me if I wanted the job or not! By the time they told me I could have the position, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I actually told the head of HR where they could shove it. But by then it was too late… Cynthia had already found somebody else — somebody who could make her his first priority — and I had to sleep in my office because I had no other place to go.”

The sadness emanating from McCoy would have made Spock weep if he had not been in full control of his emotions. As it was, he struggled to find the words to even attempt to console him.

“I am… truly sorry, Leonard,” he murmured. “I had no idea….”

“Well, that’s not even the worst of it.” McCoy stood up and lurched toward his desk, alarming Spock with how unsteady he was on his feet, but he managed to right himself by grabbing the back of the couch. He took the few steps to the desk tentatively, then brought the holograph panel back to the coffee table, where he set it down and turned it on. The image of a girl, swinging gently back and forth as though playing with her dress, appeared in mid-air.

“That’s Joanna… my little girl.”

Spock looked up at McCoy in shock. “You have… a daughter?

“Yeah. Damnedest thing, innit?” He collapsed into his chair again. “She’s a cute kid, though… takes after her mother, thank God!”

Spock studied the image, still moving in a continuous loop, and compared it to the man sitting across from him.

“There is a definite resemblance to you as well…. Her eyes are much like yours.”

“Y’think so?” McCoy looked pleased, but there was an undercurrent of pain that marred his pleasure. “See, at first, I didn’t think she was mine. I knew Cynthia had been cheating on me, so I just assumed she was… the other guy’s kid. God knows I’d hardly been home for months…. But Cynthia had her DNA tested, and lo and behold, I was the daddy. ’Course, she doesn’t call me ‘Daddy’ — I’m ‘Papa’ to her… just some guy who shows up once in a blue moon and sends her weird stuff from all over the galaxy. I’m not really a part of her life… wasn’t even there when she was born ’cuz I’d left for Starfleet before the ink had dried on the divorce papers. My residency was over and I couldn’t wait to get away from that place….”

Spock was speechless. McCoy’s grief was as all-consuming as a black hole, sucking him into its abyss.

“So this other guy is now married to my ex, is ‘Daddy’ to my baby girl, and is living in the house I’d picked out for my family. Hell, he might even be driving my old car if it’s still working — Cynthia got that in the divorce too. I guess she was just like all the other girls who pretended to be interested in me… they heard ‘doctor’ and all they could see was dollar signs.”

McCoy took a deep breath, faced Spock, and smiled — a smile that wrenched the Vulcan’s heart for being so obviously false.

“Well, now you know my sob-story. I pull it out and dust it off every so often to buy sympathy from unsuspecting strangers, but I know that won’t work on you. So, take it as a cautionary tale; make sure you don’t let the same thing happen to you with Uhura.”

“Leonard…” Spock began, groping for the right words, “have you considered… applying for a post near Earth, where you could see your daughter more often?”

“Considered, of course… but that’d be even worse! Going over to my old house to pick her up every other weekend? Knowing I’m basically babysitting for Cynthia and her new husband? Besides, it wouldn’t be good for Joanna. As much as I hate to admit it, Frank is a good man and a good father… much better than I could ever hope to be. And I don’t want to risk… getting into it with Cynthia again. Towards the end our fights got really nasty, and Joanna doesn’t need to see that. No, she’s better off without me interfering in her life. Maybe when she gets older and can understand better, I’ll make more of an effort to see her, but… for now, being some kind of Santa Claus from outer space is the best I can do for her, I reckon.”

McCoy finished off his bourbon while Spock stared at him, overwhelmed.

“It’s gettin’ late, Spock — you should get home to your woman, and I need to check up on my patients.” The doctor sauntered unsteadily to his desk and pulled up some readouts on his monitor.

“I will… accompany you back to your quarters,” Spock said at last, standing up to dispose of their food containers in the recycling chute. “You seem somewhat intoxicated, Leonard, and I would not want you to have any… mishap.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not as thunk as you drink I am,” McCoy slurred, then laughed when Spock looked at him in alarm. “No, really — I can make it back all right. The walk will do me good. Plus you’ll want to use the site-to-site transporter.”

“Nyota is not expecting me tonight, so I can walk with you. In fact, I insist.”

“Suit yourself.”

Although McCoy’s reply sounded casual, Spock sensed a definite change in his emotions: gladness and happiness were taking over, dispelling the sadness and pain that had been dominant until now. There was some embarrassment and nervousness intermingled in his feelings as well.

“He must be glad of my company,” Spock thought, “but he is too embarrassed — or proud — to ask for it. Or perhaps he is hesitant to keep me away from Nyota… similar to how he has avoided claiming any of his daughter’s time for himself….”

Aloud, Spock only asked, “How are your patients doing?”

“As well as can be expected. One of them got an extra dose of pain-reliever, but that’s all right — it’ll help her sleep better tonight.”

When McCoy finished his review and they left his office, the hallway and other office areas were deserted, so Spock took the opportunity to say something he had been mulling in his mind for a while.

“Leonard, you said your daughter’s step-father is a good father… better than you could ever be… but I seriously doubt that. I believe you would be an excellent father.”

The increase in McCoy’s embarrassment was exponential, hitting Spock like a heat wave, but his pleasure was also palpable.

“You really think so? I mean, I have to watch my language every time I talk to her, and I don’t know much about pediatrics, let alone kids… I don’t want to be a bad influence on her, y’know?”

“I am sure that, given the opportunity, you would perform admirably.”

“I hope you’re right,” McCoy said as they entered the turbolift, his tone unwontedly sober. “I’m sort of hoping… maybe when she’s in her teens or something, that I might be able to spend some time with her… if she wants to, of course.”

“I’m sure she would benefit from your attention.”

As they walked out of the building into the darkened street — Yorktown’s simulated nighttime — McCoy asked, “So… any chance of you and Uhura having, y’know… little quarter-Vulcans?”

“That is highly unlikely,” Spock answered. “As you know, the only reason I survived as the first Human-Vulcan hybrid was because my Vulcan DNA had asserted itself as the more dominant in all areas; any aberration in which the Human DNA became more dominant would have meant a serious conflict in my genetic blueprint.”

“You’d have ended up with mangled organs,” the doctor agreed. “If it were just doubled organs, it wouldn’t be so bad, but if you ended up without one altogether… yeah, bad news.”

“Precisely. So the risk would be even greater with a higher ratio of Human DNA.”

“But wouldn’t the Human DNA win out? The kid would be 75% Human, after all.”

“Not necessarily. Since the Vulcan DNA is so dominant in me, we would run almost as much risk of having conflicting DNA as my own parents did. My father has told me that they had had several miscarriages where the genetic code was ‘mangled,’ as you say, to the point where those children could not survive even in utero. It was an especially difficult time for my mother — and not something I wish to subject Nyota to.”

McCoy sighed. “Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to go through, emotionally or physically. But that’s too bad… I think you’d make a good father too, Spock. Especially if you had a more logical, Vulcan-ish kid.”

Sensing his sincerity, Spock was surprised and gratified. “Why, thank you, Leonard. I must admit, I have not contemplated having children at any length, but I imagine it is one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences in life.”

“It can be,” he agreed, but a wave of sadness washed over him — reminding Spock that for all intents and purposes, McCoy had relinquished his parental rights.

“You have done a noble thing,” Spock said softly, drawing closer as they walked, “in allowing your daughter’s step-father to have the primary role as her father.”

McCoy snorted. “Noble! Yeah, right. You know what it really is, Spock? I’m scared. Scared shitless that I’ll screw up somehow and leave her scarred for life. What do I know about girls? Absolutely nothing! Hell, I couldn’t even figure out when her mom was trying to tell me she was unhappy… or I just didn’t do enough to fix things. I don’t want to be a disappointment for Joanna too.”

Spock grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Leonard, you mustn’t tear down your own self-esteem like this! You would be a good father, if for no other reason than that you want to be. I know you want only what is best for your daughter. Even if you do happen to make mistakes, she will know you love her, and that is what will matter most. I can assure you, both of my parents struggled with rearing me — after all, it was the first time anybody had parented a Human-Vulcan child — but I never doubted that they loved me. That is what gave me the strength to get through my difficult childhood. That is what gave me the confidence to take a risk and join Starfleet. It was not easy, but I knew that they would support me in whatever path I chose.”

McCoy was swaying on his feet, his eyes watering with tears. The complex tempest of his emotions threatened to overwhelm Spock also, but he stood his ground and thereby grounded McCoy as well.

“Thanks, I… I’ll keep that in mind,” the Human choked out.

Spock nodded, then placed a hand on McCoy’s back to gently guide him.

“Please do…. It is not logical to ‘sell yourself short,’ as they say.”

McCoy barked out a laugh — a shaky one, but nevertheless Spock was glad to hear it and to feel his emotions become more lighthearted.

“Doctor, I know you must realize this,” Spock added as they neared their building, “but it is also illogical to drink alcohol when you are already fighting depression.”

“You’re damn right it’s illogical, but it’s the only thing that takes the edge off,” McCoy grumbled. “Like fighting fire with fire, poison with poison.”

“Have you considered alternate methods of coping with it?”

“Like what?” McCoy asked suspiciously.

“Meditation, exercise, hobbies….”

“Never tried meditation — not sure I could get the hang of it. But I’m going swimming with Jim every other day while we’re here. As for hobbies… does insulting you count?”

Spock could not repress the smile that pulled at his mouth. “I believe something more constructive would produce better results.”

“Oh, so now you want constructive insults? My God, Spock, you’re a demanding taskmaster!”

Spock allowed himself a chuckle, which he felt reflected in McCoy as a surge of pleasure and happiness. When they entered the turbolift of their building, however, he sensed the doctor’s mood plummet almost in direct proportion to the floors they rose.

“What is it?” he asked, turning to observe McCoy’s clouded face.

“What’s what?” was his toneless retort.

“You are feeling depressed again.”

Heaving a deep sigh, McCoy let his head fall back against the turbolift wall.

“I just… I hate… going home to an empty apartment. You’d think after all these years it wouldn’t bother me so much, but—”

“If it will help, I will accompany you.”

“What, into the door?”

“And stay for a while, if you wish.”

“I can’t ask you to do that!”

“You have not and you need not — I have already offered.” The turbolift stopped on their floor so they exited, Spock leading the way toward McCoy’s quarters. “Since my Vulcan physiology means that I require less sleep than Humans, I will stay until you have fallen asleep, then return to my own quarters.”

“Spock,” McCoy drawled, half exasperated, half amused. “You’re being awfully nice to me, and I don’t know whether to be touched or really, really terrified that you’ve caught some sort of space virus.”

“I assure you I am in good health… but I will accept your gratitude in the form of constructive insults.”

The snort of a laugh McCoy expelled seemed to lighten his spirits again.

“I’ll have to start thinking of some good ones.”

“You may take your time. I am in no hurry.”

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