“I hope I’m not disturbing you, Doctor.”
For a second McCoy unconsciously tightened his grip on the mug in his hands. He sat in his office, shift over, reluctant to go back to his quiet, cold quarters but equally reluctant to go to the recreation room or the mess hall. His office made a good compromise – he was alone, but a hushed conversation coming from the examining room next door made a welcome companion.
McCoy looked up, his eyes traveling the length of Spock’s body until they stopped on his face. Spock stood straight, hands clasped behind the back, looking down at McCoy with a slight frown.
“What do you need?” McCoy asked, putting the mug down. He hoped nothing was wrong with Jim.
“I wish to inquire about your health,” Spock said, eyeing the mug.
McCoy blinked. That wasn’t what he expected.
“Why, Mr. Spock,” McCoy said, forcing himself to sound lighter than he felt, “I wasn’t aware that worrying about the health of the Chief Medical Officer was one of your duties.”
“It is not,” Spock conceded. “However, I have a certain scientific curiosity about your case. I translated the Fabrini knowledge—”
“And I thanked you for that already.” McCoy rubbed his forehead, stood up and walked around the desk. He should take some sleeping pills tonight. He couldn’t afford to run on a lack of sleep any longer.
“This is not about gratitude, Doctor,” Spock said, shifting slightly, so he stood in front of McCoy, hands hanging down his sides. “As you and the Captain like to point out, I am occasionally capable of making a human error.”
McCoy’s eyes widened, just slightly. “Well, I’m glad I’m still alive to hear you admit it.”
Spock’s expression hardened.
“Spock, what is it you want to know, exactly?” McCoy asked, trying to get back on track before they started an argument. “The xenopolycythemia was cured and you know it. There was no mistake.”
“Yes, it appeared cured two weeks ago. However…” Spock paused and met McCoy’s eyes. “These days you’ve been fatigued and absent-minded. Your witty repartees have been substandard. You avoid coming to the bridge, and you avoid the Captain. I find your behavior highly uncharacteristic.”
McCoy narrowed his eyes. There was too much to unfold, and he was too tired to deal with it. “Did Jim say something?” he asked, choosing to address the easiest part, rather than think about how Spock had apparently observed him and noted things he wasn’t even aware of himself.
Spock pressed his lips together, folding the hands behind his back. They watched each other for a few quiet seconds before Spock opened his mouth again. “I expressed my… concern during the last chess match with the Captain,” he said, moving away from McCoy, his eyes falling on the skull on McCoy’s shelves. “He mentioned you had canceled your evenings with him and stopped, in his words, nagging him about a healthy diet.”
McCoy nodded absently, straightening out the numerous tapes laid on the desk. He had instructed Jim’s personal yeoman to see to his eating habits, but he forgot that Jim’s single word could send the girl away, doctor’s orders or not. McCoy had to talk to her again. Or better yet, he should talk to Jim. Leaving him alone for a longer period of time had never ended well. He leaned against the desk and rubbed his temple. The headache seemed to be getting worse.
“The Captain offered a theory,” Spock continued, turning to face McCoy again. His face was unreadable.
McCoy gripped the edge of the desk. Jim had known that this time of the year wasn’t easy for him, but surely he wouldn’t break his confidence. There were some things McCoy wasn’t sure he wanted Spock to know. At the very least, he wanted to have the choice to tell him himself.
“He suggested you were grieving Natira and what could have been.”
“And I assume you dismissed that.”
Spock inclined his head.
Spock stepped closer, a curious glint in his eyes. “Was I wrong, Doctor?”
“Yes,” McCoy replied without thinking. “No. Not entirely.” He bowed his head, focusing on the tips of Spock’s boots. He sighed. “Spock…”
Someone laughed in the other room.
“This isn’t the place,” McCoy murmured and walked around Spock, brushing his arm with his own. He stopped in front of the door. “Look, I know you won’t stop bothering me until you have an answer you want, so… do you want to talk in my quarters? I can’t promise to be a good company, though.”
“If you say that there are no problems with your health, Doctor,” Spock said, putting an emphasis on McCoy’s title, “I have no reason to doubt you.”
Spock’s words sent an unexpected flash of disappointment through McCoy, but before he could analyze it, Spock continued: “But I am willing to listen.” With those words Spock walked past McCoy into the corridor.
“Do you want a drink?” McCoy asked when they entered his quarters.
His only answer was a raised eyebrow.
“Right, why do I even bother…” McCoy murmured and sat down behind his desk, leaning against the back of the chair. Spock watched him with a calm expression. “Take a seat.” McCoy pointed at the chair on the other side of the desk next to Spock.
“Doctor,” Spock started, clasping his hands behind his back, ignoring McCoy’s invitation to sit down, “may I ask what were you drinking in the sickbay?”
McCoy looked up at him in surprise. “Why?”
“I was under the impression you did not like tea.”
McCoy blinked. He opened his mouth, then closed it, not knowing what to say.
“Is there a reason why you’ve never accepted an offer for a Vulcan tea from me?”
“As if you’ve ever accepted an offer for a drink from me,” McCoy snapped back.
Spock narrowed his eyes. “You are aware that Vul—”
“Spock!” McCoy interrupted him. “Why did you come to sickbay? What’s this—” He waved his hand between them.
“You’ve shown signs of fatigue, you’ve been absent-minded and behaved in, for you, unusual ways. I had suspected that the xenopolycythemia was not fully cured.” Spock’s expression hardened, and he stood even straighter than before.
“So you thought you’d made a mistake with the cure?” McCoy asked, remembering Spock’s words from the sickbay.
“It seemed like a logical conclusion.”
McCoy wet his lips, avoiding looking at Spock. A pleasant warmth spread through his chest. He wiped his palm against the fabric of his pants, thinking that he could maybe share some things with Spock. It wasn’t a secret after all; McCoy just didn’t like talking about his private life. They had that in common. Yet Spock went out of his way today to come to him, offering a willing ear. McCoy made the decision. He braced his hands on the desk and stood up.
“Would you like a cup of green tea, Mr. Spock?”
They watched each other for a long time before Spock inclined his head and finally sat down. McCoy shook his head with fondness and moved toward the synthesizer.
“It’s my daughter’s favorite blend,” he said when he put the mug in front of Spock. “It’s her nineteenth birthday today.”
Spock didn’t say anything. Instead, he took the mug into both of his hands and sipped from it. “Your daughter has good taste.”
McCoy didn’t quite suppress the smile curling his lips. He sat down again, watching Spock looking into the mug. McCoy sipped his tea. The silence between them was comfortable – something that had never stopped surprising him.
Spock glanced at him behind the rim of his mug. Perhaps because McCoy was tired, perhaps because he was pleased that Spock cared, perhaps because it was just something he did, McCoy broke the silence.
“Do you understand loneliness?” The moment McCoy heard the words leaving his mouth, he closed his eyes. In embarrassment. In shame. In understanding. He knew better than that. It wasn’t even what he had wanted to say, but he wasn’t really surprised. It weighed heavily on his mind these days.
“For both of our sakes I’ll pretend you don’t,” McCoy added and grimaced. That didn’t come out right either.
Spock pressed his lips together but didn’t move. Didn’t say anything.
McCoy took a deep breath. Spock deserved some answers. “I haven’t seen my daughter for more than ten years.”
Spock didn’t quite manage to mask his surprise.
“I’m not a good father, I’ve never been.” McCoy started to spin the mug around. “I wasn’t a good husband either. We got married young.”
McCoy remembered when she had asked him to marry him. They were barely twenty. She was enamored with the idea of being a young mother, and he liked her well enough. With time, he believed, he would come to love her.
“I spent most of my time studying. Researching. Then working. I couldn’t give my wife what she wanted. I couldn’t make her happy,” McCoy paused and took another sip. The bitterness was fitting. “So she found her happiness elsewhere. Can’t say I blame her.” He picked on the edge of the desk and chuckled self-deprecatingly, avoiding looking at Spock.
It had been a long time since McCoy mentioned it to anyone. To Jim. Long before the Enterprise, when Jim also had to face a crossroad. Career or family; those who were able to choose both were lucky.
McCoy looked down at the tea. “I don’t even know if she still likes it today,” he said quietly, setting the mug aside. “I record a message for her occasionally, sometimes I write a letter, but she doesn’t respond to all of them. And the older she gets, the less she writes. And me too. I don’t think about her often enough, and then her birthday comes, and I realize another year has gone by without…” He sighed and stood up. “I need a drink.”
Before he moved away from the desk to fetch a glass, Spock grabbed his wrist.
“I do not think that’s wise.”
“How would you know?” McCoy shook his hand, but Spock didn’t let go.
“It is understandable that we’d reminiscence, perhaps even experience regret, on certain dates.” Spock squeezed McCoy’s wrist. Gently. His little finger lightly brushed against the skin between the blue tunic and the back of his hand. McCoy’s chest tightened. “However, we cannot allow it to affect our lives.”
“I, too, have a few dates like that.”
Spock’s eyes were understanding. Soft. Sad. Who had Spock lost in the past? A family member? A lover? A friend? Three years together on a spaceship and McCoy still didn’t know much about Spock’s past.
“I’m usually handling it better,” McCoy said, rubbing his tired eyes. “But facing my death…” He focused on Spock’s hand on his wrist, suddenly remembering Spock’s tight grip on his shoulder when he woke up at Yonada after he had been hit by the Oracle’s magic. He remembered Natira and her offer of future. “Well, something like that makes you…” He tugged on his hand, and Spock let it go.
“Act illogical,” Spock finished.
“See things in a different light.” McCoy walked around the desk and perched on it on Spock’s side, focusing on the wall above Spock’s head. “I know that you don’t understand why I initially decided to stay on Yonada. Even many humans would question it. I question it myself, even though I know why I did it.”
Natira was lovely. It hadn’t been hard to imagine a life with her. It hadn’t been hard to imagine falling in love with her. At that moment, in a very long time, he had felt he could finally become happy. There wasn’t much he could mess up in a year after all. Yet in the end, it hadn’t even taken a day.
“It was an attractive option,” McCoy shrugged. An attractive option that guaranteed him Jim’s and Spock’s lives. An option that could perhaps make his last year less dark.
“You do not need to explain yourself to me, Doctor.”
“Maybe I need to explain myself to me.” The moment McCoy voiced the thought, he realized how true it was. He had agreed to get married. Again. He had decided to stay on an alien spaceship with no means to communicate with anyone – with his friends, with his daughter. He hadn’t thought to bid a farewell to anyone on the Enterprise. He had let Jim and Spock go without a good-bye. He gripped the edge of the desk. “I didn’t even think of saying good-bye to my daughter when I…” He bowed his head. “I’ve left her once already and this…” The nails of his other hand cut into his palm. His head was pounding. He closed his eyes, breathing in and out, trying to find his equilibrium.
Suddenly there was a light touch on his arm. Spock. Spock, who was standing just mere inches from him. It was oddly comforting. McCoy exhaled and tried to shrug Spock off, but instead of letting go, Spock tightened his fingers around the arm.
“You should go,” McCoy said, his voice a bit rough. “I… you don’t want…” McCoy didn’t deserve Spock’s gentleness. Or whatever it was.
“I believe you do not wish to be alone tonight,” Spock said softly.
“Really? Why’s that?”
“You chose to invite me here.”
“What was I thinking?” McCoy muttered and without thinking leaned forward and rested his forehead against Spock’s shoulder.
Spock tensed up. The grip on McCoy’s arm became almost painful before Spock relaxed. McCoy breathed in. The combined smell of incense and something bitter was surprisingly calming, and his headache felt slightly better.
“This would be less embarrassing if I had that drink earlier,” McCoy murmured.
“The dubious benefits of alcohol are temporary.”
McCoy hummed. They didn’t speak or move for several minutes. The only sound in the room was their synchronized breathing and the quiet humming of the ship’s engines. Surrounded by Spock’s unique smell, McCoy felt like he could fall asleep any minute.
“It is not too late to reconcile with your daughter,” Spock said suddenly.
McCoy opened his eyes and raised his face, his hair brushing against Spock’s face. Spock was staring straight ahead, but when he realized McCoy moved, their eyes connected. Something flickered in Spock’s brown eyes that McCoy couldn’t read. Didn’t want to read. He lowered his gaze. Their faces were too close. Spock’s lips were right there.
McCoy jerked back, bumping against the edge of the desk. Spock frowned, just a bit, and stepped back, letting his hand fall from McCoy’s arm.
McCoy wet his lips and cleared his throat, missing Spock’s touch. “What?”
“I said that it wasn’t too late to reconcile with your daughter,” Spock repeated, his voice even.
Confused and shaken, McCoy asked sharply, “Are you on speaking terms with your father now?”
“I do not see how that’s relevant.”
The coldness in Spock’s voice took McCoy off-guard. He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I… it’s not…” He exhaled. “I told you I wouldn’t be a good company today.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Spock moving his hand, as if he wanted to touch McCoy again, before he let it fall against his own body, curling it into a fist. “I need that drink now,” he said before Spock could react and walked toward the shelf with the bottle of Saurian brandy, putting some distance between them. He poured himself a glass.
“Spock,” McCoy interrupted him, clutching the glass. “We’re both tired. We should stop before it becomes an argument.” McCoy knocked back the brandy, feeling the burn in his mouth and throat.
“I do not understand why a mention of reconciliation with your daughter made you angry.”
“You said it yourself, Doctor,” Spock pressed, clasping his hands behind the back. “The vision of death made you see things differently. It is only logical to want to see and talk to your child again. And I submit it is not too late for that.”
“I left her, Spock. She blames me.” McCoy poured himself another glass and knocked it back. “I chose my career over family. And that isn’t easy to forgive. I left Earth a long time before I signed aboard the Enterprise. Maintaining a relationship with one’s child like this… it isn’t perfect. She speaks to me occasionally, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Spock opened his mouth, but McCoy stopped him with a simple gesture. “I know what you’re doing. Or trying to do.” He turned back to the shelf, putting the glass and bottle away. “Thanks… I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
“We will arrive at our next destination in thirty-eight point five hours,” Spock pointed out.
“And I’ll be ready to perform my duties, Mr. Spock, don’t worry,” McCoy said and faced Spock again.
“That has not been my concern.”
They held each other’s gaze. McCoy thought that he didn’t know any other eyes as well as Spock’s. Not even Jim’s. And if he wasn’t feeling loose from the alcohol, if he didn’t feel so damn tired, he would feel embarrassed by it. Now only a small smile flickered across his lips. Spock raised an eyebrow in question. McCoy shook his head fondly.
“You can go, Spock, I’ll be fine now.”
Spock watched him for a while longer, before inclining his head. “Very well.” He stopped in front of the door. “I am pleased my concerns were groundless,” he said and pushed the button to open the door.
McCoy was left dumbstruck, eyes blinking rapidly. He hated when Spock had the last word. And what last words they were this time.
“Damn Vulcan,” McCoy muttered and went to take a shower.
He would write another letter to his daughter the next day, asking if she still liked the green tea. He would tell her that he drank it every year on her birthday, hoping that one day they would be able to have it together again.
When he finally lay down to bed, he had no trouble falling asleep.