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For a moment after Nurse Chapel had left, Spock looked across the ward at his fellow prisoner in silence, willing his shattered mental shields into some semblance of control - any semblance of control - without success. Forty-eight hours should have been sufficient time to regain at least a basic center of focus with the aid of meditation, and yet it had not been.

The needy, human portion of his mind reminded him that his primary mental anchor had been for four months trapped in the body and mind of a child, and as his secondary anchor was the root of the current problem then it was unsurprising that he found himself mentally adrift.

The logical, Vulcan portion of his mind haughtily reminded him yet again of the dangers in having such unstable variables as humans as integral parts of his mental character.

Jim did not believe in no-win scenarios, and yet Spock found himself in one more often than he wished regarding these frustrating, fascinating, illogical, ridiculous humans. He could not thrive without them; yet he found it increasingly difficult to live with them.

"What're you lookin' at?"

Case in point, he thought with a twinge of wry fondness. He bit back the scathing retort which leapt unbidden to his lips, firmly quashing the flare of irrational anger it engendered. Someone, as Nurse Chapel had so…delicately stated, needed to be the better being here. Unfortunately, that duty usually fell to the most logical component in any argument.

"Doctor, might I request that you cease your attempts at provoking me, at least temporarily?"

The human scowled at him. "You're the one provokin' people, Spock! All you've done for the last two days is sit over there and stare at me like I'm one of your little science projects! I'm getting sick of it, y'hear?"

Ah, and at last they found the heart of the matter. It was a simplistic enough answer that, all things considered, their recent conflict was beyond ridiculous.

Giving vent to a silent human sigh, Spock rose from his bio-bed, knowing that though the sensors would indicate outside that he had left he was in functional enough condition that Christine would leave him alone when she would not do the same for her CMO. He moved across the ward, finally shifting a nearby chair to seat himself beside the irritated human's bed.

"What are you doing."

"I have no desire to have a conversation of this gravity by raising my voice across an entire recovery ward, Doctor. Nor, do I believe, have you," he added pointedly, and saw unease flit across the human's expressive features. "As I am in nearly-optimal health by this point due to my own healing abilities, I believe this is the most logical alternative." He settled in the plasticene chair with no visible wince at its unyielding discomfort on his still-healing body, and leaned forward, at eye level with the frowning physician. "Now, Doctor. It appears neither of us has been entirely truthful with the other, regarding the events of the last three days."

McCoy looked at him incredulously, half-rolling over so as to not get a kink in his neck. "You tellin' me there's more you haven't told me?"

Spock ignored the butchered vocabulary in favor of nodding. "It has no bearing upon what was done to you prior to our mind-fusion, Doctor, but rather in regards to ours," he began, trying to tamp down on his own discomfort with discussing such a thing to an outworlder.

He had already violated the most sacred of Vulcan taboos by joining with a human (yes, he had previously joined with the captain, but Jim seemed somehow to be an inexplicable exception to every Vulcan rule); to now explain further the intimacy of the process was heaping dishonor upon sacrilege. Yet McCoy deserved the explanation, if for no other reason than because the human had already been forced once without consent. Spock would not have insufficient understanding upon his conscience.

"Doctor, you are aware that emotional transference is a potential side-effect of a mind-meld?" he inquired.

The doctor nodded. "One of the few things I do know," he groused, arms folded. "Your people aren't exactly forthcoming with medical information. I only learned that from Jim during that business with the Horta." (1)

"I doubt that at that time, the captain was aware that such transference can, in certain cases, affect both parties, rather than simply the recipient of the fusion."

McCoy was not the top CMO in Starfleet for his wit or personality; the human was quite intelligent, and Spock saw the instant the metaphorical 'light came on.'

"…Wait, you're sayin' you've been snippety with everyone for two days because you got a bunch of my emotional backwash in that thing?"

"Rather unpleasant phraseology, Doctor…but essentially, that is correct," he sighed, looking down at his hands for a moment. "I find myself unable to reach any type of focus or centering, much less begin to rebuild my mental shields."

"I don't really understand, Spock," the human admitted quietly. "I don't know enough about you to get all that mental mumbo-jumbo you and Jim throw around all the time."

Not for the first time, Spock felt a residual twinge of something that could only be categorized as jealousy, and it stemmed from that small remnant of this unusual human which still lingered in his mind. He had never considered the fact that McCoy might be envious of his relationship with the captain; never considered it, not because either of them willingly excluded the doctor, but simply because to a Vulcan, the idea of jealousy was a foreign concept. To a Vulcan, one's close relationships were exceedingly rare, and only given when trust was completely earned and deserved; jealousy then was an unnecessary emotion, and one which did not occur if one communicated properly with one's relationships. But to a human, he was aware that it was not so simple.

Now, for this human, he was just beginning to understand, and that understanding was quite disconcerting. McCoy was as integral to their tri-une balance as either he or Captain Kirk; that the doctor seemed unaware of how vital he truly was, was cause for concern, and needed to be rectified. That was a topic to be addressed later, however. For now, he owed it to this human to explain just what he had agreed to three days previously.

"Doctor, the Vulcan Way is, as you are aware, a complete controlling of the mind through a process of categorization and compartmentalization. You have commented on my inability to feel, Doctor; you are incorrect not just metaphorically but medically, as 'emotions' are no more than brainwaves, electrical impulses stimulated by certain nerve endings or chemicals in the brain. The Vulcan Way has simply learned to divert those impulses, to suppress and control them into a manageable form for our own protection."

McCoy's eyes were alight with interest, both medically and personally. "That makes a twisted sort of sense," the human muttered thoughtfully.

Spock nodded, and then continued. "Through a series of mental shields, all such private thoughts and impulses are controlled and compartmentalized, deep within the mind, in its innermost recesses."

"So when you say you can't get your mental shields back up, you really mean that your most private thoughts and impulses are just...leaking out everywhere?" McCoy asked, eyebrows raised.

"Essentially, yes, Doctor. It is a most…unpleasant state of being, especially for a species to which such lack of control is the ultimate dishonor," he said quietly.

"So explain to me what happens when you mind-meld with someone, then," McCoy asked, all animosity gone in the face of this new and sobering information. "Isn't that dangerous, given what you've just told me about the Vulcan Way? If I had shields like that I wouldn't want someone getting past them."

"It is extremely dangerous," he agreed, not looking away under the human's surprised scrutiny. "I know of only one other Vulcan-human mind-joining which did not have painful and potentially disastrous consequences for its participants."

"You and Jim?"

"Besides him," Spock dismissed his resident exception with a small wave of impatience, oblivious to the twitch of McCoy's smile as he did. "My mother and Ambassador Sarek. Have you never wondered why such a Vulcan would willingly take a human wife?"

"Well, forgive me for bein' a hopeless romantic, but even you had to be able to tell during that Babel voyage that he loves her, in his own purely logical way," McCoy drawled, eyes twinkling.

Spock blatantly ignored him. "A primary component of any Vulcan mating or bond-mating is that of mental compatibility, Doctor. That is the only reason I was originally matched with T'Pring," he explained, the pain of that betrayal having vanished long ago. "To my half-Vulcan and therefore irregularly Vulcan mind, hers was the only compatible match which did not immediately withdraw in self-protection against the anomaly."

"That's not fair," McCoy said softly.

"To a human's way of thinking, perhaps," he acknowledged with a nod. "But to the Vulcan Way, it was the only logical course of action. As was her dissolution of our bonding; ours would never have been a satisfactory union because our mental joining, even muted by distance and age, was no longer pleasant for either of us. She had found a more compatible match, and that is the most important component of a successful bond."

"So tell me about mind-melding with someone - what you're doing is basically letting them past your private shields?"

"In certain cases, yes, Doctor."

McCoy frowned. "Then why didn't I react the same way as I did this time, when we were trying to beat the Melkotians? Jim said you had to mind-meld with me and Scotty, and that didn't really bother me." (2)

Spock's lips quirked slightly. "The captain is still…not fully informed regarding the Vulcan concepts of mind-joining. He tends to use the term 'mind-meld' in an incorrect sense, what you would call colloquially. What he usually asks me to do in contacting an alien species, for example, is not a true mind-fusion; it is a shallow mind-touch, designed only to extract information without damage or discomfort to the recipient. It is not the type of mind-fusion which requires a lowering of personal boundaries, nor is it a crime in my culture to perform such on a mind unwilling or unable to communicate."

McCoy nodded to show he understood, looking thoughtful.

Spock continued, forging ahead while trying to not think of the sacrilege he was performing by indicting an outworlder into this most private circle of knowledge. "For example, Vulcan healers will use such a mind-touch to determine the physical or mental status of a patient who is unconscious. It is that same mind-touch, Doctor, which you saw me perform very early in our mission, upon Dr. VanGelder in this very Sickbay." (3)

"You said that was your first time joining with a human," the doctor recalled.

"It was. And it was no more a violation of Dr. VanGelder's privacy than your brain-scanner was at that time. I should have preferred to ask his permission, of course," he admitted, still slightly ill-at-ease about the remembrance, "but with the captain's life in danger there was no other course open to us."

"So when Jim asks you to go mind-meld with X alien species on an uncharted planet, he's not asking you to throw your mind wide open to it, in other words," McCoy said, brows furrowed. "Just to skim the surface for information?"

"Precisely, Doctor. The captain is aware that even such a shallow mind-touch, a kashkau-esta, is still a violation of Vulcan privacy, and it is frowned upon in my culture; but it is not painful for the recipient, and it is not a true mind-fusion, a kash-nov." (4)

"And what you did with me is a…cash-whatever-it-was."

"Affirmative, Doctor. A mind-fusion of that depth was required for the plan we implemented to retake the ship. Such is the ultimate expression of trust, for any species." He looked away for a moment, again struggling to bring his emotions under control, without much success.

"Including yours," McCoy said gently.

"Including mine, Doctor," he admitted quietly. "Should a Vulcan attempt such a joining with an incompatible mind, the destruction to his mental shields could be irreparable, and agonizingly painful until the damage is healed by a skilled mental healer. That is why, to attempt to join with an outworlder, is a clear violation of Vulcan tradition. It is, simply, far too dangerous to attempt under most circumstances."

The physician's eyes softened. "So basically, you took one heck of a risk trying to do that with me, to save the ship and Jim."

One eyebrow inclined. "As you took a risk in permitting me to make the attempt. Had we been incompatible, the result would have been disastrous. As it stands, we both ended the connection with some slight mental damage, resulting in the extreme headaches and mind-echoes of each other's mental states."

"Hence your temper tantrums and my impatience with everything I see as stupid," the doctor quipped, a slight sliver of a grin appearing for a moment.

Spock's lips twitched. "Indeed. The effects should dissipate in time, but the ramifications would have been much more severe had we not been compatible. Do you fully understand what I have told you, Doctor?"

"I think so," McCoy replied, running an uneasy hand through his hair. "But to go back to the whole mental shielding thing - you said you're struggling to rebuild those shields, because of me?"

"Not solely because of our mind-fusion, Doctor. In part, certainly; but that was inevitable. To fully clarify…I must first explain the Vulcan concepts of meditation." Spock shifted uncomfortably in the hard chair, his mind again balking at the idea of sharing so much with an outworlder.

Then he again remembered the horrific violation to which this human had been subjected, right under their noses, and they had never noticed…McCoy deserved to know everything there was to know, more so than the captain ever had asked or wanted to know.

He took a deep breath and continued, trying to ignore the disconcertingly eager attentiveness the physician was giving him. "The concept of meditation is crucial to maintaining such mental shielding, Doctor. Similarly to how you humans view restful sleep and healthy dreams, we require meditation time to continually assimilate and integrate the mental inputs which threaten to disrupt what is called the katric balance."

"In other words, if you don't have meditation time to deal with us illogical humans and the odd emotion that slips through your controls, then you get cranky like humans when they don't get enough sleep," McCoy offered.

"Somewhat emotionally stated, but essentially correct," he admitted slowly. "The basis of meditation is to locate a center, a focus, which serves as an anchor upon which to build one's mental shields. The focus must be a strong influence, the strongest possible one can cogitate, in order to produce the most impenetrable foundation and shield possible."

"That makes sense."

"One usually chooses a particular location; most Vulcans, I am told, choose a location on Vulcan, usually the iconic Mount Seleya or perhaps a familial estate home." Spock paused, unconsciously clenching his hands together between his knees. "However…"

"Because you don't really see Vulcan as home, you didn't have that option," the doctor interjected with remarkable gentleness.

"I did not, Doctor. The resulting shield would have been flimsy at best."

"What did you use, then?" McCoy asked curiously.

"In certain cases, where a location is not a suitable anchor, one can use a person or an object. As a child, as many Vulcan children do, I utilized my childhood pet as that anchor. While at Starfleet Academy, I used the Science laboratory facilities there as my anchor."

McCoy looked sincerely fascinated. "And when you entered the 'Fleet?"

"I used Science Lab Three here on the Enterprise, as that is where I spent the majority of my time as Captain Pike's Chief Science Officer," Spock replied readily. "And for eleven years, twelve actually, that remained my anchor, a suitable enough anchor for a mind entirely devoted to science."

"Quite logical, Mr. Spock."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"But you said twelve years - what happened then? Wouldn't that be about a year into our five-year mission?"

"It was, Doctor. After the…incident with T'Pring, I discovered that my mental shields had shattered under the strain of…a premature Time." He cleared his throat, trying to maintain a sense of nonchalance about discussing something so personal with such a volatile human. There were instinctive lines that even he could not cross, no matter how deserving McCoy was of hearing the truth.

"You don't have to explain any further, Spock," McCoy said, surprising him with a gentle pat to his arm. "I get it. After the little incident with your intended - which, by the way, I'm awfully glad you didn't get saddled with, because I don't like her - then you basically were having to start from scratch, is that it?"

He exhaled in an audibly relieved breath, grateful for the human's (atypical) tact and understanding. "That is correct, Doctor. I was forced, after that…emotional upheaval, to rebuild my shields, and I soon discovered that my mind had unconsciously chosen a far stronger focus than that of my work in the scientific world."

Comprehension dawned suddenly on the doctor's face, and McCoy smiled knowingly at him. "You found out that Jim made a much stronger focus for you, didn't you."

Momentarily mystified, he stared at the human in astonishment.

"You're anything but subtle, Spock," McCoy drawled, snorting at his surprise. "I get it now. Jim's your focus for your mental shielding yadda-yadda, and then POOF, he goes and gets himself turned into a baby by an alien race for four months. It's a wonder you didn't go off the rails and kill all of us in the meantime."

"Really, Doctor," Spock deadpanned, though secretly he was quite relieved to be done with that portion of the explanations.

"Heh. So what'd you do for the last four months, then? I mean we all could tell you loosened up a little, but you couldn't have just been drifting all that time."

"Unfortunately, Doctor, I was," he admitted, sighing, "though I was able to manage satisfactorily with a secondary focus."


"You, Doctor McCoy," he said directly, and was secretly amused at the wide-eyed look of horror on the man's face.


"Unfortunately for my mental state, Doctor…yes. Volatile as you are, you have always nonetheless functioned as a secondary anchor for me. Were you truly unaware of that?" he asked with interest, seeing the stunned look on the human's face.

"Uh…yes, pretty much I was unaware of that, Spock." McCoy shook his head in disbelief. "You got a funny way of showing it!"

"But you see now, Doctor, why the last two days have been disastrous for both our mental controls," Spock ventured, hoping the explanations would be sufficient for this particular inquisitive human. McCoy was like a Terran bull-dog with a bone if the subject sufficiently captured his attention, and he could only hope his less-than-eloquent explanations had been enough to satiate the doctor's curiosity. (5)

"Indeed," the doctor muttered, and then blinked in surprise, glaring at him. "Get your vocabulary outta my head, will you."

Spock leaned back in the chair, relaxing for the first time in days. "Believe me, Doctor, I would gladly trade you in exchange for ridding my own mind of the so-called 'Southern expressions' you seem to delight in employing despite all common sense to the contrary."

He received a wide grin full of mischief, entirely free from the irrational anger which had cast a pall over their recovery the last forty-eight hours. The sight pleased him, as it meant that the human was well on the way to healing. Ignorance breeds fear, and knowledge breeds power; this was a perfect textbook case for that centuries-old principle. Now that there was a clear understanding on both sides, Spock could not foresee a cause of conflict between them other than the residual transference from the mind-fusion.

Now, there only remained to address the real tragedy; namely, how had someone performed the ultimate act of assault upon this uniquely trusting human's unprotected mind, without anyone noticing?