Lapses II: Life Cycles

Title: Lapses II: Life Cycles
Author: Shannon
Pairing: Mc/Sp pre-slash
Rating: M for violence
Summary: How much can one Vulcan take?  McCoy asks the question and learns the answer as Spock struggles through an ending in search of his own new beginning.  Questions are the basis of science, but what happens when all you have is the question and there doesn’t appear to be an answer?  Sequel to Lapses which was originally published in Spiced Peaches XII, March 2008. 
A/N: Special thanks to my amazing beta Stephanie.  Without her help, this wouldn’t be half the story it is. 
A week after they left the colony McCoy put Spock in for a commendation.  He’d known, while it was happening, that Spock was taking on a great burden by sitting the bedside death watches for the colony’s children.  He hadn’t known how great until he’d been putting the finishing touches on his report and cataloged the names and faces of those Spock had sat with- all 67, all under the age of 16. The longer he thought about it, the greater the act seemed, until McCoy bit the bullet and put in his recommendation for commendation.  Normally that would have been Kirk’s job, but under special circumstances the CMO could make his own recommendations, if the matter involved a medical emergency. This certainly qualified. 
While not in the report or the commendation letter, Star Fleet didn’t care about such things,  Spock’s small act of ritualized kindness, the unknown and unremarked Vulcan gesture at their passing, had stuck in McCoy’s mind.  There was so much about Spock, about Vulcan, that humans just never saw.  What did it mean?  Why did he perform it, and for someone not of his kind?  It had to be important or Spock wouldn’t have bothered with it, not when time was so important, and the way he’d performed it… like each movement of his fingers held meaning to him, that each one was somehow vital to that child’s afterlife.  It was spooky and spiritual, and very un-Spockish.  McCoy knew, intellectually, that Vulcans had some kind of religion, but they never talked about it.  Spock had mentioned once or twice something about a god or gods but it was usually in the past tense, like Greek mythology on Earth.  For all McCoy knew they worshiped the great sand god need-better-shoes-feet-burning. 
After the debacle at Spock’s ‘wedding’, Sarek’s emergency heart surgery, and Spock’s near blinding, McCoy had finally managed to convince a healer at the VSA that it was in Vulcan’s interest to provide medical and cultural information, on a limited basis, to physicians that were likely to have extended or repeated interactions with Vulcans.  It was a rather quiet arrangement, one which McCoy had a suspicion the High Council wasn’t aware and of which Spock was NOT going to be informed either.  The only healer McCoy could get to agree to converse was a pediatrician and Spock would not find that amusing. 
It had taken months to get Healer Salok to trust him enough to be open in his answers to McCoy’s many questions.  But with time, the elderly healer had begun to see that McCoy’s interest was born of an honest wish to heal and not out of some perverse desire to air Vulcan’s dirty laundry.  Once Salok was convinced of McCoy’s sincerity he’d become a veritable fount of information on everything from irregular cardiac enzymes to why Spock never ate pizza with his fingers. 
McCoy found Salok was valuable not just in matters of biology and culture, but also when it came to Vulcan psychology.  It would seem, despite the general populace’s insistence otherwise, Vulcans weren’t immune to emotional problems and there was an active, if somewhat cloaked, branch of healing devoted to assisting in the ‘Disciplines’.  Salok, like McCoy, believed that the health of body depended on the health of mind and while Spock would have been quite unhappy to know it, Salok had been actively advising McCoy on Spock’s likely mental state for over a year.  McCoy wasn’t sure Spock benefited from his increased knowledge of Vulcan motivations and thought processes, but the doctor had noticed that at least from his side their interactions were less…stressed.  There were subtle differences between Human and Vulcan reactions that McCoy had taken for granted.  Salok had been instrumental in clearing up several potential misunderstandings before McCoy could put his foot in his mouth. 
So, when they were back within range, McCoy placed a call to the VSA and asked for his Vulcan advisor.  Salok answered promptly even though McCoy had made sure his aide knew it wasn’t an emergency.  Salok listened to the doctor’s explanation of events, his eyebrow slowly inching up his forehead. 
Salok was slow to respond, seeming to take an inordinately long time to master his eyebrow.  McCoy knew that wasn’t a good sign.
“The motion you described is an ancient Vulcan gesture to acknowledge one who has passed but whose katra was unable to be saved,”  Salok spoke slowly.  “It is rare that a Vulcan  expires in the presence of another and the katra is not able to be preserved. Only in cases of the very young, those whose minds have decayed, or where there is significant brain or nerve damage will you find it done.  By using the gesture Spock was acknowledging the departure of what you would call the children’s souls.  I am unaware of another case where such an acknowledgment has been done to someone not of our species.”  Salok paused.  “Considering Spock’s heritage, perhaps that could be considered still the case since in effect the colonists were as much his species as if they were Vulcan.  I would surmise that in the course of his life Spock has had to make many accommodations between our two people’s ways.  This would seem to be such an example.  Highly logical considering the circumstances and the trauma involved for him.”
“Trauma?”  McCoy asked.
Salok regarded McCoy for a long moment, his dark eyes boring into the human physician over the subspace connection.  “You acknowledged the difficulty inherent in a touch-telepath remaining in physical contact with an injured and dying individual.  You know, on some level, that this repeated exposure must have been trying to Spock.  But I do not think you know the full extent or the depth of commitment it must have taken.
“Irak-nahan is primarily a physical art on Vulcan, but a few, such as Spock, possess the ability in abundance.”  Salok leaned towards the viewer.  “Most Vulcans are only touch telepaths and their abilities are limited to basic melds and the bonds between family members or mates.  Others have more extensive abilities – such as healers or priests who are able to influence and to some degree heal or harm the minds of another.  An even smaller group, such as Spock’s family, are not restricted to touch-telepathy alone.  Spock has never been fully evaluated, his clan discourages testing preferring to let the abilities manifest naturally, but I surmise he is quite gifted in this area.  For him to be near a person in such physical and emotional agony would be difficult. To touch them would be akin to a kind of torture.  To do so repeatedly, for such a long period of time, with untrained juvenile minds...” Salok trailed off for a long moment. 
“Dr. McCoy,” he said softly a few moments later.  “I have been a healer for 296 of your years.  I have sat vigil through many a death. I have carried 135 katras and witnessed the passing of four that I could not save, the majority prior to my specialization in pediatrics.  I have had decades of training in this area and extensive exercises in building up tolerances for such experiences.  I could not have endured what Spock has and retained my control.  Likely it would have destroyed my mind.  Spock not only witnessed those deaths, he felt them as if each were his own, one after another for hours on end.  There are not words for what it is like to be in the mind of one who leaves.  Children…” Salok took a shaky breath.  “Children, especially those without the Disciplines, do not understand and cling tighter to those around.  They do not go peacefully and…it feels as though they take a part of you with them.”
“I…” McCoy cleared his throat.  “I had no idea.”
Salok nodded and seemed to pull himself together.  “I thought not.  From your descriptions of him, Spock would not have informed you.  He is a son of his clan, and as a rule they do not ask others to share their burdens.  Your knowledge would only have served to cause you concern and possibly have hindered his ability to take what he saw as necessary action.” Salok expelled a slow breath.  “Were he a healer he would be honored highly for his actions.  On Vulcan it is unconscionable to allow another’s soul to pass without remark, to allow them to die alone and without the presence of another would be unthinkable.  For so many children to spend their last moments alone…” Salok’s voice gave a tiny waver.  “We are a long lived race, Doctor.  We do not have many children and they are highly valued and carefully protected.  For a Vulcan to witness such a mass death would be difficult, but for so many to be children?  Spock did only what he had to.  His nature would not have allowed less. What is remarkable is that his attempt was, in its way, successful and that he managed it relatively unharmed in mind.”
McCoy nodded.  “I told him he’d make a damn fine doctor.”
“I would gladly train him if he were to change his vocation,” Salok agreed.  “I have never met him, but your descriptions of his actions lead to me believe his abilities to be considerable.  I would theorize that something about his human heritage has provided him with a means of dealing with this experience that a full Vulcan would lack.”
“Is there anything I should do for him?  It’s only been a week. He seems fine but…”
“He is half-Vulcan.  His human half I trust you are capable of dealing with.  As for the part that is Vulcan, there is little you can do,” Salok acknowledged grimly.  “Were he on Vulcan, I would advise him to see a healer and to spend time in close mental contact with family and his bonded, but that is not possible on a deep space mission.  I regret to report that we have not made adequate provisions for such mental trauma in even our own VSF.  The one concession that has been made is to keep bonded couples together whenever possible. This has proved to provide a measure of relief for the harsh realities of space.”
McCoy snorted,” He’d have to be bonded first for that to work and as far as family goes, Sarek doesn’t seem to be the tea and sympathy sort.  I’d wager Amanda would jump at the chance to spend some quality time with her son, but I doubt Sarek would allow them to meld with any kind of frequency. He seems the overprotective sort.”
Salok’s eyebrow rose. “Sarek’s relationship with his son is somewhat legendary.  Spock was nearly cast out for his actions in joining Star Fleet.  Had there been another suitable heir he likely would have been.  I understand that you managed to foster a reconciliation of sorts between them, but I doubt either would be amenable to such close contact at this time.  Sarek is also unlikely to risk Amanda’s mental health by such close association with Spock after such an event.  I have met Lady Amanda and she would not fare well if forced to view so many deaths through her son’s eyes.  Is there not another he might confide in?  Someone more…seasoned?”  “A burden shared is a burden halved.” McCoy muttered.  “But no, there’s not. He and Jim are close, but I doubt Spock would want to let him in telepathically without cause and his own well-being isn’t cause enough. Now if Jim were in danger, he wouldn’t hesitate.  But Spock’s terribly private.  He’d go bananas if he knew we were discussing him like this.”
“Again, not a surprising tendency in one from his family.  I find they are remarkably stubborn and withdrawn, even by my people’s standards.  I hypothesize it is genetic.” Salok tilted his head and frowned slightly. “What of you, Doctor? Would you allow him access to your mind for his health?  Such mental trauma is often aided by contact with those the afflicted deems to be t'hai'lu.  Since you stood with him during his Time, he must consider you such.”
McCoy grimaced.  “There’s some bad history there, Salok.  If his life depended on it, yes, I would allow it – even suggest it.  But I can’t say I’m too overjoyed at the thought.  Spock would never go for it knowing that and I’d likely do him more harm than good anyway.  I’d be an emotional wreck rather than a comfort.”
“He has not engaged in improper behavior with you?” Salok asked in a mildly shocked tone.
“Not this Spock,”  McCoy sighed. “The mission is classified, but Spock didn’t do anything to me. The most I can say is there was a point, a year or so ago, that I was on the wrong end of a forced meld.  I’m a little…jumpy…when it comes to telepathy nowadays.”
“Forced irak-nahan, what we call kae'at k'lasa,  is considered the worst crime on Vulcan  next to k'la'sa, performing rape while in one’s right mind.  K’la’sa is considered worse only because it involves both a physical and mental violation.  The Vulcan that melded with you should face execution.  It is the only crime on Vulcan that still carries a death penalty.”
“Not likely to happen,” McCoy flinched slightly.  “Where he’s from it’s not even worth a slap on the wrist.  But I survived and other than an irrational fear of mind melds I’m none the worse.  Spock’s another matter.  I’m worried about him.  I was concerned before you explained all this, now I’m outright anxious.    He actually talked to me, I mean really talked.  That’s not like him.”
“Spock will recover, Doctor,” Salok assured him.  “His mind is strong and his Disciplines appear to be undampened.  Contact me if you suspect differently or if he is forced into another similar situation.  Even trained Healers require rest between deaths.  There is only so much even a Vulcan mind can take.  It would be dangerous for him to be forced to meld again soon or to try and carry a katra.  Being untrained, he should avoid risky or potentially damaging mental contact for at least one standard year.  His abilities are strong, but even with meditation and firm Disciplines I would worry for his continued psychic health.  The number of melds he has had to perform over the course of the last four years with beings unfamiliar to him is in and of itself unsettling, the most recent event notwithstanding.”
“Any signs I should look for?  If his Disciplines are suffering he’s not gonna volunteer that information.”
Salok steepled his fingers in thought.  “Should he reduce the frequency or amount of food he ingests or display signs of fatigue, intervention may be necessary.  Of course, any unusual outward sign of emotional distress would also be an indication but that is unlikely in one of his age.  You are in a better position to recognize a change in Spock’s control than I.  I have only his medical records and family history to base an opinion on while you have years of personal interaction.  His hybrid nature also makes his behavior hard to predict.  Any change in his normal behavior could be a sign he is having difficulties overcoming the experience.”
“Unless there’s one of about three dozen toxins involved,” McCoy quipped.  “If that’s the case you never know what to expect.  Jim found him hanging from a tree once.”
Salok raised an eyebrow. “You do seem to have an uncanny ability to discover new substances that render Vulcan control inadequate.  One of our researchers was accidently exposed to a sample of one you sent back to be studied and we found her naked in a ventilation shaft singing Klingon opera.  I would suggest you avoid such substances in the future.  An unpredictable Vulcan is never a good thing.”
“That, friend, is an understatement.”
It wasn’t a month later that McCoy found himself relieving that conversation in painful detail
The Enterprise had answered the distress call of a freighter bound from the Orion sector.  At first, they’d assumed it was a routine mechanical problem or perhaps a pirate attack.  What they found shook them all to the core. 
Slaves.  It was a slave ship.  One hundred and twenty five females of mixed species were on board in various conditions - none healthy.  Somehow a female Klingon on board had managed to get out of the chains she’d been placed in, nearly chewing through her arm.  She’d managed to free a few others near where she was being kept before she bled to death.  The others, a Betzoid, a human, and an Andorian, were able to cut power to the ship’s engines and stage a revolt. 
The captain of the slave ship and his crew were dead.  The women hadn’t been merciful.  They’d spaced the handful that had survived the fight.  The causalities among the freed slaves were high.  Out of 125 only 64 were still living by the time Enterprise answered their distress signal.  Another nine died in sickbay from dehydration and untreated wounds. 
Kirk wasn’t handling the situation well. He’d always hated slavery, but to find so many packed into such a small made his stomach turn.  McCoy didn’t have time to be revolted. There were over a dozen species represented on the ship, some Federation, many not. Some of the women had been sold to the Orion pirates by their families, or their governments, and were filing asylum claims. Others, like the Klingon, Andorian, and human, had been abducted.  All had faced severe abuse to ‘condition’ them to their new life.  Several couldn’t even make eye contact.
They were too far out to get the sick to a starbase, not one with the necessary medical expertise at least.  So, the Enterprise was ordered to take those they could ‘home’, dropping off the non-Federation victims not claiming asylum at rendezvous points arranged between the UFP’s diplomats and the alien governments, in one case even being allowed into the Romulan neutral zone.  Those that were members of Federation states or seeking asylum would be kept on board the Enterprise until they rendezvoused with the Hampshire in two weeks’ time.
The hardest part was returning the Klingon woman’s body. Her husband was a lower level commander and somehow managed to get the Empire and Federation to agree to let his ship across the neutral zone, unarmed.  He was a proud man, one of the Klingons unaffected by the virus so many years ago - a rare sight in Federation space. The Empire tended to send only those that had been ‘humanized’ into contact with the Federation.  Bones personally thought it was an attempt to kill them all off.  McCoy wasn’t sure how to handle giving over a body of a loved one to a Klingon warrior.  Spock had been instrumental.
The Vulcan had been in the transporter room to greet their guest and had taken him quietly to the cargo bay they’d converted to a morgue.  The Klingon commander had reached a shaky hand out to finger the dress she’d been placed in, the silky cloth catching on the calluses of his fingers and the metal of his uniform gauntlet.  The Enterprise didn’t have any Klingon garments, and McCoy hadn’t been about to let her stay naked.  But somehow the simple shift looked wrong on the brave woman, especially next to the harshness of her husband’s garb.
“I am sorry we did not have anything more appropriate for her,” Spock had said gently. 
The Klingon had drawn himself up straight and looked at the bulkhead.  “She always liked the fabrics the smugglers brought in from the Federation.  She thought it more...comfortable than ours.”  He looked down at his wife and reached out slowly, this time to touch the side of her face where the bruises stood out on her dusky skin. “She was meeting a trader when she was taken. If she’d not wanted a dress like this so much, she would not now be wearing one in death.”
Spock had remained silent for a long moment.  “Do you know the name of this trader?  We do not intend to allow the crimes of this group to go unpunished.”
“Borel. And he is already dead.”  The Klingon withdrew his hand and turned a cold stare to Spock.  “Thank you, Vulcan, for returning her.”
“She deserved no less.”  Spock had gestured towards the bandaged arm, wrapped to prevent the grisly sight from being obvious, his eyes deep with some half-hidden emotion.  “She bled to death from wounds she received freeing herself from her bonds.  She was able to undo the bindings on enough of the others that the revolt was possible.  Your wife died an honorable and noble death.”
“Of that I never doubted.”  The Klingon had turned away again and placed one hand on her head and another on the bandage.  He’d tipped his head back and the sound he made echoed five decks away.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Spock had taken the trader’s name and tracked his records down until they had a good idea where the slaver’s base was hidden.  The Federation gave Enterprise permission to investigate.  So, two days after Hampshire took the last of the victims to safety, Enterprise went hunting.  And if there was one thing Spock was good at, it was tracking down rogue bases.
Which was how they found themselves in their current situation.
The woman hunched in the back of the dirty cell was obviously Vulcan. And she’d obviously been here a very long time. 
McCoy wasn’t sure what to do.  She was badly injured and he couldn’t risk transporting her in her current condition. He needed to stabilize her first, splint the worst of the breaks.  She was dangerously dehydrated and he couldn't even guess how long it had been since she’d eaten.  The slavers had left her in the dark to die when they couldn’t break her.  That much was also obvious. 
It was also obvious he couldn’t go in the cell to help her.  She was huddled as far into the back corner as possible.  Every time he made a move to enter she whimpered and tried to crawl even more into the rock face.  She was aggravating her injuries terribly and McCoy didn’t want to stress her any more than necessary.  He’d never seen a Vulcan act like this.  It was... he feared for her mind.
He needed to call Spock, but it hadn’t been that long since the colony and if his readings were right, the woman wasn’t going to make it even if he could stabilize her and get her back to the ship. Her internal organs were already shutting down. She’d lost a lot of blood.  Her leg bones were visible through her skin and his scanner showed or indicated they’d broken every one of her fingers - in multiple places.  There was more nerve damage than he could repair and for a Vulcan, living without the ability to touch...  She’d never feel her hands again. She’d likely lose most if not all of her fingers.  The tissue damage was beyond what even Vulcan science could heal. McCoy could smell the gangrene from the door.
In truth he’d only stood there a minute or two replaying his conversation with Salok before opening the communicator and asking that Spock be beamed to his coordinates.  It felt like longer, as he tried to come up with another solution. He didn’t find one and when Spock’s form fizzled into existence next to him he didn’t even need to explain what he was asking for.
Spock took the medical scanner from him without a word and read it.  He handed it back and turned to slowly look at the occupant of the cell.  “Doctor,” Spock’s voice was hard with forced calm,  “I will require your assistance once I establish contact.  I will try and keep her calm while you work, but I make no promises.  The nerve damage is significant and I am not sure I will be able to reach her.  I believe her mind is...elsewhere, at the moment.”
“Do what you can, Spock. I can’t transport her like this and she...” McCoy’s voice cracked.  “She shouldn’t be alone.”
Spock nodded, his eyes never leaving the cell.  “If it becomes necessary I will try and save...” Spock trailed off. 
“Yeah, the soul thing. I don’t get all of it, but I’ll get you back to Vulcan if you manage it.”
“Her family will thank you.” Spock closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “This will not be easy.”
“You don’t have to do it.”
“Yes, I do.” Spock opened his eyes and stared into McCoy’s. “I can no more leave her to suffer alone than you could, Doctor.  Were you capable of this act, you would not hesitate despite the risk to your person.”  Spock hesitated before letting a bit of the sorrow he was feeling to show in his eyes.  “Please, Leonard.  I cannot turn my back on her.  Do not ask me to do that.  I know you are worried for me, I can sense it, but my safety is nothing next to her soul.  There is nothing more important to a Vulcan than this.” 
McCoy nodded in answer, his tongue too thick to respond with words.   Spock closed his eyes briefly, as if fighting to stay focused, before opening them and placing his hand on McCoy’s arm for the briefest of moments before turning and walking calmly towards the door. 
Do not be afraid. Spock said softly in Vulcan, his hand outstretched before him. I am here to take you home.  You are safe, sister of Ah’rak.  They cannot harm you now.
The woman whimpered again and Spock closed his eyes, his lips moving to repeat the words but no sound came from his mouth.  The woman stopped and her head jerked.  Spock inched slowly towards her until he was able to kneel next to her.
She held absolutely still as Spock touched her shoulder, then her face. His fingers found the meld points and he grimaced.
“Doctor,” his voice was rough. “You do not have much time.  We must get her onto the ship, and quickly.  I cannot help her alone.  There is...much damage.”
McCoy moved fast.  He gave her a quick hypo for the pain and another to help with the dehydration.  There was nothing he could do down here for the internal damage.  Spock kept his hand on her face, his lips moving in silent words, the entire time it took to splint the breaks in her legs. Still, despite his efforts, there were moments when she fought them both, unable to realize they were not her attackers.
McCoy jumped back as soon as he’d finished with the last hypo.  “Done.  Can you lift her?  I’d rather not have to transport her huddled like this and I don’t think she’d tolerate me doing it.”
Spock let his hand drift away from her. As he broke mental contact she sagged against him, trying with ruined hands to clutch his uniform tunic leaving smudges of green on the blue. Spock caught her and hefted her emaciated form easily.  “Quickly,” Was all he said.
They got her back to the ship and McCoy put her on life support. He still didn’t have any hope for long term recovery.  But maybe he could manage to get her back to Vulcan.  Maybe.
Jim was remarkably understanding when they told him what needed to be done.  The Enterprise couldn’t leave the sector but there was a Vulcan ship 12 hours out that could be diverted.  Kirk made the necessary calls and got Vulcan command to divert the ship.  Once they learned the nature of the emergency they did not waste time getting to the rendezvous point.
McCoy and Spock beamed over with the woman, Spock’s hand never leaving her arm.  She was still hooked up to the life support, but with her Vulcan physiology there was nothing McCoy could give her to keep her sedated without risking more nerve damage and possibly keeping the healers from aiding her mind. Spock hadn’t left her side since finding her, nearly always in mental contact despite her frequent breaks with reality and her attempts to get away from him and the machines keeping her alive. 
The Vulcan healer that met them in the transport room was young and McCoy didn’t like the looks of him.  He froze at the sight of the woman’s clearly mangled hands, so important to a Vulcan.  McCoy had managed to delay amputating the fingers in case the Vulcans had a better solution, but he’d had to leave them unbandaged as he tried to stop the spread of the gangrene with improvised ointment after experimental poultice.  It wasn’t a pretty sight even to a hardened battlefield physician let alone a kid barely out of diapers.  The young healer was getting paler by the second and McCoy had to snap at him to get him to move.
“She’s alive, damn it.  And not for long if we don’t get her to better equipment,” McCoy growled and nodded his head towards Spock. “And he needs some help with her.  Spock’s been trying to keep her calm since we found her but she’s half out of her mind and he’s not a trained healer.  Doesn’t help that there’s so much nerve damage he can’t make contact with normal psi points.  He’s the only one she’ll tolerate near her and he can’t perform medical tasks and stay in contact with her mind at the same time.”
The healer stepped hesitantly towards the stretcher.  “I do not have the ability  to meld without access to at least some psi points.” He looked at Spock with wide eyes.  “I read the medical charts you sent ahead.  Her system is scrambled.  How has he even managed to find her?”
“Don’t ask the human,” McCoy grumbled.  “But he has and he’s the only thing keeping her stable.”
“I am...” Spock spoke softly, his eyes nearly shut.  “I am attempting to assist her into a healing trance but there is brain damage.  I cannot find a clear path....”
The door to the transporter room opened and an older Vulcan in command robes entered.  “Healer, do you require assistance?”
The younger man shook himself. “Clear the halls and let the medical bay know it is worse than we thought.” He turned to McCoy and Spock.  “ill you accompany us to Vulcan?  I will require the Commander’s assistance in keeping her stable. I am the only healer on board and I do not have the necessary level of mind gifts to overcome her injuries.”
“Figured as much. Just send the Enterprise confirmation that we’re here and get us into warp,” McCoy stated grimly.  “And see if there’s anyone in the crew with enough psi ability they can relieve Spock, or at least prop him up somehow.  He’s been at this for over 13 hours now.  There’s no way he can keep it up all the way to Vulcan.”
It turned out that there wasn’t anyone else.  Several of the crew attempted to make mental contact with the victim, but Spock seemed to be the only one that could make it through the damage.  Evidently Salok hadn’t been kidding when he said Spock had considerable mind gifts.  The most the healer and other crew could do was lend mental support to Spock, taking a bit of the strain from him without touching the woman.
The Vulcans had better life support equipment or she’d have been dead before they got to Vulcan.  DNA scans provided the woman’s name as T’Ves.  She’d been missing for seven months and 23 days.  And Spock was inside her head, reliving every second of it.  McCoy watched helplessly as his friend tried to aid the woman, tried to keep her calm and tried to get her into the healing trance.  He watched as Spock’s normally calm face flinched and as he gasped in pain, caused by both her current agony and the remembered assaults to her person.  The other Vulcans didn’t comment when Spock started to cry or when he begged for it to stop, only lowering their eyes in respect.  McCoy couldn’t tell if it was T’Ves or Spock begging for mercy, but whatever the case, Spock’s hand never withdrew from her face, not even when they had to amputate her hands.
 The young healer, who McCoy learned was Tekvel, was so unnerved that his hands shook too much to hold the laser scalpel.  McCoy had to do it.  To Vulcans, losing their hands was worse than death.  With them went their ability to bond, to reach another mentally.  But McCoy knew the battle they were fighting wasn’t about her future.  T’Ves wasn’t going to live.  But they needed to keep her alive long enough to get her to trained healers on Vulcan.  Spock wasn’t able to get a strong enough meld to take her katra and Tekvel couldn’t even make contact with her. They had to do what they could to give her a chance at making it to Vulcan, and the help the temple healers could provide.  Spock was giving everything he had to keep her with them long enough, but his strength was waning.
There were a slew of healers waiting for them when they pulled into orbit 36 hours later.  T’Ves and Spock were rushed off into a maelstrom of healers and priestesses, their robes blocking McCoy from catching sight of what was happening. A Vulcan male rushed into the room and McCoy knew from the look of him he was T’Ves’ husband.  McCoy had never seen a full Vulcan cry before. He’d always assumed they were missing tear ducts.
An hour later Spock stumbled out of the crowd and McCoy caught him before he collapsed.  He was shaking and chilled, his eyes unfocused.  The last time McCoy saw him this pale involved an arrow, massive blood loss, and a broken communicator.
Spock’s mouth moved but he couldn’t seem to form coherent words.  McCoy lowered him slowly to the ground, holding him tightly.  “Help!  Can somebody...”  McCoy sputtered, holding Spock against his body and off the stone floor.  “I need a healer over here!”
McCoy was too busy trying to fish his scanner out of his pocket to notice the silent withdrawal of the throng that had been around T’Ves’ bed until Salok’s quiet voice managed to break through his panic. 
“It is alright, Dr. McCoy.  What Spock is experiencing is...normal, considering the circumstances.”
McCoy looked up and glared.  “Care to explain why you all are letting him lie here on the floor?  This is a hospital for gods’ sake!”
“He is not lying on the floor, he is lying on you.  Exactly as he should be,” Salok responded unhelpfully.  “And the others have left in order to provide him privacy during his understandable...lapse.”  Salok knelt down slowly.  “Spock’s clan healer Sorel, the Vulcan scientist that helped with his conception, has confirmed that there is nothing wrong with the Commander that time and attention will not heal.  We anticipated this reaction and arrangements were made while you were still enroute to Vulcan.   Sorel made all the necessary last minute arrangements for Spock while I and the others managed T’Ves’ passing.  Normally Sorel would be attending Spock now, but we discussed the matter at some length, and we thought it best if I stayed since Spock is not in danger and you have had prior contact with me.  I believe we have established a certain level of trust and that my presence would be more calming to you than a healer you have never met.  Was this in error?”
“Just help him,”  McCoy asked softly, Spock’s head coming to rest on his shoulder as Spock’s eyes closed and his body stopped it’s violent shuddering.  “What’s wrong with him?”
“The mental and psychic strain was great,” Salok replied softly.  “He relived everything T’Ves’ damaged mind could bring to the surface, and more. He went very deep into her mind trying to piece her back together.  Without him, her katra would have been lost.  When it was time, we provided assistance to Spock and aided him in retrieving her.  He then passed all she was to her bondmate. The strain of prolonged contact with her on the journey here, coupled with the quick retrieval and passing of her katra has caused his mind to retreat inside itself.  This is a normal reaction that allows the Vulcan Disciplines to begin reforming while the mind rests.  I had hoped he could remain cognizant long enough to reach his family’s home, but there was an 87% chance he would not.” Salok sighed in a rather un-Vulcan manner.  “He needs time to heal, Doctor.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Time and stable, amenable mental interaction, best carried through physical contact.  Vi’ikap-to palutunau por’sen.  Loosely translated to standard it is called The Comforting.  The Vulcan meaning is complex and does not correlate to human definitions of emotional and familiar well-being nor is a direct translation possible. ”
McCoy clutched him tighter and Spock’s arms went up to the doctor’s shoulders, bunching the blue uniform fabric in his tight grip.  “Is that why he’s clinging to me like a green-blooded leech?  You said before he might need close contact...?”
Salok nodded. “His mother is on the way  here to transport you both back to the family estate. There is nothing we can do for him here.  He requires peace, rest, and the presence of those close to him. Sarek is returning from negotiations but will not be here till nightfall.  I will accompany you and the Lady Amanda and provide whatever assistance I can.  Sarek is well versed on this kind of stress injury and will be able to provide additional support, even if his presence will not be as comforting to his son as his wife’s.”
McCoy snorted.  “Any chance you can keep him several light years away?  That might help more than his presence.”
“Sarek is concerned,” Salok added grimly.  “He has a right to see to his family’s well-being.  Considering the cause of his son’s condition it would be illogical for him to be anything other than hospitable.  Spock’s actions were highly logical and most honorable.  His current condition is not a lapse of control but an effect of prolonged mental exhaustion.”  Salok reached out and effortlessly picked Spock up, Spock’s arms reaching weakly towards McCoy.  The elderly healer frowned as he shifted his burden, starting to walk towards the private exit.  “Spock is underweight.”
“Tell me about it,” McCoy grumbled.  “He hasn’t recovered from not eating the two months Captain Kirk was missing.  He’s been a little out of sorts ever since.  I think he blames himself for not getting there fast enough to save Kirk’s wife and child.  There was nothing he could do, but knowing Spock he’s dissecting every move trying to find an alternative he could have taken that would have changed the result.  It wasn’t long after that until the Beta 7 heavy metal tragedy, and now this.  I’m gonna have to put that boy on a nutrient drip at the rate we’re going.”
“Nothing his mother’s cooking can’t fix,”  Amanda Grayson’s worried voice cut in as they reached the door to the private aircar pickup.  “Get him in the car, gentleman.” Amanda was trying hard not to look at her son, slumped insensible in the healers arms.  “Sorel called me and let me know what happened.  Let’s get him home and in bed.  We’ll start fattening him up in the morning.”
“Yes ma'am,”  McCoy mock saluted and helped to heave Spock into the backseat.  Even underweight McCoy had trouble moving the Vulcan’s mass.  It was a testament to the greater Vulcan strength that the elderly healer didn’t seem bothered by it at all.  “Sorry to drop in on you like this.  If I’d known we’d end up on your doorstep I’d have called ahead.”
“Doctor,” Amanda stated primly as she got into the front seat with Salok leaving McCoy to climb in next to Spock who instantly reattached himself like a needy two-year-old.  “The entire crew of the Enterprise is welcome to drop in unannounced on my doorstep after all you’ve done for this family.  Just...” She looked back at them in the rearview mirror, “next time, you don’t have to exhaust my son into a state of mental shock to gain a guest room. I’m more than happy to accommodate you without the medical emergency.”
“Duly noted,”  McCoy grunted as Spock moved awkwardly trying to get closer to him and managing to elbow a kidney in the process.  “Any advice on how not to get crushed like a teddy bear back here?  I’m afraid my stuffing won’t be easy to sew back in when he pops me.”
Salok frowned. “I do not understand the question.”
Amanda gave a nervous laugh.  “He’s asking how to deal with Spock’s need for physical contact.  I think my son may be squeezing him a little tight.”
Salok shifted to look into the back seat and raised an eyebrow.  “Try direct skin contact.  Perhaps a hand on his bare arm would provide better mental contact without the need for him to attempt to...”
“Break the laws of physics and mesh two solid objects on a molecular level with nothing but brute force?” McCoy cut in.  “Worth a try.”
He pushed Spock’s sleeve up and placed a hand on the Vulcan’s arm. Spock’s entire body shivered violently again but his arms loosened.  Spock’s eyes fluttered open weakly, a hint of awareness returning, and McCoy squeezed his arm tighter.  “Easy there, Spock.  We’ve got you.”
Spock’s head rolled to the side.  “Did we...”
“You did it.” McCoy reached with his free hand and brushed a strand of hair off Spock’s forehead where it rested half on his lap. “You did good, Spock.  Real good.  T’Ves is with her husband and we’re gonna let you get some rest.”  McCoy smiled softly.  “Your mom’s here.”
“Mother?” Spock asked in a tiny voice.  “My mother?”
Amanda reached one arm back and Spock moved lightening quick to grab it.  “Right here, Spock-am.  We’re almost home.  T’Larna is making up your bed right now.”
Spock’s eyes seemed to roll in his head. “So tired, mother.  I’m so...”
“It’s alright, Spock,” Amanda murmured softly.  “Just rest.  We’ve got you.”
“I...” Spock sat bolt upright, dropping his mother’s hand and pushing McCoy’s touch off.  “I’ve got to get back to the ship.  I’m on duty.”
McCoy shoved him back into the seat cushions. “Oh no you’re not!  Don’t make me log in an official medical leave, Spock.  You just do as you’re told and we’ll get you back to the Enterprise when you’re good and ready.  If you fight us, I’ll declare you unfit for duty and leave you here until Sarek decides you’re well enough.”
“Father doesn’t want me in Star Fleet,” Spock’s voice shook slightly.  “He’d never let me go back.”
“Then you’d better listen to your Doctor and your mother,” Salok interjected.  “You are suffering a severe mental overload, Spock.  You require rest or you risk cerebral damage.”
“Mental...” Spock’s forehead scrunched in confusion as he relaxed into the seat cushions.  “I...” His eyes hooded over and his body shook again.  “I remember.  Everything.”  A slow tear started to slide from his left eye and McCoy had to bite his lip to keep from crying himself at the desolation in Spock’s tone.
Salok nodded.  “That is to be expected.  You did a great thing, son of Sarek. Now you will take your deserved rest.”
Spock seemed about to protest but Amanda’s soft voice interrupted him, an old Earth lullaby on her lips.  McCoy raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as it seemed to have a positive effect on Spock.  He leaned back towards the Doctor, taking his hand this time, and McCoy wrapped his free arm around his friend’s shoulder.  By the time they made it to the house, Spock was out cold.
An elderly Vulcan female, her hair entirely white and her face deeply lined, who Amanda greeted as T’Larna, met them at the gate.  At her quick inhalation at the sight of Spock’s now unconscious form, McCoy knew she was close to his friend.  Her words, however, were somewhat unexpected.
T’Larna’s eyes flashed and she pointed a finger at McCoy.  “ human!  What did you do to my Spock?”
“Ma’am...”  McCoy started to explain but Amanda cut him off.
“Leonard didn’t hurt Spock, T’Larna.  Without him I doubt Spock would have managed this long. Help me get him to his room will you?  It’s going to be a long night.”
Salok and T’Larna maneuvered Spock carefully into the house and up a short flight of stairs into a Spartan room.  There was a basin of water on a stand, a black robe of some kind laid out on a chair, and one very large bed.  Otherwise the room was empty.  T’Larna laid Spock down carefully on the bed before scrambling for the basin.  “You did not even clean his wounds?”  She accused, glaring at the doctor and healer.
“It isn’t his blood,” McCoy offered softly, looking to Amanda for help in explaining. 
Amanda sighed as she took off her outer robe and let it drop to the floor in a puddle.  “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to explain earlier.  By the time Sorel got ahold of me Spock was already planet side. I didn’t mean to worry you, T’Larna. I know how much Spock means to you.”  Amanda moved to pick up a cloth and help T’Larna wrestle Spock out of his bloodstained clothing and get him clean.  As the two women worked, Amanda explained the situation in a shaky voice.
T’Larna’s glare softened as the story went on.  By the time they were done cleaning him up, she accepted the clean robe from McCoy without any hostility.  She glanced at Salok where he stood out of the way in the corner and back at McCoy’s worried face.  “Forgive me, healers. “  She looked down at Spock’s face, his brow furrowed in pain and sighed. “I have been dvinsu kan-bu to the clan’s children since Skon took his first breath. I guarded this one’s bedside as I did his father’s and his father’s father.  I do not take injury to their person lightly.”
“Neither do I,” McCoy stated, his voice heavy.  “Unfortunately, this one seems hell bent on finding injury no matter how hard you try and keep him away from it.”
T’Larna gave a rather un-Vulcan snort. “Same as his father and grandfather.  Trouble, all of them,”  she said the last somewhat fondly.  “Now,” she turned to McCoy and gave him a pointed look.  “You will require clean clothes and then into bed with you.”
“What?”  McCoy asked dumbly, still reeling from meeting Spock’s nanny, his rather overprotective nanny.  Amanda smiled and handed him another robe. 
“There’s a fresher down the hall, second door on the left.  Take your time.  T’Larna will sit with Spock while we change.”
McCoy raised an eyebrow. “And why are we changing?”
Salok stepped forward, a hint of a smile on the corner of his mouth.  “Because, doctor, as I have said, Spock requires physical and mental contact.”
McCoy eyed his friend and the healer in turn and then looked down at the robe he’d been given.  “You mean to tell me you expect me to put on this dress and climb into bed with him?” McCoy looked up in shock realizing Amanda was holding her own robe.  “In bed with Spock and his mother?”
“Don’t forget T’Larna.  She’ll join us as soon as she changes as well,” Amanda responded, amusement clear in her voice.  “The robes are made of a fiber that transmits mental contact like skin, so they won’t interfere with Spock’s mental abilities.  In fact, they tend to boost the signal, so to speak.”
“Now wait just one minute!”  McCoy thundered. “Don’t you need to ask permission first?  You can’t just toss me in there!  And what about Spock? He hasn’t consented to this.  Hell, he’d be requesting emergency transport out of here if he was conscious!  He does not like having people invade his personal space.”
T’Larna raised an eyebrow.  “He requires the mental and physical comfort of family.  He must consider you such since even now he seeks you.” She pointed to Spock’s arm which was flung off the bed pointed right at McCoy.  “We do not intend to invade his privacy.  Anything he needs to share with us during this time is private and will not be repeated.”
Salok nodded. “It is true, Dr. McCoy.  No Vulcan would betray his trust by repeating what is gleaned from this.  Nor would you.”
“Of course not!”  McCoy spluttered. “But..” he looked the elderly healer in the eye.  “This isn’t going to be easy for the women, Salok.  You had to have picked up that much helping with T’Ves.”
“I have been warned,” Amanda stated a little too calmly.  “As for T’Larna, she heard how this happened. I’m sure she’s pieced together the implications.  She’s not exactly unseasoned.”
T’Larna drew herself up.  “I am older than Salok.  I know how to handle situations such as this.  It is not the first Comforting I have sat.”
“Stubborn...stupid...pointed eared...” McCoy muttered, waving his robe around and walking out of the room to find the fresher.  “Every time I set foot on this rock...” 
McCoy changed into the flimsy robe, keeping his Star Fleet regulation underwear firmly in place despite the fact that he knew the Vulcans would say it reduced the transmission rate...or something.  He felt like an idiot walking back to Spock’s room in the slippery material.
He met Amanda at the door and she smiled softly.  “Thank you, Leonard.  You are a good friend to Spock.  He’s had so few.”
McCoy sighed.  “There’s over 400 of us out there at least ma’am.   I don’t know anyone that’s served any significant time with Spock that wouldn’t go to hell and back for him.  He takes a little getting used to, but he’s a damn fine officer and...” McCoy grumbled.  “Friend.”  McCoy sighed.  “If the Enterprise knew what was going on, you’d have one hell of a dog pile in your spare bedroom.  I don’t know what he’s told you, but we’re family, each and every one of us.  He’s got more brothers and sisters than you can count.”
Amanda’s smile brightened.  “I’d hoped he’d find a place to belong.  I know Sarek didn’t want him in Star Fleet but...” Amanda looked around and shook her head sadly.  “For all they preach IDIC, they do not all follow it. The Vulcan way is as rigid as stone.  There is little opportunity for a young person to find themselves.  Spock needed to grow into his heritage, both sides of it. He couldn't do that here.  And while I’d have preferred he take up some nice safe science position on a colony somewhere, I suppose Star Fleet has given him what he needs.”
“We do offer personal growth opportunities on a nearly daily basis.” McCoy smirked and held out his arm. “Now, ma’am, I think we have an appointment with awkwardness. Shall we?”
Amanda laughed softly and took his offered arm.  “Why, I’d be honored, sir.”
Spock was curled into a ball on the bed as they entered, T’Larna sitting next to him stroking his back. The two humans lost all sense of joviality at the sight. 
“Oh Spock,” Amanda murmured softly.  “Why do you always have to go the extra mile?”  She moved quickly across the room and T’Larna got up to allow Amanda to crawl around to far side.  Spock murmured something in Vulcan and Amanda’s eyes teared. “We’re right here, Spock.  You aren’t alone and the memories aren’t yours.”
T’Larna motioned McCoy forward.  “I do not know how well you are acquainted with Vulcan mental abilities.”  She looked at Salok who nodded. “But this will not feel like a meld.  Spock’s mind is too...overtaxed.  He will not be able to establish a joining as you may be accustomed.  The longer you are in contact the more his thoughts will find you, but it will be as if you see them on a viewer.  Given the circumstances that caused this, the experience will still be intense but you should not lose your sense of self.  Understood?”
McCoy nodded.  “I think so.  And he’ll feel us?” 
Salok nodded.  “Yes.  His mind will seek contact with yours.  While what you feel from him will be distant and somewhat indistinct, he will pick up on your emotional state and surface thoughts clearly.  Think of your mental presence as a blanket; you provide comfort and warmth.  As time progresses his Disciplines will start to reestablish.  You’ll feel less and less of him but he will draw more from you.  He will not be accessing memories so much as emotion.  The longer the Comforting lasts, the closer it will become to a one sided meld.”
McCoy raised an eyebrow. “This sounds very...un-Vulcan, sort of touchy feely if you ask me.”
T’Larna’s eyebrow went up.  “We are touch telepaths, doctor.  While we do not discuss emotions and we seek control of them, they are nevertheless present. The bond between child and parent passes much.  Even more is shared between bondmates.  Were Spock properly bonded, his mate alone would be enough in the Comforting.  Since he has none, it will take more of us to accomplish the same effect during the ritual.”
McCoy sighed and climbed in.  “Right.  This is a ritual.  A Vulcan comforting ritual.” He leaned up over Spock to look Amanda in the eye.  “Toto, we ain’t in Kansas.”
Amanda couldn’t help laughing.  “What makes you think I’m the dog?”
McCoy smirked and pointed to the elaborate hairdo she still sported.  “You’ve got more hair.”
“Fascinating,” T’Larna murmured softly.  “You are apparently most adept at Comforting, doctor.”
Both humans turned to look at the former nanny who pointed down at Spock. His face had relaxed and his body was starting to uncurl.
“Is our laughter doing that?” Amanda asked softly.  “He’s less tense.  I know humans tend to deal with stress by using humor, but I’ve never noticed that tendency in Vulcans.”
Salok came forward, medical scanner out and whirring. “His blood pressure is closer to normal and his heart rate is showing less signs of stress.” Salok reached out to gently touch the meld points on Spock’s face. The elderly healer’s eyebrow rose.  “He is beginning to try and establish a mind-healing trance.  This is much faster than I expected.  After such an experience, several hours if not days of contact would normally be required before the patient is stable enough to begin entering a trance.”
“Spock’s generally a fast healer,” McCoy responded, his hand settling onto Spock’s shoulder.  “Besides, he is half human.  Since the problem was emotional to start with, perhaps that’s giving him a leg up.”
Amanda frowned. “I don’t think that’s all of it.  Spock’s always had a remarkable psi ability.  I think...”  Amanda blushed.  “I think it really might have been our light mood.  We were being normal humans and joking around to compensate for the seriousness of the situation.  He probably picked up on that.”
McCoy nodded.  “We do have a tendency to make light of situations on the Enterprise, after the crisis is over.  It helps the crew stay calm and to regain equilibrium after the fact. He’s used to that and even helps out from time to time.  Wouldn't surprise me if he’s grown used to the emotional atmosphere post-crisis, recognized our mood for something similar, and it triggered an instinctual reaction to relax and let himself heal.”
Salok nodded thoughtfully.  “Even while shielded Spock would be able to detect large emotional swings in the crew.  It is quite possible he’s drawn a parallel between the two situations.”
“Does this mean I can get out of this bed?” McCoy asked gruffly.  “This is not my favorite form of pillow talk.”
Amanda chuckled.  “Not yet, I’m afraid.  I don’t want to risk him relapsing.  All those memories of that woman are still floating about in his head.  Spock’s always been subject to dreaming when in the trance.  I don’t want him to have a nightmare.”
“Vulcans do not have nightmares,” both Salok and T’Larna responded nearly in sync.
Amanda waved them off.  “Call them whatever you like, but my child has them.  He can stop them with meditation but during the trance his subconscious is in direct control.  Since he’s half human, that means nightmares.  And I’m not leaving his side.  Besides, we’ve still got to keep watch during the trance.  I might as well get comfortable for it.”
Salok raised an eyebrow.  “I do not remember there being a mention of ‘dreaming’ in Spock’s medical chart.”
T’Larna shifted slightly, clearly uncomfortable.  “I would never use that term to describe Spock’s...tendencies.  He has always had a keen mind given to improvisation and creativity.  When physically weakened he was prone to let his thoughts wander as a child.  The few times he required a trance he did have...negative reactions.”
McCoy snorted, “Ma’am, given what I know of his childhood, anything that landed him in a trance was bound to cause nightmares.”  McCoy grunted as Spock shifted more and latched onto him like a teddy bear.  “Great. Just great.  I’m going to spend the next 12 hours sitting in for his dead sehlat aren’t I?”
Amanda chuckled and patted Spock’s back. “Consider it a gift, Leonard.  How many times can you say you’ve seen him this relaxed?”

McCoy looked down and frowned at the peaceful expression on Spock’s face.  “When it didn’t involve a hypospray?” he sighed.  “Point taken.  I’m glad he trusts us this much.  But isn’t Sarek going to blow a gasket when he gets here?”

T’Larna’s eyebrow rose.  “Leave Sarek to me.  It is past time I discussed a few things with him.  I believe the two of you will be sufficient in the Comforting.”  She looked towards Salok for confirmation.

“I believe you are correct.  I will stay and continue to monitor the situation.  Interception may be required to keep Sarek from...disrupting the proceedings.”

McCoy sighed.  “Great.  Vulcan domestics.”  He looked down at Spock again. “You’d better appreciate this.  And by appreciate, I mean you owe me at least two bottles of real Kentucky bourbon.” 

Of course, Spock didn’t reply, and McCoy was forced to admit that the Lady Amanda was correct. Spock did look relaxed.  McCoy settled down into the bed cushions and grunted as Spock’s grip on him shifted.  “Easy, Spock.”  McCoy wiggled until Spock’s head was on his chest.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

Amanda smiled softly.  “I’m not sure I need to stay.  I think you’ve got this covered.”

“Not sure why.” McCoy frowned.  “Thought this ‘Comforting’ was a family thing?”

Salok pulled a chair over and sat down next to the bed. “Normally it is.  Spock, however, is an interesting case.  By this age Vulcan males are bonded, without exception, and their bondmate would provide for them during this time.  For the very young, it is family. Since Spock fits neither category it could be he has formed his own network to compensate, likely aided by his hybrid biology.”

“Spock’s an exception to most things,” McCoy grumbled.  “And don’t pull that hybrid card. He hears enough of that as it is.  And he can’t defend himself at the moment.”

“Nevertheless,” Salok insisted quietly, “his hybrid biology is part of the reason for this uniqueness.  Perhaps the Enterprise, more specifically the captain and yourself, have in essence become family to him.  He is without the normal social and familial structure most Vulcans require to thrive.  In space he is isolated and in constant need to shield his abilities, both for his own comfort and your privacy.  You have indicated that there are times when he is...more open than others - generally to you or to the captain.  These lapses in control would typically be experienced only within the marriage bond.  Since he is without this outlet, it is logical he would find a substitute relationship.  This would allow him a small temporary reprieve from the constant need to shield his mental abilities.  But it is not an adequate replacement to the freedom the marriage bond allows.” 

Amanda swallowed. “It’s hard to explain, Leonard, but the marriage bond is very important to a Vulcan. Living without one is like...losing a sense.  Spock’s never experienced a real one, but he knows that he’s missing something.  He’s still looking for it, instinctually.   Everything in the Vulcan biology and psychology cries out for it.  He’s likely using his friendship with you and Jim to...ease that.  It’s what a widowed Vulcan would do until he remarried.  Since no male outside of legend has been through what he has, and survived in the way he did, it’s almost like she died.  The link is gone.”

Salok nodded.  “In cases of the traumatic loss of a bond, one’s t'hai'lu generally form lighter connections to ease the pain of the loss.  This is instinctual and generally does not take any direct mental contact since both parties are already close.  Without examining both you and the captain I can only hypothesize, but I believe this to be the case.”

McCoy frowned.  “But I take it even this light t'hai'lu connection shouldn’t be enough to cause this.” McCoy nodded towards Spock.

Amanda shrugged and sat up. Spock shifted but did not move to regain greater contact with her.  “Generally not.  But t'hai'lu links are...personal.  They aren’t generally discussed openly and most modern Vulcans would claim they are no longer needed unless under specific circumstances.”

“And the Lady Amanda is still required,” Salok added gently.  “He senses her movement.” He pointed to Spock’s face and the slight frown.  Amanda moved a hand back to his shoulder and it disappeared.  “But the two of you together appear to be enough.”

Amanda sighed, “Which is good, because besides T’Larna there’s no one on Vulcan that could help.  As much as I wish it was different, Sarek and Spock just don’t...mix.”

“They’re too much alike.”  McCoy eyed the ceiling.  “Stubborn mules.”

Amanda chuckled.  “And we love them all the more for it.”

“Amen, woman.” McCoy muttered. “But I’ll never admit that when he’s conscious.”

Eventually the day caught up to him, and McCoy felt the exhaustion creeping into his system.  He let himself doze, figuring that Spock in his state couldn’t tell much difference between an awake human mind and a sleeping one.  It was several hours later that McCoy felt a slight tickle at the back of his mind, jolting him awake.  Almost like someone knocking.  He shifted to look at Spock’s face and raised an eyebrow.

“You feel him,” Amanda said softly from the other side.  “He’s in the trance and his mind is reaching out for contact.”  She sighed.  “If we were telepathic we could help him make the connection.  Since we aren’t it’s likely to...take a while to form.”

McCoy nodded.  “Where’s Salok?”

Amanda took a long deep breath.  “Sarek arrived home about an hour ago.  T’Larna and Salok are talking to him.  He’s worried about Spock, and me.  He wanted to take your place in the Comforting but T’Larna is trying to talk him out of it.”

“I wish they got along more.”  McCoy frowned.  “Family’s too precious to waste.”

“And now is not the time to try and mend fences.” Amanda brushed a lock of hair off her son’s forehead.  “They have enough problems without Sarek being a part of this. They’ve never melded as adults and Spock is hypersensitive to his father’s criticism.  Sarek’s concern would likely appear to Spock as condemnation.”

McCoy shifted as  the tickling increased.  “So this is like a really, really slow meld?”

“More one sided.” Amanda laid her head back down.  “We’ll get some trickle over from him, mostly if something triggers one of T’Ves’ memories or something else traumatic in his subconscious.  Otherwise we’ll mostly just be here as...mental support.”

The tickling increased to an itch and McCoy grimaced.  “Great.”  He patted Spock’s shoulder.  “You, my friend, are high maintenance.”  Spock’s eyebrow twitched and McCoy chuckled.  “He’s in there somewhere.  That eyebrow is starting to move again.”

“It is his most expressive feature.”

McCoy shifted to crack his neck.  “How long was I asleep?”

Amanda smiled gently.  “Not long enough.  About five hours.  I’d suggest  you try going back to sleep, but with Spock finally making contact I doubt you’d have a lot of luck.”

McCoy grunted.  “Nobody warned me when I signed on to StarFleet I’d have random people frolicking through my head.”  He sighed.  “Come on Spock, do your thing. This itching is driving me mad.”

“Try concentrating on it,” Amanda suggested.  “If you two do have something like a brother-bond, you may be able to help him at least a little.  I know it’s helping with our mother/child bond.”

McCoy closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the itching he knew was Spock trying to make contact.  The feeling intensified for a moment before it ebbed and than crashed forward with nearly blinding intensity. McCoy took an unsteady breath and open his eyes.

“Did it help?”

“I’m not sure.” McCoy’s vision swam and he shook his head attempting to clear it. Various emotions were flittering through his mind, things he was pretty sure he wasn’t feeling, and it made him slightly nauseous. “I think I’ve got motion sickness.”

“It takes some getting used to.  It doesn’t help that he’s in the trance.  It’s like...trying to read a PADD that’s cycling.  Things are going by so fast and without form you can’t focus on anything.”  Amanda patted his arm.  “It gets easier. Just don’t try and let it sort of wash over you. Our minds aren’t equipped to interpret telepathic information so it’s like a foreign language.  Eventually you start to pick up on things but it’s never natural for you.”

“Great.” McCoy closed his eyes and some of the nausea settled.  “This is nothing like a meld.”

“Melds are controlled.  It takes a lot of discipline to do one correctly. This is...the raw feed.”  Amanda shifted slightly.  “I haven’t felt this from Spock since he was a child.  The parent/child bond let me be constantly aware of him, it was...too much sometimes.  Sarek had to funnel some of it away from me and to him so I could function. I think, I think Spock may have resented that.”

A wave of hurt and longing washed over him.  “I think you’re right.”

“Happy thoughts,” Amanda muttered. “Think happy thoughts.”

“And we fly?”

“Maybe,” Amanda’s voice smirked,  “schnitzel with noodles.”

“Wild geese?”  McCoy offered.

Amanda laughed.  “Brown paper packages?”

“Anybody ever told you, you’re nuts?”

“Takes one to know one doctor.”

The door open softly and McCoy stiffened.  “It’s Sarek,” Amanda whispered.  “Spock can sense him.”

“He’s made contact?” Sarek asked softly, his voice hard and controlled.

“Just now,”  Amanda offered.  “I suppose you can feel it?  Through our bond?”

“He is too intense for you.” Sarek’s voice held a hint of a frown. “You are not equipped for this kind of mental contact.  If T’Ves’ memories surface you will not be able to control them.”

“Pish,” Amanda deflected. “My son, my right. And Leonard’s doing fine, minus the vertigo.”

“Just peachy,” McCoy offered as another wave of unidentified emotion washed over him at the sound of Sarek’s voice.  “No offense, ambassador, but can you stop rocking the boat?”

Sarek raised an eyebrow.  “I gather that my presence is somehow upsetting to Spock in his current state?”

“Something like that.” McCoy closed his eyes and took an unsteady breath.  “Less upsetting and more...agitating.  You’re putting him on guard.  I think.  This is Spock we’re talking about and I’ve never been expert in interpreting his psychological state.”  McCoy opened his eyes to find Sarek frowning down at him.

“For one with little experience in the Vulcan mind arts, you are surprisingly coherent.”

McCoy shrugged, regretting the motion as the nausea swelled again at the movement.  “Not my ideal form of communication, Ambassador, but I’ve survived worse.  Hell, compared to some of my shore leaves this is a vacation.”

Amanda chuckled.  “We’re fine, husband.  You’ll know the instant I’m not and Salok’s here in case things get ugly.  T’Larna can always jump in too if we need her.  Right now Spock’s doing incredibly well, all things considered. So far I haven’t had any actual memory bleed through.”

Sarek’s frown didn’t abate.  “I do not care for this situation, Amanda.”

“Regardless we are in it,”  she supplied with  a soft smile.  “Now, Leonard and I were trying to think happy thoughts at my battered son.  Do you have any good news?”

“The Enterprise has diverted to (or in) this direction.  She’ll be a week in transit.  Assuming Spock is recovered by that time Captain Kirk will be able to retrieve you both.”

At the mention of Jim’s name a sort of fond exasperation settled across McCoy and he sneezed.

Amanda chuckled. “Alright, what was that?”

“I don’t know,”  McCoy sputtered as another sneeze worked its way out of his nose. “Evidently I’m allergic to...Spock’s reaction to Jim.”  Another sneeze.  “This isn’t funny.”

Amanda couldn’t stop laughing.  “Yes it is!”

Sarek’s frown deepened. “The human mind cannot process raw Vulcan emotion.  Your physical reaction is an attempt by your subconscious to funnel Spock’s foreign emotion into a more recognizable form.”

McCoy sputtered as another sneeze took him as he tried to form a response.

“Don’t worry, Leonard.” Amanda reached over Spock to pat the doctor’s arm.  “Happened to me all the time in the beginning.  I remember the first time at a state dinner after I bonded to Sarek. There was this annoying little purple...”

“Now is not the time, my wife.”

Amanda frowned.  “When is the time?  I never get to tell stories and I’ve got a willing audience AND the doctor won’t go blabbing since this is all part of Spock’s treatment...can’t I just tell a couple little anecdotes?”

Sarek raised an eyebrow and Amanda sighed.  “Fine.  Go away.  You’re aggravating Spock.”

“And you,” Sarek sighed.  “I do not think this is logical course of action.”

“You never do.” Amanda waved him off.  “Humans are proving to be quite adept at Comforting, just ask Salok. Spock’s improving at a vastly accelerated pace.  So make yourself scarce and Leonard and I will go back to cracking jokes and generally providing a jovial atmosphere.  Spock’ll be around in no time and you can scowl at the lot of us in one go.  Save some effort.”

Sarek let out a long, very un-Vulcan like sigh.  “There are times, my wife, where I think you have taken leave of your senses.”  He turned to go but paused on the doorstep.  “We are indebted to you again, Doctor McCoy.  At the present rate, my clan will be beholden to your family for several of your generations.”

“I’ll send my daughter a vid and let her know.  Joanna will appreciate the irony.”

Sarek left and Amanda laid back down.  “You have a daughter?  Spock never mentioned that.  I know Jim has a son...”

It was McCoy’s turn to sigh.  “It’s not a secret, but since Joanna was almost in college by the time I entered the Fleet, it’s not been such a big issue. Jim’s ex keeps his son away from him, he’s only seen a few holos over the years.  The kid’s in preschool and Jim’s never even held him.  But I was there for Joanna’s entire childhood.  I even took a leave and was there for her graduation.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about her, but she’s moved on with her own life.  Most of the crew forgets how much older I am.  When they start trading stories of their kids, I don’t usually speak up.  They’re missing their children’s first steps and first days at school.  Joanna’s moved off world and is on a research colony doing her own projects.  Even if I’d stayed on Earth we would have been separated.  I don’t have the same stories or concerns to share.  To be honest, I don’t remember even mentioning it to Spock. Her picture’s in my office, but he’s never asked.”

“That’s...somehow sad.”  Amanda shivered slightly.  “I talk about Spock all the time.”

“Joanna and I didn’t part that well,” McCoy muttered darkly.  “And aren’t we supposed to be thinking happy thoughts?”

“Sarek can be a real mood killer at times.”  Amanda smiled fondly.  “Although, over the years, I’ve gotten rather immune to it.”

“So, purple guy?”

“Purple guy...” Amanda smiled brightly.  “Oh yes, that.  Well, we’d only been bonded a short time and I was still getting used to the connection...”

Amanda gleefully shared stories of her early married life for the next several hours.  McCoy spent most of the time laughing and it seemed to have a good effect on Spock.  The mental presence was getting easier for McCoy to handle and he was beginning to feel a little more comfortable with the situation.  Spock’s mother was adept at easing tensions, likely what made her such a good wife to a diplomat.  Amanda finally ran out of stories and McCoy shared a few about the Enterprise, before they both finally admitted to their fatigue. 

It was hard to sleep with Spock’s emotions flittering through his mind, but eventually the stress of the last several days caught up to him and McCoy fell into a light sleep. 

At first he thought he was dreaming.  He was cold and it was dark, and there was a horrible smell.   But something was off and it made him tense.  It didn’t feel like a dream, not the kind he usually had in the early morning,. This was different.  He felt...awake.  He felt...pain.  He felt...not himself.

It took a minute for the realization to hit that it most certainly wasn’t a dream.  The darkness, the cold, the sensations of pain and violation - he was inside one of the T’Ves’ memories and Spock was relieving it. 

The realization did little to correct the situation however.  McCoy was helpless to snap Spock out of it and the memory continued to play.  The psychologist in him recognized that the human state of unconsciousness was probably foreign to Spock.  Vulcans didn’t experience the same REM cycles as humans, at least not normally.  As he and Amanda fell asleep, their minds went into the normal cycles of rest and dreaming, but Spock had no way to interpret these states.  The only frame of reference he had was from T’Ves’ time in captivity.  To him, the lack of active mental process was akin to imprisonment and starvation.

McCoy waited for something to happen, but the memory seemed to be of a time between beatings, when they’d left her alone in the cold cell.  The endless waiting, the sensory deprivation, the cold stone, were seemingly immeasurable  McCoy tried to move, but the memory wasn’t his and he didn’t have the training to manipulate things in the mental plane like Spock.  Vaguely, McCoy wondered if Amanda was living the same memory and if there was a way to contact her through the connection they were sharing with Spock, but he had no idea how to do that.

So he waited.

And waited.

The memory continued and he felt T’Ves shift painfully on the ground and felt an odd sort of detached irritation when her attempts to meditate failed.  It was odd, experiencing a memory and emotion not just from another person but from a memory of a third party.  Things were hazy and oddly indistinct, but he was still experiencing the memory in what felt like real-time.

McCoy had no idea how long he stayed in that state, but eventually the soft sound of someone crying reached his ears.  To his surprise, his eyes obeyed his command and opened.  The soft light of Vulcan night was filtering through the window and Amanda was huddled next to Spock, her soft sobs half muffled by where she’d pressed her face into Spock’s robed shoulder.  Sarek was sitting next to her, one hand rubbing slow circles on her back.

But it was Spock that held his attention.  His friend’s eyes were open and looking right at him, a depth of sadness and loneliness there that took McCoy’s breath away. 

“Spock?”  he asked softly.  “You alright?”

Spock blinked slowly.  “ not think so.”

McCoy approached the robed figure cautiously.  “How are you feeling?”  Spock turned his dark eyes towards the physician but did not bother to respond.  McCoy fidgeted before clearing his throat. “Look, it wasn’t my idea. Your mother and the healer thought it would help.”

“Doctor, while I assure you that waking up in bed with you and both my parents is far from the top of my list of things to repeat, that is not the source of my current...distress.”  Spock turned to look back out the window, his arms clasped behind his back.  “I find that restless.”

“Restless?”  McCoy walked slowly up to stand by his friend.  “Can’t say I follow.”

Spock sighed.  “Perhaps it is my human half interpreting what happened as...I believe you would call it a near death experience?  While I was never in physical danger, the events surrounding our last mission and the unexpected need to return here to Vulcan, have left me with a few uncomfortable realizations.”

“Throw me a bone, Spock.  What the hell are you talking about?”

“I am not sure.”  Spock’s eyes narrowed.  “Our five year mission is well into the last year.  Decisions will have to be made.”  He placed a slim hand on the glass, his fingers spread wide.  “When I joined Star Fleet I was acting on several assumptions, both about myself and the service.  Some of these assumptions have proven correct, others...naive.”

McCoy remained silent and Spock took his time looking for the right words to explain.  “I have given little consideration to the needs of Vulcan in my choices, Doctor.  Being here has reminded me of obligations that in my youth I sought to avoid, or delay.  Being reminded of my own mortality during our last few missions, repeatedly and in painful detail, has brought certain things back to my attention that I had, purposefully in most cases, forgotten.”

“Family obligations?”

“In part.”  Spock’s hand dropped back to his side.  “More so obligations to myself.  Promises I made and bargains forged.”  He turned and looked McCoy in the eye, the weight of his words palpable in the small space of the study they found themselves in.  “Two halves, doctor, are often in negotiation for the soul.  I made a compromise years ago that allowed one path to be followed. Now that I find myself nearing the end of that path and faced with another fork, the other half demands the choice.  I am unsure which path I will choose, but it is likely to be different from the rest of the Enterprise crew.”

“I can’t believe you want to leave Jim.”  McCoy’s eyes narrowed.  “You two need each other like peanut butter needs jelly.”Delete one space

“I would not leave Jim’s side if it were preventable.”  Spock shook his head.  “And I will not do so if it can be helped.  But Star Fleet has plans for the Captain and they will likely not include either of us in their deliberations.   Crews do not remain together forever, Doctor.  The nature of Fleet is to separate and promote and they do not consider the importance of keeping a team together when faced with the realities of shortages in competent administrators or captains.  Jim will likely be promoted to the Admiralty.  They will try and give me my own ship.  Mr. Scott and Mr. Sulu are likely to move up in rank to first or second in command.  We will be parted.”

McCoy frowned.  “I don’t like the way you said that.  It  Even if they split us up, we’re not dead, Spock.  Your friends won’t just disappear.”

“Not literally, but in ways you cannot understand, Doctor, you will.”

“This has something to do with Comforting doesn’t it?  What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing.”  Spock’s gaze dropped and his head tilted slightly.  “You were not in error, doctor, but in helping me you gave me the gift of your unguarded self - something I know you did not find easy or pleasant, not after the experiences you had with the alternate version of myself.  Yet you did this freely and you controlled your natural reaction and were able to assist me.  I had not expected such a gift.”  Spock looked up briefly before again dropping his gaze.  “I do not know how to repay it.  But beyond that...” Spock trailed off for a long moment.  “Beyond this debt I owe to you, there is the knowledge that in the very near future I will no longer have the benefit of my...friends.” 

“You mean you won’t have us close by.  You won’t be able to feel us, mentally?” McCoy risked a light hand on Spock’s arm and took at as a good sign when the Vulcan let it rest there.  “You need a little jolt of conviviality every now then, don’t you?  You need to feel that we accept you?”

“I do not mean to invade your privacy.” Spock was hasty to deny, eyes still not rising from the floor.  “But it is a constant strain to block all the thoughts on board ship.  You humans think so loudly and you touch...”  McCoy started to remove his hand but Spock’s quickly covered it, holding it in place.  “You touch so freely.  You give so freely.  And you and both have willingly allowed me access to your minds before, melds that were quite deep - private.  I thought you would not mind if I were not so...shielded with you.  The sheer relief of allowing small lapses in my control, of not blocking everything for even a few moments each day, of feeling another living being here,” Spock touched his temple with his free hand briefly, “I do not have a bondmate nor the familial bonds that most Vulcans share.  All I have are the meager bonds that close proximity has wrought.” Spock finally raised his eyes.  “I am afraid, doctor, that without that scant connection I will be adrift.  As alone in the end as she almost was.”

Delete a couple of spaces

“Well, we’re all packed.” McCoy hopped a little onto his toes in faked joviality.  Enterprise should be in orbit within the hour.”

Amanda sighed. “You don’t have to pretend to be chipper for my sake, Leonard. You’re as worried as I am.”  She glanced around to make sure Sarek and Spock were well outside hearing range.  “Healer Sorel says Spock’s recovered, but...”

“Vulcan recovered,” McCoy muttered darkly.  “Not human recovered. He’s still working on that part.”

Amanda nodded.  “And Sarek’s finally realizing there’s a difference, but Spock’s not about to admit that yet.  You need to be there for him, Leonard.  I’m afraid for him.  He...doesn’t accept what he sees as personal weakness well.  I know my son, he’s going to start questioning himself.”

McCoy frowned, the previous day’s conversation playing out in his mind.  “Care to explain?”

Amanda grimaced.  “When he was younger, he used to talk about trying for Kolinahr.  It’s this...ritual journey that Vulcans believe leads to absolute emotionlessness.  Or something.  It’s a difficult concept.  Not the removal of all emotions, exactly, but something like a pure state of...apartness, of logic.  Before he joined Star Fleet he’d built up the idea of Kolinahr up as the ultimate way to prove he was Vulcan.  I was so relieved when he chose his career over the rites.  But, with all that’s happened, I fear he may start thinking about it again.”

“Is that such a bad thing? I mean, we both know how much being a Vulcan means to him. If these rites would make him feel more like a ‘real’ Vulcan, why not go through it?”

Amanda shivered.  Kolinahr masters are...cold.  Everything is about logic but there’s no consideration for the needs of the heart.  Spock can’t survive like that.  He’s my son, he’s half me, half human.  Can you imagine a life where every deed was based solely on logic?  No great symphonies were created without the heart, no poetry, no art.  He’d become like those computers of his, stiff, mechanical.  That is not Spock.”

McCoy turned to look at where Spock was talking quietly with his father in the distance.  The Vulcan sun was coming in through the windows in long shafts of light and they caught Spock’s face half in shadow.  “No ma’am, it’s not.  He’s many things, but no matter how much I tease him, he’s not a machine.  There’s...layers to him even he’s not begun to explore.”  He turned back, “But, we can’t decide his future for him.  We don’t have that right.”

“Maybe I don’t, but...”  Amanda bit her lip.  “I shouldn’t say this, it’s really not my place.”

McCoy’s curiosity peaked.  “I think you’d better.”

Amanda looked around again guiltily before pulling McCoy out of the hallway and into a small sitting room.  “Spock...he’s close to you.”

“You said he considers me like a brother, that whole brother bond thing.”  McCoy frowned.  “Is that what this is about?”

“Not exactly.”  Amanda sat down heavily.  “You see, Sarek wasn’t in the meld, so I can’t ask his opinion. And Salok wouldn’t talk about it since it would violate Spock’s privacy.  Actually, as a member of Vulcan society I shouldn’t be talking about it either. But he’s my son!”

“Ma’am, is this about that clock that’s ticking away on him?” McCoy asked gently.  “I’ve been keeping an eye on his medical readings.  I’ll catch that before it’s a problem again and ship him home.”

“No...I mean yes...or sort of.” Amanda grabbed at her braided hair and tugged at the coif in frustration.  “I don’t know how to say  this.  So it’s got to be blunt.”  She let go of her hair and grabbed McCoy’s hands, startling him.  “I think Spock’s closer to you than just a t'hai'la bond.  When we were comforting him, what you was deeper than a t'hai'la bond is reported to be like.  Granted, since you’re human and Spock is so gifted, there could be other variables in play.  But I think...I think Spock may...”

“Are you saying you think your son is in love with me?” McCoy asked, his voice going higher in question.

Amanda dropped his hands.  “I’m not sure what I’m saying.  Vulcans don’t have the same kind of relationships humans do.  Even after all these years and being bonded to a Vulcan there are still some cultural ideas that are hard for me to process.  T'hai'lu bonds are something so foreign to a human I can’t be sure how close they normally are. I do know, however, that there are several forms they can take.  Salok assumed, prior to meeting you in person, that you, Kirk, and Spock all shared the same basic form.  I’m starting to think he might have been a bit hasty in that assumption.”

“And you’re not sure what that translates into in human terms?”

“It could be platonic.  Or it might not.” Amanda sighed.  “Modern Vulcans are rather...logical about mating.  That wasn’t always the case and even today there are...unconventional bondings.  Sometimes they come about when a t'hai'lu bond is used to aid one brother during a crisis, usually the loss of a mate.  Sometimes they are selected during childhood like the traditional marriage bonds, used to shore up alliances and so forth.  Sometimes they are chosen freely. Sometimes in addition to a marriage bond, sometimes in place of it.  They are apart.  There’s no shame in them, but they aren’t conventional.  Spock doesn’t handle being unconventional well.”

“And you’re concerned how I’ll handle it if there is more to this than the ‘basic’ brother bond?”

Amanda looked down.  “What would you do if when Spock’s Time came, he asked for you?  It’s common with unbonded males that have a t'hai'lu to ask them to stand in if no female is available.  Even more so if they have the deeper bond, something more than a simple life-friend, more than a t’hai’la, the Vulcan word for it is t’hy’la.  It carries a double meaning, both brother and lover - but lover is a complex idea to a Vulcan.  The closest thing I could relate it to would be the human idea of soul mates.”

McCoy cleared his throat.  “Ma’am, I...”

Amanda held her hand up. “I’m not done, Leonard.  And I don’t need an answer to these questions.  But I know Spock won’t discuss it with you.  And if I’m right, if what the two of you have is more than a basic t’hai’lu bond, if it’s developed to the point that you are his t’hy’la, then you have a right to understand and to process this before more may be asked of you than you can give.  I don’t think you realize that you already could have found yourself in that position.  That’s part of the reason why you were allowed to go with him to the ritual site.  T-Pau assumed you and Jim were his t’hai’lu and if T-Pring hadn’t arrived she’d have expected one or both of you to take the girl’s place.  Spock wasn’t in any condition to explain this at the time, although it’s my understanding he did try and warn you there were dangers.”

“He left that last bit out.”  McCoy blushed and thanked every deity he could name that they’d escaped finding this out the hard way.  “But he was so...ill, by the time we figured out what was happening he was pretty mentally compromised.  Afterwords, he wouldn’t talk about it. The embarrassment was so thick around him we didn’t ask questions.  I...don’t know what I would have done if he’d explained...or what Jim would have done.”  McCoy frowned.  “What about Jim?  Do you think he’s...t’hy’la too?”

“It could be both of you, or just one.” Amanda shook her head.  “It’s not a black and white thing, Leonard.  A t’hy’la is both brother and lover.  It can be both at once, or one at a time depending on the stages the two are at in life.  It can be the only bond present or it can be in addition to marriage or familial bonds.  It can be between two or three or more, in legends there were entire groups of warriors that shared a joint t’hy’la bond.”

“And this could be platonic?” McCoy frowned.  “Like, best friends with mental benefits?”

“It could,” Amanda sighed. “It could be that, or it could be more, or it could be something in between.  Vulcans don’t think about relationships in terms of labels like we do, Leonard.  What is important is not the distinction of the relationship, but the bond formed by the association. For a Vulcan it’s not really important if the relationship is sexual or platonic.  That’s physical, that’s transitory.  The bond is forever.  It’s a part of their soul.  A basic t'hai'lu bond is a relationship so much deeper than human friendship it’s incomprehensible to someone that hasn’t felt a bond.   T’hy’la bonds are, in some ways, even deeper than a marriage bond since they are normally chosen and marriages are primarily arranged and are, by their nature, grounded in the physical plane.  For a Vulcan, a mental bond is...more intimate than a physical joining but the intimacy is not sexual in nature, it’s on another level- something non-telepaths just don’t have a frame of reference.”“And you think there’s a chance that what Spock and I have is this deeper bond?”

“Or has the potential to become it.” Amanda looked away.  “He reached for you, Leonard.  It was your touch he sought during the Comforting.  It was your mind he pulled into his when T’Ves’ memories surfaced.  I only caught fragments, but you were in his mind.  Salok couldn’t pull you out.  Spock had to come out of it himself, and he did so only when you could not take any more.  He felt your distress and come to consciousness before he was ready - to ease your suffering.  I can’t be certain, but it...from the written descriptions...”

“What do I do?”  McCoy frowned.  “I mean, what’s required from my end to keep him from getting hurt?”

Amanda looked back up, tears in her eyes.  “Just don’t pull away.”

McCoy thought back to his last conversation with Spock. “What if he doesn’t give me the choice?”

Amanda sighed, “Then you have to be ready to pick up the pieces when he needs you again.  Because he will need you at some point, Leonard.  Hopefully not because of the Time, but something, someday, will drive him back to you - to the closest bonds he’s ever known.  When that happens, you need to catch him.  When Vulcans fall they don’t land on their feet.”

“I can only promise to do my best, ma’am,” McCoy frowned.  “He’s a good friend, and while I don’t understand half of what you said, I don’t intend to let him down.  I swear I won’t abandon him, he’ll have to be the one to do that.”

Sample analyzation complete.  Xenopolycythemia confirmed.

The computer’s mechanical voice echoed in the empty medical bay and McCoy’s blood ran cold.  So much for promises.

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