Dr. McCoy struggled to sit up, watching the Vians and Gem fade into the black. He felt a little light-headed, but he wanted to stand. Spock glanced at him, then suddenly rushed to his side. “No,” he snapped. Then, a little more softly, he said, “Do not exert yourself, Doctor.”
“I’m fine, Spock,” McCoy said. “They healed me, remember?”
“I will not be satisfied of this until we have had a chance to examine you in Sickbay.” He reached an arm behind McCoy’s back, another below his knees and lifted him easily off the bench.
“Hey, what the? Put me down, Spock, this isn’t dignified!”
“I will not,” he said. “I will not allow you to exert yourself unnecessarily.”
“Allow? I… you…” He struggled against Spock, but the Vulcan held him ever so slightly closer. It would have been a hopeless battle under normal circumstances, but weakened as he was, fighting against Spock was a complete joke. “Jim, make him put me down!”
“No, Bones, you just settle down! They may have healed you, but it’s a long walk to the planet’s surface.” The doctor glared, but Kirk just smiled. “Besides, I think it’s kind of cute.”
“You have your orders, Doctor. Relax.” McCoy let out an exasperated sigh. Jim drew closer, and touched his arm. “Bones. Can’t you see what he’s doing?”
McCoy glared for a few seconds more, then looked up at Spock. His features were still impassive, but there was something in his eyes. He was worried. McCoy sighed. “All right, Jim, I see it.”
“I do not understand what either of you claim to ‘see’. I am merely acting upon the logical assumption that Dr. McCoy is not yet capable of-”
“You got your way, Spock, just leave it alone,” McCoy said. He glanced at Jim. “But for the record, Captain, I’m doing this under protest.” Spock raised an eyebrow, but his mouth quirked in what looked like the briefest flash of a smile, before he managed suppressed it. The doctor smiled at that, which seemed to offend Spock. He looked straight ahead, and straightened his features completely.
“Come on,” Jim said. “The exit’s this way.”
Spock followed Jim, walking quickly, but careful to avoid jarring the doctor. For a few minutes, McCoy tried to look toward where they were going, but even though he was obviously not in danger of dying, the strain of the day had taken its toll on him. The energy it took to hold Spock’s shoulder and keep himself somewhat upright was exhausting. He glanced up at Spock to make sure he wasn’t looking down at that particular moment. Then he smiled, leaned his head against the Vulcan’s shoulder, and shut his eyes. He felt Spock’s sharp intake of breath, but he didn’t open his eyes. He just rested his hand on Spock’s chest and let himself relax. He knew there would be another not-quite-smile playing on his lips before the Vulcan control returned, and the thought made him feel warm inside.
He pretended to be unconscious when he felt the transporter beam start to re-organize his molecules, so he wouldn’t have to let go to save face in front of Scotty and the others. “Want us to bring an anti-grav unit, sir?” one of the engineers asked.
“That will not be necessary,” Spock said. “I will take Dr. McCoy to Sickbay myself.”
“I’ll go with you.”
He felt the turns and twists of the halls, and thought he’d never been so happy to be inside his ship before. The image of those cold, withered faces, and a memory of searing pain flashed through him, and he shuddered and instinctively clutched Spock’s shirt. He felt Spock’s arms tighten around him, and he looked up, filled with gratitude but unable to figure out the right way to express it. Spock looked down at him, unmasked love, mingled with guilt and worry, written on his face. The sight brought tears to McCoy’s eyes, and he buried his face deep in Spock’s chest.
Spock’s arms tightened around him. “Don’t worry, Leonard,” he said softly. “You are safe now.”
“What’s wrong?” Jim asked. “Is he all right?”
“Yes, Jim. However, he may be going into shock.” McCoy felt Jim stroke his shoulder briefly, and their pace increased. He knew the second they arrived in Sickbay – even with his eyes closed tight, he could feel his domain as surely as if he’d walked into his own house. He was laid gently on a bio-bed, and scanned by a very worried Nurse Chapel. Spock kept hold of his arm, and Jim stood on the other side with a hand on his shoulder. Jim briefly explained what his current problem was – physical and emotional trauma from recent torture – and Christine nearly broke down into tears right then and there. She held herself together fairly well, gave him a hypo with a combination of medicines to counteract the shock, and help put him to sleep so his body could recover.
“He’ll sleep for several hours now, sir,” Christine said.
“Captain, with your permission, I will remain here.” Spock said more, but McCoy couldn’t understand him anymore. The sedative was starting to work. He tried to make sense out of them, but his head was getting fuzzier by the second. He felt someone – had to be Jim, by the feel – place a hand on his head, and saw him urgently saying something to him. Probably telling him to take it easy. Then, he was gone, and there was a warm, strong hand holding his, followed immediately by darkness.
When he woke up, still in Sickbay, Spock was there. He touched McCoy’s head, then looked up at the bio-readings. “You appear to be doing better, Doctor, but I believe further rest is necessary.”
“Well, Doctor Spock, I’d rather get up if you don’t mind,” he said, sitting up.
He was firmly slammed back onto the bio-bed. “Actually, I do ‘mind’, Doctor. I will call Nurse Chapel to give you another sedative if necessary.”
“What? That’s outrageous! I-”
“Argument is futile, Doctor. To use a human phrase, I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”
McCoy sighed heavily and stared at the ceiling. “Stubborn as a mule,” he muttered.
“Yes, I believe that is an accurate description of your behavior.”
“Dammit, Spock, don’t push your luck!” Spock stared impassively at him, and McCoy leaned back and sighed. “Well, if you’re going to force me to lay here, the least you could do is give me some kind of stimulus.” His eyebrow quirked up. “Why don’t you read to me or something?”
“Read to you, Doctor?
“Yeah, why not? In fact, I insist! Read to me. Or tell me a story. Here, pull that computer over here.” Spock obliged him, and McCoy smiled to himself when he found the story he wanted. He turned the screen to Spock. “That one.”
Spock raised both eyebrows, and looked at McCoy with a pained expression. “This… is not dignified, Doctor.”
McCoy laughed aloud. “Suck it up, Spock. I’m stuck here, and I demand that you read this story to me. So get to it.”
Spock actually allowed himself an audible sigh. He sat down beside the bed, drew the viewscreen closer, and began. “Once upon a time...”
McCoy settled back on the bed, closed his eyes, and let the deep, resonant voice lull him back to sleep.