I hadn’t thought about them in years, hadn’t thought about that day in years. I should have known better; should have been well aware that attending that funeral today (why is it that people are more likely to go to a funeral than a wedding?), seeing her, seeing those crewmembers who were still alive, would set me off again. And damn it all to hell if it’s not just as hard now as it was 50 years ago. Against my better judgment, my thoughts turn to that fateful day, so long ago…
The three of us were in the turbolift, headed for the Bridge. The ship was en route to Vulcan – would be in orbit any minute now as a matter-of-fact – against Starfleet’s express orders, but that didn’t matter in the least to Jim. Something was wrong with Spock; a hormonal imbalance the tight-lipped, too-stubborn-for-his-own-good SOB didn’t feel the need to clarify for me, but I knew it’d kill him if we didn’t find a way to stop it, and soon.
Jim took it upon himself to discover not only the reason but the cure. It seemed that was tied to getting Spock back to his home planet, and Starfleet orders to the contrary be damned. It meant the ship wouldn’t make it to the inauguration ceremony on Altair VI on time, but Jim was more than willing to stick his neck out for the Vulcan, the consequences to himself notwithstanding. Right now, the only thing that mattered to the Captain was making sure his First survived.
Spock’s voice sounded in the confined space. “It is obvious that you have surmised my problem, Doctor; my compliments on your insight.” Keeping my outward appearance neutral, I was doing handsprings on the inside. Damn Vulcan. Always thinking he could pull a fast one on me. Guess I showed him.
He turned his attention to Jim. “Captain, there is a thing that happens to Vulcans at this time, almost an insanity which you would no doubt find distasteful.”
“Will I? You’ve been most patient with my kinds of madness.” Jim flashed him an easy grin. He was like that, much more so than me. You see, unlike me, he’d always been able to accept Spock for who he was, warts and all.
“Then would you beam down to the planet’s surface and stand with me? There is a brief ceremony.” There had been a slight hesitancy, almost a reluctance to Spock’s voice, as if he had expected Jim to refuse; or had it been something else altogether?
“Is it permitted?” Jim countered.
It’s the question I would have asked. Who knew what kind of weird rules governed bizarre, hush-hush Vulcan mating rituals? At least, that’s what I thought we were dealing with. Those two never saw fit to tell me anything, especially with regard to the stuff that really mattered.
“It is my right. By tradition, the male is accompanied by his closest friends.” I know it took a lot for Spock to admit that in front of me. His emotional control must have been hanging by a thread.
I chuckled inwardly, unable to contain myself. His closest friend? Was he kidding? How about his only friend? Jim Kirk was the only person in the galaxy Spock permitted into his sanctum sanctorum. Of course he’d want Jim with him for this.
“Thank you, Mr. Spock,” the Captain answered after a brief pause.
You could almost hear the sigh of relief. Was this going to be so awful that Spock didn’t think he could handle it on his own? That he would need Jim’s presence at his side just to get through it?
Jim’s answer had come as no surprise either. Over the last year he’d made a habit out of being there for Spock, whether the Vulcan liked it or not.
But it was his next words that swept through me like Sherman through Atlanta, burned me as if I’d been hit by the intense flashes of gamma radiation emitted by a pulsar. Turning to me, the tips of his ears greening up slightly, he said in a soft voice, “I also request McCoy accompany me.”
I felt my own cheeks flush, my stomach plummet into my boots – and not due to the twists and turns of the turbolift car we were riding in, mind you. He and I had certainly had our differences in the past – still did – but by then I had begun to admit to (never out loud, and grudgingly, of course) a growing respect and the most reluctant feelings of affection for this most enigmatic of beings. It had come as a total shock to hear him all but acknowledge the same. Once again, I chalked it up to the whole hormonal imbalance thing.
“I shall be honored, sir,” I heard someone answer; took me a moment to realize it was me.
The lift doors swished open, admitting us to the bridge, and next thing you know the image of a beautiful Vulcan woman filled the main screen. But her beauty did little to disguise the fact that she was cold, calculating, had a mind-boggling poker face, even by Vulcan standards; a real piece of work if you asked me. Spock’s normal, everyday demeanor – which never ceased to grate on my nerves by the way – had nothing on the Vulcan Ice Princess – she was light-years ahead of our First Officer in that regard. Before any of the rest of us got up the gumption to ask about her, Uhura did it for us.
“She’s lovely, Mr. Spock. Who is she?”
“She is T’Pring…my wife.”
Poor Jim; he hadn’t seen that one coming at all, judging by the startled look he shot me – but then again, neither had I. Maybe they were the best of friends, maybe Spock trusted this one particular human over all other beings in the universe, but that apparently didn’t mean Spock told him everything…
Pleasantries – if you could call that gobbledygook they said to each other ‘pleasant’ – quickly exchanged between husband and wife, the three of us piled back into the lift, headed for the transporter room and the mysterious ceremony that awaited us on the planet’s surface.
Things had gotten awfully quiet all of a sudden, so I took it upon myself to make small talk. “Y’know Spock, I feel funny going – I didn’t even have time to get you a present.” But the barb designed to deflate the ramrod stiff back, to help the Vulcan relax a little, fell on deaf ears, no verbal riposte forthcoming. It occurred to me that Spock was still distracted, and by more than just his unusual (for him anyway) urges. Once again, my stomach started doing somersaults and I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still something he wasn’t telling us. I caught Jim’s eye briefly, but the Captain’s look plainly said drop it; he’s been through enough already, so I didn’t press the matter.
We were almost to the transporter room doors when I heard my name booming from every speaker on the ship. Jim and Spock waited for me as I made my way to the nearest comm unit.
“Doctor McCoy, please acknowledge.”
“McCoy here,” I replied, thumbing the switch and activating the wall-mounted device.
“Chapel here, sir. There’s been an accident. Lieutenant McDaniels fell down a Jeffries tube. His right arm is definitely broken – an open fracture – and he’s showing signs of a ruptured disk in his neck as well as severe head trauma. I think he’ll need surgery, sir.”
“On my way.” I looked at my CO and XO, who had come to stand beside me. “Spock, I—” I began, preparing to express my regret at having to bow out, and for once I really meant it. Today, for the first time ever, the Vulcan had named me a friend in front of Jim. In light of that I didn’t want to let him down, especially not now, when for some unexplained reason, he looked for all the world like a man about to be herded off to his own execution. But hindsight is a funny thing, and I wonder now if there was more to his trepidation than that.
“Please, Doctor, there is no need to apologize,” Spock interrupted brusquely. “This clearly must take precedence.”
The two of them turned and started for the transporter room again, when the sense of foreboding washed over me once more. I reached out, grabbed the Captain’s arm, halting his forward momentum. “Jim, be careful,” I whispered, pitched too low even for Vulcan ears.
“Bones?” he admonished softly. “You’re going all Mother Hen on me again. It’s some sort of a Vulcan wedding celebration, not a Klingon Rite of Passage ceremony. What could possibly happen?” He tried to reassure me with a lopsided grin.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But humor me and be careful anyway, okay?” I was dead serious; didn’t answer his smile with one of my own.
The lopsided grin deepened, shades of affection and warmth now coloring it as well. The image of that smiling face would be forever burned into my memory. At the time I hadn’t realized that would be the last smile I’d ever see from him.
“We’ll be back soon. Go tend to your patient.” And with that he was gone, hurrying to match the Vulcan’s long strides as the two of them continued to make their way to the transporter room.