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McCoy sat in Sickbay, feeling utterly miserable. He had just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life - but he was not the one who would have to suffer for it. No, the one who would suffer was one of the two dearest friends he had - a man for whom he would willingly have walked barefoot through hell, if by so doing he could have helped him; and who would soon - too soon - be leaving the Enterprise for ever. Somehow, the fact that Spock bore him no grudge, had, indeed, tried to ease his feelings of guilt, made it worse. Spock was blind, and there was nothing - absolutely nothing - that he could do about it.
The intercom buzzed, breaking into his guilty abstraction.
"Sickbay - McCoy here."
"Tell Spock it worked," came Kirk's voice.
It worked. Well, it was something. Spock's blindness hadn't been totally meaningless. "He'll be happy to hear it," he said dully.
"Bones - it wasn't your fault. Bones..."
He flicked off the intercom, cutting off the voice. It was his fault. He had acted first and thought after. He had acted far too hastily. He should have waited for the results of the first test to be processed, instead of trying to be clever.
He rose wearily, and went over to the bed where Spock lay. "Spock - "
"I heard, Doctor. We were successful. Gratifying." His voice was even, unemotional as always. There might almost have been nothing wrong with him - except that he was lying with his eyes closed, almost as if he was trying to pretend that his lack of sight was voluntary.
McCoy felt a sudden need to say something - to do something. He was sure that Spock was miserable, no matter how well he hid it; he wanted to try to ease the desolation he sensed Spock was feeling, but which he would not - could not - let anyone see. Yet he knew that any expression of sympathy would be rejected.
"Spock - I'm sorry - " he tried.
Spock broke in. "There is no need to sound so depressed, Doctor. It was my own fault. You wanted to give me a visor to protect my eyes; I refused it."
"Yes - and I should have insisted, in spite of you."
"The Captain agreed with me."
"In spite of both of you."
"Doctor, it is done. There is no point, now, in trying to decide who was, or was not, to blame, or what we could have done to prevent it. I have accepted it; it is time for me to begin learning how to live with my blindness. I am physically well; fully able to begin packing my personal belongings in readiness for leaving the ship at the next Starbase. If you would kindly guide me to my quarters..."
"Not yet, Spock," McCoy said. There was really no reason why not, he knew; but he found himself wanting to put off the moment when he must admit that there was nothing to be done - even though he had known it for some hours now.
Spock turned his head towards McCoy at that, opening his eyes in an involuntary reaction to the doctor's refusal to let him leave Sickbay. As he did so, he flinched and shut his eyes again.
"What's wrong?" McCoy asked sharply.
"Pain - behind my eyes."
McCoy moved to his desk for his small ophthalmic torch. He came back, and dimmed the lights. "Open your eyes," he ordered.
Spock obeyed. McCoy shone the light into one eye, then the other, watching the reaction carefully, The eye muscles were again reacting almost normally, but... Spock was still staring blankly up at him.
He put down the torch, and moved dispiritedly to put the lights up again. He stood, then, looking down at Spock, allowing his misery to show on his face.
Spock said slowly, "You need not look so worried, Doctor."
McCoy stared at him, his heart leaping with sudden hope. "You can see?"
Spock nodded. "A little dimly still, but my sight is recovering quickly."
"I don't understand. The optic nerve couldn't have survived that intensity of light..."
"I had forgotten it myself, but Vulcans have an inner eyelid that closes involuntarily to shut out high-intensity glare. It must have afforded me sufficient protection to enable my eyes to recover, even though I was at first dazzled."
McCoy continued to stare at him with barely-concealed relief. Then, in sudden reaction, he buried his face in his hands, wanting to hide his expression. Spock looked at him, not fooled. He reached over, and put his hand for a moment on McCoy's arm.
The doctor took a deep breath, and reached out for his torch once more. "Lie back, Spock, I want to check you over."
"Doctor, I assure you - "
"Yes, I know... Well, you seem to be all right. Let's go and tell Jim."
Together, they walked out of Sickbay on their way to the bridge.