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No-one knew exactly what caused the breach between Spock and McCoy.
The first definite indication of a serious quarrel between them was that when Spock entered the rec room one day when McCoy was there McCoy got up without a word and walked out, going past Spock as if he wasn't there. Spock, for his part, ignored the incident and moved over to watch Sulu and Chekov playing chess as if nothing untoward had happened.
But that was only the beginning. They continued studiously avoiding each other; and, oddly enough, McCoy also seemed to be avoiding Kirk.
The Captain was seriously worried. The whole crew was tired - exhausted. There just weren't enough Starships, Kirk decided; they were long overdue for R & R, but every time they got near a Starbase, new orders sent them off on yet another emergency mission.
It needed very little to shatter the morale of the entire crew - there were already indications that nervous disorders were on the increase.
In addition, at their last planet-fall, one of the crew had picked up a peculiar fever, which had proved to be highly infectious; over half the crew had contracted it before McCoy found a cure. He was still coping with the aftermath, and since M'Benga had also gone down with it, and was not long back on his feet again, McCoy had been badly overworked. Kirk decided, therefore, not to question the doctor about it but rather to tackle Spock about the situation.
He waited until an evening when Spock had come to his quarters for a game of chess. They played half-heartedly, neither being up to his usual standard, and Kirk won by a rather larger margin than he usually did.
Spock's mind, Kirk thought, had definitely not been on the game.
As they began to set the board for another game, Kirk said abruptly, "What's wrong between you and Bones, Spock?"
Spock stiffened. "It is... a private matter, sir."
"Private it may be, Spock, but it's upsetting the ship." Kirk ignored the invisible wall erected by Spock's sudden formal 'sir'. "Everyone knows that you and Bones disagree about everything under the sun - and thoroughly enjoy yourselves in the process. But everyone knows equally well that this time it's serious. We're all overworked, badly in need of a rest - yes, you too, if you'd be honest enough to admit it - and far too tired to act sensibly. In our present condition, I know it's easy to take offence at nothing - but I'm not having the crew upset by a disagreement between my senior officers.
"It's giving rise to other quarrels - I broke one up a few hours ago, in fact. The subject - your quarrel with Bones.
"One man was saying it had to be your fault, the other held that it was McCoy's fault. Since it's reached that stage, I think it's time for me to do something about it. Now - what caused it?"
Spock still hesitated. At last he said, reluctantly, "I made an unforgivable remark to the Doctor, sir."
Kirk looked at him in some surprise. "I won't embarrass you by asking what you said - but couldn't you apologise?"
Spock rose. "No, sir. May I be excused now? I do have some work to do."
Kirk let him go, and sat back to consider the matter.
Since they were avoiding each other, the matter was at least in abeyance. Perhaps, if he let it go for the moment, once they did get a break they would find some way of resuming their normal relationship.
Finally, however, matters came to a head. Spock was in the rec room playing chess with Sulu, who was trying to improve his game. Sulu was losing, in spite of having an advantage of a knight and a bishop. McCoy came in.
He swerved to avoid the Vulcan and came over to Kirk, who was watching the game half-heartedly.
"Don't you think it's time we had rooms for Humans only, Captain?" he asked loudly. "I'm sick of tripping over pointed ears every time I turn round."
Kirk looked at him, startled. There was real venom in the doctor's voice. Everyone else turned to look at McCoy too, except Spock, who moved his queen neatly into position, said quietly, "Checkmate, Mr Sulu. Thank you for the game," then got up and left.
Kirk got up too.
"I want a word with you, Bones. Let's go to my quarters."
He said nothing more until both were sitting in his cabin, then he looked over at McCoy. His heart sank. There was a grimly obstinate expression on the doctor's face, one Kirk remembered from years before, from the days when McCoy had been new on board the Enterprise, and regarded the entire world as unfriendly and untrustworthy.
Abruptly he changed his mind about what he was going to say, settling for, "Bones, what is wrong between you and Spock? You've never acted this way before."
McCoy's lips tightened. "He said something I can't excuse."
"You've insulted him pretty freely in the past, Bones, and he's never taken offence," Kirk suggested. "Or doesn't that count? Do you reserve for yourself the right to insult him, but deny him the right to answer back?"
McCoy didn't answer, sitting with his face implacably set. Kirk gave up. "Well, I won't try to force you... just try to remember the times he's proved his friendship, will you, Bones?... Meantime, kindly refrain from speaking slightingly of Mr Spock in front of junior officers. He is still the First Officer of this ship, and as such I insist that he be given the public respect that is his due."
McCoy nodded. "Will that be all, Captain?" he said coldly. "I have some work to get on with." He went out.
A useful excuse, Kirk thought, remembering that Spock had used the same one. He sat staring at the door, wondering what had happened. Just what had Spock said? He was unlikely ever to find out. Would they ever get together again?
Next day on the bridge, Spock made one or two slight mistakes.
It was unheard-of.
"Are you feeling all right, Spock?" Kirk asked, thinking that if Spock were ill, caring for him might bring McCoy to his senses.
"Perfectly all right, Captain," Spock replied. "I am a little tired, that is all."
An unusual admission as well, Kirk thought; but of course the strain on him of McCoy's behaviour must be intense, although he showed no sign that it was bothering him at all.
That evening, as Kirk left the bridge with Spock, he suggested going to the gym to practise free-fall combat; it had been some time since either of them had worked out in free-fall. Spock agreed; they went off to one of the gyms, and began a work-out.
Although he had suggested the exercise, Kirk's mind wasn't fully on what he was doing. He had primarily had in mind the wish to show Spock that whatever McCoy was thinking, he wasn't letting it affect his attitude.
He was thinking so hard about Spock's problem that he misjudged an evasive action, and hurtled towards the far wall.
Spock reached the wall first, at the cost of a badly cut arm as he took a shortcut round a piece of equipment, and managed to stop Kirk from hurting himself badly, although Kirk twisted his back in the process.
Spock, rather grim-faced, helped Kirk to sickbay, where McCoy, in a worse mood than ever, received them ungraciously. He pushed Kirk onto a bed, and made a rapid check.
"Why the devil do you play games with that damned alien, Jim?"
Kirk grinned, trying to make light of the situation. "Why shouldn't I, Bones?"
"Because he'll kill you one of these days, that's why," McCoy growled. "And when he does, I won't be staying on, if he's Captain."
Kirk twisted his head to look at Spock, but the Vulcan had gone. Kirk didn't even know if he'd stayed long enough to hear the exchange.
He looked back at McCoy. "Doctor, Spock cut his arm badly. It needs attention."
"If it really needed treatment, he'd have stayed," McCoy muttered. "M'Benga could have treated him." Before Kirk could reply, McCoy gave him an injection that knocked him out.
Next morning Kirk felt surprisingly better. The enforced sleep had done him a world of good, he realised - he hadn't slept properly for ages.
His back was still painful when he tried to move, so he lay still, watching McCoy who was busy taping reports at his desk.
McCoy, was looking exhausted, he thought; and reflected remorsefully that the doctor had been on duty continuously for several weeks. He badly needed a rest, and a rest would surely make him see things in better perspective.
Next moment, however, he had forgotten his concern for McCoy.
The surgeon, flicking on the intercom, said harshly, "Spock, if you want to see the Captain, come now while I'm at breakfast, so that I don't have to look at you cluttering up my sickbay." He flicked the intercom off again before Spock had a chance to reply.
Kirk sat up abruptly, grimacing as the sudden movement hurt his back, and said harshly, "Dr McCoy, I have told you before about speaking to Mr Spock like that.
"I will not have him abused in front of junior officers. Either you apologise to him - publicly - or you transfer off my ship." McCoy stared at him for a moment, then opened a drawer, took out a form, scrawled an angry signature across it, handed it to Kirk, and swept out. Kirk was still staring blankly at it when Spock came in. It was a transfer request, already made out. He held it out speechlessly to Spock, who glanced at it then handed it back.
"Sir, since it was my fault, I am the one who should transfer."
Kirk glared up at him. "Isn't it bad enough to have Bones acting up without you starting?" he asked. "How's your arm?"
"Perfectly all right, Captain," Spock said. "But, sir - "
Kirk crumpled up the transfer form and dropped it in the waste paper basket. "Let's forget it, Spock. A bit of leave might make Bones a little more... inclined to see reason. Has our request for R & R been granted?"
"Yes and no, sir. We must report first to Starbase 11 for some urgent medical supplies for the colony on Urthica, but we will have a week there, and may take shore leave."
Kirk nodded, sighing.
"Let's hope that nothing urgent calls us away this time," he said. He hesitated, then looked pleadingly at Spock.
"Spock. Isn't it possible for you to apologise? Bones is overtired, and it's made him extra touchy. He isn't looking too well, either."
Spock turned away. His back to Kirk, he said slowly, "I regret, Captain, but I cannot."
"But... but why not? If you started it, surely...?"
"The... situation has gone beyond the possibility of my apologising."
So McCoy's behaviour had finally mortally insulted Spock, Kirk thought. One of them would have to go, for the sake of the ship.
But... he didn't want to lose either of them. And at heart, he was sure, they didn't want to lose each other... One of them had to back down.
And they were both stubborn men...
Kirk didn't refer to the matter again. Indeed, he had little chance to do so. Spock, apparently trying to avoid exacerbating matters, seemed to be spending all his free time in his quarters - but that he was worried was clear, for he kept on making small mistakes, none of them serious, but the frequency of the errors was increasing.
And McCoy spent all his time in sickbay.
They were still two days from Starbase 11 when Spock finally gave in.
He had made yet another mistake, and he came down to Kirk.
"Captain, I wish to report myself unfit for duty. I have a disease we call mental debility. There is no cure."
Kirk called sickbay. McCoy didn't seem particularly bothered, saying merely, "Send him down."
Kirk accompanied Spock to sickbay.
McCoy regarded the Vulcan with unfriendly eyes and pointed silently to a bed. Spock, equally silently, lay down as M'Benga came in.
McCoy checked him over, watched by M'Benga. At last, he said, "Well, he's not malingering..."
Kirk took a deep breath. "Doctor - " he began, but was interrupted in his turn by M'Benga.
"Doctor, Mr Spock has an ailment the Vulcans call mental debility. There is no known cure."
McCoy looked at him, his eyes hard. "Isn't that too bad?" he mocked. He turned, watched by the horrified M'Benga, and moved back to his desk.
Spock was beginning to look flushed. M'Benga reached for a hypo and gave him a shot. Spock's eyes closed, and Kirk looked enquiringly at M'Benga.
"The ailment begins with tenseness, mild forgetfulness becoming increasingly serious," M'Benga said. "That is followed by mental lassitude; the patient makes small errors, which increase in magnitude.
"Eventually, the patient goes into a coma and dies. The more he tries to fight the course of the disease, the longer he tries to continue working efficiently, the more he tries to exercise mental control, the quicker the course of the disease. It's coupled with a drop in the pulse rate, which means his already low blood pressure drops even more so that the supply of oxygen to vital organs diminishes, causing a drop in physical activity, ending, as I said, in death.
"I've put Mr Spock under very heavy sedation, but all that's doing is buying a few more hours of time - perhaps a day. The Vulcans themselves don't know what causes the condition, they can't find a cure despite many years of research, and fifty to sixty Vulcans die from it every year."
Kirk stared at him, looked at Spock, then turned to McCoy. "Bones..." he began.
"If the Vulcans can't find a cure, where do you expect me to begin?" McCoy asked harshly.
"I would at least expect you to try," Kirk snapped. "I don't care what he said to you, it can't have been so bad that you want him to die, for God's sake!"
McCoy turned back to his desk. "I don't care what happens to him," he began.
M'Benga was looking intently at him. He picked up the hypo again, and moved quietly over to McCoy to inject him quickly. McCoy had time to glare angrily at him, then slumped over his desk.
"What - ?" Kirk began.
"Help me get him onto a bed, Captain," M'Benga said. As Kirk obeyed, M'Benga went on. "His behaviour is completely out of character. There must be something seriously wrong with him. I suggested to him the other day that he'd been working himself too hard and needed a break, offered to check him over, but he insisted that he was all right."
He reached for a diagnostic scanner, began to run it over McCoy. "I had no reason to insist - then. But now... I know how much he worries about Mr Spock under normal circumstances, if he's ill.
"It would take more than a serious quarrel to make him just not care... Mmmm, yes. There are indications of poison in the blood - just traces, nothing more, about as much as if an abscess were leaking..." He turned the instrument to McCoy's head.
Its steady sound altered suddenly.
"Ah. There's definitely something..."
The instrument bleeped its wildest beside McCoy's right ear. M'Benga put it down and examined the ear carefully. At last, he moved it away from the side of McCoy's head.
There, behind the ear, was a fair-sized reddish-brown lump.
"What is it?" Kirk asked.
"I don't know. It isn't like a tumour or any sort of growth I can think of."
He moved away, to clean his hands carefully. He checked that McCoy was still unconscious, then swabbed the area round the swelling.
He reached for a scalpel, and began, very carefully, to cut round the lump. It was not particularly deep-set; it cut loose fairly easily. M'Benga lifted it clear, a long, thin 'root' coming after it. He put it carefully into a container then turned his attention to patching up the wound which, though oozing blood, wasn't particularly serious.
Once he had put a dressing over the would, M'Benga picked up the container, Kirk came to look over his shoulder. The 'root' was being withdrawn; the thing was beginning to move of its own volition.
"It's alive," Kirk whispered.
M'Benga nodded. "Some kind of parasite," he suggested. "It must have been tapping his carotid artery, leaving his brain short of oxygen and nourishment, and it's probably its waste products expelled into his blood that caused the traces of poisoning. No wonder he's been acting uncharacteristically lately."
"I wonder where he picked it up?" Kirk said. "Will he be all right now?"
"He should, but he could probably do with a good meal, with plenty of sugar to replace the energy he lost to this... thing." He carefully put a lid over the container, and gave McCoy a further injection. "That will help."
Almost as if he'd heard, McCoy moved, grunted, and his hand went up to his ear. Kirk reached over and held his hand still.
McCoy opened his eyes to look up at him. "Jim? What... Spock!" He sat up abruptly as M'Benga came back with the scanner.
"How are you feeling?" Kirk asked.
"Tired, and my ear's itchy." He tried to pull his hand free in order to scratch, but Kirk held it firmly as M'Benga ran the scanner over McCoy.
"You picked up some kind of alien parasite somewhere, Bones. Dr M'Benga's removed it - you should be all right now, but having it removed is probably why it's itchy."
McCoy glanced at M'Benga. "It was tapping your carotid artery, Doctor, taking the nourishment out of your blood." McCoy nodded his understanding.
"Bones..." Kirk went on. "Do you... do you feel up to trying to do something about Spock?" He looked at him apologetically, and went on. "I know M'Benga's the expert on Vulcans, but you are the senior doctor... if anyone can find a cure for him, it's you."
"I'll try," McCoy said. He glanced at M'Benga. "Get me a list of all the things the Vulcans have tried to cure the condition."
As M'Benga left the room to consult his own computer, Kirk said thoughtfully, "Bones - you heard M'Benga's diagnosis, didn't you?"
McCoy nodded. "I'm afraid I wasn't paying much attention, Jim, but I heard it - we haven't much time, have we?"
"No. Any ideas?"
"Well... it could be a blood infection, with the brain suffering from lack of nourishment - the way mine was," he added, almost apologetically.
"And because the Vulcan metabolism is quite dependent on the brain, you get a vicious circle..."
"Any chance that's it's actually a mental condition, and the physical effects are the secondary ones?"
"In a Vulcan? Unlikely. Their mental training makes every man his own psychologist. They're the most level-headed race in the galaxy ... and heaven forbid Spock ever hears me say that."
"Well, see what you can do." He looked unhappily at Spock, then headed for the door. "I'll be on the bridge, Bones. Let me know if there's any change."
McCoy returned to his desk, then remembering something Kirk had said some days earlier, he checked Spock's arms. One of them had a bad cut, unhealed, suppurating, looking very nasty. He tended it quickly and efficiently, wondering that it hadn't healed and feeling guilty that Spock should have had to suffer for so long.
He moved restlessly back to the desk again. "Computer."
"Compare case histories of all recorded cases of Vulcan mental debility, and check for any common factors in work, lives or background."
The computer chuckled to itself for a few seconds.
"All victims were aged between thirty and fifty Vulcan years.
"All held positions of authority.
"All were unmarried."
McCoy leaned back, thinking furiously. M'Benga came in with the list he had asked for; he took the tape, and nodded dismissal. "Doctor - make sure no-one disturbs me - not even the Captain."
"Dr McCoy, you're not completely recovered yourself yet - "
"That doesn't matter. Spock does, and we've already lost time we can't afford. I can rest after he recovers - or dies," he finished in a subdued tone.
M'Benga said, "Yes, Doctor," and went out.
Now, McCoy thought, suppose Jim were right. Suppose the ailment were mental in origin. What condition could arise in some young, single Vulcans who were in responsible positions? No. Forget about Vulcans for a moment. Think about Humans. What condition could be called comparable? Tension... nervous strain... what kind of Human was quite likely to develop a nervous breakdown? One with inadequate emotional relationships. People with sincere, mature emotional relationships, who were not ashamed to show their feelings, didn't have nervous breakdowns.
Emotion is a nervous safety valve among Humans... and other races too.
But Vulcans rejected emotion, claimed to have none.
Wait, though ... historically Vulcans were an emotional, warlike race, who escaped destroying themselves by a hair. The survivors of their final holocaust rejected warfare, built up a culture based on logic, where emotion played no part.
But you can't eliminate something as basic as emotion from the genetic pattern of a race simply by deciding it was undesirable. Not without a long and ultra-selective breeding scheme - one that would have to go on for millennia, and even then emotion would remain as a recessive gene.
There was no record of the Vulcans ever initiating such a scheme - and although, as McCoy knew, Vulcan parents tended to choose their children's mates, there was nothing to indicate a genetic choice - rather, a social and possible economic reason lay behind it. So emotion must simply have been made culturally undesirable - a thing McCoy had long suspected.
Vulcan children were told from infancy that emotion was wrong, illogical and inefficient. Of course they believed it. Some Humans rejected emotion in the same way.
Vulcans with an affectionate nature must exist, and if they had no way to express it without embarrassment... married Vulcans could presumably find emotional satisfaction in their relationship with their wives, but this was denied to the single ones... in Spock the basic conflict would have been aggravated by his Human blood - and his own behaviour towards Spock in the last week or two must have been the final straw.
With shame, McCoy remembered just how badly he had behaved...
Somehow he had to break Spock. Force the Vulcan to express the emotion he had been bottling up inside him - even if it meant laying himself open to insult and abuse.
Yet... he had been trying to break - or at least crack - Spock's iron self-control for years, including times when the emotional pressure on Spock must have been tremendous, and he had always failed.
This time, he couldn't afford to fail - if his theory were right. But he would have to be brutally cruel...
He moved back to where Spock lay, and looked down at him. The sedative was wearing off. Spock's eyes opened; McCoy took a deep breath, but before he could speak, Spock said quietly, "You will soon be rid of me, Doctor."
McCoy choked, fighting a lump in his throat. He knew exactly what he should say; but his heart wouldn't let him. "No," he whispered. "I can't...
"I don't want rid of you, Spock.
"I want it to go on like it has for years, with you on one side of Jim and me on the other, with each of us knowing he can depend on the other two till hell freezes." He fought for a degree of self-control, knowing he would fail.
He sat on the edge of Spock's bed, his face buried in his hands, sobbing harshly.
Spock reached out weakly. "Tears... for me, Doctor?"
McCoy half turned, and gripped Spock's arms, ignoring the tears that still ran down his face. "I don't want to lose you, Spock. I've said a lot to you in the past, some of it things I'm ashamed to remember, especially in the past week or two...
"I knew you didn't mean what you said, I don't know why I wouldn't accept your apology... but I do accept, Spock... I like you, and I don't want to lose you...
"Spock, tell me you forgive me - give me a word - just one word - of open friendship ... please..."
"Bones," Spock whispered, so low that McCoy barely heard him.
Then, after a long pause, "We are taught that emotion is... undesirable... unnecessary... We are taught to be ashamed... that affection is a - a personal thing we should not inflict on others.
"Even when we want to... to show our feelings, we are afraid... afraid of being mocked... scorned... We always rationalise." His voice trailed into silence.
"I won't laugh at you, Spock... or taunt you with it afterwards," McCoy whispered back.
"There won't be any afterwards," Spock replied. "I... regret that.
"I've never told anyone...even Jim... all my life, I've been lonely. Only here, on the Enterprise... with Jim... and you... but I could never show it.
"Vulcans are self-sufficient."
McCoy took his hand. He could think of nothing to say... and sat, silent, the tears still running unheeded down his face, willing Spock to say more.
After a while, Spock went on. "I'm tired. Stay... stay with me, Bones... please."
"I won't leave you," he promised.
Spock gripped his hand weakly, then his eyes closed.
Sleep - or the terminal coma? He'd reached Spock, but was it enough? The readings on the diagnostic board meant nothing, his own readings were confused with Spock's.
He could have moved away, but he preferred to remain where he was.
The intercom buzzed; he leaned over to flick it on.
"How is Spock, Bones?"
"Sleeping - I think. He's no worse."
It seemed a long vigil. McCoy got stiff, and knew that he would suffer agony from cramp when he eventually moved, but he remained at Spock's side. At last the Vulcan's eyes opened again. McCoy smiled down at him.
"How do you feel, Spock?"
Spock considered the question for a moment.
"I can think," he said wonderingly. "I'm better. What - ?" He broke off, evidently remembering 'what'.
"Spock, I owe you an apology," McCoy said. "I behaved very badly. I would be well-served if you refused to accept my apology... but I really am very sorry."
Spock looked at him for a moment in silence, seemingly becoming aware that McCoy was still holding his hand. Suddenly embarrassed, and afraid that Spock would reject him, McCoy released Spock's hand, got up abruptly to move away, and collapsed with a cry of pain as the blood flowed back into his legs even as they failed to support him. Spock reached him almost as he hit the floor. "What's wrong?"
"Legs - cramp."
Spock began massaging one leg as McCoy worked on the other.
After a minute, McCoy gasped. with relief. "That's better."
Spock said slowly, "You sat there all the time I was asleep."
They looked at each other. Then Spock held out his hand, watching McCoy questioningly as he did so.
McCoy gave a relieved grunt, and gripped it firmly.
"Doctor... Bones..." Spock said. "You found a cure... What was it?"
"Emotion, of course - and before you say 'rubbish', remember, it worked."
"Yes," Spock said, "But I am half Human..."
"You think your Human blood helped? It possibly increased your chances, both of contracting the condition and of being cured. Anyway, I'll report the circumstances of the cure to the Vulcan medical authorities, let them take it from there... but what was actually said is between you and me."
"Thank you," Spock said quietly.
"Well. Let's go and tell Jim you're fit again - and that we've settled our... our differences."
They smiled at each other, and went outside by side.