for Sue Thomason
all my troubles were so far away
now it seems as though they're here to stay
oh I believe in yesterday....
by Jane Carnall
McCoy was struggling awake, struggling with his own weakness. Something was terribly wrong. Some fear was crawling in the dark spaces in his mind, wanting only the light of knowledge to grow and devour him. Outside, in the main room, he could hear the source of that fear saying something that he could not quite catch.
Concentrating fiercely, he climbed out of bed, found his boots, pulled them on. A silence had fallen. Leaning on the wall, he went to the entrance of the niche and found that stone was soft and warm and welcoming beside the fear now unlocked, beside what he saw.
Spock. Standing very close to Zarabeth. "But you are beautiful. Is it so wrong to tell you so?"
And Zarabeth. You could see the stars shining in her eyes. McCoy swallowed painfully. "I have longed to hear you say it."
Yes. And Spock. So hesitant. So careful. So doubtful. But looking at Zarabeth, touching Zarabeth in a way McCoy could practically feel from the other side of the room. Spock, kissing Zarabeth. Holding Zarabeth against him. And the wonder in his voice. "You are beautiful. More beautiful than any dream of beauty I have ever known."
He laid her down on the fur rug on the floor, and sat down beside her, holding her, kissing her. McCoy shut his eyes for what felt like a nightmarishly long time. "Spock," he said at last, out loud. He could hear the catch in his voice. "You've been dishonest with me, Spock, and that is also something new for you."
Spock looked up from Zarabeth. "I've given you the facts, Doctor."
Fury and fear, growing side by side. "The facts as you know them. Or did you just accept Zarabeth's word because it's what you wanted to believe."
"You were told the truth," Spock said quietly. "If Zarabeth is the source, what difference does it make?"
"Zarabeth is a woman condemned to a terrible life of loneliness. She would do anything to anybody to change that." McCoy's voice changed. "Wouldn't you, Zarabeth?"
"I told you what I know," she said. McCoy saw Spock put a hand on Zarabeth's shoulder.
"Did you? You said we can't get back. The truth is, you can't get back."
"She would not jeopardise other lives," Spock said with utter certainty.
Furious, looming forward like a vulture, McCoy struck. "She would do anything to prevent that life of loneliness. She would lie. She would cheat. She would even murder me. Or the Captain, or the entire crew of the Enterprise, to keep you here with her. Go ahead, Zarabeth. Tell Spock the truth. Go ahead." Though still none too steady on his feet, he lunged now for her, grabbing at her shoulders and shaking her. "Tell Spock you'd kill -- "
"Don't touch me -- "
"What are you doing to her -- " Spock roared, drowning out either of them, and was on his feet and slamming McCoy across the room against the wall. It hurt, quite enormously, and Spock's hand was at McCoy's throat and tightening, McCoy desperately and fruitlessly clutching at Spock's arms.
The shock was so vast it knocked McCoy into a strange kind of calm space where he could meet Spock's eyes. "Are you trying to kill me, Spock? Is that what you really want?"
McCoy had blue eyes. His throat was yielding to Spock's hand. Kill him? Want to kill him? Spock loosened his grip, as much as he could manage at this moment.
"Think!" McCoy almost whispered. "What are you feeling? Rage, jealousy? Have you ever had these feelings before?"
Have I ever expressed them quite so... effectively? Spock managed to loosen his killing grasp till it lay lightly. Control. Where is control? "This is impossible. Impossible. I am a Vulcan." He let go. McCoy was still holding him. His other hand was still on McCoy's shoulder. He was trying to look down, look away, but McCoy's eyes still looked into his.
"The Vulcan you knew won't exist for another five thousand years. Think, man. What's happening on your planet, right now this very moment?"
"My ancestors are barbarians. Warlike barbarians."
"Who nearly killed themselves off with their own passions. Spock -- you're reverting to your ancestors. Five thousand years before you were born."
It sank in. It fitted together. What he had done. What he was doing. "I have lost myself. I do not know who I am."
Turning away, out of McCoy's hands, towards Zarabeth, he knew McCoy's eyes on him were still wary. Zarabeth was looking at him in surprise, but utter acceptance. He went to his knees on the floor beside her.
"I know I'm going to try, Spock," McCoy said harshly, finally. "Because my life's back there -- and I want that life -- " He made for the entrance, grabbing a fur up on the way, wrapping it around himself. Spock dropped his head, unable to face the judgement.
Zarabeth said, softly, "I think I have not understood. What is McCoy to you?"
"He is my bondmate," Spock said. "He has been my bondmate for three years."
It was cold, even with the rug round his shoulders, and the wind blowing hard against him. He found the trail, though the snow had covered their footprints, and went back. He fell, twice, and there was no Spock to hold him. But he reached the cliff and felt his way along it, trying to press through the icy rock, calling out hopelessly.
He fell a third time, and huddled there. It didn't seem worth getting up. The snow was beginning to be warm as it fell and covered him with small tickling feathers. Spock and Zarabeth. Spock and Jim. Always, forever, second. Better to sleep.
"I must go after him," Spock lifted his head and looked at Zarabeth. "Out there, he will die."
It was later that it occurred to Zarabeth that she could have delayed Spock. She could have caught at him, kept him, for long enough to let McCoy die. But in ten years alone, she had never dreamt of a lover; she had longed simply for companions, and to let one of the longed-for godsent strangers die was not a temptation that occurred to her.
"You're right. He isn't well. Quickly -- " by this time, she could get into her leggings and robe and be out of the cave in less than two minutes. When the karribe were running, that was sometimes vital.
Spock seemed able to find his way even through the thick-falling snow. Zarabeth knew the trail to the cliff even under these conditions like the palm of her hand, but Spock walked as if directly guided. A lump of snow on the trail under the cliff-face where the portal had been, warned Zarabeth of possible snowslides, but Spock went straight to it and picked it up bodily in his arms, turning back towards the cave.
Once certain that Spock could manage the weight of the other man without assistance, Zarabeth went on faster. Bowls. She had two large bowls in the storeroom, one with dried meat in soak. It didn't matter. She emptied the full bowl out into three smaller bowls, and took both the large ones down to the hot spring, rinsing one out and bringing it back full. Spock had entered the shelter, McCoy in his arms.
"Put him down over there," she pointed to the rug by the heater. "The only treatment I know for frostbite is washing gently in warm water."
"I know nothing about frostbite." Spock set the other man down gently and began again to pull his boots off, then the blue overshirt. "I will take your advice." He felt a slight twinge of incongruity, vividly remembering sitting here with Zarabeth, but suppressed it. Except that the image kept recurring. Loss of control.
Zarabeth's suggested treatment could at least do no harm. She had disappeared and returned with another bowlful of warm water, and was kneeling on the other side of the still body. "This will probably hurt him, so it's better if we do it while he's unconscious." The Starfleet tunic and trousers had protected McCoy's body for the most part; only his extremities seemed to be in danger, feet and hands, and his unprotected face. Spock laved it gently in the warm water, as Zarabeth was dealing with the hands. When they took off his black undertunic Spock saw the heavy bruising where he had slammed McCoy into the rock wall.
It was while they were soaking his feet that McCoy started to toss and mumble. Spock held him still while Zarabeth completed the treatment, hearing him mutter in a mixture of broken Standard and Terran English about pain, about loss. It was incoherent with fever, but the general drift was quite clear.
"We had better get him to bed," Zarabeth suggested. "I think he'll come to no harm from frostbite, at least."
Spock dug the tricorder out of the medikit again. "This would appear to agree with you." He picked McCoy up again (if he had been really conscious at all, McCoy would have protested at this) and carried him over to the bed, setting him down and wrapping him up in the fur cover.
"Zarabeth," he said quietly.
"Spock." She was standing very close to him.
"I am sorry...."
She shook her head, both denial and acceptance, and sat down on the floor; after a moment's hesitation, Spock sat down beside her, one hand lying on the covers above McCoy's heart. "What does it mean, that you and he are bondmates?" she asked.
"I am a Vulcan," Spock said with difficulty. "We are a telepathic species. For us the only possible mating pattern is between two people with compatible minds. He and I are a mindmatch. You and I are also mindmatched.... In five thousand years I would not have been able to look at you as I perceive you now. But in this time, we two could also be bondmates."
"Yes, but what does it mean? Is it like a liason or like marriage?"
"No -- " Spock said automatically, and then, "Yes, I suppose so. But marriage is, I have always understood, principally a legal relationship; the bonding is principally a mental relationship. It is a permanent telepathic link. Mind touching mind."
"Oh..." Zarabeth's eyes were alive with wonder. "To never be alone... never lonely. No wonder he was so afraid. Of losing that. If I had ever had it, I would fear the loss as well. Ah, Spock -- " she dropped her head into her hands. "I almost wish you had not given me the sight of such a thing."
She lifted her head; there were tears glinting on her face, but she wiped them impatiently away with her fingers. "I was lonely before you came. Ten years of loneliness. To have companions after so long would have been enough, and will still be, once I learn not to wish for what I cannot have." She turned and looked directly at McCoy, setting her teeth against crying aloud. "My family was destroyed by a tyrant who thought it his right to take what he wanted, no matter how costly, from anyone. No matter what the pain, no matter how they valued it. I will not take the link, or you, from him.
"I would not have suggested it," Spock said unevenly. "He is my bondmate. So too could you be, without taking what is his from him." He paused, looking down at the other man's timeworn face. "He is my certainty. He loves life; so much it roars in him, like a le-matya roaring his own life across the wastes. One of the legends of my world tells of a healer who learned to raise the dead, and did so knowing that death required a price. And yet she loved life so much death dared not come to her." He turned then to her. "When I saw you first, I thought I knew you. It was the life in you I knew, like winter rain falling. Zarabeth -- " He reached to touch her face, and she turned back to him. "I would bond with thee."
Zarabeth mirrored the touch, her own hand on Spock's face. For a moment, she wasn't sure what had happened. Everything seemed doubled; the touch of her own hands on her own face, redoubled on itself, mine, not mine, your love, my love, thin fire running like a thief through both of her --
Spock's mind was a pool of living fire, through which she could dive like a phoenix, wings spread, all aflame with light --
Her mind was a torrent of living water, gold as sunlight, cold as snow, in which he walked as joy walking --
I see you as you see me as I see you --
T'hy'la. Sister, lover, friend, never and always touching and touched --
After a while, Zarabeth realised that she was sitting on the bed in her own body, her own hand on Spock's face. The link was there, in her mind, as certain as the strength of her hands. She set her hand against his throat, in the ancient gesture of trust, and murmured in her mind, his mind, the words from the dawn of days, I hold your life, and do not take it.
Spock's eyebrows flickered; she could already read it as laughter. Indeed. And then he turned and looked down at McCoy unconscious, and his face froze. "He should not be left alone. And physical proximity is necessary for the bond to stabilise. It will be necessary for you to stay with both of us for tonight at least."
It was three days before McCoy's fever broke and he fell into a quiet sleep. During those three days Spock seldom and only for the most immediate needs moved far from the bed. He was silent, for the most part, though he did tell her some useful biological details about his kind's cycle of fertility. Hers was yearly, and usually gave her four or five sleepless nights each autumn. His was seven-yearly, which seemed a little unproductive. He didn't even appear to sleep; Zarabeth would doze off and wake again hours later and Spock would be sitting as though he had not moved.
"No," he said once in response to a question, "I can repress the sleep reflex, for up to ten days without harm."
Zarabeth's next question remained unvoiced; don't you trust me with his welfare? McCoy's accusation that she would murder him to have Spock had burnt too bitterly. But Spock lifted an eyebrow and answered as though she had spoken aloud; "I trust you with my life, which is also his. But he -- does not know you as I do." She did not offer to help him with McCoy's care again.
In the third night the other man's fever broke and he fell asleep, and Spock holding him in his arms. It gave her an odd, momentary pain to see how easily, even asleep, McCoy fitted into her bondmate's arms, belonging there. Three years. Squashing the feeling, Zarabeth lay down on the other side of McCoy, pulling the fur up over the three of them and throwing an arm over the other man to reach her bondmate.
Spock was asleep already, and it was only for the pure pleasure of lying listening to other breathing than her own that kept Zarabeth awake much longer. Even though McCoy smelt odd -- not unpleasant, but not like Spock, nor like any man of her own kind she could remember.
Asleep, McCoy remembered;
it had been a strange interview. Spock even more formal than usual, oddly hesitant, finally abrupt; and himself stunned.
"Me? You want to bond with me?"
They were, Spock told him very clinically, mentally compatible. Mindmatched; it meant simply that two minds could fit together in a permanent bond. McCoy remembered getting up then, and starting to pace. "How rare is this... mindmatch?"
"Approximately eight percent of humans, seventeen percent of Vulcans, are a mindmatch for me. There are thirty-three such individuals aboard the Enterprise. You..." he had hesitated, and McCoy stopped and looked at him, becoming aware that Spock had been watching him intently. "You are my closest friend, who is also a mindmatch."
It had seemed like a good basis for a marriage. Two friends. He could not claim that Spock had ever lied to him, had ever promised him anything more than he gave. McCoy had even known Spock loved Jim Kirk; that wasn't hard to notice. He hadn't guessed how hard it would sometimes be to bear, to feel the pulse of love in Spock, not meant for him. He hadn't expected, and nor had Spock, that McCoy would fall in love with his bondmate.
Despite these complicated tangles, the sometimes desperate self-willed loneliness rather than be in the way between Spock and Kirk, overall being bonded with Spock was nothing McCoy ever wanted to lose. One thing he held to, feeling it firm in his grasp; he was something to Spock that no one else was.
But you are my bondmate, Spock had said once to him, a dead level bulwark against McCoy's sometimes furious jealousy of Kirk. It had made it easier to remain friends with Jim.
He had been dying, alone in the snow. After that he remembered pain, and falling into the pain, begging Spock frantically to leave him, to let him die, to stop hurting him. Somewhere in the background there was someone watching who was terror personified.
Had it been a dream? He was lying lapped in warmth, Spock's arm around him, holding him against the familiar body. His head was tucked into the hollow of the other's throat. But there was warmth on the other side as well, someone lying close against him, one arm across his body and Spock's.
No dream. Nightmare. He opened his eyes and saw the cave roof and walls, and knew the one on the other side of him was Zarabeth.
"He is awake," Spock said.
"Good," the light voice said. "After the fever broke last night I put some soup on to simmer." He could feel her standing up, saw her out of the corner of his eye stepping over them and out of the niche into the main room.
"Leonard?" Spock asked softly.
McCoy cleared his throat. "So you're bonded to her now."
"You know? Yes, I should have anticipated that you would sense it."
"So when do I get thrown out?" To his annoyance, McCoy heard his voice crack in the middle of the sentence.
"You are still my bondmate."
"Go to hell, Spock," McCoy snarled, but could do no more. He felt weak to his bones, and a horrible, shaming desire to cry. He had cried in Spock's presence, on Spock's shoulder in fact, twice before; but never in front of an outsider.
He could hear Zarabeth coming back, and turned his face into Spock's neck. He didn't want to see her so much that in the end he had to turn and look at her. She was carrying a drinking-bowl in both hands, and smiled at him.
The strange thing was, that if he had met her in another time and place -- indeed, when he had first met her -- he would have liked her. She was pleasant to look at; a friendly, warm, open face, mid-brown hair springing back in a mane about her head, eyes set slightly on a slant. Her smile was open with offered friendship, offered without thought of risk. "I'm glad you're feeling better."
McCoy started to say something, and shook his head. With a desperate effort, he heaved himself up into a sitting position, and found that he had to lean back against the wall or he would fall back again. He realised when he saw Zarabeth look at him that neither he nor Spock were wearing more than their underwear (Starfleet standard issue; officers, for the use of). Spock picked up the fur covering and wrapped it around McCoy's bare shoulders.
"Where are my clothes?"
"You do not need them within the shelter," Zarabeth said. "It is perfectly warm." She was wearing only a kind of wrap-around dress of cured leather.
"I'll decide what I need!" McCoy snapped.
"You need to drink this," Spock said firmly, taking the bowl from Zarabeth. "Drink."
It didn't seem worth fighting about. McCoy took the bowl in his hands to escape the humiliation of being fed like a child, and drank it down. He did feel marginally stronger once he had finished the bowl. Zarabeth took it back. "You can have more when you want it. Your clothes are over beside the heater; they needed to be dried out. Neither of us thought to brush the snow out of them while it was still unmelted."
"We had other things to think of," Spock pointed out.
McCoy glanced at him, and away again. "How long was I -- "
"Ill?" Spock asked coldly. He could feel the hostility and accusation emanating from his bondmate like a physical force, and did not know how to deal with it except, as in the early days of their bonding, to retreat behind Vulcan control. For the first time, though, that wall felt insecure. "You were feverish for three days. The fever broke approximately ten and a half hours ago, and you then fell asleep." He added "Are you now convinced that we are trapped here?"
McCoy sighed. "Yeah. Now we are, anyway. The portal back to the library will be gone by this time."
"It is an interesting speculation," Spock said thoughtfully. "The portal might remain focussed for so long as the library exists; and the library will presumably not even be built for another five thousand years, so the portal might endure in all the times in which it is until the library is destroyed. Or the subjective duration of the portal in this time might parallel the duration of the time the gate was focussed in the future time -- in which case, the gate will have ceased to be focussed, since when we departed the nova was estimated to occur in less than four hours, so the duration of the gate in this time would have been no more than four hours." He shook his head. "It is pointless to speculate on the matter, in any case." Looking more sharply at McCoy, he added "Do you intend to apologise for accusing Zarabeth of being a cheat and a liar?"
"And a murderer?" McCoy said harshly. "No, why should I? She probably would have done all those things to keep you with her, if she'd needed to. She may yet murder me, to have you all to herself. Tell him, Zarabeth."
She flinched back from the accusation and Spock heard a snarl of anger leave his own mouth. "How dare you -- " Before he could do anything he knew he would regret, he made himself stand up and walk away. He stopped, and turned, folding his hands behind his back. "You yourself pointed out to me," he said, "that I was reverting to my ancestors. Over five thousand years, on Vulcan we have attempted to create a genetic base for mental control. I had internal brakes, so to speak, against rage, or violent impulses, or other overwhelming emotions such as jealousy. I have none now. Do not provoke me, or you may -- you will -- regret it."
There was a pause. McCoy turned, deliberately, to Zarabeth. "Any spare furs?"
Zarabeth shrugged. "Many."
"Then could you make me up a bed over in that corner?" He gestured at the one furthest away from the niche. "Or wherever's convenient. You and Spock will be wanting this bed to yourselves from now on."
"No," Spock said, just as Zarabeth shook her head decisively. "No, McCoy. You are not yet recovered from your illness. The reason I sleep here is because it is the most sheltered corner. Therefore you must sleep here, at least until you are quite well again."
"Do you think I want to sleep with a man who tried to kill me and a woman who'd like to?" McCoy asked unpleasantly.
Zarabeth clenched her teeth. "Then I will make myself a bed up in the corner." She stood up and stalked out. Heading down to the storeroom, the last thing she heard was McCoy demanding furiously "Why did you do it, Spock?"
"Why?" Spock lifted an eyebrow.
"Yes, why! Do you happen to remember three years ago? You were explaining to me what it meant to be a Vulcan bondmate. Permanent telepathic link. Fine. Pon farr. Well, we coped with that. What happened to the monogamy clause?"
"Monogamy clause?" Spock said with a tilted eyebrow.
"Damn you, Spock, you know what I'm talking about!"
"You are my mindmatch. So is she. Monogamy implies a moral imperative; I explained to you that it is a physiological impossibility for a Vulcan to even feel an attraction to someone who is not my mindmatch," Spock said clinically.
"Right. Well, I don't have such a physiological brake. And I don't go to bed with everyone I've ever been attracted to -- let alone marry them."
Spock turned from the raw hurt, found he could not shut it out. Anger was beating at him as well. He had an impulse to go and find Zarabeth and sit with her for a while; from the moment he had seen her, from the moment he had first touched her mind, to bond with her had seemed the only logical thing to do. It still did. It was only that McCoy's feelings were tearing at what little was left of his self-control. "I think you had better lie down," he said finally, impassively. "You are still very weak."
McCoy rolled over onto his side and lay flat before Spock could reach him, in order to give the other man no excuse to touch him. But he could not reach the fur now, and Spock picked it up and tucked it around him, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Why did you do it, Spock?" McCoy repeated quietly.
Spock had no answer in words. A telepath would have understood. McCoy was not a telepath. And he was angry, and frightened, and jealous, and tired, and even one of those emotions would have made it difficult to explain anything to him. And Spock was not in the most rational mode. At the moment, what took most effort was not shouting. He reached for McCoy's face; hesitated for one moment when the other man flinched, almost imperceptibly, from his touch -- and slid into the mindmeld.
You asked why. This is why -- Spock projected his desire, Zarabeth seen through his eyes, the feel of a mindmatched mind so close to his. He felt McCoy shudder, saw with the eyes of his outward body tears spring to the other's eyes, felt grief and pain worse than before welling up, overwhelming him -- He leapt back.
And was sitting on the bed, not touching the other man, who was lying with an arm thrown over his eyes. After a moment McCoy croaked "If that's what you feel about her, then I just can't compete, can I?"
Spock could think of nothing to say. Seeing Zarabeth come up the tunnel, he stood up and left the niche, picking up and pulling on his uniform undershirt as he went to her. She was laden with furs, and going over to a corner in the slight shelter of a bulge in the rock, began to make them up into a narrow bed.
"That is not necessary," Spock said quietly.
She sat back on her heels and looked up at him. Spock sat down. "Spock," Zarabeth said very softly, "I love you. But you told me that I would be taking nothing from him, and that was not true."
"It is true. What was his is still his, and not yours."
She shook her head. "He doesn't seem to think so."
"He is mistaken."
"He thinks that I have taken what was his from him, and he is afraid, and so might I be in his case."
"He is mistaken," Spock grated, and sprang up, away from her. "I will -- I will go and investigate the other caves." He went back past the niche where McCoy still lay, arm covering his face, and down into the tunnel.
McCoy was mistaken, surely he was mistaken. As he had been three years ago, when he had accused Spock of being 'in love' with James Kirk? Accusation was possibly not the correct word; he had flung it at Spock as if he were aiming a weapon.
"He and I are not mindmatched," Spock had explained.
McCoy had gone white and quiet. "So that's it. You couldn't have him, so you made do with me."
The most that Spock had ever admitted to himself was that he felt friendship for James Kirk. McCoy had torn that up by the roots and showed him what it was. Spock understood the driving force that despised a lie as a shadow on reality-truth, that he had known in McCoy and recognised as t'hy'la to the same force in himself. He had known that McCoy would turn it even on himself, regardless of the hurt it inflicted; he had not known that it could hurt McCoy so much.
McCoy was his mindmatch, his bondmate, a man Spock respected and trusted. He had no wish to hurt him. He never had. But neither could he predict what would and would not hurt his bondmate.
After Spock had left, Zarabeth hesitated a moment, but went to McCoy. She sat down on the bed; he did not stir, but muttered "Go away."
"I know. Go away."
"McCoy, I can't say that I am sorry. It would not be true. But I -- "
"If you came to gloat, go away. You've won."
Talking was hard enough without trying to talk to an arm. Zarabeth grabbed McCoy's arm and pulled it away from his face, as she would have done with a sulky younger brother in the days when she had three. "McCoy -- "
His face was smeared with tears. Automatically, defensively, he tried to pull his arm out of her grip, but his strength was no match for hers. After half a minute of fruitless struggle, he stopped, and glared up at her with cold fury.
Or as cold a fury as McCoy could manage. He felt pathetic. "What do you want? You've got my bondmate, do you want everything else as well? Why don't you just kill me and get it over with? Dump me out into that howling blizzard like this, and I shouldn't last three minutes."
"I don't want to kill you!" Zarabeth shouted. It was the first time she had raised her voice at anybody in ten years. McCoy stared, and she went on more quietly. "I don't want to kill you. Do you want to kill me?"
There was a very long silence. At last McCoy shook his head. "I don't want to kill you. I never could kill anybody. But I wouldn't have any grief if you got buried under about a million tons of rock." He tugged at her grip again, and this time Zarabeth let him go. Followed by his silence, she went down after Spock to the lower caves.
The caverns went on for further than Zarabeth had ever explored; an ancient water-worn maze that went down into the dark. She had found and set up the outer cavern for her shelter in the first day of her arrival (in summer, fortunately -- if she had arrived in winter, she would not have survived for long), but she had discovered and worked on the cluster of caves just down the tunnel for herself, over the winter storms when it was necessary to just hole up for the duration.
Spock was standing in the middle of the nearest cave, his eyes closed, all drawn in. When Zarabeth touched his neck in the hand-to-throat caress, he did open his eyes, but did not seem to see her.
Spock? she said inside her mind, his mind, the way that was still so new it was wonder.
Zarabeth, he answered.
You must have known that McCoy would hate me for it.
Spock blinked. "No." I do not understand. I have no control. I cannot find control. I am tearing apart.
Despite her anger at his apparent carelessness of either McCoy's feelings or hers, this admission made her reach out to hold him closer. He turned away sharply, frowning. "Leonard -- is alone?" And swung round and sped up the tunnel into the main cave. Zarabeth followed.
McCoy found his clothes, dry and warm, if rumpled, and pulled on the trousers and black tunic. His back still hurt, was probably still heavily bruised. Finding the latrine was trickier, but some memory from his three days illness (flu? quite possibly) led him to it. Zarabeth's sanitary arrangements were primitive but efficient.
Coming back into the main cave, he had meant to start on making up his bed in the corner. However, dizziness made him sit down before he fell down, and he bent forward, resting his head on his arms folded in his lap, trying to make himself accept it. This was all there was for him.
Everyone he had ever known, all the life he had ever had, gone. Lost in five thousand years. Even if Zarabeth had been lying, (and McCoy doubted that; he knew himself how impossible it was to tell a direct lie to a bondmate) even if Kirk had somehow managed to get back, even so, Kirk did not know what time they had gone to, no more than McCoy could guess what time Kirk was (would be?) lost in. All that was left was Spock, what Zarabeth didn't have of him.
Spock came in like a hurricane; McCoy raised his head. Spock glanced first at the bed, saw it empty, looked swiftly round the room with an unfamiliar expression on his face that lapsed too soon to be identified into the more usual bland incommunicative mask. "Leonard. What are you doing out of bed?"
"Making one up. Over here."
"Get back to bed." Spock stood over him, extending a hand. McCoy ignored it.
Spock took hold of his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. "You're an insufferably bad patient, but you're not usually a fool. Either you'll walk back to bed or I'll carry you."
Zarabeth was standing, watching, frowning slightly. McCoy glared at her, at Spock. "I'll walk. Let go of me."
It was a relief, however well-concealed, to lie down again. He closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep; Spock must know better, but he moved away. McCoy could hear them talking, but, thank gods, not make out words.
Zarabeth was chopping dried meat for a stew, and adding carefully selected herbs from her small stock. It was work she could do without thinking about it; Spock sat and watched her.
"Have you thought of any way to preserve plant food except by drying it?"
Spock shook his head. "No. Not yet. But it should be possible to grow some plants in one of the lower caverns. Fungi, if nothing else. This will undoubtedly all have to wait till the summer; though as soon as Leonard is recovered, I will investigate outside. It is entirely possible that some form of plant life grows under the snow."
"The karribe eat moss," Zarabeth said reflectively. "I tried it once, the first winter I was here, because I saw them eating it. It tasted foul. I don't risk eating plants I don't recognise -- I can't risk falling sick."
"The tricorder will identify metabolic poisons, and I should be able to adjust it to give an edibility reading as well. Leonard will need some form of green vegetation -- his body cannot manufacture ascorbic acid."
Zarabeth was silent for a while, her eyes fixed on Spock's face. "It's easier to know that you are different from me, Spock. But he looks so like my kind, it's hard to remember that he too is from another world." She had liked McCoy -- after ten years alone, she would have liked anyone not wholly psychotic, her honesty forced her to admit to herself -- but she had liked him, and he had seemed to like her.
It was not what she felt for Spock. The curious mental affinity that grew stronger with every hour of the link between them; the attraction of his elvish look, spare and graceful, the delicate pointed ears and eyebrows; the gentleness of his hands and mind, the wonder in his dark shadowed eyes when he looked at her. His smile; each time Spock smiled at her, she felt her heart catch. It was as if he had never smiled before.
McCoy's eyebrows were crooked, perpetually ironic, enquiring. His eyes were blue, shading to grey, like a windless sky. He wasn't clumsy, but beside Spock he looked ungraceful. His hair was dark as Spock's, but almost curly, as if he were a dherik. (People had straight hair.) He might have been a man of her own species, of an unusual type, if not for his hair. He grinned easily, all-over smiles that reached his eyes. Not that he had smiled recently.
She was woken from her reverie by Spock putting the chopped meat and herbs into the pot. "Thank you." It felt rusty; she hadn't thanked anyone for ten years. Pouring melted snow into the cooking-pot, she grimaced.
"What is it?"
"I was remembering the last time that I thanked anyone. Xorkon told me that he would spare my life, for exile in this wilderness."
"And you thanked him for that?"
"He promised me," Zarabeth said wryly, "that he would send me to the same place as my brothers. I thanked him for that. He was telling me the truth, no doubt. The same location; he never promised me the same time."
Like the honey, Spock thought, of the Cheini bees; sweet and strong and golden and (to a Vulcan) intoxicating. And bitterness in the sweet, keeping it from insipidity. She was gold, steel and gold, like a sword. He realised the mixture of his metaphors and found himself smiling with unalloyed happiness.
Zarabeth touched one finger to his eyebrows, brushing along the upswept line. She was smiling at him. "Why do you do that?" Spock asked.
"You are very beautiful."
Spock raised an eyebrow (the one she was not touching) and remembered suddenly, with unreasonable vividness, McCoy running the tip of one finger along his eyebrows, the first night they had slept together. ("Why do you do that?" Spock had asked. McCoy had shrugged and had grinned and had done it again, none of which were answers.) He felt his face freeze up again, and turned away from Zarabeth, folding his hands together and trying to recover the balance of his mind. Pain was now tugging at him from both sides, which should logically have made it easier, and didn't.
"Do you feel well enough to have something more to eat?" Zarabeth asked. McCoy was lying on his back with his eyes open, staring up at the ceiling, so he could not be asleep.
"Yes," McCoy said politely. "Thank you."
He was sitting up, back propped against a cushion of the fur coverlet, when the two of them came back with bowls of stew. Spock handed McCoy the other bowl, and a fork. (Either Xorkon, or else whoever had had the job of packing survival gear up, had considered two full sets of cutlery -- fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks -- to be necessary for life. She had kept both sets safe and complete mainly because they came into the category of irreplacable items, but was now glad of it.)
McCoy applied himself to the food without speaking. Spock looked grim and withdrawn and ate with concentration. Zarabeth was used to meals without conversation, but it seemed a waste.
"Why are you angry with him?"
Spock started, almost imperceptibly. "I am not."
"You speak to him as if you were."
McCoy had lifted his head when Spock spoke, and seemed to be listening intently. He did not look at Spock, though.
"He is angry with me. I have no defences against it." There was a long pause. Zarabeth saw McCoy grin, a small, cynical, nasty smile. Then Spock added, "I was angry with him. For being able to say to you what I had no practice in saying."
"You seem to have put in a lot of practice since," McCoy snapped. Spock lifted an eyebrow. The other man glared. "Don't give me that. You're angry, all right, you just don't have the honesty to admit you're angry with me because of what you've done to me. Did you lose your backbone with your logic, Spock?" He turned the glare on Zarabeth. "And don't talk as if I wasn't there when I am, damn you. If you don't want me to listen in, talk somewhere I don't have to hear you. Believe me, it'd be a pure pleasure."
"Be silent!" Spock snarled.
"Not yet. Tell me, Zarabeth, did he happen to mention a regular event called pon farr? Or were you planning to haul me back to your bed just for that, Spock?"
"Yes, he told me about it," Zarabeth said sharply.
"Since it is several years away, it would seem to be the least of our problems at present," Spock snapped.
"Oh, I'd agree to that." The stew was growing cold, unnoticed, in all three bowls. McCoy's accent had grown thick with rage. "Because your biggest problem at the moment is one McCoy, isn't it? Shame you can't just put me away in cold storage until your next pon farr -- Spock, do you even know how to do it with a woman?"
"Be silent!" Spock's hand flew out to strike, to silence that infuriating voice; but both McCoy and Zarabeth grabbed for it. McCoy caught Spock's wrist, and the force of the blocked blow slammed his own hand down to the furs. Zarabeth trapped the other hand under hers on the bed. Spock froze, staring. "I warned you not to provoke me," he said after a moment, slow and still angry. "I could have broken your neck if I had hit you -- "
"Wouldn't have mattered," McCoy growled bitterly. "Would it. Not any more. You don't run any risk of dying with me, now you have her."
Spock's hands turned and tightened convulsively about each wrist. Zarabeth set her teeth and resolved to endure until she risked a broken wrist; but she heard McCoy gasp on an indrawn breath of pain.
"Do you believe that I could bear to lose you?" Spock asked icily. He did not seem to be aware that his hands were bruising them.
"I've never believed anything else," McCoy said, bitter with hurt. "It was blatantly bloody obvious you never wanted me. You needed me for pon farr because Jim Kirk wasn't your mindmatch, but you loved him, not me, not ever me. So now you've found someone you love who is your mindmatch, and where does that leave me? Out in the cold, I should think, and almost certainly literally!"
Spock's face was already pale, and went whiter, bone-white. "T'vareth -- " he snarled, "headblind fool-whelp, you know I love you -- "
"How the hell am I supposed to know, you never bloody told me -- " McCoy shouted, and stopped. Stared at Spock, at Zarabeth. "Spock," he said finally, hoarsely, "let go, you're hurting me."
Spock looked astonished, glanced down at his hands, and with visible concentration, let the other two go. McCoy rubbed at his aching wrist, looking down into the half-empty bowl of cold stew still miraculously unspilt in his lap. He didn't want any more of it, but couldn't think -- Spock....
Spock moved faster, seizing McCoy's shoulders and holding him steady while Zarabeth pulled the bowl away, and they both eased him down onto the bed. Spock picked up his hand and felt for his pulse; fast but steady. As he set McCoy's hand down, Zarabeth laid her own hand on it, palm to palm, wrist against wrist. McCoy's eyes flickered open, seeing -- as Spock saw -- the matched bruises on his wrist and Zarabeth's. They both looked up and met Spock's eyes in silence for a long moment.
"Spock," Zarabeth said quietly, "why did you do it?"
Spock's hands were clenched tightly together before him, twisting and turning as though possessed, as though trying to escape. When he spoke his voice was shaking with agony. "For millenia from the time of Surak Vulcans have bred for passion's mastery. I am -- I was -- the result of all those generations of selection for those with genetic, inborn controls. To feel emotion, but never to let it rule. When I went through the time portal the Atavachron changed me to my ancestral type. I have lost my heritage. I feel rage, and there is no block against causing harm. I feel desire, and there is no fence to keep it from running free. I have harmed you both." He dropped his head, unable to look either of them in the face.
"Yeah," McCoy said very gently, very quietly. "And you never had to learn what most of us without those genetic controls learn by the time we're six. Only you're strong enough and fast enough to kill both of us if you get mad."
Spock shook his head, speechless. Zarabeth reached out and touched him, hand-to-throat. She tipped his head up; and they both saw the tears glinting on his face, wretched in agony, fear, and guilt.
McCoy felt the sight like a thud in his stomach, and fumbled his other arm out to slide it around Spock's shoulders and pull him in against himself. Zarabeth had done the same, and after a moment's fumbling they were both managing to hug Spock, who had been tugged down to lie half over McCoy, his face buried in the furs beside McCoy's head. Zarabeth was lying on her side by Spock, holding him tightly round the waist.
"Ah, gods," McCoy muttered breathlessly. Zarabeth felt him shift as he tightened his grip on Spock's shoulders. "Gods, Spock, don't. It doesn't matter. It's okay to cry, it's okay to be angry."
"I have harmed you both," Spock said, muffled, but levelly self-accusing. "I could not -- I should have fought harder against desire -- "
She could hear the effort in McCoy's voice; over the side of Spock's head, he looked at her. "That's -- okay, too. Not your fault. Certainly not hers. We're just going to have to learn to live with it." He forced a grin. "Right, Zarabeth?"
Smiling back at him wasn't hard. "We'll learn."
"We'll have to," McCoy added dryly. He shifted slightly. "Spock, my back's giving me hell."
The question of who was sleeping with whom had been shelved for the moment. McCoy had stopped insisting on a bed in the opposite corner now when it was clear that neither of the other two would let him until he was completely well again. Spock did not suggest that it was more logical to have McCoy occupy the middle of the bed, himself and Zarabeth on either side. Zarabeth did not offer to sleep over in the far corner.
"We're going to have to talk about it," McCoy said quietly, one afternoon four days later. The wind had fallen, and the sky, for once, was clear. Spock had gone out to investigate the surroundings of the cave, Zarabeth having admitted that it was reasonably safe; another blizzard was unlikely to descend for at least two days. She looked up with a frown.
"You two have been fussing over me as if I were feeble as a three day kitten, but I'm practically well again. It wouldn't be sensible to go for a walk outside, but I'm not suggesting that."
"Spock is likely to object almost as much as if you were."
"Is he?" McCoy hesitated. "Zarabeth, don't answer this if you don't want to. Had you had sex with anyone before you were exiled?"
"No. But... McCoy, I am not an innocent."
He was sitting on the bed, cross-legged, a fur between his shoulders and the rock. He looked down into his hands for a moment. "No, I know what you mean," he said dryly. "You can't share minds and call yourself an innocent. I just wondered if you knew anything about the physical side of sharing." He didn't look up. "Because, well, Spock's experience is all... with me."
Zarabeth's culture had placed no particular value on pre-marital virginity for either male or female. But at the age at which most children began their explorations with friends, she and her entire family had gone into hiding, always on the move from place to place. It hadn't been conducive to close friendships.
Desire, though, was not strange to her, and Spock's desire for her was as clear, and as welcome, and as reciprocated, as his love. His desire and love for McCoy who within his mind he called by another name, was also clear. She realised suddenly that she had been staring at him for several minutes and it was beginning to make him uneasy. "I can't imagine you teaching Spock anything but gentleness."
McCoy looked abruptly embarrassed, and shrugged. "Anyway. I'm sleeping over there tonight." He had made up his mind to it; Spock and he had been friends before they had been lovers, and maybe their friendship had always worked better than their love. McCoy was carefully averting his mind from the pain in that bleak statement. He had liked being Spock's friend; he had wanted to be Spock's lover. Zarabeth was not watching him now. McCoy put his fingers quickly to his eyes and jerked away annoying tears. He was still in love with Spock.
When Spock came back, carrying various samples of moss- and lichen-like plants, the three of them became involved in a discussion that lasted through supper about the relative edibility of the samples. McCoy agreed with Zarabeth that they all tasted foul; Spock pointed out that he needed the ascorbic acid. "You will have to resign yourself to raw liver, otherwise."
"Raw liver would be better than this," McCoy shuddered. "Zarabeth, how long would you say it is till spring?"
"Another month till the first thaws, I think. And then a month of flooding, and then it should be possible to find some better-tasting greenstuff. If you need raw liver, I had better go hunting tomorrow, while the clear weather lasts."
After the supper dishes had been cleared away and washed in the snow outside the doorway, McCoy moved firmly to the pile of furs Zarabeth had dumped in the far corner four days ago and began to sort them into a bed. "I'm sleeping here tonight," he repeated to Spock. "Anyway, the other bed's too narrow for three."
Spock looked from one to the other, silent. Zarabeth heard him answer (to some remark of McCoy's she could not hear) Your embarrassment, not mine, Leonard.
Zarabeth stood up abruptly. "McCoy is well enough to sleep alone if he wishes. Since he will know all that you feel whether he sleeps beside us or across the cave, if he wants to sleep alone, that's his concern."
"Do you think I don't know that?" McCoy burst out. "Dammit, I'm not a voyeur. If I have to know that my bondmate's making love to someone else, I'd as soon know as little as possible!" He had finished making a reasonable mattress out of the thickest furs, and lay down, tucking the last fur around him and over his head. "Good night," he said with muffled dignity. "Sweet dreams."
For the first time, then, Zarabeth lay down beside Spock alone in the same bed. They were both very aware, Spock presumably even more so than her, of the man across the cave, lying awake and bitter and waiting.
McCoy had clamped down on all his shields, but was still aware of Spock. Some part of the bond couldn't be tuned out, ever; the basal physical consciousness of his bondmate. He could walk straight to Spock through any maze, but right now he wished he could turn off that ability. The fur over his head cut off his hearing; he hoped not to be able to tell... when they started. Preferably, not when they finished, either, except that then he would lie awake half the night wondering what the hell was going on... with a jagged, painful amusement, he wondered if they could arrange a signal system. Just to let me know when you two are through and I can go to sleep and stop putting myself through hell....
Spock could not move. He knew Zarabeth was lying beside him, holding him, wanting him in the same way as he wanted her. He knew Leonard was lying very still, breathing shallowly, across the cave, drowning in a well of misery in which he could perceive no time, no ending. And holding himself away from all contact, deliberately shielding from Spock. And McCoy had given verbal permission. Spock focussed on the link to Zarabeth, falling in with her desire, attenuating the link to Leonard to a just-bearable edge.
Not knowing what else to do, reminded helplessly of the first time he and Leonard had made love, he reciprocated Zarabeth's caresses on her body. Opening his eyes again he saw her face, intent with desire, and then with doubled-redoubled sight saw his own face reflecting hers.
Linking deeper, more closely, they could neither of them tell whose hands touched, who was touched, who gasped suddenly, who felt the warm breath on whose skin, who enclosed and who was engulfed, one in the other -- falling deeper into the warm springs of desire, easy as a fish in water, as a hawk in the sky --
All barriers gone, tension intensifying delight, and fire, the sky of fire, the phoenix flying, the torrent of water liquid joy, the lion walking in the garden known/unknown -- and flight ending in zenith, dive ending in nadir, lion roaring against the flames, the flood...
...and slowly, intimacy too great to live for long, they drifted apart. Spock became aware that Zarabeth was lying on top of him, her breasts pressed against his chest, her hair tickling his chin. She pushed herself up on her elbows and looked down at him, both speechless.
There had been three in the bond, at the last. No barrier could have stood against the ultimate intimacy. And now they could hear with outward senses, the sound of muffled, savagely repressed, sobbing.
McCoy's arm was tightly pressed against his mouth, but the tears would not stop leaking from his eyes and nose, and, equally irrepressible, sobs racking his chest. He hadn't been meant to be there. It had been like before, except that this time he hadn't been the other half of that secret world of intimacy, he had been an intruder, uninvited, not Spock's focus, Spock his, but a distraction... it would pass, he told himself. Eventually you won't care. He could not prevent the thought that the day he ceased to care about being shut out, he would be dead.
"Leonard -- " the familiar voice cracked on his name. Spock yanked him up and into his arms. "Leonard -- do not -- " In a more reliable state of mind, in any more reliable state of mind, McCoy would have protested against being picked up like this and all but carried across the room. But he wasn't thinking, and neither was Spock, and neither, it seemed, was Zarabeth. It seemed far more natural to be snuggled next to the other two than it had to be lying alone.
McCoy woke up first. What he wanted, in order, was a steaming cup of coffee, a large quantity of hot buttered toast, and a really warm bath. He couldn't have either of the first two, but the third was as easily accomplished as getting out from this dammably embarrassing tangle without waking either of them up.
The hot spring was just comfortably tepid at this end of the caves, and there was a shallow bay in the rock, the bottom worn smooth, that Zarabeth evidently used for bathing. The current wasn't strong enough to be dangerous, just pleasantly relaxing. For a while McCoy just sat still and let the warm, mineral-scented water pour past him, soothing and cleansing. In lieu of coffee, he ducked his head underwater a couple of times, rubbing at his eyes in an effort to clear them. Tea. Tea would be better than nothing at this time of the morning, and there had to be some kind of herbs that could be dried to make some kind of tea. No milk, no sugar, no lemon, no bone china, but better than nothing.
Looked at calmly; however dazed Spock and Zarabeth might have been last night, and McCoy knew exactly how dazed that depth of intimacy and sharing had always left him, once they woke up, what would be clear was that McCoy had intruded (unavoidably; and not wanting it) on the most private possible moment. And he'd done it from all the way across the cave and there was no reason not to suppose he couldn't do it from half a mile away.
McCoy ducked his head underwater again so that he could pretend the stinging in his eyes was all the mineral salts in the water. Two's company. Three's a crowd. Even when the three in question are the only three living people within gods know how many miles.
He had never realised how much he would miss towels until he tried to dry himself off. Admittedly it was quite warm down by the water, and he could almost just sit here and wait to drip-dry, but just at that moment two reasons for not trying that walked round the corner holding hands. Zarabeth smiled; Spock looked as though he would like to. McCoy wrapped the large piece of cured leather around himself and dodged round them back to the main cave.
There was no intrusion, Leonard. You belonged there.
McCoy growled. He was dressed by the time they came back. "If you can show me what you use to make your clothes, Zarabeth, why don't I work on some of the spare furs for me and Spock?"
"A good idea," Spock agreed. "The problem is an interesting one."
Zarabeth showed them where she stored her tools quickly, and the leather she used to bind the furs together. "Don't worry about wasting them," she added, seizing a strip of smoked meat for her lunch, "I have more skins than we could ever use." She was glad of a reason to go hunting, and didn't want to waste any more of this clear weather than she had to. The chances were more than even there would be another storm by morning.
Left behind, for a moment Spock and McCoy looked at each other over a heap of sample furs, and then McCoy bent and picked them up. "News to me that you can sew."
"It is a useful skill on occasions. Besides, it is a traditional part of the education of all Vulcan children. I am surprised that you know how; there cannot have been use for such skills on Terra for centuries." Spock picked up the bone awls, the sharp metal knife, the leather strips, and followed McCoy.
The human sounded unaccountably embarrassed as he shrugged and muttered "Like you say -- it comes in useful sometimes."
"My hand hurts and my eyes are aching." McCoy leant back and closed his eyes, flexing one hand with the other. They had put in several hours good work; after a couple of false starts, one pair of trousers was half-way to being finished, and the next one wouldn't take as long. "We could make a pair for Zarabeth as well. D'you suppose her people never invented trousers?"
"Entirely possible," Spock said, laying down the awl he had been using to punch holes in the strong leather. "Are you all right, Leonard?"
"Fine. Just my eyes are tired."
"That is not what I meant."
"Oh -- last night. I suppose I should apologise. To Zarabeth, as well."
"No apologies are necessary. It was not your fault -- and, I did not mind."
"Did you perceive any rejection in the meld last night?"
"Not the point," McCoy muttered. "It felt wrong."
"Indeed. I agree. Next time you should not be so far away from us."
"There isn't going to be a next time."
Spock raised an eyebrow, conscious of anger, keeping it clamped down. "How do you intend to avoid it?"
McCoy opened his eyes and stared at Spock. He had heard the change in the voice. "Spock, if it means finding somewhere else to sleep, there isn't going to be a next time. And if you are suggestin' that I sleep in the same bed, I'm damned if I do -- lie there and listen to you two makin' love and me right next to you? No." His accent had grown thicker with anger.
Spock pushed the leather and awl off his lap and stood up. One catlike pace took him very close to the human; McCoy was sitting crosslegged on the floor, and couldn't get up in a hurry. He looked up at Spock with eyes that betrayed a trace of fear, and began to shift away, but the other knelt, hands firmly on McCoy's shoulders, holding him still. "You also are my bondmate."
McCoy tried to twist out of his grip, and succeeded only in overbalancing. Spock followed him down to the floor, pinning him there. "What are you trying to do?" the human demanded.
"I want -- " Spock began, and then gave up the attempt at words, desire and anger warring, desire winning as it always had, and kissed Leonard. He felt desire leap in the human, answering his own, and lifted his head, smiling down at the other man.
McCoy had never seen Spock smile at him before, and never like this at all. "Spock, don't -- "
"You want this also," Spock pointed out, and kissed him again, his free hand beginning, unerringly, to open McCoy's clothing.
"Not like this -- " McCoy fought for leverage, was trying to hold Spock away from him with main strength, and knew he couldn't win. "Don't, Spock, dammit -- " He was losing his breath, his muscles were giving under Spock's weight, and the worst of it was that he could still feel Spock's desire in his own body, reflected through the link. Have I ever tried to say no to him before? he wondered dizzily. He couldn't remember. Is this what would have happened if I had?
Suddenly, hands closed on Spock's shoulders and, with the advantage of surprise, flipped him sideways, off McCoy, who promptly rolled out of his reach. Zarabeth pulled off the long robe and squatted on her heels, staring at both of them, frowning.
McCoy sat up, pulling himself together, conscious of an ache in his groin that wasn't quite his. Spock had rolled onto his front and was up on one knee, frozen there as if he had just realised what had happened, looking immoderately surprised.
Someone needed to say something. McCoy croaked "What did you do that for?" to Zarabeth.
She shrugged, still frowning. "You told him no, and he didn't stop. What else should I have done?"
That, and what it implied, was a lot to absorb all at once. "You -- " weren't jealous? wouldn't let him do whatever he wanted to me?
Zarabeth's frown deepened. "He is my husband. You are his husband. Should I let my husband do to his husband what I wouldn't let him do to me?" She looked deliberately over at Spock, who had not yet either moved or made a sound. "Particularly when he'll regret it after he's had time to think."
Spock's control snapped with the suddenness of thin ice. He jerked backwards, his head dropping, and burying his face in his arms made a sound like a groan, instantly cut off.
"Spock," McCoy said, and then Spock. He shifted over without getting up, and put an arm around Spock's shoulders, glancing at Zarabeth. She joined him on the other side. "Spock, I know you'd never want to hurt me. Either of us. But you're going to have to learn how to stop yourself from -- "
"Losing control," Zarabeth continued quietly. Or else you will tear all three of us apart.
McCoy glanced up, frowning, as if he'd heard her. "It doesn't matter how you do it, Spock. I mean, you know me, when I get angry I start shouting. My mother used to smash things. Just don't take it out on anything," he swallowed, "or anyone, you'd regret breaking."
"Hold your breath and count to ten in all the languages you know," Zarabeth offered.
"Take up twiddling your thumbs."
"Learn to whistle."
Spock moved to a more upright position after a moment, looking from one to the other with grave attention. Both his bondmates were smiling; in fact, McCoy was nearer grinning. He flickered an eyebrow. "Your suggestions have some merit," he said, managing to keep all but the faintest shake out of his voice. "Except that I know fifty-seven languages, including dialects, Zarabeth; and I cannot hold my breath for nine and a half minutes." He found himself enveloped in a double hug. Zarabeth was grinning too.
While Spock continued work on the sewing project, and Zarabeth, outside, was skinning the animal she called a 'coney' -- it did look almost like a rabbit, minus the ears, only about five sizes bigger -- McCoy took the furs that composed both beds apart and remade a much wider bed in the niche. There were moments he couldn't quite believe that he was doing it.
Spock offered to make supper. McCoy refused hastily before Zarabeth could even consider the offer, and went down to the store caves, with her behind him. "Why not, McCoy? He wants to apologise by way of making us a meal?"
"Yeah," McCoy agreed grimly, "but he can think of some other way to apologise. He hates eating meat and he's a terrible cook at the best of times." It was the first time he had been alone with Zarabeth since -- yesterday? Had it only been yesterday? He wanted to say something, but couldn't think of anything that wasn't either obvious (You know I love Spock) or embarrassing (About last night....) He said at random "You call me McCoy."
"I thought that the other might be your private name. Spock called you Doctor McCoy to me, before he bonded with me, and even now he does not use your other name often."
McCoy shrugged. "That's Spock..." Well, it was partly him as well. Only Spock called him Leonard, aboard the Enterprise; everyone else he was friendly with had picked up Jim's nickname of 'Bones' for him. It was one of the very many reasons he had for loving Spock. He thought of trying to explain Bones-short-for-Sawbones, a joke that had stopped being funny years ago, to Zarabeth, and gave up. "Never mind. Call me Leonard, if you like." Picking up the materials for supper, they returned to the upper cave. Zarabeth had left most of the meat outside, to freeze, but she had brought in a precisely-measured lump of... "Raw liver," McCoy said with resignation.
Without talking about it, the three of them had undressed for bed. Naked, the differences between the three species were more obvious. McCoy's mouth twitched. Three aliens, he commented to Spock. What you might call a mixed marriage.
Zarabeth slid into the furs first. Mixed, indeed. Do no men of either of your kind have brood-pouches?
Spock followed her, and McCoy lay down beside him. When did we start hearing each other?
Since last night, Spock observed, in the deep meld, you and Zarabeth became linked through me. I do not know if you can communicate apart from me.
McCoy and Zarabeth each lifted their heads, looking at each other, and -- simultaneously -- shook their heads. No. -- Not except through you.
It may come in time. And no, neither my species nor Leonard's has male brood-pouches.
Oddly enough, the hardest thing was going into the three-way link. To join minds to the level where Spock's body became as his own had always been difficult for McCoy except when both of them were completely relaxed; to join three minds so that each body became each other's was worse. In the end it was neither the knowledge of Spock nor the acceptance of Zarabeth that helped him most, but the sudden, incongruous rememberance of one line from a old book "To me it is not the victory of any one of them over the other that will bring peace... but their fruitful interaction in a costly but noble state of tension."
Holding, being held, tangled together mind and body, state of tension, state of life, state of love, knowledge, acceptance, acknowledgement; the lion walking in the garden below the sky of fire, the phoenix blazing through sky and garden like a sword, like a song.
Of course this story has no end, because there isn't one. Spring came, and the brief summer of this ice age, and then autumn and winter again, and so the years went on. It was a good marriage, and they lived many good years. More than a hundred years after they were all three dead, the cave above the hot spring fell in and buried them and what remained of Spock's anachronistic contrivances, never to be found.
Four and a half thousand years further along the timeline, Kirk was burnt for a witch. He never knew what had happened to the other two.
There was no rescue; when the sun went nova, the Enterprise left with bare seconds to spare, believing the lost officers dead with the planet, as indeed they were; dead and buried, long ago.
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