by K.V. Wylie

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher,
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire,
May your strength give us strength,
May your love give us love.

from "Into the Fire," Bruce Springsteen

They sent a Vulcan to my door. Despite what you might think, outside of my few years in Starfleet, I haven't been around too many Vulcans. The sight of this one startled me pretty much.

Then I saw the shuttle, sleek by any standards. Curiously so. Some of my neighbours had come out to look. I may live on a quiet road, but I'm not that far from Atlanta. Shuttles come and go around here, so it wasn't as if the thunder of one dropping from the sky would be enough to make anybody nosy. It just so happened that the shuttle at my door was the kind of spaceware you ride in if you're among the two or three percent of the universe's elite. Enough power to take over a planet, depose a king, have lunch, and do it again afterwards.

I could understand why the neighbours were out, pretending to check their hedges and gardens.

The family crest on the tail wing would have been meaningless to me had it been any other than the only Vulcan crest I knew, the same symbol I'd seen on the side of T'Pau's chair, years ago. This boy at my door was from the House of Surak.

Meanwhile, he was waiting. Courtesy required that I speak first, which would seem arrogant on his part if you didn't know the protocol.

Actually, it still seemed pretty arrogant.

"May I help you?" I asked.

"Are you Leonard H. McCoy, physician, retired of Starship Class NCC 1701, Starfleet?" he asked.

"That would be me. And you are?"

"I am Sivar. I was informed you would not agree to a transporter, so I have brought an alternate conveyance. Will you come?"

"Come? Come where?"

"Did you not receive notice from the Vulcan Embassy in London?"

"Uh, maybe." I glanced behind me at my comm unit. The truth was, I rarely turned the thing on. I didn't get that much mail.

I had a horrible thought. "This message, it wasn't bad? Has someone . . . died?"

"Not yet," Sivar said.

My throat tightened. It could only be Spock. "I need to get a medical kit."

I didn't have one ready, and my mind spun as I tried to remember where things were in the house. Bandages and ointment were in the bathroom cupboard, and I had a scanner upstairs somewhere.

"You do not need medical supplies, Leonard H. McCoy."

Of course I wouldn't, and I was dismayed by the length of time it took me to clue in. Vulcan has hundreds of thousands of physicians. What would they need me for?

"Your presence only is requested."

"Requested by who?" I asked.

"It was Spock's request. When you did not come, the Matriarch sent me."

I swallowed down an apology, which would have been lost on this Vulcanish Vulcan, turned on my security system, shut my door, and said, "All right. Let's go."
Sivar led me to the shuttle. The platform lowered precisely in sync with our stride, and raised behind us in silence.

The interior was unexpectedly luxurious. I was directed to an armchair that enfolded me like duck wings, then offered a drink from a silver serving set that might have been worth the down payment on my house.

"This is ostentatious," I said, but I was talking to empty air. Sivar was already at the front of the shuttle.

I found seatbelts within the cushions just as my ears began to pop. If you've never ridden in a vehicle like this, you'll be gratified to know there's not enough money in the galaxy to surmount the laws of atmospheric pressure. The favoured are rubbing their ears with the rest of us.

When my hearing returned, I called forward. "Is Admiral Kirk already wherever we're going?"

"The Admiral James T. Kirk of Starfleet was not called for."

What was it that concerned me, but not Jim? And why send such a show-off shuttle? Did they think I wouldn't have agreed to come in anything else?

It occurred to me that they might have thought just that, if they'd believed I'd ignored the message from the Embassy. What sorts of messages go through Embassies anyhow? Spock or his aide could have just called me. I do eventually pick up my mail.

Theorizing on no data, doctor, but old habits are old habits. Asking Sivar was out of the question right now. Interstellar shuttles need big engines, and the small size of the craft meant we were practically sitting on top of them. I could only have spoken with Sivar at the top of my lungs. The vibration was also turning my intestines inside out. I began to wish I hadn't had a third cup of coffee this morning.

There were headphones and an assortment of videos and computer equipment. I fingered the headphones, but, really, none of it could have distracted me. You have to wonder at the blind faith or idiocy I must have in a race of people I hardly know that a pointed-eared stranger could just show up at my door and I'd go off without a second thought. I hadn't even asked for proof. A little late now.

A little late, too, to ask where we were going. Vulcan, presumably, but where? Mount Seleya? If this concerned me, but not Jim, it could only be that damned Katra thing again, the drop in the middle of my life that keeps sliding me back, no matter how far out I try to get.

I retired from Starfleet unsure of Spock, though the residue of our entangled nerves still lies in my head like the ivy that has burrowed and hidden between the bricks of my house. Spock had once been fully inside me, protected by me, his ghost voice chanting in the back of my skull through my waking hours and my nightmares. T'Lar had literally fought him to get us free. Yet, for all that, he became more incomprehensible, the proximity only making him more distant. I'd held him, but never touched him.

To have a summons come out of nowhere, after years and years, was enough to make my backbone curl.

A planet eventually loomed up. Vulcan, as I'd assumed. My ears popped again as we fell through yellow-gray clouds. Sivar was at my side before the shuttle fully landed. I felt the weight finally descend onto the landing pads as we were walking down the platform.

Disorientation came over me when I realized it was night. It had only been morning when we left Earth, barely an hour ago. The day was over, or this was the night before. Or nothing corresponded. The passage of a day on one planet meant nothing on another. The problem was me, trying to keep linear time.

We'd landed at the foot of a stone staircase, leading? I couldn't tell. It was unlit, the ascent going up into darkness.

"Are you ready, Leonard H. McCoy?" Sivar asked.

"Ready for what?"

"It is not my place to explain." He indicated the steps.

Speaking of Katras was taboo? I wouldn't have guessed that, or maybe it was that you couldn't speak of specific ones.

You can't honestly expect me to walk up there in the pitch black without having any idea where I'm going."

"The steps will light as you approach."

"It's still ironic for you to ask if I'm ready."

To my surprise, Sivar nodded. "Your statement is valid. I may not speak of this matter, but I may indicate that the decision will ultimately be yours. At any time, you need not remain if you wish to leave. And," he hesitated. "All may not be as it seems."

You can't ask for much else when you're dealing with leaps of fool trust, so I went up the staircase.

It was dreadfully dark. The stairs glowed when I stepped on them and turned off as I passed, giving off sporadic bobs of illumination like spook lights over the bogs back home. I counted twenty steps, fifty, a hundred, and my imagination filled in thinning air and me getting above the oxygen line. Either I'd suffocate, or there wouldn't be a next step and I'd topple over the side of a cliff.

At step two hundred and sixty, I had to pause, my lungs and knees having gotten together to protest. After I got my breath back, I realized that I hadn't been listening to blood pounding in my ears, but a drumbeat.

I climbed the last few stairs, came over a rise, and found a crowd of Vulcans facing in my direction and staring, the way they do.

I didn't recognize anyone, and Spock wasn't among them.

"Hello," I said. No one replied. This probably wasn't correct, but it looked as if they were too surprised to answer.

Had I interrupted the wrong party? All I could see were thirty or so people, standing around in their best evening wear, no drinks in hand, torches for lighting, and a mere bongo for a band. They were roughly grouped around a bare, central area made of stone slabs. Someone had tried to clear the sand from the slabs, but Vulcan's endless wind was sweeping it back.

An elderly woman came forward, supported by two young women. She studied me hard. "I am T'Laak. You are McCoy?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"The Keeper of Spock's Katra?"


"So human." It was said in such a dismayed way that my back went up.

"If he's ill or," I paused, "or dying, should we be wasting our time by standing around, insulting me?"

She managed to squeeze a little more coldness into her tone. "You were sent for, McCoy, yet you arrive unprepared."

"That happens when nobody bothers to mention why I'm here. I'm a doctor, not a boy scout!"

The drum stopped and I swear every Vulcan stopped breathing too. I felt a bitter urge to laugh. Yes, Godot has arrived, and he's a duck or a mosquito or a chipmunk, anything completely opposite to impressive. This is what you've been waiting for, bongo and all.

"As Spock is the one who sent for me, it makes sense that I should, I don't know, talk to him, perhaps?"

"Talking to him would be difficult at the moment, McCoy," T'Laak said.

The crowd parted to reveal the side of the mountain. I'd only come partway up, but instead of more stairs, a large, metal door had been set into the rock.

"What is this?" I asked.

"Iron and titanium," T'Laak said. "Be assured, there is no escape from within. You are safe, McCoy, while the door remains closed."

Uneasily, I asked, "Safe from what?"

In reply, I heard a tremendous, almost deafening crash. The door shivered, but I hoped it was just a flicker of torchlight on my eyes.

I understood, and was sick with it. "You've locked him away." It came out as a whisper, but T'Laak heard and nodded.

I glanced around, looking particularly at the women, before turning back to T'Laak. "I thought Spock had married. I read a notice. There should be no reason to . . . confine him."

"Spock has tried to marry twice, McCoy, but was unable to consummate the bond. You remain in his mind."

"What can I do?"

"With your permission, I will attempt to entirely sever you and him. Or you may leave now."

"Sever or leave? That's it?" I asked. "What if severing doesn't work? T'Lar tried for weeks and couldn't do it."

"T'Lar was attentive of the risk to you, McCoy."

I eyed the crowd again. "If severing works, is there someone here who will, uh, go to him?"

"There is," she said.

"Then I accept the risk. Let's do this."

"The risk, McCoy, is to your life."

"Yeah, yeah, I got that part years ago when this first came up. What do you want me to do?"

T'Laak wasn't finished. "If you survive, you may survive well, but there is a risk that you would be affected with Plak Tow. Should this happen, you will be provided with a surrogate female, or, if you prefer, a castrated male."

"Believe me, if something like Plak Tow happened at my age, I'd probably find it enjoyable."

T'Laak blinked. "Do you understand the madness?"

"Likely not," I said, "but there aren't any options here. I have to help. He is . . . was one of my closest friends."

She indicated the stone centre stage. "Lie down, McCoy."

"On rock?"

Her face gave me her answer. Of course, on rock. It's always on rocks with these damn Vulcans and their damn granite all over the place. As I walked over, I already missed the smell of green-wet air, storms that brought rain instead of sand, and wind that didn't hurt my face. A spike of worry that I wouldn't see my home again went through me.

And another smash at the iron door made me jump.

"Spock will not be allowed outside, McCoy," T'Laak said.

"What do you mean? Doesn't he have to be here for this? Don't you have to touch him?"

"I will find him through you."

The crowd gave way as I walked onto the stone slab. They shuffled as far as was possible against the side of the mountain, as though I had some sort of infectious plague.

I turned to T'Laak again. "Why couldn't T'Lar free us? I asked her, but she never told me."

"Neither of you wished to be freed." Her attendants brought her towards me and lowered her to the ground.

"That's not true," I said.

"Do you have a kin member, McCoy? Someone to contact should you die?"

"Admiral Kirk."

A dreadful noise came from the door. I heard it as clearly as if Spock were standing by my ear.

"I want to see him."

"It would not be wise, McCoy."

"You can't just leave him in there, alone. He's in pain. All the times I've seen him hurt and sick, he never made a sound."

T'Laak looked up at me. "He will be released when you and he are freed, and the woman is here to receive him."

"She's not here? You said she was!"

"Here in the circle," T'Laak explained, pointing at the ground.

Mulishly, I couldn't leave it at that. "Prove it. I need to be sure."

T'Laak glanced towards the crowd. From within it came a diminutive woman, head bowed, hands clasped in front of her stomach.

"T'ning, of the House of Ovrak," T'Laak said. "Are you satisfied, McCoy?"

T'Pring may have been a bitch on wheels, but T'Ning couldn't hold a candle to her. Politely, I said to her, "I congratulate Spock on his choice."

"Spock did not make a third choice," T'Laak said. "T'Ning is acceptable to the family."

I felt sorry for the girl. "I still offer congratulations to the bride."

"Will you lie down now, McCoy?"

I could hear a frayed edge to T'Laak's words. "All right," I said.

Somehow, the rock was harder than it looked. My knees had not shut up about the stairs, and now my back was complaining.

What a ridiculous way to die, I thought, thinking of how they would find my body afterwards. Lying on a stupid rock in my gardening clothes.

McCoy? T'Laak's voice sounded in my head. Good lord, she was already there, in my brain! I hadn't even felt her touch my face.

I will attempt to prevent you from dying in your gardening clothes.

It doesn't matter what they find me in.

Hush, McCoy. We do not have much time.

She came more fully into my mind, but with a quaint gentleness, as if she thought I could shatter from a breeze.

Do what you need to do for Spock. Don't worry about me.


I quieted and felt her reaching through the curves of my neurons, sparking synapses, travelling through cells, caressing down into my tensed spine.

She stopped. I have gone to the bottom, yet he is lower.

Suddenly, her presence was oppressive, covering everything so thickly that I couldn't breathe.


I must have cried out as well as cried within. Hands pressed at my shoulders, trying to keep me prone. T'Laak shouted something in Vulcan and the hands went away.

Her voice came again. Dying in the madness is a shameful way to die.

I'm sorry I had the Katra. It should have been Jim.

Why do you believe that, McCoy?

They were closer than anyone, Jim and Spock, only Spock couldn't touch him when he was dying. The polymer was between them.

Nor could he touch you then.

He did it before he went into the engines because Jim was busy on the bridge, but if the polymer hadn't been there . . .

No, McCoy. Spock always had the opportunity to entrust his Katra with James Kirk. If not on the bridge, then at any time in the years they knew each other. He could have made the initial meld that would have completed after his death. In fact, he did not. He left James Kirk on the bridge, he passed by others on the way to the engines, but stopped for you. I read this in your mind. How is it that you do not understand it?

She paused, listening to something I couldn't hear.

Spock is breaking through the door.

You said it was unbreakable.

Then it hit me. She had given orders earlier, before I showed up, and the door was to be unlocked after she melded with me. A double agent in the back of the crowd, unknown to the others and the rest of the family.

Sivar's last words returned. All may not be as it seems.

You said you didn't want Spock to die!

You will not let him die. I am sure of this.

But, T'Ning is . . .

She left my mind. I struggled to rise. "T'Laak!"

She was leaving, her attendants rushing her from the scene. Everyone was fleeing as the iron door began a slow, ponderous movement. I had never seen so many Vulcans take to their heels before.

"T'Ning!" I called, but she was gone too. I was now alone and nothing separated me from him.

I was beyond my limits. I could not run and he was exploding in my head. Even if I could have gotten away, been beamed up or something like that, he would always be able to find me, this meld brighter than any fiery beacon in the darkest sea.

He finally came out, almost like an animal at first, so crouched down that he might have been on all fours. Was this Spock? Such a formal man, so much pride and conscientiousness. Tugging the back of his shirt before standing to face Kirk on the other side of the polymer. And now this. I could only see him by torchlight, but I could feel him screaming in my head, in more pain than the night he died burning in radiation that set fire to every drop of nucleic acid in his body. While his skin dropped off him like liquid and his shrieking filled my head.

This was so much worse. I felt that, if he touched me, I would be ripped apart and set ablaze too.

His fingertips were bloody pulp from clawing at the rough walls inside the mountain. When he rose, they left green smears up the door.

I took an involuntary step forward, the healer reflex, but stopped in fear.

He wanted to kill me. The desire sliced through me.

I didn't know it went this way. I thought it would be sexual, a frenzy of physical coupling, but it isn't. It's anger. It's terror. It's hammering, caged fury, trying to get free. This is the madness.

What was I supposed to do?

My cheeks were wet, and the Vulcan wind burned them. The feel of a tangible, exterior pain settled me somehow.

"Spock," I whispered.

He came forward slowly, swaying in dehydration and rage. His eyes were like nothing I had ever seen before.

I opened my arms and he sank against me, his breath hot against my neck, his skin slick. He smelled like lava and months of sweat.

I held him close, our chests squeezed together, his heart throbbing at my side. Then, I understood. If he is fire, he needs water. It's instinct. It's knowledge I have, way down deep in that drop in the middle of my life. It's what I've been waiting for.

He needs to yell. I can take it. He needs to pound curses into the Vulcan sand. He needs to shake in hunger and strain through nightmares, and fuck and touch a lover and cry.

I think I can take it.

I open to him. I will not let him die.

Lately, James Kirk had been thinking about Spock. He didn't know why. For the past few days, anyway, he'd had an urge to call Vulcan, so it seemed unsurprisingly fatalistic when his aide stopped him as he went into his office.

"Message for you, Admiral, from the Vulcan Embassy. I've routed it to your desk comm."

"Thank you," Kirk said. He closed the door and sat down before opening the communiqué.

A moment later, his aide heard a stunned, "My God!"

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