by K.V. Wylie

I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.
Ruth 2:21

Vejur, Decker, and Ilia burned in their thermonuclear island over Earth.  A normal person would have thought it impossible to put timelines onto the first of any earth-shattering event, but a few intrepid scientists had declared that the new life-form's 'imminent' birth would occur in exactly two hundred thousand years.  Accordingly, McCoy felt he could take time for a personal leave and not miss anything.

He'd meant to return to his daughter's home, but he'd been thinking about Spock since the latter's episode of laughter in Sickbay.  McCoy knew more about the discipline of Kolinahr than he let on.  Two and a half years ago, when Spock first disappeared into the mountain of Gol, McCoy decided the dictionary explanation of Kolinahr as "mastery of emotion" was unconvincing.  The doctor decided to look for a few answers himself.

Cultural brick walls had no chance against Leonard McCoy.  His quest left bewildered Vulcans and troubled Human diplomats in his wake.  At last a bemused T'Pau let him into her personal library, after a not-so-subtle warning that she'd let rabid Sehlats loose on him if he breathed a word of what he found to anyone.

McCoy knew a smattering of Vulcan, and he had a universal translator.  It wasn't enough.  After watching him struggle for a few weeks, T'Pau provided him with a Vulcan teacher, Sanah.  That was when McCoy realized that she, like Sarek and Amanda, wasn't pleased with the Gol thing.  The idea that McCoy, of all people, could talk Spock out of the mountain was a long shot, but it looked to be the only shot T'Pau had.

What McCoy learned about Kolinahr unnerved him.  Kolinahr was not mastery, but elimination.   McCoy's Vulcan teacher put it on the same level as taking laxatives.  The process was base; you went for the result.


The Vulcan equivalent of Nirvana.

He understood now why family members buried those who went to Gol as if they were dead.

"Why do some Vulcans choose Kolinahr?" McCoy had asked.

"Why did you become a doctor?" Sanah replied.

"To ease suffering," McCoy said, and blinked in surprise.  He'd thought Spock's disappearance into the mountain a selfish act.

Then he began to wonder what was hurting Spock so badly.

Kirk was no help.  McCoy suspected the captain as the cause, though he didn't dare lay that notion on the line.  James Kirk didn't take kindly to being blamed (ironic from a man who was harder on himself than anyone.)  McCoy had to bring up the subject of Spock almost casually.

This was before Vejur's cataclysmic return, before Decker ascended so briefly into the Captain's chair, and during those years when Kirk's attention was on Admiralty functions and a woman named Lori, (not always in that order). 

Kirk's response to Spock's decision was, "Isn't Kolinahr like being a monk?"

"Uh, no," McCoy said. 

"He always hated being half-Human," Kirk said.  "It's got to be something to do with that.  It was his decision, Bones.  I didn't want him to go either."

End of conversation because Lori was waiting and Kirk's aide was beeping him.

McCoy's last act was to go to Gol himself.  T'Pau's influence could get him to the gates, but the Adepts, either forewarned or disliking McCoy on sight, would not let him in.  They wouldn't even open the door.

When night fell and le'cheyas began howling in hunger and McCoy was up to his ankles in cold desert sand, he finally conceded defeat.

He returned to earth and took up gardening.

Finally, Vejur came and McCoy was not-so-quaintly drafted.  The Enterprise crew reunited.  Sulu discovered what it was like trying to work in close proximity to a Deltan.  Scotty happily and dramatically returned to his engines.  Uhura discovered what the noise of a wormhole could do to communication circuits.

And Spock came out of the mountain.

Rather, the sheared-off Vulcan half came.  The part that was Human had pretty well disappeared.

Until one moment in Sickbay.  The Vulcan grabbed Kirk's arm, laughed, and said, "This simple feeling!"

That was the moment McCoy fell into a numb haze. 

Now Vejur burned.  Kirk was (politely) not referring to Spock's outburst in Sickbay.  Sulu was planning a trip to Delta.  Scotty and Uhura were going on a honeymoon-before-the-wedding jaunt.

And Spock was returning to Gol.

"What the hell for?" McCoy demanded.

"It is personal, doctor," Spock said.

"Too bad," McCoy said.  "I'm going with you.  Let them try to keep the door closed on me a second time!"

"A second time?" Spock asked.

"Shut up.  I've had an awful two and a half years," McCoy said.

The Vulcan eyed the doctor.  "I thought you visited your grandchildren and tended a garden."

"Ok, but other than that..." McCoy said.

"Why did you have an 'awful' time?"

"Because I studied Kolinahr too."


"Ask your parents.  They'll tell you it's true."

A surprised Vulcan fell into a chair, a sight McCoy relished.

They left in Spock's shuttlecraft, neither of them able to resist a last glimpse at the new life form over earth. 

"We could get ourselves cryogenically frozen, and wakened when the baby's born," McCoy said.

Spock frowned, unsure if the doctor was making a joke or not.  "I am content to wait."

"Well, some of us don't get put into Katra-balls.  I'm never going to know what comes out of this one."

Spock gave McCoy another surprised look.  McCoy said, "I told you I've been studying."

"The receptacles are not called Katra-balls," Spock said.  "Well, that's what they look like."  McCoy tried to curl up into a comfortable position in the co-pilot's chair.  When he'd found the most comfy-posture possible (which was not much different from the least-comfy), he closed his eyes.

Spock's voice interrupted him a few minutes later.  "Doctor, why did you study Kolinahr?"

"Because you did," came the simple and sleepy answer.

"But you were not at Gol..?"

"I promised to keep the location, and teacher, secret."

Spock turned the shuttle over to auto-pilot, then swiveled in his chair and regarded McCoy.  He could tell from the doctor's rhythmic breathing that he was nearly asleep.  Another peculiarity - Spock could not recall any other time the doctor had fallen asleep in a shuttle without first complaining about being at the mercy of a machine and making dire predictions of waking up in twisted wreckage.

He supposed anyone could change in two point nine years, but he hadn't believed the doctor would.  Jim Kirk's moods were mutable, and the Enterprise seemed destined to travel at the whims of the universe, but the doctor had always been a familiar constant.

Spock had relied on that constancy.  In the midst of battles, plagues, bewildering Humans, and confrontations with unknown entities, the doctor became, to Spock, home.  McCoy's familiarity was comfort.

The realization bothered Spock.  It was inconsistent with his Vulcan teaching.  It tainted him with a Human need for harborage, and no amount of discipline could get rid of the weakness.  The end of the five year mission, and the prospect of losing the doctor's presence, gave Spock an almost overwhelmingly hollow feeling.

It was unthinkable that a Vulcan should succumb to such a mental deficiency.  Unthinkable and shameful.  Spock could not admit the deficiency to his parents.  He had no Vulcan associate to turn to.  Alone, he tried to find a solution.

Kolinahr, the most austere branch of Surakism, seemed the answer.  The Kolinahr Masters were unsure of him though.  His Human half made him an unlikely candidate.  In the end, they took him on as a kind of experiment, and, expecting him to fail, worked him harder than any of the other students.

Spock got through it.  He met every challenge, did everything he was supposed to do and did it as hard as he could. 

Looking now at the man in the chair beside him, that hollow feeling cut through all his work and sacrifice, and mocked him.

Solar wind buffeted the shuttle.  McCoy stirred just long enough to murmur, "Damn machines.  Don't crash us into anything, Spock," before falling back to sleep.

Spock raised an eyebrow.  That was the Human he knew.

"There is no logic," he whispered.

"What do you mean, on foot?" McCoy stared at the horizon of unforgiving, baking, Vulcan desert before him.

"We walk," Spock said, putting on a backpack.

"All the way to Gol?"

"Yes," Spock said.  "If we use mechanical conveyance, we will not be let in."

"That's the reason no one would let me in before?  And no one bothered to tell me?"  McCoy sighed.  "What if we don't make it there?"

"Then we were not meant to make it there."

"It's Gol or death.  Annoying prospect."  McCoy got into his supply pack, then put on the head covering Spock handed him.

"We will rest during midday, when the suns are closest to the planet, and after nightfall, when there is risk of le'cheya attack. If our progress is steady, we will reach Gol the morning after tomorrow."

"And then?" McCoy asked.


"What I mean is, why are you going there?"

Spock paused.  "I will tell you later.  The more pertinent question is why you insist on coming with me."

"When you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine," McCoy replied, wiping sweat off his forehead with a corner of his headdress. "It's hot already," he added.

"Yes," Spock agreed.  "I have purchased the service of a sandwal to walk with us."  He rapped his walking stick on a boulder.  The ground rumbled in response, and a large circle of sand ahead of them began to swirl.

McCoy jumped backwards as the sandwal rose in a whoosh out of the desert.  It was a massive creature, with a whale-shaped body and legs that looked like tentacles.  It's dusky-blue bulk loomed like a wall between the men and the sun.

"We walk in its shadow," Spock said, gesturing for the doctor to come closer.

McCoy took a few steps and found himself close to one of the leviathan's enormous eyes.  "Um...hello."

The eye blinked, then closed.  The sandwal began shuffling forward.

They traveled in silence until Vulcan's two suns were almost completely overhead.  Then the sandwal went underground and Spock pitched a tent.

The tent had sides that could be pinned up, which McCoy did in order to take advantage of the few pathetic breezes blowing by.  Then the two men crawled underneath the canvas roof and opened their water bottles.

"Are you hungry?" Spock asked as he took some fruit out of his backpack.

McCoy shook his head.  He watched the Vulcan slice a pear before saying, "Your parents buried you."

"That is the tradition when a family member goes to Gol."

"If you change your mind, are you allowed to go back home?" McCoy asked.

"Home," Spock repeated quietly.  "My home is not my father's house.  Vulcans do not need a home."

McCoy considered, then decided not to pursue that comment. Changing tactics, he said, "Forgive me, Spock, but it strikes me that Kolinahr didn't do a lot for you."

"Do you think I failed?"

"In Sickbay, after you stupidly tried to mindmeld with Vejur, you changed course rather abruptly.  You came from Gol all Vulcan.  You came from Vejur laughing.  You said, 'this simple feeling'."

Spock contemplated a wedge of pear.  "A simple feeling was more than Vejur could comprehend.  For all its seemingly infinite knowledge and logic, Vejur was sterile and bare.  It knew no hunger."

McCoy quieted.  Spock waited for some comment, some retort, something.  (Isn't that what I said for five years?  Live a little more according to your nerve endings!)

Sand blew into Spock's lunch.  He brushed it off, then set down his fruit and said, "Doctor."

"Call me Leonard," McCoy said.  "Outside of the Enterprise, no one calls me doctor.  I'm retired, you know."

"I didn't know," Spock said.  "Why did you retire?  You're too young."

"Young," McCoy half-smiled.  "Perhaps by Vulcan standards."

"If you follow a normal Human pattern, you have not lived half of your life span yet.  Why did you retire...Leonard?"

"I retired because I had nothing else to do."


McCoy took a slice of pear.  "I was no longer needed.  I missed the life I had.  I didn't want a fake job, such as those wonderful paper-pushing positions available at any starbase near you.  I decided to do something different."

"Gardening," Spock said dubiously.

"I grew cantaloupes and those aren't easy.  They tend to rot on the vine.  I even entered cantaloupe contests."

"Did you win?"

McCoy scowled.  "It's not whether you win or lose, Spock. It's the joy of accomplishment."

"Your cantaloupes lost," Spock surmised.

"Those people cheat," McCoy said.  "They use illegal fertilizers, hydroponics, and I swear one man was injecting his melons with cellulose."

Spock abruptly turned his gaze out towards the desert.  The doctor's words had flooded his mind with five years' worth of other conversations, and memories that felt as if they were choking him.

They finished their lunch in silence.  A little while later, the sandwal came back to the surface and they resumed their journey.

Night descended with a cartoon like rapidity.  The suns bounced off the horizon and disappeared, stars emerged as if shot out of cannons, and the sandwal came to a sudden, dead stop.

McCoy rubbed his eyes as they tried to adjust to the darkness. "Nothing like a romantic, lingering sunset to end the day." Then he coughed.  "I meant--"

"I understand," Spock said.  "I have read Human romantic novels and noted the overabundant use of sunsets to set mood. If two beings need an external event to facilitate their approach to each other, I do not place much stability on their connection."

McCoy decided he wasn't going to touch that comment.  "Isn't our companion going under the sand again?"

"No, she will remain in order to provide warmth and protection for us.  The desert is cold at night.  As well, there are predators."

McCoy hadn't realized the sandwal was female.  He nodded at the eye he could see and said, "Thanks, ma'am."

They put their sleeping bags against the sandwal's flank.  As McCoy set out some rations and vegetable roots, he noticed Spock sit down with his back against the creature.  The doctor copied the action.  The sandwal's skin was rough but pleasantly warm, and her easy draws of breath were relaxing.

As he got comfortable, he asked, "Are we allowed a light?"

"Yes," Spock replied.  "A small one so as to not draw attention to ourselves."  He turned on a battery lamp and placed it between them.  Then he picked up one of the roots the doctor had given him and eyed it warily before taking a bite.

"It's kosher," McCoy said.

"I thought it was a vegetable," Spock said.

"I mean, it's ok under both Vulcan and Kolinahr disciplines," McCoy told him. 

"I see," Spock said, a little amused.  "But I was not concerned you would bring unacceptable food.  I was considering the amount of sand on it."

"It's in everything, isn't it?" McCoy sighed.  "I'd hate to know what it's doing to our digestive tracts."  He pulled off his head covering, wiped the grit out from underneath, then noticed that Spock was still looking at him.  "What is it?"

"You were wrong.  You said you were no longer needed," Spock said.  "A doctor's skills are always needed."

"Spock, I didn't say my skills were unneeded.  I said I was."


"Well, everyone's allowed a little," McCoy said.

Spock returned to his picky eating.  McCoy eyed his profile surreptitiously in the dim light.  He'd seen those angles and planes and the tips of those ears a thousand times, yet they always fascinated him.  Spock's face never held light the same way twice.  The expression was rigid, but the complexity of the man shone through.

"I've known you for seven and a half years," McCoy said softly, "and you're as much a mystery as the day we met."

Startled, Spock looked over.  "Why do you say that?"

"I can peg most people, Vulcans included, but I can't peg you. Spock, why the hell are you returning to Gol?  I know what Kolinahr is, and I can't understand what you think it'll do for you."

Spock put down his dinner.  "Some might call your claim of understanding Kolinahr arrogant."

"The goal is to end all desire, craving, and suffering.  The way to achieve that is to completely eradicate your individual consciousness.  Spock, you're not going to make it.  No one can.  It goes against every nerve fiber and blood cell in your body."

"Leonard, if you were to take that line with any of the Kolinahr Masters--"

"Bring them on," McCoy said, "because I would be able to look them in the eyes and tell them they hadn't made it either. I'm not saying Kolinahr's goals aren't good ones, and I'm not belittling it, but the reality is, Spock, that you are not a being of pure logic, and you will never be able to erase whatever it is that's hurting you.  You could go back into that mountain and live there for the rest for your days and do everything they tell you to do, but you will never lose the capacity to suffer.  So...please don't go."

"Why should my decision affect you?"

"I have no idea," McCoy said.  His hands were trembling.  He pushed them into his lap, hoping the darkness would hide them. "You're wrong about something else too.  You claimed Vulcans don't need a home - ask your father where his home is.  It's with Amanda."

"Vulcans do not--."

"Ask your father," McCoy repeated.  "Spock, is there something I can do to keep you from Gol?"

"Did my parents ask you to speak to me?"

"No, they didn't," McCoy said.  "Whatever it is, even if all I can do is listen, I promise to.  I can listen.  I can keep secrets."

Spock turned to look across the desert.

"Earlier today, when I asked you why you were going to Gol, you said you'd tell me later," McCoy reminded him.  "Is it something to do with Jim?"

The Vulcan mentally signed in frustration.  McCoy was incredibly stubborn.  Part of him was angry about it.

And part of him was relieved.

"Illogical," he whispered.

"You've said that about me before," McCoy agreed.

Spock glanced back at the doctor.  In a raw voice, he said, "I have five degrees.  I served with Humans for over twenty-five standard years and I have had some...personal experiences with them.  Yet, with you, it is as if I know nothing.  You are aggravating."

Startled, McCoy managed, "Sorry.  If you prefer, I'll sleep on the other side of the sandwal."

"I am the illogical one," Spock admitted.


The Vulcan took a few minutes.  McCoy waited.

At last, Spock said, "I found myself...wanting someone."

McCoy thought, so this is about Jim. 

The thought hurt.

Out loud, he asked, "Why do you think Vulcan parents betroth their children to mates?"

"Without mates, Vulcan males die during Pon Farr."

"But Vulcan couples stay together between the cycles.  Vulcan marriages are about more than keeping one of the partners from dying every seven years," McCoy said.  "Marriage is the normal state on Vulcan, not solitude."

"Are you, a Human, telling me, a Vulcan, about my people?" Spock asked, a tinge of sternness in his tone. 

"I sure am," McCoy said, unimpressed by the tone.  "I don't know how you got this way, but you're caught in some delusion that needing someone weakens you.  T'Pau would disagree with you.  Your father would disagree with you.  Look at your parents' marriage.  Amanda is Sarek's second wife.  He chose her, specifically her, and I'm sure, with his position, he had lots of women to choose from.  He married her because he wanted her."  McCoy paused, then continued quietly, "Wanting someone is subjective.  It's not objective; it's not logical. God knows how it happens.  I have no idea.  But it does happen, even on Vulcan."

"Is this how you listen?  By lecturing?"  However, Spock's voice was no longer cold.

"I do have good intentions, Spock, but every time I try to listen to you, I end up telling you off.  I admit it."  McCoy picked up a root, then dropped it back in the cooler.  "I think we're attracted to people who will complete us, who have qualities that we lack, and who will support us when we're vulnerable.  To want someone, to need them, to choose that one person out of the billions and billions of people in the galaxy, well, it makes that person special.  Whoever it is you want, could tell her or him.  Maybe...hell, I'm sure, whoever she or he is would be open to...being with you.  I think it would be hard to resist someone who is choosing you out of billions."  He shrugged.  "End of lecture."  He met Spock's eyes.  "Now, after all that, for Godsakes, please don't tell me you're still going to Gol."

"The destination was irrelevant," Spock said.  "The important part was the journey."

McCoy frowned.  "Pardon?"

"I suspected you would come with me.  Actually, we could have just taken a shuttle.  There is no protocol about having to walk to the mountain."

The doctor stared at him.

The words didn't come easily.  Spock took a breath and said in a rush, "Leonard, I want you.  I hope, by your vehement opposition to my returning to Gol, that you have a specific reason for your opposition."

McCoy thought he was hyperventilating.  "Y-you want me?  I thought it was Jim."

"No, Leonard.  You."

"But I'm just unexceptional human.  You're out of my reach."

"Out of your reach?"

"It just about killed me when you were in that mountain and I couldn't get to you.  I stood outside the gates for hours."

A cold wind blew by.  Spock tried to hide a shiver.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't know.  No one told me you'd come."

McCoy stared at him in shock.  "You want me?"

"You are not unexceptional," Spock said.  "No one who meets you could say that.  But I am neither Vulcan nor Human.  I do not fit in.  I did not think I had anything to offer you."  He pressed against the warmth of the sandwal.  "Before you accept or reject me, I need to tell you of something I have done."

"Reject you?" McCoy asked.  "I would never--"

"Ssh," Spock interrupted.  "You have a right to know before you decide." 

He lowered his head.  In the bleak light, McCoy could hardly see him.

"Tell me, then," McCoy said, the only words he could manage without his voice breaking.  He hugged his arms to his chest, feeling himself quaking and unsure if it was the shock or the cold.  He wanted to turn the light up, reach over, and touch the Vulcan.

And he wanted to smash the light completely and escape into the night.  He was afraid that something terrifying was going to happen when Spock spoke.

"On Beta Niobe, after I lay with Zarabeth, I wanted to kill her.  I was almost overcome with rage. not understand why."

"You were acting as a Vulcan of that time would," McCoy said.

Spock was shaking his head.  "You were unconscious in an adjoining cavern, an easy target.  My anger was directed against her.  I had my hands around her throat, but she...opened her legs again and I spent myself in that manner."

Softly, almost too soft to hear, McCoy said, "Spock, I have been that angry."

"Angry enough to take a life?  I cannot believe that."

"It was two weeks after my father died.  Oh, Spock, how he died." McCoy swallowed.  "There was no cure.  There was nothing, just relentless pain.  He begged me, over and over, day after day, to let him die.  And so I...did.  I turned off the oxygen, the alarm, and the respirator.  And he..."
McCoy had to stop.  He looked away.  "They suspended my medical license.  I didn't care.  What did I care?  But then, two weeks after my father died, some goddamned group of scientists came out with a cure!  Two fucking weeks!  So I went to my father's house and shut myself in my old room and..."  He took a breath.  "A neighbor saw me go in the house and got concerned.  They told me that she came over, saw the blood, and called an ambulance.  I still have the scars." McCoy looked over.  "See what you'd be getting?  You couldn't possibly--"

"Leonard, I need you."  Spock moved over beside McCoy. "Perhaps I could be whom you need as well."

"You are."  McCoy tentatively touched the Vulcan's cheek. Spock began caressing him in return until he ached from head to toe. 

"It's too cold," McCoy said, his teeth chattering.  "I'm covered in sand and sweat.  And there's her."

"The sandwal is asleep," Spock reassured him.  "And we are both covered in sand and perspiration."  He tucked their sleeping bags together under one of the sandwal's huge legs, then brought the doctor and the lamp into the nook with him.

"This is warm," McCoy said.

"Yes," Spock said.  He was on his side, just barely in contact with the doctor's cooler body.  "Your eyes blaze," he added in wonder. 

"I can't believe I'm allowed to touch you," McCoy whispered. Delight coursed through him when the Vulcan smiled.

They didn't have much room, and desert grit was literally everywhere.  As well, the sandwal's breathing was a reminder that they were not alone.  McCoy was hesitant, but he finally pushed Spock's shirt up and stroked his palms over the Vulcan's fiery skin.  He felt the Vulcan pulling at his clothing with more gentle motions. 

McCoy hadn't suspected that Spock would enjoy caressing so much.  He thought the Vulcan would be restrained while lovemaking, perhaps even unwilling to admit to desire.  But this Vulcan was enjoying him.

"Spock, it's...been a long time since I..."

"Leonard, I told you, with you it is as if I do not know anything.  If you're feeling unsure, it is all right.  It is the same for me.  Teach me how to give you pleasure."

The Vulcan's words left McCoy breathless with arousal.  Do Vulcans kiss? he wondered.  He pulled Spock back to him, to kiss him, and there was no resistance.  When their mouths opened to each other, they both moaned.

All they could do was touch each other.  There was no room for anything else.  But it was enough.  McCoy found himself crying when Spock reached down between his thighs and took hold of him.

They stroked each other, murmuring indistinguishable words, until they simultaneously and awkwardly sent their seed spilling and tumbling between them.  

When he caught his breath, Spock said, "I have quarters in Vulcana Regar.  The apartment is not big, but there is running water."

"It sounds like heaven," McCoy replied, shimmying until he was lying across the Vulcan's chest.  "May I kiss you again?"

"Leonard, the answer is always yes."

"I like the sound of yes," McCoy whispered happily.  "Say it again."

Spock pulled McCoy's lips to his and murmured, "Yes, yes, yes, yes," until he wasn't able to speak anymore.

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