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Cathy German



It was by far the biggest tree that Doctor Leonard McCoy had ever seen, and he had been to the Redwoods. He almost fell backwards; he had to tilt his head so far in his attempt to see the top, and even then he couldn’t see it through the intervening clouds of blue leaves and strings of brown vines.

"And she’s living up there?" he asked aloud, disbelieving, squinting up into the Telterian suns.

"For a week now, sir," the timid Telterian official said politely. "She won’t come down."

McCoy looked back down at the ground and massaged his neck. "Tree kisser," he growled.

"Hugger, Doctor," Spock offered.


Spock pulled his gaze down from the treetops and turned it on McCoy. "I believe the term is ‘tree-hugger,’ Doctor, and it was used in the late twentieth century of your planet to describe people who expressed their ecological concerns by chaining themselves to trees which were slated for harvest."

"Do you think she’s chained herself up there, Jim?" McCoy asked, concerned.

The Telterian answered before the captain could respond. "If you please, sir," he said quietly, leaning his head into the discussion, his long, white hair falling forward onto his stooped shoulders, his deep brown face somber, "there are no indications from those who have visited her that she has chained herself to the tree. She is there willingly, without attachment, other than a vine for safety."

McCoy crossed his arms and gazed upward again. How the hell do we get involved in these kinds of things anyways? he wondered. And "these kinds of things" seemed to happen with teeth-grinding frequency. Commodore Stocker’s daughter visits a planet and goes native? Takes up residence in a tree to stop a harvest? Send the U.S.S. Enterprise. Your tax credits at work, he thought sourly.

He shot a surreptitious glance at Jim Kirk. At least, he seemed to be accepting the mission without complaint. Kirk was gazing up at the tree as well, his hands on his hips, looking— Tell me I’m not seeing this, please, McCoy thought. —positively eager.

"We can lock on to her and beam her down here, or onto the ship, right?" McCoy asked, trying not to sound desperate. There was no answer. "Jim? We can lock on to her, can’t we?"

The smile on the captain’s face when he turned to answer made McCoy’s stomach roil. "Oh, Bones," he said patiently, his face beatific, his hazel eyes reflecting the double suns, his hair blowing in a breeze. "That’s so... unnecessarily harsh."

"You’re not thinking of actually climbing up there, are you?" McCoy snarled, knowing full well that that was exactly what James T. Kirk had in mind. "You’re crazy! That’s the biggest damn tree I’ve ever seen! It has to be seventy meters tall!"

Kirk continued smiling, examining the vast forest in front of them as if the doctor had been mute.

"I was a pretty decent tree-climber back in Iowa, Bones," he finally replied dreamily. "There was a huge oak by the stream—"

"Huge oak? Huge oak?" McCoy sputtered, flapping his arms, feeling his medikit bounce around on its shoulder strap. "A ‘huge oak’ in Iowa is— what?—twenty meters? And oaks have lots of branches to grab. Look at this thing, Jim!" he said walking over to the tree and patting the deeply furrowed yellow bark. "Where are your handholds down here?"

"I’ve done some rock climbing, too," the captain replied with some testiness, unimpressed.

McCoy dropped his arm and shut his eyes. Okay, he thought with a sigh. I can’t do this alone. Time for the big gun. "Spock," he said aloud. "Talk some sense into him."

Much to the relief of the doctor, Spock reacted immediately. "Jim," he began in his you-must-listen-to-this-because-I-am-usually-right, tutorial manner, "there are no trees of this size or even of the size of your oak tree on Vulcan; but I, too, participated in rock climbing in my youth, as part of my training."

"Shall we give it a go, then?" Kirk asked with a grin.

"My God! You’re both crazy!" McCoy shouted, disbelieving. "You’re not ten years old anymore!" He was desperate. He swung on the Telterian. "Tell them!" he begged.

"Sirs, there will be fog today," he said, as if that meant something. "We avoid the forest when there is fog."

"See?" McCoy cried, pointing at the official. "They avoid the forest when there is fog!" He paused. "Why?"

The Telterian bowed solemnly, gesticulated for a second or two, but did not look into McCoy’s eyes. "If I understand the parameters under which the Federation operates, it is unnecessary for me to respond to questions of a religious nature."

"Well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?" McCoy had on the tip of his tongue, but he bit it back and looked at Kirk.

"How soon before this stand gets harvested?" the captain asked, nodding at the trees in front of them.

"As soon as the Tellarites arrive," the official responded. "I believe they are to arrive and begin the day after tomorrow."

"No time like the present then, eh, Spock?" Kirk said with a grin.

"As you wish, Captain," he replied, moving with Kirk for the tree base.

This is just like back in school, McCoy thought morosely, turning away from them and blinking out at the rolling, burnt orange savannas that stretched away from the forest. Last picked for baseball teams, beaten soundly in soccer, creamed in tennis, clobbered in pick-up basketball games. Even golf—still the Terran doctors’ favorite game—eluded him. And here he was, respected medical professional, trusted confidant, mature adult, again—still!—unpicked and smarting for it.

Surely out there—somewhere in Starfleet—surely there were captains and first officers who breathed heavily after a half-mile run, who didn’t vault rocks one-handed, who didn’t exercise in high-G for the challenge then repeat it in low-G right afterwards just for the fun of it. Surely there were more Starfleet folks out there with a healthy fear of high mountains and of swinging like apes on vines and of throwing themselves into whatever obstacle course that the universe could provide at any given moment. He wanted to know where those kinds of people were. He wanted to be with people like that, right now. No wonder he appreciated Montgomery Scott’s company so much. McCoy actually believed that if he had to he could beat Scotty in a foot race, provided the chief engineer wasn’t running for a bottle of scotch or a stack of technical manuals.

He turned back around. Spock and Kirk were quietly doing stretching exercises, peering up in to the canopy as they did so. Spock and Jim. Panther and gazelle. And that made McCoy a pregnant Andorian mule. He shut his eyes and shook his head.

"Is there anything I can say to convince you that this is a very bad idea?" he asked, walking towards them. "If I cited regulations—"

"Oh, come on, Bones," Jim chided. "Loosen up. You can stay down here and wait."

"What if she puts up a fight?"

"That is where I might be of some assistance, Doctor," Spock noted.

"Oh, yeah. The helpful one!" McCoy growled, turning to him. "And where were you when I needed you?" The doctor ignored the innocent, raised-eyebrow look from Spock and turned away.


He began his vigil at the base of the tree, worriedly calling up instructions as he watched, his heart in his throat. It was slow going for them at the bottom where there were no branches for handholds, but at about seven meters, stubby, blue-leafed limbs began, and Kirk and Spock made the most of it, scrambling up out of McCoy’s sight within minutes.

He sighed and turned and walked out into the brushy savanna. It was only then that he noticed the orange dust rising out of the valley beyond. It had to be the Telterian in the land car that had brought them from the city.

"So much for the fabled Telterian politeness," he groused aloud. Momentarily concerned, he felt at his waist for his communicator and fumbled it in his fingers when he found it. No matter what happened, there was always that, he thought looking down at it, and Montgomery Scott and the safety of the Enterprise at the other end. He briefly considered having Scotty beam him to the treetop so he could be there, smug and smiling, when Jim and Spock arrived, but he dismissed it. There was no point to it other than making him feel like less of an ungainly incompetent. Why put himself through that ghastly experience just for that?

He expected Spock and Kirk would be nearing the top, and he turned and craned his neck to scan the tree for movement. It wasn’t hard to spot them. They hadn’t gotten as far as he imagined they would have. At twenty meters or so, the limbs were gone, and once again they were faced with the furrowed yellow bark and few handholds. McCoy bit his lower lip as he watched. The limbs began again, longer and fuller, no more than five meters above where they were and he considered calling this out to them to allay their concerns, and then he remembered who he was watching. Of course, they knew where they were; of course, they were being careful; of course, Spock had already calculated the millimeters in this naked stretch and had calculated the odds of their making it unscathed and had relayed that to the captain, hanging slightly above Spock and to his right. It’d be wasted breath, McCoy thought, and he forced himself to look away at the rest of the forest and the other trees, to see if this strange growth pattern was an anomaly. He was not much of an athlete, but he was no slouch as a botanist.

But there were no other patterns quite like the one in the tree in which his friends were perched, and he looked back again at it, ignoring their small figures, and noted that it looked as if there had been branches in that stretch originally, but that they had been cut off. Or ripped off or knocked off. His vantage point did not allow him to know. Was this a defense perpetrated by the commodore’s daughter? He moved to his right, curious, and noted several elongated lumps stuck to the bark like insect chrysalis. There was nothing growing out of these bumps, and the material covering them looked slightly shiny. That’s unusual looking...

He put his hands on his hips and wondered what they were. Looking at Spock and Kirk, still moving resolutely upward, he could tell that the lumps were about two meters long. Man-sized.


McCoy’s heart stopped. Peripherally, he noticed the fog at the same time. It was rolling out of the forest towards him, blanketing the base of the trees in front of him, moving faster than McCoy thought possible.

"Jim," he blurted weakly, starting for the tree. "Spock!" he called louder. "Jim! Spock! Get down here! Now!" He tried to shake off a tremendous sense of dread as he reached out for the bark and threw his head back and peered through the fog and leaves. Was he overreacting? Like a kid afraid of the dark? It’s just fog, he thought, and the lumps are just growths, and his hands trembled. And then they trembled again. And again.

The ground was trembling. The tree, the leaves above him, everything around him, everything was trembling in an awful cadence. He stumbled back from the tree, and he looked up to see Spock and Jim at the top edge of the fog, each spread-eagle against the bark, holding on for dear life.

He actually fell backwards to the ground when he finally saw it. It came from the foggy depths of the forest to his right and moved for the tree at a deliberate and unhurried pace.

Dinner was being served.

McCoy could not see all of its huge, upright body, but through the swirling fog, these things were evident in a terrifying melange of misty images: Long, talon-like fingers. Huge back legs, driving like pistons. Large, short-toed feet. Blinking bird-like black eyes. A beak. A big, long beak. With lots of little, sharp teeth. And all of this was headed for the tree. The big tree, of course. The ones with his friends in it. He groaned aloud.

"Oh my God, oh my God..." He was still on the ground, on his back, and he was pushing himself away through the scrub and groping for the communicator that he’d fondled earlier and had put back at his waist.

Now, the beast was at the tree, but McCoy could barely see it or the tree for the fog. He could hear Kirk and Spock shouting warnings to each other and the distant scrape of boot on bark, and he found the communicator and flipped it open.

"Enterprise! Beam us up!" he rasped. "Scotty! Scotty! Get us out of here!" He scrambled up and stood on shaking legs. "Jim and Spock are in a tree, up about twenty meters—" He stopped as he heard a strangled cry from above him. Spock? Jim?

"Scotty! Anybody!" It was then that he realized that there was no answer, no acknowledgment, that there had been no warm and friendly trilling beep when he’d opened it. He shook it and went through the process again.


The minor earthquakes which had briefly stopped when the creature arrived at the tree began again, heading away, into the woods. And someone was coming down the tree. Fast. Whoever it was fell messily down the last three or four meters, banging into the stubby branches on the way, and landed in front of McCoy. He crouched down.

It was Spock, and the Vulcan gave himself only a few seconds to gather himself and rise—with McCoy’s assistance, a fact that the doctor found distressing—and he nodded at the communicator in the doctor’s hand.

"Nothing," McCoy responded. "Must be some kind of interference from the fog."

Spock nodded and reached for his own, holding it tight to his ribs with scraped, bleeding fingers. "Enterprise," he tried, sounding as if he still hadn’t replaced all of the air that he’d knocked out of himself. "Enterprise. Come in."

They looked at each other over the silent communicator. "It has the captain," Spock said, replacing it on his belt. "We must follow." That having been said, he headed into the forest, into the fog, into the possibility of a Telterian religious experience.

McCoy followed.


Thank God for Spock, McCoy thought for the fiftieth time in the last hour as he puffed along, squinting through the mistiness at the pale blue back of the Vulcan’s tunic. Thank God for his stamina. What if I had to do this alone?

With those thoughts in his mind, McCoy went down for the third time, victim of a tree root. "Spock! Wait!" he called, grasping his ankle as it shot with pain. "Damn!"

Spock was at his side in a second, and the first officer leaned over, looking winded, his hands on his knees.

He’s actually tired, McCoy thought to himself, surprised. Normally, any Human revelation from Spock gave the doctor a thrill, but if there was a time they all needed to have Spock in top Vulcan form, this was it.

"Doctor?" he asked, his voice a load of gravel. "Can you continue?"

"Damn you, yes!" McCoy shot back. "Give me a hand up!"

They both grunted as McCoy was pulled to his feet. McCoy gripped Spock’s forearm as he tested his ankle. It was tender, and he could think of a few drugs he had in his medikit that might cut the pain, but he had no idea what kind of shape Jim would be in when they found him. He wasn’t going to waste a pain-killer on a clumsy pratfall.

"I have not heard movement of the creature for the last fifteen minutes," Spock said darkly after a few silent moments.

"What do you think that means?" McCoy asked.

"Unknown, Doctor," Spock replied, looking down at the forest floor. "Luckily, this creature cuts a wide swath. We do not have a problem tracking him."

"If you call that lucky—" The Vulcan abruptly cut McCoy off, holding a palm up in front of his face.

"What?" McCoy whispered. Spock didn’t answer, but continued slowly down the trail of trampled vegetation, stopping periodically to listen. McCoy limped behind.

"Spock," he hissed. "What is it?" And as McCoy finished his question, Spock took off like a shot, headed for a medium-sized tree in the trail ahead of them. Without hesitation, all signs of fatigue gone, Spock took a flying leap at it from about a meter away, secured a handhold with a grunt, and scrambled and scraped his way up, away from a shocked McCoy.

McCoy threw a look around him. No sign of the creature, but then Spock could hear and see things that he couldn’t. Should he try to follow? And if the creature was coming, it was a damned rude thing to do, and not like Spock at all. He limped up to the tree.

There’s Jim.

He was neatly wrapped, like a mummy, legs straight, arms tucked neatly at his side, his body perfectly perpendicular to the ground, and he was adhered to the tree trunk about two meters above McCoy’s head. Spock was clinging to the tree with his left hand, and was tearing at the webbing around Kirk’s face.


"He appears to be alive, Doctor," Spock answered, his voice strained. "But drugged."

McCoy blinked as a drop of blood hit his forehead.

"Jim!" McCoy called anyway, wondering idly why the creature had him placed so low on the tree. It would have to bend over to retrieve this morsel. Then it struck him. Dinner for the kids.

"Spock! Hurry!" he urged.

Spock did not respond, but continued pulling at the cocoon. Within a few minutes, Kirk was uncovered to his waist, and a few tense minutes after that, he began to fall sloppily forward out of his chrysalis, his arms swinging free. McCoy watched in amazement as Spock, in one smooth, unhesitant motion, caught Kirk by the waist, pulled him up out of his trap, threw him over his shoulder, and started back down the tree.

"Holy cow," McCoy declared aloud in spite of himself. They fell in a heap beside him.

Jim Kirk was out, his pupils dilated, his breathing steady and deep. McCoy ran a medical tricorder over him. He didn’t dare try to counteract whatever toxin Kirk had pulsing through his veins with his meager medikit supplies, without benefit of the sophisticated diagnostics available in Sickbay. Spock must have been thinking the same thing. He was on his knees opposite McCoy, trying the communicator again.

At least there was no evidence of injury. No broken bones, no smashed internal parts, no blood. There was blood, but it was green, and McCoy understood where it came from when he attempted to brush remnants of the diaphanous webbing from the captain’s chest and yelped in pain. It was like spun glass, and far stronger than it looked. Once again, McCoy marveled at the strength of the Vulcan, and he thought to himself, Thank God for Spock.

And with that, Spock was gone. The beast must have been close by in the fog, because McCoy only felt two or three heavy tremors, and he looked up to see the talons swiping the air in front of him, and Spock was there, and then with a surprised exhalation of air, he was gone. McCoy threw himself over his captain’s body, waiting for another swipe, or a blow, but all he heard were the monster’s retreating, reverberating steps as he carried Spock away.

McCoy rose to his feet, trembling, and peered into the forest soup. Then he looked down at his leader, laid out, peaceful and serene, dead to the world. "Aw, shit," he said.


It took McCoy a good fifteen minutes to pull Jim to a place that felt safe enough to him. Which meant he was fifteen minutes behind the creature who had Spock. But he was not concerned with tracking it. He was more concerned about when these things finally ate their little caches. Was it that day? Tomorrow? Within the hour? When they felt hungry?

It was slow going. McCoy’s ankle had swollen painfully to twice its normal size. Halfway through the haul he stopped and shot himself with painkiller. Jim won’t need it. And neither will Spock. He’ll either be out, like Jim, or....

McCoy had almost left Kirk in a huge trunk that provided a protective crevasse at the base. He’d stood with his hands on his hips, his chest heaving, gauging the size and suitability of it, and he’d noticed a pile of crumpled cocoon material to his left. It was a bag of mangled bones, and McCoy broke some kind of swollen-ankle, pulling-your-friend-backwards-by-the-armpits land speed record to get away from what must have been another feeding tree.

He left Kirk in a forest floor depression, half under a fallen log. He scanned him once more, and was satisfied that the drug was dissipating. And although he wouldn’t allow himself thoughts that were too optimistic, he could almost swear that the fog was lifting. It seemed lighter, less close, and he tried the captain’s communicator once more, just in case. His last act, after giving Kirk some gentle shakes, hoping against hope that the Federation’s best natural athlete would come to and pilot them through this mess, was to put Kirk’s open communicator on his chest. By McCoy’s calculations, they’d already missed two or three check-ins, and Scott would be frantic, sending security teams down to town, and scanning the forest for signs of them.

He leaned down close to Kirk’s ear, knowing that his words might penetrate the catatonia. "Jim-Boy, I’m going to have to leave you," he said. "I have to..." He paused, marveling at the incongruity of it. "I have to go rescue Spock."


For the first half-hour, he amazed himself. He threw himself through the forest, pitching up and down the hills, not stopping, not thinking really, just moving, moving, leaping over rocks and logs, following the unmistakable trail, praying for the fog to lift, hoping that if Spock was dinner, he was dinner for the kids and was glued to the kid’s table. He wasn’t sure he could retrieve him if he was the main course for an adult.

He shot himself with more pain-killer and tri-ox at the forty-five minute mark, and allowed himself a short sit on the limb of a fallen log. As he gulped for air he wished that he’d taken some of the advice he’d dispensed so readily to others back up on the Enterprise. Exercise. Eat right. Don’t drink too much. He promised himself that he’d get serious with his own exercise regimen when they got out of this.

If they got out of this.

He stood and started again, now faster, with a new sense of urgency.

Spock had the gift of superior hearing and strength. He had none of that, and he began to edge up to panic as he moved, thinking of how Spock must have heard Jim’s deep breathing to find him, wondering if Spock was hung on one of the trees he’d passed by already, and he slowed, allowing himself a longer look at each likely tree nearest to the trampled path.

The fog was lifting. He was sure of that now. He could see trees further down the path, and he could see further up into their limbs and he could see...


He could see Spock.

The creature had not been as neat and tidy with Spock. McCoy could see that as he sped forward, his eyes on the prize. Spock’s Vulcan physiology had obviously allowed him to fight the poison, and fight the cocooning.

That was not necessarily a good thing.

It was also clear to McCoy from a good ten meters away that Spock’s right arm was probably broken, and God only knew what else was damaged. His arms and legs were at painful, impossible angles, his head was twisted, his cheek pressed into the bark. But broken bones and crushed body parts were the least of McCoy’s concerns. Those could be easily fixed. It was fishing parts from big critter innards and putting them back together that McCoy could not accomplish; so, just as he had seen Spock do, he took a flying leap at the tree and dug into the bark with his fingers. And began to slide promptly back down to the ground.

He tried it again, with the same results.

"Spock!" he called up the trunk. There was no response. He didn’t expect one.

He was tired. He hurt everywhere, and he was bone, dead tired. He tried the communicator, thinking that if he couldn’t make it up the trunk, he could at least stay here and...and what? Fight off a beast the size of a small spaceship with a medikit and a tree limb? Not likely.

He spun away from the trunk. Was that a sound from deeper in the forest? A tremor? He shot a look out into the lightening fog and held his breath. He swallowed hard and fought down the urge to run, and as he did so, he heard a sound from above him.

It was a groan.

It was a low, pained groan, coming from someone who had ripped ribbons of glass off his captain’s body without so much as a peep, and it shook McCoy right to his soul. The doctor moved out, away from the tree, rubbed his hands together, and took another run at it.

This time, he caught, and his fingers dug at the bark and the toes of his boots searched for purchase and his medikit dug painfully into his hipbone. There was a limb to his left, and he willed himself to surge upward and grab it, and he did. And then another, to his right. Now Spock was right above him, but he’d lost his helpful handholds, and he hung there, wondering what to do next.

He could practically touch Spock’s left boot. Unfortunately, Spock’s body provided the only handholds left. That meant two things: McCoy could do additional damage to Spock’s already damaged body, and McCoy would certainly do damage to himself. It would be like climbing a pole protected by barbed wire, but there were no options, and McCoy knew that these things could be fixed.

"Isn’t modern medicine wonderful?" he mused aloud, and threw himself up at Spock's leg, grabbing for him at the knee. He cried out in pain, and heard birds flap away from the treetops at the sound. He could feel the blood from his hands coursing down his arms. He took a deep breath and made a grab for Spock’s waist, pushing his hands through the covering, pushing himself through the pain, pulling himself up further, hugging Spock’s broken body, trying to keep the spun glass from his face and eyes.

Above Spock’s head and to the left, there was a limb. McCoy took it with his left hand, ignoring the pain of the contact with his shredded fingers. He dug his left toe boot into the bark furrow, and put his right foot on Spock’s right foot. He was as secure as he’d ever be, and with his right hand, he began to clear the webbing from Spock’s face.

He was alive, and that was enough to spur McCoy on, and he pulled silky, painful curtains away and tossed them to the ground, his blood going with it.

Spock groaned again and turned his face to McCoy, opening his eyes as he did so. There was some recognition there behind the confusion and poison and discomfort, and McCoy’s heart leapt at the sight.

"You’re gonna’ be all right, Spock," he said, tugging at the cocooning constricting the Vulcan’s chest, wondering how he was going to accomplish the last part of his task. He could get this stuff off of Spock, but he was pretty sure he’d be incapable of carrying him down the tree trunk, the way Spock had carried Jim. He’d have to let him fall. He looked down. McCoy figured it was about six meters from Spock’s head to the forest floor. The Vulcan had survived falls worse than that. And McCoy could fix whatever broke.

"Doctor." It was Spock, and his voice was weak, but clear, and McCoy turned to make eye contact. But Spock wasn’t looking at him. He was staring out into the forest, over McCoy’s shoulder, and McCoy felt the tree tremble and then tremble again, and he knew with an appalling certainty what was coming at them.

It was feeding time on Telterian, and McCoy had only cleared Spock to his waist.

"Doctor," Spock said again as McCoy tore frantically at the webbing. "Leave me."

McCoy’s eyes stung with tears of pain and frustration. "Not on your life, you bla—"

And then he did, in a golden shimmer of transport.


"Och man! You mean ta tell me that you ran for nearly two straight hours? Excuse me for doubtin’ you, Doctor, but you canna even make it through a half-hour high-G set. Who do you think you’re foolin’?"

McCoy, seated cross-legged on the recovery bed, shrugged and scratched at the perma-skin on his palm. A response of "Ask Spock or Jim" came to mind, and then he realized that that would do him no good. They had been snatched and whisked away and anesthetized. No one had seen his rock-leaping. No one had witnessed his scramble up the tree. He had only a fat ankle and pulped palms and arms to show for his heroics.

Oh. And Spock and Jim, too, in recovery beds next to him.

The captain looked none the worse for wear, just sort of goofy/tired, and he gave McCoy a lopsided smile.

"I believe you, Bones," he said happily. "And I thank you. And I thank you for taking care of getting that girl out of the tree afterwards. But I thank you most of all for not saying ‘I told you so.’"

McCoy snorted at that one.

Kirk turned to Spock. "Spock," he said with mock solemnity, "are you going to thank the doctor?"

Spock looked more pained now than he had when McCoy had caught him as he’d toppled off the transporter platform when they’d been beamed to safety. He cleared his throat uneasily.

"I believe that Commander Scott’s timely transport was more likely the—"

"Och, no, Mister Spock," Scotty interrupted. "I canna take credit for that. If Doctor McCoy hadna been right there, we’d have ne’er found you. That silky stuff—" The chief engineer shook his head in amazement. "—incredible stuff, that," he admitted. "You canna scan through it. I hope the sample we brought up will let us synthesize some more."

McCoy felt tired again. But he also felt warm and toasty and full of himself as he looked at his friends.

He’d saved them. He’d really done it.

For once, he’d been the rescuer, the savior. He had torn through the woods and had thrown himself recklessly across the fissures in the ground. He had vaulted logs one-handed and had overcome his pain and fear.

He couldn’t remember ever feeling as happy as he did right at that moment. He pushed himself off the bed, careful not to strain his still-throbbing ankle, and moved to the foot of Spock’s bed. Ever the doctor, his eyes quickly ran over the diagnostic panel. Ribs broken from the original fall from the tree, hands pulped like his were, right arm broken, as McCoy had feared, and various lesser contusions and strains. Not a bad day’s work for a Vulcan, and the readings looked well on their way to normal.

He dropped his eyes to Spock. "Well?"

Spock’s eyebrows rose. "Doctor?"

"Where’s my ‘thank you?’"

Spock implacably held McCoy’s gaze.

"Face it, Spock," he said with a triumphant grin. "I saved your sorry skinny green Vulcan butt. And I did it without any of this," he added, gesturing around him at all of his medical accouterments. McCoy watched the slimmest of smiles begin to appear on the Vulcan’s face and then vanish. But the swallowed smile moved to somewhere around his eyes, and the science officer took a breath and said clearly, so that the others could hear:

"Yes, Doctor McCoy. You are correct. Thank you for saving my sorry skinny green Vulcan butt."

McCoy gave him a short nod, moved back to his own bed, and climbed into it, giddy and exhausted. He shut his eyes and floated happily away into the ether of a drug-enhanced sleep and thought, This feels pretty damned good.

"I’m going to have to do this more often."

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