"Captain, the Che'narri are ready when we are. We can beam down anytime."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Uhura," Jim said as he stood up from his chair and came to stand next to Leonard. "Beautiful planet, isn't it?" he said, nodding at the pretty blue, green and purple globe rotating on the viewscreen.
"'S what I've heard," said Leonard. "I'm wary of these pleasure planets, Jim. Never know what you might pick up while you're there."
"Well, that's why I'm taking the best doctor in the fleet with me." Jim grinned at him and patted his shoulder.
"Might I point out," said Spock from his station, "that Che'narr is a family resort planet."
"Your point being what, that we're unlikely to contract anything dangerous in a place where sex isn't the main attraction?" asked Leonard. "I beg to differ, Spock, there are a million little microbes we could pick up, 'specially with children running around."
"God, Bones, if there's a man who needs a vacation, it's you," said Jim. Just then, Scotty walked onto the bridge and Jim greeted him with a big smile. "Ah, there's my replacement."
"She'll be in good hands while you're gone, sir," Scotty assured him as he approached the captain's chair with an enthusiastic twinkle in his eye that Leonard really thought ought to make Jim nervous.
"I know she will, Scotty. Have fun, just don't do anything I wouldn't do. All right, people, we're heading out." With a wink at Scotty, Jim turned and headed for the turbolift. "Let's go, we're burning Che'narri daylight here."
"Actually, Captain," said Spock as he and Lieutenant Uhura followed Leonard and Jim to the lift, "the planet's rotation takes longer than the standard Earth rotation, extending their days by 4.9333 hours–"
"Spock," Jim interrupted, "it was just a figure of speech. Relax, will you? Sheesh, maybe Bones isn't the only one who needs time away."
Spock frowned as the lift door slid shut. "I am relaxed, Captain."
"None of us is relaxed until we're out of these uniforms," said Uhura. "If it's all right with everyone, I'd love to go for a swim when we get down there."
"I have no objections," said Spock.
"I think this'll be the first time I'll get to see you in a bathing suit," she said to him with a wicked grin. "Oh, I can't wait for this."
"Neither can I," said Jim, giving Spock an exaggerated wink when their eyes met. Spock merely glanced at him and arched an eyebrow. Leonard watched the exchange, the way Spock offered Jim one of the few faint little smiles he had to offer each day.
With a grumble, Leonard looked away. "Why are we doing this again?" he asked.
"Because, Doctor," Spock explained, "it is a prime opportunity for the four of us to get better acquainted."
"The four of us somehow ended up with the same shore leave dates," Uhura added. "Why waste the opportunity?"
"That still doesn't explain it," Leonard said. "Why do we suddenly need to get better acquainted?"
"Bones, they're right," Jim said. "We work closely together, Spock's my right hand and you're my… uh…"
"Boyfriend," said Uhura with a knowing smile. "Why can't either of you just say the word?"
"Because it's complicated," said Jim.
"Because it sounds ridiculous," said Leonard at the exact same time. They glanced at each other, fidgeted, then looked away.
Uhura rolled her eyes. "I don't know what you're so afraid of. You two have been in love since the moment you met. I was there, I saw it."
"Mind your business," Leonard said, his voice quietly scolding.
"You were just relieved this handsome devil strolled into that shuttle and took my focus off of you," Jim said to Uhura. She gave him a withering look.
"I still don't see what difference it makes if we get along or not," Leonard said. "This is work. We're all professionals, we can do our jobs without being best pals, can't we? Besides, Spock and I get along just fine."
"No, you do not," Jim said. "And I need you two to get along in order to do my job effectively. The last time you got to arguing, an entire planet nearly blew up while you were yelling at each other. I need your input, not your foreplay."
Uhura discreetly hid her snickering behind her hand.
"If you are referring to the Argon IV incident," said Spock, "I did not yell. I never yell."
Leonard, Jim and Uhura all looked at Spock in disbelief. Spock glanced calmly around at all of them.
"Correction," he said as the lift door opened, "I nearly never yell. The point is I did not yell at the doctor during that incident, and furthermore I have never been the one to yell during a disagreement with him."
Leonard bristled. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"It means precisely what I said; if a voice has ever been raised between the two of us, Doctor, it has always been yours."
"Because you've just got so much self-control. As I recall, it wasn't me who tried to murder Jim in front of the crew."
Spock stopped walking, causing the others to stop as well, though Leonard wasn't paying Jim and Uhura any mind at this point. His eyes locked with Spock's as Spock turned to face him.
"Guys, come on," Jim said.
"I did not attempt to murder him," Spock said, ignoring Jim.
"Oh?" said Leonard. "Trying to stop a man from breathing? Could've fooled me. You wanna talk about a lack of self-control, I suggest you go take a good, long look in a mirror."
Spock narrowed his eyes just as Uhura stepped close and touched his arm.
"Spock," she said. He paused to look down at her, and instantly the tension seemed to melt from his body.
"It is true," he said, turning back to Leonard, "I chose not to participate in the ritual of the Kolinahr and therefore still have much to learn about self-control. It is the one thing, Doctor, that I believe you and I have in common."
Leonard clenched his jaw. "You know, I can't say for sure, but something tells me you ain't just talking about my emotions anymore."
Spock cocked his head. "To what else would I be referring?"
Leonard took a step closer to him, but then felt Jim's hand on his arm, pulling him away.
"Okay, big fella," Jim said, "let's go. What happened to 'Spock and I get along just fine'?"
"You didn't let me finish," Leonard said as they moved further away from the other couple. "Spock and I get along just fine when he ain't bein' pig-headed."
Jim sighed heavily. "Shore leave, you couldn't come at a better time."
"So, this is nice," said Jim. "I've seen Spock in a bathing suit, Bones in a bubble bath and you in a shortie robe all in less than two days."
Uhura's laugh danced away on the sweet breeze that wafted through the bright, airy spa facility. There were big, wide open windows that let in copious amounts of Che'narri sunlight. It was a relaxed and yet reassuringly sterile atmosphere, with its blue-skinned employees bustling around in pure white uniforms, their clientele lounging in similarly white robes. Really short robes. Really, really short robes.
Jim grinned as he felt the breeze teasing areas of his body that needed more coverage than they were getting. He shifted in his seat and tried to close his legs a bit more, but the pretty Che'narri woman who was massaging his right foot shot him an annoyed little glance with her glittery jewel-blue eyes. She quickly pasted a smile on her face, apparently remembering she was supposed to be pleasant and patient. Jim smiled back apologetically, holding up a hand to indicate that he didn't need her to tell him again that he shouldn't be moving. She told him anyway.
"I will need you to remain as still as possible, Mr. Kirk," she said, her words rolling oddly, and not unpleasantly, through her lilting accent.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry."
"If you move in the wrong way at the wrong time, I could accidentally activate the wrong pressure point."
"I could paralyze you."
"You know, you don't sound terribly worried when you say that."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Sorry," he repeated, tugging at the folds of his little robe. "Just, you know, trying to spare you the show. Unless of course you'd like to see–"
"Captain," Uhura warned.
"I'm joking. She knows I'm joking."
"What would the doctor say?"
"Bones knows me well enough by now. He knows my flirting doesn't mean anything."
"Well, you know him better than I do."
Uhura's disapproval was evident. Jim glanced over at her. She was sitting with her head back, eyes closed as her right foot was massaged. Her skin had a dewy sheen, something the Che'narri had put on her, some kind of moisturizer. It made her glow in the sun, the light hitting her cheek bones and clavicle in the most mesmerizing way.
Jim found himself wishing Bones could have come too. He could just picture Bones in a shortie robe, with goop on his face and one of the spa's employees trying to put up with his bitching as graciously as possible. Jim chuckled to himself.
"You can call me Nyota if you want," Uhura suddenly said.
"Oh, I finally get permission."
"I thought it was about time."
"You can call me Jim, then."
"All right. Jim."
"So tell me, how'd you get Spock to agree to this?"
"Believe it or not, he agreed pretty readily. He knows there's tension between him and Dr. McCoy, tension between you and me… He's hoping this will help us all bond."
Jim frowned. "I thought this was about Spock and Bones. There's no tension between you and me, is there?"
She opened her eyes and looked skeptically over at him.
"What, you still can't stand me?"
"I can stand you just fine, but…" She sighed. "It's just the way things began between us; you were so… brash and then the whole thing with Spock and the Kobayashi Maru…"
"Spock and I get along great now."
"I know, and that's fantastic, but… maybe I just need more time. I've been known to hold a grudge."
Jim was hardly shocked to hear this, but he kept his thoughts to himself. "So, are we bonding yet?" he asked instead.
She laughed again. "I'll let you know after the Sea Leaf Wrap."
Leonard's eyes popped open again. "I don't think this is working."
"It has been five minutes, Doctor. Give it time."
"Well, how much time's it s'posed to take?"
Leonard heard a soft exhalation from Spock and glanced over at him. Spock was seated on the floor, cross-legged on a mat just like Leonard was. He slowly opened his eyes and stared out across the Che'narri beach.
Their personal meditation room was far enough away from the noise of the rest of the spa and close enough to the beach that they could hear the surf crashing against rocks in the distance. One wall, the one facing the beach, was a transparent force field, and they both sat facing it. The scene was like something out of a postcard; sky, sand, rolling waves. If Leonard was going to get any meditating done at all, it would be here.
But that was a mighty big "if".
"It takes as long as it takes," Spock explained. "It is not something one can force. Close your eyes and attempt to clear your mind."
With a sigh, Leonard complied, but he really didn't think there was any point. "I'm not completely clueless about mediation, I'll have you know," he said. "I understand how it works, why it's beneficial. I'm not stupid, I just never did get it to work right for me."
"Granted, halting the incessant stream of thoughts that goes on in all of our minds is not an easy task. It is only once you master the technique that you reap the full benefits of the exercise."
With another sigh, Leonard went quiet and tried once again to clear his mind, but all he could think about was what Jim might be telling the lieutenant while they were on their spa date. He hadn't even considered the dangers of Jim and Uhura alone together until they were alone together. Well, surely Jim knew not to divulge anything too personal.
"What do you do to clear your mind?" he asked.
"Currently, I am concentrating on the sound of the surf… or trying to," Spock replied. Leonard thought he detected a hint of an edge in his voice.
"And that helps?"
"White noise can be extremely helpful. I am, however, quite advanced and normally do not require such aids."
"Of course you don't," Leonard muttered, just barely refraining from calling Spock a show-off. He shifted on his mat, stretched his neck a bit, listened to it crack, then tried again to begin clearing his head, but his mind continued to fill up with thoughts of work and Jim and that annoying thing Spock did with his eyebrow and the way it could look so much like flirting, and the way Jim's naturally charming personality could seem like more than just playfulness at times…
"Dammit," Leonard grumbled, opening his eyes again.
"Perhaps attempting to achieve a full meditative state is too advanced a goal for you at this time," Spock said. "Might I suggest we try another approach? As you are only just beginning, you may require coaching to begin with."
Leonard looked at him skeptically. "Coaching?"
"A guide, if you will, to talk you through the process. Rather than concentrating on white noise, you would instead focus on the sound of my voice–"
"Okay, that's it," Leonard declared, pushing himself up off the floor and wincing at the stiffness in his legs. "If you and I are gonna get through this little vacation without one of us committing murder, we're gonna have to get the hell outta this tiny little room."
Spock cocked his head.
"The only reason I agreed to try to meditate with you in the first place was 'cause I assumed it would involve the least amount of conversation, but this is proving more painful than I anticipated, so come on. Let's get the hell outta here." At that, Leonard headed for the door.
"Where do you propose we go?" Spock asked.
Leonard stopped in the doorway and glanced back; Spock had stood and was following.
"Wherever the nearest bar is," Leonard said.
"So, about you and Spock – OW!"
Jim's sentence was cut short as a large, wet sea leaf was slapped onto his bare back none too gently.
"Jesus, does everybody in this place have it in for me? I sure hope my former reputation hasn't preceded me here."
"Is that a possibility?" Uhura asked, her voice a dull monotone after the thorough massage they'd received a few minutes earlier. She was lying on her front on a table identical to Jim's, with another blue-skinned, white-clad woman smoothing giant sea leaves across her back.
"Unfortunately, yes," Jim admitted with a groan as another leaf was slapped onto his back. "You know, Nyota, that guy you met in that bar that night? That guy's gone. He doesn't exist anymore."
She opened her eyes and turned her face toward him. She regarded him without an ounce of skepticism.
"Well, he's not completely gone," Jim added. "He's got balls. I kinda need him to do my job, but I'm not a sleaze bag. I could argue I never was, though I realize now that that's how I came off. I'm sorry about that, by the way."
She sighed. "Jim, you don't have to prove yourself to me."
"Oh, I don't? Could've fooled me."
"No, you don't. You already did, remember? And you keep on doing it, almost everyday. I wouldn't still be serving under you if I didn't believe in you."
Jim smiled to himself, surprised to hear her say that.
"If I tease you a bit sometimes, it really is only teasing. And I shouldn't do it at all, I know. It's juvenile and disrespectful."
"It's cute, though. It reminds me that you're far from perfect." He winked at her and she gave him a sheepish smile.
"I wouldn't tease so much if I didn't like you," she admitted. "There. I said it. Gloat and I'll murder you." She closed her eyes again and sighed as her lower back was covered in leaves, just above the towel that hid her backside.
"Well, that's good to know," Jim said as he turned his face away and closed his eyes. "The you-liking-me part, not the murder part. So… what about you and Spock?"
"You just don't quit, do you?"
"Seriously, what is it about him that lights your fire? Was it the teacher/student thing? 'Cause I can dig that."
"No. He's just… he's a challenge."
Jim frowned. "A challenge?"
"He keeps me on my toes, makes me think. He's so… set in his ways, it's infuriating at times, but it's hard to argue with logic. It's hard, but that doesn't stop me from trying, and that's part of what I love about him, that he can provide that challenge without even trying."
Jim smirked, deciding not to voice the thought he was having about how amazing their make-up sex must be. "I can see a woman like you appreciating a guy who challenges her."
"You know me better than I thought you did."
"Oh, I pay attention. Huh… suddenly you and Spock make sense together."
"We didn't before?"
"Are you kidding me?"
She giggled. "You know what makes even less sense? You and him."
Jim's eyes flew open again. "Say what?"
"I don't mean romantically, of course. It's just that when you two were at each other's throats, that made sense. I could see why you butted heads so easily, and it wasn't just because you were… um…"
"Kind of an ass?"
"Something like that. You're all gut and he's all brain; you didn't get each other. Now there's this almost flirtatious thing between the two of you, these secret glances. I'm not jealous, I know it's purely platonic, but I'm just wondering where the heck it's coming from. I've never seen him react to anyone like that before."
Jim snorted. "Really? I guess I just have that effect on people… I like that description, by the way."
"That I'm the guts and he's the brains. You're right, we should piss each other off more than we do, but… I dunno, we've just reached an understanding, I guess."
"What I don't understand," said Leonard, shaking his second bourbon at Spock and nearly spilling it, "is how and… well, why you and Uhura got together in the first place."
He and Spock were sitting at the bar in one of the few adults-only establishments in the facility. It was dimly lit, quiet and intimate, and not terribly busy yet; it was still the equivalent of early afternoon.
Spock, who had opted not to order a drink, glanced sidelong at Leonard and arched an eyebrow.
"I mean, she's such a fiery little thing and you're… well, you're… you. Know what I mean?"
"I believe I understand your meaning, yes. Rest assured, we are an excellent match."
"Granted, I don't know her well, but you really don't seem like her type. You're so… so… you."
A corner of Spock's mouth curled upward. "You have already said that."
Leonard narrowed his eyes. "It bore repeating."
"Is it that you don't believe I am, as you put it, 'fiery' enough?"
"Oh, I know you got some fire. I've seen it. Problem is you don't know how to handle it. 'S why you keep it so well hidden. I can't imagine someone as repressed as you wouldn't drive Miss Uhura bat-shit crazy."
"Nyota's personality seems to mesh quite well with my own. She appreciates my control."
"I suppose it can be a bonus," Leonard sighed, leaning his elbows against the bar. "Sometimes I wish Jim wasn't quite so impulsive." Leonard glanced at Spock again. "I s'pose I can't really deny that you probably are the best first officer for him."
Spock looked at him again. Leonard pointedly looked away. With a shrug he added, "You know, 'cause he's so… headstrong and you're all rational. He needs that, someone he trusts who can bring a little sanity to the mix. I don't always agree with you–"
"You don't ever agree with me, Doctor."
"Well… right, but I do sort of… respect your opinions." Leonard looked at him again and saw Spock nod.
"And I yours," Spock said.
Leonard stared at him, waiting for the punchline, but none came. He cleared his throat, looked away again and muttered, "Don't tell anybody I said that."
"Sorry to bother you on your holiday, Cap'n, but he's insisting on speaking directly to you."
"Well, tell him I died," Kirk said into his communicator. There were a few seconds of silence on the other end before Scotty finally spoke again.
"Much as I'd love to have a bit of fun with Archer, sir, I don't think that'd cast either of us in a very flattering light in the old man's eyes."
Kirk sighed. "That man's timing is impeccable. Just tell him I'll be back in three days."
"I did tell him that. He's a persistent old bastard – er, I mean respected admiral."
"So, telling him I'm dead is definitely out of the question?"
Scotty chuckled. "Never mind, I'll tell him I simply can't get hold of you for the next three days."
"Oh, before I let you go, though, sir… exactly what is it you wouldn't do?"
"You told me not to do anything you wouldn't. What exactly might that entail?"
Kirk frowned. "Keep it professional while I'm away, Scotty."
"Right, sir. Of course, sir. Always. Scott out."
"You've had that thing with you all day?" Uhura asked as Jim tucked his communicator away in its holster, his shirt conveniently hiding it.
"This is the first time it's been out of my suite. I swear."
"No communicators allowed!"
"It needed the fresh air."
"We're supposed to be relaxing here, remember?"
"Then why do you insist on talking about work?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Jim!"
"Suddenly it's all 'communicator this' and 'communicator that' with you. Jeez, you're the one who needs to relax. Come on, truth or dare."
Uhura laughed. "Oh, my god, how old are you?"
The two of them, now fully clothed, moisturized and relaxed, were strolling through the sprawling vacation facility. They wandered by a courtyard with plants and trees lining the stone walkways and a massive fountain at the center with little pathways branching off from it. They headed that way, past the many content-looking patrons lounging by the fountain and having lunch, playing games or just chatting at the small, stone tables scattered across the grounds. They headed toward one of the smaller pathways, away from the open area, down the more peaceful, dense forest-like trail.
"Come on, play along, it won't kill you," said Jim.
"You thought I was hot when we first met, didn't you?"
"Murder, Jim. Murder."
"I'm not gloating, I'm just saying there was a kind of twinkle in your eye when you looked at me that night. And the next day on the shuttle."
She glanced at him and he flashed her a smile.
"You're a very attractive man, okay?" she admitted.
He threw his hands up. "Thank you. Finally."
"You're welcome," she said innocently.
"Like pulling teeth with you, isn't it?"
"Truth or dare, Jim."
"Okay, let's see… I dare you toooo… smack Spock on the butt next time we see him."
They looked at each other. Uhura raised her eyebrows as if to ask "what?".
"Seriously?" asked Jim.
"Nah, I'm not chicken, I'm just… Seriously?"
She shrugged. "To be honest, I'd just like to see what he'll do."
"If you don't mind my askin'…" said Leonard, and then he hiccuped. He and Spock were still sitting at the bar. Spock had chosen to sample something fizzy and pink with a little umbrella in it, while Leonard's bourbon glass had just been refilled again. Leonard turned his stool toward Spock and sagged against the bar, his chin resting on his hand.
"I was gonna say," he continued, "if you don't mind my askin', what's up with you and Jim?"
Spock looked at him. "What is up?"
"Yeah, you two, you hated each other when you met, now you're like… I dunno, something. I mean, you're friends, obviously, and that's fine, but… I dunno. I dunno what I'm saying."
Spock frowned. "Doctor, are you implying that my relationship with Jim has developed beyond friendship?"
"Well, not exactly, no… yeah, kinda."
"No, let me finish." Leonard sat up straighter and put down his glass. "I'm not accusing anybody of anything. I might not know you all that well, but I know you're not interested in stealing anybody's… anything."
Spock canted his head. "I believe the word you are looking for is 'boyfriend'."
"If you prefer to use a human term, that is."
"It doesn't matter, just… quiet for a minute, will you? It's just interesting sometimes, the way you look at each other, like you've got your own language or something."
"Have you asked him about this?"
"You crazy? Course not. And I'm not going to, either. He'd just laugh at me, tell me I was seein' things."
Leonard paused there and looked expectantly at Spock who gazed serenely back.
"This is the part where you tell me I'm crazy and that I'm seein' things," Leonard informed him.
"I apologize, Doctor, but I cannot tell you that."
Leonard's stomach dropped. He sat up completely straight this time, squaring his shoulders. "And what's that s'posed to mean?"
Spock held up a hand. "Please do not misunderstand. I am not implying that there is anything inappropriate between Jim and me. There is not; however…"
"However what? Listen, Spock, you and me, we're never gonna be best friends, but you ain't helping matters by messing with me."
"Please allow me to explain. There is something there, between Jim and me. But it is… it is difficult to put into words."
"Well, you'd better start tryin'."
"There may be another way to explain it. I may be able to show you."
"So, what do you see in him that you didn't see when you first met him?"
Jim chuckled. "You ask that like I'm the one dating him." He looked over at Uhura. She was watching him, but she wasn't laughing along with him. He sobered a bit. "Oh, you're serious?"
"The way things started out between you two, and given your… basic personalities, I never would have imagined you'd become friends or grow to respect each other. I'm just curious about what's changed."
"I dunno," Jim sighed. He shoved his hands in his pockets as they strolled. "He's a hell of a lot more sensible than I thought he was. He keeps me grounded, helps me keep track of the details."
"He does enjoy details."
"Yeah, he's like my left brain or something."
She grinned at him as though a light bulb had just illuminated inside her head. "That is a perfect description."
"You like that, huh?"
"Gold star for you. So, then Dr. McCoy is what? I mean, besides your boyfriend."
Jim winced. "You know, it's not that we're not serious about each other, it's just that that term is so… childish. Feel like I should be carving our names into one of these trees."
"He's your right brain, isn't he? He's all about intuition, the big picture."
Jim gave her an impressed look.
"What?" she asked. "I pay attention. I love Spock, but his approach isn't always right. And neither is the doctor's. You need both of them."
"Yeah. I guess I do."
She nodded. "That's what I figured."
He frowned at her. "You've been giving my relationships more than a little thought."
She shrugged. "You can't blame me for being curious. I'm in a relationship with one half of your brain, remember?" She chuckled to herself. "That is a weird sentence."
"So, this whole getting-to-know-each-other getaway; you didn't set this whole thing up just to grill me for information about my feelings about Spock, did you?"
"No, of course not. I could simply have asked you that, we didn't have to come here to have this conversation. The subject just came to mind so I thought I'd ask." She craned her neck to peer farther up the path at the clearing they were approaching, looking away from him before he could examine her eyes too closely. "You hungry yet? I think there are a few restaurants up ahead."
Leonard sat in a chair in Spock and Uhura's suite, wondering how he'd gotten there. He really shouldn't have been there, in the soft lamp light, only a few feet away from the bed that Spock and Uhura shared. Leonard quickly averted his eyes from it; he didn't need to think about what went on there.
Spock came and sat before him, their chairs facing each other, and he scooted close enough that their knees touched. Leonard fidgeted, and then he tensed as Spock raised his right hand.
"May I?" Spock asked.
Leonard eyed the hand with trepidation, but then nodded. He closed his eyes, flinching a little as Spock's fingers touched the necessary points on his face. He tried to relax and had about as much success as he'd had during their failed meditation earlier.
Spock said nothing. He didn't have to, and Leonard's tension was apparently irrelevant. In seconds, images began to flood Leonard's mind and along with them came emotions, emotions so intense that he felt like he was drowning. Every few seconds he suddenly realized that he could indeed still breathe and he gasped for air.
Jim's face flashed in his head, but what he felt toward the familiar image wasn't what he normally felt. The deep sense of friendship and respect was still there, but now it was accompanied by… something else. Not sexual, not romantic.
Now Leonard understood why Spock had trouble explaining; he was having difficulty finding the right words himself. The only word that seemed truly appropriate here was "brother", and even that fell short. What he was experiencing was deeper than that somehow. As he let the feelings and images overtake him, he gave up trying to find the words, suddenly realizing that words were no longer necessary.
The deluge suddenly ceased and Leonard opened his eyes. He was gasping. He leaned back in his chair, clutched at his chest. There was sweat on his face. The world was suddenly terribly quiet, the sound of his own breaths seeming to echo in the stillness left in the wake of Spock's mind. He had no idea how long it had been.
Spock, on the other hand, looked perfectly fine, like he always did – calm and mildly curious.
"Now, do you see?" he asked.
Leonard swallowed hard, opened his mouth and replied, "You… you would die for him." It was all he could think of to say.
Spock merely nodded. "If it came to that."
"Well, that's… good to know, I s'pose."
Spock reached for a glass and a pitcher of water on the small table next to them. He filled the glass and handed it to Leonard. With a shaky hand, Leonard accepted it, tried to say "thank you" and failed, the words unintentionally coming out as a whisper. He took several large gulps, draining the glass in seconds; apparently his body was crying out for proper liquids.
He lowered the glass from his face and locked eyes with Spock. "I… I'm sorry I give you such a hard time–" he began, but Spock stopped him.
"Do not apologize. To use an old Earth saying, you wear your heart on your sleeve. There have been many occasions when the correct decision has been made because of your input, because of your… tenacity."
At that, Spock held out a hand and when Leonard took it, Spock helped pull him up into a straighter sitting position. But once Leonard was more comfortable, he still didn't let Spock's hand go.
"Doctor?" Spock asked.
"Sorry," Leonard said and finally gave Spock his hand back. "I'm just not entirely sure what to say about all this. I feel like I shouldn't be bothered by what I just saw – felt… whatever. But at the same time, your connection with him is intense, however platonic it might be. Can't say that doesn't worry me some."
Spock tilted his head. "'Intense' is subjective. The way you experienced my emotions may not be entirely accurate. The mind meld is an imprecise method of emotional transfer, though more accurate than words in certain circumstances. But the fact remains; now you know that there is no sexual or romantic interest on my part."
Leonard nodded. "Right."
"But your mind is not yet at ease."
"Doctor? Might I make a suggestion?"
"Might as well."
"Perhaps it is time you had an actual conversation with Jim."
Leonard sighed and sat back. "Was afraid you were gonna say that."
"I am pleased that I have been able to help you understand my side; however, speaking with Jim was always the solution to your problem." Spock cocked his head the other way. "What is it about speaking with him that makes you uneasy?"
Leonard shook his head and stared off at nothing. "I guess I got a problem with showing him my weakness."
"This surprises me. You are not normally the type to hold back your emotions."
"I'm sure it looks that way from your perspective."
"And you believe Jim will judge you harshly for your insecurity."
Leonard winced. "Anyone ever tell you, you got a way of making things sound ridiculous?"
"Another observation, if I may?"
"If you are truly unable to speak with Jim about this – whether that is because of his inability to listen or simply due to your own insecurities – then it appears the least of your problems is how Jim and I feel about each other."
Leonard knew he was right, but even now he hated to admit it. He'd opened his mouth to respond, without quite knowing what he'd been about to say, when they both heard familiar voices out in the corridor.
"How do you think they're doing?" they heard Uhura ask.
"Spock and Bones?" said Jim's voice. "Probably killed each other by now."
Leonard smiled to himself as he and Spock both stood and approached the door together.
"Why does this feel like a date?" Uhura asked.
"Probably because we had lunch, saw each other half-naked and I've just walked you home."
"Ah, right… wait… did you hear that?"
It was then that Spock opened the door with Leonard just behind him, peering over his shoulder. Jim and Uhura looked at them in surprise and then smiled brightly.
"I knew I heard something," Uhura said, holding a hand out toward Spock. "Didn't expect to find you guys here."
"Certainly not together," Jim said, giving Leonard an bemused look.
"Hello, Nyota, Captain," said Spock, nodding at each of them in turn as he took Uhura's hand and exited the room. He leaned in to kiss her cheek while Leonard went to stand with Jim.
"Hey, gorgeous," Jim said with a smile. Leonard gave him a small smile in return. "You okay?" Jim asked when Leonard didn't respond.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Leonard assured him, though he knew Jim could see right through him. Thankfully, Jim also seemed able to see that whatever was bothering Leonard, now wasn't the time to discuss it. He gave Leonard a knowing look and a single nod that told Leonard the subject was being dropped for now. Leonard smiled gratefully at him.
"So, what've you two been up to?" Jim asked.
"I believe the doctor and I have reached an understanding," Spock explained.
"Meaning what?" asked Uhura.
"We get each other a little better now, is all," said Leonard.
"Well, good. That's exactly what Spock and I were hoping would happen."
"What exactly did you get up to?" Jim asked. "There's a different kinda tension between you two now."
Leonard glanced shiftily at Spock, more than a little nervous about how Spock would reply to the question. They never did get the chance to get their story straight and Leonard wasn't sure he wanted to discuss it with Jim in front of everybody.
"It is remarkable, the gaps that can be bridged when one simply listens," Spock simply said. And that was it. He said nothing else, and Leonard stared at him in mild surprise for a moment before Spock met his eyes and gave him a subtle nod.
Jim blinked at them. "That's it? You just talked? You two didn't have to engage in some ancient ritual or just plain ol' beat the crap out of each other?"
"Didn't know that last one was an option," Leonard said dryly.
They agreed to get together later for dinner, and then Uhura headed into the room with Spock in tow. Leonard began walking away, but paused when he noticed Jim wasn't following. He turned back and found Jim watching the others going inside, and just before Leonard could ask what he was doing, Jim, with all the conviction in the world, gave Spock a solid smack on the butt.
Leonard's mouth dropped open but no sound came out. Spock jumped and spun around, looking at Jim in mild surprise, which Leonard supposed was probably more like severe shock for a Vulcan. From inside the room, Leonard could hear Uhura's laughter.
Jim gave a single nod as though he'd just completed a very important task. "Later," he said to Spock, and without any explanation, he turned and joined Leonard. He ushered Leonard away from the room with an amused and triumphant look on his face.
"Jim, what the hell was that about?" Leonard demanded under his breath.
"What? Never played Truth or Dare?"
"There, was that so bad?" Jim asked Leonard as they stepped off the transporter pad with Spock and Uhura.
"Coulda been worse," Leonard admitted. And it was true; he'd had a good time, but he was happy to be back. Five days on safe, solid ground had been nice, but he'd actually missed the ship. He inhaled the familiar non-smell of recirculated ship air deep into his lungs. He was home.
"We should do that again sometime," Uhura suggested.
"If we can all manage to get shore leave at the same time, sure," said Jim.
"You're never happy where you are, are you?" Leonard said, shaking his head.
"Hey, I never said I wasn't happy to be back," Jim assured him. He reached up and patted the wall next to him as they moved through the corridor. "Missed the old girl… Hey, what is that?"
He paused and the other three stopped just a few steps ahead, looking back to see what he was talking about. Leonard couldn't see anything out of the ordinary until Jim moved his hand and there on the wall was a bright green splotch, about the size of plum.
"It appears to be some kind of paint," said Spock.
"Huh," said Jim, frowning at the spot. "Okay."
They continued on their way, but before they could all disband and head off in separate directions, Uhura tapped Leonard's shoulder.
"Do you have a minute?" she asked. "I think I did something to my shoulder while we were down there. Must've been all that swimming."
The two of them let Jim and Spock go ahead and then continued walking together. Leonard knew even before Uhura opened her mouth again that there was no shoulder injury.
"So?" she asked him.
"It's fine. Everything's cleared up now, at least on Spock's end."
"I told you there was nothing to worry about."
"Yeah, well, forgive me for needing a little more reassurance than that. It's not that I didn't trust them. I just…" He looked over at her. "You honestly weren't curious? Not even a little?"
She shrugged and avoided his eyes. "A woman knows these things."
"That's what Jocelyn used to say. Always got the impression she was far less confident in her abilities than she let on. By the way, you're sure he doesn't know whose idea this whole thing was?"
"The captain? He's completely clueless. What I still don't get is why you couldn't simply ask them. I know Spock would have been honest with you. What if I hadn't been able to convince him that this little trip was a good idea? You would have had to talk to him like a normal person anyway."
"Bah," Leonard said, waving the very notion away with a flick of his hand.
"Doctor, I'm serious." She stopped and touched Leonard's arm, making him stop too. She canted her head and examined his eyes. "Explain to me again why you couldn't just ask him here on the ship."
Leonard frowned, crossed his arms and shifted his weight around. "You know, Spock and I haven't exactly been close. It ain't that easy for a man like me to admit when he's… well, threatened by someone. 'Specially someone who annoys the hell out of him. As for Spock, well, if you think he would've been completely forthcoming about his relationship with the captain just 'cause I asked him, well… no offense, I know you know him better than anyone, but let's just say I know a different side of the man, a more antagonistic side–"
Uhura laughed. "Doctor, come on, this is Spock we're talking about–"
"I'm serious. He feels things like jealousy, he knows what anger and resentment are. You think he doesn't understand passive-aggression?" Leonard snorted. "Oh, he understands." He shuffled his feet and muttered, "He and I bring those things out in each other a little, I think."
"You don't say."
"Hey." He pointed at her. "Don't be a smart ass."
She sighed and looked at him with more sympathy than he cared to see. He continued speaking before she could voice her pity.
"Just coming out and asking him point-blank how he felt about Jim…" He shook his head. "He wouldn't have told me. Not just like that. I know you think he would have, but you're wrong. He's as calculating as anybody else. So, yeah, I thought getting him into a more relaxing environment and trying to, I dunno, bond with him a bit might do the trick. And sure, the alcohol certainly didn't hurt. Made it easier for me to say what needed saying."
"Doctor, you can't take Spock out on a play date and get drunk every time you have a problem with him."
"Did he tell you what happened? The mind meld business?"
"He did. That's okay, isn't it? If it's none of my business, I'm happy to let him know–"
Leonard held up a hand to silence her. "It's fine. My point is if you know about that, then… well, then you know. You understand. Mind meld's a serious thing. You don't walk away from one without it changing how you see the other person. I think… I think he and I are gonna be all right now. I'm not saying I don't still have questions, but it's nothing that Spock can help me with at this point."
She still looked uncertain for a moment, but then she nodded.
"I do have a question for you, though," he said. "He didn't see anything he shouldn't have when he was, you know, inside my head, did he?"
She smiled. "If he had, he wouldn't tell me."
"Ah. Well, I s'pose that's the best I can hope for. Thanks, Lieutenant."
He was about to walk off, but something about the way she was looking at him, like he was a bug under a microscope, made him stop. He frowned.
"You're the heart," she said.
"The captain's the gut, Spock's the brain, and you're the heart." She smiled to herself and nodded as she began to back away. "Okay, then. That is good to know."
He watched her turn and leave, stood there just staring in confusion as she walked away.
Jim stepped out of his bedroom to find Bones standing before the front door, setting his bag down on the floor.
"There you are. What'd Nyota want?" Jim asked, stepping forward. He then paused and frowned. "Wait, am I allowed to call her that on the ship?" he asked himself.
Bones shook his head and stepped toward Jim too. "It was nothing. Just… clearing up a few things."
They met in the center of the room and neither said anything for a few seconds. Jim looked down and shuffled his feet.
"So," he said, "this little trip was supposed to be about us bonding with them, so why does it feel like you and I are the ones who need to have a talk?" He met Bones's eyes again.
"Because we never talk about anything?" Bones suggested.
"That's bullshit, we talk all the time."
"Yeah, we talk. We talk about work and sex and other people's problems and we crack stupid jokes at each other, but we don't really talk."
"Okay, let's talk, then. What the hell happened down there with you and Spock? Why won't you tell me?"
Bones sighed, then gestured at the sitting area. Probably a good idea, Jim thought. It felt as though this conversation was going to take a while. He moved toward the sofa and took a seat. Bones sat next to him.
"Two words," Bones said, "Mind meld."
Jim's eyebrows went up. "I see. What for?"
"I had a few questions that couldn't be answered in the conventional way. About you and him and your… relationship."
"Me and Spock? There's nothing wrong with our relationship."
"Yeah, I noticed. That was the problem. I just wanted to know what was going on there."
Jim took a moment, frowning at nothing in particular, trying to work out what Bones was saying. He couldn't possibly be saying what it sounded like he was saying.
"Thought there might be more going on there than you were admitting to," Bones said after a few seconds of Jim's silence, sounding exasperated already. "I was wrong, I'm an idiot, I know."
"So, it is what it sounded like," Jim mumbled to himself. "You thought there was something going on between me and Spock? Seriously?"
"I'm glad you two are close," Bones clarified. "You oughta be, but Spock and I weren't, so it felt like there was this divide between you and me because of you and him. I didn't get him, but you apparently did, and it made me feel like I missed some memo or something."
"And that made you think that we were more than friends?"
Bones sighed. "I can't say for sure what I thought, but it was bothering me, so… it's cleared up now. It's done. Spock and I are fine."
"Well, that's great, but it's not done. You didn't think you could just ask me about any of this?"
"I wanted it straight from the horse's mouth."
"Well, I'm one of the horses, aren't I?"
Bones shrugged. "I thought you'd think I was being stupid."
Ah, there it was. Jim opened his mouth to protest, but quickly closed it. He hated to admit it, but it felt very much like Bones had a point, and when he looked into Bones's eyes he could see that Bones was interpreting his silence accurately. Jim would probably have laughed and they both knew it.
"You think I'm hypersensitive and paranoid," Bones said quietly. "I s'pose I can't blame you, but you can understand why I didn't really wanna deal with that when it came to a subject like this, can't you?"
"Yeah, of course," Jim said, turning his body more toward Bones.
"I knew that despite our differences, Spock would take my concerns seriously. I couldn't be sure he'd actually think his relationship with you was any of my business, but I had to take a shot."
Jim reached up and rubbed his forehead. "I'm an ass. You should not feel like you can't talk to me."
"It's not completely your fault. It's both of us. That's our relationship, that's just the way we are. We joke, we poke fun, we insult each other to keep from dealing with shit. It works for us. Sort of."
Jim lowered his hand and raised his face, examined Bones for a moment, then said, "So, you thought I was sleeping with him?"
"No, not exactly. Look, I honestly can't tell you what I thought. I never thought Spock was the kinda guy who'd try to steal someone else's… whatever, so I can't tell you what I thought. All I can say is that I was… bothered, I guess you'd say. I didn't know what was going on, some kinda weird Vulcan connection that I wasn't privy to. I felt like an outsider in my own relationship at times. That's all there is to it."
Jim cocked his head. "So, what did you think of me?"
"You said you knew that Spock wouldn't try to steal someone else's whatever, but you didn't say anything about me. What'd you think of me?"
Jim looked away as an annoying little knot of hurt formed in his chest. "Oh."
"No, no, don't… that's not what–"
"You know, not even Nyota thinks that about me anymore."
"I don't think that."
"I expect more from you."
"I do not think that!" Bones snapped. Jim glanced sidelong at him. Bones was glaring at him now. "Do not put words in my mouth."
"Well, how else am I supposed to interpret your silence just now?"
Bones sighed. "It looks bad. I know that, but can you look at it from my perspective for a second? I knew you back in the Academy, I saw your behavior, I was the guy you bragged to about all your raunchy conquests, I was your wing man, I held your head when you puked after a night of partying too hard. I know all that's behind you," Bones quickly added, silencing Jim before he could even open his mouth, and he had been about to open his mouth. "I know it, and I believe it, I swear I do. But sometimes… sometimes, Jim…"
Bones looked down at his lap, and Jim could see he wasn't proud, could see the shame, the second guessing. Jim reached out and touched Bones's thigh. Bones looked cautiously up at him.
"Sometimes what?" Jim asked quietly. "This is our problem; we shy away from our own feelings and each other's. We don't have these conversations because they're painful and embarrassing and kind of insulting, and that's why we're here now, that's why you think… whatever it is you're thinking."
"I don't think anything, I just… wonder sometimes, is all. I wonder what's going on in your head when you get all flirty like you do."
Jim smiled. "Bones, there's nothing going through my head."
Bones couldn't keep his own smile at bay and he turned his face away to partially hide it. "This is serious, Jim, come on."
"I am serious. You think I'm doing that with some kind of intention behind it? I'm not. It's just how I am, it's how I bond with people, it's how I show affection. You know that."
"So what, when you first started flirting with me, that was just friendly?"
"Well, yeah. It turned into something more, but at first I was just being friendly."
"So, how do I know it won't turn into more with someone else?"
"Because not everyone is you, idiot."
"I'm serious. You think that happens with everyone? Before you, friendly flirting was friendly flirting, and true, sexual flirting was a whole 'nother thing. The two had never merged before. And then there was you. You completely fucked with my head, let me tell you. Actually being friends with someone I was attracted to? Then continuing to be friends after the deed was done." Jim whistled. "That was something. Couldn't wrap my brain around it for a while."
Jim was pleased to note that Bones seemed more relaxed now. He turned more toward Jim and laid a hand over the hand Jim had on his thigh. "So, how am I supposed to know that, huh?" he murmured, his gaze soft and indulgent. "How am I supposed to tell the difference between serious flirting and your friendly bullshit?"
"Here's an easy rule of thumb for you: if I'm not flirting with you, I'm not really flirting. How's that?"
Bones nodded. "So, I'm just a silly, paranoid old man, is that it?"
"Yeah. But that's okay. I love that about you, that you question things, that you question me. Keeps me on my toes."
Bones looked down at their hands, picked up Jim's and played with his fingers. "Did I happen to mention at any point during our little trip that I love you?"
Jim thought for a moment. "I can't remember. Can't recall saying it myself." They looked at each other. "That's kinda sad, isn't it?"
Bones nodded. "I love you. Idiot."
Jim grinned and shimmied closer until he was able to press their foreheads together. "Love you too," he whispered. Their lips met, softly at first, then Jim felt Bones's tongue and let it inside. As the kiss deepened, he wrapped his arms around Bones's middle and slipped a hand up underneath Bones's shirt. He felt a big hand cup the back of his head and he melted, resting his head against the backrest and nestling close, settling in for what felt like it should be a long, leisurely make-out session.
"Don't wanna go back to work," Bones whispered, echoing Jim's thoughts.
"We got some time, don't we?"
Jim chuckled. "How much time do you need?"
Bones stopped kissing and looked at him with dark, smoldering eyes that pretty much answered Jim's question.
"Right," Jim said, nodding. "Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to. There'll be time later tonight, barring any unforeseen emergencies."
"Don't ever underestimate the universe's yen for fucking with our alone time. So, I been meaning to ask you… what the hell do we call each other?"
"I mean, if I was gonna, I dunno, introduce you to my family, for example…"
"…what would I say, 'Hey, this is Jim, my significant other'?" Bones frowned. "That just sounds downright pretentious."
"What is the matter with 'boyfriend'?" asked Jim.
"You think it's 'complicated'."
"I think it's complicated mostly because you think it's ridiculous."
"Well, I think it's ridiculous partly 'cause you think it's complicated."
Jim snorted. "Are you kidding me?"
"This right here is why we need to talk more."
"It does sound kinda juvenile, though."
"Yeah, it does." Bones shrugged. "But not terrible."
"No," Jim murmured with a soft smile. He leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Bones's lips. "Not terrible."
"So, what do you say?" Bones whispered. "Wanna be my fucking boyfriend or what?"
Jim laughed out loud. "I'm liking the sound of it better already."
"You're relieved, Mr. Scott," said Jim as he, Leonard and Spock strode onto the bridge a few hours later. Spock headed to his station while Leonard followed Jim to the captain's chair. Scotty hopped up out of it and greeted them both with a big smile.
"Glad to have you back, sir," he said. "She's just like you left 'er, maybe a mite better if I do say so meself. Runnin' like a well-oiled machine."
"Uh-huh," said Jim as he reached out and plucked something from Scotty's shirt. He held it up so Leonard could see; it was a teeny, tiny bit of what looked like pink feather.
"Better, you say," Jim said.
"I've no idea where that came from," Scotty said innocently.
"Right. Would you happen to know where the green paint on the wall in the corridor came from? Or the little plastic water guns I saw a couple of officers carrying on my way up here?"
Scotty winced, but then quickly reestablished his poker face and replied, "No, sir."
"Scotty, what the hell goes on here when we leave you in charge?"
"Nothin' untoward. Just a few team-building activities, nothin' that interferes with regular duties. I'll have you know we managed to improve engine performance by thirty percent since you've been gone."
"Mm, imagine how much more you could've improved it without the paintball fights."
Scotty sobered, clasped his hands at his back and straightened his posture. "Aye, sir. Sorry, sir."
"All right, go on. Go clean up whatever messes you're lucky I haven't manage to find."
At that, Scotty hurried off toward the turbolift just as Ensign Chekov was exiting it. They passed each other, and unless Leonard was very much mistaken, he could swear he saw Chekov give Scotty a private little smile. The kid wiped the smile away pretty quickly. The blushing, however, was a little harder to hide.
"The hell…?" Leonard muttered to himself.
"Think I was too easy on him?" asked Jim. Leonard turned to him and found him now seated in his chair.
"Scotty? Depends. Are you really upset with him?"
Jim shrugged. "Mostly 'cause I wasn't invited. I love paintball."
Both Leonard and Jim turned toward Spock who was sitting at his station, examining his hand.
"What's up?" asked Jim.
Spock turned both his palm and his face toward them and said, "There are tiny, reflective particles all over my console."
"Tiny reflecti…" Jim began to echo, then trailed off in confusion.
"Glitter," Uhura offered, apparently having found the same thing at her own station. Spock looked at his hand again with a frown; meanwhile, Chekov seemed to shrink down in his seat just a bit. Sulu pointedly looked nowhere but at his own controls.
"Okay, now I'm really annoyed that I wasn't invited," Jim said.
"Just be thankful the place is still in one piece," Leonard told him. "Listen, I've got a million things to catch up on. I'll be in the Med Bay if you need me." Jim nodded, and Leonard turned to leave.
He stopped mid-step, turned back and looked across the bridge. Spock was watching him. Leonard tensed a bit.
Spock swiveled his chair to face Leonard. "I am pleased you and I have had a chance to talk. Perhaps we can continue our discussion another time."
Leonard was slightly taken aback by the invitation, but he furrowed his brow and gruffly asked, "You're not asking me out, are you, Mr. Spock?" He waited a beat and then let a smile touch his lips to show he was joking.
Uhura shook her head while Spock offered Leonard his signature eyebrow and mysterious smile. Jim didn't miss a thing, his head swiveling this way and that to catch every expression and glance that flew across his bridge.
"Wait, wait, wait," he said. "What just happened?"
"Oh, I'm sure you're just seein' things," Leonard assured him, and then he turned and headed for the lift.