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"Do you think maybe we don't include Spock enough?" Jim asked out of the blue one night.

McCoy squinted into his glass. It was just whiskey, he was sure of that.

"What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, although he was certain he didn't want to know. "What are we not including him in?"

"Our..." Jim flailed in what he probably hoped was an illustrative manner. "You know... our bridge crew-plus-you-and-Scotty-minus-Uhura kinda bonding sessions. Manly social time."

"Are you talking about poker night?" He honestly had no idea why Jim felt the need to obfuscate simple things.

"Yeah! That. Well?"

McCoy had lost track of the conversation, and settled for staring until Jim reminded him what he was supposed to be saying 'no' to.

Jim set down his glass on the desk and leaned forward, one hand nearly knocking over a stack of padds with Sickbay inventory reports on them. "Should we. Invite Spock. To poker night."

McCoy swirled his glass and took a moment to envision that scenario, to really savour it, before he said, "Jim, you are the highest functioning idiot I've ever met. That's a terrible idea."

"I'm sorry; you're going to need to back that up with reasons and examples this time."

"I don't know if you are aware of anything around you, but I'm a doctor, so I look into these things," McCoy said, "and Spock is, in fact, a Vulcan. Vulcans don't have 'manly social time', they don't play poker, and hell, I don't think they gamble in the first place. It's all tea and meditation and logic games." He shifted in his chair. "Do you need more reasons why this idea and you are both stupid, or will that do?"

Jim's rebuttal was his middle finger. He followed that up with whining, as was his usual M.O. "Bones! He's not just Vulcan, he's human, too. He feels things and sometimes he likes human things. Maybe he even likes social interaction now and then. He lost his whole planet and almost everyone he knew there; Earth is his only real home now so he might want to embrace his human side a little more. Besides, he's a member of this crew. He works with us and we should get to know him better; we're like the only people he has to confide in, if he ever wanted to do that."

McCoy didn't point out that Spock had an extremely empathetic and equally attractive girlfriend or best friend, or whatever they were, to 'confide in', in the event that hell froze over and he felt like doing that would be a good idea. Bringing her up would just be a can of worms he wasn't interested in opening. He also didn't say anything about misplaced guilt, because best friends and psychiatrists didn't mix well. So instead he said, "Jim, you've thought this through way too much. It's still a ridiculous idea and it won't end well."

Jim stared at him steadily for a moment, and then drained his glass and left McCoy's office without another word.

***

McCoy didn't think any more about it until Tuesday at 1900, when he sauntered into Rec Room Three. He stopped dead in the doorway at the sight of Chekov earnestly explaining the rules of Texas Hold 'Em to Spock, who was listening attentively.

"What is the significance of the 'big and little blinds'?" Spock asked.

McCoy sat down heavily in his usual seat. Scotty wordlessly passed him a generous measure of scotch, which he immediately took a calming sip of.

Jim dropped into the chair to his left, wearing his biggest shit-eating grin. "Table's grown by one tonight," he said smugly.

McCoy took a larger calming sip of his drink. He foresaw many to follow—Chekov was going over the hierarchy of winning hands and Spock was taking notes.

Sulu finally graced them all with his presence (making a point of saying hello to Spock, McCoy noticed) and they got started on the game. The first few hands were quiet, as usual; everyone was relaxing from a long day at work and settling into the weekly ritual. Well, all the humans anyway. McCoy couldn't speak for the hobgoblin.

Not that his level of relaxation seemed to be important; after about four or five hands he seemed to get the rhythm of the game and settled in quietly, playing with the grace of someone who knew what he was doing. Spock could probably manage to look elegant in the middle of a bar fight, were he ever to actually end up in one. Maybe after associating with Jim too much.

It took another five hands, by which point everyone else was into their second drink (at least) and chatting and bullshitting in a relaxed away, for McCoy to realize how big Spock's chip pile had grown, compared to everyone else's. Goddamn Vulcans, he thought, glaring into his scotch. Born with poker faces. He looked around the table; Scotty was in his own world, as usual. Jim, Sulu and Chekov were all talking, laughing about one of Jim's better stories about a strip club on Rigel IV. Sulu made an inane comment at Spock as the other two looked on, grinning, and that was when McCoy clued in.

This whole farce had been a product of the hivemind; all three of them had come up with this ingenious strategy to induct Spock into the group. McCoy sighed into his drink. Misplaced guilt, all three of them. As if by making that green-blooded elf One of Us, they might erase their sins—their perceived sins.

They were ruining his goddamned poker night.

And then Scotty beat out Sulu's pocket aces with a weak straight.

"Scotty, you motherfucker," Sulu said.

"Hey, laddie, your mother seems to like it," Scotty cackled back, pawing the chips toward his side of the table.

McCoy snorted out a laugh before realizing that the rest of the room was quiet (except for Scotty still chuckling softly to himself). Spock had, of course, not seemed to understand the joke, although he wouldn't have been laughing even if he did, being a Vulcan. Jim, Sulu and Chekov were all pale and looked horrified. Chekov was darting little looks at Spock; Jim was shuffling the deck with way too much concentration. Sulu looked like he'd just seen his puppy being kicked.

He took another quick look at Spock, just to be sure: yep, he was placidly sipping at his water, ignoring the ridiculous humans. No idea what was going on around him.

McCoy put his (empty) scotch glass down with probably more force than was really necessary, and shoved his chair back from the table. He wanted to give them all hell for being ridiculous, but instead he mentally composed himself and said, "I'm beat. See you tomorrow."

Jim snapped out of his trance and shot him a pleading look, which he ignored, and as he left the room another hand was being dealt.

He really didn't know how anyone on this ship could remotely pass a psych evaluation. They were all delusional, avoidant and repressive. At least he could embrace and learn from his failures.

***

But McCoy couldn't deny he loved a good 'I told you so'. When he walked into the officers' mess for lunch the next day to see Jim, Sulu and Chekov at a table together, he dropped himself into the empty seat next to Chekov with no delay.

"You," he said with great relish, "all have serious psychological and emotional problems. Also, I told you that scheme was hare-brained. When will you learn that I'm always right?"

Sulu put his face in his hands; Jim glared but didn't offer any kind of defence, which McCoy would take as a victory for sense and reason. Chekov blinked down at his plate, his forehead furrowed.

"I know exactly why you did it, and since this is one of those many days when I feel like the goddamn dad of everyone on this ship, let me tell you this: it's pretty tough to seek forgiveness when you haven't actually done anything wrong. And you haven't done anything wrong—you haven't—so this ridiculous behaviour has to stop. Get your heads out of your asses and get a clue; Spock is Spock and you'll turn him into your best bro when they have to start de-icing the wings of pigs in Hell."

"Jesus, Bones," Jim said. "All right."

Jim was too far away for comforting physical gestures, so McCoy used Chekov as a proxy, clapping a hand down firmly on his shoulder before getting up.

"Find a way to bond with the hobgoblin that doesn't interfere with the sanctity of my poker night," he said as he left.

***

McCoy had about washed his hands of the whole thing after that productive lunchtime chat. He was pretty dismayed, then, to see Spock appear in his office doorway at the end of shift that evening and take the seat on the other side of the desk.

"Doctor," Spock said, inclining his head slightly.

"What do you want?" McCoy asked. He put down the padd he was working on.

"Last night's activities were... interesting."

McCoy couldn't help it; the corner of his mouth lifted in a little grin at Spock's careful choice of words. "Not a poker fan? Didn't you clean them all out?" At Spock's vacant look, he clarified. "You won all their chips, right?"

"Ah. I was the undisputed winner at the close of the game," Spock said.

"Were you counting cards? That's cheating."

"Indeed. As Mr. Chekov informed me at the start. Apparently he has been admonished for doing so in the past. I therefore refrained from doing so, simple though it might have been." Spock looked thoughtful for a second. "The cards, in fact, appear to be incidental to the game. It is not, from my observations, chiefly a game of chance with cards as it is usually described, but an exercise in psychological manipulation which uses both cards and chips as tools. Assertion of dominance and concealment of one's own intentions appear to be crucial to success." Spock raised an eyebrow. "Its popularity among human males is unsurprising."

McCoy let out a laugh at that. "You see through the bullshit as usual, you bastard. You gonna be there to clean us out again next week?"

"Given my Vulcan upbringing, I find the game rather uninteresting and insufficiently challenging. My ability to mask my emotions is second nature to me, and this appears to guarantee success in most aspects of the game." He paused. "Jim is persistent, however, so I may attend the event on occasion, when I cannot find a more pressing engagement."

McCoy took a second to relish the fact that he wasn't the only one Jim focused his attention and skills of annoyance on anymore. Sharing the burden of entertaining him made McCoy's life a lot easier.

But Spock was still there, and smart money said that he hadn't shown up for idle chit-chat, so McCoy sat back in his chair and waited for him to get to the point. He didn't wait long.

"I confess, Doctor, that I came here to ask about an apparently idiomatic reference which I believe you can explain to me."

"Don't you usually go to Uhura for those?"

"Given that she was not present for the conversation which provided the context, it seemed more prudent to come to you. It was an exchange between Mr. Sulu and Mr. Scott last night. You were the only one who expressed amusement, and I found it perplexing. I attribute this to having misunderstood the meaning."

McCoy glared at the ceiling, hoping God was up there somewhere watching, and would get the hint that he wasn't impressed. He spoke with weary expectation. "Was it when Sulu called Scotty a motherfucker and Scotty said Sulu's mom liked it?"

"Affirmative. The only way I can parse the meaning of the response is that Mr. Scott was referring to having engaged in intercourse with Mr. Sulu's mother, possibly with regularity. I do not believe that this is likely to be true."

McCoy squeezed his eyes shut against the mental images and wished he had a drink handy to wash them away. "That's the implied meaning but no, it's not true. It's a pretty common insult among humans, especially males, to say derogatory things about each others' mothers. They were just joking around."

Spock's eyebrow flew upward. "Why, then, were you the only one besides Mr. Scott who laughed?"

McCoy stared at his hands for a moment, deliberating, and then took a deep breath and decided to spill. "Jim and Sulu and Chekov were all too busy panicking to laugh," he said. "They apparently thought the joke was in bad taste, since you were in the room."

Spock gave him a blank look for a moment, and then his other eyebrow flew up to join the first, and McCoy knew he was on the same page.

"However, Mr. Scott was not speaking to me. Why would I have any reason to take offence?"

"Beats me," McCoy said immediately, but then he sighed and gave up the veneer of ignorance. "Okay, no; they all feel guilty about your loss. They've been on eggshells around you for months. Nervous. They've been nervous," he clarified, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Aliens.

"I am familiar with the meaning of the idiom, 'walking on eggshells'," Spock said. "They feel guilt? Their role in the tragedy of my planet and people was that of heroes. To feel guilt for such action is immeasurably illogical."

"Well, misplaced guilt is a human thing, Spock, so get used to it. They've been busy thinking about what they couldn't save."

Spock frowned just a little. "You have given me much to consider, Doctor," he said, and got up quickly. "Have an enjoyable evening."

McCoy very much doubted that he would.

***

Tuesday came again, and McCoy arrived at Rec Room Three with half a bottle of bourbon in tow to split with Scotty and Jim. When Spock turned to look at him from his seat at the card table, he snorted.

"Nothing else requiring your attention tonight?" McCoy asked in an undertone, dropping into the chair beside him.

"Unfortunately not," Spock replied smoothly.

Sulu was on time, for once, and they settled into the game quickly. Spock settled right into taking everyone's chips, having thoroughly sussed out the game, and time passed in a bit more relaxed manner than the previous week.

Jim was drinking a lot, so the conversation got kind of risqué. McCoy was struck with horror at the maturity level of modern teenagers when Chekov suddenly, drunkenly, declared, "Did you know? Oral sex was invented in Russia!"

Spock arched an eyebrow and without even making eye contact, coolly responded, "Fascinating. I had not been aware that your mother was such a pioneer, Ensign."

McCoy nearly choked on his bourbon in the dead silence that followed.

"Did I communicate the nature of the joke appropriately?" Spock murmured at him.

McCoy had set his glass down and was laughing too hard to respond. He managed a weak thumbs-up.

When Jim burst into a gigglefit that turned into a belly laugh as everyone else suddenly relaxed and joined in, McCoy heaved a deep breath, wiping tears out of his eyes. Things were probably going to be okay.

 

THE END