Actions

Work Header

You Don't Know What it Means to Win

Work Text:

It was weird to spend a night off doing what you did for twelve to fifteen hours a day, but Jim found he didn’t mind as he unwrapped the fresh trout filet he bought at the New Fulton Fish Market.

Blackened, he decided as he pulled out a sauté pan, with bourbon butter. The haricot verts he picked up in Brooklyn would go nicely; nothing crazy, just blanched, ice bath, sautéed in butter with salt and pepper for three minutes.

Best to keep it simple.

Jim pulled out the butter from his stainless steel fridge, also grabbing the bottle of Knob Creek from the counter.

He was a firm believer that if a person wouldn’t drink the liquor, it shouldn’t be cooked with.

He dumped a half of a cup of the butter into his stand mixer’s bowl, measuring by sight. Flipping the switch, Jim went over to his pantry and pulled out the brown sugar. Again measuring by sight, he added a teaspoon of the sugar to the now creamier butter. Then he poured about two generous tablespoons of bourbon into the mixture. He let the mixer go for another minute, just until they were all incorporated.

Jim grabbed the remote for his iPod dock and pushed play. Massive Attack filled his loft, and he spooned the butter out of the bowl onto a piece of Saran Wrap. He formed a cylinder, wrapping it tight and putting it in the fridge. It’d have to sit for about an hour, but that was fine.

Pouring himself a glass of the bourbon, Jim sang along with “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” as he prepared his spice mixture for the blackening. Paprika, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, black pepper, thyme, and oregano got poured into a glass bowl. Jim mixed it with his hands, careful not to wipe his face by accident.

He was about done when his cellphone rang.

“Shit,” he said as he pulled his hands out of the bowl. He quickly washed them in his sink and managed to answer the call before the ringing stopped. “Jim Kirk.”

Hello, Chef Kirk. This is Kevin Riley at the Food Network. Is now a bad time?

Jim blinked. “Uh, no. No, this isn’t a bad time at all. What can I do for you?”

We would like to feature you as a contestant on one of our programs. It’s a competition show, and you would be going head-to-head with one of our celebrity chefs in an hour long battle...

His eyes widening comically, Jim swallowed. “Are you asking me to be on Iron Chef America?”

Riley laughed. I was getting to that, but yes. You would be a challenger, and you’d get to pick your opponent from our roster of Iron Chefs.

Jim’s heart thudded in his chest.

This was a big deal.

This was huge.

This was everything.

He realized that Riley was still talking. If you’re interested, we’ll schedule a day to film the battle. And I’ll send over an NDA to you, along with the information packet and the three possible secret ingredients. You’d then pick your pantry and other ingredients for each possibility. Our pantry has over two hundred items in it, but you’ll be given an additional five hundred dollar allowance to stock up per ingredient. You’ll also have to pick two sous chefs to assist you in Kitchen Stadium and choose which Iron Chef you want to battle…

Jim swallowed. “I want McCoy,” he blurted.

Sorry?

Even though he was alone, Jim blushed at the way he said that like a horny teenager. “I mean, I want to battle Leonard McCoy. That’s who I want to go against.”

That sounds good, Riley said. I’ll give him a call after we hang up and inform him of your decision. Do you want the forms in email or via fax?

“Email’s fine,” Jim said. “Can I just email them back to you?”

Yup, Riley said. I’ll send them over immediately. Also, email me your schedule, and we’ll set up a date and time for you to come film the episode. The time limit of the battle is an hour, but the total filming time is approximately ten so plan accordingly.

“Of course,” Jim said. “And…thank you. For the opportunity, I mean…thank you!”

You’re welcome, Riley answered. I’ll send the forms. Have a good night, Chef. The call ended, and Jim hung up his phone with a dazed smile.

He was going to compete on Iron Chef. This was going to pave the way for some incredible opportunities. It also made him feel like he really was legitimate as a chef. Sure he was an executive chef, an amazing feat considering he was only twenty-five.

But this…this opened a lot of doors for him.

Jim dreamed of being an Iron Chef since he first saw the Japanese program as a kid. When it got brought to the US, he felt like it was that much closer. Jim earned his degree at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, and he had already been nominated for a James Beard Foundation award, which was basically like winning an Oscar if one was a chef. Jim knew he was good, but being on Iron Chef would propel him up even further. He could even become a celebrity chef!

Jim unwrapped his fish, a blush staining his cheeks for the second time.

Leonard McCoy was one of the American Iron Chefs; he was the youngest out of the seven, having earned the title when he was only twenty-six. He had two James Beards, his restaurants had Michelin Stars, and he was widely considered one of the best chefs in the world who specialized in French cuisine.

He was brilliant. Some of the things he came up with on his menus at his restaurants were amazing; he showed a deft handling of French cuisine that few people could hope to come close to, let alone replicate. Jim had eaten at his restaurant in the Flat Iron District; everything had been melt in your mouth perfect, especially the escargot.

And he was hot.

It would be an honor to go against him on Iron Chef.

As Jim coated the trout in the blackening spice, his mind wandered a little.

It would also be an honor to kick McCoy’s nice, supple ass.

-----

Leonard McCoy got off his flight at JFK, carry on bag in hand, as he turned on his cell and pulled on his sunglasses.

He had taken a red eye from Los Angeles where he filmed the new season of the Next Food Network Star. Los Angeles grated on him; there was something about the smog and so-called perfect weather that wore him out every time. Not to mention the mandatory six hours in a fucking airplane there and back.

The biggest thing on Leonard’s mind at that moment was how he would shank someone for a proper dry cappuccino.

Making his way to the baggage claim, Leonard checked the messages on his phone: one from Christine and one from Kevin Riley. Riley’s must have been about his new show, although he wasn’t married to the title. “Doctor Flavor” seemed more like the name of a rapper or something.

Leonard selected the message from Riley and balanced the phone by his ear with his shoulder.

Leonard, I’ve got an Iron Chef challenger who asked for you specifically. I know you’re not even in New York right now, but give me a call so we can work out the schedule. Talk to you soon.

An Iron Chef challenger who asked for him specifically, huh? It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. Must be some punk who thought they had something to prove.

Leonard stood by the baggage claim and checked the time. It was just after eight; Riley should be in his office. The guy’s hours were worse than Leonard’s. He hit the screen to call him back.

Kevin Riley.

“Hey, Kevin, it’s Leonard,” he said as the carousel whirred to life. Leonard paused to check the LCD display; sure enough, he was at the right one. “I’m returning your call. Something about Iron Chef?”

Oh good, you got my message; I wasn’t sure if you would what with being in the air, Riley said. I contacted Jim Kirk about coming on Iron Chef, and he specifically requested you to battle before I even listed his options. He wants it pretty badly, so I figured I’d get up with you so we can work out a schedule to film.

“I’ll email you an itinerary,” Leonard said. “Any word on production of the new show?”

I don’t have a time table, if that’s what you’re asking, Riley answered. The higher ups love the idea, though. I’m sure I’ll know more by Thursday.

“Fair enough,” Leonard said as his bag appeared. He grabbed it, wheeling it behind him as he walked to the ground transportation area. It took a second to flag down a town car, and the driver grabbed his bags to place them in the trunk. Coffee first, then shower, then Christine. “Just let me know the details, and we’ll work it out. Thanks Kevin, talk to you soon.”

Leonard hung up the phone and slid into the backseat of the car. “The nearest Starbucks if you know what’s good for you.” Not that Leonard was the biggest fan of them; the mouthfeel of their coffee was kind of weird, but they were ubiquitous, and that was all that mattered.

The driver nodded and pulled into traffic, steering them off the JFK access road and into Jamaica. It only lasted for a few minutes before the car pulled into a Starbucks drive through. Leonard gave his order to the driver, and then handed him five bucks. The driver paid for the order and handed him his venti dry cappuccino.

Leonard took a sip; it would do. “8 Thomas Street,” he told the driver. Again, the man nodded and drove. Leonard sighed and took another long drink of his coffee. He then pulled up Google on his phone, typing Jim Kirk into the search bar. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t recall from where.

Pages of results came up, including food blogs and restaurant reviews. He pulled up the third article, which was from the New York Times.

Kirk was the executive chef at Aureole, which made Leonard’s eyebrow rise. The kid couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. Then again, Leonard had his own restaurant and competed in a special international battle on the Japanese Iron Chef at that age. He wasn’t one to talk.

Leonard pulled up the photo with the article; it was of Kirk plating sea bass, Mediterranean if Leonard knew his fish.

And he did.

The first thing Leonard really picked up on was the presentation of the dish; it was the perfect portion for a tasting menu, elegant with just the right balance of colors and sauce. The saying went that a person ate with their eyes first, and Leonard definitely felt that urge as he looked at the plate.

The second thing he noticed was that Kirk was quite good looking. Hell, he was better than good looking; he was straight up sexy with a kind of boyish charm that came through in the smile on his face.

Leonard skimmed the articles, and they all agreed on one thing: Kirk was a genius in the kitchen.

Smirking, Leonard went to Aureole’s website. He’d be the judge of that. He selected the restaurant’s phone number and called it. At this time of day, only a manager would answer.

Sure enough, on the third ring a voice picked up.

Good morning, Aureole. How may I help you?

“Hi, I’d like to make a reservation,” Leonard said. “For tonight.”

There was a pause. Let me check and see if we have anything available. For how many people?

“Just one,” Leonard said. “Name’s McCoy, Leonard.”

There was another pause. Oh! Chef McCoy, I didn’t realize…of course we can accommodate you this evening. What time would you like to come in?

“Eight,” Leonard answered. “I’ll have the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairing as a head’s up. I don’t have any food allergies, either.”

Of course. I have you down for one at eight tonight. Was there anything else you required, Chef?

“That’ll do, thanks,” Leonard answered.

We look forward to it, Chef. Have a good day!

“You too,” Leonard said as he hung up his cell. Well, that was taken care of.

While he was at it, he may as well find out what was up with Christine. As his chef at Annabelle’s, it was her job to manage the day-to-day while he was out and about with the Food Network. She was more than competent, so if she called it must have been for something important.

The phone rang twice before she answered. Boss! You back yet?

“Just landed, heading to TriBeCa now,” Leonard answered. “What’s up?”

Just calling to check in and make sure you were on schedule to come back, she said. We did record food sales over the weekend. We had to eighty-six escargot on Friday.

That was good. “Not bad,” Leonard said. He thought for a second. “Hey, what do you know about a Jim Kirk?”

One of the best dining experiences I ever had was him, Christine said, and he could hear her grin. You know I normally get eye-rolley at New American, but the things he does are kind of like miracles. I went with Roger, and you know how I get about my food.

Indeed, Leonard did. Christine was possibly the only person who was pickier than he was. “He asked to battle me on Iron Chef.”

Really? Guess I’ve got a date with you in Kitchen Stadium.

“Of course,” Leonard said. “You know there’s no one else I’d have as my sous but you and Geoff.”

Just say when, Christine said. But I need to get back to the orders. We’re pretty low on seafood. I didn’t need anything else, Leonard, I was just checking in.

“Not a problem, I’ll see you this afternoon Christine,” Leonard said as he hung up.

Christine was impressed with Kirk.

No one impressed Christine, and Kirk had. Leonard was still skeptical, but he began to get optimistic.

According to Wikipedia, his average on the program was 95.75% for wins, and 4.25% for ties. He held the best stats out of any of the American Iron Chefs, with the exception of the newest one. Their novice was a woman everyone in their industry referred to as Number One; she had only battled once and won, so her average was a 100%.

Regardless, Leonard never lost. At worst, he tied. Truthfully, it had become a bit boring. Maybe this Kirk kid would prove to be real competition for a change.

The car pulled up to Leonard’s building, and the driver handed him his things. He paid with a generous tip and walked inside to the elevator. His condo was on the top floor with southeast facing windows, and Leonard had seldom been more relieved to see it. Without unpacking, he strode back to the master bedroom and flopped onto his precious bed for a minute.

Well, one way or another, he’d find out tonight if Jim Kirk was actually worth anything. Best to shower, take care of business, and get on with his day.

-----

Jim watched Hikaru, his sous chef, get to work filleting yellowfin tuna. “So you’ll do it?”

“Yes, fuck yes, and hell yes,” Hikaru said. “Jesus, you have to ask? It’s fucking Kitchen Stadium, man!”

Jim grinned. “Yeah, I know, but I didn’t want to just assume.”

“I appreciate that, but seriously, Jim, like I’m gonna say no,” Hikaru continued. “I’d have to have lost my fucking mind.”

Jim snorted. “I was thinking we’d borrow Pavel from Astra for the other sous,” he said.

“Good call,” Hikaru said as he expertly deboned the fish. “I know he’s young, but he is insanely fucking talented.”

“So are we,” Jim pointed out.

“True,” Hikaru said. He ran his hands over the fish, grimacing midway down it. He grabbed the tweezers and pulled out two pin bones he missed. “Man, we’re going against Leonard McCoy. I couldn’t give less of a shit if we win, I just want to shake his hand.”

“I know, right?” Jim said. Although, if he was being honest, he’d like to do way more than shake his hand. Before he could speak again, their Front of House manager burst into the kitchen.

“I have been waiting all day for you to get here,” Janice said. “Do you have any idea what’s happening tonight?”

Jim stared at her. “Aside from normal dinner service?”

“Jim, this is serious,” she said. “Leonard McCoy is eating here tonight!”

Hikaru froze, and Jim blinked three times.

“Holy fucking shit,” Hikaru said.

Jim closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Obviously, he knows about Iron Chef.”

“He requested the tasting menu with wine pairings,” Janice continued.

Jim’s mouth went dry. “Chef’s tasting?”

“Chef’s,” Janice continued. “I took the reservation myself. You better be at your best tonight, Jim. He makes or breaks people all the time. I follow him on Twitter, and he is merciless.”

“He’s just sizing me up for Iron Chef,” Jim said. “But don’t worry. We’ll be on our A game for sure.”

“What’s the plan? I need to have Ricky set up a wine pairing for him,” Janice asked.

For some reason, that was what made Jim nervous. He ran his hand up over his mouth and thought for a few minutes. Hikaru and Janice didn’t say a word; they let him contemplate. Finally, Jim’s eyes lit up.

“Seven courses,” he said. “First course, a take on “French toast” with a soft boiled egg,” Jim said. “Second, foie gras with root vegetables because who doesn’t love foie gras? For the third, an haute cuisine take on a Croque Monsieur…”

“You sure you wanna do that when his specialty is French food?” Janice said with a skeptical eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, I want to go there,” Jim said. “Fourth, langoustine and toffee. Hikaru?”

“I’ll call, though it’ll be tight,” Hikaru said as he grabbed his cell and scrolled for their seafood supplier.

“Fifth, squab,” Jim continued once Hikaru started speaking to the seafood supplier. “Sixth, squash and licorice. And finally, chocolate gallette with Maker’s Mark ice cream. I’ve seen him on Iron Chef, and the two things he loves best in the world are alcohol and ice cream. That’s his kryptonite. Why mess with it?”

Janice, who had taken notes on her iPhone, grinned at him. “Got it. Ricky can work with this.”

“Good,” Jim said. “He won’t angry tweet about us, Jan. He’ll fall all over himself with praise and wait for me to kill him on television.”

“He’s never lost, Jim,” Janice said.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Jim shot back.

Janice winked at him, turning to head back to their sommelier. “Good luck tonight,” she said. “He’ll be here at eight. I’ll be sure to let you know when he arrives.”

Taking a deep breath, Jim nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”

Fortunately, it was already close to dinnertime. Hikaru hung up the phone. “Langoustines will be here shortly,” he said. “Juanita is a fucking miracle worker, Jim.”

“Yeah she is,” Jim said.

“Do you need me to prep anything?”

“Nah,” Jim said. “You’re going to handle most of the dining room tonight. I gotta give McCoy all of my attention once he gets here at eight.”

“I figured,” Hikaru said. He cut the yellowfin into filets for the sushi first course of the pre fixe. “Stop throwing up in your mouth.”

Jim started. “What? I’m not throwing up in my mouth. I’m just…I wasn’t expecting this. Does he do this normally?”

“He might,” Hikaru said. “I don’t know. I don’t really follow him. I just know what I’ve heard from other chefs, and Janice is right. If you make a misstep tonight he’s going to eat you a-fucking-live.”

“Good thing I don’t make missteps,” Jim said with more bravado than he felt. He felt like he needed a drink, but Charlie Palmer tended to frown on that. He sighed.

In what seemed like only minutes, dinner service started, and Jim distractedly churned out dozens of pre-theater menus to begin. As always, Hikaru and the line cooks were competent, and the service was flawless. Jim was so busy he lost track of time, and before he knew what happened, Janice burst into his kitchen for the second time that night.

“He’s here,” she said. “He’s the ticket for table 29.”

“Right on,” Jim said as he took a deep breath. It was show time. “Now get out and let me cook.”

Janice rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t want to interrupt you, your highness,” she said as she left to head back to the front of the house.

Jim smirked and got to work. Without another word, he sliced a thick piece of a day-old baguette, dredged it in an egg and herb mixture, and put it in a pan to sauté. He then got to work on the accouterments; he didn’t want it to feel like breakfast or dessert, so the butter to go with it was herb butter with fresh sage and herbs de provence, sliced and stacked on top of it. Next was a tomato jam. He arranged the small pieces of French toast artfully on the plate with a dollop of the tomato jam and soft-boiled egg on the side, and he added the herb butter. Jim then put it in the window.

McCoy’s server came back to the kitchen just in time, as she grabbed it. “Thanks, Jim.”

“No problem, M’Ress,” Jim said as he busied himself with the second course. He grabbed their fresh-made daily foie gras and set it on the grill. He then grabbed the roasted root vegetables and put them in the food processor, pureeing them. Jim grabbed the plate and put a dollop of the root vegetables on it, followed by the seared foie gras.

Just in time, as M’Ress returned with an empty plate from the first course, which was a good sign.

“Did he like it?”

“He didn’t say,” M’Ress answered. She grabbed the foie gras. “I’ll see what I can finagle out of him.”

“Word,” Jim said. He grabbed the necessary stuff for the third course.

This was going to be tricky. McCoy’s standards for a Croque Monseiur were sure to be very high. Like, the highest of the high. Jim toasted the tiny bread triangles and grilled the pork belly, making sure it wasn’t too salty. He thinly sliced an aged gruyere cheese, which was nutty and would balance the sandwich. He arranged them on a plate, with a side of a small arugula salad with citrus vinaigrette for acidity. He put it up in the window as M’Ress arrived, again with an empty plate.

“He’s eating everything, but he doesn’t say a word when I ask him how he’s doing,” she said as she grabbed the Croque Monsieur. “I think that’s a good sign, but it’s hard to tell.”

“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” Jim said. “If something sucks, I’m sure he’ll ask for me.”

“Yeah probably,” M’Ress admitted. She took her leave with the sandwich, and Jim suddenly wondered if doing the savory French toast plus the Croque Monsieur was too much. Bile rose in his throat for a second before he moved on to part four of the meal.

Jim butter roasted the langoustines, because what went better with shellfish than butter?

Not a God damn thing.

The toffee had been made earlier and sat in a pot on the range. Jim grabbed a spoon and sampled it; it was just sweet enough that it complemented the langoustine without being cloying. Jim removed the langoustine from its shell, then squeezed a generous amount of lemon onto it for brightness and put a dollop of the toffee next to it. Again his timing was flawless, because M’Ress arrived with an empty plate.

This went on for the rest of McCoy’s meal, until Janice came back into the kitchen with wide eyes. “He’s asking for you,” she hissed.

Jim buried his face in his hands for a second, and he could sense Hikaru’s eyes on him. “Oh God, what did I do wrong?”

“He didn’t say, he just said he wants to talk,” Janice said. “Come on.”

Jim, for some reason, breathed on his hand and held it up to his nose. Satisfied his breath didn’t reek, he then fixed his hair and straightened his white chef’s jacket. Janice cleared her throat as a warning, and Jim swallowed as he followed her out of the kitchen through the restaurant and to the table.

Leonard McCoy sat, taking a drink of a sparkling rosé with his eyes closed. Jim’s heart skipped a couple of beats in his chest, and he swallowed again.

“Chef,” Janice said to McCoy, and he opened his eyes to look at them both. “As you requested, here is our executive chef, James T. Kirk.”

“Jim,” Jim said, extending a hand. McCoy shook it, and Jim fought the urge to clutch his hand for longer than was necessary. His skin was soft and warm, and Jim’s stupid crush went into overdrive when those green-hazel eyes met his.

“You in the weeds back there?”

“I don’t get weeded,” Jim said, grimacing at how arrogant he sounded.

Something lit up in McCoy’s eyes. “Take a seat then,” McCoy said with a gesture to the chair across from him at his table.

Jim stared at him for long enough that Janice shoved him bodily towards the chair. Without so much as a misstep, she gave McCoy a charming smile. “He’d love to. I’ll tell Hikaru, Jim.” With a little wave she took off, and Jim sat in the chair.

McCoy took another sip of his wine, his eyes not leaving Jim’s face. “So,” McCoy began. “French toast and a Croque Monsieur?”

Jim winced; he’d been afraid of that. “I stand by the food I made, Chef.”

McCoy looked at him with an appraising stare. Jim didn’t shy away from it; he stared right back.

“I would normally say something against those two courses being so close to each other,” McCoy continued. “Both of them together are kind of heavy for a chef’s tasting.”

Jim nodded. It was fair criticism.

“However, the savoriness of your French toast, which kept it from seeming like breakfast or dessert, worked pretty well,” McCoy continued. “Though I would have liked something for more texture. It was all pretty soft and spongy.”

“Duly noted, Chef,” Jim said. His palms sweat, and it took every ounce of his willpower not to wipe them off on his pants.

McCoy looked at him for a while. “It pains me to say this, but that was the best langoustine I’ve ever had. Even better than my own.”

Jim blinked. “Wait, what?”

“The foie gras was good, but you have to work to fuck that up,” McCoy continued as if Jim hadn’t spoken. “The squab was cooked perfectly. The squash and licorice was unexpected, but it worked surprisingly well. The chocolate gallette was okay, but that ice cream…” He looked at Jim with a slight smile. “I love an ice cream I can chew, and I especially love ice cream when it’s made with alcohol. You got the texture of the ice cream perfect; it was a pile of creamy, booze-y decadence on my plate.”

Unable to stop himself, a huge grin broke out on Jim’s face. Yes. Fuck yes. “Thank you, Chef!”

Something in McCoy’s gaze flickered, and his eyes fixated on Jim’s mouth. “I don’t give compliments out like candy, Kirk. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m notorious for being difficult to impress.”

Still grinning, Jim nodded. “Your reputation precedes you. I admit, I pulled out all the stops once Janice told me you were coming.”

McCoy stared at him. “So, if you hadn’t have known, you would have slacked off?”

Jim’s hands clenched into fists. “No that’s…I don’t mean that. I mean that while I normally give one hundred percent, tonight I gave one hundred and fifty. Chef.”

McCoy finished his wine and leaned back in his chair. He rested his chin on one hand, again giving Jim a pointed stare. “You might actually be a challenge.”

“Might?” Jim asked. “I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Really?” McCoy now looked interested. “That’s a bold statement.”

“It may be bold, but it’s the truth,” Jim countered. “I’m gonna wipe the floor with you.”

Raising an eyebrow, McCoy had an amused set to his lips. “I haven’t ever lost, kid. Just tied.”

“First time for everything,” Jim shot back. “I’d bet you anything you lose to me.”

“Do tell,” McCoy continued. “Anything.”

“An-y-th-ing,” Jim said with a smirk.

“And what if I bet you?” McCoy said.

His comment completely and utterly derailed Jim. “Come again?”

“What if I bet you?” McCoy said. “As in, a night with you.”

Before he could stop the words, Jim said, “You don’t have to bet me for that.” He then contemplated throwing himself out the window.

Again, McCoy’s eyebrow rose into his hairline. “Indulge me, Kirk. If I win our battle on Iron Chef, I get a night with you. Anything I say goes. What do you want in the unlikely event that you’ll win?”

Jim smiled. “The same but in reverse. I get you, anything I say goes.”

McCoy raised up a hand, and as if she was on fire, M’Ress came running. “Two bourbons, rocks.”

M’Ress gave Jim a look, but he nodded at her. “Two bourbons coming up.” She left to put the order in with the bartender.

Jim and McCoy looked at each other, and Jim made sure not to waver as his eyes met the Iron Chef’s. McCoy finally smirked. “Look who decided to be a bit interesting,” he said.

“If you think I’m just a bit interesting, you don’t know what you’re in for,” Jim quipped as M’Ress brought them their drinks. Charlie could deal with it this once, Jim decided as he took a sip.

McCoy took a long drink, his eyes not leaving Jim’s face. “And what if I want to collect now?”

“That’s a bit premature, don’t you think?” Jim said as he took a sip of his drink.

“Nah,” McCoy drawled with a genuine smile. “You’re not gonna win.”

Part of Jim told him he should be insulted, but a bigger part of him was intrigued. Not to mention the long-standing professional crush. “You can have me tonight, but not if it’s part of the bet.”

McCoy laughed. “Do tell.”

“Nothing to tell; I think I’m being pretty magnanimous,” Jim said. “You and me, tonight. I’m off at ten, when we stop serving in the dining room. We switch to just barroom menus then.”

McCoy’s eyes glinted with pleasure. He checked his watch, which Jim noticed was a Tag Heuer.

Must be nice.

“It’s 9:26,” McCoy said. “Go finish your work and clean up. I’ll sit here and enjoy the bourbon until then.”

Jim stood from his chair with a grin. “Looking forward to it.” He turned and began to head back to the kitchen, pausing to look over his shoulder and catch McCoy’s eye again. It was successful, and they smiled at each other.

As soon as Jim set foot in the kitchen, Hikaru froze from what he was doing and stared at him.

“What?” Jim said.

“Leonard McCoy just pulled you out of the kitchen during dinner service to offer you a fucking critique, and you come back looking like you got laid,” Hikaru said with a shrug. “What’s the deal?”

“He liked the food, and we made a little wager,” Jim said as a ticket came in. It wasn’t’ a pre fixe, thank God. “Nothing major.”

Hikaru’s eyes bored into Jim. “Nothing major? Nothing fucking major? You just said Chef Leonard McCoy liked your food!”

Jim smiled. “Yeah. Don’t worry, we’re gonna kill him.”

Hikaru held out his hand, Jim slapped it five, and then they went back to their work.

-----

After closing out the night at Aureole, Leonard brought Jim back to his place in TriBeCa. He went to his liquor cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Laphroaig 31, pouring two glasses, neat.

Kirk stood by the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, staring out to the city. His leather jacket lay draped over the arm of Leonard’s white sofa, and as Leonard walked over to him with the scotch, he took a moment to appreciate Kirk’s ass as presented in worn denim.

“Here,” Leonard said with a smile as he handed a tumbler to Kirk.

“Thanks,” Kirk said with a smile of his own. He took a sip, sighing a little on the swallow. “That’s nice.”

Leonard watched the play of muscles in Jim’s neck. “Nothing but the best.”

This made Jim’s eyebrow rise, and he set his scotch down on a coaster on Leonard’s lacquered coffee table. “Is this a habit with you?”

Leonard smiled, stepping into Kirk’s personal space. “Is what a habit?”

“Seducing your challengers,” Jim said as he looked at Leonard from under his eyelashes.

Setting his scotch down next to Jim’s, also on a coaster, Leonard took another step closer to Kirk. He was pulled into those amazingly blue eyes, and he licked his lips. “This is a first,” he admitted.

“Yeah?” Kirk reached down and took Leonard’s hands in his.

“Yeah,” Leonard said as he closed the last bit of distance, pressing a kiss to Kirk’s lips. Kirk made a small, pleased sound as he opened his mouth, inviting Leonard to deepen the kiss. It took no time for Leonard to oblige him, and they progressed into making out against a backdrop of city lights and noise.

Leonard let go of one of Kirk’s hands to grab him by the waist, pulling their bodies flush against each other. Kirk wound his now-free hand into Leonard’s hair, threading his fingers through it and sending jolts of electricity throughout Leonard’s body.

He broke the kiss to pant; Jim’s eyes had darkened to an almost navy blue, and his lips were swollen. It was a good look on him.

“The bedroom,” Leonard said as he pulled on Kirk’s hand to lead him while walking backwards.

Kirk’s eyes greedily took in the sight of Leonard walking. “I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing you do that,” he said as they entered the bedroom.

Leonard paused to turn on the bedside lamp, bathing the room in a warm glow. “My walk, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kirk said as they stood next to the king size bed. “There are a lot of things I could watch you doing, really.”

“Like cooking, I suppose,” Leonard said as he took the hem of Kirk’s shirt in hand. He lifted it, and Kirk raised his arms. Off it came, and Leonard dropped it at their feet. Kirk was a bit pale, probably from long hours in a kitchen with no sunlight, but in good shape.

Kirk’s face lit up in a smile as he returned the favor, sliding Leonard’s blazer down his arms before unbuttoning his shirt. “I don’t think I could ever get tired of that, either.” He ran his hands over Leonard’s chest, sliding one of his thumbs across a nipple.

Leonard bit back a moan as he undid the fastenings of Kirk’s jeans. Before he could reply, Kirk grabbed him and kissed him. It was hot and wet with stabs of tongue, and again, Leonard felt that electricity. Kirk opened Leonard’s slacks, pushing them down his hips. He shimmied a little, and his jeans followed suit.

They broke the kiss to kick off their shoes, step out of their pants, and take off their socks. Kirk snorted, and Leonard quirked an eyebrow at him. “What’s funny?”

“Nothing, just, there’s no sexy way to do that,” Kirk answered. “Taking off socks, I mean. There’s no good way to do that.”

It was Leonard’s turn to snort. “You’re not wrong.” He climbed onto his bed, sitting up against his headboard. “C’mere.”

Kirk smiled, crawling across the sheets to straddle his hips. Leonard ran his hands up Kirk’s thighs, relishing the feel of taut muscle and fine blond hairs. Kirk rocked forward into him, his erection noticeably tenting the front of his boxer briefs. Leonard slid his hand to cup his cock, and Kirk made a small whimper in the back of his throat.

Leonard bucked forward, and Kirk caught the hint. He rolled onto his back, Leonard resting in between his legs. Kissing him for the third time, Leonard thrust his hips forward, his silk covered erection sliding against Kirk’s cotton. Kirk closed his eyes and lolled his head back, mewling.

Burying his face in his throat, Leonard continued to move into Kirk’s body. The friction was delicious, and Leonard growled a little as a wet spot formed on his boxers. Kirk clutched his back with one hand, his other finding his hair again.

Leonard stopped moving, rolling back on his heels to rummage in his nightstand. Kirk lay spread across his sheets, and, fuck, he was gorgeous. Leonard grabbed a bottle of lubricant and a condom, setting them on the bed next to his leg.

Kirk opened his eyes and gave Leonard a smug look. “You must like what you see,” he teased.

“Hush,” Leonard said. He reached out and grabbed the waistband of Kirk’s boxer-briefs as Kirk lifted his hips. He peeled them down, freeing his cock from its confinement. It was nice and long, about the same length as Leonard’s, and a patch of dark blond hair surrounded it. Leonard wet his lips as he contemplated sucking him; maybe next time.

Leonard slid his own silk boxers down, dropping them on the floor. He grabbed the lube and a pillow, sliding the pillow under Kirk’s back. Leonard didn’t want to miss a thing while they fucked, and that included the look on Kirk’s face as he came. Uncapping the lube, Leonard poured some of the oil onto his fingers to let it warm.

Kirk bit his bottom lip as his cheeks flushed crimson. “God, you’re so fucking hot,” he said barely above a whisper.

Leonard smiled. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Deciding it was time, Leonard slid his hand down underneath Jim’s body to his opening. Not inserting his finger yet, Leonard massaged the tight ring of muscle enough to be pleasurable. Kirk made a low sigh in his mouth as Leonard continued his ministrations, finally sliding his finger inside.

“Oooh,” Kirk said as he reached down to squeeze the base of his cock. Some fluid leaked out of his tip, and again Leonard fought the urge to taste it. One finger became two after a while, with Leonard taking his time.

He had Kirk all night; why rush?

Kirk’s hips arced up in tiny circles in time with the movements of Leonard’s hand, a flush spreading down his body. Leonard thought maybe he hadn’t seen anything more gorgeous in his life aside from that last omakase he got at Moriomoto’s.

Actually…no.

Kirk was better.

Leonard didn’t stop to ponder that as he added the third finger. Kirk now wailed a little on each thrust of his hand. His legs trembled, and Leonard’s cock throbbed at the sight of him so wantonly spread on his bed.

“Please,” Kirk begged. “Please. Now.”

Not needing to be told twice, Leonard withdrew his fingers. He pulled the wrapper of the condom open with his teeth, spitting the foil across his wood floor. He slid the condom down over his cock, groaning a little at the feel of it on the sensitive flesh. He grabbed the lube for the second time, pouring a generous amount on the condom. Leonard rubbed the oil down the latex, groaning a second time at the way it felt.

He lay in between Kirk’s legs, angling so his cock could slide into his body. It went in straight away, and Leonard pushed until he was fully sheathed in Kirk.

Kirk’s eyes drifted shut, and he sighed. “Move.”

“As you wish,” Leonard said with a smile. He pulled out and then slid back in. Kirk’s hands drifted to his biceps, digging into them hard enough to bruise. Leonard set a slow, hard rhythm, pounding into Kirk’s body.

Kirk had shifted from wailing to outright shouting with every movement Leonard made. He wrapped a leg around Leonard’s waist, pulling him in deeper.

“There?” Leonard asked between grunts.

“Close. More to the…” Leonard shifted so he slid slightly to the left. “Oh! Oh, fuck! There!”

With sweat dripping down his forehead, Leonard nodded into Kirk’s throat. He kept moving the same way, and he saw Kirk lick his hand before reaching to fist his cock. Leonard took advantage to lean down and kiss Kirk; it was sloppy, but it was a kiss, and the kid moaned into it, his stroking on his cock becoming more furious.

Leonard felt his orgasm build in his stomach and groin; he sped his thrusts, moving harder. Kirk uttered an approval as he broke the kiss. “I’m close,” he said.

“Same here,” Leonard panted. “Go on, darlin’, and I’ll be right behind you.”

Kirk nodded and stroked a few more times before stiffening beneath Leonard. Come splashed out of him, spattering on their stomachs. Leonard’s eyes watched Jim’s face as he came; something hit Leonard in his chest, but he didn’t have time to think about it as his own orgasm tore through his body. His vision whited out, and it took a while for his breathing to regulate.

A hand stroked his hair. “Mmmm,” Kirk said. “That was…”

“Yeah,” Leonard agreed. He pulled out of Kirk’s body, holding the condom in place, and rolled onto his back next to him. He pulled the rubber off, throwing it into a nearby wastebasket.

That was when he realized their heads lay at the foot of the bed.

“We’re upside-down,” Leonard said.

Kirk turned to him with a smile. “I guess we should fix that, then.”

Leonard sat up, crawling to the top of the mattress. Kirk hesitated for a second before joining him; he waited to see what side of the bed Leonard would take before laying down. They lay close enough to touch, and they faced each other.

Leonard ran a hand up Kirk’s arm. “Tell me about yourself.”

Kirk blinked a few times with a startled look on his face. “You didn’t Google me?”

“I did,” Leonard said. “Reviews and pithy quotes. I want to hear your story from you.”

Kirk smiled, a soft one that made Leonard’s chest constrict. “I grew up in Iowa in a town called Riverside. My dad died when I was five, and Mom remarried when I was ten. He was kind of an asshole, really strict, and it didn’t go over well when I told him what I wanted to do with my life. I went to the University of Iowa for two years, but then I told him to go to hell and came here to culinary school.” Kirk’s smile widened. “Haven’t looked back since.”

Leonard nodded. “I only barely finished high school myself. My Daddy wanted me to be a doctor, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I put myself through Le Cordon Bleu on loans.” Leonard smiled. “I haven’t looked back, either.”

Kirk nodded. “And now you have an empire.”

“Yup,” Leonard said. “Although, I don’t get to see Jo as much as I’d like.”

Furrowing his brows, Kirk asked, “Who’s Jo?”

“My daughter,” Leonard said. “She lives with her mother in Georgia. She comes for part of the summer and the holidays every year. Smart as a whip and beautiful besides.”

“None of the Food Network spots ever mentioned you having a kid,” Kirk said, although he didn’t sound put off by it. He sounded curious.

“That’s because I tell them not to,” Leonard said. “I don’t want her in the limelight until she’s an adult and has decided to be there. It’s not good for a kid to grow up like that. It warps them, and I don’t want that for her. That’s partly why she lives with her mother; the other reason is that I’m always out of town filming or just filming all day here. I wouldn’t be home enough for her, and even though I miss her like crazy, it’s for the best. We talk everyday on Skype, though.”

“That makes sense,” Kirk said with a slight yawn.

Unable to resist any longer, Leonard pulled him into his arms. Kirk…no, Jim, Leonard corrected, folded himself in them like he always belonged there. He pressed a kiss to Jim’s mouth, a quick, chaste one, and Jim smiled at him. Reaching over, Leonard turned off the light and pulled the sheets down so they could slip inside them.

“G’night,” Jim said, his tone sleepy.

“Night, Jim,” Leonard said as he closed his eyes.

-----

When Jim woke the next morning around his usual time of quarter ‘til seven, he was aware of the sound of another person breathing in front of him. Jim opened his eyes and was greeted by the sight of a sleeping Leonard McCoy.

Not that Jim had forgotten the events of the night before, but it was still a bit surreal to be there in his bed. McCoy had been the subject of more than a few sexual fantasies of Jim’s; living the fantasy was thrilling and yes, a bit weird.

The fact that the sex had been better than his fantasies helped.

Jim closed his eyes and snuggled back into McCoy, causing him to stir. Jim bit back a smile.

“Jim?” McCoy said with a yawn.

Maybe he could call him Leonard? Something about that didn’t sit right, but Jim shrugged it off. “Morning.”

Green eyes opened with a half-smile, and Jim’s heart skipped in his chest. God, he was gorgeous.

“What time do you have to be in?”

“Ten,” Jim said. “Why?”

“How does breakfast sound?” Leonard said with a raised eyebrow. “Steak and eggs.”

A grin broke out on Jim’s face. “If world-renowned chef and two-time James Beard winner Leonard McCoy is going to make me breakfast, I think he can do better than just putting a steak on a grill pan.”

“I do own two steakhouses, you little shit,” Leonard retorted.

“My point stands,” Jim said with a laugh. “I dare you to do better.”

Leonard snorted. “Crab cake benedict with a remoulade-hollandaise then.”

Jim smirked, rolling them so he sat straddling Leonard’s hips while Leonard lay on his back. “That’s a marked improvement, thanks.”

He leaned down and kissed him. Leonard slid a hand up to his chest, stroking his pectorals. Jim sighed as he ground his hips down into Leonard’s, making his intentions crystal clear. Leonard sat up, thrusting his hips to meet Jim’s.

Jim broke the kiss to pant, lining their cocks up with his left hand. Up came Leonard’s hips again, and their cocks slid against each other. Jim groaned into the kiss as they moved with each other again and again. He rested his free hand against Leonard’s headboard for better leverage as they rose and fell on the bed.

Panting against each other’s mouths, Jim gave a protracted low whine as his back stiffened, and he came on Leonard’s chest, Leonard coming a second behind him. Jim sighed, sagging against Leonard. Wrapping his arms around him, Leonard pressed a kiss to his jawline.

“Want to shower?” Leonard asked, his voice drawling and accent thick.

“Mmmhmmm,” Jim said. “Then breakfast.”

“Sounds good,” Leonard said. He kissed Jim twice, and they got out of bed. Leonard flipped the lights on in his bathroom, and Jim paused to take in his surroundings. The bathroom was enormous, with a Roman shower that could easily fit four people.

“This bathroom and the kitchen are what sold me on this place,” Leonard explained as he set out matching towels.

“I can see why,” Jim said. Leonard stepped behind the glass wall and turned on the water, Jim joining him after a second. The water pressure was perfect, and the temperature was almost but not quite too hot. The stall filled with steam, and Leonard and Jim took turns washing each other while trading kisses.

After a final rinse, they stepped out of the shower and dried off. They went back into Leonard’s bedroom, where Jim put on his clothes from the night before. Leonard stepped to his walk in closet and grabbed a green cashmere sweater and a pair of jeans.

“I just have some meetings today,” Leonard explained as he got dressed. “And I need to check in at Annabelle’s tonight. It’s a light schedule.”

Jim nodded as he pulled his black shirt over his head. “Sounds pretty low-key.”

“For once,” Leonard said. “I’m due in Vegas to check on McCoy Steak next Tuesday.”

“Wow, you really are gone a lot,” Jim said, pausing to look at him. Leonard waved a hand, signaling that Jim should exit the bedroom. Jim did, and Leonard followed him to the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Leonard said. “A lot of people would be more hands off than I am, but it’s my name on the building. I can’t just leave it to other people. Don’t get me wrong, I trust the people who work under me, but again, it’s my name on the line.”

“I think I’d be the same way,” Jim admitted. “I want to open my own restaurant at some point, and I think I’d probably manage it like you do yours.”

Leonard smiled. “It’s nice to talk to someone who gets it. Jocelyn never did.” He pulled out some coffee beans and a grinder. Leonard ground the beans then pulled out a metal coffee filter. He poured water into the coffee maker’s reservoir, and looked at the buttons. “Strong or weak?”

“As strong as it can get without being motor oil,” Jim answered.

“Good man,” Leonard said as he pushed the button. The sounds of the percolator filled the condo. Leonard opened the fridge and grabbed a container of crab claw meat and all the ingredients for the remoulade-hollandaise. Jim sat in a chair at the bar, resting his chin on his hand as he watched him go to work.

First, Leonard expertly made a double-batch of hollandaise. He combined egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt in a blender before adding a stream of microwave-melted butter. Once it was the perfect color and consistency, he set it aside to be warmed up later, probably in a bain-marie.

By the time the hollandaise was done, the coffee was ready. Leonard poured Jim a big mug of it, before opening the fridge door. “I have plain half and half…”

“I take it black,” Jim said as he took a sip. The coffee was rich and perfect.

“No problem,” Leonard said as he put a small splash of the half and half in his mug. Next, he grabbed the claw meat and the trimmings for the crab cakes. Panko bread crumbs, Dijon mustard, red onion, scallions, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, Old Bay, garlic powder, another egg yolk and a whole egg to bind them, garlic powder, and a quick mixture of olive oil and butter.

“How come you’re just using claw meat?” Jim couldn’t help but ask.

“It gives better flavor to the cakes, in my opinion,” Leonard answered as he mixed the components together in a bowl. He grabbed a stainless steel sauté pan and put the oil/butter mixture in it, waiting until it shimmered. Then he formed the cakes by sight, making each with a third of a cup of the batter. He pressed them into the sauté pan, and they sizzled as they cooked.

Jim watched his every move, his face flushing as he observed. Yeah, watching him on Iron Chef and the Today Show was sexy, but watching him work on a meal just for them was something else altogether. Every movement was effortless, filled with practice and skill, and Jim had never wanted anyone more.

Leonard caught him staring, and he smiled at Jim with a raised eyebrow. Jim’s flush deepened, but he fought the urge to look away. He met his gaze head on with a smile of his own.

Yeah, Leonard McCoy was a fucking life-ruiner, and Jim was hooked for good.

Leonard made the remoulade, Again, his movements were flawless and skilled. Ignoring the infatuation, Jim was impressed with how good everything looked. He knew from dining at his restaurant that his food was outstanding, but again it was different to experience a one-man show.

Flipping the cakes, Leonard grabbed another pot and filled it with water. He then added a splash of white vinegar to it, setting it on the range to warm up. Just before it simmered, Leonard turned down the heat. He broke eggs into ramekins and stirred the water with a spatula, forming a vortex. An egg dropped into the water, and Leonard turned the heat off under the crab cakes, setting them on paper towels to drain the oil. He then, as predicted, formed a bain-marie using two pots with water in the bottom one and sat it where he cooked the cakes. He then poured the hollandaise into the top pan, adding the remoulade to it and whisking them to incorporate.

Jim took another sip of coffee. “Would be out of line to admit I want to have sex with you again this minute?”

Leonard laughed, and Jim decided his new goal in life was to make that happen as much as possible. “Not really, considering I decided I wanted you the minute I had your langoustine.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jim said as he helped himself to another cup of coffee. Leonard set the eggs on paper towels to drain the water; they were perfectly poached and flawless looking besides. Not that Jim expected anything different, but still.

Leonard grabbed two white square plates from his cabinet and assembled the benedicts, two on each plate. The presentation was, of course, flawless, and Jim’s mouth watered a little as he realized he was starving. Leonard set out napkins and silverware after passing Jim his food.

“Dig in,” he commanded as he took the seat next to Jim.

Jim cut a generous piece of the benedict, making sure to get all of the components. He brought it to his lips with his fork, taking a slow bite. Before he could stop himself, he moaned and his eyes rolled in the back of his head.

“Holy shit,” he said.

“Thank you,” Leonard said after he swallowed.

“You’re right about the claw meat,” Jim continued. “Plus there’s the added bonus of not spending years picking out the cartilage.”

“Yup,” Leonard said. “Lump crab has its uses, but for crab cakes it’s much better to go with the claws. More expensive, but you get what you pay for.”

“That goes without saying,” Jim said as he forgot propriety and cleaned his plate. Leonard had also finished eating and went to take their dirty dishes; Jim cleared his throat and grabbed them before he could. “Nope. You cooked, I’ll clean.”

Leonard’s expression was pleased as Jim took the plates and silverware to the sink. He turned the water on, grabbed the dish soap, and cleaned the plates to the point that they sparkled. Jim could feel Leonard’s eyes on him as he moved.

“You know when I was in Le Cordon Bleu,” Leonard began. “I was extremely nervous my first day. I was self-taught before attending that school, and while I was good enough to get in, I felt like I was behind all the people who had done vocational training in high school.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there,” Jim said.

“I had to fight to get an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas when I was eight,” Leonard continued. “Anyways, when we got to the seafood class, and I had to learn how to filet a fish, I was so scared I fucked up.”

Jim froze. “You? Fucked up?”

“Yeah,” Leonard said. “I didn’t double-check the salmon for pin bones. My instructor read me the riot act for, and I quote, ‘trying to kill him via choking hazards’.”

“Wow,” Jim said. “That’s a pretty big error.”

“Yeah, even back then I was normally more careful than that,” Leonard said. “I ended up with a D that day, the lowest grade I got the entire time I was there.”

“All because of bones,” Jim said as he dried the plates. “I fucked up a few times too in school. When I was in pastry, my caramel turned.”

“Ouch,” Leonard said.

“Yeah,” Jim said. “To this day, I hate making that stuff. It’s the only thing that makes me nervous at all at this point.” He thought for a second. “And also, you have a nickname now.”

“Some people call me Len,” Leonard said.

“Nah,” Jim said as he set the dishes and silverware in the drying rack. “Leonard’s too much of a mouthful, and I feel like it’d be weird to call you McCoy or Chef all the time considering the sleeping together.”

Jim grinned, a cheeky one that made Leonard’s eyebrows rise into his bangs.

“Bones.”

“You’re going to make me regret telling you that story,” Leonard…no, Bones replied with a roll of his eyes.

“I think it’s appropriate, and no one else has to get it,” Jim said. “So. Bones.”

Bones rolled his eyes a second time. “Brat.”

Jim smirked. “Only sometimes, old man.”

“Whatever,” Bones said, standing from the counter and walking up to Jim. Before Jim could inquire, Bones kissed him. Jim mmmphed into it, kissing him back. When it ended, Bones’ eyes sparkled. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Working, but aside from that I’ve got nothing else going on.” Jim put his hands in Bones’ back pockets. “I have a feeling I’m about to have plans though.”

Bones smiled. “How does late night sushi in Hell’s Kitchen sound?”

“Blue Ribbon?” Jim asked with a smile.

“Blue Ribbon,” Bones agreed. “You up for it?”

“I think that can be arranged,” Jim said, pulling him into another kiss. “I haven’t had sushi in a while actually, so it sounds perfect.”

“Good,” Bones said. He checked the clock on his microwave; the time was 9:15. “You better get going back uptown.”

Jim nodded. “Yeah it’s still technically rush hour,” he said as he reluctantly pulled away from Bones. “Am I meeting you at Blue Ribbon, or are you picking me up?”

“We’ll meet there,” Bones said. “Give me your number, just in case things run long at Annabelle’s.”

Jim pulled out his cell, which miraculously still had battery left. “Give me yours first.”

Bones gave him the number, and Jim sent a text. Blue Ribbon tonight after close. It’s a date! ^_^

His phone beeping, Bones picked it up. He snorted. “Emoticons.”

“Yup,” Jim said as he saved him to his contacts. Bones did the same, and Jim grabbed his jacket from the couch. He slipped it on and Bones opened the door for him. Jim paused to give him a final kiss. “See you tonight, Bones.”

Bones sighed at the nickname. “See you, kid.”

That didn’t offend Jim, as he figured turnabout was fair play. He stepped out into the hallway before taking the elevator down to the lobby. Debating for a second, Jim decided to treat himself to a cab back to Aureole. It didn’t take long, and he arrived ten minutes early for his shift.

Hikaru was already there, and he stared at Jim as he walked back to where he kept his chef’s coat and work shoes. Jim hung up his leather jacket and changed. As he stepped back into the main kitchen, Hikaru finally registered with Jim, and he turned to him with a funny look. “What?”

“Yesterday’s outfit,” Hikaru began. “And a noticeable pep in your step. Who’d you fuck?”

“Why do I have to have fucked someone?” Jim countered. “Maybe I haven’t done my laundry in a while.

Hikaru’s eyes narrowed. “You’re smiling. The smile you always smile when you’ve gotten laid.”

“That’s kind of creepy, Hikaru,” Jim said as he began to check their inventory for their food orders.

“You’re being weird,” Hikaru said, ignoring him. “Normally you can’t wait to tell me about it. But this time you’re acting all coy. Who was it?”

“Oh my God,” Jim said. “Seriously?”

Hikaru’s eyes narrowed even further. “Wait a second. You fucked McCoy.”

Jim sputtered and flushed to the roots of his hair. “I…”

“Holy shit, you fucked Michelin-Star-having Leonard McCoy,” Hikaru said with a whoop. “You little starfucker!”

Jim cleared his throat. He didn’t deny it, though. He stood there and stared at his sous.

Hikaru leaned in close. “Man I don’t know whether to clean your clock for fucking the enemy or just shake your God damn hand.”

Jim sighed. “Neither, it’s not a big deal, and just because we’re battling him on Iron Chef doesn’t make him an enemy.”

“Totally does,” Hikaru said. “Wow. What’s he like in the sack?”

“Jesus,” Jim said as he threw up his hands. “Step up off my grill.”

“Seriously, I bet it’s awesome,” Hikaru continued. “It’s fucking hot watching him yell at people on Worst Cooks Ever. Having that directed at you in the sack…fucking jizz all over the place.”

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Hikaru.”

“Seriously, like all of the jizz,” Hikaru continued. “Like a fire hose, but with…”

“I get it!” Jim said. “Also you’re horrifying and disgusting.”

Hikaru shrugged. “Sometimes I am, you’re right. Don’t change the subject. How was he?”

Jim shook his head. “I’m not having this conversation with you.”

“Aw come on,” Hikaru said. “Good? Better than good? Fucking incredible?”

“You’re not gonna drop this, are you?” Jim said as he noted they were low on ribeye and veal. He made a note on his pad to place an order for it.

“It’s really best to just tell me, yeah,” Hikaru said. “I can keep this up all day.”

Scowling, Jim said. “Fine. We fucked twice, he made me the best breakfast of my life, and we’re seeing each other again tonight for sushi. Stop being annoying before I make you do the most mind-numbing, tedious prep work in the history of cooking.”

Hikaru tilted his head to one side. “So what, you’re dating him now?’

Jim hesitated. “I…I wouldn’t say that. I guess we’re going on a date tonight, but we’re not like…it’s a bit soon to call it anything more than that.”

Placing his hands on his hips, Hikaru shook his head. “What if he’s doing this on purpose? To trip you up, I mean.”

Freezing, Jim’s stomach dropped down into his knees. “Excuse me?”

“What if he’s doing this to get you all infatuated so you fuck up on TV?” Hikaru said. “He loved your food. What if this is some kind of plot or cheating?”

Jim frowned. Part of him thought maybe Hikaru had a point, but he also thought about the way Leonard touched him. Everything felt genuine, but there was a possibility Hikaru could be right.

“I don’t think so,” Jim said. “But I’ll be careful. And this doesn’t change anything about Iron Chef. I only play one way, and that’s to win.”

Hikaru looked satisfied by this answer. “That’s all I wanted to hear. By the way, Pavel’s in.”

“Awesome,” Jim said, relieved by the change in subject. “Riley sent me the three possible ingredients, so we need to have a pow-wow about what to spend that five hundred bucks on for each thing.”

“What are they?” Hikaru asked.

“Champagne, all the different flavors of Jell-O, and sea urchin,” Jim said.

“Any of them but the fucking Jell-O,” Hikaru said. “God in heaven, if you never grant another one of my prayers, give me this one thing: no fucking Jell-O.”

“Amen,” Jim said. “Yeah you can reduce it for sauces, but it’s so sweet it’d be hard for all of the courses but dessert.”

“I think of the three sea urchin is the best one,” Hikaru said. “Champagne’s so delicate, it’d get overwhelmed easily.”

“Yeah, but it’s not impossible,” Jim said. “We’ll work up a strategy for each one.”

“Sounds good, Captain,” Hikaru said with a mock-salute, causing Jim to roll his eyes.

Jim went to the back room to make the call to their supplier, and as he did so, Hikaru’s words about Bones doing this to fuck with his head came back to him. There was only one way to know for sure, and it would have to wait until that night. At that moment, Jim had more pressing matters on his mind.

Like lunch service.

-----

At a bit after 10:30, Leonard stepped through the doorway of Blue Ribbon with a smile. Jim wasn’t there yet, but he figured he’d beat him. Leonard pulled out his cell and sent a text message.

Are you on the way?

It took a second, but Jim replied. I’ll be there in five ^_~.

Leonard smiled. “Two,” he told the hostess, and she smiled and grabbed the menus. She led him to a table in a somewhat intimate corner of the restaurant, and Leonard sat facing the front of the building. “My companion’s my height, blond, blue eyes, and in a leather jacket. He’ll ask for me by name, which is Leonard McCoy.”

“Of course, sir,” she said as she went back to her stand. Their server came and poured water in two glasses for them as Leonard perused the menu.

After a few minutes, the hostess returned with Jim following behind. His eyes lit up when he saw Leonard, and Leonard couldn’t help but return the smile. “Thank you,” Jim said to her as he took the seat across from Leonard. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Leonard said. He reached a hand across the table, and Jim took it with a playful grin.

“How was your day?” Jim said.

“Predictable,” Leonard answered. “The new show starts filming after Christmas. Another Iron Chef challenger asked for me, and Annabelle’s did good business.” Taking a sip of water, Leonard smiled. “How was yours?”

“Also predictable,” Jim said with a grin. Before he could continue, their server returned.

“Good evening,” he said with a smile. “My name is Akira. What may I bring you to drink?”

“Sake?” Leonard asked Jim, who nodded. “Your fullest bodied sake, then, and hot, of course.”

“Of course,” the server left to put in the drink order, and Jim gave Leonard a grin.

“How’d you know I like full-bodied?” Jim said.

Leonard shrugged one shoulder. “Took a guess after the black coffee.”

Jim’s cheeks flushed in pleasure. He cleared his throat. “My day was also pretty normal,” he continued. “Lunch, pre-theater, and dinner all came and went without incident. Everyone loved the food.”

“Of course they did,” Leonard said, and Jim’s answering smile was luminous for a second before it dimmed. Before Leonard could ask, their server returned with a bottle of Sawanotsuru and two glasses.

The server smiled as Leonard poured them each a glass. “Are you ready to order?”

“Two omakases,” Leonard said. Again, Jim nodded his approval. “And an order of the oxtail and bone marrow fried rice.”

“Right away,” the server said with a grin, taking off again to the server’s station.

Leonard squeezed Jim’s hand. “What’s up?”

Jim’s smile left his face, and he grew serious. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything,” Leonard said.

Clearing his throat, Jim took a minute to gather his thoughts. Finally, he said, “Why are we doing this?”

“Having sushi?” Leonard asked.

“Sleeping together and seeing each other,” Jim clarified. “Is this like…are you trying to sweep me off my feet so my head’s in the clouds when we battle in Kitchen Stadium?”

Leonard took a sip of sake. While part of him was insulted, he found he couldn’t fault Jim for asking. It was a fair question. “No.”

Jim looked relieved, but he plowed ahead. “Then what is this?”

That was also a fair question. Leonard put his sake back on the table. “You know, I meet a lot of chefs from all over the world. More than a few of them have hit me with their looks. A much smaller few have hit me with their food.” Leonard smiled. “You’re the first to hit me with both.”

Jim’s expression softened. “Oh.”

“So when I asked to speak to you last night, it was also a bit of a test,” Leonard continued. “I wanted to see if you’d roll over like other people do…but you didn’t. You pushed back. I don’t intimidate you the way I do everyone else, and I find that incredibly refreshing, stupid nickname notwithstanding.”

The smile on Jim’s face was brilliant; it was also the sweetest one Leonard had seen since Jo, and his heart did a somersault at the sight.

“To get to the point,” Leonard said. “I enjoy being with you as much as I enjoyed your food. I’m enjoying learning things about you, like that you’re from Riverside and you take your coffee black. I want to keep learning these things as long as you’ll let me.”

“I like learning about you too,” Jim said. “I’m having a great time, Bones, I just wanted to be sure we’re on the same page about us.”

“I think I can safely say we are,” Leonard said, giving his hand a squeeze.

Their first courses were brought to them; shiitake mushrooms with shrimp and scallops. Leonard and Jim grabbed their chopsticks, pulling them apart, and took turns with the soy sauce. They each began to eat.

“Oh man, I needed this,” Jim said after swallowing a bite. “It’s been entirely too long since sushi and I saw each other socially.”

“You have a sashimi on your pre-fixe, right?” Leonard said.

“Yeah,” Jim said, “But Hikaru mostly does that course. I just see it go out really. It makes me miss sushi.”

Leonard finished his scallops. “Hikaru is your sous?”

“Yeah,” Jim said after taking a drink of sake. “He’s coming with me for the battle. The sous for Charlie’s other restaurant is too, Pavel Chekov.”

“Sounds good,” Leonard said. “I’m using my normal sous, Christine and Geoff.”

“I figured,” Jim said with a cheeky grin as their plates were cleared. “French and French-Ethiopian. A whole lotta French on your half of the stadium.”

“Yup,” Leonard said as their plates were cleared. New dishes were brought to them by a different server; this was mountain vegetables, snow peas in pods, salmon pate, and a miso-sake dressing. “You’re New American, what are Hikaru and Pavel’s specialties?”

“Hikaru’s is an Asian-New American fusion,” Jim said. “Pavel’s is a big mélange of Russian and French. He’s trying to come up with a name for it, but nothing’s sticking.”

“Interesting,” Leonard said, and it wasn’t sarcasm. “I’d be tempted to try that.”

“It’s good,” Jim said. Leonard signaled the server for more sake. “Not a combination I’d expect, but it works somehow. He’s first generation, so Russian is what he grew up with.”

“Makes sense; after French, Southern is my next specialty,” Leonard said. “I could eat fried chicken for days; the only thing that keeps me from not is being on television constantly.”

“You shouldn’t have told me that,” Jim said as they finished the second course. “My fried chicken is really outstanding.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Leonard said. The third course and more sake arrived; it was the sashimi course, with maguro tuna, flounder, toro, and uni.

Jim lit up like a kid at Christmas at the uni. “Oh my God, yes, I was so hoping for this,” he said as he immediately grabbed one of his pieces of it.

Leonard chuckled. “Big sea urchin fan, then,” he said.

“Love it,” Jim said before he put it into his mouth. He closed his eyes, savoring it, and Leonard’s mouth went a little dry at the ecstasy on his face. “Oh, so brine-y and delicious…”

“Did you just come?” Leonard couldn’t help but ask as Jim moaned in his chair.

Jim licked his lips. “Not yet, but the night is young,” he said with a wink.

“Tease,” Leonard quipped.

“Be nice,” Jim said as he reached for the toro next. “Play your cards right, and I’ll be on my knees for you as soon as we’re done.”

Clearing his throat, Leonard’s face went hot, and his pants got a little snug. “Oh I’m playing them right,” he said, and Jim smirked.

“Good boy,” Jim said. They finished their sashimi course and were greeted with tempura soft shell crab with vegetables and yuzu. “Wow, it’s like they’re reading my mind. I was dying for a soft shell last weekend.”

“I always seem to want them when they’re not in season like now,” Leonard agreed. He took a bite; it was excellent quality for it being October.

“Morimoto’s a friend of yours, right?” Jim asked.

“Yeah,” Leonard said.

“Then how come we’re here instead of there?” Jim continued.

“Too many cameras,” Leonard said in between bites. “I go there when I both want sushi and don’t mind paparazzi. It…felt wrong for tonight.”

Raising an eyebrow, Jim paused to take a sip of sake. “You don’t want to be seen with me?” Superficially, his words were teasing, but Leonard noticed the self-deprecation behind them.

“Don’t be stupid,” Leonard said with no heat. “I just don’t like having dozens of flashbulbs going off when I’m trying to have a good time. The point of this is getting to know each other better, and we can’t really do that if the press hangs on our every word.”

Jim smiled. “Yeah, that does sound irritating, although…you’re not used to it by now?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever really be used to it, to be frank,” Leonard said. “But it’s not as harrowing as it was when I first got big.”

Jim had finished his crab and sat back in his chair. “Makes sense.”

Leonard smiled. “You keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll see it for yourself soon.”

“I already said I’m gonna blow you, you don’t need to butter me up.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you were on a date with me and not with someone who does that shit,” Leonard said.

Jim went speechless for a minute before wagging his index finger in the air. “Touché.”

Leonard laughed, and Jim joined in. Their fried rice and fifth course arrived then, and they joked and ate together, finishing the meal with red grape sorbet and Grand Marnier. Leonard paid the bill with his black Amex, and he and Jim made their way to the restaurant’s entrance.

“So now the question is, are we going back to my place?” Leonard asked once they stood outside.

“Mine’s closer, I live off 61st,” Jim said. “Walk?”

“It’s late enough that we’d be risking a mugging,” Leonard said.

Jim snickered. “Some New Yorker you are.”

“Oh shut up,” Leonard said as he flagged down a cab. It took a while, because as usual they were all either off-duty or had passengers. They finally managed to get one, and Jim gave the driver the address. It was a short ride, and once they reached his building, Leonard paid and tipped the driver.

“It’s a walk up,” Jim explained as he unlocked the door to get into the building.

“You’re fine,” Leonard said as they traversed six flights of stairs, ending at the door on the landing’s left. Jim unlocked the door and ushered him inside, turning on the light.

“I actually have a terrace,” Jim continued. “All I can say is thank God for rent control, because otherwise it’d be way too much for me to afford.”

Leonard grabbed Jim’s hands and pulled him over to the couch. “It’s a good apartment,” he said, and Jim relaxed at his words.

“Well, it’s no TriBeCa condo,” Jim said, adopting a fake Brahmin accent. “But it’s just bougie enough without being hipster-y.”

“You’d have to be in Williamsburg to be one of those, but the bougie I’ll grant you,” Leonard said with a smirk.

Jim clucked his tongue. “You’re such an ass.”

“Guilty,” Leonard said. They sat facing each other. “So…”

Before he could finish, Jim pressed their bodies together, giving him a rather thorough kiss. “I’ve been waiting all day for this,” Jim said as he laced their fingers together.

“Me too,” Leonard admitted with a sigh. “The thought of being with you again kept me going during my production meeting, almost to the point of distraction.”

“We can’t have that,” Jim said as he kissed him again. Stars danced behind Leonard’s eyelids as he fisted his hands in Jim’s shirt. Jim made a similar moan into his mouth like he did at Blue Ribbon, holding Leonard as close as he could. “Fuck, Bones.”

Leonard panted. “Shouldn’t you be on your knees, darlin’?”

Jim’s eyes darkened, and he licked his lips. “Thought you’d never ask.” Instead of dropping to the floor, though, he reached into the couch cushions, rummaging for something. “Ah-ha!” he said triumphantly as he pulled out a box of condoms and a tube of lubricant.

Leonard stared at him. “So, you must do this pretty often for you to be that prepared.”

Jim shook his head. “Only often enough that I got tired of putting things on pause to run to the bathroom. I’m a pragmatist.”

There wasn’t any way to argue with that. “Fair enough,” Leonard conceded. He forgot where he was going with that, as Jim dropped to his knees in between his legs. Jim ran his hands up Leonard’s denim clad thighs, scratching them with his nails.

First, Jim undid his belt; he didn’t pull it off all the way, he just left it hanging open. Then he worked his button and zipper open. He pulled on the jeans, and Leonard lifted his hips so they could be pushed down to his ankles. Jim smiled up at him, rubbing the silk of his boxers.

“I’m going to start calling you Chef Fancy-Pants,” Jim said.

“Because Bones isn’t enough for you?” Leonard remarked with a raised eyebrow.

“A lot of things aren’t enough for me,” Jim said as he reached out and grabbed Leonard’s cock through the burgundy silk. Leonard groaned in response. “But somehow, I think you’re not one of those things.”

Leonard’s eyes found Jim’s, and he was taken aback by what he saw there. Jim must have seen something similar in his eyes, because Jim’s widened for a second.

“Bones…I…” Jim flushed a dark red.

“I know, Jim,” Leonard said, partly because it was so soon. Leonard had never really believed in anything like love at first sight, but maybe…maybe for Jim, he could.

Jim swallowed. “I’m gonna blow you now,” he announced.

Jim snaked his hand into the slit of Leonard’s boxers, and he gasped at the contact. Jim pulled his cock free before pulling a condom out of the box and tearing it open. He rolled it almost too-slowly down Leonard’s shaft, and Leonard had to bite his bottom lip to keep from cursing in frustration.

Jim winked up at him before leaning forward, sliding Leonard into his mouth. The shit that came flying out of Leonard’s mouth wasn’t fit for polite company at all, and Jim winked a second time. Breathing through his nose, he went to work.

After Jim had thoroughly given Leonard the best head of his life, he let Jim fuck him on the couch. Somehow they managed to make it into Jim’s bed, where they slept until his alarm went off.

-----

Two nights together turned into a week, followed by five days of Bones being in Vegas at his restaurants there. It somehow was both lonely and not at the same time; it was because Jim was already used to seeing him every day, and it wasn’t because they talked for an hour every night on the phone.

And yeah, some phone sex was had too. While that was fun, Jim preferred the parts where they just talked. They were still getting to know each other, and every tidbit he got from Bones delighted him.

The night Bones returned from Vegas happened to be Jim’s night off at Aureole, and they met up at Bones’ condo for shitty Chinese takeout (because in Bones’ own words “even chefs like shitty Chinese takeout”) and sex, sex, and more sex. More weeks flew by, and before Jim could even register it, they were due to tape the following morning.

“I can’t believe it’s tomorrow,” Pavel said as he looked over the three shopping lists on an iPad. He sat sideways in Jim’s blue easy chair with one of his shoes hanging off his foot by the toes.

“Yeah, that month fucking flew by,” Hikaru said as he grabbed a beer from Jim’s fridge.

Jim checked the time on his phone; it was almost eleven. Because of the schedule with one of the challengers, Bones had to film that battle first. It worked out okay because it was the night before they were due to film, so Jim spent it going over strategy with Pavel and Hikaru.

“It did,” Jim agreed with a bright smile. It felt like yesterday he met Bones, and they were about to celebrate their first month together.

Hikaru snorted. “Jim and Chef McCoy, sitting in a tree, f-u-c-k-i-n-g…”

The expression on Jim’s face could have stripped lead paint off a house.

“First comes love, then comes marriage,” Pavel continued in a deadpan. “Then comes Jim with a baby-carriage.”

“Why am I always the one with the baby-carriage?” Jim couldn’t help but ask.

“Because you’re the prettiest,” Hikaru said as if it was obvious. “Not that your boo-bear isn’t fucking hot, because let’s be real, none of us would kick him out for eating crackers in bed, but Jim you’ve got this delicate thing about you that makes us imagine you making fresh-squeezed and vacuuming while big famous hubby brings home the bacon.”

Before he could form a retort, Jim’s phone rang. He checked the caller ID; it was Bones. “I need to take this,” he said as he slid the glass door open to stand on his terrace.

He couldn’t be blamed for flipping them off when Pavel started making out with the back of his hand, and Hikaru thrust his hips while shouting “Give it to me, Chef!”

The door slid shut, and Jim took the call. “Hey, Bones.”

Hey, darlin’, Bones said, and as always, Jim felt a little thrill at the endearment.

“What’s wrong? You sound tired,” Jim said.

Fucking chum salmon, Bones said.

“That was your ingredient?” Jim sat in one of the plastic chairs and propped his feet up on the railing.

I got told my cedar plank salmon tasted like siding, Bones continued.

Jim winced; he hated to admit it, but he wasn’t looking forward to that part of things tomorrow. “Which judge was that?”

Actually, he could guess. There was only one person considered to be the Food Network’s Toughest Critic.

Spock S’chn T’gai, of course.

“Of course,” Jim said. “Did you win?”

By ten points, Bones said with pride.

“Good,” Jim said with a genuine smile.

They’re doing this new shit this season though, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, Bones added. They’ll tell you tomorrow, but now the first twenty minutes is fucking killer, and the Chairman gets to ruin everything about forty minutes in.

“I wonder why they changed things,” Jim said. “Were the ratings declining?”

No, we’re still the highest rated show. I think the producers just thought it was getting stale. I don’t get it though; why fix what ain’t broken?

“It’s my understanding that television execs don’t get anything about that expression,” Jim said. “I’m also told there’s nothing more permanent than change.”

True. Bones sighed. What are you up to?

“Strategizing,” Jim answered. “I’m still planning to wipe the floor with you, pookie.”

You’re adding pookie to the arsenal of nicknames now?

“Only when I feel like goading you,” Jim said with a grin. “Admit it, you love it.”

Jim could all but hear Bones roll his eyes. I admit nothing. Especially not defeat.

“We’ll see about that,” Jim teased.

Bones cleared his throat. Jim?

Sitting straighter in his chair, Jim’s face grew serious. “Yeah, Bones?”

I just want you to know that no matter what happens tomorrow, the last month has probably been the best of my life, Bones said, and his voice was rough. Aside from professional pride, I’ll be happy regardless of who wins. You’re more important than an undefeated title.

It took Jim a minute to reply, he was so taken aback. “I…yeah. Same here. Especially that last part.”

Bones sighed. Good. I was half-afraid you’d accuse me of going easy on you.

“Nah, I think I know you better than that by now,” Jim said. “I’m not going easy on you either.”

I’d be disappointed in you if you did, Bones said. I gotta cut this short, darlin’, I’m wiped. But I’ll see you tomorrow at the network.

Jim bit back a smile. “See you tomorrow, Bones. Have a good night.”

G’night, Jim.

Jim ended the call and stood out on his terrace for another minute. He turned and headed back into his apartment.

Pavel brought up both his hands, alternating between pitching his voice high for Jim and low for Bones. “Hi Jim. Hi Chef McCoy. I like your food. No, I like your food. Let’s make out and have babies! Okay, let’s!” He proceeded to make his hands attack each other, making more of those obnoxious kissing sounds.

Jim sighed. “Fucking really?”

“Speaking of fucking, phone sex?” As always, Hikaru asked the delicate, tactful questions.

Jim dropped his phone on his table and buried his face in both hands. “Is it too late to fire both of you for tomorrow?”

“Yup,” they said in unison.

“Okay, how about in general? I can call Charlie right now and tell him you’re not working out. Or stealing. Smuggling pandas out the back room,” Jim said, still hiding behind his hands. “I’ll make something up.”

“No you won’t,” Hikaru said. “Because as annoying as we are, and we are very annoying, we’re too fucking good. You can’t let us go lest someone else snatch us up.”

Jim peaked through his fingers, and he saw that Pavel nodded. Damn them, they were right. “All right fine. I won’t tell Charlie to fire you. But someday soon, I will have my revenge.”

“Fair enough,” Pavel said. “So anyways, the Jell-O?”

“Well, I requested mint, although I think Riley said they have that already,” Jim said. “Make a mint-cherry Jell-O sauce for a rack of lamb, with a way reduced down Jell-O polenta to accompany it,” Jim said. “So if we see lamb tomorrow, I guess we know it’s Jell-O.”

Hikaru made the sign of the cross.

“What are the plans for the uni?” Pavel asked.

“Seared sea urchin with sunchokes,” Jim said, “with a sea urchin custard, and foam made from the liquid inside the shell and lemon juice. Served in the spiny shell.”

Hikaru stared at Jim. “Foam? You really want to go there?”

“This one time I do,” Jim said. “Normally I find that stuff played out, but with the way the dish is composed in my head, it’ll actually add to it. Trust me. Sea urchin ice cream too.”

“Why does it feel like you’ve waited your whole life to say those words?” Pavel asked.

“Probably because I kind of have,” Jim admitted. “I love how horrified the judges get at the weird ice creams before they try them, and they’re actually good. I want to be one of those competitors.”

“What about the champagne?” Hikaru said.

Jim thought for a moment. “Champagne-vanilla glazed ham.”

“A ham in an hour?” Hikaru said.

“It’s possible, it’s not like it’s a frozen turkey,” Jim said with a shrug. “I won’t lie to you, it’ll be close. Champagne braised greens and champagne risotto.”

“Oooh, can I call the risotto?” Pavel said with a bright grin.

“You can do that and split your attention to other things right?” Jim said.

“Yup,” Pavel said. “I got this.”

“Then sure,” Jim said. “If it’s champagne, you get risotto. But seriously, if you pull some rank amateur shit and fuck up my risotto…”

“Do you want me to make you some right now, Dad?” Pavel said with a baleful expression.

Jim closed his eyes and sighed. “No. Sorry. That was uncool.”

“Apology accepted,” Pavel said.

“What about dessert?” Hikaru said. “We could go really obvious and do champagne truffles…”

“No, that’s definitely too obvious,” Jim said. “I asked for strawberries because duh.”

“Duh,” Pavel agreed.

“Champagne-strawberry soup with a scoop of basil sorbet,” Jim said. “I don’t prefer super sweet desserts, and I’ve watched the show enough to know that most of the judges don’t, either.”

“Good call,” Hikaru said. Pavel nodded his agreement.

“With the Jell-O, we’re making cakes with salted Jell-O buttercream,” Jim said.

“I really don’t want Jell-O,” Pavel said.

“Because you just said that, I bet we get Jell-O,” Jim said. “Murphy’s Law.”

Pavel sighed and knocked on wood. “What time is it?”

Jim checked his phone; it was going on midnight, and they’d been at it since six. “I think we’re good to stop for the night. We need to get plenty of rest for tomorrow. Riley said filming takes ten hours.”

“Yeah,” Pavel said as he stood and stretched. “I’m gonna head out. I want to catch up on my sleep debt.”

Hikaru finished the last of his beer, setting the bottle in the recycling. “Yeah, I’ll head out too. I have a couple of errands before we meet up in Chelsea at ten.”

“Sounds good,” Jim said. He also stood and stretched. “Don’t forget your knives.”

“Never leave home without them,” Pavel said. He and Hikaru grabbed their coats, and Jim saw them to the door. Jim undid the deadbolt and opened it, and they stepped into his hall. “See you, Jim.”

“Deuces,” Hikaru said, holding up two fingers.

“Night guys,” Jim said as he closed the door behind them. He relocked it for the night and turned off the lights in the living room and kitchen. Jim went into his bedroom, grabbing a pair of flannel pants and an old t-shirt. He changed clothes and paused to turn on his space heater.

Jim plugged in his phone to charge it, pulled down his comforter and sheets, and climbed into bed. It was his first time sleeping alone in weeks, and Jim decided he didn’t really care for it. Hugging himself to mimic the feel of Bones’ arms around him, Jim sighed and closed his eyes.

It took about an hour, but he managed to sleep.

-----

Leonard arrived at Food Network’s Chelsea Market studio at 9:45, backpack slung over one shoulder and Ray Bans on his face. He had the route to Kitchen Stadium long-memorized, and he took the elevator and went up to the proper level. He adjusted the weight of his bag as he walked towards his green room.

Normally he bypassed the challengers’ room altogether, but this time he decided to stop in and say hello.

As usual, a sign was taped to the door. The word “challengers” had been crossed out, and in block letters it now proclaimed “bad mother-fuckers.” Leonard snorted before knocking.

The door swung open, and a man a few inches shorter than Leonard with thick black hair and brown eyes opened it. The man stared at him for a second before he cleared his throat. “Jimmy, your date is here. If you don’t go now, you’ll be late for the prom.”

Leonard lifted up his sunglasses. “Do what now?”

“Hikaru, I swear to God,” Jim’s voice called. He stepped over to the door, brightening when he saw Leonard. “Hey, Bones.”

The first guy, who Leonard now realized was Hikaru Sulu, got the most shit-eating grin he had ever seen. “Bones? You call him Bones? Like as in slang for fucking?”

“No, that is not why I call him that,” Jim said. “In fact, why I call him that is actually none of your business.”

Sulu didn’t hear Jim, as he had doubled-over laughing. Leonard sighed.

“Sorry,” Jim said. “He’s kind of not mature. At all,” he added with emphasis.

Another man appeared, although he really looked more like a boy. He had blue-grey eyes and curly auburn hair. “Oh. Oh. Oh my God.”

Leonard and Jim looked at the kid.

“You’re…you’re you…” The kid continued. “You’re really you. Oh my God. Oh my God…oh my God…”

Jim buried his face in his hands, but Leonard was relieved. This he knew how to deal with. “Hey, you must be Pavel Chekov,” he said, extending a hand. “Leonard McCoy.”

Chekov reached out a trembling hand, and they shook. “Wow. I mean, I knew I was going to meet you, but I just…I just…wow…” Chekov’s eyes were huge. “The first Iron Chef America I watched was Battle Eggnog. I’ve been a huge fan ever since!”

“Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say,” Leonard said with a smile to put him at ease. It took him a few tries to get Chekov to let go of his hand, but eventually he got the hint.

“And this totally makes me a bad person, but I like watching you yell at people on Worst Cooks Ever,” Chekov continued. “You and Gordon Ramsey.”

“I get that comparison a lot,” Leonard said. He realized Sulu was still laughing. Sighing, he turned to him and extended his hand. “Chef Sulu.”

Sulu stared at him for a second. “I really want to shake your hand, but I also know where it’s been.”

Leonard gave Jim a pointed look that went unnoticed as Jim stared at Sulu so hard it was a minor miracle his head didn’t explode.

“I’m going to remember this,” Jim muttered. He turned his attention back to Leonard. “So what’s up?”

“Just thought I’d say hi before the whole hair and make-up thing happens,” Leonard answered.

“Well, hi,” Jim said with a grin. He reached out for Leonard for a second before remembering who else was in the room. “Um…”

Leonard, who really could not have cared less, grabbed Jim and pulled him out into the hall. The door slammed closed behind them, and before Jim could ask what was going on, Leonard backed him into the door and kissed him.

“Mmmm,” Jim said when it ended. “That’s some hi.”

“I missed you last night,” Leonard said. “Being in the same city but not being with you is shitty.”

“Yeah, it is,” Jim agreed as he made his usual move of putting his hands in Leonard’s back pockets. “I missed you, too.”

Leonard smiled. “You nervous?”

“Not yet,” Jim said. “I’m sure once we’re actually in front of the audience and everything, I will be.”

“Anything I can do?” Leonard ran his thumb over Jim’s bottom lip.

“Nah, I got this,” Jim said with a grin. “You better be ready to pay up on that bet we made.”

“Likewise,” Leonard said, leaning in for another kiss. With no care for where they were, they lingered together, kissing like it had been weeks apart instead of a day.

That is, until a voice Leonard knew all too well cleared its throat.

Leonard and Jim broke apart, and Jim turned bright red when he saw who it was.

Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, famous for his long running science and humor-based cooking program Kitchen Witchery. He was also the host and color commentator for Iron Chef America.

“We make out with our challengers now, Len?” Scotty quipped.

“We make out with this challenger,” Leonard said. “Scotty, this is Jim Kirk, who, in addition to being a worthy opponent, is my lover.”

Jim gave Leonard a gratified and pleased look before turning his attention back to Scotty. “Nice to meet you, Chef. I’m a big fan.”

“It’s Scotty,” Scotty said with a shrug. “Been meaning to check out your menu, Chef. I’ve heard only good things.”

“Just call me Jim,” Jim said. “And thanks. Let me know when, and I’ll make a special tasting just for you.”

“Appreciate it,” Scotty said as he adjusted his glasses. “I’ll get your number from Riley to make the arrangements.”

“Sounds good,” Jim said with a grin.

“I need to get into wardrobe,” Scotty continued. “I’ll see you in the Stadium.” He raised an eyebrow. “And Len? For God’s sake, put a ring on it.”

Heat flooded Leonard’s cheeks as Scotty walked in the direction of his dressing room.

Jim gave Leonard a sideways glance. “So…” he began. “I’m your lover.”

“Boyfriend is juvenile,” Leonard said, still with a blush on his cheeks.

“My point is that you’re serious about us,” Jim said.

Now Leonard looked surprised. Had he not made that clear? “You didn’t realize that?”

Jim looked at him for a while. “I mean, I didn’t not realize it, but it’s the first time either of us has said it. So it’s a bit of a surprise, is all.” He caressed Leonard’s face. “I’ve felt this for a while, but I didn’t want to say it to you in case it was too soon. But I…I want…I know it’s moving fast, but I want to come home and find you there. And I want to be there when you come home from filming. I want to get to know Jo. I know it’s only been a month, but, Bones, whenever I think about my future, I see you now.”

Leonard swallowed. “I see you in mine, darlin’. I think I have since we met. It’s thrilling and a bit scary but…” A smile formed on his face. “I want to be with you, Jim. Not just for right now. For keeps.”

Jim smiled another one of those luminous, beautiful smiles before he grimaced. “I now have to spend an hour cooking five courses after having this conversation. Thanks a fucking lot.”

“Put the love in your food, you infant,” Leonard shot back.

“I always do,” Jim said. He leaned forward, resting their foreheads against each other.

Leonard reached down and took his hands. “Get your head out of the clouds, and prepare to bring it, Jim. We’re off to hair and make up in a minute.”

“Oh it’s being brought,” Jim said. “You won’t know what hit you.”

“We’ll see.” Leonard kissed him. “I gotta go.”

“See you in the stadium?” Jim kissed him again and then a third time.

“See you in the stadium.” Leonard held onto his hands as he walked away until he couldn’t anymore, heading for the Iron Chef’s green room. Once inside, he saw Christine and Geoff in their white jackets. Christine liked to wear hers with jeans and sneakers like Leonard, but Geoff wore black chef’s pants and clogs.

“What’s got you so happy?” Christine said as Leonard stripped out of his jacket and plaid shirt into just a black Underarmour t-shirt. He reached for his blue and black Iron Chef’s jacket, fastening it up out of habit.

“Nothing major,” Leonard said. “Just some things in my personal life.”

Geoff raised an eyebrow. “You’re practically glowing. For you, I mean.”

Leonard shrugged. “Don’t misunderstand me. We’re in it to win it. My head’s completely in the game from this moment on.”

Christine smiled, and Geoff did the same.

“Please not the Jell-O,” Christine said.

“I’m hoping for the champagne,” Leonard said as he looked in the mirror to make sure his jacket was on straight. His was one of the only two to have short sleeves, because he always hated how hot the long-sleeved jackets got. “I guess we’ll know if we see peaches for the dessert course.”

“Are you sure it’s actual champagne and not just a variety of sparkling wines?” Geoff asked.

“Food Network’s pretty choosy about their wordings,” Leonard said. “It’ll be the real deal. Plus Scotty would shit himself if they did that.”

“True,” Geoff said. He grabbed his knives and chef’s apron. Leonard and Christine did the same. Together they strode to the main stadium, setting up on the Iron Chef’s half. Their make up artists came and expediently got them camera ready, and Christine took a moment to pull her hair into a ponytail.

Jim, Sulu, and Chekov did similar things on their half of the set. Scotty stood talking to one of the directors, Richard Barnett. He lit up and came running over to Leonard.

“You’re dating your competitor?” Barnett asked without preamble.

Leonard facepalmed. “Thanks, Scotty,” he muttered. He lowered his hand from his face. There was no reason to deny it. “Yes.”

“What a great angle!” Barnett said with a grin. “Our first ever romance. The ratings will go through the roof. Chef Kirk…Chef Kirk!”

Jim looked at them with a curious expression before walking over. “Yeah?”

“You two are dating,” Barnett said. “Mind if we use that today?”

Leonard glared at Barnett as Jim’s eyes widened a little. “Um…when you say ‘use that’…what do you mean, exactly?”

“Just including it in the color commentary, but we’ll keep it PG. It’s a family show.”

Leonard turned his glare to Scotty, who held up his hands in a gesture of surrender and shook his head no about a dozen times. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. We haven’t gone public yet, Richard.”

“What better way than with this?” Barnett countered.

“Off the top of my head? I can think of about seventy,” Leonard said. “Seriously, if I don’t let you guys film my kid, why would I let you do this?”

“Bones, it’s okay,” Jim said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “As fond as you are of calling me ‘kid,’ I’m not one. It’s a different situation.”

“Yeah, but Jim,” Leonard said, pulling him to the side. “Do you really want this? Your career is just starting out. Do you really want to get your first international exposure as my lover?” He put his hands on his hips. “Jim, I don’t want that for you. You’ve earned your spot here. I don’t want people saying things about you like you’re only here because of me.”

Jim looked less confused by his reaction, but he didn’t say anything.

“If we come out this way, you will never escape my shadow,” Leonard continued. “I really don’t want that for you. I want you to be a star in your own right. And that won’t be possible, or at least, it’ll be much harder for you, if your first big thing involves being my romantic partner.”

Sighing, Jim shook his head. “No, you’re right. You’re right. I didn’t think about it like that. Let’s go put our feet down.”

“Good,” Leonard said, and they took the few steps back to Barnett. “Our answer’s no, Richard.”

“Yeah, we’re not ready to disclose this to the world,” Jim said. “We’d rather do it on our own terms.”

Barnett looked disappointed. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled. “I understand.”

Leonard rolled his eyes as Barnett disappeared to discuss something with the actor who played the Chairman: an easygoing guy named Pike who somehow managed to be convincing with the theatrics.

Leonard also had no idea how he could do all the back flips and martial arts at his age without pulling something, but them’s the breaks.

Scotty stood by his base of operations in a charcoal three-piece suit. He peered at the monitors, going over his lines for the episode. His floor reporter, Gary Mitchell, took a sip of bottled water and said something to him. Scotty nodded and said something that made Mitchell laugh.

Catching Scotty’s eye, Leonard gave him a look. Scotty shrugged and mouthed, “Sorry. Didn’t know he didn’t know.” Leonard inclined his head in a nod.

The audience began to filter in, with crowds moving to the skybox. A woman with Jim’s coloring sat in the front row, along with a man who bore more than a passing resemblance to him. Jim noticed them and waved with a grin, and they waved back. That was right, he said his mother and brother would attend the taping. This pleased Leonard as his phone beeped, signaling he had a text message.

It was from Jo. Beat him down, Daddy!

Leonard smiled. He typed up a reply. You know it, baby girl. Now stop texting in class.

Jo didn’t reply, which was good. He’d hate for her to get in trouble.

Barnett called for places, and Jim and Leonard got into position.

It was go time.

-----

The time has come once again to answer life’s most…savory question. Whose cuisine reigns supreme? This is…Iron Chef America!

“A delectable Japanese tradition has taken root in American soil,” Scotty said, as the audience saw clips of old battles on the view screens scattered throughout the stadium. “We have been graced with the establishment of our own Kitchen Stadium, where our nimble chairman---“ The clips switched to Pike doing somersaults. “---Has brought together the pungent flavors of East and West. It is here that the best of the best from around the world will meet and face the ultimate gourmet challenge.”

The camera focused on Scotty, who stood with his hands clasped in front of his body.

“Hi, I’m Montgomery Scott,” Scotty said. “And I’m here in the heart of our culinary academy, where you can taste the anticipation. And if I may say so, it tastes delicious. Now, the time has come for an All-American food fracas.”

The lights shifted dramatically, focusing on the large portraits of the American Iron Chefs along one wall. More clips of past battles played on the monitors.

“In mere moments, one of our Iron Chefs will battle against a chef who thirsts for the knowledge of today’s Secret Ingredient,” Scotty continued.

The cameras shifted to a backlit doorway, where Kirk stood obscured by shadows.

“Please welcome, the edgy and effervescent Chef Jim Kirk!”

Kirk began to walk down the pathway, as spotlights hit him from both sides.

“Our challenger today has recently been nominated for his first James Beard Foundation award and is a rising star of New American cuisine here in New York City,” Scotty said as clips of Kirk working at Aureole filled the monitors. “At the tender age of twenty-five, he is already executive chef for world class restaurateur Charlie Palmer.”

Kirk stood to the right and below Chairman Pike. In front of Pike stood a long table that had a steel cover with the Iron Chef stylized knife logo embossed on it. Pike bowed to him, and Kirk returned the favor.

“His fate, along with our Iron Chef’s, will be determined by our panel of three judges,” Scotty continued.

“Chef Kirk,” Pike said. “Welcome.”

“Thank you, Chairman,” Kirk said with another bow. “It’s a pleasure.”

“Today is your competition debut,” Pike continued. “How are you feeling?”

“Like a winner, Chairman,” Kirk said with a smile.

“We expect great things, Chef Kirk,” Pike said with a smile. “Do you know which Iron Chef you choose to battle here in Kitchen Stadium?”

The monitors switched to a split screen with a freeze-frame of each Iron Chef.

“I would like to battle Iron Chef McCoy,” Kirk said.

A dark part of the stadium lit up, and there stood Leonard McCoy with his arms crossed over his chest. McCoy strode over to stand across from Kirk, folding his hands behind his back.

“Iron Chef McCoy,” Pike said, bowing. McCoy returned it. “Do you feel that fortune favors you?”

“Fortune always favors the bold, Chairman,” McCoy said with a smile.

Pike smiled. “Very good. But, we can’t start just yet. There’s one more ingredient to this battle. The secret ingredient!”

The camera focused on Kirk as he rubbed his hands together. It then focused on McCoy, who raised an eyebrow.

“This ingredient is the theme on which you must offer all of your variations,” Pike said. “Today’s secret ingredient is…”

The camera focused again on Kirk and McCoy.

Pike lifted the cover with a dramatic flourish, and on the table in buckets of ice sat dozens of corked bottles. The labels had been removed, but it was obvious.

Champagne!” Pike proclaimed.

The audience murmured, oohed, and ahhed as the table of the wine was shown in a dramatic light. Kirk’s eyebrows rose and McCoy nodded with the ghost of a smirk on his face.

-----

“This is gonna be a bit tricky,” Jim Kirk said to the camera in his confessional. “It’s really easy to overpower the taste of champagne. Bringing it out and making it prominent is going to be a challenge, but I’m ready for it.”

-----

“Well, as everyone knows, I’m a big fan of alcohol,” McCoy said in a similar confessional. “The important thing is that I’m not going down without a fight.”

-----

“Chefs,” Pike said. “Your initial dish featuring champagne must be presented to the judges within the first twenty minutes.”

Kirk knit his eyebrows together, and McCoy nodded.

“Later in the battle, I will present to you my Culinary Curveball,” Pike added. “You will be required to incorporate the use of my Curveball into at least one of your remaining dishes. But that is all I can say at this time.”

His face shifting from perplexed to intrigued, Kirk nodded. A smirk formed on McCoy’s face as he looked up at the Chairman.

“So now, I say to you America…with an open heart and an empty stomach, in the words of my uncle…”

The music built to a crescendo, and Pike made a large sweeping gesture with both hands.

Allez-cuisine!

Without another moment’s hesitation, both Kirk and McCoy grabbed bottles of the champagne, carefully juggling them in their arms. They ran back to their stations to confer with their sous. Their teams ran over to each of them.

“Battle Champagne is now on in Kitchen Stadium,” Scotty announced, “and it is going to be a long, hard-fought one with an up-and-coming chef who may feel like he has to prove himself today. This is probably one of the most challenging secret ingredients we’ve had here on Iron Chef.”

The camera moved to McCoy’s half of the stadium. He whispered something to his sous, Christine Chapel and Geoffrey M’Benga. Geoff said something he liked, because he clapped him on the shoulder and smiled. Christine added something to the conversation, and McCoy also looked pleased by her words.

On the challenger side, Kirk had his head bowed with his sous, Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov. They exchanged words for a minute, with Chekov saying something that got an “I love it!” out of Kirk.

The camera focused back on Scotty, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Of course, today they are battling with actual champagne,” Scotty explained. “Most people refer to all sparkling wine as such; however, actual champagne is only manufactured using specific rules and grapes from the Champagne region of France. So your Proseccos, your California sparkling whites…none of those are true champagne.”

The time clock came to life. It read 60:00 in bright red lights. Then, it began to tick down. 59:59, 59:58…

“Champagne is either classified as a blanc de blanc, blanc de noir, or as a rosé. Blanc de blanc of course being a champagne that is manufactured from Chardonnay grapes, while a blanc de noir is a champagne that is manufactured using black grapes, such as Pinot Noir. The rosés are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time, which is known as the saigneé method, or by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee.”

Kirk ran to the pantry and grabbed an assortment of ingredients, McCoy doing the same. Focused on their tasks, they then ran over to their stations, where their sous did things such as set pans with oil in them to warm on the range and pre-heat the ovens.

“Behind!” McCoy said as he ran past M’Benga’s back.

“Obviously, we have several different representatives from Champagne here today,” Scotty said. “Some may be more dry than others; for example, a brut natural champagne has less than three grams of sugar per litre.”

“Coming around, full hands,” Kirk said as he made his way back to his station.

A cork popped on McCoy’s side, the champagne fizzing over the top and pouring out of the bottle. He quickly grabbed a Pyrex measuring cup and poured it in to the brim.

“Champagne can also be soft, more gentle, as in the case of the rosé,” Scotty continued. “It really depends on how it’s fermented, and how long it spends in the barrels.”

Kirk also popped a bottle of the wine, although this did not result in an explosion. He poured it into a saucepan.

“Iron Chef McCoy is already at work,” Scotty said, peering over his glasses. “What is that he has out?”

McCoy held Prince Edward Island mussels. He poured them, along with the champagne, into a large stainless steel pot. He then poured more champagne into a clear glass bowl and began to julienne a potato.

Gary Mitchell, floor reporter and long familiar with the Iron Chefs, ran over to him. “Iron Chef McCoy!”

McCoy paused to open his arms, and Mitchell hugged him.

Scotty snorted. “Apparently, that’s what we do here in Kitchen Stadium. We hug it out.”

“So, champagne,” Mitchell said as he took notes on an iPad. “Some would call this a bizarre secret ingredient.”

“It is a bit,” McCoy said as he went back to julienning the potato. His knife work was sure and swift. “It’s all subtlety and nuance. You have to work at it to capture the effervescence and flavor.”

“What is your strategy today?” Mitchell asked as he peered at the potato.

“Champagne mules-frites,” McCoy said. “For the first course.”

“Nice,” Mitchell said. “You should feel right at home with that.”

“A cocktail too,” McCoy added. “I just dreamed it up. Like a Kir Royale that wears Chanel.”

“You gotta have the drinks with this challenge,” Mitchell said with a grin. “Good to hear, it Chef. We’ll be back with you soon, and have a good battle.”

“Thanks.” McCoy reached out one arm, and they hugged a second time. Mitchell left his station, and McCoy concentrated back on his work.

“Let’s see, over on the challenger’s side, we have abalone,” Scotty said with a curious expression. Kirk was shucking the abalone with a look of deep concentration on his face.

“Chef Kirk,” Mitchell said as he ran up to him. “The stakes are high for you today. You’ll have officially arrived in the culinary world if you end McCoy’s undefeated streak.”

“Yeah,” Kirk said as he placed the abalone on a towel. “It is my plan, just so you know. I’m in it to win it.”

“How are you going to play this today?” Mitchell asked as he looked at the board.

“Not safe, if that’s what you’re getting at,” Kirk said. He made an egg-champagne mixture, soaking the abalone in it before rolling them in Panko breadcrumbs. “Gotta say, this isn’t the easiest secret ingredient, but I have a fondness for it.”

-----

“What I’m doing for the first course is a pan-fried in champagne abalone with a honey-champagne dipping sauce,” Jim said to the camera. “It’s a play on just plain old pan-fried abalone. It’s a delicate ingredient, so I have to be careful with it to keep it from overcooking and turning rubbery.”

-----

“I think we all have a fondness for champagne,” Mitchell said with a smile, and Kirk laughed.

“You’re not wrong,” Kirk said. “My opponent will owe me a bottle of Dom if this goes the way I want it to.”

Mitchell looked intrigued. “Oh, you two have a little side-wager?”

Kirk froze. “Something like that.” It was momentary, because he immediately brightened. The abalone got dropped into a hot sauté pan, and the sound of sizzling filled the air. Kirk then grabbed a jar of honey and the open bottle of champagne. He took a swig out of it; satisfied with what he tasted, he set it down next to the honey.

“Well, we’re sure the story today will have a happy ending,” Mitchell said with a wink. “Good luck, Chef.”

“Thanks!” Kirk said as he poured the honey into a bowl, digging it out with his finger to make it move faster.

Scotty looked at one of his monitors. “On the Iron Chef’s side, Chef M’Benga is filleting what appears to be a gorgeous sockeye salmon…”

Indeed, Geoff M’Benga filleted and removed the bones of a fresh wild-caught sockeye salmon.

----

“For the second course, I’m doing a champagne-poached salmon,” Leonard McCoy said. “Along with champagne-boiled langoustines and champagne-sautéed spinach for garnish. I know poached things are normally pretty heavy, but the champagne will make the dish light and succulent.”

-----

“Over on the challenger’s side, Sous Chef Hikaru Sulu is giving a similar treatment to what I suspect is ahi tuna,” Scotty said as he adjusted his glasses.

Hikaru Sulu broke down the ahi tuna, expertly turning it into steaks. He paused to check on a pot on the stove; in it contained Japanese short grain rice cooking in champagne.

“Chef Kirk is clearly making some kind of sushi or sashimi for his second course.” Scotty said.

“Sushi,” Kirk called, pausing to take a look at him.

“Very good, Chef,” Scotty said. “Two very different schools of thought here in Kitchen Stadium today. If I were Iron Chef McCoy, I’d be worried.”

“Don’t be passive-aggressive,” McCoy retorted to Scotty as he dumped his pomme frites in mixture of hot oil and champagne in the deep fryer.

Scotty laughed. “I’m just saying.”

“Yeah, yeah,” McCoy said with a grin.

Scotty winked at him before turning his attention back to Gary Mitchell, who now stood in the center of the floor. “Gary Mitchell on the floor, I can’t even begin to imagine the strategy that would need to be employed for an ingredient like this.”

“I got some answers, but they just left me with more questions, Scotty,” Gary said with a smile. “Although I will say that it appears that Pavel Chekov on the challenger’s side has begun a risotto.”

Scotty turned to look, and indeed, the youngest participant in the day’s battle was pouring champagne into a pot filled with Arborio rice. Scotty sucked on his teeth. “A risotto when trying to complete this many dishes in an hour? That’s ballsy.”

“It is,” Mitchell agreed. “I do have some answers for you.”

“Then for God’s sake, lad, give them to me,” Scotty said with a roll of his eyes.

“Iron Chef McCoy is doing a champagne take on a traditional mules-frites,” Mitchell said with a look at his iPad. “Meanwhile, challenging Chef Kirk is doing a champagne pan-fried abalone with a honey-champagne sauce.”

“Interesting,” Scotty said. “Intriguing that both of them went for shellfish.”

“I agree,” Mitchell said. “They’re both going for fish for their second course, too.”

“Great minds, I suppose,” Scotty said. “Let’s take another look at the Iron Chef’s side. I see sous chef Christine Chapel is doing something interesting.”

Chapel was actually making a cheese ball using cloth, rich cream, and nuts. She squeezed some of the moisture out of the ball, making something that appeared decadent and creamy.

“What goes better with champagne than cheese?” Scotty said. “Nothing, I tell you.”

Chapel smiled for a second as she paused to stir a pot; in this pot were black berries, sugar, champagne, and raspberries.

“Also making some type of jam or compote to go with the cheese course,” Scotty said. “I knew you were a Francophile, McCoy, but this takes the cake.”

McCoy laughed as he checked his mussels, which poppped open in his pan.

Fifteen minutes have elapsed, announced the time clock.

“The main thing is they need to be ready, they only have five minutes left to present their first course to the judges,” Scotty said. “They can get a possible score of fifteen, with five points per judge. If they don’t make it, they forfeit those fifteen points.”

McCoy now put a mixture into six little round pans. Scotty stood on his tiptoes to try to get a better look.

“Iron Chef McCoy is placing some kind of batter in pans,” Scotty said. “It looks like some kind of tart.”

-----

“I wanted to do something light and fun for the final course,” McCoy said. “So what better than a peach-champagne clafoutis? After all the other courses, I felt like something bright would be the way to end the meal, and a clafoutis is light for a tart.”

-----

McCoy poured champagne into chilled glasses, followed by crème de cassis and lavender honey. He stirred just enough to incorporate them together, giving the flutes a color that gradated from the light gold of the champagne to a rich purple from the crème de cassis.

 

“Time is the most critical challenge for a chef,” Jim said. “This is a really difficult ingredient, so yeah, I’m worried about finishing on time.”

-----

“Speaking of our judges, to introduce them, we go up to Gary Mitchell,” Scotty announced as he turned away from the camera.

Mitchell stood next to the judges’ table with a smile. “Ladies and gentlemen, and Montgomery Scott,” he said with a wink. “Here come the Judges.”

The camera focused on the first judge; he was a man with a bowl cut and a serious expression on his face. He quirked his lips up at the camera in the barest hint of a smile.

“Our first judge is a noted food writer, famous for his memoir, Culinary Catastrophes, and a veteran judge here in Kitchen Stadium, presenting Spock S’chn T’gai!”

Spock gave a nod to the camera.

“Up next is a dynamo when it comes to restaurants, owning several successful spots in Manhattan including The Pomp, and she’s beautiful besides,” Mitchell said as the camera panned to a striking black woman in a red dress. She smiled for the camera. “Also no stranger to Kitchen Stadium, please welcome Nyota Uhura!”

Nyota’s smile turned up a notch, and she nodded.

“Last, but most certainly not least,” Mitchell said as the camera shifted to a redhead with ringlets in a sparkly green dress. “Our final judge has published several cookbooks and run specials about food internationally, most notably on the BBC. We have with us the Queen of Food Porn, Gaila!”

Gaila grinned and winked at the camera.

“How excited are you all for battle champagne?” Mitchell asked the panel.

“Pretty excited,” Gaila said. “I mean, you ask me what my favorite drink is, and every time I’ll say it’s my next one. I’m looking forward to this.”

“I am as well,” Uhura said. “It can be assertive or delicate, depending on if it’s a brut natural or just plain brut. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with it.”

“Any concerns, Spock?” Gary asked as Spock peered down at McCoy, who was plating his first course.

“I am certain our competitors will utilize this ingredient with deft handling,” Spock said.

-----

“If I have any fears, it’s not finishing on time,” McCoy said. “I’ve done over thirty battles, and I’ve established a rhythm. This new rule where I have to spend the first twenty minutes concentrating on only one dish…I wouldn’t go so far as to say it throws me off my game, but it does make it more challenging.”

------

Leonard McCoy arranged three mussels on a rectangular plate with the crispy pommes frites to the side. A dollop of a champagne-infused aioli went next to the frites. He grabbed the plate and one of his flutes, carrying it up to the Judges’ table.

“And here we have Iron Chef McCoy presenting his first dish to the judges with two minutes to spare,” Gary Mitchell said.

McCoy set the plate on the table. Sweat glistened on his forehead, and he smiled at the judges. “Yo. What I’ve prepared for you today is a play on a traditional mules-frites; we have Prince Edward Island mussels sautéed in a brut champagne-butter emulsion with a champagne soaked pomme frites and a champagne aioli for dipping. To drink, we have a Kir Royale taken up a notch with the addition of some lavender honey. Bon appetit.

Spock pulled a mussell out of its shell. Gaila picked up one of the frites, dippied it in the aioli, and took a bite.

“Thoughts so far?” Mitchell said.

Uhura, who had finished two of the mussels and had one of the frites was the first to speak up. “I love the drink. The addition of the lavender honey turns a normally two-note cocktail into something vastly more complex. The mules-frites are good; I usually don’t care for them, but McCoy’s I like. However…I must say, I’m not floored by it.”

“I have to agree,” Gaila said after she took a long sip of the drink. “It is definitely a kicked up version of a staple of French cuisine, and I can really taste the champagne, which I love. The presentation was gorgeous, but overall I find I’m a bit underwhelmed.”

Spock, who had finished his, looked thoughtful. “I too was expecting more from this in terms of flavor. Its complexity is appreciated, but I personally find that overall it is simply above average and not spectacular.”

The clock read 40:30.

“Thirty seconds left, Chef Kirk, you may want to step on it,” Scotty said.

His reminder proved to be unnecessary; Kirk had assembled his abalone on a bed of the honey sauce. He also carried a martini glass filled with champagne, vodka, and something that turned it slightly yellow. He arrived at the judges’ table with two seconds to spare.

“Hi!” Kirk said with a crooked grin. “What I have for you today is a pan-fried in champagne abalone over a honey-champagne sauce. For a beverage, we have a take on the drink known as an Arctic Kiss; it consists of brut natural champagne, vodka, and lemon juice for brightness. Hope you enjoy it!”

“Thank you, Chef,” Mitchell told him as he sprinted back down to his half of Kitchen Stadium.

The judges all ate their abalone, swirling it in the bed of the sauce. They then washed it down with the cocktail.

“Thoughts?”

“I am not getting a lot of champagne in the taste of the abalone,” Spock said. “It is cooked perfectly, and the flavor is excellent, but the champagne is not the most dominant flavor of the dish. I find the honey has overpowered it.”

“I would agree with that,” Uhura said as she took another sip of the cocktail. “The cocktail is very nice; I can’t imagine having an Arctic Kiss without lemon juice going forward. However, the honey does over power the champagne.”

“I actually disagree,” Gaila said. “For me it’s the right balance of the heaviness of the honey with the lightness of the champagne. I’m not normally a huge fan of abalone, but I enjoyed Chef Kirk’s first offering.”

The judges were handed cards and pens. They went to work scoring both dishes.

“There’s a total possible of fifteen points for each dish,” Scotty said. “Five points per judge. Let’s see how they fared.”

The judges passed their cards to Gary, who brought them to Scotty. Scotty made quick work of tallying each score.

“For Challenger Chef Kirk, the judges have awarded eleven points!”

A scorecard came up on the monitors with the number eleven in the “first dish” category for Kirk.

“For Iron Chef McCoy…wow! Twelve points!”

The number twelve entered the same column under McCoy’s name. The camera focused on his face, and he made a fist with his right hand, pulling it towards his body.

“McCoy starts the game with a one point lead, but it really could be anyone’s match,” Scotty said.

McCoy pulled out two flutes of champagne, filling them with bubbly. He then carried them over to Kirk’s side. “Jim,” he said, and Kirk looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Salud!

Salud!” Kirk said as they clinked glasses and drank. His eyes lit up. “Grand cuvee?”

“The very same,” McCoy said with a smile. “Good luck.”

“You too,” Kirk said with a dazzling smile of his own.

“Hey you lot,” Scotty said. “Get a room. You’ve got cooking to do, remember?”

Kirk laughed as he went back to glazing a ham with a mixture of champagne, vanilla beans, and a dash of molasses.

McCoy rolled his eyes as he went back to his half of the stadium. “Bleep you, Scotty.”

Scotty snorted. “I would comment, but we’re a family program. Do try to remember that, Iron Chef McCoy.”

McCoy snorted and went back about his business, putting lamb shanks down on the grill.

-----

“Lamb pairs really well with rosé,” McCoy told the camera. “So we’re doing a rosé -jelly with a grilled lamb shank over rosé infused polenta.”

-----

“I would give all my points if I got to eat some lamb and drink champagne,” Scotty said, almost to himself. “Unfortunately, I am not a judge.”

Uhura and Gaila laughed. Spock looked mildly amused.

On the challenger’s side, Kirk stewed parts of chickens in champagne with pearl onions and shallots. Scotty lowered his glasses to peer over them.

“Chef Kirk appears to be making a play on a coq au vin,” Scotty announced. “But with chicken and champagne. That will be interesting to see how it turns out, especially against this particular Iron Chef.”

Kirk grinned as he stirred the pot. “You gotta think like your opponent in order to defeat them,” he quipped as he went back to pureeing strawberries and champagne together. He then put the mixture in a cooler to chill it.

Thirty minutes have elapsed.

“Thirty minute warning, guys,” Kirk called.

“Yes, Chef!” Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov exclaimed.

“How you doin’, Christine? Geoff?” McCoy said.

“Leave me the bleep alone, boss,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, leave us the bleep alone, boss,” Geoff M’Benga added from where he took care of the salmon.

“Okay, I guess I’m leaving you two the bleep alone,” McCoy said with a smirk.

-----

“What can I say? It’s kind of amazing Bo…McCoy didn’t go for the coq au vin idea himself,” Jim Kirk said. “Instead of a robust stew, we’re going for something that’s light and flavorful.”

-----

“Some similar basic ideas, but wildly different execution here on both sides today,” Scotty said. “Both started out with shellfish, and both are doing fish for the second plating. However, that’s where the similarities end and the differences begin.”

M’Benga put the salmon in a sauté pan with the champagne to poach it.

Chekov stirred his risotto; it appeared to be thickening up nicely.

“The battle is getting tense here in Kitchen Stadium,” Scotty told the camera. “And we have yet to be given the Chairman’s Culinary Curveball. We’ll see what else is in store for our enterprising competitors after this break!”

The lights on the cameras went dark, and Scotty sighed. A PA handed him a glass of water, and he took it with a nod of thanks. Below him, the competitors continued cooking unaware.

“I would bloody kill for a glass of that grand cuvee,” Scotty told no one in particular.

Before anything else could register, McCoy came sprinting up with a flute of the champagne and a langoustine.

“Here, I know how much you love these,” McCoy said as he ran back down to his station.

Scotty bit into the langoustine with a grin. “Lad, if you weren’t spoken for, I’d marry you myself.”

McCoy barked out a laugh. Kirk came over to his side and nudged him with his shoulder. “I’m only over here when I should be checking on my chicken to bitch you out for cheating.”

“It’s not cheating, he’s impartial,” McCoy said, his green eyes twinkling. “You’re just pissed because you didn’t think of it yourself.”

“Whatever,” Kirk said. “You’re only up by one, old man. Don’t get complacent.”

“I never do, darlin’,” McCoy countered. Kirk winked at him and ran back to the challenger’s side.

The warning lights came up on the cameras, and Scotty went back into position. The cameraperson held out her hand: three fingers, then two, then one…

“Welcome back to Iron Chef America, here in Kitchen Stadium,” Scotty said to the camera. “Battle Champagne is raging on today, with both competitors going for the gold. We have Chef Kirk, a young competitor looking to establish himself in this very stadium....”

The camera panned to Kirk’s side of the stadium. Sulu wrapped the tuna in rice using a sheet of bamboo and nori. “Sushi’s bleeping done, Chef.”

“Good,” Kirk said as he checked on his “coq au vin.” He then switched tracks and checked on the basil sorbet in the ice cream machine. It wasn’t ready, though; liquid poured out of the spout, and he stared at it. “Really? Just…really?”

“Let’s bring the audience up to speed,” Scotty said. “On the Iron Chef’s side, we have kale and chard in a pot being infused with champagne.”

M’Benga stirred the pot with the greens before checking on the salmon.

“We also have a champagne-peach clafoutis in the oven,” Scotty continued as McCoy ran to the oven, checking the dessert’s progress with his sight. He must have been satisfied with what he saw, because he turned his attention back to the lamb on the grill.

“On the challenger’s side, we have an ice cream mishap,” Scotty said. Kirk shook his head a few times as he cleaned off the ice cream machine.

“I’m a bit early, is all,” Kirk said with a frown. “In five minutes, it’ll be good to go.”

-----

“If it was five points, I’d relax a bit,” McCoy said. “One point is nothing. Jim could easily make that up when we get to the next four courses.”

-----

“One point isn’t the end of the game,” Jim Kirk said. “That can be surmounted. I’m confident enough in the flavor of my food that I can make that up and take over.”

-----

Forty-five minutes have elapsed. Fifteen minutes to go.

“Keep in mind,” Scotty said. “The Chairman has yet to present his Culinary Curveball. It could be an ingredient or a piece of equipment, but it must be used in one of the remaining dishes.”

As if on cue, Chairman Pike wheeled out a cart that was covered with a red cloth. He stood, holding it in place behind the table that held the champagne and smiled.

“The use of the Chairman’s Culinary Curveball is worth another fifteen points,” Scotty said. “And if I may say so…champagne’s not enough of a curveball?”

Pike gave Scotty a pointed look before turning his attention back to the two competing chefs. “Gentlemen, it is time for me to present to you my Culinary Curveball.”

Literally dropping what he did, McCoy stopped and ran up to the Chairman. “Nice to see you again, sir,” he said with a bow of his head.

Kirk, however, was in the middle of checking on his sorbet.

Scotty cleared his throat. “Best not to keep the Chairman waiting, lad.”

“I hear you, I hear you,” Kirk said as he sighed. The sorbet had set finally, and came out of the machine with the proper consistency. He then ran up to the altar where the Chairman stood. “Yes, Chairman, thank you,” he said with a bow.

Pike smiled. “In one of your courses, I would like you to incorporate this…” He pulled back the red cloth with a dramatic flourish. Jars sat cooling in liquid nitrogen on the cart; they contained a black substance that resembled very small pearls. “Caviar!

McCoy heaved a sigh of relief. Jim’s grin widened.

Bleep yes,” he said as he held out a hand. McCoy slapped it five.

They each grabbed jars of the caviar and ran back to their stations. Kirk passed it to Sulu, who brightened. “Bleep yeah!” the sous chef said.

Scotty brought two fingers up to his temple. “This should be called Battle Cursing. We’re on in prime time, you lot! Children watch this!”

Neither of the competitors acknowledged him as McCoy handed the caviar to Christine. “Cream cheese, this, spread, go!”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” she said as she picked up cream cheese from the pantry and dumped it into a stand mixer. The caviar got thrown in with it, and the mixer whirred to life.

McCoy pulled his clafoutis out of the oven. Satisfied with them, he set them on a rack to cool.

Scotty looked at them. “Well, I would say that’s not quite eggy enough to be a true clafoutis…” At the look on Iron Chef McCoy’s face, he trailed off. “But as Leonard McCoy is an undefeated Iron Chef, he can call it whatever he pleases.”

McCoy smiled as he pureed red currants in a blender.

“Seriously, that look could have killed an elephant in its tracks,” Scotty added. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Better not,” McCoy said as he stopped the blender. He then poured the red currant puree into several champagne flutes, topping them off with the grand cuvee.

Over on the challenger’s side, Pavel Chekov cut the ham using a deli slicer. It was sliced super thin, and he put it on a plate on top of his champagne risotto with champagne spinach.

Five minutes remain.

At the Iron Chef’s side, plating was also occurring. M’Benga plated the salmon filets with a dash of a champagne greens. The langoustine was artfully arranged with the salmon.

“Only five minutes remain, let’s turn to our judges to see what they think,” Scotty said. “Gary?”

The camera cut to Gary Mitchell standing next to the judges’ table. “So what do you all think of the caviar and champagne pairing?”

“Vodka is more traditional with caviar,” Spock said. “However, champagne and caviar is a pairing not to be missed.”

“I actually prefer a little bubbly with my caviar,” Gaila said with a grin. “I don’t know; I associate caviar with celebration, and what says celebration more than champagne?”

Uhura nodded a few times. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it, to be sure. Wasn’t the line on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’?”

“It was,” Mitchell said with a grin. “You don’t look nearly old enough to remember that.”

“Oh, stop,” Nyota Uhura said with a smirk.

Gaila laughed. “Yeah, seriously. Stop. You’re not either competing chef; why would you butter us up?”

“I just call them like I see them,” Gary said, standing between their chairs with his hands on their backs.

“Oy!” Scotty said. “You’re a floor reporter. Report!”

To his credit, Gary Mitchell looked chastened. “Sorry, Scotty. I’m on it.” He ran back down to the floor, focusing at first on the challenger’s side. “Right now, Kirk is plating an interesting dish of the ahi tuna champagne sushi, hitting the display with liquid nitrogen and dusting it with the caviar...”

Indeed, three pieces of the sushi sat on a wire rack above a reservoir, covered with the caviar. Hikaru Sulu poured in the liquid nitrogen, giving the sushi a steamy and smoky effect.

“Interesting,” Scotty said. “What else does he have?”

Gary looked at the third course. “Oh, this is where the ham comes in.”

In a round bowl on a bed of champagne risotto sat several pieces of delicate and supremely thinly sliced vanilla and champagne glazed ham.

Scotty whistled. “Indeed, a champagne glazed ham over a champagne risotto.”

“Right on the money,” Gary said. “Kirk is currently plating the fourth course, and this must be the champagne coq au vin…”

In a white porcelain bowl, Kirk arranged a leg and a wing of the chicken, pouring a good-sized helping of the champagne stew with pearl onions over it.

“And for the final course, we have the strawberry soup,” Gary said. The soup was a beautiful shade of red in a white dish with a dollop of a verdant basil sorbet.

Scotty whistled appreciatively. “What do we have on the Iron Chef’s side?”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Gary proclaimed with a fake eye roll. He ran to McCoy’s station, pausing to examine his plating. “Here we have a champagne-poached salmon with a whipped caviar topping and champagne-braised greens…”

Three ounces of salmon sat on a plate on the bed of greens with the langoustine resting half on top of it.

“Next we have a champagne infused cheese tasting,” Gary said as he watched McCoy set delicate pieces of the champagne-cheese Chapel made on crostini along with the caviar spread. “With a champagne-currant cocktail.” The reddish drink sat in flutes.

On a china plate, McCoy sat a lamb shank with a champagne-polenta under it. “For the fourth course, we have lamb with the rose. Wow, Iron Chef McCoy is pulling out all of the stops.”

McCoy didn’t acknowledge Gary with anything more than a smile.

“For the final course, we have Iron Chef McCoy’s peach clafoutis, no doubt there’s some champagne in that.”

The clafoutis was plated with syrup-coated peaches and a champagne sauce to round it out.

Thirty seconds remain… the time clock pronounced.

With urgency, the two chefs checked their plates, cleaning them of any extraneous sauce or mess. Both of them had worried looks on their faces as they cleaned their dishes, making them look immaculate.

Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one…

A siren sounded.

“Put it down and walk away!” Scotty declared. “Battle Champagne is now over here in Kitchen Stadium!”

Without hesitating, the two chefs gravitated towards each other. Kirk had a huge smile on his face as McCoy wrapped him in a hug. They lingered together for a while before they turned to Scotty.

“As usual, the challenger presents first,” Scotty said with a raised eyebrow. “Followed by the Iron Chef.”

Kirk took a deep breath and sighed. McCoy rubbed light circles on his back. “You’ll do great,” he said as he continued to rub his back. “You’ll kill them.”

“No, you,” Kirk said with a shaky smile. “Bones…”

“I know,” McCoy said. “To the victor go the spoils, darlin’.”

“To the victor,” Kirk agreed. He took a shaky deep breath. “Guess I better plate my shit.”

“Yeah,” McCoy agreed. “Jim?”

Kirk raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Good luck,” McCoy said, restraining himself from being more demonstrative.

“You too,” Kirk said with a soft smile Scotty felt kind of wrong for witnessing. Kirk went to his station and prepared the plates for his second course.

“As you know,” Scotty told the cameras. “Each judge can award a total up to thirty points. Thirty total points for taste; five points per judge points for plating/presentation, five points each for originality and the use of our secret ingredient, and five points each for the Chairman’s Culinary Curveball. And of course, as always, may the better Chef prevail.”

Chairman Pike took his seat at the head of the judges’ table. Kirk wrung his hands for a second before the second course was brought to them. Kirk sprinted up to the table, pausing to catch his breath.

After he regained composure, Chairman Pike bowed to him. “Chef Kirk, please explain for us the strategy you employed today here in Kitchen Stadium.”

Kirk lit up, obviously relieved. “Well, Chairman, my strategy was simple. I used the ingredient to kind of…tell a story in five courses.”

Pike smiled. “Please tell us about the meal you have prepared today.”

Nerves somewhat visible on his face, Kirk cleared his throat. “For the second course, we have a brut champagne seared ahi tuna sushi, with champagne cooked rice, and a champagne-soy sauce for dipping,” he explained. The sushi sat on wire racks above smoking reservoirs. “There is an addition of liquid nitrogen infused with champagne to engage all five senses, not just taste and touch.”

The judges and Chairman picked up pieces of the sushi, dipping it in the sauce and eating them. They chewed with thoughtful expressions, and they had no real emotion on their faces.

“I must say,” Nyota Uhura said. “The champagne was missing in your first course. It is very prevalent here.”

“Thank you,” Kirk said with a grin.

“I love that your thought process was fish,” Gaila said as she dipped her second piece of the sushi in the sauce. “The champagne is a lovely addition to a traditional soy sauce with this. It’s very nice.”

“Thanks,” Kirk said, again with a smile.

“I see the prevalence of the Culinary Curveball,” Uhura added. “How lucky for you that it was caviar.”

“I know, right?” Kirk said with a laugh. “We got so lucky, man.”

Spock ate his third piece of sushi with a frown. “I would agree with the assessment of my fellow judges, except I find the soy-champagne sauce over-salted. It overwhelms the delicate flavors of your sushi and throws off the balance of the dish. Otherwise, well done.”

Kirk’s eyes dimmed a bit. “I…yeah, no. Thanks. That’s good to know.”

Pike nodded at Kirk; everyone finished eating the sushi. “Thank you, Chef. Next course, please.”

“Of course,” Kirk said as he made a gesture. The plates were cleared, and new plates were placed in front of the judges. These held the ham dish, and some of his bravado returned. “For the third course, we have a champagne-vanilla-molasses glazed ham with champagne risotto and a light dusting of champagne braised spinach. Enjoy!”

Again, the judges and Chairman took bites of the dish, chewing them thoroughly before swallowing.

“I have to say, when I saw the ham I was like ‘oh no,’” Gaila said. “But you’ve made something really special here, Chef. The meat is succulent and tender. The champagne, which could be over-powered by the other ingredients in the glaze, isn’t. The risotto is perfect. This is just exceptionally well done.”

“Thank you,” Kirk said with a wide smile.

“My issue is the lack of texture,” Spock spoke up. “It is all very soft and chewy. I would rather have something, such as a crostini, or crisp vegetable to make the dish less two-dimensional.”

Kirk nodded. “Fair enough.”

“The flavors are excellent, but I do agree with Spock,” Uhura said. “I’m longing for something with some crunch, even like a pickle. Otherwise, this dish is really great. As with Gaila, I was concerned about it being ham, but I find no fault with the taste.”

“Thank you,” Kirk said with a nod of his head.

The Chairman, who ate every bite, gave Kirk a look. “Next course, please, Chef.”

“Of course,” Kirk said. Again, the plates were cleared, and new ones were placed before the judges. These held the bowls of the chicken braised in champagne. “For my fourth course, we have a play on a traditional coq au vin, only it’s chicken braised with shallots and pearl onions in champagne.”

The judges pulled apart the chicken with the forks and took bites, all of them chewing with serious expressions.

“You know, you’re doing a take on coq au vin against Iron Chef McCoy, who is an expert on that dish,” Gaila teased. “That didn’t make you nervous at all?”

“I’m totally bleeping myself,” Kirk admitted. Uhura and Gaila both burst out laughing. Again, Spock only looked mildly amused. “I took a chance that he wouldn’t think the same way and make the same gamble.”

The judges and Chairman continued to eat with serious expressions.

“Well, I’ll say it,” Uhura said. “This is excellent. The champagne flavor is prevalent without beating us over the head. The chicken is perfectly cooked, moist and tender. The onions and shallots are a delight. Just…everything about this is lovely.”

“Really?” Kirk grinned. “Great!”

“I have no criticism,” Spock added as he took another bite of the chicken. It was fall apart with a fork tender. “This dish is outstanding.”

“Wow,” Kirk said. “Outstanding.”

“It’s well-deserved praise,” Gaila said as she took a sip of water. “I didn’t think anyone could outclass McCoy when it came to this dish, but you may just have succeeded.”

Before Kirk could comment, the Chairman made a gesture. “Chef.”

“Oh, right,” Kirk said. The plates were cleared, and his final course was placed in front of the judges and Chairman. “Last, but not least, we have a strawberry-champagne soup with a scoop of basil sorbet.”

The judges scooped up a spoonful of the soup with a bit of the sorbet. They ate it in concert, and they swallowed in unison.

“I regret that I can’t eat all of this right now,” Gaila said. “Because I have another meal coming.”

“I’m not letting that stop me,” Uhura said as she took another spoonful of sorbet and soup.

Kirk and Gaila laughed at her until Spock cleared his throat. “I find that the basil sorbet should have also involved the champagne. It does not quite unbalance the dish, but I feel it does not enhance it, either.”

“Really?” Uhura said. “For me, it’s the perfect balance. It keeps the champagne soup from being cloyingly sweet.” She looked at Kirk. “Well done, Chef.”

“Thank you,” Kirk said with a nod. The judges finished their final course, and the plates were cleared. Cards were handed to them, and they filled them out. Sensing it was time for him to go, Kirk bowed his head and nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

The Chairman nodded. “Chef Kirk, thank you for an excellent meal.” He extended a hand, and Kirk shook it with a smile. He then took turns shaking the hands of each judge. The audience clapped and cheered for him, and he bowed again as he made his way down the stairs to wait by his station. His sous slapped him high fives as he stood with one hand tucked into his apron, awaiting the judgment.

Without hesitating, Iron Chef McCoy brought up the second course of his meal. The poached salmon looked pretty as it sat on his plates, garnished by the langoustine and on the champagne greens.

“Iron Chef McCoy,” Chairman Pike said with a bow.

McCoy returned it. “Chairman.”

“Please tell us what your strategy was for this secret ingredient,” Pike continued.

“I made this meal today based on aromas and esters,” McCoy said. “The dishes are all harmonious with each other.”

“Very good,” Pike said. “Please take us through this course.”

“What I’ve prepared for you today is a champagne-poached sockeye salmon over a bed of wilted in champagne Swiss chard and kale,” McCoy said as the judges took their first bites. “To garnish, a champagne butter roasted langoustine.”

“I wish there was more of this langoustine,” Gaila said with a sigh. “It’s my favorite part of this dish.”

“Really?” McCoy said with a raised eyebrow.

“Really.” Gaila took a sip of water.

“I agree,” Spock said. “The fish is perfectly cooked, and the greens are a nice addition. The langoustine is the true star of the plate.”

Nyota took a bite of the salmon. “I actually disagree. The langoustine is nice, but I can’t get enough of the salmon. Normally when something gets poached, it sits like a weight in your stomach, but this is light and refreshing.”

“Thank you,” McCoy said. The plates were cleared, and new plates were brought to the table.

“Iron Chef McCoy, next course please,” Chairman Pike said.

Smiling, McCoy gestured to the plates. “What we have here is a play on a traditional cheese and champagne pairing. We have a champagne infused burrata and a caviar spread with cream cheese along with a champagne raspberry compote. To drink, a cocktail consisting of currant puree and brut champagne.”

Uhura took a sip of the drink as Gaila and Spock took bites of the cheese. Gaila chased hers with a sip of the cocktail, and Spock sampled the caviar spread.

“Well I like this,” Gaila said. “Everything is really rich and decadent. The drink is a nice complement; it really lightens things up.”

“Thank you,” McCoy said.

“I have to agree,” Uhura said. “Though I have to say, I feel like you played it a little safe with this course. A cheese tasting feels obvious to me.”

McCoy didn’t say anything, but he nodded.

“I must agree with Nyota,” Spock said. “This was not much of a gamble, although it was incredibly well-executed. The cheese is made well and the caviar spread tastes smooth. However, I find that it lacks a bit of creativity.”

“I see,” McCoy said with another nod.

The Chairman nodded. “Next course, please, Chef.”

“Of course,” McCoy said.

The plates were cleared, and the lamb shanks were placed in front of the judges and Chairman. “Next we have a gilled lamb shank marinated in rosé with a rosé-mint jelly and a rosé -infused polenta.”

The judges took their first bites.

“I’m not a huge fan of lamb,” Gaila said. “But this may have converted me. It’s cooked perfectly, and the rosé on it is a treat. There’s nothing about this I don’t like.”

“Thank you,” McCoy said.

“It is very flavorful, and the dish is well balanced,” Spock said. “I find no fault with this course.”

“Thanks,” McCoy said.

“This is really rather remarkable,” Uhura said. “Unlike Gaila, I love lamb, and this probably the best lamb I’ve ever had.”

“Wow,” McCoy said with a smile. “Thank you.”

The Chairman nodded. “Final course, please, Chef.”

For the final time, the judges’ plates were cleared and the clafoutis got placed before them. “For my final offering, a peach-champagne clafoutis with a champagne glaze.”

The judges ate the clafoutis.

“It is rather more a tart than a clafoutis,” Spock said after two bites. “The texture is slightly off.”

“I disagree,” Gaila said. “I know my desserts, and this is definitely a clafoutis. The peaches are delicate and just sweet enough without being cloying. The champagne glaze is beautiful.”

“I agree with Gaila,” Uhura said. “It’s the perfect way to finish your meal, Chef. It’s light and fun without being overly sweet. I’m really enjoying this.”

“Thank you, ladies,” McCoy said with a pointed look at Spock. Spock didn’t say anything in return; he simply raised an eyebrow.

“Iron Chef McCoy,” the Chairman said. “Thank you for an excellent meal.”

McCoy extended a hand, and the Chairman shook it. “Thank you, Mister Chairman.” He turned to the judges; he shook Spock’s hand, and kissed Uhura and Gaila on the cheek. The audience applauded and cheered. McCoy stepped down off the platform and went to his station. The judges picked up cards and scored his meal.

The camera focused back on Scotty. “The scores for taste are coming in, and Kirk was awarded twenty-four points.” Scotty read the next set of cards. “Iron Chef McCoy was also awarded twenty-four points, and he is still ahead by one point from the first dish.”

A scorecard filled the monitors, showing the totals of thirty-six to thirty-five.

“Final scores in just a moment, and it’s still anybody’s game,” Scotty said with a smile.

The rest of the scores were quickly tallied, and the Chairman was given the result. The two competitors stood opposite each other where they did at the beginning of the match. The Chairman stood on a platform above them, and he smiled down at them.

“Today, two champions met in Battle Champagne here in Kitchen Stadium,” Pike said. He turned and bowed to Kirk. “Chef Kirk.”

Kirk bowed.

The Chairman turned to McCoy. “Iron Chef McCoy.”

McCoy bowed.

“The judges have spoken, and the winner is…”

The audience, Kirk, and McCoy all held their breaths.

“Chef Kirk,” the Chairman announced with another bow to Kirk.

The audience burst into cheers and a wild round of applause. Kirk stood frozen, unable to move. McCoy got a big grin on his face and walked up to him, wrapping him in a hug.

“Congratulations,” McCoy whispered. “I’m happy for you.”

This snapped Kirk out of it, and he fiercely returned the hug. “Oh my God,” he said.

The scorecard came up on the monitors, and both of them had been awarded thirteen points for plating and presentation. For the culinary curveball, they again received the same score of eleven. For creativity, however…McCoy scored a twelve while Kirk scored a fourteen.

He won by a margin of one point.

‘What an upset!” Scotty said to the camera. “Iron Chef McCoy’s undefeated streak has ended today by one point! Both men put up a valiant effort, but Chef Kirk managed to barely edge him out for the victory. All good things must come to an end, and that includes winning streaks.”

-----

“I don’t believe it,” Jim Kirk said in an interview. “I really don’t believe it. I felt good during the battle but…wow.”

-----

“If it had to be anyone, I’m glad it was him,” McCoy said.

-----

The sous chefs came from their sides of the stadium, and everyone took turns congratulating each other on a well-played battle. The camera focused on them for a minute before switching back to Scotty.

“Thus concludes this episode of Kitchen Battle Extravaganza,” Scotty said. “In the immortal words of Alfred Hitchcock, ‘revenge is sweet and non-fattening.’ On behalf of the Chairman, Gary Mitchell, and everyone here at Kitchen Stadium, I bid you sweet eating.”

The camera turned off, and that was that for Battle Champagne.

-----

Several hours later, Jim Kirk found himself in the back of a limo waiting for Bones outside the Chelsea Market studio. He, Hikaru, and Pavel would be going out for drinks the following night to celebrate their victory, but at that moment he was concerned with a certain someone paying on a debt.

The driver opened the door, and in slid Bones carrying a bucket filled with champagne and two of the flutes from Kitchen Stadium.

Jim raised an eyebrow. “You won’t get in trouble for that?”

“Are you gonna tell?” Bones countered.

Before Jim could retort, his cellphone rang. It was Kevin Riley. Jim held up one hand to signal to Bones he was taking the call. “Jim Kirk.”

Chef, congratulations! Riley said. You made Iron Chef History today. Well done!

“Thanks,” Jim said with a smile as Bones uncorked the champagne. “I guess word travels fast.”

I wasn’t just calling to congratulate you, though. I have a couple of propositions for you.

Bones poured the champagne into flutes, handing one to Jim. Jim took a sip, his eyes lighting up. Bones had nicked more of the grand cuvee. “Let me have them.”

The first one is easy. We have an opening for a rotating judge on Chopped. Would you be interested?

Jim blinked. “Uh…yes! I am, actually! Thank you for thinking of me.”

Good, I thought you’d be game, Riley said. The second is more down the road, but we all agreed that we’d like you to be a contestant on Next Iron Chef next season. So would you be interested in doing that as well?

“Next Iron Chef? Me?” Jim sat straighter in his seat. “I don’t…I don’t…”

“Say yes, Jim,” Bones said with a smirk.

“…Yes. I’ll do Next Iron Chef!” Jim said, his grin lighting up his entire face. “I’m your man!”

Excellent! I’ll send you the dates when it gets closer to filming. We shoot that in the summer, so be prepared to take a couple of weeks off.

“Sure, sure,” Jim said.

I’ll be in touch with a schedule for the Chopped filming. Oh, and Chef? Congratulations again. Have some fun tonight to celebrate!

“Thanks, Riley, I will,” he said as he hung up. Jim dropped his phone on the seat next to him and blinked a few times. “Holy fucking shit.”

“I hate to say I told you so,” Bones said as he took a sip of champagne. “Actually, no. I love saying that. I fucking told you so.”

The smile on his face undermined Jim rolling his eyes. “Douche.”

“Yup,” Bones said as he shifted so his arm went around Jim’s shoulders. “Congratulations again, darlin’.” He held out his glass, and Jim clinked his against in a toast. “Now where do you want to eat?”

“Oh that’s right, I get to have everything I want tonight, don’t I?” Jim said with a smirk.

“Your wish is my command,” Bones said.

“Jean Georges then,” Jim said. “I haven’t been since I first moved here.”

Bones pushed the button to lower the partition separating the driver from the two of them. “Jean Georges, it’s on Central Park West in the Trump building.”

“Of course, sir,” the driver said. The partition rose, and off they went heading back uptown.

Jim took a long drink of champagne. He turned to Bones with a serious expression. “You’re not mad are you?”

“Nah,” Bones said. “Honestly, I’m a little relieved. Being undefeated is a lot of pressure. Besides, if I lost to you, I don’t really consider it a setback.”

Jim smiled. “Thanks.”

“I may request a rematch, though,” Bones said.

“Bring it, babe,” Jim said as he brought their faces together so they could kiss. They lingered together for a few minutes as they moved through the city. When the kiss ended, Jim finished his champagne, pouring himself another glass. “So after our soon-to-be-amazing dinner,” he said. “Wanna have sex back here?”

Bones smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Twist my arm.”

Jim grinned. “I’d do you right now, but I am so fucking hungry.”

“It’s rough making all that food in an hour,” Bones said. “And not getting to eat any of it.”

“Yeah, but you know, I liked it,” Jim said. “It was a pretty great adrenaline rush.”

“I suspect you’ll be doing it again in the near future,” Bones said as he ran a hand through his hair.

Jim shifted so his head rested on Bones’ shoulder as he considered his words. Bones was right; he’d go on Next Iron Chef, and he’d win.

The Food Network didn’t know what they were in for, and to be truthful, Jim wasn’t sure either. But it was okay, because he had Bones, and they would face it together.