Everything smells so good.
Why hadn't he noticed before?
Everything smells so good and everything is great and he's so happy because all his friends are here to greet him, aren't they, all his crew, and it's because he's such a good Captain, yes he is yes he is...!
In place of the Captain, there's a dog on the transporter pad.
It's a mutt of a thing, bigger than a pomeranian but just as round and fluffy, with ears adorably lopsided and huge, blue, I-shit-in-your-slippers-but-you-will-still-love-me eyes.
No No No No No.
"Where's the C'ptain?" queries Scotty, before his gaze drops with his mouth.
The dog is struggling out of a golden uniform, kicking his back legs, scrabbling at the collar to get free. Silence falls like a death in the transporter room. The smooth slide of skin against McCoy's arm implies Spock has returned. He takes one look at the panting doggy Captain and raises a speculative eyebrow.
"He's a dog!" McCoy shrieks. "He's a goddamnit slobberin' four-legged uncastrated dog!"
"Eagerly observed, Doctor."
McCoy takes a swing at him. Spock steps back with ease; right into Uhura, who'd dashed down upon the Captain's arrival. (She always did that. Say what you want about the need for "communication briefing" but she only seemed to write it in lipstick.)
"I'm a doctor, not a vet! I'm a doctor, not a magician! Of all the..."
"Oh my god," Uhura's ponytail swings into his face, muffling his nose and making him spit. "Is that...?"
They're all making so much noise. Good. That means they know he is here, and he is the most important dog here, yes he is, yes he is. He sniffs quickly to make sure there are no other dogs he must dominate for competition. Somewhere, he detects a whiff of Beagle. A round furry legless dog thing squeaks from the shoulder of the human in red.
Greetings, Captain. It is I, Nugget the tribble. We have been awaiting your arrival.
Really! Oh good! barks the Captain. Have all procedures been seen to, Lieutenant Nugget?
Indeed, Captain. However, there has been one slight drawback.
And what is that, Nugget?
Captain, you are a dog.
I know! Isn't it great?
I believe that is your subjective opinion, Captain.
A marvellous scent had entered the room. Jim gets up on his hind legs and wags his tail, invigorated. A pair of long brown legs are crossing the room to him, and yes, he knows those legs! He likes those legs! More than that, he likes the human attached to those legs!
Nugget!!! Do you see that human? Do you do you do you?!
Yes, is the returning squeak. That is Lieutenant Commander Nyota Uhura, an unparalleled genius in xenolinguistics. She is your Communications Officer and when you are human, your chosen mate.
I HAVE THE BEST TASTE.
Please do not shout, Captain.
The little dog begins to whine and snake its body, wagging its tail so fast McCoy can feel the flutter of his hair across his forehead. Without prompt, the little furry devil dives into Uhura's skirt, leaping up at her face, licking and licking and licking.
Spock makes a short, disgusted noise in the back of his throat (oh, like he doesn't have a history of swapping tonsil fluid on the transporter pad.)
Uhura begins to laugh, cuddling the animal into her, ruffling those floppy ears. McCoy fights the urge to roll his eyes. He's seen the most powerful and intelligent people, men and women, turn into drooling idiots when a cute but useless animal is around.
This animal wasn't entirely useless. It was the Captain, after all.
"Lieutenant," He clears his throat, unhooks his scanner from his belt. "Keep him there, will you."
Who is that, Nugget?
Your medical officer.
Do you mean like a vet?
I do not like vets. I do not like vets. I do NOT LIKE -
"Dr McCoy!" Uhura says sharply; McCoy halts, his hypospray aloft. "Stop, you're scaring him!"
Jim Dog has started to bark, coiling away into Uhura. He whimpers and shivers and everyone, including Scotty and the redshirts and even that goddamn tribble, glower at him as if he is the devil.
"Scaring him?!" McCoy flails his medkit like a wildman. "He's turned into a dog, Lieutenant, and unless you don't want to share your bed with a wet-nosed four-legged freak for the rest of your life, I would like a look at him!"
The dog shudders as McCoy gets on one knee, running his scanner across their furry Captain.
"All readings normal," he grunts. "Despite the fact he is a dog, he's in peak health."
"You will be able to change him back, won't you?" Now the novelty of cute has worn off, Uhura does look genuinely worried, sherry brown eyes big and shining, Jim Dog a wiggling mess in her arms. McCoy feels a flourish of the old flirt in him before the chill of Spock's boot slides in carefully between them.
"If I may, Doctor," Spock adds; "I believe this may be a transporter incident as opposed to a medical issue. Perhaps we should invite Mr Scott to enlighten us?"
"I'll 'ave a look, sir," Scotty, dazed, wanders over. The tribble attached to his shoulder squeals. McCoy shoots it a filthy look. "All I can say, sir, is that we 'ad some interference with the signal..."
Scotty looks helplessly between Jim Dog and Uhura, and McCoy rolls his eyes, rising to his full height.
"Lieutenant," he mutters. "Bring Captain Woof down to sickbay. Spock, you're with me..."
"I believe I already am, Doctor."
McCoy's cheeks boil. The dog yips, jumping to lick his hand; McCoy wipes it on Spock's jumper.
"...okay, thank you. Scotty, keep an eye on the transporter. Try to figure out a way to reverse this."
The Captain is carried through the long chrome hallways, happily snuggled into Nyota's arms. She smells of apricot and pine and nail polish and the yoghurt she had for breakfast, tangerine flavour with lactose-free chocolate flakes. There's also a blend of aftershave, of something earthy and masculine tinged into her skin, especially around her mouth and neck, and he will find this mysterious man and pee on his shoes.
Oh the contrary, Captain. Nugget The Tribble is positioned in the circle of his body, trilling sweetly as to soothe his Nyota. He will accept this; the tribble is no threat. This mysterious man is yourself, with two legs and peach skin.
Oh. Jim sniffs. I will not pee on his shoes.
A sound decision, Captain.
As Jim burrows further, he catches a snatch of something else. Oil, circuit boards, scotch, ham sandwiches (he finds that agreeable) and a friendly kind of testosterone (not so agreeable.)
Ah-ha! I have found a challenger. I shall pee on his shoes.
No, Captain. Tribbles can't sound weary. Do you not find that scent agreeable?
Jim takes a long deep sniff.
I do I do I do I do.
Excellent, Captain. That is the scent of your second mate. My keeper, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott.
I have two mates?!
Indeed you do, Captain. However, the liaison with Mr Scott is relatively new, hence the discretion of his scent.
I HAVE TWO MATES. I AM SO LUCKY BECAUSE I AM SO LOVABLE.
Please refrain from shouting, Captain.
Jim hates the high, white tables. He hates the stiff ugly smell of disinfectant and soap. He hates the shiny needles and how everything is so distressingly clean. He sticks his paws out as Nyota sits him down on the horrible shiny surface. With a squeak, he spins and tries to burrow under her. A warm chorus of "awwww" make his ears perk. Orderlies crowd the table, cooing gently, soothing his haunches with their hands. Jim whimpers, pathetic, and drops his head to the side in a way he knows makes his ears flop sweetly.
"Everyone out the way!" McCoy elbows his way through. Spock is hovering nearby, his hands settled behind his back. He smells of mint, of chemical, then something below that, deep and musky and not so human. There's also a dying scent of Nyota buried deep, deep in his skin. Jim Dog growls lightly. He might pee on his shoes, just to be safe.
The vet smells like disinfectant (like the horrible tables) but also cheap aftershave, brandy, home-cooking. It's comforting and kind of scary, which is what a vet is. He takes a deeper sniff, and yes, he can smell the same aftershave on Spock's hands and legs.
Captain, the vet and the Vulcan are mates.
I see. The Vulcan and the vet draw closer to him, to Nyota. He barks and leaps into her arms. My taste is better.
He pees on both their shoes, for Nyota's safety.
Lieutenant Uhura must be in shock.
She's a hard-working officer, a competent military machine with the ability to kill a man before he can even make a sound (Scotty, so soft in comparison, finds that unbelievably hot.) She can talk over fifteen languages in different formations and she is teaching herself five more (Kirk struggles with Klingon on their "learning" evenings. Scotty has mastered Romulan and is in the middle of rewiring an old karaoke machine so she can sing her old favourites in an ancient dialect of Romulanese.)
But little fluffy animals (tribbles, cats, dogs, fat and huggable sehlats) render her as McCoy so tunefully put it; a drooling idiot.
For her partner of three years to turn into a dog is the subject of bad movie cliches, the sort she and Scotty secretly watch together on their shifts off.
But Jim is so cute. He's got these little ears that droop at the end, and when he shakes himself, they flap and turn inside out. His paws are fat and puffed with white fluff, and his pink padded toe beans are plush and so nice to gently push, like buttons of pure happiness. His blue eyes beg so sweetly that she lets him secretly sleep under the communication console and she even slips him the ham from Scotty's sandwiches.
If he'd been furry and small and cutely slobbering during that first fated night in Iowa, they'd been married by now.
But she would like him back.
She rubs his chubby belly with her bare foot.
This is a sombre occasion, according to Spock.
The presence of an ambassador calls for dress uniform. Spock looks slick in his sober grey, like a tall cool drink of water and no no no, focus -
His best friend has just turned into a dog, he's allowed a mad lapse here or there.
The uniform is too tight on the crotch. He hadn't washed his trousers (forgot to, more like) and so Spock had demanded he borrow his spare pair. The problem is that Spock doesn't seem to possess any hip bones, nor any area to stretch if you know what he means (he doesn't know how Spock copes; he knows for a fact his Vulcan has plenty of stretch.)
Captain Woof has a bow on his collar, lovingly supplied by Chapel, to toast the occasion.
The transporter pads glitter to life and there stands Ambassador Selek, his hand up and his fingers parted in the Vulcan greeting.
"Doctor," they both say in unison, and McCoy jumps about five feet in the air (damn it, they did that on purpose!)
"I am aware I have been sent here for a grave purpose, the like of which you would not divulge during our communications," Selek says sagely. "May I ask why I have been brought here?"
"It's about the Captain," grumbles McCoy.
Selek's eyebrow twitches up. He suddenly seems twenty years younger. McCoy inwardly groans.
"Is he well?" Selek rasps. McCoy half expects him to withdraw a ceremonial sword from within all those robes, go kinky pre-reform on their asses.
"Quite well, Ambassador." Spock steps to the side. "Although I shall let you see for yourself."
Captain Woof tilts his head to the side, appealing.
Selek just stares at the dog, who begins to wag his tail, unsure.
The old Vulcan is different from the new Vulcan. They sort of have the same look about each other and a similar smell, but it's different. The elder smells warm and old and kind of sad, spice and incense and the burn of something that he should know but doesn't, and maybe never will.
Nugget trills from the transporter command console.
Who is that?
A wrinkly Vulcan who holds you in high regard, Captain.
Is he sad? I don't want him to be sad. I am Captain Woof and I take care of everyone on my ship. Sadness is bad, like vets and squirrels.
He wags his tail fiercely in greetings, padding forward to introduce himself.
Only to choke on McCoy's lead.
"Please." Selek raises a hand. "Let him come to me."
He's a dog, not a child ready for baptism, McCoy thinks bitterly. But he releases the lead. Selek bends to one knee and lays a trembling hand on the golden head. Spock and McCoy exchange a long look.
Ambassador Selek always makes him feel awkward, guilty, and kind of sad, like a visit from his hometown pastor.
And considering who he really is, kind of turned on. Which is completely wrong in so many ways, but not as wrong as Captain Woof rolling obediently onto his back, presenting his belly to scratch.
And pet, and comb, and cuddle.
"Ambassador," Spock cuts in after fifteen minutes of belly scratching and ear floofing. (Thank you, sweetheart. Sometimes he remembers why he loves him, but only sometimes.) "Am I to believe you can provide data on how to revert this transformation?"
"Indeed," Selek stands, arms full of the dozy dog. "It requires deep and penetrative meditation, the likes of which you are too young to understand. I require a private room and the promise of no interruptions. My work will be critical."
Spock bows his head.
"As you wish, Ambassador."
Yeah, thinks McCoy, as Selek practically sprints out of there with Captain Woof barking excitedly. He wishes a lot, that one.
After several hours, McCoy "interrupts" and trips over about twelve dog toys.
Selek is sat in the centre of the rec room in a puddle of silk and dog hair, his lips pulling all the lines in his face into a pure and unapologetic smile. Mouthing away at a huge stuffed sehlat is Captain Woof, rolling it over and shaking it playfully. Selek pats his lap and the dog jumps, spawling around in the centre of his robes. Selek clicks his tongue and wiggles the tiny paws.
McCoy clears his throat.
Like clockwork, Selek straightens and uprights the happy little dog. Serenely, he rises and turns to McCoy and his tapping foot.
"I believe I must take Captain Kirk, for a short time, to New Vulcan," he says with great gravity, attaching a lead to Captain Woof's collar. McCoy's left eye twitches. "I believe it is imperative for his well being."
"Well, I say, in a goddamn pig's eye you creepy old..."
"Aye, Doctor! I 'ave seen the li..."
A sudden catapult of pain. An overjoyed Scotty has slipped on a half-chewed pull rope and both he, McCoy, and a squeaking Nugget the Tribble hurtle through the air and end up in a heap of limbs at Selek's feet.
"You clumsy son of a bitch!" McCoy yells, fighting off Scotty and an enraged tribble he is pretty sure is trying to bite him (god bless the blighters have no teeth.) "What's the meaning of all this, Scott?"
"I've..." Winded, Scotty rolls on his side. He glances up at Selek and Captain Woof and attempts a droopy smile. "...d-discovered t-the way to revert it, McCoy."
"Really?" McCoy dusts off his trousers. The Tribble is squeaking up his leg. With a shudder, he brushes it off. "And what's that, pre-tell?"
"He'll be back to normal in four hours. It be only temporary mutation, nothin' to worry," Scotty absently rubs Captain Woof's head, who chases his fingers with his itty bitty fangs. Ugh, he can't take much more of this. "Word of warnin', he'll be as naked as the day he 'as born. 'ave some clothes ready, he'll be cold after losin' all that fur."
"Really?" Selek says pleasantly, even as his eyes take on a strange glint as he turns to the fluffy bundle in collar and lead. Oh, sweet Jesus. "Fascinating."
"Great. Okay..." McCoy opens his arms for the yawning Captain Woof. "Let's get him to sickbay. I'll put him under so the transformation won't be such a shock to his system."
Selek takes a casual step backwards, his arms still full of a snoozing Captain Woof.
McCoy blinks and takes another more decisive step forward.
Selek tickles a twitching ear with his forefinger and backpedals one, two, three steps.
"Your elder self freaks me out." McCoy deadpans to Spock. They're in their quarters; Spock mediating with a snoozing Nugget on his knee, McCoy in his boxers with a manly novel on his PaDD and a glass of brandy swivelling in his hand. He'd managed to finally wrest Captain Woof from Selek (he'd dodged several nerve pinches, although Selek had gently said he had a crease on his shoulder that needed correcting.)
"I believe you do not find his presence so abhorrent," Spock replies, face composed, one hand massaging the cooing tribble. McCoy scoffs and takes a swig.
"He's not like you at all. And what is that supposed to mean, anyway?"
"He is not me, Leonard." Spock cracks open a single eye. "But the similarities are potent enough to affect your nightly fantasies. I have been cataloguing your dreams for the past six months of our courtship; for the sake of future reference in terms of enhancing our intimate activities if the need should ever arise. To further my investigation, I propose a small experiment, a reenactment if you will, to prepare. I believe the most frequent nightly image is that of myself, the Ambassador, and a..."
McCoy chokes on his brandy.
Nugget the tribble makes a short, disgusted noise in the back of his non-existent throat.
The bed is so good and warm, even in the sickbag with the glossy tables and sharp needles. He knows he is furry and adorable and he has so enjoyed all the fuss and love he deserves (and they deserve because he loves his humans and his ship) but he is tired. He arches his back and stretches, yawns, and snuggles in the place between his two humans. He's been sweet enough to let them into his bed, isn't that kind of him? He is truly the best Captain in the world.
They smell so delicious too, Nyota with her tangerine yoghurt and apricot, Scotty with his scotch and the tang of oil.
Satisfied, he starts to dream of desert and grasslands, so many places to run and play, so much to kick up beneath his paws. Dust spiralling behind him like stark, yellow stardust -
As his dreams change, so does he.
The next morning, an aching McCoy wobbles bleary-eyed onto the bridge. An immaculate Spock calmly takes his place at his console (his hand lingers, just slightly, on McCoy's lower back. Why that dirty green-blooded son of a -)
A slap on his shoulder causes him to yelp. Jim bounces into view, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and yes, human. A shade of peach lipstick is on his cheeks and lips; Lieutenant Uhura slips into place beside Spock, her communicator held to her ear, trying and failing to hide her smile. Scotty lurks in the elevator, rubbing at his cheek with a dazed look on his face.
God, they are so disgusting.
"Captain." Sulu swivels on his chair to greet him. Chekov beams beside him. "We are pleased to have you back."
Jim grins at them all. Okay, it isn't tummy rubs and bacon bits, but it's pretty damn close.
"It's good to be back. But first of all...!" He scoops up Nugget from Uhura's console. The tribble coos in triumph. "This little fluff ball is getting a promotion!"
Jim didn't know a tribble could wink, but somehow, Lieutenant Nugget manages it.