“We’re going out,” Kirk announced when he arrived at McCoy’s door.
McCoy took one look at Kirk’s outfit—pants almost falling off his hips, tight t-shirt clinging to his muscles—and knew just what kind of an evening Kirk had in mind. He pasted on a scowl. “Maybe you are.”
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“Define fun.” McCoy suspected it had something to do with Kirk ditching him in the corner of a bar while he flashed those hypnotic eyes at whoever he wanted to take home. McCoy didn’t feel up for another rousing evening of feigning indifference to Kirk’s charm. He should have known the universe had something far worse in store.
“Bones, we’re going to get you laid.”
“Excuse us a minute.” McCoy clamped his fingers around Kirk’s arm and dragged him bodily away from the table. “Jim. Listen. I’m not interested in Kamia. She seems nice and all, but she’s not my type.”
“Not your type? Bones, she’s gorgeous, she’s totally into you.”
McCoy glanced over at the table where the woman in question was gesturing emphatically to one of her friends. She had an easy smile and moved like sin, but Kirk was going to need a better answer than, “She doesn’t remind me enough of you.” So McCoy said, “She’s a she, Jim.”
“Oh.” Kirk’s eyes brightened. “I didn’t know you had a strong gender preference.”
“I was just married to a woman for almost a decade. Bringing up those memories is not high on my list of things to do this year.”
“Right, yeah. Okay. I’ll figure something else out.” He patted McCoy’s arm and walked away.
“Wait, figure--? Jim!”
“Bones. Bones!” Kirk’s hiss punctured the silence of the medical library.
“How about that one?”
McCoy dragged his eyes out of his text book to look at the muscular Tellarite cadet Kirk was indicating with a not-so-subtle hooked thumb. “What is this, a meat market?”
“I’m just trying to establish a baseline, here. Think of it as an extracurricular project.”
“Jim, to have an extra curriculum, you’ve got to have a regular curriculum. Do you even go to class?”
“Yes.” He pulled out his padd and stylus. “Now, scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how interested are you in him?”
“I’m not doing this,” McCoy gritted out.
“You said you’re not in the mood for women right now. So you prefer men, right?”
“Any gender’s fine with me.”
McCoy filed that thought away in the box with the rest of the things he told himself not to think about in the shower. “I’m not rating fellow cadets.”
“Fine.” Kirk pulled out his padd and started fiddling with it, and McCoy forced his attention back onto his Xenobiology notes.
He couldn’t read too much into Kirk’s interest in his love life. Kirk wasn’t exactly an expert in personal boundaries, and in any case, McCoy was long beyond being insulted at insinuations that he couldn’t be trusted to forge his own romantic attachments. Still, he didn’t exactly need Kirk parading potential matches in front of him. Keeping his feelings for Kirk under wraps was hard enough without the additional insult of Kirk’s matchmaking.
“Here.” Kirk snatched McCoy’s padd out of his hand and replaced it with his own.
“What is this?” McCoy looked down at the display, where a flashing button read, “Press me!” That did not bode well.
“It’s a quiz.”
McCoy squinted down at Kirk’s padd, and a feeling of dread welled in his gut. “What kind of quiz?”
“It’ll help me figure out what direction to go with future suggestions. You know, people for you to date.”
“Future---? Jim, you don’t have to find me a date. I’m not a charity case.”
“Of course I don’t have to, Bones. Take the quiz. I just spent half an hour creating it when I could have been studying.”
“I’m supposed to feel guilty about that?”
“Yes. Take it.”
McCoy sighed and pressed the button. The first screen showed a picture of a man—not a cadet, clearly a stock photo of some model or celebrity McCoy had never heard of. Below the image a sliding scale was labeled “no way” on one end and “yes, please” on the other.
“Jim,” McCoy said warningly.
“It’s for science! If this turns out to be a good algorithm for determining preferred types, I could help a lot of people.”
“Oh yeah, you’re a great humanitarian.”
Kirk widened his eyes imploringly and damn it, that was just not fair.
“Fine.” McCoy turned his attention back to the padd so he wouldn’t have to see Kirk’s triumphant grin. He glanced over the dark hair and skinny build of the man in the picture, and then dragged the slider closer to the “no way” side of the bar. That image faded, to be replaced by a long-haired Orion man. Something in his bright smile reminded McCoy of Kirk. He dragged the slider towards “yes, please,” then thought better of it and moved it back to the other side. As each new image appeared, McCoy ruthlessly examined his responses for any manifestation of his Kirk-crush, and excised it ruthlessly, like cutting away dead skin to let a wound heal.
He stalled when confronted with a photo of a blond, well-built human male, caught in an open-mouthed laugh, eyes closed, shirt rucked up to show a tempting band of skin and the jut of a hip-bone above low-slung pants.
McCoy moved the slider under this thumb: left, right, left right. For a moment, he thought about asking Kirk why he’d included this picture of a man who could be Kirk’s double. When he looked up, Kirk was staring after a pair of Denobulan twins who were bending over a nearby bookshelf. McCoy slid the bar ruthlessly all the way to the left: no way, couldn’t happen, too damn messy.
When McCoy had rated the last image, the padd pinged a few cheerful notes. Kirk snatched it out of his hands. “Just a few quick calculations.”
“I don’t see what this is going to prove. I could have told you what kind of people I’m attracted to,” McCoy said. Though he would have lied, of course, since the sincere answer was something like, “I’m attracted to stupidly gorgeous man-children with thrill-seeking obsessions and pretentious middle names.”
“Conscious thought is overrated.” Kirk lifted a hand from his quick-fingered figuring to wave dismissively. “People have so much baggage surrounding their romantic preferences that it’s better to ignore everything they think they know.”
McCoy raised an eyebrow scornfully. “Look who’s been listening in intro psych class. Okay, genius. How does your little quiz avoid all that baggage we mortals supposedly have? Rating an image hardly taps into the subconscious mind.”
“Rating?” Kirk glanced up at him. “Oh, no. no. Forget about the ratings. I’m basing my algorithm on the amount of time you spent looking at each picture. That’s the real test.”
“Oh,” said McCoy. “Uh...Oh.” His mind carded through all the images he’d rated in the past twenty minutes, trying to remember how quickly he’d rated the pictures that had tempted him. He thought probably he hadn’t been overly eager to move on from those particular images. His body felt too heavy, as if his blood was thickening into lead: slowing him down, trapping him here.
Kirk tapped something on his padd, and the thing chimed brightly. “Good, yeah,” Kirk said, practically wriggling in his chair. “Looks like the results are pretty clear, too. Bones--!” His excited flow dried up mid-sentence as he squinted at something on the display.
McCoy sat watching Kirk’s expression shift from elation to confusion, right through disbelief and straight to incredulity. When Kirk finally looked up, his mouth hung part way open, but for once he wasn’t making a clever remark.
“I have to go.” McCoy reminded himself that his brain controlled his body and thereby forced himself to move. “I’m assisting—-an emergency thing—-due today--for class—-an exam—-at the hospital—-I’ve got to go,” he said, then sped away from the table.
McCoy half expected Kirk to shout after him, library rules or no, but he heard nothing. He emerged into the bright California sunlight and made his legs keep moving. Maybe if he put enough distance between him and Kirk, he could spare his friend the awkwardness that came after discovering that McCoy wanted him: exactly him.
McCoy successfully dodged Kirk for three days. He switched shifts at the hospital and snuck back to his dorm room to sleep when he knew Kirk would be in class and unable to hunt him down. He avoided the students’ mess, the quad, the library: any place Kirk was likely to be. He knew Kirk was a master tactician, and would only put up with the runaround for so long. On the other hand, Kirk probably had enough social acumen—when he chose to employ it—to recognize what McCoy saw as a self-evident truth: that ignoring the problem would make it go away.
In retrospect, McCoy should have known that Kirk didn’t make a habit of running from any challenge.
On the fourth morning after the quiz debacle, McCoy returned from an overnight shift at the hospital to find a padd placed neatly on his pillow. Gingerly, he picked the thing up and switched it on. The screen showed a photograph: a candid, snapped with someone’s padd in a dark room, maybe a bar, of McCoy. He was looking off to the side; his forehead was creased with disdain, but the corners of his mouth had turned up in poorly-concealed amusement. McCoy didn’t remember the picture being taken, but he felt certain he knew who’d put that look on his face.
Below the image was a familiar sliding bar. The selector had been moved all the way to the right: “yes, please.”
McCoy clutched the padd hard as he whirled around and was entirely unsurprised to see Kirk standing in the doorway.
“So,” Kirk said. “Turns out my little quiz did provide a very interesting result.”
“That so?” McCoy tried to take a step back, but he was already up against the bed: nowhere to run.
“Yes. “ Kirk strolled into the room as if it were his own, letting the door slide shut behind him. “The results are pretty conclusive. Makes setting you up with an ideal mate pretty simple, actually.”
“Just a matter of finding a cocky blond guy whose algorithm matched him with a stubborn, cantankerous medical professional with a powerful scowl and a gorgeous ass.”
“So, what I’m saying here is… Do you want to go out with me, Leonard McCoy?”
McCoy looked down at the padd, with its evidence of Kirk’s interest. He looked back up at Kirk. “Who am I to argue with scientific inquiry?”
“That’s the spirit.” Kirk dove forward, grabbed McCoy by the shoulders, and delivered a thorough kiss that demonstrated the benefits of his genius.