Title: Invitation for the Spellbound (1/3)
Fandom: Star Trek TOS
Summary: McCoy can’t tell if he has been gifted or cursed. And anyway, this newfound ability is interfering with his chances at acquiring a date for the Sweetheart Ball.
A/N: Written for McSpirkHolidayFest; based on the prompt: Bones gains the ability to read minds temporarily as a gift of thanks for helping save the life of an alien princess. He learns some very interesting things from Spock and Jim at the Valentine’s Day party.
One week ago…
The class-M planet lying near the border of Alpha and Beta quadrants was named Quirinus after its discoverer’s obsession with the Sabine god of early Earth history. It still existed on the known star-charts as such; its true name, however, as given by the planet’s native race translated to World of Ancients.
Ancient was an appropriate word, in Leonard McCoy’s opinion. What civilization remained on Quirinus had begun to decay.
Upon his first look of Quirinus’s surface, the doctor felt an inexplicable sadness. The palace which housed the Quiran leader, the Domina, sat crumbling on the banks of a sunken river, exposing elegant rooms with massive hearths and delicate paints. Rooms still sealed emitted frail lights where the shadows of the Quirans living there drifted behind dirty curtains. The capital city which must have once been teeming with the riches of its people laid largely abandoned and unused. Roofless hovels and sagging mansions broke the lines of the cobbled streets. The low-ranking Quirans who had nowhere else to go survived in the old tunnels of the undercity, using street drains and broken windows and the holes above their heads like doorways.
In short, centuries of greed and decadence had given way to a poverty that could not be undone.
A lone dignitary came to greet the Enterprise’s landing party, a man not even of the social standing they would later learn to eat at the same table as the Domina and her High Court. Leonard had been prepared for an aloof reception after hearing the cautionary tales from the Federation ambassador among them who had once visited the Quirans during their more resplendent past. But no one, Leonard suspected, had imagined that the Quirans would show outright disdain for guests that they had urgently invited.
Fifty years ago, during first contact with the Quirans, the planet had been on the brink of depletion of its natural resources. The exploratory party had given warning of this and been ignored. Now that Quirinus had no more to give to sustain its inhabitants, their plight was dire. After years of refusing to entertain the notion of joining the Federation, a summons from the Domina to the President had come. In turn, the President had requested Starfleet to escort an ambassadorial party to Quirinus with the understanding that the Federation would take the higher road and keep relations civil. For their part in this cooperation, the Quirans agreed to allow a small team of scientists to accompany the delegation and make a study of the planet, the Quiran society and culture. Some individuals speculated this meant the Quirans were desperate for help, indeed; others declared it meant the race had hitherto lived in secrecy for no reason except ego. But everyone agreed that this was an opportunity to take regardless of circumstance and old grudges.
Leonard came and went with the first landing party, unimpressed by the haughty Quirans themselves but intrigued by their lifestyle. For all intents and purposes, to a man uneducated in the Quiran way, they were magic users.
Before his commission aboard the Enterprise, McCoy would have said he didn’t believe in fairy tales, but in the years since he has witnessed some extravagantly unorthodox events, happenings that one should deem impossible according to the laws of nature. This has brought about a change to his thinking on many fronts, and at the heart of it, an agreement with the Enterprise’s Science Officer: no phenomenon was impossible, only merely improbable by the standards of knowledge they currently employed. There would always be mysteries of the universe waiting to be solved, and yet more mysteries waiting to be discovered.
So Leonard took the tour of the palace, courtesy of the Domina, and kept an open mind. When he returned to the starship, he had seen enough secrets and rituals to accept that scientists like him would require years to understand all the nuances that made the Quirans—and Quirinus itself—unique.
He hadn’t expected another opportunity to observe their strange ways, yet it had come in the form of an urgent request for medical assistance. Now he sat inside the most secretive room of all at the heart of the palace feeling like a country bumpkin come to show off skills that he hadn’t realized until then were quite rudimentary.
The Domina’s two attendants were visible in an adjoining room, making a potion in a large cauldron. Its distillation of ingredients Leonard was certain to have no knowledge of, given that the room contained an assortment of oddities, including cages of noisy reptiles and amphibians. These creatures, he had recently been told, were useful for their venom or body parts. The very thought had made him choke.
The potion-in-progress, glowing and stinking, had the attendants’ full attention. The bedridden Domina had Leonard’s. Studiously ignoring the croak of a toad on its way to oblivion inside the bubbling pot, Leonard slid his hand away from his patient’s limp wrist to adjust his tricorder. The device whirred almost until it rattled, energized by the strange atmosphere or frankly, like its owner, just unnerved by it. Leonard had only a few prior readings of the Quiran physiology to work with, and what he saw now was the oddest reading yet. In a human, it would signify certain death.
The Domina, though ailing, did not appear to be dying.
“When did the symptoms begin?” he asked.
“Soon after the midday meal,” the Domina responded without a flicker of expression. Her eyes, black and still, remained fixated on McCoy. “Perhaps your captain has sought to secure my alliance through means not quite so diplomatic.”
It took Leonard a second too long to understand her, and when he did, he stiffened. “You think…” He worked past a lump in his throat and said flatly, “Ma’am, I am offended. We don’t do business by poisoning people.”
“How then does your Federation conduct its business?”
“As you’ve seen!” he snapped. “By keeping our manners even when people like you don’t.”
The Domina’s mouth curled into a humorless smile. “Manners which you clearly lack, Dr. McCoy.”
He shut off his tricorder and shifted away from the edge of the bed.
“Would you leave me ailing so?” the Domina challenged.
“I’m a doctor first and an officer second,” Leonard stated, still peeved but also recognizing a patient who would rather antagonize her doctor than admit to feeling weak. “I won’t leave even if you order me to.”
After an ominous silence, she said, “You are mannerless and disobedient.”
Leonard ignored the goad. “Frankly, I think you have been poisoned,” he continued, “but I’m not familiar enough with the lifeforms on this planet to guess at the makeup of the poison.” He pulled the strap of his medkit over his head and opened the small container to retrieve a hypospray. “That doesn’t mean our version of the medical sciences are completely useless to you, Domina.” He held up the hypospray for her to see. “This is a symptom reliever I tweaked after the first meeting with your people. The formula is agreeable to most humanoids—” He suppressed a smile. “—unless you ask the opinion of a Vulcan.”
Lowering the hypospray to his lap, he added, “And if you’re willing, we have equipment on our ship which is capable of analyzing your blood and matching the results against the organic samples our scientists collected over the course of the week. We may be lucky enough to identify an agent in your bloodstream associated with the poison affecting your health.”
“That will not be necessary,” the Domina remarked slowly. “I am aware of which poison was used—and who administered it.”
He frowned, then. “If you knew all along, then why did you request that my captain send me to assist you?”
The Domina called to an attendant instead of answering. The male entered the bedroom and produced a tiny glass vial of shimmering liquid from the sleeve of his robe. She uncapped the vial and drank from it until it was empty then held it loosely in one hand, her eyes falling closed.
“Domina?” he called sharply, worriedly, activating his tricorder once again.
“A moment, Doctor,” she murmured. Gradually the color of her skin returned to its natural golden hue. When her eyes opened, she said, “You have passed.”
Passed what? he thought. It wasn’t as if the woman had poisoned herself simply to test the honor of a bunch of Starfleet officers!
Leonard thought on that a second longer, realized the truth must not be far off, and experienced a fury that momentarily tied up his tongue.
The Domina was no fool, despite her now-obvious ploy. She remarked coolly, “My actions anger you.”
“You’re out of your mind,” he countered, unclenching his teeth. “Indulging in these… these dangerous machinations for the sake of politics!”
“Captain Kirk presented himself as an honest and fair man, as did your other Federation representatives. Despite this, what one appears to be is not always what one is, Dr. McCoy.”
“This isn’t about Kirk!” Leonard roared, startling the others nearby and causing the guard in the antechamber to approach the archway in between the rooms to inspect the situation.
“Speak carefully,” warned the Domina.
But Leonard was far beyond speaking with care. He shook his finger at the Quiran. “How dare you play with your own life!”
The Domina sat up suddenly, black eyes fierce, looking of a much younger age than Leonard would have guessed of her. “And who are you to speak so rudely?”
“Your physician!” he slapped back. “That gives me some say when a patient is acting like a damn fool!”
“I am Domina. I am judged by no one, least of all a servant in the healing arts.”
“Well consider this me judging you, Domina—and finding you wanting for sense.” Leonard turned his back on her, pulling out the communicator clipped to his uniform. He would be damned if he stayed another minute with such a person.
The command was imperious, sharp, but also a touch shaken.
McCoy closed his eyes, forced himself to breathe. He knew he was about to ruin a week’s worth of negotiation and diplomacy. Did he have that right?
Clutching his communicator, he faced the Domina again. “I apologize for my tone.” He paused, then added pointedly, “But not for my words.”
The Domina stared at him in silence for too long, finally saying, “I do not understand you.”
The feeling was mutual, agreed Leonard, though he held his tongue.
“I excepted anger for the deception and wounded pride for the mistrust. Yet I sense in you neither.”
Did she really not understand his point? He said grimly, “I told you, I’m a doctor. My job—no, my oath—is to protect and preserve life. It offends me that you seem to have no care for yours.”
“My life is my mine to risk,” she said sharply.
He swallowed down a rude word. “I’ve heard that rationalization before. I can’t agree with it.”
She considered him, then, before ordering, “Come here.” When Leonard made no move to close the distance between them, she said with unexpected dryness, “You are still inclined to disobedience, I see. Very well. I recognize my debt to you, McCoy of the Starship Enterprise.”
The attendants shared a glance, and the guard at the edge of the room bowed and backed through the doorway until he disappeared from sight.
“A simple apology will do,” Leonard said, not liking the word ‘debt’. In that moment he felt glad that he had insisted he did not require an audience while treating the Domina. Jim already despaired of his skills—or lack thereof—in diplomacy.
“A Domina does not apologize,” the woman intoned in kind. “I shall grant you a peace offering instead.”
“I don’t need—”
“Know that this gift is not given lightly.”
“Now wait a minute,” he tried to interject again.
The Domina pointed at Leonard, her voice deepening as if she spoke in ritual or of an incantation. “Let there be no deception; you will hear truly. Let there be no mistrust; you will feel truly.”
A chill ran down Leonard’s spine.
The look in the Quiran’s eyes turned shrewd. “Let there be no doubt of a life that is valued above all else.” She lowered her arm, pronouncing with finality, “The Domina’s gift has been given.”
The attendants lowered their eyes and returned to the adjoining chamber.
“We shall see how deeply your commitment extends, Dr. McCoy,” the Domina said as Leonard took an uncertain step backward.
Why did he think this woman just cursed him? Leonard didn’t know.
It would be futile to press her for more information of her intentions. Let the ambassadors handle her.
Leonard unlocked his jaw and flipped open his communicator, hailing the Enterprise with “McCoy here. Tell the Captain the Domina feels like herself again.”
“Good to hear your voice, Doctor!” the Chief Engineer’s voice called back. “Capt’n’s been a fright since you beamed doun. We had trouble with the transporter until just now. Some kind of surface interference.”
“Is that so?” Leonard murmured, still eyeing his recovered patient, whose expression gave nothing away.
The Domina laid back on her mound of pillows and closed her eyes, a sign of dismissal.
“Well,” decided Scotty, “I don’t see a need for delay if you’re ready.”
“Am I ever,” Leonard replied. “One to energize.”
“Nurse, hand me that dermal regen.” Leonard eyes his current patient on a medical biobed. “Ready for another round, Lt. Chang?”
The young woman hadn’t been conscious when she was brought to Sickbay in the aftermath of a lab accident. Leonard’s staff had performed the initial treatment for the burns on her left arm; now, with the swelling subsided and damaged skin removed, the regeneration process could begin.
“Call me Lin, Doctor. Will it hurt?” Lin asks.
“Some patients feel discomfort while the skin grows,” Leonard elaborates. “Tingling or numbness of the afflicted area. If your body’s very sensitive to the treatment, you could experience a burning sensation.”
“It couldn’t be worse than the pain of having your skin burned off,” she counters, holding out her bandaged arm as permission to proceed.
Leonard activates the medical device in his hand. “Tell me if you want to stop. There’s no reason we can’t do this incrementally.”
Lin falls momentarily silent. “What would you recommend, sir?”
“Get it over and done. Then you’ll be out of bandages in time for the Sweetheart Ball.” He winks.
She offers him a tiny smile. “I do have a date to impress.”
“That makes one of us.” Leonard laughs so the lieutenant knows he means that in good spirits.
He begins the procedure. Halfway through, Lin’s expression has tightened a considerable amount, but there’s a resolution in her eyes that speaks of her determination to endure the unpleasantness of the skin regeneration until the end.
Clearing his throat, he employs the age-old trick of distraction. “Which department?”
Lin doesn’t respond at first.
Leonard lifts the regen from her arm, repeating, “Which department?”
Lin blinks, then, and focuses on his face. “Sir?”
“What’s your specialty, Lieutenant?” He quirks an eyebrow and makes a show of inspecting a patch of new skin, saying offhandedly, “I’m partial to the biological sciences, myself.”
“So I have no chance of persuading you to join my team of geneticists?”
Her eyes twinkle. “None, sir.”
“Damn. You see,” he goes on to explain, replacing the regen against her arm, “I was hoping to have a staff member with some insight into one of the greatest mysteries of our century.”
Now he’s caught her interest. “What’s that, Doctor?”
Leonard allows himself a small smile. “How in all this galaxy did Mr. Spock win the vote for favorite department head?”
Lin flushes, and Leonard would bet it has nothing to do with the application of the dermal regenerator.
“Maybe you could shed some light on this quandary?” he drawls.
The nurse on McCoy’s right sighs and murmurs, “We voted for you,” which her boss promptly ignores.
“Well,” Lin says with some care, “Cmdr. Spock is rather exemplary in his field.”
Leonard harrumphs. “You could say that about half the officers on this floating boat.”
Her eyes widen at her mistake. “Of course you’re just as exemplary as Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy!”
“Don’t try to cuckold me, young lady,” he clucks. “I’m well-aware that your superior won by a landslide.”
Lin looks to Nurse Valente for help, who busies herself with unfolding and re-folding bits of gauze.
Leonard gently exposes the underside of his patient’s arm and starts on the skin there. “What about the captain?” he persists. “Why not vote for him? He’s head of the entire ship.” Leonard wouldn’t have minded losing to Jim… maybe.
“That wouldn’t seem fair.” Liu looks at Leonard with sudden concern. “Is Captain Kirk upset?”
“Of course not. He’s very pleased to have evidence that our Vulcan officer is remarkably popular with the crew.” Not that McCoy has heard this directly from Jim, but he can guess well enough it’s the reason why Kirk often looks like a proud mama bear in his second-in-command’s presence. Spock, on the other hand, has been looking decidedly long-suffering since the announcement of his popularity.
Head Nurse Christine Chapel breezes by their little group. “Don’t mind Dr. McCoy,” she advises the patient. “He’s been complaining every day for the past two weeks.” She gives Leonard a look that warns him to bite his tongue. “It wasn’t an actual popularity contest.”
Leonard harrumphs again and puts his back to Chapel on purpose, only to hear her claim, “Leonard could have won.”
He turns around. “You’re damn right I could have!”
Christine blinks at him questioningly.
M’Benga comms the main ward. “Nurse Chapel, you’re needed in Surgery One.”
Chapel swallows whatever question she might have asked and hurries away.
Leonard sighs through his nose and gives his attention back to his patient. Soon he is lowering her arm to her lap and patting her shoulder with the announcement, “All done. Sofia will wrap this arm for you. Keep the bandage on to protect the skin while the cells finish the rest of the healing.” He considers her. “How do you feel?”
“Relieved.” The lieutenant ducks her head with a grateful smile. “Thank you for distracting me, Doctor.”
“Just doin’ my job,” Leonard replies. He allows Nurse Valente to take over, busying himself with cleaning up the instruments left on the tray by the bed.
“The doctor’s as nice as Mr. Spock. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had tied.”
Leonard hides a grin. “Thank you, Lin.”
An odd little moment of confusion occurs before he asserts to the two women, “I guess an old country doctor like me still has a chance!”
“Of course we like you, Dr. McCoy,” Sofia assures him. “Now shoo shoo, Lt. Chang is my patient!”
Leonard bows like a gentleman and goes to attend someone else.
At first, he thinks nothing of the unexpected compliments. He’s simply having a good day because a handful of people seem appreciative of him.
Then the next day there are more compliments. And the next.
He starts paying attention to the fact that they are made off-hand and never to his face. Strange, he thinks. If you’re going to pay someone a compliment, why not meet that person’s eyes so he knows you’re sincere?
Leonard’s mulling over this on his way from lunch back to the med bay when an ensign approaches him at the waiting area for that deck’s turbolift. Their eyes meet briefly as the ensign looks him over and says, “That color blue suits him.”
Him, the ensign means, as in the only other person standing there, wearing a medical blue tunic.
But Leonard isn’t having a problem with that tiny fact at all. No, he’s staring openly at his neighbor because the man’s mouth had not moved.
Leonard blinks at the impossibility, gives his head a shake and feebly touches the corner of his own mouth before asking tentatively, “Did you say something?”
The ensign replies, “No, sir.”
“Oh.” Leonard turns to face the closed shaft door of the lift, his hand feeling numbly in front of him for the call button along the wall.
It’s a slow, slow ride to Sickbay. By the time Leonard arrives at his destination, he also learns that the ensign likes his hairstyle so much that he’s going to try it out for himself.
And all the while, the ensign never speaks a word out loud.
A psychosis, McCoy surmises. He’s suffering from a malfunction of the brain which presents itself as the perceived ability to read minds.
Following a slew of after-hours cranial tests and a called-in favor from the ship’s resident psychologist, the good news is that Leonard isn’t actually out of his mind. The bad news is that he’s gone from a psy-null esper rating to “better than average” on a quotient scale not commonly associated with Terrans. Helen Noel wants to put him through more rigorous tests to determine the exact nature of this psionic potential. Leonard declines.
That night Leonard wakes up in a cold sweat from a nightmare where Spock’s bearded counterpart rearranges the chemistry of his brain so he can also tear open people’s minds. He’s almost terrified to leave his quarters in the morning, but thankfully nothing seems changed about this strange ability of his.
The cafeteria lady who watches him fumble with the replicator’s menu at the head of the breakfast line thinks, Dr. McCoy is much more comely than my first husband.
Leonard tells the officer in line behind him, “Breakfast’s on me,” leaving her to help herself to whatever the replicator is concocting off his meal card, and avoids that mess hall for the rest of the day. He spends most of that time contemplating the disappointment he sensed from his admirer as he left in a hurry as well as the gratitude from the recipient of his generosity.
So little by little, McCoy becomes more accustomed to being sidelined by someone’s errant thought or impression of him. That is when he finally realizes he does not read minds in the textbook sense. He discerns what others think and feel as it relates only to him.
The Domina’s chant comes back, then: he will hear truly, feel truly.
Just what, exactly, has been done to him?
“Think something bad about me,” Leonard orders Chapel the next day.
Christine is already looking at him askance because he has barged in on the middle of an inventory count in the storage room without offering to help.
“Something mean,” he insists.
“How could I do that?” his head nurse wants to know.
Leonard purses his mouth. “Fine, not mean. Practical, in the negative sense. Don’t I annoy you sometimes?”
“Annoying is definitely a word I would use to describe you right now,” Chapel retorts. “Also, obnoxious, disappointing, and shameless.”
He blinks. “Did you just think all that?”
“No,” she replies dryly, “I said it.”
“Oh.” Leonard notices the overcrowded storage room for the first time. “Should I help?”
“There you go,” the woman applauds Leonard, handing him a data padd. “Start on the first aisle.” Not as thick-headed as some, she thinks after he turns his back.
Appropriately chastened, Leonard hunches his shoulders and heads to his assigned aisle, staying put there for some time.
A week passes in full, and Leonard puts his mind back on what matters: the ship’s business. He can’t stand around all day like a man waiting for an axe to fall in the form of a fluffy remark about his winsome personality.
Truthfully, he finds that part the most ironic. It isn’t easy as one might think to play the grouch, and Leonard has always considered himself the best at it. But even when he’s deliberately terrifying patients into using their common sense more often, they run out of Sickbay thinking that he cares about them. Worse yet, some of his own staff patiently wait for those moments he yells at them so they can yell back.
This gift of the Domina’s is shedding a light on things that Leonard doesn’t want to know about.
With that irritation on his mind, he heads up to the Bridge for a long overdue visit. There is someone there he can needle who will respond appropriately.
Or so he hopes.
On the Bridge, Uhura glances up at his arrival and muses, Leonard needs a worthy date for the Ball, like she is keen on trying her hand at matchmaking.
Leonard reaches the Science station in record time and challenges hurriedly to its hunched-over officer, “I suppose you don’t have anything nice to say!”
Spock doesn’t deign to turn around. “Another time, Doctor. This globular cluster will only be visible for fourteen point ninety-six minutes.”
Leonard sags against the control panel in relief.
“Bones,” he hears, and abandons the star-charting Vulcan for the man at the heart of the Bridge.
“I haven’t seen you around lately,” his captain comments.
Leonard acknowledges, “I know,” and puts his worries aside for the time being. “So tell me what I’ve missed, Jim-boy.”
It occurs to Leonard later that Spock is likely the only person on the ship who can help him understand what’s going on with his brain. As ironic as he finds that thought, it spurs him to seek out the Vulcan after the day’s beta shift has ended. Of course, loitering in the corridor outside Spock’s quarters isn’t quite the final step to engaging in a non-panicked, comfortable conversation with Spock about mind-reading.
By the time McCoy begins to recognize the same crewmen who have passed by and given him strange looks (or looks that simply read why are you still here?), he figures he is never going to be fully prepared to broach such an awkward subject. He presses the buzzer on the wall.
“Dr. McCoy, please enter,” Spock answers instantly, like he has known all along that Leonard has been standing outside the closed door.
Ensconced behind his computer desk, Spock sets aside a data padd once Leonard is inside the main cabin and braces his elbows on his chair arms, steepling his fingers. “What brings you here, Doctor?”
Leonard locks his hands behind his back and resists the urge to bounce on the balls of his feet. “Can’t a man stop by to say hello to a friend?”
Both of the Vulcan’s eyebrows lift towards his hairline.
“I mean, that is, I don’t really need a reason to see you… do I?” Leonard winces internally and curses his mouth, which seems to have forgotten it needs his consent to say such things.
Spock, however, takes this sentiment in good charity, for he says, “You are welcome to visit me at any time, Dr. McCoy.”
“Thanks,” he murmurs.
Spock looks at him for a moment longer in silence before rising gracefully from his chair. As he heads toward the replicator built into the far wall, he asks Leonard, “Is there a particular beverage you prefer?”
Whiskey straight from the bottle, maybe. Then his mouth might really start to run. “Whatever you’re having is fine.”
Spock pauses to consider him again. “I was intending to prepare a tea commonly consumed on Vulcan. It may not be to your tastes, Doctor.”
“Won’t know ’til we try,” he counters and takes a seat by the desk.
Without further comment, Spock prepares two cups of this specialty tea and presents one to his guest. Leonard waits until Spock is seated again before he sticks his nose over the mug and inhales. Tea is hardly his drink of preference unless it’s cold and sweet, and even then he’s not one to overly indulge. He likes his coffee and his nightcap and sometimes, if the situation calls for it, a glass of wine.
He has to inhale again because this drink smells like a dark-brewed coffee. With spice. Is there such a thing? He supposes he is going to find out.
Leonard takes his first sip, then stares into the cup. “What’s in this?”
Spock lists about a half-dozen ingredients.
“I’ve never heard of any of that.”
“Of course not,” demurs the Vulcan. “I did try to impress upon you that the flavor would be… unusual to your senses.”
Leonard takes a second sip and tries not to lick his lips. “It’s good. Really good. Where can I buy it?”
“Buy it?” Spock repeats slowly.
“You didn’t use the replicator to make it, so I assume you have a stash of tea bags in that cabinet back there.” Leonard eyes his companion. “If I want some for myself, where do I purchase this… Vulcan tea?”
“Here,” comes the immediate response, and for a nanosecond, Leonard could have sworn Spock’s voice cracked on the word.
He sits back, lowering the mug. “I can buy it from you?”
“Negative.” Spock adds after the slightest pause, “I would be pleased to share my personal supply with you, if that would be amenable.”
Leonard’s brain works through that suggestion a little too quickly. Spock is offering—no, manuevering—him into a reason for future visits. “You’re not going to tell me the name of this tea, are you?”
Silence meets his conclusion.
Damn sneaky Vulcan. “I accept,” Leonard says with a tiny thrill.
“Then perhaps, Dr. McCoy, we can proceed to your original motivation for seeking me out.”
“Well, I—” Leonard begins, only to stop at a sudden realization.
Sitting across from him, Spock is his usual unreadable self. Leonard hasn’t heard a single thing from him that wasn’t spoken aloud.
He places his tea aside on the desk and leans in, as though by straining forward Spock’s thoughts will come forth and present themselves.
Spock cocks his head. “Doctor?”
“Shush!” Leonard concentrates very hard.
Still nothing. But surely they were playing nice a moment ago. Spock couldn’t have had a thought that didn’t involve him.
Okay, so maybe Spock wouldn’t be the type to spend his time mentally praising Leonard’s character, but there had to have been some fondness, some stray acknowledgment of Leonard. By god, he certainly said enough to embarrass himself, calling them friends and agreeing to tea dates.
Spock says at last, “Leonard, I find your lack of response concerning. Are you well?”
Leonard blinks, then, and eases back. A flush begins to creep up his neck. “You must be concerned to use my given name.”
Spock merely stares at him.
“All right, sorry,” he apologizes with a sigh. “I was… distracted. Trying to figure something out. About you.”
One of the Vulcan’s eyebrows goes up. “I would appreciate further explanation.”
So would Leonard. “Let’s try an experiment.”
Clearing his throat, Leonard says, “A human—like myself—can read your mind.”
The other eyebrow joins its twin. “That is a most alarming hypothesis.”
“Humor me, hobgoblin,” Leonard grumps. Then he adds somewhat bashfully, “If you can, think something… nice… about me.”
Spock doesn’t react right away, other than almost absentmindedly setting his mug of tea beside Leonard’s. Once he mimics the position with which he had initially greeted Leonard—elbows braced, fingers steepled, gaze calmly scrutinizing—Leonard’s heart begins to pound.
This is a bad idea. A terrible idea. Spock isn’t going to play along, probably can’t because Leonard has asked the impossible of him, and finally—finally—Leonard is going to know the answer to a question he hasn’t yet found the courage to ask.
Just as he wonders what he has done to Spock, to their friendship, to his own heart, Spock’s eyelids fall to half-mast—
—and the faintest sensation of a caress has Leonard almost jumping in his chair. Physically separated by the desk, they haven’t touched. Spock is so still, expression impassive, it’s like his soul might have decided to vacate his body.
Yet the caress comes again, lasts longer, and afterwards leaves Leonard open like a live wire.
Spock’s mind must be impressively shielded. Though Leonard senses it now, it’s akin to meeting a politely unyielding wall. The thoughts therein are still safely guarded against intruders. Whether Spock is thinking about some part of Leonard that appeals to him, or he’s simply contemplating the audaciousness of Leonard’s request, Leonard does not know.
But Spock is a presence now, and strangely enough Leonard is relieved.
“Has the experiment succeeded?” asks Spock, breaking the silence between them. “Do you know my thoughts, Doctor?”
“No,” Leonard replies, “but I’m certain they’re pleasant.”
“Based on what assumption?”
“That you’re supposed to be thinking about me,” he jokes, because all of a sudden he has the fiercest desire not to tell Spock about his recent escapades into the realm of the telepathic. No, if Spock knows, Leonard could lose the opportunity to find out what exists behind that wall, what Spock actually thinks of him.
And that matters to Leonard.
Spock doesn’t appear moved by the teasing, instead releasing his fingers and considering his companion with more levity than before. “I believe I should ask again: what is your reason for visiting me, Dr. McCoy?” His dark eyes seem to insist, What do you want to know?
Time to start backpedaling, thinks Leonard. When Spock’s interest in something turns serious, he generally doesn’t stop short of an interrogation. A Vulcan can ask the same questions for days.
Leonard gathers himself and lifts up from his chair. “Oh, no particular reason,” he explains casually. “I had no desire to go straight to my quarters, and Jim and I just shared a drink yesterday.” Offering a guileless smile, he imparts, “You’ve been a very agreeable host, Mr. Spock, thank you,” and heads for the door, tossing over his shoulder, “I’ll come back for more of that tea soon.”
Too late, Spock tries following him to the door, mayhap to delay his departure.
Leonard exhales gustily when the door slides closed at his back.
In the back of his mind, he starts plotting. How does one breach a wall formed from a Vulcan’s iron will?
Just to be on the safe side, Leonard avoids Spock for an entire day and then shows up at the Officer’s Mess like nothing could possibly be out of the ordinary the following morning. As he surmised, Spock is already seated at a table, quietly and efficiently consuming the standard breakfast fare for a Vulcan.
With his own meal tray in hand, Leonard starts to take up his usual position across from Spock, then has a change of mind. Spock continues eating wordlessly, despite the doctor unexpectedly plopping into the seat beside him.
Leonard busies himself rearranging the items on his tray while he concentrates on flexing this new mental muscle at Spock. Distantly he picks up someone else in the hall thinking, Dr. McCoy looks cute today!
He freezes, then swings around and glares at large at the occupants in the room. “Cute, my sainted aunt,” he growls under his breath, facing forward again.
No other nice thoughts come his way for a while, which is unfortunate because it also means he isn’t succeeding in picking up Spock’s thoughts. He can still feel the presence of the Vulcan’s mind, though, just a tad more clearly than he anticipated.
He scoots a little closer to Spock’s side.
Spock seems to think that is an invitation to start a conversation. “Greetings, Dr. McCoy. Is your morning proceeding well?”
“Yes, thanks for asking.” Scoot, scoot, until he’s just at the edge of the Vulcan’s personal space bubble. “And how’re you doing? Well rested?”
“I am functioning optimally,” Spock intones before pausing. “I shall consider a period of rest this evening.”
Leonard’s spoon of grits halts midway to his mouth. He narrows his eyes. “That reminds me. An evaluation of your sleep cycles is overdue.”
Spock glances at him. “I assumed your declaration to monitor my sleeping habits was a threat, Doctor, not a genuine intention.”
“Bones never threatens without the intention of delivering. You ought to know that by now, Mr. Spock.”
“Morning, Jim,” Leonard greets his captain, Spock’s “Captain” not far behind.
“Bones, Spock.” Jim takes the seat across the table that Leonard left unoccupied. “Up and ready for the day, I see.” He says somewhat ruefully, “I required a little more self-motivation than usual.”
Distracted from baiting Spock, Leonard makes a quick assessment of the food on Jim’s breakfast tray and grunts his approval. “That’s because you’re even worse than Spock about keeping a routine bedtime.”
Unfazed, Kirk stirs a packet of sugar into his cup of coffee. “How am I worse? I managed to fall asleep.”
“Bah! Given the look of you, a two-hour nap hardly qualifies as sleep. At least Spock is aware of his body’s limitations and abides by them!”
“Why, thank you, Doctor.”
“Bones…” Jim sighs. “Fine. If I can’t sleep tonight, I’ll call you over to knock me out.”
“Good. I’ve got just the right hook that’ll do it.”
Jim drops his sugar packet and covers his mouth, trying to stifle laughter. Spock, on the other hand, looks mildly horrified.
“A joke, Spock,” Leonard explains with a roll of his eyes. “I was joking.”
Spock says firmly, “I should hope so.”
“Call off your Vulcan,” McCoy complains to Kirk.
As Jim’s gaze turns to Spock, a swell of fondness washes over Leonard.
This time, he nearly drops his spoon. Jim looking fondly at his second-in-command isn’t surprising but the fact that Leonard can sense it so strongly is. What’s happening? Is his power expanding to encompass emotions focused at others?
That thought does frighten him into letting go of the utensil. The wrong end of the spoon sinks into his grits. He stares at it dumbly.
“What?” Leonard looks up to find Jim holding out a napkin. He takes it sheepishly, plucking his spoon out of the bowl and wiping it down. “Don’t mind me,” he says. “Just making a mess.”
Jim remarks, “Would you feel better if I told you this isn’t my first cup of coffee of the day, but it is the only one I haven’t spilled on my uniform?”
Leonard grins. “Yeah, it would.”
Spock blinks placidly. “Fortunately I have no incident of clumsiness to share.”
Jim and Leonard burst out laughing.
Spock returns to his meal with the air of one who is pleased.
“And you say Vulcans have no sense of humor,” Leonard teases. He leans in, wagging a finger at the man next to him. “We’ve caught on to your ways, Mr. Spock!”
“I see no reason for an insult.”
Leonard makes a show of scooting in very close to Spock this time. “Oh, you haven’t heard an insult yet, but I can certainly think up one real quick to oblige you.”
Spock retorts, “I am at your mercy, Doctor,” which must be the Vulcan way of challenging an opponent.
This is why Leonard comes to breakfast in the mornings instead of subsisting on coffee until lunchtime. An half-hour of banter with Spock does wonders for a man’s spirit.
Appreciation touches Leonard’s mind, there and gone. Startled, he looks around to find out who could project that much warmth through such a simple sentiment. Spock’s ever-present shield around his mind hasn’t once wavered so it clearly isn’t him.
Across the table, Jim has his focus on his food, eating. At the next table, no one is thinking of Leonard at all. Farther away, the Chief Engineer is in his full glory, leaking little star-bursts of excitement while he gossips with some of his staff about a rumor of a new starship design that could streamline the connection between the nacelles and the warp engine.
Disappointed, Leonard withdraws from Spock’s personal space to return to his forgotten meal.
Jim glances up, his gaze casually flicking from Leonard to Spock, as if puzzling out why they aren’t arguing anymore.
Leonard says for both Spock and Jim’s benefit, “I’ll take a raincheck on those insults. My grits are goin’ cold.”
Jim smiles slightly, and the warmth returns.
Leonard manages not to drop his spoon a second time.
It was Jim. Even without thinking it directly, Jim feels appreciative of Leonard’s closeness with Spock.
“Jim,” Leonard begins.
Kirk raises his eyebrows in question. “Bones?”
Leonard swallows his surprise. “Less coffee, more food.”
“Yes, Bones,” the ship’s captain agrees, setting aside his cup as a gesture of obeying his physician.
The warmth changes to something softer, an emotion Leonard cannot quite pinpoint without having experienced in its rawest form. Then the sensation fades altogether, and a companionable breakfast between the three men is resumed.
By the end of the meal, Leonard is the only one left to linger at the table before heading to duty. He’s there alone because he wants the time to think.
He doesn’t hear Spock’s thoughts, but that is explainable, given the Vulcan’s natural talent and particular physiology. Yet other than pleasant but vague emotions, he hasn’t heard a peep directly from Jim’s mind either.
What does that mean?
When comparing the mysteries fairly, Spock might present an interesting challenge but Jim is a blip.
Leonard is about ninety-nine percent certain that Kirk cares about him, because otherwise they couldn’t be close friends and confidantes when also superior and subordinate. Jim is the one who shows his caring most often, tactilely through a one-armed hug, a hand to the back, or touch to the shoulder. Moreover, Jim is wired to say what he means without embellishment, whether that statement may be an emotionally charged I need you or a firm Of course we’re still friends, Bones.
Why, then, does Jim have no particular thoughts concerning Leonard that Leonard can read? There exists no mental shield to dissuade an intrusion, and the strong friendship between them lends the makings for an occasional complimentary thought, however idly made.
This is a puzzle that has McCoy stumped. Though he is inundated daily now with embarrassing opinions about his blue eyes, mass approval for the short-sleeved uniform baring his forearms, and a persistent attraction to his Southern drawl, he hasn’t encountered a single unspoken opinion from the man who has known him the longest and frankly knows him best. Jim may not consider him in the romantic light that some of the others aboard the ship do, but surely that doesn’t mean Jim doesn’t think of him kindly at all.
Which leads Leonard to believe the lack of thought must be intentional.
And that makes him wonder what type of thoughts Jim Kirk, of all people, would decide have to be hidden from his best friend.
Truth be told, sometimes Leonard McCoy doesn’t know when to quit.
Jim corners him in the locker room by the gymnasium with the demand, “Bones, what is this?”
Leonard plays dumb. “Don’t know what you mean, Jim. I came to work out.”
Kirk eyes the medical scrubs Leonard is still wearing from an afternoon surgery that Leonard had handed over to his assistant CMO as soon as possible in order to track down the object of his present mission. Kirk’s expression clearly reads, If you had changed, I might believe you.
Leonard cranes his neck around Jim. “Is that Giotto hailing you?” When Jim takes the bait, Leonard dives under the man’s arm.
Kirk catches him by the back of the collar and drags him backward into an unoccupied changing room. As the man starts to close the door, “Jim,” Leonard cries, aghast, “don’t you dare! You know what kind of rumors will fly if you shut that!”
Jim gives him a hard stare but relents nonetheless, leaving the door partially open. “All right, mister,” he says then in that tone Leonard knows to mean someone is in trouble. “I want an explanation.”
“For following you to your workout?” Leonard hedges.
Kirk crosses his arms over his chest. “For following me everywhere. Since when have you had an interest in the quantum physics associated with warp engineering?”
For a man so in love with his craft, Leonard doesn’t know how Scotty can be so boring. “I had no idea you were headed to the Engineering symposium,” he murmurs.
“I attend every quarter,” Jim states flatly.
“Since you’re one of the only non-engineers who didn’t fall asleep in ten minutes, you must have liked it.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not,” argues Leonard. “I’m curious. Do you go to Spock’s Science seminars too?”
Jim frowns at him but answers readily enough, “Of course.”
Leonard thinks about that. “And I know you attend the Medical ones.” The conclusion is inevitable. “Jim, wait a minute, are you telling me you go to all our officers’ presentations?”
Jim uncrosses his arms. “They’re educational.”
Leonard jabs a finger at the man. “No wonder you don’t get any damn sleep!”
“We’re not discussing my sleeping schedule,” Kirk fires back.
“The hell we are!” Leonard rocks on his heels, pursing his mouth with displeasure. “By god, I don’t know what to do with you. Don’t you think captaining a ship is enough work for one man?”
Kirk stiffens. “Being the captain is precisely why I attend every lecture, Dr. McCoy. I’m supporting my crew.”
“Your crewmen won’t be disappointed if you take a night off every now and then. In fact, now that I know this,” Leonard informs Jim grimly, “I’ll have to report it.”
Jim freezes, saying, “You wouldn’t.”
“Spock’s gotta know.”
“Bones, you can’t.”
“Oh, I can.” Leonard lifts his chin and indicates the door behind Kirk. “Unless you step aside. Then I might, say, suffer a temporary memory loss about this conversation.”
Jim presses his mouth flat in dismay, yet considers Leonard with something akin to respect. “You would blackmail your captain.”
“Damn right I would,” grins Leonard. He locks his hands behind his back and bounces once on the balls of his feet. “Just imagine the tizzy Spock will fly into. First, he’ll have to interrogate you, then chart out all the events you attended since the very first day the Enterprise left dock under your command and, don’t forget,” he adds gleefully, “following that up with a very detailed, very lengthy presentation to you of his analysis on why your actions are foolish, unnecessary, and illogical for a man in your position.”
“Bones,” Jim says faintly, “stop.”
Leonard takes pity on him. “Choice is yours, Jim.”
Jim steps aside.
Leonard breezes past, stepping out of the changing room and feeling like quite a winner.
“McCoy,” Kirk calls just before Leonard reaches the exit to the locker room.
Leonard glances back.
“We’re not done with this conversation,” the man warns him.
Leonard hurries out before Jim decides to follow him.
Later, chewing over the day’s events in the privacy of his office, Leonard acknowledges that the worst-case scenario might be at play: Jim simply doesn’t give time to thinking deeply about him. His feelings for Leonard exist only at the surface.
It surprises him how much that conclusion hurts.
He turns to his desk intercom and contacts Chapel. “How far behind in the requisition reviews am I?”
“It’s embarrassing to say out loud,” Christine informs him.
“Then I’d better get started, Nurse. Bring them all.”
He can pray that working until there isn’t enough energy to think will keep his unhappiness at bay.
Kirk comes to him, whether by happenstance or by purposely seeking him out, in the Rec Room lounge where Leonard has nursed a single-malt scotch alone for the better part of an evening.
“Is this seat taken?” his friend asks, placing a hand on the empty chair next to Leonard at the bar.
“Knock yourself out,” Leonard murmurs.
Jim slides into the seat and eyes the drink station at the far end. “I didn’t think you indulged in the replicated variety.”
“Sometimes a man’s got to take what he can get.”
Jim looks at the scotch in Leonard’s hand. “Is that why you still have a full glass?”
Leonard eyes his captain. “How long have you been watching me?”
Jim takes the glass from him. “Long enough to know you won’t finish this.” He makes a face after one sip. “That’s awful.”
Leonard sighs. “I know.”
Jim glances away. “What’s on your mind, Bones?”
“Oh, this and that. Did you know, I’m pretty popular on this ship.”
Jim turns back to him, a hint of exasperation in his voice. “Is that the reason—? Bones, I told you that contest wasn’t to be taken seriously. It was for morale.”
“I’ll have you know,” Leonard retorts with a bit of heat, “I could have beaten Spock if he didn’t have half the ship’s officers assigned to him. I definitely know that now!”
Kirk grabs his arm. “Are you drunk?”
McCoy sobers. “No. I’m psychic.”
“Come on.” Jim tugs Leonard off his stool. “You’re going to sleep this off in your quarters.”
Leonard plants his feet to make it more difficult for Jim to budge him. “I’m not drunk, Jim.”
“Bones…” A muscle ticks in Kirk’s jaw. “I’m not asking.”
Leonard chuckles darkly. “Guess you aren’t liking me very much right now—not that I can ever tell when you do like me.”
His empathic senses go haywire as emotion crashes into him like a shockwave. Jim feels, deeply feels, in response to that statement. He’s insulted by the insinuation that he could not like Leonard, appreciate Leonard, because he—because—b-because—
The thought stutters to stop suddenly while Jim silently stares at him, only to complete itself a heartbeat later:
Because he loves Leonard.
The man in question staggers back quite literally, and intensity of the confession dies down, though it is still present.
As Jim reaches for Leonard, questioning sharply, “Bones?”, Leonard can only manage, “I f-forgot.”
An awkward pause ensues as his excuse falters, and Jim’s hand stills before touching him.
Leonard finishes weakly, “An appointment. Sorry, Jim.”
In his hurry to escape, Leonard bumps right into the figure stepping out of the turbolift on the upper deck of the Rec Room, the other person he desperately doesn’t want to deal with in that moment.
Spock catches Leonard by the arms just as Leonard tetters backward. In concert, the usual hazy mental awareness of the Vulcan sharpens with unexpected clarity, as though jolted to life by the skin-to-skin contact. Leonard becomes privy to revelation after revelation like an organized line of marching ants: Spock is concerned by Leonard’s pale face; Spock is also concerned that Jim, standing by the lounge’s entrance, gazing at them, appears unhappy; Spock feels protective over them both. He believes if they are at odds, it is his duty to soothe them.
Encompassing this complex thinking is Spock’s awareness that his concern, desire to protect, to soothe, results from his affection for the humans.
It is logical to acknowledge love.
Leonard’s brain fizzles out like an overloaded light bulb. Sputtering, he jerks out of Spock’s grasp and dives for the turbolift, deaf to the Vulcan’s alarmed “Doctor?”
When the lift slides shut, McCoy stands alone and trembling. “Oh boy,” he whispers before slumping back against the lift’s wall.
The Domina’s gift is not a gift at all. She has cursed him, a man who is too cowardly to express his own feelings. From now on, Leonard must live with knowing that his love for his shipmates could have been returned.
Somehow I’m not surprised I could not finish this in one chapter. Probably because we have a pining Triumvirate on our hands? :)