Title: Invitation for the Spellbound (2/3)
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.
Previous Part: 1
Down the inclined corridor, left by the door to the engine chamber, and straight on ’til the deck’s abrupt end. That’s where Leonard finds himself, seated on the top of a large sealed cargo container listening to the subtle thrum produced by warp engines on standby.
A jug appears in Leonard’s peripheral vision. He considers it dubiously. “What’s that for?”
“In my experience,” reckons Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, “a crewman doesn’t ask another crewman to hide him from his captain unless he’s done something highly inappropriate—”
“I haven’t done anything,” grumbles McCoy.
“—and the only thing one of us could do to shake up a level-headed man like Capt’n Kirk,” Scott goes on blithely, “is to upset Mr. Spock.” He pauses as if for effect. “Or you, Dr. McCoy, but now it wouldnae make sense if you had upset yourself.”
Leonard drawls wryly, “That’s not too far from the truth.”
The man looks at him with interest.
“I’ll take that drink,” he says in lieu of explaining further.
The engineer accepts the diversion amiably enough, pouring them both a cup from the jug.
Leonard’s eyes water after the first sip. “Whew,” he whistles, “that’ll put hairs on a man’s chest.”
“Made it myself,” Scott claims proudly. “I knew ye had a fine palate for the spirits.”
“I didn’t think it was legal to make this stuff aboard a starship.”
“A man’s got to keep his hobbies alive somehow, Doctor.”
Leonard nods his agreement. They drink together in silence until Scott lifts his cup to his mouth for the third time but after a moment lowers the drink untouched. “Ye need a date for that dance?”
Leonard chokes on his mouthful, spurring Scott to whack his back until he turns a teary-eyed glare on the man in warning to stop. “I don’t have a date yet if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Aye, me neither.”
“Don’t know if I want one,” he adds in more of a murmur. Frankly Leonard is no longer certain how he can attend the Sweetheart Ball with someone, friend or otherwise, now that he knows—
He shuts down that line of thinking with a flare of panic. Be careful, he chastises himself. God knows who else might have also developed an unexpected ability to read minds.
Montgomery Scott doesn’t seem to be in that category, though. In fact, thinks Leonard, eyeing Scott, he looks like a man troubled by his own problems.
“Is there someone particular you want to go with?” Leonard asks.
“Well…” Scotty glances at him, oddly shy. “Do you suppose… if there’s two people a man is keen on asking, it would be possible to take both?”
Oh lord. Maybe Scotty does know something of Leonard’s trouble. McCoy takes a moment to gather his wits. “I would think the answer depends on whom you mean to ask.”
“Lt. Romaine,” Scott supplies promptly, and then in a more hopeful manner, “…and Lt. Uhura?” At the shocked silence, the engineer moans, “I know, it’s not reasonable. They’re lovely lasses, equally attractive, each talented in her own way. Why should they agree to a date?”
“That’s not fair,” Leonard argues. “Unless Romaine and Uhura are already taken or they just don’t like each other, why can’t y’all go together? For god’s sake, no one is that narrow-minded these days, Scotty.”
“I wasn’t talking about the multi-partner part, Doctor,” Scotty protests mournfully. He indicates himself, looking pained.
Dismayed, Leonard purses his mouth. “The only way you can’t be good enough to escort two beautiful women to that Ball is if you truly believe you aren’t good enough.”
“Now listen here,” he snaps, angry only because the conversation is beginning to hit a little too close to home, “I won’t have any more of this pity talk. Ask ’em or don’t, but either way it’s time you stopped using yourself as an excuse to be miserable.”
Scott adopts a wide-eyed look. “When you put it like that, I feel like an idiot.”
“Then what are you planning to do?” his companion inquiries innocently.
“Do?” Leonard echoes, startled.
“About your own date?”
Leonard stares at the man for a long time before deciding, “You might be too smart for your own good.”
“Aye,” says Scott simply.
Leonard sighs. “Forget the cup. Just give me the damn jug.”
The man offers a refill of the homemade brew with a hint of sympathy, then raises his cup and chinks it against Leonard’s. “To courage,” he toasts.
“Courage,” mutters Leonard, and drinks.
In the softened lighting that marks the night shift, Leonard ambles to his quarters feeling more relaxed than he has in a week. Whether that is courtesy of the moonshine furring his nerves or the effect of having an uncomplicated companionship with someone, he isn’t inclined to ponder too long the driver behind his good mood. Forgetting to undress, he lays down on his bed and soon is asleep.
Hours later, the cabin chronometer’s alarm rouses him by calling his name. He spends a little longer than usual in the bathroom preparing for the new day. Only once he’s trekking a familiar route through the ship’s corridors does Leonard concede that avoiding Jim and Spock is not in anyone’s best interest. He may have learned their secrets, but they don’t know that nor is he required to tell them.
Ignorance, for now, seems the best option.
With this mindset, Leonard ventures to the Officer’s Mess and in short order has his standard breakfast fare and a seat at a table across from an already present Kirk and Spock.
Uncomfortable yet determined not to show it, Leonard attempts to converse with one of the two uncharacteristically subdued officers. He starts simply enough with “How’s the coffee this morning, Jim?”
Glancing away from the cup in his hands, Kirk offers nothing more than the noncommittal grunt of a man not inclined to speak.
Leonard turns to Spock. “How are your…” He eyes the unappealing blobs on the officer’s plate. “…nutrition cubes?”
“Sufficient,” supplies Spock while dissecting a green cube.
Leonard’s gaze drops briefly to his own plate. When he looks up again, he finds Spock watching him instead of eating.
After a few seconds of silence from the Vulcan, Leonard huffs and remarks, “Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”
Jim chokes on his coffee.
Spock blinks. “An image is worth a thousand words.”
Now Kirk is hacking.
Leonard waves his fork in the air. “That’s ‘picture’, Mr. Spock. A picture is worth a thousand words.”
“An image can be a picture, Doctor, and vice versa. I see no difference.”
Leonard scowls and indicates himself. “Then consider what this image is telling you!”
Spock cocks his head. “Certainly it represents more than one thousand words. Shall I recite the list alphabetically?”
Leonard sits up a little straighter. He has always appreciated a challenge.
“Bones,” Jim interrupts in warning, the first word the man has spoken aloud, before his glance cuts sharply sideways. “Spock, you might spare the others at this table.”
Spock seems to weigh the suggestion thoroughly before resuming his meal with his usual air of dignity, as though he had not troubled himself only a moment ago with pestering Leonard.
Leonard’s shoulders slope downwards in mild disappointment. Rallying a moment later, he purses his mouth as he stabs his fork into a lump of scrambled eggs.
Kirk sits back, sighing through his nose while his hands curl around his coffee mug. Disaster averted, the man must be thinking.
All of a sudden, Leonard is less than pleased. At least someone had been willing to talk to him!
“Your turn,” he tells Kirk.
Jim’s gaze meets his. “What?”
“Your turn, Captain. If Spock and I can’t have a civil conversation—”
Kirk’s tone becomes amused. “Is that what you thought was about to happen?”
Leonard brings his fist down on the table, rattling some silverware and turning a few nearby heads. “Damn it, Jim, what’s the matter with you this morning?”
Spock’s spoon freezes midway to his mouth.
A thundercloud builds in Kirk’s eyes, but his voice stays flat. “The matter with me, Bones?”
“Yes, you, Captain.”
“Gentlemen,” their Vulcan companion tries to intervene.
Kirk’s fingers whiten against his mug. “You appear to have the problem—unless you have another explanation for being so damn temperamental.”
Leonard nearly jumps out of his seat. “Temperamental!”
“And loud,” adds Jim.
Leonard grabs both sides of his tray to keep from reaching across the table to belt his captain. He grits his teeth, too, against all the words he would love to shout.
Jim eyes him in a way that means he is simply waiting for McCoy’s temper to prove him right.
Leonard turns his stabbing gaze to a thin-lipped Spock. “Tell Captain Kirk a man who insults his physician is a fool.”
Jim counters almost languidly, his eyes never leaving his opponent, “Mr. Spock, inform Dr. McCoy that a subordinate who insults his commanding officer is asking for a personal appointment to the brig.”
Spock looks between them. “I will say neither of these things, as you both were capable of hearing them. I will apprise of you this, however: I do not have the time or inclination to support this petty argument.” He rises from his place at the table, his tray in hand. “I shall take my leave.”
“Wait!” Jim and Leonard cry together.
Leonard glances at Kirk before saying, duly chastened, “We’re sorry.”
“Extremely sorry,” Jim adds, lifting a hand towards the standing Vulcan’s arm but not quite making contact.
“You should apologize to each other,” says Spock, but he sits down again.
Leonard sighs and looks to his best friend. “Sorry, Jim.”
Jim nods. “Me too, Bones.”
“Well, don’t I feel like a heel,” Leonard says, sighing again. “Spock, has anybody ever told you you’d make a great parent?”
Jim’s tone turns dry. “I know I’ve told him that at least once.”
Spock’s eyebrow lift towards his hairline. “I fail to see the correlation.”
Exaggerating his surprise, Leonard drawls, “You do? Why, hasn’t your mother ever had to discipline you?”
“Of course not, Doctor.”
Spock’s answer is spoken so seriously that Leonard cracks up, further confusing the Vulcan by his reaction.
Jim hides his smile behind his mug and finally reaches for an eating utensil next to his untouched meal.
Taking that as a good sign, Leonard sobers himself and asks his captain, not for the first time, “So how’s that coffee, Jim-boy?”
“Good,” Jim replies before testing a spoonful of food.
“Here.” Leonard scoops the remainder of his eggs onto the man’s plate. “Try these. You could use the protein.”
Kirk catches and holds his eyes for a second, all the confirmation Leonard needs to know that he is truly forgiven for his outburst.
Leonard settles back on his side of the table to find that, once again, Spock is studying him closely. This time Leonard pretends not to notice.
The sensation of warmth hits him unexpectedly but he manages to keep his reaction limited to missing his glass of orange juice when he reaches for it.
Jim reaches out, pushing the glass closer to Leonard, the warm feeling emitting from Jim not once faltering.
In so short a time, Leonard had forgotten why he has to be careful.
Come to think of it, there is something he can do for his friends that won’t hurt them—or himself. He clears his throat and asks a question like it’s an idle thought: “Got a date for the Sweetheart Ball?”
“I’m not going,” Jim responds without breaking stride in the process of inhaling the eggs.
Spock’s head turns sharply in their captain’s direction.
Leonard can’t blame Spock. If he didn’t know Jim as well as he does, he would have been surprised by that answer too.
“You’re going,” Leonard says firmly.
Jim’s gaze flicks toward McCoy, and the man sounds faintly annoyed. “I believe I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Bones.”
“You’re the captain.” Leonard insists, “If you don’t go, you might as well call the whole thing off.”
“I don’t need to be at that dance. It’s for crew morale.”
“Captain, the morale of the crew is only as strong as its weakest member.”
Leonard silently applauds Spock’s point. “If it’s the thought of too much exposure, keep the appearance brief, and—” He purposely does not look at Spock. “—take your First Officer.”
Jim stills, then looks at Leonard sort of blankly.
“Spock,” Leonard repeats for his friend’s benefit. “He is Mr. Popularity. What better date for a starship captain?”
Jim sets the tines of his fork against the edge of his plate. “I think there’s a point about my captaincy somewhere in that remark.”
“Don’t know what you mean, Jim.” Leonard smiles reassuringly at him. “Spock hasn’t even vetoed the idea.”
The two humans turn to consider the Vulcan.
Spock arches an eyebrow. “I am available to attend the event.”
Jim looks momentarily surprised, as though he expected his second-in-command to have some protest to the idea.
Leonard is under no such illusion. “It’s decided, then. Spock, you can keep Jim from dancing his feet off with every pretty lady who asks for his hand. And, Jim… don’t embarrass Spock.”
Jim’s gaze sharpens suddenly. “You’re not going?”
Leonard resists the urge to hunker down under that stare. “No.”
The soft question, oddly, comes from the Vulcan.
“I’ll be busy,” Leonard murmurs. “Working the skeleton crew in the ‘Bay.”
He doesn’t want to think about the glance Kirk exchanges with his First Officer.
“And speaking of work,” Leonard declares more firmly, “I’m going to be late for an appointment if I don’t skedaddle. See y’all.”
Rather than give Jim more time to question his sudden decision not to attend the Sweetheart Ball, Leonard hurries off to the recycler across the cafeteria.
The doctor freezes on instinct, despite having not been called upon in such a manner for many, many years.
And certainly never in space.
It’s with part dread, part curiosity that Leonard dares to turn around and face the person angry enough to employ his full name.
Mouth pressed thin, eyes blazing, and hands on her hips, the head nurse of Sickbay fixes a stare upon her boss that Leonard’s mother would have approved of.
Resisting the urge to respond like an erring son, he clears his throat and inquires politely, “Yes, Nurse?”
Chapel’s gaze sharpens. “We need to talk.”
“Yes, sir,” she states with enough restraint to imply she is actually fuming.
Given that Christine Chapel is one of the few people on board who can match McCoy in temper when riled, Leonard begins to feel nervous. He surreptitiously wipes his hands against his pants as he decides, “My office,” and heads in that direction. The prickling of unease worsens when Christine wordlessly catches up to him and meets him stride for stride.
Maybe he needs to break the tension? “I’m not going to run away,” he jokes.
“You won’t have the chance, sir,” Chapel responds grimly.
Leonard wisely dispenses with the humor.
When they step into his office, he breathes deeply, just once, in an attempt to rally some of the authority of a senior officer. His breath peters out halfway through when Chapel, still standing in front of the door, says, “Dr. Noel and I had an interesting chat at breakfast.”
Leonard tucks his hands under his arms and keeps his silence, knowing no matter how he responds, he will only sound defensive.
Chapel crosses her arms too. “This is your opportunity to explain.”
“Nothing to explain,” rejoins Leonard. “Whatever Helen said probably shouldn’t have been said in the first place.” He pauses, considers that. “Unless you’ve come to report her?”
The nurse’s mouth thins even more. “Dr. McCoy, the only person I’m inclined to report at the moment is you.”
He balks at that. “For what?”
The fire in Christine’s eyes intensifies. “How about failure to follow the regulatory documentation protocols when pursuing a diagnosis? Or exercising one’s authority to use medical equipment without the required minimum of staff in attendance!”
Chapel had obviously dug into their computer’s event log after her early morning chat.
Leonard tries to stand his ground, to not let the accusations fluster him. “In this department, there’s no higher authority than mine, Nurse Chapel.”
“Holding the position of CMO doesn’t make you an exception to the rules,” she fires back. “Nor do we operate by one-man teams on this ship.” The nurse’s tone turns steely enough to make Leonard flinch. “You should have told us—one of us, any of us.”
“I did,” he argues. “I went to Noel!”
“Only because as the ship’s psychologist she has the clearance to independently confirm a medical evaluation.”
“And offer a professional opinion,” he emphasizes. “Christine, medically trained or not, no one on my staff including myself has the knowledge or experience necessary to analyze my current condition. All I would have done is give y’all a scare.”
Christine takes a step toward him. “I’m scared right now, Leonard. What’s happened to you?”
“More like what hasn’t happened,” he grouses and a moment later inevitably caves. “All right, I’ll tell you everything—if you swear to forgive me.”
“Of course I forgive you,” Chapel says, suddenly returning to her normal state of calm. “Now let me help.”
Sighing but feeling more at ease, he waves her towards an empty chair and takes the chair opposite it. When she places her hands on her knees and looks at him expectantly, he says, “It all began with the mission to Quirinus. I was tending the Domina, you see, when she made me as angry as a hornet—”
Christine closes her eyes. “I should have known. You didn’t insult her, did you?”
“Well,” he hedges, “I wouldn’t say insulted…”
The nurse just shakes her head.
Leonard goes on, “We had an argument, which I won, and so this is her retribution.”
“Hearing people’s thoughts. Feeling their emotions.” He doesn’t mention the last part of the Domina’s spell, something about the value of life, not certain himself how or even if that will manifest.
Christine sits back in silence for some time. Then she asks, “What did I just think?”
Leonard blinks. “It wasn’t very nice.”
“Be more specific,” Christine says with pointed politeness.
“Or it wasn’t about me. I don’t know which,” he admits. “Apparently my curse is to learn good things about myself from other people.”
Chapel stares. “I would call that a gift.”
Leonard purses his mouth. “That’s your opinion.”
“Leonard,” she muses, sounding troubled now, “what could have the Domina intended by making you like this?”
His shoulders slump. “Frankly I just want to know when it will stop.” He thinks about Jim and Spock. “There are some thoughts a man should never be privy to.”
The woman reaches for his hand. “Oh, Leonard.” But she asks him, “Are you certain about that? If it’s a secret in your favor, that is?”
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “I’m… confused.”
She pats his hand before easing back. “Confusion is normal. Now, show me your test results. I know which equipment you used but not the specific scans.”
“I tried every one I could,” he says, reaching for a PADD stored in his desk drawer, “with the conclusion being the same: my brain is a mystery.”
“We’ll see about that,” counters Chapel primly, then offers a faint smile. “Oh, and for your ease of mind, Helen didn’t betray a single confidence. She only hinted that you were going through something alone which you shouldn’t, and as a friend I would be wise to drag it out of you.”
Words fail Leonard.
Chapel laughs softly, “I should have been an actress instead of a nurse,” and takes the PADD hanging limply from McCoy’s hand.
He sputters to life. “You tricked me!”
The nurse simply continues to smile. “Now that I know, consider your options. We can work on this mystery together, or I can take my concerns for your well-being to Captain Kirk.”
McCoy’s sputtering turns into choking. He manages after a moment, “First option.”
Christine accepts his decision with a nod, activates the data padd, and Leonard scoots his chair next to her and leans in to explain the initial data set. Later, he promises himself, he will chastise Noel for her meddling.
Maybe he will.
McCoy doesn’t disagree with that logic, not at all; he simply finds it embarrassing to document the particulars of his encounters, such as who that day is admiring his eyes or thinks his Southern drawl is titillating.
Or, as of that moment, who might be working up the courage to ask him to the Sweetheart Ball.
He dodges the doe-eyed ensign on Deck Nine’s corridor by making a blind turn into the nearest room. The room is actually laboratory whose occupants are bemused by the CMO’s sudden appearance. When McCoy’s brain starts working again, identifying which department he has blundered into, luck would have it that he has a plausible excuse to be there.
He clears his throat and says, “I’m looking for a metallurgist.”
“Lt. Chang or Lt. Hanson?” one of the lab techs wants to know.
“Chang,” he clarifies.
The group points in tandem to the door of an adjoining room. Offering his gratitude, Leonard crosses the lab. The door slides open just before he reaches it.
No doubt surprised to see him, Lin greets him cordially nonetheless. “Good afternoon, Dr. McCoy.”
“Ah, Lin—just the patient I came to see. Let’s take a look at that arm.”
The lieutenant covers the bandage on her arm with one hand. “What, now?”
“You can use Dr. Panke’s office,” another lieutenant volunteers. “He went to lunch.”
“Thanks,” Leonard says, touching Lin’s elbow to guide her in that direction. “We won’t be long.”
The woman protests as she walks with him, “But, sir, I already have a check-up scheduled with Dr. M’Benga.”
Leonard hedges, “No need to be alarmed, Lin. Sometimes I make house calls when I happen to be in the neighborhood.”
Lin eyes him with her usual shrewdness once the office door is closed and she has settled into a chair. “If I let you inspect my arm today, can I skip my appointment tomorrow?”
He drawls, “Not a chance.”
Lin studies McCoy for a while longer before slowly extending her arm for his inspection. While he unwraps the bandage, she explains, “I’ll oblige you because you seem in desperate need of an excuse for being here.”
Leonard chokes but knows better than to defend his pretense.
“Who did you really come to see?” Lin wants to know.
“No one,” Leonard assures her. “I made a wrong turn, is all.”
“Mm-hm.” She watches him work for a moment. “Well, what’s the prognosis, Doc? Will I live?”
“I hope that was a joke.”
He’s pricklier than usual.
That’s not the typical thought Leonard might hear about himself but perhaps because a mild fondness accompanies it, he picks up on Lin’s unspoken observation.
The woman frowns down at her arm. “It may be lucky for me that you’re here,” she says. “I do have a question, although,” she adds dryly, “I would have been perfectly willing to wait until the appointed time to ask Dr. M’Benga.”
“Fine, fine,” he caves under the scolding. “I apologize for interrupting your work day.”
“You’re forgiven, sir.” Lin lifts her arm from his grip. “When can I expect the discoloration to fade?”
“Give it a couple of weeks.”
She sighs, “The Sweetheart Ball is in two days,” then grimaces, stating, “I know this will sound vain but I wish I could look like myself.”
He sympathizes with her concern. “There’s nothing wrong with a little vanity, Lieutenant.” Then he winks. “But if your date can’t appreciate the fact you’re still in the process of healing, you send him to me.”
She smiles. “Thanks.”
He re-wraps the bandage around her arm. “I suppose I’ll take my leave now. Don’t miss that appointment.”
Leonard offers his hand to help her out of the chair then bows like a gentleman, just the way his mother taught him.
“You know,” Lin says as they move toward the office door, “the reason most people are excited about this event isn’t because it seems romantic. We’re just glad to have the chance to come together.” She looks up at him. “Like a family.”
“Family’s important,” he agrees.
Lin places a hand on his arm as the door picks up their presence and opens to reveal the lab. “All family, Dr. McCoy.” It won’t be the same without you.
His breath catches.
Lin nods slightly, then, as though satisfied that his expression is a sign that her message has been properly delivered. She raises a hand in farewell as she moves through the lab, calling back to him, “See you at the Ball!”
Leonard rejoins the foot traffic in the corridor, wondering just how long the crew of the Enterprise have concerned themselves with his happiness. They notice him, think about him, worry about him. He isn’t as isolated because of his unpredictable temper as he always assumed.
He keeps his head tucked down as he steps in the middle of a group of officers occupying a turbolift, awash in a strong sentimentalism that makes tears stand in his eyes. Only after a moment’s struggle can he compose himself sufficiently to pull his shoulders back and appear as usual.
“Does this visitor need medical treatment?” Leonard questions while adjusting his handheld neural scanner and waving it over the head of his patient.
Chapel blinks, turns to look over her shoulder before replying, “He says he is perfectly functional.”
Leonard groans. “Then tell him to wait in my office.”
What could Spock possibly want, Leonard muses, that would justify him leaving his post in the middle of Bridge duty? Unfortunately, he believes he has some idea. And since Spock typically works more hours than anyone else on the ship, his captain, the fool, would never say no to a request for a short break. Leonard almost contacts Jim to make a fuss about that.
Then again, he made enough of a fuss at breakfast so it probably wouldn’t be wise to tempt Kirk into another argument this soon.
A quarter of an hour later, he turns the patient over to a nurse to be outfitted with a cerebral monitor and heads across the bay at a quick trot. Spock is standing in the middle of the CMO’s office, hands at his back, staring at a framed certificate on the wall. Leonard would bet one month’s salary Spock has been staring at that thing for the duration of the wait while probably working on some unsolved complex mathematical theory in his head.
Maybe Leonard should perform a check-up on the Vulcan after all. That would certainly make him feel more comfortable.
Spock acknowledges McCoy’s entrance by turning his head. “Greetings, Dr. McCoy.”
“Hello to you too, Commander.” Leonard steps off the threshold of his office, allowing the automatic door to slide shut. “Is this visit personal or ship’s business?”
Leonard had already guessed that but still inclines his head respectfully. “I’m listening.”
“Perhaps you would care to sit down first?”
Leonard crosses his arm and rocks back on his heels. “What good will that do?”
Spock raises one questioning eyebrow.
He huffs. “If you’re going to reprimand me for upsetting Jim, just get on with it.”
“Fascinating. How have you come to such a conclusion?”
“Because I can count on one hand the personal matters that spur you to seek me out.” He ticks off each point with a finger. “Jim’s upset, that’s one. You’re confused about something Jim did, that’s two. You might be experiencing some deadly biological imperative you can’t talk about—oh wait, not that one,” he amends sardonically (sadly to which Spock refuses to react), “and last of all, your parents are coming back to visit and you wish to request that I restrain myself from wheedling more childhood stories out of your mother.”
“The latter has never occurred.”
Leonard grins. “Can you say it wouldn’t if your parents were due to arrive?” Spock’s silence is confirmation, but Leonard decides to ease up on his teasing. “What it really comes down to is our mutual friend. So, as I said, get on with it, Spock.”
But Spock says of all things, “There is now a fourth scenario. I wish to try an experiment.”
Leonard’s heartbeat thumps a bit erratically in his chest. He tells it not to be silly when Spock steps forward, reaching out to him.
The Vulcan’s forward momentum ceases all of a sudden. “May I approach you?” Spock asks delicately, his arm still partially extended.
Leonard McCoy is quite a misfortunate man. He has a terminal case of curiosity.
After he nods his assent, Spock comes close enough that to touch him would require very little effort.
“What’s this experiment about?” Leonard wants to know.
“An extension of that which was attempted not long ago in my quarters, Doctor. At that time, you believed you might read my mind, only, I presume, to fail at it. I propose we try again with slightly altered conditions.”
The lump in Leonard’s throat makes it difficult to speak. “I’m not going to read your mind, Spock.”
“Interesting,” muses the Vulcan, “that you have not said you cannot.”
“W-what you are saying?” he stammers.
“You have read my mind.” When Leonard is too shocked to respond, Spock clarifies, “Outside the entrance to the recreational room. I am certain of it.”
“Spock…” Leonard begins, falters, and tries again. “Spock, you don’t believe…”
“I felt you,” Spock interrupts in a tone of voice warning him that the time for pretense is past.
Leonard can’t think of what to say. He’s been caught.
Spock lifts his hand again while Leonard watches. “The experiment, Doctor. With your permission, I will touch you now.”
Leonard doesn’t think it’s going to do any good to try reading Spock when he can’t even pull his own thoughts together. But he is still curious enough to pursue the opportunity and, moreover, less afraid than he should be of the outcome.
The look in Spock’s eyes becomes sharper, more observant, the longer Leonard keeps his silence.
“Just… think normally,” Leonard cautions him at last.
“Doctor,” Spock replies evenly, “my thoughts are far from abnormal,” and with that remark gently encircles Leonard’s bare forearm with his hand.
The slight shock of Spock’s cool skin coming in contact with his is quickly drowned out by the snap-like connection of their minds. Yet unlike before, there is nothing strange or foreign about the mind now laid open to Leonard’s senses. It exists simply as a vast awareness extending around Leonard’s, uncolored by thought or emotion. As Leonard begins exploring this vastness with childlike curiosity, so must Spock be studying him.
“What did you do?” Leonard asks, fascinated but also concerned. “It’s not the same.”
“The joining of minds should not be undertaken without care. This is the proper way for our minds to communicate, Doctor.”
“But last time, I heard you—”
“There was no warning, therefore no preparation,” Spock chides softly. “What information you perceived from me then was not intended to be shared.”
Leonard starts at the accusation. “Spock, I… I had no idea. I didn’t deliberately try to—” He’s horrified at himself, because while it is true reading Spock’s mind for the first time had been a shock to him (as, he feels now, it had surprised Spock), not long ago Leonard deliberately attempted to discover if he could reach Spock’s mind. “I’m sorry,” he says with a swell of grief. “I invaded your privacy. I’m sorry, Spock.”
“You are forgiven. I must confess I am lately appreciative of the opportunity to be forthright about a matter which has concerned me for some time. In that vein, you suggested I accompany Jim to the crew’s celebratory event. I recommend you accompany us.”
He is too startled by the prospect to respond.
The vastness suddenly shrinks, then winks into nothingness.
Leonard’s senses are returned to the mundane world. Spock has broken their connection by releasing his arm. Leonard realizes only then they had not been speaking aloud.
The Vulcan looks at him with dark, troubled eyes. “The Domina. What role did she assume in the conception of your condition?”
“How did you guess it was her?”
“It is not a guess but a certainty, Doctor. As you have supposed, your newfound abilities are not natural. One might utilize the term ‘contrived’ to better describe their existence.”
Leonard’s eyebrows draw together. “Contrived? There’s nothing contrived about a brain’s function, Spock.”
Spock is quiet for a moment, like he needs to work through how best to phrase his explanation. “In an individual for which extrasensory perception is natural, studies have shown that brain function is intricately tied to the process of developing, maintaining, and modulating that perception. In your case, your brain merely acts as a receptacle to process the information which is fed to you. You are mimicking a perception that by Terran standards is deemed extraordinary, Dr. McCoy, but I assure you, you are neither a telepath nor an empath.”
Leonard slowly releases a breath he had not realized he was holding. “To borrow a phrase,” he says, “fascinating. I thought the Domina had activated some latent gene in my makeup. Sure fooled me.”
“Not always the most difficult of accomplishments,” Spock states dryly. “Perhaps now that I have assuaged some of your apprehension, you will return the favor. What, precisely, did the Domina do to you?”
Leonard tells him. When he’s finished, Spock’s conclusion surprises him. “‘It cannot be magic’?” Leonard repeats. “Why not?”
“Magic is not a science, Doctor.”
“Well now, how is that true? We don’t know enough about magic to say what it is or it isn’t.”
“Smoke and mirrors,” Spock quotes. “That which is seen is not necessarily what is.”
Hearing an echo of the Domina’s comment about deceptive appearances, Leonard shudders. “I’ll argue that she did something.”
Spock sobers. “Affirmative. She is… connected to you, and you to her.”
Leonard swallows, already guessing what Spock will try to suggest. “You’re going to tell Jim.”
But Spock’s agreement almost sounds uncertain. “I should.”
Leonard frowns. “Does that mean you won’t?” Never would Leonard have suspected that loyal Spock might keep a discovery of this magnitude from his captain.
“Consider for a moment the consequences of such an action.”
His frown deepens. “Jim’ll be shocked, of course.” Then upset at Leonard for not telling him first. “He might think I’m not fit for duty.”
“Doctor,” Spock interjects in a sharper tone, “do not be absurd.”
“Then what?” Leonard snaps back. “No matter which why you turn it, a fact is still a fact! If Jim finds out the Domina did something to one of his crewmen, he’ll order the helmsman to turn the ship around and head at warp-speed for—” He cuts himself off, eyes widening. “Oh.”
“Precisely the situation I fear,” Spock says solemnly. “Jim would not hesitate to approach the Domina.”
“No, no, no. He has a temper. She has a temper. If the Domina can make me a mind-reader, heaven knows, by the time we get Jim off that planet, he could be levitating objects or suffering from super-sonic hearing or something worse!” Despite that, Leonard can’t help but laugh a little at the bizarre possibilities and tease, “Then how would you cope with us, Spock?”
“It might be interesting if you are more Vulcanian in nature.”
Leonard’s mouth hangs open momentarily. Then another, more horrifying thought strikes him. “My god, the Domina’s revenge is turning me into a Vulcan!” His hands fly up to his ears to double-check their rounded curve.
Spock raises one eyebrow. “Dr. McCoy, I was not serious. Even the most skillful sorceress would admit to great difficulty at transforming you into a being of pure logic.”
Leonard sobers and eyes his companion before drawling, “I’ll take that as a compliment, Mr. Spock.” In his relief, he decides, “And I accept your proposal. Pick me up at a quarter ’til.”
“Very good,” replies Spock, his eyes alight.
Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the contact, but Leonard knows Spock is extremely pleased. If he touched Spock again, could he find out what other pleasant emotions Spock is capable of?
Leonard finds himself fighting the urge to do exactly that.
Spock shifts on his feet, then, releasing his hands from behind his back to cross them over his chest. The focused stare he gives Leonard this time is readable without any special skill.
“Given its peculiarity, we must collect data on this phenomenon.” The Vulcan pauses, adds with belated tact, “For science.”
Leonard’s sigh is both amused and resigned. “I started a log.” No doubt it won’t be long at all before Spock, Christine, and Helen get together to compare notes. “Just let me fetch it.”
Spock follows him to the computer terminal, clearly already preoccupied by the promise of new research material.
As the Vulcan nearly hangs over his shoulder to read the latest log entry, Leonard experiences a moment’s happiness. The feeling isn’t from anyone else, he is slow to realize.
The happiness is his.
Up next: the Sweetheart Ball
I apologize for the wait on this one, and also apologize that I don’t want to end it so soon.