Invitation for the Spellbound (4/4)

Date:

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Title: Invitation for the Spellbound (4/4)
Author: klmeri
Fandom: Star Trek TOS
Pairing: Kirk/Spock/McCoy
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 | 2 | 3


Watching Jim pace the cabin like a caged animal, Leonard swallows a knot of dread. He glances at the towel which had hung from his captain’s neck before being discarded on the couch, whatever plans Kirk might have had to visit the ship’s gymnasium waylaid by their unexpected encounter.

The doctor chastises himself, I should’ve been more careful. Transferring his gaze to his partner-in-crime, he amends, We should have.

Like McCoy, Spock has not expressed any sentiment of regret. Though to be fair, the more closely McCoy studies the Vulcan, the less certain he is that Spock regrets being caught. Spock’s maddening composure very likely masks what he is up to: aligning facts in perfect order to win the argument to come. In fact, to McCoy Spock looks calmer than the time he gave testimony at his own court-martial hearing.

Leonard almost forgets himself and harrumphs aloud. Impervious, impertinent Vulcan!

As Spock angles his head towards McCoy, Leonard flings another thought the officer’s way. If you heard that, you pointy-eared statue, this is all your fault.

Spock blinks, and Leonard rolls his eyes ceiling-ward.

All of a sudden Kirk ceases to pace, rounding on McCoy. “Care to share the source of your amusement, Lieutenant-Commander?”

Leonard winces under the captain’s hard stare. “No, sir.”

Kirk switches his gaze to Spock. “I want that explanation now, gentlemen.”

Leonard swallows down more dread. “Jim, we forgot ourselves.”

“I said an explanation, not an excuse,” snaps the man.

Leonard stiffens out of consternation, his temper testing its leash. “Captain, you make it sound like we committed a crime.”

“You’re well on your way to convincing me that you require a reprimand.”

“Sir,” Spock cuts over McCoy’s sputtering attempt to reply, “circumstances, however unsettling, are as they appear: Dr. McCoy and I engaged in a mind meld. To the Doctor’s point, it is our mistake to have done so in public but the act itself is not against regulation.” Spock adds with mild chastisement, “I see no cause for anger from either of you. We should discuss the matter rationally.”

Leonard points at Jim. “But he said—”

“Bones.”

McCoy firms his mouth in dismay.

Everything about Kirk seems to deflate. “I agree with Spock. I am behaving poorly. I apologize.”

Leonard mulls over the apology for a brief second before accepting the truce. “I shouldn’t have snapped.” More hesitantly, he voices, “Jim, I can understand why you’re upset.”

Kirk meets his gaze. “Do you, Doctor?” But he quickly looks to Spock again. “Is there something I should know?”

Leonard feels a pang of guilt that Jim is now the one hesitating. Reminding the captain that a line exists between superior and subordinate, making it unacceptable to pry into another’s personal business, is the last thing he wanted to do.

Then Spock answers, “The choice is Dr. McCoy’s,” and Leonard’s guilt is overridden by a case of nerves.

Oh no, don’t look at me, Leonard begs silently, but of course Jim does, the question in his eyes apparent.

Stomach plummeting to his feet, McCoy stutters, “I-I… I, uh…” and turns pleadingly to Spock.

The Vulcan volunteers unhelpfully, “We should ask the Captain to take a seat.”

Kirk’s intake of breath lacks its normally steady rhythm, and when the man releases that breath, he closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. Leonard hears the mutter, “I’m going to regret asking, aren’t I?”

Far more frustrated with Spock, Leonard levels his fiercest glare on the culprit in question. Damn it, since you’ve stuck us in this mess, help me fix it!

Spock turns to Kirk. “Dr. McCoy reads minds.”

The hand pinching Kirk’s nose stills. “Excuse me?” Jim maintains the puzzled politeness of a man with no idea why someone would employ such a bizarre joke.

Spock repeats matter-of-factly, “Dr. McCoy reads minds.”

Kirk turns to stare blankly at McCoy—until that blankness transforms into comprehension, and comprehension to shock.

When Kirk very literally staggers back in front of them, Leonard cries, “Jim!” and hurries to take hold of the man’s arm. He forgets that Jim can recover his composure in an instant, and Kirk meets McCoy halfway, grabbing the doctor by the arms.

“Bones.” The man’s voice turns to a croak. “Is it…true?” When McCoy is not fast enough to answer, Jim shakes him. “Bones!”

“Hold on, hold on!” Undecided if Jim is distressed or angry, Leonard falls back on prickly habits. “For god’s sake, I can’t tell you anything if you keep rattling my teeth!”

Letting McCoy go with reluctance, Jim’s tone gains an edge of fear. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Spock, that’s what,” retorts Leonard. “I don’t read minds. Hush, you!” he hisses when the accused starts to protest. “I should’ve known your lack of tact would be worse than my blundering. Our captain could’ve had a heart attack!”

A beat of silence ensues. Then Kirk says in a pained voice, “Your captain could still have a heart attack. Someone, please, tell me what’s going on.”

Leonard dials down his ire, settling on a sigh through his nose. “I don’t have the natural ability to read minds. Spock said so. But I do have a mind-reading problem.”

“What does that mean?”

“Dr. McCoy, clearly blundering causes far more confusion than the absence of tact. Allow me to explain.”

Leonard snaps, “It’s my problem so I’ll do the explaining, you confounded nuisance!”

Without warning, Jim turns away and heads for the main cabin’s couch. “Note to self,” the man is speaking ruefully as he goes, “when someone advises sitting down, sit down. Enough, you two. Come over here.”

Leonard’s annoyance fades as he moves around the couch to face Jim. “It’s not so bad. The mind-reading thing. And it’s temporary.”

“We do not know that,” Spock disagrees as he joins them.

The now-seated Kirk presses his palms flat against his thighs, watching Spock and McCoy with an air of parental disapproval. “Start from the beginning. How did my psy-null senior medical officer end up with a mind-reading ability—” He lifts a hand to stall a response. “—whatever the nuances of that ability may be? When did it start? Why?”

Leonard decides sitting down is sound advice and drops indelicately into the nearest chair. After a futile attempt to organize his explanation, he states baldly, “I might have pissed off a witch.”

“Who?” Kirk wants to know.

Leonard wishes he could slink away from this conversation but they’re past the point of no return. “The Domina of Quirinus.”

Jim pales then immediately flushes with returning color, his eyes narrowing to slits. “The Domina did something to you while you were treating her.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“That is precisely the situation, Captain,” Spock confirms.

Leonard hunches into his chair, awaiting the tirade.

Instead, Kirk rises wordlessly from his chair, the only sign of reaction evident in the flare of his nostrils. When he starts across the cabin, Leonard comprehends the man’s destination and scrambles out of his chair.

“Jim, no.

To McCoy’s relief, Spock inserts himself gracefully into Kirk’s path. “Captain, you are well-aware that negotiations between the Federation and the Quirans have reached a delicate stage. We cannot interrupt the proceedings without due cause.”

When Kirk’s hands form fists, Leonard has the sudden irrational fear the man might actually take a swing at Spock.

But Kirk grates out, “Tampering with one of my crew is cause enough, Mr. Spock.”

Leonard comes up on Jim’s other side. “Captain, please reconsider. The affliction hasn’t impacted my ability to perform my duties.” Then, “Jim, please… I’m not in any danger.”

“Spock, do you believe with absolute certainty that there is no danger to McCoy?”

“Negative,” Spock replies calmly.

Kirk moves around his second-in-command, then. At the computer desk, he activates its integrated comm unit. “Kirk to Bridge.”

“Bridge here.”

“Prepare to change course. Coordinates to be relayed shortly.” Jim clicks off the comm, turning to address the men in his quarters. “I will inform Command of our return to Quirinus. Afterward, I want to know every detail about the incident. Mr. Spock, schedule a debriefing between the three of us for the afternoon. Dr. McCoy…” Jim considers Leonard a moment before ordering, “Send me your medical report, including a full physical.” He takes a seat behind his desk, already focused on the computer screen. “Dismissed.”

McCoy is certain he would not have convinced his legs to cooperate if Spock had not taken his elbow in hand and gently but firmly steered him to the door. As he and Spock enter the corridor, Leonard manages a final glimpse of Kirk, hard at work compiling a missive to the admiral in charge of the Embassy Branch. From the hard set of Jim’s jaw, Leonard accepts that while he may not agree with his captain’s decision, he will have to abide by it.

The fault, he thinks dismally, is entirely his own.

Then Spock and McCoy are utterly alone in the corridor.

He tells the Vulcan, “I made a mistake.”

“Mistakes are inevitable, Doctor. In this case, I believe, for the best.”

For the best? “I wish I could say I find that answer comforting, Spock.” With some uncertainty, he changes the subject to another matter they should not ignore. “About what happened when we… you know.” He gestures between their heads. “We should talk.”

Spock has a different opinion. “Regretfully, I must insist that we do not.”

“Why?”

“Jim will not be approachable until he has eliminated the Domina’s influence over you,” the Vulcan elaborates, “and without him, we cannot take full measure of our quandary.”

Damn. Yet another thing to be unhappy about. Leonard sighs. “You mean even if I decided to come clean with Jim about how I feel, he wouldn’t believe me.”

Spock’s tone gentles. “He would want to believe you. It would hurt him just as deeply as you that he could not. Let us first remove the possibility of doubt. Then we will show him all that we are capable of offering.”

“I suppose so,” murmurs McCoy, folding his arms across his chest. Suddenly he cannot quite look Spock in the eyes. “I’ll still a little doubtful myself.”

“I understand,” Spock says. “I will help you as I can.”

Leonard eyes his companion. “You’re much too calm about having an emotional attachment to a pair of humans. Just how long have you known?”

“Longer than you might imagine.” Spock cocks his head at Leonard’s surprised expression. “Would you feel more comfortable if I admitted to struggling with the concept?”

“Yeah, I would.”

“I deliberated on the matter at great length,” Spock replies promptly. “Until, of course, it became apparent it was illogical to debate facts.”

Leonard pounces on that opening. “Are you suggesting you acted illogically?”

“Doctor, that suggestion is not logical.”

With a huge grin, Leonard drops his arms to his sides and moves ahead to follow the curve of the corridor. Spock keeps pace with him. “All right, fine,” he says pleasantly. “This time I’ll give your Vulcan logic some merit.”

“A wise decision.”

Leonard laughs, and the pair goes on, splitting up only when the turbolift stops on the deck housing McCoy’s quarters.

Only once McCoy’s cabin door shuts and he finds himself alone in his darkened bedroom does a strange melancholy settle over him. Spock may be on his side, but Jim is another matter entirely.

An unknown.

With a slight shake of his head, McCoy stows those thoughts and changes for the day’s duties. There will be time enough to ponder what comes after the Enterprise’s captain facing down Quirinus’s powerful Domina.

~~~

One long, tense briefing and even longer, sleepless night later, McCoy’s melancholy has stifled him like a wet blanket. As he enters the Officer’s Mess, he debates whether or not he should go on duty with such a sour mood.

Oh, it’s Dr. McCoy!

That doctor, why he sure did dance better than my first husband.

I hope he looks at me…

Leonard’s the nicest man I have ever met.

The object of these unspoken snippets is in no mood to appreciate them. McCoy orders his meal from the replicator disinterestedly and offers the winking cafeteria lady (who really is considering making him her next husband) a perfunctory nod. Glumly, he trudges down the center of the cafeteria, bypassing the tables on either side with the intention of locating a solitary corner.

A person steps directly into his path, sparking McCoy’s ire, but is saved from one of his stinging remarks because she follows up the audacious action with a warm smile.

“Doctor, why don’t you join us?” Uhura indicates the table on her left with one neatly manicured hand.

“I hope you aren’t asking out of pity, Lieutenant.”

“No, sir.”

Leonard grudgingly nods his assent, then, and takes a seat in between Sulu and Chekov.

Sulu looks him over curiously. Chekov, already chewing on a mouthful of something unidentifiable but no doubt suitably Russian, appears more interested in Leonard’s meal tray. McCoy stares the young officer down until Chekov gets the message Leonard doesn’t plan to share, then sets about tucking a napkin over his lap and cutting into his country ham and eggs. Uhura asks him a harmless question; he answers. Eventually the others around him relax enough to resume the conversation they were having before he joined them. Leonard pays very little attention to most of it—until, that is, Chekov says something alarming around the sausage he is chewing: “The Keptin’s acting strange.”

“Strange doesn’t begin to cover it,” Sulu claims, stirring milk into a cup of tea. “I’ve seen Kirk angry, elated, and introspective but never distracted enough that he didn’t seem to be present on the Bridge. Mr. Spock had to remind him three times yesterday that his shift had ended.”

“Could be a mood,” Uhura remarks quietly. “We all get them.”

Chekov growls, “But ze way he treated Mr. Spock!”

Leonard sits up straighter. “What’d you say?”

The three officers turn to look at him.

“When Mr. Spock kept reminding the Captain he could leave the Bridge,” starts Sulu while Uhura finishes, “we thought for certain he was going to snap at Mr. Spock to mind his own business.”

Leonard lays down his fork, having lost his appetite. “That’s not like Jim.”

Sulu shakes his head slightly. “We know. But if it’s a personal issue between the two of them, we should stay out of it.”

His three breakfast companions stare at him again, as though waiting for him to actually hand down the verdict on whether or not involvement is allowed. Or maybe they are trying to judge if he knows anything. Or get him involved.

Which he already is, damn it. “I’ll take care of it.”

That seems to be the right answer. Sulu drinks his tea. Uhura offers him a piece of her toast like a good luck offering. Chekov points at the country ham, wanting to know, “Are you going to finish zat?”

“There you all are!” The newcomer walking down the cafeteria’s center aisle is Christine Chapel. Taking a seat beside Uhura, she smiles at Leonard as though there is nothing amiss, such as Leonard not being in the company of his two usual mealtime buddies.

Uhura flashes a brilliant smile at Chapel. “Good morning, Christine.”

“A very good morning it seems to be, dear,” Chapel agrees. She catches Leonard’s gaze. “Dr. McCoy, those exam results you wanted are available now.”

“Thank you for letting me know, Nurse.” Leonard glances down at his plate, gives it a slight frown before pushing the whole thing over to Chekov. “Well, I guess I’ll be off then. Thanks for the company.”

Chekov stabs the ham enthusiastically without looking up. “Goodbye!”

When McCoy is halfway across the cafeteria, he pauses and turns back because of the prickly sensation of being watched. Uhura leans in to say something to Chapel. No one appears seems to be openly watching him.

But he picks up, McCoy can fix it. He always does. That’s his gift.

Oddly, the owner of that thought remains elusive even as he deftly skims the crowd. Deciding it doesn’t matter, McCoy shakes off his confusion and exits the hall.

~~~

That evening from his office, McCoy sends a message without expecting a reply. He has a quick, late dinner with some of his staff in the med bay’s break room, and returns to his office to finish his notes for a set of current patient files. An hour past the end of his shift, he leaves Sickbay, his new destination lying at the pinnacle of the ship two decks above the Bridge. It’s a quiet spot for those with second-tier or higher clearance but is rarely used—except, of course, by three particular men.

Leonard cannot fathom why no one else comes here. The small observation deck is a cozy little circular room, reminiscent in his mind of the top of a lighthouse. Though it provides a distant view of space, emphasizing the vastness, the room also is a place of comfort, a reminder that the ship’s inhabitants are in the safest place they can be compared to the unknown ahead of them. Leonard enjoys his visits to the deck and has never declined one of Kirk’s invitations to join him there.

Tonight he is the one issuing the invitation. There is good reason to take advantage of the deck’s privacy.

The main attraction, the viewport, is bordered by a thin strip of flooring that extends beneath the top deck. McCoy’s hand slides along the guide-rail as he descends the few steps necessary to reach his favorite bench. There, he crosses one leg over the other and wraps his hands around a knee, waiting as he stares at the reflection of the back wall’s chronometer in the long pane of glass.

A minute before the hour strikes, his ears catch the soft puff of the door opening. The newcomer crosses the upper deck, his steps anything but furtive. Leonard watches the man to settle on the opposite end of the bench before drawling, “Beautiful view tonight.”

“It’s always beautiful,” says Kirk.

Ah, Jim, Leonard thinks, studying his friend’s strained expression. At this point, he decides, neither of them likely has the energy required to keep walking on egg shells. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he begins, speaking of the mistake weighing on his conscience.

Kirk’s gaze fixes on the stars. “Why didn’t you?”

“I was afraid of what you’d do.”

“And now?” Jim asks softly.

Leonard huffs. “I’m more afraid you’ll order me to stay behind. By the way, should I be worried that you managed a change in course without kicking up a fuss? You didn’t do something reckless, do you, like trade years of your life for an expedited approval?”

Kirk’s sigh holds an echo of amusement. He produces a hand-sized data padd, offering it to McCoy.

Leonard wants to know, “What’s this for?”

“Proof that I didn’t sell anything,” Jim replies dryly, glancing at Leonard for the briefest moment. “I didn’t need to ask permission, Bones. The Domina kicked out the delegation party two solar days ago, bringing negotiations to a standstill. The Embassy council has been scrambling to locate replacement candidates. Yesterday the Quiran High Court contacted them and nominated me.”

Leonard almost drops the device. “What! You’re joking!”

“I wish,” Jim says more neutrally. “The timing of the recommendation is too convenient to make me feel easy about it.”

Leonard says quickly, “Then we don’t go.”

“No.” Kirk faces him, then. “We will go to Quirinus.”

“Jim,” Leonard begins sharply before remembering to modulate his tone. Any protest will simply make Jim more resistant to changing his mind, which to Leonard means it’s time for a change in tactics. “What did Spock say?”

The implacable look in Kirk’s eyes softens to bemusement. “He agreed with me.”

McCoy groans.

Jim finally faces him. “What?”

Leonard complains, daring to meet his friend’s gaze, “Arguing with one of you might have worked, but when you’ve both made up your minds, it’s a lost cause.”

Jim looks like he doesn’t understand why that is a bad thing.

“I give up,” Leonard clarifies. “Let’s go to Quirinus. Maybe the Domina will get mad enough to turn us into frogs. Then we can live in the ship’s terrarium and catch flies for the rest of our days.”

“Bones,” Jim says with a blend of reproach and amusement, “you have an overactive imagination.”

Leonard taps his head. “What I’ve got is proof that we don’t really know who we’re dealing with.”

Kirk’s expression shutters. “I’m aware of that.”

Damn, damn, and damn. “Sorry, Jim. I know it’s not a laughing matter.”

Jim looks down then away, back to the viewport. His silence lasts a little longer than usual, but when he speaks he surprises McCoy by saying, “I am sorry too. I was… unnecessarily harsh yesterday.”

“You already apologized. Besides, I don’t blame you,” Leonard reminds him. “I would’ve reacted the same way, probably worse. It was very hypocritical of me not to disclose my condition when I normally give you such a hard time about hiding anything from me.”

Kirk closes his eyes. “It’s partly that, Bones. The other part—” The man’s throat works for a brief moment. “—was jealousy. When I saw you and Spock in the corridor, I realized there were things you would share with him that you would never share with me.”

It takes Leonard a second to find his voice. “Jim, that’s not true. You know that’s not true.”

“Do I?” Jim counters, eyeing him sideways. “Then why did he know what had happened to you when I didn’t? Why would you let him—” But Jim stops there, mouth flattening again. He looks away, barreling on like something is forcing him to confess every one of his sins. “I know I might be over-stepping the line here as a… friend… but even a man such as myself isn’t blind, Bones. You didn’t let Spock into your mind because you assumed you had to take the risk. You trust him implicitly.” Kirk’s fingers curl against his knees. “Like I do. That’s something to celebrate, if you ask me—so I’ll celebrate it. I will.”

Slightly frustrated now, Leonard intervenes, “Jim, you’re losing me. What’s your point?”

Jim sighs through his nose. “My point is that I can’t imagine what this ability has done for you, personally. Yet I can’t help but be afraid at the same time. Bones, I spend every waking moment trying to remember what’s been on my mind since the Quirinus mission. I can’t stop trying to remember.” Kirk swallows heavily again. “What do you know? Just… what do you know?”

Leonard studies the way Kirk’s hands clutch his knees, letting the silence lengthen between them. Finally Jim’s nervousness makes sense to him. “You came here because you’re scared I might know a secret.”

“I came for the truth.”

“What if I said I didn’t pick up much of anything from you?”

Jim turns to stare at him, the fear in his eyes not well-hidden. “I won’t believe you.”

Sorrow washes over Leonard. Spock was right. “I figured as much. Fine then, here’s the truth: you barely thought about me at all but when you did, it was apparent why.” Leonard hates the way Jim pales. “You don’t want to face what you feel.” He adds slowly, “And that’s perfectly okay, Jim. No one will force you to. Your secret’s safe with me.”

When Leonard stands up, Kirk catches his wrist. “Bones…”

When Jim is unable—or unwilling—to articulate more, Leonard shakes his head. “I’ll see you at the transporter once we’re in orbit above Quirinus. Good night, Captain.”

Kirk slowly releases McCoy’s arm. “Good night, Dr. McCoy.”

With that, Leonard leaves.

~~~

Quirinus is no more visually appealing on the second visit than the first. In fact, in the span of two weeks, the planet seems to have fallen deeper into chaos and decay. McCoy is full of questions. How has the delegation party managed to remain here without fear for their own safety, watching the massive palace crumble wall by wall, chamber by chamber, as the Quirans pack into the diminishing warren of rooms? Has anyone determined why the Quirans are strangely oblivious to their state of emergency?

“Unusual,” remarks the officer nearest to McCoy. Just ahead at the edge of a weedy, rotten pier now almost completely submerged in the river, the man is diligently tweaking the settings on a tricorder.

Leonard glances that way, suppressing a snort. Only a Vulcan, he thinks, could find the time for research in this ungodly situation. Nonplussed, McCoy calls out of sheer orneriness, “What happened to ‘fascinating’?”

“The destruction of a planet is never fascinating, Dr. McCoy.” Spock’s gaze remains focused on his device. “However, in this instance it can be considered unusual. According to my readings, the rate of decay has accelerated beyond our predictions.”

Leonard’s interest is piqued. He wanders over to get a look at those readings. “I thought the Quirans had another half-century or so before evacuation became imminent.”

Spock offers McCoy the tricorder, accommodating the doctor’s curiosity. “Our decay rate model was based on the effects of the soil erosion. The erosion was assumed to be the result of depletion of the surrounding forests and the natural minerals. As you can see, there has been no significant change in the resource levels, yet the erosion is spreading more quickly than we observed during the previous survey.”

Leonard frowns. “How’s that possible, Spock? I’m no astrophysicist, but it’s not like this planet is a star collapsing in on itself.”

Spock cocks his head. “Doctor, that scenario may be worth consideration.”

McCoy nearly grins. “Are you saying I have thought of something you haven’t?”

“Hardly,” responds the Vulcan in a drier tone. “Unlike you, I prefer to study the data more thoroughly before making my first conjecture.”

Ah, that’s the Spock Leonard knows and loves. He hands the tricorder back to the Vulcan. “Send this up to the ship and let your team mull over it for a while. Unfortunately, we’ve got more pressing matters to attend.”

“Agreed,” Spock replies. “Has the Captain concluded his discussion with Ambassador Nelex?”

Leonard shrugs. “Jim will call us when he’s ready.”

As if to prove McCoy right, Kirk’s voice sounds across the courtyard. Leonard turns with Spock by his side and heads that way. As he goes, he keeps a wary eye on the palace. His conversation with Spock has left him wondering about the culprit hastening Quirinus’s demise. What do the Quirans, with their closely guarded secrets, know about their planet that they have not shared with outsiders?

The tall, painfully thin man waiting next to Jim is the newly appointed ambassador to Quirinus since the Domina ousted the last one. As he and Spock approach, Leonard hears Nelex saying, “Captain, the Domina will see you in the audience hall now.”

Nelex offers Spock and McCoy a cautious greeting before adding to Kirk, “I am uncertain if your officers will be welcome.”

Jim is heedless of the warning. “I won’t go without them. Contrary to what the head of the Embassy may have told you, Ambassador, I am not here to serve the Quirans’ whim.”

When Jim pivots away and starts for the palace entrance, Nelex looks nervous. But the ambassador masks the expression so quickly, Leonard feels discouraged from asking why. Nelex goes after Kirk quietly, and Spock and McCoy follow in the pair’s wake after exchanging a glance.

The audience hall must have been grand once. Its cathedral ceiling is marked by a row of small square skylights along the sides of the roof. Each skylight, Leonard discovers, has been designed to take advantage of the angle of the sun, calling attention to a uniquely carved tile on the floor. Individually the reliefs appear to be scenes from Quiran history. Or perhaps myth instead of history, thinks Leonard, studying the one nearest him. The tile portrays people like trees, some rooted firmly in the ground, dormant, their eyes closed, while others are awake and struggling to detach themselves from the earth.

The tiles are the only decoration in an otherwise faded and somber room.

At the end of the hall, the Domina watches her visitors’ approach from a high-backed throne on a raised dias. On the throne’s highest point clings a massive bird, crow-black with a bald head and neck usually indicative of a carrion-eater. Its dark gaze mirrors the Domina’s, observing the audience coldly while blank-faced guards move to enclose the off-worlders in a half-circle from behind. Somewhere distantly a bell begins to toll.

The Domina offers her guests no greeting, her diffident gaze difficult to read. Kirk matches her stare for stare.

Following an unsettling silence, Jim makes an abbreviated bow as Quiran etiquette dictates. “Domina, we meet again.”

“Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise,” the Domina returns with a deliberate slowness. “I am hopeful that your return to Quirinus brings good fortune. I have been disappointed recently. My favorable impression of you was not reflected in those you left behind.”

Nelex frowns lightly, though he says nothing to defend himself or his predecessor.

But the Domina turns her head as if the man had spoken and issues an imperial command. “Leave us, Ambassador.”

The man’s face slackens. The others look on as Nelex turns around and exits the hall without vocal protest, although his gait is stiff and awkward as a person being marched out by force.

Kirk’s head whips back toward the Domina. “What did you do to Nelex?”

There is a subtle, arrogant lift to the Domina’s chin. “I encouraged an unwanted guest to leave.”

Jim’s face darkens.

Alarmed, Leonard reaches for his captain’s arm, but the slight movement of Spock’s head reminds him not to interfere—yet.

Jim demands, “Is this what you make of the Federation, Domina—puppets subject to your whim?”

The Domina’s clipped tone echoes Kirk’s. “The powerless have no choice but to learn their place. Has that not been so in your own people’s history?”

“We learned better ways,” Kirk answers. “I’ll ask you this question only once, Domina, and I expect an honest answer. Why are you interested in our institution?”

For a short time, the hall falls into a tense silence. The Quirans closest to the throne don’t seem daring enough to look at their leader. Just when Leonard thinks the Domina is going to tell the lot of them to take a long walk off one of the city’s decrepit piers, she closes her eyes.

“We are without choice,” she reveals slowly, as though the act of speaking those words is a great burden. Opening her eyes again, the Domina pins Kirk with a challenging gaze. “But your Federation’s worth has yet to be proven to me. I fear I made a mistake in requesting your assistance, Captain Kirk. If this planet must perish—and us with it—so be it.”

That last statement has such a ringing finality that it causes a jolt of alarm to run down Leonard’s spine. But in the next instant he is much less disturbed by his own reaction than by the effect of the words on the Quirans in residence. The Domina’s High Court break their silence with a collective wail. Some of them fall to their knees; others fist their hands over their eyes. They render at their robes, rip ornaments from their hair and jewels from their fingers.

In tandem with McCoy, Kirk backs up one step then another, crowding towards Spock. One of his arms reaches behind him blindly, groping for and finding Leonard’s sleeve. Then Kirk tries to push McCoy flush to Spock’s side at the same time shifting his stance to shield them both.

“Damn it, Jim,” Leonard mutters, not entirely pleased Jim doesn’t think twice about putting himself between his officers and the mad Quirans.

“Domina!” Jim barks. “What is this!”

In response, the chaos intensifies. Leonard watches, horrified, as a Quiran on his hands and knees tries to crawl towards the throne.

A voice colder than the Domina’s cuts across the melee: “Enough.

The Domina looks to Spock. The bird on the throne flutters.

“Your point is made,” Spock insists.

The madness stops. Quirans pick themselves up off the floor, helping one another, their gazes lowered with shame as they subtly fix their clothes, blot reddened faces with torn sleeves, and re-adjust coifs of hair. When each person has returned to his or her former position, the High Court lift their faces to the Domina as one.

Leonard’s mouth goes dry as he finally comprehends what Spock must have already figured out. The Quirans are ensorcelled.

He nearly chokes from the horror of it, unable to look away from them even as they cannot look elsewhere but at the woman now lazily feeding a piece of meat to the bird above her head.

Jim’s hands form fists. “Domina, I require an explanation.”

“Require? Why should I heed any demand from you, Captain? We have no relationship. No alliance.” The Domina wipes her fingers on a piece of cloth held out by an attendant who had unobtrusively approached her and just as silently backs away.

“Nor we will in the future if the Federation discovers the Quirans have intentionally misrepresented themselves,” Jim counters. “Honesty is a requirement for both negotiating parties.”

The Domina sits forward suddenly. “Kirk, I have shown you the truth. You take offense because of your own ignorance. Consider what you have seen more deeply. What might have these men and women done to themselves, to each other without interference?”

“Did you make them that way?” Leonard demands.

The Domina’s gaze transfers to him, her mouth thinning. “That is a vile accusation.”

“We just watched you force our ambassador’s departure without his consent. I can’t say you wouldn’t do something that amoral,” retorts Leonard.

The Quiran sits back, her fingers drumming against one of the throne’s arms. “I am chosen by the people to protect the people. Because I exist, this world continues to exist. All that I do is to keep us alive. You see the plight of the Quirans, yet you cannot conceive the measures necessary to counteract it.”

“We would appreciate clarification, Domina,” Spock says. “Otherwise, it is only logical for us to explain that which we do not know—or cannot conceive of—with guesswork.”

Leonard cuts a glance at the Vulcan. That’s not what you said earlier, you silver-tongued diplomat. He bets Sarek would be proud of his son’s diplomatic finesse.

Kirk adds, “Domina, now is your chance to enlighten us. What’s wrong with your people? Why must you control them?”

“It is as I have said: to preserve life. Otherwise, you would come here with your special crafts and childish hopes, walk among our abandoned relics and broken cities, wondering what terrible fate befell the once-resplendent race of Quirinus.” The slight curl of her mouth is humorless. “I can describe that fate as one who has survived it. The dying have no reason, only fits of panic and bouts of rage. They murder neighbors over trinkets. Slaughter their own families out of misguided mercy. Tear down ancient monuments and live rashly, fearlessly, cruelly as only those doomed to perish into the ether can. Tell me, does madness interest you, Captain Kirk?”

Leonard has to give his captain credit. The man doesn’t flinch.

“I am sorry your people have fallen on desperate times. I can only reiterate what you already know. If you need help, we will help you.” Jim pauses, continues more slowly, “But no matter how desperate the situation, I cannot condone the practice of one person taking away another person’s free will. Where I come from, it simply isn’t done.”

“Then you reject our entry into the Federation.”

“I have no authority to make a decision concerning your membership, Domina,” Kirk answers gravely. “I speak as a Federation citizen who wants you to understand that our tenets of unity and freedom of choice are paramount to our way of life. When you are part of a federation, you are part of a family—and each family member has rights, the first right being to his or her own person. I see no evidence to the contrary that these men and women are allowing you that right.”

“I am Domina. My will is law. My will is life. The right is inherent to my position.”

“So says every elected official before he becomes a dictator,” mutters McCoy.

This time Kirk flinches. Guiltily Leonard wishes he had kept his mouth shut. Kodos of Tarsus IV had employed that kind of thinking. Thousands of people died. Jim knows it firsthand.

“I won’t discuss this further with you, Domina,” Kirk states, “but I will pass on your perspective to the embassy in charge of your application.”

The Domina nods once, though how she can be satisfied by that outcome Leonard has no idea. The Members’ Council will review Kirk’s report and promptly vote against Quirinus’s admission to the Federation.

Her mission accomplished, the Domina’s countenance becomes mischievious. Like a cat with its paw on a mouse’s tail, she purrs, “Now, shall we hear your reason for coming here, Captain?”

For a split second, Kirk seems to lose control of his expression. But the fury is blanketed as quickly as it appears.

McCoy doesn’t wait to hear what Jim will say. “I want to talk to the Domina alone,” he asserts.

Kirk and Spock turn to him in surprise.

“I do not recommend it,” Spock starts before Kirk cuts over his second-in-command with a resounding “No.

Leonard draws his shoulders back, adopting a stern tone filled with medical authority that no captain can override. “If you want to debate rights, sir, I have the right to question any party involved in a patient’s ailment. That conversation may be carried out in confidence if and when I deem it necessary—and at this time, I do.”

Kirk’s face darkens momentarily, but in the end he concedes the truth of McCoy’s words. “I’ll give you five minutes, Doctor.” Holding Leonard’s gaze, he emphasizes, “Five minutes,” which tells Leonard that Spock will be keeping a very accurate count of the time for Jim.

That said, Jim turns away as if not to waste a single second with parting, heading for the archway on the opposite side of the room. Spock stares at McCoy a second longer before following Kirk.

Relieved to have won that small battle, Leonard faces the Domina. “As you can see, my captain isn’t happy with me… or you. He found out about what you did to me.”

The Domina arches an eyebrow. “Have you enjoyed the gift?”

“It’s not a gift,” Leonard says. “It’s a lesson in humility.”

Her chin dips, the barest of motions. “Surely you did not expect a reward for your willfulness.”

“I didn’t expect punishment. Look, at this point I don’t care why you did it, just undo it.”

The Domina leans forward, radiating a sudden unusual interest. “Have you considered how useful such an ability can be? What disturbs you now, you could learn to appreciate in time.”

He tamps down on a flare of panic. “No. Don’t you understand? I don’t want it!”

Her gaze hardens. “You dare to raise your voice again? You have learned nothing.”

“Undo it, please,” he insists. “Stop playing this game with me.”

“Fear not,” the Domina responds, her voice dripping disdain, “I can do nothing more. You have fortified yourself against me.”

Leonard says dumbly, “I… what?”

The Domina’s gaze sharpens once more. “I see,” she states after a time, resuming her relaxed pose. Her gaze flickers briefly to the archway. “I believe I have underestimated your friends—although it cannot be the captain. He would be subject to my will as easily as any other. The Vulcan, then. A creature most unusual—and most similar to us.”

Leonard is confused but more than that, he is afraid.

The Domina focuses on McCoy again. “Call to him.”

McCoy shakes his head. He won’t bring Jim and Spock into this.

From her throne, the Domina looks as though she could wait indefinitely for Leonard to comply. After a short while, she remarks, “Do you not know how?”

He snorts. “The moment I raise my voice even the slightest, both my captain and his first officer will in here asking questions you won’t like.”

Amused, the woman elaborates, “I did not say you must use your voice.”

Leonard’s forehead creases. “What?”

“I should like to discover how strong your connection to the Vulcan is. Call him to you, Doctor,” the Domina orders.

Her dulcet tones and intense gaze are spell unto themselves. Leonard does as bidden without thinking twice, issuing a tentative Spock?

The Domina’s eyes become hooded, her lips curving in a satisfied smile in the same instant that Spock appears around the curve of the archway. Even with his subdued manner, Spock looks alarmed, coming stiffly to a stop at the sight of a gaping McCoy. Kirk pulls up short behind the Vulcan in time to prevent a collision.

Leonard can only stare, struck dumb by the knowledge Spock had heard him from so far away without words.

“Dr. McCoy,” Spock questions intently, his eyes sweeping fast over McCoy from head to toe, “are you well?”

Jim steps around his First Officer, watching the exchange between Spock and McCoy briefly before his attention lands on the Domina. “What’s going on here?”

“An intriguing development,” the Domina determines with a perverse delight. “Spock of Vulcan, why have you meddled with my subject?”

Leonard un-freezes. “Subject? The hell I am!”

With visible fury, Kirk starts for the throne. The stone-like guards jump to life and swarm the space between the Domina and the angry captain, forming a blockade two men deep.

Jim’s voice blazes across the hall. “Domina, I shouldn’t need to remind you that my men and I do not belong to you. We are citizens of the United Federation of Planets.”

The Quiran leader waves a dismissive hand. “Your healer bears a spell of my making, which grants me the right to question his condition. However I will concede that the man is obviously yours—and another’s. Tell me, Captain, are you aware that your second-in-command has claimed McCoy for his own?”

Jim flushes, his hands opening and closing at his sides.

The Domina turns her glittering obsidian eyes on Spock. “You seek to undo my will.”

While not as accusatory as the Domina’s, Spock’s cool voice is not less challenging. “I am Vulcanian, Domina. You should not judge me by Quiran standards. The shielding of Dr. McCoy’s mind which you appear to find offensive is the result of an act in keeping with my nature.” He pauses before explaining further, “An instinctive measure employed by one of my species during the kash-nohv, a rite which unites minds of close acquaintance. The shield prevents damage or interference from outsiders. To leave that connection unprotected is not logical.”

Leonard doesn’t know what to make of this new information, which he finds more disturbing than the ease with which Spock is telepathically attuned to him. How is Spock shielding his mind without his permission any different than the ‘gift’ the Domina forced upon him?

It’s Jim who looks at McCoy with understanding in his eyes. But, oddly enough, the man points out, “Spock is trying to protect you, Bones.”

Leonard has to look away. “Is it too much to ask to be an old country doctor again?” His gaze finds the Domina. “I told you, I don’t want any special abilities. If I was meant to have them, I would have been born different than I am.”

“I will not offer the same gift twice,” the Domina warns him. “You may regret your choice.”

“I’ll take that chance,” Leonard replies.

She beckons McCoy forward and does not seem surprised when Kirk and Spock flank him.

Jim grips Leonard’s arm when the guards come forward to block Leonard’s companions from ascending the dias. Leonard pats the man’s hand comfortingly. “This is what we came for, remember?”

The Domina waits until Leonard is in arm’s reach before questioning Spock, “Will you interfere?”

Spock returns her stare evenly. “If necessary.”

With a dip of her chin, the Domina beckons Leonard closer still. He doesn’t understand why she wants him so near to hand when the last time she cast her spell, it was from the confines of a sick bed. But he obeys anyway for the simple fact that he cannot take the risk of coming away from Quirinus in the same state.

The Domina’s palm is dry when it comes to rest against the side of his face. Uncomfortable, Leonard resists the urge to look back at Jim and Spock.

The Domina finds his nervousness entertaining. “Are you prepared, Doctor?”

He nods into her hand.

The Domina’s eyelids fall to half-mast. “A thought, a word, a heart, a life.”

This time as she starts the incantation, Leonard can feel an elusive sensation building close to him—at him then in him—like someone has begun to delicately unravel the layers enclosing his mind. Vaguely he is aware of a tremor running through his physical body.

“All departs. All is silent. So shall it be.”

A soft band-like snap. Then…

Freedom. Leonard recognizes it, knowing with certainty the spell, or counter-spell, is complete. He blinks.

Kirk bounds up the steps in the aftermath, taking hold of McCoy as though to judge for himself the difference between the doctor before and after the Domina’s work. “Bones? Are you all right?”

“Jim.” Leonard regains his bearings. “Quick, think something nice about me.”

The concern in Kirk’s eyes is briefly overridden by a small amount of humor. After a moment, he asks, “Well?”

Another fine tremor runs through Leonard, this time the beginnings of hope. His gaze drops to the Vulcan watching them. “Spock?”

Spock comes slowly up the steps. Leonard extends an arm. There is no sensation other than a slight coolness against McCoy’s skin as Spock’s fingers encircle his wrist.

“The Domina’s influence is gone,” Spock announces shortly thereafter.

Relief passes across all their faces.

Jim turns to the Domina, asking the one question that has yet to be properly answered. “Why?”

“To give you a reason to return,” she answers simply.

Leonard blurts out, “But what good are we to you? You don’t even like us!”

The Domina’s gaze takes them in one by one, starting with McCoy. “Passion.” Then Kirk. “Honor.” Lastly, Spock. “Reason.” She focuses again on Leonard. “You insisted the crew of the Enterprise would be trustworthy. Of that crew, these two are your most trusted—and should Quirinus have need of others in the future, shall be the ones I choose to trust as well.” She becomes amused. “This time I did not endanger my life to garner the information I required, Dr. McCoy. You must be relieved.”

Relieved is the last word that comes to McCoy’s mind. But the presence of Kirk and Spock reminds him that he ought to avoid trouble if he can, and so he maintains a diplomatic silence.

Jim, too, says nothing, his expression tinged with unease as he descends the dias steps, pulling Leonard with him. Spock remains behind, studying the Quiran with a tilt to his head that means there is a certain quality about her that has caught his interest.

“You may ask one question, Spock of Vulcan,” the Domina offers magnanimously.

Spock’s thoughtful consideration lasts a moment longer before he says, “Will you seek our help, or will you continue to allow this planet to destroy itself?”

“I have not decided.”

Spock inclines his head ever-so-slightly. “Nam-tor wak vah yut s’vesht na’fa’wak heh pla’rak. I’wak mesukh-yut t’on.” He translates, “Time is a path from the past to the future and back again. The present is the crossroads of both.”

“A wise saying,” the Domina praises. “I shall consider your words.” Her dark eyes gleam, then. “Shall I offer you a gift in return?”

“No!” Kirk and McCoy cry together.

“A gift is already given, Domina,” Spock replies with grave courtesy.

Slowly, the corners of the Domina’s mouth tilt into a smile. Leonard is fascinated by how the mere act transforms her into a more ordinary, younger-looking woman.

“I understand, Spock of Vulcan.” With the smile reflected in her eyes, the Domina looks to Kirk and McCoy. “May you enjoy the gift for years to come.”

Leonard doesn’t know how, but he has the uncomfortable sensation she is well-aware of—and approves of—their feelings for each other. He tugs on Jim’s hand, muttering, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Agreed.” Jim flips open his communicator. “Kirk to Enterprise. Three to energize on my command.”

“Transporter Room II here. Awaiting your signal, Captain.”

Kirk turns, releasing Leonard’s hand, and out of habit, Leonard falls in step with Kirk on the left, Spock joining them on the right. As they leave behind the palace’s audience hall, another bell begins a slow dirge, faint and far away. The outer courtyard is empty, neither Quirans nor the delegation party in sight. Leonard glances around while Jim runs his thumb over his communicator’s cover, also taking the opportunity to make one final study of their surroundings.

Tattered curtains flutter over window-sized stone arches. Shadows shift fluidly across open doorways. Leonard cannot quite shake the impression that the palace itself is restlessly awaiting their departure.

Their small group starts in surprise when, nearby, the last piece of the pier breaks away from the bank with an echoing snap. As they look on, it sinks beneath the muddy water of the river.

“If we decide to come back, will there be anything left?” McCoy wonders aloud.

Spock responds, “One cannot know for certain.”

Jim looks at Spock. “Your best guess, Spock?”

Spock’s gaze flickers between them before settling on the empty space left by the drowned pier. “When the Domina ensnared the minds of those unable to accept an end to their lives as they knew it, unlike them, she had already chosen to allow it.”

“She’s going to let her race die?” Hearing that clearly upsets Kirk as much as it does McCoy.

“Perhaps not in the way that we understand it,” Spock says. “The carved tiles in the hall depict Quiran civilization through a progression of states: the growth of society, a time of saturation in wealth and greed, a period of chaos and destruction similar to that which the Quirans are experiencing now.”

Leonard recalls, “That odd picture of people sprouting up from the ground like crops. I thought it was a fabrication.”

“I believe, Doctor, that particular tile refers to the Quirans’ re-invention of themselves and their way of life.”

“Rebirth,” Leonard says with a wondrous shake of his head. “Tabula rasa for an entire civilization. Is that possible?”

Spock raises an eyebrow.

McCoy rolls his eyes. “Oh, of course. If the Vulcans can do it, it must be reasonable for any race to.”

Jim interrupts with a soft sigh, “We can debate the nuances of this matter later.” He lifts the cover of his communicator and contacts the ship, relaying the order for transport.

For once, Leonard has no reason to complain about having his molecules dispersed and reassembled. As strange and unique as Quirinus and its inhabitants are, he would rather return to the mundaneness of his work-life on the Enterprise. Sans any new, awkward abilities.

McCoy thinks his companions must feel the same. Kirk is quick to say, “Mr. Spock, you have the conn. Tell Mr. Sulu to break orbit.”

“Yes, Captain,” the Vulcan replies obediently and heads out of the room.

Jim turns to him, then, his expression unusually shuttered.

“Sickbay?” McCoy guesses.

Kirk nods. On their way from the transporter room, Leonard stops by the wall comm and calls up Dr. Noel, asking her to meet them in his office.

Leonard understands. He really does. Jim needs tangible evidence that his CMO and friend is back to normal. Between himself, Chapel, and Noel, McCoy is certain they can ease the captain’s mind.

It is what must happen after the confirmation that worries Leonard. After all, he may no longer read minds but he cannot forget what he learned while he did.

~~~

A day later, the Enterprise is back on course for her next mission and all appears to be business as usual.

Except for the brooding of a certain man.

Ironic, McCoy decides, that said brooding quarry can be found in the same lounge area where he had made the initial discovery of two well-kept secrets that changed his perception of himself.

Choosing the chair next to Kirk, Leonard remarks, “I thought we agreed replicated whiskey is a poor substitute for the real thing.”

Kirk downs the amber liquid in his glass before responding. “A man can’t always be picky.”

Leonard huffs softly. “Well, at least you aren’t drunk.”

Jim offers him a thin smile. “A captain can’t always indulge either.”

“Do you mind?” Kirk shakes his head as Leonard reaches for the empty glass and refills it from the decanter on the table. He pours a small portion for himself, takes a sip, makes a face, and drinks the entire mouthful regardless.

Setting the glass down, McCoy glances around the lounge. “Where’s everybody?”

“I reserved the room for the night.”

McCoy’s eyebrows shoot up. “The whole bar? What’re you expecting, a proposal?” When Jim’s gaze skips away, Leonard winces. “Sorry.”

Jim sighs through his nose, pouring them another drink from the decanter. “I just needed to think. My cabin felt stuffy.”

And too near to half of the reason you’re feeling crowded. Leonard would bet that Jim doesn’t even realize he is trying to avoid them. “Let me give you some advice,” he offers, removing the tumbler from Kirk’s hand before Jim can touch his mouth to it.

“As what?” Jim asks warily. “My doctor?”

“A man in a similar situation.”

Kirk sits back on his stool and regards McCoy more seriously. “I’m listening.”

“There are a few parts to this wisdom,” Leonard cautions. “First, drinking does not make a problem easier to solve.”

The corner of Jim’s mouth tips up. “I wonder why you don’t listen to your own advice.”

“Shut up,” retorts the doctor without any heat. “Second, never forget that Vulcans have excellent hearing.”

Kirk cocks his head in confusion. “Why?”

“Because Spock, who happens to be standing outside, is too well-mannered to come in here and break up your pity party.”

Jim’s eyes widen. “You’re kidding.”

“Not that I’m complaining about the interruption to my work day,” Leonard continues dryly. “I was already looking for an excuse not to finish today’s paperwork.”

McCoy’s friend groans. “I thought I was alone.”

“Never,” he counters. “Now for the third part.” Leonard waits until he has Kirk’s attention again. “You know this one better than me, Jim: there’s no point in avoiding the truth.”

“Bones,” Kirk says in warning.

“If you keep trying, you’ll hurt us too. Is that what you want?” Leonard remarks softly.

Jim glances at the tumbler captive in Leonard’s hand. “No. I don’t want any of us to get hurt.”

“I know. That’s what bothers you so much. You can’t figure out what the no-win scenario is.” The gaze on him sharpens. “Because this seems like heaven, doesn’t it? No need to calculate the odds, devise a strategy. Change the rules. And it’s driving you crazy.”

“It’s too perfect,” Jim agrees, looking more troubled. “Both of you seem… willing.”

“Which is what you hoped for despite all your misgivings,” Leonard finishes for him.

Kirk closes his eyes, saying nothing for a moment. “How did you know?”

Leonard almost chuckles. “I suppose I’ve been quite the mind-reader lately.”

Jim holds his gaze then, mirroring Leonard’s hint of amusement. But he says, “Reading minds isn’t your specialty, Bones.”

“It is when it comes to seeing through you,” he retorts.

Kirk’s mouth twitches; then his countenance turns somber again. “So what does a man in our situation do?”

Leonard sighs in sympathy and decides to make it easier for both of them, leaning in before he can lose his courage. The quick press of their mouths is hardly a kiss, more like the testing of an idea. And, Leonard hopes, the catalyst both of them so desperately need to move past the uncertainty.

He pulls back in time to see shock steal across Jim’s face. McCoy feels a keen disappointment.

But once Kirk’s shock passes, so does the hard-won control. Hope fills his eyes.

A warmth starting in Leonard’s face spreads throughout his body. “Well,” he teases a bit nervously, “what else are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?”

Happiness replaces hope. Kirk’s “Bones” is husky with wonder and also with warning.

McCoy leans in again, wondering vaguely how he can be so easily seduced by the sound of a nickname. This time Kirk meets him halfway.

One long minute later, pulling back, McCoy is almost out of breath. “Do you kiss all your crushes like that?”

“Only the best ones,” Jim replies, sliding his hands up Leonard’s biceps to his shoulders as though to draw him forward again. “Have I told you your eyes are the prettiest I’ve ever seen? How does that famous sonnet go? Ah, yes, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.‘”

“Oh god,” Leonard bemoans, “not Shakespeare. Please, Jim. I might have to plug my ears.”

Kirk looks a tad disappointed. “No Shakespeare?”

“I don’t need to be wooed.” He grins. “I’m already wooed. Can’t you tell?”

Jim considers him. “Unfortunately I can’t take credit for that.”

Leonard closes his eyes, making his deepest sigh yet. “That damned Vulcan.”

Jim gives him a light shake. “Admit it, Bones. You owe him.”

McCoy’s eyes snap open. “For what! Scheming, maybe.”

“I find that term offensive, Doctor. To scheme implies a duplicitous agenda. I merely enacted a plan with an outcome beneficial for us.”

Damn, thinks Leonard. How had he forgotten his own advice about Vulcans and their super-hearing?

“That is the definition of scheming,” Jim says as he and Leonard turn as one to look at the owner of the voice. “Were you eavesdropping, Spock?”

Spock insists, indignant, “Jim, Vulcans do not eavesdrop.”

“Could of fooled us,” drawls Leonard. “Have you seen the size of those pointed satellites fixed to your head?”

“Leonard, I am well-aware that you find my ears appealing.”

Leonard flushes and backs down.

Jim tries to muffle his laughter with a fist.

Annoyed, McCoy elbows the snickering man in the ribs. “Just wait until Spock reads your mind and exposes all your secrets,” he threatens. “Then you won’t find it so funny.”

Spock informs them serenely, “I already have.”

Jim freezes, eyes widening. “You what? When?”

“Quite a long time ago,” supplies Spock, “as we have melded multiple times over the course of our acquaintance. Inevitable, one might purport, that a connection should establish itself.”

Oh, the stunned look on Jim’s face! Now Leonard is the one laughing.

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude, Jim,” the Vulcan continues on. “Due to the continued sharing of emotional information, I discerned your interest in Leonard as well as myself. In accordance, I considered my own emotions concerning each of you.”

“Oh god,” Leonard says with finality, “so it’s all Jim’s fault.”

“No,” Jim denies in a strangled voice. But when Leonard just tsks at him, he settles for muttering, “I didn’t know.”

“Since the topic is open for discussion, shall we deliberate upon the best course of action? I have several suggestions,” Spock proposes.

Jim and Leonard exchange a glance. Leonard speaks first. “I say we have another drink.”

“Seconded,” agrees the other man.

Spock stares at the two humans for only a moment before facing the exit. “The menu here is unsuitable. It is most fortunate that I have recently restocked my selection of teas.”

Leonard whispers to Jim as Spock starts across the lounge without them like they will automatically follow, “I think that is supposed to entice us to his quarters.”

Jim whispers back, “Why would we find tea enticing?”

“Because it’s fancy and Vulcan and only Spock keeps it.”

“Oh,” says Kirk, his eyes twinkling good-naturedly. “Of course. Quite logical.”

Leonard grins. “Courtship via tea dates. I have to admit, a creative scheme if I ever heard one.”

This time Jim smiles, slipping his hand into McCoy’s to squeeze his fingers as he stands up. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Bones.”

“Me either.”

In charity with one another, they cross the lounge to catch up to their waiting third by the door. Spock looks at their joined hands in approval.

“Our connections,” he says, “are nearly complete.”

“What’s left?” Leonard asks, curious.

The look in Spock’s eyes is a promise to enlighten both of them to that answer very soon.

The End

Well, I finished it. Don’t ask me why this prompt required such a long fill. It just did. Thank you to everyone who followed along with the patience of a saint. I will probably return in short order. I need the Triumvirate like I need air. :)

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About KLMeri

Owner of SpaceTrio. Co-mod of McSpirk Holiday Fest. Fanfiction author of stories about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

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