"It needs to be something illogical", said Spock firmly.
He strode off, pushing deeper into the crowded market. Kirk beamed indulgently at his retreating friend, then hurried after him, curious to see where this interesting state of affairs was going to end.
They were on shore leave on Ursonia III, exploring the teeming capital city in the sweltering noonday sun. If McCoy had been there, he would have been enjoying a mint julep and competing with Kirk to see who could identify all the alien species they encountered. But the doctor, in a stroke of extraordinarily bad luck, had managed to contract a cold, and he was spending his shore leave wrapped up in bed and feeling very sorry for himself. Kirk felt sorry for him too, and had bought him a bottle of Ursonian brandy and a box of amusingly-shaped chocolates, in the hope of cheering him up. Perhaps more surprisingly, it seemed that Spock must also have been affected by the doctor's plight, for he had set himself the task of finding a gift that would be to McCoy's tastes...in other words, something totally illogical.
And so, the first officer traipsed through the market in quest of the ridiculous, the impractical and the downright odd, approaching the task with his usual dogged thoroughness. Kirk was distracted by an over-friendly seller of colourful hats, and was nearly persuaded to purchase a particularly gaudy specimen of her wares, but a soft exclamation from the Vulcan behind him immediately restored his attention.
"Captain, I believe I have found what I have been looking for." Spock held aloft the object in question, and raised an eyebrow as though to seek approval.
Kirk's face broke into an ear-splitting grin.
"Oh yes, Mr Spock. I think you've hit on it. McCoy's going to love this."
The darkness of McCoy's quarters did not relieve his pounding headache. He was not deemed sufficiently unwell to be confined to sickbay; the triviality of his illness made missing out on shore leave all the more frustrating.
He buried himself under layers of blankets in a vain attempt to stop the shivering. He could put up with the rawness of his throat and the heavy ache of his sinus - physical suffering rarely affected him too badly - but fatigue always lowered his mood enormously. The worries and regrets that he normally pushed to the back of his mind now surged forward and met with no obstacle. As he lay in the silent room, he felt isolated in the vastness of space. Sleep overcame him, but brought no comfort. He dreamed fitfully of a voice that spoke in an alien tongue, and of hands that never quite touched his.
Kirk's exuberant - and obviously exaggerated - account of his adventures on Ursonia III was a little too much for McCoy in his current fragile state. Nonetheless, he tried not to be too lacklustre in his responses, and he thanked him sincerely for the brandy and chocolates.
"And just look what Spock got you!" Kirk dragged the Vulcan closer to the bedside enthusiastically.
"Oh?" said McCoy, thickly, his pulse speeding up despite himself.
Spock, his hands concealed behind his back, regarded the doctor meditatively. He was not embarrassed, but seemed dubious that his present would be well-received.
"Doctor, I reasoned that you would, in your customary manner, find some irrational objection to any sensible and prudent gift, so I purchased for you the most illogical item I could find, in the hope that it would be to your liking. Frankly, I fail to see why this inane object would bring you any pleasure - but in any case, here it is."
He revealed something large and fluffy, which seemed at first glance to be a toy rabbit. It was made of a lurid orange velour, with enormous brown eyes that gave it a wistful expression. Closer inspection revealed that it was not a rabbit, but a Ursonian coyote, an animal noted for its ferocity but beloved among visiting humans because of its comical lop ears and bushy tail. In real life, the Ursonian coyote was a muted brown, but this particular portrayal of the animal was covered in neon-blue spots.
"Is that for me! You...you got me a teddy?!" McCoy's eyes lit up and his face relaxed into one of his rare unguarded smiles. Quickly returning to his usual grumbling manner, he snatched the coyote. "Here, you're holding him wrong - don't you know how to pick up a puppy?"
"Since this is an inanimate object, doctor, I fail to see -"
But McCoy wasn't listening, just making the toy bounce along the bed like a real animal. Kirk was edging discreetly towards the door. He must have had some important work to do, Spock thought. The Vulcan stayed a while longer, parrying the doctor's jests in a long-suffering manner, but he left as soon as McCoy's fatigue kicked in again.
Alone once more, McCoy looked with wonderment at the unexpected present, stroking its soft fur. Was it his imagination, or did some of Spock's scent linger on the item? He cursed himself for the thought, and told his thrilling heart to get a grip on itself and see some sense. Turning out the light, he chuckled heartily at the image of Spock beaming aboard carrying the coyote. After a short coughing fit, he snuggled up to his new teddy and drifted off to sleep once more. He dreamed of snowstorms and fur blankets.
With McCoy back on his feet, Sickbay was a bustling place once more. The orange coyote had made its home on top of the main computer terminal there. McCoy had christened it "Mr Squeak", with the purposeful intention of mildly irritating Spock, and its silly expression amused all the nurses and patients.
When McCoy was in a good mood - which was always a short-lived occurrence, though not as infrequent as people claimed - he would give the coyote a squeaky voice and have it tell people to remember to take their vitamins and to be brave when getting their hyposprays. Spock, whenever he was present for such a display, would raise his eyebrows in a most exasperated way, which of course only made McCoy act up even more.
"May I take the day off tomorrow?" asked Chekov hopefully one day, while he was getting his hand bandaged after a slight injury.
"Mr Squeak would let you, but I'm afraid Mr Spock wouldn't be so kind," said McCoy in a stage whisper, so that Spock, who happened to be just leaving the room, would hear him clearly. "We've got to mind our P's and Q's around here..."
Chekov giggled and McCoy grinned. Unseen, Spock stood in the darkened doorway, and watched the doctor for a few minutes more. He wondered when the man's wellbeing - no, not even his wellbeing, his happiness - had become so important to him. He wondered why his chest tightened whenever the doctor laughed. He wondered whether he wanted to make these feelings stop. He looked down at his PADD. It offered him no answers. He walked away.
The medbay staff were unfazed when Kirk breezed in one afternoon with a motley assembly of refugees suffering from smoke inhalation. The captain had just rescued them from a burning building, intervened in a gun battle between two leaders of nations, and ended an ongoing war. This was a typical afternoon's work, on the Enterprise. Medbay staff had stopped asking questions.
McCoy and Chapel each seemed to be in three places at once for the next few hours, but things quietened down once it was assured that no-one had been seriously harmed. The refugees were to be monitored in Sickbay for the next few days before being returned to their planet, where they would be welcomed and housed by one of the countries there, now that the war was over.
The youngest of the refugees was a little girl named Kira. As she slept, McCoy sat beside her with his tricorder, checking her vital signs. She reminded him of Joanna when she was of that age - although her skin was much darker than Jo's, her face much thinner, and her mannerisms much shyer. Over the following week, he tried to draw her out of her shell a little - and succeeded, with the help of Mr Squeak. Her giggles at the coyote's antics put a smile on the face of everyone in the room.
McCoy was quite sorry when the day came for the refugees to depart. As they were setting off, he beckoned Kira over to him.
"You like Mr Squeak, don't you?" he asked.
She nodded solemnly and shook the toy's paw.
"Well, he likes you, too. Very much." McCoy wiggled the coyote in her face, and she laughed. "In fact, he told me he'd like to stay with you. So here you go - you'll give him a good home, won't you?"
Kira's eyes opened wide with surprise and delight, expressing her gratitude far more eloquently than her stumbling words of thanks. As she turned to leave, McCoy winked at Mr Squeak for the last time, and murmured "Take good care of her now, you hear?" under his breath.
It was only afterwards that McCoy realised that Spock might well be offended that he had given his present away. Fortunately, however, Vulcans never take offence when none is intended - a quality for which the doctor always had a begrudging admiration. Spock received the news of Mr Squeak's departure with complete equanimity.
"The purpose of the gift was merely to amuse you while you were unwell; the fact that you have found a useful purpose for the item is commendable."
There was no logical reason for McCoy to be upset by this dispassionate response.
The next day was Kirk's day off. Knowing that McCoy was likewise off duty, he commed the doctor and invited him to come bowling. McCoy said "No", so dully that Kirk immediately went around to his quarters to see what the matter was.
He found the doctor lying on his back, staring expressionlessly at the ceiling.
"Not getting up, Bones?"
"No. Don't feel like it."
Kirk drew up a chair to the bedside and sat down. McCoy turned towards him.
"Leave me alone, Jim! I thought you were going bowling?"
Kirk just smiled, leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, and twiddled his thumbs. There was a pause.
"Missing Mr Squeak?" he asked, in a jokey manner.
McCoy scowled. "I'm not an infant, Jim. I wasn't attached to the thing."
Kirk smiled, nodded, and looked expectantly at the doctor without saying anything. This was always a surefire way to get McCoy to divulge confidences. Silence dragged for a while.
"It's the only proper present he ever got me, you know," McCoy blurted, his gaze fixed on the ceiling. "Just for that reason, I almost wish I'd kept it. I mean, it's not something that's likely to happen again."
The captain made a soothing noncommital sound.
"You know, you're lucky, Jim," added McCoy, raising himself up on his elbow and showing some animation for the first time. "You - I don't know - you always understood Spock, right from the start, and you got off on the right foot with him. But with him and me, well, I don't know, I guess we'll never understand each other. And I just wish - oh, I don't know -"
Here, he dropped back down onto the pillow and flung an arm across his eyes. "It's just now that I 'preciate what he's really like, I just, sometimes I just - I wish we could be better friends, that's all." He trailed off into a mumble.
"I see," said Kirk, knowingly - a little too knowingly for the doctor's liking.
"Doesn't matter, anyhow," McCoy muttered. He heard the captain stand up, and felt him pat his knee.
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Bones. I think you've always been very good with Spock - a little abrasive at times, maybe - but you've always been honest with him. And I think he likes that."
McCoy sniffed disparagingly.
"All right, I'll leave you alone. Hope to see you up and about by dinner-time!" Kirk patted the bed once more, and left the room.
McCoy did not move for some time, and if the arm across his face was shielding hot tears, well, that was his own business.
The swooshing of the automatic door awoke McCoy from an uneasy slumber.
Spock approached his bed.
"The captain informs me that you are "feeling under the weather" once more. I hope that your illness has not relapsed?"
McCoy blinked up at the Vulcan, who was towering over him with a concerned expression.
"Oh - no - I'm just a bit tired, that's all - well, sit down, sit down." McCoy moved over to make room on the edge of the bed. Spock sat down gingerly, not wanting to invade the doctor's personal space.
"You do not have a temperature?"
"No, I said I'm fine, I just need some rest. It's been a long week."
"Is there anything I can do for you, doctor?"
Yes, thought McCoy, there certainly was, but of course he did not say so. He could not tear his eyes away from Spock's earnest gaze. Not for the first time, he made a mental apology to Christine Chapel for thinking she was an idiot to fall for the stony-faced Vulcan.
"It's not your job to look after me," he said, gruffly.
"I wish it were," replied Spock, simply.
"What - what do you mean?"
The Vulcan looked down at his hands and then back up at McCoy. "I find, Doctor, that your wellbeing is of importance to me - to an irrational extent, in fact. Not just your physical security, but your mental stimulation and even your emotional wellbeing are of the highest priority to me, and I find myself constantly drawn to your company. It is logical, of course, given my respect for you, that your welfare should be of concern to me, but I am at a loss to explain the strength of my regard, unless it be - love."
He opened his mouth to say more, but McCoy had clutched at his nearest hand, and was staring at him with wild eyes.
"Spock, do you - would you like to be in a relationship with me?"
McCoy's heart pounded in his chest. His hands trembled when he saw the surprise that registered gradually on the Vulcan's face; the pause was too long; he couldn't bear it; he blurted out "I love you" just as Spock said "Yes".
They looked at each other for a full minute, their eyes widening in astonishment and their hands still joined. "Doctor -" began Spock, but he stopped short. McCoy knelt up beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.
Their lips met.
And now, every night, McCoy makes sure that he sleeps beside something that is soft, and warm, and cuddly, with large brown eyes and big ears.
The ears are pointed, of course, but he finds that he does not mind.