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Autumn In My Heart

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Well, here it was, another Fall Semester had started and after a few hectic days of getting beginning Freshman used to college life, the school year was well underway. A nice, familiar groove had been established, and everyone was now accustomed to traveling that ever-deepening path. Football season was progressing nicely and the Holiday Season was looming on the horizon. After that would be the disruption of the Second Semester beginning. Then it wouldn't be too many weeks until Graduation and Summer School would be upon them. And another year would have passed with nary anything to distinguish it from every other year on this backwater campus.

Professor Leonard McCoy tried to tell himself that he liked this time of the year. But there was something about Autumn that saddened him every time this season rolled around. It was a condition that set in about the middle of September and made him feel old and tired and useless. And dusty. Why the dusty part, he could never figure out. Maybe it was the moldering of the fallen leaves getting scrunched up by so many feet on the campus sidewalks. Maybe it was the golden sunshine of Autumn that seemed to highlight all of the dust in the air from the decaying leaves. Whatever caused it, there was a certain haze that hung over the campus that wasn't there at any other time of the year.

As for feeling old, that might be a little bit easier to figure out. For one thing, there was the irrefutable truth that he was just plain getting older, he thought with a melancholy smirk. Young girls worried about the ticking of their biological clocks. Well, he had a real one ticking for him, the one that ticks for everyone, the one that people become more aware of after they reach a certain age. And he had reached that age. Several years ago.

But that clock ticked for him all year long. So, no, the reason for his ambivalent feelings, the cross between his unrest and the strange sense that the world was settling comfortably in around him, stemmed from some other influence. And he was ready to hand Mother Nature her share of the fault, too. Because the simple truth of the matter was that it WAS her fault. She was the one responsible for the endless shifting back and forth of the Earth on its axis which produced the four seasons as Mankind knew them. And like Death, maybe knowledge of this annual shifting didn’t offer all that much reassurance to an aging man seeking solace.

So that left him with his original problem of the vague sense of unhappiness that had settled over him once again during this Autumn season. Maybe it was the shorter days, or the crisper nights, or the lonely honking of southbound geese as they heralded the approaching snow that was following closely behind them. He knew that uneasiness made the geese long for southern climes, as it did him. Had those fleeing geese no idea how many humans longed to fly South along with them?

He didn’t mind Winter all that much, outside of the daily misery with ice and snow. That was even sort of invigorating in fact, because he had to be out in the crisp air, shoveling snow and scraping windshields. In Winter at least those uneasy days of Autumn were finally over, and he had something definite to battle. Satan, thy name is Winter weather, and at last I have a name to define you.

Because it seemed that whenever the Winter season set in with a chilling purpose, then the suspense was finally over. Now began the time of hibernation and of savoring long novels and consuming sturdy foods, of listening to grand, sweeping music, and of nurturing treasured relationships. It was the part of the year that had been set aside for doing all those many things that there hadn’t been time for during the long, languid days of Summer. For those were the days that had hypnotized people into doing nothing, because it felt like the magic days of Summer would last forever. But sadly, they never did.

Winter did have its charms, however. For now, during these dark months, there was time. Time indoors. Time to reassess and to regroup and to plan, to plan for what lay ahead in just a few short weeks when the season softened again and the geese returned, intent on bringing the next generation of goslings into the world.

For Winter was the slow wait for Spring to reappear once more. And it always did, with a joy that knew no bounds. For Spring was a rebirth of life, of hope, and of a new start.

But right now, during Autumn, something else plagued Leonard McCoy, something that was wasn’t logical, but still something wished for. For there was always the childish hope that Winter would just be skipped over this year, that it would never materialize, that the migrating southbound geese would hit the Mason-Dixon Line, do an about-face to return to their northern breeding grounds, and say that they had just been out for a flight to stretch their wings.

But Leonard McCoy of all people should know better. He knew that the Earth wobbled on it axis twice a year and created the effect of the seasons changing. For that was proven fact. Hell, it was HISTORY! 'Cause it happened! And SCIENCE! 'Cause he knew why it happened! And he knew that it would happen that way again this year, as it had happened for all of the Time since man had pulled himself up out of the primal ooze and pronounced the dry ground to be good. And even for all of the Time before man had traded his gills in for lungs.

For he was a man of science, a man of facts, a teacher of the medical arts, for goodness sake! There was more than one reason why he was addressed as "Doctor." And he was a guy who knew that fairies do not live at the bottom of the hill, no matter how much he’d like for them to be located there just to please his romantic side.

For he was a doctor, late of Starfleet, and he should be facing certain facts. And sometimes, facts are harder to face than Klingons, especially for a middle-aged man who would rather be facing Klingons than facts.

 

“Professor?”

“Hmm?” And some of the noise behind him registered again through his mental wanderings, reminding him where he was. And it was not in Sickbay or on the bridge of the Enterprise anymore. It was another world, another time and place. And it wasn’t in space anymore as it had once been. And sometimes it saddened him that he wasn't, as it did now for the fraction of a moment. Even if he hated the idea of space itself. Because space wasn't. And he believed that it should contain something.

"Professor?" the young voice interrupted his thoughts again and tried to make him focus on his present reality.

But he was just contrary enough not to want to accept it. "Hmm?" he repeated, mostly to appease her. She was persistent.

“Pumpkin spice latte, Professor?” asked the bright young thing behind the counter. The waitress had a row of unnaturally white teeth that she liked to display between the red gash of her mouth. Had she no idea that she was mimicking the stance of a hungry predator eyeing its lunch, McCoy wondered. Had she no conception of how much she favored her carnivorous fore bearers who stalked their weaker prey and ate them still squawking and at the dying prey’s body temperature?

“Hmm? Pardon?” he asked with a puzzled face, as was his habit as he did his standard imitation of the absent-minded professor. Pity was, it was becoming less of an imitation and more of a fact lately. Next he’d need some sort of companion dog to lead him around. Maybe a German shepherd. Yes, that would be a good breed and would acclimate well to the college scene. The students would love seeing their doddering professor with a friendly dog at his side. And the animal would be the darling of the campus, and so would he because he was the professor who owned such a charming, outgoing beast--

“Professor?”

“Hmm?” There it was again. His absent-minded professor imitation again. Fred MacMurray would be so proud.

“Your regular latte, Professor McCoy?” she reminded him. Humoring him, actually.

“Oh. Oh, yes, please,” he agreed with a self-effacing grin. “Thank you so much, Angie.”

“And the cream filled doughnut that you like to go with it?” she asked in a flirty aside to indicate that it would be a secret just between the two of them. Again. Angie knew he had a secret sweet tooth and a certain weakness for the sugary treats displayed at the coffee bar in the student lounge. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t come by and look longingly at the display everyday. She knew he wasn’t there to see her.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t today,” he hedged. Mr. Spock had indicated lately that McCoy seemed to be adding a few inches to his waist, as if McCoy had no self-control when it came to eating.

“They’re chocolate today,” Angie enticed. “I filled them myself. There’s just the hint of mocha flavor in them, too. It gives them an exotic flavor,” she said, wrinkling her nose, “as if they came directly from Araby.”

“Then I better not be missing out, should I?” He gave her a gentle smile and gave in to her entreaties just as they both knew he would. It was a little charade with them. Harmless in a way, and endeared them to each other.

Those doughnuts did look good....

"Tell you what, Angie. How about giving me the second doughnut." He should be feeling sneaky, but he felt like he was playing the lottery with a sure winner. Besides, he had such few pleasures. Surely a second doughnut was not going to bring down civilization as we know it.

Angie gave him a sideways, questioning look, but her eyes were saying, "Naughty boy! Good for you!"

"For my friend, Professor Spock, when he gets here."

"Of course, Professor," she agreed as she handed him the sack with the doughnuts. But her eyes were saying that she didn't believe one word of it. Then she winked at him, and he grinned back at her sheepishly.

 

McCoy sailed away with his ill-gotten goodies toward a distant table. Only when he set his treasures down did he realize that he had burdened himself unnecessarily by insisting on carrying his pipe in his one hand, too. As he dived into a chair so that he was partially facing the wall, Leonard McCoy shoved his unlit pipe in the breast pocket of his favorite tweed sports coat. He didn’t know why he even carried the damn Meerschaum. He rarely smoked the nasty thing, mainly because he usually forgot to light it. But he thought that it went so well with his rustic clothing, especially this tweedy jacket with its leather elbow patches. One had to project the image of a proper college professor, didn’t one?

The Meerschaum was a leftover from his German phase when he had once toyed with the idea of lecturing in the Bavarian Alps. He had chalked that one up to his romantic nature, though, with his visions of associating with yodeling milkmaids and red-cheeked guys in lederhosen and of taking brisk rides through the frosty air in an open sleigh pulled by a snorting steed. Then he remembered the snow and the cold weather. So with a sigh McCoy had signed the contract for this same school for the coming year. It was awfully difficult to relocate, especially after he had gotten tenure at this school. Besides, he got to wear his beaten-up, tweedy wardrobe here and was thought to be romantic for doing so. And Spock was here.

Once McCoy had been more at home in other garb, a Starfleet uniform, but he had assumed a different style, a style that complimented his position in life now. It was the uniform of what a doddering professor in an obscure, backwater college in rural New England wore, just as Spock favored those infernal turtlenecks and gold chains. He thought that they made him look dashing, and in a way they did. In fact, Spock was probably quite dashing, while McCoy… well, McCoy was probably just seedy.

Speaking of Spock, where was he? They had arranged to meet after their classes in the student union to discuss the coming weekend. He expected that Spock was still fired up about that poetry conference he'd been touting all week. McCoy really wasn’t in the mood to attend the Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost Symposium in Worcester. He wasn’t really interested in learning who was considered to be America’s poet. He hadn’t a thread of interest in it at all, but McCoy knew that Spock would be curious about what the speaker had to say. Spock taught Logic and other courses in the Philosophy department on campus and absolutely soaked up anything to do with culture. And it fit in well with his turtlenecks and gold chains image.

McCoy liked culture, too, but sometimes he liked to concentrate on other matters. And right now, all that he wanted to soak up was Spock. But there looked like little chance of that with Spock in a philosophical cloud. McCoy probably couldn’t even get his attention, let alone any kind of diversion that would lead to a physical interlude in a darkened bedroom with soft music playing in the background and an opened tube of spicy lube lying handy on the bedside table.

McCoy couldn’t understand it. Generally these ‘heats’ came over him in the Spring when Life was rejuvenating all over the place, not during the Fall when Life seemed to be shutting down for a long Winter’s nap. But no doubt about it, he could be talked into jumping Spock's frame quite easily this weekend, if that's what would appeal to the Vulcan, too.

He and Spock had an on-again, off-again relationship. Well, it really wasn’t a relationship. It was more of an understanding. They were each others’ built-in date when such a thing was required in college social circles. For an institution that stressed education and tradition, the school sure seemed to have a full agenda of campus events. To be fair, McCoy realized that students needed to have access to many types of activities that would enrich their lives now and provide fond memories for them in the years to come. It would also provide fodder for alumni to discuss when coming together for the inevitable class reunions which would plague the ones lucky enough to live to a ripe, old age.

Occasionally, just occasionally, these campus social affairs would put McCoy and Spock in a jolly mood which required some way to celebrate in an intimate way. The night could not be ended so quickly or prosaically, they decided. So the only way to extend it and make it special was to stimulate each other in bed until they would experience a mutual orgasm which would cause them to then sink into a deep, refreshing slumber. Without discussing it, they had decided that there was nothing really meant by the act itself. It was just something to cool the animal blood that had been stirred. It was all highly civilized, actually.

McCoy was not so dense that he did not realize that many a child had been conceived under just such circumstances: a special night and an unwillingness to end the feeling of magic without performing another ritual that would create a feeling of a different sort of magic. The only difference was that in this instance no sweet, little baby would be conceived. Indeed, McCoy and Spock were apt to part ways and barely see each other until the next social season hit campus or McCoy experienced one of his “heats” which necessitated an interaction with a cooperative Spock.

Spock himself had “heats,” but they came over him only once every seven years. What they lacked in frequency, though, they made up for in length of time and intensity of duration. Spock’s pon farr was a hot and sweaty sexual marathon while McCoy’s “heats” were civilized banging sessions meant to put the damper on McCoy’s pale attempts at being a little risque. College professors didn’t get risque at backwater, New England colleges, but they might occasionally be able to sneak in a little session of letting off steam with a trusted friend.

And Mr. Spock was a trusted friend. He and McCoy had served together on the Enterprise before she was destroyed. They had been part of Christopher Pike’s upper echelon of officers, and McCoy had even seen Spock through one of his pon farr ordeals. Then after Pike and his starship had died together, the officers and crew had drifted away from each other. Somehow, though, Spock had managed to drift the same direction that McCoy had headed, and now they were as indispensable to this college as the ivy on the limestone walls or the team mascot at pep rallies and athletic events.

“Len! There you are!” a happy voice called brightly, bringing McCoy out of his reverie. "Hiding in the corner again with your face to the wall I see!"

McCoy jerked. What the hell?! Who would have the audacity?! Who would holler his name, his first name, his NICKNAME, of all things, in a crowded room full of college students for all to hear and ridicule?! Why, any number of his own students could be in this crowded room, and the irregularity of what had just happened could be all over campus by tomorrow. Maybe even by tonight.

Then there was Mr. Spock leaning over McCoy’s table and grinning at him with a row of teeth that McCoy did not even realize he possessed. McCoy closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. Why was everyone coming at him with shiny rows of teeth today? Was it a full moon? Was some exotic flower blooming that had this effect on people, causing them to throw caution to the wind and bare their gums in order to display their dental attributes? If so, McCoy hoped that the exotic flower did not shake its pollen on him because it seemed quite potent, and he did not wish to be observed walking around campus displaying his teeth as if he was some sort of hungry carnivore on the prowl for its next tasty meal.

In the meanwhile, he had to let Spock know of his disapproval of the current situation. “Mr. Spock. Please. Your inside voice,” McCoy hissed as his whole body stiffened with disapproval.

“Ha, ha, Len! I am not a dog!” Spock reproved him as he heartily slapped McCoy’s upper arm. "But you are, you old dog, you!"

That did it, McCoy thought as he shoved aside the chocolate cream filled doughnut which he had gotten for Spock. Spock apparently had already ingested more chocolate than he could handle, and it was making him giddy. No fool like an old fool, McCoy thought sourly. Who was Spock trying to impress anyway?!

“Our Dr. McCoy can be most droll on occasion,” Spock informed someone behind him as he looked over his shoulder. “And he tries to pretend that he wants to be known as an old curmudgeon. Such a kidder!” Spock pronounced and slapped McCoy’s shoulder this time.

McCoy reeled from the blow and grabbed for the table to steady himself. Objects rattled around and pumpkin spice latte threatened to spill its creamy head over the rim of its cup. McCoy grimaced with annoyance. The Vulcan didn’t seem to know his own strength today. Why was he acting like such an asshole?

Then McCoy saw the reason as the person behind Spock stepped around him and came into McCoy’s view. McCoy drew his breath in slightly. It was the most beautiful guy he had ever seen, and his full attention was on McCoy! McCoy could've orgasmed on the spot, the guy was that good looking and had that much of an effect on him.

“Hi, there, Dr. McCoy,” the golden god greeted with a lazy smile as he gave McCoy his look of approval and what McCoy could only interpret as flirting. No wonder that Spock was acting so giddy if the stranger had greeted him with the same amount of fire and promise. Because McCoy was definitely feeling burning flames, and most of them were licking away at him in the general location of his nether regions. He hadn’t felt such a spark of interest from that part of him in a long time. It was kind of stimulating to have those kinds of fires lighted again in his loins. It might even put Autumn into a proper perspective-- it was a phase, not a sentence. And Spring would come again as it suddenly had to McCoy again.

McCoy straightened his frame and sat up as if he had a thirty year-old spine again. Various parts of that aging part of him protested, but he ignored his back. Hopefully, he wouldn’t hear from it again, but he felt like he would when he tried to go to sleep tonight.

Meanwhile McCoy's eyes were crackling with the new interest he was feeling. “Well, hello, there! How nice to be meeting you! And welcome to our college!”

The handsome stranger returned McCoy’s friendly smile with a pleasant smile of his own. Out of the corner of his eye, McCoy saw Spock flinch and lose some of his enthusiasm.

“Thank you so much, Dr. McCoy. It is so pleasant to be here with you on your beautiful campus.”

“It is a beautiful setting, isn’t it?” McCoy agreed intimately as he bathed in the stranger’s warm smile. He could get lost in that smile, he realized. Then he looked horrified. “But where are my manners?!” McCoy chided himself as he sprang to his feet and drew out the chair that was supposed to be Spock’s. “Please! Be seated!”

“Thank you,” the stranger said as he seated himself.

Meanwhile Spock confiscated a chair from a nearby table and joined them.

“Now, wherever did you manage to find this gentleman?” McCoy chided Spock.

“I did not have an opportunity to introduce him, Doctor.”

Ah, the ‘Len’ was gone. Good riddance, McCoy thought. He felt ill at ease being addressed by that name, especially if Spock was using it (which he never had before). Now when Jocelyn had murmured it in his ear when they had been cohabiting together in that first narrow bed they had ever shared together. Those had been the days alright. The days of romancing and excitement for the future and a sexual heat that never seemed to be appeased….

“Doctor?” Spock questioned, not liking the dreamy look on McCoy's face.

“Hmm?” McCoy looked up to see that Spock was slightly annoyed and that the stranger was simply puzzled or maybe even bemused by the drifting of McCoy's attention.

“Oh, sorry.” McCoy shifted in his chair and hoped that he wasn’t experiencing the beginnings of a more serious problem than absentmindedness.

“Our guest,” Spock reminded him rather pointedly as he leaned toward McCoy and gave him a stern look.

“Oh, of course,” McCoy said with an apologetic smile. The stranger’s answering smile said that he did not mind one bit as long as McCoy was looking at him again. And McCoy was only too glad to be looking at him. Win- win situation, McCoy thought with a smug smile to himself.

“This is James T. Kirk, a visiting professor of literary studies from U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles, California,” Spock informed McCoy as the two men shook hands.

“I know where U.C.L.A. is located. Don't want our guest to form the opinion that we are as backwater as our location might indicate,” McCoy murmured and thought he saw a slight smirk from Kirk. McCoy also saw that Spock did not appreciate the snippy answer, but that he was determined to plow ahead. Then it was as if Spock remembered something big, something that would pay McCoy back for his flirting and his smart remark about U.C.L.A.

“Professor Kirk is here to deliver a lecture this weekend about who is America’s poet. Carl Sandburg or Robert Frost?” Spock pulled himself up with excitement dancing in his eyes, and that should’ve been McCoy’s first clue that Spock had a helluva conclusion to his introduction.

And he did.

Spock arched an eyebrow daintily. “And I was the one who invited Professor Kirk here. We have enjoyed something of a lively correspondence as of late, haven't we, Professor?”

"Well, yes, quite enjoyable," Kirk responded with a smile filled with warmth and personal charm. Spock preened, but it was understandable considering the golden god who was giving him so much of his undivided attention.

McCoy felt something like blazing jealousy sear through him. But that was impossible. He didn't get jealous, but he still didn't like how Kirk's words were making Spock act like warm melted Jello just oozing everywhere across a flat surface.

"In fact, I hope that we will be able to continue our correspondence," Kirk continued. "I will be most interested to learn Mr. Spock's theories about how the Romantic Poets affected the mores of Eighteenth Century England as well as set the tone of society for the Nineteenth."

Spock's eyes lit up. "I will be most happy to do so, Professor! That is a favorite era of literature for me!"

"Romanticism?" McCoy echoed as he openly stared at Spock with disbelief. "You read the Romantic Poets?!"

Spock seemed to take quite a bit of satisfaction in answering. "There are many things about me that you do not know, Leonard. Professor Kirk is taking the time to learn of them. That is why I thought that you might like to attend his seminar this weekend, but you had not shown much interest when I had approached you with particulars about it."

"You just hadn't explained sufficiently. But now I have to admit that I am quite intrigued," McCoy reproved, talking to Spock but all the while sending a toothy grin at Kirk who had the grace to blush.

Spock's face darkened as if he didn't like the new intimacy between McCoy and Kirk. "I am certain that you will not gain sufficient background and knowledge of subject matter in a short amount of time to understand Professor's Kirk's topic. You will not have the proper appreciation for it as I have amassed. It is, I am proud to relate, quite extensive."

Well, ain’t that hot stuff, McCoy wanted to say but felt like he’d sound particularly juvenile, so instead he leaned toward Kirk and turned on his flirtiest bedroom eyes. “Then I'll just have to concentrate a little harder on what our instructor says now, won't I?"

Kirk was initially startled, then gave McCoy a look that said that he wouldn't mind having McCoy hanging onto his every word and whatever else handy of his that McCoy might like to grasp and fondle while he was at it.

That smoldering look only encouraged McCoy and made him bolder. And suggestive. "Spock doesn't realize it, but I already possess a working knowledge of Bryon, Shelley, and Keats. All I can say is that it has come in very handy in my own pursuit of romance. It just seems to set the right tone for an evening of intimacy... doesn't it?"

Kirk grinned at McCoy as if he had just discovered a soulmate. It was clear what a sensuous man Kirk was on a personal level.

McCoy looked crafty, as if he and Kirk now shared a secret. "I cannot tell you how excited I've been about your topic ever since I first heard about it. I am really thrilled to learn about your thoughts on that fascinating subject.”

Spock's dark eyes snapped, then narrowed. McCoy and Kirk both saw his reaction.

Kirk looked flattered, then bemused. He knew that there was something going on between those other two, but he didn't know what. Trouble was, he wasn't certain that they knew, either, what was going on.

Spock looked like he wished he had never introduced these two guys. If McCoy had been excited about the controversary over America's poet, he hadn't known about it. He thought that McCoy had been trying to duck discussion about the seminar.

Touche, Vulcan, McCoy thought as he watch the confusion on Spock's face. Stew in your juices.

“Perhaps you will be present at the symposium I’m conducting after the lecture then,” Kirk offered, still not understanding the undercurrents of the two men on either side of him. He’d gathered that they were friends, maybe even something more, but now Kirk wasn’t certain.

McCoy leaned back, feeling quite satisfied with himself. “I wouldn’t miss it, Professor." Then he gave Kirk a long, intimate look and could feel his own eyes sparkling with the intensity of it. "Or if I may? James?” He saw Spock cringe.

Kirk, a friendly, out-going guy, beamed. “Certainly. But my friends call me ‘Jim.’”

He increased the warmth he was sending Kirk's way. “Well, 'Jim,' it is then. And you can call me ‘Bones,’ if you wish. That’s what my friends call me.” He pointedly ignored Spock’s flash of annoyance, but he did see it.

“Bones?” Kirk wanted to know.

“A nickname from my Starfleet days, back when Spock and I served with Christopher Pike on the Enterprise.”

“The Enterprise?!” Kirk said with sudden interest as he looked from one to the other. “You two served on the Enterprise with Chris Pike?!”

“Yes, we did,” McCoy informed him, wondering why Kirk was so impressed. Captain Pike and the Enterprise were legends in the universe, true; but there were other starships and other captains. McCoy didn’t want to seem disloyal, but he had to be realistic, too. A fleet is not one ship and one captain, otherwise it would not be a fleet. But what a ship and what a captain they had been!

Kirk’s eyes were shining. “But I served on the Enterprise, too!” he informed them as he looked from one to the other. “I was Pike’s First Officer!”

“So was Spock!” McCoy practically sputtered. Then he sobered. “But when you were there had to be before Spock and I were on the Enterprise. Because that’s where we were when Pike and the Enterprise--” He shrugged. “Well, you know.”

“Yeah,” Kirk said solemnly. “That’s when they were lost.”

“Yeah,” McCoy agreed softly as Spock pursed his lips. “They went out in glory together.”

“Those were days of glory, alright.” Kirk was clearly reliving memories. “Exploring the universe. Meeting new lifeforms. Learning new ways to live. Oh, we had fun! I loved every moment of it!” A cloud came over his face. “Then I messed everything up and broke Chris’s confidence in me. I could see him wanting to believe in me again, and I realized how much I was breaking his heart. I thought that I couldn’t be what he needed, so I left before I shattered him completely. I ran away from all I loved. Into the private sector.”

“Sorry that your career ended so abruptly,” McCoy soothed, and Spock gave Kirk a look of sympathy.

Kirk rallied. “Thank you. But I’ve been okay. I’ve found something new to love. A new way of life. And it’s fine now.” He nodded to himself as much as to them. “I’ve found a world of meaning in the literature of others. And I’ve found that I’ve got a gift of interpretation so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.”

“Do you miss it, though? The being in space?” McCoy asked softly.

“Do you?” Kirk threw the question right back at him, but broke its harshness with a gentle smile.

“Sometimes,” McCoy answered and was amazed by the wistful sigh in his voice. “But as you said, life moves on. And it’s okay.” He smiled sadly as he stared off into nothingness. “But I could’ve stayed there, too, you know? Then I remember that in order to serve on a starship, it would mean that I would be in space. And I hate the concept of space!”

Kirk and McCoy laughed, breaking the solemnness of their recent speeches.

“One thing,” Kirk said with a gentle smile. “You two were able to stay together. Afterwards. And I’ve had… nobody.”

“You do now,” McCoy said softly. “Even though we’re a continent apart, we’ll be with you whenever you need us.”

“Esprit de corps?” Kirk pronounced softly with a mellow smile. “I think I’d like that.” He pulled himself to his feet. “Well, I have to be getting back to my hotel room. I wanted to connect with Mr. Spock before tomorrow. I didn't know that I'd be finding so much in common with him. With both of you.”

McCoy and Spock jumped to their feet.

“It’s been a pleasure,” McCoy said as they shook hands.

“The pleasure’s been all mine,” Kirk said with a grin. “Spock insisted that I meet you, and I’m glad that I have. It’s wonderful that you mean so much to each other. He’s really a great supporter of yours. Even followed you to this small school when he could've gone someplace bigger. That's special.”

“Oh?” That was news. McCoy glanced at Spock with new eyes while Spock tried to find a new place for his own eyes to look. He seemed intent that it would be anywhere except where his would meet McCoy’s.

Any anger and jealousy that had been building in McCoy melted away with this new knowledge. Now all he wanted was to learn more about why Spock had stayed with him. There had to be a special reason for that, and he had a sneaking hunch what it all meant. And suddenly it was the most important thing he could think about.

But Kirk was saying more. “And if you get the chance tomorrow to attend my lecture and symposium with Spock, Dr. McCoy, I’d appreciate knowing that there was another friendly face in the audience.”

McCoy gave Kirk a reassuring smile with no flirting in it. That wasn't important. McCoy didn't need to flirt to aggravate Spock. He felt he owned something that didn't have to be proven to him. “I wouldn’t miss it now, since I’ve met you. I think that I would like to know who you consider to be America’s Poet.”

Kirk seemed genuinely pleased. Probably even handsome, self-assured men needed encouragement every once in awhile.

McCoy and Spock stood watching James T. Kirk walking away through the crowds of college students. All too soon he was lost to sight, but his presence was still felt.

“Well, that’s that, until tomorrow afternoon,” McCoy summed up as he turned back to his table, his old life, and Spock.

Spock still wouldn’t quite look at him, and the Vulcan certainly wasn’t going to offer any additional information than he had to.

Spock was probably feeling betrayed by Kirk. Especially since Spock had not realized that he had been gushing about McCoy. McCoy wondered what that would even be like. Spock gushing. About anything. And if he did, it certainly wouldn’t be about McCoy. Or so McCoy had always figured. Seems he'd been wrong about that.

McCoy could pick Spock’s carcass clean. Spock was vulnerable and his defenses were down. McCoy could win a debate with him. At last.

But that wasn't important anymore. Nothing was important but Spock.

So instead of accusations or teasing, McCoy gave him a soft smile. “Wanna come back to my apartment now?”

Spock looked confused. “Doctor?” He was still smarting from McCoy's open flirting with Kirk. Spock was not expecting a flirty look from McCoy. Instead, he would've imagined an argument that might've ended their relationship.

“I want to get friendly,” McCoy explained breathlessly. “With you.” He visibly gulped as he realized how true it really was. “Now.”

Spock blinked. “Oh?” Then he frowned. Any remnants of jealousy evaporated with his concern about McCoy. “Are you experiencing one of your ‘heats’ and are wanting some relief from it?”

“I thought I was earlier. But this happened just now. When I learned what I mean to you. That’s wonderful information to know, you know. And it took a stranger to tell me about how you really feel. He must be quite insightful.”

“He is one of the most ethical people I know. I have learned that from his writings and his correspondence with me.”

“Seems I’ve got a whole lot of things to learn, don’t I?” McCoy asked softly. “About him.” His eyes burned. “And about you.”

But Spock felt uneasy. “I do not know if this is a good idea. Being alone with you when you are feeling this way. You are quite vulnerable. I do not want to take advantage of you.”

And here McCoy thought that he was the one who had to be careful with Spock! He had to get this back into familiar territory. “We could pretend we’re coming back from a really nice concert or stimulating lecture. You know, the kind where we can walk under the rose arbors and listen to the birds singing.” McCoy’s soft voice had grown more husky as he painted his romantic picture for a guy he was trying so desperately to woo. “Or a black tie dinner where the food has been delicious and reminded us of foreign settings. Or something equally nice. Our imaginations will be the only things holding us back, and I plan to be quite imaginative. All night long. IF you know what I mean.” He looked Spock up and down with a great deal of interest, and it was very obvious what was on his mind.

Spock thought that McCoy was using what Spock could only call ‘hungry’ eyes. Or ‘bedroom’ eyes, as some people would describe them. However they were called, they were quite disconcerting, and quite enticing, to Spock.

“I believe that I would like to have some nourishment before we do anything else,” Spock said in order to sidetrack McCoy.

"You're right. You're gonna need your strength."

Spock gulped, then tingled with anticipation.

McCoy grabbed something off the table and handed it to Spock. “Chocolate cream filled doughnuts. I got them just for you. They ought to fill your tummy nicely.”

Spock frowned. “You know what chocolate does to me, Doctor. It can make me act quite inhibited.”

“I’m counting on it,” McCoy growled with a wily look on his face. Then for good measure, he grabbed his pumpkin spice latte. Hard telling what effect all of that spice would have on the Vulcan.

But they were about to find out.