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“Ready, Bones? We’re waiting for you!”

An exasperated sigh reached the young captain’s ears.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Can’t you let me breathe two seconds, for pity’s sake? I’m sure the hobgoblin is right on time, but I’m not Vulcan, so don’t rush me or go find another ‘volunteer’ to go down with you!”

Jim rolled his eyes. What was the point in being the captain if your crewmen didn’t even obey your orders? Specifically, if your first officer and chief medical officer, each in their own stubborn and frustrating way, didn’t pay any attention to what you told them to do? Certainly, he didn’t have much experience, and he was very young for the job, but if he hadn’t been aboard the Enterprise three months ago, Earth would not exist anymore, so… A bit of respect for the hero he had become didn’t seem a big thing to ask for.

Really? Are you that pretentious?

Well, no, he wasn’t. But he would have loved a bit of compliance, especially in front of other members of the crew. Spock never contradicted him publicly, but, away from prying ears, he didn’t refrain from questioning almost every decision his new captain took. Sometimes, Jim wondered why the Vulcan had decided to come back on board if he had so little esteem for his superior. McCoy, on the other hand, acted with his friend as he always had, and didn’t hesitate in talking to him as informally and familiarly as he did back at the Academy, on various subjects such as food (as if James Tiberius Kirk had any kind of influence over the Enterprise replicators), sickbay’s equipment, Starfleet orders or the first officer’s ‘insensitive and tactless behaviour’ towards new recruits.

Anyway, those two didn’t show him overflowing respect, and now Jim began to understand what his teachers in the Academy felt like when he refused to fulfil their orders in front of a whole classroom…

He could hear a little mocking voice whispering in his ears: It’s called karma.

Jim was waiting on sickbay’s doorstep, excited and a bit anxious to beam down for what would be his first diplomatic mission on planet Ponantis II – the opportunity to prove he wasn’t only an obnoxious and lucky brat begging for recognition, whose only achievement had been to be lucky…

The protocol stipulated that for this specific contact (with a peaceful species who had already been approached twice by the Federation), he had to be with his first officer. Okay, why not. Spock would certainly not lighten the mood (the Ponantians, who were fighting the Glosians, were hoping a fair arbitration from the Federation and didn’t seem in the mood for jokes anyway) but his presence reassured Jim somehow, although he would never admit it, even under torture. He could also pick out another member of his crew, and as he didn’t need Uhura to translate anything, the Ponantians being multilingual, he had chosen without the slightest hesitation. Bones wasn’t particularly elated to hear it (in fact, he was less than pleased to beam down with Spock, for they didn’t exactly get along, one being ice and the other fire), but he had very little choice in the matter.

Jim took two steps towards the CMO’s office and picked up a strange, muffled sound, which sounded suspiciously like a sneeze.

“Bones?

“Yeah, I’m coming!”

 McCoy’s answer was punctuated by two other sneezes. The young captain sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Bless you. Don’t tell me you’re sick?” he asked, popping his head at the door just in time to see his friend stifling a forth sneeze in a handkerchief.

“Don’t tell me you don’t have someone else to bother?” Bones answered with an irritated sniffle. “I have a cold, Jim, I’m not dying.”

Of course he wasn’t dying (why did he always have to make such melodramatic statements?), but maybe it would be better if…

“Don’t look at me like that, captain,” Bones sneered. “I’m coming, whether you like it or not.”

“No, it’s just that you’re a little… grumpy when you’re ill,” Jim answered with a grin he hoped seems natural. “I don’t want you to spoil my so well-prepared mission on Ponantis.”

“Thank you for the compassion. They have copper-based blood, just like that pointy-eared first officer of yours. I can’t contaminate them.”

“You know Spock isn’t my first officer. I don’t have my name on him.”

Anyway,” the CMO resumed harshly. “You’re the only person I can contaminate on this mission, so if you’re afraid for yourself…”

“You know that’s not what I mean. I don’t mind catching a cold. But if you’re not well, you’d better stay and have some rest. You’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately.”

“Don’t even try that that with me, Jim. I know you don’t like being around sick people. But you insisted that I come with you, so I’m coping with you.”

Kirk sighed. He wasn’t afraid of contagion, and accepted his predicament with philosophy when he was sick, but when his friends were ill, he stupidly panicked. Phobias were hard to control.

“Jim, you chose me for a reason. Please let me be judge of my own health condition. Last I heard, I was the chief medical officer.”

The young man shrugged and smiled. If Bones wanted to play it this way…

“Okay, so hurry up, because last I heard, I was the captain.”

The physician obviously wanted to reply, but a vicious sneeze snuck on him and he turned hastily to muffle it in his upraised shoulder.

“Damn cold! Ready when you are.”

Spock was waiting for them in the transporter room, hands clasped behind the back, stiff and with not a hair out of place – perfectly Vulcan as always. He had come back aboard the Enterprise, when no one expected him anymore, and Jim had been sincerely pleased. The way they had managed to sneak up on the Narada, progressing as if they had always known and understood each other… He wondered how they could have been merging so deeply without even touching (a pat on the shoulder and, well, a murder attempt by choking had been their only physical contacts so far). And under three other emergency circumstances, more recently, this union had proven very efficient, as if they were two parts of the same entity, moving in a perfect ballet which left very few chances for their opponents.

But with regards to friendship… Well… Spock wasn’t really gifted for human emotions. He barely talked about himself and acted as he didn’t want to link with anyone on the ship, Nyota being the exception disproving the rule. Jim had tried to break the ice, but the Vulcan seemed reluctant to let himself go even for a game of chess, as if showing any sign of anything more or less personal towards the captain (or any human) was not possible, even if he had been wishing to do so (which Kirk doubted). Yet, the young man knew there was more in Spock than met the eyes and he was not going to give up so easily.

He had imagined that a common mission could bring the three of them together, or, at least, calm things down between his old friend and the commander. Jim knew they had a lot in common, more than they wanted to admit – the scientific curiosity, the respect for life, the professionalism, and so many other things – but when they had to interact, they were just like two opposite magnets, irresistibly repelling each other.

The first officer greeted them with a short nod and raised an eyebrow (this expression was now his trademark and it had already earned him a nickname – among others, less kind – from the chief medical officer) when McCoy sneezed harshly in his elbow before getting up on the transporter pad.

“Dammit!”

He fumbled in his pocket, took a handkerchief and blew his nose, glaring at Spock, apparently ready to fire if the Vulcan dared to comment on the matter. But he did not (and Jim was grateful for it – the last thing he needed now was a verbal fight between those two before they had even left the ship), and the Enterprise dissolved in front of their eyes when Scotty cheerfully activated the transporter pad.