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Spock never had any desire to command. He accepted that his position as First Officer made it a duty he not infrequently had to fulfill, but it was not something he looked forward to or enjoyed. He was always glad, at the conclusion of each occasion on which he had to take command, to see Jim back in the chair.

Whether other members of the crew understood this about him was irrelevant. Their opinions mattered far less then whether they followed his orders just as quickly and efficiently as they ever followed Jim’s when the running of the Enterprise fell to him. For the most part, they did.

With the occasional glaring exception.

“Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” Dr. McCoy shouted across the bridge, and Spock made a note to tell him he needed to get more creative with his exclamations; this was the fifth time he’d asked that exact question in the span of a month.

“No, doctor,” he said patiently.

"We can’t leave Jim!” McCoy exclaimed, now at Spock’s side next to the captain’s chair. Spock sighed.

“Had we remained in orbit around the planet we would have been destroyed. I ordered our escape to buy us time to develop a plan to rescue the captain. Do you think he would have been better served by all of our deaths?”

McCoy’s eyes widened into an expression he wore so often that Spock almost considered informing him that he needed to update his nonverbal communication as well.

“I think he’d be better served by a First Officer who wasn’t so eager for his own command that he jumps away at the first sign of trouble,” McCoy said.

Spock was already aggrieved that they were not having this conversation in private, and he knew there was no response he could provide that would calm McCoy’s rage, so he said nothing. He was keenly aware of the intense gazes of every member of the bridge crew trained on him, drawing out the moments until McCoy decided he had said his piece and stormed back to the turbolift, prompting their audience to return to their duties as well. Ensign Chekov, who never seemed to know when to keep his head down, shot Spock a last glance. Spock raised his eyebrow, and then even the frequently oblivious Chekov seemed to pick up on the gravity of the situation and swiftly turned back to his controls.

“Maintain course, Mr. Sulu,” Spock said unnecessarily, and when it had been long enough since his and McCoy’s altercation that he felt his retreat from the bridge would not be interpreted as a reaction to that event, Spock stood up and headed for his quarters.

*

The specifics of McCoy’s accusations were baseless, but the heart of them, the thing that made them reverberate around Spock’s head for hours after he left the bridge, was the fact of Spock’s inadequacy as a First Officer. If he had been a better one, Jim wouldn’t be stranded.

They shouldn’t have even approached the planet, and Spock had done his best to talk Jim out of it. On their way they’d encountered a warning buoy adrift in space that informed them in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome on Hoda V, and that to proceed on their course would be considered an act of aggression.

Spock succeeded in convincing Jim to contact Starfleet before ignoring the warning, but his victory was short-lived when the Enterprise was instructed to continue in their attempts to make contact with the planet. No reasons were given for this course of action, but Spock suspected it had something to do with abundant deposits of dilithium.

So they had proceeded, and as they approached Hoda V they were hailed by an alien who informed them, unsurprisingly, that they were to be destroyed. Jim’s inexplicably reliable diplomacy convinced the Hodan to delay their attack and discuss the potential for relations on the condition that Jim and Jim alone beam down to the planet to participate in the discussion. Spock had not trusted the Hodan, and told Jim as much.

“Relax, Mr. Spock,” Jim had said, one hand on Spock’s shoulder in what must have been meant as a comforting gesture. “The Enterprise will remain in orbit. You keep her ready to go and at the first sign of trouble I’ll call for a beam up and we’ll be gone.”

“Captain,” Spock had insisted, “could we not perhaps discuss the matter with Starfleet-”

Jim cut him off. “What’s gotten into you Spock?” he said, in a blessedly low voice so that the rest of the bridge crew would not hear. “I can’t call Starfleet about every decision I have to make. We need to establish relations with Hoda V. I’m the captain, and this is the call I’m making. Will you follow orders?”

“Of course, captain,” Spock replied.

Less than an hour later they were informed by the same Hodan who had invited Jim to the planet that he was now their prisoner, and that if the Enterprise left Hodan space immediately he would be kept alive, and that if it did not, they would all be destroyed. Spock had no doubt they would make good on that threat, and upon Mr. Scott’s confirmation that he was unable to beam the captain back up to the ship, he’d ordered their retreat, telling himself that the Hodan’s promise not to kill Jim had sounded genuine, and hoping that a retreat would allow the Enterprise crew time to develop and enact a rescue plan.

Jim would’ve made fun of him for operating on a hope.

The thing that bothered Spock the most was that this was hardly the first time something like this had happened to Jim, and Spock had read all the signs. He had known it was a mistake for Jim to go down to that planet, but he had allowed it to happen anyway.

What else would you have done, asked the logical part of him, and the part of him that was, although he did not like to admit it, feeling quite bereft said take over the helm, jump the ship away, hold Jim hostage in his quarters, hold Jim hostage in my quarters, anything, court martialable offense or not, anything that would’ve prevented this.

So despite what McCoy might think, he did not want command, but Spock felt the doctor was right that Jim would be better served by a First Officer who could do more for their captain than dash away when the situation got complicated.

He spent such a great deal of time pretending to himself that he was working on a rescue plan as he sat consumed in this stew of self-admonition that he was actually relieved when McCoy came to his quarters.

“Spock,” McCoy began when he entered, then stalled. Spock remained seated at his desk, because although he was glad for a break from his thoughts, he was not inclined under any circumstances to allow Leonard McCoy the knowledge that his presence was welcome, and he was especially reluctant to allow it when he’d been rebuked by the doctor in front of the entire bridge crew not three hours before. McCoy, for his part, remained close to the door and held himself as if he might need to make a quick escape at any moment; a stance he often adopted when speaking to Spock.

The doctor folded his hands behind his back and bounced on the balls of his feet, another gesture he made so frequently and in such varied circumstances that Spock had long categorized it as a subconscious reaction to strong emotion of any sort. McCoy looked up at Spock, then at the floor, then at the door before he spoke again.

“I didn’t mean it,” he finally managed. “What I said on the bridge. I know we couldn’t help Jim by staying there. I was just. Well. I was upset.” McCoy looked down again as he said this, as if it were an admission of something Spock was not already aware of. When he looked back up he held Spock’s gaze for the first time since he entered the room.

“I’m sorry, is what I’m saying,” he finished, and then left just as quickly as he’d arrived, without waiting for Spock to say anything back.

*

Less than an hour later Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Chief Engineer Scott gathered to report their situation to Starfleet.

Starfleet was eager to return to Hoda V, although whether for the purpose of rescuing Captain Kirk or in the continued interest of gaining rights to mine dilithium, Spock could not tell. But they lost significant goodwill on the Enterprise when Admiral Lester suggested that theirs should not be the ship to make the next trip to the planet.

“What do you mean you’re sending someone else?” McCoy demanded.

“We do not believe this mission should be entrusted to the Enterprise,” Lester stated bluntly. “She has a fine crew, but that crew has a habit of making rash decisions when faced with the loss of one of their own, especially their captain. Your loyalty to Captain Kirk is appreciated, but I’m afraid it also makes Starfleet inclined to assign other ships the task of retrieving him.”

“You can’t do that!” Mr. Scott insisted, and McCoy gave a curt nod of agreement.

“He can,” Spock interjected before Lester could say something else callous and, turning to face the viewscreen, added “and we will of course obey whatever new orders you have for us, Admiral.”

“Thank you Mr. Spock,” Lester said, and Spock yet again felt all eyes in the room boring into him, and was not sure whether it was better or worse that it was two sets instead of twenty.

“The Enterprise will continue on the course she was pursuing before seeking out Hoda V,” Lester said. “I believe she is meant to make a medical supply run to Capella Prime.”

Scott and McCoy seemed to have been stunned into silence by this unprecedented direction, and Spock felt certain he was as glad of that as Admiral Lester was.

“Starfleet will keep you updated with regards to the condition of your captain,” Lester continued “but, for now, you are in command Mr. Spock. Or should I say captain?”

Spock wished he wouldn’t.

“Those are your orders gentlemen,” Lester said, “see that you follow them.”

When the viewscreen went dark, McCoy and Mr. Scott found their voices again.

“He can’t do this!” Mr. Scott exclaimed, as if reiterating it might make it true.

“What the devil is this all about?” McCoy asked, and Spock did not know why that question should be directed at him, but McCoy’s piercing gaze suggested that it was.

“Since when can a starship not go after its own captain?” McCoy said, still directing his inquiry at Spock.

“There are precedents,” Spock began, and was interrupted.

“Not like this,” McCoy said, “not when anyone else could be assigned to make that supply run. Not when we’re all willing and able to take on the mission.”

Spock knew that McCoy did not have the practical knowledge of Starfleet history to back up this claim, but Spock did, and it bothered him that McCoy was right. Their treatment was, as far as he was aware, unique.

“I’m right aren’t I?” McCoy said.

“I have not heard of this exact situation before,” Spock conceded, and McCoy and Mr. Scott both sighed and shared a frustrated glance.

“So what are we going to do?” McCoy asked after a moment of heavy silence among the three of them.

“We will follow our orders,” Spock said, and was out the door before McCoy could again make him the focus of his anger.

*

Spock did not avoid the doctor’s wrath for long.

McCoy must have taken off after him as soon as he got over his shock at Spock’s last words, because he was in Spock’s quarters again mere seconds after Spock made it back there himself.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he shouted, and Spock was glad he had not decided to return to the bridge and invite a repeat of their earlier altercation.

“What is it you think is wrong with me, doctor?”

“Where to start!” McCoy exclaimed. “First you leave Jim behind, now you aren’t going to go back for him?”

“We have our orders, doctor.”

“Damn our orders! If you’re really going to leave Jim to rot and die on that planet-”

“Of course I am not going to do that,” Spock said.

McCoy cut himself off and waited for Spock to continue.

“I wish to retrieve Captain Kirk as much as you do,” Spock said, “but at present we have no idea how we should go about it. Our knowledge of the situation is severely limited, and if we were to return now we would be in no better position to help the captain than we were when we left the planet.”

McCoy said nothing and averted his gaze.

“There is some information on Hoda V and the system it is a part of in our database,” Spock continued. “I do not believe there is much, but I intend to begin my attempts to develop a rescue plan there. I welcome any help you would like to provide, doctor.”

McCoy now looked thoroughly cowed.

“I’ll help any way I can, captain,” he said, and although Spock was rapidly going from being ambivalent about the title to actively despising it, when McCoy used it he found he didn’t mind it.

*

Spock had expected the information available to them regarding Hoda V to be limited, but the files turned out to be so sparse that he reviewed them all in ten minutes.

That its inhabitants were at least somewhat technologically advanced was obvious given the interaction the Enterprise had had with them, and the ship’s records were not able to tell Spock much more than that. They were capable of space travel but did not seem to engage in it with any frequency. They resisted any sort of sustained contact with outsiders. Pictures of their planet recorded by a starship from orbit some forty years ago showed what appeared to be sizable settlements throughout the main continent, but the outdated technology did not produce very clear images at that distance, and it was hard to glean any details about the places depicted.

After making three passes through the files Spock sat back in his desk chair, hands steepled in front of his face, and admitted to himself that he was going to find nothing useful.

He also had to admit that he had been putting off giving new orders to the crew until he knew for certain what those orders should be, and that now he was going to have to return to the bridge and tell them that they must all abandon Captain Kirk.

He was rubbing his temples when Dr. McCoy returned.

“You’ve seen them?” he said when he entered, and Spock, who would normally press McCoy for specifics at every opportunity whether he required them or not, simply nodded.

“So you didn’t find it helpful either,” McCoy said. Spock did not feel a response was necessary.

Another heavy silence descended on the room until McCoy broke it by asking, “So, what now?”

Spock lowered his hands from his face and stared at his blank computer screen for lack of a better point of focus. When he sensed that McCoy was about to repeat his question, he said, “I do not know.”

McCoy was silent for a moment. Then, for the first time on any of his many visits to Spock’s quarters that day, he moved further into the room and stood next to Spock.

And put his hand on Spock’s shoulder.

Spock looked at McCoy’s hand, then at his face, and although the doctor was not smiling there was kindness in his eyes.

“If anyone can figure something out, Spock, it’s you,” McCoy said.

Spock found himself completely unequipped to respond to the genuine compliment and unable to maintain McCoy’s gaze. He wished quite suddenly for the doctor to leave, but he could not bring himself to be rude in response to this unprecedented display of support. In the end his competing impulses paralyzed him for so long that he feared he made McCoy feel slighted anyway, as the doctor removed his hand from Spock’s shoulder and took a step back.

But when he spoke, his voice was still soft and kind.

“Have you figured out what you’re going to tell the crew?”

Spock shook his head.

“Maybe I can help with that,” McCoy offered, and although Spock was certain there was no combination of words in any language that could stave off the imminent indignation of their shipmates, he said, “Thank you, Dr. McCoy. I would appreciate that.”

*

The resistance to their new orders was, as expected, intense and swiftly expressed.

When Spock announced that they would be proceeding to Starbase 12 and Capella Prime, the uproar on the bridge was so immediate that Spock was certain its first notes were broadcast throughout the ship before he was able to take his finger off the comm button.

Everyone spoke over each other for several minutes, which was almost a relief for Spock, since it meant he did not have to be accountable to any single voice asking questions he could not give satisfactory answers to.

But his lack of response brought them all in a tight circle around the captain’s chair, and the longer he went without saying anything the more they protested, until finally one voice rose above the din.

“That’s enough!” Dr. McCoy shouted, and the crew fell silent.

“Would you all argue with Jim like this?” McCoy asked, and out of the corner of his eye Spock saw Uhura and Sulu look down at their feet.

“There will be a rescue mission, we just won’t be on it,” the doctor continued, “and none of us like it any more than you all do. Everything any of you have to say has already been dismissed by Starfleet Command. So unless you’re planning to mutiny, I suggest you all get back to your posts and get us on course for Starbase 12.”

For a brief moment Spock was not certain if they were going to listen, but the moment passed and a chastened crew all began to shuffle back to their stations.

Sulu returned to the helm and said over his shoulder, “Plotting course sir.” The way he aimed the statement, it was hard to tell who it was meant for.

*

It was a long trip to Starbase 12 - another insult to the entire crew, that they would not even be permitted to stay in the vicinity of their captain - and the days of straightforward space travel ahead of them meant there was little hands-on captaining required of Spock.

He spent most of his abundant free time in his quarters staring at the useless files on Hoda V. It was illogical, he knew, to expect that he would find anything new, but it was unthinkable to stop trying.

It was also a welcome distraction from the unfamiliar cocktail of emotions he was experiencing.

Spock had always kept his feelings closely guarded, first because of the oddity their expression would have made him on Vulcan, and then because he discovered the expectation of his stoicism did not disappear beyond the strictures of his home planet. While the common knowledge that he was half-human made him a permanent curiosity regardless of his behavior, it seemed either his upbringing or his distinctly Vulcan appearance instilled a specific assumption of that behavior in everyone he met, not just other Vulcans.

Until the start of the five-year mission, Spock would’ve said these were his only reasons for acting the way he did. He still insisted to himself that this was the extent of his reasoning most of the time. But sometimes, when he allowed himself to be more honest, he knew that in the last few years he had acquired a new motivation.

Dr. McCoy was the most human human that Spock had ever met. He was deeply emotional, extremely passionate, and highly irrational. He led with his heart in all situations, and Spock’s Vulcan allegiance to logic had irritated him from the moment they met. And for some reason, McCoy’s reaction to him had always evoked in Spock a need to double-down on his performance of severity. The colder he appeared, the more he upset McCoy, and so they had existed in a constant state of opposition since Jim had first introduced them.

It had not taken long, however, for it to become, at least for Spock, more of a playful antagonism than a genuine conflict. It amused him to respond to McCoy’s outbursts with calm reason, and to watch his response only heighten the doctor’s emotional state. There were times that he felt certain it was the same for McCoy; that they were both dialing up their personalities for the benefit of the other, playing a game that they were both aware was just that. But as much as Spock considered himself an excellent student of human behavior, there were occasions where he could not tell if McCoy was enjoying their banter or if he actually could not stand Spock. He had never been certain whether the doctor considered him a friend who was sometimes irritating or a nuisance who was sometimes amusing.

The moments that fell outside their usual interaction only served to further muddy the waters, and the events that had transpired since they’d left the captain were compounding his difficulty.

What Spock would never tell Dr. McCoy was that he was very in tune with his emotions. He just managed them logically. And when they threatened to overwhelm him, he corralled them in an orderly fashion until they no longer had any power.

This was what he was attempting to do as he stared at the forty-year-old images of Hoda V. He catalogued each thing he was feeling and arrived at the logical response to it. His sadness and fear regarding the captain would not help the situation, so they were dismissed. His concerns about his adequacy as a commanding officer were not likely to improve his performance, so not worth dwelling on either. His confusion regarding Dr. McCoy - well.

It had surprised him when McCoy had taken charge on the bridge. Usually when he saw Spock floundering he let it happen, or even encouraged it; he rather unsurprisingly loved to see Spock squirm. And he had made it no secret that were it up to him he would not have made any of the choices Spock had made thus far in his stint as captain of the Enterprise. Despite this, when he had seen Spock losing control of the situation, he had not prolonged his discomfort; he had alleviated it. He had defended Spock’s leadership to the crew. And when they left the bridge together, he had not made any snide comments in the turbolift about his rescue of Spock; if anything, he had seemed reserved, almost embarrassed. It was puzzling from every angle.

Later, long after Spock had lost track of time, when the doctor personally delivered a meal to Spock’s quarters and ordered him to eat it with none of the gruffness that usually accompanied orders he knew Spock may need to be forced to follow, he only gave Spock another piece that did not seem to fit the puzzle.

*

That the ship ran smoothly with only his occasional input did nothing to increase Spock’s confidence in his leadership, but it did provide him with ample opportunity to sit in his quarters and try committedly - not desperately - to find a way for the Enterprise to help Captain Kirk. Starfleet had dispatched two starships to Hoda V with the intention of negotiating with the Hodans for his release (and, Spock did not doubt, the release of some dilithium), but given the interaction that had resulted in the captain’s capture in the first place, Spock had little faith that the other crews would have any more success than the Enterprise had. They needed some sort of leverage if there was to be any hope of Jim returning to them alive.

During the long days Spock spent sequestered in his quarters, he received frequent visits from Dr. McCoy. Many were attempts to get Spock to eat or rest, but most involved the doctor lingering for some time, asking Spock if he’d found anything even though he knew the answer, or sitting in a silence that was at first awkward but became more comfortable the more times they occupied it.

Eventually McCoy brought datapads of his own work and sat across from Spock while he did it, sometimes for several hours. His visits became so regular that sometimes they greeted each other only with nods, then settled into their own activities. Very occasionally McCoy would ask Spock’s opinion on something or make a light-hearted comment about whatever he was working on and look up to share an amused glance, but for the most part they enjoyed each other's' silent company.

Spock enjoyed it, at least, and he had to assume that McCoy did as well, considering that he kept coming back without Spock ever once asking him to. In fact, around the time that they made their rendezvous at Starbase 12 and set their course for Capella Prime, McCoy’s visits seemed to grow longer and stretch later into the night, often ending with him making himself a drink from Spock’s replicator and sipping it slowly down before rising and wishing Spock a good night as he left. When this had been going on for long enough that Spock was not overly worried that he would jeopardize it by acknowledging it out loud, he asked McCoy if this was a routine he used to have with Jim.

“No,” McCoy said over his glass of bourbon, and Spock felt an odd sensation in his stomach as the doctor maintained eye contact with him and drank the last of it down.

*

Spock was aware that he spent far less time on the bridge than Jim did when he was in command, but he had always assumed that this was not a problem for anyone. The crew could handle themselves, and he felt like his time was better spent on his, admittedly, increasingly futile, quest to find some way to get their true captain back. He operated under the belief that his command was going smoothly until one day when he and Dr. McCoy were walking down a corridor together and passed by an ensign who occasionally served on the bridge - Trenton, Spock recalled as they came upon him.

Trenton was talking to a yeoman Spock had only seen a few times before, and apparently the pair were as unfamiliar with him as he was with them, because they did not seem to realize that his Vulcan ears allowed him to hear quite plainly their whispered jeers as they passed. “So the waste of an officer is still here,” Trenton said to the yeoman, who replied, “I can’t understand why they haven’t replaced him,” and although their disrespect shocked Spock, he fully intended to let it go.

But Dr. McCoy stopped and turned on the pair, and Spock realized perhaps one hadn’t needed Vulcan hearing to pick up on their comments.

“What was that ensign?” McCoy demanded, and when the pair stopped and turned around Spock saw that they did not look as worried as they should have been about being caught in their insubordination.

Trenton, in fact, took a step toward them and replied at a conversational volume, “I said, I’m surprised this appalling excuse for a First Officer is still here.” He stared Spock down as he said it, smirking openly, and although Spock held his ground and did not look away, he had no idea how he should respond.

It turned out that his hesitation did not matter, as apparently McCoy had taken it upon himself once again to speak for him.

“Actually, ensign,” the doctor said, “he’s your captain, and he could have you thrown in the brig right now for any part of what you just said, so would you like to reconsider that statement?”

Trenton was apparently not to be discouraged.

“He wouldn’t,” the bold youth insisted, his focus still on Spock.

McCoy’s voice was quieter and deeper when he spoke again, and his tone was so severe and weighed down with contempt that even Spock felt somewhat admonished by it, despite not being the recipient of the doctor’s ire.

“He might not,” McCoy conceded, “but I’m this ship’s Chief Medical Officer and I outrank you several times over and I can promise you, ensign, that I would.”

For the first time, Trenton shifted his focus to McCoy, and his face fell as he did. Although Spock could not see his companion’s expression, he could imagine quite clearly the piercing gaze the young man was certainly receiving.

“I asked you if you’d like to reconsider, ensign,” McCoy said, and by now all the swagger had gone out of Trenton’s stance, and he all but cowered before the doctor.

“Yes, sir,” he said, standing up straight and looking at the floor, “you’re right sir, I’m sorry sir.”

“It’s not me you owe an apology to,” McCoy said, and Trenton sighed as if it pained him, but he looked up at Spock and said, “I’m sorry, captain.”

“Very well, ensign,” Spock replied, and when both Trenton and the yeoman continued to hover awkwardly as if they were frozen in place, Spock added, “Dismissed.”

The pair jogged away down the corridor, and Spock and McCoy watched them go. Out of the corner of his eye, Spock noticed McCoy bouncing. After the crewmembers disappeared around a corner, Spock turned to McCoy.

“Thank you, doctor,” he said.

“Don’t mention it, Spock,” McCoy said, “these kids have to be put in their place sometimes. I did that for me as much as for you.”

Spock did not want an argument, so he allowed the matter to rest. But as he and the doctor continued on their own way down the corridor, he found himself questioning the sincerity of McCoy’s dismissal.

*

Spock did not want to acknowledge that the encounter with Ensign Trenton had any effect on him, but he found himself compelled to be more of a hands-on captain in the days that followed. Although it pained him to feel so unproductive, he tried to spend some time each day sitting in the captain’s chair giving the occasional unnecessary order and letting the bridge crew see him signing requisition forms and duty rosters.

As he made this his habit, he found that Dr. McCoy often came to the bridge as well, spending his time walking around chatting with the crew or standing next to Spock at the captain’s chair with no obvious intention other than to be present. And when Spock left, McCoy almost always left with him, often following him back to his quarters and sitting down with him as if he’d been invited.

One evening after they’d returned to Spock’s quarters from the bridge, for the first time since their companionship had become an unspoken constant, McCoy asked Spock what he was working on. Spock looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“I am attempting to uncover any information that might allow us to mount our own rescue mission for the captain,” Spock answered.

McCoy, who’d just started on his evening’s bourbon, paused with the glass halfway to his lips.

“Still?” he replied, and Spock raised his eyebrow higher.

“Of course. I have never stopped attempting to find a way to help the captain. Did you think I had abandoned him?”

“No,” McCoy said immediately, “of course not. I just thought…” He trailed off. Spock waited.

“Starfleet is working on it,” McCoy said, “and we both know there’s next to nothing on that planet in the database, and certainly nothing useful. Have you really been staring at those files for weeks?”

Spock said nothing.

McCoy looked at his drink, then downed the significant amount remaining in a single gulp. He set his empty glass on Spock’s desk and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“Spock,” he said, “you know you make a fine starship captain.”

“My effectiveness as the commander of this vessel is not at issue,” Spock said, keeping his focus firmly on his computer screen.

“Is it not?” McCoy asked, and Spock found himself realizing how long it had been since he’d been truly frustrated with the doctor as the feeling returned with some force.

“It is not,” Spock insisted, “I simply intend, as I always have, to do everything I can to help the captain while it is possible to do so. I did not realize you had given up on him, doctor.”

The indignant reaction Spock expected for that comment seemed to come and pass without McCoy voicing it. Spock saw him jerk back, his eyes wide and his lips pressed together in a firm line, but just as quickly his features softened again in an unprecedented display of emotional control.

“You know I haven’t,” he said, “I just thought, given what we have to work with, it might be best to carry on with our jobs and let Starfleet handle things this time.”

“I am surprised to hear you say that, doctor,” Spock said. “In the past you have always displayed unfailing loyalty to the captain, to the point of refusing to follow the orders of anyone else. I assumed we were both of the mind that there could be no ‘carrying on’, as you say, until we had Captain Kirk back with us.”

McCoy picked up his empty glass again and swirled the last persistent drop of liquid around the bottom as he spoke.

“I don’t refuse to follow everyone else’s orders,” he said.

Spock had not expected this to be the direction McCoy took the conversation, and he had nothing to say in response.

“I’m happy to follow your orders, for example.”

Spock raised both his eyebrows as high as they could go, and McCoy looked up from his glass in time to see the action and snorted a laugh.

“Okay, not always,” he admitted. “I just mean. You’re a good and worthy captain. I know you don’t want to be one. I didn’t mean that when I said it.”

Spock was surprised that McCoy apparently remembered that specific attack on his character as clearly as he did.

“I know you want Jim back because you hate being captain as much as you want him back just to have him back,” McCoy said. “And don’t say you don’t hate it, or you’re indifferent to it or whatever. You hate it.” He met Spock’s gaze, challenging him to argue. Spock did not.

“But I guess I just want you to know that I think you do a fine job. And as long as we can’t have Jim, everyone should consider themselves lucky to have you. And you don’t have to punish yourself for not being him.”

McCoy returned his gaze to his glass and seemed to be making a point not to look up again. Spock noticed that the tips of his ears were red.

“I assure you that is not what I am doing, doctor.”

Spock once again expected an argument that did not come. McCoy set his glass down for a second time and made to stand up from his chair.

“I should go,” he said, a statement of intent he had never made before that gave his departure a weight it did not usually carry. It set off a small panic in Spock. He felt like something had shifted between them, or perhaps like they had completed a journey they had been on for some time without realizing it, or perhaps like they were nearing the end of that journey but had taken a sudden detour that threatened to get them lost forever in the weeds. And although he wished he could take the time to analyze this change and his feelings about it, he was certain that if he let McCoy walk out of the room he would be losing a moment that they might not get back.

“Doctor-” Spock began, but despite his conviction that it was vitally important that he keep McCoy from leaving, he did not know what he could say to make him stay.

Tension hung between them for a moment, broken by McCoy saying, “You should get some rest, Spock.”

“I am fine, doctor,” Spock insisted, almost an automatic reaction to McCoy giving him anything that even vaguely resembled medical advice.

“Don’t start with me, Spock,” McCoy said, and Spock had to stop himself from smiling at the familiar tone. As much as he was certain they were in uncharted territory, it seemed they had not left behind all the things he relied on.

“I am fine,” Spock repeated, now intentionally goading McCoy. “I wish to spend some more time with these files.”

“You’ve already spent more time with them than anyone in the right mind ever should,” McCoy said, “and they’ll still be there tomorrow. Now do I have to stay to make sure you sleep tonight?”

Spock felt light-headed. He was behaving rashly, taking a mostly uncalculated risk, and his every instinct told him not to but some other, overpowering part of him told him he must.

“You do not have to stay, doctor,” Spock said. McCoy looked at him for a minute, then turned toward the door.

“You do not have to stay,” Spock repeated, glad to see McCoy stop at his voice, “but… if you were to stay, your presence would not be unwelcome.”

Well. Perhaps not the clearest invitation he could have given, but he could see from the half of McCoy’s face still visible to him that he had gotten his point across.

“Okay,” McCoy said as he slowly turned back around, “maybe I’ll stay then.”

And although Spock knew he was providing the doctor with ample material to use against him the next time he insisted he was not troubled by petty human emotions, he could not keep himself from smiling.

*

Acknowledging that there was something new between them was easier than acting on it, and that first night that McCoy stayed in Spock’s quarters was not entirely comfortable for either of them. For one thing, McCoy had only his uniform to wear and, perhaps because he had the same fear as Spock - that if he left the room they would not get this opportunity again - he made no move to go back to his own quarters for something more comfortable. Because of this, Spock did not change his clothes either, and they both laid down on his bed in all but the boots of their uniforms.

Spock settled onto his back and rested his hands over his torso. McCoy looked down at him from where he sat on the other side of the bed, then adopted more or less the same position. After a moment he said, “Oh hell,” and turned rather forcefully onto his side and leaned up on his elbow, facing Spock.

“Do you want me here, Spock?”

“I believe I made that clear,” Spock said, without meeting his eyes.

McCoy chuckled. “As clear as you ever would, I guess,” he allowed. “Like this though?”

Spock was quiet for a moment. “What did you have in mind?”

McCoy sighed and looked away briefly, then reached for Spock’s hands, but stopped just short of touching him.

“Is something the matter, doctor?” Spock asked when he remained frozen in place for several seconds.

“First of all, I think it can be Leonard now,” McCoy said, and Spock felt himself flush. “Second,” McCoy continued, “I just… hands.”

Spock waited for more, but that seemed to be the extent of the explanation.

“Doc- Leonard?” he asked, forcing the name out as if it were a word in a language he was only just learning.

“Vulcans and hands,” McCoy said, and despite the enormous amount of anxiety Spock was dealing with he found the capacity to be amused at how inarticulate the doctor had become.

“I don’t want to. Be too forward.” McCoy said finally, and Spock was going to have to get his human impulse to smile under control if this was going to continue. He fought back his amusement and raised his left hand.

“It’s all right, d- Leonard,” he stumbled again. “You won’t be.”

McCoy looked at him for another moment without moving, then raised his own left hand to meet Spock’s.

McCoy was still cautious, only barely brushing their fingers together, so Spock took the initiative this time and interlaced their fingers, earning a surprised look.

“Am I being too forward, doctor?” he asked, and hoped that McCoy knew that now he was using his title to tease. It seemed that he did, because he broke out in a grin and squeezed Spock’s hand, and Spock stopped himself from sighing.

McCoy, still grinning, brought their joined hands to rest over Spock’s chest and laid his head next to Spock’s on the pillow.

“Not too forward at all, Mr. Spock,” he said into his ear, and Spock finally allowed himself a smile.

*

They were awoken by a red alert.

Spock jumped up faster than McCoy, accidentally slammed his shoulder into McCoy’s forehead, and apologized as he shoved on his boots. McCoy, always professional when the situation called for it, told him never mind as he pulled his boots on as well.

They hurried out into the corridor and were met with a flurry of activity. Uhura was running by as they emerged, and when she saw them she spared them a brief, confused glance, and Spock realized that they had just left his quarters together at what must be a very unusual hour. He filed this away as something to worry about when they were not in imminent danger.

“Situation, Lieutenant?” he asked as they fell in with Uhura on their way to the bridge.

“I don’t know sir,” she said, “I wasn’t on duty. But on my way here I heard an ensign say something about Klingons.”

Klingons. Spock shouldn’t have been surprised. They were just over halfway to Capella Prime, which was quite close to Klingon territory, and quite far from most other Federation outposts. It would be an ideal place for the Klingons to make a move against the Federation, and if some sort of attack was in the works, preventing the Enterprise from reaching the planet would only increase the odds of a Klingon victory.

When they reached the bridge Spock made his way to the captain’s chair and McCoy took up a position beside him. There were three Klingon Birds of Prey on the viewscreen.

“There are two more on either side of us, captain,” Chekov informed Spock, “They have not fired, but they have surrounded us.”

Uhura took her seat at the communications array and Spock ordered her to raise the lead Klingon ship.

He was not expecting to be permitted a conversation, but the ship responded to their hail.

“I am Kahmoc,” said the Klingon captain.

“I am Spock, acting captain of the Enterprise.”

“Where is Kirk?” Kahmoc asked.

“I hardly think that is the most pressing issue at the moment,” Spock replied. “I would rather we start with why you have intercepted us.”

“We cannot allow you to make your delivery to Capella Prime.”

“I thought you might say that,” Spock said. “But I must warn you that to attack us or disable us in any way may well be considered an act of war by the Federation. We are on a peaceful mission.”

“Ha!” Kahmoc laughed, and Spock tilted his head in what he hoped the captain understood as a gesture of confusion.

“Capella Prime is not a peaceful place,” Kahmoc said, “so how can your mission to support them be peaceful?”

Spock paused before responding.

“I am not sure what you mean,” he said at last. “Capella Prime is a Federation outpost. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are not at war. How can Capella Prime be anything other than peaceful?”

“Ask that question of the Capellan raiders who have attacked four Klingon ships this month!” Kahmoc exclaimed, and Spock had several uncomfortable thoughts all at once, but pushed them aside for the time being.

“I assure you that the Federation does not condone that activity,” he said.

“They have done nothing to stop it!” Kahmoc insisted, and Spock suspected that this was true, but added it to the list of things to be pursued when the danger to the Enterprise had passed.

“I am sure the Federation is taking this seriously,” he lied, “but I will admit to you that this is the first I have heard of it, and I am sorry for your losses.”

Kahmoc said nothing, so Spock continued.

“If I may make a suggestion,” he said. “If you allow us to make our delivery, I will take whatever message you wish to the Federation, including any requests related to repayment for the ships the Empire has lost.”

Spock paused.

“Go on,” Kahmoc said.

“In exchange,” Spock said, “you cease all military operations currently underway related to this issue.”

Kahmoc laughed, but Spock had expected no less.

“It is clear you are not as experienced as your Captain Kirk,” Kahmoc said. “Klingons do not retreat from a fight!”

“Klingons also do not attack enemies who cannot fight back,” Spock said.

Kahmoc’s smile faded. “I fail to see the relevance of that,” he said, “as neither Capella Prime nor your starship is without defenses.”

“You are wrong about that,” Spock said, and he was grateful that McCoy had the sense not to express the confusion he was certainly feeling, given that any move he made may well have shown up on the Klingon viewscreen.

“Explain,” Kahmoc said.

Spock allowed himself a deep breath and the thought that if they survived this encounter, Jim was never going to believe what he’d done.

“Among the supplies we are carrying is a treatment for a rare form of Rigelian fever. The properties of this medication interfere with the function of our weapons firing systems. Because of this, while we carry these supplies, the Enterprise is quite unarmed.”

Kahmoc narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t believe you,” he said, and McCoy, to Spock’s surprise, jumped in.

“It’s true,” he said, leaning in to ensure he was visible in the viewscreen. “There are minerals in the water on Capella Prime that we’ve learned can cause a mutation of the Rigelian fever, and there’s a specific type of radiation needed to treat it. It isn’t a big problem yet, but if we don’t make it there on time we could have a serious outbreak on our hands.”

“Aye,” came a voice from behind them, and Spock and McCoy both turned to see Mr. Scott walking toward the captain’s chair. “And the radiation plays havoc with our systems. The dynamic radiation interference matrix is shot to hell with this aboard, and the only way to compensate with the rest of our systems is to disable our weaponry. We’ve got nothing right now.”

Spock made a mental note to get Mr. Scott a drink later. He turned back to face Kahmoc.

“So you see,” he said, “we are in no way capable of offering you a fair fight. I feel it would be most prudent to allow us to complete our journey, and in exchange for your honorable behavior, I will intercede with the Federation on behalf of the Klingon Empire.”

Kahmoc stared silently for several more seconds, then looked behind him and gave a quick order in Klingon.

“We are scanning your ship,” Kahmoc reported, “and we will be able to tell if your weapons are operational. If you are telling the truth, you will be free to go. But if you are lying…”

“I understand,” Spock said, and hoped that along with being an excellent actor, Mr. Scott had had the foresight to manually disable the weapons.

The bridge was silent for several tense moments while Kahmoc remained on the viewscreen waiting for a report from his lieutenant. When the lieutenant returned, Spock tried to look like he was not holding his breath.

“We have seen that your weapons are non-functioning,” Kahmoc said. Spock decided he had to provide Mr. Scott with drinks for a week.

“We will allow you to proceed, and give you a message to deliver to Starfleet Command.”

“We will be pleased to do it,” Spock said, and instructed Uhura to record the Klingon’s demands.

When the communication ended and the Enterprise and the Birds of Prey were all on their way again, Spock finally allowed himself to turn to face McCoy, and was rewarded with the doctor’s biggest grin.

“That was amazing Spock!” he exclaimed. “You pulled that outta nowhere!”

“It would have been for nought if Mr. Scott had not shut down the weapons systems,” Spock said, turning to face him. “Well done, engineer.”

“Thank you, sir!” Scotty said, standing up straight and smiling wide. In fact, everyone on the bridge was smiling, no doubt as a side effect of the intense relief of realizing they were going to escape. Spock turned his chair back to the front and addressed Sulu.

“Maintain course for Capella Prime, helmsman,” he ordered, and Sulu met his eyes and smiled.

“Aye aye, sir,” he said, and there was no doubt who he was addressing.

*

When Spock left the bridge, McCoy followed him into the turbolift.

“I can’t believe it, Spock,” he said, and he really sounded like he could not. “I had no idea Vulcans could lie like that.”

“I am half human,” Spock reminded him with a reserved smile, “and I learned from the best.”

“You certainly did,” McCoy agreed, “but I daresay you might’ve one-upped him with that one.”

Spock smiled a little bigger.

His face fell when the turbolift stopped.

He had taken them to a conference room where they could contact Starfleet. He intended to keep his promise to pass along the Klingons’ demands, and he had some questions he would like answered for himself.

Spock was passed among several low-level bureaucrats several times before he convinced anyone to put him through to Admiral Lester, but eventually he had the admiral onscreen.

“This better be good, Spock,” Lester said.

“I do not know about ‘good’,” Spock said, “but I think you will want to hear it.”

When Spock explained the situation with the Klingons, Lester did not visibly react.

“It sounds as though you handled yourself well, Spock. Congratulations. As for the Klingon demands, I hardly see why we should repay them for the acts of renegades. But since you promised my attention to the matter, I will look into it.”

“I believe you should, Admiral,” Spock said, “And when you do, perhaps you will be able to answer some questions that both the Klingons and I have about the situation.”

Lester and McCoy both stared at Spock.

“What are you implying, Mr. Spock?” Lester asked.

“I am implying nothing,” Spock said, “however, it is curious to me that the Federation has not apparently done more to put a stop to activity that could easily start a war. Capella Prime has a small population, and it is hard to believe that these attacks could occur repeatedly without anyone being able to stop them or identify the perpetrators.”

“It’s not that simple,” Lester said.

“Perhaps it is not,” Spock said, “But there is something else odd about the situation. When Captain Kirk was captured, you were quite adamant that the Enterprise not be involved in his rescue.”

“I explained my reasoning-” the admiral began, but Spock cut him off.

“You did, and I accepted it at the time. But I wonder now whether your insistence on our course of action had more to do with ensuring that we would be here, performing this mission, as originally intended.”

“Be careful, Spock,” Lester said, no longer hiding his agitation, “you have no right to speak to me this way-”

“Because you see, Admiral,” Spock continued, “Kahmoc knew that we were carrying supplies for Capella Prime. Now, it would be logical for him to assume that that was our destination, given our current location and trajectory, but how did he know we were making a delivery?”

Lester said nothing, but his eyes widened almost imperceptibly.

“The way I see it,” Spock said, “one of two things is occurring. Either there is a Klingon spy in your midst who informed on our movements without your knowledge, or, and given your reactions to events thus far I think the second scenario far more likely, there is a double-agent in the Klingons’ midst who informed on our movements at your behest so that we would be attacked and the Klingons caught in an act of violence against the Federation, providing you an excuse to reinforce Capella Prime’s defenses and perhaps establish more colonies nearer to Klingon space, under the guise of protecting existing Federation assets.”

Lester had gone bright red.

“I see that I am correct,” Spock said. “In which case, I would like to add a demand of my own to those communicated by the Klingons. Allow the Enterprise to rescue Captain Kirk.”

Lester did not immediately respond. Finally he looked down from the viewscreen and said, “Very well. But complete your mission first.”

“No,” Spock said. Lester looked up again.

“You know as well as I do, Admiral, that nothing we are currently carrying is desperately needed on Capella Prime. If we change our course back to Hoda V from our current position, it should take us about a week to get there, then another week to get to Capella Prime after that. We should still get to Hoda V a few days ahead of the starships you have sent. If you recall them now they will not have wasted too much time.”

“If you allow them to complete their mission it will mean only a few more days waiting for Captain Kirk,” Lester shot back.

“And rescue by a group of people that are not his crew, and an unknown additional amount of time before he can be with his crew again. The captain will not like that and, quite frankly, no one aboard the Enterprise will either.”

Lester seemed to consider this.

“You can of course order us otherwise,” Spock said, “but it would be a pity if the Klingons found out that they are being manipulated. It is, of course, impossible to say exactly what the ramifications of that would be, but I suspect they would be significant.”

Lester was red again. “Very well,” he repeated, and shut off the viewscreen before Spock could say anything else.

When Spock looked over at McCoy, he found he was being stared at.

“You never cease to amaze me, Spock,” McCoy said.

“I don’t think you mean that, doctor,” Spock said, “but thank you.”

“I do mean it,” McCoy insisted, “and it’s Leonard, remember?”

“I do not think I should allow myself to develop a habit of calling you by your first name at all times,” Spock said. “I would not want to give us away in front of the crew. After all, Lt. Uhura has already seen us coming out of my quarters together early in the morning.”

McCoy went red.

*

“Spock,” McCoy said as they headed back to his quarters, “how are we going to rescue Jim? I thought we didn’t have a plan.”

“Something occurred to me when we were bluffing the Klingons,” Spock said. “I have to check our records again to determine if I am right, but if I am, I believe I know how we can get close to Hoda V without being in danger from their weapons.”

“You’re solving all the galaxy’s problems today, Mr. Spock,” McCoy said, and Spock again had to hold back a smile.

“Do not give me credit for things I have not done yet,” he cautioned.

When they made it back to his quarters Spock sat at his computer and McCoy leaned against the back of his chair and watched over his shoulder. Spock turned to face him.

“What is it you are hoping to see, doctor?” he asked.

McCoy pulled back somewhat. “I don’t know,” he said, “you tell me what we’re looking for.”

Spock pulled up the forty-year old images of Hoda V and zoomed in on the outskirts of the most visible city. The image was grainy to begin with, and up close it was almost impossible to parse, but Spock was sure he was seeing what he had hoped to see.

“Here.” He pointed for McCoy. McCoy leaned in close and squinted.

“Are you pulling my leg?” he asked.

Spock’s lips quirked. “No, doctor,” he said, “but I may well be taking another gamble.”

“I thought Vulcans didn’t gamble.”

“As I have already proven to you, I am an exception.”

“You have been exceptional,” McCoy said, and when Spock turned to look at him his face was redder than it had been all day.

“Thank you, doctor,” Spock said.

“Oh, fuck off,” McCoy said, and Spock took pity on him and turned back to the screen.

“What you are seeing,” Spock said, “is an isolinear field inducer. The size and placement of this one leads me to believe that the Hodans generate the majority of their power, if not all of it, with these devices.”

“This picture is several decades old, but the technology has not evolved much, and if the Hodans were using it at that time it is unlikely they would have switched to another system in the years since. For a planet their size and at the level of advancement we believe they have achieved, there is no more efficient system. And if I am correct, then I know how we can use the Enterprise to disable it.”

McCoy tore his eyes away from the screen and looked at Spock again. “And that would disable their weapons?” he said.

“It should,” Spock said. “I am 98.23463% certain. As I said, it is a gamble.”

McCoy smiled. “After today, I think I’ll always gamble on you, Spock.”

*

As soon as Spock said “isolinear field inducer”, Mr. Scott grinned.

“I think I know what you’re thinking, laddie,” he said, “and I can do what needs doing. I should have everything ready the day before we reach the planet.”

“Thank you, Mr. Scott,” Spock said. They were on the bridge again, and Spock was preparing to announce to the crew that they were going to rescue the captain after all. McCoy was at what Spock had come to think of as his post on the bridge, at the left hand of the captain’s chair. He was bouncing excitedly.

“Can you announce it now?” he asked, and Spock nodded and held down the comm button.

*

The crew was predictably ecstatic about the plan to rescue Kirk, and after talking out some of the finer details regarding their course and eventual approach to the planet with Mr. Scott and Mr. Sulu, Spock and McCoy returned to his quarters.

“It’ll take us a week to get to the planet?” McCoy said when the door closed behind them.

“Almost exactly,” Spock said.

McCoy grinned. “What do you want to do until then?”

Spock folded his hands behind his back and looked down at his feet. In the time since they’d left his quarters, the anxieties he had pushed aside the previous evening had had time to creep back in.

McCoy moved closer and gently ran a hand down Spock’s arm.

“Now, don’t be shy, darlin’,” he said, and his only slightly exaggerated parlance eased Spock’s nerves somewhat.

“Dr. McCoy,” Spock said, and McCoy rolled his eyes.

“Dr. McCoy,” Spock repeated firmly, “do you think we should perhaps discuss… anything?”

McCoy continued to run his hand up and down Spock’s arm.

“Like what?”

“Like this,” Spock said, indicating McCoy’s hand with a slight nod of his head.

“What do you want to say about it?” McCoy asked, and Spock sighed.

“I just do not wish to make a mistake, doctor,” Spock said. McCoy let his hand fall away.

“Do you think this is a mistake?” he asked.

It took Spock a moment to reply. “I do not want it to be,” he said. “But I am worried about the logistics of us carrying on a relationship.”

“Logistics?” McCoy said brusquely. “Sounds a lot like logic.”

“Sometimes logic must be considered.”

McCoy pulled his hand away completely and crossed his arms behind his back. Spock doubted he noticed himself bounce once, almost curtly.

“And what, Mr. Spock, would you say about the logic of this situation?”

Spock looked at his feet again. “I would say that our futures are always uncertain, that our jobs may require us to make choices that are not in the best interests of the two of us as a unit, and that to attempt a relationship and fail to maintain it could do serious harm to both of our abilities to function as members of this crew.”

Spock could tell that McCoy wanted to be angry; he was ready for anger. But the doctor controlled himself.

“Well, Mr. Spock,” he said, “I would say that most anyone could make a similar argument to keep themselves out of any relationship ever. I would say that I probably know more about failed relationships than you, considering I’m the only one of us who’s been married before. And I would say that not giving something a chance because it might not be perfect sounds pretty illogical to me.”

Spock looked up.

“I mean, damn it Spock,” McCoy continued, “you’ve made one gamble after another today, and so far they’ve paid off. So why not go all in?”

Spock considered this. He looked away from McCoy, then back at him. McCoy, for his part, waited patiently, although he did bounce up and down several more times in the silence.

“You are right,” Spock said finally.

McCoy grinned. “Well now I’ve heard it all,” he said.

“I am certain I have acknowledged that you were correct on numerous occasions,” Spock said.

“Well it never gets old,” McCoy said, and then apparently decided he was tired of talking, because he closed the distance between them and kissed Spock.

It took a moment for Spock to figure out what to do with his hands, but eventually he settled one at McCoy’s waist and the other against his cheek, and McCoy leaned into the touch and sighed. He wrapped his arms around Spock’s back and ran one hand up and down his spine.

They started slowly and, at least on Spock’s part, cautiously. For several minutes they stood in more or less the same position, finding the best ways to fit their mouths together and learning how to move in response to each other. When McCoy ran his tongue along Spock’s lips, Spock was anxious and grateful at the same time; he was not certain he would ever have the nerve to escalate the situation on his own, and despite his apprehension he was glad that McCoy did it for them.

They stayed in the center of the room for several minutes until McCoy again took charge and pulled them toward Spock’s bed. He broke the kiss and slid his hands around Spock’s back and down his arms to intertwine with Spock’s and led him toward the alcove that was his bedroom. When they reached the bed, however, he hesitated.

“Is this…” he said, looking down at the sheets then up at Spock, “is this okay? Too much too soon? Am I embarrassing myself?”

Spock marveled at McCoy’s ability to, almost certainly unintentionally and without being aware of it, always say something that helped put him at ease.

“It is more than okay,” he assured him, and, emboldened by McCoy’s hesitation, allowed himself to be the one to pull them down onto the bed.

A feeling hung in the room that was much akin to what Spock had sensed the previous night; the feeling that had forced them to bed in their uniforms, afraid that if they wasted time on trivialities that they would lose something valuable that they couldn’t get back. Now it imbued their actions with a purpose that made them clumsy, as if they risked that same loss if they took their time, and their haste caused them to topple over onto the bed less than gracefully.

The result was that Spock ended up on his back and McCoy tried to land above him but misplaced his weight on his right hand and halfway collapsed onto Spock’s chest, knocking the air out of both of them. McCoy righted himself immediately and looked Spock over with concern.

Spock smiled. “I am all right,” he said, and he felt certain they both heard the hitch of his breath that was the result of him catching himself just before adding, “doctor,” but McCoy did not comment on it. Instead, he turned his attention to the pile of their legs and slid his knee down the bed, lowering his weight over Spock more carefully this time.

As McCoy settled his body fully over Spock’s, Spock’s breath hitched again, and this time McCoy did acknowledge it, with a smirk and a purposeful shifting of his hips. His face was just a few inches from Spock’s now, looking down on him, and Spock felt the well-learned impulse to hide his reactions, to make his face a mask, but he did his best to dismiss it. He let the intensity of his feeling into his breathing and the roaming of his gaze from McCoy’s eyes to his lips, let himself lick his own lips as he stared at McCoy’s, and earned himself a sharp inhale from McCoy for his efforts.

Spock brought a hand up to McCoy’s head and ran his fingers through his hair as he pulled their lips together again. They moved with more purpose now, not just exploring but working to elicit reactions from each other. Spock traced the line of McCoy’s jaw with his fingers and McCoy pressed against Spock’s torso, running his hand from Spock’s collarbone down almost to his hips and back again.

Eventually, on one of his trips down Spock’s chest, McCoy slid his hand under Spock’s shirt. Spock sighed, and McCoy watched his face as his hand traveled back up to brush against Spock’s nipple, and smiled when he made Spock gasp.

Spock responded by pushing his hands under McCoy’s shirt and up his back, and he realized as he did so that he had begun to think of each move he made as an attempted retaliation. The thought made him smile.

He was, he could admit to himself, thrilled at the direction they were taking their relationship, but he was also aware that as they carefully negotiated their new boundaries something had been missing, and he realized now what it was. Their competition, their friendly sparring, had fallen to the wayside as they focused on ensuring that they did not actually hurt each other, did not cause any sort of permanent damage in the transition to this new arrangement. It was a necessary adjustment that Spock had made without even being conscious of it, but now, as he let his hands drift closer to McCoy’s ass each time they traveled down his body, he realized that they could incorporate old habits into new experiences.

Becoming conscious of his goals made it easier to pursue them. Spock flattened his hand over McCoy’s ass for the first time and pushed his hips up into McCoy’s, and when McCoy groaned, Spock decided he had to do everything he could to make him do it again.

With this achievement in mind, Spock wrapped his arms around McCoy’s back to guide him and flipped them all the way over, so that McCoy was flat on his back beneath Spock.

Spock straddled McCoy’s hips and sat up, grinding down just a little as he did and eliciting another groan from McCoy. Spock raised an eyebrow slightly, and McCoy looked up at him with an expression that told Spock that he had also become aware of their dynamic, of the competition they were engaging in, and that right now Spock was winning.

McCoy set his face in a determined expression so familiar that Spock had to smile, and McCoy seemed to take that as a point in his favor. He reached for the hem of Spock’s uniform top and tugged. Spock was too far away for McCoy to actually remove it himself, but he got the message and obeyed the unspoken order. His shirt fell to the side of the bed, and not willing to be on uneven footing, he reached for McCoy’s.

With some awkwardness they disposed of McCoy’s shirt as well, and when it was gone and McCoy was flat on his back again, Spock sat up and stared down at his chest. McCoy watched him looking, saying nothing. Spock ran his fingers along the doctor’s collarbone and down his chest, following their path with his eyes until he approached McCoy’s waist, then looked up to see him holding his breath.

Spock dragged two fingers gently and slowly along the skin above McCoy’s waistband. McCoy’s expression suggested he was trying not to react, but he failed and let out a low moan as Spock made a second pass. Emboldened, Spock dipped his fingers below and beneath the waistband, an awkward move that from his current position required him to cross his arm over his body and did not allow him to reach very far, but that he deemed worthwhile when he brushed his fingers against McCoy’s hip bone and earned another moan that was louder and lasted longer than the previous, and that went straight to Spock’s cock, causing a brief shudder that he failed to suppress.

McCoy had apparently had enough of their distance and reached as far as he could up Spock’s back and urged him down. Spock complied, stretching his legs out behind him and flattening himself against McCoy again, then sliding to the left so that he only half-covered McCoy’s body.

They kissed again for several moments, hands wandering without any real purpose, just feeling as much as they could. McCoy gasped and moaned several more times, and when he felt Spock smile against his lips he reached down between them and did not bother with teasing, but stuck his hand into Spock’s pants and brushed his fingers against his cock.

Spock knew it would be useless to try not to react, so he let his breath catch in his throat and surprised them both with his own low moan, and McCoy dragged his fingers around the tip of Spock’s cock in what Spock was certain was an attempt to get him to repeat himself.

A successful attempt. Point to Dr. McCoy.

Spock raised his right hand and pushed gently on McCoy’s arm to get him to move away, and McCoy looked briefly confused until Spock reached down and pulled down his pants and underwear in one move, sitting up slightly to complete the action and realizing, an embarrassed flush coming to his face, that they had not stopped to take off their boots.

McCoy sat up as well, and laughed when he saw Spock’s predicament. He went to remove his own boots, and Spock divested himself of the rest of his clothing as quickly as he could and tugged on McCoy’s waistband before he could lie back down. McCoy grinned at him.

“You trying to get me naked, Mr. Spock?” he said as he moved to fulfill the request.

“Obviously,” Spock replied, and McCoy laughed as he slid off his own pants and underwear and tossed them over the side of the bed.

They took up more or less their previous position, with McCoy on his back and Spock leaning over him on his side, and as his eyes moved over Spock’s body McCoy’s grin faded into an expression that Spock only felt justified in identifying as reverence because he was certain that that was what he was experiencing himself. He was briefly torn between a desire to draw this out, to take his time learning every inch of McCoy’s body with his eyes and his hands and his mouth, and the pressing need his own body was instilling in him to finish this off soon.

McCoy moved them on by returning his hand to Spock’s cock and wrapping his fingers around it. He looked down briefly, as if he needed to see what he was doing to confirm that it was happening, then looked back up and met Spock’s eyes.

Spock held McCoy’s gaze as the doctor began to stroke, but it was not long before he closed his eyes and leaned his head back as his breath grew ragged. When he opened his eyes again McCoy was smiling the way he smiled when he felt he’d won an argument, and Spock could not let himself be defeated so easily, so he reached around McCoy’s arm and touched his cock.

McCoy gasped. Spock began to move, varying his pace and pressure and trying to discern what garnered the best reactions. McCoy continued to do the same to him, and soon they were both breathing heavily, and McCoy was moaning and, with increasing frequency, murmuring things like, “Spock,” and “fuck,” and “fuck, Spock,” which elicited a few moans from Spock in return.

Their interaction still felt combative, but Spock realized for the first time that it felt cooperative too, and he wondered if perhaps this had always been the case with them; that when they were fighting they were also working together, helping each other closer to a shared goal beneath a thin veneer of hostility that allowed them not to see what Spock was now certain had been present between them for longer than either of them would have liked to admit.

McCoy was now muttering an almost constant litany of curses with Spock’s name occasionally peppered in, and Spock leaned over him and kissed his jaw and his cheek and the side of his mouth and pressed his face close to McCoy’s and whispered “Leonard,” in his ear, and McCoy came. The sound of his groan and the feel of him shaking beneath Spock and the last few firm strokes of Spock’s cock that he managed before he lost himself to the moment was enough to send Spock over the edge as well, and Spock did his best to ride both of them through it until they collapsed, the tension flowing out of them until they were completely relaxed in each other’s arms.

When he was able, Spock shifted to his back and let McCoy rest his head on his chest. He gave himself a few minutes to stroke McCoy’s hair and gently press his lips to the top of his head and his forehead several times before he had to rise to get something to clean them off with.

When he felt he could put it off no longer, Spock gently extricated himself from MCCoy’s grasp. He returned a moment later with a towel and found McCoy smiling up at him.

“Thanks,” the doctor said.

Spock did not know what to say and was not sure he trusted himself to speak, so he nodded.

When they’d cleaned up and returned to lying comfortably in each other’s arms, Spock found his mind finally clear enough to ask a question that had been nagging at him.

“Why did this start?”

McCoy leaned up on his elbow and looked down at Spock.

“Now what does that mean?” he asked. “It’s not like you not to be ruthlessly specific.”

“Interesting choice of descriptor,” Spock said.

“If the shoe fits,” McCoy replied, and Spock did not have to ask for clarification on the meaning of that idiom.

“I mean,” Spock said carefully, “that although I have realized that I am acting on something that has been present for some time, and would like to believe you are as well, I am wondering why we are acting on it now. I am wondering what prompted this change. I am wondering why you began spending so much time with me in the last month.”

There was the heart of the matter. It took McCoy a moment to respond.

“Felt like you needed my help,” he said finally.

Spock raised an eyebrow.

“When Jim got captured,” McCoy clarified. “I know command isn’t easy for you, and I know how close you are to Jim, and I thought with you having all this responsibility and no one to lean on… Maybe I could be someone to lean on.”

Spock considered this. He fought back his impulse to insist he needed no one, since the amount of times he had relied on McCoy recently were as fresh in his mind as they undoubtedly were in McCoy’s, and he was not interested in starting an argument he would immediately lose.

“Thank you,” he said instead, and McCoy smiled.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, and leaned down to kiss Spock slowly for several minutes.

When they separated again, McCoy let his smile slip away and gave Spock a stern look.

“Don’t get used to me going easy on you though,” he said. “After Jim’s back, first time you make a smart comment I’ll have a whole list of insults ready for you.”

“I would expect no less,” Spock said. “But I do hope you are not suggesting that the captain’s return will mean that everything goes back to the way it was before.”

“Well,” McCoy said, leaning in again as he did, “you might convince me to make some changes a little more permanent.”

*

When they approached Hoda V with Mr. Scott’s modifications to the Enterprise activated, the planet went dark, and McCoy told Spock he was going to have to take him to a casino.

Spock, McCoy, and Mr. Sulu beamed down to the same coordinates Jim had beamed to a month before. They were met by a frantic man in a long robe insisting they tell him what they’d done and undo it immediately.

“We would like our captain back first,” Spock said, and the man looked surprised.

“Kirk?” he said, “but you didn’t need to do all of this for him.”

“What does that mean?” McCoy asked, and Spock fought the urge to place a calming hand on the doctor’s arm.

“Oh no, no, no,” the man said quickly, “nothing like that. I mean your captain is fine. He has been our guest, in fact. He explained your situation and worked out an agreement with us quite soon after you left last time. We have simply been waiting for someone from your Federation to come near enough to our planet that we could communicate with them and explain our new understanding.”

Spock, McCoy, and Sulu exchanged glances.

“May we see him then, please?” Spock asked.

“Of course, of course,” the Hodan said, and gestured for them to follow him.

He walked them through several hallways of what Spock assumed must be some sort of government complex, leading them ultimately to a balcony overlooking the city, where Captain Kirk stood in a sharp red and blue outfit holding some sort of likely alcoholic drink.

“Spock!” he exclaimed when he saw them. “Bones! Sulu!” He opened his arms and did his best to wrap all three of them in something resembling a hug.

“So you boys turned the lights out?” he guessed, and Spock nodded as he pulled out his communicator.

“Spock to Enterprise.”

“Enterprise here,” Mr. Scott replied.

“You may re-enable the planet’s power,” Spock said. “We have found the captain. He is alive and well.”

Spock heard the beginnings of the bridge crew’s celebratory yells as he closed the communicator.

“So,” McCoy said to Jim, “it sounds like while we’ve been worrying about you you’ve been having a grand old time down here. You could’ve called to let us know.”

“I would’ve if I could’ve, Bones,” Jim said, and Spock felt an overwhelming relief at seeing the captain’s smile again.

“Well,” McCoy said, “I think under the circumstances we can forgive you.”

“I appreciate that. Now before we get into anything else… how’s my ship?”

“She’s great,” McCoy answered, and smiled up at Spock. “Spock took good care of her. Even saved her from some Klingons with a bluff that would’ve put you to shame.”

Kirk’s eyes flickered between the two of them a few times.

“Good to hear,” he said finally. “Anything else worth mentioning about our time apart?”

Spock’s face went hot, and when he turned to face McCoy he saw that he must have had the same reaction. They met each other’s eyes briefly, then turned back to Kirk.

“Not really,” McCoy said at the same time Spock said, “I do not think so.”

Kirk smiled and took a sip of his drink.