If Jim had known that all it would take to get Uhura to give him a second glance was to do a little mental arithmetic, he would have...either done it a lot sooner, or not done it at all. He still wasn't sure which of those would have been the better option.
Instead, what happened was: he calculated the length of time it would require the Enterprise, the USS Intrepid, and four small, slow-moving Ithenite vessels to transport 1400 colonists between two distant galaxies, then shared the information with the bridge crew; Uhura looked at him, a little too sharply; he looked back; she blushed and let her eyes drop again. Anyone watching would have figured that she was just embarrassed at being caught thinking that her captain wasn't quite as stupid as she'd imagined. That hypothetical observer would have been wrong.
Jim knew better, having gotten his share of that particular look in the past. Yeah, a good portion of it might be "Did he seriously do that in his head?" but most of it was the shocked look people got when their underwear suddenly got a lot wetter (or tighter, as the case may be) than they were really comfortable with while on duty.
It would have been great under any other circumstances, but not so great given these circumstances, in which Uhura's boyfriend was Kirk's second in command and one of his best friends. Not to mention that Uhura still disliked him, as far as he knew, reasonably civil working relationship aside.
Jim was firmly convinced that look, but don't touch was a healthy attitude to take in a relationship, but the situation still presented a potential problem. In the meantime, though... "Hail the Intrepid and let Captain Ng know that we've beamed up our first shipload of colonists," he said, and pretended not to notice that Uhura didn't look him in the eye when she affirmed his order.
"Bones!" Jim said, swinging into the sickbay. "How do you feel about gin?"
"Can't stand the stuff. Why?"
"'Cause it's all I could find on short notice. Can we go into your office?"
"You might've noticed that I'm working here, and Starfleet kind of frowns on doctors trying to practice medicine under the influence."
Jim waved a dismissive hand. "Your shift ended half an hour ago; I checked the duty roster. You're just here because you're a masochist. Or possibly a sadist, given how much you like jabbing people in the neck."
McCoy sighed. "Fine." He tapped the computer screen to close his program and stood up. "Come on in."
Jim followed him into the private office and sat down, while McCoy pulled two tumblers from his desk drawer and set them on the desk. Jim filled them both, shoved one across to McCoy, and took a sip from his own glass.
McCoy did the same, with rather more of a grimace. "So, what's going on that you feel the need to ply me with disgusting liquor?"
"I've got something of a romantic problem."
"And how does that make today different from any other day of the week?" McCoy asked dryly.
"Today it involves Uhura."
"What about her?"
"She's...got the hots for me?"
McCoy spluttered, droplets of gin hitting Jim's face in a juniper-scented haze, and Jim winced. "What the hell makes you think something like that, and why the hell do I have to hear about it?"
"I've got good radar when it comes to pretty women getting turned on by me. And discounting the fact that you're my friend and you're supposed to be there for me in my times of need, we don't have a licensed psychiatrist on board, and you're the next best thing I've got."
"I'm sure one of the other doctors must have taken a couple of psych courses," McCoy said with the desperate, overeager look of a drowning man grasping at straws. "Give me five seconds, I can look it up on the computer and..."
"And make it twice as likely that someone'll let word slip?" Jim asked. "You're already informed, and I'm not talking about this with anyone else, so sit down and just listen to me."
"Am I going to be expected to give advice?"
"Possibly," Jim said, with as much dignity as he could muster.
"Right. Then I'm gonna need another drink." He poured, knocked it back, poured again, topped off Jim's own glass, and folded his hands, looking at him expectantly. "Talk."
"Okay." Jim took a deep breath. "So, the fact that Uhura thinks I'm hot isn't actually the problem."
"Oh, of course not," McCoy muttered.
"The real problem is that she and Spock have been acting...off."
"Spock's been acting weird? How can you tell?"
Kirk considered that a moment, and said, "Good point. It's more that Uhura's been acting weird with Spock. When they're working, they click. And when they're not working, they still click--sort of--but it's different from how they were even a month ago. Not to mention that she's checked me out at least a dozen times this past week, and, you know, everyone looks sometimes, but when you do it that much, it kind of gives you the feeling that it's less recreational and more a sign that something's wrong."
"Reluctant as I am to think that you have any idea what's going on here, even if you're right about their having issues, how is it your problem? Relationships go through rough patches sometimes. Just leave it alone."
"Which would be simpler if I weren't the guy she's interested in. I mean, it's not that I mind, but this is something I cannot fuck up."
"So don't," McCoy said harshly. "Keep it in your pants, give her space to remember why she's dating him and not you, and put her out of your head."
"Just like that?" Jim demanded. "You seriously think it's that easy? You--"
"Hell, of course it isn't easy! But it's the right thing to do, and as captain of this ship--and Spock's friend--you're gonna do it."
"But what if I--"
"I don't even need to hear you finish that sentence to know that whatever you're about to suggest is a bad idea. You asked for my advice? Well, there it is. Take it or get out of here, 'cause I'm not gonna argue over this when you and I both know I'm right."
Jim made a face at him, but he didn't bother trying to press his point. "You ever cheated?" he asked abruptly.
"No." There was a long pause, and then McCoy said, reluctantly, "My wife... The marriage was pretty much over by then, anyway, but even so. Speaking as someone who's been on the other side of the equation, I don't recommend the experience."
"Right." Jim knocked back the rest of his drink. "Well, this was a fun conversation."
"They're kind of a specialty of mine," McCoy said in a sarcastic voice.
"That's why you're my friend."
They contemplated the gin bottle in silence for a moment, and then McCoy said, "I don't know why I'm even asking this, but do you know why she's interested in you now after sort of...despising you for a while there?"
"I did some math."
There was a long pause. "Wait, that's it?" McCoy demanded. "Half of this ship does math. Spock does math. A hell of a lot better than you, too."
"Yeah, well, maybe she wasn't expecting it from me--"
"That's a safe bet."
"--and it caught her off guard." He stood up. "In any case, thanks for the ear."
"Sure, anytime," McCoy said sourly. "Hey, don't forget your gin."
Jim turned back from the doorway. "You keep it. I've had all I need."
McCoy looked at the bottle with a disgruntled air. "Yeah, okay, I guess I'll figure out some use for it."
"Good man," Jim told him and left.
And, for a while, that was that. Jim backed off--as much as was possible in a spaceship of four hundred people--and he cut down on the flirting just enough that others wouldn't find it suspicious. If Uhura was a little sharper with him than usual, or if he started spending more time in his quarters than in the common spaces, well, that could just be the stresses of their jobs catching up to them.
A stop on Rigel IV to stock up on supplies allowed the opportunity for three days' shore leave. Jim dealt with the last few important pieces of paperwork and got down to the planet during the third rotation, just as the bars were starting to fill up seriously.
He couldn't get hammered--too high a risk of being seen by impressionable young ensigns--but that didn't mean he couldn't relax a bit.
"A shot of Aldebaran whiskey," a familiar voice said from two seats down.
"Lieutenant," he said, leaning around the patron next to him with a sense of...not deja vu, because he'd done this in real life only a few years before, but something like it. Smart thing to do would be to shut up and move to another corner of the bar, or, hell, to another bar altogether, but being made captain hadn't done that much for his impulse control.
"Captain," Uhura said, sounding half-wary and half-annoyed, as though it were his fault they were meeting here like this.
"You were supposed to be on the sixth rotation of crew members down here," Jim said accusingly.
Comprehension flickered in Uhura's eyes, and some of the pissiness went out of her face. "Commander Spock reorganized the duty roster in your absence to better utilize people's time."
Of course he did; Jim should've expected as much.
"Let me buy you your drink," he said, and Uhura was on her way back to self-righteous indignation when he added, "Since I'm on my way out, anyway. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Lieutenant." He tossed a handful of credits onto the bar and got up, pleased that he didn't sway at all when he was on his feet.
"...Yes, sir. Thank you," Uhura said, a trifle belatedly.
Jim nodded to her and headed out in search of another bar.
James Kirk was an attractive man...to anyone who liked overgrown adolescents. Uhura didn't. She liked her men smart, dedicated, and considerate, and it was easy to dismiss Kirk's pretty face when it was attached to someone with serious deficiencies in those other areas. At least, it was easy until they were assigned to the same ship, and it became increasingly apparent that he did fulfill the first two criteria, and was well on his way to fulfilling the third.
"Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, why don't you go with our hosts to check out those aerial gardens? Ensign Chekov, you're with me."
Like when he selected her and Spock for away missions to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful planets in the galaxy, especially when one of them could easily be left behind on the Enterprise. Her own presence on this particular mission was not noteworthy: the Minorans were relatively recent entrants to the Federation, and her skills would be useful should the Minorans' grasp of Standard fail them. Chekov, as well; the ensign was brilliant, but relatively inexperienced outside the field of navigation. The Minorans were a peaceful people with few social taboos, good practice for a booksmart teenager. Spock, however, was an unnecessary addition to their party.
Uhura hadn't wanted to believe it at first, but it seemed increasingly certain that Kirk was throwing Spock and her together. Which meant either he hadn't wanted her as much as he'd pretended...or he wanted her all too much. Present tense.
Neither of those options made her very happy. To her shame, though, it was the first that bothered her more.
"This way," Prai Velga invited, gesturing Spock and Uhura down a nearby path.
"Does your planet practice aerial gardening exclusively?" Spock asked as they walked.
"We're working on it," Gor Telem said. "The...I apologize, our word for them is triklak--"
"A type of insect?" Uhura asked; Minoran animal names tended to have onomatopoeic origins.
"Yes. The triklak population explodes every four years and devours agricultural crops. Traditionally, our people would store surplus crops from the other three years and let the fields lie fallow the fourth year, but the growth of our own population began to present the threat of famine. Our scientists developed aerial gardening in response."
They'd reached the gardens by then, and, despite being prepared for it, Uhura was amazed at the sight of heavy gourds and vegetables hanging from their vines on a two-meter high framework.
"These are the staple of our diet," Velga said, pointing to a dusky purple vegetable overhead.
"They were originally a root vegetable?" Spock asked.
"How could you tell?" Uhura asked Spock.
"A small number of the vegetables are sending out shoots," he said, and Uhura peered upwards until she, too, spotted the threadlike roots curled against the purple skin.
"The trait will likely disappear entirely within another few generations of plants," Velga said.
"I wonder if the Enterprise could grow an aerial garden on board," Uhura said. Space was at a premium on a starship, but a lofted garden would infringe less upon it. "Maybe in the mess hall?"
"Or your quarters?" Spock asked knowingly.
Uhura smiled at him. "Perhaps."
"It would improve the air quality," Spock said, as seriously as though Uhura were unaware that he had a small rosebush sitting on a corner table in his own quarters.
Gaila had made an arch joke once about having to prearrange every detail of a romantic encounter with a Vulcan partner, including each change in position. Uhura wasn't sure how she'd figured it out, given how secretive Spock and she had been about their relationship, but she hadn't risen to the bait. Even worse than talking about her relationship with one of her instructors would have been explaining all of the things Gaila's joke got wrong.
It was true that really spontaneous sex was off the board with Spock. A human boyfriend might suggest having sex at 2 a.m. on a schoolnight; a Vulcan one never would. Of course, Uhura wasn't the sort of person to agree to sex at 2 a.m. on a schoolnight, no matter who was asking, so that particular trait ended up being a perquisite. Spock never wanted to fuck when she was too busy or stressed or tired to enjoy it; he gave her space during finals and when she was working on an important project, and she'd quickly gotten used to--and had come to appreciate--his unapologetic, no-nonsense "This is not a good time for me," when he was busy in turn.
All that meant, though, was that anytime they did have sex, they could enjoy themselves without outside distractions...and that happened far more frequently than most non-Vulcans would imagine. Multiple times a week--hell, multiple times a day, when their schedules allowed for it--was the rule rather than the exception. And, as proper and aloof as Spock acted in public, he was more than capable of intimacy in the privacy of his bedroom. Which only made Uhura's recent...preoccupation...with Kirk all the more incomprehensible.
The door chimed, pulling Uhura from her thoughts. Not many people came by to visit--the crew was still in the process of getting to know each other--and she ought to have anticipated who was on the other side of the door. Somehow, though, it managed to be a small shock when she opened it to reveal Spock, still in his Starfleet uniform.
"I could leave if you like," Spock said, unaccusing, after she'd failed to invite him into her quarters for close to a minute.
Uhura shook herself a little. "No, come in." It wasn't as though she'd stopped wanting him--stopped loving him--just because the captain had inexplicably lit some flicker of interest inside her. She was pulling him down into a kiss half a second after the door closed behind them.
His mouth tasted faintly and pleasantly pungent: some sort of Vulcan root dish, perhaps. Their tongues touched, sweet and wet, as Spock's hands slid down her back to clasp her waist.
Uhura smiled into the kiss and walked them backwards, stopping well before she risked smacking into her bunk. They stripped themselves quickly; Vulcans placed little sexual significance on the progression from being fully clothed to nudity. Spock was willing enough to indulge her own interest in the process when she requested it, letting her bare his skin piece by piece and performing the same service for her, but it wasn't a regular part of their sex life.
And then Spock was pressing her down onto her bed, his skin warming her more effectively than any blanket, even as she shivered from the feel of his smooth skin against her own, his erection pressed wetly against her hip.
One of Spock's hands slipped between her legs, his fingers rubbing her clitoris carefully, and Uhura's hands tightened on his shoulders. A minute or two later, he turned his hand to slip a couple of fingers inside her, thumb still working against her clitoris, and Uhura arched into the touch. The feel of Spock on and in her was gloriously distracting...but not quite distracting enough.
"In me," she gasped, tugging at his arm.
Spock blinked, startled, and then he nodded his agreement. The Enterprise bunks were small as a setting for penetrative sex, but they hadn't concussed themselves yet. He braced himself on one elbow as he guided himself into her with his other hand, feeling fever-hot inside of her. Uhura watched with a feeling of mingled tenderness and desire as his face became blanker than usual in the effort to contain himself.
"Nyota..." He raised one hand towards her face, fingers spread.
Uhura flinched without thinking. They didn't mindmeld often; the last time had been close to three months ago, and this time Uhura's brain had kept drifting stupidly to thoughts of the sprawl of Kirk's thighs as he sat in the captain's chair, and if Spock only touched his fingertips to the psi points, he would see.
Spock froze momentarily when she jerked away from his hand. Then he changed direction to cup her cheek as he leaned down for another kiss.
Uhura opened her mouth to him eagerly, desperately, and wished that Kirk had continued being a pushy--albeit mildly amusing--asshole. Life had been much simpler before he'd acquired emotional and intellectual depth.
None of which was helping her maintain the right focus. Uhura slid a hand between their bodies to finger her clitoris, pushing herself towards orgasm with a quick, rough touch. When she came, Spock thrust a half dozen times into her still quivering body before shuddering through his own orgasm.
"I should go now," Spock said, after their breathing had slowed and their heartbeats calmed...his sooner than hers. It was phrased as a statement, but his tone invited disagreement, should that be what she wished. It was also quite obviously a response to her previous refusal of the mindmeld; assuming it wasn't inconvenient in some respect, their habit was to spend the night after having sex. Uhura wondered how he'd calculated the exact moment to make the suggestion--weighing the need to give her the distance she obviously desired with his concern to not simply roll out of bed after they'd each finished--and her eyes prickled.
She ought to stop him from leaving, offer what reassurances she could...but the idea of doing so felt impossibly daunting. Instead, she watched as Spock dressed efficiently, wishing him a good night when he left. Her throat ached. She buried her head in her pillow and willed herself--unsuccessfully--not to cry.
"Lieutenant Uhura," Kirk said and nodded. He looked bemused when she set her plate down on the table across from him and took a seat.
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
Kirk's eyes narrowed warily. "Permission granted."
"Who's your favorite poet?"
"Um." Kirk blinked at her. "Enarchis of Xindus."
"How many languages do you speak?"
"Three fluently, another five conversationally, and I could get by in..." There was a brief pause as he counted. "Eight or nine more. Depending on whether you count the northern and southern Xelatian dialects as one language or two."
"Why did you enter Starfleet?"
"I wanted a career that would have a real impact."
"Why did you choose the command track?"
"I'm better at identifying other people's talents than exercising my own. Also, I look good in gold."
"You took a heavier load in order to finish your required courses a year ahead of schedule." Kirk raised his eyebrows at that piece of information, but Uhura didn't let his response deter her. "What do you believe is the benefit of that type of ambition?"
"It inspires confidence in people who are familiar with my background, and it encourages hard work in the younger generation of students."
"What is your life's goal?"
Kirk hesitated--all of his previous answers other than the first one had been so rapidfire that she might have thought them rehearsed--and then he said, quietly, "To be a man worthy of sacrifice."
Without examining her motivations too clearly, she skipped the next question she'd planned, instead asking the relatively easy: "What are your plans after the Enterprise completes its five year mission?"
"I'm going to request assignment to another exploratory vessel."
"And if Starfleet doesn't grant your request?"
A faintly puzzled expression crossed his face, as though the very suggestion that Kirk might not get a second command post at the snap of his fingers were unthinkable, but then he said, "I'd teach at Starfleet Academy."
"What do you consider your greatest strength?"
"I'm good at identifying what needs done and then finding a way to make that happen."
"And your greatest weakness?"
"Most people would say stubbornness. The fact that I nearly failed my class in interstellar diplomacy makes me think they might be on to something."
That concluded her prepared questions. After a brief silence, Kirk said, "So, have you found something to hate about me?"
Uhura glared at him. "Yes, sir."
The cocky look on Kirk's face faded slightly, and Uhura stomped on the urge to tell him that she hated how very undespicable he'd proven on closer acquaintance. He wasn't perfect--he was still arrogant and smug and reckless, especially when it was only his personal safety at risk--but he wasn't stupid or frivolous or completely self-centered.
"Glad I could be of service," Kirk said, his self-assured voice all wrong for the faintly wounded look in his eyes, and Uhura couldn't watch him any more without doing something really dumb.
"I... Thank you, Captain. For your time and your...cooperation." She collected her nearly untouched tray and left, head held rigidly straight to keep herself from looking back.
Thanks to privileged information that he absolutely hadn't wanted to have, Leonard couldn't help but watch the principal actors in Kirk's latest drama a little more closely in the days following his and the captain's drinking session. Not that he even knew what he was looking for in the case of Spock. Leonard was pretty good at reading most people. Reading Vulcans? Not so much. And, sure enough, Spock looked as inscrutable as ever on the same day that Uhura showed up in the sickbay asking for eyedrops an hour before her shift started.
Leonard took one look at the dark circles underneath her reddened eyes and said, "You want me to prescribe you a sedative, too? Something mild, just enough to relax you right before bed."
"I...maybe," she said, not quite meeting his concerned gaze.
"Up to you. Just stop in an hour or so before bedtime if you decide that sounds good. I'll leave a note in your file, so whoever's on duty can give it to you if I'm not here. And, in the meantime..." He held the eyedropper over her right eye. "Look at the ceiling."
Uhura did. Two drops went into each eye, and the bloodshot whites began to fade visibly as he watched. "There you go."
"Don't mention it. And, really, don't hesitate to come by for that sedative. It just calms you down and helps make it so your mind doesn't distract you by chattering away right when you're trying to get to sleep."
"All right. I'll think about it."
She left sickbay as briskly as she'd entered. Leonard--not for the first time--brought up the medical database's sparse entry on Vulcan emotional responses. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't been updated with any new and useful information. And no matter what Starfleet medical, the Vulcan Science Academy, and Spock himself might have to say about it, Leonard just didn't believe that meditation was the best way to deal with your girlfriend dumping you for your best friend.
"Mr. Spock. Fancy meeting you here."
Spock raised an eyebrow at Leonard. "I am in the mess hall during my usual breakfast hour. Where else should I be?"
Leonard waved off the question. "Human joke. How's the oatmeal?"
"The same as it is every day," Spock said, still giving him the fish eye.
"Well, I've never eaten it any day, so this'll just have to be a leap of faith on my part, since you're being so closemouthed about it. Be right back." He got his oatmeal, along with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice and--while he was being so damned healthy anyways--a bowl of fruit salad.
"Doctor, not only have you never eaten oatmeal before, you have also never eaten with me before today," Spock said when Leonard sat down again, examining him with mild curiosity.
"Noticed that, did you?" Spock opened his mouth to answer, and Leonard shook his head. "Rhetorical question, of course you did. Anyway, I don't eat vegetarian all that often, and I figured it was rude to make you watch. Today I wanted to eat with you more than I wanted my bacon and eggs, so here I am. With my oatmeal." He made a face at his bowl and took a bite, trying not to taste it too much on the way down.
"I have eaten meals with people who follow a wide variety of dietary habits and preferences."
"Meaning it doesn't bother you?"
There was a faint pause, and then Spock said, "I am accustomed to it. It was initially strange, just as many things were when I first left Vulcan and immersed myself in a new culture."
Leonard nodded, acknowledging the personal revelation without drawing undue attention to it. "Good to know. Next time I'll just ask."
"That would be the more logical alternative."
"No! No logic before I've finished my breakfast."
"Doctor, it is impossible to--"
"Or at least my coffee," Leonard interrupted.
Spock looked at Leonard's half-empty cup, sighed, and said, "Very well."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock."
"Though I must point out that it is not...the thing itself, but rather the mention of it that is being postponed."
"Good enough for me. Out of sight, out of mind." Spock opened his mouth, and Leonard added quickly, "When the mind belongs to a human, anyway."
"Yes, Doctor," Spock said, a wealth of meaning in his tone.
Leonard couldn't decide if he were making a general statement about humans (unlikely, given the important roles certain humans held in Spock's life) or pointing out Leonard's own mental deficiencies (far more likely) but, either way, he laughed agreeably.
"Dr. McCoy, I am not certain that we understand one another. What I said was not intended as a joke."
"That's what made it funny. Don't worry about it, Spock, we understand each other just fine."
"If you say so, Doctor," Spock said, sounding less than certain himself.
"I do, Mr. Spock."
Spock had finished his oatmeal by then, and he glanced at his bowl and then looked at Leonard in what amounted to an agony of indecision for him. Leonard wondered yet again how a Vulcan could be expected to handle the simultaneous losses of his mother, his planet, and the majority of his people, and the loss of his girlfriend less than half a year later. Spock couldn't ask for comfort, wouldn't let himself rely on his friends and colleagues to relieve his sudden and devastating loneliness. His only succor was whatever calmness, whatever order he managed to impose on his painfully chaotic life.
"I'll see you at dinner," Leonard said, as lightly as he could when his instinct was to hug Spock and tell him to cry it all out. As horrifying as Spock would find that scenario on multiple levels.
"All right," Spock said, looking even blanker than usual. Leonard was just going to take that as a positive sign unless Spock indicated otherwise. "I will see you then, Dr. McCoy."
"How many moves until checkmate?" Leonard asked, staring at the chessboard with annoyance.
Spock cast a glance over the board's multiple levels. "Seven. Unless you make another mistake comparable to the one that let me take your bishop."
"That wasn't a mistake, that was a strategic sacrifice."
"A sacrifice that enabled you to take...a single pawn."
"Yeah, well, I hadn't realized my trap had a hole in it."
"And stop smirking, you pointy-eared bastard, you're going to give me a complex."
"I do not smirk."
"Okay, first of all, you absolutely do, I've seen it. And, second of all, you may not be smirking physically at the moment, but you are definitely smirking on the inside, and I don't want you thinking I don't know that."
"Your move, Doctor," Spock said, which was as good as an admission of guilt, and Leonard grinned and moved his queen.
"Still at seven moves?"
"Six, now." Spock moved his bishop. "And this brings it to five. But, yes, you have successfully avoided widening the gap between us any further."
"Good. I'd hate to think you weren't getting your money's worth."
"Doctor, our games do not include--"
"It's just an expression, Mr. Spock, used here to indicate--with all appropriate sarcasm--that I hope you're getting your full enjoyment out of beating the pants off me. As you know quite well."
"Now, take your turn. Let's put me out of my misery with all deliberate speed," Leonard said after moving his rook.
"If you do not enjoy playing chess with me," Spock began stiffly.
"Oh, for Chrissakes," Leonard said before Spock could finish that sentence. "Of course I like playing with you! I wouldn't do it so often if I didn't. It's just that I kind of prefer the parts where I can pretend I have a chance in hell of winning, rather than the part that involves my humiliating and crushing defeat. Okay?"
Spock nodded and moved his queen. "Check. We could play other games besides chess sometimes. Including games where you are the superior player."
"Hey, now there's an idea. How are you at backgammon?"
"I am unfamiliar with that game."
"Well, that's what we'll try next time, okay?"
"Agreed." Leonard moved his rook again, Spock moved his knight, and it was "Checkmate."
"Seven moves," Leonard confirmed.
"Yes. I have noticed a marked improvement in your chess since we began playing together."
"Two compliments in one day, Mr. Spock? You're going to make me blush." Which would have had a ring of truth to it, actually, if Leonard hadn't suspected that Spock's remarkable congeniality was born of desperation. He really shouldn't have made that crack about wanting the game to be over, not when he was pretty sure these triweekly chess games were all that was standing between Spock and painful solitude.
"I was not aware that I had complimented you previously."
Leonard grinned. "You intimated that there might be some games that I could beat you at. Sounds like a compliment to me."
Spock's features lightened in the Vulcan equivalent of a smile. "Actually, Doctor, I suggested that there might be games at which you are the better player, which is indeed conjecture on my part. That there exist games that you could beat me at, however, is incontrovertible fact, since some games are determined purely by chance, requiring no skill of the participants."
"Well, we'll just have to see if your conjecture holds true, then," Leonard said.
Spock nodded. "Indeed we shall."
The lights were out in his cabin, but Spock had not yet managed to fall asleep, despite having lain in bed for nearly two hours. Perhaps the ship's computer was partially to blame--so far he had utilized the voice activation feature to record eight new ideas for avenues of exploration in his study of dilithium's structure, all without leaving his bunk.
Psychological studies had shown that humans reached REM sleep more easily if they used their beds as dedicated sleeping areas and did not take their work to bed. Comparable studies had not been done on Vulcans, though it was unlikely that they would be affected similarly; Vulcan mental discipline facilitated compartmentalization. In any case, Spock's bunk had already been used on multiple occasions for activities that did not relate to sleeping... Spock shut down that line of thought as unproductive.
He lay quietly for several minutes, eyes closed. "Computer, add to my file 'Dilithium,' sub-category 'Environmental effects upon' the following: 'Research possible alterations to structure in response to irradiation.'"
His door chimed just after he'd finished recording the note, and Spock slipped out of bed. It was an unusual time for a visitor.
"Spock." Uhura looked at his sleeping clothes with an expression of surprise. "I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd be in bed yet."
"When you terminated our relationship, I took the opportunity to revert my sleeping schedule to one I had followed previously."
Uhura nodded, her face changing to reflect another emotion: one that Spock could not identify. "I can come back another time."
"No, now is convenient. Please wait a moment." He closed the door and changed into his uniform. He reflected as he did so on the curious nature of "break-ups," as humans termed them. Uhura was familiar with his body, but a single conversation was sufficient to alter the pattern of their interaction to such an extent that seeing it would be an inappropriate intimacy and would make her feel uncomfortable. Indeed, the thought was disturbing to Spock, as well. He could not determine whether that was a reflection of his human heritage, or whether Vulcans would react similarly under the circumstances. Arranged marriages and a societal emphasis on compatibility rather than love meant that the dissolution of marital relationships was atypical in Vulcan society.
Spock folded his sleeping clothes and placed them on his bunk, then returned to his door. Uhura was waiting in a relaxed stance. "You may come in now." He gestured her towards one of the chairs in his rooms, and she sat down. Spock took the other chair.
"Among humans, it's customary for people who have broken up to limit their social interactions with each other for a while as they reevaluate their personal boundaries," she said. Her tone of voice suggested that she had planned her words beforehand; two months after she and Spock had begun dating, she had told him that humans often did so in situations that were particularly important or stressful.
"I am aware of this custom," he answered.
She gave him a small smile. "It's usually left to the person who got dumped to decide when--or if--he wants to resume contact with the other person again, but I realized that you might not be aware of that, or might not be sure what constitutes an appropriate interval. We obviously are capable of working together despite the change in our relationship status. I wanted to let you know, though, that we can also be friends, if you want."
Spock took a moment to assimilate that piece of information. In the majority of romantic relationships that he had observed during his years in Starfleet, a break-up led to the complete dissolution of the parties' social relationship. He had assumed that his interaction with Uhura would follow the same pattern.
"That would be...agreeable," he said at last.
Uhura smiled again. "I'm glad," she said, and Spock found it impossible to tell if this were a case of a human stating the obvious or of Uhura telegraphing the emotions of which she wanted him to be particularly aware, as she had gotten in the habit of doing during the course of their relationship. "I wouldn't have wanted to lose one of my best friends."
"Nor would I," Spock said.
Uhura raised her hand in the traditional Vulcan gesture of greeting--it held a certain intimacy, but an acceptable one--and Spock returned the gesture. "I'll let you get back to sleep now, but I'll see you tomorrow."
"Indeed," Spock said. Uhura's statement was on its face a redundancy; they were scheduled to the same shift and saw each other nearly every day, barring illness or other unforeseen events. However, he recognized it also as an expression of a social connection: Uhura was "looking forward" to their shift because they had resolved the emotional tension that had colored their most recent interactions.
Uhura left, appearing more relaxed than she had in recent weeks, and Spock changed back into his sleeping clothes and lay on his bunk. Twenty-three minutes later, he had fallen asleep.
"So, what are you in the mood for tonight?" Dr. McCoy asked with a smile, after he had let Spock in and the two of them had exchanged the typical meaningless greetings that characterized human conversation.
It was the usual question, particularly when they met in McCoy's quarters rather than Spock's, as the doctor owned a greater variety of games than Spock did. For some reason, however, Spock found himself answering with a non sequiter of a particularly personal nature. "Lieutenant Uhura came to my quarters last night."
Dr. McCoy flinched slightly, which Spock watched with a sense of disquiet. "Ah, hell," he said. "At least when Jim did this he had the good sense to bribe me with liquor."
"I apologize, Doctor, but I do not understand to what you are--"
"It's not important," Dr. McCoy interrupted. He pursed his lips in an expression of annoyance, but said, "Have a seat. Tell me all about it. Or, you know, as much as is appropriate to tell."
"There is nothing inappropriate to relate," Spock said. At least, there was nothing inappropriate other than the act of retelling itself, which suggested an excess of emotionality no matter how even Spock kept his tone. Since he had already revealed his continued emotional attachment to Uhura, however, he continued, "She expressed a wish to remain friends, even though we are no longer romantically involved. I agreed."
Spock could not decipher the look that crossed Dr. McCoy's face, although part of it seemed to be relief. "Well, that's good, right? At least she didn't try to take the Enterprise as part of the divorce settlement."
The statement made no logical sense, but its general meaning seemed clear enough, so Spock responded, "Indeed. Lieutenant Uhura is my first and oldest friend. It would have been...a great loss, should we have been unable to reconcile ourselves to the changed circumstances of our relationship."
"It's important to hold onto old friends," Dr. McCoy said, his light tone at odds with his expression. "But, no matter what happens with Uhura, you should remember there's a whole bunch of us now who consider you our friend: me, Jim, Sulu, Scotty. Even Chekov, once he gets over the hero worship a little."
Spock blinked. He had been unaware that Ensign Chekov had any particular feelings about him, much less admiration on such a scale. And it seemed odd that Lieutenant Sulu would consider him a friend, when they had never exchanged more than a few sentences outside of their professional interactions. Nevertheless, Dr. McCoy was no doubt better qualified to judge other humans' propensity to form bewilderingly quick emotional attachments than Spock himself. "I will certainly keep that in mind in the future," he said.
"Excellent," Dr. McCoy said. "So, was that all you wanted to talk about? Should I get out the chessboard?"
Spock shook his head slowly as a disconcerting thought occurred to him. "In friendships, is it not customary for there to be an exchange of verbal intimacies? I have--" not burdened, he hoped, but at the very least "--shared an experience of a personal nature and received your support. Fairness dictates that I ought to offer you the same opportunity."
"Getting an offer to spill my guts from a Vulcan," McCoy muttered, laughing a little even as he shook his head. "Now I've heard everything.""Doctor? I do not believe I am familiar with that expression."
"You're asking me to talk about my feelings," Dr. McCoy clarified.
"Yes," Spock said quietly. It was a most inappropriate request for a Vulcan...but, then, Dr. McCoy was not a Vulcan, while Spock himself was less Vulcan than many of his own people would tolerate.
"Okay, you've got it. Do you want the big, embarrassing secret, or something a little less important, but also quite a bit lower on the humiliation scale?"
Spock watched with interest as McCoy's cheeks flushed, his eyes focused on the carpet between their two chairs rather than on Spock. "I am willing to listen to anything you wish to tell me," he said.
"Good answer," Dr. McCoy said, as though he were grading Spock's response. "Well. Based on what you just told me, I guess it won't hurt too much to give you the big secret. When you and Uhura broke up, most of the reason I started spending time with you is because you're my friend, like I said, and I thought you could use some company about then. But part of it was also 'cause I'd been...interested...in you for a while, and I liked having the opportunity to spend time with you, get to know you a little better."
Spock stared at the doctor as he assimilated the unexpected confession. He had not thought...but, no, that was not entirely accurate. He had not let himself think of such a thing. The impulse had been there, throughout the weeks of deepening friendship, hovering on the edge of his consciousness and not given voice.
"You mind sayin' something?" Dr. McCoy's own voice intruded into his thoughts, the accent a bit broader, no doubt in response to the nervousness that was apparent on his face.
"I...yes," Spock replied. It seemed almost unbelievably forward to perform his next action, but Uhura had assured him by word and example that it was an acceptable response in these sorts of circumstances. Accordingly, he crossed the few feet to McCoy's chair and bent to kiss him on the mouth.
McCoy gasped audibly, and then he fisted a hand in Spock's uniform tunic and pulled him closer until he was pressed tightly against McCoy in what must seem an undignified sprawl to any outside observers but which felt...most agreeable. One of McCoy's hands came to rest on Spock's back, while the other cupped his cheek.
Spock threaded his own hands into McCoy's short hair. The urge to connect through the medium of a mindmeld was unexpectedly strong, but premature. For now, it was more than sufficient to enjoy this other form of intimate contact.
"Yes, Captain?" Spock waited as Kirk jogged up the steps between his seat on the bridge and the turbolift.
The doors closed, sealing them into the small space. "It's been a while since we had a chance to talk."
"It has," Spock confirmed. "Six days, nine hours, and fourteen minutes, approximately."
When Uhura had ended their relationship, she had indicated that one of the reasons behind her decision had been a growing romantic interest in Captain Kirk. Consequently, Spock had expected that the captain would avoid unnecessary social interaction with him at some point in the near future, signaling his own romantic involvement with Uhura. To date, that had not yet happened; their recent six day silence fit the typical pattern of Spock's interactions with Kirk, who was still working long hours as he adjusted to the rigors of his first command. Spock had not been able to determine whether this continued sociability on the part of Captain Kirk was an indication that he and Uhura had not yet begun dating, despite their interest in one another, or whether it was another demonstration of Kirk's disregard for a variety of social mores.
"Approximately?" Kirk asked.
"I rounded to the nearest minute."
Either way, Spock was pleased by the result. He had had mutually satisfying work relationships with a number of his colleagues in the years since he joined Starfleet. Uhura's romantic pursuit of him and their subsequent relationship had been...unanticipated, and the same charge could be levied--with even greater force--upon his relationship with Leonard McCoy.
In a certain sense, however, it was his friendship with James Kirk that was the greatest anomaly in his life. Spock had never had a friend as a child or adolescent, and two-thirds of his friendships as an adult were propelled in part by physical intimacy. Kirk--Jim--was the only person outside of his family whom he loved yet had never desired. If Leonard was correct, his relationships with Lieutenants Scott and Sulu and Ensign Chekov had begun to progress beyond that of mere coworkers, but in the meantime, Jim remained his friend in the truest sense of the word.
"Much appreciated. Which leads me to my main point: when you're taking classes in the Academy to prepare for commanding your own starship, you'd think that they'd mention at least once that most of your waking hours will consist of dealing with paperwork," Kirk complained, though his expression indicated that he was not as annoyed as his words suggested.
"Perhaps they felt that requiring students to write an average of one hundred and twenty papers before graduation was sufficient warning?"
"Or perhaps they didn't want half their command track students to develop a sudden passion for molecular biology just to avoid dealing with Starfleet bureaucratic bullshit."
"Perhaps," Spock acknowledged.
Kirk grinned. "Well, I'm done for now, barring a sudden interstellar emergency requiring our immediate attention. Bones says you play a good game of chess. You feel up to a game with me?"
Spock concealed his mild surprise that Kirk and Leonard had been discussing him. Although Uhura and he had no longer had to conceal their relationship after their permanent assignment to the Enterprise, they had largely kept to their habit of not drawing attention to their personal connection. Given this, as well as his own natural reserve, he had not expected to be a topic of conversation between Leonard and the captain. However, the fact that he apparently was was not unwelcome.
"I would be pleased to play a game with you," he answered, and nodded in satisfaction when Kirk's smile brightened in response.