THE GETTING OR THE HAVING

Marcy < marciawc24936 @ yahoo.com >


Rating: R

Codes : K/Mc

Summary: In the Mirror-Universe Kirk finds out that his counterpart has a sexual relationship with McCoy. This makes him thinking things over.

The story is part of the KirkMcCoyFest at http://tostwins.slashcity.net/KMF.htm

 

 

 

Part 1


"What's more important, the getting or the having?"
--koan of nearly every serious hunter who goes through ridiculous lengths to bag their game every year.
 


***

 
Exhausted from his own anger, Kirk leaned against the wall, his energies burnt to ash.  Scott and Uhura were quietly talking in the corner, wondering what Sulu's part was in this, while McCoy, typically, was standing apart from the others, arms folded across his chest and his gaze completely shuttered down.  Kirk had known that mannerism for years, since first meeting him as a raw lieutenant, and knew McCoy was thinking as hard as he was--you couldn't get McCoy to stop thinking anymore than you could Spock, although he doubted the two men would admit to having that much common ground.
 
"Beats me," one of the guards was saying to the other.
 
"There's no way this can be our captain," the second man was muttering, voice pitched low but final.  "Our captain wouldn't act like a complete lunatic.  He wouldn't phaser down civilians."
 
"It's like the Klingons tried to clone him or something," his friend said uneasily.  "Do you think they could have?"
 
Kirk grimaced, almost forced to shut his attention off from that conversation--such an idea was that unpleasant.  But the men, strangely dressed as they were, seemed to have a better handle on reality than he did.
 
"Well they'd go through a lot of trouble.  I mean, clone the captain, and the other officers?  They should have cloned Mr. Spock too.  He's the only person with authority to stop the captain."
 
"Sulu would, if Kirk had acted like that in his presence."  Guard One, as Kirk was thinking of him, said with confidence.  "He's stood up to superior offiers before.  If you aren't doing the right thing, he'll do something about it."
 
Isn't that the truth, Kirk thought in black humor.
 
"They'd probably not cloned Mr. Spock because he was on the ship," Guard Two offered.
 
"They would have cloned McCoy anyway."  Guard One was warming up to his theory, and, as bizarre as it felt to think this, Kirk had to admit there was a germ of plausibility to this impossible scenario.  After a while, anything was starting to look good.
 
Guard Two, surprisingly, looked disgusted.  "You still listening to ship's gossip?  That'll get you killed faster than anything."
 
"Hey, it's not gossip.  The whole ship knows about those two.  McCoy'd know faster than anybody if something was wrong about the captain."
 
"He'd know it because he's the CMO," Guard Two was still using that disgusted voice.  "Not because he's involved with the captain.  And you'd better consider the source for those rumors, Henk.  Hell and no fury, you know."
 
"Gawd," Guard One shot back. 
"McCoy or Lieutenant Vampire?  That's no choice.  One of them took an oath to Do No Harm, and it sure wasn't Kerdwi."
 


***

 
Half an hour later, the too-bright walls of the transporter room were gone and the familiar sullen red of his ship was back.  Spock's report, mechanically stated, was listened to and accepted with the same mechanical attention.  Lieutenant Moreau was there, a surprise to him, and his initial response was suspicion.
 
Spock's dark eyes glittered.  "Lieutenant Moreau was the first to notice you were not who you claimed to be, captain."
 
"Did you?"  Kirk asked her with a degree of politeness in his suspicion.  Marlena had not been supportive of late, her good moods mercurial and unexpected.
 
"I went to Spock."  She thrust her chin out with the familiar old anger.  "He seemed to be unchanged, and I took a chance with him."
 
"A good thing you did."  Kirk said simply.  His thoughts were running in different directions.  "Doctor, I suggest you look us over; that was a rough beam-up."
 
"Aye sir."  McCoy answered quietly.  Kirk caught, just at the edge of his vision, Spock giving the doctor a long, thoughtful look.  The Vulcan had given that particular look many a time, and always upon something small and exotic trapped under a viewing lens.  Kirk found the analogy as correct as it was disturbing.
 


***

 
McCoy was nothing more than thorough as he checked everyone over, saving himself for the jaded gaze of his AMO.  Kirk stayed behind as Uhura and Scott were dismissed.  Spock also waited, without asking.  By now Kirk was aware that the Vulcan was looking at both humans with that bug-under-glass mannerism.  Having plumbed the depths of McCoy's counterpart through the Mind Meld, Kirk had a good idea why Spock was so obviously rocked.
 
Lovers?
 
Male-male relationships (and tribads) were actually more common than not in the Empire; with heterosexual affairs reserved for marriage and children.  That was the good-old fashioned way of doing things, unchanged since the halcyon days of the Greco-Roman Alliance that led to the first roots of the Empire today.  Vulcan had its own similar martial and marital rules, which was one reason why the two warlike peoples had managed to get along so well.  As a young man, Kirk had been initiated in the old-fashioned agape by the best; the-then Captain Decker, and from there on a successive string of lovers, until Kirk's age and experience had risen him in the social ranks until he could pick and choose his own.  And he had; women in his opinion, were exotic, tempting and very tasty...but unless they were far below him in rank, more trouble than they could be worth.  Marlena was leashed mostly by her rank; her knowledge of the Tantalus Device was something he as a commander was inexcusably foolish on.  One day he would have to solve that problem, but his distaste for killing was under-rated.  There were standards of personal conduct and honor he didn't expect anyone to comprehend...and simply killing a woman because she would be a future liability went against everything he had believed in as a child.  It was enough that she was loyal to him.
 
At least for now.
 
M'Benga was saying something, shaking his head at the readings at McCoy, which made the prone man snort and shoot back something full of technobabble, that nonetheless passed for some kind of medical joke.  M'Benga snickered and let him get up, all tests clean.
 
Lovers?
 
It was true that he and McCoy spent a lot of time together, and that rumors on the ship were indeed, full of speculation that did nothing more than amuse the captain.  Let gossipers get it wrong--that was what you got for not having the courage to ask a straightforward question.
 
But that time spent together was always rooted in good, solid platonic reasons: work, reports, reviews, and the rare social events were never alone.  When they had their uncommon shore leave drinks together, it was always under the umbrella of a public place--and nearly always in the company of other officers, such as Spock or Scott.  Sulu and Chekov were hardly ever at those occasions, and Uhura least of all.
 
He would have to change that, he thought with a slightly unpleasant twist to his lips.  Start inviting his more recalitrant officers to show up in public.  Not only would that keep them busy, but they'd be mentally hopping trying to figure out his motives, and wondering if they could use this new development to their advantage.  Speaking of...
 
He toggled the switch at his screen and summoned all his senior officers.  It was time to cause a little trouble.
 


***

 
Sulu and Chekov faced the information fairly well, considering the man they'd tried to assassinate hadn't even been the right man.  Sulu turned a little on the pale side, and Chekov...well, Chekov's baby face would always get him in trouble, but that look of astonishment would be liable to send his executioner to death laughing.  Spock of course, had known everything, and his remote pose of standing with his arms across his chest was as good as a phalanx of supreme bodyguards.
 
"That was the record," Kirk told them crisply, and then snapped another button.  "For the record, I am commending both Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov for their appropriate actions."
 
Astonishment is often audible by its lack of sound.
 
Kirk mentally smirked to himself and continued.  "While I'm not fond of the idea of being a target for anyone's ambitions, the fact is I would far rather see myself dead than this ship in the hands of an enemy.  I suggest everyone consider the ramifications of my counterpart were he to gain control of the ENTERPRISE and put a halt to the Halkan Discipline."
 
Everyone did...and the reactions were from bemused to grim.  Failure to follow Command would have saved the Halkan government...for a short time.  Then the ship and the majority of the planet would have been laid waste by the Empire's phasers.  Everyone on the ENTERPRISE would have been executed or put in the Arena for an amusing example to uprisings.
 
Doing the unexpected thing could get one assassinated very quickly.  But some forms of startling behavior simply throw an opponant off-balance, and extend one's lifespan indefinitely.  It was this procedure Kirk was especially fond of.
 


***

 
"Was that wise, captain?"  Spock asked dubiously, softly, as they strolled through the corridors.  The bodyguards held back at a respectful distance.
 
"Do you disagree with my line of reasoning, Mr. Spock?"  Kirk asked mildly.
 
"Not at all.  But it is...unique."  Spock paused, and faced him clearly.  "As unique as one of your chess manoeuvres.  My compliments."  A new appraisal was in the Vulcan's eyes.  "You have secured the loyalty of two of your most open opponents for the time being.  What of the landing party that was stranded with you?"
 
"I have no need to doubt their loyalties."  Kirk chuckled softly.  "They performed admirably.  You can read it in my private report."
 
"Yes, captain."  Spock's soft baritone was thoughtful.  It made Kirk glance at him as they continued on.
 
"Something on your mind, Spock?"
 
"Yes, captain...several things.  But I have not finished sorting them out."  Spock again faced him with that considering look.  "Perhaps there is something to human instincts after all."
 
Kirk didn't know how Spock was thinking of McCoy.  Perhaps it was those aforementioned instincts.  "Instincts are useful only when they can be relied on.  Too many people are trained to listen to orders, not their own minds."
 
"Agreed."  Spock clasped his hands behind his back--a Vulcan gesture of deep contemplation, and they continued their patrol in silence.
 


***

 
The smell of soldering metal touched Kirk's nose as he entered Sickbay.  As usual, it was mostly empty, but that scent was an unusual one, unless McCoy was working on one of his endless projects.
 
Hypothesis confirmed.  He found the CMO scrunched over a desk and scowling at a dismantled tricorder.
 
"Are you moonlighting for Mr. Scott, then?"  He asked mildly.
 
McCoy glanced up, distracted.  "Not hardly," he grumbled.
 
"What's this, then?"
 
"I'm not sure..."  McCoy was still frowning as he popped a plate loose from his tricorder.  Kirk recognized it as the doctor's personal machine, and McCoy was as likely to play with it as he was to start singing acapella in the Lounge.  "It's behaving oddly.  Has been since the Transfer.  I was trying to find out if there was something stuck in it or something."
 
"Why didn't you just run it to Scott?"  Curious, Kirk sat on one side of the desk and looked down.
 
"I was planning on it, but every time I send this thing to him, his first question is, "Did you shake out the dirt, bugs, grass, atmospheric vapor..."  I thought I'd bypass that step and just hand him the componants."
 
Kirk chuckled, easily imagining the scene.  "Looks perfectly clean."
 
"It should be.  It was just down on Halka, and then up in that other dimension, then back in ours.  It didn't have time to travel."
 
"Or at least travel in time."  Kirk sighed.  "At least we haven't run afoul of that too much."
 
McCoy blanched.  "I choose not to consider that."  A quirp caught his attention and if anything, he grew even more intent.  "Well, I'll be..."
 
"What?"
 
McCoy didn't answer at first, but he practically lunged across the desk to throw the blue wafer inside the computer.
 
The screen lit up with the medical krypta that Kirk was fairly certain was deliberately obscure and impossible for the layman to understand.  It was understandable to McCoy, however, who turned about three shades whiter at what he was seeing.
 
"I don't believe this," he mumbled.
 
"What's wrong?"
 
"They must've...This isn't my meditrike.  It's my counterpart's."
 
Kirk peered over his shoulder, but could see nothing interesting.  "Anything good?"
 
"I...I...I don't know."  Incredibly, a short laugh escaped the older man.  Kirk saw, for a split second, amazement over the tired face.  McCoy looked like a small child faced with a room full of toys.  "It's medical specs for the last...the last five xenospecies they'd encountered!  And there's still room on the wafer for five more!"
 
Kirk was impressed.  Only the Higher Ups could be allotted high-density wafers; that said more than anything what the Federation's priorities were.
 
"Halkans...Talki...Reese...My God, just look at it!  They must've spent days on these planets!"
 
"That's amazing," Kirk murmured.  His attention was fixed on the stranger in front of him, a McCoy who wasn't frowning, or grumbling, or shouting.
 
"God!  Denebian parasites!"  The doctor slapped his fingers over the krypta keys, highlighting and pulling the data apart from the tape.
 
"That's...nice."  Kirk said as neutrally as possible.  He didn't care for any memories of Deneba.
 
"Oh, Lord."  McCoy said so softly, Kirk knew something was wrong.  The doctor's eyes were as wide as they could go.
 
"What is it?"  Kirk asked, readying himself for the worst.  His guts clenched for what he knew was bad news.  The screen's graphics meant nothing to him.
 
"The parasites...they couldn't tolerate UV rays."  McCoy said in that same quiet voice.  He knew what the burning of the colony had cost Kirk: his brother, sister-in-law, and three nephews.
 
For too long a time, Kirk felt nothing.
 
Then:
 
Red.
 


***

 
Spock stroked his beard thoughtfully as the captain paced.  The energy the younger man held inside himself, like a pent-up predator, was never far from the surface, but it had been a long time since he had displayed that level of restlessness.  There was nothing to do, he realized, but to wait it out until Kirk was ready.
 
Kirk was a long time his voice.  "I have a proposal for you, that would be a test of your true abilities, Mr.Spock?"
 
The eyebrow arched.  "True?"  He repeated.
 
"Any soldier can follow orders, and some can follow them well.  I'm looking for a critical thinking application."  He eyed the Vulcan carefully.  "In your opinion, Mr. Spock, how important is it to know our enemies?"
 
"Pricelessly so, captain."
 
"How often is coercion of a known weakness used against our enemies."
 
"Whenever possible."  Spock answered cautiously.  He had no idea where this was headed.
 
"I want to see this ship become an information vessel.  Not just to seek out those new worlds and conquer them, Mr. Spock, but I believe the time for running roughshod is past.  We are no longer trying to recover our resources from the Mutara Invasion.  It's time to return to our old methods of conquest: through treaties and problem sharing.  And I'd like to see you list out all the inarguable reasons why we should do this."
 
Spock blinked.  Twice.
 
"For obvious reasons, I think we cannot inform High Command of our trip to the Other Dimension.  What is your impartial recommendation?"
 
Spock did not hesitate.  "I agree."
 
"Exactly."  Kirk began pacing again.  "Our counterparts made a revealing error, Mr. Spock.  Dr. McCoy's medical tricorder was returned to him in the form of his counterpart's.  With it some very interesting information, which we shall consider classified."
 
"Understood."  Spock's eyebrows soared as he considered the implication.
 
"The information must be used in your report.  Specifically, the vulnerability of the flying parasites of Deneba.  I trust you can find a way of independently discovering, via Empire means, what is on the wafer.  I want you to use it as your pivotal point: that if we had been permitted the time and resource to learn our enemies, we would not have had to phaser down the entire colony."
 
Kirk's eyes, his face and his gestures were all flat, practically nonexpressive.  Spock knew well why.
 
"I will apply myself to this matter immediately," Spock leaned sideways to his computer.  "With your permission, I will review the wafer."
 
"That wafer doesn't leave McCoy's possession.  You can review it in his presence."
 


***

 
 
The evening passed quietly among the two officers.  Neither man happened to be talkative when researching--a trait they could admit to, and respect.  In other fields they were openly antagonistic, but Spock would never think to question McCoy's abilities any more than McCoy would Spock's.
 
In Spock's cabin, McCoy was calmly ignoring the Vulcan with his Padd and stylus of shorthanded codes.  He was absorbed in his own research.
 
Two hours later:
 
"They haven't moved, Mr. Spock."
 
Spock looked up from his computer.  "What has not moved."
 
"My warts."  McCoy let the silence hang as before he added, while still writing, "I'm assuming you're checking them over.  You've been glancing at me rather obviously ever since I came in.  Ergo, there's something about me that's uncommonly interesting.  My warts are usually the most interesting part about me."
 
Spock had to think of how to best respond to this.  "I am not interested in your warts, or anyone's warts."
 
"That's a relief."  McCoy was still writing, still not looking up.  "But you might be able to bypass a lot of eye-maneuvering and just ask what it is about me, that bugs you today.  I can probably take it, you know.  I've been asked if there're sick people in my Sickbay.  Once somebody asks you that in all seriousness, you can handle just about anything."
 
"Possibly."  Spock's eyebrow went up, and McCoy had a feeling the boom was about to be lowered...or the airlock opened.  "It would appear that in the other Universe, the captain possesses an...intimate relationship with you."
 
McCoy looked up at that, with an expression mixed of neutrality, and deadpan astonishment.  Spock privately wished he could record it for posterity.
 
"You don't say," McCoy answered, still deadpan.
 
"You do not appear surprised."
 
"I am."  McCoy admitted.  "Frankly, the strength of our working relationship formed on our lack of interest with each other."
 
"The lack of interest the captain has towards you, you might say,"  Spock corrected.  Inferior officers, short of seduction, did not accost superior officers.  The reverse was quite true.
 
"Possibly," McCoy answered cautiously, "But as I'm trying to say, it's never occurred to me.  The fact that it obviously hasn't occurred to my captain merely means there's one less complication in my life I have to deal with."
 
Spock was, in his Vulcan way, subtly taunting.  "Being under the protection of the captain of a starship would be a complication?"
 
"Yes."  McCoy said, clipped, tightly.  "The Empire's Oath of Hippocrites, as well as the Subordinate Oath of Amphitrite, does not acknowledge the superiority of any rank.  Even Democrites, a god I've never chosen to swear my oaths to, admits that rank is a convenient method of manipulation."  The blue eyes hardened.  "You know that.  Now do you need to hear me state any other obviousness?"
 
Spock almost smiled at McCoy's refusal to take bait.  "And should you ever fall under the attention of a superior officer, who accepts the limitations of your oaths, what would you do?"
 
"Sweat."  McCoy told him.  It was the truth.
 


***

 
The next day, and the next, passed cautiously.  McCoy was now aware of why Spock was watching him.  This had led to his being aware of why Kirk was watching him, and in his spare moments, he was watching both men when they weren't already watching him.  It was just about every kind of bizarre you could think of, unless one was trying to write a play for one of the more shameless Empire-sponsored comedies, and then McCoy was fairly sure that plot had already been exploited twenty or thirty times.
 
Lending credence to M'Benga's drunken theories on the subconscious telepathic abilities of the human race, McCoy's staff was now watching him.  And certain quarters, who had been violently in Kirk's camp, were suddenly easing off their political pressure. Marlena was suddenly sending a lot of personal Chemical reports to Spock, so it was only a matter of time before Kirk put the plug on her relationship.
 
Or just as likely, give her to Spock and wash his hands of her, McCoy thought uneasily.  He tried to concentrate on the latest casualty statistics, but all he could figure was Sulu's men were at odds again because there had been two knifings and an old-fashioned glass jaw.
 
This is awful, he suddenly got to his feet and threw down the stylus in disgust.  He was halfway to Mess Hall before he was aware of the desire to get the hell out Sickbay, his normal refuge.  As a rule, McCoy liked being ignored.  He liked it a lot.  It saved problems.  Now half the ship was watching him, and the other half was watching Kirk.  All because:
 
mu(K+M) = ru(K+M)
 
Or if you really wanted to translate the algorithm:
 
Mirror Universe relationship of Kirk Plus McCoy supposedly Equalled the relationship of Kirk and McCoy in the Real Universe.
 
Jesus Wept.
 
I never asked for this, he thought wildly, as he punched up the largest, most caffeinated cup of coffee he could get on the ship's menu.  The Hall was empty, and thank goodness for small favors.  So what if there's something going on in the Mirror universe between myself and Kirk's counterpart?  All that means is, both of us are twice as crazy over there.  Three times.  Incurable.
 
One never got involved with starship captains.  That was the short-term route to madness.  Starship captains became starship captains because they fit certain criteria approved of by High Command:
 
*  They were emotionally distant--extreme versions were sociopaths.  Kirk's case:  zipped up in the tightest Hero Suit seen in the Empire since IMPERIAL CENTURIAN had been running on the trivid channels.  It took no stretch of imagination to transpose Kirk's hard gaze with that of the hard-edged actor who drove away Imperial menaces and government corruption on a weekly basis.
 
*  They were able to inspire a healthy dose of fear in their crew's loyalty because they could send anyone to the Booth, and a lot of captains made a point of sending their lovers and even blood-kin to the Booth or execution just to prove they were immune to the softer feelings.  Look at Ben Finney.  He'd been a former interest in Kirk's life--Kirk hadn't even sent him in the Booth, but personally spaced him just as he'd faked his tape.
 
*  They followed orders without question--such as, High Command tells you to kill your brother, or spouse, or lover.  No problem, when do you want the head?  Case in point:  Deneba.  When ordered to cauterize the alien contamination, Kirk had done so.  Ship's phasers had charred the parasites to ash...as well as the very last members of his family.
 
*  They possessed a fearsome intelligence which gave them the ability to rationalize everything, such as sending the head of aforementioned loved one to the Praetor.  Kirk had hated his orders, but believed it was for the best to keep those things from marching deeper into the Empire's space.  Now he was faced with proof that simple UVs would have saved everybody, and what was he saying?  "It worked out for the best.  The entire colony was anti-Imperial.  They died in two seconds when they could have died in days."
 
*  They denied weaknesses.  McCoy could hear Kirk saying, mocking and half-serious at a party:  "I can deny my weaknesses...I just don't have any at the moment."  It had made everyone laugh, but there had been a bitter undercurrent under Kirk's smile.
 
McCoy realized where his thoughts were taking him (straight to hell in the handbasket), and tried to stop.  He sipped his coffee halfway down before he remembered he liked his with sugar, and went to the nearest table for the dispenser.
 
The idea of being serious with anyone was a joke.  His divorce just happened to be one of the bloodiest social events in the South, and many had joined the Service for half the reasons he'd had.  The level of betrayal his wife had inflicted had left him more than emotionally shattered.  He had been left virtually unsexed, burned out on the very idea of getting inside arms' length of anyone.  Even when the normal hormonal pressures began to assert themselves, force of habit reminded him in vivid detail things he had tried to forget for years.  Who needed a commitment when all you really needed was a government-funded brothel?
 
So there.
 
He added far too much sugar, and enough creamer to ensure he would have violent stomach cramps later.
 
He was being thoroughly unreasonable, he reminded himself.  When cornered, fall back on the old standbys--reason and deduction.  Kirk wasn't interested in a relationship with him.
 
And thank God.
 
Because if he was, McCoy knew he didn't have the stature to avoid Kirk's intentions.  People who won chess games from Vulcans and Andorians and even Deltans, wouldn't find an emotionally shattered, depressed insomniac much of a challenge.
 
There was no way Kirk would be interested.  One.  Less.  Complication.  In his. Life.
 
The doctor drank the last of the coffee and went to the wall for another round. 
 
Of course, if McCoy had been thinking at all possible angles, he might have encountered a truly terrifying possibility:  That beyond rhyme and reason, Kirk might for some strange, inexplicable and wholly mistaken reason consider him a challenge.
 
Kirk, it was well known, lived on challenges.
 
Any challenges.
 
Which was why McCoy drank his coffee and told himself he had Kirk on the brain, that it was his own paranoia trying to ruin his life.  He had no knowledge of anything like the Tantalus Device, much less that it was an excellent surveillance tool for a captain that liked to observe everybody on the ship.
 
Everybody.
 

Part 2

 

 

The next few weeks passed on the ISS ENTERPRISE. 
 
Excruciatingly.
 
Spock was still watching McCoy and Kirk.  Kirk was still watching McCoy and ignoring Spock.  McCoy was watching both of them and contemplating the ramifications of an early retirement from the Fleet.  As one didn't just "retire" from Fleet, the options were few and usually limited to a sudden disability of the brain or body.
 
It became obvious to the doctor, who had earned his psychology degree, that Kirk was biding his time with the watching, and calmly waiting for him to crack up or bolt.  Knowing what was going on did not necessarily make things easier.  McCoy's imagination was in good working order and he could easily consider the unpleasant possibilities the road of his life was about to fork at.
 
Eventually, the doctor's native contrary streak (never far away), was exhumed.  He simply decided to ignore both Kirk and Spock.  So what if he became somebody's hobby.  It wasn't like there were many birds to watch on the ship.
 
And it was a simple solution.  So simple, that it threw off the other two men for almost a week. 
 
It was five days before Spock realized what was going on, and four for Kirk.  Kirk had the advantage of understanding his own species.
 
Spock realized he was obsessing overmuch about shipboard affairs, although such matters fell under "political science" and could often mean the difference between life and death.  Vulcans normally ignored the affairs of humans, although their own affairs were absorbing and prone to epic scandals.  So he chose to stop watching...for a while.
 
Kirk was just amused.
 
He was a careful thinker, capable of leaping to great insights and intuitions.  Now that he had decided McCoy was a puzzle to solve, he was going to commit himself to it.  Like any true strategian, he had not yet decided what the outcome of his campaign was.  But to condense matters, Kirk prided himself on his excellent choices in life, and his taste.  If there was something hiding in the doctor, he was going to find it.
 
He didn't wait long.  McCoy had always been a professional, performing his duties to the limits and beyond.  That professionalism had formed the basis of their relationship years ago; Kirk never tolerated the limp in his life, and had put many a superior to the knife to prove that point.
 
Underneath the exterior of a cavernously depressing Sickbay, replete with official disorder and unofficial chaos, corrupt technicians and a staff that worked well in wartime and against each other in peacetime, it was still one of the tightest departments on any Starship.  Grudges could go deep and last for generations--or they might not.  One didn't have to take a survival course in environmental assessment in order to have a decent lifespan, but it did increase the odds.  Since Piper's "departure" (departure as in from the plane of the corporeal), things had been better.
 
McCoy's chaos, Kirk realized, was his chaos.  He could understand it, and best of all, nobody else could.  His system of filing made no logic anyone else could comprehend, but it worked for him--and it made it all the harder for someone to crack into his files.  Kirk was fully confronted with this situation when he tried to find a wafer under Canopian Marriage Customs, and finally found it under "Crises Impending."
 
"If M'Benga ever gets the initiative to kill you," Kirk told him in full exasperation, "We'll have to spend a month re-indexing your files."
 
"And that might be what keeps me alive."  McCoy answered, unconcerned as long as he was eating his lunch.  Fresh rations didn't come every day, and a recent battle with psychotic Orions had given them an unexpected dilithium mines' worth of vegetables and grain.  "Besides, M'Benga knows I'm the only CMO crazy enough to give him his own laboratory."
 
"That lab is the size of a shoebox."  Kirk pointed out.
 
"He managed to get his Masters in pH water samples of Class K planets out of that lab,"  McCoy reminded him.  "M'Benga doesn't want a level of responsibility that will detract from his publishing career.  I had to armwrestle him to get him here in the first place."
 
"What was the clincher?"  Kirk wondered.
 
"Full credit for his discoveries."
 
"He'd get that anyway." 
Kirk scoffed.
 
"Nuh-uh."  McCoy shook his head.  Kirk stared at him.  "It's quite legal for a superior officer in the medical field, and related fields of secondary military significance inside the military discipline and authority, to take the credit for all underlings' research and work."
 
"If that's the case, why isn't the murder rate higher?"  Kirk wanted to know.
 
McCoy turned thoughtful.  He stopped chewing for a moment, eyes drifting to the ceiling as he thought.
 
"Beats me," He said at last with a shrug.  "Maybe it is higher and we don't know about it.  If anybody can cover their trail, it'd be a halfway decent med-tech with a desire to live."
 


***

 
Physical aspect, well, McCoy wasn't bad.  He had a natural grace that caught the eye, and could make a Vulcan look clumsy.  But he consistently supressed his talents, making sure that if you glimpsed him at his best it was surely a mistake.  He was lean but hardly a rack of bones--the nickname applied to his livelihood.  His hair was still dark with plenty of color.  He was a lot stronger than he wanted one to think; his files were firm on that.  In battle, his strongest point was his unpredictability.  While McCoy might know what he was all about in a fight, chances were nobody else knew.  A trait Kirk recognized from his own Irish ancestors, and respected.
 
When he smiled, which was so rare you could count the times on a hand, he became a different person.  When something new and wondrous hit his life, equally rare, that new person came back.  When he was standing at the brink of accomplishment, a blend of the two emerged.  Wonder and awe would shine in his eyes, soaking in a memory to brighten his life for the dark days ahead.
 
The two different personalities intrigued Kirk.  They were night and day, almost like working with two incompatible brains in one body, and neither personality seemed to like the other.  One emerged under fatigue; the other in moments of strength.  One was thoughtful, pensive, capable of surprising insights.  The aggressive personality could be brash, and startling.  But the aggressive McCoy was the one most seen.  Kirk began to wonder about that submerged McCoy, the one he took such pains to hide.
 
And, being captain, he had access to a limitless database.  McCoy really didn't have a chance.
 
McCoy had an instinctive awareness of what was happening.  He couldn't avoid it.  His level of skill in the medical field was largely dependant on his ability to garner accurate impressions.
 
But it wasn't the first time he'd been faced with the attention of a superior officer.  Everyone had several times in their life.  It was a game--a game with high stakes and high risks.  The phrase "interdepartmental politics" didn't begin to cover the complexity of clever and determined adults pitted against each other.  As far as McCoy was concerned, Kirk was just the latest, unwelcome event in a life of head-on interaction.  Some people enjoyed the rise in fame.  Some managed to use it to their advantage.  Some just stuck it out and put up with it.  Some did very stupid things to prevent the inevitable.
 
McCoy's problem was he really didn't know which tactic would be the best.  It all depended on Kirk himself.  If Kirk pushed hard, McCoy planned on doing something stupid, something that would ruin his career but get him out of the problem.  He did have his self-respect, and that did not include being a captain's mome.
 
If Kirk planned on nudging him gently along, McCoy could delay Kirk's goal indefinitely.  Between the two tactics rested an extremely ugly type of cat-and-mouse, such as what Sulu was playing with Uhura.  It said something about the efficiency of both officers that they could perform their duties in a way that hadn't gotten the other sliced to ribbons...yet.
 
If Kirk decided to use the unimaginable tactic of subtlety...well.  McCoy was sunk, and he knew it.  He had no idea of what Kirk was like when he was being subtle.  He doubted anybody knew.
 
He did know this:  Kirk disliked moving on the chessboard without having one or two pieces to back him up to crush the opponant who dared take that piece.  If that was Kirk's idea of subtle, then he'd better start investigating a medical mishap for himself right now.
 


***

 
"Chekov's report on the Canopian System."  Kirk dropped the hard copy on the triangular desk and rubbed his forehead in irritation.  "Only one decently habitible planet in a field of 20.  The gravity patterns are beyond belief.  It's no wonder the commets and asteriods are considered "officially untrackable."
 
McCoy shook his head at the thought.  The fresh rations had died down, and he was back to getting all his enjoyment out of his cup of coffee.  "I'm surprised he submitted that ahead of schedule."
 
"Oh?  Why?"
 
McCoy finished swallowing his drink before replying:  "Sulu."
 
"What about Sulu?  Those two couldn't possibly be a couple."
 
"They aren't."  McCoy shivered at the thought.  "Chekov would do anything for Sulu if he asked him to, though.  Our helmsman is the only person in that man's life who has ever treated him decently.  I wouldn't call it hero worship, but if Sulu ever got his own ship, Chekov would be right there to give his orders."
 
Kirk thought about it, frowning slightly.  "Here I thought Chekov just had a schoolboy's crush on him.  And that's what the majority of the ship thinks."
 
Again, McCoy shook his head.  The blue eyes locked into the hazel, delivering a message.  "Regard is one of the easiest states to misread."  He said softly.  "And admiration is often confused for love and lust."
 
Kirk held McCoy's gaze, and was mildly surprised when the doctor refused to back down from it.
 
"An emergency call from the colony, captain."  Uhura's steady voice alerted Kirk out of the fragile silence.
 


***

 
Ten minutes later, the Bridge was a very uncomforatble place to be in.
 
"Great."  McCoy rubbed his forehead.  Now that he knew why Kirk had summoned him Up Top, he was wishing he were M'Benga and M'Benga was himself.  "An Ambassador's daughter about to give birth, and she's Canopian.  They won't let any military get close to them."
 
"That's why I wanted that wafer on marriage customs."  Kirk drummed his fingers on his thigh.  "They'd rather let a strange male approach them, than a female twin sister with a war record."
 
"Some kind of religious thing I've never understood."  McCoy told him.
 
"I've never understood that tradition," Kirk said in distaste.
 
"I believe it was the caste system."  Spock offered politely.  "The Civilian caste is carefully married to the military caste.  Casual contact is not permitted for fear of disruption to the marriage brokers."
 
"Business."  McCoy laughed shortly.  "I thought that went out with lancing wounds and spinu bifida."
 
"We cannot offer the aid the Canopians need."  Spock said soberly.  "We all fall under military authority."
 
"But you don't."  Kirk suddenly turned to a startled McCoy.  "You swore an Oath to Hippocrites, who fell under the jurisdiction of Mars the Healer.  That technically makes you a Priest."
 
McCoy visibly hesitated.  "An Office I never actually took."
 
"But you were trained, were you not."
 
The doctor nodded without a word.
 
"They'll respect that.  Do you carry robes of office?"
 
"Pragmatic Office."  McCoy lifted up his hand.  "The codes of my home suffice."
 
"I thought it would be something like that."  Kirk folded his arms at rest.  "Go on down.  Dress civilian.  The ship will inform them of your arrival."
 
McCoy didn't protest.  After all, what was the point?  He just nodded, taking his leave.
 
The next forty hours passed in great exasperation.  No one on ship had heard of a labor lasting longer than fifteen minutes--half an hour seemed to be the record--modern medicine was capable of casual miracles and easy births.  Of course, that did depend on things the Canopians frowned of.
 
It was just plain bad luck that the labor was turning out difficult.  The family had religious strictures against what they considered invasive means, so the mother-to-be was being put under an abnormal amount of stress and physical strain.  Not to mention the labor attendant, McCoy added darkly.
 
"How much longer can it possibly be?"  Kirk asked, numb.
 
"It should have been done hours ago!"  McCoy rubbed his forehead.  The mainscreen showed little of the room, just a dark cloth around his throat, some sort of white tunic and a black vest.  "I'm no magician, but I may have to learn how to be one, real quick, to make sure the baby is alive and healthy."
 
"Is it in danger now?"
 
McCoy clearly hesitated.  "Not now.  But there's been some bad moments."  His head shot to the side, just as a sharp wail floated up.  "I'll contact you as soon as I can."
 
Kirk motioned for Uhura to sign off, and sighed.
 
Spock voiced what they were all thinking.  "A political birth.  The planet's politics takes for granted this heir will be alive and healthy."
 
"And if it isn't, there will be a board of inquiry that will include everyone on the ISS ENTERPRISE and carefully exclude the ridiculous, hidebound conservative view of the family who has these absurd customs."  Kirk commented dryly.  "Not to sound prejudiced, Mr. Spock, but many of us in the Empire happen to owe our lives to the methods the Canopians scorn."
 
"I would consider myself in your category,"  Spock commented.
 


***

 
McCoy moved off the platform with that smooth grace that belied a man much younger than his years.  His dark clothes were stark against the gauzy finery of the Ambassadorial party.  Kirk thought he did indeed, resemble a preacher.  That impression was not dispelled when he took in the finer details: the doctor looked remarkably like an old riverboat gambler from the ancient history books, but his left sleeve had two thin, dark blue-violet stripes across the cuff almost like a military rank.  Kirk made a mental note to find out about that; civilian ranks were a mystery to the military-bred like himself.
 
The baby in his arms stirred and made a soft wail.  A young woman, possibly the mother but who could tell under the layers of gauze, moved close.  McCoy passed it over with a faint smile and watched her vanish into the throng of Canopians.
 
"Why is it," Kirk muttered to Spock, "We're good enough to be their transport to the Third Colony?"
 
Spock only shrugged.
 


***

 
"Here's the report."  McCoy was so tired his voice was hoarse.  He pushed the blue square of plastic forward on the small desk.  "All the basics, and some of the not-so-basic procedures."
 
Kirk stared.  "How'd you manage a vaginal birth if the baby was stuck?"
 
"I didn't."  Very slowly, as if moving underwater, the doctor pulled off one lowtopped boot after another, and put them back in his closet.  Kirk made a note that the closet had exactly two suits of civilian clothes and nothing else.
 
"You didn't?"
 
"No.  I just told the mother that if that baby wasn't going to come out by the time I counted three minutes, she was going to have invasive surgery."  McCoy's expression was almost amused.  "She practically stood on the balls of her feet, told me that would happen over her dead body, and bingo, an emotionaly induced normal labor.  But that poor kid is going to look a fright until its head settles down to its natural shape.  She looks like somebody stuck her upside down in a funnel."
 
Kirk winced; similar thoughts had occurred to him upon taking in the infant's cone-headed red skull.  "Well, all's well that end's well.  Consider yourself off duty for the next 24 hours.  You look like you need it."
 
"No arguments."  McCoy was reaching for his neatly-folded military tunic off the desk chair.
 
Halfway down the hall Kirk remembered he hadn't picked up the wafer.  He spun and, giving the bodyguards time to catch up, returned to the doctor's cabin.
 
McCoy didn't react when he stepped through the door.  Kirk's first thought was surprise tht he could fall asleep that quickly, but a second analysis disputed that.  Sleeping people rarely stretched out, fully dressed in uniform, with their hands folded across their midsection.  Boots and all, McCoy looked ready for duty, but he was colder than a vacuum-chilled mackerel.
 
Kirk shook his shoulder, and got no reaction.  A more violent shake meant nothing.  McCoy was limp as a doll, and just as useful.
 
What'd he do, give himself a sedative?  He likes those things about as well as I do, which means he doesn't.  Half-exasperated, Kirk straightened, hands on hips.  For the first time his eye fell upon a small object lying on the rest behind the doctor's head.  A hypospray.  An empty one.
 
...hmnnn...
 
Kirk picked up the tool gingerly.  Air-injection took most fluid out of the chamber, but there was the faintest suggestion of vapor inside.  Red vapor, which was the red liquid that suspended the medium of nearly all the serums in the Empire's pharmacology.
 
A good military strategist investigates all possibilities.  Kirk silently slipped the empty chamber in his sash.  Three minutes to get to his cabin, two to stick the chamber in his personal computer, and three more to return the hypochamber to McCoy's hypo.
 
There was a very good chance it was just a simple sedative to knock the doctor out, who was overtired and stressed from a long, hard case.
 
But Kirk was going to check anyway.
 

Part 3

 


Some vague instinct told McCoy danger was in the air--or at least, there was some kind of indefined threat.  Searching his memory brought him to no conclusions; he had waited until Kirk was long gone before taking the Lexorin, and finally got to enjoy the first conflict-free sleep in over a month.
 
He'd really pushed it this time.
 
The doctor rested at the edge of the bed, shoulders sloped as he ran over the same, tired facts that was his particular lot in life.
 
What he'd done was not illegal.  Now, taking certain drugs was very illegal for a physician, and not the least because doctors make terrible patients and there's the threat of an overblown sense of immunity that leads the way to addictions as bad as anything seen in the slums.
 
Lexorin was an ordinary, tabletop medication for Vulcans.  It was also used by Rigellians, and if Rigellians could take it, the chances were high humans could to.  But humans didn't normally need to take the stuff, which was the biggest reason why it was legal.
 
He did hate the circumstances that made the drug so vital to his personal pyramid of health.
 
Slowly, he got to his feet and checked the calendar.  He'd be back on duty by late tomorrow, which was just fine with him.  He planned to stay in his cabin and put his feet up as much as possible.  There was no telling when there would be another chance to get the rest.
 
But it was worth it, he reminded himself.  Every day on some level, he fought with this decision but he wouldn't--couldn't change it.  The successful birth--hard-earned--and the unabashed joy from the family when that tiny, angry infant was declared safe, normal, and willful, was something he would treasure.
 
He worried briefly, as he always did, on the future of the small life.  Would she survive, would she thrive?
 
But such matters were out of his power.  Freedom was a difficult thing, and it often hurt.  But everyone had to find their own paths for themselves.
 
He thought of the indignant face as the infant protested, and smiled slightly.  No, he doubted the baby would grow up to be a pawn in anyone's life.
 


***


Kirk smiled as Marlena came in with the wafer.  "Well you're home early," he said mildly.  "What's the good news?"
 
Marlena looked dubious indeed as she set the plastic down.  "That chemical was Lexorin."  She told him.
 
"I'm afraid that means nothing to me."  Kirk smiled at his most charming.  "Enlighten me."
 
Marlena sat down at the small table--really a one-person table--and took the glass he offered her.  Her expression was troubled as she studied the oily-looking liquor swirling inside the crystal.  "Lexorin is a Vulcan drug."
 
"A Vulcan drug?"  Kirk repeated.  He hadn't expected that.  Just about anything but that.  A history of carefully scathing observations from the CMO had not nurtured a reputation of Vulcan's particular usefulness in his life.
 
Scathing observations that might have begun about ten minutes after Spock had begun his particular scathing observations about civilians who joined military ships, but at least the two men could work together.  Otherwise, Kirk would be tempted to toss both out of a four-inch-wide airlock.
 
"Common enough on Vulcan," Marlena shrugged.  "It must be Mr. Spock's, or one of his bodyguards.  Where did you find it?"
 
The lie came easily.  "I didn't.  It was brought to me, from a source I'd prefer to disprove or prove--hence my asking for your help."  Again, that smile.
 
Feeling more comfortable, Marlena leaned back and took a sip.  "Lexorin is a mind-drug.  Many Vulcans have used it at least once in their life.  Nearly always, its used when they hit the cusp of adolescence and adulthood."
 
"It's used to...what?  Help their hormones stabilize?"  This was sounding really bizarre.
 
"No, not at all."  Marlena corrected quickly.  "Their minds."
 
"It's a mind drug?"
 
"Lexorin disrupts certain neural synapses for a short amount of time.  This helps a Vulcan who is under the strain of an uncontrollable mental environment, to take a much-needed rest."
 
Kirk caught on.  "You're saying, its taken as a form of psychic painkiller."
 
"Exactly."
 
Kirk rose and began to pace, slowly.  His hands locked behind his back, which meant he was really thinking.  Marlena wondered what it was about.  Since their return from that other place, he'd been oddly calmer, more in control of himself.  She'd fretted that he would kill her over whatever betrayals his imagination could conjure, but...
 
...it was as if that matter was not important to him.  Was he focused elsewhere?  Marlena was always on the sharp lookout for another woman in his life--and so far there was nothing to cause alarm.  If there was, she'd certainly take care of the matter, and she wouldn't need the Tantalus Device to do it.
 
As to the rumors about the way he was studying McCoy, well, starships ran on gossip as much as dilithium.  Kirk had paid attention to many a man in his life--Gary Mitchell being one of the worst such examples, but Ben Finney hadn't been all that sterling either.  If Kirk's history with women was colorful, patched and uneven, his relationships with men were as different as a valley and a gaping chasm.
 
Men pursued each other in different ways, for different reasons than they pursued women.  That was how the Universe ran.
 
"I don't want to just assume a Vulcan had this," Kirk said slowly.  "What other species would benefit from Lexorin?"
 
"Well, Rigellians, naturally.  And possibly humans."
 
"Humans aren't strongly psychic," Kirk protested--sharply, Marlena thought, then his face closed up tight and Marlena knew Gary Mitchell had suddenly flitted across his eyes.
 
"Most of us aren't," Marlena told him.  "There is a significant percentage of us who are.  I don't count myself in that, but..."  She lifted her shoulders, "Ca va."
 
"Ca va."  Jim echoed quietly.
 


***

 
"Thank you for agreeing to this appointment," Marlena sat down before the desk.
 
"It is of no matter."  Spock said politely.  "Does the captain know we are having this meeting?"
 
"Of course.  I need your testimony for an independant insight into this mystery."
 
Spock steepled his fingers.  "The presence of Lexorin does not guarantee it was used by a Vulcan.  Or even a Half Vulcan."
 
"Yes, Commander."
 
"And if it were, it would be considered a matter of privacy, and no real importance."  Spock told her.
 
"I have no idea why he wants to know this," Marlena confessed.  "I assured him I would find out what I could.  And while he never said anything outright, his questions were guiding me into "other-than-Vulcan" possibilities.  So, while he says the hypo was given to him by a source he wants to investigate, for some reason he doesn't think it was from a Vulcan."
 
"That would be more important," Spock admitted.  "A few races are forbidden Lexorin--Deltans, for example, and Andorians, but we have none currently onboard.  There is a possibility it was left by one, during one of our many missions."
 
"Can Canopians use it?"
 
Spock's eyebrows rose.  "An excellent question, for one I have no answer.  Perhaps we should investigate that angle."
 
"Why wouldn't he be asking McCoy on this?"  Marlena wondered, then answered herself.  "Oh; he's still offduty.  Yes, that's Jim.  He won't wait ten minutes for an answer.  I bet he's got M'Benga on it."
 
"I would not take that bet."  Spock told her soberly.  Kirk's impatience was the stuff of proverbs.
 
"Can you tell me anything useful?"  Marlena wondered.
 
Spock tapped his long fingers on the desk.  "Lexorin is more common among humans than one might think; Vulcan achieves considerable revenue from its exportation."
 
"Really."  Marlena was interested.  "Well, I don't want to be caught inadequate with information.  What conditions would meet that among a human?"
 
"Empathy is a difficult ability when mixed with telepathy," Spock mused.  "An Empath is often vulnerable to the whims of the psychic atmosphere.  Under a severe barrage of emotion, an empath may not be able to maintain their shields for long.  If at all.  They will react, slowly but surely, to the strength of the psychic emanations.  On another angle, in a staid, placid environment, they may be lethargic and difficult to rouse, even to perform ordinary duties.  A skilled empath is well shielded to some extent, but they must isolate themselves from others for a certain period or their mental barriers will degrade."
 
"You mean like going to one of those old-fashioned sanitariums?"  Marlena puzzled.
 
"Sanitariums are commonplace on Vulcan."  Spock told her placidly.  "And in the absence of sanitariums, which is not a normal portion of a Starship, Lexorin would be an adequate solution."
 
"I see."  Marlena stroked her lip.  "What if this...sanitarium...can never be gotten to?  Can Lexorin always substitute?"
 
"Nothing is truly an adequate substitute for the genuine article."
 
There was a short silence.
 
"Is Kirk still probing McCoy for flaws?"  Spock wondered, with just the right touch of dry deadpan tones.
 
Marlena laughed shortly.  "I don't know how he got Jim's attention, but I feel sorry for him.  Jim's never had a stable man in his relationships; he'll throw him away as soon as he wins him."  A sudden thought crossed her mind.  "Or maybe not.  As I said, he's never had a stable man in his relationships."  She shook that off.  "It's a completely one-sided affair, and I thought better of him."
 
"Better of who?"
 
"Jim.  McCoy's not much of a challenge--unless he's taking an entirely novel tactic.  McCoy's Hippocritic Oath is of the Old School.  He's not permitted to do anything.  But that doesn't mean somebody can't do it to him."
 
"I do not understand."
 
Marlena explained patiently.  "The Old Oath states specifically, as a physician one cannot divulge the confidence of anyone who tells him anything, even if it means his own safety.  That's restrictive enough, but he's also not permitted, let's see, "every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and further, from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves."  She scowled.  "Rules like that are why I left the option of nursing and went into Macrochemistry."
 
Spock pondered that.  The Oath sounded more like an induction into a severe priesthood; he would have to investigate into the full vow.  But suddenly, certain annoying aspects of the doctor's behavior was clear.
 
"You are saying that this sounds like the captain is stalking quarry with no defenses."
 
"Well, almost.  I'm a hunter myself."  She smiled.  "Some of the most dangerous animals are plant-eaters."
 
"They usually have certain factors on their side, Lieutenant.  Such as tusks, venom, armor and considerable size."
 
"Even a small animal can be dangerous.  No hunter believes in a totally harmless quarry.  But Jim wouldn't shoot turtles in the water.  He'd be going for them in a way that evened the odds.  And as to how he'll do this, I don't know.  I may be the Captain's Woman, but I'm not the Captain's Mindreader.  Frankly, I like it that way."
 
"If you were, Lexorin would always be an option."  Spock told her.
 
Marlena's jaw dropped.  She was almost positive Spock had just made a joke.


***


Marlena left a short message at Jim's cabin, summarizing what Spock had told her.  She found herself sitting on the small bunk in her room, thinking in the evening-dimmed lumen.
 
She could sense change was coming, but she couldn't say exactly what it was.  It did have something to do with McCoy.  But at the same time, she could sense change in the direction of Spock, and Jim, and even herself.
 
Marlena was jealous of anyone who could get Jim's attention, but most of all from other women.  That wasn't the case here, but McCoy was dangerous somehow.  How a pacifist could be, she didn't know.
 
The young woman sat with a glass in her lap, and pondered her options most soberly.  Change from outside environments needed one to change too--shutting the door didn't stop the ship from blowing up, after all.
 
She liked her position as a captain's woman, but Jim had not been a likeable man of late.  The visit to the Other Place had changed him, even though she would have preferred his counterpart to stay behind.  THAT had been a Jim Kirk she would have enjoyed.
 
So much like Jim used to be...young and not bitter, hard but not easily reactive.  She had thought the Tantalus Device would make things simpler with them.  It would smooth their way through power, and solve the problems of all their enemies and opponants...
 
Only there never seemed to be any lacking in enemies.  Make them disappear, and more came out of nowhere.  That was one illusion shattered.
 
And things had not gotten easier.  Jim could dispatch his foes with the press of a button, but he no longer even used it, other than to watch crewmen.  And contrary to what one commonly understood of voyeurism, Jim's use of the Device was getting fewer and fewer.  She didn't comprehend his thoughts in that field.  It was an ugly thing, but enemies had to be watched.
 
Slowly, Marlena's thoughts managed to get to a startling conclusion.
 
Jim was losing his edge.
 
Was that why he was interested in McCoy?  He might be telling himself it was just the usual cat and mouse, but what if McCoy's pacifist streak was compelling the captain in some way?
 
Marlena did not like this line of thought.  They might as well toss themselves out of that proverbial airlock.  Captains who hesitated to kill weren't captains for long.
 
She shuddered slightly, and picked up her glass.  There was always the possibility she was wrong--this wasn't the best theory she could come up with, but it was too compelling to dispense.
 

Part 4

 

 

What is this stuff?"

 

McCoy peered over his AMO's shoulder to see what the other man was talking about. "I have no idea," he confessed. "Did you draw those?"

 

"Not me." M'Benga lifted the transparent, glassine tubes of straw-colored liquid. "It's somebody's blood sample, but it sure isn't mine."

 

"Maybe Chapel's using the machine again," McCoy said, but doubtfully. Chapel--everybody--knew the rules: take care of what you do, or the CMO will toss it out the airlock, and maybe you with it. Biological contamination was the seventh-leading cause of death on science vessels.

 

"I'll run it through," M'Benga put the straw in the analyzer. "At least then we'd know who it is." The two men waited quietly, but were not wholly shocked when the readings came up as 100% alien.

 

"What the devil..." McCoy muttered, and suddenly bent for a closer look. As M'Benga watched, his face turned a dark red. "Why that son of a..." He shot upright, taut with anger. "M'Benga, you're in charge of Sickbay until I get back. IF I get back!" He had stamped out the door before M'Benga could gather the nerve to ask what he meant by the "if."

 

 

***

 

 

"What's your particular, logic-inspired excuse of using my equipment for your research?" McCoy wanted to know barely before the doors to Spock's quarters had shut.

 

"Logic-inspired excuse?" Spock repeated coolly.

 

"You have your own laboratory! You had no cause to put that liquidated chunk of flying parasite in my lab, where god knows who could have come along and contaminated it!"

 

"The sample was sterile," Spock informed him loftily.

 

"I'll remember that, the next time you preach to me about being a bad example to my staff." McCoy's voice could have dropped Eridani 40 into a new Arctic Zone.

 

Spock held the silence for a moment. "It was the best way to arrange this meeting with you." He told the angry human.

 

"Meeting?" McCoy repeated, then rolled his eyes upward. Under Spock's sardonically amused glance he folded up into the nearest chair. "Fine, you threw the bait, I took it, now I've been reeled in. You could have just ordered me in."

 

"Perhaps," Spock admitted, "But Mr. Sulu tends to notice when the two of us are combined on any matter. It is not unusual for us to fight."

 

McCoy promptly bashed his chin into his fist. "As I said, I'm listening. Are you going to let me know, or try to kill me with the suspense?"

 

"The ENTERPRISE is being considered as a research vessel for the Empire."

 

McCoy lifted his head up. Looked at Spock. He was completely without words, but Spock seemed to be waiting for him to say something.

 

"A research vessel for the Empire. A warship? A fully-equipped chunk of durasteel designed for mayhem?"

 

"I believe the favored word is, "disciplinary." Spock told him evenly.

 

"Beg pardon. And how does the captain react to this news?"

 

"He has been pushing for this matter." Spock told him. "I am surprised you did not know."

 

"Which just goes to show, I must not be sleeping with him." McCoy added with proper scathing heat.

 

Spock tilted his head to one side, his fingers neatly stacked up together on the desk. "Or you are an uncommonly reticent partner."

 

McCoy's eyes narrowed. "Thanks for assuming I'd even rank as a partner with a starship captain. I'd be flattered if I wasn't so appalled."

 

Spock's lips twitched. "As no psychologist can earn their sash by assassination, I presume you know something of human nature. If the captain's attention is abhorrant to you, I would suggest--"

 

"The last thing I need is advice on how to behave as a human, from someone who denies their own mother." McCoy snarled. the temperature in the room once again dropped. Spock's nostrils flared, but McCoy hadn't backed down from his face-off with James kirk, and he wasn't about to back off with Spock. "Your logic," he whispered, "is currently not designed for this kind of probing. It will work on those little officers, but may I remind you that I am not impressed by my own rank, nor should I be at yours. If you want to know something, it would save time if you just came out with it. I might even give you a straight answer."

 

Spock grudgingly respected this new and until-now, hidden doctor. Like a sandwal, McCoy appeared to be annoyingly ignorant of taunting until a certain line was crossed, then the tusks were exposed under the trunk.

 

Something, he realized, was perilously close to striking the doctor's buried defenses.  He steepled his fingers together and slipped his eyes half-shut in a show of calm; Vulcan manners were good at defusing situations at a subconscious level.  On a private level, this was getting very interesting and he intended to pursue his research in this matter.

 

"Surely you realize that if the ENTERPRISE is to become a science vessel, things will change for everyone.  If we have even one dissenting voice in our ranks, the project will fail."

 

McCoy frowned, letting his arms fall to his sides.  "We're not giving up our military capacity, surely."

 

"Surely not.  But even a partially peaceful reputation will mean the ship will face more challenges."

 

McCoy rolled his eyes.  "You're probably right.  You usually are about depressing things."  He folded his arms across his chest.  "I'm not about to be a dissenting voice, vote or opinion if it means we do less killing."

 

"Even if it means we are more likely to be killed?"

 

McCoy's answer was astonishing:  "I'm not that smart, Spock.  I don't ask myself those kinds of questions.  You might as well ask a blade of grass why its not an oak tree."

 

Spock's eyebrows shot upwards and nearly struck his hairline.  "An interesting point of view."

 

"I just do my job.  Even a partially peaceful warship, and I'm holding my opinion as to how possible that it--is closer to the mandates of my Oath than what's going on now."

 

Spock grunted softly.  "Understood.  Your view, unorthodox as it is, may be required soon."

 

"Let's hope not."  McCoy said fervently.

 

 

***

 

 

Rumor of course, hit the ship with the force of an ion storm.  There was an obvious tension in Sulu's faction--outright belligerance and horror to be exact.  Most civilians believed the military attitude was purely dog-eat-dog.  This was not true.  If a commander made an error that involved the entire ship, then every ranking officer tended to be executed with him.  Sulu's reaction was only sensible.  Kirk was not being predictable, and unpredictable captains tended to become "examples."  And the subordinate officers of the "examples" tended to become "examples" with the captains.

 

"If I pull one more dagger out of one more tech, I'm going to scream."  McCoy muttered in the hallway.  Kirk of course, gave a maddening chuckle.  His bodyguards were paid to be clever but not to question.  They were about the only calm and unreactive crewmen on the ship.

 

"You can take a break from it all soon enough."  The captain assured him.  "Mr. Scott is about to beam into the Auxillary Deck for repairs.  There's been radiation leakage, so that makes it unsuitable for Memory Alpha's confidential core storage.  And that means a qualified physician has to attend."

 

"Sounds lovely."  McCoy was perfectly serious.

 

"Are you joking?"

 

"No.  Slapping UV-shield and weighing rads sounds like a picnic compared to repairing aggressive assaults.  Have you seen my reports?  I sent you two full wafers of casualties and deaths."

 

"Two?  I thought there was just one.  I only got one."  Kirk scowled.  "Who couriered for you?"

 

"Tech Randall--oh, no."  McCoy stopped, putting his hand over his eyes with a grimace.

 

"Oh what?"

 

"Randall's one of my serious casualties.  The last wafer must not have gotten to you; he was carried into Sickbay less than ten minutes after I sent him out!"  McCoy put his fist into the wall as he walked; a casual display of temper.  Kirk smiled slightly as the durasteel rattled.  That had been an outwardly rash action, but the fist had been focused and skilled.  McCoy, consummate surgeon, would never do anything with his hands without deliberation.

 

"Do you have a copy?"

 

"Yeah, just a moment..."  McCoy detoured to the nearest wall-comm and paged Sickbay.  His request was in Medical jargon, which might as well be a foreign language as far as Kirk was concerned.  M'Benga answered in the same gabblespeak, and McCoy signed off in relief.

 

"The copy's on my desk.  I'll go get it myself."

 

"I'll get it," Kirk told him firmly.  "Scott's almost ready to go into Aux.  You know you don't want to keep that man waiting."

 

McCoy rolled his eyes in agreement.  The stereotypical Irish temper couldn't hold a candle to Highlander outrage and righteous indignation.  "I'll get my kit."

 

They walked together to Sickbay.  McCoy couldn't stand it; he asked the burning question:  "Why does Memory Alpha want us to be their messenger boy anyway?  They usually pick the smallest, lightest and damnall fastest ships to send core-memory to High Command."

 

"Sensitive nature of the materials I suppose."  Kirk lifted his shoulders.  "A starship is a lot harder to waylay than a corsair-class lightship.  And we have a lot better plating, three times the shields, and a heavy arsenal."

 

"All this for grain crop specs,"  McCoy muttered.  "Some people are taking this program to feed all the Empire's citizens and end all famine within a Standard Year, to extremes."

 

"From what I hear, the Empire's worst enemies aren't the Klingons or Romulans, but large-scale agriplanets."

 

"Let me guess; heavy supply will lower the prices."

 

"I thought you were a doctor, not an idealist."

 

"May I respectfully remind the captain that I was raised in swamps where the tomatoes have to be grown upside-down and hanging in the air to make room for other crops?"

 

"You may."  Kirk said placidly.  He was chuckling to himself at the sally.

 

 

***

 

 

Scott was hurridly giving his tool belt one last check as McCoy stepped down the hallway.  McCoy knew damn well Scott had been compulsively checking his equpiment ever since he picked it up.  'Compulsive' was one of the best ways of describing the Engineer.  "Och, there ye are," he burred.  "Ready then?"

 

"As much as I'll ever be,"  McCoy tapped his own belt.  The jumpsuits were a relief from the confines of the usual uniform.  More room in the shoulders, and wasn't that a blessing.  "Who'll be the Backup?"

 

"Barthlolemew.  I alredda sent him; he should be settin' everything up for us."

 

McCoy nodded and squared his shoulders.  He turned on his tricorder and satisfied himself the rad-settings were proper.

 

"Come on, then."  Scott bounced to the top of the transporter platform.  McCoy, who was determined that he would die before anyone knew of his fear of that form of transportation, mentally gritted his teeth as he moved to the nearest disk.  Lt. Kyle nodded respectfully, and gave the protocol-salture off his chest.

 

 

***

 

 

Up on Bridge, Lt. Sulu flinched at a shower of lithium sparks off his console.  The ship's antigrav shuddered, sending most who were on their feet to clutch at the rails.  The Security Alert dimmed, then swelled to full color and sound.

 

"Status Report!"  Kirk snarled.  His fingers dug into the rests of his chair.

 

"Energy fluctuation, captain.  Attempting to discern location."  Sulu answered shakily.

 

"Mr. Spock, lock on to Mr. Sulu's console; discern nature of fluctuation."

 

"Agreed, captain."  Spock said as calmly as if he had not already done so.

 

"Auxillary Department, sir."  Sulu sucked his breath through his teeth and winced; a burn smoked at his shoulder.

 

"Captain, Lt. Kyle is reporting," Uhura snapped.  "His console recorded a surge of radiation before the transporter's Carrier Wave could shut down."

 

"Obviously the cause of the fluctuation," Spock commented.  "The radiation carried over the Wave and contaminated the console, and through it, our instruments."  His eyebrows went up.  "The beam was to transport Scott and McCoy and Bartholemew to the Auxillary."

 

 

***

 

 

"Hold still,"  McCoy wearily tipped Scott's head up by the chin and delicately stitched the gash shut before it could resume bleeding.  Scott blinked heavily, the scorch sending a new wave of tears across his eyes.  "Can you see now?"  He waited, muscles trembling from tension, while the Engineer attempted to see.  It took a moment but felt like forever, then the man finally nodded, sighing with relief.

 

"What's thot smell?"  He asked.

 

McCoy had been dreading that question.  "Ensign Bartholomew."  He told him quietly.  Scott cringed, lips drawn tight over his teeth.

 

"How bad is it?"  He wondered.

 

"I don't think you should look."  McCoy advised.

 

Scott had seen just about every travesty known to the human body that involved engineering--from long-term effects of radiation, to broken machinary slicing sensitive flesh into ribbons.  If McCoy said no, he wasn't going to contest it.  He shut his eyes.

 

"Keep your head down; I'm going to clean up."  McCoy waited until after the Scot had lain back down on the metal floor, and went to the prone corpse.  A faint wisp of smoke still wafted up from the head, hands and thighs.  The doctor knelt and put his arms around the body.  The charcoaled-crust of uniform and skin and meat broke under the pressure; McCoy moved quickly, struggling to transport the dead man away from the room before he could literally fall apart.  Rigid chunks of charred meat slid like tectonic plates and a section of leg fell to the floor.  A new odor emerged; Scott clapped his hand over his mouth.

 

"It's almost over," McCoy misunderstood Scott's reaction.  "Mph...there."  He let go, and the ensign tumbled into the back closet.  Sighing, the doctor found the antiseptics and cleaned up the floor and walls as best as he could.  There was no point in exposing them to any more germs than neccessary.

 

"Ah don't think I'll be eatin' meat for a while."  Scott finally said.  He did it because not saying anything seemed to be vaguely disrespectful; like denying the boy had died trying to save their lives.

 

"Sure you will."  McCoy assured him.

 

"How ken ye even contemplate such?"  Scott wondered.

 

McCoy rubbed his face, leaving a clean smear across one cheek.  "Scotty, I don't have much reaction to the dead.  It's the living that gets me.  If he'd lived, well, he wouldn't have lived long at all, and he'd a been screaming the whole time.  I would have had to put him out of his misery."

 

Scott wearily opened one eye again.  "Ye would?"  He looked uneasy at the thought.

 

"Oh, there's plenty of doctors who are too good to kill, or too good to end suffering.  I don't think I'm that good."  That last was said sardonically, directed at some inner audience Scott was not aware of.  "What the blazes happened, anyway?"

 

"As far as I can figger," Scotty said slowly--very slowly--when we beamed doon, we activated some sort o' trigger."

 

"Bomb?"

 

"Aye."

 

"Isn't that lovely!"  McCoy saw another Bartholomew-smear and wearily wiped it up.  He felt sick and dizzy.  "Well, as the medical observant on duty, I must tell you there's too many rads in the room.  We'd better hope the rescue party comes within the next fifteen minutes, or we'll be convalescing on some godforsaken planet while our assistant officers plot a mutiny for our return."

 

"Yer a real ray o'sunshine," Scott decided, but didn't exactly argue with the depressing commentary.  After a long pause he said, "Ah think it was triggered when ah beamed Bartholomew intae' the room...Whoever it twas, decided we would all three beam in together."

 

"A Carrier Wave trigger doesn't matter if its incoming or outcoming?"

 

"Nae.  They must've decided...whoever they are...tae set the trigger for when we beamed out.  Thot way, a goodly portion o'the ship would be contaminated instead o' just auxillery and mebbe a small area here an' there."

 

"You mean that when we beamed in, we cooked Bartholomew alive."  McCoy blinked and threw the antiseptic wipes into the wall-container.

 

"Not the best method o'killing," Scott said flatly.

 

"Oh, I agree with you there...guess we should have expected it though.  As tense as things are with our turning into a so-called pacifist vessel..."

 

"Do ye really think that'll happen?"

 

"God I don't know.  I doubt it.  I never believed in the tooth fairy either."  McCoy sighed and slumped his back against the wall.  "All this for grain crop specs..."

 

"Mebbe we should start growin' our food on ship," Scott offered.  Obviously, the painkillers were kicking in.

 

"Great idea.  Allot two cubic feet of space per crewman."  McCoy decided to go with it.  "I'll grow coffee trees."

 

"Ye wouldna have room for more than one, and 'twould yield only a pound of beans per year.  Not practical."

 

"Sure it would; I'd start a program to improve production while I was at it..."

 

Talking about this ridiculous subject kept Scott conscious until the rescue party came.

 

 

***

 

 

"Beam down directly into the compound," Spock ordered crisply.  "Mr. Scott, your convalescence will be in the Keel.  I trust you will enjoy the company of your peers while you recover."

 

Scott openly brightened.  The Keel was where the really skilled technicians were; it was also where a certain Mira Romaine was stationed.

 

"Aye, sair."

 

McCoy smiled thinly, feeling his muscles twitch with fatigue.  Good for Scotty.

 

"Doctor, you will help the captain prepare a report for Memory Alpha."  Spock countered Scott's great news with McCoy's dismal; he tilted his head to one side, analytically.  "Of course, you and Mr. Scott and the captain will all be immeasurably detained as the Council of Memory Alpha deliberates on when to accept the said report."

 

The doctor's shoulders drooped.  "Agreed," He said tonelessly.

 

 

***

 

 

"Have a drink,"  Kirk sighed and plunked a heavy glass down on the table.  Well, it was a table now.  It had begun its existence as a very large glassine memory-chip.  Memory Alpha scientists never threw anything away.  "You really need a shower."

 

"I need an overhaul," McCoy told him.

 

"One thing at a time."  Kirk rested his eyes in his palms.  He was tired and didn't care if the doctor knew it.

 

The doctor stepped inside the fresher and keyed the temperature to the top of the human tolerance.  Steam filled the cubicle.  He sighed as he undressed and stepped under the flowing water.  Whoever was in charge of the captain's filtration system really had it good; this was distilled water, not the toxin-laden, chlorine-sterilized junk that made you sick and put cysts on your skin.  He scrubbed everything available, until the worst memories of Bartholemew faded out of his mind.

 

Kirk was nursing the same glass when he came out, soaking wet and wrapped in the loose cotton slacks and jacket of the civilian style.  The captain was frowning, by the set of his shoulders, at the play of the glittering artificial city below.

 

Kirk would not remind him he was offered that drink, but he would remember if McCoy didn't take it.  The doctor picked it up and punched for something to eat with his free hand.  He was actually sore from the impact of hot water, but it felt good.  It felt alive.

 

"That was some assassination," Kirk was saying.  "Have you ever seen anything like that?"

 

"A few times."  McCoy told him distantly.

 

"You're joking.  In this day and age?  Using a carrier wave off a transporter beam to ignite a container of colored polymer?  Paint?"

 

"Anything inflammable."  McCoy sighed.  "It can be a lot worse than that."

 

Kirk considered that.  It was unpleasant.  Officers liked their assassinations neat and clean, with little mess and fuss.  Dealing death in 'original' ways implied ugly possibilities like Special Ops and private contractors with grudges or clan feuds.

 

That reminded him of a particular blood-feud the doctor's family had been involved in.  What was it--something about an unpproved marriage?  And the mountains had been bathed in blood until the 20th century, when the descendants married sucessfully, uniting the clans.

 

"You and Mr. Scott are getting commendations for your actions.  That was a neat trick you did, sealing off the auxillary department until the crew could repair the radiation leak."

 

"Believe it or not, that's part of a medico's basic training."  McCoy rubbed his forehead, the other hand wrapped around the glass.

 

"Under what particular branch of study, pray tell?"

 

"Environmental."  McCoy told him.  Kirk waited for the punchline, but there was none.  The doctor was serious.

 

God, what a day.  McCoy sipped slowly, wondering if this was really a good idea.  He didn't think so, but then again, neither was refusing a captain's offer.  Such an action was practically a declaration of war, and he wasn't about to make war on anyone.

 

The drink was settling in his skeleton, spreading warm fingers outward into his veins, fuming upwards to his mind.  McCoy frowned to himself; this was alcohol, but he wasn't familiar with the effects of this particular cup.

 

"What is this stuff?"  He wondered, staring into the short bowl.

 

Kirk shrugged.  "It's not poison; I've been sipping on it most of the day.  Some kind of Vulcan distilled fruit drink."

 

"I had no idea the Vulcans exported their crops."

 

"They don't, really.  Some kind of religious code against buying and selling substnaces they consider sacred."  Kirk frowned reflectively, almost philospohically, as he sipped his bowl.  "So they trade with it.  There were some Vulcan technicians who badly wanted some fresh reading material..."

 

"You traded liquor for books?"  This was unbelievable.  Then suddenly, McCoy had a mental image of bored Vulcans who had read everything in their possession.

 

"Just wait till it kicks in."  Kirk told him.

 

"You mean it hasn't?"  McCoy was appalled.  He put the bowl back on the table--or tried to; he barely missed the rim and had to try again.  "That's enough for me," he said unsteadily, and rose to his feet--just as unsteadily.

 

"Sit down," Kirk ordered, and just to be sure, physically made him.  "Calm down, we don't have to worry about anything for another twelve hours.  Spock's in command and Sulu's too busy to get into any kind of trouble."

 

McCoy bonelessly flumped back on the cot, eyes wide open as he watched the ceiling move.  "No offense, but I'd rather spend my quarantine in quarantine."

 

"No offense, but neither of us are steady enough to get you to your cabin."  Kirk placidly proved it by taking another drink.  "Besides, if you leave, Marlena's going to come in.  And we're avoiding each other right now."

 

"I really don't have to know that, captain."  McCoy said cautiously.

 

Kirk obstinately ignored that.  "Oh, it's nothing to worry about.  She's got that typical Hispaniola Colony II temperament and we get tired of each other, spend some time apart, and before you know it, we're back together."

 

"Good,"  McCoy said.  Oh, hell, he thought.  I didn't say that out loud, did I?

 

Kirk chuckled.  "Why good?  Are you worried about my relationship with my own woman?"

 

"Not...worried,"  McCoy was thinking that the next time he took Kirk up on any offer of a drink--any drink--assuming there ever was a next time--he would pack soberalls in his sleeve first.  "The two of you seem to be well matched."

 

"Why, thank you."  Kirk smiled pleasantly.  "I like to think so...I pride myself on my taste ...in women."

 

Was that a double entree?  McCoy wondered, then felt the crushing force of the day's trauma hit him like a slowly-collapsing brick wall.  His mind was closing down, but not the way it would like a drink would--

 

Lexorin.  His mind was just active enough to make the connection.  The drink was Vulcan.  It had lexorin inside it.

 

I could be in trouble, he thought.

 

He slept.

 

 

 

Part 5



Memory Alpha has no birds in its mechanical city.  There are, however, mechanical robots to ferry data, and they fly as well as any avian--or rather, as well as any macrochiroptera.
 
McCoy was half-awake when something flapped across the large window by his head.  It looked like one of the tropical fruit bats foolishly imported into the South after the global warming--one of the 2-meter wingspan, lovable monsters that was now being served up as a food source on many southern menus in an attempt to keep the population down before they ate all the fruit from South Carolina to East Texas.  The sight of its computerized counterpart was enough to snap him all-the-way-awake and he jumped to the floor, eyes fully open.
 
His room--Kirk's room, he amended, was empty.  The captain was nowhere to be seen.
 
The doctor realized he was feeling better than he normally would have, and re-considered the Vulcan drink.  Its resemblance to lexorin could not be ignored.
 
Thinking hard, McCoy sat back down, reaching for civilian boots to go with his civilian clothes.  Lexorin was powerfully hard to synthesize, but it was a derivitive of the seed of a Vulcan vine-fruit.  The seed was toxic to Vulcans in high levels, just like too many apple seeds would kill anyone from Earth.
 
It occurred to him that if one drink could knock him senseless, while James Kirk could sip on it for hours (as he'd intimidated), then there was something seriously wrong.
 
I am thoroughly tired of thinking, he decided.  Thoroughly.
 
Enough of the depressant; time for the stimulant.  He punched his way through the specs of a good cup of coffee and was adding a thick white substance to it when Kirk returned.
 
"Well g--"  Kirk paused.  "I thought you were allergic to milk."  He commented.
 
"I'm even more allergic to synthetic creamers."  McCoy told him.  "And specifically, I'm not thoroughly allergic to lactose.  Just sensitive."
 
"Wouldn't it be simpler to just take it black?"
 
"Black coffee wrecks havoc on my stomach."
 
Kirk shook his head.  "Nothing is ever simple with you, is it?"
 
"I think its simple...but then, I have awesome powers of coping."  McCoy sipped and made a face.  "Anything in the way of progress?"
 
"From civilian scientists?"  Kirk wanted to know.  "Seriously...at least we now know the real reason for their wanting the ENTERPRISE to ferry the grain specs High Command."
 
McCoy waited.  "Which are?"
 
Kirk tossed a thin wafer on his desk.  "Plans for a Memory Beta station.  Seems there's paranoia on the information market."
 
"Paranoia?  I don't believe it."  McCoy said dryly.  "Seen anything of Mr. Scott?"
 
"Seeing him means diving into the bowels of this city.  I'm no glutton for punishment."  Kirk told him.  "I take it you're feeling better."
 
McCoy barely jumped.  "Well-rested."  He managed.  Here was where Kirk would confront him, or...
 
Kirk was already moving on, taking a good long look at the spectacular view of the artificial city above, below, and around them.  "Mr. Scott is with Mira Romaine, whom you'll recall from the time we ferried her here."
 
Forget violet eyes and long dark hair--forget a woman that would actually make Montgomery Scott pull his head out of the Jefferies Tubes and remember he was actually human?
 
"I remember in the few weeks she was with us, she and Scott managed to wreck havoc on a few theories about quasar pulses, as well as use those theories to develop a more efficient chronometer."  McCoy reminded him.
 
Kirk grinned from ear to ear.  "They have a wonderful working relationship, don't they?"  Before McCoy could hold that sentence up to the light and look for innuendo, he was continuing:  "Ms. Romaine is exactly the reason why we're here, Doctor.  It is also the reason why Ensign Bartholomew is dead, and you and Mr. Scott were very nearly so."
 
It didn't take much brain work to see the connection.  If Memory Alpha was going to smuggle any information out of its protective space, why not use one of its best technicians, who had a significant relationship with the engineer to the best ship in the fleet?
 
McCoy sighed and sipped his coffee.  "Taking all that in mind, has the identity of our clever but not the least bit efficient assassin been revealed?"
 
"Not yet, but there are a few candidates."  Kirk threw himself into the nearest chair and put his boots up.
 
"Can't be too many people who fit the psychological profile," McCoy muttered sourly.  "Bright, creative, imaginative, clever with machines and classified equipment...and thoroughly useless with practical applications.  Does Scotty have anyone in his department he can't trust with a spanner?"
 
Kirk snorted, which meant he was amused.  "I agree, that assassination would have been truly inspired, if only they had made allowances for a deviation off the normal plan.  Anyone who knows humans would know we're not as predictable as say, Tholians."
 
"Tholians make Vulcans look like hotbeds of nonlinear inequity."  McCoy scowled.  He found his cup empty and went for a refill.  "So now what--take the data with us and chuck it off to its rightfully paid destination?"
 
"Memory Alpha's opening offer for the job is not inconsiderable."  Kirk was using his dagger to clean his nails.  "Which makes you wonder how much they would actually pay if I pressed it."
 
"You mean you didn't?"  McCoy blinked.  Then he got it.  "Oh, I get it."
 
"Get what?"
 
"It's almost a favor, isn't it?  You want them to remember the good deed you're doing for them because in the future, or not-so-near future, you just might need their services."  McCoy's mouth twitched wryly, and he lifted his cup for a salute.
 
Kirk, surprisingly, said nothing but watched him get up and find the small liquor bar.
 
"Getting a little early to be late in the day, isn't it?"  He wondered.
 
"I'm still on repuerative leave,"  McCoy pointed out.  He found a spoon and began layering a red liquor atop a cream liquor.
 
"What in God's name is that?"  Kirk wanted to know.
 
"A Bloody Sands."
 
"Never heard of it."
 
"Try it."  He set a tiny glass down in front of the captain.  "One good drink deserves another."
 
Kirk looked suspicious.  "Is that a comment about how my drink knocked you flat?"
 
"Your drink didn't knock me flat.  My damn day knocked me flat."
 
"The drink helped."
 
"Yes, it helped.  But I'm not about to try that thing again, thank you."
 
"Really?  Too bad."  Kirk hid his smile behind his gulp.  "I've got a lot of that stuff to drink up.  It's a shame to drink alone, McCoy."
 
"We're not drinking alone,"  McCoy pointed out.  Kirk wasn't exactly playing with him, he was just playing rope-a-dope, throwing out words to see what the doctor would reveal.  McCoy hated those kinds of games but knew how useful they could be in analyzing an opponant.
 
"Well, my point is," Kirk said carefully, setting the empty glass down, "Vulcan drinks are very good, but not something I can enjoy on a regular basis.  I simply thought you might appreciate it better."
 
"I'm sure if anyone could appreciate it, it would be Spock."
 
"No, Spock can't drink Vine Liquor.  He says it interferes with his...impressions."
 
"Does it now."  McCoy answered evenly.
 
The silence between them stretched out, to the point of growing taut.
 
Kirk was still smiling.  Possibly not a good sign.  "You know, you normally don't go for conversational intricacies...when are you going to tell me to come to the point?"
 
"I figured it would come on its own."  McCoy spared a jaundiced eye to the wall chrono.  "It wasn't hard to figure out you'd been at my hypo, captain.  You left fingerprints on it."
 
"That was careless of me."  Kirk chided himself mildly.
 
"Careless my eye.  You wanted me to think about it."
 
"What you're into, McCoy, isn't illegal...yet."  Kirk pointed out.  "On the other hand, a captain has the right to forbid any substance he considers subject to abuse."
 
McCoy waited patiently.  "And is that your plan of action?"
 
"If you were the abusive personality, yes.  On the other hand, Vine Liquor is a much milder solution to your problem.  A solution, I might add, that you can recover from a lot faster than synthesized lexorin.  I noticed you woke up from that glass in only six hours.  How long were you out under the synthesis?  Eight hours?  Ten?  It seems to me the genuine article would be the better method."
 
McCoy's eyes narrowed.  "All well and good if you can afford the 'genuine article'."
 
"That's where I'm prepared to help you."
 
McCoy folded his arms across his chest.  "And if I'm not interested in getting help?"
 
"Then we both have a problem."  Kirk told him.  "You'll be struggling with your problem in the same old way, and I'll be wondering how long you can remain an efficient member of my crew."
 
"Have I ever given you cause to notice?"
 
"Not yet."
 
"I'll resign before I consider myself a threat to the ship's safety."
 
"So you're determined to reject my offer?"
 
"Oh, for..."  Worn out, McCoy put his hand to his forehead.  "Captain, d'you have any idea what it would do to me if you and I have something a little more meaningful than a cordial working relationship?  Medical Department is on principle, independant from the other departments.  Ever since you started making me your observational hobby, tension has climbed through the bulkheads.  Fights are starting among the junior officers who can't figure out how the balance of power is going to shift.  My cabin has been broken into four times that I know of, and most likely, a lot more times than that.  Nothing stolen, just people looking for information.  You might like living in a glass fishbowl, but I really don't."
 
Kirk chuckled softly.  "Been there, done that.  Believe me I understand.  Would it make you feel better if I said there'll be something else for them to worry about before long?"
 
"What?  D'you know something I don't?"
 
"Ah...bad choice of words...I meant, human nature being what it is, the ship will get bored and start watching the old tried and true relationships...Sulu and Uhura are about due for another megatomic cataclysm..."  Kirk had finished his nails and was now sharpening the tip of his dagger.  "Look, I'm aware of what's going on as much as you are, and believe me, I don't like it either."
 
McCoy stopped dead in his tracks.  This was not something he'd ever dreamed of hearing from Kirk.  "You don't."  He repeated.
 
"Certainly not."  Kirk continued talking in that mild, calm voice--the kind of voice that conjured harmless images of playing beachball or picking flowers.  It certainly wasn't the usual voice one heard from the all-powerful ship's captain.  McCoy couldn't help staring, totally floored at what he was looking at.
 
He is such a god-damned, cheeky, smug bastard.  The doctor thought.  Kirk was, even now, using the lighting through the window to show his body off to its best advantage.  His coloring was a natural gold against his gold tunic, and his hair was perfectly cut, even to that calculated little curl over his forehead.  Boyish, maybe, but about as harmless as a rockslide.
 
He's calm because he hasn't finished putting his cards up, McCoy realized in a kind of numbed wonder.  This has been going on for months, and he seems perfectly happy to wait the year out if that's what it takes.
 
Kirk held his dagger up and examined it for flaws.  "So believe me, if you're bothered by all this admittedly unwelcome attention...you have nothing but a sympathetic audience in me."
 
The calm words and smooth tone were completely out of true with a man who had calmly put down a rebellion of thousands and phasered cities to smoking ash.  McCoy was, on a deep level, horrified at the incongruity.
 
Kirk was telling him he was sympathetic?  To a situation he himself had created?  The futility of the situation crashed over McCoy's shoulders.  This was nothing more than a game to Kirk.  Despite a lifetime of struggling against such things, McCoy was again stuck in an ugly game of wills.  That was what it really boiled down to--Kirk didn't care about anything except a challenge and a chase...and winning at the end.
 

Part 6

 

The prospect of getting wealthy off his Officer's Share of the payload when ENTERPRISE delivered the underground technology didn't make McCoy feel better. 
 
Oh, no. 
 
Just how was he supposed to enjoy it when they could very likely be blown to atoms by a smarter assassin?  A dumb one was dangerous enough! 
 
With a slightly uneasy feeling in the bottom of his abdomen, he dialed up the specs of a harmless-looking stew and hearth bread.  He might very well be dead in a few hours, but at least he could have a meal in peace and quiet.
 
Assuming, of course, there were no further interruptions...
 
Discreet checking while he ate confirmed Scott was fully recovered--at least, recovered enough to leave his room and go wallowing in the depths of joyous Memory Alpha technology.  Mira was with him, which meant there was no need to worry about the Engineer at all.  McCoy would dread the fate of anyone who chose to make a partially telepathic technician unhappy.  Scott had a 'rapport' with machines...Mira, however, could have long, involved, two-way conversations with them.  And those data bases had enough 'ware inside their casings that they had probably begun an independant evolution years ago.  Scott called him paranoid, but McCoy had noticed the propensity for 'mechanical accidents' when he swore at Alpha-crafted medical instruments.  His staff looked at him funny for toning down on his language, but he wasn't getting burned off the plasers anymore.
 
I wouldn't be surprised if the machines are the ones paying us to transport this, he thought.
 
Thoughts such as these really weren't helping his gnawing sense of dread.  He shut his mind down long enough to eat.

***

Further down the hallway, Kirk was finishing up his own mix of work, business, and suspicion.  Further research had led to no useful information about the ersatz assassin.  Well, not really useful information.  Spock had reported a suicide among the crew, done by a particular technician whose latest roatation had put him in the general vicinity of the attempt.
 
Spock had lifted an audible eybrow over the communicator when Kirk told him the plan.
 
"It is possible that the technician who attempted to murder the officers is the same who committed suicide," the Vulcan offered cautiously, "but unlikely considering the facts."
 
"True."  Kirk smiled and waited.
 
Spock was a moment in replying.  "You are proposing a decoy then."
 
"Exactly.  The only 'possibility' in this factor is the notion that our assassin would kill himself when his job failed.  But we need to know if he had help.  If we openly accept this is the end of the situation, we give them another opportunity to make a mistake."
 
Spock's sigh was more mental than physical, but Kirk heard it all the same.  "An opportunity that might be more successful than the last."
 
"No risk, no gain.  Now, did you find out anything about that assignment I gave you?"
 
This time, Spock's hesitation crackled over the commband.
 
"Captain, the exportation of a religious substance is not only difficult to track, it is inadvisable.  In addition, there is no transfer of income when said religious substance changes hands."
 
"True, but I'm sure there are other exchanges...equities, assets, goods and services."
 
Spock's tone of voice was a familiar one to the captain.  It was the one many humans employed when they were thinking I-dont-know-why-he-wanted-me-to-do-this-he-already-knows-the-answers.  "Perhaps if I had a specific goal, it would result in a more profitable search."
 
"I'll give you one specific goal for now--others may be forthcoming."  Kirk grinned.  "What is the most common imported article to Vulcan?"
 
Spock by now was not bothering to hide his puzzlement.  "Are we speaking of food, nonfood, necessary, or status?"
 
Kirk gave that some thought.  "It doesn't matter.  Any of those categories."
 
"Paper."  Spock told him.
 
"Paper?"  Kirk repeated.  He wasn't certain he had heard that right.
 
"Paper."  Spock repeated.
 
Kirk paused, just a bit.  "I was under the impression Vulcan made its own."
 
"Vulcan papyrus must be completely free of acid."  Spock told him as if this was obvious.
 
"Ah."  Kirk said.
 
Of course, Spock warmed to his subject.  He inevitably did.  "All cultural documents must be recorded for history in memory crystals and on parchment.  Acid-free archival paper is thick with a 100% rag content that delays spoilage.  On these are weddings, funerals, testaments, wills and legal decisions marked.  Unfortunately, the source plant that provides the majority of Archival paper is a declining wetland plant that must now be grown in artificial basins.  Therefore, Vulcan conserves its finite resource by importing lower-grade paper for the more ordinary documents that are used from day-today."
 
"You learn something new every day,"  Kirk observed.
 
"Something, singular?"  Spock was nonplussed.  "Were I to only acquire 365 units of knowledge a year, I doubt I would deserve my position."
 
Kirk answered almost automatically.  "The proverb dates back to the days before real calendars," he told Spock.  It didn't matter if that was true or not; it sounded plausible.  Eventually, Spock would get around to researching that for himself.  "Mr. Spock, kindly send me the specs of the highest quality imported paper Vulcan is accustomed to purchasing."
 
"It will be done, captain."
 
"Kirk out."  Kirk was smiling as he signed out.  He imagined Sopck's eyebrows were permanently glued to his bangs by now--and he could almost feel pity for Sulu, infiltrating their message and desperately searching for secret code words.
 

***

So now what?
 
McCoy still hadn't figured out the answer to that.
 
Now what?
 
Kirk was offering him a genuine supply of lexorin--real lexorin, which was something he wasn't certain he could refuse.
 
Of course, there were strings to this offer of Kirk's.
 
Or proposal, if you wanted to be bluntly honest about it.
 
McCoy was frustrated, mostly because very little of this needed sense.  Captains could get just about anything they wanted from a junior officer--that was a perk that came with the rank, and an undeniable motivation to rise in life.
 
Very few people wanted to get on the bad side of a medical technician.  There were just too many different ways they would wind up dead or mysteriously impaired.
 
Kirk's angling for bibery was understandable then.
 
But McCoy was starting to get a bizarre impression off Kirk; an impression that just would not go away.
 
Kirk wasn't doing any chasing, per se.  He wanted McCoy to come to him.  Thinking of the whole scheme (as he understood it), it was a lot like letting the horse run himself out in the corral before it was time to force him into the stables.  He was giving McCoy slack.  Plenty of it.  And making damn sure McCoy knew that Kirk had all the time in the world plus the patience of Job.
 
He wasn't aware of the initial explosion; there were no warning alarms, no clues to inform him this was anything other than the sound of large machinary docking in a low-gravity atmosphere.  The second explosion drew his mind out of its musings, and the third was enough.  McCoy grabbed his medical bag and plunged out the door, knowing there was no more time for thinking

 

 

Part 7


Six hours into surgery with screaming civilians of all possible races, and McCoy was thinking of coffee.  A lot of coffee.  Two hours after that, he was grabbing sips of a blended protein between patients.  An hour after that, in which he managed to perform a splenectomy and assist in replacing three collapsed lungs, he wasn't thinking at all.  He was just acting.
 
The medical officer for Memory Alpha was luckily a retired Admiral, which meant his rank was automatically invoked in times of emergency.  He allotted appropriate rest breaks to the staff, but of course the military had to do more than the civilians.  McCoy was taken aback when the old Centaurian looked at the wall chrono and told him to take ten minutes in the lounge when he was done with the hemosynthesis.  The "lounge" was a small rectangle of metal with a bench on each side and a rack of towels, scrubs and fresh uniforms, but it was more than a welcome thought.
 
McCoy came out, soaking wet through his surgical clothes.  He was shocked to see Kirk standing there, and he finally got his voice back to say so.
 
"Why so shocked?"  Kirk made a point of fingering the paper cup in his lap.  "I heard you were taking a break soon; I thought you might want to know what we've learned."
 
"What's to learn?  There was an attack."  McCoy snapped it.  In the small metal room the sound rang like bells, vibrating in his ears.  Just like the screaming in the metal walls of the operating rooms were still humming in his brain.
 
"Well, we found out who they were.  Not the same genius who nearly killed you and Scott, mind--but an affiliation.  Some people are willing to go through an inordinate amount of time and effort to keep certain information from leaving Memory Alpha."
 
"So much for civilians claiming the military is violent."  Exhaustion spurred completely honesty--scathing honesty--out of the doctor.  Kirk laughed out loud, deeply amused.
 
"I'm going to have to pass that one on to Mr. Spock.  It galls him to think you might say something he'd agree with."
 
"Don't bother.  He'll come up with some kind of Vulcanian equivalent of, "Even a broken watch is right twice a day" or something."  McCoy slumped into the narrow bench against the wall, sighing as the coolness soaked through layers of cloth and sweat to his skin.  He blinked sweat out of his eyes, and blinked again.  Reducing trauma to Vulcans meant operating with the heat turned up to something like the Sonoran desert just before noon.  He didn't envy Dr. M'Benga, assigned to the three L'orr.  They were comfortable at 150-F.
 
Morbid curiosity forced him to ask:  "Are we still going?  And how did you find the responsible party?"
 
"Yes, we are still going, naturally, and Mr. Spock found out the information by questioning a strong suspect.  We had everything we needed in a matter of minutes."  McCoy must have frowned his puzzlement; Kirk lifted his hand in a silent imitation of a meld.
 
McCoy shuddered, too wiped out to suppress the reflex.  He blinked sweat out of his eyes again and thought about getting a towel off the rack by Kirk--but that would mean he'd have to move.
 
"Spock doesn't want to read your mind, you know."  Kirk pointed out.  He handed a towel over and the doctor took it gratefully.  "Too much of a mess from those past alien invasions.  He was completely desperate to try it back when our doubles were over here..."  He watched as the other man froze, paling like glacial ice.  "I'm sorry, was that too forward of me?"
 
McCoy was a moment in collecting his voice.  "I'm sorry my eye.  You always know exactly what you're saying."
 
Kirk let that ride.  He just continued.  "At any rate, if you want to keep something from Spock--or any Vulcan--you can forget their using a meld."
 
"Which leaves the usual standard methods of interrogation," McCoy pointed out harshly.
 
Kirk laughed softly.  "The usual standard methods of interrogation need permission of the commanding officer first.  He can't question you unless I authorize it."
 
"Or High Command authorizes him to take command of the ship again."
 
"Well, let's just hope that won't happen."  Incredibly, Kirk was smiling.  It made him look twenty years younger, like a kid who should be thinking of where to chalk down the best hopscotch lines on the sidewalk.  The incongruity snared McCoy's unwilling attention.
 
Survival instincts forced him to rake it back.  "What exactly are you planning that requires secrecy from Spock?"
 
"Now, if I told you, I'd have to kill you."
 
Kirk really thought that was funny.  Feeling silghtly ill--and it had nothing to do with the carnage he was trying to repair--McCoy sat blankly, waiting for the ten-minute break to be over with so he could go back to the bloody but understandable disaster in the surgery chamber.
 
 
Somewhere in the haze of exhaustion, the Admiral announced the last of the emergency surgeries.  Everything else could be taken care of by nurses, assistants and medics.  McCoy managed to salute while pulling his scrubs off--saving a modicum of energy--and slowly stepped his way around the worst of the stuff on the floor.  Robots were cleaning up almost at his heels.  He found he had to pick his way through a pile of exhausted bodies at the door.  Several of the doctors he'd worked with had obviously decided the floor was as comfortable as a bed.
 
Ordinarily, he would have agreed with them if he wasn't so bloody.  As long as he could stay on his feet, McCoy reasoned he could get to his cabin and clean off in the shower.
 
As long as you don't drown in it, you idiot, his inner voice pointed out.
 
McCoy blinked.  The long white hallways of Memory Alpha were blurring.  No, it was his head.  His ears were buzzing, like someone was shouting.  And the blurring was getting worse.
 
Kirk lunged just in time, and grabbed McCoy before he hit the floor.  Scott managed to grab him on the other side.
 
"Mabye thatís what the Admiral meant," Scott offered.
 
Kirk shook his head wryly.  "Hand me the vitamins,"
 
Scott handed over the hypo of mixed nutrients and Kirk found a relatively clean spot at the shoulder.
 
"He should pull out of it enough to get some sleep," Kirk handed over the empty chamber.  "I know you're tired too, Scott, but we need a sober, jaundiced eye to take a look at the power center...after you help me get him to his room."
 

***

 
Rising like bubbles in the blood, in the mind.  He was barely aware of anything past the haze of sensation.  The bed was pressure under his back; the other's hands were opening the seals, helping him out of the filthy uniform.  Dried blood stuck to his skin.  A cloth of warm water slipped over the blood and he half-heartedly tried to roll away.
"Jim, stop..."
 
"That's the first time you've called me Jim in years."  The voice was soft in the darkness.  "Not since I left your clinic and went back to the Farragut."
 
A mistake...McCoy struggled to process what he was hearing.  Absolute fatigue was pulling on him like extra gravity, fogging his mind.  Just thinking was a chore beyond his abilities.
 
"I need some coffee," he made to get up, heard how blurred his voice was.  Just some stimulant, and his mind would clear up again...
 
He was prevented by a firm hand on his chest.  "You've had enough coffee, I believe.  Thirty-six hours in surgery with two rest breaks is enough."
 
"Thirty-six?"
 
"Thirty-six."
 
The numbers were there but he couldn't pull comprehension behind them.  He couldn't even remember what he'd done other than pull the gloves off his arms and let the sterilites run over him.
 
"Stay put,"  Kirk was still speaking softly, but there was no room for disagreement.  More warm dampness as the blood and muck sponged away.
 
Exhausted, McCoy couldn't think of a decent argument or even a harsh rejoiner.  His eyes were closing completely against his will.  Worse than Lexorin; he couldn't fight it at all he was so wiped out.  Behind his eyelids he remained aware a little while longer, feeling Kirk's hands on his body.  Kirk was about as suggestive as a trained medic, which was a relief that let him slide into sleep.
 
His sleep turned to dreams, images half-formed and barely coherant.  He saw flashes of the surgery but that was nothing new.  He saw a splash of color that had nothing to do with blood.  A yeoman's sleeve.  The pretty brunette that came to Sickbay for Kirk's reports.  A gold glitter of an officer's sash--he didn't know who.  The gold spread and evolved; the pin of the Empire gleamed cold and red.
 
His eyes flew open.  Shocked, he struggled out of the dream and into a groggy reality.  His uniform was now completely gone and his skin was clean.  There was no medical reason why Kirk should still be bending over him.
 
"Where did you get this?"  A soft whisper, coaxing.  Feather-light stroking along the seam of the chest scar.  "And this?"
 
He heard himself tell him, stories of injuries he never told anyone who was still alive.  Fingertips that had pressed buttons and slain whole populations were running down the xylophone of his ribs, marking the bones under the skin.  Finding the flaws that were the record of mishaps.  Accidental, deliberate, tragic and even amusing.
 
Jim Kirk was taking pieces of him, he knew.  It whispered in the back of his tired mind, too weak to shout but he knew.  Jim Kirk was walking into the privacy of his sense of self, and asking as politely as you please for the silverware.  And here he was turning it over.
 
"Call me Jim,"  the dark whispered.  A slippery sound as a bottle was opened; warmth and wet spread over his skin.  McCoy's eyes flew open again and he saw the blurry outline over him.
 
"Captain," He started,
 
"No."  Firm and commanding, but still very soft, Jim Kirk was putting a hand over his mouth.  He smelled Jim, alive and active and sweating and very very aroused.  He smelled the musk under his skin coming out in a cloud.  "I'm the captain, and I'm always the captain, but don't call me captain tonight."  The other hand was sliding down, oiling a track down the flank.  He waited a moment before slipping away from his face and copying the move on the other side.
 
"This...is not..."
 
"No, you don't..."  Jim was pulling him into position--a harder one for the dominant but perfect for the supine.  Hot fingers aligned his body and McCoy had just enough mental presence to note that despite the circumstances, Jim Kirk wasn't even trembling.  He was that much in control of himself.
 
Control he didn't have, when he felt the invasion and flinched away.  Jim Kirk changed his grip, pushing him backwards, down on the bed...McCoy felt him search inside and then find the prostate.  Every nerve went alight and he felt Jim Kirk pull back and move in again and again and then he wasn't fighting anything anymore it was the two of them holding on to each other for support and then he was gripping the bed underneath, lifting his hips and clenching his teeth shut as his head fell back and the tidal waves locked on his body like a hurricane spraying against the coast.
 
The waves slowly throbbed away.  He was trying to breathe the calm back.  His arms ached from the position they were frozen in.  Jim Kirk was still holding him, still inside him, still rock-hard.  He could feel the other's heartbeat pressing against his prostate.  A hot, excited heartbeat that had nothing to do with the absolute stillness the captain was carrying.  A hunter's heartbeat.  Cold outside, burning inside.
 
"Open your eyes, Bones."
 
It took forever, but he did.  He still couldn't see anything of the captain other than a blurry outline in the fuzzy dark, but he knew Jim Kirk could see him fine.
 
Jim Kirk shifted slightly, sending a warning throb through his body again.  He was barely touching the spot, holding himself back for now.  One hand reached over and ran over the chest scar again.
 
"You still can't give it up, can you?"  The soft voice was a purr.  "Even now, you don't want to let yourself go and let someone take care of you."
 
McCoy met truth for truth.  "What about you?"  He wondered hoarsely.
 
"We're not talking about me.  We're talking about you."  Kirk neatly made the topic void.  He ran a thumb across the nearest nipple, sensitive after the orgasm.  He pinched it lightly, almost absently, watched as he made hard again, did the same thing to its partner.  "I want to see you lose every scrap of that damn self control you hide behind.  I want to see it all gone, like it was never there.  When the doors are locked and everyone's gone, I want to see your mask gone too.  I'm going to break you out of that hard shell if it takes all night."  He didn't sound displeased at that prospect.  The captain set back.  Light thrusting this time; delicate.  "I know you, Bones.  I know you better than you think.  You love life too much to deny yourself in the long run.  You love the pleasures of life, but you haven't been taking them.  Well,"  Kirk's voice grew tight.  "Denial makes one weak.  Living like a monk when you're not, makes one weak.  You're not a monk and we're going to prove that."
 
The urge to release his own restraint was instinctive.  Kirk held it back, proud of his ability to do so.  It was the set-up that thrilled him, the hunt and the process of winning.  He watched with the excitement of a voyeur, knowing McCoy couldn't see his face.
 
Patience, he reminded himself.  When they returned to the ship their working relationship would continue as usual.  But the return to normalcy heightened the exotic desires of the moment.  He watched the breath rise and fall under the ribs, tracked the dark hair across the chest and arms.  Bones had darker skin, ruddier as if he'd spent his entire life under a harsh sun.  Kirk liked the contrast.  He was lean and wiry, supple as a cat and unconsciously coordinated.  He watched as the doctor's head fell back.  His eyes closed and Kirk decided to permit it.  He rocked a little harder, rolling his hips to lengthen the strokes along the prostate.  A machine, Marlena told him.  He was like a machine in bed.  Yes, and there were advantages to being a machine.  He waited for the right moment and suddenly thrust deep.
 
McCoy gritted his teeth again, his hands making fists as the level of pleasure accelerated.  Kirk watched his lips part, watched his breathing change with the pace.  The muscles rose between bone and skin as his abdomen grew tight.  The color went to his face and slowly, in stages, his eyes opened again and Kirk read the unfocused expression as the edge of climax.  So many people looked on the verge of panic when they were about to come; loss of control could do that to you, and McCoy was no exception.  Kirk bared his own teeth, grinning.  "Come on, Bones.  Come on."
 

Conclusion


Scott was weary.  DeSalle had outdone himself with his pro tem work in Engineering, but that might have something to do with his being cozy with Sulu.  Scott barely cared.  DeSalle was talented and in time would be a good CE but neither he nor Sulu were on Montogmery's particular level of genius.  Only half the senior officers could even read his technical publications, and the prestige that came with them made most people hesitant to kill him.  They didn't know who his allies were.
 
The big man absently saluted the passing techs and made his way further down the spiraling hall of Memory Alpha.  He hadn't spoken with McCoy much since the blowup--if McCoy falling over practically on his boots counted.  He intended to remedy the situation.  Kirk should be sitting up with Spock and plotting out their course to Memory Beta.  Mostly, Scott wanted a feel of the territory before they all beamed back aboard ship.
 
Scott punched the request button on McCoy's door and waited patiently.  When, a few seconds later, McCoy opened the door to let him in, the truth passed between their eyes.
 
Scott exhaled slowly and without a word, entered the cabin and found a seat.
 
McCoy went to make coffee.
 
Scott sat without moving as he pondered what to say.  He should say something, he knew.  Everyone took him for a silent lump when it came to emotional issues, but...
 
He rubbed his tired eyes hard enough to hurt and took the hot cup with a grunt of thanks.
 
McCoy settled back in the chair nearest the window.  It was clear he'd slept even less than Scott.
 
"Ah remember when he first came aboard," Scott began almost casually, but there was nothing of that in his dark brown eyes.  "Managed to stonewall Sulu's group from th'very beginning, and at that time, he was third most powerful man on ship."
 
McCoy grunted thoughtfully.
 
"Captain Pike had been a good man once," the engineer continued.  "A lot of things went wrong, over the years...when Dr. Boyce got promoted off th'ship, it suddenly got worse.  Yer ah, predecessor wasnae much of an improvement."
 
"Insane people rarely are,"  McCoy muttered into his cup.  Killing Piper had been his responsibility, and the action still haunted him.  It had not been a good killing.
 
"I think Pike was goin' mad too."  Scott abruptly pursed his lips.  "Ye see, th'two of 'em had been on several missions together, wi'the Cretaceans, and all that radiation...this was before the days when you could suit up and put on protections.  Th' Admiral in charge had been an Andorian, and ye know they're descended from insects themselves, they hae' less sensitivity tae Berthold..."  Scott let his voice trail off.  His eyes were far away, deep into the past.  McCoy watched him, feeling the first stirrings of unease as the other man went to some ugly place in his memory.
 
"Wasnae a month before Kirk killed Pike."  Scott added, and McCoy slightly flinched.  That had been while he had been en route to the ship as Piper's AMO.  "Kirk had started tae spend more time wi'Pike, a lot of after-hours work.  Security an' specs, mostly, but before long, word got out that Pike wanted something more out of Kirk than he was willin' tae give."
 
"Pike got it anyway."  McCoy guessed--without any uncertainty.
 
"Aye."
 
McCoy nodded once in the sudden stillness.
 
The big engineer was grim and resigned.  "That look in th'captain's eyes, it didn't used t'be there...and forgive me for sayin' this, but it goes away, a little, when he's around ye.  Perhaps its the past ye share...but there's a bit o'trust that he won't extend tae anyone else.  Ah cannae blame him.  He trusted Pike, and look where it got him."
 
McCoy rested his chin in his hand.  "Thanks," he said simply.
 
"If there's anything in my power tae do, ye will let me know."
 
"I doubt there is, but thanks."
 
Long after the worried CE left, McCoy sat in silence.
 
The morning was just...bitter and pale.  McCoy was experiencing all the physiological symptoms of a delayed reaction to shock; his mind refused to settle down or allow himself a mental pocket of quiet.
 
Too hyper by nature, that was his problem.  He wanted to do something to solve the problem in his environment.  Basic human instinct...
 
Scott's quiet offer of assistance...and his recollections of the past...had given McCoy all the missing information he needed to understand James Kirk.
 
McCoy knew Kirk enjoyed personal combat, personal wits, personal battles.  Phasering cities to ash and destroying millions didn't satisfy him.
 
It doesn't satisfy him, but he does it.  McCoy closed his eyes, resting his head on the cool smooth surface of the counter.  He does it, and people die.  Men, women, children.  People who had nothing more going against them than bad leaders, or leaders that were tapped to make examples.
 
People died.
 
And Kirk killed them.
 
The conflict was insurmountable.  As a physician, he saved lived wherever he could.  If the Empire gave him a phaser and told him to use it on civilians, he'd turn it on himself first.
 
Unless of course, the Kirks of the Universe held up another life as hostage.
 
If Kirk did such a thing, the Empire would simply give another phaser to another commander.  One who would follow orders.  One who would obey.  And keep the killing going.
 
Last night still churned knots in his stomach.  His attempts to objectively focus on what happened kept getting ruined.  His emotion would color his perceptions and...
 
--a gleam of hazel eyes in the dusklight.
 
--a twist of the lip; cruel and self-directed.
 
--that ugliness lurking in the mind, waiting to come out.
 
He's as trapped as I am, the doctor realized distantly.  Kirk was actually aware of his box.  Too many men in his position were wrapped in self-absorptive campaigns...politics...indulgences.
 
Kirk was ambitious, but not overly so.  McCoy had seen too much calculation and the ability for abstinence in his commander in the past to ever believe that particular captain would lose focus of what he wanted.
 
What did Kirk want?  What everyone wanted.  Every day, McCoy witnessed a silent signal cast forth from the captain to Spock.  Two men equal in power who wanted to be able to wholly trust in each other, yet forbidden by circumstance.
 
Only twice had those two been able to perform as a team, and those two circumstances had been profitable for the Empire.
 
Profitable, McCoy considered, in ways that cost no lives, nor ruined.
 
Spock thought he had McCoy over a barrel. 
 
Kirk thought he had McCoy over a barrel.
 
It's easy to trust someone, if you think you're in the superior advantage.
 
Still thinking, but with his eyes open, McCoy rose and moved to fix a light meal.
 
I can't believe I'm even considering this...people back home will call me a sell-out.  And worse...a lot worse.  Nobody wants to be the Captain's Perogative...
 
He went through the motions of stacking a sandwich and brewing more coffee, still thinking.  If his ex-wife could see him now, she'd be accusing him of planning poker.
 
So.  What did he have as an advantage?
 
It was ugly, but the answer was obvious.  A crippled brain.
 
A mind that had undergone as much damage as it could possibly endure and still operate at peak capacity.  A mind that was immune to the telepathic evesdropping of Rigellians, L'or, Centurians, humans...
 
And Vulcans.
 
Spock might use his mental abilities on him, but nothing more than a shallow, sensory what-are-you-feeling kind of thing.  If he ever tried to delve deep inside McCoy's psyche, he'd be yanking himself back out real quick.  Too much mental invasion by hostile races imprinted in McCoy's memory had left a giagantic maelstrom of chaos and horror.  No Vulcan could deal with that.
 
Kirk had inadvertantly revealed everything.  McCoy's immunity (or maybe built-in repellance) to Vulcan minds made him the perfect safeguard on a ship where the second-most powerful man on ship was a Vulcan.
 
The big question was, what was Kirk planning that he feared Spock?  And what, pray tell, was Spock planning that he didn't want Kirk to know about?
 
The coffee had grown cold by the time McCoy finished thinking.  He drank it anyway, resigned to what his mind had just coldly agreed to do.
 
Kirk wanted him close.  Spock wanted him to be close to Kirk.
 
Well.
 
He shouldn't disappoint them then, should he? 
 
The doctor stood, finishing the last of his drink.  He had a feeling things were going to be very, very hectic on the ISS ENTERPRISE before too long, and guess who was going to be right in the middle of it?
 
His communicator chirruped.  He flipped it open.  "McCoy here."
 
"Bones, ETB is at 1400.  Are you going to make it?"
 
"Oh, I wouldn't be late, sir."  McCoy said straight-faced.  But where no one could see, a decided gleam was lurking in the back of his eyes...
 


End of The Getting or the Having...Part 2 will be coming soon.  Very Soon.†††††††††††††††††††
Dust

 

 

31. In the Mirror-Universe Kirk finds out that his counterpart has a sexual relationship with McCoy. This makes him thinking things over.