Chapter 3 - Captain

Serving Spock proved easier than Leonard had anticipated. He was left to run Sickbay as he saw fit, with the exception of the new mandatory physical exams. Each evening, McCoy was called to the captain's quarters to report on what the crew had to say. Leonard had decided to handle each exam himself, since Spock hadn't given him a time limit, and it would seem suspicious if he asked his staff what everyone had said after each exam. It was easier to just tell his head nurse to mind her own damn business when she asked why they were redoing the physicals.

"Dammit, Chapel, if the captain wants new exams, I'm not gonna contradict him, and I damn well don't need you questioning me, understood?"

She'd given him a meek "yes, sir", and scurried out of the room, leaving him to his business.

After three full weeks of performing four to six physicals a day, he had a fairly good idea of the opinions of the lower crewmen. Most were nervous about serving under a Vulcan. They were concerned about favoritism toward Vulcans among the crew, and they were concerned about how to please the new captain when they didn't know how to "read" him.

They were shocked that Spock had been the one to take over, but at the same time, everyone seemed to have expected Jim to be overthrown. Apparently, in the short time they'd been away, the other universe's Kirk had been causing a stir - disobeying Starfleet's orders and ignoring proper protocols. In light of the "captain's" recent behavior, it was almost a given that someone would try to take advantage of his sudden disfavor with Starfleet Command and take control of the ship. It was just odd to most that the one to do it had been Spock. Still, many of the crew were also pleased with the new captain, much as they had liked Kirk, because both Jim and Spock were men who had proven fair (though demanding), in the past. "In a nutshell, sir, if anyone had to overthrow Jim, they're glad it was you."

Spock looked puzzled. "I am not certain what nutshells have to do with this, Doctor."

"It's a figure of speech, Spock, you green-blooded-" The eyes narrowed, and Leonard cut himself off. "I'm sorry, sir," he said quickly.

Spock continued to glare at him. "You may go, Doctor."

"Aye, Captain." McCoy left the room, and spent the rest of the evening in his quarters.

The next time he made his report, he was nervous, and treated Spock with more deference than he'd used in his last few sessions. When he'd finished, the doctor waited to be dismissed, and was surprised when Spock told him to take a seat.

"Would you like something to drink?"


"It is a simple question, McCoy," Spock said.

Leonard cleared his throat nervously. "Er... a Tyrelian mint julep?"

Spock programmed the drink without comment, and programmed Terran mocha for himself. He sat across from the doctor, and they drank in silence for a few minutes. Finally, though, the bizarreness of it all was too much for Leonard. "What are we doing, Captain?"

Spock looked up from his drink. "We are partaking of intoxicating beverages," he said simply.

McCoy scowled, feeling a flash of impatience at how infuriating the Vulcan could be nearly making him snap at Spock again as he had the day before. "Not literally, sir," Leonard said through clenched teeth. "I mean, what social or professional function does this serve?"

Spock frowned slightly for the briefest moment, before returning to his customary non-expression. "Cap-" The frown was back, deeper this time, and he paused a moment before beginning again. "Kirk and I often sat without words for hours without apparent purpose other than companionship. It was my assumption that this was a customary social pastime among humans."

McCoy relaxed slightly, despite the sadness and anger that rose sharp to the forefront at the mention of Jim by his usurper. Spock's slip in almost calling Jim "captain" hadn't been lost on him, either. "It is among some people, Spock," he said at last. "Usually with people who are very comfortable with each other and have a similar temperament."

Spock nodded. "If you are uncomfortable, you may go."

The doctor shook his head. "I'll stay." Spock made no sign that he cared one way or the other, but then, he was Vulcan. McCoy leaned back and enjoyed his drink for several minutes more. "You miss him, don't you?" he said at last.

Spock looked sharply at him, but there was no triumph or vindictiveness in the question, so none must have shown on Leonard's face. The captain leaned back in his chair again, and looked pensively into his no longer steaming mug. Leonard expected to hear a stream of Vulcan babble about missing someone being an indicator of emotional attachment, and therefore illogical, and therefore an audacious and disrespectful accusation for McCoy to make, but nothing was forthcoming. After nearly a full minute of complete silence, Spock looked up at him and stared into his eyes with an inscrutable expression. Finally, he spoke.

"I do."

"And if I see you in here one more goddamn time with a fucking head injury from not watching where you're going on a goddamn high-gravity planet, I will inject you with Moltarian Shingles and strap you to a bio-bed until you're covered from head to toe in boils, and you're pissing yourself and crying for your mother, you understand me?"

The security officer cowered, and nodded. "Yes, Doctor," he said in a shaky voice.

"Good," McCoy shouted, tossing his mediscanner angrily onto the bio-bed, inches from his patient. "Now get the hell out of here and make room for the real patients. And don't come back here for pain meds, either, you stupid son of a bitch. You're gonna learn from this one."

"Yessir. I mean, no s-sir. I...I mean-"


The beefy, six foot sixer jumped off the bed and practically ran out of the room. McCoy turned and pointed at a passing nurse. "Johnson!"

The young woman snapped to attention, looking as if she wished she'd been anywhere else at that moment. "Yes, Doctor?" she asked nervously.

"You notify me if he comes here looking for meds, and you keep an eye on his personal requisitions, too, y'hear?"

"Yes, sir."

McCoy turned away from the woman and stormed toward his office, muttering angrily as he went, and creating a retreating wave of medical staff eager to stay out of his way. "No damn wonder we lose so many goddamn security personnel. Half of them as dumb as nails in a-"

"Doctor McCoy."

McCoy stopped short, and straightened. What the hell was he doing in Sickbay? "Yes, Captain?" he asked, forcing the anger out of his tone.

Spock stepped closer to him, while his favorite personal guard, Selek, glared menacingly around the room, as if daring anyone to approach. After McCoy's tirade moments ago, he needn't have bothered. There was a ten-foot radius of empty space around the doctor, almost as if the staff thought he might be radioactive. "I have a patient I would like you to see," Spock said quietly. "Bring a complete medical kit and come with me."

What the? "Yes, sir, but... couldn't this person be brought to Sickbay? I don't recall there being an emergency, and-"

"No," Spock said sharply. "It is not possible. And I do not recall questioning one's superiors being a customary response to orders."

McCoy cringed slightly, but didn't bother with an apology. "I'll be less than a minute getting my kit, Captain," he said. He made good on his word, and in forty-five seconds he was following Spock down the hall toward the turbolift.

The three men rode in silence, Selek staring at the turbolift doors, Spock staring straight ahead, and McCoy staring at Spock. The man was an enigma. For the last two weeks, they had sat together and drunk "intoxicating beverages" every evening without saying more than two words to one another. Then, about five nights ago, Spock invited the doctor to play chess. McCoy wasn't an idiot, but he wasn't a chess champion, either. Spock was a damned Vulcan Grand Master, which was like a Terran Grand Master times twenty. Playing against him was like playing against the hardest level of the Enterprise's computer. Leonard could tell Spock was frustrated by the lack of a true challenge, but he would, for some unknown reason, sit and patiently explain to the doctor how and why he'd lost, and what he could do to improve his strategy. Equally mystifying to the doctor was the fact that he now spent at least an hour every evening reading chess strategy books, and trying to learn how to be a better player. And now, the captain had come to Sickbay, which he hadn't done in months, to take Leonard to a patient, even though he could have just called him from the bridge and ordered him to... wherever it was they were going.

The turbolift stopped, and Spock strode out. They walked quickly, and crewmembers parted before him like multicolored grasses in a strong wind. McCoy was surprised when he realized that they were headed for the brig. They arrived at the secure turbolift, and Spock submitted to the computer's retinal scan. He gestured for McCoy to do the same. The doctor was scanned and verified, and they were on their way down again to the bowels of the ship. They went down to the third prison level - the level reserved for the most dangerous, or politically important prisoners they might happen to house. Len wiped a sweaty hand against his trousers. He longed to ask Spock why the hell they were down here, but something in the man's bearing told him to keep his mouth shut. He now knew why Spock had come to bring him personally down here. The comings and goings of officers to the lower level brig was classified information.

At the third hall, where the actual cells were, Spock stopped them, and looked at the doctor. "What you see here is classified, Doctor."

"I know that, Spock."

"This is Priority One, McCoy," he said sternly. "If you divulge anything that you see here, I will execute you. Understood?"

Leonard swallowed, but nodded slowly. "Yes, sir."

Spock turned without further words, and walked into the prison hall. He stopped at the only cell which seemed to be occupied. Ska'an and Sotek were stationed there, one on either side of the forcefield, each with phasers drawn. Then stood to attention as Spock drew near. "Any change?" the captain asked.

"None, sir," Sotek replied.

Spock nodded, and gestured for the doctor to go inside. He approached the forcefield, and waited for someone to release it. In the Third Level, forcefields were usually set to "screen", so that no one could see in or out of the cell. After a moment, wherein Sotek stood beside McCoy and aimed his phaser toward the cell, Spock gave a sharp command in Vulcan. The forcefield dropped, and McCoy's eyes widened. His hand went slack, and the medical kit dropped to the floor with a thud. He felt a broad, incredulous grin spread across his face at the sight of the man kneeling in front of a basin, hurling his guts out. "Jim?" he whispered, almost afraid the man would disappear.

Jim looked up, and a smile brightened his pale, drawn face. "Bones, thank God! He-"

"JIM!!" McCoy rushed into the cell and grabbed the man into a tight embrace, almost surprised when he was actually able to touch him. "You're really here," he cried, laughing while tears sprang to his eyes. "You're alive, you're alive, my God!"

Jim held him tightly, and McCoy felt his former captain's chest shaking in a silent laugh. "Yes, Bones, I'm alive. And I'm..."

The doctor felt a different movement from Jim's torso, and he backed up and pushed Jim's head toward the broad bowl that was already half-full of vomit. Jim heaved, and another stream came out. McCoy frowned at it. Nothing there but bile and water. Loath as he was to stop touching Jim, Leonard forced himself to stand and go back for his medical kit. He caught sight of Spock and didn't know whether he wanted to spit on him or kiss him. But the creased brow and down-turned mouth, which was about as close as a Vulcan could get to outright worry, softened the doctor's initial rage. He picked up his medical kit, and looked back at Spock. "Captain, I'll need a record of everything he's eaten for the last three days, and any medication he's been given."

Spock nodded. "It will be provided, Doctor. If... if there is more you need, ask and it will be brought to you."

McCoy nodded and went back to Jim. He pulled out a hypo and prepared a gentle anti-nausea that should stop the vomiting, but still be mild enough to allow him to figure out what the hell the problem was. He waited for the heaving to stop, then quickly used the hypo. Jim groaned and shoved the bowl away, then wiped his mouth with the back of his black sleeve. McCoy felt anxiety tightening in his middle - Jim wasn't prone to making any type of complaint when he was ill. He usually bore everything in complete silence, even when he was alone with Leonard. To see him doubled over and groaning - especially in full view of his captors - was positively frightening.

McCoy pressed a tab on the wall, and the small cot extended. "Come on, Capta... s-sir," he corrected, with a nervous glance toward Spock. "Get up, come on." Jim allowed the doctor to help him onto the cot. His hands and face were clammy, and he could barely focus on McCoy's face, even though he was obviously trying. "Just lie still, and we'll have this bug out of you in no time."

Jim let out a pained chuckle. "I want something to stay in me for a change," he said in a weak voice.

Leonard laughed. "Yes, sir, we'll work on that, too." He squeezed Jim's shoulder hard, then got up and went back to Spock. "I'll need three thermal blankets, a couple of pillows, a few more basins like that one, and access to hot water, drinking water, and basic replicator functions from inside the cell. I'll also need access to the ship's computer, and I need my full portable science station brought down here."

"Ska'an. See to it," Spock said.

"Yes, Captain." The guard walked briskly away, and McCoy stared at Spock, a thousand questions trying to come out at once. "How... wh-"

Spock's eyes narrowed. "Now is not the time for discussion," he said. "Help Jim. We will speak when he is out of danger." With a brief, still openly worried glance at Jim, Spock turned away and walked down the corridor, followed by Selek. There was a final command, and the forcefield turned black.

McCoy turned away, forced all questions and confusion out of his mind, and focused on the task at hand. Help Jim. That was one directive he'd have absolutely no trouble following. He looked down at Jim, and couldn't keep his eyes from misting. "My God, I am glad to see you, Jim," he said, running a preliminary scan over his body.

"Good to... see you, too, Bones," Jim said, voice still shakier than McCoy would have liked.

Leonard looked over the results of his preliminary scan. "Malnutrition," he muttered. "Severe dehydration. How long have you been losing fluids, Jim?"

The former captain closed his eyes and concentrated, which worried McCoy. Such a simple question shouldn’t take so much thought. He started a second scan just as Jim finally answered him. "S-started puking everything up about... two days ago, I guess. Yesterday it... started coming out both ends. They tried some basic... nngghhh." Jim moaned and doubled over.

"Cramping?" McCoy asked. He nodded, and the doctor added a muscle relaxant to the vitamin compound he'd already been working with. He gave Jim the shot, and the captain uncurled and lay panting on the cot.

"Thank you," he breathed. "Thank God for you, Bones."

Hearing the choked, almost desperate tone in Jim's voice was too much for Leonard. He dropped to his knees beside the narrow bed, grabbed Jim's face and kissed him hard. The once powerful arms squeezed him, but McCoy could tell they had barely half their usual strength. He choked back a sob, and thanked every deity he could think of for letting him have this chance again. He broke from the kiss and looked into Jim's eyes. "I love you."

Jim smiled. "I love you, too. Now quit crying on my face and do your job."

Leonard's smile widened. Jim's eyes shone with fresh tears, and there was a smile on his face. "You'll live, you mean son of a bitch. Now lie still."

By the time McCoy had drawn blood and taken a sample of the recent contents of Jim's stomach, the guard, Ska'an, was back with all the equipment and information Leonard could want. McCoy immediately wrapped Jim in the thermal blankets and turned them to full heat with sharp inductions NOT to pull them off. He ran tests on Jim's blood, cross referenced them to the symptoms, and set the portable computer interface to work, making sure to use the highest security levels for his search. He didn't doubt that carelessly doing a check on a new sample of Jim Kirk's blood where any random nurse or doctor could see would be grounds for execution in this situation. And it was no wonder Spock had been so adamant. Never in the entire history of Starfleet, had a deposed captain been left alive. It was unheard of, and McCoy truly began to wonder about Spock's sanity - not that he minded in the least if Spock's losing his mind meant that he got to be with Jim again, but still. The strangeness of it was disturbing on a deep and basic level of his psyche - much as if someone had come and conclusively proven to him that up was down.

He forced the matter of Spock's strange behaviors aside and set about the task of keeping Jim alive. In a matter of hours, McCoy had identified the problem - a resilient, nasty little virus with symptoms that resembled severe food poisoning. He produced a suitable anti-viral medication for Jim and injected him with a hefty dose. He injected himself with a milder version, since he'd be in close proximity to Jim while the virus was working itself out. Leonard monitored Jim with the portable bio-scanner every fifteen minutes for the next two hours, and was pleased to see that the negative symptoms seemed to be abating. Thirty minutes after the fever broke, Jim started to complain about the heat. "You're supposed to be helping, not burning me alive," he snapped.

Leonard glanced at the bio-scanner and shook his head. "Keep your arms under those blankets, and quit your bitching," he snapped.

There was a frustrated sigh from Jim. "Dammit, if I were myself I'd... wha... where's your agonizer?"

McCoy looked up sharply and shook his head. "Later." He mouthed the word silently, and went back to taking his readings. When it was safe, he took away the blankets - two of which were completely drenched with sweat. He tossed the sweaty ones away, and set the dry one aside for later. "We've got to get you out of these," he said, pulling off Jim's shirt.

Jim pulled away. "I'll be damned if I'll be seen naked by him."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Jim, don't be ridiculous. You're in prison blacks, I'm sure he's already seen you naked and-"

Jim grabbed him by the jaw, forced him to look into his eyes, glaring at fiercely at him. "No."

Leonard swallowed. "Aye, Captain," he said softly.

Jim let him go, and Leonard stepped away, marveling at the power of a man who could command obedience from the absolute lowest place imaginable - the Third Level Brig, dead to all but five souls, and crawling up from a horrendous illness. McCoy approached the forcefield. "Ska'an. Sotek."

"Yes, McCoy," Ska'an replied.

"I'll need new clothes for the... prisoner," he said, catching himself before he could say "captain". "And has the replicator been adjusted?"

"The replicator is available with your bio-scan information, Doctor. Clothes will be provided. What is the prisoner's condition?"

Leonard glanced at Jim before answering. "He's approaching stability, Ska'an, but I'll need to monitor him for... at least another twenty-four hours. Will you take my request to remain here overnight to Captain Spock?"

"It will be done."

Leonard went to the replicator and allowed it to scan his retina. He ordered low-sodium broth, white rice, and a vitamin-fortified juice for Jim. "I need to see if you can stomach these," he said, handing the tray to Jim.

Jim scowled at the food, but took the tray anyway. He shifted uncomfortably for a few moments, and finally took the drenched black tunic off and tossed it toward the pile of sweat-soaked blankets. Jim approached the food gingerly, eating only a few bites at a time, then waiting a while to see if they stayed down. In the end, he managed to finish everything without vomiting, which was a good sign. McCoy put the dishes in the recycler just as Ska'an announced that the other requests had been acquired.

Leonard approached the field as it lowered, careful to avoid smiling in amusement at the fact that Sotek had his phaser aimed directly at Jim when the forcefield came down. The former captain was still weak and barely able to hold a bowl of soup for more than a few minutes, but Sotek was firm, and held the phaser as if Jim might at any moment try to spring from the cell and bolt. It seemed clear that Spock had no intention of letting anyone on his team underestimate James T. Kirk. Wise move, Len reflected. Anyone who underestimated a man like Jim would have to be a fool.

Leonard accepted the new clothes from Ska'an, and gave him the sweaty blankets to dispose of. Having eaten, Jim was strong enough to re-dress on his own, but McCoy insisted on helping. He ordered warm water from the replicator, and hand-bathed Jim from head to toe.

"You're being ridiculous," Jim snapped, after the third time he tried to take the cloth from the doctor and had it snatched away.

"Listen, god damn you," Leonard snapped, shoving Jim's hands roughly away from the soft cloth. "I spent the last two months mourning your death, and serving your murderer, Jim! It's been hell without you, so you just let me be ridiculous for a little while."

Jim let out an exasperated sigh, but his eyes softened and he let McCoy bathe and dress him without further complaint. When the sweat had been wiped away, and Jim was dry and dressed again, he seemed to be in a more positive mood. He leaned back against the bulkhead and watched the doctor toss the soiled clothes into the recycler, pack away his medical equipment and order a small meal for himself. McCoy pressed a separate wall panel and sat down on the short bench that extended from it.

After several minutes, it was Jim who broke the silence. "Do you really have to monitor me for twenty-four hours?" he asked softly.

McCoy looked at him and shook his head. He glanced nervously toward the forcefield, hoping the field's hum would shield his words from the Vulcans. "I just want to be near you," he said quietly.

Jim nodded. He leaned back again, and closed his eyes. Leonard stayed quiet, wanting to let him rest, but Jim wasn't sleeping. "Why am I alive, Bones?" he asked, eyes still closed.

"I have no idea," the doctor replied. "But I think maybe Spock's just a lunatic."

Jim glared. "Don't be glib, Bones, I'm being serious!"

Leonard returned the glare. "Look at me, dammit," he snapped. "Do I look like I think this is a goddamn joke? He..." Leonard cut himself off and looked fearfully toward the forcefield.

Jim sat up and leaned closer to the doctor. "What is it?" he asked softly. "What's he done to my ship?"

Leonard got up and sat beside Jim on the bed. He leaned close and spoke directly into Jim's ear. "He wants to start a revolution. Against the Empire, and Starfleet."

Jim's body was suddenly, completely still. "What?" he breathed.

"That's why I've got no agonizer," Leonard said, just as quietly. "Spock destroyed it. All the executive staff is walking around without them now."

Jim looked sharply at Leonard, and the color that had started to come back to his cheeks drained away again. He gripped Leonard's arms tightly. "And you're following him in this insanity?"

"What choice do I have, Jim?"

Jim's jaw dropped. "What choice, Bones, this is the Empire. He... he's going to get you killed!"

"I'd have been dead sooner if I hadn't agreed," the doctor hissed. "I'm not you, Jim, you think he would have kept me hidden away down here all this time if I'd spoken against him?"

"Dammit, Bones, that's-"

"You told me if he gave me a chance to save myself-"

"Take it." Jim completed the sentence softly, letting go of McCoy's arms. "All right, Bones. All right."

They were silent for several moments. Finally, McCoy spoke again. "You never know, Jim. It might work."

Jim looked at him as if he were insane. "I think he's brainwashed you."

Leonard smiled and shook his head. "Nah, that isn't it. At first, I just thought it was complete insanity, but... Well, according to him, it's logical to make a change before the Halkan resistance does it for us."

Jim chuckled. "Logical? Now I know you've lost it."

Bones laughed, too. They were silent while Leonard finished off his lunch. "You know," Leonard said after dropping his dishes into the recycler. "If you were helping him, I wouldn't be concerned in the least."

"Oh, how flattering," Jim said, rolling his eyes.

"What, I'm serious! You've never been afraid of anything, and you've never started something you couldn't finish." Jim snorted and leaned back against the bulkhead, closing his eyes. McCoy sat down beside him and adopted the same relaxed pose. "You know, he's got me putting out feelers for the crew's opinion of him," he said softly.

"Hm. And how many people has he killed so far?"

"None. Immunity guaranteed." Jim sat up and looked at him, eyes wide. Bones nodded. "I think he honestly wants to know how far he can go with them. General opinion of the crew is that if you had to be taken down, they're glad it was by Spock."

Jim frowned. "Why are you telling me this?"

Leonard sat up and looked at Jim intently. "I'm trying to tell you that they love you, and they think Spock's a fair man."


"So he might actually be able to pull this off." Jim grimaced and shook his head. "Think about it, Jim! Advancement without bloodshed. You wouldn't have to look over your shoulder every day of your life." He'd thought the whole plan was madness before, but thinking of both Spock and Jim working together, he was suddenly very excited about the idea. "If he can convince the crew, maybe he can convince the fleet. And then, the Empire won't have a choice but to accept the change. But he'd have a hell of a lot better chance if you were working with him. Jim, maybe you could talk to him. Ask him-"

"No!" he snapped, his frown deepening to a scowl.

McCoy was undaunted. "Jim, I know it wouldn't be easy to work under him, but it might be your only chance out of the-"

"No, damn you, I don't know what the hell you think prison has done to me, but it hasn't weakened me enough to make me crawl to that traitor!"

McCoy glanced nervously at the forcefield, and lowered his voice when he spoke again, hoping Jim would follow suit. "Jim, I... I don't mean for you to crawl, just... you could offer to help with-"

"HELP?" Jim shouted. McCoy cringed, but Jim didn't seem to care. "Help the man who ripped my ship away from me?! If I get out of here, the first thing I'm going to do is kill that back-stabbing son of a bitch! If he wanted help, he could have talked to me, instead of stealing my command!"

"Now Jim, do you really think you would have heard him out? Don't you-"

"What the hell is this?" Jim snapped, suddenly jumping to his feet. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Jim, I'm just trying to help you! Is this the kind of life you really want to live?" he cried, waving his arms at the cell. "Stuck in a box trying to fight off infections because you can't get fresh air, or anything other than prison fare, and-"

"I'd rather die here than accept pity from a-"

"It wouldn't be pity! Spock needs you, Jim, and you could get out of here, but you're too damn pig-headed to-"

The blow came before he'd realized Jim had even moved. Unprepared, McCoy lost his balance and tumbled off the cot. Jim stood over him, fists clenched, chest heaving. "Get out."

McCoy cringed. "Jim, I... I'm sorry, I'll drop it, but-"

"Get. OUT."

Leonard felt a bitterness in his stomach at the weakness he could see in himself, but he couldn't stop. "Please, Jim. I... I don't know when I'll be able to see you again. Please don't ask me to leave, I-"

"McCoy, I don't want to hurt you," Jim said through clenched teeth. "But I will if you don't leave now."

It was enough. The doctor gritted his teeth and turned his face away. He forced himself to stand, and kept his eyes away from Jim as he walked slowly to the forcefield. "Ska'an, I'm ready to go."

The forcefield dropped, and Sotek was ready with phaser drawn. He took aim immediately at what the doctor assumed was Kirk, just as he had before, while Ska'an looked suspiciously at McCoy. "You said you needed to observe him for twenty-four hours."

McCoy scowled, not giving a good god damn that the guard was some three inches taller, and considerably wider than he was. He was in no mood to be questioned by a fucking personal fucking guard. "He stabilized more quickly than anticipated," McCoy hissed. "And last I checked, I was the fucking doctor, not you!" He stormed past the guards and stalked down the hall. "Get my medical equipment back to Sickbay before the end of shift," he snapped, not bothering to turn his head.

He stormed through the ship, hoping someone would bump into him or step on his toe, so that he could lay into someone, but the crew wasn't made up of fools. They gave him a wide berth. By the time he got to Sickbay, he was certain word must have reached his staff, because the place was spotless, not a single person dared ask him why his cheek was bruised, and the few patients he was scheduled to see were unusually deferential.

Leonard managed to get through his shift without killing anyone, which was more of a feat than it should have been considering the fact that he was a professional healer. He'd been looking forward to the end of the day, so that he could go back to his quarters and brood over the argument with Jim, but he still had work to do. He still had to compile his nightly report for Spock.

It wasn't until he began working on his report that he realized Spock hadn't come to ask about Jim, or even sent a message to him. He was surprised by this, but he was even more surprised to realize that he was actually looking forward to his meeting with Spock. A quiet hour or so thinking about nothing, sipping at something warm and strongly intoxicating would be welcome right about now.

When McCoy presented himself to Spock, the captain seemed ill at ease. It was a subtle difference - a slight restlessness of manner that never came off as actual impatience. As usual, the doctor made his report, but the last item on his list - Jim - clearly made Spock uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily in his seat, and frowned at the prognosis. "His diet needs to be re-balanced," Leonard said. "I've made some suggestions here." He set a record tape on Spock's desk. "And the vents should be checked as well - maybe do a full sweep of all the brig ventilation systems to avoid any suspicion. There's no reason a healthy man should have been hit so hard, but he's living in a bubble right now, sir, and you'll have to be careful if you want him to stay healthy."

"Understood. Your suggestions will be implemented." Spock took the unmarked record tape and stowed it in a secure cabinet. "Has the virus been eliminated?"

McCoy shook his head. "Not completely, Captain. It'll take at least a week for it to completely run through his system, but the danger is over for him now."

Spock nodded, and they were silent for several moments. "He struck you," Spock said at last. "Why?"

"How did you-"

"Your cheek is bruised," Spock answered. "No one else besides myself would dare." Leonard pursed his lips, wishing he'd taken the time to use a regenerator on the bruise. "Why did he strike you?" Spock asked again.

"We argued," he answered simply. Spock looked as if he might ask for details, but McCoy spoke quickly. "If it's all right with you, sir, I'd rather not talk about it tonight."

He half expected Spock to insist, but the Vulcan simply nodded. He stood up and went to the replicator. "The usual?"

"Make it a double," Leonard said, settling down on what he had come to think of as his chair.

Spock sat across from him, presenting him with his favorite julep, so strong it probably could have gotten him drunk by fumes alone. He sipped at it, while Spock took a long drag of what looked like a double espresso. They were silent for a good ten minutes or more. Finally, Spock said, "If I release him, he will not allow me to live." McCoy stared at the large, vibrant Tyrelian mint-leaf and made no sound. "But if I kill him..."

The captain trailed off, and McCoy thought again about the open, unabashed worry in Spock's face back in Third Level. He thought about Spock's assurance that anything and everything he needed to help Jim would be provided to him. He thought about the very fact that Jim was still alive.

Leonard took a deep breath and looked up at Spock with wide eyes as realization dawned. Before he could think better of it, he finished Spock's sentence for him. "If you kill him, you'll be killing the man you love." Spock looked up sharply from his drink, his eyes just as wide as McCoy's, but he didn't deny the doctor's words. Leonard let the silence stretch for a few more moments before clearing his throat and setting down his drink. "Let's pull out the chess set, Spock. I haven't lost to you in..."

"Precisely twenty-two hours and ten minutes," Spock said. "In other words, since the last time we played."

McCoy glared in mock frustration. "Green-blooded son of a bitch," he snapped, hoping Spock would hear the playfulness in his tone.

Spock narrowed his eyes, and the doctor thought maybe he'd gone too far. But a second later, Spock reached for the chess set. "Despite the hue of my blood, and your opinion of my mother, you will still lose this game."

Chapter 2
Chapter 4

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