Chapter 6 - A Game of Skill

Jim was brought out of the brig in a shroud of secrecy. Literally. Spock ordered the security surveillance systems to be shut down completely on the route from the Third Level Brig to his own quarters. Jim was shackled, hands behind his back, and his head was covered with a black hood. Ska'an and Sotek kept hold of his arms, while Sokan and Spock led the way to Jim's former quarters. McCoy had been ordered back from Sickbay shortly after he'd taken finished giving himself anti-inflammatories for his many new bruises, and he now brought up the rear of their secretive caravan.

Jim walked with a confidence that belied the fact that he obviously couldn't see. McCoy wasn't surprised in the least. Jim knew the ship like he knew himself. He'd often said that he could find his way through any part of her in complete darkness and never touch a wall he didn't intend to, and watching him now, McCoy believed it was no exaggeration. Jim turned corners before he was guided, and when they entered his quarters, he seemed to stand straighter, as if he knew he was in his own domain again.

Spock beckoned McCoy to stand beside him. "Ska'an. The crew may resume using the lower decks but officers' quarters are to remain cleared until further notice."

"Yes, Captain."

Ska'an left the room, while Sokan and Sotek took over the task of restraining Jim each gripping one of his arms. Spock locked the door at highest security and nodded to Sotek. The Vulcan removed the hood, and Jim looked at them with a grim expression on his face. His eyes immediately looked toward one wall - once a framed modern piece in orange textiles, but Spock had since replaced it with a glass case containing a few ceremonial blades from his home planet. Jim looked at it in complete shock. He seemed to move toward the wall without thinking, and Sokan held him back.

Jim snapped his head back to Spock, eyes wide. "Where is it?" he asked, almost breathlessly. McCoy looked from Jim's astonished face to Spock's impassive mask, his own features darkening to a frown. Where's what? "Dammit, Spock, where is it? What did you do with it?"

"I dismantled it," Spock answered calmly.

"What? " Jim's eyes widened even more, and his jaw dropped. "Are... are you insane? Why would you... how did you..." He trailed off, apparently at a loss for words because of the missing canvas.

Spock regarded him coolly, head tilting ever so slightly. It was the look he usually gave McCoy when he was about to give an explanation of the doctor's poor chess playing. "I have found, Jim," he said softly. "That there are more effective methods for securing the respect of this crew than those provided by the Tantalus Field."

McCoy vaguely remembered the name Tantalus, but he couldn't focus on it for the furious glare on Jim's face. Even when it wasn't directed at him, Jim's fury was chilling. "If you're telling me I don't know how to run a ship-"

"I am telling you my observations, Jim," Spock replied calmly. "It was also clear to me that any man in possession of such a powerful device would be in the precarious and dangerous position of possibly losing possession of said device and having it used against him. That was a risk to which I was not willing to subject myself. I made the decision to destroy the device, and I have vaporized its components. As you know, it cannot be replicated."

Jim glared for a moment, then shook his head. "No, you're lying," he said. "You have to be! Bones, tell me the truth. Where is it?"

"I have no idea what either one of you are talking about," Leonard replied, completely mystified. "What is this field?"

"He never showed you?" Spock asked.

"Well of course not, Spock, didn't I just-" He caught Spock's dangerous look immediately, and clamped his mouth shut.

"You would do well to respect me in the presence of prisoners, McCoy," Spock said darkly.

Leonard nodded curtly. "Yes, Captain," he said, voice clipped. He stood stiffly, glancing briefly at the darkening scowl on Jim's face before opting to stare at the wall ahead of him.

"You," Jim said, voice deep and full of disdain. McCoy glanced at him, and he was surprised to see that Jim was looking directly at him, instead of at Spock. "Look at you! You're nothing but a puppet!" Leonard took a step back, feeling as if he'd been physically attacked. "You disgust me, pandering to him as if-" Jim cut off suddenly, with a sharp cry.

McCoy looked at Spock, who'd just set down a small remote control. Wristband. Jim gritted his teeth and glared fiercely at Spock. "The doctor has just saved you from a lifetime of imprisonment, at great risk to himself," Spock said. "I am at a loss to understand your behavior."

"You would be," Jim snarled. "How could you expect to understand any kind of emotion at all? You're nothing but a god dammed robot! A cold, soulless automaton with-" He cried out again, the small agonizer unit inside the wristband doing its work. "Where did you put the device, you lying son of a- ahh!" Again, the band was activated.

McCoy had seen enough. A power struggle was under way and he didn't want to be party to it. Angry and hurt as he was by Jim's sudden outburst, he found he didn't want to see Jim broken. "Captain," he said suddenly. "I'd like to go back to Sickbay please."

"What's the matter, Bones?" Jim sneered. "Can't stand to see your oh-so-logical lover being cruel? You-"

Leonard wasn't even sure when Spock had stepped around the desk, but a second later, Jim was reeling from the full-forced punch Spock had delivered to his jaw. Spock slammed his fist into Jim's solar plexus, knocking the wind from him. Jim doubled over, and Spock glared down at him. "You will cease to disrespect Dr. McCoy and myself with your spiteful and illogical vitriol, or you will be returned to the brig."

Jim stood up slowly, laughing as best he could while still trying to catch his breath. "Some threat, you-"

"Silence!" Spock snapped. He continued in a low voice, scowling deeply. "You will be left without access to the reading materials that I granted you. You will be kept in total darkness, and you will never be allowed to see or hear another living creature for the rest of your existence. And trust me, Kirk, I will be sure to keep you in excellent health, so that you may experience your full human lifespan in captivity."

Jim's smile faltered, and he frowned again. Spock let his words sink in for several moments, and the doctor could tell Jim was considering what a living hell that sort of life would be. He didn't say anything to acknowledge Spock's threat. He merely stood up straighter and watched the Vulcan, eyes cautious, but without the defiant challenge they'd held before.

Spock seemed to see this as acquiescence, and he turned to the doctor. "If you have pressing matters to attend, you may go."

Leonard nodded. "Thank you, Captain." Without even the briefest glance at Jim, McCoy walked out of the office and headed for Sickbay.

Leonard sequestered himself in his office and stared at the performance evaluations. Pressing matters indeed. The damned reports were the last thing on his mind. All he could think about was Jim hating the bitterness that seemed to have grown between them. He thought about the other Jim - the one who had brought them to this. Spock had told him it was the other captain's words that had convinced him there might be another way. That, and the mind of the other McCoy - the evidence he'd seen of the way their so-called "Federation" worked for the benefit of all members, with planets sharing their wealth only if they wanted to, and receiving protection from their Starfleet instead of acting as tributaries, paying taxes in exchange for not being destroyed by Starfleet.

Leonard thought about the other Spock - calm, rational, cold to all, but with a special warmth in his eyes for McCoy alone. It was a warmth Jim used to show him, but that was now painfully absent. Leonard tried to console himself with the idea that Jim had probably been sincere in his apology back in the brig, but the temptation of the knife had just been too good to pass up. There was the memory of Jim almost pleading with Spock on his behalf the fear in his voice had been real. The memory was, of course, associated with the feeling of Spock's iron grip on his throat, followed only a short time later by Jim hurling insults at him because of a missing goddamn tapestry, so it wasn't much of a consolation in the end.

He sighed. Dammit. He suddenly felt a strong, almost overpowering sense of nostalgia for the old days - the time when Jim was captain, Leonard was his left hand and Spock his right, and the Enterprise was the most widely respected and feared craft in the fleet. He shook his head. A time when patients with real illnesses and injuries were terrified to set foot in the Sickbay. When disagreeing with a command decision was grounds for execution. When power was the single, all-consuming goal of every person in the service.

He scowled. No. That wasn't what he wanted. But he cursed that other Jim all the same. Cursed him for making Spock change their lives. For making his Jim hate him. For complicating the fuck out of every damned thing.

Three days later, Spock called a meeting of the senior staff. He gave no indication of why, but McCoy knew. Each evening after Jim's release, Spock had called him for their nightly meetings. Oddly enough, they avoided the topic of their former captain, much as they had before. They discussed ship's business, and talked about different ways that they might further their goals for the revolution. Spock told Leonard about what actions he planned to take next, and how he planned to further his goals for the revolution, and Leonard made what suggestions he could, and gave his opinions on Spock's ideas. Once the topic had been covered, though, they settled back into their now-comfortable routine of drinks, chess and pleasant conversation (or comfortable silences) until late in the evening.

It was during those times that Leonard was most grateful for Spock's half Vulcan heritage, and his insistence on living the Vulcan way. He'd expected Spock to treat him coldly, or refuse to speak to him at all now that he'd disobeyed a direct order. But once Spock decided to give Leonard's suggestion a try and release Jim, he'd apparently seen no point in holding a grudge. That was more than fine with McCoy. The semblance of normalcy was welcome.

Of course, all that was about to fly out the window again. Leonard glanced at Nyota sitting next to him, saw her fidgeting, and have her a slight smile. She was nervous - everyone was. The directive to kill Captain Spock had been ignored, and a second message had been sent from Starfleet Command. The executive staff knew that things were coming to a head and no one was sure how long it would be before they were attacked.

Spock began the meeting by thanking the crew for their loyalty and their adherence to his new protocols. Regular briefings on the state of the ship were given and recorded in the ship's log, even though they naturally had no intention of sending any of the information to Command. Finally, Spock said, "I understand that many of your subordinates may be concerned about the status of the ship, and our position with Starfleet Command. I have decided to enlist the assistance of someone who has a great deal of experience in high-risk diplomatic situations, and who I believe will be an asset to us during this transitional period."

He nodded toward Sokan, and the Vulcan left the room. "You will be shocked by what you see," Spock continued. "But I ask you to maintain your self control." They nodded, as though they knew they would be able to keep straight faces through whatever Spock's surprise might be. Spock pressed the intercom and said, "Bring him in." A moment later, Jim walked in, flanked by his two former prison guards, and a third Vulcan guard. A collective gasp rocked the briefing room, and chairs scraped against the floor as officers jumped to their feet.

Jim approached Spock's chair, saluted the captain for all to see, then turned to the assembled crew. He smiled that signature smile, holding Leonard's gaze the longest. Finally, he looked at the others again and said, "Hi guys. Miss me?"

There was stunned silence for several seconds. Finally, Uhura cried out, "Captain!" McCoy looked sharply up at her, and Spock was on his feet in a second. Uhura, of course, realized her mistake immediately, and raised a hand swiftly to her lips. "I... I'm s-sorry, Captain," Uhura said, voice tight with fear. "I didn't mean-"

"Silence," he snapped.

She cringed, and everyone in the room (including Jim) looked nervously from Spock to Uhura. McCoy rose, lifting his hand slowly, hoping to calm Spock. "Captain, she-"

"I said silence!" Spock stepped around the table and slowly approached the communications officer. McCoy was proud, if surprised, to see that she held her ground, though her arms were shaking slightly. "Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir," she whispered.

"Your timely warning to Doctor McCoy saved my life some weeks ago. For that reason, I will excuse your error this time. But I trust that you will never make such a mistake again."

She shook her head. "Never, Captain."

Spock held her gaze for a long moment before staring down the others around the table. "I caution the rest of you to remember this as well. James Kirk is not the captain of this vessel. I am. Understood?" There was a chorus of "yes, sirs", while Spock returned to his place, and the staff who'd been standing took their seats again.

Leonard was unnerved by the near complete normalcy of it all. Jim was where Spock usually sat, and Spock sat in the Captain's usual chair. Of course, he wore the shimmering gold tunic with its distinctive shoulder tassels, while Jim wore the generic black t-shirt that was often worn beneath uniforms. The Wristband was plain to see on his wrist. Except for their attire, and the presence of the three extra guards, the scene was deceptively regular. Spock outlined plans, Kirk made suggestions, and once the awe seemed to have worn off for the rest of the staff, they chimed in with their contributions as well.

Spock suggested sending messages to the other twelve captains, explaining the changes Spock had made, along with the projections of destruction from the Halkan council. Jim "respectfully" disagreed, citing the fact that written communications were subject to being misinterpreted or ignored. "If we want to get them on our side, we need to talk to them face to face - make them listen."

Spock tilted his head in acquiescence. "I am open to any suggestions you may have for coordinating such a meeting."

"All right," he said. "I'll work with Lieutenant Uhura on it. But it'll probably be more effective to keep my presence a secret for now."

Spock nodded. "I agree."

"There's another thing, Captain," Lieutenant Leslie said. "I suggest we come up with other reasons for them to join us aside from the Halkan predictions." Thornton and Scotty nodded in agreement, but Spock seemed unconvinced.

"Oh? What more reason should they need than the inevitable downfall of this flawed system?"

"Lieutenant Leslie has a point, Captain," McCoy said. Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "You're a Vulcan, Spock. Not only is your lifespan some two or three times that of a Human, but you're from a race of beings that practically worships logical thinking."

Spock frowned. "Worship is not an accurate term, Doctor."

McCoy suppressed a smile, noticing that Jim had a grin playing about his lips as well. "I'm sure it's not, sir," he replied. "But the... emphasis placed on the value of logic in your culture makes it easier for you to see the benefit of changing the Empire now to avoid the Halkan's predictions. But the other starship captains are all humans." He glanced at the other officers, and gave Spock a sardonic smile. "I'm sure you're willing to admit that humans aren't the most logical of creatures. It'll take more than calculations and probability to convince them to try and stop something that won't even happen in their lifetime."

Spock steepled his hands before him and took a breath. "Your assessment of the lack of foresight shown by many Humans is a valid one," he said at last. "I will consider this issue. Kirk, I task you to do the same. Your expertise would be well suited to this matter."

Jim nodded. "Thank you, Captain, and duly noted," he said. "I'll apply myself to the problem."

Spock looked at each of them in turn. "The presence of James Kirk aboard this vessel must be kept confidential to all but trusted members of the crew. Use your best judgment in this matter." There were various nods and acknowledgments from the table. "Lieutenant Uhura, continue screening all outbound communications, and alert me or Mr. Scott if any attempt is made to contact Starfleet Command without my authority."

"Understood, sir."

"Very well. This meeting is adjourned." He glanced at the men flanking Kirk's chair, and gave them a command in Vulcan before standing. "Dismissed."

Spock left the room, followed by Sokan and his other three personal guards. The others lingered behind. Thornton, Leslie and Scotty crowded around him, smiling and shaking his hand, telling him how great it was to see him. Jim responded with charm and genuine affection. "It's great to see you, too. I've missed you - hell, I've missed everyone! I'd have even killed for a serenade from Riley toward the end, there." There was a roar of laughter at that - even Leonard had to chuckle, remembering how Jim had promised to put Riley in the booth for six straight hours if he ever caught him singing again after the Psi 2000 incident. He'd heard it said that Riley was now afraid to even sing in the shower.

Jim promised to speak to them at length later that day, and they filed out. "Uhura," Jim said, as she stood up to leave. "We'll have to get together later this afternoon to talk about pulling the other captains together."

She smiled slightly. "All right, sir."

He touched her arm as she passed. "You're a very brave young woman," he said softly. "I may never be called 'Captain' again. Thank you." She blushed, and nodded. "Tell me, what did Spock say to them," he asked, nodding toward his guard detail.

She looked at them nervously for a second, but they didn't seem to care one way or the other. Of course, they were Vulcans, so the fact that they didn't seem to care wasn't saying much. "I don't suppose there could be any harm," Uhura said. "He ordered them to stay with you and report what you say to us."

Kirk nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

She smiled and reached hesitantly for him. Jim stood and pulled her into a tight embrace. Uhura squeezed him tightly. "It's good to see you, sir."

"Good to see you, too, Nyota." He squeezed her once more, then let go. "Go on." She left, and Jim turned to the only people who had yet to approach him - Leonard and Marlena.

Jim glanced briefly at Leonard, then smiled at Marlena. "How've you been, Marlie?"

"Never better," she said stiffly, arms folded tightly in front of her.

Jim's posture was the exact opposite. He leaned against the conference table, arms relaxed at his sides, a smile on his face. "Is he treating you well?"

"I've been placed in charge of the Science department," Marlena replied.

"Really? Congratulations, he must trust you very much." She didn't reply, and Jim moved slowly toward her. She stiffened when he touched her arm and lifted her face to look him in the eye. "What about... his other duties toward you?"

Her face flushed, eyes darting nervously toward the Vulcans, Leonard - anywhere but Kirk's face. "I... h-he..." Jim lowered his head slightly, but Marlena jerked away before he could kiss her. She stepped back, hand reaching for her dagger. "That's not your business anymore, Jim," she said sharply, the heat still rising to her face.

"Marlena, I'm just-"

"You stopped caring about my needs ages ago," she said. "If you're here to help Captain Spock, I'm glad for that. We need it. But if you want to betray him, I won't let you use me to do it."

Before Jim could respond, she turned on her heel and left the room. Jim shook his head. "Poor girl."

"I wouldn't presume to pity her, Jim," McCoy said. "She's doing fine for herself."

Jim chuckled. "I'll bet she is. Does she stay with him?"

Leonard shook his head. "He's changed that, too. She's got her own quarters - nice officer's quarters, I've heard. He still considers her his responsibility - she's under his protection, but they don't... they aren't physical at all. He's given her permission to choose someone else for that if she wants to, but I don't think she's done that." He smiled. "I think she's enjoying being alone for a change."

Jim shook his head. "Maybe. Just seems strange."

"It'll get less strange, I think," Leonard replied. "The new methods Spock's trying out will mean that a woman won't have to attach herself to a strong man if she wants to move up. She won't need the protection if she doesn't have to worry about being killed by lower ranked officers, or fighting her way up by killing other men."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. He sat back down, this time choosing the seat right next to Leonard. The guards glided almost unobtrusively to position themselves directly behind Jim again. Jim nodded at them, and grinned at McCoy. "My entourage. Courtesy of Captain Spock." McCoy nodded, but didn't speak. Jim's playful smile disappeared, and he gazed at some inscrutable place on the conference table for a few minutes. Leonard watched him, but his gaze was really inward-facing. He was still hurt, and angry at himself for being so damned soft. He wouldn't allow himself to be used against Spock either, but he wondered if he would have the strength to push Jim away, as Marlena had done, if he reached for a kiss.

"I've fucked things up pretty badly between us, haven't I Bones," Jim said softly.

Leonard nodded, even though Jim wasn't looking at him. He didn't feel up to words at the moment, so he grunted in response - something he hoped conveyed "yes, you damn well have".

There were several moments of silence. Finally, Jim turned to him. "I'm sorry," he said. This time, his tone carried none of the deep guilt and remorse that had been so obvious back in the cell. It was a simple statement of fact, and as such, it seemed much more believable than if he'd spoken with that same amount of emotion again. "I've underestimated you, I've been unfair to you, and I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that from me."

Leonard let out a short sigh. It was a relief, in a way, but there was a tension building in him as well. Apologies always did this to him - they were the pivotal point. Would he forgive and try to forget, or would he hold on to the hurt and anger and try to inflict some of his own? Jim was watching him still, though not with an air of expectancy. More as if he wanted to figure out what Bones was thinking.

He sighed again. "You were under your share of stress, Jim. I guess-"

"It's no excuse, Bones," Jim said firmly. "I was wrong, and I'm sorry."

Leonard allowed the barest hint of a smile to lift the corner of his lips. "All right, Jim," he said softly. "Thank you." Jim gave him a bemused look. "I've missed... I've missed feeling like we're friends," the doctor said.

Jim pursed his lips, and lowered his eyes for a moment. Then, he smiled and placed a hand on Bones' shoulder. "Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore," he said. He stretched his left arm out, looking down at the wristband. "I can't exactly say things will be back to normal now," he said with a sardonic smile. "But I'm done taking my frustrations out on you."

"I'm glad to hear it." McCoy glanced at the guards, then back at Jim. "Spock and I haven't spoken much about you since the day you were brought out. Mind if I ask what the terms of your release are?"

"You mean, how'd he get me to salute him like a good little soldier?" McCoy merely shrugged in response, and Jim chuckled. "I figured you didn't want to see me tortured into obedience. That was why you left, wasn't it?"

"Among other things," he replied.

"Mmm." Jim shook his head. "That comment about you two..." He glanced almost imperceptibly toward the guards. "Listen, I lost it a little bit when I saw the Tantalus field was missing, and I was out of line with that. I'm sorry, Bones."

"It's all right, Jim," Leonard said softly. "He did end up telling me what the Tantalus Field was after that first day you came out. Quite a weapon."

"It was. I still say he was insane to destroy it - it would have made him invincible."

"No doubt. But he did have a point - if someone else found out about it, it could have just as easily been used to kill him."

"Maybe. It's a moot point now, either way, it just... made me forget the whole reason I agreed to help him in the first place - to keep you out of trouble."

"Well, he didn't toss me into the brig, so it worked," Leonard said.

"Good. You didn't miss much, by the way. After you left, I mean. There wasn't very much more I could say with a threat like that hanging over my head. Living death." He shuddered. "He demanded obedience and respect, I bucked a little more, and he threatened to take me back to the brig then and there. I decided, wisely if I may say so, that a little bit of freedom is better than none at all. I agreed to do what he wanted, and now, here I am. I've got free reign of Deck Five - chaperoned, of course. I'm staying in Spock's old quarters - presumably so he can keep an eye on me. I'm required to assist with his insane plan, respect his office as captain of the ship - and yours as CMO, of course - and I'm to conform to the new way of doing things, or I'll be locked in a dark room until I've died or gone insane from the solitude and inactivity. As far as I know, I've got no rank - suppose that's better than being demoted to ensign." McCoy frowned at that thought. "No communication with the outside, restricted computer access, and of course, no going anywhere outside my quarters without a minimum of three guards present."

McCoy nodded. "Well. I suppose it could be worse. How are you holding up so far?"

"I'm managing. Better than you might think, actually. I've been in one room, looking at the same four walls for months, Bones. Fuck. Before that I was in the other brig - I've been in prison ever since we beamed up from the Halkan talks. Being able to walk around more than a ten foot space seems pretty fucking exciting after that." McCoy nodded and murmured his agreement. "It's strange being in Spock's quarters, but that's only because they're the mirror image of mine. He's actually kept most of my art and some of my other trophies and moved them over, so it's got some semblance of home to it. I'll get used to it. And of course, it's good to be able to see you more often."

McCoy allowed himself to smile. "Same here," he said. "Listen, I've got to get back to Sickbay, and I know you've got your work cut out for you. But we should have lunch or... something. Are... are you allowed to have visitors in your quarters?"

"As far as I know. But of course, I haven't exactly had any visitors yet, either, so I'm not really sure. We'll..." Again, he looked at his security detail. "We'll find out what the captain has to say about it."

"Good idea," he said. "C'mon, Jim. Walk me to the turbolift?"

McCoy's life settled into an... interesting routine after Jim's presence was announced to the executive officers. During the day, he went about his duties as usual. In the evenings, he had his daily meetings with Spock, with one important change - now, Jim was included in their evening meetings as well. At first, the guards accompanied him, but after a couple of days wherein Jim made absolutely no sign of doing anything but cooperating to the fullest degree, Spock sent the guards to wait outside, and merely kept the wristband remote control on the desk within easy reach of him. He also took the precautionary measure of locking his phaser into a desk compartment rather than keeping it on his person. During the first few meetings, Jim and McCoy gave their respective reports, then Jim was dismissed and McCoy stayed behind to play their usual chess game.

McCoy felt somewhat uncomfortable playing chess with Spock when Jim was relegated to his quarters alone, but the memory of Spock's attack was still fresh, and he hadn't worked up the courage to ask Spock if Jim could join them. On the fourth day of this odd truce, however, Spock did not dismiss Jim as usual.

"You may remain here if you wish," he said.

"And do what, Captain?" Jim asked.

"It is our custom, after our briefings, to engage in a game of chess," Spock explained. "You may watch if you like."

Jim gaped at them. "You have a nightly chess game?" he asked incredulously. "That was our-" He gritted his teeth and forced himself to stop. McCoy lowered his eyes, but Spock seemed unaffected.

"As I recall," Spock said calmly, "Doctor McCoy was invited to watch or participate in our games in the recreation room when he wished. However, if you are not comfortable with this situation, you may go."

There was only a moment of hesitation, then Jim said, "I'll stay. Thank you for inviting me, sir."

Spock nodded once and stood. McCoy got up, found a comfortable chair for Jim and pulled it over to their game table. He took his seat and dared to glance at Jim. His expression was thoughtful, and he looked like he wanted to ask him something, but Spock spoke first. "Jim, would you care for an alcoholic beverage?"

Jim looked at Bones as if to say, "is he serious?" McCoy shrugged. "Sure, why the hell not?" Jim said. "I'll take Saurian brandy. Double."

"On the proverbial 'rocks', Jim?"

Jim laughed. "Yes, Captain. On the rocks." Spock requested the drinks, and Jim helped bring them back to the gaming table. Leonard set up the chess board, and they settled into their respective places.

McCoy glanced at Jim, gesturing toward the board. "Did you want to..."

"No, no, I'll just watch," he said. "I don't want to disrupt your routine." McCoy looked at him, but Jim didn't look sarcastic or upset - just interested.

Leonard took a sip of his drink and gestured to Spock. "Your turn to make first move," he said.

Spock did so, and the game began. McCoy was self conscious at first, glancing nervously at Jim more than once during the first few minutes of the game. Jim only watched the board, occasionally catching his eye and giving him an almost encouraging smile. Eventually, Leonard relaxed and focused on the game. His skill was improving, and it now took him more than an hour to be beaten by Spock. At one point, about forty-five minutes into the game, McCoy placed his hand on a piece, and Jim "Hmmmed" and shook his head slightly.


"Dangerous," Jim said, but Spock glared at him.

"Allow him to play his own game, please."

"Sorry, sir," Jim said with a rueful shrug. McCoy removed his hand from the piece and studied the board again. He re-evaluated his move, taking his time, and discovered a possible countermove that he hadn't considered the first time. He smiled, and made a different move. He couldn't resist a triumphant exclamation.

Spock merely raised an eyebrow. "The likelihood of your winning this game, even after avoiding that error, is three hundred forty-seven point six nine to one."

"Oh please, you green-blooded walking calculator," he snapped without thinking. Jim's eyes widened, but Spock didn't reprimand him, and Leonard allowed himself to relax. "You're just saying that to try to shake my confidence," he said.

Spock shook his head and made his next move. "As you wish, Doctor."

Jim grinned and sat back in his seat while Leonard considered his next move. Naturally, he did lose the game, but he made his best time yet - a full ninety minutes this time. "Congratulations, Doctor," Spock said. "You have beaten your personal best by twenty-two minutes."

"Thank you, Spock," he said, smiling.

"I'm impressed, Bones," Jim said. "You've learned a lot since we last played together."

"I've been reading up on..." He faltered, suddenly embarrassed, and glanced at Spock. He hadn't meant to say that aloud. The Vulcan was watching him with surprise, and what he thought might have been pleasure in his eyes. "I... um..."

"Nothing wrong with studying up," Jim said, dispelling the tension with his casual tone and that charming smile. "Maybe I can teach you a few things, too, some time." He looked at Spock. "What do you say, Captain? Care to take on a real challenge? No offense, Bones," he said, patting his arm.

Bones just smiled. "No, no, I know my limitations," he said. "I'm sure Spock's been bored out of his mind knowing he's going to win every time."

"Quite the contrary, Doctor. Observing your progress has been of great interest to me. And your growing skill has impressed me as well, making calculating the number of moves before you finally lose the game quite an interesting problem."

Bones rolled his eyes. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"It was, Doctor," he replied.

"I know, Spock," he said with a smile. He vacated his chair and gestured for Jim to take his place. "I'm in need of an Aldebaran Sunrise. Can I get anyone a refill?"

"No, thank you," Spock answered.

"Count me out, too, Bones. I need to keep clear for this. It's been... what, four months since we last played?"

"Three months, three weeks, six days, twenty-one hours and thirty-five point six minutes," Spock said. McCoy froze with the half-smile he'd been giving Jim still frozen on his face. Jim paused as well, eyes widening perceptibly. Spock raised an eyebrow at their complete silence. "Have I said something socially inappropriate?" he asked.

Jim smiled warmly and took his seat in front of Spock. "Not at all, Spock," he said. "Sir," he amended immediately. "Not at all." He turned to McCoy and said, "Bones, on second thought, I think I'll take a cup of coffee. Black."

"Sure, Jim," he said, glancing at Spock again. The Vulcan was busy re-setting the chess board, completely unconcerned. McCoy requested the drinks, trying to quell the anxious sensation in his stomach. He was filled with a sudden, intense fear for Spock, and for the fledgling society he was trying to create. He almost wished he could have given Spock the same warning Jim had given him during their game - Dangerous. The man had just confessed his love for Jim without even realizing it. Leonard tried to tell himself that Jim wouldn't necessarily use Spock's slip against him, but it just wouldn't be like Jim not to. Leonard loved Jim, but he was also developing a strong fondness for Spock. He didn't want to have to see either one of them fall.

Leonard sat down and drank about half of his second cocktail in one swing. He found he was able to relax just a little bit. Whatever happened was going to happen whether he worried about it or not, and he seriously doubted anything would happen that very night. By the time he'd drained his glass and procured another, he was able to completely relax, and pay attention to the game.

When he'd watched them before, McCoy had been able to follow their playing well enough, but hadn't been sure of their motives beyond a few moves. Now, he knew enough about chess to understand what Jim and Spock might be planning from fairly well in advance. Still, he was surprised by some of the moves they made, and he could see for himself, without simply depending on the fact that Jim sometimes won against Spock, that Jim was an extremely excellent player.

Leonard could also see that this was more than a game for the two men. Spock and McCoy were sometimes silent when they played, but often, they talked quietly about the moves they made, or about some piece of ship's business that they might have missed before they moved to their more comfortable "off duty" seats. Leonard might remark about the reason behind one of Spock's moves, Spock might "helpfully" advise him of the re-calculated odds of his failure. But Jim and Spock were completely silent and absolutely still except when making their moves on the board. The stillness was almost uncanny. If he hadn't been able to see them breathing, and watch the careful repositioning of pieces, Leonard might have mistaken them for statues. There was a particular quality to the silence, too - a tension that seemed to build as the game progressed. Leonard felt himself tensing in response to the palpable electricity flowing between the players.

The game lasted for hours, with the time between moves stretching longer and longer as the game progressed. By the time the number of pieces dwindled to a few key pieces, the chronometer read 0300. They played for about thirty more minutes before it became clear that there would be no winner.

As one, Spock and Jim looked up from the board and sat back in their seats. There was another full three minutes of silence. Finally, Spock took a deep, slow breath. "We have reached an impasse," he said, voice so soft McCoy would have had to strain to hear had the room not been so completely still. "One of us must withdraw."

Jim's mouth quirked up ever so slightly. Another long moment passed. Then, Jim reached forward, took hold of his king and slowly, deliberately laid it on its side. "I'll concede to you this time, Captain Spock," he said, just as quietly. "Your game was excellently played."

Spock inclined his head. "Thank you, Jim. Your playing was stellar, as usual." He glanced at the board. "Had the circumstances leading to our final moves been altered only slightly, the outcome might have been quite different."

Jim nodded. "Indeed."

Spock took another deep breath. "Tomorrow?"

"I wouldn't miss it."

Chapter 5
Chapter 7

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