From that night forward, Leonard, Jim and Spock spent each and every evening together. They discussed the status of the ship, Jim gave his suggestions, Spock gave his orders, and Leonard made notes summarizing the decisions they would later present to Scotty and the department heads at their next meeting. And when ship business had been conducted, they sat down to drinks and chess. They settled into a routine wherein Spock and Jim took turns playing against McCoy, then Spock and Jim would play each against other. McCoy didn't really mind occupying the function of "warm-up" player. Both men were complimentary of his increasing skill, and they each gave pointers at the end of his games.
The games between Jim and Spock were never quite as intense as their very first game had been, but McCoy still felt as if he were watching the exchange of genius when they played. Circumstances weren't the same anymore - the wristband and remote were ever-present reminders of that fact - but things were closer to "normal" than they'd been in a long time. Jim had even started calling Spock by name, and Spock didn't seem to mind (although Jim was careful to continue calling him "Captain" and "sir" in public).
For a couple of days after that first evening together, Leonard wondered about what Jim might do - if he really would try to use Spock's affection for Jim against him. However, after three or four days of waiting for the other shoe to drop, Leonard felt that his fears had been premature. Jim continued to act just as he had before - helpful and respectful, always making suggestions that seemed they would best help to make Spock's plans become reality. But even if Jim tried something, Leonard reflected one evening, Spock was a Vulcan. He wouldn't be swayed by emotions anyway. His actions so far obviously showed that he wouldn't hesitate to lock Jim up (even if he wouldn't kill him), no matter how much he cared for Jim. And Jim would not want to see the inside of a ship's brig ever again. McCoy shuddered at the thought of Jim closed away in a dark corner, and of never being allowed to see or talk to him again. No. It would be in everyone's best interest for things to stay as they were until they could get the other captains together and make sure they had a united front against Starfleet Command.
When things continued smoothly, Leonard began to relax. He fully enjoyed their evenings together, and he lost the sense of impending doom. At Jim's suggestion, Lieutenant Uhura sent periodic messages to Starfleet Command, chronicling their imaginary failed attempts at killing Spock, in an effort to stall and keep Command from sending a starship after them right away, so even that worry was alleviated for the time being.
It was a pleasant feeling, living without constant fear. He was almost surprised by the feeling - the lack of that underlying edge that was an integral part of life in Starfleet. Even before Spock had taken over and Leonard had begun to suffer under the strain of the combined dangers of mutiny and destruction by Starfleet Command, he'd lived with a shadow over him. Anyone who was known to be unfailingly loyal to the ship's captain was in almost as much danger as the captain himself. If the captain's enemies knew you couldn't be swayed, purchased, or threatened into betraying him, you were likely to be killed immediately along with the captain, once they made their move.
This, he thought, was where the success of the United Federation of Planets lay - the simple presence of security and peace of mind. The knowledge that colleagues would not betray you, and that your position (and your life) would not be constantly in danger from the people who were supposed to be on your side.
Leonard didn't share his thoughts with Jim - didn't want to antagonize him, and risk damaging their renewed friendship. But Jim surprised him by bringing it up himself one afternoon. He joined McCoy in the recreation room, which had been recently opened to him now that all officers who might use it were aware of his presence. He still received the wide-eyed stares that Leonard associated with holovid stars, or globally famous musicians - crewmembers still stunned by his presence - alive - aboard the ship, and confused about how to address him. He seemed unconcerned by the attention, and sat down with McCoy as if nothing were out of the ordinary. His escort stood within ear-shot, as usual, but Leonard barely noticed them anymore.
They chatted about nothing in particular - Leonard told Jim about his latest communication from his daughter, who dutifully wrote him every two weeks like clockwork. Jim mentioned that he and Uhura were almost ready with a plan for communicating with the other captains. "I'll let you know more when we have something definite. She's working on a hybrid encryption that should be decipherable by all the captains, but should take Command a while to figure out."
"Touchy work," McCoy replied.
"Mmm." Jim took a bite of one of his cubed vegetables and grimaced. "I hate these damned things."
"Well, why are you eating them?"
"Because of you," he snapped. "You and Spock. He refuses to take me off that damn diet you suggested when I was still sick. Bull-headed son of a bitch."
McCoy couldn't suppress a snicker. "I'll talk to him if you want."
"I do. Schedule a new physical for me or something!" He took a bite of an Altarian root vegetable and shoved the plate away in disgust. "He says he wants to maintain my 'optimum health', but if you ask me, he wants to see me die a slow death of starvation." He glared at his escort. "It's working."
They looked impassively at him, and Leonard shook his head. "I'll see what I can do," he said with a smile.
Jim sipped at his coffee and glanced around the busy recreation room. His face grew thoughtful. "I had a long talk with Scotty today," he said.
Jim nodded. "Sulu's in the brig?"
"Second level," McCoy affirmed. "But only for... another month or so, I think."
"And what about Chekov? He's..."
"He's in the brig, too. We found out he'd been confined to quarters after he tried to overthrow the other version of you, and Spock gave him a chance to serve the new order. But he was in collaboration with Sulu, so he ended up in the brig."
Jim shook his head. "And Thelorin's still alive."
Leonard nodded. "Third level. But Spock hasn't set a date for her release. I think it's basically assumed she'll be there for life."
Jim's eyes widened. "Really? Why the difference between her and Sulu?"
"Spock said it was because Sulu and his men didn't actually kill anyone. We lost close to twenty people in Thelorin's attempted takeover. Including Selek."
Jim frowned at that. "Well," he said after a moment. "And here I thought he was keeping me alive for sentimentality. Especially after... after he started letting me stick around for chess," he said, with an almost imperceptible pause. Leonard made note of the consideration. Jim had kept Spock's unintentional admission of love private in front of the guards, and McCoy considered it a good sign. "Guess I was just the beginning of a trend," Jim continued.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Jim," McCoy said. "It's pretty clear that he... well, let's say what's happened with you is still absolutely unprecedented."
Kirk let out a mirthless chuckle. "I suppose so." He shook his head and studied the cup of dark liquid for a few moments. "He's doing it," he said softly.
"Doing what?" McCoy asked.
"This." Jim waved his arm at the room in general. "He's running this ship with these new no-capital-punishment rules, and people are following him." Leonard nodded slowly. "It's incredible," Jim said softly. "You know, Scotty was almost afraid to talk to me? I mean, we had a good conversation, but I could tell he was nervous about some things. Almost like he was afraid I'd be upset that he's towing the line with Spock's new order."
"He might have been," Leonard said. "Like I said back in the brig - you were a well-liked and well-respected captain, and Spock is considered to be a fair man. People are likely to be confused now. I don't think anyone's too sure what your feelings are."
He stared at the cup for several more moments. Then, he looked up at Leonard with a sardonic smile. "I'm not sure what my feelings are, either, Bones," he said quietly. Before Leonard could answer, Jim stood up. "Gotta get to work," he said, with an air of false cheer. "And I'll choke if I try to eat one more of those. I'll see you tonight, Bones."
"I'll see you, Jim."
McCoy watched him leave, mulling over what Jim had said, hoping it meant that Jim was taking a step toward acceptance. Absently, he grabbed one of Jim's Terran celery cubes and took a bite. He grimaced, tossed the offending vegetable back onto the plate, and resolved to amend Jim's diet as soon as possible.
Sokan and Soren, another of the four men assigned to guard Spock, stood at either side of the captain's door. They nodded at him as he approached, and Sokan activated his communicator. "Doctor McCoy, sir."
"Admit him," Spock replied.
Sokan opened the door, and Leonard stepped inside. Spock sat at his work desk, intently studying his computer screen. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting you, sir," McCoy said.
"My current project is non-essential," Spock said, gesturing toward the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Doctor."
"Thank you." He sat, and Spock looked at him expectantly. "I wanted to ask you about adjusting Jim's diet."
He raised an eyebrow. "I believed that you provided me with a diet plan that was most conducive to his overall health," he replied.
"I did, but that was during a sensitive period where he was still recovering, and still stuck in the brig. Now that he has greater mobility and he's in the better ventilated areas of the ship, it isn't necessary to be so strict."
Spock nodded. "Very well. You may suggest another diet plan, and it will be implemented."
McCoy was shocked, but he tried not to show it. He'd expected to have to argue a bit harder on Jim's behalf. In fact, he had information on the correlation between diet and morale, and the increased caloric needs of non-sedentary individuals all mapped out, and now it seemed, he didn't need to use it. "Er... thank you, Spock," he said. "I'll get that loaded today."
"That is acceptable," Spock said, turning his eyes back to the computer screen.
McCoy started to leave, but he was curious about Spock's mood. He seemed somber - moreso than usual. "Is everything all right, Spock?" he asked.
"I am not ill," he replied. "And my wounds have healed sufficiently for me to function at over ninety percent efficiency in most physical activities."
Leonard smiled. "That's good to hear, Spock, but I meant emo- er... mentally. You seem... preoccupied."
Spock regarded him thoughtfully for a moment before speaking. "You are very perceptive, Doctor," he said. "I have been considering making a change to my appearance."
"Oh?" Leonard was again surprised. "Do you mind if I ask what kind of change?"
Spock turned the computer screen to face him and Leonard gasped. A picture of the other world's Spock was on the screen. "How-" Common sense kicked in before he could fully form the question. Spock had obviously instructed the computer to generate an image of himself without facial hair. "You're thinking of going clean shaven?"
"Yes, I am considering it," he replied.
"May I ask why?"
Spock didn't answer at first, and his eyes lowered for the briefest second. Leonard almost couldn't believe it, but it seemed certain that Spock was embarrassed. "When I entered the mind of your counterpart from the other universe, I saw that the alternate version of myself did not have facial hair. Since I have embarked upon a mission to make our society more similar to theirs, I considered altering my appearance, to..."
"Look the part?" Leonard supplied.
Spock nodded once. He turned the computer screen to face him again, and regarded the picture thoughtfully. "Doctor. On the day I took control of the Enterprise, I mentioned that I had learned a fact about our counterparts which led me to reconsider my initial impressions of him, and of you. Have I yet explained to you the nature of their relationship?"
"No, sir, not yet," Leonard said. "But I assume they were very close friends. The other Spock's hand brushed against mine and he wasn't uncomfortable." Spock's eyes narrowed slightly, and Leonard swallowed. "It... it seemed pretty unusual to me," he continued. "And taken together with the way he talked to me, I figured it must have meant that they were close."
"That was a valid assumption," Spock replied. "However, your understanding of the situation is based on an incomplete knowledge of Vulcan cultural norms. I know that you are aware of some of our social customs. However, among Vulcans, casual physical contact even with very close friends would be viewed as inappropriate. I cannot be certain, of course, but since much about their universe seems to mirror our own, I would not be surprised if this, too, is the same."
"I see," Leonard said. "Then for him to touch me that way was more unusual than I thought."
"Affirmative. His concern for you, and his treatment of you could be considered illogical, since he knew that you were not the doctor that he knew. But, even so, I am not surprised that he was kind to you. When I took the other doctor's thoughts, I discovered that the two of them are lovers."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Does that seem so strange to you?"
"Well... I... I mean, it does explain a lot about how he treated me. But... I never would have expected..." He trailed off, partly because Spock was watching him so keenly. "Then again, I'm not sure I would have expected us to become as close as we have, either," he said. "I mean, outside of our friendship with Jim, I..." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling awkward and unsettled by the turn of the conversation.
"Agreed," Spock said. "I believe that, prior to my conquest of the ship, we had not developed our friendship beyond the status of mutual friends of Jim, tolerating one another for his sake."
"Well, I wouldn't say we only tolerated each other, Spock."
"Very well. But I'm sure you will agree that we were cautious in our friendship at best."
Leonard nodded. "True enough. I guess that's been one more change for the better since you started this revolution," he said. Spock's eyes widened slightly, and Leonard thought he could see the faintest hint of an upturn in the corner of his mouth. It was more subtle than the smile the other Spock had given him, but its presence was shocking and telling, all the same. Leonard glanced at the computer monitor, then looked back at the captain - his friend.
"Spock. If you want to shave your beard because you're sick of it, or you just want a change, I'd say go for it. But... you don't..." He swallowed, hoping he wasn't crossing a line of some kind. He forced himself to spit it out, despite his hesitation. "You don't need to change yourself to look more like him. You're doing something that no one has ever dared to do before - not even that mirror universe's version of Spock. You've started a revolution against an entire Empire, and you're still alive! You already look the part, if you will, because you are the part. Besides that, I like..." Leonard paused, but he'd said so much already, he saw no reason not to keep going. "In my opinion, you're perfect just as you are."
Spock stared at him, eyes wide, apparently speechless. Leonard stood, fearing that he may indeed have said too much. "Wait," Spock said. McCoy stood still. "I... thank you, Leonard," he said, using the doctor's first name for the very first time their entire six and a half years of service together. "Your... advice has been of assistance to me. I have much to think about."
"You're welcome, Spock," Leonard said quietly. "I'll see you this evening." He saluted the captain, and left the room.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I respectfully disagree," Jim said. "Thornton is an excellent helmsman, and Arex is a wonderful navigator, but they don't have the kind of experience I'm... we’re going to need at that meeting."
"Sulu and Chekov both have thirty-two days remaining in their sentences," Spock said. "To release them early would be to countermand my own orders, and-"
"Spock, these are unusual circumstances! They-"
"Under usual circumstances, Jim, Sulu and Chekov would both be dead, as would several other people aboard this vessel."
Jim raised his hands. "Alright, Captain, alright, point taken. But you ordered me to help get the captain's together and try to get them to accept your new way of doing things, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do. It is my strong opinion that it would be unwise - no, dangerous for us to invite the other captains to meet us without having someone who can get this ship moving fast if need be. If we assume success, we'll be committing suicide. We need to be able to run if necessary, and the other captains are definitely going to have their best helmsmen working for them."
Spock looked thoughtful, and finally said, "I will consider your proposal, Jim."
"Good," he said. "Thank you, Spock."
Leonard relaxed slightly, glad that the minor conflict had been resolved, and took a sip of his drink. "What of your other task?" Spock asked. "Have you solved the problem of providing more immediate reasons for the captains to join our cause than the inevitable downfall of the current Imperial structure?"
Jim pursed his lips. "I'm still working on that," he said.
Spock frowned. "Lieutenant Uhura will complete her encryption sequence in less than seven days. We will not have much more time after that before Starfleet Command orders our destruction, regardless of our reports of false assassination attempts."
"I understand that, Captain, and I will have something. I just... I'll need a little more time."
Spock nodded. "Very well." He turned his computer monitor so that the other men could see it. "I have analyzed several potential scenarios, assuming that we gain the support of at least some of the Starship Captains," he said. He pulled up a map of the sixteen major Imperial starbases. "I have identified several strategically advantageous starbases where we can set up our operations until we can amass the strength to move against Command."
He showed them the highlighted areas, and they murmured their agreements. "Starbase Eleven would be ideal, wouldn't it?" Leonard asked.
"Correct, Doctor," Spock said. "Its position as a crossroads between major systems makes it ideal, but I do not think it should be our first choice."
Leonard frowned. "Why not?"
"Too obvious," Jim said immediately. "Once Starfleet gets wind of what's happening, they'll rush to build defenses at Starbase Eleven first. We should take Starbase Seven when the time comes."
Spock nodded. "Agreed. It is well positioned, and the nearest planetoid contains ample resources." He made a small notation on the map before closing the screen and turning back to them. "I will begin probability scenarios regarding our options in the event that we are unable to convince the other Captains to assist us."
"Good idea," Jim said. "I hope it doesn't come to that, but it's better to have a plan in place."
"What about the logistics of the meeting itself?" McCoy asked. "I understand Uhura's still working on her code, but even if they agree to meet with us, where will we do it? I'm not sure having a meeting by viewscreen would be the best idea. I mean, couldn't they just send a live feed of that directly to Starfleet Command?"
"They most certainly could," Jim said. "No, I want this meeting to be in person. Ideally, I'd like to gather them all right here in one of our conference rooms."
"But how will we convince them to do something like that?" Leonard asked. "It isn't as if they'd have any reason to trust us. Coming here might be tantamount to suicide in their eyes."
"Leonard makes a valid point," Spock said. "I would not accept such an invitation from any of the other starship captains, were our positions reversed."
"We may need to offer to allow them to bring their guards along," Jim said. "Or, we may need to agree on a neutral location - a planet, or moon or something that we can defend ahead of time."
Spock nodded. "I will begin identifying suitable locations. Jim, you will do the same, and we shall choose from our combined selections."
"Aye, sir," Jim said.
Spock turned off his screen, and the meeting was adjourned. "Doctor, I believe it is your turn to take first move."
Leonard set up the board, Jim requested the drinks, and the second half of their nightly routine began.
Two days later, Lieutenant Uhura announced in that she was very close to completing the code for reaching the starship captains. "I should be ready in three more days at the most, Captain," she said.
Spock nodded. "Excellent work, Lieutenant. Keep me advised, and if there is anything that can be done to expedite the process, you will inform me."
"Mr. Scott. What is the state of the engines?"
"We'll be able to outrun any one of them, if that's what you mean, sir. We're at ninety-eight percent efficiency."
"Good. Coordinate with Mr. Leslie and begin running tactical simulations with all shifts. Over the next three days, I wish to see as high an efficiency rating among our crew as you have achieved with the engines."
"Aye, understood, sir."
"Aye, Captain," she replied.
"You and your Science team will coordinate with Dr. McCoy and the Medical team to review the known chemical weapons that have recently been in use by Starfleet, and be sure that we have adequate defenses against them. I want efficiency drills run in both departments as well."
"Yes, sir," Moreau and McCoy said together.
Spock nodded and turned to Thornton. "Lieutenant. I want you to focus your attentions on readying the security staff with simulations as well. Helm duties will be relegated to a junior officer so that you may work solely on this priority."
"I would like to make an announcement." He glanced at their Klaxian helmsman. "I have already discussed this with Mr. Arex privately, but he will be promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to the Delta shift to manage our navigation teams during the third and fourth shifts."
"Thank you again, sir," Arex said, smiling when Thornton gave him a congratulatory tap on the leftmost of his three arms.
Spock nodded. "You have earned the honor, Lieutenant," he said. "Now. You have your tasks. Our success or failure will depend largely on the actions you take during the next five-day period. You have proven yourselves efficient and loyal thus far. It is my hope that you will continue to perform in an admirable fashion during this critical point in our endeavor. Dismissed."
The staff stood, saluted, and left to begin their various tasks. As usual, Leonard and Jim lingered behind in case there were further instructions. "You maneuvered Thornton and Arex out of their seats," Jim said. "Are you planning on letting Sulu and Chekov out early?"
"I have taken your suggestion into consideration," Spock answered. "I have also carefully reviewed the performance of both men over the past year. I, too, believe that the safety of this ship would be best served if Ensign Sulu and Crewman Chekov were allowed to take the helm again."
Jim smiled. "That's a relief to me," he said.
Leonard was relieved as well, though he knew that both Thornton and Arex were highly skilled officers. They'd need an edge if anything went wrong at the meeting, and the navigation and helm positions would be absolutely crucial. Whatever his politics might be, Sulu was simply unparalleled at the helm, and he had a nearly uncanny connection with the equally skilled Chekov. "I agree with your decision as well, Spock," McCoy said. "But how will you ensure their cooperation?"
"I will use the same method that has been implemented with Jim," he said, with a glance at the former captain. "The wristband should prove effective, along with the fact that their release is contingent upon their complete cooperation."
"I don't have any doubt that the combination will be successful," Jim said with a wry smile.
Spock nodded. "I am glad that we are in agreement. I will notify Mr. Scott, and call you for a briefing once they have been released and... acclimated to their new duties and limitations."
"Yes, sir," McCoy said.
"You are dismissed."
The three men stood, and their guards arranged themselves, prepared to escort their charges out the door. "Oh, Captain," Jim said brightly. Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "I've been meaning to ask you about this for a while, but... am I allowed to have visitors? In my quarters, I mean. Without the chaperones?"
Spock's eyes narrowed, and he looked from Jim to Leonard and back. The corners of his mouth tightened, and McCoy could feel himself tensing in response. Finally, Spock seemed to relax, and his face returned to its usual calm expression. With another glance at McCoy, Spock said, "You may be alone in your quarters with a single guest for a maximum of two hours at a time, once per day." He looked at the guards. "You will enter at the end of the two hour period, regardless of any attempt to extend the visit."
"Yes, Captain," Ska'an answered.
"Thank you, sir," Jim said, smiling beatifically. "I really appreciate it."
Spock inclined his head slightly, but his face was stony. Without speaking, Spock turned and stalked out of the room, his four-guard entourage in tow. When they were gone, Jim turned his glowing smile on Bones. The doctor couldn't help but return the smile, even though he'd caught Spock's displeasure loud and clear. Everyone in the executive staff, and even some of the junior officers, knew about his relationship with Jim. He couldn't be blamed for showing how happy he was to be allowed to spend time alone with the man he loved.
"You've got some guts," Leonard said.
Jim laughed. "You'd be surprised how little courage it took to ask that question. I've been alone with you all of... what two times since we were switched with that other crew? And the time I wasn't sick as a dog, I was too busy being an ass to take proper advantage of those opaque shields. I'm starting to go crazy, Bones." Leonard was no vestal virgin, but he found himself blushing at Jim's open statements in front of the guards. Jim just laughed again. "How long do you think it'll take Spock to get Chekov and Sulu under control?"
"Not long enough," Leonard said. "I don't..." He drew closer to Jim and spoke more softly. "I don't want to rush our first... well, not our first, but-"
"I know what you mean," Jim replied. "Well, I've waited this long, I guess I can wait a little longer. At least I know it's a possibility now."
McCoy nodded, keeping his cool even though what he really wanted to do was shove the guards out of the room and yank Jim's clothes off then and there. "Come on," he said. "Let's try to get something done before the next meeting."
When, a few hours later, Sulu and Chekov stepped into the briefing room, the astonished looks on their faces when they saw Jim were almost comical. Both men stopped short just inside the threshold, mouths gaping and eyes wide. Sulu jumped when a security officer pushed him firmly (though not roughly) into the room so that Spock and his guards could get in. "Wha... C-capta- Ah!" He cried out in shock and clutched his wrist. Spock released the button on his small remote control, and Sulu's body relaxed slightly. He glanced nervously at Spock and edged away from him. The captain glared coldly and pointed at a chair.
Sulu took a seat, and Chekov sat next to him. They continued to stare at Jim with open amazement, and a little bit of fear. Sulu managed to tear his eyes away from the former captain long enough to look at McCoy and Scotty as if to ask, "Do you see this?" Scotty just shrugged, and McCoy suppressed a smile. He was still pissed beyond belief at Sulu for attacking Spock, but he couldn't help being amused by the situation. Besides, as Spock had said, no one had actually died in Sulu's attempted takeover, and he'd still been operating under the old way of doing things. Now if Thelorin had come into the room just then, he'd have been hard pressed not to spit in her face.
"You're alive," Sulu whispered.
"In the flesh," Jim said with a smile.
"How... How can this be?" Chekov asked.
"It's a miracle," Scotty said. "Then again, you're alive, too, so..."
"Yeah, but I'm no-"
"There is much to be discussed," Spock said sharply, taking his seat. Without further preamble, Spock explained the way things stood - where they were in the process of creating a coded message, their current standing with Starfleet Command, and his plans for meeting with the other captains.
The two recently freed prisoners listened intently, without interrupting, while Spock laid out their plans. When he discussed meeting with the other starship captains, Sulu's eyes widened. "I see why you may have wanted me manning the helm, sir," he said. Leonard glanced at Jim, but he was doing an excellent job of keeping his features neutral - not even the hint of a smug grin could be seen. "Will I be allowed to see the location of the meeting if we can't get the other captains to come aboard the ship?"
"You will," Spock said. "In fact, you are welcome to make suggestions for areas that you feel can be defended well, and from which you will be able to maneuver swiftly."
"I was thinking of the Keterna asteroid field."
Spock's eyes widened, and McCoy sputtered. "Are you insane?" the doctor cried. "We would like to survive the damn meeting, y'know!"
"Bones, calm yourself," Jim said. "I hadn't thought of Keterna, but now that you've mentioned it, Sulu, I think it may be the perfect place to hold this meeting. I think Bones was right, they definitely won't come aboard the Enterprise - it would be too dangerous for them. But if we hold a meeting at just any planet, the ship will be vulnerable. Who's to say the other ships wouldn't just destroy the Enterprise, or even destroy us while we're at the meeting site? Everybody moves up in rank, and our revolution dies before it's had the chance to take hold. If we go to Keterna, the crews of the other ships will be too focused on making sure they aren't battered by the asteroid field to try attacking us."
"I agree, sir," Chekov said. "And I could create a random-pattern orbit change routine that would keep us as unpredictable as the asteroids."
"Good idea," Sulu said. "Feed those to me, and we could-"
"Aye, but... the Keterna asteroid field!" Scotty cried. "Taking her in there'd be like... like..."
"Like suicide," McCoy supplied. The prospect of the ship being attacked while they were down on the surface of whatever planet Spock chose was sobering, but he found the idea of going to Keterna, with its very real, very deadly asteroids was much more disturbing.
"It's not that bad," Sulu said.
"Not that bad?" Scotty cried.
Sulu shrugged, infuriatingly unconcerned. "I used to take shuttles out to Keterna to practice evasive maneuvering."
Leonard scowled. "Dammit, man, shuttles aren't Constitution Class starships! I-"
"That is enough, Doctor," Spock said, speaking more quietly - almost gently - than he had during the entire meeting. "Sulu, Chekov and Kirk have a valid argument from a tactical standpoint."
Leonard pursed his lips and kept silent, but Scotty was not to be dissuaded. "Captain, you canna mean to take her to-"
"Enough," Spock snapped, narrowing his eyes at the engineer. "A final decision has not yet been made," he said. "I am merely acknowledging the fact that we intend to request the presence of eleven starships, even though we are out of favor with Starfleet Command. I am certain that each of the other captains has been made aware that there is a termination order in effect for me and those loyal to me. We must not rule out the possibility that they will attempt to destroy us immediately, before hearing anything we have to say. We will have the choice to either flee, or be destroyed by the majority of the fleet. Should we escape, we will be in the same position we are now - a rogue ship without access to repair or restocking facilities and without the strength to wrest command from the Empire. The Keterna asteroid field may be precisely what is needed to level the odds. In fact, the asteroid field may actually serve to increase our own position to a favorable one, since I doubt that there are many helmsmen in the fleet who have treated Keterna as a recreational retreat."
Leonard wanted to protest, but he couldn't really argue with what Spock had said. Outright attack was a definite possibility, and Keterna might be their best defense - especially if Sulu really had experience dealing with the tricks of surviving in an asteroid field as active as that one. Even so, he fervently hoped that Spock would veto the idea in the end.
"Captain?" Spock turned to Jim. "I'd suggest we shelve the issue for now. We can add the asteroid field to the locations you and I are searching for, and then we can go through them as planned and make a decision then."
"Most logical," he replied, eliciting a pleased smile from Jim. "Mr. Sulu, you may resume your duties at the helm. Lieutenant Thornton will retain his position as Security Chief, and at least one security officer will be assigned to guard you at all times. Chekov, I have transferred Lieutenant Arex to Delta shift, so you may return to your position as Navigator as well. If at any time, either one of you attempts to make contact with anyone outside this ship, or if you attempt to attack me again, you will be remanded to the third level brig for a duration matching the severity of your offense. The wristband will remain in place for a minimum of six months, at which time I will consider removing it depending upon your performance and your loyalty to the current executive command team of this vessel. At that time, I will also review your performance in consideration of reinstating your former ranks. Are these facts understood?"
"Aye, Captain," they replied.
The meeting adjourned, and Jim turned to Leonard. "I'm starving," he said. "Want to grab lunch?"
Sulu stood up and edged nearer to Jim. "Could I join you, Cap- um... sir?"
"Sure, why not?"
"May I come, too," Chekov asked.
"Of course," Jim said. "We can all troop down to the recreation room." He smiled playfully at the doctor as they left the room. "Bones, you should complain to Spock about this injustice."
"What injustice is that?" Leonard asked, returning the smile.
"Well, here I've got three personal guards, Sulu and Chekov have two a piece and you don't have any. You're in as much danger as he is, aren't you?"
Leonard laughed and shook his head. "Oh, I'm not too worried, Jim," he said. "I mean, sure, out there I'd probably be killed first, but on this ship? Between you and Spock, I think most of the crew would be pretty terrified to even look at me the wrong way."
Jim laughed, and Sulu gave an appreciative chuckle. "I think it was like that already, Doc," Sulu said.
When they got to the rec room, the four men sat down at one of the larger tables, and the guards stood a short distance away, watching. Jim ordered a decadent meal, and McCoy shook his head. "You're taking advantage of the program change, I see."
"God, it's wonderful. Have I thanked you for getting that taken care of for me?"
"Only every time you order a double bacon cheeseburger with extra onions and pickles," McCoy said.
"They had me on vegetables and soy protein," Jim said to the two younger men, punching in an order for a chocolate malt.
Sulu wrinkled his nose, and Chekov grimaced. "Sounds disgusting."
"You have no idea."
Once the others had placed their orders, Sulu looked around and leaned slightly forward, affecting a casual attitude but clearly wanting to speak secretively. "So... when..." He paused, and looked nervously at McCoy.
The doctor frowned when it seemed that he didn't plan to continue, but Jim nodded toward McCoy. "Go ahead, it's safe to talk in front of Bones. Just remember our friends over there."
Leonard looked around the room with the intention of getting a look at the guards but not appearing to take particular notice of them. They were talking quietly among themselves - the three Vulcans had never had any trouble from Jim, and they'd grown fairly comfortable since his release. The other four followed their lead, chatting softly, while still keeping only a casual watch on their table. When Leonard looked back at his companions, Sulu was just finishing a similar scan.
"When will you make your move," Sulu asked in a barely audible whisper.
"Yes," Chekov said just as softly. "When do we..." He trailed off, looking expectantly at Jim.
Jim looked genuinely surprised. "My move?" He glanced at Leonard, then looked back at Sulu. "What, against..." He trailed off, wisely refraining from attracting attention by saying Spock's name.
"Yes, sir," Chekov said. "You do have a plan, don't you, Captain?"
"Of course he does," Sulu said with a frown. He turned back to Jim. "When does it happen, sir," he asked quietly. "When do you take command back?"
McCoy could feel his heart racing. He put his hands down at his sides so that Jim and the others wouldn't see his fists clenching tight. He couldn't do anything about the heat he felt rushing to his face. He was furious, but he didn't trust himself to speak softly enough to keep them all from being accused of conspiracy.
In the next second, Leonard could tell that Jim was at least as furious as the doctor, though it was obvious to Leonard that he was trying to hide it. Jim's eyes narrowed, and his jaw tightened. "Oh, I have a plan," he said softly. Chekov and Sulu smiled brightly, not realizing that Jim was seething. Leonard forced himself not to scowl, but he was disgusted by their eagerness - as if they wouldn't have joined in on a plan to kill Kirk before he'd lost command, and just as eagerly. Hell, according to ship's records, Chekov had done just that while the real Captain Kirk had been stuck in the brig in so-called "U.S.S" Enterprise! "The plan," Jim said, "is to stay alive. Cooperate, and help Captain Spock however I can."
Sulu's smile faltered. "But-"
"Let me explain something to you, gentlemen," Jim said sharply, though still speaking as quietly as possible. "I have no plans of fighting against this new regime. Even if I wanted to, there'd be no point. He's not an idiot, and he wouldn't have kept me alive if he ever thought I'd be able to get the upper hand against him. I've got three guards, the wristband, and a threat hanging over my head like you wouldn't believe. But that's not why I won't fight him."
Chekov shook his head. "Then why?" he hissed.
"Yeah, I don't get it, Captain," Sulu whispered.
"Look around you, Sulu. Morale on this ship has never been higher. Order's been maintained, even though nobody's getting punished with agonizer shocks... well, nobody but us." With a brief glance at Bones, he said, "Nobody has to look over their shoulder to make sure their subordinates don't try to kill them anymore. The two of you can be subject to those kinds of attacks just like I could, you know. But now, the danger we're in comes from the outside instead of from our own shipmates. And that's not all he's been doing. He's making things better, and I'm not going to try and stop him."
Sulu swallowed hard, and looked nervously from Chekov to Jim and Leonard. "Okay," he said, voice cracking slightly. "L-listen, sir... are you..." He looked toward the guards and back to Jim. "Please don't report this, sir. If Spock finds out-"
"I'll keep quiet about it," Jim said. "But you don't ever approach me, or anyone else on this ship about an overthrow again."
"I won't, I swear."
"Neither will I, sir," Chekov said. "Just please don't... I don't want to go to Third Level!"
"Fine," Jim said. He looked at Leonard. "Bones?"
Leonard shook his head, knowing that he wasn't hiding his fury at all from the nervous expressions on the faces of the two men. "We need you too much," he said tersely. "But if you so much as look like you might be thinking about betraying Spock, I'll take care of you before you even have a chance to get to Third Level."
Sulu swallowed hard, and Chekov nodded. "Hikaru," Jim said quietly. "Pavel. Let me give you some friendly advice. Look around you. I mean really look. Talk to some of the crew when you have a chance. Think about the fact that you tried to kill a starship captain, and you're alive. Will you do that for me?"
"I will, sir," Sulu said seriously. "I..." He looked decidedly uncomfortable. "I think I'm gonna do some of that right now, actually."
"I do, too," Chekov said. "Excuse us, sirs."
Jim nodded, and the two young men got up slowly and made their way to a table at the far end of the room, populated by a few of the security officers and helmsmen from the later shifts. Their guards followed them. When Jim and Leonard were alone again (as alone as they could be with Jim's constant guard detail), McCoy felt himself slowly begin to relax. His hands unclenched and he found himself smiling at Jim. "That was intense," he said.
Jim nodded, giving Leonard an almost sheepish smile in return. "Guess I've gotten a little protective of him myself," he said softly. "Doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
"Doesn't have to," Len said. "I'm... it was good to hear you say that, Jim. All of it."
Jim laughed. "Do I have your official stamp of approval, then?"
"You've had that for quite a while," Leonard said softly.
Jim's smile widened. "Hey, Doctor," he said, just as quietly. "I've been meaning to show you my new quarters. Think you have a couple of hours to spare after lunch?"
Leonard felt his hands clenching on their own again, and he hoped he wasn't blushing like a damn school girl at Jim's thinly veiled suggestion. "I'm sure I can clear two hours from my schedule."
"Good. Because I've really been aching to um... show you those... figurines I found."
Leonard snickered. "Well, finish that meal of yours quick, because I've been dying to see your... figurines."
Leonard looked over at the chronometer and smiled. Thirty minutes. He sighed, and leaned back against the pillows. He hadn't felt this good in... God it had been months. The cool air cycling through Jim's room felt wonderful on his skin, still damp with sweat. He was exhausted in the most pleasant way possible. He looked up at the soft sound of footsteps and smiled at the sight of Jim, a large glass of water in hand. Leonard's smile widened appreciatively, and he let his gaze linger over Jim's naked frame. Damn, he wished he had more time.
"Enjoying the view, Doctor?" Jim asked with a smile.
Jim approached the bed, still grinning. "Here I thought you'd be dozing, and you're sitting there like the cat that ate the canary."
"That's how I feel," Leonard replied, taking the proffered glass. He took a long drought and set it on Jim's nightstand, while Jim slid back into bed and drew close to him.
"We've got about twenty minutes left," he said.
"Twenty-six," McCoy corrected.
Jim laughed. "You've been spending too much time around Spock."
Leonard snorted. "Yeah, right. I'd have given you the seconds and milliseconds, too, if that were true."
"I suppose," Jim said with mock hesitation. He pulled Len closer, wrapping his arms around him. Leonard intertwined his legs with Jim's trying to get as close as possible, and touch as much skin as he could. They were silent for a few minutes, and Leonard closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling of holding Jim in his arms. Jim sighed and pulled Leonard even closer. "Bones?"
"About... Spock." Leonard tensed, and Jim rubbed his back slowly - soothingly. "Do... how do you feel about him?"
Leonard frowned, staring into Jim's chest, unwilling to look at him. "Uhh... that's a strange question."
"Not really," Jim said seriously. "Well, alright, that isn't exactly fair. But I want to know. How do you feel about him?"
Leonard could feel his body coiling tighter and tighter, put on edge by the potentially dangerous conversation. What could he say? What was Jim looking for? "I... I'm not sure what you're asking me, Jim," he said softly. "I mean... how do I feel about him how? Do I respect him? Do I like him? Do-"
"Do you love him?" Jim asked.
Leonard started, and drew back so that he could look Jim in the eye. Jim's face was calm - he merely seemed curious. "Jim, I... what kind of question is that when we're... when we just..."
"You think you can't be in love with more than one person at the same time?" he asked. Leonard could feel his face flushing, and he lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry it's making you uncomfortable," Jim said. "Hey." He squeezed Len's shoulder lightly. "Look, if it helps any, I think he's in love with you."
Len looked up again, frowning. "Where would you get an idea like that?"
Jim smiled. "You're joking, right? There's no way you should even be alive right now. No more than I should," he added softly.
"He... he's turned over a new-"
"Yeah, Bones, but... well, you heard what he said. He'd been counting the minutes since I'd been apart from him."
"Well, that shows he might be in love with you, not-"
"Do you know how long I'd been asking him to change my food programming?" Jim asked. Leonard raised an eyebrow. "Long," he said. "A long time. Like, the day after I got out of the brig, and every two days since then. By the time I told you about it, I was just bitching, and I never thought he would actually change it. Then you said... what, three words to him? And he changed it right away."
Leonard lowered his eyes and shrugged. Of course, he'd noticed how quickly Spock had acquiesced about Jim's diet, but it made him nervous to realize that Jim had noticed it, too. "Well... I... I'm not sure that's reason enough to assume he's in love with me."
"That's not the only thing, Bones," Jim said. "It's the way he talks to you. How close he stands to you. The way he looks at you when he thinks nobody's looking at him."
Leonard felt his face flush. Sure, he noticed that Spock wasn't sharp with him as he could be with some of the other crew, but... He sighed again. "Jim, I don't... I guess... I mean." He sighed heavily. "Why are you asking me this, Jim?"
"Bones, listen. We'll treat it like you said Spock was treating your little interviews back when you were still doing the physical exams. No repercussions, on my honor. Just answer me."
Leonard sighed and tried to put actual thought into the question, instead of letting his nervousness take over completely. He thought about his feelings for Spock, considering how close they'd become in the past few months. It was almost with a sense of wonder that he realized there was more than a feeling of friendship for Spock. He glanced at Jim, sighing again, feeling a little like a kid squirming under the stern gaze of a parent. "I guess, maybe... maybe I do. Love him, I mean."
Jim nodded slowly. He took a deep breath and looked thoughtfully at Leonard. "Good to know," he said.
"Good to know?" Leonard echoed. "Wait, you don't think... I told you the truth when I said we'd never-"
"I know, Bones," he said, smiling. "I know, relax."
Relieved, Leonard allowed himself to relax, and considered Jim's still-thoughtful expression. "So," he asked quietly. "What do you think of him?"
"I think..." Jim let out a wry chuckle. "I think he's surprised me in a lot of ways," he said quietly. "I hated him while I was in the brig. I mean, I hated him, Bones. I wanted to rip his heart out with my bare hands. Then, when I got out, and we... well let me say, I was shocked to find out that he still cared. After that, I..." He shrugged. "I don't know, Bones. I want to hate him still. I want to enjoy the thought of putting my hands around his neck and strangling the life out of him, and taking back my ship. But... it isn't..." He paused, and Leonard realized that he wasn't the only one "squirming" under the knowledge of his own surprising emotions. "It's not as simple as I thought it was," he said at last. "I don't... I can't hate him." His eyes focused again, pulling out of his internal gaze, and he looked at Leonard with confusion in his eyes. "Maybe I don't want to after all."
Leonard smiled. After a few moments spent working up his nerve, he made the suggestion that he hoped Jim might be thinking of making himself. Naturally - fortunately - he was right.
They spent their few remaining minutes together in relative quiet, just resting in each other's arms. About ten minutes before they were certain to be interrupted, the two men took a quick shower (together, of course), and got back into their uniforms. "You meeting with Lieutenant Uhura to help with the last bits of that code?"
"She's got a handle on it," Jim said, seeing him to the door. "I need to come up with some reason that eleven of Starfleet's finest men should try to overthrow Starfleet Command. Damned if I know what the hell to tell them, because I doubt my particular brand of charm is going to be enough on its own."
"You never know, Jim," he said. "It just might."
"Sure," Jim laughed. "Your faith in me is flattering, Bones. But get the hell out of here, okay, because I don't think Spock's going to accept that as a valid answer."
Leonard smiled and kissed him. "Best of luck, Jim. If I think of anything that makes sense, I'll run it by you."
"Thanks, Bones. And, hey. You... you handle the other thing however, and whenever you see fit. I don't think it'd go over too well coming from me."
Leonard nodded, but before he could respond, the door to Jim's quarters opened, and Sotek stepped in. "The allotted time period is over," he said.
"Okay," Leonard said. "I'm out the door." With a wave at Jim, Leonard left the room and went back to Sickbay to hack away at his ever growing pile of reports. He wasn't ready to approach Spock just yet - not by a long shot. Regardless of what Jim thought about Spock's feelings for him, Leonard was nervous about what Spock's reaction might be. Besides that, being at the brink of a revolution was wreaking havoc on his ability to complete paperwork.