Leonard jumped and looked toward Spock's comm unit with a frown. What the hell could she possibly want at this hour? Spock seemed calmer, but the doctor could see that it was more from long practice shielding his emotions rather than because he wasn't annoyed by the interruption. He'd been deep in the process of postulating his next move against Jim, in one of the most intense games they'd played together in some time. Spock's eyes narrowed, but he answered the call. "Yes, Lieutenant," he said, as close to open exasperation as he could probably get.
"Sorry to interrupt you, sir," came Uhura's sprightly, chipper voice. She didn't honestly sound sorry at all. "But you told me to notify you the moment I came up with a coding system, and I've got something."
With a glance at Jim, Spock stood up and went to his work desk. "Feed it through to the console in my quarters, Lieutenant."
"Aye, sir, sending them through now."
Spock watched the screen, and Jim stood up and approached the desk. There was a subtle lift at the corner of Spock's mouth, and he beckoned to Jim to look at the screen. A broad grin spread across Jim's face. "That's brilliant!" he exclaimed.
"Indeed, Lieutenant, excellent work," Spock said.
"Thank you, sirs," Uhura said, the smile evident in her voice. "What do you think I should say?"
Jim and Spock looked at one another. "We'll need a little time to prepare our defenses," Jim said slowly. "Got to prep the crew..."
Spock nodded slowly. "And we will need our rationale if it has not yet been decided?"
"Not yet, sir," Jim answered.
"Lieutenant Uhura," Spock said, facing the communications unit. "Address an individual message to each captain. The message will read, 'Captain of I.S.S. Enterprise wishes to meet with you aboard our ship, or at a neutral location, five Standard days from now'. Provide the coordinates of Keterna II." Jim nodded, but Leonard felt his heart sink just a little bit at the realization that they were, indeed, going to hold their meeting at Keterna.
"Aye, Captain, I'll send it right away." Uhura disconnected, and Spock made a call to the bridge.
Leonard could hear the slight gasp of the Gamma shift navigation officer. Leonard approached the desk and saw the young navigator sitting ramrod straight, eying the viewscreen nervously. "Yes, Captain?"
"Plot a course to the Keterna Asteroid Field."
The young man gasped. "Keterna, sir? Tha-"
"I know precisely what it is, Lieutenant," Spock said sharply.
Baran straightened. "Yes sir. Plotting course now, Captain."
"How long will it take to reach Keterna at our current speed?" Spock asked.
The lieutenant checked his board. "Three days, sir," Baran replied after a moment.
"Increase speed to warp eight," Spock commanded. "We must arrive in no more than thirty-six hours."
"Yes, Captain. I'll let Engineering know."
Spock closed the connection and looked from Jim to McCoy. "Our time is short, gentlemen," he said. Leonard nearly cringed at Spock's choice of words. "Five days." He looked at Jim. "Five days to bring the relevance of our cause to some of the Fleet's most powerful men."
"I'll have something for you in time, Spock," Jim said. "Trust me."
Spock nodded. "If Leonard and Mr. Leslie are right about human nature," he said softly. "Then our success may very well depend on what you have to say. I will meditate upon the problem as well, but I must acknowledge my limitations where certain aspects of human motivation are concerned."
"Don't worry, Spock," he said. Spock raised an eyebrow at what must have seemed like an accusation. Vulcans, no doubt, did not "worry". "I will have something before we walk into that meeting. I promise you."
"Very well," Spock said. He gestured toward the chess board. "Would you like to resume our game?"
Jim hesitated. "I think... you know what, yes. Let's continue. Maybe it'll help my focus."
They resumed their places around the board (not before Leonard requested a stiff drink for himself, and another strong coffee for Jim), and the opponents took up where they left off. About an hour later, Jim smiled slightly after having gazed at the board for nearly five full minutes. He made his move, and looked up at Spock. "Checkmate in two moves, Captain," he said softly.
Spock frowned and studied the board for several minutes. His eyes narrowed. Without speaking, he reached for his king piece and slowly lowered it onto its side. Leonard was surprised, though he tried not to show it. This was the first evening in quite a while that they had played a game that didn't end in a draw, which Jim invariably conceded to Spock. "Well played, Jim," the captain said softly.
"Thank you, Spock," Jim replied. "I... think I'd better say goodnight." He looked at Leonard. "Bones, do you think..."
He didn't finish the question, but Leonard knew what he wanted to ask. Over the last week or so, they'd held their two-hour visits late at night, after the discussions were done, and games were complete. "I'll... maybe in a few minutes, if..." Leonard glanced at Spock. The Vulcan's eyes were on the chess board, but Leonard sensed that he was listening intently to them. "I need to talk to Spock for a little while."
Jim gave him an "aha" look. "Right. Well, I suppose I'd better get some rest anyway. G'night, Bones. Good night, Spock," he said, saluting.
Spock returned the gesture, then looked toward Leonard. "You will not be joining him?" he asked.
Leonard couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw a slight downward turn to Spock's mouth when he asked the question. Leonard glanced behind him, waiting for the door to hiss closed before speaking again. "Spock, I... I'd like to ask you something."
"Would you... Jim and I..." He shook his head, and rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed by the true awkwardness of the topic he wanted to discuss. "Jim and I have been talking about... well. About you." Spock seemed surprised. "He... we..." He cleared his throat. "I think it would be... good... desirable if you..." Leonard trailed off, at a loss.
Spock steepled his hands and took a deep breath. "Please do not allow a concern for potentially offending me hinder you, Doctor," he said. "I am Vulcan. I am not capable of taking offense."
It was all Leonard could do not to let out a derisive snort. It wouldn't have helped the situation at all, but the idea that Spock was incapable of becoming emotional was complete bullshit, and the memory of Spock's hands around his throat was proof of that. Still, he knew the statement was supposed to mean that he wouldn't try to throttle him for anything he said right now. He cleared his throat, and looked into Spock's eyes. "How would you feel about joining us one evening?"
Spock's eyebrows climbed higher and higher on his forehead, though he otherwise remained completely still. "Is-" His voice sounded more gravelly than usual, and he cleared his throat slightly. "Was this suggestion initiated by Jim, or by you?"
"It was my idea," Leonard replied. Spock's eyes widened ever so slightly, but Len couldn't tell if that was good or bad just yet. He was peripherally aware that his hands were fidgeting slightly, playing nervously with his now empty glass. But, dammit, the words were out there now, and it was what he wanted. No turning back now. "Jim wants it, too," he continued. "But I... I'd really like it if you joined us, Spock. Not as a... a novelty, either," he clarified. "I want you with us on a permanent basis. We both do."
Spock lowered his eyes to the chess board, considering the proposal. Leonard waited, surprised by his own calm and patience. Now that the question had been posed, it was almost as if there was nothing more for him to worry about. The answer would either be yes, or no. He would be disappointed if the answer was no, but that possibility honestly didn't seem very likely. Jim was right, Spock cared about both of them, and if his fairly blatant behavior (especially when they were alone) was any indication, then he cared about them far more deeply than a "friend" would. Logically, it would make sense to take advantage of the offer, since it was agreeable to all parties concerned.
Spock raised his head again, and Leonard's hand tightened reflexively on his glass. For all his internal logic-ing, intense anticipation gripped him now that the moment of truth had arrived. Spock's expression seemed to soften - that signature up-curve that was so subtle it often seemed like a figment of the imagination, was present now. His eyes held a deep warmth - a tenderness that Leonard only remembered seeing in the eyes of the other Spock, in the utopian Federation. For that moment, it was like looking into the eyes of that man, but Leonard found himself smiling inwardly seconds later because this wasn't that other Spock. This was his Spock, and he was warm and caring under that hard Vulcan exterior, just like the man who belonged to that peaceful, idealistic world on the other side of the looking glass.
"I am... pleased that you have made this offer," Spock said at last. "It would be my pleasure to join you, Leonard."
Leonard smiled, feeling his face flush at Spock's use of his first name, even though he'd managed to make it through the entire conversation without blushing. He stood up, and nodded in the direction of the door. "Should we tell Jim the good news?"
"Affirmative," Spock said, standing as well. "But first..." Leonard paused, and Spock took hold of his arm and pulled him close. He took Leonard's chin in his other hand, and pulled him into a deep, forceful kiss. Leonard tensed, then relaxed almost immediately and leaned into the kiss, exploring tentatively, but letting Spock take the lead. When Spock released him, both men were slightly breathless, and Leonard had a fairly good idea of what this night would be like - himself, between two passionate, powerful and somewhat controlling men.
"C'mon, Spock," he said softly. "Let's go."
The next few days were tense, to say the least. All eleven captains responded that they were willing to meet with Spock. As Leonard had predicted, the captains flatly refused to meet aboard the Enterprise. They agreed to meet on Keterna II, one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid field.
It was an overwhelming response - for all of them to agree - and it put Leonard and most of the executive team on edge. On the one hand, it might mean that the captains were interested in what Spock had to say, but on the other, it might mean that they wanted to attack. They might have discussed it with one another, or possibly with Starfleet Command, and planned to make their move against Spock at the meeting.
The Enterprise made it to the Keterna asteroid field in thirty-four hours, twelve minutes. They made test passes inside the asteroid field, and Sulu proved his prowess by getting them in and out with hardly a murmur from the shields. Efficiency drills were run two to three times each and every shift. Spock and Scotty collaborated with Sulu, Chekov and Leslie on tactics for defending themselves, and evading the other ships in case of attack. Thornton was given the task of identifying suitable places on Keterna II where the meeting could be held, and from which they could defend themselves reasonably well.
Jim worked on a plan for getting the captains gathered on the asteroid's surface without Spock getting shot before the meeting could start. At his suggestion, security teams were sent down to the surface of the planet by shuttlecraft. Despite its size and relatively navigable surface, using the transporter to beam to Keterna II was treacherous at best, and all of the captains would have to come down by shuttles as well. The security teams were positioned at each of the locations on the surface which could reasonably house a meeting of the size they were planning, and left with a few days' worth of supplies, along with environmental shields that would make them undetectable to the other ship's sensors. They were told to wait there for further instructions, but to be sure that any communication with the ship was made by secure channels that couldn't be detected by other ships. Leonard had his hands full, too, running his own efficiency checks with the medical teams, and keeping up with Moreau's team on their biological defenses.
The flurry of activity during their long, nearly double-shift days gave way to the calm, peaceful evenings in the comfort of the captain's quarters. They kept the routine of meeting each evening for chess, drinks and quiet conversation, or equally pleasing periods spent simply sitting in silence. It was a ritual that felt good to Leonard - familiar and soothing. It was especially calming now. Ever since they'd opened their relationship to include Spock, Leonard felt that the mild undercurrent of tension he'd still been able to sense between Spock and Jim seemed to have disappeared altogether. After the final chess game of the night, and when they'd finished the last of their drinks, the three of them spent the remainder of each night releasing the last bit of anxiety from their stressful days by engaging in what Spock called "satisfying physical activities".
The day before their crucial meeting was scheduled to begin, the Enterprise had their first sighting of other starships. The Yorktown, the Intrepid, and the Constellation arrived early, and took up positions well out of weapons range of the Enterprise. They sent friendly greetings, but there was no attempt at direct communication with Captain Spock. Spock didn't initiate any personal contact either. He merely ordered an acknowledgment of the greetings, and gratitude for attending. He also ordered helm and navigation to keep the Enterprise out of weapons range of the other ships, and notify him immediately if there was any change in the other ships' positions.
Even though no violent overtures had been made, Leonard felt that the tension aboard the ship was higher than ever now. More ships arrived as the day progressed, and with each new addition, tension seemed to heighten. He was a bundle of nerves, and found himself snapping at the staff about minor errors. There was an outright, cringe-inducing tirade when Beta shift ran emergency simulations, and it took over three minutes to secure ten "incapacitated patients" to biobeds, and clear the bay of nonessential personnel.
The atmosphere in Spock's quarters that evening was unusual as well. Leonard felt strongly that this might well be his last night alive - his last chance to experience the magic of the special, insular world they'd created for themselves within the confines of Spock's quarters. When they got into the room, there seemed to be an unspoken consensus that there would be no reports, no games, and no drinks that night. Jim was the first to start undressing, and the others followed suit. There were no words - only the simple, unadorned beauty of touch and movement, tension and release.
Hours later, Leonard lay in a haze of semi-exhausted bliss, leaning against Spock, with Spock's arm draped across his and Jim's sides, and with his own arms wrapped around Jim's chest, just breathing and being. He moaned slightly when Jim shifted, and clutched at him when he started to pull away. "Water," Jim muttered, and Leonard reluctantly let him go. He closed his eyes and leaned closer to Spock, feeling the Vulcan's warm embrace tighten slightly, though he knew Spock was still asleep.
A few moments later, Leonard heard a slight gasp from Jim. He lazily opened his eyes, wondering if Jim had stumbled. When Len's eyes adjusted to the low light, he could see that Jim was bent down staring at something on the floor. When Jim stood up again, there was a phaser in his hand.
Leonard gasped, and his body tensed. He involuntarily tightened his grip on Spock's arms. Jim looked up at him, his hazel eyes wide and gleaming in the light from Spock's lamps. Len felt his breathing quicken, and Spock shifted behind him. A second later, there was a gasp from Spock, and the Vulcan vaulted off the bed and sprang to his feet. Jim aimed his phaser and took a step back. "Sit down," he said, his quiet tone ringing clearly through the otherwise silent room. Spock hesitated, and Leonard saw his fists clench, and his body tense, as if he might be about to spring. Without taking his eyes off Spock, Jim adjusted the setting on the phaser from medium stun to kill. "Spock. Sit. Down."
Spock sat down slowly on the edge of the bed. Nearly dizzy with fear, Leonard sat up, moving slowly and carefully, keeping his eyes on Jim. Jim watched him, but kept the phaser trained on Spock. "Jim," Leonard whispered shakily.
"Quiet, Bones," Jim said, still speaking softly.
"Quiet," he said again, voice hardening. His eyes stayed focused on Spock, who sat still, taking deep, measured breaths. Leonard watched Jim, eyes wide, heart pounding. Jim's brows were furrowed, and he had the look Leonard had seen often in his eyes during battle. His mind was racing - he was working on a plan. "Bones. Move away from Spock. Slide to the other side of the bed, and keep your hands flat on the mattress."
"Do it," he snapped.
With a mournful glance at Spock, Leonard did as he was told, and Spock's breathing quickened ever so slightly. "Are..." Leonard swallowed. "W-what are you going to-"
"Bones. Stop." Leonard gritted his teeth and swallowed hard against the lump he could feel developing in his throat.
"Jim," Spock said, breaking his silence at last. His voice was hoarse and low. "If you intend to..." He paused and glanced at McCoy briefly before looking back at Jim. His shoulders slumped by just a fraction of an inch. "Must the doctor witness this?"
"He'll stay where he is," Jim said quietly. "And you. I want you to listen to me carefully, Spock."
Spock inclined his head. "You have my undivided attention, sir," he said softly.
Jim gave Spock the briefest smile, but his face grew serious again almost immediately. "I don't think I need to tell you that I'm taking my ship back."
"Understood," Spock said, his voice sounding heavy to Leonard's ears. His shoulders dropped a little lower, again almost imperceptibly. Leonard felt deflated as well. They'd come so far - gone through so much, just to have it all come to nothing.
Jim's eyes were almost sympathetic as he regarded Spock. "You made a mistake, Spock," Jim said. "You were exhausted. We all were. You made a careless error, and if I hadn't happened to want water and stumbled across it, this wouldn't be happening. I know you must be extremely upset right now. But I think... I think this may have been the most fortuitous error you've ever made."
Spock looked about as confused and unconvinced as Leonard felt. "I... find that difficult to believe," Spock said.
"I don't doubt it," Jim replied. "But hear me out, and I think you'll see what I mean. You see, there's a fatal flaw with your plan, Spock. There is no way you can succeed and remain in command of this vessel."
Spock frowned. "I do not understand," he said. "And... I do not see how my... death could be considered a successful outcome of my own venture."
"I don't want to kill you, Spock," he said. Leonard's heart pounded in his chest at the unspoken "but I will" that seemed to be at the edge of Jim's statement. "I... all that we've been doing lately... it wasn't a fraud, I really..." He shook his head. "Listen to me, Spock. In every revolution, there's one man with a vision." Spock gasped, and when Leonard looked at him, his eyes were wide with shock. Jim tilted his head slightly, confused. "What is it?"
"Those precise words were spoken to me by your counterpart from the mirror universe," Spock replied.
Jim smiled slightly. "They were good words, Spock," he said. "And you are that man. It took being imprisoned, and banded, and a lot of thinking and watching for me to understand that what you're doing is right. It's better for us. What you've done... I never would have thought any of it possible. But you can't finish what you've started as captain of the Enterprise - the other captains will rip this ship apart if you try." Leonard frowned. What on Earth could Jim be talking about? Not that he wasn't prepared for the high possibility of attack, but he didn't understand why Spock being in command would automatically result in failure.
"I've been analyzing your new social plans, and your reward structure aboard the ship," Jim continued. "Looking for reasons the other starship captains might want to try it. I've finally come up with a reason that will stick with each and every one of them. It's simple really - painfully so - but I couldn't see it until tonight. It all boils down to permanence of command."
Spock seemed to understand immediately. He nodded, still looking somewhat despondent, but Leonard shook his head. "I don't get it," he said.
"You said it yourself, Bones," Jim answered. "Now that Spock has done away with corporal punishment and advancement by execution, commanders can lead without worrying about being plotted against at every turn. That means a Captain can stay in command until he retires. Or until he advances to Admiral, assuming we get the rest of Starfleet on board with this."
"Okay," Leonard said, realizing now that Jim had said it, how ridiculously obvious the answer was. "But I still don't see why Spock couldn't stay in command. I mean... n-not that..."
"That is also quite simple, Doctor," Spock said, sparing him the need to "clean up" his statement. "My position as Captain of the Enterprise would stand in direct contradiction to the concept of command permanence."
Leonard shook his head. "But you have succeeded. You've managed to get the crew to the point where they aren't trying to kill you every other week," he said.
"But, Bones, Spock had to depose me to do it," Jim said. "We can debate the benefits of not killing commanders to take the lead until we're blue in the face, but all the captains will see is that, if they institute this new way of doing things, their First Officers may not kill them to take command, but there'll be nothing to stop them from taking Spock's example and imprisoning them, or banding them and taking over anyway. For this to work, the other captains must see the original captain of the Enterprise, still in control - to show that they can make these changes without giving up their own power."
Spock stood up slowly, and Jim straightened his phaser arm, a warning frown on his face. "Your logic is flawless, sir," Spock said in a low voice. He took a single, careful step to one side, so that he would be further from Leonard, but no closer to Jim. "And your understanding of the need to appeal to the self-interest and desire for continued power among the other captains was ingenious. I..." He glanced at Leonard, eyes flashing with a sudden sadness, before looking back at Jim. "I again ask you to allow Dr. McCoy to leave the room before-"
"No!" Leonard cried, springing to his feet. "Jim, you can't-"
"Stop!" Jim shouted, taking a step back. "Bones, I'm asking you to sit down. Please don't make me stun you, I know you hate the headache."
"Dammit, Jim, that's the last thing on my-"
Leonard gritted his teeth and sat back down on the bed. He did hate the aftermath of phaser stuns, but that wasn't why he cooperated. Leonard felt he owed it to Spock to stay conscious - to be with him until the last moment, even though what he really wanted to do was squeeze his eyes shut to avoid having to see the man he loved shoot the man he hadn't known he'd loved until so recently.
"Thank you," Jim said softly. He looked back at Spock, who stood with his hands behind him, as natural and outwardly calm as if he weren't standing completely naked, facing his own death. "Spock, I want you to listen to me. It's only because of a combination of human nature and blind luck that you can't be the one in the captain's chair right now. But then again, how many times have you told me that you never wanted command? That you were well satisfied to be less of a target than you'd have been as the captain of the ship? How many experiments have you missed out on back in the science labs since you've had to focus on running the ship, and being the biggest target in Starfleet history?"
Spock's ghost of a smile was back, despite the situation. "Many," he said quietly.
"Exactly. Spock, I meant what I said. I don't want to kill you. I have no intention of doing so." Leonard shuddered, weak with relief, even though he had no idea if Spock would end up in the Third Level brig for the rest of his life. At least he'd actually be alive. "Even before this all started," Jim said. "I'd never have killed an officer unless I considered him a threat. But I don't think I'm in any danger from you, Spock. I'm completely confident that you know I'm right. In fact, I'm so sure about it that I'm going to put it to the test right now."
Jim took a step back and glanced down at the mess they'd left in an effort to shed their clothes as quickly as possible. After a moment, he crouched down and when he stood up again, he had the wristband remote in hand. He set the phaser down slowly on the low table that held their chess set, and approached the sleeping area again. Leonard watched with widening eyes as Jim slowly walked up to Spock. He stopped a few inches from the Vulcan and held out the remote control. "Take this off me, Spock."
Slowly, Spock reached out and took the controller. Leonard tensed, but Jim seemed completely relaxed, even though all Spock had to do was press the control, or reach out and nerve pinch him, or snap his neck, and Jim's one-man uprising would be over. The picture of calm and confidence, Jim extended his hand, palm up, and waited. Spock entered a combination key on the remote, then gently took hold of Jim's hand and attached the control to the wristband. The remote beeped twice, deactivating the connection and making it safe to remove. Spock pressed the release, and handed the band and the remote to Jim. "Captain Kirk," Spock said. "I concede the command of this vessel to you."
Jim smiled. "Thank you, Spock."
"You are quite welcome, Captain," Spock replied. He clasped his hands behind his back again, and continued. "If it is your decision to imprison me for mutiny, I will go without protest. However, I... would be grateful for the opportunity to serve you again."
Jim shook his head. "Locking you up would be a colossal waste, Spock," he said. "Not to mention a sorry fate for someone who's made the first step toward changing the entire world. You've always been loyal to me, Spock. Even... even throughout all this, you..." He shook his head again, and placed a hand on Spock's shoulder. "I'd be honored to have you as my First Officer again."
Spock bowed his head slightly. "The honor is mine, sir."
Leonard stared at them, completely shocked by the turn of events. "Well, I'll be damned."
Jim looked over at him, grinning at the shell-shocked expression Leonard knew he had on his face. "Something on your mind, Bones?"
"Oh, not much," he said. "Just... guess I never expected to see two captains live through having their command taken away."
"I will admit," Spock said, "that I did not expect such an outcome, either."
Leonard smiled. "I've been worried sick something like this would happen, and I'd either have to watch you kill Jim, or Jim kill you. Now..."
"Now, it's a new day, Bones," Jim said brightly. "Well! I don't know about either of you, but I'm not sleepy at all anymore. What do you say we get dressed, and let the guards know what's going on?"