He couldn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Because it hurt less to pretend like he didn’t notice, like Jim had simply forgotten to tell him. He looked at the ceiling panels, counting the breaks like a child leapt over cracks in concrete sidewalks, averted his eyes so he didn’t have to see the way they looked at each other.
He clipped another cartridge in the hypospray. Vaccinating had become a rhythm: check the records, load, stab, dismiss. Sign off on the updates, repeat. The callouses underneath his gloves stung, but it was the pain of progress. Hard work always had felt good. Next in line was Uhura who nudged him gently with her shoulder when she sat down. She always made his job easier and his day brighter, bless her. Then Sulu, who never complained about anything, and an ensign by the name of Fatima who gave him a horrified look when he told her she had to have three. Chekov, who whined almost as much as Jim did, and then Jim.
For once the younger man leaped onto the platform with little to nothing in the way of protests. Judging by the number of wide-eyed just-graduated officers in line behind him, it was because he wanted to put on a brave face. Eh, he could respect that. Mostly.
“Hiya, Bones!” Jim said.
“What a pleasure seeing you round these parts,” Leonard responded, a glint in this eye.
“You know, if you took a little less pleasure in this I’d come by more often.”
He lined up a stack of hypospray cartridges on the edge of the counter where Jim could see them. And yes, the horror that filled his captain’s eyes was so very satisfying.
He cleared his throat. “Alright! I’ve got you down for two annual antihistamines, one newly introduced for potential non-terran contaminants. A standard booster, Starfleet req vaccs, and I’ll need to take a blood sample.”
“But, since I’m such a scary evil doctor, I condensed the antihistamines.” He had. The foreign material exposure cocktail, his usual dose, and a specific set for Klingon plant matter that Jim would need sooner or later. All three had been microencapsulated so they wouldn’t mix prior to entering the bloodstream. A fairly old technique, but with newer technology, it was considered unnecessary and wasteful in preparing anything but vaccines. To make his crew happy, Leonard was glad to break out the antiques.
“How kind,” Jim said, looking exaggeratedly touched.
Leonard rolled his eyes and loaded the first cartridge. He moved back the neckline of Jim’s shirt with a thumb and let muscle memory administer the first. Tossing the little synthetic container to the lab washer, he reached for Jim. Their good tough Captain had his eyes screwed shut like a sucker pinch was about to hit him in the jaw. Leonard frowned. There was a bruise where the first hypospray had hit, but he wasn’t sure if it had been there before. He should have checked. Switching the vaccine to the other hand, he pushed the shirt away. Dots of red overlayed purples fading to green, a line of marks making their way to Jim’s peck. They were undeniably love bites. From Spock.
He ran a hand over his hair. “You know, I think I’m gonna put the rest off till Monday. I want to see how you do with the first before I give you more. I don’t want us to have to try and figure out what did it if you have a reaction,” he bluffed, shooing Jim from the bed.
“Really?” Jim’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion.
“Today’s your lucky day,” he turned his back and removed the capsule, dumping the rest in his ‘Jim’ drawer.
Jim grinned. “Well, alright then.” He left with a thumbs-up to the next in line.
Leonard took a five minute break in the back room staring at the ceiling lights, pretending that their mild heat would explain the flush on his face, hoping that their brightness would make him forget the pressure in his chest. He wasn’t jealous. He was terribly, agonizingly lonely.
Just Jim would’ve been one thing. Hell, he’d dealt with that for long enough he could practically ignore it by now. Or if it had been just Spock, he could handle a single dose of one sided attraction. Spock, the not-so-emotionless, not-so-inhuman asshole that had irritated him since they had met. But it wasn’t just Jim or just Spock. The draw of them together was nearly inescapable.
He could deal. He had to.
Landing party, 9:00 a.m. The atmosphere had painted the sky a deep purple that was obscured only by the moisture collecting at the edges of his helmet. There were no clouds. There was no grass. Their feet made hollow clunks against the black rock. It would’ve been dismal if it weren’t for how clearly the stars glimmered through the thin layer of nitrogen that covered this planet. Like the holes in a blanket, he had read somewhere. He liked that one.
“Doctor McCoy,” Ensign Temura said from behind him.
“Right,” he said, “Sorry.”
The tricorder felt bulky in his gloved hands when he knelt to inspect the crystal. He wasn’t a geologist, but those were definitely specks of clear dilithium in the rock in his hand. He turned it over and watched them sparkle. It was very warm for a planet that only got a couple of hours of sun in its forty-hour solar rotation. Temura held her hands out and he tossed it to her.
“That’s it,” she said. “I want to get a core sample here, too.”
This away mission was had him doing less doctoring and more playing assistant, but he’d never complain about the lack of people in trouble. He did insist on checking her vitals twice an hour, though. Leonard picked the core drill from the mess of equipment tied to her back and handed it over.
It took less than a minute to sample thirty feet into the earth.
“Beautiful,” she said, drawing out the rock an inch or two for him to see. It was riddled with lined agates, black volcanic rock saturated by shocking red and yellow. There was no water on this planet. It must have been formed by some sort of liquid that Earth didn’t have. With a few taps, she downloaded a digital copy of the core information. He could see that the minerals they were looking for were present in the scans. A successful mission, then. “Let’s go show the Commander.”
Spock's figure was clear in the distance. His suit shone in the light offered by the reflecting moons. The headlights of several other members of the landing party swept back and forth on the ground. Spock wasn’t using one; his Vulcan eyesight was too good to need it.
Temura danced forward with her reports. Her curly black hair was sneaking into the eye piece of the suit and she blew at it insistently, fogging her mask. Leonard snickered. The sound drew Spock's attention.
“Ensign,” he said. “Doctor McCoy.”
“Hey, Spock,” Leonard said as Temura handed over her scans. “I don’t know about you, but I’d say this looks like the place.”
“It does seem to be within the parameters requested,” Spock agreed, flicking his eyes down the screen.
“It’s an awfully pretty planet,” Leonard said.
He handed back the device. “I have uploaded coordinates to the next location for a core sample. Have one of the other ensigns join you in retrieving it,” he told her.
“Doctor McCoy, walk with me.”
“What’s up?” he asked, falling into step beside the other man.
They passed an arch of ash-grey stone. Pale organic lines that looked a little bit like lace told him that the mysterious liquid that had once covered this planet had been there, too. He wondered if it had been nitrogen, and as the planet got closer to the sun it all erupted into the sky. It was hardly a scientific thought.
“In the last three weeks, I have noticed a decrease in conversation with you, Doctor. You have sought me out significantly less, although you have shown me no hostility. I—”
He groaned. “Oh, come on, Spock. I’ve been busy. You know how it—”
Spock didn’t stop walking, nor did he face Leonard as he spoke. “I have noted that you stopped joining us in the rec room shortly after the Captain and I began to pursue a romantic relationship.”
And there it was. Out loud. It didn’t hurt as much as he thought he would. Maybe he’d just been hearing those same words in his head for the last few weeks. He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing that he could banish the oncoming headache. Now he would have to apologize. To both of them, and he wasn’t looking forward to having that conversation with Jim. Whoops, I avoided you for almost a month because I didn’t know if I could keep my damn mouth shut but I ended up blowing it anyway.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The line between Spock's eyebrows grew. “Are you limiting your contact with me because you are in love with the Captain? Or is there something else I have done to offend you?”
McCoy grabbed Spock's arm, turning him to face him. “No! No, Spock, it’s not you. That’s not what this is.”
“I see,” he said, but he didn’t sound comforted.
“Hey, I’ll stop hiding in my office, okay? I’ll stop by the rec room more often if it makes you happy.” He let go of Spock's arm. There was no way telepathy could travel through their suits, but his grip might be telling in its own way.
“I would prefer that,” Spock told him.
They ambushed him on a Tuesday night in his quarters where an untouched glass of whiskey had been put off in favor of another chapter his book. As he flipped another page of the antique he had stolen from Jim’s room a week or so ago, the door chirped. It had to be one of the two of them. Uhura always knocked a rhythm, M’Benga commed him at least an hour before he showed up, and Christine just shouted at the door until he opened it. The only others likely to show up with no warning at all would be Jim and Spock. He glanced at the clock.
“Shit,” he said as he bounded to the closed door. “Open.”
Jim stood next to Spock and waved cheerfully.
“I’m sorry,” Leonard said, recalling his promise to meet them more often in the rec room. “I totally forgot. I was reading a good book and I—”
“Understandable,” Spock said. He looked amused.
Jim glanced at the novel on the coffee table. “Isn’t that mine?”
“It might’ve been once,” Leonard admitted. “You know you guys could’ve just commed me. You didn’t have to hunt me down.”
Jim flopped onto the couch, his head and feet sticking off of either side. Spock looked at him in disdain.
“S’ alright,” he said, burying himself in the blanket that had been folded nicely, “we wanted you to ourselves today, anyway.”
And that, he was sure, was Spock's fault. He had undoubtedly told Jim about their conversation, and Jim had decided to take it upon himself to see what was off. He wasn’t sure what to say, how to start this awkward conversation where he would deny everything and Jim would think that he was in some way at fault. Leonard sighed.
“You want a drink?” he offered to both of them.
“No, thank you,” Spock said.
“I’m good,” Jim agreed. “Why don’t you sit down?”
He eyed the very full couch. “And where do you think I would be able to do that?”
Jim sat up a bit and patted the empty spot underneath his arm.
“Oh, hell no. What is this?”
“Spock,” Jim ordered.
Leonard hadn’t forgotten the other man was there, not at all, but he had assumed that Spock would be the worst of the evils. Instead, he felt two heavy hands plant themselves on his shoulders. He jumped.
“What are you doing?” he asked, trying to put the couch in between them while Jim giggled.
“I was told that a hug was a proper form of reconciliation. It is used frequently to ease the discomfort of one who has been exposed to difficulties,” Spock reasoned.
Leonard nearly tripped over the coffee table. “Try proper form of humiliation, Spock! Don’t you even—”
Spock stepped forward, arms out. Leonard moved back. Spock advanced. On the defensive, he attempted to dash across the table toward where his bathroom would provide solace and was neatly clotheslined by a gold-clad hand.
“Ow, Jim! What the hell!” he said, batting the hand away when it refused to detach from his shirt. But he was never very good at grappling and Jim had him wrapped up in a half-nelson before he could take another breath.
“Don’t even think about getting away,” Jim whispered into his ear. And then blew into it, just to be Jim.
Leonard played dead. He was way too tired to play tag with the Captain and the strongest member of the crew, for god’s sake. Jim tugged on him and he fell into the couch neatly where he had been directed, tucked under Jim’s arm. Spock slid in next to him. Maybe he should’ve run when he had the chance.
Jim patted Leonard’s hair like he was trying to pacify an angry cat. “So.”
“So,” he bit out in return, jumping as Spock's arm trapped him in, trying not to enjoy the comfort of physical contact.
“So I had a theory. About why you’ve been so jumpy.”
“I have not been jumpy,” he said, but the pointed eyebrow that was raised at him made him snap his mouth shut. So maybe he had. A little bit.
His denial had lessened Jim’s grip, and when he turned he saw that his friend’s big eyes were less confident and smug than he thought they’d be. Jim was worried, maybe that he’d overstepped his bounds, maybe that he was wrong. Leonard sighed. There was a stupidly debilitating twinge of something in his chest that resembled hope. He shook his head and wiggled his hand towards the two fingers of whiskey that somehow hadn’t spilled. Spock handed it to him, their fingers brushing. He wasn’t sure it was an accident. He hoped it wasn’t an accident. He rested the cool glass on his bottom lip and secured his eyes on the far wall.
“Jim,” Spock said nearly inaudibly.
He felt Jim nod in response.
“Bones? Are we right? Because I really don’t want to be wrong.”
“You’re right,” he confirmed, voice echoing oddly out of his glass. There was no point in denying it when there was a touch telepath breaking his personal space bubble.
“Thank god,” Jim said. He rested his head on Leonard’s shoulder. He had done so plenty of times when he was hurt or drunk. It had taken nearly everything to refrain from kissing the top of his head. If there was ever a time where it would be appropriate, it was then. He glanced at Spock, who nodded. From who it was from, that was as good as smashing their heads together.
“You were right, Jim,” he said, pressing a kiss to Jim’s temple. Spock grabbed one of his hands and threaded their fingers together, squeezing. Only after feeling how cool and steady the others were did he realize he had been shaking. He nudged Spock's leg with his foot.
“Good,” Jim sighed.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you first.”
“You’d better be.”
Jim chuckled against his neck.