Actions

Work Header

In the Market He Plays

Chapter Text

It was winter on Vulcan, and McCoy had learned several things in the three weeks since he had begun his residency there.

First, he had learned that winter was a dangerous time for the heat-loving Vulcans. The days were a comfortable thirty degrees Celsius, but at night the temperature in the desert dropped to well below freezing. Vulcans walked around with sniffling head colds, bundled up to the tips of their ears in heavy robes.

Second, he learned that a residency in the best xenobiology hospital in the Alpha Quadrant was infinitely more difficult than a residency on Earth—even the one he had gone through at Starfleet Medical. On Earth he had only needed to devote his entire life to making it work. On Vulcan, they seemed to demand he devote three or four lives to the cause. He spent his time in between the polyphasic sleep cycles that were common on Vulcan studying his xenobiology books and wondering why he had ever applied to such a rigorous program, let alone why they had let a hick like him get in. All other waking hours were spent at the hospital slaving over a tricorder and learning the ins and outs of hundreds of different species. He had one singular day off during each of Vulcan’s ten-day weeks, and he had slept through each of the first two.

Third, he learned that he was very lonely without other humans.

Fourth, he learned that M’Benga was a pretty decent substitute for the entirety of the human race, but that the other man clearly resented being saddled with him.

“Look,” M’Benga said with utter patience after McCoy sighed for the eighth time in a row. “Why don’t you get out for a bit? Go for a walk. See some sights. You don’t have to spend your whole day off cooped up in our apartment.”

The apartment they shared was quite luxurious compared to what McCoy remembered of dorm life, but it still felt small and stifling. There was a living space with a high stone ceiling that was also multi-purpose as a dining room and kitchen. They each had a small room to call their own, both of which were separate from the main room only by a heavy cloth in the doorframe. McCoy’s room barely fit a sleeping mat—as beds had apparently been declared illogical—and a trunk to store his things. McCoy liked to sit on his trunk and pretend it was a chair. It was the closest thing he could get to one on this godforsaken planet.

From the sea of cushions he had amassed into something approaching a couch, McCoy frowned at the ceiling. “Seeing the sights is a little intimidating when they’re all upside down,” he groused, which was true enough. They had one window in their quarters that was really just a slit in the wall, and McCoy avoided it like the plague. He’d caught a glimpse of how high they were the first day he’d moved in and he’d had to lie on the floor and practice deep breathing. He wasn’t made to hang from a cliff like a damned stalactite. He was a doctor, not a fruit bat.

“There are still a lot of beautiful things in the city.” M’Benga clearly didn’t understand his hesitancy, but then M’Benga had come here to study Vulcan biology in particular, so he must like them. He sighed deeply when McCoy could only grimace at him. After a moment’s consideration he asked, “Have you been to the market yet?”

“Market?”

“It’s on the lower end of the city, so it’s mostly on the ground. You wouldn’t have to building-hop and it might lessen the acrophobia. Here,” he said, closing his datapadds and pushing himself off his own cushion. “I’m not getting anything done right now, anyway. I’ll walk you there and we can get dinner.”

McCoy gratefully accepted M’Benga’s proffered hand and rose to his feet, wincing as his knee popped unhappily. “I just don’t understand why Surak decided to ban chairs of all things.”

“You’re lucky we get cushions. Since we’re weak and squishy humans we get the same amenities that the elderly do.” M’Benga smiled at him, and McCoy reveled in the blatant emotionalism. He missed the days when such displays were commonplace.

They left on foot, as walking was pretty much the only way to get from place to place on Vulcan unless you owned a shuttlecar. Vulcan had never gone the way of Starfleet and installed fast-paths, or even elevators for that matter. More time for contemplation, perhaps, or maybe they just needed the exercise. McCoy figured it had to be one of the two.

They took the long, spiraling staircase up to the top of the building where it connected with the rocky mountain ridge. Their building was tall enough—or rather, long enough—that they could have gone down to where the bottom met the ground, but on an evening like this the topside was pleasant. The sun was still above the horizon to warm them and the air was crisp and clear.

McCoy was surprised how busy it was topside. He was usually out and about when the Vulcans were taking their version of an afternoon siesta, and so he hadn’t seen so many all in one place before. It was disconcerting how they glided past him and M’Benga without even a curious glance, all just stone-faced and emotionless, utterly absorbed in whatever logical contemplation they were into that day. They didn’t even spare a look at his knobby bare knees, which were a unique sight in a sea of ankle-length robes. He wished just one of them would give him something—a smile or a haughty glared, he didn’t mind which. But something to remind him that emotions were possible. He’d only been here three weeks and already he was starved for it.

He and M’Benga chatted about medicine—one of their only points of common interest—as they walked, and soon enough they reached the market. McCoy perked up at the sight.

The market itself was a heady mix of the strange and the familiar. The concept was universal. People stood at various booths presenting their wares: art, jewelry, pottery, fresh vegetables, juicy fruits, mouth-watering candies, powdered spices and herbs, cooked foods that dripped with grease. The smells that hit him were what made it all seem out of place. His mind stuttered, telling him he should be smelling cooked meats, but instead the scent of velik bar-kas assaulted him. The simple spice was a Vulcan staple, the equivalent of black pepper back home although not spicy at all, more savory really, with a pungent and musky odor that seemed to hang heavy and thick in the air and get into everything. McCoy knew his clothes would smell of it later. It was worse than eating garlic.

It was the people, too. Very strange. The Vulcans all seemed to blend together around him and although he knew they were all different heights and colors and shapes each seemed much the same as the last. Their expressions were all identical blank slates and there was very little chit-chat. He watched as a young woman purchased a lovely silver necklace, exchanging only two lines with the merchant. She asked the price, he told her, and she paid. Not one word of haggling.

McCoy shook his head. Strange.

“What’re you in the mood for?” M’Benga asked him, startling him from his reverie.

“Oh, um.” He had been subsisting mostly on Starfleet-issued foodpacks, as the Vulcan food confused and alarmed him. “I’m not sure what’s good yet. You chose.”

M’Benga nodded and lead him to a cactus-wood cart and McCoy read the name phonetically: pupol-tor kap.

“What’s that mean?” McCoy whispered to him.

“It’s just fry bread. I figured it would be almost like home.” M’Benga shrugged and smiled again.

The bread was crisp and greasy and dusted with a fine white powder that McCoy assumed was sugar, but when he bit it he found it was pungent and bitter. It reminded him of turmeric, but more metallic and sharp, and it stained his fingers white instead of yellow. The bread melted in his mouth, and it was damned fine. It was just disconcerting that it wasn’t sweet.

He kept trying to dust his hand off on his shorts as M’Benga led him around the market to shop. M’Benga seemed at ease here, quickly adopting the same flat stare that the Vulcans had. McCoy had noticed that M’Benga only seemed to smile around him when no one else was looking. Maybe each smile was just for his benefit, or maybe it was because M’Benga figured the Vulcans wouldn’t appreciate it. He wasn’t sure which was more likely.

M’Benga’s arms were full of shopping bags within minutes. McCoy felt kind of silly walking around without buying anything, so he picked up a random fruit that looked interesting and potentially edible. It fit into the palm of his hand and was a dusty, jade green with a faint blue blush. It had a bulbous bottom and a long spindly neck that curled over. It reminded him of a squash. He bought it for a quarter-credit and forgot not to smile his thanks. The Vulcan merchant looked blase.

“Why is everyone so damned disgusted by me?” he muttered to M’Benga.

“You’ve just got to adapt, McCoy. Vulcans have devoted their entire lives to the pursuit of logic over emotionalism. Outward displays of emotion are considered shameful, and even dangerous.”

“I know that,” he grumbled. He’d read the briefing packet, with its little cartoon drawings loudly proclaiming to NOT attempt to shake hands with Vulcans. He knew that the way of Surak was a tough one; he just hadn’t expected it would be this tough on him. “But surely at least one of them’s got a smile somewhere under that rocky exterior.”

M’Benga looked at him flatly. “You may be out of luck.”

McCoy frowned at his squash-fruit-thing. Night was beginning to fall, which meant that the market was really just picking up. In the thin time between day and night, when it was still warm but not hot, the Vulcans took to the streets in droves. They pressed in around him, somehow stifling even though they all maintained a healthy distance from him in deference to their touch-telepathy. McCoy was about to suggest they head back to their apartment and chalk this day up as a loss when his ears perked up with interest.

“...What’s that sound?” he asked.

“Sound?”

“That music.” He found himself drawn towards it, turning to skirt around the ebbs and flows of the sea of Vulcans. He snaked between market stands and skidded down a slight incline into a deep basin filled with rippling sand. The crowd was denser here, listening to the echoing sounds of the lyre player kneeling at the center.

“Who is he?”

“I don’t know,” M’Benga said, glancing disinterestedly at the Vulcan. “They always have someone playing here, but I haven’t seen him before. Why?”

“He plays like…” McCoy trailed off, unable to put into words how he was feeling about the Vulcan’s playing. It was very technically precise, with his long fingers dancing over the trembling strings in an exacting rhythm. But it was also...soulful. The Vulcan seemed to pluck at McCoy’s heartstrings just as well as the lyre, and he could feel a lump welling in his throat. “He’s good.”

“...Let’s sit and listen.”

They sat cross-legged in the squeaky sand and McCoy watched, enraptured, as the Vulcan played. The man’s eyes were lidded but not closed, and his body swayed gently with the music. It was a dark and foreboding piece, and by the end McCoy was shivering.

He wanted to applaud as the last notes echoed through the basin, but no one else moved. The Vulcan slid seamlessly into the next piece before he could decide to do so anyway. This one was livelier, filled with a syncopated beat that made his hands move faster than the eye could see. McCoy looked around the market and glared at all the Vulcans who were merely going about their day as if they weren’t being serenaded by a master lyre player. They didn’t even seem to care that he existed.

“I recognize this one,” M’Benga said after a moment of listening. “It’s based on a pre-reform opera, or the Vulcan equivalent of an opera anyway. The name translates to First Flight of the Lara.”

“Lara?”

“A blue desert bird. They get pretty massive.”

McCoy could see that now, in the shape of the sounds flowing from the Vulcan’s hands. He could picture the sharp, repetitive wing flaps as the lara took to the sky above the parched desert; he could practically feel the wind on his face as the bird tipped and dove, trailing through bladed cacti and over sand-blasted rock faces. It made his heart flutter in his chest as the song rose to a crescendo and burst.

He raised his hands automatically to applaud, and then winced.

“Natural instinct,” he muttered to M’Benga, who just smiled at him.

The Vulcan played for precisely seventy-one minutes—a Vulcan hour. M’Benga whispered to him the names of a few songs he recognized, but mostly the two of them just sat back and listened, letting it all wash over them. There was a moment in the middle where McCoy sat up straight, thinking he was hearing the sounds of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Winter , but that couldn’t be true. It had to just be a coincidence. He didn’t know enough about Classical music to tell.

Like all good things, it eventually came to an end. The Vulcan stood and said something to the crowd, and M’Benga whispered a translation. “He’s saying that the crowd’s attention to his playing is appreciated.”

McCoy snorted in disbelief. The crowd hadn’t seemed that attentive to him. He watched the Vulcan packing up his lyre. He carefully loosened the strings of the instrument before sliding it into the case and then stood, stretching out his hands.

“...Is it considered illogical to compliment the player?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” M’Benga said. “Even if it were, he’d probably forgive us since we’re human. He may not speak Standard, though. I can translate?”

“Thanks.”

McCoy lumbered up, dusting off his shorts and remembering his fruit at the last minute. He strolled over to the Vulcan, taking in the sight of him flexing his arms and fingers. The Vulcan wore his straight black hair short, in the same severe cut the rest of the planet sported. He was tanned and olive-skinned, with brown eyes that seemed sharp and inquisitive even from a distance. He was tall and regal, as most Vulcans were, but there was a strangeness to him, as if he didn’t quite fit into his clothes. But of course, the thick, grey knitted sweater and sharply-pressed black pants fit him perfectly. It was only an impression McCoy had of him.

M’Benga spoke first, saying something in Vulcan in his Standard-tinted accent and gesturing to McCoy. The Vulcan tipped his head curiously at M’Benga before slotting his brown gaze over to him. McCoy felt his breath catch at the twinkle in the Vulcan’s eyes—emotion, he realized with a jolt of surprise. Some light emotion that flowed out of him in pleasant waves. He wanted desperately to know exactly what he was feeling. Merriment? Happiness? Fondness? Did he find them amusing? Or intriguing?

McCoy wanted to revel in those soft brown eyes and the emotion they expressed so readily.

“I speak both Standard and English, if you have a preferred method of communication,” he said in Standard, glancing between the two of them.

“Oh.” McCoy startled and stood up a little straighter. He wanted desperately to say English. He hadn’t heard it in so long. Even at Starfleet Academy in the middle of San Francisco conversations in English were few and far between, as everyone needed to practice their Standard. But he knew M’Benga didn’t speak it, and so he said, “Standard, if you please, sir.”

The Vulcan inclined his head. “You wish to inform me of your emotional reaction to my playing?”

McCoy chuckled and M’Benga shot him a wide-eyed look. “I just wanted to compliment your performance,” McCoy told him. “That was some damned fine playing, if I do say so myself. You should be playing professionally.”

“In the technical sense I am playing professionally, as I receive monetary compensation for my efforts. Perhaps you mean to imply the venue is not suitable for this type of music?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciated it. It just seems that no one else did.” He waved his hand around vaguely. “They hardly noticed you at all.”

“You may find that Vulcans merely appreciate things in a manner with which you are unfamiliar.” The Vulcan glanced askance. “However, I have experienced more… enthusiastic receptions.”

“Where else have you played?”

“I took second place in kuhlaya t’ralash-tanaf.”

Beside him, M’Benga jerked in surprise. “You’re Spock?”

He nodded again. “Indeed, however I am afraid that now you have me at a disadvantage.”

“Oh, I’m, uh…” M’Benga suddenly seemed flustered, although McCoy couldn’t understand why. Apparently this guy was some famous musician, but although M’Benga knew a few songs McCoy hadn’t realized he was such a fan. “Geoffrey M’Benga,” he said finally, raising his hand in the Vulcan salute.

Spock nodded to him and returned the salute, and then his piercing gaze fell to McCoy again.

“Leonard McCoy,” he offered once he had finally caught his breath. “Sorry, I can’t salute you. My hand doesn’t quite seem to work that way.”

“No offense is received,” Spock said. “I understand that a typical greeting among humans is a handshake?” At McCoy’s hesitant nod, Spock offered his hand.

McCoy stared at it and almost didn’t take it. He knew this was a big deal even without M’Benga silently screaming at him. But Spock was capable of making his own decisions, and so McCoy met his hand in a firm shake. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Spock’s eyebrow arched as they made contact. “...Likewise,” he said, and after a moment he withdrew his hand and folded it behind his back. “Your appreciation of my playing is noted with gratitude.”

McCoy smiled at the formality. “Do you play here often?”

“Each week on fourth-day evening.”

“Maybe we’ll see you again, then,” McCoy said.

“I look forward to your return.” Spock nodded to him, and then to M’Benga. “Good day, gentlemen.”

As they left the market, M’Benga shook his head in shock. “I can’t believe we met Spock.”

McCoy chuckled at him, still confused by M’Benga’s starry-eyed response to the musician. But then, maybe he could understand it. Spock had a certain way about him that invited a dreamy reaction. He found that he couldn’t stop thinking about Spock’s warm brown eyes, the way he almost seemed to smile when he looked at him. The Vulcan was enigma, and McCoy was curious to unravel him.

“Yeah,” he said as they crested the hill. “He was certainly something else.”

Chapter Text

McCoy frowned at the mess of pulp and fruit skin clutched in his hand. With a sigh, he tossed the ruined fruit in the waste receptacle and got a cloth to clean up the juice that had sprayed everywhere in the lounge. He licked off his fingers as he went, a bit disappointed that he had destroyed something so tasty.

He realized what he was doing when the only other person in the lounge—a Vulcan with salt-and-pepper hair and a sour-lemon face—stood and walked swiftly from the break room. McCoy winced, sternly reminding himself to not lick his hand in public again. He washed his hands thoroughly in the sonic sink and cleaned up his mess. Just as he was wringing out the rag, M’Benga came in.

“...Why is Dr. Seref asking me to stop your lewd behavior?”

McCoy winced again. “I accidentally licked some fruit juice off my hand.”

M’Benga collapsed onto a cushion in the corner and sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. His scrubs were slightly stained with faded green blood and dark sweat rings under his arms and neck. He looked beyond exhausted. “He’s a busybody. Don’t worry about it.”

McCoy folded himself awkwardly to the ground across from him. “Rough day?”

“Just a long surgery. It turned out fine in the end, but the surgeon I was assisting forgot that my human hands can’t hold a single position as long as a Vulcan can. He had me holding a skin flap out of the way nearly three hours. I feel like my arms are about to fall off.” He raised his hands weakly to demonstrate, and then dropped them to his lap.

“...Too tired to go to the market with me after your shift?”

M’Benga frowned at him. “What, tonight?”

“Well, it’s…” He fidgeted. “It’s fourth-day. And it’ll be evening soon.”

“Oh, right. Spock. Well, you know the way now. Do you need me?”

McCoy shifted again, sticking one leg out to relieve the tingling of pinched nerves. He really wasn’t designed to sit on the floor like this. “I mean, I could get there on my own, but what if someone asks me a question in Vulcan? Or I do some stupid human thing and insult everyone? Geoff, I just embarrassed myself in front of a Vulcan five times my age by forgetting not to lick my hand. I need you.” Yes, he was begging, and he didn’t care.

M’Benga let out a deep, protracted sigh, considering him. “I guess that’s fine, but don’t expect much conversation out of me. Anyway,” he continued, rising from the cushion. “Beats having to find dinner. You’re buying.”

“Of course. No problem.” He grinned.

He wound up buying little stuffed buns for them. They were sort of like a dough-bun and filled with thick gravy that he thought was made of mushrooms, but M’Benga informed him were actually the core of a woody plant. It was saltier than he would have liked and he guzzled water afterwards. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about electrolytes for the moment.

They arrived at the basin a few minutes early and M’Benga stretched out in the sand, swearing he was listening even though he fell asleep immediately. McCoy didn’t begrudge him at all; he recalled falling asleep in public many times during his residency on Earth, although so far he had avoided that fate on Vulcan.

He was there to see Spock arrive. He walked in from the opposite side of the basin, kicking up swirls of dust, and his gaze seemed to fall on McCoy immediately. He nodded to him, and McCoy raised his hand in an awkward wave. Spock was wearing another knitted sweater. This one was a deep, Earthy brown with a grey turtleneck underneath. Spock knelt at the center of the basin and pulled out his lyre to being tuning it, his fingers plucking at each string as he adjusted the knobs at the bottom. Once it was tuned Spock rested the lyre against his knee and shoulder, falling immediately into song.

McCoy relaxed as the sounds enveloped him. A tension he hadn’t realized he was carrying seemed to flow out of him, and he recognized that what he had been missing in life was emotion. The hospital kept him busy, but not knowing what anyone was feeling also drained him and left him feeling constantly on edge. M’Benga was really his only source of relief, but their schedules didn’t overlap enough for him to get his fill. Sitting here, listening to Spock play, McCoy realized he just wanted to know that someone else out there was feeling something.

And Spock certainly seemed to be feeling something. McCoy wasn’t exactly sure what. It was too complex to be captured by a single word. The songs he played were mostly ballad-esque, but with M’Benga asleep he couldn’t ask about them. They made his heart beat fast in his chest, especially when he heard a few Earth songs sprinkled in. He recognized a cover of a pop song from forty years ago, and then a concerto that was either Mozart or Bach, he wasn’t sure. He wondered if the Earth songs were for his benefit before shaking off the thought. He wasn’t self-centered enough to entertain that idea for long.

Spock transitioned into a jaunty, toe-tapping tune that really made McCoy want to dance. It had the three-four signature of a waltz, and he could feel his feet moving slightly in a ghostly box step. He hadn’t danced in years but his body still remembered how.

But he couldn’t very well dance here, in front of all these stoic Vulcans. Just the thought of their judgement made his skin prickle. Anyway, it might embarrass Spock. He waited patiently for Spock to finish his hour of playing and stand, again thanking the crowd in Vulcan.

McCoy shook M’Benga awake and gave him a minute to get reoriented. M’Benga followed him over to Spock while rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Another great performance, Mr. Spock,” McCoy said cheerily, bouncing up on his toes. “Was that Mozart you were playing in the middle there?”

“In fact, it was Bach,” Spock said. “It was a re-arrangement of my own creation to accommodate the different sounds of the lyre over the violin, and the lack of accompanying instrumental ensemble. The lyre is capable of creating sounds that mimic the voices of two to three additional instruments.”

McCoy got the feeling that the lyre wasn’t always capable of that. There was a note of modesty to Spock’s voice that made McCoy think probably only a skilled player could do that. “Well, it sounded mighty fine.”

Spock’s eyes seemed to crinkle at the corners. “Your enthusiasm is quite freely given,” he commented.

“I’ve got nowhere else to spend it.” He elbowed M’Benga in the side. “M’Benga here has to put up with the brunt of it.”

“Indeed?” Spock gave M’Benga an appraising once-over. “You appear fatigued. Perhaps this contributed to the nap my performance induced?”

McCoy chuckled at M’Benga’s frown.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Spock,” M’Benga said. “We’re doctors at the hospital and today was particularly long for me.”

“Your explanation is noted without prejudice. Offense is only possible where pride exists. As a Vulcan, I feel neither.”

McCoy noticed that Spock had responded differently to M’Benga’s apology than he had to his own apology last week. He wondered if there was some formal code he wasn’t clued into just yet, but M’Benga seemed to accept it just fine.

“I see that you did not purchase anything today,” Spock went on, glancing at McCoy. “The items you purchased last week did not meet with your satisfaction?”

He really didn’t want to say that they’d only come here to listen to Spock play. “We did get dinner,” he hedged. “I thought about getting more fruit, but I totally butchered the last one. I don’t want to waste my money.”

“Ah, yes, the kaasa. I noticed you with it last week. It must be cut very precisely or the juice will be lost. If you wish, I could demonstrate the technique to you this evening?”

“Oh, well, I don’t want to keep you…”

Spock raised a brow. “There is no current matter which requires my urgent attention.”

M’Benga had been looking back and forth between them as they talked, and now he cleared his throat. “If you’ll both excuse me. McCoy, I’m going to head back to our apartment for some rest.”

McCoy tamped down his panic. He would feel a lot better with a friend there to tell him if he was doing something culturally insensitive. But M’Benga did look exhausted, even after his nap. McCoy felt bad for having drug him out here in the first place. “All right,” he said eventually.

“You can find your way back?” At McCoy’s nod, M’Benga saluted them both and slipped away.

“If you will allow me to retrieve my things?”

McCoy watched, feeling a little nervous, as Spock unstrung his lyre and put it away. He closed the case with a snap and swung it over his shoulder, wearing it on his back like a guitar case. The weight of it made him slouch and McCoy found himself smiling at the sight. He seemed to have found this world’s only awkward Vulcan.

“You mentioned you got second place in some contest?” McCoy asked, just for something to talk about as they walked back towards the busier section of the market.

“In kuhlaya t’ralash-tanaf,” Spock clarified. He paused a moment, clearly translating in his head, and then said, “Literally, in Standard, it means competition of music. Annually, musicians proficient in traditional Vulcan instruments demonstrate their skills before an audience of their peers.”

“Well, I didn’t hear the other guy, but with the way you play you should’ve gotten first place hands down.”

Spock mouthed the words hands down but didn’t ask. “The scale by which we were judged was objective,” he said. “However, I believe my playing was perhaps too… emotional for the nuances to be fully captured by such measurements.”

“I think that’s why I like it.”

“Your words of praise are gratifying to hear.”

They arrived at the fruit stand and Spock got him to purchase six of the little fruits to practice on. He thought the merchant was giving him a funny look, but his face may have just been shaped like that. Vulcans weren’t known for giving the stink-eye.

They sat away from the crowd in a spill of sand that was still exuding warmth from the sun despite the darkness creeping in around them. Spock held up the fruit, rotating it.

“Observe,” he instructed, pulling out a metal pocket knife and flicking it open.

McCoy raised an eyebrow at that. “You carry a knife with you everywhere you go?”

“You do not?” Spock seemed honestly puzzled. “The Vulcan desert is unforgiving, should you find yourself stranded in it. It is logical to carry survival gear whenever possible.”

“Sure, but in the city? You’ve got more of a chance of falling out of a building.”

Spock seemed amused. “Standard building codes ensure that window openings remain small enough to prevent such an occurrence. Regardless, I do not live in the city. When I travel I must be prepared in the event of a shuttlecar malfunction.”

“I suppose that makes sense.” McCoy stared at the knife. “Anyway, show me the magic.”

Spock did so. He demonstrated how to snap the curved neck off the fruit and raise it instantly to his mouth, drinking the juice that spilled out. Then he cut through just the skin of the fruit in a tight spiral, rotating the blue-green sphere in his deft hands as he did so. When he was done, it was as easy as grabbing the end of the peel and yanking it off, unwinding it like a spool of thread. Then he popped the soft and juicy fruit into his mouth in one go.

“It is not possible to cut the fruit into smaller pieces without destroying it,” Spock explained once he had chewed and swallowed. “I recommend you purchase only fruits small enough to fit into your mouth whole.”

McCoy hummed at that. “Seems reasonable enough. Okay, let me try.”

Spock handed over the knife and a fruit. McCoy totally destroyed his first attempt, popping the fruit in his hands like a balloon when he squeezed too hard. The things were damn fragile once you pierced the skin. His second attempt went slightly better, although he got a smear of juice down his chin for his troubles. Spock demonstrated again on the fourth fruit, and McCoy had it totally down for five and six. He offered the sixth perspiring fruit to Spock with a laugh of triumph.

“Look at that! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Here, d’you want this one?”

Spock looked at him curiously, but he did accept it delicately between his long thumb and forefinger. He slipped it into his mouth and chewed methodically. “An admirable effort, Doctor.”

McCoy basked in Spock’s praise and remembered at the last minute not the lick his fingers. He wiped his hands off on his shorts and grinned leisurely at Spock, smiling up at him from beneath his eyelashes. “Well, I had a good teacher. Thank you, Mr. Spock.”

Spock shivered.

McCoy frowned. “Are you cold?” It was getting chilly now that the sun had set and the sand had given up its residual heat. In a few hours there would be frost on the ground. “Shit, I forgot that it’s winter.”

“My current body temperature is not uncomfortable,” Spock said. “However, the hour does grow late.” He stood and dusted himself off, looking down at McCoy. His face was mostly in shadow. “Will you attend again next week?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” McCoy said as he jumped to his feet.

Spock was silent as they began to head for the outskirts of the market, but then he asked, “And your partner?”

“My par—Oh, you mean M’Benga?” McCoy laughed, trying to picture himself dating M’Benga. He knew the man was kind enough, maybe even attractive now that he thought about it, but he couldn’t see that working out very well. They would both drive the other crazy. “He’s not my partner; he’s my roommate. I think the Vul—er, the hospital stuck us together because they didn’t know what else to do with us.”

“It is logical to room together people of the same species who will face identical difficulties in acclimating to a new environment.”

“That logic is based on the assumption that all humans are the same.”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “Are they not?”

McCoy laughed again. “Definitely not. For one thing, M’Benga loves it here. Sometimes he blends in so well that I have to look at his ears to remind myself he’s not really Vulcan.”

“That implies that you do not ‘love’ it here. You do not find yourself able to adjust to life on Vulcan as easily?”

“...No,” he admitted after a moment, surprised that Spock had cornered him into admitting something about himself. “Not really. Humans—or, I suppose it may just be me—we need some emotions to survive. I need to know that other people out there are thinking, feeling creatures and not just automatons going about their business without so much as a glimmer of genuine warmth.”

They had reached the edge of the market. Spock said nothing, and McCoy tried to catch a glimpse of his face to see if he’d said something wrong. Spock paused, looking out over the clustered stars.

“Perhaps you will find that your stay here will open you to understanding emotion in a new way.”

His shoulders relaxed. “Perhaps,” he said. “I certainly hope so.” He studied Spock’s profile for a moment, noting the slight line at the corner of his mouth. Was that a laugh line? And the crinkle at the corner of his eye, was that from smiling? “I think I am getting better at reading subtle emotion.”

Spock turned to him, eyes warm and dark. “Then already you are adjusting, although it may currently seem an insurmountable impediment to your enjoyment of your time here.” Spock reached into his sleeve and withdrew his pocket knife. “Here,” he said. “You require this more than I.”

McCoy blinked in surprise. “Spock, are you sure?”

“You should never be alone without survival gear.”

“What about you? Don’t you have to fly home tonight? What if you crash?”

“The chances of that eventuality occurring are, as always, slim. Regardless, I am much better prepared to survive than you are, even without my knife. Please, Doctor. Accept it as a token of a new friendship.”

McCoy felt he couldn’t argue with that without sounding rude, so he accepted the gift. “Thank you,” he said, honestly touched.

“No thanks are necessary. It was logical.” He nodded to McCoy and took a step back. “I bid you good evening, Doctor.”

“Good night, Spock.”

He examined the knife as he walked home that evening, shivering in the cold night air. It looked like it was made of steel, and he could have sworn that the handle was inset with mother of pearl. It looked like something from Earth, and he wondered why Spock had been carrying around an Earth knife instead of a Vulcan one.

He wouldn’t get any answers that night, though, and so he pocketed the knife and looked up at the stars, wondering what Spock saw in them.

Chapter Text

By the time fourth-day rolled around again, McCoy had learned what made twenty-seven new species tick. He found Denobulans to be a particularly interesting conglomeration of odd evolutionary holdovers, with their long tongues and fast-growing toenails. M’Benga was still in surgery that evening and so McCoy sent him a message with where he would be in case he wanted to catch up, and then he trudged out towards the market.

He was feeling more at ease holding his own around Vulcans. He still wasn’t exactly comfortable around them, but there hadn’t been any more embarrassing mishaps since the hand-licking with Doctor Seref. Although he still felt adrift without emotional reactions to ground him, he’d begun to accept it as inevitable.

McCoy sat in his usual spot in the basin. Spock nodded to him again before he started to set up, and McCoy waved back. He realized that Spock never seemed to be wearing robes when he came to play; his sweaters stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the sea of swishing hemlines. Perhaps the long sleeves would have interfered with his lyre playing. Today his knitted sweater was sapphire-blue and he wore a second, paler blue turtleneck underneath. McCoy hoped he was warm enough.

The music today was long and melancholic. Each verse flowed into the next, haunting and pensive, and McCoy fell deep into the story as Spock’s fingers glided over the strings.

“Your playing seemed to have a theme today,” he said once Spock had stopped playing and he’d swallowed past the lump in his throat.

“Yes,” Spock agreed. “It was the first half of im’roikan i’khaze’elWalking Boy, by the poet T’ren. The story itself dates to the time of Surak, and details the adventures of a young boy who leaves his home village after despairing that it is backwards. He walks around the planet and encounters many places that do not meet his high expectations. He returns to his place of origin only to find a bustling city where his village once stood.”

“I’m guessing he then immediately wishes he had his village back?”

Spock arched his eyebrow. “Very astute, Doctor. Are you familiar with the story?”

McCoy laughed. “Not at all. I just know that yearning for the future and nostalgia for the past are two universal concepts.”

“The walking boy does indeed find the city to be distasteful, but by this point there is little he can do to change his circumstances. Or so it seems. I will play the second half next week.”

“I look forward to it.”

Spock shouldered his lyre and seemed to study McCoy very closely, the corner of his lip bent inward. “Doctor, have you had the chance to sample any of Vulcan’s selection of teas?”

“No, I haven’t,” McCoy said. He fidgeted and glanced away. “To tell the truth I’ve been a little reluctant to go around the city myself. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of this place yet.”

“Then, please, allow me to be your guide. Will you accompany me to a tea shop which I believe you will find provides an enjoyable experience?”

He smiled. “I’d be delighted.”

Spock nodded and escorted him down to the under-city. It was already dark there in the shadow of the mountain, but the streets were lit with glowing red lights. The red was hard on his human eyes, but McCoy knew they were perfectly suited for a Vulcan’s eyesight. The lights mimicked Vulcan’s sun, allowing them to see in the night without harming their vision. They gave McCoy a headache.

The tea shop was nestled into the mountainside and didn’t seem connected to any of the other buildings. It was only accessible from the outside through a sandstone door. The windows were glasswork, handcrafted most likely, since Vulcans had perfected handcrafted glass structures centuries ago, and McCoy noted the fine sparkling impurities in the glass. Probably when the sun shone just right the shop lit up with a kaleidoscope of color.

Spock ushered him inside and directed him to kneel on a cushion beside a thin stone slab as he went to the counter to order. He returned just as McCoy was getting antsy and had to stick his leg out awkwardly to relieve the tension in his knee. Spock returned with two stoneware, handleless mugs and a cast iron teapot.

“It is my understanding that tea on Earth produces a mild stimulating effect?” Spock asked as he set one mug in front of McCoy and then folded his gangly limbs onto the cushion across from him.

“Well, not always. Real tea tea does. But we also have herbal teas that aren’t caffeinated.”

Spock nodded and reached over to pick up the pot. “You will find that this has the reverse effect.” He carefully filled McCoy’s mug about three-quarters of the way with pale brown liquid. It steamed as it hit the air. “Vulcan teas are cultivated on the south side of the planet, in the Theris region, and are a mild depressant.”

“Not unlike a good beer then,” he said, and smirked at Spock’s incredulous look.

“This tea does not cause intoxication.”

“Pity, that.” He breathed on his mug to cool it and then took a careful sip. It was hot and woody like cinnamon, and quite bitter, but after he swallowed it his mouth filled with the most delightful aftertaste. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was like. It reminded him of the way roses smelled, but it wasn’t perfumy. Merely floral and sweet. “Ooh,” he hummed, taking another sip to experience that pleasant aftertaste again. “That’s nice.”

He cracked open his eyes to see Spock watching him curiously. Spock lifted the mug to his lips and took a small drink, nodding. “An acceptable brew.”

McCoy chuckled, trying to keep his voice down so as not to disturb the other Vulcan patrons. For some reason he hadn’t thought to contain his laughter when it was just him and Spock. He contemplated his tea a moment, spinning his mug in his hands. “Spock, do you… It’s okay to say no, but do you think we could talk in English?”

“Of course,” Spock said instantly, his accent tinged west-coast American. “It is your first language?”

McCoy felt himself relaxing to the sound of his mother tongue. “Yes,” he said softly, his own accent coming through comfortingly familiar to his own ears. “Sorry, I just haven’t heard it in so long…”

“No apologies are necessary. I recognize that language holds great sentimental value for humans.” Spock considered him. “Forgive me as well. Judging by your accent when speaking Standard I had assumed, but after you requested I not speak it—”

“Don’t worry about it.” McCoy waved away the apology. “I didn’t want to exclude M’Benga. He knows...geez, I think five languages? Vulcan, Standard, and Swahili for sure, but I feel like I’m forgetting a few. French? Anyway, none of them are English.” He hid a self-effacing grin behind his mug. “I’m just a country bumpkin who barely knows two languages, let alone five .”

“You should not deprecate yourself,” Spock said sternly, surprising McCoy. “Learning languages is difficult, and different minds are more innately suited towards different tasks. Perhaps yours is more generally suited for practicing medicine.”

‘“Well, I certainly hope so, since that is my job.”

“Evidence indicates that it is so.”

McCoy shifted uncomfortable, hating the praise. “What evidence? You barely know me.”

“I know you work at the the Vulcan Science Academy Health and Medicine Satellite Campus. You appear to be a young adult, and I must therefore assume your work is part of a hospital residency. As they only began accepting non-Vulcan student applicants three years ago, that places you among the top doctors in the Alpha quadrant.”

“Not necessarily,” McCoy argued. “I just… I mean, I just applied on a whim. I only got in because Starfleet said they would finance my stay here. M’Benga is the one who actually deserves it.”

“As you said,” Spock said, but he seemed to be frowning. He let it go for the moment, asking instead, “What is the nature of your studies here?”

“Xenobiology,” McCoy said automatically. “Practicing medicine on alien life forms.”

Spock seemed amused, or maybe that was just the tea. “I am aware of the definition.”

“Sorry.” McCoy winced. Speaking English had made him forget where he was. “Back home, no one ever knew what I was talking about. My little corner of Earth was small. Alien life was something you read about in the papers. No one had ever actually been to space.”

“You are the first of your family to leave Earth?”

“Well, there was my father but that was long before I was born. And he only went to other human colonies. He hardly ever liked to talk about it.” He considered his drink. It was cold now. “He was a doctor, too, and colonizing planets was more dangerous back then. If he got called somewhere it was because everything had gone belly-up.” He glanced at Spock. “...What about you? Ever been off world?”

“Frequently. I have visited many planets while accompanying my own father in his travels,” Spock said. “Each was memorable in its own way. I did visit Earth once as a child.”

“Oh? Did you ever get down to Georgia?”

Spock almost seemed to smile, but McCoy decided it had been a trick of the light. “That is your home?”

“Yeah.” McCoy sighed fondly at the memory. “It was hotter than a snake’s butt in a wagon rut, but I do miss it sometimes. Actually, Vulcan kind of reminds me of it.”

Spock looked dazed at the use of colloquialism, and McCoy resolved to use more of them just to bother him. “You will find that this relatively temperate weather does not last long,” Spock said mildly. “However, no, I did not have the opportunity to visit Georgia, although I traveled to Washington state which is quite close.”

“Close! Not by a long shot,” McCoy said, leaning over the table now with territorial ire. Her proceeded to detail to Spock the regional differences of Earth as Spock looked on with mild curiosity, occasionally refilling their mugs.

They talked well into the evening about this and that, life and other things that had McCoy feeling warm and pleased as he realized he had actually made a friend in this place. All on his own.

“The hour grows late,” Spock said eventually with clear disappointment. “I am afraid I must return home, as my mother is likely worried about me.”

That brought McCoy up short, and he gave Spock a quick once-over in an attempt to determine how old he was.

Spock seemed to recognize McCoy’s concern, saying hastily,“It is the Vulcan custom for children to live with their parents until marriage. As I am not yet married, nor do I have an occupation which requires that I physically relocate, I continue to live with them.”

“Make sense.” He stood and helped Spock clear their table. “Sorry, I didn’t meant to...I mean, if you had been that young you would have been very mature for your age.” He grimaced in embarrassment as Spock raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ll just shut up.”

There was a faint green dusting at the tip of Spock’s ears. “Perhaps you would instead pick a different topic of conversation, as the sound of your voice does not trouble me.”

Before McCoy could decide if that was a compliment or an insult, the two of them stepped outside and a blast of icy, dry desert air hit him. “Ooh, holy shit,” he groaned, teeth chattering. He wrapped his arms around himself in a pitiful attempt to conserve body heat. “I should have worn pants.”

“Indeed.” Spock frowned at his knees. “Regretfully I am also unprepared. I did not anticipate remaining in the city past the frost-moment.”

McCoy recognized that Spock was trying to translate some Vulcan word into English. “You can say it’s colder than a witch’s teat, it’s okay.”

Spock’s eyes widened. “Would you like my sweater?”

“Oh.” He frowned. “That’s okay. I don’t have far to go.”

“Please,” Spock insisted. He handed McCoy his lyre case and quickly removed his outer sweater, leaving his hair staticy and fluffy.

“But Vulcans can’t handle this kind of weather.”

“I am capable of tolerating temperatures far colder than the average Vulcan,” Spock said. He looked eerie in the bright red lamplight, clad only in a tight-fitting turtleneck sweater and black slacks. His shirt had ridden up at the waist, ever-so-slightly. “...Doctor, it is not useful to either of us if we both refuse to wear it.”

“Fine.” McCoy accepted it with a huff, pulling it on. It was a bit tight across his chest, as Spock was narrower than he was, and his legs were still exposed. But it was still warm from Spock’s body heat. He tucked his hands beneath his arms and jerked his head towards the street. “How far do you have to go?”

“My shuttlecar is parked five blocks east.”

“I’m going the same way. I’ll walk with you.”

They set off together in the quiet night, walking side-by-side as McCoy’s teeth chattered. He watched Spock closely for signs of hypothermia, but the Vulcan seemed totally unaffected by the weather.

“How are you not cold?”

“Vulcans are capable of regulating their body temperature manually for a short period of time. My mental abilities are sufficient to keep me warm for approximately nine hours under these weather conditions.”

“Huh. That’s certainly handy.” He chuckled. “Something like that would have been mighty useful during my Starfleet survival exam. They stuck me and Jim on top of a damn glacier with nothing more than a granola bar and a hammer. We tried to build an igloo and when that failed, as you’d expect, we had to dig a hole in the snow and lie in it. It was barely big enough for me and his ego.

“...Jim?” Spock asked politely.

“Friend of mine from the Academy.” McCoy smiled. Jim was annoying, but damn if he didn’t miss him. “I think you two would get along, actually. He’s a real intellectual type like you. An ex of his once described him as a stack of books with legs, which paints you a pretty accurate picture.”

Spock contemplated this as they arrived at the shuttle lot. Somewhere in there was Spock’s shuttlecar. They stopped and wavered for a moment, and McCoy tugged at the hem of the sweater only to stop when Spock rested a hand on his wrist.

McCoy looked up, surprised into silence by the contact. Spock was certainly handsy, for a Vulcan.

“Although I cannot offer it as a gift, I would ask that you keep it until we next meet,” Spock said, folding his hands behind his back again in a forma posture. “I would not wish for you to fall ill from the cold and…” He paused, his steady gaze boring into McCoy, unexpectedly deep. “The refraction of light emphasizes the blue of your eyes in an aesthetically pleasing manner.”

McCoy blinked those eyes in shock as Spock bowed his head.

“Good evening, Doctor.”

“...Good night, Spock.”

He watched Spock set out into the shuttle lot, head held high, back perfectly straight. McCoy touched the textured knit of the sweater and wondered how pretty someone’s eyes had to be before it was logical to compliment them.

Chapter Text

“Bones!” Jim exclaimed, his shining face beaming out from the screen. “It’s about damn time you called! You said you’d comm me as soon as you got settled, but it’s been forever.”

McCoy grunted. “Quit your bellyaching. I got a little side-tracked is all. It’s barely been four weeks.”

“Four weeks Vulcan time, which is an eternity over here.” Jim wiggled in his seat and leaned in, eager as a puppy. “So? How’s the hospital? Is it really as hot as they say? Is everyone as boring as you were worried about? Are you ready to rip your face off yet? Tell me everything.”

“Not ready quite yet, but it was getting close there for a while. There’s this one Vulcan, Dr. Seref, who’s really got it in for me. But I think that’s because he’s sexually repressed.”

“Oh?” Jim looked intrigued. “Bones, you’re not planning on bringing back a blushing Vulcan bride, are you?”

“Not on your life,” he said, wondering why Spock’s soft brown eyes flashed through his mind just then. “Seref is hardly blushing, anyway. He’s old enough to be my great, great grandfather. But enough about him. Let me tell you about this technique I just learned for tricoder-less blood tests…”

They chatted amicably for a while, and McCoy filled Jim in about his new life on Vulcan. He talked about M’Benga and the other doctors at the hospital, about the weird Vulcan food and the hanging buildings, about the long nights spent poring over books, and about the crick that was developing in his neck from the stress.

Jim was frowning after that. “Sounds like you need to start taking it easy, Bones.”

“It’s just an old war injury from the last time I inflicted medical school upon myself,” McCoy assured him. When Jim still looked concerned, he added, “I’ll take a hypo for it if it’ll get you off my back.”

“I just don’t want to see my friend come back from Vulcan a crotchety old man. The crotchety young man I sent out there is plenty for me.”

“Hey.”

“Really, it all sounds like a horrible amount of work.” Jim ignored his protest, leaning back in his desk chair. “Don’t you have any fun out there?”

McCoy considered that. “Well, I’ve been going to their market on my days off. It’s actually damned interesting. It’s just exactly like the farmer’s market my dad used to take me to back in Georgia, only bigger and hardly anyone says anything. There’s this musician…” He hesitated, unsure how to distill everything he wanted to say about Spock into one sentence, and then finally said, “He plays pretty well. Jim, could you do me a favor?”

“Sure, Bones.”

“In my storage there’s an old fiddle. I think it’s in the box marked ‘kitchen supplies.’”

“Of course it is.”

He glowered. “Could you send it to me? I’ll forward you the credits for postage.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Jim waved away the offer. “Consider it done. Now.” He grinned lasciviously. “Do you want to catch up on all the latest Starfleet gossip, or not?”

McCoy grunted. “Even if I say no, you’ll still tell me,” he said, even though he loved gossip. He sat back and listened raptly as Jim regaled him with stories of the new first-year Academy students and the Greek organization that had gotten shut down for one too many Rigelian fire bombs. Before McCoy could parse out whether that was the name of a drink or a weapon Jim was already bouncing on to the next story, detailing the latest stupid thing he’d done to get Uhura mad at him. It apparently involved Gary and a new first-year command track student named Sulu flooding a shuttle with toothpaste. McCoy really didn’t want to know, but Jim told him anyway.

“Jim, you’d better not come crying to me when you get your fool head knocked off.”

“That’d be pretty hard to do when you’re all the way across the quadrant,” Jim said with a smile before sobering. “Things are different without you around.”

“No one to keep you in your place.”

“More like no one to patch me up so I don’t have to explain to Starfleet medical why I’ve got another broken foot.”

“From a fight or did you drop another antique book on it?” Jim’s sheepish grin gave McCoy all the answer he needed. “Just be careful. It’s your last year and you don’t want to get kicked out.”

“I know that.” Jim looked hurt all of a sudden. “I just figured you’d be here, you know? Our last year as the dynamic duo.”

“Jim…”

“I know, I know.” Jim sighed. “Maybe I should just get myself suspended for a year. You’ve got about a million years left at the Academy anyway, for whatever reason.”

He grunted. “Yeah, it’s almost like doctors have to have extensive training to know what they’re doing. Just keep your head on straight and make it through.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Jim smiled and gave him a mock salute. “Speaking of, I’m going to be late for an exam. I’ll send you that fiddle today or tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure. Thanks, Jim.” It wouldn’t arrive for weeks, anyway.

“And you do better about calling,” Jim scolded him. “Don’t make me come over there and get you.”

“I would never even dream of it,” he said with an eyeroll. “Goodbye, Jim.”

They signed off and McCoy frowned at the blank screen. He worried about Jim sometimes. Although his friend was brilliantly intelligent, he also had a real problem keeping out of trouble. Sometimes he sought it out and sometimes it just found him, but either way he was a walking magnet for disaster. One of these days it was going to get him into a situation he couldn’t charm his way out of, and McCoy wanted to be there at his side when that happened. Which was pretty hard to do from halfway across the quadrant.

With a sigh, he rolled off his sleeping mat, stretching to get the kinks out of his back. His shoulder popped loudly and he grimaced, telling himself that if it still hurt tomorrow he’d take something. It was the same thing he’d been telling himself for the past two weeks.

He went to the bathroom to look at himself. The mirror that hung over the sonic sink was actually just a flat piece of polished metal, and it distorted his features slightly and vaguely disturbed him to look at. He still prodded the bags under his eyes and stuck out his tongue, thinking about light refraction.

He put on a dash of blue eyeshadow. Just because.

McCoy remembered pants this time, and a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and as an afterthought he grabbed his wool jacket and folded it over his arm along with Spock’s sweater.

He felt a little silly walking around in the heat with a wool jacket, but he knew he would need it come nightfall. It may have been his imagination, but he thought that the Vulcans were looking at him with a little less blank distaste than usual. Maybe they had noticed his bare legs before.

Spock serenaded him—or rather, the crowd—with the second half of Walking Boy. McCoy listened intently, his eyes following the gentle downward curve of Spock’s mouth as the somber melody eked out of his lyre. The first half had been pensive, but the second act bordered on depressed. It was a dark reprise, slow and eerie, and he could picture the walking boy despairing at the ruins of his village, vowing to restore it to its former splendor and fighting like hell against all odds. But in the end, it was inevitable. Things had changed too much. There was nothing he could do.

When the last quavering note finished echoing throughout the basin, McCoy wiped a tear from his eye and composed himself before going over to Spock.

“That was powerful, Spock.”

Spock inclined his head, studying him. “Are you well, Doctor?”

McCoy straightened and shook himself. “Fine. I’m fine. It was just… He doesn’t get his village back after all.”

“No,” Spock said, his eyes unusually dark. He still watched McCoy but his gaze had turned inwards. “It is curious.”

“What is?”

Walking Boy is a parable,” Spock explained, speaking slowly as if searching for the right words. “It is meant to teach a lesson about the time of Surak. The past is always behind us, and although we may pay homage to it, we cannot return to it. We change as much as our environment. To attempt to return to that which is gone is not logical. If I may say, I find your emotional reaction to this music to be an interesting one. Vulcans do not experience such emotional responses, however I believe if they did they would not react with… sadness, but rather with acceptance. Walking Boy is about finding peace with the decision to live in the present.”

McCoy shrugged, picking at the jacket on his arm. “You can accept something is inevitable and still not have to like it.”

“Certainly.”

McCoy looked up at him. Spock was watching him very closely, a kind of deep attentiveness that was almost protective. He was worried about him. “How do you feel about Walking Boy?”

Spock hesitated. “Vulcans do not ‘feel’ in the manner you imply.”

“Sure they don’t,” McCoy said. He smiled and Spock seemed to relax at the sight. He decided to change the subject. “I brought your sweater back.”

“I trust it served you well?” Spock asked, accepting it.

“Certainly kept me warm enough. I’m sorry I didn’t wash it before returning it. I wasn’t sure what sort of material it was and I didn’t want to shrink it. It felt like wool, which is an Earth material that shrinks pretty easily in the wash.”

“It is wool,” Spock told him. He ran his long fingers over the textured stitches, an oddly sentimental gesture for a Vulcan.

“They make wool sweaters on Vulcan? I didn’t even know you have sheep.”

“We do not.” Spock knelt by his lyre case and folded the sweater into it. It barely fit, and he had to force the snap to close. “My mother knits, and prefers to work with Earth materials.”

The idea that Spock came to market wearing sweaters his mother made him was adorable. McCoy swept his gaze over Spock’s form. He wasn’t wearing a sweater today, but rather a short-cropped black robe and slim black pants. It made him look young. Fashionable. It looked warm, and McCoy wondered if Spock had worn it for the same reason McCoy had worn pants. So that they could spend as much time together as possible.

“That must get expensive,” he said after a moment, remembering where he was in the conversation. “To ship wool all the way out here, I mean.”

“It is not a completely unaffordable hobby,” Spock said. He shouldered his lyre case, bowing under the weight awkwardly. “Doctor, have you eaten?”

“No, not yet.”

“There is a restaurant nearby which is, what is the phrase? ‘Off the beaten track.’” Spock looked almost proud of himself. “I have observed that off-worlders seldom visit it, however the chef produces excellent interpretations of traditional Vulcan meals.”

“Good old-fashioned comfort food, huh?” McCoy grinned back. “Sounds wonderful.”

Spock nodded, and his lips did a funny thing, pinching in at the corner before flattening out. McCoy wondered about that as Spock escorted him from the market.

The restaurant was another tiny hole-in-the-wall sort of place called spa’ra na’Saren. There appeared to be no electricity, and everything was dimly lit by blue-flamed lanterns. They sat along the edge of the room where McCoy could lean against the wall and give his legs a break from kneeling. When the waiter approached speaking only Vulcan, McCoy entrusted Spock to order for him. They wound up sharing a small pot of that woody, floral tea as they waited for their meals.

He and Spock leaned in close, chatting softly about this and that, keeping quiet so that McCoy’s occasional laughter didn’t disturb the other Vulcan patrons. Spock didn’t seem disturbed by him at at all, and merely leaned closer as he smiled.

Spock told him more about the poet T’Ren and her history, using words like “fascinating” and “unprecedented” liberally. For a Vulcan he was downright animated in his discussion of her biography, and it warmed McCoy to see him so excited. When their meal arrived it was steaming hot, and Spock called it barkaya marak. It was as soup that reminded him of creamed spinach, and although it didn’t taste of his home it did taste of a home, which pleased him. They ate and talked, and Spock ordered ameelah for desert, which they shared across the stone slab table, their spoons clinking together.

In the end, McCoy was stuffed and sated, feeling warm and happy. He realized they had been talking for hours and he didn’t mind even though he hadn’t done a lick of work that day and his sleep schedule would be ruined tomorrow. He just put on his jacket against the wind and walked Spock back to the shuttle lot, shoulder-to-shoulder all the way.

Chapter Text

After that, it became habitual. He listened to Spock play and they went for dinner, and each time Spock showed him a new place. Spock introduced him to foods that even M’Benga hadn’t heard of—although that could have been because McCoy was mispronouncing the names.

Two weeks later his fiddle arrived and he found it wasn’t exactly like riding a bike, but it was close. He practiced often and found it a nice diversion from work. When his eyes could no longer stare at medical textbooks he could pick up a song instead. And after the first few days of horrendous squeaking strings he got better and no longer drove M’Benga up a wall.

The hospital kept him busy, always running from one place to the next to see this patient or that. He followed on the coattails of stoic presiding doctors who carefully demonstrated a myriad of techniques he would never have been exposed to on Earth. He learned more than he could have thought possible. It was gratifying, as Spock would say.

Gradually, the icy chill of harsh winter nights faded as spring fell on the city. With it came heat—enough that McCoy gave up on pants and long sleeves, and even Spock reduced himself to only one sweater rather than two. McCoy admired Spock’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s Spring with contentment, and then Spock took him on a tour of the gardens.

The gardens were unexpected. The idea of Vulcans cultivating plants whose only purpose was aesthetics seemed discordant, but Spock patiently explained that it was more a place for botanists to deposit their experiments than anything else. The sight of flowers was still strange to him; he’d forgotten what they looked like. After so many weeks of only barren rock and sand to look at it was refreshing to see them scale the side of the city cliff, hanging baskets heavy with foliage, rock outcroppings dripping with flowers in bright blues and pinks and golds and yellows, all with deep purple leaves. There were a few red flowers, but far more green ones, and McCoy asked about that.

“Red is the color of romance on Earth,” Spock said after a moment. “On Vulcan, green has always been associated with lust. Although of course, color has no inherent meaning, and it is therefore illogical to favor one color over another.”

“Of course,” McCoy said with a grin.

“Nevertheless,” Spock continued, wry. “We continue to cultivate the many green flowers our ancestors bred. It is a reminder of our history.”

“Do you give flowers as a romantic gesture like we do?”

“No.” His voice turned quiet and his hand trailed over the whirled petals of one of the only red flowers, fingertips ducking just behind the leading edge as if hiding. “Our custom is different. But we do find them aesthetically pleasing.”

“Flowers have always relaxed me.” McCoy stopped to smell the rose-like flowers Spock was fondling, surprised when they had only the faintest odor. Not like Earth roses at all. “I suppose it’s just green things—that is, plants in general. They’re very calming. Too long in space or indoors and I start to get itchy for living things.”

“Yet you are in Starfleet, which operates in space.”

McCoy chuckled wistfully. “Don’t I know it. The lack of plant life is just one of the many reasons why I’m a fool for joining up.” He sobered. “But I did join up, and I haven’t yet regretted it.”

“Yet?”

“I hope I never do,” he said, glancing to Spock and then back to the soft-petaled flowers. “I think I could really do some good out here.”

“Out there,” Spock corrected. His tone was mild. Not offended, merely amused.

“Here, there. It’s all the same. We all live in the same universe.”

“So we do.” Spock’s warm presence was a step behind him and he turned to see Spock’s brown eyes were glittering with some unspoken emotion.

Spock was so different from the other Vulcans. He was quiet and sober like them, but he always carried with him a hint of something more just beneath the surface. It manifested in easy moments like these where Spock’s gaze was warm and pleasant, a familiar blanket McCoy wished to wrap himself in and never leave. Spock’s mouth was softened at the edges—not quite a smile, but with a certain upward slant that was far from the stern frown most Vulcans wore. He seemed pleased just by McCoy’s presence.

He realized he was staring when Spock blinked, tipping his head to the side like a curious bird. “...The gardens often have excess plant clippings. Perhaps you would wish to obtain one to keep with you during your stay here, to remind you that life exists?”

He nodded and followed Spock out of the maze of flowers. He acquired a little green succulent that pushed out pale white flowers when conditions were just right, and decided to keep it by the slit-window in the living room.

Once, in the heart of spring, a Vissian came to the hospital to receive a surgery and actually signed the release forms allowing residents to observe. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that of course fell on McCoy’s day off.

He went to the hospital anyway and spent the whole time thinking about Spock. He hoped Spock would be fine without him, and wouldn’t think he’d blown him off even though he sort of had. The issue was he had no way of contact his friend. They had always met in person to make plans, and he didn’t know Spock’s comm number and wasn’t sure where he lived other than ‘outside the city’ and with his mother. That didn’t exactly narrow it down enough for him to look in the phonebook, if Vulcans even had such a thing.

The surgery lasted well into the evening, which meant he had to stand perfectly still against the back wall as he observed Dr. Seref. He did everything in his power not to distract Seref with his blatant emotionalism, which proved especially difficult when there was a minor hiccup that soon grew into a bleeder that had Seref calmly talking a mile-a-minute as he saved the Vissian’s life.

In the end, she lived, and was no worse for wear but McCoy felt drained from the exertion of keeping a straight face. He was exhausted. Too tired to walk home, he slunk into the break room instead and heated a mug of coffee. He and M’Benga hid the grounds in the lower cupboard along with filters and a pour over. The hot water went slow, a steady drip, drip, drip that soothed him.

“Doctor?”

McCoy turned, surprised to see Spock stepping through the door frame and into the lounge. “Spock? I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Spock looked almost naked without his lyre by his side. He hesitated a half-step in. “I hope that I have not overstepped my bounds in coming here,” he said quietly. “However, after you did not meet at our usual time I grew concerned for your safety.”

“You haven’t overstepped at all.” He smiled warmly at his friend, pleased that Spock had come to visit him. The exhaustion seemed to be catching up with him and he had the sudden urge to pull Spock into a hug and lean against him in the dim light. He resisted the urge, barely. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. Some things came up here that I couldn’t ignore. I’m surprised you managed to find me, though. This is a pretty big place.”

Spock’s eyebrow arched. “You are one of only two humans who work here. I simply asked after the illogical one.”

McCoy guffawed, sudden and embarrassed. “I see my reputation precedes me.”

“Indeed.” Spock glanced back at the doorframe before stepping towards McCoy again. “I have brought you this,” Spock said, lifting his hand to present a small yellow fruit.

McCoy blinked, his stomach growling its reminder that he hadn’t eaten in hours. He accepted the fruit and weighed it in his hands. It was heavier than he expected. “Does this one require a special technique to open?”

“I believe that even an unpracticed hand would not be capable of failing to prepare it correctly.”

“Well, thank you,” he said. “I was just about to have a cup of coffee. Sit with me?”

McCoy sprawled on a cushion and Spock knelt a breath away, his posture far too straight and stiff. McCoy sipped at his coffee before drawing out Spock’s pocket knife and setting it to the peel of the fruit. He could sense Spock watching him as he cut back the rind to expose a rich gold and fleshy core already neatly and naturally segmented. Pungent citrus oils softened his fingertips as he pried it open with his hands and picked out a segment, admiring the color.

Although his stomach was empty he still felt the urge to share with Spock. He handed Spock the wedge with an embarrassed shrug. “Here. It’s no fun to eat alone.”

Spock relaxed at the gesture. He accepted the segment and slipped it into his mouth and McCoy began to eat as well, wondering why Spock’s pleasure at eating the fruit made him feel so damned good. The fruit was rich and intensely sweet, bursting flavor across his tongue that made him sigh in delight, but it was the fact that Spock seemed to be enjoying it that filled the real pit within him. He shared half of it with Spock and then went to the sink to wash his hands.

“You are unusually quiet tonight, Doctor. Is all well?”

“I’m fine,” McCoy said. “It’s just been a long day. I’m sorry I’m not better company.”

Spock rose and straightened the hem of his shirt awkwardly. “No offense is received,” he said kindly. “Is your presence required here, or may I escort you home?”

“I’m done here,” McCoy said, smothering a yawn on the back of his hand. “You don’t have to walk me home, though, if it’s out of your way.”

“I would prefer to walk with you.”

He smiled.

McCoy could reach his quarters from the hospital by walking through the labyrinth of hallways and staircases that made up the inner city. He lead Spock through them and gradually regained his energy as the coffee and fruit sugar kicked in. By the time they were halfway to his apartment he had detailed the astonishing surgical technique of Dr. Seref and was busy lamenting the fact he couldn’t even compliment him.

“He’s got such a grudge against me already that I’d hate to do anything to exacerbate it.”

“By your description, Dr. Seref sounds like an aged Vulcan.” At McCoy’s laugh, Spock raised his eyebrow as if he had no idea what was funny. “It is unlikely that he truly holds a grudge, and he may find your appraisal of his skills to be gratifying.”

“Well, how can I know? Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall. Anyway, who am I to compliment his skills? To him I’m a kid playing doctor with a box of bandaids.”

“Doctor, you must not underestimate your own abilities. You have an ability to judge surgical technique that is, at the very least, unmatched by humans.” Before McCoy could protest that Spock had no way of knowing that, Spock stopped him with a raised hand. “Do not dispute my claim. I have taken the opportunity since we last discussed such matters to examine your public record. The evidence is clear.”

McCoy shifted almost guiltily and deflected the compliment. “I still can’t imagine telling him ‘nice work’ without embarrassing myself.”

“There is simply a...different social custom to which you must adhere. You will find, Doctor, that Vulcans are just as capable of vanity as humans.” His eyes twinkled before his mirth faded and he pulled on his stoic-Vulcan mask with practiced ease. “Even if it were not so, acknowledgement of a lifetime of effort devoted to a single, vital cause is logical. I believe humans would respond to such an acknowledgment with pride, correct?”

“I suppose.”

Spock nodded. “That is not the case for Vulcans, who will simply take it as fact. Failure to acknowledge the facts is not logical, therefore sharing your expert assessment of Dr. Seref shows attention to Surak’s teachings.”

“Huh…” McCoy stared at the ground as they walked, thinking. “When you put it that way… It sounds like you can twist anything that’s emotional and make it sound logical.”

“There is no need for insults, Doctor.”

He glanced at Spock, worried, but then he saw the spark in his brown eyes and he couldn’t stop himself from grinning back. Spock’s little jokes sometimes caught him by surprise, but they were always welcome. “Thank you. For your advice.”

“No thanks are necessary. It is logical that I should share my expertise in such matters.”

“Of course it is.” McCoy laughed and elbowed Spock lightly before he remembered he wasn’t supposed to do that with Vulcans. Spock didn’t seem to mind, so McCoy just let himself enjoy the moment.

They had arrived at his quarters, and McCoy fidgeted before the door. “...Spock, are you doing anything in two weeks’ time on fifth or sixth-day?”

“I will be doing many things. Consuming nourishment, attending to bodily functions, bathing, meditating, observing the passage of time—”

“You—!” McCoy laughed and before he could stop himself he reached out and touched Spock’s arm, an admonishment that nonetheless lingered. “You damned green-blooded...You may act like a computer, but I know better. Now come on: what are you really going to be up to?”

“I will not be ‘up to’ anything, Doctor. What is the intention of your inquiry?”

“I’ve got two whole days off.” He grinned and rocked back on his heels. “Nearly fifty hours where I don’t have to be in the hospital. Now, I’ve still got some reading, but if you would be amenable I’d like to spend some time with you.” He trailed off and realized he was blushing, although he had no idea why. “Just…It’d be nice to see you in the daylight for once.”

Spock considered McCoy closely. “Indeed,” he agreed after a moment. “Doctor, do you have a particular desire to stay in the city during your vacation?”

“No, not particularly.”

“I know of a place,” Spock said hurriedly. “It is approximately seventy kilometers outside of the city in Mount Seleya. It is not often visited, and is very quiet and peaceful. If you wish, I could take you there. It would be no trouble.”

“You’re asking me camping?” McCoy interpreted. At Spock’s sharp nod, he smiled. “I’d be delighted, Spock. I haven’t been camping in years.”

“Very well.” Spock nodded again, and then a third time. He seemed unsure of himself, which McCoy found inexplicable and charming. “I will prepare the necessary equipment.” He started to take a step back and nearly tripped, hesitating. “We can discuss the particulars during our dinner next week? I will be playing a ballad from the composer Delvok that I believe you will find interesting.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China. Or all the tea in Theris, for that matter.”

Spock’s mouth pinched in, just a twitch. “And for dinner, I have noticed you enjoy fried dumplings?”

“I love them.”

“Then I know where I shall take you.” He took another step back and didn’t stumble this time. His eyes were still glittering. “Until then, Doctor. Good evening to you.”

McCoy watched Spock hurry down the hall, feeling amused, and called after him, “Good night!”

Chapter Text

McCoy was lying on his sea of cushions in the main room and cursing himself for getting ready so early when M’Benga walked in.

“I had,” M’Benga said slowly, setting his bag on the floor. “The strangest conversation with Dr. Seref today.”

“Oh?” McCoy looked up at him from the ground. Such positions no longer seemed bizarre to him.

“Yes. He told me that it was no longer necessary for me to keep you under watch—not that I knew I should be doing that in the first place, you’re a grown adult and more than capable of taking care of yourself. But then he said I should ‘closely observe’ your career, as it had ‘the potential to be quite fascinating.’”

McCoy groaned and covered his face with his hands. “Oh, great. Now I’ve exchanged an overly-distant Vulcan for an overly-friendly one.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“I told him he really knew his way around a laser scalpel. Well, I didn’t exactly say it like that. I said it was logical to acknowledge the fact that he had devoted his life and energies to medicine to good effect, as he saved that Vissian’s life with his skill.”

Silence. Eventually it grew so oppressive that McCoy peeked out from behind his hands to see M’Benga gaping at him.

“...What made you say that?”

“It’s true!”

“I mean, what made you say it exactly like that?”

“Oh, Spock suggested it.”

M’Benga huffed and stole one of McCoy’s cushions, sitting on it heavily. He gazed at the far wall, half amused and half contemplative. “...You’re still going camping with him?”

“Yeah. He should be here in a few minutes.”

M’Benga nodded thoughtfully. “Be careful.”

“Of course I’ll be careful. It’s the desert. But Spock knows his way around out there.”

“I mean…” He grimaced. “Just...You have Dr. Seref on your side now, but Vulcans are a fickle bunch. Just don’t do anything stupid.”

McCoy frowned at him, confused. What did M’Benga expect him to do? Jump off a mountain and hope he landed on Seref’s bony body? “I’ll be fine,” he said. “You worry more than my Nana.”

M’Benga raised his eyebrow and McCoy threw a cushion at him.

“Don’t go all Vulcan on me now!” he laughed, and M’Benga laughed too. With a start, McCoy realized that was the first time he’d heard any laughter but his own in months. His froze, his heart constricting with yearning at the sound.

His communicator pinged, startling him. With a sigh he rolled over and snatched it up.

M’Benga peered over. He was nosier than McCoy’s Nana as well. “Spock?”

“Yeah,” McCoy said, acknowledging the message. “He’s just getting in. I’d better get going.” He struggled to his feet, ignoring the sounds of his hip and shoulder popping loudly in despair at the sudden motion.

“Have a good time, anyway.”

“You worry too much,” he groused. He shouldered his overnight bag and waved goodbye, feeling M’Benga watching him.

McCoy soon found himself grinning like a fool at the sight of Spock’s shuttlecar. It was the first time he’d seen it, but he never would have guessed Spock was riding around in something like this. It was a sleek model, and McCoy had seen enough advertisements to know it had just come out this year. It was designed for speed and leisure more than for anything practical. There was no mistaking it: Spock drove a sports car. He’d even sprung for the red and gold accents.

“Nice ride,” he said as he slipped into the shuttle, waggling his eyebrows at Spock.

Spock almost frowned. “Provided it accomplishes its primary function—to shuttle us from one location to another—I do not see how it’s relative ‘niceness’ deserves mention.”

“Sure you don’t. Y’know, Spock, I didn’t peg you for a sports car kind of guy.”

“It is not a sports car.” Before he could retort Spock was already lifting them into the air, not really very fast but enough to make McCoy’s stomach drop to his toes. He took a deep shaky breath and caught Spock looking at him.

“Are you well, Doctor?”

“Fine,” he said, keeping his voice steady. “Just not really a fan of flying. I’ll get over it.”

Spock didn’t push him, but McCoy did notice he flew a little slower. McCoy had gotten better about his aviophobia over the years, and after the initial spike of adrenaline he managed to calm down. He kept his gaze focused on the panel in front of him as they left the city.

The trip was relatively short in the fast shuttle, and soon they were darting between mountain ridges. They set down on one of the sister peaks of Mount Seleya where the air was thin and cool. They were high, but at least they were tucked into the mountain far enough that McCoy didn’t have to look over the cliff all the time. He took a few deep breaths, tasting the air.

“We must make camp before the sun reaches its zenith,” Spock told him.

“Oh? What happens then?”

Spock arched his eyebrow. “It gets hot.”

With a laugh, McCoy helped Spock take out the tent. It looked brand new, and when he opened the bag it automatically popped up, startling him. Spock drove metal spikes into the ground and tied it down as McCoy unloaded everything else: sleeping bags and mats, a little stove with a phase coil attachment, and a cooler of food that was not actually a cooler when he looked inside. It was just a box. Ah, well, no cold food for them, but McCoy didn’t mind. There was a ten-gallon container of water that he left in the shuttle to keep it out of the sun.

By the time they were done it truly was hot. McCoy had stripped out of his long-sleeved shirt and even Spock was looking mildly uncomfortable. They rested in the shade of the rock face.

“How hot does it get in the summer?” McCoy asked. He had repurposed a datapadd into a fan and was using it to move air over his damp face.

“Temperatures of 50 degrees celsius and above are not uncommon.”

“Sounds deadly.”

“For a human, yes. It is. Please be careful in the heat.” Spock studied him for a moment. “Vulcans use underground air currents to maintain lower temperatures indoors, as that is quite hot even for them. Four thousands years ago Vulcans’ ability to affect change upon their climate exceeded their genetic ability to adapt to that change. Doctor, you received survival training at Starfleet, correct?”

The non sequitur made him blink. “Sure, but just the bare minimum. We learned how not to freeze to death and how to squeeze water from a stone.”

“A most inefficient means of hydrating oneself.”

He laughed. “You’ve got that right.”

Spock stood and dusted himself off. “Please, accompany me.”

Surprised, McCoy followed after him. He kept fanning himself as they stepped into the sunlight, which immediately felt at least five degrees hotter. It was oppressive, this heat. McCoy couldn’t imagine what it would be like when summer really hit.

Spock took him to the edge of the cliff and McCoy hung back, leaning well away. “Hey, be careful.”

“A truly unprecedented series of events would be required to force me to fall from this distance,” Spock said, but he did take a few steps back and stood near McCoy. “There is a water source visible from here. Can you locate it?”

McCoy puffed up. He knew that Spock was the survival expert just from living on this water-forsaken world, but he still wanted to prove himself capable. He scanned the horizon and listened closely for sounds of water, but there was nothing for it. The horizon was just chunky, barren rock to him.

He grumbled and looked again, but eventually he had to admit defeat. “This isn’t something only your special Vulcan eyes can see, is it?”

“No,” Spock said. He seemed to find McCoy amusing. “I am capable of seeing at a distance not much greater than the human average, and my grasp of the color spectrum is no different from yours.” He sidled nearer to McCoy, leaning his head so that they were gazing along the same line of sight. Spock’s silky black hair brushed against the curved shell of McCoy’s ear as he lifted his arm and pointed to a divot in the mountains. “Do you see the far boulder on the left?”

McCoy squinted, trying to concentrate on the words rather than the sensation of Spock mere centimeters from him. Spock’s body was like a heat sink, slightly cooling the air around him. “...I see it.”

Spock’s arm moved slowly downward and McCoy followed where he was pointing. “Observe the increase in vegetation. It may be difficult for you to discern the colors. On Earth, the leaves of most plants are green, but on Vulcan vegetation has a higher amount of anthocyanins as a protection against the harsh sun, and therefore appear red or purple. This also acts as camouflage against Vulcan’s red rock. Do you see?”

McCoy could see it now. What he had thought was just more rock was actually a grouping of squat shrubs perhaps two kilometers away. The shrubs trailed down into the basin of the butte. “Huh. I wouldn’t have noticed that.”

“I do have an advantage, as I have been here before and have visited that precise river.” Spock dropped his arm, but other than that he hardly moved. McCoy could feel the expansion of his breath he was so close. “I would usually sleep through the heat of the afternoon,” he murmured. “But if you would prefer we could instead visit the river. It will be cooler there.”

McCoy ducked his head, smiling at Spock from beneath his eyelashes. “I’d like to see your oasis, Spock.”

Spock’s gaze was soft as he stepped back, enticing McCoy to follow.

They climbed down into the valley below, taking their time in deference to McCoy’s worries and his weaker human lungs. Each step constricted McCoy’s chest and he had to stop to catch his breath three times, leaning hard against the dry rock as Spock stood passively to the side. The rock face was hot to the touch, baked by the sun. He cursed himself for not packing any tri-ox as he clung to it.

They walked down, following an animal trail until the basin opened before them, and then worked their way up into the copse of shrubs. It was cooler there, and McCoy noticed that they weren’t alone in the oasis. Small lizard-looking things with twin tails skittered about, glancing at them shyly.

Aylak,” Spock told him. “They eat the insects that hatch near the water. Do not attempt to touch one, as their tails are quite fast and barbed. They may injure you.”

“Those little guys?” McCoy asked, frowning at the nearest one. It was barely as long as his hand and had a sweet round face with large eyes. It blinked at him, and then a second eyelid slid over the first. He balked in surprise and walked closer to Spock.

The river was tiny, a mere trickle that seemed to swell out from the ground itself. Lizards scattered from the pool as they approached.

“...This is what you call a river?”

Spock looked at the dribble, then at him. “How else should I refer to it?”

“Calling it a puddle would be too kind.” He huffed at the shallow water and knelt beside it. “Those bugs you mentioned, are they going to bother us?”

“Unlikely,” Spock said, and dropped his shirt to the ground.

McCoy twisted around, jumping when he saw that Spock was shedding his clothes with methodical efficiency. He tried to hide his shock as Spock slid off his undershirt as well, exposing the sloping, tanned planes of his chest and stomach. His shoulders were straight, with knobby little bones at the corners and a coiled strength that made McCoy swallow thickly. He was surprised to see Spock had whorls of hair over his chest and stomach; that didn’t fit with his mental image of a smooth, meticulous Spock. But he liked the look. It added distinction. Spock had always been a bit odd for a Vulcan, and the chest hair almost made him seem downright human.

“Planning on going for a swim?”

“That would not be possible.”

McCoy managed a wobbling smile and tore his gaze away from Spock. “Yeah, your puddle is a little small.” He dipped his hands into the clear water as he spoke, groaning in relief as it flowed over his wrists, cold as ice.

“While that is true, I am also unable to swim.”

“Oh? Really?” McCoy glanced to him again and then hurriedly looked away when he saw that Spock was down to just his underwear. They were odd. Not exactly like Earth briefs, but not like the Vulcan wrap underwear he’d seen in stores. McCoy concentrated on wondering about the origin of clothing styles rather than the thought that kept turning over and over in his mind: that Spock had really nice legs. Long and slender. Narrow hips. Burnished bronze and tan as the rest of him. Toes that curled against the rock.

Maybe he wasn’t distracting himself from Spock’s legs as well as he’d hoped.

“On Vulcan it is not common practice to teach children to swim,” Spock went on casually as he strolled forward to dip those curled toes in the water.

McCoy grinned at the sight of Spock testing the temperature. “Seems kind of illogical not to teach your kids basic life-saving skills.”

Spock spared him a glance that said he agreed, but then said, “We have few bodies of water large enough to warrant such instruction. Although we have oceans, their high salinity and lack of undertow makes it difficult to drown. I did attempt to learn to swim when I visited Earth as a child, but I was...not well suited to the task.”

“Sank like a stone, huh?” He chuckled, watching as Spock slid into the water. It was deeper than he’d thought, and when Spock sat on the bottom of the pool it covered his shoulders. Waves lapped gently at Spock’s neck, kissing him.

Spock curled his arms around his bent knees and regarded McCoy. “Will you join me, Doctor? The water is quite refreshing.”

McCoy hesitated, embarrassment heating the back of his neck. Just the thought of Spock seeing him shirtless—and pantsless, for that matter—made him tense. He still wasn’t quite sure what the taboo about nudity was on Vulcan, and although Spock had seen his bare legs and arms before this felt...different.

But Spock was still looking at him with that gentle openness. He didn’t seem fazed at all about stripping down and crawling into the water.

Or...maybe not. It was difficult to tell, but McCoy was getting better at reading the subtle signs of a nervous Vulcan. Spock had curled around himself tightly and his chin was dipped down so he had to look up at McCoy from beneath his eyelashes. His brown eyes were warm as the sun and sweet as golden honey, but shuttered. There was a timidness there that made McCoy’s heart thud in his chest.

But what did Spock have to be worried about? He was—beautiful. Tanned and gorgeous. Maybe he was worried that there was some human taboo he didn’t know about, but of course that was ridiculous. It was just that McCoy had gotten distracted by staring.

He looked away and stood to strip off his shirt. He toed off his hiking boots, grunting as the hot bare rock burned his skin. He had to dance from one foot to the next as his shorts came off, tangling around his ankles, and then he practically fell into the water.

Spock grimaced in defeat as McCoy’s tumble splashed water on him. McCoy giggled at the sight of him: eyes wide, water dripping from his arched eyebrows.

“Not the most graceful of entrances,” McCoy muttered, grinning.

“That much is clear.” Spock sloughed the water from his face.

“But, mmm…” McCoy let out a low moan as he stretched out in the water. “This is so much better.”

He took a deep breath and let himself float, face-down, as the water cooled him. He opened his eyes and looked down at the rocky bottom of the pool. Plants clung to the stone, pale and purple and feathery, lightly dancing in the flow of the stream. A pebble came loose from all their commotion and McCoy reached down and right it, tucking it back against the stem of a snaking kelp.

He let out his breath and turned over, sighing as the sun warmed his face. It was bearable, then, the heat tempered by the water and the sensation of floating. He could feel Spock watching him and he turned, offering Spock a relaxed smile.

Quietly, Spock stretched out beside him.

There was just enough room in the pool for both of them to float side-by-side, flat on their backs. McCoy hadn’t felt this cool and nice in weeks, since the Vulcan nights stopped getting below freezing. The spring water curled around him and cocooned him, leeching away the heat of the day and cleansing the sweat and dirt from his body. They relaxed as the sun wound down in the sky, elongating the shadows until the rocks seemed to be reaching for them—dark shapes with open palms.

They stayed still and quiet long enough that the aylak came back, curious. McCoy turned to look at one and it did its odd double-blink at him. He stuck out his tongue and it took a step back. He laughed and sat up, watching as they scattered in retreat.

“You are frightening the local fauna,” Spock said.

McCoy turned to him, still smiling, and found himself caught in Spock’s soft gaze. Spock looked so odd there, only his face and upper body floating in the water. His knees were bent and he had both feet planted firmly on the rock beneath them. His hair feathered out from his head, waving in the ripples, and his eyes…Comparisons to the sun, to honey, were incapable of capturing the depth there. Poetry had never been McCoy’s strong suit, but he knew there weren’t words in any language for the way Spock looked at him.

The snarky comeback McCoy planned caught in his throat at the sight of Spock so at ease. “...Are you cold?”

“I am not.” They were both of them whispering in the quiet of the mountain, as if words would shatter the moment. Spock’s arm shifted, floating lazily up, and the tip of his middle finger brushed against McCoy’s leg. It could have been an accident, except that Spock stayed like that, the back of his knuckle a gentle pressure on McCoy’s skin. “Are you?”

McCoy shivered. “No.”

Spock’s hand did not move, and McCoy was hit with that same urge from two weeks ago. It shook him to the core, that sudden desire to pull Spock up and wrap his arms around him, hold Spock close and feel all the places where their bodies touched. He struggled to shake off the feeling, sternly telling himself he was only feeling that way because he hadn’t touched anyone who wasn’t a patient in months, but the excuse fell flat. Spock’s eyes were as liquid as their oasis, and just as refreshing.

McCoy stood and scattered the remaining aylak. Water ran from him in heavy rivulets. “We should head back,” he said, gruff. “Time to start thinking about supper.”

Spock agreed. They slipped on their boots and carried their clothes, letting the sun evaporate the water. They were toasty and bone-dry by the time they made it back to camp, and this time McCoy only had to stop once to catch his breath.

“I think I’m acclimating to this absurd air,” he said brightly.

Spock tipped his head. “It will take longer than a few hours to fully adjust.”

He slid his shorts back on. “Spock, have you ever engaged in hyperbole?”

“Never,” Spock said.

McCoy wasn’t sure if that was a truthful statement, or if Spock was giving him an example of hyperbole right then. He chose to interpret it honestly. “Well, I happen to like a bit of exaggeration now and again. So when I say I’ve adjusted to the fact that it’s hotter than the devil’s pit and the air’s thinner than thread, I mean it.”

Spock seemed amused. “Very well,” he acquiesced. “Who am I to dispute you?”

“Damned right. Now.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly. “What’s for dinner?”

Dinner was a thick, reconstituted soup of dried root vegetables. It was the color of a lemon and had a rich broth that perked up nicely when McCoy added a dusting of velik spice. They ate as night fell, chillier in the mountain than it had been in the city, but not unbearable. Spock slipped on two sweaters and McCoy curled up atop his sleeping bag with Spock’s emergency blanket.

Spock’s hair had dried funny. It was not at all its usual perfect coif. McCoy kept smiling at the little cowlick in the back, and the way it curled up at the fringe. Spock seemed to find his jovial attitude amusing, if inexplicable, and didn’t comment except for the mandatory eyebrow raise.

Spock made tea and they warmed their hands on the mugs, and Spock told him the story of the mountain.

“Mount Seleya is said to be the mountain of my ancestors. My father is descended from the shi’yon sutra, the mountain people, and in their mythology we were born from the slip of the mountain.”

“Slip?”

Spock nodded. “Mountain clay, wetted by the fall rains. The force of the water shaped us, gave us limbs to walk, hands to create, and minds to contemplate that which life offers us. We poured down the mountain and fell upon the rock, and the sun baked us and hardened our skin. For the shi’yon sutra, Seleya gave us our mental fortitude and still speaks to us in a forgotten language. I came here often as a child, to listen. I sought answers to the many questions I had about my life.”

“Did you find them?”

Spock considered. He did not seem perturbed by the question, merely introspective. “Perhaps some,” he said eventually. “There are many mountains like this one, many places where the ancestors of others rose from their primordial bath. But I have always felt the closest affinity to this one. I have explored its every nook and crevice, and although Seleya does not give up its secrets readily, I have discovered several.”

McCoy watched him closely. The starlight seemed to brush over Spock’s features, casting his high cheekbones and thoughtful brow in harsh shadows. The bow of his lip was nearly black. An empty space. “Can you tell me?”

Spock’s bow lip ducked deeper into the darkness. “Mount Seleya is the mountain of memory, and that is not an accidental assignment. It is...easier, here, to meditate and find peace.” He shifted and McCoy could see the glitter of his eyes in the starlight. “Don’t you agree?”

“It is lovely.” McCoy felt like he should look away, like Spock was sharing something with him he had no right to know. But he didn’t move. He held Spock’s gaze and accepted the offering. “It’s strange, though. I think what disturbs me most about Vulcan is how similar it all is.”

The shadow of Spock’s face twisted in question. “How so?”

“Everything is just one step away from Earth. Like the sky.” He gestured upwards, but didn’t look. He kept his eyes on Spock as Spock turned, his face cast momentarily in light. “There are stars, but they’re slightly off. And there’s no moon, although it’s bright enough to see. And the mountains are like Earth, but the colors are wrong. The tea is sweet, but I keep trying to make comparisons in my head to what on Earth it’s similar to…” He took a sip of his tea then, and it filled his mouth but left his heart empty. “But of course, it isn’t similar to anything at all. Some of it’s becoming familiar, but...it’s all just a little bit off.”

“It is still alien.”

McCoy shrugged. “It would be easier if it were. It’s wrong but...close enough that I almost think it’s right. I always have this moment of cognitive dissonance where I think, ‘this is it. This is home,’ but...It never is.” He could feel Spock watching him and he glanced away, embarrassed at having shared so much. It was just that Spock was so easy to talk to. “Sorry. I don’t mean to pick on your culture.”

“You are not.” Spock was silent, but McCoy got the impression he was thinking of what to say next, and so he stayed quiet as well. After a while, Spock inquired politely, “Would it relieve some of the tension to hear a song in your native tongue?”

McCoy shifted, excited and surprised. They had been speaking in English, as they always did when they were alone together, but a song? It seemed to good to be true. “You know any?”

“A few. There is one...a lullaby with which I am familiar.” Spock hummed and set his mug down. He sat up on his knees, hands folded in his lap. “If it would not offend you?”

He smiled. “I’d love to hear it, Spock.”

Spock took a moment to gather his thoughts, and then the first haunting notes trickled out, cool water splashing on a sun-baked rock. It was...familiar. Spock’s voice was deep and rich, a baritone that seemed to reach deep inside of McCoy and pull at his heart. He had the distant thought that Spock could have won a singing contest as well, with that soft and delicate voice, lyrics floating through the air and curling against McCoy like a second blanket as he closed his eyes to the alien sky.

Little star child, I know
You have far now to go
That your wings are just itching to fly.
But tonight you must fold them,
And rest your sweet head,
And dream of the journey to come.

Dream, little star child,
Of soaring for light years.
Of leaving your home on the ground,
And the dust that collects at your heels.

Dream, little star child,
Of gossamer wings,
Of silver that lifts towards the sky.
Dream, little star child,
Of the light. Of the light.

Your heart is a galaxy
Of darkness and laughter
Your eyes the twin lights of my life.
Dream little star child,
And sleep through the night.
Dream little star child, and sleep.
And sleep.

His father, one broad hand curled beneath his head, whisper-singing as he rocked him, so gentle and soft and... home.

McCoy found he was crying.

He tried to hide the reaction from Spock, pressing at the wetness in his eyes, but it was a lost cause the moment he started shuddering.

“Doctor! Are you injured?”

“No, no.” He coughed and sniffed, mentally counting to ten as he steadied his breathing. “I’m sorry. I’m...I’m a mess, I’m sorry. Here I am getting my emotionalism all over you.” He laughed weakly. “I’m fine.”

“I have harmed you.”

“You haven’t.” He rolled over and opened his tear-rimmed eyes to see Spock leaning over him, face cast in the shadow of the night. The high arches of his ears were eerie in the darkness, and that gave McCoy pause. Not yet home, then. “It’s just...that was quite the song to pick.”

Spock was studying him; he knew that even though he couldn’t see him. Probably trying to decide if what he was lying or not. “I apologize,” he said. “I will not sing again.”

“Hey, who said to do that?” McCoy pushed himself up, stone biting into the palms of his hands. “I like it, Spock. Really.”

“...Your reaction indicates that is not the case.”

He sighed and sat up completely, scrubbing the salt from his face. “Spock, it’s not...I just haven't felt comfortable letting any of my emotions out in so long, they sort of came out all at once. I’m sorry for...bothering you with them.”

“You are not bothering me,” Spock said very, very quietly. So low McCoy almost could not hear him. “I simply do not want to hurt you.”

“I’m not hurt.” He managed a smile. “That was good. It’s healthy to cry every now and then.”

Spock clearly didn’t know whether or not to believe him. “Then you...wish for me to continue?”

His smile deepened, and he hoped Spock could see it in the dark. “Why don’t we try for something lighter? Do you know Row, Row, Row Your Boat?”

Spock did not, but he listened intently as McCoy whispered it to him across the rock face. McCoy was no great singer, but Spock did not seem to mind. Gradually, the tension left Spock as he seemed to realize that McCoy wasn’t breaking down. Their singing petered out until McCoy could only hear the whisper of wind through the rocks, and Spock’s steady breathing. There were not even crickets to break the silence.

In the morning, they rose before the sun and had a light breakfast. They spent the day together focusing on their work—McCoy on his textbook and notes, and Spock on an equation that made McCoy’s head swim when he looked at it. They slept through most of the heat before going again to Spock’s oasis. McCoy lead them this time, feeling unreasonably proud that he remembered the way. The water was cool and welcoming, an old friend already, and McCoy learned that if you splashed a Vulcan they fought dirty to get revenge.

Their final evening together passed, slow and languid, and McCoy sighed up at the setting sun.

“I almost don’t want to go back.”

“I find that doubtful. You have told me before that you feel most fulfilled when practicing medicine. A prolonged absence from work, even one such as this, would inevitably begin to bore you.”

He hummed and rolled over on his side, pillowing his head in his arm. “I don’t know. I think it would be nice. We’ve got a tent, and some books. Everything we need is right here. We could live up in the mountains and drink spring water and eat little shrub bushes.”

“They do not contain the necessary nutrients to survive, let alone flourish.” Spock leaned back on his palms. His face was smooth and calm, and McCoy entertained himself with the idea that Spock might smile at any moment.

“...Things are different out here.”

“Yes,” Spock agreed.

“Even you’re different.” McCoy trailed his eyes over Spock’s loose frame, focusing on the straightness of his arms and the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. “In the city you always seem a little...clumsier?”

Spock raised an eyebrow and frowned down at him. “Is that intended as an insult?”

He shook his head, smiling. “Just an observation. After all, it’s logical to acknowledge the facts.” He laughed at the look of incredulity on Spock’s face.

“...I have considered it.”

“Hm?”

“Living in the mountain.” Spock sighed, a weary sound. “The memories it holds are soothing, but it is not logical to remove myself from my home and my people.”

“...I suppose not.” The hard rock was beginning to make McCoy’s hip ache and he sat up with a stretch that made his shoulder pop. He felt like he was falling apart. “Either way, this has been the best vacation I’ve had in a long time. Thanks for putting up with me.”

“No thanks are necessary,” Spock said quietly, the corner of his mouth a soft line. “It was my pleasure.”

When the sun rose on their last day they took down their tent and Spock returned him to the city, and McCoy worked yet another day in the hospital.

Chapter Text

He rested his hand on his patient’s shoulder, silently communicating his support the only way he knew how. His next patient stumbled walking down the hall and he let his hand come sturdy and solid to her back. He held a man’s arm and kept him upright as he walked, bleeding, into the emergency room. He patted an elderly alien on the hand, calm and compassionate, as they cried at the news of their prognosis.

McCoy had always touched his patients. It was how he communicated that he cared, that he was concerned for them, and that he was doing everything in his power to make them healthy. His care leaked from his fingertips through each brush of skin. It was as natural to him as breathing, and he wasn’t about to stop just because he was on Vulcan.

But, he realized, he was hungry. Not for the food which was gradually becoming familiar and welcome, but for touch. Here he was pouring support from his hands and receiving nothing in return. He was empty. His body ached. His skin prickled. Everything hurt.

Late one night he received his first touch since Spock had brushed against him in the oasis nearly a month ago. He was tired, slumped against the wall in the break room, and M’Benga patted his shoulder. It was reassuring. Uplifting.

It nearly made him cry.

Recognizing the physical loneliness for what it was threw the sensation into sharp relief. He could hardly keep his mind on his studies, and the distant conversations encouraged on Vulcan became difficult to navigate. Every time he touched a patient or stopped himself from touching one of his Vulcan colleagues he was adrift. He moved a little further away from himself everyday. He slowly spiraled, his skin burning with the desire to be held. He wanted to be comforted--no, that wasn’t quite right. It was not as simple as a want. He needed it. Needed it as strongly as he needed air and food and water. It was a need he couldn’t hide no matter how hard he tried.

Spock was attuned, now, to his fits of emotionalism. Since the night on Seleya when McCoy had shed real tears Spock seemed to be watching for a repeat. So he wasn’t surprised when Spock asked after him.

“Are you well, Doctor?”

He tried to explain, words halting and unsure, to an increasingly confused Vulcan. Although Spock knew English, the feeling of starvation didn’t seem to translate across cultures.

Finally, he said, “I’m just lonely.”

This Spock seemed to understand. “Might it increase your happiness to have another human friend? Someone who might understand?”

“Well, maybe. But as far as I know M’Benga is the only other human stationed in the city.”

“In the city, perhaps. But if you will accompany me, I know of one other.”

That was how McCoy found himself in the deep desert of rural Vulcan, learning that Spock was not as inhuman as he had assumed. This was how he met Spock’s mother.

“Oh!” She had a bright smile framed by the multi-colored scarf she had draped over her graying hair. “So you’re the man who’s been keeping my son busy. Here, let me look at you.” She took him by the arms and gave him an appraising once-over, seeming to find him acceptable, although he had no idea what she was looking for.

“Ma’am,” he said anyway in greeting, grinning like a damned fool, his smile threatening to crack in half from excitement. “I must say, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“You flatter me.” She laughed and took a step back, offering him her hand which he gladly accepted. “Amanda Grayson.”

“Leonard McCoy.” He bowed his head politely. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

She laughed again, bright and sparkling. She seemed to laugh quite freely. “Well, aren’t you the proper gentleman? Oh, what am I doing, making you stand out in the sun. Come in, come in. I’ll put on some tea.”

They followed her inside and McCoy shot an incredulous look towards Spock, attempting to communicate the sheer magnitude of his confusion through his eyebrows. Spock merely raised one of his own perfectly-shaped eyebrows in response, and said nothing. As if there was nothing unusual about having a secret human mother. Spock walked so closely to him that their shoulders brushed, and McCoy snorted in amusement.

“I must say, Dr. McCoy, you’re a bit different than I expected. Of course, Spock has told me a lot about you.”

“Oh?” McCoy managed, struck by sudden nerves. “All good, I hope?”

“Oh, yes it was. My son doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body. But he did neglect to mention your species.”

“Did he now?” He glanced at Spock.

Spock was looking straight ahead, pretending to be impassive. But McCoy detected a hint of humor in his profile. “It was an unintentional oversight, I assure you.”

“Of course.” She shared a secret look of amusement with McCoy. “Here, please sit.”

They sat at a low blue table, legs folded on the rich burgundy cushions. In fact, now that he had a moment to look McCoy saw that everything here was colorful. The walls were draped with red and yellow curtains, and there were paintings in bright, impressionistic colors hanging as well. The floor was not the normal red stone, but had been covered by sky-blue tiles. The color of the Earth’s sky, anyway. Amanda disappeared into the kitchen, her sapphire and silver dress curling around her feet. McCoy hadn’t consciously noticed that such bursts of color were few and far between on Vulcan, whose logic of fashion dictated mostly neutral and earth tones. In fact, Spock was the only regular splash of color he saw.

Because he wore the sweaters his mother knitted him, McCoy realized. He frowned at Spock’s deep, almost blood-red sweater, with a light summer under-turtleneck in pale yellow. He was stunning and radiant and handsome, and McCoy wracked his mind in an attempt to figure out when Spock had become the one bright spot in his life.

Spock tipped his head, a small frown playing at the corner of his lips. “Is all well?” he asked softly.

Spock was misinterpreting him, he realized. He stopped frowning and smiled instead, fond. “Everything is perfect, Spock. Your mother seems to be a wonderful woman.”

He nodded, eyes alight. “I am inclined to agree.”

Amanda returned with three small ceramic cups, bright pink with tiny roses painted on the handles, and a pot of steaming tea in a matching teapot. “So, Leonard,” she said conversationally as she poured their tea. “My son tells me you’re a doctor at the hospital?”

“I am. Thank you, ma’am.” He accepted the tea graciously, blowing on the wafting steam to cool it. “I’m a xenobiology fellow here on a Starfleet grant.”

“Astonishing,” she said earnestly. “A Starfleet cadet as well? Spock didn’t mention.” She glanced askance at him, somehow having an entire conversation with her son in the space of a few seconds without uttering a word. Spock wound up looking mildly chagrined. “I understand the xenobiology program is very rigorous. Was it quite difficult to get in?”

Embarrassed, McCoy could only shrug. “Luck was on my side.”

“You are being modest,” Spock told him before turning to his mother. “Leonard is perhaps the preeminent doctor in his field. He has received several distinguishing honors, including an Academy Citation for Gallantry in 2251, the highest award a Cadet can receive.”

McCoy heated with embarrassment at Spock’s casual praise. Somehow the fact that Spock had apparently memorized his public service record didn’t phase him as much as the fact that he’d just used his first name. It sounded so warm and gentle in Spock’s rich voice, and McCoy realized he had never heard Spock call him that before.

“A Citation for Gallantry,” Amanda repeated, awed. “What was it for?”

“It was nothing,” he demurred. “I just helped out delivering some innoculations.” He took a gulp of his too-hot tea as a distraction, surprised at the flavor that greeted him. “This is Earl Grey!”

She smiled. “It is! Oh, I do hope you enjoy it. I so often have cravings for it that I like to keep it around for special occasions.”

“It’s wonderful, Ms. Grayson. Thank you.”

“Please, call me Amanda. I have a little supply of Earth-things here, so anytime you need a reminder of home you’re more than welcome to stop by.”

“Thank you, Amanda.” He was feeling giddy and he drank more tea. He realized he was smiling at Spock and so he turned away, feeling irrationally happy without quite knowing why.

Spock smoothly picked up the thread of the conversation. “Have you yet begun garden preparations, Mother?”

“My seeds have just started to sprout, actually.”

They chatted for a bit and McCoy sat back and basked in the sound of their voices. Gradually, Amanda returned to him, asking him gently probing questions about his life. He told her about Starfleet and about applying to come to Vulcan on a whim. He tried to stay modest but Spock refused to let him and listed out the half-dozen other awards he had received.

He elbowed Spock in the side for his trouble.

Spock seemed in his element, almost as relaxed here as he had been during their camping trip. His shoulders were loose and his face was soft and open, practically expressive . Amanda seemed to bring something out in Spock, something pleasant and serene. It warmed McCoy to see him so happy, although of course Spock never smiled or laughed like they did. It simply wasn’t in his nature.

The day passed in an excited blur, Amanda’s questions about his life, about Starfleet, and about what had brought him to Vulcan forming a pleasant hum. Those and a few other questions here and there, sprinkled in casual-as-anything, about his friendship with Spock. McCoy could talk about Spock all day, and he did until Spock regretfully broke up their conversation to leave for the market. He still had to play that evening, and McCoy quashed his selfish urge to beg him to stay.

Instead, he stood, moving to shake Amanda’s hand again and thanking her profusely for her hospitality. She surprised him by slipping right by his outstretched hand and pulling him into a hug. It was quick, but her grip was strong and sure, and she planted a friendly kiss on his cheek as she pulled away that left him reeling. He had to force himself not to reach for her again. He wanted to hold on to her, to bask in human contact, but he couldn’t.

He let her go.

She moved on to Spock next, and he tolerated her affection with gentle amusement. She gave McCoy a tin of sugar cookies—baked with real butter, she said—and sent them on their way with a smile.

After a day’s worth of talking, the shuttle ride back to the city felt preternaturally quiet. McCoy gazed unfocused at the console, listening to the white noise of the engine and feeling all the places where his body felt empty.

Spock landed in the shuttleyard and powered down the engine. He stared straight ahead. “Was that sufficient to alleviate your anxiety, Doctor?”

McCoy smiled weakly. He was already exhausted by just the thought of going back to work tomorrow. Back to stoicism. Back to giving and never receiving. “It did wonders,” he said honestly. “To tell the truth, I think that hug was what I really needed.”

Spock nodded. “I see,” he said. He stood and offered McCoy his hand. “Would you permit me?”

Spock’s hand hung there, nervous, fingers curled like a question mark. McCoy reached for him without quite knowing why, sliding their palms together so soft that he hardly felt it. Spock’s grip tightened and pulled, lifting him up, and he rose to meet Spock’s embrace.

His breath caught. Everywhere they touched was alight: Spock’s chin tucked in the crook of his shoulder and neck, strong arms protective and grounding, sturdy fingers splayed against his back. Spock’s lanky body seemed to curl around him and he shuddered. Suddenly desperate, he hugged back with all his strength, every fiber of his being yearning to get closer. He gathered Spock against him and pressed his face against Spock’s soft wool shirt. His eyelashes left beads of wetness there and he forced himself to swallow the range of emotions that bubbled forth within him.

It took a long, long time for him to get ahold of himself, just standing there with Spock in the cockpit of his shuttlecar. Gradually, his body remembered what it was like to be cared for, and he calmed. His shaking stopped. Spock’s touch soothed his prickling skin.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before he pulled back, breathing a little funny after their embrace. It took all of his paltry human control to find the strength to step away from Spock. Spock’s hands trailed down his arms as he left, seeming unwilling to let him go, his calloused fingertips catching on McCoy’s sleeves.

“Have I upset you?” Spock whispered.

“No.” McCoy paused, swallowing thickly past the lump in his throat. “No, not at all. It’s just...been a while since…” He wasn’t sure how to explain, and so he stopped.

Spock seemed to understand. He nodded and his hands came again to McCoy’s wrists, forefingers brushing over his pulsepoint. “You appear quite tired, doctor. Would you prefer that I escort you home before I attend to my duties in the market?”

He shook his head quickly. “No, I’d like to hear you play tonight, Spock.”

Looking fond, Spock nodded again. “I look forward to your assessment of my work.”

That night, as McCoy sat curled up in the sand and listened to Spock articulate dozens of Earth-songs, he wondered if perhaps it wasn’t self-centered at all to assume Spock played for him. Maybe it was just a statement of fact. Imminently logical.

Spock walked him home that night and held him again in the quiet of the hallway, one hand curled at the back of his neck. When he said goodbye, McCoy almost thought he was smiling. But it had to be a trick of the light.

For the first time since his arrival on Vulcan he slept like a stone, utterly relaxed.

After that, things got easier. He held Spock whenever he wanted to, breathed him in, felt the surety of his body, and realized in those fleeting moments that he didn’t feel homesick.

It had only taken him seven months—half of a Vulcan year—to find something approaching home here, on this red planet.

Chapter Text

They visited Amanda occasionally on his days off, and McCoy came to know her. She was funny, witty, and extremely bright. She was also coy, which was probably where Spock had gotten it from. They were both adept at pretending they weren’t teasing him. Only their sparkling eyes gave them away.

Amanda kept a garden, and when she finally came to accept him as a friend instead of a guest, she let him help her tend to it. He got his hands dirty turning over the unfamiliar, sandy soil. It stained his fingertips orange, and as Amanda bustled around in the kitchen working on their afternoon meal Spock helped him wash. He had a warm, damp cloth scented with some bright oil that he ran over McCoy’s fingers until they were pale and pink again, flushed with blood from the friction.

McCoy smiled at him, and he thought Spock smiled back. He realized Spock had not let him go. They were close, practically of the same breath, and Spock’s slight smile had shifted. His mouth looked warm and inviting, a delicate smirk etched at the corners. McCoy thought that he would very much like to kiss him.

Spock? Ri la’nam-tor ish oyut.

McCoy jumped as Spock dropped his hand. He whirled to frown at a stone-faced older Vulcan in a long grey robe standing in the foyer. Somehow he had snuck up on them. Spock said something to him in Vulcan, his words odd and biting, and the other man responded flatly.

Amanda rushed into the room. “Oh! Sarek!”

Adun’a,” the Vulcan responded, raising his hand with two fingers outstretched. Immediately, Amanda went to him and met his hand. He asked her something, and she glanced at McCoy with a slight frown.

“Leonard, this is my husband. Ambassador Sarek.”

McCoy tried to decide if smiling would be polite or not. He decided against it, and instead nodded his greeting. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Sarek seemed to ignore him. He glided into the kitchen and Amanda followed him, casting a glance back at Spock. McCoy turned to look at him, too, realizing that Spock hadn’t moved at all since Sarek had entered. He reached out to touch Spock’s arm, and Spock pulled away.

“Spock?” he whispered.

“We must eat.” Spock walked past him and McCoy followed, nervous.

Sarek’s arrival had definitely put a damper on their evening. McCoy felt deeply discomfited, although of course Sarek was just as blase as all the rest of the Vulcans. He didn’t seem to be upset. He didn’t seem to be much of anything. But Amanda was clearly nervous, her gaze fluttering like a bird from her husband to her son. And Spock had gone so emotionless that McCoy had trouble looking directly at him. The look was so unnatural for Spock. Disturbing.

McCoy knelt at the table and tried not to look at Sarek, either. Something about him made McCoy uncomfortable. Amanda served bowls of plomeek soup in silence before quietly asking Sarek about his day.

She spoke in English, but Sarek answered in Vulcan. McCoy quickly lost the thread of the conversation. He tried to follow along, but he was only able to pick up a few words. He could tell when Sarek was referring to himself, and he recognized the word for “consulate” because that was where he had checked in when he’d arrived on Vulcan. But the rest was a blur of unfamiliar syllables and vowels. Amanda tried to respond once more in English, but McCoy could see it was difficult for her to code-switch so readily.

Well, that was fine, McCoy told himself. He didn’t need to know what was going on. His soup was interesting enough. He ate slowly, savoring the food as was the polite custom on Vulcan. Beside him, Spock still had not moved. His stone spoon was untouched.

He tried to look at Spock subtly, to let him know that it was okay and he wasn’t upset, but Spock was looking straight ahead at Sarek. His face was flat and impassive, and McCoy winced at the sight. Really, it was fine. Sarek just wanted to talk to his wife. He probably didn’t know that McCoy couldn’t understand what he was saying. Perhaps he was tired from work. Being an Ambassador had to be exhausting, right?

Before he could think better of it, he reached out and touched Spock’s elbow. It was just a quick touch, enough to get Spock’s attention. Spock looked at him and he dropped his hand, smiling slightly and shrugging.

Spock’s eyes narrowed.

“Father,” he said clearly. “I must inform you that I find your behavior to be unusually perplexing.”

Sarek’s mouth snapped shut mid-sentence and he turned to Spock, eyes flat. “Spock, it is your behavior, not mine, which is without logic.”

“That statement is not based in fact. It is unlikely that you could interpret the logic of my actions when you have been absent from the stimuli which informed them.”

“Untrue. My experience allows me to interpret these facts more than adequately. Your behavior is illogical and potentially dangerous.”

“You speak in hyperbole.”

“No. The danger lies in complacency, which you have in abundance. Living organisms must grow and change and you have refused to do so since the day you stood before the Vulcan Science Academy.”

“You further demonstrate your failure to grasp the facts of the situation.”

“My grasp of the particulars is—”

“Stop it!” Amanda slammed her hands flat against the table and stood swiftly. Her scarf toppled from her head and she snatched at it, tears forming in her eyes as she struggled to right it. “Stop it both of you! I won’t have you fighting in my house!”

McCoy looked back and forth between the Vulcans, and then to Amanda. Their eyes met and she huffed in pain, turning on her heel and marching from the room. But it was too late, and he had seen her crying. He stared after her absolutely astonished.

That was a fight?

Sarek rose smoothly, glaring down at his son. “You have provoked your mother into crying,” he said.

“You know where the fault lies.”

They stared at each other a long, tense moment before Sarek shook his head and slowly walked out of the room after Amanda.

When he was gone, McCoy deflated. He took Spock’s arm and this time he didn’t let him pull away. “Spock, what is going on?”

Spock looked back at him, and now that Sarek was gone McCoy could see the pain in his eyes. It had hurt him to fight with his father, and to see his mother cry. A hurt that he couldn’t express. “It is an old argument,” he said softly after a moment. “I apologize for making you the focal point of a fight which is not yours.”

“Spock.” McCoy tightened his grip. He could feel Spock’s wrist beneath his fingers, delicate and bony. He wasn’t sure what to say. “Can I...help?”

Spock lay his hand over McCoy’s and held him there a moment. “I believe I should take you home.”

They left without saying goodbye.

*

“My father does not usually spend time at home while I am there,” Spock explained later as they walked from the market to McCoy’s quarters. “I believe he does not wish to antagonize me, nor I him.”

“But he was there tonight?”

“Perhaps he did not know I was visiting. Certainly he did not know I was bringing a guest.”

McCoy grunted. His arm brushed against Spock’s. “I’m sorry if I made things worse.”

Spock stopped walking and McCoy had to backtrack to him, frowning. “Leonard, please do not apologize for your existence.”

“I-I’m sorry,” he said again, uncertain.

“You were not at fault. It is merely…” Spock sighed. “I am a disappointment to him. I refused entry into the Vulcan Science Academy for illogical reasons and have not continued to pursue higher education. He views this as an insult upon his house. I am a failure as a son.”

“Spock.” McCoy reached out and held Spock’s arm, one thumb tangled in the strap of the lyre case. “Don’t say that about yourself.”

“It is a fact, and it is illogical to deny the facts.”

“God dammit, stop talking about logic for one second!” he hissed. “Do you enjoy what you do?”

Spock studied him closely. “Yes, I believe I do.”

“Then who is he to demand you behave in a certain way? I-I’ve seen how you are when you play, Spock. You...It’s beautiful. Do you believe me?”

“...Yes.”

McCoy found they were standing quite close. He looked up at Spock and Spock looked down to him, only a scant few centimeters between them. “So,” he said unsteadily. “You should keep playing. Playing your lyre. If, if it makes you happy.”

“It does.” Spock’s warm breath ghosted over McCoy’s skin, and he shivered.

“Good.” He dropped his arms and took a step back. “Are you, uh, are you going home tonight?”

“It is my duty, and I have no other place to go.”

“But he’ll be there?”

“That is likely.”

McCoy smiled crookedly at Spock. “You can stay with me if you want. I don’t think M’Benga will mind. We don’t have a couch or anything, since those are apparently illogical, but we’ve got cushions and extra blankets.”

Spock’s eyes softened. “Thank you, Leonard.”

They dragged the cushions from the living room into McCoy’s bedroom so M’Benga wouldn’t have to trip over Spock when he got home. They spread them across the floor and McCoy rustled up a blanket. Spock’s lyre found a place against the wall next to McCoy’s fiddle. Spock brushed against the black case, curious, but he didn’t comment.

It was late, and he was tired. They dithered there a moment, both uncertain without their customary good-night hug to signal the end of their evening. Finally, he simply lay down. When they curled up somehow Spock ended up closer to him than he had anticipated. Close enough that he wouldn’t have to reach very far to touch. McCoy thought about that, staring at the blurry line of Spock’s shoulder in the darkness. He was in that liminal state between sleep and wakefulness when he saw Spock’s eyes glittering in the dark, felt Spock’s fingers on his waist. He slid towards Spock and Spock slid towards him, their legs interlacing like playing cards, and they wound up tangled together amidst their sea of cushions, blankets wrapped around their legs, hands resting on each other’s bodies.

Spock’s lips were against his ear, and he whispered something in Vulcan.

McCoy could feel Spock’s heart beating in his side. He placed his palm there, content, and fell into an undreaming sleep, thinking that later he could ask M’Benga what was the meaning of ashayam.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Spock was already gone, and the space beside McCoy was cool to the touch.

He was cold all the places where Spock wasn’t. With a sight, he roused himself and blearily stepped into the living room. M’Benga was there with a datapadd that he didn’t seem to be reading.

“So,” he said immediately. “You had company last night.”

McCoy glared at him sleepily. “What time is it?”

“Oh-six-hundred. Spock left about an hour ago.”

McCoy ignored M’Benga’s curious gaze and pushed past him to the bathroom. He ran the sonic sink and glared at himself in the metal mirror. His wavy face stared back, round and lost. He was really just a bag of bones, he thought. All dark spots and blotchy pink skin. Already aged beyond his years from stress and work. He told himself he was in no way beautiful, and so really, it made sense. Spock was gorgeous and intelligent and artistic and creative and he just...existed. He just took up space.

Cleaned and pressed, he went back to the living room to find his shoes.

M’Benga frowned up at him from the floor. “Is everything alright?”

“Just peachy,” McCoy said, emotionless as a Vulcan. “You were right, you know.”

“About what?”

“About being careful around Spock.” He shouldered his work bag and started for the door, muttering to himself, “Being with him is more dangerous than I thought.”

Three days later, he called the only man he trusted enough to fix this.

“Jim.”

“Bones!”

Jim was all smiles, imminently happy just to see McCoy’s face. McCoy gave a weak smile back, struck by all of Jim’s happiness radiating through the screen. How could it be so easy for him to feel?

He cleared his throat. “Jim, I…” He trailed off, uncertain.

Jim switched instantly into worry. His excitement dissipated like a puff of smoke and he leaned in, adjusting the camera. “Bones? Is everything alright?”

“...There’s something I haven’t told you.”

“What is it? Are you sick?”

“No, I’m not sick. Jim I’ve...met someone here.” He scrubbed at his face helplessly. “And now I don’t know what to do.”

He told Jim the whole story. Everything from lying in the sand that first day at the market all the way to breathing the same air as Spock in his darkened room only to wake up cold and lonely, no Spock in sight. He told Jim how it felt to laugh with Spock, and how it felt to tease him. He explained how Spock was a cool splash of water against the blistering sun, a fine meal after a day of starvation in the desert, and he realized that maybe what he felt for Spock was more than just friendship. More, even, than just crush.

Jim listened closely, eyes narrowing as he talked, and by the time he was done Jim had leaned forward to rest his forehead on his palm, and he sighed. “Did you say Ambassador Sarek?”

“Yes?”

“Bones, do you know who that is? Do you even know who Spock is?”

“He’s...he’s just Spock!” At Jim’s second sigh, McCoy bristled with annoyance. “What? What!? Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

“I’m sorry, Bones, it’s just that somehow you’ve managed to fall for the most famous Vulcan in existence, and you don’t even know it! I can’t believe you’ve never heard of him. Spock is the only half-human, half-Vulcan known to exist. We read about him in History of Earth-Vulcan Relations. The professor waxed poetic for hours about how he was the only Vulcan to ever turn down a position at the Vulcan Science Academy. Starfleet has been trying headhunt him for four years, and they haven’t even been able to get close to him! You really didn’t know any of that?”

Suddenly, all of M’Benga’s reactions to Spock made a hell of a lot more sense. No wonder he had recognized Spock when they met—it wasn’t because he was a famous musician. He was just famous, period. “Well, I didn’t take that class.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t hear about him in one of your xenomedicine classes.”

McCoy frowned. “Does that mean that Ambassador Sarek—”

“He’s the Ambassador to Earth, Bones. He absolutely knows human custom, so if he was acting like that during dinner he was doing it on purpose.”

He buried his head in his hands. “But why did he leave?”

“I don’t know,” Jim said gently. “Maybe he got scared.”

“He’s a Vulcan!”

“Is he?”

The brought McCoy up short. Of course Spock was Vulcan--the ears gave him away if nothing else. But he was also human. That much was clear from the warmth in his eyes. But there were times, like when Spock held him in his arms and soothed the worry from his skin, when he wasn’t quite sure Spock was Vulcan or human. He was just...Spock. Alien, familiar, and perfect. There weren’t words to describe him nor categories to fit him. Like a musical adaptation: not quite the original, not quite something new, but unique.

“Bones, do you really...do you really think he’s emotionless?”

“No.” He slumped. “Of course not. But Jim, you’re the expert on this kind of thing. I have no idea what to do.”

Jim grimaced. McCoy watched him lean back in the chair to stare at the ceiling. “I can’t give you any advice on this. It sounds like you’ve got a real thing going on, and I’m certainly no expert on that.”

“I’m not in the mood for your faux-modestly.”

He shifted, looking uncomfortable. “I don’t know. Just talk to him!”

“But what do I say?”

“Maybe everything you just told me? It’s...powerful stuff, Bones.”

McCoy shook his head. The idea of bearing his soul to Spock was, frankly, terrifying. It was different spilling his heart out to Jim. They were best friends, tried-and-true, and both of them were too bull-headed to ever let anything come between them. He suspected that his friendship with Spock was getting there, but could it survive such an open confession?

He didn’t think so.

“I need to get to work.”

“Bones—”

“I’ll comm you later, Jim. Bye.”

He turned off the screen before Jim could respond, and then he sat in the stifling heat of his room and thought about nothing for a long, long time. He didn’t like this feeling--or rather, this lack of feeling. It was as if all the work he’d been doing with Spock--every touch and hug and caress--had been stripped from him. He was starving again. A wish struck him, painful and sharp, the intense desire to have Spock there with him right then. Spock would know what to do, he was sure. Spock would have advice for him.

Of course, he couldn’t very well ask Spock for advice about himself. But sitting there feeling distant and lonely, he decided it didn’t matter. Spock had already left him, so how could it get any worse?

Finally, with his hand moving on autopilot, he dialed Amanda Grayson.

Her face was drawn and tired, a smudge of orange sand across her cheek. Her scarf today was dull and grey. “Leonard,” she said, her narrow frame relaxing at the sight of him. “How are you?”

“I’m doing just fine,” he lied politely. “I’m sorry to be rude, but is Spock home?”

She pursed her lips. “He isn’t with you?”

“He...No, he isn’t with me. Sorry, I can call back another time.”

“But you’re looking for him—” She stopped, eyes widening. “Leonard, he-he hasn’t been home in three days.”

His blood ran cold. “Three days? He stayed with me that night after dinner, but I thought he went straight home the next morning.”

Her hand clenched. “We-- I just assumed he would stay with you.” She held very still, her control almost Vulcan-like. “You don’t know where he is?”

He tried to calm his own rising panic. “No.”

“I--I need to contact the authorities.” Her hand was shaking, McCoy could see it, and then she pulled it into her lap and out of sight. “I just thought--I can’t believe I assumed—”

“Amanda,” he said quickly. “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s likely just in the mountain.”

“Yes.” She stared straight ahead. “He used to go to Seleya as a child, but he hasn’t run off in so long...Leonard, I need to go.”

“Yes, of course. You need to call—”

“Yes.” She hesitated, a moment of indecision as she reached out towards the screen. “...Thank you.”

Her image flickered from the screen and McCoy realized his entire body had gone numb. He noticed, distantly, that sweat had pooled at the base of his spine and across his forehead. His body was hot, but he felt so very far away from it. He examined the problem logically, detached. Hot, because it was summer on Vulcan, and summer brought heat. Heat enough to kill a human, if the human wasn’t careful.

He was hot, and Vulcan was hot enough to kill a human, and Spock was half-human and lost in the mountains.

And he had to go to work.

He worked himself ragged--it was a distraction, he knew, but he did it anyway. Eventually, though, he simply ran out of patients to treat. Normally that was every doctor’s dream, but today he couldn’t focus long enough to appreciate the moment.

He stood in the lounge and stared into his coffee. He was exhausted as hell, and sweaty and hungry to boot, but he had no appetite. In the background, Seref was talking to a young Vulcan orderly, their voices an uncomfortable white noise.

M’Benga slumped in and fixed his own cup of coffee. They stood side-by-side as it brewed.

“Busy day?” M’Benga asked quietly.

McCoy grunted. “Same as any other,” he lied. M’Benga stayed quiet, like he was waiting for something, and so McCoy let out a sigh. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

He kept his voice low. “What does ‘ashayam’ mean?”

Silence fell. McCoy could feel Seref staring at him and he flushed, skin prickling, and absolutely refused to let his gaze waver from M’Benga’s face. M’Benga just looked understanding. Kind.

“It means ‘beloved.’”

He nodded and set his coffee down, still full. He left without looking back.

Chapter Text

Beloved. Ashayam. Beloved.

The word and its meaning bounced around in McCoy’s head, echoing loudly as he rented a shuttlecar. Ashayam. It stayed with him as he placed his hands at the controls and breathed deeply to steady himself. He tried to remember how Spock had said it. Had he been happy? Pleased? Tired? Had he said it quietly or loudly? Softly or with excitement? Had it been hopeful, or resigned? Had Spock merely felt the word in his mouth, testing it, but found it lacking? Had he said it simply so he would never have to say it again?

He found he could not remember.

He left the city and headed into the mountains. They rose to greet him, beautiful and hot. The humidity had finally set in, giving the mountains an oddly alien quality when he looked at them. They shimmered and waved with the heat and it reminded him of days spent sweating under the peach tree in his backyard, chasing the shade of the branches. But this heat was far greater than that had ever been. Even in his temperature-controlled shuttlecar he felt it beating against his skin.

He had been here before with Spock, but now he found that he recognized almost nothing. Last time he had been focused on not looking out the window, and so he had missed Spock’s subtle turns. Had he gone left here, or right? Had he flown over the ridge, or around it? Had he traveled up the mountain, or leveled off? McCoy struggled to find their oasis, and twice he thought he saw other rivers that made his heart race. But they were merely outcroppings of plants, likely fed from underground. There was no water there.

Their oasis was nowhere to be found.

He was beginning to think he had imagined the whole thing. Was it possible his time with Spock was nothing more than a mirage? No. It couldn’t be. He searched methodically as the sun spun lower and lower in the sky, twisting towards the ground and setting tension in his belly. Spock had been here three days already. Somehow he knew that very precisely. He could sense it in his throat, a low and logical acceptance of concern, the dry scratch of not enough water to drink. Spock was thirsty. He convinced himself that Spock had crashed, and that he was lost here without even a knife for protection.

Night was falling and his eyes grew spotty from exhaustion and sweat. He wiped at his brow and blinked past the salt, and then he saw the ridge appear before him. Hovering there, he was certain that it was the ridge where they had made camp.

McCoy landed in the night-heat and stepped out onto the rock. The humidity was thick around him, and he felt as though he were swimming very slowly through warm water. Everything was hazy and disjointed. He looked around their old campsite and saw that no one was there, nor was there any sign that anyone had been here for a long, long time.

He felt as thought he was the first to set foot here in a millenia. But of course that couldn’t be true. He and Spock had been here, hadn’t they? He had laid flat with Spock beneath that very rock outcropping, soaking up the shade, the taste of peaches on his tongue. He had napped there as Spock watched over him. Protected him from heat and sun and death.

It was only an impression he had, that this land was untouched. That perhaps he should not be here.

He shook himself to dispel the feeling and smacked his lips. He wished he had brought water, but he hadn’t thought that far ahead. He’d been so drawn to Spock that reason had deserted him. He turned back to the shuttle and saw that he had set out his fiddle. He could not remember doing that, but of course he must have. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.

This would make Spock hear him. He was certain of it.

The stars were his only light as he tuned his fiddle. Although his body felt sluggish and slow from dehydration, his hands were steady. They had always been the steadiest part of him. Even when his spirit wavered his hands remained unshakable and true. He pulled three trickling, somber notes from the strings and then set to work, his bow flying across the body of his instrument as he cried into the mountain, begging for Spock to return.

He played a dance he knew, quick and lively normally, but here it felt slower. Perhaps because he was moving more slowly. He drew out the notes until playing each one was like rending himself apart. His arms ached. His legs could no longer support him. He sat against a rock and played, and at some point he realized he was playing Walking Boy.

The music was strange to him. He didn’t know the notes. If he had tried to think about them, about the story, he would not have been able to play it. But he did not think. He realized it, accepted it, and did not question it. His fiddle was an extension of his arm; it was of him, and he was of it, and he played until the sun walked up the side of the mountain, large and furry with great long fangs and small brown eyes, like a bear but glowing.

And then he stopped.

The glowing bear (but not a bear) gazed at him and tipped its head. It wasn’t the sun, he realized, although he had to squint past the halo of its face. The sun was still set and it was still a dark, moonless night, and this was an animal come to kill him.

“You can’t,” he said to it, his voice loud and ringing off the rocks. “Not until I find him and make sure he’s safe.”

The beast tipped its head further, curious, and its great plodding feet carried it forward. He could see the muscles of its body rippling beneath shaggy skin, sinew and bone coming together with each powerful stride. Its mouth opened slowly, two long sharp teeth bright and silver like the moon--but there was no moon on Vulcan. Perhaps it had eaten the moon, coated its teeth with mercury and swallowed it up.

That thought seemed reasonable as he placed his hand on one great tooth, palm and fingers covering the cool ivory. His fiddle was gone--no. No, it was in his other hand, held like a shield, and he realized he was not holding a tooth, but Spock’s knife. It weighted in his hand like a sword.

The beast’s breath was hot and stale, and he thought that it would surely eat him just as it had eaten the moon. But he was not afraid of this death. With his fiddle at his side and Spock’s knife in his hand, he knew he would not die here, but he could see it. See his own death in the shape of paper-thin lids and dusty eyelashes closing over dull grey eyes, and he thought he saw a strong and aged hand on his own brow, a tear on his cheek that was not his. Was not human. That was his death.

“Don’t you remember?”

The beast spoke! He jolted away and fell to the ground with a thump, staring up at it.

“I’Chaya, this is not the place for you.”

“Spock!” It wasn’t the beast at all. In a blink it was gone, cutting the light and leaving spots dancing in McCoy’s eyes. He was up in a flash and he ran to Spock, throwing his arms around Spock’s neck in a desperate hug. He was crying, he realized.

Spock held him tight, arms solid and supportive, face turned against his neck. Spock held him as he cried against his shirt. “Ashayam, you are tired.”

“Yes,” he said, weak as a kitten. He couldn’t hold himself up, but Spock did not let him fall. “I’m sorry. I-I came to find you.”

“A noble effort.” Spock brushed a hand through his hair and down his neck, cupping the back of his head, encouraging. McCoy lifted his face and met Spock’s brown eyes. They glinted in the starlight. A beast’s eyes. “How did you find this place?”

“It’s where we were.”

Spock hesitated. “Indeed? I believe if you look more closely you will see that it is not.”

He couldn’t bear to look away from Spock, but still he felt like he was seeing for the first time. The ground beneath him seemed to shift and he was no longer standing on a rock face, but on a hill of sand which flowed beneath him. He felt the ache in his legs from having climbed the sand, and he could remember sliding back down twice before.

“I’ve never been here before.”

“But you are here now. With me. Leonard, you are thirsty.”

Yes, he could feel that. He touched his parched lips and he realized that Spock was touching him there, too. He held Spock’s hand in his and turned his face, kissing Spock’s soft palm.

“Leonard.”

There was no water here. That was the problem. Spock would have to serve as his oasis instead, and he Spock’s. He kissed Spock’s fingers and felt Spock’s hand curl around his jaw, turning him to look out over the horizon.

“Leonard, do you see the vegetation?”

He had to search for it, eyes sluggishly trailing over the landscape, hazy with dehydration. “No,” he said. “I’m tired.”

“Look again. I cannot help you find it.”

He looked, so exhausted that he just wanted to lay down and sleep the sleep of the dead. The sand was warm. But he didn’t want to disappoint Spock, and so he scoured the horizon until the landscape seemed to shift, and he saw it.

“You must go to it,” Spock whispered to him, barely louder than the wind. “It is very important that you find water. Do you understand?”

He nodded, head swimming and murky. He took Spock’s hand and began to pull him towards the shuttlecar, but of course it was not there. “I’ve lost my fiddle.”

“It is no matter. Memories may be found again. Leonard, please go to the water.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” he exclaimed, angry although he didn’t know why. He was terrified of leaving Spock. “Please, you need to come with me. I can’t do it alone.”

“I cannot accompany you.”

“You’ll die!”

“No.” Spock’s hand closed over his fist, long fingers curling to hold his steady hand. He wished his hand would shake, just once. “I will live, if only you can get to the water.”

“Spock…”

“Please, Leonard. I will join you there.”

He took a step away. And then another. His hand slipped from Spock’s grasp and he cried out in agony. He felt like he was leaving a part of himself baking here on the sand.

“You’ll join me?”

Spock stood and watched him for a moment, for an eternity. “I shall. Please, Leonard. Go. Do not look back.”

He could sense that Spock was serious, and so he obeyed. He turned and his arms were jelly, and his legs made him tumble down the sand. He slid and slid forever and the sand was inside him, rough and grating and soft, also. And familiar. It was a fine particulate sand that clung to him until his feet hit the rock face again, and the concussive force of each step knocked the sand from his body. It flew up, back into the sky, which was of course where it had come from.

The oasis was so, so far away. He faltered again and again, or perhaps he was only one long and drawn out falter, never actually feeling strong enough to get there. He fell and knew he wouldn’t rise again.

He felt the hot breath of a beast on his neck, and then a body at his side, under his arm to lift him. The light supported him and his steps came more easily. He breathed in time with the beast and together they walked into the valley where the red sand was alive.

A red tree curled above him and he fell at its roots. There was no water. He took Spock’s knife in his hand. It was warm. The pearl glowed, tinged mercury silver. The tooth of the beast. He took the beast’s tooth and drove it into the ground, digging with the flat of the blade deep into the planet, into the heart of Vulcan, making her bleed clear.

He pressed his lips to the ground, and drank.

Spock came to him as he lay dying. Of this he was certain.

Chapter Text

Beep. Beep. Beep.

It smelled of antiseptic. Clean laundry. Sickness.

The steady, mechanical sounds of machinery half-convinced him he was dreaming. He often had dreams of the hospital, and other dreams where the sounds and smells of it were an ever-present backdrop. In tonight’s dream he was in a bed, which was strange, because he was certain he had fallen asleep against a rock, his mouth pressed to the ground, Spock’s hand on his. In fact, he could still feel Spock touching him.

But no, that couldn’t be true. He fought wakefulness and then, exhausted, he opened his eyes.

Spock was there.

Spock’s hand rested atop his, limp with sleep. His nail beds were cracked and dry and McCoy noticed that because he was quite certain he had never seen them like that before. They were usually well-manicured. Imminently clean. But now they were damaged, skin torn and tinged green. McCoy could see the lyre-playing callouses on the pads of his fingers. Weakly, he tried to hold Spock back, but his hands refused to cooperate. He settled for watching Spock sleep.

He was quite beautiful like this. Nearly ethereal. His head was pillowed on McCoy’s leg and his hair was askew. McCoy was reminded of their time at the oasis, when Spock had come back with his hair drying in all directions. He could see Spock’s little cowlick in the back and he longed to smooth it with his fingers.

It took him a long, long time, but eventually he realized he was in the hospital.

Now that he was aware of it he made a quick survey of the room, assessing his condition. There were temperature control gelpacks all along his body, and he was totally nude under the thin blanket. He felt sluggish and tired, but not loopy. His mouth was putting out an absurd amount of saliva, likely from the medication they had given him, and he swallowed thickly. He was even hooked up to a vitamin drip, which was highly unusual. Dehydration, then, and heatstroke, and perhaps even a little starvation on top for good measure. He must have a severe case.

He felt better just knowing that. He could finally move his hand and he rotated it so he could grip Spock back tightly. At his motion, Spock stirred and blinked open his gorgeous eyes.

Spock looked so calm there, with his head still resting and his face gentle and caring, and the look of him relaxed McCoy utterly. His fear of being open seemed distant. A forgotten memory. McCoy managed to lift his other hand and he touched Spock’s silky hair, straightening his bangs.

“Good morning, starshine,” he whispered.

Spock looked just as weak and exhausted as he felt. He sighed and sat up, leaking fondness from every pore even as he attempted to glare. “Leonard, I am afraid I must protest your latest actions.”

“Oh?”

“You placed yourself in extreme danger. You should not have entered the desert without the necessary survival supplies.”

“Hmph,” he grunted. “Well, then, I get to protest your actions, too. You ran off without me.”

“As I have mentioned on several occasions, I am prepared to survive in the Vulcan desert. You are not.”

“Don’t you know that’s exactly the problem?” He couldn’t hold his head up anymore. He let himself melt into the pillow and he closed his eyes.

He could still feel Spock looking at him, his concern prominent in the non-existent space between their fingers. “...Explain.”

McCoy took a deep breath. Let it out. “You could live out there as long as you wanted. You wouldn’t ever have to come back, and I’d just...be here. Without you.”

Spock tightened his grip and McCoy felt him lift his hand. He looked to see Spock cup his hand against his stubbled cheek. “I did not wish to frighten you.”

He sighed. “Spock, I…saw you out there. Was it really you?”

“I found you at the spring, yes.”

“No, I mean before.” He shifted, uncomfortable. “I-I guess it was an hallucination.”

Spock turned introspective. “What did you see?”

“...I’m not sure. I don’t know when the hallucinations started. It all felt so strange.” He wracked his mind, trying to piece together the events. “I landed the shuttle where we had been camping, and I thought I would play the fiddle so you could hear me. Only, no. I hadn’t brought my fiddle, so I suppose it started there. I was playing and the music turned...odd...and then there was this bear.”

“A sehlat. They roam wild in the mountains, but seldom approach humanoids. You were in danger.”

“I don’t think it was real,” he said slowly. “It was glowing, and I thought it was going to eat me, sure, but only because I thought it had eaten the moon.” At that, Spock sat up very straight, tilting his head like a quizzical bird. “And then you came and called it by name and told it to leave, and it did.”

“By name?”

He did not have to search very far. Although he knew it had been an hallucination, the memory still felt solid and real. It had not lost its sharpness. “I’Chaya.”

Spock inhaled. “I see. Please, go on.”

“It left when you scolded it and we--well, I guess you weren’t really there. But I thought you were. And you got me to the oasis. I was so dehydrated time didn’t make sense anymore. Felt like I was walking for days.”

“Indeed, you may have been. You were in the desert for twelve days.”

His jaw dropped. “What!?”

“Presuming you left immediately after speaking with Dr. M’Benga in the lounge, which was your last known sighting.”

“Twelve days,” he mused. He realized he didn’t know what day it was anymore. How far behind in his studies was he? How long had Spock been looking for him? He shook his head, dispelling the thoughts. It was too much to deal with right then. “I thought it was just one long night.”

“Doctor…” Spock hesitated, and McCoy frowned at him. Spock glanced away. “I believe I know why you experienced the vision that you did.”

When he didn’t say anything else, McCoy’s frown deepened. “Well? Spit it out.”

“It is merely…” He sighed, and seemed to find the bedspread very fascinating all of a sudden. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the sheets. “We are bonded.”

“Bonded?”

“Yes.”

Spock was practically roiling with discomfort, for all that he wasn’t moving a muscle. McCoy took pity on him, squeezing his hand gently. “Spock, I’m not exactly sure what that means.”

“I means...All the time we have spent together, our close physical contact, our...affection for one another, has begun a mental and emotional commitment between us. Forgive me. I am aware that humans do not take such things lightly. I had intended to inform you, but I did not realize that the bond between us had progressed so quickly. I believed…” He trailed off, murmuring. “Perhaps I did not wish to acknowledge it. But for you to receive visions of my childhood, and for me to…” He stopped suddenly.

His pet? Was that I’Chaya? “Spock, what did you see?”

Spock seemed to be in great pain. “It was not a vision. I went to the mountain to meditate on our bond.” McCoy could feel the tension in his hand. “However, upon reaching the peak of Mount Seleya, I found that peace had deserted me. I struggled for three days to enter even the first stage of meditation, but it was an impossibility. I have not had this issue since I was a small child. I...began to play.”

“Your lyre?”

“Yes. I played because you had told me I should do what would make me happy. And it did, and for a moment I imagined you were playing alongside me. But it was only a passing fancy.”

He bit his lip. “Spock, did you play Walking Boy again?”

“Yes.”

“I was playing it, too. Or I thought I was even though I didn’t know the notes.”

Spock had no reply. He looked helpless, and the seconds ticked by as McCoy tried to reconcile the mysticism of the situation with the cool logic Spock professed to follow. They seemed too wildly disparate, too incommensurable to be believed.

Eventually, Spock broke the silence. “I believe our bond is what made you enter the mountains, despite your better judgement. The urge to find me may have been too strong for you to ignore, just as our bond led me to you.”

He smiled weakly. “Not very logical, is it? Maybe I went to look for you because I like you, and you found me by the water because it was the most logical place to go when I was dying of dehydration.”

Spock thinned his lips, and McCoy realized with a jolt that he was suppressing a smile. “Imminently logical, Doctor.”

Before he could say anything more, or pull Spock in to kiss the smile right off his lips, Dr. Seref stepped through the doorframe. His dry gaze lingered over them, silently assessing.

“Dr. McCoy, you put yourself in grave danger.”

“Oh, I—”

“You must recognize your own limits,” Seref said.

“Dr. Seref is correct.” Spock released his hand and stood, nodding down to McCoy. “I must meditate. I will return when I have completed my next task.”

“Spock—”

Seref interrupted him, saying something in Vulcan to Spock, to which Spock replied in Standard.

“I trust you shall not make an issue of it.”

Seref merely raise his eyebrow at Spock as he left the room. McCoy watched Spock go, too weak to protest, but not too weak to be annoyed. Seref turned to him and examined his chart.

“I will begin allowing visitors. Your human friend was quite disturbed by the state you were in upon your arrival. Despite my reassurances to your good health he insisted upon ‘seeing it with his owns eyes.’ A curious idiom.”

McCoy winced. M’Benga probably thought he was even more of an idiot than he usually did. “Your attention to human custom is appreciated, Dr. Seref.”

He was much better at reading Vulcans now. He saw the gentleness in Seref’s eyes as he nodded. “Rest. I will send your visitors in shortly.”

It was only after Seref left, as McCoy slipped into a light sleep, that he managed to wonder why Spock hadn’t been considered a visitor. Maybe it was because he was Vulcan. Or maybe the bond gave him special privileges.

“Bones!” Jim practically launched himself across the room and into the biobed, snatching him up in a bone-crushing hug. “You absolute idiot .”

McCoy huffed and patted him on the back. “Now you know how I always feel.”

“I’ve never done anything even half as stupid as this, and you know it.”

“You don’t call falling fifty stories off the side of a building ‘stupid?’”

“At least I had a backup plan!” Jim finally pulled back and glared at him, but his eyes were suspiciously wet at the edges. “Bones, you didn’t even bring any water!”

“I didn’t think I’d be out that long,” he muttered, avoiding Jim’s hurt look.  “And anyway, I made it back.”

“By the skin of your teeth.” Jim collapsed in the chair beside the bed and frowned. “Although, you had a little help from Mr. Tall Dark and Vulcan.” Jim’s eyebrows waggled obscenely. “I saw him bring you in, bridal style.”

“He didn’t carry me bridal style,” McCoy protested, although he had no memory of the event.

Jim waved away his words. “That was Spock, right? I mean, it had to be him.”

McCoy sighed and let his head fall back on the pillows. At this angle he had a fantastic view of the featureless red corner between the ceiling and the wall. “...Yes.”

“He is pretty cute.”

McCoy growled a warning. “Jim.”

“I’m just saying! I can see why you like him. I’d like a guy who was willing to risk life and limb to rescue me from a scorching hot desert, too.”

“He only had to rescue me because I dragged my stupid butt out there after him first,” McCoy protested, which didn’t exactly help his case. He squirmed, uncomfortable, and felt Jim moving behind him to rearrange the pillows.

“That may be true,” Jim said quietly as he helped him sit up. “But he didn’t have to go back out and look.”

“Back out?”

“I heard all about it from Geoff. Spock came down the third or fourth day you were missing and stayed just long enough to make sure there were search parties out looking for you. Then he turned right back around and went back. He said he had a pretty good idea of where you were, but I guess it still took a while to find you.”

McCoy considered that. “...You’ve been talking to M’Benga?”

Jim grinned, positively devilish. “Oh yes. Talking and talking and talking. He’s got all sorts of stories to tell about how you don’t pick up the cushions and always leave the sonic sink running. We’ve been commiserating over your terrible housekeeping skills since I got here. Do you remember that time you left the banana at the bottom of the laundry? Well, I do, and now he will always remember, too.”

“It was one time! I hadn’t slept in three days.”

“Sure, sure. You’re always studying. A likely excuse.” Jim’s eyes glittered at him, mirthful, before he sobered. “So, how bad is it?”

“How bad is what?”

“How sick are you? Dr. Seref says everything is fine, but I’ve never met a doctor other than you who was willing to tell me the truth.”

“Vulcans don’t lie, and Seref is right on this. I should be out of here tomorrow.” He squinted at Jim. “What are you doing here, anyway? It must have taken you a week just to fly to Vulcan.”

“Eight days. I had a layover in Andoria. I thought it was important seeing as my best friend was missing.” He poked McCoy lightly in the arm. “As if you wouldn’t have dropped everything and flown back if I’d gone missing.”

“Jim, you go missing once a week.”

Maybe once a month. I’ve gotten much better about that.”

“Once every two weeks, then,” he compromised, and found himself returning Jim’s huge grin. It felt good to just emote without worrying about stepping on anyone’s logical toes or insulting anyone’s culture. The only person he’d felt even remotely comfortable around was Spock. His smile died as he considered that. Spock hadn’t returned since he’d woken up, and at this rate it didn’t look like he’d be back anytime soon. “Jim, Spock and I are bonded.”

Jim blinked. “Bonded? What does that mean? Like, you’re married? Holy shit, Bones, you got married and you didn’t even invite me?”

“I’m not married!”

“Well, good.” Jim slumped in his chair and let out a relieved sigh. “You’ve sworn off marriage so many times I’ve lost count. Don’t scare me like that.”

“Thanks for your support,” he groused. “No, I...I don’t totally know what it means. I think it has something to do with their touch telepathy. Spock said he needed to meditate on it, but…” He took a deep breath, suddenly panicking as recalled the way Spock had said ‘commitment.’ “Jim, what if it is like a marriage?”

Jim studied him. “How would that make you feel?”

McCoy recoiled from the very idea. He shook his head, trying to dispel the initial revulsion that roiled up. Marriage. It was too horrifying. Marriage had never agreed with him even at the best of times. But Spock had made it sound so serious. A mental and emotional commitment. What did that mean? Commitment was almost as terrifying as full-blown marriage.

But then, being with Spock did make him happy, and wasn’t that what it was all about? A commitment didn’t have to be as serious as all that, or as potentially dangerous when it inevitably went to hell. He liked Spock, and he was pretty sure Spock liked him back. And when he thought of spending the rest of his life with Spock, he found that he didn’t hate the idea.

“...I don’t know how to feel,” he said finally.

“Then don’t worry about it for now,” Jim ordered. “Give yourself some time to figure it out. In the meantime…” He grinned and reached out to pat McCoy’s hand. “Your good friend Jimmy will be right here, asking you for all the details about your new fling.”

McCoy grunted and deflected the question. “You should be careful of that.”

“Of what?”

“Touching my hand. It’s basically the same as public masturbation on Vulcan.” He exaggerated just to see Jim’s horrified look.

It must have been divine providence that made Dr. Seref walk in at just that moment. Jim sat frozen, his hand still very much holding McCoy’s, as Seref’s eyebrows worked towards his hairline. The Vulcan looked deeply disturbed, and his ire only grew as McCoy dissolved into a fit of raucous laughter at Jim vehemently protesting that this wasn’t what it looked like.

McCoy watched his friend dig himself deeper and deeper as Seref looked more and more concerned, still giggling softly. He wiped a tear from his eye, and then another one, and then he realized that they weren’t tears of laughter. He shuddered and pressed his hands to his face, desperate to hide the reaction but totally incapable of doing so. Tears fell, torrential, and he sobbed.

He had no idea what had come over him. He felt Jim wrapping him in a hug, and then a firm hand on his shoulder. McCoy jumped at the contact, shocked that Seref would touch him. The solid touch seemed to dissipate the sudden and unexpected sorrow, and McCoy was left feeling empty and tired.

“This is to be expected,” Seref told him softly.

McCoy shook his head, unable to speak. He knew that uncontrollable crying was not a symptom of dehydration. Not in this universe or any other.

Seref hesitated, something McCoy had never seen him do before. “I suggest...that you contact Spock. He will be able to explain better than I.”

Jim rubbed small circles on his back as Seref pulled away. The empty serenity stayed behind, and McCoy suddenly realized that Seref had artificially imposed it. It had to be a telepathy thing.

“It will allow you to rest,” Seref said, turning from him.

He didn’t have the strength to argue as Seref went through his chart, checking the dosages on his medication and speaking softly to Jim. The telepathic suggestion of calmness kept him floating mentally, vaguely aware of the proceedings but uninterested in them. Eventually, he stopped trying to pay attention entirely. He closed his eyes, and let the room fade away.

Chapter Text

Jim stayed for only two days before he had to return to Earth. Although it was the end of summer on Vulcan, on Earth it was still spring and Jim was in the middle of his final exams. McCoy lectured him to hell and back and Jim put up with it begrudgingly right up until he left for Earth. Jim called back four times to check on him before he’d even reached Andoria.

Although the mothering annoyed him, McCoy couldn’t really blame Jim for worrying. His mood swings had only increased in severity and frequency, and he could hardly keep himself together while he was on duty at the hospital. Twice after Jim had left he locked himself in a supply closet and cried over nothing until he was too exhausted to feel. Once he found himself standing shocked, his fist broken through the wall. M’Benga patched up his hand and said nothing, but then he didn’t really need to. His frown spoke volumes. At home alone things were even worse, and eventually McCoy realized it was because there were no Vulcans around. Somehow he was getting support from their mere presence, although he hadn’t realized it before.

He needed to talk to Spock. He knew that. But Spock avoided him expertly and each time he called Amanda she could only give him a sad look and tell him that Spock was busy meditating.

Well, that was fine. Fourth day came soon enough and he knew where Spock would be.

He stood before the metal mirror in the bathroom and blotted at the redness around his eyes, thinking. He wondered if Spock would still know that he had been crying; if that was the sort of thing that transferred through their bond along with musical notes and hallucinations of bears.

The market was packed with stuffy Vulcans valiantly ignoring the heat in their floor-length robes. Walking among them he felt...not exactly calm, but at least not heartbroken. He didn’t really feel much of anything. He considered this absently as he picked his way down into the basin and sat in the sand, fingers curling into the rough, familiar granules just to feel something. He waited for Spock.

He would be waiting a long time.

Precisely on the hour an elderly Vulcan woman appeared and stood in the center of the basin. She raised a flute to her lips and played something McCoy didn’t recognize, but which annoyed him without reason. Her playing was methodical. Precise. And Utterly devoid of feeling.

“Spock,” he said aloud, quietly, uncertain what to do. He felt lost. He had so expected Spock to appear that he had no other plan. Watching her play felt worse than if no one had come at all, but he couldn’t move. Dazed, he wondered if Spock had quit. Did Spock’s avoidance of him go that far?

It seemed likely.

He sat very still as the sun wound down in the sky, thinking Spock’s name in time to her playing. She played no Earth music. His right hand shifted through the sand, digging through the heat and into the coolness just beneath the surface. It got under his nails and abraded his fingers, leaving his skin red and raw and hurting. He thought, quite clearly, that he was going to cry again for no particular reason. Just for something to do. Then, just as suddenly as the feeling had come over him it washed away and his heart soared with irrational joy instead. He tipped his head to the sky and smothered a laugh, and this time his tears were of happiness.

He felt a weight on his shoulder.

“Spock.”

“Doctor.” Spock sat beside him, long gangly legs folding beneath his body, his hand trailing down McCoy’s arm. His fingers settled on McCoy’s wrist and gently, kindly, he extricated McCoy’s hand from the sand. Spock carefully began to brush him clean.

“I wasn’t sure,” McCoy began, and then stopped. He watched Spock wipe away the sharp sand for a while, thinking of their similar position weeks ago.

“Nor was I,” Spock returned softly. He stopped and merely held McCoy’s hand, looking at it blankly. “I believe I have made a mistake.”

His heart clenched. “With me?”

“Yes.”

McCoy looked away, swallowing thickly. He hated this. Hated the constant swing of his emotions--the infernal highs and the blank dark emptiness that was his only recourse. Spock felt he was a mistake. He bit his tongue.

Spock’s grip tightened. “You misunderstand,” he whispered. McCoy had never heard him speak so softly. As if the moment were fragile and Spock feared breaking it with the force of his words. The gentle music and the sound of people milling around them nearly covered his voice entirely.

McCoy turned to him and saw Spock staring at the ground, his lip caught between his teeth.

“Do you know the story of Aikum Spa’rayek?”

McCoy attempted to parse the words, but he was thrown by the non sequitur. “Something about eating?”

“Curious,” Spock said, still not looking at him. “But yes. It is the story of a brother and sister--the first siblings on Vulcan. The brother, Spa’rayek, named for his unstoppable appetite and the sister, Yel, named for her brilliant intelligence and beauty. They were born when Aikum--the moon--was waxing. A mere sliver in the sky.”

“The moon? There is no moon on Vulcan.”

“True. But there was. And under the brightening moon Spa’rayek began to eat. He first ate his mother and then his father, and then he began to eat all other life. He ate every green plant but his eyesight was poor, and so he overlooked the red plants. He at all large animals save for those quick enough to escape or clever enough to burrow beneath the sand. He ate and ate but could not be satisfied, and so he turned his hunger on his sister. But Yel was clever and quick-witted, and could avoid him easily, as she did for a time. Until all green life and all large animal life on Vulcan had been eaten. All that remained were the small things, which could not satiate Spa’rayek’s appetite. But the moon had become full in the sky, large and enticing as it began to fill out, juicy as a kaasa. When it was full he ate it in two bites, one for each of his fangs, staining them silver.”

McCoy gaped at him. “Are you saying…?”

Spock inclined his head. “Yes. Your vision of sehlat you had never met, of a story you had never heard, these both came from me. I believe it was my mind that confused the story of Spa’rayek with my childhood pet, I’Chaya.”

“How is that possible? The music, that’s one thing. I had at least heard the song before.”

Spock turned then, just a fraction, and for a moment their eyes met. His gaze was so soft and warm. If he had been human--more human?--he might have smiled. “It is only because on that night I was thinking of the moon,” he said. “And wishing it still hung in the sky so that I might share it with you.”

Distantly, McCoy realized that Spock had been holding his hand throughout all of this. Embarrassed, he pulled away and folded his hands into his lap. “...What happened to Yel?”

Spock watched the flute player. “With the moon gone the sky was plunged into darkness. Yel was intelligent. She knew that without light the remaining life on Vulcan would also perish as a result of her brother’s shortsightedness. She did what was logical and sacrificed herself for the needs of the many. Each strand of her brilliant hair became a star in the sky, and her face became the sun.”

McCoy thought of that one long night in the desert. Of being carried by the light. How strange these Vulcans were to associate that which brought death and burning heat with the soft, kindly face of Vulcan’s savior. “It’s a bit of a fantastical story, isn’t it?” he mused. “Not very logical to imagine a sehlat eating your moon.”

“Indeed, it is not. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that Aikum merged with Vulcan seven billion years ago when it crashed into the still-molten planet. And, of course, the stars have existed far longer than that. But do you see why I have shared this story with you?”

“No,” he admitted. “Not exactly.”

“It is not troublesome that you hallucinated because of your dehydration. That is to be expected. But the details, the specifics...Those are from my own culture, and my own personal history. They demonstrate that our bond is much deeper than I could have anticipated. At first I thought that perhaps Mount Seleya itself contributed to your vision, as unexplainable phenomena often occur there. However, in the end I was forced to conclude that the fault lay entirely with me.”

“Spock, you’re not at fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“In fact, I did. I allowed a bond to grow between us despite the fact that you are a human and could not have understood what was happening.” His mouth twisted, eyes blazing with some unspoken emotion--anger, perhaps. Or fear. “When I think of what I have done I am ashamed. I was selfish and foolish. I betrayed your trust.”

He reached out without thinking and tried to take Spock’s hand, but Spock shied away from him. He took Spock by the sleeve instead, shaking him. “You haven’t betrayed me. Spock, you aren’t selfish!”

“I am.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. He felt helpless. He suddenly realized that this was how Spock felt every time he refused to acknowledge his own accomplishments. Spock held his gaze as the flute music ceased. Quiet descended upon them, and Spock let out a small sigh.

“Doctor, will you walk with me?”

“Yes.” He would follow Spock to the ends of the earth--to the ends of the universe. “Of course.”

Spock stood swiftly and folded his arms behind his back. McCoy followed him up and then out of the throngs of people. The crowd thinned and slowly Spock seemed to relax. He led McCoy up the side of the mountain to gaze at the setting sun and the hazy stars slowly emerging as pinpricks in the dimming light. McCoy thought of Yel, who filled the sky in day and in night. They stood together looking out over the horizon as the last streaks of the setting sun faded into black.

“I attempted to break our bond,” Spock said suddenly.

McCoy frowned. “Don’t you think that’s something you ought to have talked to me about first?”

“Yes,” Spock agreed, looking chagrined. “However, I wrongly believed that I could resolve the problem alone.”

“Is that what I am, Spock? A problem?”

Spock spun to face him, distraught. “No,” he said forcefully. “Never. Leonard, I...I have felt your anguish. I am truly sorry.”

McCoy took a deep breath, annoyed and trying to control it. All of the anxiety that had sprung up around the idea of a bond, of being in a relationship with someone again suddenly paled in the face of his ire. “If you felt it then why the hell did you keep trying to break the bond?”

“I believe it was what you would want. A bond formed without consent—”

“Stop speculating about me for one damned second!” he hissed. “And just ask!”

Spock blinked in surprise, his brown eyes suddenly intent. He studied McCoy closely, hot and probing in equal measures as he skirted his gaze over McCoy’s tense body before finally locking eyes with him. He took a small breath. “Leonard,” he said, hardly a whisper. “What do you want?”

“You,” he said honestly, instantly, and before he said it he wouldn’t have known it was true. But it was. The truth of that simple admission shattered the last of his resolve to be distant, and he found himself laughing. “Just you, Spock. You’re all I could ever need.”

Spock looked stunned. He made an aborted gesture with one hand before dropping it again. “...Truly?”

“Yes.” He laughed again giddy. “And maybe a little bit more open communication between use. It’d be nice if you warned me ahead of time when things like this are happening. You don’t have to handle everything alone, Spock.”

“Curious that you should be the one telling me that.” But Spock looked amused, almost ecstatic for all that his face was still its usual calm mask. “I accept your conditions. Have you any other requests to make of me?”

“No, I don’t suppose I do.” They’d moved closer, somehow, and McCoy felt that the world had narrowed down. There were stars in Spock’s eyes.

“I have a request, if I may.”

“Of course.”

Spock suddenly reached out, catching the end of McCoy’s sleeve between his fingers. “When I express my amazement at all you have achieved, please accept the compliments in the spirit in which they are intended. Please do not attempt to demur my admiration.”

“Spock—”

“I adore you.”

He gasped and then shut his mouth with a click. His incredulity seemed too big to contain. “...I’m trying not to argue that you shouldn’t,” he admitted after a moment.

Spock merely arched his brow. “I adore you,” he said again, and both of his hands were on McCoy’s arms now. “I adore you, Leonard McCoy.”

He felt a rush of elation and he had to quash a giggle. He glanced away, clearing his throat and trying to piece together the events of the last few minutes into some sort of logical order, but he was floating too high to focus. “Spock, did we just agree to date?”

“I believe we have been ‘dating’ for many months, and have only now made it…”

“Official?” He was smiling. He knew he was. Not just smiling but grinning, too huge for Vulcan but never too much for Spock. He could see his utter joy reflected in Spock’s deep brown eyes. Spock was happy. He was making Spock happy. He tried to speak but the words were too big.

Spock slid towards him, the scant distance between them halving rapidly. One hand found its resting spot on McCoy’s waist and the other trailed down his sleeve to entangle with McCoy’s fingers. “I should make you aware,” Spock said quietly. “That the act of hand-holding is extremely risque on Vulcan.” His eyebrow danced a little higher, teasing.

McCoy laughed and held Spock back tightly. “I’m okay with being a little risque.” He touched Spock’s chunky knit sweater and felt the shape of his body just beneath.

“As am I.”

There was a smile there, McCoy was sure of it. Just at the corner of Spock’s mouth. He was certain it was more than just the shadow of starlight. It enticed him, and he ran his thumb over the back of Spock’s hand, feeling him shiver.

“Leonard?” Spock murmured. “Would you…?

“Yeah,” he breathed against Spock’s soft lips. “I would.”

Spock was relaxed and open against him. They kissed, closed-mouthed and chaste and perfect, for what could have been minutes or hours or days, cool and gentle. His heart soared like the blue lara bird as Spock held him until he’d quite forgotten how to breathe.

Slowly, Spock pulled away as if it were a struggle. His eyes were half-lidded. “Curious,” he said, and for a moment he was equal parts scientist and lover.

McCoy chuckled. “What is?”

“The human method of kissing. It is quite...gratifying. I had not expected that.”

“How do Vulcans kiss?” he asked, although he had his suspicions.

“Allow me to demonstrate.” Spock lifted McCoy’s hand and adjusted his fingers, middle and pinky finger to his palm along with his thumb. Spock’s touch lingered as he straightened McCoy’s two forefingers perhaps unintentionally. “Like so.”

Spock mirrored the position of McCoy’s hand and gently touched the hard callouses at his fingertips to his skin. He stroked his hand down, tickling the fine hairs on the back of McCoy’s hand and resting here and there on his knuckles. It was unexpectedly arousing, doubly so when McCoy returned the favor and watched Spock’s eyes flutter shut, his mouth opening in pleasure.

McCoy bit his lip at the sight, thrumming with need as Spock began to pant. “...It’s an erogenous zone?” he asked.

“Yes.” Spock managed to open his eyes only to have them fall shut again when McCoy began to touch the back of his elegant hand. “Vulcan hands are quite...sensitive.”

“That explains a lot.” Really, it explained everything. He thought back to Spock shaking his hand the first day they had met, and he chuckled. Spock really was radical, for a Vulcan.

The breeze picked up around them, cold and sharp. It left McCoy unsure if Spock’s next shudder was one of pleasure or cold.

“Getting chilly?”

Spock raised an eyebrow--an oddly endearing sight with his eyes still closed. “Leonard, I believe you are teasing me.”

“Of course I am. I like to see you blush.”

Then Spock opened his eyes, frowning in confusion. “I do not blush.”

“Uh-huh,” McCoy said. “Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Doesn’t stop a fella from trying.”

McCoy suddenly got the distinct impression that Spock was feeling vulnerable, although he wasn’t quite sure where the feeling was coming from. He just knew. He frowned and shook off the disconcerting notion as Spock dropped his hand.

“Nevertheless, the temperature is not optimal for this activity.”

“Shall we head inside?” he suggested, still trying to find his balance. He bounced up on his toes and planted another soft kiss on Spock’s lips, marveling at the way Spock melted beneath the contact. The feeling of vulnerability finally began to fade.

“I will escort you home.”

They walked side-by-side, arms brushing, over the mountain ridge and into the city. Together they navigated the labyrinthine halls of the hanging buildings towards McCoy’s apartment.

“...Why weren’t you playing tonight?” he asked eventually.

Spock arched his brow. “After being absent for three weeks without notice I lost my position.”

“What?” McCoy snapped his head around, but Spock seemed utterly unperturbed. “They fired you?”

“It is not logical to continue to pay for services which are not being rendered.”

“But Spock…” He felt helpless. “You love your job.”

“I shall miss playing for you.”

He had to smile at that, but it was bittersweet. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe you still can?”

Spock inclined his head. “I saw your violin case. I should like to hear you play as well.”

“It’s a fiddle,” he teased, bumping Spock’s arm with his. “But of course I’ll play with you. It probably won’t be as easy as my hallucination would lead us to believe, though.”

“You may be surprised.” Spock stopped walking.

McCoy realized with a jolt that they had reached his apartment. He shuffled from one foot to the other and glanced at the door, not wanting to let Spock go. “Spock would you...like to come in for some tea?”

“A clever euphemism,” he said, looking fond even as McCoy’s face grew hot with embarrassment. Spock stepped towards him and calmed him with a hand on his wrist, whispering, “Yes, Leonard. I would very much like to come in for some ‘tea.’ However, much has happened today that I must first process. I require meditation tonight, and I believe it would be unduly distracting for you.”

The mention of meditation worried him. “You aren’t planning to dismantle the bond again, are you?”

“No. It is merely to center my thoughts and calm my mind.” His hand slipped up before McCoy could complain again and Spock tugged him into a hug. “Good night, ashayam.”

McCoy shuddered at the pet name and held Spock back tightly. He felt like he was missing Spock already, and he desperately wanted to tell him not to go. But he held back the words. “...Good night, Spock.”

Spock kissed his temple and trailed his long, clever fingers over McCoy’s palm as he pulled away. “Taluhk nash-veh k’dular,” he said warmly. “Until we meet again.”

Chapter Text

Lunch was a short, ten minute affair between patients. He ate cool things to ward away the summer heat. McCoy took his lunch standing near the waiting room, devouring little krei’la biscuits in quick, disinterested bites. He was surprised when Spock appeared halfway through bearing fruit. They shared the segments of a little yellow fruit and McCoy let Spock do all the talking before he returned, exhausted, to making the rounds with Seref. For such an old Vulcan Seref was surprisingly quick on his feet. He learned the physiology of eight new species that day.

He shared this with Spock, later, when Spock picked him up from work and walked him home. Spock listened with rapt attention and McCoy considered for a moment how good it felt to have someone who cared about what he did. McCoy was still tired, and so when the stood in front of his door he didn’t invite Spock in that night. Instead, they kissed and Spock said his goodbyes and then McCoy went straight to sleep.

Their days continued like this. Sometimes, Spock would come to have lunch with him. After the first day they coordinated better, and McCoy sent him a message over his comm. Then Spock would walk him home and give him a finger-kiss. McCoy would watch him go and then retire to his room to sleep the sleep of exhausted med students.

On fourth day, Spock took him to a basin just outside the city that had astonishing acoustics.

“I’m not sure this is going to work,” McCoy said as he tried, once more in vain, to tune his fiddle to Spock’s lyre. He plucked at a string and Spock winced.

“It does appear that these instruments were not made to be played together.” Spock rubbed at his ear, no doubt to dislodge the ringing sour note.

“Well, that much is obvious. Here, play that note again.” Spock played and McCoy listened closely and fiddled with the peg. This time the harmony only sounded awful as opposed to horrendous. “That might be as good as we’re going to get.”

“Only three strings remain,” Spock said grimly.

McCoy laughed at his defeated look. He leaned over and planted a kiss on Spock’s cheek before settling back against the side of the shuttlecar. “Maybe we should just play separately?”

Spock sighed and ran his hands over this lyre, playing a scale. It sounded oddly alien, yet familiar as well. McCoy had heard him play precisely that scale dozens of times. He just hadn’t realized there were four extra notes in a Vulcan scale before. “Perhaps if you begin I will be able to decipher the notes and follow.”

“Couldn’t hurt.” McCoy sat up on his folded legs and raised the fiddle to his chin. He thought a moment before drawing the bow across the string and beginning to play Over the Rainbow.

Spock’s eyebrow took to the sky and he listened through the entire song. At the end, McCoy picked it up from the beginning and Spock raised his lyre up, plucking at the strings as he watched McCoy play.

The lyre made the song eerie, almost discordant, as if it were almost-but-not-quite played in a minor key. It enticed McCoy to play more slowly as Spock delivered a counter-rhythm that left him breathless. He usually preferred to play quickly, rushing to the end. He’d never been one to obey a time signature. But playing with Spock made him slow down. He got distracted by Spock’s long, fine fingers dancing over the strings and buttons. He thought about kissing him.

The end of the song snuck up on him, and he held his fiddle still as the last note reverberated across the basin and back again. Somewhere, a rock slipped from its purchase and tumbled into the soft, warm sand. Spock was looking at him heatedly, and McCoy shifted in discomfort.

“That was pretty good,” he managed.

Spock inclined his head. “I have always enjoyed adapting music.”

“I can see that. You’re good at it.” He smiled and leaned in to give Spock another kiss on the cheek. Spock turned into the contact, brushing his lips against McCoy’s and sighing.

There were too many instruments in the way, and so McCoy placed his fiddle back into its case. Spock watched him do it with open curiosity, hands relaxed on his own lyre.

“You appear to have a particular goal in mind, Leonard.”

“Damn right, I do.” He tugged at Spock’s lyre and Spock gripped it more tightly before relaxing again. He let McCoy take the lyre and set it aside. “Do you know what it is?”

“I am beginning to form a hypothesis.”

McCoy chuckled and cupped Spock’s cheek, kissing him again. “You’re quite beautiful, Spock. You could drive a man mad. Tell me, is making out common practice on Vulcan?”

Spock mouthed the words making out , a frown of confusion forming at his brow. “I do not believe so.”

“Well then, we’ll see if we can make it catch on.”

He kissed Spock again, holding his head gently as his other hand found Spock’s. He let his fingers run over the back of Spock’s hand, drawing out minute shivers from him. He swallowed Spock’s sigh of pleasure as he touched the pads of their fingers, and then Spock seemed to get the hint. He lifted his hands to curl around the back of McCoy’s neck, trailing through the short hairs there, tugging him closer.

Spock leaned back and McCoy followed, shifting so that he was straddling Spock’s legs and could get a good angle to bracket Spock against the side of the shuttlecar. He cupped Spock’s chin to hold him still, encouraging Spock to open his mouth with soft little flicks of his tongue, and then practically moaned when Spock finally understood and let him in. He felt like he could drown in Spock, and there was a funny idea. Drowning on Vulcan. Drowning in a pit of sand. He chuckled to himself and dropped his hand from Spock’s chin to his body, marveling at how good Spock felt to touch.

He trailed his thumbs up, feeling the shallow bumps of Spock’s ribs through the thin fabric of his shirt. Spock had a few too many bones there, a shield of protection around his heart. It pleased McCoy to count them, to feel Spock shifting pleasantly beneath his hands.

Spock twisted and wrapped his arms around McCoy’s shoulders, tugging him so that their bodies were pressed together, flush from chest to hip. Spock’s mouth was curious and searching, a bit inexperienced, but eager and willing to learn. He tasted sweet. Like Vulcan tea. The way roses smelled.

McCoy hadn’t felt like this in years. He felt like a teenager again, utterly able to just kiss and be held. There was no hurry towards sex, no awkward fumbling of clothing. He touched Spock’s body just to touch, just to feel him shift and strain upwards, just to map him, just to learn how Spock responded to pleasure. Gradually, he began to kiss his way along Spock’s soft jawline, up the swoop of bone towards his ear. He nosed against the soft skin there and Spock twitched in surprise, body yearning towards McCoy as if it were possible for them to be closer. Gently, McCoy kissed just above the condylar process and Spock made an encouraging noise, so he worked his way higher, taking to point of Spock’s ear lightly between his teeth.

“Leonard!” Spock twisted, shivered, and his strong arms tugged McCoy so flush against him that for a moment McCoy thought he might break apart. Then Spock relaxed. He turned his face towards McCoy and looked up at him, both hands flying quickly to grasp McCoy by the neck and pull him into a sloppy, hurried kiss.

Their teeth clashed and McCoy chuckled, easing back. He drew Spock’s lip against his teeth, rolled it, tasted Spock’s gasp, and then released him. He whispered, low and throaty, “Easy, darlin’. We’ve got plenty of time.”

Indeed, they did, and time seemed to stand still even as the sun danced across the sky. They kissed and held close until sweat beaded on McCoy’s brow and he had to pull away, annoyed that the heat made it impossible to hold Spock against him any longer.

He swiped at his brow. “Sorry,” he said, reaching into the shuttle and drawing out a bottle of water. He downed half of it in one go, surprised he was so dehydrated. He hadn’t even noticed. Spock’s lips had been too refreshing. He realized he was tingling, half aroused, his mind humming with distraction, hazy with want but also vaguely detached.

Spock gazed at him with his eyes blown, half-lidded in contentment. “You requested that I talk with you more often.”

McCoy shifted so that he was protected by the shade of the shuttlecar. He reached and carded his hand through Spock’s hair as if he were straightening it. It only grew messier. “I could be amenable to talking,” he said.

Spock’s mouth twitched and then flattened. He reached up and took McCoy’s hand, interlacing their fingers in a gesture whose intimacy was not lost on McCoy. “I enjoy your playing.”

“Oh, well—”

“You are quite technically skilled.” Spock held his hand tighter as he tried to pull away. “It is clear to me that your abilities extend beyond the confines of the operating room, although you are of course an exceptional surgeon as well.”

“Spock…” He trailed off, uncomfortable but remembering that Spock had asked him not to argue with his praise.

Spock pulled him in and nosed his way up McCoy’s neck, soft and gentle, and McCoy tried not to think about how sweaty he was. “You are so worthy of praise, Leonard.”

McCoy gulped as Spock kissed the soft, sensitive skin on the side of his neck. “Spock,” he tried again.

“You are intelligent.” Another kiss. “Warm, and pleasant.” His hands came up, sprinkling delicate finger-kisses over McCoy’s bare arms. “You are a joy to be around.”

McCoy twitched and took Spock’s face into his hands, kissing him harshly to silence him. He thought he could feel a smile at Spock’s lips, playful and amused. “Let’s not talk about that,” he muttered.

“Very well.” Spock’s eyes were definitely lit by a smile, although his mouth was as flat as ever. “Then I shall merely think it.”

And he did. McCoy got a...a feeling. Like someone was breathing down the back of his neck. Goosebumps pebbled his skin. He got the impression of warmth, admiration, amusement and he realized that all of those were Spock’s feelings for him. Spock’s hands on his body suddenly felt sticky, like their skin was melting together, like Spock was sliding into him and the thin barrier between bodies was dissolving, dissolving, and then he was proud of himself.

McCoy jerked away.

“Leonard?” Now Spock looked only concerned.

His heart was beating too fast and loud in his ear. What was that? “Nothing--I, I just remembered there’s some work I have to get to. I think we should head back.” He rose, dusting sand from his legs, and gathered up his fiddle. He hustled into the shuttlecar.

Spock rose as well, looking confused. “Very well.”

Twitching, McCoy sat in the chair and stared ahead at the console. He could hear Spock packing away his lyre and he internally cursed himself for being so jumpy. Really, it hadn’t been that big of a deal. He’d felt Spock’s emotions through the bond before, hadn't he? Hell, he’d gotten a heck of a lot more than just emotions when he’d been hallucinating in the desert. He’d asked for this. He’d asked for Spock to stay with him, to be with him, to let the bond grow and mature between them.

But it had been different when he hadn’t known so clearly--no, that wasn’t quite right. It had been different when he had been arguing with Spock. When it had been more about winning he had felt confident that he could handle the bond. He wasn’t so sure now. He vaguely knew how to deal with physical intimacy, but mental intimacy was something else altogether.

Beside him, Spock powered on the shuttlecar and lifted them into the air. He wasn’t saying anything, but he also didn’t look upset. He didn’t look much of anything, and it was the flat, expressionless profile of his face that disturbed McCoy the most.

“I did enjoy playing with you,” McCoy muttered.

Some of the tension left Spock’s shoulders. “And I with you.”

“What are you going to do now?” McCoy asked. “I mean, now that you can no longer play in the market every week?”

Spock seemed introspective. After a moment, he said, “For some time now I have been… contemplating how I shall proceed with my life. I have found great comfort in devoting myself to the lyre, and have considered furthering my studies at the Tenaran Music Academy. Originally, I wished to carry out the terms of my contract with here on Vulcan before applying, but now that I am no longer gainfully employed the matter is somewhat more pressing...” Spock trailed off and glanced over, looking at McCoy with his soft brown eyes that saw far too much.

McCoy looked down at his hands. “That’s on Trill, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“You should apply,” he said suddenly, surprising himself. “If that’s still what you want to do.”

“I believe it would be a rewarding experience,” Spock said quietly. “But it is quite far...from Vulcan.”

And even further from Earth, McCoy didn’t say. Instead, he said, “Well, even if you get accepted you don’t necessarily have to go. It may be good just to have options.”

Spock said nothing more. McCoy wrestled with himself for the rest of the ride, wondering if it were selfish or selfless to push Spock to go to Trill.

Chapter Text

Summer ended suddenly one day, heralding fall with a crack of lightning and a fast, cold downpour of rain that steamed as it hit the ground. McCoy enjoyed the rain for the full four hours it lasted, grinning at Spock’s sour look. Spock was like a cat who didn’t like water. He stayed indoors and bristled at even a hint of moisture. McCoy cuddled with him amidst the cushions, snickering at him, and then kissed his furrowed brow.

The weeks after that brought windstorms. The buildings groaned against the torrent, creaking as they hung like great, precarious stalactites, like spears pointed towards the ground. Somehow, the air grew drier than it had ever been. The sand whipped up and McCoy followed M’Benga’s lead and took to wearing eye protection. The Vulcans merely squinted, their odd inner eyelids protecting them from the cutting sand. The xenobiology ward picked up along with the wind and McCoy worked nonstop through his supposed-vacation days. He arrived home late more often than not and collapsed on the bed like a puppet with its strings cut. Even the rocking of the building did not wake him. He was too exhausted to be afraid of falling.

Finally, Vulcan settled into a more relaxed rhythm again. The sands stilled. The buildings stopped their stomach-roiling movements. People stopped injuring themselves. When fourth-day arrived McCoy found he had no work to do. He realized suddenly that he had not seen Spock in nearly three weeks, since the day of the rainstorm. He went to him sheepish and dehydrated, and Spock took him to the garden again where they walked among the brittle and dying plants. Even Spock seemed subdued. He wore a sweater the color of graphite.

Petals had fallen from the flowers of a squat, briar bush. McCoy trailed his fingers through the browning, dead debris and hummed to himself. He realized after a moment that he was humming Walking Boy.

He stood and stretched his arms above his head, reaching toward the sky, and in a moment he felt Spock behind him, arms curling around his waist. As public displays of affection went, this was mild, but he still looked around to confirm no one was watching. He leaned back into Spock’s embrace and sighed wearily.

“Your exhaustion is palpable, Ashayam,” Spock murmured into his hair.

“The bond tell you that?”

He felt--hurt, and McCoy winced. He hadn’t meant that as an attack. “It is merely that I know you.” Spock pulled away.

McCoy watched him move along the hewn stone pathways of the garden. Spock did know him, he thought. He sighed again and followed after him.

“How has your own plant fared with the weather change?” Spock asked.

McCoy thought about the sad, wrinkled succulent that sat on his windowsill. He should probably water it.  “Fine. I haven’t had a lot of time to care for it.”

“Indeed.”

McCoy got the impression that Spock wasn’t actually talking about the plant. Did Vulcans deal in passive aggression? He walked a little closer to Spock, anyway, smiling secretly to himself. “It’s a bit odd, though.”

“Odd?”

“You Vulcans, your plants are as illogical as your bodies.” He grinned at Spock’s look of affront. “I’ve tried babying the thing. I’ve tried neglect. I’ve tried giving it a stern talking to and no matter what I do it slowly withers. Maybe…” He cast a glance sideways, coy, and saw that Spock was hanging onto his every word. “You could come give me some pointers?”

“I will do whatever I can.”

Spock looked so serious and hopeful--he seemed honestly surprised that McCoy had invited him over. McCoy’s heart fluttered at the sight of Spock gazing at him so openly. Not passive aggression, then. Just honest loneliness. He reached out and touched Spock’s shoulder and then, feeling suddenly emboldened, he lifted his hand to cup Spock’s cheek. Spock turned into the gesture, eyelashes fluttering, and McCoy’s heart melted. “Can you sense what I’m thinking?” he asked, uncertain if he wanted Spock to answer yes or no.

“Not precisely,” Spock murmured. His eyes were warm and dark, so full of heat as to be nearly black. “Will you tell me?”

“I’m thinking you’re gorgeous, and that I’ve been bad to you, darlin’.”

Spock’s eyes widened, and one eyebrow arched towards the sky. “In what manner?”

“Haven’t been giving you the attention you deserve, have I?” He shrugged and suddenly felt exposed, standing there among the flower-less bushes with his hand on Spock’s face. Hell, they were still in public, and on Vulcan no less. He dropped his hand and folded it behind his back, glancing to one side. “It’s just...I’ve been busy.”

“Your work is of vital importance,” Spock told him sternly.

“So are you,” McCoy said honestly, “We should make the most of the time we have together. And, hell…” He shifted awkwardly. “That plant won’t water itself.”

Spock was laughing at him. He could feel it, even though Spock seemed utterly nonplussed. Maybe it was the sparkle in his eye that gave McCoy that impression. He grumbled and groused as Spock herded him from the garden and towards the city proper. Spock seemed to be moving more quickly than usual, and McCoy hurried after him. Together, they rushed through the dark corridors, spiraling downwards until they reached McCoy’s quarters.

McCoy barely had time to look around and confirm that M’Benga wasn’t there before Spock was on him. Spock stepped into his space and curled his long fingers around McCoy’s wrist, tugging up his arm until he got the hint and extended his two forefingers. Spock never broke eye contact. His gaze was bright, intense. His brown eyes seemed alight with an inner fire that poured out of his fingertips, leaving McCoy feeling raw and slightly singed. He often thought Spock was mild and sweet, but now he knew better. Spock was blazing heat. Intense. Spice. Not the Vulcan velik more savory than hot, but an Earth spice--cayenne, warm and glowing, and if he tasted Spock he knew his mouth with fill with warmth. He may cry from the intensity of it.

It was odd. Eerie. Spock kissed his fingers and gazed into the pit of his soul and McCoy thought that maybe he should say something. It was too strange and uncanny to kiss in the Vulcan way on this alien world. Before he could do anything Spock seemed to take the hint--or maybe read his mind, who knew? Spock’s long eyelashes fluttered and he leaned in and McCoy felt his heart jump into his throat, a dancing butterfly at his pulse point.

They stepped backwards together and McCoy got half-tangled in the curtain hiding his room. Spock was better at multitasking as he somehow juggled disentangling McCoy with touching his hands and his face, and there was a touch on his hip, his shoulder, soft lips against his. Spock wrenched gasps from so deep inside him that he was shocked to hear himself make those noises.

McCoy didn’t realize he was horizontal until he felt cushions envelop him. Spock kissed the corner of his lips. His jaw. Down the cord of his neck. McCoy shook and tried to do something halfways intelligent with his hand as he threw he head back and— pop!

“Ow, shit!

Spock sat up, frowning. “Leonard?”

“Ah, ah wait…” McCoy tried to hold perfectly still as the muscles in his neck tensed with the shock. It hurt. Ow, it hurt! “It’s just...pulled a muscle in my neck.”

Spock crawled to one side and McCoy tried not to blush with shame. He failed utterly as Spock glared down at him. “You do not take proper care of yourself during times of stress.”

“Spock,” McCoy said weakly, and then clenched his jaw. Even talking aggravated the injury.

Spock softened at the sight of him. “I will assist you.”

McCoy felt Spock’s warm hands against the side of his neck, holding him steady as he sat up carefully. McCoy performed a quick, internal self-diagnostic and realized the injury was relatively minor. It just hurt.

“I need a muscle relaxant,” he said, speaking very carefully so as not to move his neck. He reached up slowly and felt muscle at the back of his neck. “Definitely a spasm.”

“Do you have one in your first aid kit?” Spock sat up on his heels, clearly ready to run to the hospital immediately if he didn’t.

McCoy started to shake his head and stopped himself at the last second. “No. There may be something for the pain. Could you go look?”

Spock started to rise, but he hesitated. He looked at McCoy with a small, worried frown prominent on his face. McCoy wondered, suddenly, how he had ever thought that Vulcans didn’t show their emotions. When Spock looked at him like that --eyes bright, mouth downturned, lips pursed in concern--McCoy could read him like a book.

“If I may,” Spock began slowly. “I have another potential solution.”

McCoy really wanted a nice shot of analgesic, but Spock looked oddly vulnerable. He couldn’t say no to that face. “Sure,” he said, and realized he was smiling like a dope even as his eyes watered with pain. “What is it?”

Spock tugged aside the cushions and helped McCoy sit flat on the floor. His warm hands went back to McCoy’s neck, soothingly hot, like a stone warmed by open coals, and McCoy had the fleeting realization that Spock was utterly in control of his body temperature. He was probably putting out more heat on purpose. Spock tried to get him out of his shirt but they quickly realized McCoy couldn’t lift his right arm without trouble.

Instead, Spock slipped one hot hand under McCoy’s shirt and pressed his palm against McCoy’s spine, and next thing he knew the tension in his neck was flowing out.

“Oh,” he managed. He closed his eyes.

Spock pressed here and there, sometimes holding the pressure, other times just layering fleeting touches. Each touch seemed to open McCoy’s body, like a water valve, and the tension left him in steady streams. He felt his shoulders come down from around his ears. His back seemed to give a great cry of relief. His neck gave one final paltry twinge and then settled. He felt Spock’s arms come around his waist and he sighed, leaning back against the trunk of Spock’s body.

He muttered sleepily. “Some kinda...Vulcan chiropractic thing?”

“Neuro-pressure,” Spock corrected. He kissed the shell of McCoy’s ear and held him close. Spock’s breath ruffled his hair, and he sighed. “It is an ancient Vulcan art.”

“Mm, s’nice.”

Spock’s whole body rumbled--and was that, was that a chuckle? McCoy sat up quickly and turned, surprised, but Spock didn’t even look guilty. His mouth was bent in at the corner, eyes bright with happiness. “You should rest, Leonard.”

McCoy frowned. “I’m trying to spend time with you, dammit.”

“I will be here. And after you awaken I can teach you the positions for the neuro-pressure in the proper way.”

McCoy considered. “You mean no shirts?”

Spock’s eyebrow hitched towards the sky. “No shirts,” he confirmed soberly.

McCoy wasn’t sure how Spock expected him to sleep after a promise like that, but he dutifully gathered up the cushions and laid them out. Spock strong-armed him into lying down and closing his eyes, despite McCoy’s repeated protests that he wasn’t that tired and wouldn’t be able to sleep. Spock kissed the bridge of his nose, the line of tension on his brow, and then brushed his forefingers over the exhaustion beneath his eye.

Spock curled beside him, cool to the touch, and McCoy felt the world catch up with him. His exhaustion flooded him and next thing he knew, he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Spock snored adorably when he slept.

McCoy hadn’t gotten the chance to notice that before. He noticed now, drinking in the tiny, breathy sounds of Spock in deep slumber. His mouth was slack with rest. Outside, night had fallen, casting the room into darkness. It was cooler now than it had been. Good thing, too. McCoy didn’t want to force Spock to be his heat sink forever.

He could not resist touching Spock, ever-so-lightly, a mere brush against Spock’s cheek. He considered a moment and then folded his hand so that the touch became a kiss. It felt different, then, and although it was not his custom, it did feel right. And it made him happy to be able to kiss Spock and look at him at the same time.

He pressed a finger-kiss against Spock’s lips, then one on the jut of his chin, the collar of his shirt. Gradually, he realized that Spock’s breathing had shifted. He was quieter now.

“...Sorry,” McCoy whispered, uncertain. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I am pleased you did,” Spock said, just as quiet. He shifted forward, body rippling like water, and carded their legs together again, a reflection of their first night sleeping together. “Will you kiss me again?”

McCoy shivered. He drew back his hand into the scant space between them and Spock raised his own fingers, letting them fall against McCoy, delicate exploration. Spock kissed his bony knuckles, the back of his hand, the rounded bone of his wrist.

“Leonard?”

“Yes, Spock?”

“Do you wish for a neuropressure lesson, now? Or do you wish to, as you say, ‘make out’ with me?”

McCoy chuckled. “I get the feeling both will end up in the same place.”

He could feel Spock’s happiness, his contentment, rolling off of him in waves. “You are correct.  Do you have a lantern?”

McCoy sat up and dug through his trunk, pulling out the hand-held phase light he kept there. He set it on the trunk and turned it to the lowest setting to bathe the room in a dim yellow glow.

Spock rose and shucked off his shirt, dropping it to one side. His hair danced with static and shadows fell across the planes of his body, the soft curves of muscle and flesh. McCoy had not seen him shirtless since that day at their oasis, and the sight of him now made his breath catch. He let himself drink in the sight of Spock for a long moment. He was astonished that Spock was here before him like this: exposed, open. Spock arched a brow at him, a silent admonition to hurry up.

He busied himself removing his own shirt and following Spock’s directions for him to kneel on the cushion before him. He wondered what Spock thought of his body but he decided not to let the thought worry him.

He gazed into the dim light as Spock’s hands came to rest on his back, voice pitched low as he described his actions. “Neuropressure is an ancient art more than it is a science. There are seventy-one hand positions possible.”

“Seventy-one? Like the hour?”

“Yes,” Spock said. “It is curious, the way humans demarcate time. Ours is not so evenly distributed, but it nevertheless follows its own logic. Feel, now, the shape of my hand.”

McCoy closed his eyes and felt the pads of Spock’s three middle fingers press at his back, a few centimeters below his shoulder blade. There was a momentary blossom of tension throughout his body but Spock maintained the pressure, and then just as it had begun the tension faded, and McCoy relaxed. Spock did the same to the other side of his body and then pulled back.

“And now, Leonard, you will touch me.”

McCoy turned, giddy, and Spock took his right hand into his.

“The first position is simplest,” Spock explained, curling McCoy’s fingers into the proper position. His touch was warm and smooth, and sent ripples of pleasure up McCoy’s arm and then down his spine, to coil pleasantly at the small of his back. “Do you see?”

“I think so.”

Spock twisted around to give him access to the line of his back. Spock sat very straight, but loosely. He was not tense. This was merely how he sat. McCoy shuffled forward and rested his hand on the space between Spock’s shoulder blades, feeling the rise and fall of his breath.

“Three-point-two centimeters beneath the leading edge of the lateral border,” Spock told him, waiting until McCoy found the spot. “On a human the space is slightly higher. Do you feel the shape of the muscle?”

“I do.”

“Press and hold for a count of fifty.”

McCoy did. He felt Spock suck in a breath at the first pressure, his body taught as a spring, and then relax as the seconds ticked by, until Spock’s shoulders drooped and his body went pleasantly languid. McCoy moved and repeated the touch on the other side until Spock was utterly relaxed, his breath even and content.

He thought about dropping his hands, but he found he couldn’t. Spock made no move to stop him as he explored with decidedly human touches. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but McCoy thought there were freckles scattered across Spock’s shoulders. He traced them with the tips of his fingers and then scooched closer to Spock, laying a trail of feather-light kisses over the soft skin.

Spock sighed and tipped his head forward, and McCoy didn’t have to be told twice. He kissed the bump on the back of Spock’s elegant neck and Spock sighed again, a soft sound of pleasure. Each kiss he lay there sent a physical ripple of excitement through Spock. McCoy curled his arms around Spock’s waist and pressed his bare chest against Spock’s back, feeling the expansion of his breath. It was so good just to hold him, just to feel him. McCoy thought of his despair those weeks ago at being touch-starved. The feeling seemed distant now. Spock’s body was so open to him, endless, filling him to the brim. He could find no energy for despair in the face of such openness.

He kissed the side of Spock’s neck, really just letting his lips brush against the skin there. He let his hands roam over Spock’s soft stomach, his sides, his chest, just exploring. He wanted to find what made Spock feel good. He listened to Spock’s sudden intakes of air, his soft exhalations, the shape of his breath on his lips. Spock seemed to like McCoy’s touch at the indents of his hips, the tender skin of his stomach, and he strained upward as McCoy flattened his palms against his chest.

McCoy chuckled, pressing another kiss against Spock’s nape. “Do you like that, darlin’?”

“Your touch is...gratifying.”

“Hmm,” he hummed, letting his mouth open so that he could press the lines of his teeth against Spock’s flesh. Spock bent his head to the side to give him more space to roam. “Does that mean it feels good?”

He pressed his palms against Spock’s chest more firmly and Spock gasped, “Yes.”

Spock strained upwards, arching into his palm. He let his fingers come together, flicking over the nubs of Spock’s nipples. He’d never had a male partner respond so ardently to a touch here, but Spock had no qualms about shifting against him, gasping as McCoy pinched him.

“Leonard, please.” Spock’s head fell back against McCoy’s shoulder, and McCoy took advantage of his openness to bite him oh-so gently, really just a scrape, before taking Spock’s flesh into his mouth and worrying it, sucking a mouth bruise. “I… desire you.”

“You have me.” He licked at the sore spot, which was already flushing green. He brushed his thumbs over Spock’s nipples again and Spock gasped. He twisted them and Spock went still, breath coming in sharp pants, each exhalation tense with desire.

Spock lifted his arms and took hold of McCoy, flattening his hands again. “It is too intense,” he said.

“Sorry.”

Spock panted as McCoy kissed down his neck, lips falling to the knobby point of his shoulder. He rested there, waiting for Spock to catch his breath and decide if they should continue. He hoped like hell Spock wanted to keep going.

Suddenly, Spock shifted and pulled away. McCoy made a needy sound that faded as Spock turned into him. Spock crowded him down against the cushions, laying him out flat, spreading him easily with his long hands before propping himself up over McCoy’s body. Spock straightened his arms so that he was looking down at McCoy, a soft fondness in his gaze.

“What?” McCoy asked, trying not to smile.

“I am admiring you,” Spock said.

McCoy glanced aside, embarrassed. “Not much to—”

“Ah.” Spock interrupted him with two fingers against his lip, a mixed kiss. “We have discussed this matter. Please accept that my fondness for you is genuine.

“I’m trying,” McCoy said against Spock’s finger. He couldn’t resist flicking out his tongue, licking at callouses there.

Spock’s eyelashes fluttered dazzlingly. “Leonard, what are you doing?”

“You’re smart, Spock,” he said. “I think you’ll figure it out.”

He grabbed Spock’s hand before Spock could pull away and began kneading at his palm. He opened his mouth and let Spock’s long fingers inside of him, sliding just the first knuckled into his mouth. He flickered out his tongue again and curled around them, sighing in contentment as he did so.

“Leonard,” Spock gasped again, sounding as if he’d been running a marathon. Whatever he was about to say next trailed off as McCoy closed his lips around the tips of Spock’s fingers and sucked.

McCoy was so thoroughly occupied with the sounds that Spock was making that he didn’t recall Spock still had one hand free until he felt an exploratory touch on his stomach. He arched up and Spock curled his hand around McCoy’s waist, shifting him so that Spock was straddling one of his legs, rubbing against his thigh. McCoy could feel Spock’s slit through the thin fabric of their pants, and there was a brief moment of cognitive dissonance. It felt so familiar and yet so alien, but he couldn’t spare much mind to worrying about it. He wanted to touch so badly that his fingers burned at the thought.

Spock’s gaze on him was hot. McCoy watched the dance of emotion across Spock’s face, subtle and nuanced, but decidedly real. Spock knitted his brow, taking his lower lip beneath his teeth. Spock shifted his hand, sliding his fingers gently over McCoy’s searching tongue and then back out to brush wetly against his lips.

“I wish to kiss you,” Spock said.

“Well? What’s stopping you?”

Spock bent, sliding their mouths together, one long hand on the back of McCoy’s neck to lift him up. McCoy lifted his thigh as well, encouraging, and marveled as Spock began to rub off against him, short little rolls of his hips. A spot of wetness began to form on the front of his pants as his cock worked its way out to press fully against McCoy’s leg.

He jumped as Spock’s other hand came to cup his erection, rubbing him through his pants. He hadn’t thought--not really--that Spock would care to touch him like this. He’d sort of bought into the assumption that Vulcans found the idea of sex distasteful. But Spock did touch him, capturing his quiet gasps of pleasure and swallowing them whole, fingering McCoy’s cock through cloth until he felt like he may burst, brushing his long thumb against the juncture of McCoy’s neck to keep the angle just right for them to pour into one another, and God, but Spock had become an expert in this so quickly.

“Spock,” he gasped, and Spock kissed him, licked at his lips. “Spock, I’m getting very close.” And Spock began to move faster, rolling his hips against McCoy’s thigh eagerly, desperately, and McCoy had the fleeting thought that he had never seen anyone so desperate, except for perhaps himself in that moment and then— “Spock!” And he was stuttering, twisting, gasping as Spock held him, touched him, and he came in his pants like he was a damned teenager.

He went lax and Spock followed him down, lying so that he was fully flush against McCoy’s body. He managed to limply wrap his arms around Spock’s shoulders and hold him as Spock rubbed off against him. He peppered kisses along the freckles on Spock’s shoulders and Spock buried his face against McCoy’s neck and moaned as he came.

They dozed a moment, sated, still buzzing gently, and then McCoy started to feel sticky and hot. Spock shifted away and stood, his hand coming to his groin in slight embarrassment.

“You can wear something of mine,” McCoy said, and realized he was smiling.

Spock’s mouth bent in at the corner, his own secret smile. “I did not expect…”

“Me either.” He stretched, languid, and then rolled over. He reached for the trunk and pulled out a pair of sweatpants for Spock and his shorts for himself. He was too tired to stand, but managed to shimmy out of his now-stained pants and into the shorts without even sitting up.

“That likely required more effort than simply rising would have,” Spock said with vague interest when he was done.

McCoy was panting from the way he’d had to twist and turn. “Shut it and come here.”

Spock obeyed, flicking off the light as he went and plunging them into honest darkness. They curled together and Spock kissed his temple as his hands settled on Spock’s waist.

“I liked that,” McCoy said quietly.

“As did I,” Spock said, an equal whisper.

McCoy was fading fast. He rested his head on Spock’s shoulder and sighed, content. “...I like you.”

Spock rumbled again, that possibly-chuckle, and held McCoy close. “Ashayam, taluhk nash-veh k'dular.

“Mm, what does it mean?”

Spock was quiet for a moment. McCoy closed his eyes. “It means I cherish you, my beloved.”

“Oh,” McCoy said softly.

“Sleep, now.” Spock brushed back his hair. “You deserve rest.”

McCoy had no strength to argue and so he let himself go limp, feeling the rise and fall of Spock’s chest as he breathed, spiraling down towards inky black sleep.

Chapter Text

The chronometer chirped and McCoy flopped around to smack it into silence. “Shh,” he growled against his pillow. He stayed there a moment, annoyed, gathering his thoughts. He had nearly slipped back into sleep when he felt a hand settle on the small of his back.

Oh. Spock.

“Hey,” he whispered as Spock sidled up behind him and curled around McCoy’s body protectively.

“Good morning, Leonard.”

McCoy catalogued the situation: he had morning breath that could peel paint, his eyes were still thick with sleep, he had a sleepy erection pressing at the front of his pants, and he had an hour to get washed, dressed, and semi-conscious before his shift at the hospital. Oh, and Spock was layering kisses on the back of his neck.

He decided to just bask in Spock’s attention for a moment. He could always make his shower a quick one. “How'd you sleep?”

“I slept well,” Spock said, kissing his ear. “May I ask a question?”

“Shoot.”

He felt Spock’s confusion, but then Spock seemed to parse his response. “You have an erection, but I do not feel any arousal from you.”

McCoy flushed, embarrassed, and began to wriggle away. “It’s just a human thing.”

He started to sit up but Spock grabbed his wrist and pulled him back down, turning him so that they were facing. Spock gently took his face in his hands and kissed him with chapped lips.

McCoy was so startled by Spock’s eagerness that his mouth fell open before he could stop himself. He ran his fingers through Spock’s sleep-flattened hair and ruffled it. Spock sighed against him and slipped closer, entangling their legs. Spock’s long fingers splayed against his hip and hiked his leg up. McCoy went willingly, curling his knee around Spock’s thigh and, oh, that was nice, and easy. It was the simplest thing in the world to simply rut against Spock slowly, languidly, and gradually his erection shifted from autonomic to truly interested, and he realized he was getting in too deep.

He pulled back reluctantly. “I have to get ready for the hospital.”

Spock blinked at him, considering. “Perhaps if we went more quickly you would still have time to do so?”

McCoy laughed, surprised. “You’re certainly eager.”

“I adore you and wish to bring you pleasure,” Spock said frankly.

He had to look away. “I-I’m worried M’Benga is here.”

“A moment, please.”

Spock pulled away and McCoy mightily resisted reaching after him. Spock walked on the high arches of his feet, catlike and quiet. His body shifted and coiled, and McCoy couldn’t help but notice the way his pants hung low on his hips, slipping lower with the sway of his walk. Too big for him.

He closed his eyes and tried to listen for Spock. He heard the light pitter-patter of his feet, and then the swish of fabric as Spock checked for M’Benga. McCoy bit his lip, hoping against hope.

Spock came running back and drew aside the curtain. McCoy propped himself up on his elbows, stunned by the sight of him, of Spock framed by the early-morning sun on his burnished skin, eyes brown and wild, hair utterly tousled. The cut of his hips peeked above the waist of his pants and then he was moving.

“I take it he’s not—oof!” McCoy grunted as he got a lap full of very eager Vulcan. Spock was on him with a passion, hands caressing roughly and busily, and, well, Spock had said he’d make it fast.

Two could play at this game. McCoy hitched his leg around Spock’s hip and twisted, rolling them over until he was on top. Spock landed on the ground with a whump, a pillow stuck awkwardly under the small of his back, lips parted in surprise, and McCoy couldn’t resist an opening like that.

He licked his way inside Spock’s mouth as his hand slipped beneath Spock’s pants. They were loose at Spock’s waist--entirely the wrong shape, since they were made for McCoy. The thought of Spock wearing his clothes excited him unexpectedly and he cupped Spock’s slit, dipping his fingers inside and--God, Spock was already so wet, needy and writhing, his legs alternately falling open to give McCoy access and then drawing together with the tension of his pleasure as McCoy stroked his sheathed cock.

Spock had both arms wrapped around McCoy’s shoulders, one hand splayed on the back of his neck. And he kissed like he didn’t need to breathe--or perhaps like McCoy was his oxygen. McCoy could relate to that.

He felt Spock’s nice, slick cock slip out into his hand and he grasped it, working his own shorts down around his hips with his free hand. He lost his balance and fell to the side, landing hard on Spock’s arm. Spock seemed utterly unaffected; he merely turned his head so they could keep kissing.

“Sorry,” McCoy gasped against Spock’s lips. “Sorry, here, I—” He had grand plans to undress Spock completely, to lavish attention upon him. Instead, he tucked the waist of Spock’s pants beneath his cock, lined up his own eager erection, and began thrusting. “God, I—” Spock bit at his words. “I need—”

“Leonard, please,” Spock licked at his mouth and closed one hand around their erections, and they were both of them messily trying to stroke the other off without breaking contact, and it was haphazard, awkward, and good with Spock leaking slick and excitement, with the tight ring of Spock’s fingers around his cock, with the full hard length of him pressed flush against McCoy’s heated flesh. “I wish to...feel you.”

“I can feel you just fine, darlin’, so good, just, there, please.”

Spock touched him there again, fingertips curling around the tip of his cock even as he pulled back and shook his head. “No, Leonard. Will you let me share with you?”

McCoy could barely think, couldn’t understand and then--oh. Oh. And he would do anything for Spock in that moment, even though his stomach dropped to his toes and panic welled in his throat. He swallowed once, twice, and nodded.

Spock’s fingertips came to his temple, the arch of his cheek, and it was hot. Intense. McCoy was absolutely blazing with it, hips jerking as he opened and Spock expanded in all directions and unfurled like a flower, the space between them halving rapidly until they were truly touching, and then beyond touching, pouring into each other like sand, and—

Ah—!

Spock’s desire was an inferno rushing into him and if they were sand, then Spock’s heat had made them glass, clear and gleaming. McCoy screwed his eyes shut and screamed as Spock bucked against him, rose up once more, slippery and hot and— “Spock!”

Silence.

He realized, vaguely that Spock was shaking him.

He sat up on quaking arms and then slumped back down, falling against Spock’s chest. “What’re…” he murmured.

“Leonard?”

God, he had blacked out or something. He couldn’t even remember coming, but the space between them was sticky with it. He shifted and felt Spock still hard and needy against his hip. “I’m okay,” he said, wondering manically what it took to make a Vulcan orgasm, if Spock could have that kind of pleasure in his head and still not come. “Let me…”

He wrapped one exhausted hand around Spock’s erection and stroked. Spock gasped against his temple, arms holding him back tightly.

“Leonard—”

“Shh, I’ve got you, shh. Just hang on. Just let me touch you. Jesus, Spock, what did you do to me? I’ve never felt--do you always feel…? Here, just let me, let me make you…”

McCoy whispered against Spock’s shoulder until Spock bucked up into his hand, panting open-mouthed and gasping, and came.

“Good, darlin’, so good.” McCoy kissed his cheek, his jaw, his lips. “God, you’re so good to me.”

Spock seemed dazed. His eyes were hazy. “I did not believe...it would be that fast.”

McCoy managed to look over at the chronometer and--no way. He felt like he’d just had marathon sex, but only ten minutes had passed. Vulcan minutes, too. A little shorter than Earth’s. It hardly seemed like enough time. He’d even managed a quick post-orgasmic fainting.

Spock was drawing little circles on his shoulder blades, humming his contentment. “You mentioned getting ready for the hospital…?”

McCoy laughed and pushed himself up. His arms still shook with uncertain aftershocks. “Come on,” he said. “If we share a shower it’ll go faster.”

“I highly doubt that,” Spock said, and followed him anyway.

He turned the sonic on low and stepped inside the narrow space. Vulcans were staunchly utilitarian in all things and the shower had certainly not been designed for two grown men. But that was fine, as it gave McCoy plenty of reason to press against Spock, to hold him close as Spock picked up the washing powder and helped him with his back.

McCoy slid his soapy hands over Spock’s arms and shoulders, trailing down to his hands. He carefully washed Spock’s wrist, the creases in his palm, and each long and delicate finger. Spock was breathing funny by the end as McCoy held his hand beneath the sonic vibrations to chip away at the soap residue.

He was too spent to seriously think about more sex--he didn’t have time, anyway--but he still found himself utterly unable to resist kissing Spock. He turned Spock against the wall of the shower and worked his way into Spock’s mouth, and Spock sighed pleasantly, wrapping one hand around the back of McCoy’s neck to better the angle.

The intensity of Spock’s pleasure was still there in McCoy’s peripheral. The memory of Spock sliding inside his mind was bright, but always just behind him. McCoy kept trying to turn and see it, to remember it fully, but it shied from him and left him blinking after images from his eyes.

“Leonard,” Spock said to him after a while of this. “You must leave soon.”

He sighed and dropped his forehead to Spock’s shoulder, defeated. “I don’t want to have to wait a whole week to see you like this again.”

“Nor I you.” Spock held him and McCoy drank in the feel of his body, all that openness pressed against him.

McCoy turned off the shower and stepped out. Spock followed like a shadow. The two of them dressed and McCoy tried to do away with his sour mood. Really, he should be thankful. His first spin at medical school hadn’t exactly been conducive to forming a lasting relationship. He should be happy he had as much time for Spock as he did.

He was just about to step out the door when he remembered his sad plant in the windowsill. They had totally forgotten to look at it yesterday.

He drizzled a few drops of deionized water onto his plant. A bead of water clung to one fat leaf and he touched it, pushing it off and into the red dirt. It stayed on the dry surface for a moment before it was slowly sucked in. Outside his window, a shuttlecar buzzed by and McCoy watched it move past. He gazed out at the long, stony spires of the surrounding buildings. Other people lived there, he thought absently. He wondered if they were enjoying their mornings as much as he was enjoying his.

He felt a presence behind him and he leaned back into Spock’s embrace. They stood there for a long moment, just breathing. McCoy wondered what had so terrified him about this window before.

Spock kissed the back of his neck and McCoy shivered. “You must go to work.”

McCoy sighed. He nodded.

“...May I accompany you?”

“I’d like that.” He reached back and took Spock’s hand, lifting it to plant a kiss on his second knuckle.

They walked to the hospital together. The air was turning colder with each passing day. The other Vulcans had broken out their winter robes.

At the hospital, McCoy realized he didn’t want to go. He dithered for a while and gave Spock probably too many finger-kisses and Spock just looked at him with such open fondness that McCoy felt again like he was drowning. Maybe his body could adapt to breathing sand.

“I would join you for dinner tonight, if you are available,” Spock said.

“I’ll send you a message when I get off,” he promised. He leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Spock’s cheek, not at all caring who might be watching. “Have a good day, darlin’.”

McCoy moved through a fog that day. He found M’Benga passed out in the break room, still sweaty from a twenty-hour surgery, and sent him home. He had a chat with Dr. Seref about coffee that resulted in the Vulcan trying a sip and all the color draining from his face. He was walking to the scrub room when Spock sent him a message that was just one sentence long.

I have been accepted into the Tenaran Music Academy.

McCoy tried to think of how best to respond. Whether he should be happy or disappointed or coldly rational. He was still thinking as he stepped into the surgery ward, at which point he flipped a switch in his mind and became utterly focused on the task ahead of him, and the Tenaran Music Academy faded away.

The surgery did not go smoothly. He collapsed into bed ten hours later and slept like a stone. When he awoke to the chime of his chronometer the next morning he realized he hadn’t returned Spock’s message. He closed his eyes against the sunlight, and sighed.

Chapter Text

If McCoy had actually given it any thought, he would have realized that he no longer expected to return to Starfleet. Some part of him had quietly decided that he would remain here on Vulcan for the rest of his life. Maybe he thought Dr. Seref would find him a job. Maybe he thought he would start up a little practice in the mountains setting broken bones and protecting children who ran away from home. Who knew? The point was, he never consciously thought about it.

If he had, he would have noticed that the seasons changing around him meant something. It meant that everyday he was careening closer to the end of his time here. Careening closer to Earth.

Now that he had no choice but to think about it, he realized he was mad. He was mad at himself for getting so swept up in loving Spock that he’d forgotten this was all temporary. He was mad enough to spit and he couldn’t even do anything about it.

He bottled his anger right up and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong. He messaged Spock and they didn’t talk about it. They ate lunch together and they didn’t talk about it. They went for  dinner together and they didn’t talk about it. They sipped tea and chatted about philosophy, but they didn’t talk about it. They spent one warm evening reading together in the flower garden until McCoy fell asleep against Spock’s shoulder. And still they didn’t talk about it.

McCoy almost thought he had imagined the message.

It was too easy to let the week slip by without discussing what they were going to do with themselves. On fourth day Spock took him to visit Amanda.

He hadn’t seen her in person since Sarek’s untimely visit, although they occasionally messaged each other. She seemed delighted to see him and gathered him into a hug that made his heart swell with affection. McCoy wondered if he should tell her that he was dating her son officially now, or if he needed to ask her permission, but then he thought about the secret smile she had for them and thought better of it. She didn’t need him to tell her what she already knew.

Spock stayed inside to make them all tea and Amanda took him to the garden. It had grown in lush during his absence, although now that winter was swiftly approaching Amanda had harvested most of it. McCoy kicked off his shoes and stood barefoot in the orange soil. After a moment’s contemplation Amanda did the same.

They walked down the path and beneath the trellis heavy with vining plants with red leaves and drooping purple pods. Amanda picked one and handed it to him. He bit into it and frowned in surprise. His eyes told him it was a bean; his mouth said it was an unripe tomato.

“This will likely be the last good harvest of the year. Poor things aren’t doing so well now that fall is ending,” Amanda said, collecting the pods in the hem of her skirt. “They prefer it hot.”

“Sounds like a Vulcan plant to me.”

She smiled at him, but something about the look was off. She went back to picking the bean-things as McCoy studied her.

“Amanda, is everything alright?”

The pod in her hand snapped in half, staining her fingertips. “Just… melancholy. My son is about to leave me.”

She wasn’t looking at him and so McCoy took a moment to compose himself. He hadn’t dreamed the message, then. The Tenaran Music Academy was still out there, a blight on his mood. “Yes,” he whispered.

“...I suppose you know how I’m feeling best of anyone. Sarek doesn’t--well, you know how Vulcan men are.”

“In a way,” he agreed, and then he wondered if Sarek was as emotionless as he had at first appeared. He thought of the intensity of Spock’s emotions, merely trapped behind a stoic mask, and wondered if Sarek was the same. Did Amanda find it comforting to confide in him? Or overwhelming? “I think Spock and Sarek are a bit different, though.”

“Not as much as you might think, to their chagrin,” she said thoughtfully. Her skirt was filled with the pods and she began to walk back to the house. “But what am I doing, moping around like this?” She cast a bright smile back at him. “You’re both here now, so I’d better make the best of it. Will you stay for supper?”

“We’d love to, ma’am.” He gathered up their shoes, and followed.

The tea was hot and perfect for a lukewarm day. The three of them knelt around the table and chatted as the sun inched across the sky and bathed them in light. McCoy had forgotten how bright the sun got in the winter here. It seemed more intense, somehow. Perhaps the angle was different; he would have to ask Spock about that, later.

McCoy tried to stay out of the way so that Spock and Amanda could talk. His mind was mostly filled with medical facts and figures, anyway--hardly the stuff of polite conversation. But Amanda wouldn’t let him stay quiet for long. The talked and nibbled at cookies and sipped tea until it was room temperature and bitter.

Amanda rose and declared she had to run to town to pick up a few things for dinner.

“Do you require assistance, Mother?” Spock asked, half rising.

“Oh, no. You two just stay here and try not to get into too much trouble.” She bent and gave her son a kiss on the forehead, and he looked mildly embarrassed.

McCoy watched Amanda leaving with a frown. As the curtain swished shut behind her he turned to Spock, squinting. “Is this a setup?”

“Likely,” Spock confirmed. He seemed at ease, soft. He fluttered his eyelashes.

McCoy gaped. “What was that?”

“Leonard?”

“Are you…” He laughed, surprised as Spock did it again. “Are you being coy with me, Spock?”

“I would never.” Spock seemed to have gotten an awful lot closer. His long eyelashes fanned against his cheek, soft as the smile on his lips.

“You are,” McCoy accused weakly.

“Have you…” Spock approached so slowly it was like moving through water. One hand rose to cup the back of McCoy’s neck and his breath ghosted against McCoy’s lips, enticing. “Evidence? To support your claim?”

“What do you call this?”

T'nash-veh ashaya na'du,” Spock breathed.

He didn’t know what that mean, not exactly, but he loved the way it sounded on Spock’s lips. He could resist no longer and fell against Spock.

They kissed in the waning afternoon sun. Spock tasted of crumbled lemon cookies and joy.

Spock pulled back a scant centimeter. “I have missed holding you like this.”

McCoy sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“You need not apologize.” Spock nuzzled the junction of his jaw, gentle. “I was concerned…” He trailed off with his lips resting at the pulse of McCoy’s neck.

“Hey…” McCoy ran his fingers through Spock’s hair.

“Your anger since my announcement has been palpable, Ashayam. Yet we have not spoken of it.”

His heart clenched. He pulled away before he could stop himself. “You could...sense that?”

Spock’s face was smooth. To an outsider he would appear emotionally unaffected but for the eyes. His eyes made McCoy looked down in shame. “It still disturbs you.”

“I just don’t know how to react. I’ve never...had an intimacy like that with anyone.”

“Nor have I. Its newness is a surprise to both of us.”

McCoy took a deep breath. Let it out. “I’m not angry with you. I’m angry at myself.”

He could feel Spock’s frustration at his words--and then he wondered if it was human intuition or a Vulcan bond telling him that Spock didn’t like it when he was self-deprecating. Both, probably. “Leonard,” he said warningly.

“I came here to learn how to practice medicine,” he explained, his voice so quiet that Spock leaned in to hear him. He tried to speak louder and failed. “It was a whim, spontaneous. I wasn’t supposed to get attached to this crazy planet. I wasn’t supposed to…”

Silence. He was shaking. He felt like crying, but he couldn’t. Not here in Amanda’s house when she could return at any moment. Not here in front of Spock. He swallowed thickly, drinking the bitter poison of his own sorrow, eyes shut tight.

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to miss you.”

He felt Spock’s warm, soft hands against his face, drawing him forward until Spock could kiss him again. He gasped, shuddered. “I love you,” Spock said in plain English, and then again in Standard, “I love you,” and then, “Ashaya’tu, Leonard.”

“...I don’t want you to go. It’s selfish, but I don’t want you to leave me.”

Spock kissed him again, wordless.

He was angry, so angry, furiously mad that he had allowed himself to grow so attached to Spock. He wanted to lash out. He wanted to demand that Spock decline his acceptance to the academy. He wanted to quit Starfleet and forget about becoming a doctor. He wanted to follow Spock to the end of the Universe and beyond. He wanted to throw away his life, and Spock’s life too.

He didn’t. He took a deep breath. He kissed Spock’s soft lips and then stood on shaky legs. “Let’s walk,” he said thickly, and helped Spock to rise as well.

They walked in Amanda’s garden and along the rocky path behind the house. There was too much to say and so they said none of it. McCoy thought that if he concentrated he could almost feel the shape of Spock’s emotions. Subdued, muted, but there.

When they returned Amanda was in the kitchen cooking barkaya marak and humming. She gave them both a hug when they came in, and McCoy felt a little better.

When it was night they said their goodbyes and left with a tin of cookies. Spock flew them towards the city and McCoy gazed at the lit console, thinking.

They were still quite a ways away when he said, “Stop here.”

To his credit, Spock didn’t question him. He merely landed the shuttle in a valley of sand. He kept the engine on and McCoy watched the reflection of the console lights dance across Spock’s high cheekbones.

After a moment Spock turned to look at him, a blazing determination in his eyes. “I will not go to Trill.”

“Spock—”

“It upsets you.”

“Spock, it’s…” He sighed and scrubbed at his face. “It’s not like that.”

“I know you, Leonard.”

He did, didn’t he? And when McCoy looked at Spock he knew it was more than simply a bond that kept them together. The near-mystical connection between them was more a side-effect than a cause of his feelings. He knew it, and it terrified him to know it, yet still he said, “Spock, I-I love you.”

Spock seemed to know he was not done speaking. He stayed quiet, never once wavering his gaze, as McCoy gathered himself enough to go on.

“I didn’t think… When I first came here I thought I would be lucky to find anyone who didn’t hate me for being human, let alone a friend, let alone… And I don’t know what this is. What it’s supposed to be. I don’t even know what it could become. I want… I want you to be happy.”

Twin sides warred on Spock’s face--a desire to deny he could feel such an emotion as happiness, a desire to affirm that McCoy made him happy. McCoy knew Spock, too. “I also want this for you,” Spock said, finally, painfully.

“Would it make you happy to go to Trill?”

Spock turned away, gazing out the viewport at the star-lit sky. Yel was bright tonight. “I do not know. I feel it is...necessary for me to leave this place. I cannot remain here.”

“Because of your father?”

“Because I belong elsewhere. It is only…” He hesitated. “I do not know quite where, except that when I am with you I feel closer than I have ever been.”

“...I could go with you.”

Spock turned to him abruptly, eyes alight. “You could not.”

McCoy knew that Spock wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. It was true that even contemplating giving up medicine, giving up Starfleet, terrified him. He longed for Earth and Spock in the same breath, but he knew now that he had tasted the thin darkness of space he could not return so easily to a grounded life. “I guess I couldn’t.”

“Then there is nothing for us to do.”

“God dammit,” McCoy growled. “There has to be something!”

But he couldn’t think of anything. His selfish need to keep Spock close warred with his desire to see Spock freed from the dusty confines of a planet that did not--could never--understand him. He thought back to his first impression of Spock, when he had initially thought that Spock didn’t quite fit into his clothes. He realized now that wasn’t it at all. It was merely that Spock did not fit into Vulcan. His limbs were too long and his heart too big. He could not fit here, nor was he likely to fit on Earth. Spock was unique. Special. He needed a place that would love him for that.

And McCoy was just one person. Could he ever truly give Spock all that he needed?

Spock sighed, defeated. “We have three weeks before your residency here is over.”

Three weeks. Was it really so little time? McCoy hadn’t been keeping track of the days passing; indeed, he had been specifically ignoring them as they slipped through his fingers. Three weeks meant only three more days like this, free of hospital responsibilities. “I don’t have to fly out right away,” he said quickly. He felt like he was bargaining for any scrap of time he could get. “We could have a few more days together after that.”

“I desire that. I...Leonard, I believe I am being selfish.”

“Selfish?”

“Each day we spend together, each time we touch, the bond between us grows in strength. When we part it will be all the more difficult for us, but I believe that without mental training it will be especially difficult for you.”

“Will the… bond stop existing when we go?”

“No. Instead it will remain as a… kae-katra’nesh ” He visibly searched for the right words in English. “A wound of mind and soul. The distance between us will aggravate it. We will always know the other exists, but we will not be able to sense one another as we do when we are close. We will feel a loss that we cannot forget.”

McCoy gulped. “I see.”

“...Leonard, I...hesitate to mention this at all, but if you wish to have the bond severed that is still—”

“Don’t.” McCoy shook his head violently. “Don’t. Please.”

“I won’t.” Spock rose slowly from his seat and knelt before McCoy, taking his face in his hands. “Leonard, I will not. I swear to you.”

McCoy closed his eyes as Spock brushed his thumbs over the paper-thin skin beneath his eye, soft and hesitant, wiping away the sheen of wetness there. “Three weeks,” he said miserably.

“Perhaps four,” Spock said, with decidedly more hope. “And the Vulcan week is longer than those on Earth.”

McCoy had to smile at Spock’s optimism. “What did I do to deserve you?”

“It is I who must attempt to become worthy of you, Leonard.” Spock rested his fingertips softly against the swoop of McCoy’s neck, encouraging, and McCoy closed the scant distance between them.

Spock’s lips were slightly chapped, roughened by the edge of winter approaching--arriving. But McCoy could not care less about that. He held Spock’s face and bent himself double to layer kisses on his upturned mouth, wishing to make up for a future’s worth of lost time. It didn’t matter that the were in a tin-can of a shuttlecar parked in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t matter that tomorrow would be work and exhaustion and stress. It didn’t matter that in a month they would be…Parted. None of it mattered but the gentle brush of lips, his devotion to Spock.

He couldn’t bear to let Spock go, and so he slid from his seat to kneel before him. They held each other fiercely, kissed feverishly, loved with a passion McCoy could never have guessed existed among either Vulcans or humans, and in that moment McCoy knew nothing but that familiar, alien spice on his tongue.

If homesickness were a place it was right here, in Spock’s arms.

There was space enough to stretch out with their toes pointed to the rear of the shuttle and their shoulders blanketed by starlight. The moved together fluidly, legs interlacing, hands roaming slow and steady, bodies pressed flush together as if any distance between them at all were physically painful. They had all the time in the world--in two worlds--to learn the shape of their love for one another, and so they took it slow.

The fact that he had held Spock in his arms precisely like this, had touched him, pleasured him, made him come, only whetted McCoy’s appetite for him. It meant he could move unhurried. He savored Spock’s lips for what felt like hours but could have been days. When Spock tipped his head back he obeyed the unspoken ask willingly, kissing a line over his chin to the collar of his turtleneck.

“Can I see you, darlin’?”

Spock sat up and slipped off his outer sweater. The turtleneck followed after, landing in a rumpled pile of purple fabric. McCoy admired the pinpricks of starlight across Spock’s shoulders as they melded with the splattered freckles. He pulled Spock down and insinuated his leg between Spock’s thighs, rolling so he was half on top of him, pinning him. Spock looked up at him with utter fondness, eyes soft and almost black in the darkness.

He took Spock’s jaw in his hand and kissed him slow and unhurried before pulling away. “Tell me what you’d like.”

Spock yearned towards him. “Please, Leonard, continue to kiss me.”

“Do you want my lips…?” He demonstrated by licking a swath sideways on Spock’s gorgeous mouth, and when it opened to let out a sigh of desire he slipped his way into that warm space, exploratory. He pulled back and looked at Spock through half-lidded eyes. “Or my fingers?” He trailed his two forefingers down over Spock’s chest, catching the sensitive skin there, and then moved left to Spock’s hand. He stayed feather-light in his approach even as Spock met his fingers demandingly. He could feel the lyre-induced callouses on the pads of Spock’s fingers, the silk of his palm, and it made his own fingertips tingle with excitement.

“I…” Spock seemed to be having trouble concentrating. “I believe you prefer my mouth.”

McCoy arched his brow, surprised. “What makes you say that?”

“The way you watch me.”

He sucked in a breath. “I do watch you,” he admitted. “But which do you prefer?”

Spock shifted and McCoy got the distinct impression he was uncomfortable. “I desire to be with you. Any further preference is illogical.”

That meant fingers, McCoy guessed. He traced a path over the back of Spock’s hand just to be certain and marveled as Spock arched up into him. “You certainly seem to get a kick out of this.”

“A kick…? Leonard, your turns of phrase frequently perplex me.”

“I know.” He laughed. “I like to see you perplexed.”

That seemed to confuse Spock more, but McCoy stopped any argument by resting his middle and forefinger atop Spock’s lips, which parted delightfully.

“Mmm,” McCoy chuckled. “Will you let me in?”

Spock did not argue that McCoy had already been let in, although his eyes said he could have. Instead, just the tip of his tongue poked out, hesitant and searching, and McCoy answered by sliding inside. Spock’s eyelashes fluttered as McCoy stroked against the roughness of his tongue, drawing back out to caress the wetness along the plush curve of his lower lip.

His free hand entangled with Spock’s and he began to stroke over Spock’s long, twitching fingers. “I do watch those lips of yours, Spock. Do you know why?”

Spock, with his mouth quite full, could only shake his head.

“You have a tell. When you look at m--when you’re happy, your mouth bends in just here,” he slipped his fingers out, wet, and touched the spot, “and I can read you like a book.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth bent in under McCoy’s touch, apparently unintentionally. “You have a number of tells yourself, Leonard.”

“Oh?”

“They primarily reside here.” Spock raised his free hand and touched McCoy’s brow, drawing down. McCoy let his eyes fall shut as Spock fluttered his touch over the papery skin of his lids, so light as to be almost ethereal. “I find the color of your eyes most intriguing. Although it is impossible given known laws of light refraction, they seem to change with your mood.”

McCoy laughed. “That’s not very logical.”

“Indeed,” Spock said, cupping McCoy’s cheek and pulling him in, “Around you I seldom am.”

They kissed both ways, hands and lips entangling. Spock grew bold and began working at the hem of his shirt, slipping beneath it to dance his fingertips over McCoy’s skin. McCoy shivered at the touch--barely more than a tickle--and then helped Spock remove his shirt entirely. He sat straddling Spock’s thigh and looked down at him with a smile. Spock’s hand came to rest at his waist, and his thumbs drew approving circles on his stomach. The starlight made his eyes glitter.

He rocked his hips, feeling the strain of his erection against the fly of his pants. The burn of his arousal was getting distracting. He was surprised when Spock dropped his hand to cup the shape of his cock through the cloth, rubbing his broad thumb where the head was.

“Careful,” he warned, voice high and thready. “I don’t want this to be over—” ever, “too soon.”

Spock removed his hand with apparent reluctance. “I agree, however the floor is not conducive to extended activities. There is a blanket in the rear compartment which I keep in the event of emergency.”

“I’ll grab it,” McCoy said, ducking down to give Spock a parting kiss that inexplicably lasted much longer than he had expected. Finally he pulled away and rose.

He found the blanket neatly folded next to the emergency water and food. He unfurled it as Spock rolled out of the way. Before he could lay down Spock was rising to his knees. Spock knelt before him and placed his hands on McCoy’s hips, gazing up at him curiously.

“Spock?”

“I wish to taste you,” Spock said, nuzzling along the length of McCoy’s erection. “And, I wish for you to watch my lips.”

“Good Lord,” he managed as Spock thumbed open the magnetic seal on his pants. “Spock, are you sure…?”

“Utterly.”

The conviction brought him up short, and he didn’t fuss as Spock worked his pants off his hips and down to his ankles so he could step out of them. He kicked them aside. That left his underwear, and he knew by the light in Spock’s eye that he’d only kept them on so he could properly torture him.

He spread his legs for balance as Spock’s searching hands found his cock. Spock repositioned him within his underwear and then nosed his way along the length of his erection, pausing to let his mouth fall around the width of it. McCoy hitched in a breath, stunned.

Spock seemed content to explore. He dipped his hands beneath the cloth and ran his fingers over the tender skin of McCoy’s inner thigh. The fact he wasn’t totally nude somehow added to the moment. It made it feel gentler, more about exploration than about hurrying to the end goal. McCoy had the thought that Spock would have made a good scientist, what with the way he moved so methodically through his tests. Perhaps in another life he would have been. He kept the thought to himself.

He gasped as Spock’s thumbs found his testicles. Spock arched his brow at the reaction and began to gently stroke them, kneading them until McCoy was shaking.

“Jesus, Spock. What kind of blow job is this?”

“Blow job?”

McCoy bit his lip, hard, loving the sound of those words in Spock’s deep baritone. “A blow--fellatio, I mean.”

“Ah,” Spock said, his voice ripe with teasing. “I suppose it is not fellatio. Yet.”

His hips jerked as Spock wrapped his hands around the base of McCoy’s cock, still not removing those damned underwear. “Do you have...plans?”

“Always, Leonard.”

Finally, blessedly, Spock peeled back the cloth, tucking it beneath his balls. McCoy’s erection swung free and Spock caught it with one calloused hand and pressed his lips against the head.

“Are you watching my mouth, Leonard?”

“Damnit, Spock. I couldn’t look a-- ah! Ah... damnit. I couldn’t look away.”

Spock flicked out his tongue--slightly rough, but positively divine— and lapped at the tip of his cock. McCoy watched with utter fascination as Spock began licking him, tasting him with long draws of his tongue that had McCoy’s hips hitching forward. He’d never had a blow job like this, but it was good. It was also strange. And enticing. And uniquely Spock.

Spock licked down to McCoy’s balls and rolled one beneath the tip of his tongue, then back up to wrap his beautiful lips around the head. McCoy murmured encouragement, or perhaps he was begging, but either way Spock began to suck gently, eyes trained upwards to watch his face as he pulled McCoy apart with his clever mouth.

He couldn’t help but thrust shallowly into the hot forge of Spock’s mouth. He tried to be careful, but Spock hummed as he did it, one eyebrow quirked as he apparently found it fascinating. It spurred him on and he thrust again, just a few centimeters at a time before pulling back so Spock could tongue his slit, and then back in so he could feel the papery-roughness of that tongue along his length.

Spock’s hands were on his hips, encouraging him, and his mouth was so good, so perfect, that McCoy didn’t need to be told twice. He took Spock’s head into his hands and held him gently, keeping up the gentle thrusting as Spock’s eyelashes fluttered with lust and his lips stretched obscene around McCoy’s cock. A mouth that held a multitude of sins. Spock made soft wet noises of encouragement, swallowing thickly, his tongue curling wickedly with each thrust. The tension began to build at the base of his spine, pooling there, and although he wanted tonight to last forever he knew he had at most a few minutes of this before he blew apart at the seams.

He stopped thrusting.

Spock made a quizzical sound, mouth still full.

Slowly, painfully slowly, with great effort, McCoy pulled back. His cock left wetness on Spock’s lips and chin, and McCoy had to look away as he struggled for breath.

“I want to,” he said, his voice cracking like a struck stone. “But with you.”

Spock nodded his understanding. “Lay with me, Leonard.”

He talked himself down from his high as Spock stretched out on the blanket. He knelt and helped Spock out of his pants, sliding them over his long legs and off until Spock’s slender frame was exposed to him. In the starlight Spock’s body was ghostly, but not pale. McCoy realized for the first time that Spock’s tan had no lines. He imagined Spock sunbathing in the nude and grinned.

Spock tugged him down so that they were laying together, legs intertwined, hands once again searching for purchase. Spock kissed his lips and he kissed Spock’s long fingers as Spock wrapped one leg around his hip.

He pressed his thigh down, swallowing Spock’s sigh of pleasure as he put pressure on Spock’s slit. “Yeah?” he asked, not really able to form a sentence any more intelligent than that.

“Yes,” Spock breathed.

They curled together, kissing, skin-against-skin, one of Spock’s broad hands against the back of his neck, the other twining their fingers together. Spock was warm and needy, arching under McCoy’s free hand. Occasionally they began to move against one another with small, sensual thrusts, just enough to keep the burn of arousal steady. The space between Spock’s legs was wet with arousal, and each tiny movement made Spock shiver beneath him. Spock’s slit gradually opened and his erection slid forth, a bit at a time, until he was straining and hard against McCoy’s leg.

McCoy felt like he could have kept going like this forever, or even stopped here utterly sated. He didn’t need to come; this was plenty good. Just the feeling of Spock under him, the taste of Spock’s mouth, the gentle sighs as Spock rubbed against him. Maybe it was the bond that made him get such enjoyment out of the experience. Maybe it was just this alien planet. Maybe it was just the weight of his love for Spock: utterly terrifying. Utterly freeing.

Spock moved against him, thrusting up with slow, slick slides of his cock against McCoy’s bony hip. His little breathy sighs had shifted louder now, more moans than anything, and McCoy swallowed them down hungrily. Spock began to tremble beneath him, gasping, and McCoy could feel the arousal pouring off him thick and heavy as Spock came. He hadn’t been able to study it last time but now he saw how Spock’s orgasm was different from his own--beautiful, gorgeous, but still different. Spock came as slow as their love making, just shaking and gasping, eyes screwed shut as he tried to pull McCoy into him, to join their bodies physically, perhaps mentally. There was no emission and McCoy belatedly realized there hadn’t been any the last two times either. But there was no mistaking what Spock was experiencing, physical evidence be damned.

It was an experience that took minutes, not seconds. He could feel Spock’s hand twitching against his neck and then Spock abruptly dropped his head to the ground, gasping again. His whole body quaked, rippling with pleasure. His neck arched and his mouth opened so sweetly that McCoy nearly sobbed. God, he was so beautiful as he came, every part of him open and perfect, at the mercy of McCoy’s tender gaze.

McCoy held still, fascinated, and watched as Spock came down from the aftershocks. He was still hard against McCoy’s leg but even the most minute of pressure made Spock gasp as the pleasure approached pain.

He smoothed back Spock’s hair as Spock began to relax beneath him. He kissed Spock’s temple. “You okay, darlin’?”

Spock made a noise that sounded affirmative. He began to pet McCoy’s back soothingly.

He chuckled warmly. He kissed Spock’s cheek. “You’re beautiful.”

Vaksur...Ashayam,” Spock murmured.

“Hmm? What’s that mean?”

“It means,” Spock said, resting his hand against the small of McCoy’s back. “That I wish to continue pleasuring you.”

McCoy nuzzled Spock’s neck. “You sure? I don’t need—”

“Hush, Leonard.” Spock kissed him.

McCoy rolled against him. He was still hard, aching really. He let Spock’s hand press him down against Spock’s hip and he began to thrust. He could feel Spock’s still-hard length against the side of his cock, and he wasn’t sure if the meant Spock needed more attention or of it was just a Vulcan thing. “Did you like it?” he asked against Spock’s shoulder.

Spock hesitated. “Leonard, may I… share with you what I felt?”

He stopped thrusting. “I, Spock I don’t know—”

“The intimacy disturbs you.”

“Last time I crawled inside your head I passed out.”

“I could perhaps prevent such an occurrence a second time.”

McCoy huffed and pulled away to kneel beside Spock, who sat up to frown at him. “It’s not that. It’s...how it feels to know how you feel about me.”

“That I love you.”

He looked out at the night sky. “I don’t know,” he muttered.

Spock’s hand rested on the side of his face, turning McCoy to look at him. Spock was kneeling before him now as well and he gently kissed McCoy’s lips. “I will not push you into that you do not desire. The offer is open, if you wish for it.” He kissed McCoy again. “Instead, will you allow me to continue the activity I began earlier?”

“Which…?”

Spock’s eyes lit up. “The...I believe you called it a ‘blow job?’”

McCoy groaned. “Damnit, Spock, when you say things like that--yes, just…”

Spock was already bending down and pushing apart McCoy’s knees to insinuate himself between them. His smart mouth fell to McCoy’s erection, one hand wrapping around his balls, and--good Lord. Spock had really been taking notes earlier. He set to work immediately, massaging the thin and sensitive skin of McCoy’s testicles, lapping at the head of his cock, sucking in his length, kissing him everywhere with those perfect lips. Spock was neither hurried nor slow, simply methodical, steady, and McCoy pushed his own hesitancies from his mind and rested his hands on the back of Spock’s head so that he could card his fingers through Spock’s slick hair.

That mouth, that mouth of Spock’s, so gorgeous and knowing, with that little quirk on the corner of his lips as Spock looked up at him with heated brown eyes. It wasn’t long before McCoy was murmuring a warning and Spock pulled back just enough for McCoy to come into his hand with a desperate groan.

Spock helped him lie down, wiping his hand with the corner of the blanket.

“God, Spock,” he said.

“I am not,” Spock said primly, kissing him on the nose.

McCoy burst out laughing as Spock frowned at him. He wrapped his arms around Spock and pulled him into a tight, crushing hug, kissing the side of Spock’s neck and face. “You’re too good for me,” he said. “Too good.”

Spock huffed. “Leonard—”

“Just let me have this, Spock,” he said, already sliding towards sleep despite his every effort to keep his eyes open so that he could bask in the warm glow of Spock’s body against his. “Just let me have...you.”

Chapter Text

McCoy made it through eight surgeries, fifteen new alien species, a heated discussion with Seref, three lunches and two dinners with Spock, and nine days of work before he called Jim and cried for forty minutes.

Real minutes. Earth minutes.

“Oh, Bones.”

There was really nothing else Jim could say. Intellectually, McCoy knew that. It still made him ache to know that his best friend, one of the smartest people he knew and a genius at love, had no solution for them.

After, McCoy felt hot and puffy. His head ached and his face was smeared with the dried salt of his tears. He went and blew his nose and got a glass of water and sat back in front of the computer.

“Can I help?” Jim asked.

“A distraction, maybe,” McCoy said, voice raw. “Just tell me something good.”

Jim did. He always had a story that would brighten a dark room, and this one was no exception. He told McCoy of the kitten he and Sulu and Uhura had found in the quad, and of the comedy of errors that had ensued as they tried to hide her from the residential assistant. They had roped an upperclassman--Mr. Scott, a brilliant engineer--into building a collar that would mask the kitten’s biosigns. Which, of course, meant that when she went missing immediately after, they couldn’t find her, either. They had searched for a full day before finally finding her curled up in Sulu’s potted plant, asleep.

McCoy felt better after talking to his friend. He signed off and went into the bathroom to wash his face. The puffiness had died down, but he looked drawn. Tired. He put on a bit of makeup and combed his hair before going to work.

The hospital was subdued today. A cold snap had blown in overnight and left a half-dozen Vulcans with frostbitten ears, but the xeno ward was quiet. McCoy did his rounds and went to the lounge to study up on Kzinti anatomy. He found Seref there kneeling on a cushion with a cup of tea at his knee. Seref nodded to him as he entered and McCoy nodded back. He took out the drip brewer and began preparing coffee.

As the scent of coffee filled the air he leaned against the cupboard. He took out his datapadd and made a few notes. He got halfway through the first page when Seref politely cleared his throat.

McCoy looked over, surprised. The Vulcan merely raised his eyebrow. “Was that not the correct sound to draw your attention? I admit, my studies of human custom are somewhat lacking.”

“No, it was. My apologies, Doctor.”

Seref gestured at the space beside him. “Will you join me, Doctor McCoy?”

McCoy took his coffee and went to sit beside Seref on the other cushion. Seref made a face.

“I see you still indulge in that...rather fragrant brew.”

“Noxious, you mean,” McCoy said, trying not to smile. “A bad human habit, I’m afraid.”

Seref merely nodded. “I wish to compliment you on your astonishing growth during your time here.”

McCoy blinked in surprise. He tried to accept the compliment graciously, channeling all the work Spock had been doing with him to not demure. “Oh, I… Thank you, sir.”

Seref nodded. “As you are a man of logic yourself you, of course, recognize that I mention this to you merely as a statement of fact.”

“Of course.” He pursed his lips tightly to prevent the smile that threatened.

Seref picked up his tea and sipped it. “I am also pleased that you have recovered from your injury.”

“Oh, the desert?” He winced. “It was my own foolishness that got me into that mess.”

“Indeed?” Seref asked. “I think not. But I was referring to the injury of mind you suffered when dorli Spock attempted to sever your bond.”

McCoy had never heard that word before, but he gathered from Seref’s tone that he meant it respectfully rather than an insult. Still, he looked away, embarrassed at how much his colleague knew about his personal life. “It wasn’t...we were just operating under a miscommunication.”

“Hence, my appreciation that the situation has resolved in your favor. Although you and I have also struggled to communicate I recognize that you are open-minded. Your fit with him is beneficial to you both.”

“Ah, thank you?”

Seref sipped his tea again. “You are quite different from Dr. M’Benga. It has often been said that humans are the most variable of species in the Federation. At one moment you share our logic, yet in an instant you fly into a rage which shames the most furious Klingon warrior.”

McCoy tried to guess if that was a compliment or not. “I think every species has its defining characteristic,” he said after a moment. “Vulcans have logic, Klingons honor, Romulans intrigue… For humans, though, it’s exploration.” He shrugged. “We like to learn new things.”

Seref nodded. “You have curious minds. Precisely why our two species have found such common ground.” He had finished his tea. He rose and straightened his robes, depositing the cup in the receptacle. “You are aware, of course, that I initially spoke out against opening hospital residencies to outworlders.”

McCoy blinked. “No, sir, I didn’t know that.”

“There were a...what is the phrase? A ‘handful’ of us who contested the idea. Ambassador Sarek, who I believe you know, was the most vocal among them.”

McCoy gaped at him. “Really? But Ama--but his wife!”

“Yes.” Seref nodded slowly, looking contemplative. “Odd, is it not? But Sarek is well known among my people for his excellent logic and reasoning. When I spoke out against opening our doors to outworlders it was with him by my side, and I assumed therefore that what I was doing was logical.”

“...And now?”

“And now I believe it would have been wrong.” Seref’s face smoothed, and although he didn’t smile he did seem amused. “Indeed, I was wrong. I am pleased you have been able to join us, Dr. McCoy. Your unusual tendencies have forced the hospital to grow and change. I hope that Vulcan has reshaped you positively as well. Live long, Doctor. And Prosper.”

With that, Seref left him in the lounge. His coffee had cooled, lukewarm. He still drank it and considered how different he felt now, one year later. He knew more about xenobiology that any human alive, he knew that. But it was not merely technical knowledge which had reshaped him. He had started playing the violin again, which he had not done since his divorce. He’d learned to take a compliment, although it still felt deeply unnatural. And his hands, shaped for surgery and healing, could now do more than that. They were a source of love. An extension of his affection for another being.

McCoy leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. He missed Vulcan already, although he had not yet left, but he would not trade having been here for anything in the universe.

*

He awoke the morning of his last day on Vulcan. It was fourth-day and he rolled over, curling around Spock and kissing his ear, pulling back to whisper, “I have an idea,” before diving in again.

*

Walking Boy took two of Vulcan’s hours to tell, each minute a separate piece of a larger story. Twenty years ago the full orchestral version had been played offworld on the Martian Utopia colony before a gaggle of schoolchildren. One of them had been Laura Wilder who heard the Vulcan music and grew inspired. When she became famous, years later, for her lyrical music she penned an homage to Walking Boy. All this Spock had told him last week over tea, and McCoy had listened.

Now, he stood on the edge of the market, violin loose in his hands, watching the ebb and flow of foot traffic. A Vulcan child eyed him curiously, and he nodded to her. He searched the crowd for Spock but didn’t see him.

He raised the fiddle to his chin and drew the bow across the strings.

The human interpretation of Walking Boy began fast. The image of a boy stranded atop a very high mountain, looking down. Sand whipped at his face as McCoy strummed a staccato melody as hot and rushing as the sand storms that ravaged Vulcan. But the boy was not on Vulcan. It was Earth he sank his toes into, Earth’s sky he gazed upon wistfully. Earth was his home.

Music poured from his fingertips and he could feel the eyes of every Vulcan trained on him. This was not only unusual, it was unprecedented. On Earth a market like this would be riddled with musicians of all kinds eeking out tunes, a habit held over from when money was a daily necessity and a good song could fill one’s fiddle case with crumpled bills and rattling change. But on Vulcan no one played who was not officially sanctioned, which he clearly was not.

The music whirled up, a hurricane, catching the boy and pulling him away from his home. A hundred kilometers away--a thousand--a million--out into the stars until—!

The note hung in the air, a question seeking an answer, and for a moment the silence was deafening, and then—

A trickle, like pouring water. Spock’s lyre answered him.

Vulcan, where the boy was stranded among those with high ears and dour expressions. Spock’s lyre filtered through the crowd and all swiveled to look at him, astonished. A human breaking a taboo was one thing, but a Vulcan like them?

McCoy grinned and set his bow atop the strings again, and then he really began to play.

The music whooped and shouted; the strings seemed to smoke beneath the speed of his bow. He stepped forward into the sand as the boy did, a begging human question. He still could not see Spock but he heard him, called out through the crowd and they parted like water, flowing over one another, and there he was. His brow arched high, soft brown eyes alight with mischief as they blended the tale of the boy.

They circled each other, spiraling in, closer and closer as the boy lamented his new home, his fate. How had he been dashed upon this dry and arid shore? When could he return? Only to be met with the statement: he could not.

He gasped as Spock’s fingers fluttered over the strings, their two instruments--which should not have gone together at all--melding until they almost became one. One note, a harmony of two souls. They should not have worked and yet they did, eyes trained on one another until they were the only two in the world--in the universe--alone together as the boy stood and began to walk into Vulcan’s burning sun, red as the passion Vulcans pretended not to feel.

And they were upon each other, strings vibrating, scant centimeters between them. He thought he could feel Spock’s breath, but it was his own, a gasp in thin, uncertain air. His bow danced over the strings dark, somber, and Spock’s fingers strummed at his lyre high, bright, and together they created something rich and full, with depth unfathomable.

Together they played in the market to a surprised audience and when the song rose, rose to a crescendo and burst--they stood together in silence, their breath the only duet.

Distantly, McCoy heard clapping. He looked over Spock’s shoulder and saw M’Benga standing there with a bag of produce tucked up under his arm. M’Benga clapped twice more and waved, his very human smile a shocking juxtaposition against the sea of shocked Vulcans.

Shocked Vulcans who were rapidly growing louder, debating whether to call the guards over these apparently-illogical intruders.

“Shall we run?” Spock asked him pleasantly.

McCoy grinned and offered his arm, violin loose again in his hand. “Let’s,” he agreed, and together they dashed over the shifting sands, past the startled flute player, leaping around the fruit stand, and past the outskirts of town to where the shuttlecar waited.

They piled in and flew away, away until they were tucked into a stone outcropping and McCoy was stifling his giggles in his hand until Spock kissed him, fierce, and said, “Please, Leonard. Laugh for me?” and he was too shocked to go on.

“Spock…”

“You played beautifully, Leonard.”

He flushed. “So did you. Did you see the looks on their faces?”

“Why, Leonard. Do you mean to imply that what we did was improper?” Spock’s mouth bent in at the corner, enticing.

Unable to resist such an offer, McCoy took Spock by the ears and tugged him in, kissing that smile until it opened to him and he was pouring into Spock, or perhaps Spock was pouring into him. The direction mattered little and he gasped, delighted, so ecstatic that at first he could not place was he was feeling at all, and then he pulled at Spock’s sleeve, a request.

Spock answered him.

The shuttle was quiet. The sunset trickled in, warm, and McCoy thought of the night the two of them had spent together here, on the blanket now folded in the back. He kissed Spock because he was afraid of losing him, lamented that he already missed him.

“Leonard, it is time.”

He didn’t want to go. To leave this, leave Spock--he shuddered in agony and kissed him again, took Spock’s hand in his and held it fast. Spock kissed him back gentle, soft. After a moment McCoy managed to force himself away.

He put away his violin and stood there staring at his things. His trunk with his meagre belongings. His violin in its black case. The clothes on his back, and…

He turned and looked at Spock, who was inputting coordinates on the console. Spock’s hands stilled as McCoy looked at him. His back was turned, shoulders hunched. His silky hair was slightly mussed and McCoy reached forward and fixed it for him. He trailed his forefingers over Spock’s neck.

“They are prepared to receive you.”

He sucked in a breath. “Spock—”

“I know.” Spock stood so swiftly McCoy nearly toppled over. Spock took hold of him, one hand on the back of McCoy’s neck, eyes locked. “I know, Leonard. My feelings for you are the same. I--I admit to you that even now I am struggling to find a way to keep you from leaving.”

“I am, too,” he admitted. “But Spock, I think it is inevitable.”

Spock looked stoic. “I have accepted it is inevitable. I still do not have to like it.”

He laughed, a quick burst, and then sternly told himself not to cry. “One more, for the road?”

Spock softened. He pulled McCoy in and their fingers embraced as they kissed, of two worlds, finally out of time. McCoy stepped back and stood by his things, watching as Spock pressed the comm and connected with the transport ship orbiting.

“Energize,” he said.

The beam took him, and McCoy wondered at the wetness on Spock’s cheek.

Chapter Text

How much could a man change in fifteen years?

Probably a great deal, McCoy thought. After all, it had only taken him a year on Vulcan to learn how to fall in love--and then get kicked out of it. When he had returned to Earth the blue sphere had no longer been home. Not really. He’d felt the parable of Walking Boy first hand in the way his heart clenched, confused by what had once been familiar.

That didn’t matter as much to him now as it had then. Back then his return to Earth had left him shaken and upset for nearly a year. The sky was the wrong color, the smells were unfamiliar, and the people were too damned friendly. Earth had become a place he could no longer call home. But time had tempered his sorrow. Space was infinite, terrifying, but tooling around with his new family made it home. Home was a silver ship filled with Jim Kirk’s foolhardiness, Scotty’s miracle work, Uhura’s sparkling laugh, Sulu’s eclectic hobbies, Chekov’s brilliance, Chapel’s indelible kindness. Home was also the empty space--that wound of mind and soul, the space beside him when he went to bed each night, his unfilled palm. Home was what he didn’t have, too.

Nine years ago Spock had gotten married to a childhood friend. McCoy had sent him his congratulations and told himself he wasn’t upset. After all, six years should have been plenty of time to get over someone. Unfortunately, he never seemed to be able to follow his own advice. Three years later, divorce. Spock had called him with a look of drawn resignation and McCoy had talked him through it. He knew a thing or two about surviving divorce.

That had been the last time he’d seen Spock’s face. After that it was written communication, a handful of letters, and then slowly they had drifted apart. McCoy told himself it was the hectic life of running a Sickbay that kept him from writing. He wondered what Spock told himself. Sometimes, laying awake at night and staring at the dim ceiling, he thought he knew. He thought that Spock didn’t have any excuse except heartbreak like a wound reopening each time they spoke. And, well, he understood that. He didn’t begrudge Spock at all.

He had been shocked when Jim told him that their latest assignment would be shuttling the son of a high-falutin’ ambassador and his band to play at the conference at Babel. They would be shuttling Spock.

Now, he stood at the outskirts of the shuttle bay rocking back and forth on his toes, hands clasped behind his back, trying to keep his face impassive. The security guard pretended to ignore his palpable anxiety as they waited for the ship from Trill. After a moment Jim came strolling down the hall wearing a smile for the two of them.

“Gentlemen.”

“Captain,” the guard said, and went back to studiously ignoring McCoy.

“Jim, what’s the damned point of these uniforms?”

Jim rolled his eyes. “They look nice, Bones. Don’t you think we should look nice for the people who are going to play at the most important diplomatic conference of the century?”

“They aren’t even diplomats,” McCoy muttered. “We could be shuttling ambassadors right now.”

Jim waved the statement away. “Let the Ahwahnee handle that.” He suddenly looked chagrined and tugged McCoy’s sleeve, pulling him a step away. “Bones, is this okay? I thought you would— if you don’t want to meet them I can comm Robbins to come be part of the procession.”

McCoy nearly booked it right then. Instead, he took a deep breath. “It’s...fine. I’m just not sure how to interact with him anymore.”

Jim nodded soberly. “Well, did you get him flowers? A man should always bring flowers when he visits an old flame.”

“Shut up.” He smacked Jim lightly. “Vulcans don’t do that.”

Jim grinned at him. “You’ll be fine, Bones. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”

Happy? McCoy wasn’t sure about that. Still, when the boatswain's whistle sounded he stepped back into line and watched the shuttle glide into the bay. He twitched nervously as the door opened. Out stepped a young woman, a Betazoid, followed by a Trill man with unusual blue spots. Both carried instrument cases on their back: one was long and awkwardly shaped, the other looked like it could have held a guitar. They paused and looked back at the shuttle door.

McCoy looked as well, breath catching in his throat.

Spock emerged looking immaculate, perfect. He’d let his hair grow out in long waves that stopped just above his waist. He wore a striking grey robe with silver stitches that glittered even at this distance, his lyre case strapped to his back, and he seemed utterly at ease. And his face, his face… He had not changed a bit. He was exactly as McCoy remembered him--and of course he was. He was Vulcan, who aged hardly at all. He paused in the arch of the shuttle door, one hand on the frame, eyes scanning the area. He stood tall and proud, as if he had been made to stand there. His look was smooth, impassive, and then his brown gaze lighted upon McCoy.

His mouth bent in at the corner.

McCoy was shaking slightly as the band approached. Spock nodded to them, his gaze dragging over McCoy before he flickered back to Jim.

“I am Spock,” he said, although of course Jim already knew him. “My bandmates, Raifi Ludai and Amina Genestra.” He raised his hand in the Vulcan salute.

Jim merely nodded politely, but McCoy saw his chance and took it. He raised his own hand, fingers falling automatically into place to salute in return. Spock’s eyebrow arched, intrigued.

Jim spent a moment introducing them but McCoy didn’t hear him. He only had eyes for Spock, who seemed to be having the same thought. He watched Spock watch him, drowning under the heat of his gaze, and then he realized Jim was elbowing him in the side.

“--you got that, Bones?”

McCoy turned to him, blinking in shock. “Uh, what?”

“Ensign Pryor is going to escort Raifi, and I’ve got Amin. You’ll take Mr. Spock to his quarters?”

He gulped. Looked back at Spock in silent question. Across the space between them he felt a strange yearning, as though his whole soul were reaching out desperately to grab him and pull him close. “Yeah,” he breathed. “I’ve got him, Jim.”

Spock’s bandmates exchanged knowing looks and McCoy flushed with embarrassment. How much had Spock told them about him? Anything? Maybe it was just that as a Betazoid Amina could sense the electricity building between them. Or maybe it was just that it was obvious to anyone, Betazoid or not.

They waited a moment for the shuttlebay to empty and then they were alone. The feeling magnified and--God, it had been so long. Too long. Could he touch Spock now, here? Spock’s cheek looks smooth, regal. He wanted to hold Spock’s face in his hands and gaze into his eyes, but he didn’t know if it would be appropriate.

“...Your skill at producing the ta’al has greatly improved, Leonard,” Spock said after a moment.

McCoy relaxed at Spock’s words. He felt simultaneously like crying and laughing. “I’ve had a few years to practice.”

“Indeed.” Spock’s gaze turned introspective.

“Your hair… you’ve let it grow.”

Spock ran his hand through the long, black locks. “Does it bother you?”

“No,” McCoy said instantly, surprised. He thought of the way Spock’s hair had always gotten into a disarray. So easily mussed. “Not at all. I… I like it. It suits you, Spock.” He cleared his throat and glanced askance. “Shall I show you to your quarters?”

Spock inclined his head, and away they went.

His dress uniform still felt too tight, practically choking him as he escorted Spock to his quarters. They were spartan, dotted with generic furnishings. Spock rested his lyre case on the desk and surveyed the room.

McCoy stood near the door, tugging at his neckline. “It’s small, but hopefully it suits your needs.”

“I have experienced far smaller quarters,” Spock said, looking at him.

Indeed he had, as had McCoy. The room felt palatial in comparison to the tiny space he had shared with M’Benga back on Vulcan. The memory felt distant, faded at the edges, and McCoy sighed. “You’ll have access to the ship’s computer, except for restricted files, of course. Anything you need just ask and we’ll see what we can do.”

Spock nodded. His face was blank, but McCoy still knew him. Spock was nervous, practically vibrating with it. “Thank you,” he said formally in Standard. He hesitated, eyes falling to the ground, and then whispered in plain English, “Leonard, will you stay with me?”

He shivered. He knew instantly what Spock was asking, and he wanted it more than anything. His fingers itched to hold Spock, to feel his warm skin, the silky softness of his hair. When he spoke it was English as well, the words tasting sweet as honey in his mouth. “I want to,” he said honestly. “But I’m still on duty for another hour.”

“You must return to the Sickbay?”

He shook his head. He took a step forward without realizing it and had to force himself to remain still. “No, it’s just I can’t be...indisposed, if I get a call.”

Spock’s mouth bent in again, and McCoy shivered at the sight of his beautiful smile. “Might you show me the rest of the ship? We could...reminisce about old times.”

“I’d like that,” he said softly.

What was another hour after fifteen years apart? An eternity. They stepped back into the busy corridor and ambled in no direction in particular, feet dragging. McCoy spoke fondly of the ship as Spock listened with rapt attention. With so many of the crew about McCoy walked close to Spock, voice pitched low in a private conversation.

He showed Spock the cafeteria, the recreation room, and engineering. They stuck their heads into Sickbay and said hello to Christine, who teased him about still wearing his dress uniform. Spock looked him up and down, gaze hot and practically physical, and commented that McCoy had not had a chance to undress.

After, they went to the observation deck. The room was mostly taken up with a large, round window that stretched across the far wall. Although it would soon be flooded with people getting off shift, for now they were alone.

Spock stepped towards the window and rested his fingers on the transparent aluminum. Beyond the veil stars streaked by. “Breathtaking.”

McCoy, gazing at Spock’s narrow shoulders, the swoop of the robe clinging to his frame, agreed. He stepped forward and Spock turned to look at him over his shoulder, eyes warm and pleased.

“What are you thinking, Leonard?”

He stood beside Spock and watched the stars with him. “I’ve seen a lot of different stars in my time,” he said quietly. “These are some of the most beautiful.”

“Yes,” Spock agreed. “Do you...miss the stars of Earth?”

McCoy considered. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “But also sometimes I miss the stars of Vulcan. That was my home, too, for a while and when I returned to Earth…” He paused and turned to look at Spock, who was watching him closely, mouth soft. “It wasn’t the same,” he said finally. “I guess you can’t always go back to what you once had. Things change too much.”

Spock made a noise. He moved like he was about to reach out, and the space between them crackled with energy. But Spock didn’t touch him. His hand stayed by his side, palm open and empty. “If things change are they no longer good?”

“They still are,” McCoy whispered. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and balled his hands into fists, desperate. “Spock, I...What will we be?”

“Together,” Spock said, instantly.

“Yeah?” It sounded too good to be true. “For four days to Babel?”

“Yes.” Spock was so close that McCoy could feel his breath. If he took one more step they would be touching. But he didn’t move. “Four days.”

“I still want that,” McCoy said, trying to keep the shame from creeping into his voice.

Judging by the look on Spock’s face he hadn’t been entirely successful. Spock took another step and they were so close Spock’s robe touched him, fluttered over him, and Spock lifted his hand, fingers questioning. “Leonard, I—”

The door swished open and a gaggle of ensigns came tumbling in, laughing and chatting. They went straight for the games table without seeming to notice the two men standing in the corner, but McCoy still bit his lip and stepped back from Spock.

“Come on. I’ll walk you home.”

They walked side-by-side as McCoy considered the situation from all angles. After a moment, he said, “Our first officer here, Commander Robbins--she’s a good woman, I think you’d like her. She’s logical like a Vulcan.”

Spock arched his brow. “Indeed?”

“She was telling me the other day about the theory of infinite universes. Do you know the theory?”

“It is currently the most plausible explanation for the number of dimensions known to us.”

McCoy smiled at him. “We’d gotten ourselves caught up in some sort of endlessly fracturing barrier between universes and she was trying to explain what was going on. But it stuck with me--infinite universes, and here’s where I wound up.”

They had reached Spock’s quarters and they stopped before the door. “You are not pleased with the arrangement?”

“I’m...lucky,” McCoy said. “Lucky to have such a fine ship to call home and a wonderful crew to take care of. But I can’t help but think, why this? Why did I meet you, why did I fall in love, in the universe where we can’t be together?”

Spock was silent. After a moment he keyed open the door but instead of going inside he merely held it open. Slowly, he raised his hand, two fingers outstretched.

McCoy took in a shuddering breath. His hands were burning, abraded. His fingers fell automatically to a kiss like they’d done this every day for the past fifteen years: ring and pinky bending towards his palm, forefingers straight, and he lifted up to brush, featherlight, against Spock’s skin.

He gasped, eyes welling with emotion, as Spock opened for him. Some spot inside of him that had remained bare and empty so long he had grown used to it filled suddenly, and it was like that first drink of water after a lifetime of wandering the desert. When they touched Spock was more than the calluses on his skin, more than the distance that had separated them. They kissed as the bond between them flared with excitement, thrumming with energy and joy.

Spock took a step back into his room and McCoy followed after, never once breaking the kiss. His eyes were trained on Spock’s gentle, heated gaze as the door shushed closed behind them.

He swallowed once, twice, throat sore with emotion. “Spock, I...haven’t been able to stop loving you.”

“Nor I, you, Ashayam.”

He ran his fingers over the back of Spock’s hand just to see him jump with pleasure. “...Did you love her?”

To his credit, Spock didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “I suppose, although not, I think, in the way you mean to imply. For T’Pring our marriage was of necessity, and when the moment passed so too did any affection we held for one another.”

“That’s horrible!”

Spock inclined his head, neither agreement nor contestation of McCoy’s outburst. He looked to their joined hands with a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. “Your desire to protect me is admirable, Leonard.”

“Maybe if you’d spend more time protecting yourself I wouldn’t have to,” he groused.

“I love you,” Spock said, and McCoy flushed with embarrassment.

“How can you say that? It’s been years, Spock.”

“True,” Spock agreed, contemplative. “But the feelings I have for you I have never experienced with anyone else.”

“That’s just the bond talking.”

“In part, perhaps. But there is also this feeling—” He punctuated the words by resting the pad of his thumb against McCoy’s lower lip, gentle, and McCoy jumped in surprise. “This feeling for which I have no name but love, although it is also...more. Different. I believe it is only my human half which allows me to feel it.”

McCoy opened his mouth to respond but before he could do so Spock was flooding his senses, lips replacing thumb, decidedly less gentle and hesitant.

He gasped at the first light brush of affection and Spock took advantage of the situation expertly. He’d forgotten what it was like--or not forgotten, exactly, but misremembered. He remembered the actions of it but not the sensation, so sharp and immediate. Not the way they fit together like puzzle pieces, the way Spock was slightly inexperienced but also eager, the way his heart swelled with affection and fondness. He wondered if Spock had kissed anyone like this since the day they had parted.

As if hearing his thoughts, Spock pulled back. His eyes were glazed and his lips were pressed green, flushed. “It has been too long. Are you aware, Leonard, that I wrote a song about our first kiss?”

McCoy heated with embarrassment. He was aware, but he didn’t want to admit it. “I play your music sometimes,” he said, dodging the question.

“When I learned we were to meet again I was driven to distraction. I wrote a new song for you.”

McCoy brushed his fingers over the high neck of Spock’s robe, wishing it were off already. “I’d like to hear it.”

“Now?” Spock asked, starting to take a step back. “I could of course play—”

“Absolutely not.” McCoy took him by the ear and pulled him in for another kiss. “Let’s put those fingers to better use.”

He could taste Spock’s smile.

Spock cupped the back of his neck and tugged him closer, and McCoy practically sobbed at the feeling. He had forgotten--how could he have forgotten?--how Spock used to hold him like that, fingers splayed over the fine hairs at the nape of his neck. He fumbled one-handed with Spock’s robe, peeling it open at the shoulder so he could slide his hand in and touch Spock’s body. There were still more clothes in the way and McCoy grumbled in annoyance.

“Patience, Ashayam.” Spock pulled away with a parting kiss to both lips and fingers. He shrugged off his robe and revealed his bright blue turtleneck sweater tucked into black high waisted trousers.

The color was so familiar that McCoy knew Spock had chose to wear that shirt on purpose. He touched the fabric with curious fingers. “This is...”

“It is illogical to harbor a particular fondness for one color over another,” Spock said, tugging the hem of the shirt out of the waist of his trousers. “Nevertheless, I cannot stop loving the blue of your eyes.”

McCoy gulped and then went to work helping Spock out of the shirt. Spock was wearing a hair tie on one wrist, just a strip of black elastic, and McCoy picked up his hand and kissed him just below it, where he could feel the beat of Spock’s pulse point. He unfastened Spock’s trousers but then got distracted before he could push them down. He kissed Spock as he explored his body, marveling at how familiar it was. His stomach was still soft and smooth, and Spock still arched into his hands as he lifted them to his chest to play with his olive nipples.

Spock looked and felt just the same as he had those years ago. It was as if he hadn’t aged a day. The only difference was how pale he had gotten. The kind of paleness that resulted from a life lived traveling from one distant outpost to another. McCoy thought of Spock’s shoulders, freckled by the sun, as they had swam together in Spock’s oasis. He kissed the space beneath Spock’s elegant ear, the side of his neck, his shoulder, then his collar bone. Spock sighed pleasantly and slipped one hand to the back of McCoy’s neck again, but this time with a particular goal in mind.

Spock worked down the zipper of his dress uniform as they stood together in the studiously practical living room, and McCoy thought of how different he looked now. Embarrassed, McCoy pulled away before Spock could work his shirt off.

“I’m not--It may be a surprise to you how old I’ve gotten.”

Spock frowned. “You are forty, Leonard. Hardly old.”

“For a Vulcan, maybe. But I’m not the young man you—” He cut himself off and crossed his arms over his chest, mentally cursing himself. This was a hell of a time to start getting melancholy.

“We will always be changing, Leonard.”

He screwed his eyes shut. He felt Spock behind him and then a warm palm on his back. Spock replaced his hand with his soft lips, fingers trailing up to McCoy’s shoulders to slowly push away the fabric. McCoy let his arms fall, sighing in delight despite himself.

Gently, easily, as if they had all the time in the universe, Spock slipped the dress uniform off. He let it fall to the side where it would surely get wrinkled, but McCoy didn’t care because Spock kissed his neck again and ran his hands, hot as stones, along his spine.

“There is tension, here, Leonard. When we have finished making love you will have to let me relieve it with neuropressure.”

McCoy shuddered. “Say that again?”

Those hot hands snuck around, trailing over McCoy’s ribs to the front of his body. Spock kissed his neck and slid up, breathy against the shell of his ear. “First, Ashayam, we will make love.”

McCoy gasped, shuddering as Spock’s hands began to slide over his chest and stomach.

“Then, I will put my hands on you again. I will touch you until you have never felt such relaxation, until you are pliable as silk beneath me. And then we will make love again.”

“Please,” he begged. He arched up into Spock’s hands. “Spock.”

“I have missed you. It has been too long.”

“Fifteen years,” he murmured.

“Far too long. Leonard, it astonishes me.”

“Hmm?” He gasped, parting his legs as Spock’s hand down over his stomach and lower. “What does?”

“You have managed to grow even more beautiful in the time we have been apart.”

He grumbled but it faded to a sharp exhalation as Spock cupped him through his uniform. “Are you trying to sweet talk me?”

“Is it working?” Spock asked innocently, kissing his ear.

McCoy pulled away just enough to turn around and take Spock’s face into his hands. “You don’t have to try, Spock. You’ve already got me. You…You’ve always had me.”

“For that I am grateful.”

They kissed as Spock toed off his shoes, leaving them haphazardly piled next to their clothes. They stumbled back and came to rest at the partition between the living room and bedroom, McCoy crowded against the metal, Spock’s body flushed and hot against his own, and McCoy finally found the brain power to push Spock’s trousers off. They pooled at his feet and he kicked them away, and McCoy slid his hands over all the lovely new skin that had been exposed. He roamed over Spock’s lower back, his ass, the soft skin beneath the swell of muscle. Spock gasped as he did it and McCoy slipped into the hot expanse of his mouth and thought of Vulcan’s burning sun, cayenne pepper, forged metal.

Spock was pressed fully against him as if they might somehow be able to climb inside of one another. And there was an idea. McCoy pulled back and kissed Spock’s cheek, licked his ear. “Spock, what are your thoughts on penetration?”

“Positive,” Spock told him. He was shaking slightly as McCoy massaged his bottom.

“Okay, let’s—” He looked around the room. Spock probably hadn’t brought anything, so he kissed Spock’s cheek. “Go lie down. I’ll try to find something.”

He awkwardly stumbled around the spartan quarters searching for anything that they could safely use as lubricant. The bathroom was a bust and he made an angry mental note to tell Jim to start stocking guest quarters with the things necessary for safe sex. The makeup stand was better, though, and yielded a small bottle of hand lotion. It was unscented and slick. It would do. He hastened back to Spock.

“We can try—” He came up short, nearly dropping the bottle as he caught sight of Spock.

Spock had turned down the covers and splayed himself out on the sheets. His hair fanned out around his head, curling soft and smooth around his ears. One hand rested on his stomach and the other between his legs, wet fingers sliding between the blushing green slit of his sheathe, nothing but a hair tie between him and the universe.

“Leonard?” Spock asked, raising his eyebrow as if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. “Is there a problem?”

McCoy struggled to unzip both boots and kick of his pants at the same time whilst juggling the lotion bottle. He tried to be suave but his excitement got the better of him. “Spock, if I didn’t know better I’d say you were trying to seduce me.”

“Thankfully, you know better.”

“Shut up.” McCoy kicked the last of his clothes away and tumbled into bed beside Spock. He grabbed Spock’s face and yanked him in for a harsh kiss, nipping at his lips. “I was gonna say that would be damned foolish of you, since I already told you I belong to you.”

“It pleases me to remind you that I belong to you.”

Spock arched towards him, mouth sweet with ecstasy. McCoy was feverish as he thumbed open the lotion and poured the slick into his hand. He insinuated himself between Spock’s legs and Spock helpfully lifted one knee, bending it to the side. With one hand McCoy trailed his fingers into Spock’s weeping slit, kissing Spock’s slick-wet fingers, and with the other he pressed the pad of his forefinger against Spock’s opening, massaging just long enough for Spock to grow relaxed and wet, and then he pushed inside.

He swallowed Spock’s moan of pleasure as he fingered him and, oh, it was like they had never parted. He knew Spock’s body intimately, and Spock was so sweet and open beneath him. He curled his fingers inside Spock and gently coaxed his cock out into the open air. He remembered how it had felt to hold Spock for the first time like this, how alien, how different-yet-familiar. Spock arched up, pumping into McCoy’s hand and then down onto his fingers as he slid a second one home.

Spock’s slick hand came to wrap around McCoy’s own neglected erection, pumping slow and steady, just enough to get him hot and bothered and to keep him hard. Spock’s other hand kissed the back of his neck, pleading for more, please, and faster.

McCoy thought how slowly they had gone their first few times--well, with one notable exception. This felt like that exception. It was also sloppy and fast and wonderful and McCoy felt like he was losing snatches of time to the sensation of Spock under him, touching him, being with him as though they had never been apart. But they had been, for so long they had been kept from one another by time and space and duty, and that made it all the sweeter to be with him again now. Four days? McCoy would take it. It could have been four minutes and McCoy would have gladly seized the chance to be with Spock again.

Somehow he was sliding three fingers out of Spock’s slick, needy hole and he took his cock in his hand. Spock lifted his legs and McCoy lined up, and he wanted to tell Spock how good it was, he wanted to whisper in Spock’s ear, but Spock kept tugging him in for more sweet kisses as he pressed the head of his cock at the ring of muscle and—

Spock’s hand came to rest at his temple, the arch of his cheek bone, and after a second McCoy nodded and—

They were flooding into one another, and McCoy thrust inside Spock as Spock slipped into his mind, flowed over him like the cool water of Spock’s—of their—oasis and he filled Spock up and Spock took it, took it all, felt so tight and good around him and he just wanted to lie like this forever and hold and be held and—

God! He had thought the bond was complete, but it wasn’t like this, like a dam bursting, every inch of him overflowing with Spock as their bond reverberated with their twin energies, and together they felt things that could not have been felt separately, and—

Spock was on fire and he was fire, a forge, melted glass from a sea of desert sand, pressing back, a white-hot flash of desire and love and--oh!—protect him, save him, but this was the love that they had, that they shared, too much and too physical and too emotional and everything that they needed and—

He wanted more, God he wanted more, needed it like he needed breath and Spock gave it to him, unfurled and his throat was raw and Spock was good, and Spock loved him, missed him, desired him, wanted him and—

He gasped, and—

Fell, and—

Awoke.

Sweaty and exhausted. He curled over Spock shaking, shuddering, and Spock smoothed back his hair and murmured Vulcan sweet nothings in his ear.

McCoy came down slow and gentle from the high of Spock. There was wetness between them and McCoy marveled at the fact that Spock had come on him, emission after all this time. He listened to Spock’s low, murmuring voice. He closed his eyes and sighed.

“...You really adore me?”

Spock paused. “You understand Vulcan now?”

“Mmm...I’ve picked up a few things.”

Spock hummed and McCoy could feel his pleasure—really feel it, and he was shocked. It had to be the bond that made him feel this so differently from the way he had felt it in the past. It wasn’t a vague shape or an interpretation of Spock’s subtle facial expressions. He felt Spock’s amusement and pleasure as if it were his own.

He cuddled against Spock and sighed, pleased. Later, he thought, he could worry about missing Spock. Later he could lament that their time together was so short. Now, he held Spock and Spock held him back.

“...I’m happy you’re here,” he whispered.

Spock kissed him on the temple. “I am hopeful that we will be able to see more of each other soon.”

“How?”

“I have just completed my studies at Starfleet Academy and will soon become a commissioned officer.”

McCoy sat up, shocked. “Wha--How? You’re in a band!”

Spock’s mouth bent in, his eyes smiling as well. “Indeed. It took more time to finish my studies as a result of my intense tour schedule. Thankfully, several of the credits I earned at the Tenaran Music Academy were transferrable.”

“They were?” McCoy asked, gobsmacked.

“Yes.” Spock’s hair had gotten tangled in the back and Spock frowned as he tried to push it out of his eyes.

McCoy smiled at him and began to help, carefully straightening each strand. “What made you decide to try out for Starfleet?”

Spock looked at him as if he were being foolish--which he was. “Forgive me, Leonard, for not informing you sooner. It had been so long since we talked and I...did not wish to presume that you would truly like to see me again.”

McCoy felt like his heart was breaking. He ran his fingers through Spock’s silky hair. “Spock, of course I want to see you, dummy. I always have. But, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be posted on the same ship.”

“I will not ask you to give up your position here. Truly, a posting on Starfleet’s most prestigious ship is the only one worthy of your skills and intelligence.” Spock went on before McCoy could protest, even half-heartedly. “Therefore I will strive to make myself worthy of serving beside you. That is my guarantee.”

McCoy stretched out beside Spock again and took his face in his hands, kissing him soundly. “You’re so worthy, Spock. You’re worthy of every bit of love I can give you and more.”

Spock hummed in delight. “Leonard, I believe you promised a session of neuropressure?”

McCoy laughed. “I think you promised that. But anyway, yes. We should. But not here; let’s go back to my quarters.” He sat up and started hunting around for his boots.

Spock sat up as well, looking surprised. “The amenities are more suitable there?”

“The amenities are the same.” McCoy paused, just looking at him. Spock looked so delightfully rumpled. Despite McCoy’s efforts his hair was still askew, his lips were tender from kisses, and there was a rising hicky on his neck that McCoy didn’t even remember planting on him. He grinned at Spock and offered his two fingers. “It’s just that I have bowl of fruit waiting for you there.”

Spock looked up at him, eyes bright, and met his kiss with a smile.