“May the Good Lord take a liking to you!” the man behind the bar welcomes them, dropping heavy, frosty glasses of green beer down on the counter in front of them; the city’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Festival is in full swing, especially here in the Financial District.
The group already seated – Jim and Hikaru and a third man, slightly older – raise their glasses in toast. “But not too soon!” they crow, joined by the mass of people around them, and there’s a near-deafening clink of glassware as they salute.
Jim presses a hand against the unknown third, who Spock assumes must be the often-mentioned ‘Bones,’ to move him, turning to greet Spock and Nyota with a crooked smile and a pint glass each. “Happy culturally appropriative excuse for drinking day,” he greets, bumping his shoulder against Spock’s and his drink against Nyota’s.
“Oh, so you need an excuse now?” Spock accepts the beer and the high-five that Hikaru immediately offers at his comment; his hair is an emerald green this time, Spock assumes for the festivities, but it doesn’t suit him quite like the blue had. It could, however, be from the sheer amount of it – both he and Jim, despite his greeting to the contrary, are dressed in various shades from head to toe. They would look ridiculous were it not echoed across the majority of the bar’s patrons, spilling out into the street in waves of green and glitter, and Spock had thought his green t-shirt alone had been a cliché.
Jim glares in proprietary response but doesn’t look offended; if anything, his smile brightens at the corners as he watches their exchange. “It’s my fault for introducing the two of you,” he says mostly to himself, but it’s loud enough for Spock to hear over the din of the bar. He realizes, probably belatedly, that he was meant to. “Okay, Mr. Upstanding Citizen,” and the words are so heavy with sarcasm that Spock is somewhat amazed that they even rise over the ruckus as much as they do. “Where’s Bill?”
This time it is Nyota to respond, winding her way past Spock to take the stool that lies vacant beside him; as she passes, she pats Jim’s shoulder with equal mockery. “Calm down, Helicopter Parent.” Nyota and Jim have been in the same room together exactly five times since that first meeting, two at his apartment and three in his classroom, and it took him exactly four of those times to realize that they did not hate each other. Perhaps it is his own raising, stiff and formal and unerringly polite, that originally lead him to the contrary, but he has come to recognize that this – the snide comments and scornful exchanges – are their own sort of burgeoning friendship. “One of the students offered to take her for the evening.”
“That wunderkind from your Linguistic Analysis course?” Spock’s not sure what he’s feeling, pleased or perturbed, that Jim knows so much about his life; perhaps some combination of both with emphasis given to the former.
He hmms in affirmation, sliding onto a stool of his own. “Bill likes him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” but he smiles another of those careless, casual smiles that have grown in frequency between them like their meetings; Jim spends more time in his classroom than some of his students, and he would feel irritated with that were he not now on a first name basis with the owner of the bakery three doors down from the bookstore. She makes excellent scones. “I trust you.” He covers the tail end of the sentence in a cough and the cough in a swig of beer, but Spock has made a lifetime of studying languages and his trained ear catches the words anyway. The man beside him raises his eyebrows and spins on his stool; he’d been ignoring them out of politeness (or boredom, Spock suspects) until now. “Spock, Bones,” and Jim gestures carelessly between the two of them; Spock strongly suspects it is merely to change the subject when the man – Bones, he corrects in his head. He has heard many stories about the man, but never the story behind the name – seems as unsurprised at the name as he is.
“Leonard McCoy.” Bones pulls a face behind Jim’s back as he corrects the introduction in what Spock can only assume is a frequent motion; he does not admit that it startles him to hear a more normal name for the man. “Nice to finally meet you, Spock,” he says – Coastal Southern regional accent, elements of colonial era dialectal markers. South Carolina, Georgia maybe – and he drags himself out of his thoughts long enough to accept the offered handshake. “Kid hasn’t shut up about this great new friend of his. I was starting to think he made you up.”
He has never seen Jim look embarrassed before. “He paid me to be here,” he says into his beer, willfully ignoring the look Jim shoots over that is only a false irritation, similar to the one he’d sported when Spock and Hikaru had shared a joke earlier. Spock has made a lifetime of studying language but he is not well-versed in the people who speak it; he can tell from a few sentences where a person is from and what sort of schooling they’ve had, can know how many languages they speak and which order they learned them in. He would not, however, be able to tell a happy childhood from a sad, a bad day from a perfect one; Spock talks to people, but not often with them. He does, however, recognize the grateful tap against his ankle as he changes the subject. “It is nice to finally meet you, Leonard.”
Leonard’s face pulls like it might if he suddenly tasted something spoiled. “May as well call me Bones,” he says generously, wearily. “Jim’s already got everyone else doing it.” Spock can sympathize; he often finds himself making similar concessions since meeting Jim.
The prick of nails at his elbow reminds him of Nyota’s presence. When he turns to her, she also does not seem angry. “This is my grad student, Nyota.” She’d met Hikaru the week previous, her first visit to the store, and she greets Bones with the same enthusiasm; for all that she pretends a frosty dislike of Jim, she’s so far gotten along with his friends. Spock is not surprised – Nyota gets along with most everyone.
The nails at his elbow turn painful as her smile turns on Bones. “I’m also his friend,” she corrects smoothly, “even if he sometimes forgets.” Spock smiles at her indulgently; he does not forget. Quite the opposite, in fact – her friendship is a constant, so much so that he feels it goes without saying. Apparently it does not. “Which must be difficult to do since I’m the only one he’s got.”
Bones raises his glass in toast, clinking it against her and Hikaru’s and then, when he doesn’t offer, Jim’s. “I’ll drink to that.”
Two hours later and Jim nudges his forehead into Bones’ shoulder to get his attention; he is, as it turns out, a tactile human at any stage of intoxication and not merely the fall-down drunk of their first meeting. “Hey. Question.”
Bones shoves the other man’s head away, but only enough to turn to face the group again. He’s been alternating his attention between the Heat game on ESPN – ‘you don’t even like basketball,’ Jim had hissed, but had stolen a sip from his glass and more than one glance at the score – and the brunette girl at the end of the bar in equal measure. “Hmm?” The noise is one part inquisitive and three parts irritated; Spock can relate.
“Why is it ‘St. Paddy’s Day?’ Like with a ‘d?’” When there is a lack of clamor to respond, Hikaru even going as far as to return to the game with rapt attention – ‘everyone likes basketball,’ he had responded, and had cheered and waved his arms with the other patrons when something, Spock doesn’t know what, happened – and ignore him entirely, Jim rolls his eyes, hands gesturing blankly. The movements grow stilted with frustration, his brain working so much ahead that the words are an afterthought late to arrive, but a final shake of his hand dislodges meaning and spills it onto the countertop before them. “Why isn’t it ‘St. Patty’s Day’ with a ‘t?’ Like ‘Patrick?’”
Bones coughs into his beer, face incredulous, and meets Jim’s gaze with comically wide eyes. “How in the hell am I supposed to know that?”
Jim groans in return, shoving off the bar with a light kick of his feet to spin the stool in the opposite direction, only stopping when his legs collide with Spock’s at his other side. He blinks too-big, too-blue eyes at both Spock and Nyota. “If only there was a linguist or two at the table.” The stare goes from pleading to pointed, punctuated with an eyebrow that arches up like a question mark, and Nyota snorts inelegantly in response; the question, much like the attentions of the man who posed it, pass to Spock. He’s not drunk, not even close, but he’s beginning to feel a familiar spark of carelessness; tonight he’s not a tight-lipped professor with a tweed coat and a doctorate. He shrugs.
“Really? That’s it?” Jim sounds surprised, almost offended; his voice rises into a higher intonation than it would for a mere question, the vowel sound at the close of ‘really’ stressed into a diphthong. He wants to laugh, but he can’t – Spock has made a career of studying languages only to find himself without the words to answer someone’s, Jim’s, genuine interest. It’s Gaelic, he wants to say, an Insular Celtic language. Not my specialty. Spock does not often admit to a lack of knowledge; riddles he loves, but his true passion is in answers. I’ll find that out for you. – Jim leans close, voice accusing, but there’s nothing but teasing in the set of his smile. “I’ve sat through impassioned speeches on second-person personal pronouns-”
Nyota makes an understanding sound at the back of her throat at that, raising her mostly-empty glass in salute. “He got you, too?”
“-and all you have to say to me is ‘it’s Gaelic?’”
The bar is pleasantly warm, perhaps from the number of bodies – probably not to code, but it’s a celebration – but more likely the still-increasing number of empty glasses surrounding them. Spock and Hikaru have each had three, Jim and Bones four; Nyota lays claim to five, but she’s as clear-witted and sharp-tongued as ever and Spock strongly suspects that she’s stolen them from one table over. He’s not drunk, not even close, but he’s beginning to feel a familiar flush of tipsy; it’s been years since he’s been out to a bar like this, probably since college, and the Spock of ten years ago is ashamed that it takes so little to get him to here. He shrugs, loose-limbed and relaxed, and waves the question off as unimportant. “Gaelic is weird.”
“It’s amazing.” Jim leans to the side, eyes narrowed, and brings their faces only inches from each other as he scans for – Spock cannot even begin to guess. The flush of his cheeks increases with the examination, more when the stool rotates further and their knees knock together. Jim does not notice anything beyond his inquisitive stare. “Seventeen languages at your disposal and you still manage to invent a silent ‘fuck you.’”
Spock bumps his glass and his elbow against Jim’s. “Fuck you.”