It’s not a harp, McCoy realizes; of course it isn’t. But he says it anyway, just to watch Spock’s brow almost wrinkle.
“Are you referring, Doctor, to my lute?”
The laughter flutters within him only briefly; he quells it immediately and bounces on his toes. “If that’s what you want to call it, Spock,” he says.
“As that is what it is called, I find I am disinclined to call it anything else,” Spock mutters.
The words barely pass through his lips, and McCoy is annoyed. Spock doesn’t mutter; he has never felt anything but blind, unabashed, unyielding conviction in any phrase he’s ever uttered in his life. But Spock is at his desk and his fingers are grasped long and white against the pen, the tip of it pressed hard against the PADD, all tension and no movement.
“Do you play?” McCoy asks suddenly, as though his laughter from earlier had molted in his chest in the fleeting moments he’d dropped his guard and turned into an equally involuntary sincerity. He closes his eyes for a scant moment before looking up to meet Spock’s surprise with as little sheepishness and as much challenge as he can muster.
“I play quite well,” Spock tells him. The phrase is plain, but his inflection shows defensiveness, as though challenging McCoy to doubt his ability again. McCoy’s eyes flutter, twice, to where the pen is still pressed to the PADD’s surface -- to where Spock’s knuckles are bent at impossible angles with the strain of the gesture -- and then flit back to meet Spock’s eyes.
“Terrible shame to have a talented musician keeping his abilities to himself on a ship so often empty of melody,” McCoy is saying. His mind glosses briefly over Uhura, who wanders the halls singing at every opportunity she gets, and he slides his hand across the doorframe on his way back into the corridor instead of correcting his oversight.
“Was there something you wanted, Doctor?” Spock asks his retreating back.
“Now why might you have gotten that impression?” His voice is blessedly casual.
“You do not usually make a habit of greeting me at my quarters without reason,” Spock says, equally and infuriatingly at ease.
McCoy realizes with a jolt that he is there for a reason, that there is something possibly even important that had brought him to Spock’s quarters in the first place; but now all he knows is lute, at least until he makes a point of correcting himself to harp, because the wrong word is required if he’s going to continue to make Spock’s life just that shave more difficult than it needs to be, and what were they talking about again?
“You’ve been helpful as usual, Spock,” McCoy says affably. “I’ve figured it out just by talking to you.”
“Happy to be of assistance.” Spock has the audacity to sound smug.
It takes him until he gets all the way back to sickbay before he remembers what he was meant to have been asking about in the first place, and, yes, he does need Spock to weigh in. There isn’t any point going back, he decides, he’ll do that work tomorrow, and he calls it a night altogether when he suddenly finds he can’t hold a pen anymore for some reason, or possibly on the grounds that it doesn’t look right.
He fucks into his own hand later, unrelatedly.
Three weeks later, Spock’s in the god damned mess playing the god damned
Like some Vulcan rube.
Jim is staring at him. “All right there, Bones?”
“‘Course,” he says, flippantly, probably. “Striking smells in the mess today.”
“If you’re going to complain all meal, can we raincheck our lunch?”
McCoy’s eyes track over the length of Spock’s fingers as they pluck at the strings. “Not complaining. Just … surprised.”
“Surprised? That food has smell?”
“Mmm,” he says distractedly. The pads of Spock’s fingers seem to gloss over the lute’s strings with phantomlike grace, as though the notes flowed from them simply because Spock willed them so. His eyes focus on the tendons of Spock’s hands, taut with the effort, skin white with radiance; and when Spock suddenly looks up to look directly at McCoy from across the room, his breath catches thickly in his chest.
“So are you … going to get some?”
McCoy blinks suddenly back into reality, his gaze snapping to Jim’s face. “What?” he asks gruffly.
“Food,” Jim says, gesturing to the trays before them. “You eat it, Bones. Generally at mealtimes.”
“Oh.” McCoy picks up a tray and tries to block out the sound of Spock’s harping right in the centre of the room, here, in front of him. “Right.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Jim asks him again.
“Nothing,” McCoy repeats. “How close are we to Regulus VIII?”
It’ll be three hours, Kirk tells him.
Three long, torturous hours of leisure time.
McCoy lasts half an hour pretending to listen to Jim and his titillating tales from their last shore leave before excusing himself to his quarters.
He puts on some old-world jazz, loudly, and shuts his eyes against the wail of the muted trumpet. He tries to think of something else, anything else, than the agility of Spock’s hands over the strings, and then suddenly he’s thinking of Spock’s fingers grasping a pen instead, the way they bend, all length and dexterity and agonizing strength.
It’s an hour before, finally, he can’t remember the melancholy melodies that had haunted his lunch, before he finally manages to spend entire seconds straight not thinking of that Vulcan son of a bitch and his lascivious lute.
Relieved, McCoy opens his eyes and does a bit of paperwork.
And then he fucks into his hand, unrelatedly.
McCoy knows it’s dire when Spock shuts the fuck up for once.
They’re almost in fisticuffs. McCoy’s hands are clenched in fists around a tricorder and a regenerator while Spock’s white fingers are wrapped around his wrists, tight and long and cold, holding him to the control board. They’re both breathing heavily for god knows what reason, and Spock only stares, glaring, as though angry with McCoy for wanting him to heal.
The silence screams in his ears.
“Let me take a god damned look at you, would you?” McCoy says. The words cut between them in their instability; his voice is shaking, or at least, it is not as loud or as final as he wanted to make it.
“Doctor,” Spock says only, then again falls silent.
“You’re injured.” He is; Spock’s shirt is torn to shreds, gashes all over, and what looks like a broken rib on one side. A laceration lies open on his forearm, in need of immediate attention, the skin serrated as though by a rough blade. McCoy had been reaching to tend to it when Spock had batted his arm out of the way, insisting that McCoy beam down to the planet to tend to the Captain first -- and somehow they got to this point, alone in Transporter Room 3, with McCoy pressed up against the controls and Spock standing over him, overpowering, the conviction of his belief in following procedure thrumming through him as though it were a god damned drug.
“The Captain needs medical attention,” Spock repeats, eerily calm. He’d said that to McCoy in the moments after beaming back aboard, then sent the ensign at the controls to get a new phaser from the armory, and he’s saying it again now, offering no new information except to imply that Jim’s need is greater than his own.
“You need medical attention--”
“The Captain needs attention,” he says again, lowering his voice at the same time as he tightens his fingers. McCoy grunts, assorted frustrations surging in his gut, and he fights Spock’s command just to feel the proportionate pressure toughen around his wrists.
“Goddamnit, man, you’re bleeding.” His voice gravels too softly, in a way that makes it sound like he’s giving him a compliment, and he shuts his mouth before he says any more: You’re bleeding, you’ve got broken ribs, I don’t know what happened down there but you’ve got a ferocity that tells me it’s nothing good, we’re wasting time, we’re halfway to dancing, only I can’t move without you putting me in my place. We’re running long cons involving musical instruments. You’re bleeding. The Captain’s in danger and we’re wasting time, goddamnit, goddamnit, you’re touching me too much and not enough, damn you, will you either step aside or closer and just let me--
But for all the things Spock is, he’s not telepathic. His breath is still heavy and his fingers are still around McCoy’s wrists and he’s still not moving and the ensign still isn’t back and the silence between them screams on, on, on until McCoy’s jaw is quivering with it.
“Do you think you can just--” McCoy begins, voice growling and breaking and snarling, white heat rising from his skin. “Just who in the hell do you think you are?”
Two furious breaths pass between them before the heat breaks and McCoy finally leans in and kisses him -- hard, cold, unapologetic. The note coaxed from Spock’s throat is singular, delightfully inquisitive, and McCoy briefly, while curling his fingers against his medical instruments under the force of Spock’s grip on his wrist, wonders if this is the universe’s final gift to him on the day he is going to die.
Spock pushes off from him, away from the control hub, stands on the other side of the room, keeps his back to McCoy; he is hunched over, as though McCoy’s ambush was the blow that has finally caused him to feel his injuries. The silence between them changes frequency, and McCoy feels as though he is falling headfirst into a singularity as the doors to the Transporter Room slide open.
The ensign runs inside, a phaser held loosely in his hand, and McCoy steps forward to take it to feel the space between them shatter with his movement. “Give me that,” he barks, “and get Lieutenant Spock down to medbay. Tell him to lie still until I get back.”
“Tell him yourself, sir,” the ensign replies, looking bewildered for a moment before McCoy’s furious glare tells him to do as he is told; and McCoy sets the coordinates to beam himself down as close to the firefight as he can get without putting himself at excessive risk.
In the last moment before the transporter beam takes his consciousness from the ship, he sees Spock look indecipherably back at him, one arm around the ensign, as he is half-dragged toward the medbay lift.
If McCoy sucks his lower lip between his teeth as he tends to Jim’s best effort at getting eviscerated, he tells himself, it’s in concentration alone, and not to forget where Spock’s mouth had been.
It’s six hours of saving lives before McCoy gets back to the medbay, and Spock, diabolically, is still sitting there.
McCoy pauses at the door and holds his eye, just for a second, before looking away and pushing it open. “Chapel. Brief.”
Christine’s eyelids flutter as she slowly turns to McCoy. “Was that ‘Brief, please,’ Doctor?”
He blinks, ignores that Spock is within earshot, and locates a bitter smile. “Yes, Chapel, right as usual.”
Christine returns his grim smile before referring to the chart in her hands. “It was hot for a while, but everyone’s stable now. Had to comm M’Benga on Earth, but we got through.”
“Why is Spock still here?” McCoy avoids Christine’s gaze. “I saw him in the transporter room on the way down, he had a broken rib and some lacerations and that’s it. He should be resting in his quarters.”
“Scans were returning unusual readings. We agreed he would stay overnight for observation.”
McCoy frowns and takes the chart. “What kind of unusual readings?”
“Not sure. I’d say they were endorphins if I had to guess.”
McCoy stares at her. This day is a joke. McCoy’s life is a joke. “All right. Might’ve encountered an atypical microbe on-planet, I suppose. You made the right call.” He hands her back the chart. “Hold this. I’m going to scrub up, then you can go. I’ll do rounds.”
“Doctor, you’re exhausted--”
“I’m fine. Captain’s coming in with the next transporter batch anyway, got to be here for his intake. Got all of his organs back inside his body so far as I know, but I’d prefer to monitor him myself. Nothing like field surgery to go horrifically wrong in an instant. Plus, this way I get my lecture about recklessness in when he regains consciousness. That’ll cheer me up.”
Christine gives him a circumspect look, but then tuts and turns away. “I’ll put on a pot of coffee and order you a proper meal, in that case.”
Amid his exhaustion, McCoy feels a rush of gratitude. “Thank you, Nurse Chapel,” he calls after her. “You run a tight ship.”
Christine turns and smiles, this time genuinely. “Learned from the best,” she replies.
McCoy strides into his office as Christine leaves and slams the door behind him. Spock’s silent eyes follow him the whole way as he goes to turn the blinds shut. Then he collapses into his chair and shuts his eyes, just briefly, in the darkness.
Spock’s gaze persists in his mind’s eye. McCoy wonders if he’s still staring at him through the blinds.
His dick twitches to life.
“Oh no you don’t,” he mutters to himself -- unrelatedly -- and moves his aching body back into action.
It’s hours later, and Spock is, unsurprisingly, the only other person still awake.
McCoy decides, against his better judgment, that he can’t reasonably avoid him any longer. He pretends to do another full set of rounds so as to make his approach look more natural, then approaches his bed with a quirked eyebrow, a tricorder, and as neutral an expression as he can manage. “How’re you feeling, Spock?”
Spock meets McCoy’s quirked eyebrow with one of his own and moves to sit on the edge of the bed, straightening to allow McCoy’s scanner to follow a smoother path around his outline. “I feel fine, Doctor.”
“Describe fine to me. Thoughts racing? Heart pounding? Shaky constitution?”
Spock stares for a moment, then moves his head a fraction of an inch to the side: a question.
McCoy averts his gaze too quickly; blushes; berates himself for blushing. “That’s not what I’m -- I’m not talking about --” He sets his jaw. “Aw, hell, Spock. Just do me a favour and forget that ever happened, would you?”
“It is illogical to pretend that something did not occur when it did,” Spock counters.
McCoy feels his eyes threaten to roll. “Listen, smartmouth, I’m trying to ask you a medical question here. ‘Are you feeling ill?’, that kind of thing, you know, normal doctor questions. You always have to make everything into--” He stops short, flexes his free hand in frustration; Spock continues to look at him with infuriating neutrality. “Are you feeling ill?” he tries again, forcing calm into his tone.
“I am not,” Spock replies. “How are you feeling, Doctor?”
“How is your arm?” McCoy continues, ignoring him.
“It will heal.”
“I’m guessing by the bandage that you didn’t let Chapel regen it for you.”
“I prefer to let it heal naturally.”
“See now, normally I’d let you get away with that, but with a wound like that we don’t want to leave it open for longer than we have to. Much higher risk of infection, especially given the signs of a serrated blade I saw--”
“I will enter a trance. It will improve significantly overnight.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Spock, but we’re well into the night at this point. Since I doubt you’re going to beg off work with the Captain out of commission, you won’t have time to heal it yourself before you have to get back to work. You intend to sleep through captaining the ship tomorrow?”
McCoy has ceased scanning Spock and is leaning into him, his hands bunched in fists and set against the biobed on either side of Spock’s hips. He’s giving Spock his best menacing expression, looking up at him and somehow maintaining the upper hand, and Spock stares down and meets his gaze entirely, staying perfectly still except for a singular twitch that originates in his jaw and travels to his lips.
McCoy’s breath is suddenly caught in his chest. Fire spreads from his lungs up to his cheeks.
May he never forgive his mother for raising him a Southern belle.
“I will be at ease on the Bridge,” Spock explains gently. “I will take care not to exacerbate the injury and will enter a trance tomorrow at the end of my shift to complete the healing cycle.”
Anger motivates his lungs to intake air again at last in the form of a furious grunt. “So you’re just going to spend the whole day captaining the ship with a bandage on your arm?” he bites.
“Our mission is complete; we will be returning to Earth with the cargo. Barring unforeseen complications, I don’t see the harm.”
“Barring unforeseen complications. You don’t know what could happen. At the rate this ship contracts unforeseen complications, you could just as easily make yourself worse as better. You’re willing to take that chance?”
“The probability of encountering a situation that will require full use of my right arm in my capacity as Acting Captain is extremely low, Doctor--”
“Oh, stop with the logic! We’re talking about your health, here!”
Spock’s eyes drop to McCoy’s snarling lips, then flick back upwards again. “My health is unaffected, Doctor McCoy, I assure you. I am fine.”
“Then how do you explain the readings Chapel picked up--”
The words lodge in McCoy’s throat as Spock’s fingers snake around his wrists, forming a tight circle between thumb and forefinger as though to feel McCoy’s heart rate racing. His fists are forced to root yet harder into the biobed, and despite himself he leans into it, as though Spock’s palms have found their rightful home against the crooks of his hands. “I believe the readings Nurse Chapel identified were those you have already asked me about: accelerated pulse, increase in rate of respiration -- are you not exhibiting those same symptoms yourself, Doctor?” Spock’s jaw quirks again, glib, and McCoy could kill him for how achingly hard his gaze, his tone, the bend of his knuckles is making him. “Have you considered whether you are fit for duty?”
McCoy is reduced to a state of sputtering furor, and in response Spock merely drops his gaze, lets his eyes follow the line of McCoy’s lips more obviously, tightens his grip on McCoy’s wrists with his bad arm, as though to prove his arm’s functionality. “I will return to normal in days, Doctor. There is no need for concern. I doubt even my lute practice will suffer for long.”
Having been plagued for weeks of images of the pads of Spock’s fingers set against the strings of the lute in vulnerable moments, the very mention of it is enough to force McCoy to bow his head in defeat. The shudder moves up his body without his making any attempt to suppress its effects; and finally, he gives in.
“All right,” he gravels, raising his head to meet Spock’s eye. He sets his jaw and stares, breath coming to him in short bursts. “You win.”
The pressure on his wrists lifts at once, but it’s a scant instant before Spock’s good hand has flown to his jaw, fingers wrapping themselves along the bones of his mandible and forcing him still as Spock kisses him. McCoy is overtaken, his hands forced to clutch at Spock’s bloodied uniform, finding first his thighs then burying in his shirt, pulling him closer, bringing the kiss deeper. McCoy is shattered, briefly, forgets how to do anything but take Spock in; but then there’s a palm against the back of his neck, stabilizing him, removing the urgency from desire, and McCoy remembers how to breathe.
McCoy pulls back, his fists still clenched in Spock’s shirt. “We can’t do this here,” he breathes.
Spock clenches his jaw, keeps his hands where they are, bracing McCoy in place. “Would you prefer not to continue?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. Come into my office.”
In the moments as McCoy tries to disentangle himself, Spock’s lip twitches, just briefly, into an unmistakable smirk. It’s enough to cause him a moment’s pause, to clench his fist in familiar fury, but then he puts that fury into dragging Spock down by the hem of his shirt and forcing a hard kiss for Spock to evolve into something softer -- and he does, holds McCoy in place and unpacks the vexation into something slower-burning. McCoy leans into every second of it, lets Spock take him apart, steady him, suck his lip into his mouth until a moan is dragging out of his throat and he is unable to help himself from rutting inattentively against Spock’s legs, and--
Spock breaks away. “Office,” he suggests.
“Yes,” McCoy remembers. The hand from his jaw drops and sets on his hip instead, and McCoy lets himself be guided backwards by the strength of his grip, the anticipation of being enveloped by the length of Spock’s fingers leading him to keep his hands clenched in Spock’s uniform for purchase. When Spock sends an arm behind him to slam the door to McCoy’s office behind him, McCoy gives something between a grunt and a moan, lets his fingers bury themselves in Spock’s ridiculous hair and pulls him in as Spock leans McCoy against his own desk.
“If you wished to engage in sexual relations,” Spock mutters in his ear as McCoy’s hips take on a mind of their own and rut against Spock’s form, draped over him as it is, “all that was required was to ask, Doctor.”
McCoy stutters laughter and collapses backwards against the desk as Spock leans back, his fingers bending at the waistband of McCoy’s pants. “Some example you set,” he muttered. “How long have you been wanting to get into my--”
And then McCoy is cut off by the intake of his own breath as Spock’s fingers move slowly, slowly down the length of his cock, reaching the base with some agonized slowness that forces a shudder out from the deepest place within him.
“What were you saying, Doctor?” Spock asks, too evenly.
As though encouraged by McCoy’s sole response of heavy breathing, Spock moves his fingers back up the length of him, initiating the same impossibly delaying pace, bringing out from McCoy a deep, involuntary, guttural moan, as though in accurate description of his state of extraordinary anguish.
So Spock, as it turns out, does not get less infuriating, even when his fingers actually are, in that very moment, wrapped around McCoy’s dick.
McCoy moves a hand to his mouth to stifle his moans and leans back into absolute abandon to the moment as Spock’s fingers flex and set into motion once again.
Good to know.