It took, Bones was discovering rather quickly, a hell of a lot to surprise Spock.
In fact, he had yet to be, or see anyone else be, successful at it. When he looked back on all the times he himself had been speechless at the sheer incredulity of their current predicament, Spock had the infuriating tendency to merely raise an eyebrow, describe the situation as “fascinating”, and then had the gall to look completely intrigued by the situation. And that reaction certainly didn’t count as surprise in any way, shape, or form.
Of course, he should have known none of them had a chance of surprising the Vulcan First Officer simply by virtue of being human, coupled with the fact that the man had an incredible talent for logically rationalizing any situation. And Spock seemed to think irrational outbursts (as Bones himself was prone to doing, although he would never, even under threat of torture, call them ‘irrational’) were typical human behavior, and assuming that humans tended to indulge in human behavior was only logical, so even humans acting illogically was actually quite logical.
It drove Bones up the wall, that damn logical thought process.
And if it wasn’t the logic that foiled you, it was the Vulcan touch-telepathy that got you in the end.
Between his own lack of emotional restraint and Spock’s inherent mental superiority in secret-detecting, there was no real opportunity for surprises. Which applied to another, more private, area of their lives to Bones’s constant frustration. That and the lack of spare time they had together was beginning to chafe against his patience and his god-given right to have a sex life, which all men know is something you don’t interfere with. Despite his often loud disdain for people meddling in his personal affairs, he admitted to himself that it was possible, just maybe, that he needed a little intervention for this problem. This called for a possibly awkward conversation with the bestie and Captain of the Enterprise.
“Jim!” he called out as entered the captain’s quarters uninvited, because with all the things Jim put him through on a regular basis medical override was the least he could be offered in compensation. “I’ve got something to discuss with you.”
Kirk made an unintelligible noise and began half-heartedly struggling with his sheets. “Bones?” he mumbled in confusion, twisting onto his back and fighting to prop himself on his elbows. His hair stuck up from the back of his head in mused-up clumps, a hand partially rising towards the mess until sleep-muddled eyes settled on his friend. He pushed himself into more of a sitting position, leaning back on his hands. “What’re you doing here?”
Bones noted with interest and professional approval that Kirk seemed to be sleeping alone for a change. “I wanted to ask you something.”
Kirk groaned, rubbing his eyes with a hand and pulling up his legs to sit almost cross-legged on the mattress. “I was sleeping, Bones. Sleeping. With nice dreams.”
“I’m sure you were, Jim, and I’m sorry, but our schedules haven’t really been aligned lately,” Bones said, trying to be patient because it was true, he was interrupting his friend’s first decent stretch of rest for the last five days or so, but he needed some answers, dammit, while Spock was in charge of the graveyard shift on the bridge and wouldn’t be back for a few hours.
“Is this an emergency?” Kirk complained, irritated more with his groggy semi-awake state than with the doctor. “I don’t hear a Red Alert. And did you override my door again? What if I was changing, or something?”
“I wouldn’t’ve seen anything I haven’t already seen before,” Bones told him flatly, crossing his arms impatiently as he waited for Kirk’s brain to reboot. “Now come on, work with me here, Jim. The sooner you help me out, the sooner you can get back to those dreams of yours.”
The Captain muttered something under his breath about unfazeable doctors and not getting the point before looking up at Bones. “I’m gonna assume this is important. What did you want to talk about?”
The doctor stood there silently for a few moments with his brow furrowed, watching Kirk’s face with shuttered eyes.
“Jim, how do you pull one over on a Vulcan?”
Kirk sat there in all his disheveled glory and gaped in the most undignified of ways at his Chief Medical Officer. “You woke me up to talk about Spock?”
“You want to talk about Spock when I’m trying to sleep?”
“It’s a simple question, Jim, and I wouldn’t ask if—”
Kirk snarled and threw his pillow at Bones’ face, wishing he had something heavier and capable of inflicting more damage close by. “Isn’t Spock your area of expertise? What makes you think I know the answer, Bones?!”
And damn it all, if Jim was going to be a half-asleep ass, he should at least know better than to throw things at a real ass who had a temper and a license to poke people with pointy metal things, and who was decidedly not half-asleep at crap o’clock in the morning. So really, when he chucked that stupid fluffy head rest back at Kirk with a growl and matched his volume decibel for decibel, he was being incredibly gracious and forgiving. “Dammit, I don’t know, Jim, okay? But you’re my best friend, and I don’t know how Spock and I fell out of a relationship and into a routine, but if we lost the relationship then we can lose the routine, and then it won’t be logical to stay together, and how do you surprise someone who can read your damn thoughts? I don’t want to lose any more than I already have and I shouldn’t even have to be here having this conversation, so just talk to me, goddamit!”
Carefully, Kirk pulled the pillow down his face and into his lap, watching Bones intently with bright blue eyes no longer clouded with sleep. After a moment, he reached out to pat the edge of his bed. “Sit down, Bones.”
“I don’t need to be babied—”
“Sit down,” Kirk repeated with a frown. “I’m tired of looking up at you.”
Bones rolled his eyes and walked over to the bed, letting himself sink down onto the mattress and feeling as though he was getting ready to have a long involved talk with his father. Which was really sort of creepy, considering Jim was about ten years his junior.
“Now let me get this straight,” Kirk said, shifting so he was propped against the wall where a headboard normally would have been. “You want to talk to me about how things are going stale between you and Spock?”
“No,” Bones said irritably, glaring at Kirk. “I didn’t say things were going stale. I said we were falling into a routine.”
Kirk nodded wisely, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his pillow. “So things are getting boring—”
“I didn’t say boring!”
“—and you want to know how to rekindle the fire, is that it? More excitement?”
“Jim, I don’t—”
“You haven’t been on any away missions lately, have you?” Kirk asked, eyeing him thoughtfully as he tried to recall their last few planetside assignments.
Bones covered his face with both hands, his breathing muffled but forcibly even. “I shouldn’t be talking about this with you, should I?” he asked.
“Probably not,” Kirk agreed with that infuriating grin that distinguished him from the rest of humanity, reaching over and slapping the doctor on the back. “But hey, that’s what friends are for, right?”
The CMO muttered something indecipherable to his fingers that may or may not have included some kind of profanity.
“Now, Bones, to be perfectly honest, I may not be able to help you,” Kirk began seriously, watching his friend sigh and straighten up as his hands dropped to his knees. “I have no idea what turns on a Vulcan—”
Bones started sputtering protests about how that wasn’t what he’d asked for, which Kirk calmly talked over, because that sort of was what he was asking for.
“—and as much as I love Spock, I’m not planning on finding out any time soon. It’s more a bond of brotherhood than romance.”
“You have no idea how relieved that makes me,” Bones said sarcastically.
“And you may not have noticed, but I tend to keep my relationships more…casual,” the captain continued, smirking at Bones with smug amusement.
“It’s okay to call it ‘sleeping around’, Jim,” Bones said dryly.
Kirk just grinned at him, unoffended at the blunt honesty. “So ‘rekindling’ isn’t really in my line of work, if you catch my drift. Though I’m sure I’m young and good-looking enough so that it wouldn’t ever become a problem in the first—”
Bones cuffed him sharply upside the head before he could finish that sentence, painfully and intentionally clipping the top of his ear.
“Ow, goddamit Bones!” Kirk yelped, jerking his head out of assault range as he massaged it angrily. “I’m trying to help you here!”
“You were being a conceited ass,” Bones snapped, his brown eyes glaring at Kirk in a way that let the other man know just how thin the figurative ice was getting. “Now have you got anything useful to say, or should I just leave?”
Kirk stayed quiet for several drawn-out moments as he kneaded his injured ear and brooded, his tongue running slowly over his lower lip in thought, eyes occasionally flicking dark glances at the man beside him before saying: “Why don’t you go talk to his ex?”
Bones stared at Kirk in abject disbelief, his mouth slightly open. “…what?” he demanded.
“Go talk to Lieutenant Uhura,” Kirk said with a shrug, narrowing his eyes in a calculated gaze that, if they hadn’t been such good friends, Bones would have sworn on every galactic deity was somewhat malicious. “You’ve both got Spock in common, right?”
Listening to his better judgment for a change, Bones decided the satisfaction he’d feel from introducing his fist to Jim’s face didn’t quite negate the consequences of actually doing so.
Kirk must have noticed the way he bristled and the sudden tangible vibe of impending murder emanating from his eyes, because he decided he’d better clarify that statement so it sounded a little less jerk-off-ish. “Look Bones,” he said in his best diplomatic mediator voice, raising a placating hand just in case Bones knew some ancient doctors-only voodoo and decided to kill him where he sat. “I didn’t say that just to be a dick.” At least, he didn’t think so. “But you and Uhura are the only ones I know of who’ve ever been that close, in that way, with Spock.”
“Jesus,” Bones muttered, running a hand haphazardly through his hair.
“Doesn’t that make sense?” Kirk prodded. “Other than that, I don’t know how else to help you, Bones.”
“Jim, I can’t talk to a girl—”
“Woman, Bones,” Kirk corrected, his index finger flying up to make Bones pause. “If anyone deserves the title ‘Woman’, it’s Uhura.”
Bones rolled his eyes. “The point is, Jim,” he insisted with the stubbornness that basically molded his personality, “this isn’t something men talk about with women. At all.”
Leaning towards him, Kirk focused intense blue eyes on his friend. “Bones,” he asked with carefully measured words. “Just how desperate are you?”
There was an extended pause as Kirk watched the CMO battle it out within himself, denial warring with recognized reality.
“Well hell, Jim,” Bones said quietly as he pulled distractedly at a handful of hair, dark eyes staring into space three inches from Kirk’s left ear. “I think you’re right.”
Kirk dipped his head in acknowledgement that he was, in fact, a genius.
“But you’re still an ass,” the doctor added bluntly, giving Kirk a disapproving glare.
The captain shrugged and smiled as if to say Ah, well, that’s the price you pay for the awesomeness also known as me.
“Won’t that be an awkward conversation,” Bones mused, shaking his head in disgust as he rose to his feet, and to hell with it all, he could feel a migraine coming on. “Excuse me, Lieutenant, but can you give me some pointers on adding some variety in my relationship with your ex-boyfriend?”
Kirk burst out laughing, the kind of laugh that lit up his whole face and made the corners of the doctor’s mouth twitch in a smile as he uncrossed his legs and lounged back against the wall. “I always pegged Spock for an S&M kinda guy,” he said with a smirk, amused with the way Bones’ eyebrows shot to his hairline. “You know, with the control behind it, and all.”
Bones snorted and gave Kirk an incredulous look. “As though we have those kinds of resources on this ship.”
“Well Bones,” Kirk said with interest, one light eyebrow rising in delight and gleeful amazement. “If the only thing holding you back is the lack of equipment, I’m sure I could pull a few strings and—”
“Shut up, Jim,” Bones muttered, and the glare he leveled at the snickering man on the bed would have been at least three times more effective if he hadn’t felt that tell-tale heat creeping up his neck and into his face.
“So, do you think Uhura’s into S&M?” Kirk asked in that offhand way that wasn’t really offhand at all, and Bones could see that wily glint in his eyes that said he was thinking of either sex or something incredibly dangerous that had a ninety-five percent chance of resulting in his death. Or in this case, possibly both. “I could see her as a dominatrix…”
“I’ll be sure to ask her,” Bones told him caustically, having no such plans to put his life in jeopardy over such an inane question.
Kirk just grinned at him. “At least this conversation isn’t as awkward as that one’s going to be.”
“Speaking of this conversation, don’t ever mention it again,” Bones said, crossing his arms over his chest and glowering in warning to show he was perfectly serious.
“Does that mean I get to go back to sleep?” Kirk asked.
Bones shook his head and fought off a smile as he watched Kirk burrow back under the covers, then made his way to the door. He had another victim to harass tonight.
“Oh, and Bones?”
The doctor looked back over his shoulder at the captain. “What, Jim?”
Kirk rustled the covers a bit as he settled down, his eyes locked on his friend. “Don’t ever wake me up to talk about you and Spock ever again.”
Bones smirked and turned back to the door now opening with a soft hiss of air. “Goodnight, Jim.”
Dark liquid eyes observed his uncomfortable stance outside her door with a small measure of surprise and mild curiosity, her hands tightening her robe across her chest and stomach to secure it with a knot at her hip. Her hair was braided down her back in a heavy tail, sliding to the side as her head tilted to look at him. “Is there a problem, Doctor?”
And honest to god, Bones had never been completely speechless for more than five seconds at a time in his whole life, but standing here in the hallway staring hesitantly at Uhura like a tongue-tied moron his brain was completely at a loss for how to initiate this conversation in ways that wouldn’t cause him excruciating embarrassment. While he hadn’t stolen Spock from her, it didn’t make asking his boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for personal advice any easier.
Brow furrowing slightly, she raised one slender eyebrow in question at his lack of his response.
Bones cursed internally, knowing she’d unconsciously adopted that expression from Spock, because dammit, he had a tendency to do it too now, and that just made things 53,762 times more awkward on his part.
Bones cleared his throat with a couple sharp coughs, digging a few fingers into the short hairs at the back of his neck to avoid looking at her. “I’m sorry to bother you Lieutenant, but...can I talk to you privately for a minute?”
Uhura stood back from the door to let him enter, watching his every move with sharp feline eyes as the door swiftly shut. She crossed her arms and waited for him to speak.
Bones didn’t say anything, instead taking the opportunity to stall and examine her room. The things Jim would do to be in his position right now...
“Lights to thirty percent,” Uhura said abruptly, the lights flaring into a soft glow at her command while she settled herself on the bed. There was the soft sliding sound of skin against skin as she crossed her cocoa-colored legs, which seemed to make about four inches of the hem of her robe disappear into thin air even as her gaze pinned him in place.
The doctor grit his teeth and tried not to scowl. How could Spock have ended things with a beautiful, intelligent woman like Uhura, and be content with an emotionally chaotic man full of flaws like himself?
“I’m going to assume you’re here to talk about a personal issue,” the communications officer said softly, “that has more to do with you than it does with me. Is that right?”
Bones kept a steadfast gaze on the carpet under her feet, not because it actually did anything to help him, but because it made him feel a little more grounded in the face of her stare. He cleared his throat roughly, thinking how ridiculous the whole situation was and that he clearly deserved to be sent back to high school for inciting such angsty drama. “I…I wanted to talk about Spock, actually.”
Uhura nodded slowly, the edges of her mouth curling into a smile that was a little more sharp than genuine. “So you’re here for either some dating advice or some personal dirt, then.”
“’Personal dirt’?” Bones repeated incredulously. He scoffed and rolled his eyes at her, rubbing his neck and crossing the other arm over his stomach. “I don’t need to hear that scuttlebutt, Lieutenant. I know Spock’s pretty popular as far as ship gossip goes, but—” the doctor paused, forehead crinkling while he stared at her. “Wait, what personal dirt?”
The communications officer smiled at him, tapping a manicured nail against her lips, and that woman had secrets in dark eyes that would never be reiterated out loud. “A lady doesn’t kiss and tell, Doctor.”
Bones snorted in disbelief and met her gaze. “No, you just make out on the Bridge, and in the galley, and the transporter room—”
Uhura laughed, and Bones felt himself relax at the smooth easy sound of it. Over a year had gone by since her break up with Spock, long before the two men began to express any sort of interest in each other (which honestly, just came off as elevated levels of verbal aggression and bitchiness towards their respective persons), and Uhura had never acted even the least bit resentful towards him. There had never been any bad blood between them. It both rattled and reassured him, so he took it as some sort of approval of their relationship. Not that they needed it, of course, but it was certainly preferable to animosity. Still, the whole thing made another thought resurface, something that he’d always wondered about that Spock wasn’t all that keen on discussing.
“Lieutenant,” Bones asked quietly, wondering briefly if he was crossing some invisible line but forging ahead anyway. “Why did you and Spock break up?”
She stayed quiet for a minute, looking him over, evaluating him thoroughly with her gaze in the dim light. He was acutely aware of his less-than-satisfactory appearance; he realized he should have done something to clean himself up a bit before visiting her, because he was in no condition whatsoever to be visiting a lady like Uhura: the wrinkles in his uniform, his hair tousled from his own anxious fingers, the weariness in his face, and he couldn’t help but feel decidedly inadequate under such severe scrutiny.
“He broke up with me,” she said finally, her expression lightening to something more soft and rueful, and Bones realized with a painful tug that whatever had happened between them, she still possessed powerful feelings for the man.
Bones shuffled his feet against the carpet. The noise seemed overly loud in the lieutenant’s quarters, so he stopped, even as a grimace pulled at his features. “Was it…illogical?” he asked, half afraid of the answer. He could see she knew he was referring to their relationship, to the short amount of time they’d shared together, and that he wasn’t trying to insult her or shove it in her face that she’d been replaced.
“It was too emotional,” she said instead, lifting her chin in defiance to whatever it was she was currently feeling.
“He said that?” Bones asked in surprise, eyebrows rising. Spock never talked about emotions or feelings, at least not to him, unless the word ‘illogical’ was somewhere in the same sentence.
“In his own way,” Uhura replied. “I was an emotional crutch, his way of coping with the loss of his mother and his planet. Vulcans may have their logic, but it’s not as supportive as they like to think it is when they’re hit with a tragedy like that, because what happened wasn’t logical at all. His human side most likely helped him through those foreign feelings, although he’d never admit it, since I’m sure you’re aware, Doctor,” she met his eyes firmly, “that the human mind has several ways of automatically coping with emotional stress that the Vulcan mind has been taught to disregard in favor of generating logical solutions.”
“I’m a psychologist as well as a doctor, Lieutenant,” he responded automatically, his mind already trying to imagine dealing with such a catastrophe not as a human, but as a Vulcan. Taught the art of emotional mastery at a young age, before emotions gained any sort foothold on his thoughts, but not after. It wasn’t a pretty thought.
“I was what he needed at the time, I suppose, until he could find his balance again.” She stood with careful grace and closed the distance between them, her braid swaying like a shadow behind her in the semi-darkness as she drew close enough for him to smell her shampoo and the scent of her skin. “But you didn’t come here to hear about that, did you, Doctor McCoy?”
She was closer now then he could remember her ever being, her presence a solid wall that commanded acknowledgement, and despite the sensual sound of her voice there was a challenge to her words and the line of her jaw that expected compensation for the reopening of old wounds, beginning with getting to the point of this whole conversation.
“No,” Bones agreed as his gaze flitted over her face, taking note of the light reflecting in the almost-black of her eyes.
She just stared at him, waiting for him to continue, tired of prodding.
“How do you keep a Vulcan’s interest?”
Uhura raised both her eyebrows in a don’t you think you’ve come to the wrong person? look, leaning back slightly to examine his face. “Vulcans don’t have roving eyes, Doctor, unlike certain captains.”
Bones exhaled in aggravation and clamped down on the urge to mess up his hair even more, because he obviously wasn’t getting his point across and maybe this really was all in his head and he should be scheduling himself for some neurological testing right about now.
“Unless…” Uhura continued slowly at his expression of frustration, drawing out the word as she took a step back and crossed her arms. “You’re referring to ‘attraction’, not ‘interest’.”
Bones breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t actually have to say it himself. “I knew you were a perceptive woman.”
She tossed her head and gave him a look that plainly said she’d humor him for the time being. “Spock’s a heavy-duty intellectual,” Uhura remarked casually, turning away from him with a soft rustle of fabric to move towards her desk. “So normal methods won’t apply here.”
“Well good thing we cleared that up,” Bones replied sarcastically, throwing his hands up in mock relief. He could hear the accent in his voice amplifying the slow drawl of his words. “Here I thought a night out clubbing on Argelius II and a lapdance would be a nice break in routine.”
The expression on Uhura’s face reminded him surprisingly of Jim: amused, bemused, and thoughtful in a way that made the small hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand up.
Bones narrowed his eyes and pointed an accusing finger at her. “You can stop imagining that. Now.”
Uhura simply smirked for a moment, her face partially shadowed by the low light of the room and her distance from him, before the expression slipped into a confused frown. “Routine, Doctor?” she questioned with a hint of incredulity. “How did you end up with a routine on the Enterprise, of all places?”
“I don’t know,” Bones grumbled, idly scratching the faint shading of stubble along his cheek. His other hand slid down his side in search of a pocket, and failing to find one, settled on his hip. “We haven’t had a lot of time together lately. Ever since Jim decided to start things with the Klingons. I told him that was a damn fool thing to do, and what would we get out of it?” Bones asked in disgusted disapproval because the brass were obviously all idiots; letting himself fall into the familiar, comfortable feeling of going on a tangent. “A whole lot of empty space, that’s what. It’s like poking an angry le-matya with a red hot poker because it’s blocking your path to walking off a cliff. Why the hell—”
“The point I was trying to make,” Uhura interrupted with a raised hand, one part entertained and one part not interested in hearing anyone rant about James T. Kirk. “Is that you’re going to be better off finding some sort of intellectual stimulation rather than physical.”
Bones nodded, his mind already running through possible ideas he’d be able to plausibly put into practice and not coming up with all that much. “See, I’m a doctor,” he stated bluntly just in case she’d forgotten, crossing his arms because that explained everything, really. “I don’t have a ton of free time to be running around working on intellectual hobbies and whatnot. I can’t fulfill my medical duties, and do experimental research, and pursue your usual ‘intellectual hobby’ on the side and still get enough rest to function. I don’t even know how Spock does it. No offense meant, but not with Jim as Captain.”
Uhura worked slowly at her lower lip with her teeth, thinking. She gently touched a hand to her desk, letting her fingertips spread out across the even surface, which unlike his, was meticulously clean and clear from any clutter. “Most analytical pursuits require time…”
“I know,” Bones retorted with a bit more of an edge to his voice than he’d wanted, but he couldn’t help it if his annoyance at his predicament was returning in full force.
The lieutenant glanced at him with narrowed, cat-like eyes.
Bones ignored her. He wasn’t a Vulcan; he’d display his emotions as he damn well saw fit, and right now they were threatening to implode. “I need something I can fit into a few hours when I’m off-duty after pulling triple shifts and still have some time to sleep. And that Spock isn’t going to catch on to the moment he lays eyes on me.”
Uhura raised an eyebrow at him in curiosity. “Is that really that important?”
Bones struggled to school his features into a scowl and not something dangerously close to a sulk. “It’s just…he knows everything, all the time. Hell, can’t I catch him off-guard just once?”
Chuckling, she shrugged in a gesture of why not?, running a hand over the surface of her table. “Alright, let me think for a moment.”
Bones heaved a sigh and ruffled his hair violently. “This shouldn’t be this hard, should it?”
“If relationships were easy, we’d all be in one and they’d always work out,” Uhura responded shortly, eyes riveted to her desk.
The CMO mulled that over quietly so the lieutenant had time to think, and had to admit that she had a point. If this sort of thing was easy, he’d probably still be married and not in space at all. Without Spock. Somehow, despite their problems, that didn’t come across as an acceptable alternative.
“Doctor,” Uhura spoke up as he was imaging how his life would have gone if he hadn’t joined Starfleet while on the rebound from his divorce (because that’s exactly what it had been, really). “What if it was something you could do while you were asleep?”
He stared at her as his mind shifted gears to imagine something that could be done unconsciously. “Like what?”
Her face gradually broke out into a smile. “Learn a language.”
Bones balked at the idea immediately; he’d taken some linguistics classes when he was younger, but he’d go live with the Romulans for a year if he actually remembered any of the stuff. “A language?” he protested, and he could feel his face screwing up in an expression of distaste. “That’s the best you could come up with?”
“You did come to the Head Communications Officer for help,” she pointed out dryly. “And if you had a better idea, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Yes, well, I was hoping for something that wouldn’t take years to learn properly,” Bones said with equal sarcasm. “And learning languages overnight in your sleep is highly overrated.”
“But possible,” Uhura contradicted him firmly, “although not overnight, with proper application. And you’d need to study in your off-hours as well, so your mind can integrate what it learns with your subconscious knowledge.”
“I don’t know about that,” Bones shook his head in a gesture of distrust that didn’t hide an obvious lack of enthusiasm. “That sounds pretty sketchy to me, Lieutenant. Any other ideas?”
Uhura leaned forward, both hands on the desk now, and gave him a smirk as darkly Cheshire as he’d ever seen from her. “Can you imagine the look on his face when he realizes you’ve learned Vulcan?”
Bones paused while his mind snatched that thought with greedy little fingers (completely without permission, of course) and ran off with it. Taking the time to learn Spock’s native tongue would be a surefire way to grab and retain his attention, but doing so symbolized more than just that…it spoke of an interest in the other man’s heritage and a possible commitment to their relationship. Were either of them ready for that?
And acquiring another language couldn’t be done the same way he bought clothes (put off until the last possible moment when the material refused to fulfill its proper function, and with a deep aversion for the act of shopping when he eventually acknowledged it needed to be done). It took dedication (which he had), patience (which he was working on), and some semblance of proficiency (…which…he…never mind). This was more than an ‘intellectual pursuit’ for his spare time, this would be a full-time task he’d be undertaking and that was nothing to sneeze at.
Uhura watched him with a critical gaze without interrupting, as though she understood the full implications behind her suggestion. She probably did, he realized belatedly. He wouldn’t put it past her to use this opportunity as a litmus test for his relationship, to see how far he was willing to go to make this work. So how was he supposed to refuse now?
“Isn’t Vulcan one of the hardest languages to learn in the galaxy? Let alone as an adult?” Bones asked grudgingly. Uhura may be testing him, but that didn’t mean he was going to skip happily into this decision without a little dose of reality.
“It’s not impossible,” the communications officer responded cryptically.
“And aren’t there thirty-four dialects, or something?” he persisted, knowing he sounded dangerously close to whiny, but godammit, this was Vulcan they were talking about here.
“Thirty-seven,” she corrected him impassively, crossing her arms under her chest.
Bones cursed pointy ears and green blood under his breath; this better be damn worth it or there’d be some southern-style ass kicking going on in a few weeks.
“Alright, fine,” Bones said shortly, not at all liking the extra work he’d be taking on. “How exactly do we go about this, Lieutenant?”
He caught the bright flash of her teeth in the dark as she smiled, vanishing in an instant as she picked up the stylus sitting on the corner of the desk. “I should be able to get your hypnopaedia tapes by the end of the week, but the textbook tapes will take a little longer to get here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bones grumbled. Even in a century when warp speed was possible, shipping time was always a bitch. “Is there some sort of schedule for using those sleep tapes, or does it matter?”
Uhura didn’t glance up from where she was inputting various requests into the PADD. “You’ll need to play them every night for at least five hours, so you’ll have to get some regular sleep for a few months. No sporadic shifts for a while, Doctor.”
“If Jim can keep us from engaging in any unnecessary battles, I think I can wrangle a few hours of sleep each night.”
“And once the textbook ones come in, you’ll have to work through them for a few hours a day as well.”
Her dark eyes rose to regard him with calm satisfaction. “I think, in a few months, you’ll be able to have a discussion with our First Officer that goes beyond ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘What’s your favorite color?’”
“Vulcans don’t have a favorite color,” the doctor muttered darkly, rolling his eyes at the memory of that conversation. “Having a favorite color implies being partial to a specific hue of pigment, and as there are no clear guidelines on what makes one color ‘better’ than another, having a favorite is therefore illogical.”
Uhura just stared at him, not quite sure what to say. “I’m sure that was a pleasant conversation.”
“The hell it was,” Bones snapped, irritated just at the thought of that stupid talk. “That bloody hobgoblin slept alone for a week after that one.”
An uneasy silence fell between them at those words, and maybe bringing up a statement with such personal implications hadn’t been one of the brightest ideas he’d ever had.
He coughed gruffly in an attempt to dissipate the tension between them, because Uhura really didn’t need to know if, when, or how often he and Spock may or may not have been sleeping together. “So, uh…Spock isn’t going to catch on to this, right?”
Uhura had decided that keeping her gaze locked on the PADD was her best option, although she sighed softly and straightened up. “Everything you learn from your tapes is going to be subconscious. And you’ll just have to make sure you study your textbook tapes whenever Mr. Spock is busy on the bridge, and make an extra effort not to think about it when you’re not studying. As long as you don’t…engage in any mindmelds…” she nodded at him, “you should be able to keep this a secret.”
“But ordering those tapes’ll show up in the computer records, won’t they?” he asked, shifting uncomfortably where he stood and not-quite crossing his arms.
Dark eyes flickered over to him for a moment, a faint smirk on her face. “You forget who you’re talking to,” she replied.
He didn’t doubt for a moment that as Head Communications Officer she could do just about anything below the radar if it struck her fancy. Bones pushed a breath of air through his lips as he watched her eyes, hoping his own conveyed the gratitude he wasn’t willing to create an overly emotional display for and ridiculously glad this conversation was drawing to a close. “Lieutenant,” he began haltingly as she came around the desk, raising her eyes to his expectantly. “I know we’re not exactly…that this isn’t…” He paused a moment, trying to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. “Well, I didn’t want to put you in this position, but Jim suggested—”
The communications officer silenced him with a carefully placed hand on his shoulder and gently steered him towards the door. “Doctor, let me tell you something.”
He glanced at her warily in his peripheral vision. If his southern upbringing had taught him anything, it was when a woman took a politely guarded, no-nonsense tone with you, you shut the hell up and paid attention.
“I like you, Doctor. You’re a good man.” She stopped him just before the door, her nails ghosting over his biceps to tug softly on his sleeves and smooth out the creases of his uniform across his chest, fingers lingering. “But let’s get one thing clear—I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for Spock.”
Bones could feel both his eyebrows climbing slowly towards his hairline as she spoke. She wasn’t afraid to meet his eyes, her gaze laced with a hard edge lurking behind the mutual respect they had for each other.
Uhura ignored him as though he hadn’t been about to say something intended to potentially defuse the situation. “If helping you learn three dialects of Vulcan will make Spock content, or even happy, with your relationship, then I’ll gladly assist you without any complaints.”
Bones frowned at her, not sure what to say to that. Or if it would be wise for him to say anything at all. Probably not.
“I want what’s best for Spock, no matter whom he’s seeing, and I will go any lengths to achieve that—” her voice dropped in a way most people would have considered ominous “—so I will get you those tapes, and I can tutor you if need be, and if you need help with anything regarding either of those things, you know where to find me. But Doctor McCoy…” Manicured nails bit sharply into his shoulders even through the fabric of his uniform sleeves, making him hiss at the sensation, although he was a bit more preoccupied by the way her eyes had iced over in warning. “Don’t screw this up.” The stinging along his nerve endings abruptly dimmed as her torture instruments were removed from his skin, a firm pressure at his back pushing him forcefully out of her room. “Good luck and goodnight, Doctor.”
And somehow he was back in the hallway staring disbelievingly at her door. He rubbed at his abused arms, wondering if maybe he needed to update Lieutenant Uhura’s psychological profile the moment he went back on duty. No bad blood between them indeed.
“Women,” he muttered darkly under his breath, giving the now stationary panels a dirty look as he turned away. This was almost starting to become more trouble than it was worth, and if it had been for anyone other than Spock he’d have sacked the whole idea by now. That damn overgrown, pointy-eared, shiny-haired bastard…
The following weeks were characterized by the echoes of Vulcan voices in his dreams, a distinct lack of Spock, and a sharp decline in the doctor’s charming personality. But really, his foul mood had more to do with repeatedly piecing his captain back together after every away mission (the kid seemed to be a beating magnet) and the combination of no time with and avoiding Spock, rather than learning a new language.
Certain languages come easily to certain minds, and it isn’t unusual for one to be more in tune with, say, Spanish rather than French. English Federation Standard came easily to Bones, especially if it was of a southern dialect. Vulcan, on the other hand, did not, and he constantly pestered Uhura about it as though she had personally invented the language.
He complained about the generous use of apostrophes (“That looks like a damn run-on word.” “That’s a sentence, and the Federation Standard way of writing Vulcan, Doctor.”). He griped about the pronunciation of words that appeared to have no foundation in logic based on the way they were spelled (“Why can’t the lot of them just learn Federation Standard?” “Why can’t you just stop complaining?”). He endured Uhura’s teasing at the way he inflicted his southern drawl on Vulcan vowels (“If you keep laughin’ at me, I’ll leave! It’s not funny, dammit!” “Okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Don’t leave, I’ll stop.”) He was thoroughly disgusted at the distinct lack of cuss words in Vulcan vocabulary (“What kind of people don’t curse at each other?”) Uhura normally rolled her eyes and kicked him out of her room at that point. Bones suspected she just didn’t want him cursing in any more languages then he already did.
As it was, the crew simply engaged in learned evasive action and avoided Sickbay after each away mission. When he finished patching up various members of the returning party and throwing an emotional fit (“Dammit Jim, do you ever use your head? The one that supposedly has a brain in it?”), he was guaranteed at least a couple hours of uninterrupted silence. Which, sadly, went towards studying his boyfriend’s native tongue, and not the one he’d prefer to be studying.
After the first four weeks, Bones could hold a short, decent, one-sided conversation without Uhura trying to hide her laughter behind her hands. By seven weeks, he had a solid grasp on Vulcan grammar, conjugation, and his writing had drastically improved, although his self-imposed isolation from Spock was starting to get to him. A week later he had successfully bullied Uhura into smuggling him a book of less formal and more…(what Vulcan’s considered) colorful…language he was sure had been hella hard to come by. He was approaching ten weeks when he started running out of excuses to keep himself constantly busy and away from Spock, and a certain Vulcan was not happy.
Bones was heading to his room, having just gotten off duty a mere six minutes ago, when a very familiar voice sounded from behind him.
“Doctor McCoy. May I speak with you for a moment?”
Bones cast a brief glance at Spock in his peripheral vision but didn’t slow his walk, fully intent on making it to his quarters. “If you got something to say, just spit it out, Spock.”
Spock’s longer legs caught up to him easily, and the doctor could see the faint ‘humans-phrase-things-strangely’ frown on his face. “The act of spitting will be unnecessary, Doctor.”
Rolling his eyes, Bones turned to face the stoic looking Vulcan at his side. “Nevermind. What do you want?”
The First Officer examined his expression closely. “If now is not a good time for you, perhaps—”
“Okay, look, Spock, I didn’t mean to be short with you; I’m just a bit tired,” Bones interrupted, raising a hand to halt the other man’s words. “We haven’t talked in a while. You need to talk to me about something?”
Spock’s expression didn’t waver, his posture straightening slightly. “I believe you’ve been avoiding me, Doctor.”
Bones stared at him, a heaviness settling over him. He knew this conversation would arrive sooner or later. “Avoiding you?”
“3.22 months ago, Doctor, you spent 78.3% of your off-duty time in my quarters. As of late, the frequency of your visits have dropped to 15.7%. The logical explanation is that you are intentionally avoiding my presence for reasons of which I am not currently aware.”
Bones crossed his arms and began nodding slowly, lifting his eyes from the floor to look sideways at the First Officer. He’d be damned if he’d ever heard a Vulcan whine, about anything really, but he imagined it would sound a lot like this. “…Are you telling me you’re getting lonely, Spock?”
The stiffening of Spock’s shoulders and the narrowing of his gaze was instantaneous and almost resentful in nature. “Vulcans do not feel loneliness, Doctor.”
And honestly, there was nothing like making a man feel wanted.
Anger flared in his chest sharp as a phaser, maybe a little hurt in there too although he was ignoring that, but would it have been so goddamned hard for the man to admit that being alone for so long sucked? Because he certainly felt that way.
“Of course,” Bones snapped back. “That’s why you sought me out the moment you figured out our shifts ended at the same time, didn’t you?” He turned and stalked into his quarters, because if they were going to have this stupid conversation he was going to comfortable in his own damn room. Spock followed him in without waiting for an invitation that wouldn’t have been extended anyway. The thought that the man knew him well enough by now to know that was somewhat irritating.
“Doctor,” Spock continued in his usual unruffled manner, as though acknowledging that he had indeed planned this whole thing out was not worthy of his recognition. “I believe you are avoiding the issue here. You have deliberately scheduled your shifts when I have been off-duty. Since I was unable to discuss that with you, I extensively examined my behavior over the last few weeks and judged that I have done nothing that would have offended you or aroused your anger to this degree.”
Bones yanked his blue shirt over his head and tossed it in the approximate direction of the laundry chute, pushing his now mussed hair out of his eyes to glare at the First Officer. “Well, you have now Spock, congratulations,” he said shortly, glancing around the room to make sure all file disks and tapes were out of sight. “And dammit, you’re in my room. Quit calling me ‘doctor’; it’s annoying as hell.”
“If it would make you feel better to think I have been ‘lonely’ in your prolonged absence, Doctor, you may certainly do so,” Spock replied, and although his expression hadn’t changed, his tone sure had. Spock only refused to call him by his given name in private when he was angry.
The CMO whirled around to stare incredulously at his half-Vulcan guest. “Are you mad at me, Spock?” he asked.
“’Mad’ is not a state of mind I am familiar with,” Spock replied tersely, gaze narrowing.
“I’ve been busy!” Bones exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “I’m a doctor, Spock, and there’s always someone with an injury on this ship!”
“I’m well aware of that, Doctor. It has not, however, drastically affected our relationship in the past.”
“It was only a matter of time,” Bones muttered under his breath as he slammed a foot down on the chair behind his desk, tugging at his boots.
He could see Spock tense in his peripheral vision. “If my initial conclusion involving your intentional avoidance is incorrect, Doctor, now would be the time to say so.”
“Is that what you want me to say, Spock? That I’ve just been too busy to see you, and this is all my fault?” Bones tugged savagely at his bootlaces; the damn things had knotted like their existence depended on it and he paused his battle with them for a few seconds to glare up at the Science Officer. “Because I’m sure as hell not going to say anything along those lines.”
Spock stood quietly near the door for several moments, his eyes dark and unreadable. When he spoke, his voice was even, yet colder than Bones had remembered it capable of being. “I should have expected as much,” he informed the room, as though he were merely musing out loud. “You humans have an irritating tendency to conceal important information from your partners in a way that causes unnecessary problems which, 87.6% of the time, results in the permanent demise of a relationship that may otherwise have survived had honest communication between the involved parties remained undisturbed. Perhaps that explains why nearly all Vulcan partnerships remain together and approximately 65.3% of Terran marriages still end in divorce, Doctor.”
Bones froze, his fingers stilling where they were wrestling with his laces, a numbness rushing over his frame. Standing up slowly, he fixed Spock with a glare of barely restrained fury. “Was that a threat?”
“Not at all, Doctor,” Spock had the nerve to say calmly.
“Why would you say something like that?” Bones exploded, and now all his not-so-carefully contained stress and feelings were flying around rampant, and this was going to be one hell of a mess to clean up later.
“I was merely stating a fact,” Spock responded, eying him as though he was a bug in a jar, which did not help his mood.
“The Federation statistics regarding Terran marriages and divorce rates are quite accurate—”
“That I am about to shove my boot up your ass,” Bones seethed as his temperature skyrocketed in proportion to his ire, “is a fact, Mr. Spock. And the likelihood of that happenin’ is pretty damn close to one hundred percent accurate.”
Spock’s eyes narrowed as he took in the doctor’s glowering countenance, noting the emphasis on his vowels and slightly slower speech pattern that indicated his repressed accent was resurfacing. He remained quiet for a few seconds before saying, “Doctor, I believe you are under the mistaken impression I was alluding to your late marriage.”
Bones gave him a glare that could have melted steel. “Spock, you brought up a stat on divorce. Just try an’ tell me that wasn’ intentional.”
“On the contrary, Doctor McCoy, I was merely referencing the disintegration of a relationship in terms I thought you’d be familiar with, and the negative proceedings that can preclude such an occurrence. I don’t believe you are familiar with what is often considered the Vulcan equivalent, which is more complicated than a simple human ‘marriage’.”
Snarling wordlessly, Bones whirled around and launched the first thing he could get his hands on at Spock’s face. Which happened to be his PADD. It cracked against the wall like an old-fashioned gunshot as Spock moved, inhumanly fast, out of the line of fire. “Of course I understand, you jackass, an’ what do you mean ‘simple human marriage’? Did you listen to anythin’ I told you about Jocelyn? Good god, man, are you stupid?”
Spock’s facial expression hadn’t changed, although the lines of his face had hardened, his eyes beginning a slow burn. “I can see that continuing this current conversation would prove illogical—”
“Fuck you an’ your Vulcan logic,” Bones spat, his fingers spasmodically clenching and relaxing in his fury as he attempted to reign in the almost-overpowering urge to hit something.
Spock glared at him. “Your chaotic human emotions are blocking your receptivity to anything I’ve said in the last 7.32 minutes.”
The doctor sneered back at him. “Your pointy-eared mannerisms are makin’ you stupid.”
Spock turned his back on him, and even if Bones couldn’t see it on his face, anger was clearly present in his shoulders and laced through his next curt words. “Your dishonesty and avoidance of important matters is a distinctly human trait, Doctor.”
Oh no he— Bones was so furious his first instinct was to act, not speak. He gripped the edge of his desk and shoved, rocking it violently and upsetting just about everything scattered on its surface. Fucking Vulcan logic, and fucking Vulcan assumptions, and fucking Vulcan—Vulcan—just—Vulcan—
“God fucking dammit, Spock, why do you always have to throw my humanity in my face like that?”
To his bewilderment, he’d hardly finished speaking when he found himself with his back slammed against the wall between the bed and the entry to the bathroom, a hand that wasn’t his twisted into his shirt. Spock’s eyes were inches away, holding surprisingly less anger than he’d anticipated, replaced mainly by intrigued curiosity and disbelief. Bones scowled, but before he could say anything—
“What did you say?” Spock inquired softly, the lack of volume making his voice sound breathy in a way that sent a shiver down the doctor’s spine.
Bones tried to bring some of that rage back, he really did. “I said—” his words stumbled to a halt as he replayed his last sentence in his mind, realizing with a jolt that he’d responded to Spock not in English, but in an entirely different language. The one he’d been learning for the last few months. And the man was still expecting an answer. “I said…Ponfo guv’mirann, Spohkh, po than tu is-tor shal wa’et’liwh komihn nafu’es svi’br’xan thrap tehnat nash-veh?”
Silence settled over them in an almost unsettling manner as Spock simply stared at him. Bones wondered if he’d mispronounced something, because he was being seriously scrutinized, here.
“…I have never heard Vulcan pronounced that way,” Spock forced out slowly. “It is not wrong, but…”
Bones struggled to squash a wry smile. “Couldn’t weed out my southern breedin’, I’m ‘fraid.”
He shifted hesitantly. “’bout three months ago.”
Light dawned in dark Vulcan eyes. “When you began avoiding me.”
Bones scowled. Damn thick-headed Vulcans. “I wasn’ really—”
“Why?” Spock interrupted.
“…didn’ I tell you?” Bones asked, raising his eyebrows. “Because I wanted to surprise you, and I can’ do that when you’re touchin’ me.”
Spock’s brow furrowed, his fist loosening in Bones’s collar. “Are you saying I fail to respect your privacy?”
“No, that’s not…” Bones shook his head, firmly meeting Spock’s gaze. “No. I’m sayin’ it’s hard to keep secrets—surprises—from you. And surprises, or some of ‘em, anyway, can be good for a relationship.”
Bones could tell Spock didn’t think very highly of that idea. “And you requested help with this?”
“Well…yeah,” the doctor admitted, watching Spock’s face carefully for a reaction. “Lieutenant Uhura’s a very intelligent woman.”
The First Officer nodded as his mind processed this and spat out a new idea. “She taught you.”
“Indirectly,” Bones acquiesced. “You could say the student taught the teacher’s boyfriend, I guess.”
Spock’s expression was just shy of a frown. “Including certain vocabulary and terminology?”
Bones could feel his eyebrows furrow as he tried to follow Spock’s line of thought, since it apparently wasn’t heading in a good direction. “Of course, I just said, she—oh, that phrase,” he said, glancing away for a moment. “Uh, naw, I harassed her specifically for those a good long time, actually. After she kept laughin’ at my pronunciation.”
“I, myself,” Spock said, perfectly serious, leaning forward to speak softly into his ear, “am beginning to appreciation your linguistic handicap.”
Scowling, Bones gave the glossy black hair at his shoulder a dirty look and socked him in the stomach, a blow that didn’t even faze Spock. “An accent is not a ‘linguistic handicap’, you pla’kruslar.”
He could feel Spock smirk against his hair as his hand brushed gently down the center of the other man’s black shirt. “For future reference, ponfo guv’mirann is a highly inappropriate phrase I would advise you not to use in public.”
Bones felt a sly smirk of his own creeping over his face as he hooked a finger into the waistband of Spock’s pants and pulled him closer, because it had been far, far too long. Lowering his voice, he breathed, “Wanna hear all the other inappropriate phrases I’ve learned, Spohkh?”
He could feel more than hear Spock’s breath rumble up through his chest to his throat as sharp teeth traced the outer shell of his ear and along his jawline, a warm hand working its way beneath his undershirt, fingers spreading across his stomach.
“Var-tor nash-veh,” Spock breathed back.
So he did.