Pas de Deux (Andante - Piu Mosso)
It rained, like it did every night. McCoy lay in his bed on his back, listening to the splashing sounds of the water on the nearby trees. Their hotel on the Shoreleave planet - it was named Malorci by now, but he had never quite gotten used to that - was in the temperate zone. Neither too hot nor too dry, the grass green and lush, the trees alluringly brilliant. Must be near the spot where that knight took him on in the past...god, how many years had gone by since then? And how much had happened in them...
He shrugged inwardly. Illogical to ponder about it, Spock would say. The artificial rain ceased, and only the droplets that fell down the leaves onto the solid ground of the road produced small little popping sounds. Suddenly he felt the urgent need to get up and walk over the wet grass in the gray morning hours. Hastily donning his clothes and some comfortable slippers, he went out of his room and down the broad stairways (he had had turbolifts enough in his life to find them utterly unappealing for now). Outside, the morning broke in soft, earthlike colors. "Paradise on the edge of the galaxy", they wrote in the ads. And it was still true.
He walked along the river and looked down on the clear water. Arms folded behind his back, a habit from his decades of service in the Fleet, he slowly set foot before foot in a meditative way. And only when he got on a crossroad of two paths, did he really take in his surroundings in again. Crossroad, indeed, he thought and gazed at the two possibilities. One seemed to lead into a small forest, the other farther along the river. River, he decided, and his psychological education began to dissect what that might tell about himself - that he wanted open space and freedom? That it was easier to pursue where he had started? That he feared the unknown forest more than...
"Oh my," McCoy said aloud. "I guess Spock's been a worse influence on me than I thought." But he knew that this analyzing was his own little streak of the unemotional scientist, a part he had always tried to keep suppressed because he found that medicine suffered from too little involvement anyway. If it had done him good over the years, he wasn't sure. It often would've hurt less if he had been able to keep a professional distance from the pain of others. The memory of Scotty's nephew dying on the white table in the overly white sickbay room flashed up and eased again as he took a deep breath. Long gone, he said to himself, look forward. Looking backwards was the habit of old men.
But here he was, and he was an old man, no doubt about that. Retired, at peace with himself...and melancholic, without a goal - wonderful, just the right attitude to find an early grave. And it didn't surprise him in the least when twenty meters down the path a gray stone stood up against the bright green scenery, his name carved upon it. He stopped before it, astonishingly unimpressed by the white letters on the granite plate. Funny that even 150 years after the last real gravestone was set up on Earth, this image remained in the collective memory.
Something came near - someone, someone he knew well and didn't at the same time. Distance and nearness carefully choreographed subconsciously by their two minds and past experiences, they never had reached the point where it got boring. That was probably more than many long-term couples could say. But then, they weren't a couple anyway, just two friends. He kept saying that to himself when Spock turned up from behind the stone.
The Vulcan wordlessly walked around it, taking in the letters. Then he looked at McCoy. "I thought they only materialize positive things nowadays."
"Maybe," McCoy said. "Care to walk with me?"
Spock tilted his head and pivoted at McCoy's side. They walked in silence until they came upon a bench with a wonderful view of the scenery. The sun had risen above the horizon by now, and water and plants were bathed in the clear light the cloud-free morning gave.
Firmly seated a secure, albeit small, distance apart, McCoy crossed the left over the right leg and folded his hands in his lap. Spock placed his own knees neatly side by side, hands closed in front of his chest with his characteristic meditative hand position.
"I guess we should finally talk," McCoy said and gazed at Spock. The Vulcan's profile was illuminated by the sun behind and McCoy blinked against the sharp, brilliant rays that enfolded Spock like a halo. "I agreed to come here with you for a vacation, and though the place is really great, I wonder what you're up to. I mean, you didn't pay this terribly expensive rate just to drink coffee with me, did you?"
"Indeed not, Doctor," Spock said. He turned his head, and the sun came in fully, making McCoy lower his eyes away from the Vulcan and the fiery ball likewise. The small river was cool against the heat he felt from Spock, and he half knew what was to come.
"We never really analyzed the effect the fal-tor-pan had upon us." Spock paused for a long moment, as if to give his companion a chance for his usual caustic remark.
"I thought the scientists that checked us over the last years had done that enough," McCoy said without much irony. They had checked and double-checked their brains with every method life sciences had nowadays; it was a wonder nobody ever asked for a dissection. But he could faintly remember that his body would belong to the Vulcan Science Academy too after his death; so he'd end up as a rare specimen on an alien world anyway.
Spock tilted his fingers, the tips now pointing horizontally. "These are only the hard facts."
McCoy shrugged. "Aren't hard facts everything?"
Spock ignored him, and McCoy felt himself falling into the comfortable situation of implicit opposition. Devil's advocate had been his job and his personal mission - emotional advocate, in Spock's case.
"Our brainwaves have been attuned ever since; in fact, they have become more attuned over the last several years."
"I know. And?"
"They are as attuned as they are in a..." Spock hesitated, "...bonded couple."
McCoy shrugged again. "Guess I knew that too. I mean, it was pretty obvious when all the Vulcans gave us double-rooms and joined cabins and stuff."
"Indeed," Spock said and changed his hands' position again, his forefingers now lying lightly at his chin. "Since you never asked about it, I surmise it does not...bother you?"
"No, not really," McCoy answered after a moment. "It didn't keep me from anything; I didn't feel bad or good about; it just was, and I thought you'd come to me and ask for another special treatment on Vulcan if you wanted to get rid of it." He gazed at his companion. "I admit, in a way I...found it comfortable. We quarreled enough in the past for more than one lifetime - the easy rapport we've had in the last years was less strenuous."
"I, too, enjoyed this change." Spock's forefingers lightly tapped on his chin, while another pause expanded after his words.
"You wanna break it?" McCoy asked. "I can feel something's changing within you...are you finally going into pon farr again?" Their respective sex drives had been down to zero ever since the fal-tor-pan, which made the unusual arrangement of unspoken nearness doubly comfortable - but McCoy knew that he wouldn't want to be around for a bout of blood fever. "It's probably for the best. I'm sure your father could arrange a nice Vulcan girl for -"
"Leonard," Spock interrupted him, and put one long-fingered hand on his knee. Its warmth burned through the thin fabric into his skin. "I am not going into pon farr anytime soon, as far as I know. But you are correct when you say that I am changing; my interest in a more...physical relationship is awakening again. Alas, I am not interested in an arranged marriage with someone I do not know."
McCoy looked down at the hand, so near his own. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"I want us to explore our possibilities, Leonard."
"I don't think there are any, Spock," McCoy said slowly. "I'm not the right one for you. It was pretty nice to have that connection while it lasted, and it kinda grounded me, made me more balanced, but you should go and find someone who truly captures your heart." He looked up, eyes still slits against the burning sunlight that made him feel disadvantaged against Spock's gaze that rested on him unwavering.
"Our...connection, as you call it, has had the same effects on me," the Vulcan replied. "While my heritages battled restlessly for a long time, they evolved into a peaceful co-existence due to you."
McCoy sighed. "I think it was more the general contact with humans and, of course, with Jim." The sunrays were too much; he averted his gaze again and it fell onto Spock's fingers, still imprinting themselves onto his thigh. "I always thought you were the perfect match. What went wrong between him and you?"
Spock took the hand away, lacing it with the other one on his chest again. "Interesting relationships are made by differences...I think we were too alike in some ways."
"That's all?" McCoy asked lightly.
Now it was Spock's turn to take a deep breath. "I have come to know, by our mental contact, that he had...intercourse with my father."
"Long time ago," McCoy said. "You can hardly hold that against him - especially since it was always you he really wanted."
"It was not their only meeting of that kind, as I learned from my mother not long ago. But you are wrong if you think this caused any misunderstandings between Jim and me." Spock's hand touched McCoy's cheek, softly turning his head around. The Vulcan's face was merely a few inches away, shielding all sun from the human. There was no excuse to not look into Spock's eyes.
"On the contrary, my complete lack of emotions on learning of their ongoing, albeit rare meetings has proven to me what I long have guessed - that it was not him I craved on the first hand."
McCoy took Spock's wrist and placed the hand neatly down on Spock's legs. "That's bullshit, Spock. You've never been interested in me - heck, you haven't been interested in any other men in the past. You went for Chapel, for Zarabeth and some others I forgot the names of. And I chased the girls, too. If it weren't for the fal-tor-pan, we'd never be sitting here and having this talk."
"But the fal-tor-pan happened, Leonard," Spock insisted and reached out once more, stroking away a streak of gray hair from McCoy's forehead. "It is a part of us that we cannot make undone."
McCoy stood up, escaping the touch that was too much, too demanding. "What are you up to, Spock? I can tell you that I've still no interest in men, well, for sex, at all. It's just as if they have killed that trigger with the fal-tor-pan, and I am off and out of the game." He looked down at Spock. "I can't give you what you need. I am old already and aging at twice your speed. Our next checkup is coming in a month; let's go to a healer and get this connection fixed, and then you can go on with your next career and I can do some gardening."
Spock frowned and opened his mouth, but McCoy wasn't done yet. "And besides, Spock, I think you should've learned by now that most beings don't react well to others going over their heads. If this vacation was your setup for crawling into my bed, it was a damn bad idea, because I don't want you there."
With these words he spun around and left. The path's ground crackled under his feet, but it was only his own steps he could hear. Spock didn't follow him, and that was fine. Perfect. There was no chance for them ever, and Spock should understand that by now. It wasn't as if the Vulcan was deaf or dumb. No, siree, Spock had still the finest mind - and soul - on this side of the moon. And it was time someone made good use of it.
The hotel still stood quiet, and when he asked to check out, the man at the reception gave him an apologetic look. "The next possible departure date is in three days. I'm sorry, Sir."
McCoy sighed and signed for the early departure before he retreated to his room. It would be a long three days, he was sure.
"Is this seat free?"
McCoy didn't even raise his head from the padd he was reading, but nodded. The glimpse of Spock's chest, clad in an unusually shiny, dark-green robe, was slightly disturbing, but then he shielded himself from the closeness.
"I apologize for the conversation this morning, Doctor," Spock's voice waved over the table, calmly, one hundred percent controlled. It seemed to resound in the wine glasses that were set up for dinner.
"Never mind," McCoy said crisply.
"An interesting article?" Spock asked.
"Hmmm, yes," McCoy murmured. "They've finally found a cure for Tenosis. This is a break-through for all viruses of the ipQ-type."
"This does not sound like you are inclined to do any gardening soon."
McCoy looked up with a frown. "I can do some gardening and still not be brain-dead."
"Indeed," Spock said emotionlessly. "You could also do some gardening and fly into the Antares sector nevertheless."
"Hardly," McCoy said.
"Then why did you apply for the position of hospital ship coordinator there?" Spock asked before he carefully disassembled the arranged napkin and rebuilt it again.
"I didn't apply for it - they asked me," McCoy growled and took his own napkin, crumpling it in his lap. "And I don't know if I'll accept it."
He watched Spock's face and waited for an answer, but the Vulcan let his advantage lapse as he bowed forward and entered the order into the small key padd that lay on the table.
"When we are on Vulcan, I will apply for a diplomatic position," Spock said as he leaned back again.
"Shouldn't be a problem," McCoy said, glad that the subject had changed away from him. "The peace talks with the Klingons were partly your achievement. They'll probably put you on a pedestal."
"Vulcans do not place anyone on pedestals, Doctor. I only did what was within my potential. One does not thank -"
"- logic," McCoy completed.
"- the mere fulfillment of duty," Spock said.
McCoy took his glass of white wine. The liquid was dry and somewhat edgy in his mouth, and he cleared his throat with water afterwards.
"Not recommendable?" Spock asked.
Silence expanded between them, in which McCoy pretended to read, while Spock didn't even pretend to not look at him. The human could feel the gaze that rested on his head, hair, chest, shoulders, hands -
"You can still drive me crazy from time to time, d'you know that?" McCoy drawled, putting the padd away. It noisily came to rest on the table.
"I am honored." Spock bowed his head.
McCoy bit his tongue to not slip into the litany of green-blooded computer brains. "Don't get me started," he said aloud and called for another wine.
"What do you fear?" Spock said.
"That's the wrong question." McCoy leaned back and folded his arms tightly in front of his chest, creating distance on purpose. "It should be 'why are you pursuing such an illogical goal'?
"It is completely logical for me," Spock said.
"I still don't understand why it's not Jim," McCoy said.
Spock shrugged, a faint movement in his shoulders. "I cannot say. Maybe we missed the right moment."
"Well, that's as good an explanation as any I've ever heard," McCoy stated. "I've bet my money on you two, you know. It was all you, you, you, no matter with who he hung around."
"Not even when he hung around with you?" Spock asked.
McCoy dropped his arms and began to tap on the edge of his empty dish with his fingertips, small rhythmic sounds. "So you saw that too? Guess you know more about me than I do. It's long over, ever since our first mission. Got into a quarrel...well, y'know anyway. The friendship lasted. And that's a good thing."
He looked up to meet Spock's gaze fully. "Yeah, I can see your mind rotating. I admit, that's all the reason I could give. So I'll take your explanation, for what it's worth. But Spock, I really wouldn't want to see you settle down with second best. Move along, take a wife, produce some worthy heirs to the house. I'd be happy to visit some almost-grandchildren on Vulcan from time to time."
Spock straightened his back, folding his hands on the edge of the table. "You are in error, Doctor. I am already settled down - with you. By all Vulcan standards, we are married. There is no need for vows or papers in my culture. What everyone perceives is that we belong together, and that is my feeling too."
"A chimera, Spock. Take away the bond and we'll fall apart in a second."
"Before we decide to take this step to prove your theory, I want to test mine," Spock said calmly.
McCoy raised a brow. "Which is?"
"That your defense against body contact is rather caused by your presumptions of how our relationship should or should not evolve than by any lingering effects of the fal-tor-pan." Spock opened his hands and leaned forward. "Give us this opportunity, Leonard, to find out which possibilities we have. If your opinion remains unchanged, we shall go to a healer during our next stay on Vulcan and let the connection be dissolved."
McCoy looked down at the outstretched hands that claimed him across the table. His firm conviction wavered for a moment, but then he shook his head. "I can't. It doesn't fit, Spock. Besides, I already checked in for the next possible transfer back to Earth, which is in three days. Not enough for any tests."
Spock reached out further. "Three days, then. See it as an experiment, Leonard."
An experiment with my heart, McCoy thought, and it would hurt in the end, he was sure. But looking up into the Vulcan's insistent gaze, he gave in. "Alright, Spock," he said and met one of the warm hands. "Deal."
On Spock's face, one of the almost smiles lightened the stern features and dissolved the tension that had taken hold of them. "Deal."
If McCoy had Spock expected to push, he expected wrong. Little changed in Spock's behavior in comparison with the last years when they went for a lengthy walk the next day, analyzing the biological system (scientists just couldn't switch off their brains). Later they let the past pass and span the bow to the future, analyzing the lasting political impact some of the Enterprise's adventures had had. Maybe Spock walked a little closer than he used to; maybe Spock touched him a bit more than could be accounted for by pure chance. McCoy noted it, thought over it and found it comfortable without encouraging it. A deal was a deal, and Spock was allowed to play his cards.
In the evening, Spock spoke about Romulus over dinner. McCoy listened with interest, if not knowledge, realizing that one day in the future the Vulcans and the Federation would be very unhappy about their Ambassador. The thought made him laugh, but he didn't answer Spock's curious question. McCoy's own plans crystallized over their discussion, too - the Antares project was logical to the pursuit of his career, and he would accept it. Voicing this thought he expected resistance, but Spock surprised him by agreeing with his plans.
So much for their future, McCoy thought, counting their argument settled with him winning the pot.
The day after, they traveled into the mountain area with the same routine, Spock cautiously close, but careful not to overstep the unspoken boundaries of friendship - just the ones McCoy would've thought the Vulcan wanted to tear down in the first place. Then McCoy started to wonder just why he thought so much about those boundaries, and finally he began to analyze in earnest once more if he wanted or wanted not Spock to overstep them. Reason began to quarrel with emotion, and he found himself caught in the antagonistic situation that his mind declared reason to be more important than the feelings that slowly evolved inside of him.
His shoulder muscles and Spock's helpfulness were the battle's victims in the end when he rejected Spock's offer for a massage, ignoring the aching pain in his back. Nothing a hot bath couldn't heal, he decided on their long way back to the hotel.
But when they returned there, they found the whole area illuminated and an orchestra playing in the garden.
"What's going on tonight?" McCoy asked the man at the reception.
"We are celebrating the Andorian New Year tonight," the man said. McCoy and Spock exchanged an irritated gaze.
"Are you celebrating all New Years Eves' of all planets?" McCoy wondered.
"Of course, Sir," the man said obliging, and pointed toward a large calendar that hung at the side. "The Klingon Homeworld is due tomorrow, and your Mars Colony in three days."
"I hope there'll be fireworks too," McCoy said caustically, but the man just nodded. "Of course. We don't do things halfway here, Sir. They start at eleven o'clock."
Spock lifted a brow in unspoken astonishment. McCoy chuckled. "That's okay with me."
The dining room was already empty when they met again, each showered and in fresh clothes, and so they enjoyed their meal in silence. Afterwards they joined the other guests in the nearby park, where the waters sparkled in the illuminated fountains and artists entertained the visitors with juggling and other artistic feats.
It didn't take long until McCoy got caught up in the celebratory feeling, heartily enjoying the atmosphere. "Wonderful," he said, pointing toward an especially impressive contortionist.
"Indeed," Spock said with Vulcanly little enthusiasm.
"Don't be a spoilsport, Spock," McCoy grinned. "C'mon, the fireworks are starting." All lights went out, and then the first rockets took off, lighting the sky above them.
"Great, isn't it?" McCoy remarked in a short pause, and turned toward the Vulcan - and was suddenly breathless when he found himself caught in Spock's intense gaze. He cleared his throat. "Well...maybe not." He rotated back to the view, ignoring the Vulcan's eyes that he felt resting on him now. Shortly after the show was over.
"Let's call it a day," McCoy said and circled toward the hotel.
"A final drink in my room?" Spock asked.
McCoy hesitated, then nodded. They went upstairs by foot, climbing away from the noises beyond them with every step. In his room, Spock switched on the light, which was dimmed down to Vulcan preferences.
"Whisky or scotch?" Spock asked as he went to the bar.
"Whisky, please - scotch I only drink with Scotty," McCoy said. He took the offered glass and waited for Spock. To his astonishment, Spock poured himself a whisky too.
"Don't tell me you're going to become a drunkard in your old days," he said caustically.
"I only ever drink with you, Leonard," Spock replied earnestly and lifted his drink.
"To this vacation," McCoy toasted.
"To us," Spock corrected.
"If you say so." McCoy swallowed the whisky in one gulp, aware of the tension in his chest. He put the glass aside and went to the window. "Tomorrow my flight departs." He looked down at the path to the hotel, which was still full of people dancing to the orchestra's music.
"And?" Spock said behind him.
McCoy laughed silently. "I'm a bit...disappointed," he replied. "And I guess that's what you intended all along."
"Why should I?" Spock turned up behind him, putting his hands softly on his shoulders.
"Because it teaches me a better lesson than anything else could?" McCoy said. He closed his eyes and leaned back slightly. The hands held him steadily, lowering his back onto the other one's chest. Lips touched his ear, cautious, hot.
"You mean, you crave this..." a tongue glided along his ear and down his neck... " and this..." the hands wandered deeper down his back and closed around his hips. "And this..." McCoy was turned around and pulled into a kiss of a kind he hadn't received for more than two decades - hell, never ever. It was as if it was fed by fire itself, burning his lips. He was melting against it, but he was also still fighting. He pulled back and away.
"Damn, Spock. We've talked so much about the future...each one's own future," he said sharply. "There is no place for an 'us' in our plans."
"There are always possibilities, Leonard." Fingertips danced over McCoy's lips, barely cooler than the Vulcan's kiss before.
"No platitudes," McCoy growled. Twisting out of the Vulcan's grip, he retreated toward the bed. And only when he had sat down, he realized it might've been not the best choice of location. "I still think it's a bad idea, Spock. Okay, you showed me I can feel something again. But what I feel for you is only there because of that connection. If we do something now, we'll only regret it later."
"I will not regret it, ever," Spock said and came to the bed, kneeling down in front of him. "We are one, Leonard. We are one ever since the fal-tor-pan. We chose to ignore it, to live our lives independently and yet, wherever one of us was, the other was not far away." He took hold of the human's hands, covering them with a layer of heat. "Yes, my pon farr might not be far away. Yes, I need to seek someone out. But I do not want anyone else but you. Not Jim. Not any woman. I do not care if we only got together by chance. We are what we are today; our history is a part of us. And I felt more than mere friendship for you long before the refusion."
McCoy tried to get away, but Spock held him. "Long before. When we met the Vians, and you were willing to give your life for my sanity...when I saw you die there, I could not help but feel regret."
"You would've felt that for any of the bridge crew," McCoy said.
"No, Leonard. It was more than the simple regret one might feel over the meaningless death of a fellow officer. I felt regret about our missed opportunities...to come closer, to see what we might be to each other."
McCoy shook his head. "Spock -"
"What did you feel, Leonard? I saw it in your mind. I want to know if you can lie to me - did you not regret it too? Did you not think that dying might be a worthy price if I sat near you like this and held your hand?"
"Spock -" McCoy said and swallowed hard.
"Would you lie to me, only to escape me?" Spock whispered, and that was more than McCoy could withstand.
"No, Spock. Of course not," McCoy said quietly.
Spock let his hands go, and he reached out to touch the Vulcan's face. "I can't lie to you... you, of all men..." Spock captured one hand again and kissed the fingers. "It's still a bad idea, in my opinion, but it's yours...so it has to be logical, in whatever weird way." McCoy blinked some errant wetness in his eyes away as Spock pulled him into another kiss.
They didn't get up from the bed that night.
"Do you still want to leave?" Spock said as the morning crept into the room.
"Not if I can help it," McCoy replied sleepily. The sheets were entangled between them, but the night was so warm that even Spock didn't shiver without them.
"Then let me make arrangements," Spock said and stood up. The light of the small screen in the corner of the room danced over the Vulcan's face, and McCoy wallowed in the sight. Maybe this would be a bad idea in the long run, but for the time being it was -
"I received a message from Starfleet," Spock said. "They will be launching the new Enterprise, and are inviting the former crew to attend the ceremony."
"Are they ordering us to be there?" McCoy asked.
"They cannot; we are retired," Spock replied.
"Do we have to go for any other reason?"
The Vulcan's lips twitched. "Logically, I cannot surmise any other."
McCoy stood up, freeing himself from the fabric that rolled around his legs.
"Then I'd say we should write a very nice message back and tell them that we unfortunately have other obligations."
"A lie?" Spock said, one arching brow rising inquiringly.
"The truth," McCoy murmured and put his hands around the Vulcan's upper arms. He leaned down and placed a line of kisses along the neatly shaved neck. "The - complete - truth." His teeth caught a piece of flesh, and Spock hit the wrong key.
"Sorry," McCoy said.
"No need to stop," Spock replied roughly, hastily typing the last words and sending the message off. Then he swung around in his chair.
"Glad to hear that." McCoy pressed between Spock's legs and his arms reached around Spock's shoulders, while Spock's arms locked around his waistline. Their lips met in a kiss, opening to each other at the contact. A minute later they ended up on the bed again.
McCoy rolled on his back. "D'you know - it's a great feeling to say 'no' to the Fleet."
"Indeed." Spock put his hand onto the cool, slim chest he had wanted to touch for a long time. "Welcome to our future, Leonard," he said, and smiled.