"Most illogical," Spock commented as he coaxed a final chord from his Vulcan lyre.
"What's illogical?" Kirk wanted to know. "Counting songs in general, or just 'Green Grow the Rushes-Oh?'"
Spock lifted an eyebrow and declined to answer, which only made Kirk laugh the harder.
"Well at least you and Jim can carry a tune," McCoy put in. "Believe me, Spock, you wouldn't want to hear me try."
"I have heard you, Doctor. Your intonation leaves much to be desired. Perhaps if you did not bathe your vocal cords in ethanol before attempting . . ."
"Why, you green-blooded--"
Kirk stopped him with an arm around his shoulders. He turned to Spock, who sat on his other side in front of the campfire, a small circle of light in the pitchy darkness of the Yosemite forest. Kirk hesitated only a moment before putting his other arm around Spock. "Sometimes I think I ought to knock your two heads together."
"The title of another illogical human song, Captain?" Spock deadpanned.
"No. Just something my mother used to say to Sam and me when we quarreled. Which seemed to be all the time, just like you two."
"Brothers do that," McCoy said, his face turned just far enough away from the firelight that his expression couldn't be seen. "You know, unlike the two of you, I never had a brother . . . before."
Kirk's arm tightened around the doctor's shoulders, then let go. "Well, now you have two," he said. Staring into the campfire, not thinking, he pulled Spock gently closer with his other arm.
"Jim," Spock began, drawing back slightly.
McCoy looked up from refilling his cup. "Careful, Jim-boy," he joked. "People are already talking about the two of you."
"Really, Bones? What are they saying?" He slid his arm off Spock's shoulders slowly.
"Oh, the usual."
Kirk gave him a blank look.
"Oh, come on, Jim," McCoy snorted. "You know perfectly well what they've been saying about you two for years now."
"I never listen to gossip, Bones," Kirk said as he sipped his drink.
"Oh, all right, then. Maybe you don't. But Spock can't help overhearing things." He turned to the Vulcan. "You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Spock?"
Spock grunted. "Loathe as I am to admit I understand your cryptic statements, Doctor, yes, I have heard the rumors." He quirked a brow at Kirk. "I, however, have never allowed the opinions of disinterested parties to disturb me."
Kirk smacked his chest with his fist. "Touche," he acknowledged.
"Huh?" McCoy said.
"Spock's just reminding me of a conversation we had . . . about the illogic of worrying what other people think." Kirk glanced at Spock out of fever-bright hazel eyes. The Vulcan's eyes shone back.
It might have been the firelight, but McCoy knew it wasn't. "I don't notice as you've ever had any trouble in that department, Jim," he continued.
"Really? Well, there are a few things you don't know about me."
"One thing in particular," Kirk confessed. "I--Bones, I haven't really been keeping it from you on purpose . . . oh, I don't know, maybe I have. There just didn't seem to be a good way to tell you at the time, and keeping quiet about it sort of became a habit. Especially, as Spock says, because I was so damned concerned about what people might think." He broke off uncertainly and looked up at Spock, who raised an eyebrow and looked back at him, unblinking.
McCoy scowled as he always did when he was thoroughly perplexed. "Jim, I don't understand. What exactly have you been keeping from me? --Spock?" He looked to the Vulcan for help. "Do you know what the hell he's talking about?"
Spock nodded. "I must accept responsibility for the situation as well, Leonard," he said.
"'Leonard?' You never call me that . . . unless you're in a highly emotional state--"
"Doctor!" Spock objected. "I do not believe insults are justified."
"Bones, Bones, listen. It isn't Spock's fault in the least. I insisted--"
McCoy jumped to his feet and his empty metal cup clunked onto the ground. "Enough!"
Two pairs of eyes looked up innocently.
"Before you two drive me completely crazy, would you please just answer this one question? What exactly are you trying so hard not to tell me?"
"It's about Spock and me, we . . ." Kirk hesitated, and in that moment Spock moved his hand against Kirk's, extending the first two fingers of his right hand and slipping them under Kirk's hand, which copied the gesture automatically. McCoy gaped.
"What Jim is trying to say is that we have become lovers," Spock said, his face a model of Vulcan calm. "So the rumors in question are, in this case, true."
Kirk opened his hand and clasped Spock's, interlacing their fingers. "Right."
"That is why I referred to your song as illogical," Spock said quietly to Kirk. "Sometimes one is not one and all alone." He glanced down at their hands. "Not anymore," he added in a whisper. Kirk squeezed his hand and let it go.
McCoy shook his head and folded his lank body back down into a sitting position. He pulled out his bourbon flask. "I'm glad I had the foresight to refill this onboard. Somehow I knew I was going to need it." He picked up his cup and dusted it off against his knee, refilled it. "Here, Jim. You look like you could use some more, too."
"I hope you can forgive me for not telling you sooner," Kirk said. "I haven't been too clear about the situation myself, about whether I wanted anyone to know . . .."
"Mmm," was all McCoy said as he accepted the flask again. He held it up in the firelight. "You want some of this, Spock?"
"No, thank you, Doctor."
"Don't want to bathe your basso profundo in ethanol, eh?" Spock gazed back at him with his unsmiling smile.
"Well, Bones, don't you have anything to say?" Kirk prompted.
"Mm hm. It's about time."
"About time we told you?"
"About time you two realized you were in love with each other."
Spock and Kirk exchanged long glances. Spock's seemed to say, I told you so.
Kirk turned back to McCoy. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you sooner. Like I said, Spock wanted to. I hope you didn't get into too many fights defending my honor," he added in a low voice.
McCoy chuckled. "Actually, it's Spock's honor I've been defending most recently." He watched, satisfied, as Kirk's face changed.
"Yup," he went on, his eyes sparkling a little. "The last time it happened, some lout in a bar full of Starfleet types came up to me and started griping about the supposed difficulty of advancing to starship duty. Wasn't too long ago, in fact. You remember, we stuck around in San Francisco a few days after that escapade with the whales . . . ."
Of all the times to run into a drunken idiot. McCoy turned back to where Uhura perched elegantly on a barstool and rolled his eyes skyward. She snickered and occupied herself with her drink.
The crewman was red to the roots of his yellow hair, two colors that looked perfectly nauseating next to his pale green freighter-crew uniform. Dilated capillaries, McCoy thought. What a shame these young louts don't think to bring detox pills along when they go drinking. He glanced back at the crewman, who was still holding forth, as well as breathing in McCoy's direction the nasty concoction he'd been imbibing. It smelled like decomposing pineapple, the doctor decided.
McCoy looked back at Uhura and tilted his eyes toward the door, the universal gesture for Shall we leave? She grinned and pushed away the rest of her drink. McCoy started for the door without a word, hoping it wouldn't look too impolite to precede Uhura, but deciding that actual gallantry--shielding her from the drunken spacer--outweighed the appearance of it.
But before McCoy had taken two steps, the crewman again blocked his path. A beefy finger stabbed the air in the direction of McCoy's chest, and when the crewman spoke, his voice was loud enough to be heard from one end of the room to the other. "Your ship's a perfect example," he bellowed. "Your ship has two goddamn captains! Everyone knows why your famous Vulcan friend is still on the Enterprise after all these years--it's because he's queer for his commanding officer! And Starfleet just panders to them while letting perfectly able younger crewmen languish on freighters! Just because some fag Vulcan wants to stick his--"
He didn't get any further. McCoy took a step forward and accidentally-on-purpose stepped on the crewman's foot with the heel of his boot, making sure to nail the guy's instep in exactly the right place (and silently thanked Dr. Chang, an anatomy teacher of long ago, for his self-defense instruction for starship medical personnel). The crewman yelped and jumped back, spilling his drink right down the front of his chartreuse uniform.
What an odd effect sticky orange glop has on a chartreuse tunic, McCoy thought. He arched an eyebrow at the crewman and fortified himself with a deep breath before he pounced. "Now listen here, you young idiot." He paused for effect, noticing that the room had gone deadly silent. "If Spock's leaving the Enterprise meant that jackasses like you would ever see starship duty, I'd personally make sure he stayed on a thousand years. But fortunately for everyone, Starfleet doesn't promote small-minded bigots to starships." He put his hands on his hips--an incongruous sight, he realized, skinny Bones McCoy facing down a man twenty years younger and a hundred pounds heavier--and glowered into the crewman's face.
"Furthermore, I'll thank you to keep your nasty tongue in your head or I'll have it removed. Not even drunk freighter crewmen get to talk about Captain Spock in those terms, and especially not in front of me. Now if you have at least a functioning reptilian brain, you'll slither back to your barracks and dry out before I put you on report."
Silence weighed for long seconds. Then someone at a table nearby began to applaud, and then another did, and another, until the room was in an uproar. A large dark hand appeared on the crewman's shoulder from behind. McCoy watched as a tall Starfleet officer wearing an MP armband moved into view, nodded a quick greeting at McCoy, and rounded on the drunk spacer.
"Name, rank, and serial number," the MP barked into the flushed face.
"I wanted to punch his lights out," McCoy said into his bourbon.
"You showed admirable restraint, Doctor," Spock said.
"Yeah, so did Uhura. I could swear I saw her sharpening her nails on the barstool."
"Uhura witnessed that whole exchange?" Kirk shook his head. Now, that bothered him, though he didn't know why, exactly. He'd always felt so protective of her--not that she needed it, particularly. Perhaps it was just another of his myriad masculine weaknesses. Since he and Spock had become lovers, he'd learned about a few he hadn't suspected.
McCoy caught the look on his face. "Jim, do you want to know what she said?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. She said, 'Doctor, if the captain and Spock ever did choose each other, it would only prove what I've known all along: they have excellent taste.'"
Spock laid his lyre aside, the strings chiming softly. "She was right," he said, looking pointedly at McCoy. "We do have excellent taste--in friends."
McCoy blushed. "Spock, please, I don't think I can handle too much emotionalism from you at this late hour."
Spock tried to look vaguely affronted, but his mouth turned up slightly and his eyes smiled.
McCoy looked away, clearing his throat. "So, how long have you two been keeping your happy news from old Bones?" he said to the night air. "Were you afraid I might throw a party or something? Or did you just assume I'd eventually figure out what was going on, as always?"
Kirk laughed. "You know perfectly well you've never thrown a party for any reason, Bones."
"Well, Uhura might. If you tell her. Are you going to tell her? And the rest of the crew?"
"Doctor, if you continue to ask more questions before we have answered the ones you have already asked, you are ultimately going to find yourself in a state of deep confusion. Of course, I understand that would not be an atypical state for you."
McCoy scowled affectionately at the Vulcan.
"That's Spock's way of saying: 'One question at a time,' Bones," Kirk cut in. "To answer your first question, it's been . . . since right after Spock . . . came back to us." He sighed. "I'd been meaning to speak to him about the possibility back when we were both stationed on Earth, before the Genesis incident." He dropped his head, his face shadowed. "I waited too long."
McCoy saw Spock move infinitesimally closer to Kirk.
Kirk looked up and took a drink from his cup. "When I got a second chance, I didn't waste it."
"On Vulcan?" McCoy squawked.
Spock shifted his seat. "What is so remarkable about that, Doctor?"
"Well first of all, you hardly remembered who Jim was," McCoy pointed out. "And second, Vulcan isn't exactly the romance capital of the cosmos."
"We could have been on Hellguard," Kirk said. "Or in Hell itself; it wouldn't have stopped me--us."
Spock nodded assent. "My memory actually returned very quickly, considering I had survived the fal tor pan."
"So why did you decide to tell me now? Or was it an accident?"
"It wasn't an accident," Kirk declared. "We were going to tell you before the whole incident with Sy--uh, Nimbus Three. But you were so angry with me about El Capitan that I figured you'd had enough excitement for one day."
"Well you'd have been right. Besides, if I'd known at the time, I'd have yelled at Spock twice as hard for letting you pull that fool stunt in the first place."
Spock winced, remembering the verbal assault his sensitive ears had endured. "Doctor, you know perfectly well I did not 'let' Jim climb the mountain."
"He didn't tell you this, but he made me promise not to do it again," Kirk added.
"And you promised?" McCoy demanded.
Kirk looked at his feet. "Yeah," he said shortly.
McCoy looked from the dark, angular Vulcan features, half in shadow, to the fair, soft Terran ones, gold-hued in the light of the campfire. The two I love more than anybody in the universe, he thought. He swallowed around the ridiculous lump in his throat. How many times had he wished they would realize they belonged together, especially when one or the other of them had gone off alone, unhappy? They'd always had something special between them, and McCoy had always understood that. Was that why the night air suddenly seemed to have a particularly satisfying tang to it, like fine old wine? Because he'd been right about them all along? Because he knew, looking at them now, that they'd take care of each other?
There would be no more Gols for Spock, no more long absences, and no more sudden promotions for Kirk without considering Spock's wishes. No more long silences between his two best friends. He realized now that the silences had been their only alternative to acknowledging the truth between them, and he wondered how he could have missed the signs when they finally did acknowledge it. Maybe you're just getting old, Bones, he thought. Or maybe . . . yes . . . maybe it was because the essence of their relationship hadn't changed. It now was as it was always supposed to be. The universe had righted itself. Spock and Jim, together. Always.
Clearing his throat, he ventured, "May I propose a toast? To true love." He raised his cup. And grinned at the silly expressions on both their faces. "What do you know? I'm the only one here to drink it."
He took a big swallow, and coughed. "Well, how about answering my other question? Have you decided whether to tell anyone else? Like Starfleet, for instance?"
Kirk turned to search Spock's face for a minute before answering. "No, Bones, we haven't decided."
"It might be smart," the doctor pointed out. "It might prevent Starfleet from assigning you to separate duties. We are eventually going to have to give up the Enterprise, you know."
"I know, Bones." Kirk's voice had a hard edge. "Spock's been trying to tell me the same thing for months. But I hate to think of Starfleet going back over my command record, dissecting the decisions I've made in light of the fact that I'm in a love relationship with my first officer. That's the reason I didn't want anyone to know. I don't want them to think it ever compromised my command."
"Oh, nonsense. They'd have to be fools to think that."
"The Admiralty isn't exactly bursting with enthusiasm about some of my decisions. Especially the one that got me court-martialed and demoted to captain. It won't have escaped their notice that Spock was the reason I absconded with one of their starships. Now they'll think I did it because of our relationship."
"Poppycock," McCoy sputtered. "You'd have done it for any of us. And we were all a part of it. Besides, Jim," he peered closely at Kirk, his eyes ice-blue in the light. "Don't you realize they've probably been giving your decisions that exact scrutiny all along? The Admiralty has heard all those rumors that you haven't been listening to. They've obviously decided any concerns are unwarranted."
Kirk shrugged. "Well, telling Starfleet is not something we have to worry about right now. Actually, I don't think they'd dream of separating us, anyway. They've always known we were a team. Maybe that was the reason for all the rumors you heard. I mean, despite my, er, reputation with the ladies of the galaxy, hasn't it always been obvious that Spock and I belonged together? It was often obvious to people who didn't really even know us."
"Edith Keeler, for example," Spock said.
"Yeah," Kirk agreed. He swallowed, a little too hard, and his hand unobtrusively found Spock's again. He looked up at McCoy. "You know, Bones . . . they wouldn't dream of separating us from you, either."
McCoy felt his throat thicken again, felt a deep warmth in his chest. "Yeah, I know," he said after a minute. "Who else could possibly keep the two of you in line?"
Kirk slipped his arm around McCoy's shoulders again and hugged him hard. No need for words. Then he sat back and yawned. "On that note," he said, "I think I'm about ready to turn in." He stood and kicked open his sleeping bag.
"Just one more thing," McCoy said. His friends turned back to him. "Why did you bring me along to Yosemite? Wouldn't you two rather have come here alone?" He sat down heavily on top of his sleeping bag and pulled off his boots.
"No, Bones, we wouldn't rather," Kirk told him. "You're our friend, and you always will be. We're not going to let the newest phase of our relationship deprive us of spending time with you. As I was trying to tell you the other day, we're a family."
"Indeed," Spock seconded as he lay down. "Besides, the captain shows absolutely no proficiency at toasting marsh melons."