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Spock and McCoy sat facing each other across a table in the Officer's Mess, just finishing the last of their evening meals. The two officers sitting companionably together was no longer the unusual sight it once might have been. The encounter with V'Ger three years before, as well as being bonded to a certain irrepressible human for two years, had given Spock a better understanding of his crewmates, especially the emotional doctor. They still indulged in frequent verbal sparing, but now the well placed digs were less likely to bear sharp-edged barbs meant to wound.

"So," McCoy broke the silence as he pushed away the empty tray and leaned back in his chair. He retrieved his coffee and took a healthy slurp before continuing. "What are you getting Jim for his birthday?"

"Nothing," Spock said. He tidily placed his utensils on the tray and set it aside.

"Nothing!" a shocked McCoy exclaimed.

"Jim is becoming overly conscious of his age as he grows older. He has stated he wishes no acknowledgment of his birthday, and I intend to honor his wishes," Spock explained.

McCoy shook his head in disbelief. "Boy, are you looking for trouble."

"You are exaggerating and mistaken. Jim is a mature individual," Spock said. Because he and the doctor were now less than openly hostile did not mean said doctor no longer took perverse delight in occasionally playing devil's advocate just to see what trouble he could brew. By now, Spock knew enough to keep his guard up.

"No, Spock, I mean it. All teasing aside," McCoy assured, "I really think you're making a mistake. Humans feel varying degrees of attachment to different Terran holidays. Christmas, Easter, even Halloween, mean one thing to some and something else entirely to others. But almost every human born attaches a great deal of importance to his or her own birthday. Even if they don't want to get older, they still don't want it ignored."

McCoy paused long enough to draw a deep breath, continuing with his unasked for advice before Spock could comment. He leaned forward in his chair, an admonishing finger extended to make his point. "No matter what he may say to the contrary, if you don't do something for Jim on his birthday, his feelings are going to be very hurt. Then you, my logical friend, are going to find yourself back in that single bunk you haven't had to use for two years!"

Spock weighed the doctor's advice for a moment, then shook his head. "You are attempting to cause dissension between myself and my mate," he stated, though his voice lacked its usual conviction.

"On the contrary, Spock. I admit I had doubts at the beginning of your relationship about how things would work out, but you two have proven me wrong. You're the best thing that ever happened to Jim, personally, and he ain't been so bad for you either. All I'm trying to do is help you avoid a little marital disharmony," McCoy defended his innocent intentions.

"I shall consider your advice," Spock said before rising to dispose of his tray.

* * * * *

Two hours later, Spock had thought over the doctor's counsel quite thoroughly and decided that McCoy, in this case, might be quite right. Unknown to their friend, his and Kirk's relationship had been just a bit `off' lately. Nothing so serious as outright arguments, only an undercurrent of...discontent...which had Spock figuratively walking on eggs around his mate. It was this undercurrent which had caused him to decide to heed Kirk's wishes by offering no acknowledgement of the coming birthday. Lately, he had become very wary of giving offense where none was intended.

The decision to acquire a gift made, an imminent attack of panic at the realization that Kirk's birthday was only one week away was then forestalled by a quick review of their mission orders. They were scheduled for one stopover, on the actual day of the occasion, at the planet Brodaj.

The name of the planet itself recalled a memory of Kirk and himself touring the extensive market area of Brodaj shortly after their return to the Enterprise for the second five year mission. He recalled Kirk's fascination with the Green Orinigate Statuettes by Greg'lt.

As the name implied, the sculptures were made of originate, a marble-like material found in its multi-colored form on numerous planets in the Federation. The unalloyed green/grey hue favored by the artist, Greg'lt, for his laser cut artistry, however, was available from only one or two sources in the known galaxy. The rarity of the material aside, the delicate perfection of the statuettes which, Spock understood, always depicted avians, made them memorable.

Also very memorable for Spock was the disappointment in Kirk's face when they had been unable to procure one of the costly statuettes during their short leave. The pieces were both rare and costly, however, that need hardly be a deterrent to someone of Spock's means and determination.

Spock contacted the evening shift communications officer and arranged for a personal communique to be sent, without the Captain's knowledge, to a certain merchant on Brodaj renowned for his ability to locate any item requested, no matter how rare or eccentric.

The problem cared for in his usual efficient manner, Spock put it from his mind and prepared for bed.

* * * * *

Kirk smoothed the front of the tunic of his dress whites one last time and turned away from the mirror just in time to catch Spock quickly turning his attention elsewhere. Kirk had a fair idea why his friend had been so nervous since they made planet fall an hour before. Rather than discouraging him, that knowledge added impetus to the imp inside him which was intent upon giving Spock a hard time.

"Are you sure you won't come with me, Mr. Spock? You know I always feel safer with you at my back," he said. A smile was firmly suppressed as he sauntered over to stand in front of Spock who sat on the edge of the bed.

Involuntarily, Spock's gaze slid to the chronometer near the bed, then skittered back to settle on the perscan attached to Kirk's uniform. His whole body was tense in expectation of receiving a call from Tjlart before Kirk was safely out of their cabin.

"Do you expect some danger to your person to arise during the Prefect's official welcome?" he asked.

"No," Kirk conceded. "The greatest danger I'll be in is being bored to tears, I'm sure."

"I feel certain you will succeed in controlling any such emotional displays," Spock offered.

"Spock," Kirk said, putting out a hand and cupping Spock's chin. He lifted it until the dark eyes met his, wanting to be certain his lover read his intent to tease. "Why don't you just tell me to quit stalling and go do my duty?"

"I would not presume to tell you your duty when you are well aware of it," Spock replied, too nervous to reach very deep for a snappy rejoinder.

Kirk released his gentle grip and stepped back. "All right. I'll get out of here and let you get on with whatever it is you have to do to get my birthday present before I get back."

Spock's eyes widened in shock.

A gentle laugh escaped Kirk and he ruffled the perfectly combed hair. "No I haven't been sneaking peeks into your mind. You know I'm not strong enough for that. I just guessed that would be the only logical reason for you to be acting like a tribble at a Klingon convention on my birthday."

"Most astute," Spock said, thereby admitting the accuracy of Kirk's guess. He watched Kirk turn back to the mirror to give the reflected image one last critical appraisal before departing. He was amazed at Kirk's rather light-hearted mood for, from the grumblings which had preceded this day, he had fully expected a serious case of the blues. Which reminded him.

"Jim, may I ask you a question?"

Kirk nodded in absent agreement, abandoning his own reflection and facing Spock.

"You have stated quite clearly and on numerous occasions in the past weeks that you wished no acknowledgment of your natal day. Yet you seemed sincerely pleased when I offered my felicitations this morning. Why?" Spock asked, a familiar expression of puzzlement softening his sharp features.

"Curiosity's been killing you, huh?" Kirk grinned at Spock's nod of agreement. The grin quickly turned sheepish as he admitted. "I guess I've made a fool of myself, but I really am happy you chose not to listen to me. I also know I haven't been the easiest person to live with the last few weeks. I apologize."

Spock made a mental note that he owed McCoy at least one unanswered jibe for his timely advice, then rose from the bed to place possessive hands on Kirk's hips. "You are getting older, Jim, but you are not old."

Kirk's smile underwent another transformation, softening into the tender expression that displayed his love so well. He leaned forward, intending to initiate a kiss as tender as his look, but was halted by the sharp buzz of the intercom.

"Mr. Spock. There's a call coming in for you from..."

Kirk cut Uhura off in mid-sentence. Despite the teasing, he had no desire to spoil Spock's surprise. "I'll tell him, Uhura."

"Oh, Captain. I thought you were..."

"On my way now, Lieutenant. You may advise the Prefect I'll be transporting down in five minutes."

"Yes, sir."

Once again Kirk favored his mate with a winning smile. "Shall I take a message for you, Mr. Spock?"

"Quit stalling and go do your duty," Spock deadpanned.

Kirk threw an exaggerated salute as he headed for the door. "Aye, aye, sir," he rapped out in his best cadet-on-parade voice.

Spock sank onto the bed, waiting until the door was firmly closed before activating the call he had been expecting.

The smiling face of the merchant, Tjlart, appeared on the viewer. "Ah, Commander Spock. I have your...order all ready for you to pick up."

"I am unable to collect the item myself. Would you please make arrangements for it to be delivered to the Transporter Station," Spock instructed. "I will authorize beam up to the ship."

"You're going to beam...it up to your ship?" Tjlart asked incredulously.

"I believe that is what I said," Spock confirmed.

The merchant shook his head, a look of wondering bemusement creasing his chubby features. He knew Starfleet regulations had become somewhat less rigid, but he had not known they were liberal enough... However, that was not his concern.

"If I may request your intentions with regard to payment for the...item?" He fully expected to be doing business through one of those numbered Antarean accounts.

"I understand Starfleet credit accounts are an acceptable form of payment on your planet. I shall provide you with the account number at the end of this transmission." The form of payment was unimportant to Spock. Should Starfleet credit be unacceptable, there was always his Vulcan account.

Starfleet credit account, eh? Tjlart thought. Some beings have more gall.

"Starfleet credit is, of course, acceptable," the merchant assured, his expression giving away none of his thoughts. "Your...package will be on its way immediately."

Spock transmitted his credit code and then cut the communication. He immediately contacted Rand in the transporter room. "I am expecting a package, Lieutenant. Transporter Control will contact you when it is ready for beam up. Please make arrangements for its delivery to me immediately."

"The Captain's birthday present, sir?" Rand asked.

"Indeed, Lieutenant. I trust I can rely on you to see it is dispatched to me with alacrity."

"Yes sir."

Spock then rose from his chair and made his way through the connecting door into his now unused quarters. He looked around, considering the best place to hide the present. Kirk was aware that a gift would be offered, Spock, however, wished to pick the moment of giving. He decided the most obvious and, therefore, best place was under the bed.

A few moments later, the buzzer in their shared quarters sounded. Spock barely made it through the connecting door before it rang again, longer this time. Though it was impossible, of course, the ringing sounded frantic. He hurried to the desk and signalled the door open.

Spock straightened automatically from his bent position over the desk, staring in surprise at the tangle of bodies that roiled through the barely opened portal. He thought he recognized two of the bodies as security guards, but, in between them, he failed to identify the writhing, spitting, screeching conglomeration of hair and bare green skin.

"Lieutenant Rand said to deliver this to you," panted one of the burly guards. They each had the struggling spitfire by an arm but were able to do little more than hold on. "Said you'd know what to do with her. Ouch!" he exclaimed as he sustained a bite from wicked teeth. "May we go, sir?"

They released the caterwauling female with a shove toward Spock, beating a hasty retreat out the door and directly to sickbay. They both needed treatment for a multitude of scratches and bites acquired during their short delivery. It might be stretching things a bit to consider Spock's stunned silence as dismissal, but, at the moment, both were willing to risk any possible consequences of their assumption.

On the other side of the closing door, Spock was given no opportunity to collect his wits before the woman was upon him. Obviously, she had been instructed who her new owner was for her attack now was anything but violent. Every inch of her generous curves were undulating against Spock while her hands were busy doing imaginative things to very inappropriate portions of his anatomy. It was, perhaps, understandable that even the loyal Vulcan took a moment to gain enough control to push her away and neck pinch her into unconsciousness. After all, next to dancing, sex was what a Green Orion Slave Girl did best.

Spock warily eyed the figure sprawled at his feet, then activated the intercom. "Dr. McCoy. Would you come to my quarters please."

"I was just about to grab a couple of hours of leave," McCoy grumbled. "Can't it wait, Spock?"

"It most certainly cannot. I am in need of your assistance. Immediately," Spock added when he noticed the woman beginning to stir. Without the slightest twinge of conscience, he bent and pinched her again.

McCoy forgot his objections and hustled his butt down to officer's country on the double, pausing long enough to snatch up a medical kit, but not long enough to put a mark on the wall to commemorate the occasion of Spock asking him for help. He skidded to a halt just inside the doors, taking in the tableau of Spock sitting calmly behind the desk while a green woman sprawled close by.

"What the hell?" McCoy sputtered. His eyes widened as he realized just what the woman was. "Boy, Spock, when you buy a present, you really buy a present!"

"Do not be obtuse," Spock said in his most frigid voice. "I did not purchase a green Orion slave girl for Jim."

"Thought that was a bit liberal for you. How the hell did she get here?" McCoy couldn't resist the opportunity to look over the topic of conversation. After all, how often was a man ever this lucky?

"Her presence is the result of misunderstood instructions. I ordered a Green Orinigate Statuette by Greg'lt. I have already contacted the merchant and arranged for her return. However..."

"Transporter room to Mr. Spock."

"Yes, Lieutenant Rand," Spock acknowledged the hail.

"I thought you might like to know Captain Kirk just asked for beam up," Rand reported.

At that moment, Spock - calm, cool, collected officer under enemy fire - completely lost it. He stared at the intercom in speechless shock.

"Thanks for the warning, Janice," McCoy finally answered and reached across the desk to kill the channel.

"Go head Jim off at the pass," he instructed his stunned friend.

Spock stared at McCoy, wearing an expression of total incomprehension.

"Go catch Jim in the transporter room and stop him from coming up here," McCoy reworded. He allowed himself a moment of regret that a situation like this had never come up during the years when he was still collecting all the ammunition he could find to tease Spock.

"How?" Spock muttered. Hardly a more intelligent response than a blank stare, but at least it was a word.

"Oh for Chrissakes. I thought you were supposed to be so smart! Make up an emergency on the bridge."

"In standard orbit?" Spock asked which was further proof, if any were needed, of his addled state. There were any number of emergencies that could occur in standard orbit.

"Well then, pull him into a closet and make mad passionate love to him," McCoy yelled in exasperation. "Just keep him out of these quarters and out of the corridors for half an hour while I find some way to get rid of your mistake!"

* * * * *

Spock fidgeted as the turbolift made its way to the transporter room deck. He could remember no other time when it had seemed to move so slowly. Unaware he was standing expectantly poised on his toes, he shot out as soon as the doors parted, and, as a consequence, cannoned straight into Kirk. The sturdy form rebounded and Spock stumbled back into the lift. He scrambled to exit before the doors closed.

"Jim, I was..." Spock clamped his lips over the revealing `I was looking for you' saying instead, "You're back early."

"The Prefect was mercifully brief," Kirk explained as he straightened himself and gathered his somewhat battered dignity around him. "Thought we might get in a few hours planetside."

Spock's mind was a little clearer now and had latched onto McCoy's last suggestion. It was a very good suggestion for keeping Kirk occupied. Spock also felt a pleasant tingle of arousal at the idea. It had been quite some time since he had initiated intimacy.

Glancing up and down the deserted corridor to confirm they were alone, he stepped closer to Kirk and bent to whisper. "I can think of a number of ways I would rather spend the next few hours."

Instantly aroused by the unexpected offer and aggression, Kirk did his own quick scan to ensure their questionable privacy, then leaned in a bit closer. He ran his hand up Spock's arm to the narrow shoulder. "Care to tell me more? Perhaps in the more private surroundings of our cabin?"

The tantalizing seduction faded from Kirk's eyes as a look of sheer panic crossed the sharp features of his mate. Spock, panic? Surely his eyes must have been playing tricks on him. He blinked and looked again to find the dark face mirroring his own earlier seductive expression.

"I had a much more...interesting location in mind," Spock murmured hoarsely.

"Oh, where might that be?" Kirk countered, his voice dropping a tone or two in response to the pleasing shiver coursing down his spine. The thought of a horny, adventurous Spock was causing a predictable response.

Spock took McCoy's suggestion of a closet, considered it for about two seconds, and tossed it aside. He said the next thing that came to mind. "The observation deck."

Kirk's eyes began to glow. Fantasy fulfilled! For two years he had been trying to get Spock to fool around on the observation deck. The dark around them. The stars above them. The soft carpeting below them. In the middle, himself and Spock making wild, wonderful love.

"Oh yes!" he hissed, catching himself just short of tumbling into Spock's arms.

Behind them, the lift doors parted to expell a laughing group of leave goers. They jumped apart, gazes fixed on neutral points, until the group had passed, then stepped into the lift. Kirk ordered their destination before insinuating himself into the Vulcan's embrace.

Spock, on the other hand, was having second thoughts. He was remembering how thin the walls in those observation deck `privacy cubicles' were and how loud a certain human could be when he was enjoying himself.

"Oh, Spock. I can't believe you're really going to do this," Kirk breathed into a pointed ear. "If you'd shopped for a year, you couldn't have come up with a better present. What an actor you are, pretending you were buying me something."

Knowing that to recant now would arouse his mate's suspicions, Spock tried to still his doubts with a passionate kiss that lasted until the doors opened. It served the purpose and then some.

Fortunately, the closest cubicle was only a few steps from the lift doors and unoccupied. Neither officer was in a fit condition, what with heavy lidded eyes, swollen lips and suddenly constricting uniforms, to present their usual command team persona. They separated only long enough to hurry into the relative privacy of the cubicle before Kirk had himself plastered to the lean length of his lover again.

Spock reflected briefly that it was certainly his day for such embraces before he chased the thought away. With one hand he attempted to secure a firm hold on Kirk's slippery dress uniform, while the other hand found and pressed the locking mechanism, securing them at least the illusion of privacy before Kirk pulled him down to the carpeted deck. The cool hands seemed to be everywhere at once, making short work of his fast-disappearing clothing.

Quickly aroused, as Kirk intended him to be, by succulent kisses and bold caresses, Spock's doubts were held in abeyance until they were both naked. He froze when sharp Vulcan hearing detected a not-so-distant giggle. Above him, Kirk stilled all movement as well and they stared at each other in silence.

"It's going to bother you, knowing other's can hear us," Kirk stated, rolling away and reaching for his clothes. "You know I can't keep my big mouth shut. Let's go to our cabin."

"No!" Spock exclaimed, making a grab for the retreating body. "I...I..." He sought inspiration and found it in Kirk's pride. "I am not ashamed of the way I make you feel."

Kirk fell back into the waiting arms. "Oh Spock, I've never admitted it, but I've always been sure I embarrassed you with all my moaning and groaning."

Determined to prove Kirk wrong, for the sounds were actually very arousing, Spock set about stroking, tasting, and exploring every inch of the writhing body in his arms. Unfortunately, he could not help flinching every time one of Kirk's more lusty moans was reflected back at them in a high-pitched giggle, like some kind of demented echo. At least the Captain had not started shouting his name. Yet!

His attention wandering to whoever it was next door, Spock was unprepared to find himself suddenly flipped to his back. Kirk straddled his thighs, looking like an avenging angel wearing the grin of a determined devil.

"You know what you need, lover?" Kirk whispered, leaning over to run two-handed caresses from the slender shoulders to the thick, swollen penis. "You need someone to take your mind off your surroundings."

Without giving Spock a chance to protest, Kirk lowered his head, sucking in every inch of the green phallus.

As always happened when Kirk began his expert oral ministrations, every thought Spock had ever had centered between his legs. A loud, throaty groan escaped him as the bright head moved unceasingly at his groin and a cool hand did delicious things to his testicles.

Unaware he had closed his eyes, Spock opened them when he felt warm satin brush his shoulder. He discovered a flushed hard column waving before his face, seeming to beg for equal treatment. A steadying hand guided the shaft to his lips, and he engulfed the head in suckling heat. What little remained of conscious thought left Spock when a rigid finger thrust up into him. Fortunately, the hard bulk of his lover's penis filling his throat prevented him from announcing to all and sundry just who it was getting his rocks off with whom on the observation deck.

* * * * *

Standing by the desk where Spock had left him, McCoy took a moment to study his present predicament. Had he had time to really think rather than simply react, the doctor might well have beat a hasty retreat and let Spock deal with his own dilemma. Serendipity, however, chose that moment to favor Spock with the beginning signs of consciousness in the woman on the floor, cutting such consideration short. As it was, the Orion came around faster than McCoy expected, leaving him only a moment to grab a hypo from the kit lying on the desk and dial it to an appropriate tranquillizer.

With a shriek, the woman was off the floor and flying at him with teeth and nails bared. Without sustaining any major damage, McCoy managed to shove the plunger home and hold her at bay long enough for the drug to take effect. When it did, he gently eased the relaxed body into a chair where it sat swaying with a vague smile curving the full lips. The particular drug he had administered was designed to render the patient docile but conscious.

McCoy took a moment to calm his addled wits, then slung his kit over his shoulder and did a fast visual check that all was in order in the tidy office. Gently, he pulled the woman to her feet, secured a grip around her waist, and led her to the door. McCoy signalled the panel open then stuck his head out before starting down the empty corridor toward the turbolift.

He got only as far as his own door before the sound of voices alerted him to approaching crew members. He ducked into his cabin with his burden and stood leaning against the wall until his heart stopped racing. Checking the corridor again, and finding it still occupied, McCoy let the door slide shut. Obviously, he could never pull this off on his own. He was going to need some help.

Leading the Orion, he settled her into a chair and studied her for a moment, judging the degree of docility she exhibited. Satisfied no further medication was needed now, McCoy turned his attention to who he could con...recruit into helping him. Someone smart and discreet, and of equal if not greater importance, not on leave. He opened a channel on the intercom, fingers crossed.

"Scott here."

"Scotty," McCoy exclaimed in relief. "Am I glad to hear your voice. Can you come to my cabin? I need your help right away."

"Aye. On my way."

The anxious doctor paced the width of his cabin impatiently, pausing on every pass to make sure the Orion was still happily high, before resuming the nervous striding. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the door signal was finally activated.

"Scotty?" he asked hesitantly.

"Aye," came the reassuring response.

McCoy slapped the release and the door slid aside.

Scott took two strides into the room before noticing the doctor's visitor. He stopped dead in his tracks, mouth agape, while the door whispered closed behind him.

"Leonard, ye sly auld dog," Scott said after a respectable pause to collect his wits.

"It...she's not mine!" McCoy protested.

"Oh, aye," Scott returned doubtfully.

"Really, Scotty. She's Spock's," McCoy blurted.

A pair of beefy arms crossed a wide chest while the expression of doubt on Scott's florid face deepened to pure disbelief. "Oh, aye," he repeated.

"I mean it. She's Spock's birthday present to Jim!" McCoy was almost shouting now.

"Doctor, what hae ye been drinkin'?" Scott wondered.

"I haven't been drinking anything, but I intend to once I get her back where she belongs," McCoy vowed. He then went on to explain to his sceptical friend what little he himself knew of the story, ending with, "Spock already called the merchant, but then Jim came back aboard so he couldn't take her back himself." Even to a trusted friend like Scott, McCoy would never consider revealing the previously unimagined sight of Spock caught completely flat-footed.

"So, he left ye holdin' the bag?" the Engineer concluded.

"Right. I'm gonna need you to run interference for me to get her to the transporter. I'll just return her to...damn!" McCoy exclaimed. "Spock never told me who he bought her from."

Scott might not totally believe his friend, but his interest had been thoroughly captured by the problem. "Who was manning transporter controls at the time?"

"It must have been Janice," McCoy said. "She called to warn us when Jim beamed up."

Considering the matter, McCoy decided Rand, now that she had outgrown her crush on Kirk but still maintained her high regard for him, would make an excellent ally. He signalled the transporter room, relieved when Rand answered the call.

"What can I do for you, Doctor?" Rand asked when McCoy identified himself.

"I was wondering if you...ah...knew which merchant..."

"I'm just ending my shift," Rand cut in. "I'll be there in a minute."

The two men waited impatiently for the transporter chief to arrive.

"The transporter room was full of crew," Rand explained when she came through the door. "I didn't want you to say too much."

"I take it ye beamed the...lass aboard?" Scott asked.

Rand nodded absently. "I never would have sent her up to Mr. Spock, but half the crew were either coming or going, and I thought I'd better get her out of there fast. Blake and Warren from Security were there, so I asked them to deliver her as discreetly as possible. They'll keep their mouths shut if you ask them to."

"If it isn't too late," McCoy mused gloomily.

"All we can do is return her and hope the gossip mill doesna hae enough grist tae grind for long," Scott contributed with an engineer's practicality.

"Cargo transport should be empty. With Mr. Scott and I running interference for you, you should be able to get her there and then beam down," Rand suggested. "It's not far from the station to Tjlart's."

"Tjlart? Why that...he should have better sense than to send a green Orion slave girl to a starship, much less to a Vulcan," McCoy exclaimed. "Wait'll I see him..."

"No time for that now, Leonard," Scott cut in. "Most of the crew that's goin' ashore hae already gone and will be comin' back aboard soon."

"Right, let's go."

It was nearly a half hour later that McCoy finally emerged from the transport station with his docile burden resting against his shoulder. Those thirty minutes were an experience he was unlikely to forget soon and one he hoped never to repeat. Although uncounted, he was certain there were at least a hundred closets and briefing rooms between his cabin and Cargo Transport. He was also equally sure that he had stood anxiously in every one while Rand and Scott used an assortment of guile, native wit, and the privileges of rank to clear his path. He thanked Providence Spock had already made arrangements with Tjlart for the Orion's return. A few minutes more and his unasked for responsibility would be over.

* * * * *

Kirk savoured the last bite of his rich dessert, then pushed away his plate. He picked up the half-empty coffee cup sitting on the table and leaned back in the chair, glancing around the deserted officers' mess before letting his gaze rest on a very mellow-looking Spock.

"Thank you for a very enjoyable and memorable birthday, Spock," he said, eyes and smile openly loving.

Spock's expression was equally tender. "I am not entirely sure which of us received the gift. I had no idea a change of venue could be so...exhilarating."

"That's all I've been trying to tell you." Kirk leaned over and placed his hand on Spock's where it rested on the table. "It's been a while since I've seen you looking so content."

"I believe I will listen more closely in the future," Spock promised.

Kirk's eyes took on a teasing sparkle as he sat forward. "In that case, the supply closet..."

The suggestion and hand holding ceased abruptly when a group of junior officers entered the mess. In actual fact, the young men were so involved in their argument, none of them noticed the room was already occupied. Nevertheless, by silent agreement, Kirk and Spock decided it was time to leave and both stood up.

"I'm telling you I saw it with my own eyes; ol' Doc McCoy staggering out of the transport station with a green Orion slave girl wrapped around him," insisted a freckled-faced redhead.

A sharp reprimand sprang to Kirk's lips, but was never barked for his attention was abruptly drawn to Spock. The Vulcan had turned a very unhealthy shade of green and was slowly sinking back into his chair.

"You're crazy," declared a somewhat older medical assistant. "Or you had a few too many. Intelligence may not be high on McCoy's list, but he isn't into bestiality either."

The comment that managed to draw Kirk's attention from a recovering Spock was made by an ensign so young he was barely shaving yet. "Besides, a green Orion slave girl would kill the old codger!"

Kirk used one of the oldest tricks in the book to cut through the resulting laughter; he cleared his throat - loudly.

One of the group had the presence of mind to bark "Attention!" and five bodies immediately stiffened.

Kirk approached the group slowly and stood in front of them. Deliberately, he met the gaze of each officer in turn, moving on to the next only after the current victim had dropped his eyes.

When all five were intently studying the tops of his boots, Kirk rapped out, "At ease!" With Spock at his heels, he spun and stalked out of the room. That he failed to add "carry on" and that they had better not, was clear to all of them.

Kirk remained very quiet during the trip to their quarters. His infamous intuition was adding up two and two. That it was presently adding up to five, didn't worry him at all. Coming up with the right answer promised to be interesting.

As soon as he stepped into the cabin, Kirk's nose provided him with a further clue. A quick peek at Spock confirmed that the heavy musky scent lingering in the air was equally detectable by superior Vulcan senses. The same glance also revealed Spock was marshalling his control to prevent any further hints from slipping through.

Kirk decided to use his most reliable distracting weapon; he strolled into the bedroom and began undressing - slowly.

"It sounds like I'm going to have ammunition to tease Bones with for a month," he commented while his fingers slid down the front of his white tunic to grasp the bottom edges.

Predictably, Spock's eyes followed the moving fingers. He did, however, hear the casual words, as evidenced by the noticeable up and down motion of his adams apple. A familiar symptom of nervousness that Kirk noted.

The Captain peeled off the tight fitting shirt and began on the fastener of his pants before saying anything further. "If it's true, maybe I should order him to have his head examined."

The pants were lowered to mid-thigh, but for once Spock hardly noticed. He was too busy wondering just how much teasing McCoy would endure before spilling the beans. Considering their improved relationship, probably quite a bit, but it was unfair for Spock to let him do so.

"It is true, but McCoy is in no way to blame. He was doing me a favor," Spock confessed. "There was an error in interpretation of my order for your birthday present."

Knees shock-weakened and pants at half-mast, Kirk nearly sprawled in an undignified prat-fall before managing to stumble to the bed. "My birthday present? I think you better start at the beginning."

With a resigned sigh, Spock sat beside his lover on the bed. As succinctly as possible, he related the tale, albeit with a bit of judicious editing. He saw no reason to describe either the Orion's "attack" upon his person or his uncharacteristic panic.

Small giggles began to escape Kirk about half way through the narrative. By the time Spock uttered the last sentence, the bed was shaking with howling human mirth. Somewhat offended by the uncalled for and excessive display, Spock removed himself to a convenient chair to wait out the storm.

Eventually, yowls gave way to cackles, which eased into giggles and finally calmed to the occasional hiccup. When protesting stomach muscles unclenched, Kirk sat up and wiped his streaming eyes, then staggered over to his now thoroughly miffed mate and plunked himself into the unyielding lap. Weak arms wrapped around an unbending neck, he smiled into the stern face.

"Oh, Spock, with friends like you two, I must be the luckiest man alive!"

* * * * *

Many hours later, McCoy looked up from logging the last details of this night's shore leave casualties to find Spock standing before his desk with a parcel in his hands. The tall figure bent and placed it in front of the doctor.

"You got the wrong guy, Spock. Jim's the birthday boy, not me," McCoy teased while eyeing the package which was just the right size and shape to contain a bottle.

"This is a token of my thanks, for both your aid and advice," Spock explained.

"Ah. I assume then that Jim was happy you didn't ignore his birthday," McCoy said as he reached for the present. "Hey, wait a minute. Your little visitor was a mistake, and I've got the statuette right here. That means you didn't have a present for Jim after all."

Spock glanced away, exerting every ounce of control to stop the blood from rushing to his ears. When he was certain of his success, he once again met McCoy's eyes. "I improvised."

One part of McCoy was dying to know while another, perhaps wiser, part was warning `Don't ask!' He settled the internal argument by beginning to open the present.

"This is very nice of you, Spock, but you don't..." McCoy's voice trailed off as he drew the expected bottle of spirits from its wrapping. Neither the bottle, nor the variety - Kentucky Sippin' Whisky - caused the momentary catch in his voice. "This is 100 years old! You don't owe me somethin' like this."

"On the contrary, Dr. McCoy, I owe you more than you will ever know," Spock said just before slipping out of the door.

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