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Story Notes:

This is the product of sleep-deprived conversations with Nepenthene; blame everything on her. I realize I've bastardized Vulcan physiology probably to the point of satire, but that's how I get my kicks.

 

Jim waited until the shuttle had safely docked and his first officer was standing in front of him before canceling the red alert. Ensigns hurried to unload equipment and escort refugees off of the hangar deck, and McCoy was already advancing on Spock with a tricorder. Medical support staff loaded up Mallory onto a gurney and wheeled him away.

Spock knew better than to try and dissuade Bones from his work. He was like a mosquito; if you swatted him away, he'd just come back, buzzing harder. Jim waited until Bones pronounced Spock fit with a grunt and something terse about more tests later, and then his CMO scurried off to harass the refugees in the sanctity of sickbay. Kaplan trailed after him, uninjured arm cradling the other in its sling.

Jim, Spock, and a handful of ensigns dragging crates were the only ones left. Spock didn't look so great. He was wan, in a way that made his usual complexion seem downright tawny, and a smear of dark dirt bisected the white of his face like a scar.

"That's the last time I send you down to the surface," Jim said lightly. "This much excitement and the crew's going to become complacent."

"Perhaps I am better suited to remaining on the bridge, as it appears I am ineffective in other scenarios."

He was dead serious. Concerned, Jim dropped the casual façade and stepped closed. "Don't be ridiculous, you did great. You got your team off the planet without anyone succumbing to an untimely death. That's a win, in my book." He purposefully did not mention that Spock had come back with three less refugees than they'd anticipated.

Spock said nothing. He shifted his weight and clasped his hands behind his back, looking like a textbook-perfect illustration of at ease. "Would you prefer to debrief me now, or at a more convenient time?"

"You worked a double shift before spending twelve hours stranded on a planet in the middle of civil war. I'm pretty sure you can take a nap first."

"I am perfectly capable of seeing to my duties. Vulcans function successfully on very little sleep."

Jim shrugged. It was no use pushing when Spock got this way; Jim could order him to his quarters, and he'd probably sit around not sleeping just to be stubborn. Also, Jim was the least convincing person in the galaxy to say anything like 'just because you can doesn't mean you should.' "Fine, fine. Meet me in my quarters at 1930. Bring your chess set."

He didn't hang around long enough to hear the protest Spock likely had about illogically mixing duty and leisure.

--

Spock requested entry to his quarters at exactly 1930. He was carrying his chess set, although the lack of it wouldn't have deterred Jim in the slightest. He had his own in case Spock had ignored his request, and he was almost to the point of not taking Spock's bull-headedness personally.

They set up the board in silence, and Jim grabbed drinks from the food synthesizer. Coffee for himself, and some disgusting tea Spock liked, programmed to be served extra-hot. His fingerprints nearly burned off in the short trip from the synthesizer to the table. Spock picked up the tea with no comment and started drinking it as easily as Jim would tepid water.

Jim generously let Spock play white. He was expecting their game to go on in its usual silence (only borderline awkward, now; he counted this as progress), but Spock waited for Jim to make his answering move, and then immediately set in on the debriefing.

"I have already started a report on the events of Aja V. I estimate its completion in one point six hours, provided I am left uninterrupted--"

"Who needs a report when you're here?" He would read the report, but Spock's overly technical and precise language could turn a horror story into bone dry boring. It was a gift.

Spock put off responding in favor of moving a piece. A visit to the sonic shower and a change of clothes had removed the grime, but nothing save sleep and time would erase the look in his eyes. Jim idly wondered how much of an asshole it would make him if he suggested therapy.

"I am unsure as to how many of my communications were received, but I assume you were aware of the shuttle malfunction upon arrival to the planet's surface?"

Jim nodded. What information they'd received had been sparse; somebody down there really hadn't wanted anything getting in or out, but Spock's tenacious self had found a way to rig the communicator to bypass the subspace block. No one was surprised. No one was surprised at his single-handedly managing to fix the shuttle and pilot it back to the Enterprise, either. The refugees and the tricoders filled with data on the planet were unexpected bonuses.

"It became clear that the landing party was in jeopardy, and that our priorities were reestablishing communications and fixing the shuttle. We established a security perimeter and conducted tests to the shuttle. It was determined that the engine and all component parts were intact. There was no mechanical reason for us to be grounded."

Jim took a sip of his coffee and tried to look interested. He didn't particularly care about the whys and hows. He didn't particularly care about the debriefing, either; Spock was the one concerned with documenting every mission and crossing all the Ts, and McCoy was the de facto psychologist on the ship. His interest was in Spock, and the fact that they'd sustained casualties for the first time since Nero. The fact that the dead were refugees from Aja V and not crew didn't matter. Dead was dead. And if the carefully controlled look on Spock's face was any indication, guilt was guilt.

"It was magnetic distortion, some sort of device. Scotty thought it was EMP at first, but it didn't gel."

"I initially made the same assumption, but many instruments remained unaffected. The Ajan refugees informed me that the Callax army had devised a selective magnetic interference device as a terrorist tactic."

"And you flew right in the middle of it."

It was one hell of a clusterfuck to land in: two warring factions, one of them doing its best to blow the other out of existence over religious land rights. Jim had stopped by sickbay to check on Mallory and try to welcome the Ajans onto the Enterprise. They'd been overflowing with gratitude, not to mention desperate for Federation intervention. Unfortunately, Jim didn't have the clearance to declare war on half the inhabitants of a planet just because he felt like it, so it was off to Starfleet, hoping the presence of the Ajans was enough of a tangible tearjerker to garner official backing.

"Approximately five hours after landing on Aja V, Mallory discovered ten Ajans in a nearby structure."

"When did ten turn into seven?"

Spock was Vulcan enough not to visibly react. In all probability, the question didn't bother him, which was good, because Jim wasn't good at hand-holding, and Spock would rather chew his own hand off than be placated. Metaphorically. "Shortly before restoring power to the shuttle. I sent the Enterprise another message, containing information on the refugees and instructing sickbay to stand by to receive them." The lift of his eyebrow questioned if they'd gotten said message, and Jim nodded to confirm that they had.

Jim realized he should probably start paying attention to the damn game when Spock took his bishop. There was something to the infamous Vulcan endurance after all. Jim couldn't even guess how he would be doing under the same conditions.

"You gonna drink your tea?" Jim asked when Spock seemed reluctant to continue. "I can warm it up for you, if it's only boiling hot now."

"The temperature is sufficient." He dutifully sipped his tea again, the plain white regulation china obscuring the bottom half of his face. His attention was on the chess board, no doubt thinking twenty moves ahead.

Jim was naturally good at chess, but when the elder Spock told him to start inviting his own first to play, he got the feeling the other Kirk's rating was significantly higher than his own (not to mention actually tested). And why shouldn't it be; Jim had spent the greater part of his life shirking responsibility and wasting his potential. It took up a surprising amount of time and energy. Spock was ranked Grandmaster. It was like playing the computer, only Jim couldn't rig Spock to let him win once in a while.

"I don't know how you drink that stuff," Jim went on, trying for distraction and knowing it was ultimately futile. "Were you born without taste buds? Is it a Vulcan thing?"

"Vulcans have a greater sensitivity to the nuances of flavor than humans."

No shit. Kirk shrugged and finished off his coffee in two long swallows. "You want anything else? I'm going to get more coffee."

"I do not require anything further."

He punched in the code for more coffee and contemplated a sandwich, and then realized it wouldn't be the best idea to stuff his face while Spock told him about narrowly escaping death. Food after, maybe. It was possible Spock might deign to eat with Kirk in his quarters, if he asked at the right moment.

He sat down and countered Spock's last move with one that might give him a chance in hell at capturing something. Might not win, but he wasn't going down without a tidy collection of white pieces at his elbow.

Spock's lips pursed at his move, but Jim couldn't tell what it meant. He contented himself with his coffee and thought about what he was going to say to Starfleet to break them in. With his luck, he'd have to go up in front of Komack. The universe wouldn't be kind enough to give him Pike. He hoped Komack's general and (mostly) irrational dislike for him didn't extend to spiting a race of people simply because he could.

"After I sent the Enterprise an update on the situation, I was in the process of triaging the injured Ajans when Callax snipers attacked from the tree line. Mallory was injured, and three of the Ajans perished." His tone was mechanical, flat; there would have been more interest in a discussion of the warp drives, even if this was Spock.

"Spock," Jim tried, and Spock's hand held perfectly still, holding the white piece above the board. "It wasn't your fault."

He was worried he stepped too far too soon -- Jim had no practical skills whatsoever in helping half-Vulcans in traumatic situations. He was betting on too much being better than nothing at all.

"Fault is irrelevant. I was charged, however unexpectedly, with the protection of ten individuals. I was able to rescue all but three. Seventy percent is... an unfortunate outcome."

"If it -- helps, I think you did better than anyone on the ship would have in your situation. I know I wouldn't have managed to fix the shuttle, let alone everything else."

"I do not believe that to be true, Captain." He gently placed his knight into position, efficiently cutting off one of the potential traps Jim was going to set. Not that it mattered. The game was Spock's as soon as he'd sat down at the table. Jim's head just wasn't in it.

"What, you're saying I would have somehow managed to regain communications, jerry rig the shuttle's engines to work without computer nav -- which, by the way, I have minimal training for, since I'm not a damn engineer -- and somehow saved the lives of myself and nine others? How, by pulling superpowers out of my ass?"

The silence that echoed was another layer of awkward on top of a pile of uncomfortable. Strange enough to be sitting around in his quarters, still in uniform, sharing space with someone he barely knew, but had an inexplicable communion with. Stranger, still, to be verbally berating someone who'd just gone through hell, and who now had to tell him about it. Him. Bones had a better bedside manner than he did, and he made children cry.

The chess had been a monumentally bad idea. Kirk was going to imply the other Spock take his advice and shove it somewhere painful when he got the chance. Maybe the next time Jim wanted to get to know his XO, he could try water boarding, or those Godawful camaraderie exercises from the Academy. Camping. Spock would absolutely love camping, if by love you meant abhor with a terrifying intensity.

"Sorry," Jim said into the awkward void.

"Do not be. I simply meant that you have an unparalleled aptitude for finding your way out of impossible situations unscathed."

"You mean I'm lucky," Jim said.

"No. 'Luck' does not occur 89.65 percent of the time."

"Well..." He struggled for something to say other than really? You did the fucking math? "Hang around me, maybe it'll rub off."

"Perhaps."

To his surprise, he'd finished the second cup of coffee during their ten rounds of faux-pas. He stood up just for something to do. His back to Spock, he ordered some chamomile tea, mostly in deference to the hour. "Do you want anything to eat? Our game is going to last a while." He paused, letting himself half-smile where Spock couldn't see. "Unless you want to go get some sleep?"

"I have no need for food. I would not object to more tea, as I have finished mine."

"Want chamomile? I can just double the input."

"That would be -- fine."

He pressed the requisite button and two cups of steaming tea appeared in the synthesizer. The aroma was faint but a hell of a lot more pleasant than the bile Spock had been drinking. Jim mourned his coffee when he took a sip -- it was so weak it was nearly tasteless in comparison -- but two cups before sleep would give Bones a coronary if he heard about it. Which he would, from regularly hacking into Jim's personal records. He said it was because Jim couldn't be trusted to check on saturated fat content, but Jim thought Bones really needed to get laid.

Spock regarded the tea for a long moment before leaning forward and taking it up. Jim had his polished off in a few gulps; he wasn't a tea drinker, he didn't have the patience -- or whatever it was -- that let him linger over a cup until the last dregs. Spock held the cup in one hand while staring out at the board, looking hypnotized.

"Head not in the game?" Jim asked.

Spock looked up, eyes settling on Jim. He set the cup down and straightened. "It seems the events of late have affected my concentration in ways I had not anticipated." For Spock, that was admitting defeat.

"You want me to let you go?" Jim tried.

"I believe I am capable of finishing our game." As if to prove a point, he firmly moved a knight.

"You're still kicking my ass," Jim pointed out wryly. "Even if you are adversely affected. I think I'd only have a chance at winning if you were drunk."

"Vulcans --"

"I know, you can't get drunk. I took Xenobiology 101."

"It is your move, Jim."

Jim didn't have to be a self-taught expert in Spock's little quirks to read that one. He regarded the board, its pathetic progression that had him trapped into a corner at every conceivable opportunity, and bemoaned having to work with someone smarter than him. He envied that other Jim Kirk, with his years of practice and finely honed skill to rely on, not just a chess manual and late-night rounds with the computer.

When he finally made his move, nudging a bishop toward the center in a bid of clear desperation, Spock was staring sightlessly at the board again. His eyes were slits, black and unreadable in the dim lighting of Jim's quarters.

"Spock?" he tried, a little worried he was going to fall asleep in his chair.

Instead of an answer, a jarring noise filled the silence, some sort of deep rumble from Spock's chest. Whatever it was didn't last long; Spock leaned forward, and it would have been like nothing had happened if he hadn't coughed quietly into his hand and given the weirdness away. Jim's blood was seriously up.

"Are you sick?" He wondered about the planet's atmosphere; something foreign, uncatalogued, in Spock's lungs. McCoy had waved him off, but he'd said to come back later for tests, which could mean any number of things that weren't Bones' hypo-happy paranoia. "Do you need to go to sickbay?"

Spock stood up from his chair, and Jim matched his movement, not in the mood for evasion. "I assure you, Captain, I am well."

"Bullshit. You sounded like you have pneumonia, and that's not well, not even for Vulcans." His uncle had a barn dog that used to run around on their property, and it contracted pneumonia somehow. It made the same freaky noise until it up and died and they buried it in the back yard, far away from the crops, and the memory wasn't helping Jim feel sanguine about the matter. He stepped forward, and Spock skirted around him as skillfully as any damn ballerina, arms clasped behind his back. "I'm taking you to Bones."

"It is not necessary. I am in good health, and I am due to see Dr McCoy before next Alpha shift in any case."

"Spock, be reasonable. You could have picked up something nasty on the planet. What's the harm in getting it checked out?"

"The harm is disturbing Dr McCoy while he attends to patients that are actually ill," Spock said curtly.

He had a point there. If Spock turned out to have a stupid head cold, and Bones took precious seconds away from fretting over someone in a worse state, Bones might bite his head off.

"You swear you're seeing Bones before next shift?"

"There is no need to make a vow, as I am planning to go of my own accord."

"Humor me." Jim folded his arms over his chest. Spock didn't sigh or anything so obvious, but his head tilted in a way that conveyed exasperation almost as well.

"Very well. I swear to you, I will seek out Dr McCoy before the start of Alpha shift."

"Good." He glanced back to their abandoned game. "I guess we'll finish it another night, huh?"

"If you wish."

Jim blinked under Spock's silent, expectant scrutiny. "You're, uh, dismissed, in case it wasn't clear."

"Thank you, Captain."

He turned on his heel and headed to the door, waiting for it to open, although he could have just as easily left through their shared bathroom. Spock had one foot out in the hallway when something embarrassingly unstoppable bubbled up in Jim's throat. "Spock."

Spock stepped back, putting a hand against the door sensor so they wouldn't swish closed again. His body was a ramrod, a straight line that went from the floor to almost the ceiling.

"Seriously. It wasn't your fault."

A curt nod and he was gone, but Jim thought he saw something in his expression soften. Then again, he could have been hallucinating. It seemed the more likely scenario.

Alone, Jim collected their cups, Spock's still half-full of warm tea. He still felt mentally wired, but either the stress of the day had caught up with him, or the power of chamomile wasn't just myth, because his body was ready to sack out. After a sonic shower, even his brain had calmed down some. Jim changed into sleep clothes and made a mental note to check with Bones during lunch to make sure that Spock wasn't a lying liar who lied. Or that he was going to die from some sort of infection from a nightmarish planet, whatever.

Bones literally shooed him out of sickbay when he stopped by to talk about Spock. Before he figured out that Jim was there on a snooping mission, though, Jim managed to find out that nothing came up on the tests, and, more importantly, Spock had done as he'd promised. He wanted to ask more questions, tell him what he'd witnessed, but Bones was elbows deep in patients and got belligerent the longer Jim tried to talk to him.

"Get the hell out of here before I have Chapel give you a prostate exam," sent Jim scurrying as fast anything could have.

Jim would have forgotten about it entirely. It would have been eclipsed by the never-ending rigor of running a starship and how much space that took up inside of his not unimpressive head, or maybe he would have chalked it up to a weird Spock thing. But fate had a way of screwing him over.

Spock was off duty for the first time in thirty hours, and the ensign Jim had manning the science station managed to crash his console so severely that it stumped the tech crew. They tried to reboot the thing entirely, but it just flashed the Starfleet insignia error message at them. Ensign Coran cowered like the fist of an angry God was going to come down and smite him where he stood. On the other hand, Jim wouldn't want to be the one responsible for fucking up Spock's station, ever, so the comparison was accurate.

He asked Uhura to page Spock to the bridge, but it turned out he was meditating and had all communication devices off. Jim decided to be a nice guy and go get him instead of sending Coran, or one of the other ensigns still living in terrified awe of Spock to do it.

"See if you can access the memory banks and restore from before the last system update," Jim suggested, then watched in amusement as all four of the tech workers immediately leaned over the console in tandem. "Sulu, you have the conn."

The turbolift let off at the hallway leading to his and Spock's personal quarters, and it was absolutely dead on that deck. Usually a few people were milling around, carrying PADDs and running routine scans on various equipment, but there was nobody. Only the low and soothing constant hum of the ship and Jim's own footfalls kept him company.

Jim walked up to Spock's doors, tried the intercomm, and got nothing. The doors were locked, although not at a high security level – which was good, because otherwise they'd be screwed if they wanted to get to Spock in an emergency. He punched in the override code to get them to open. Being Captain had its perks, although so far he'd only had occasion to go into Bones' quarters uninvited. It was for his birthday, to drop off a bottle of hard-won Romulan ale, which was the definition of both justifiable intrusion and a kick-ass best friend.

Spock's quarters were dim and cloying, the only light coming from a lamp perched on a table. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark and even longer for him to find Spock in the room, kneeling motionless on the floor.

He cleared his throat. "Spock?" He came closer, accidentally hip-checking one of Spock's low tables. The incense, or oil, whatever he was burning, it was pungent, making his eyes sting and head swim. He felt like he wanted to sneeze but couldn't, and inwardly lamented having to do this. Next time, Spock was keeping his damned communicator on, meditating or not.

Staring down at the top of Spock's head, Jim was at a loss. What little knowledge he had of Vulcans told him that touching Spock seemed like a bad idea, or at least a rude one. Maybe he should have sent Uhura. At least she wouldn't have major compunctions over touching Spock's arm.

"Spock? You, uh, awake?" Evidently meditation for Vulcans was a hell of a lot more complex than it was for humans. He looked dead asleep but for the fact that he was sitting upright. "I'm going to touch your arm. Please don't come out of this throwing punches."

He leaned down and lightly pressed his palm to Spock's shoulder, sharply bony even through a thick layer of clothing. Nothing happened. Starting to get worried, Jim kneeled next to him and made sure he was still breathing. He was, and Jim hoped it was at a normal rate, but he had no idea what was normal for Spock.

This time, he touched Spock's wrist, encircling it with his hand and hoping for some sort of a reaction. Or a pulse. Feeling a pulse would be nice, too.

Spock's breathing changed, and the hand beneath Jim's twitched. He pulled back instinctively, like Spock might really come to on the offensive, and waited for something else to happen. It didn't, so Jim risked a black eye and touched Spock's hand again, gently squeezing the knobby bones of his wrist.

Spock didn't punch him or open his eyes, but he did freak Jim the hell out. Almost instantaneously, that goddamn weird noise started up from Spock's chest, a painful-sounding rumble that intensified with every breath Spock took.

 "Fuck!"

 Because the higher powers had a demented sense of humor when it came to Jim's life, Spock chose that moment to open his eyes.

"Captain?" His brow creased in confusion before smoothing into placidity. "Why are you in my quarters?"

"Yeah, sorry, I know you're off-duty, but -- what the hell is going on with you?"

Spock stood. He did it in one fluid motion, like an accordion unfolding, and Jim would have taken a moment to gawk if he wasn't busy being pissed off and worried in equal turns.

"I am unsure what you are referring to, Captain. Computer, lights to seventy-five percent." He didn't wait to find out what Jim had to say before turning and extinguishing his lamp. It smoked in the sudden brightness of the room.

"Unsure, right. I understand not wanting to talk to me about your health, but you really need to tell Bones what's going on. He can't treat you if you pretend like nothing's wrong."

Spock was busying himself with other things around his quarters, which was remarkable because the place was as Spartan as any Jim had seen. Jim wasn't remotely a pack rat. He tossed out every trinket and useless memento almost as fast as he acquired it – habit, left over from Iowa, when he was crashing on somebody's couch more often than not, and it was inconvenient to lug a lot of shit around. But even he had some clutter to deal with; clothes he'd forgotten to send to ship's laundry, endless reports he hadn't found time to sign off on. Spock had some elaborate and likely Vulcan art hung on the wall, a few lamps, and nothing else. His bunk was perfectly made, clearly by him, because no ensign, however efficient, could tuck corners that precisely.

"Again, Captain, I am unsure of what you are referring to. I assume you believe I am ill?"

"Is it a Vulcan pride thing?" Jim asked.

"You are mistaken. I am in sound health, and I have no reason to lie."

Jim deliberately stepped forward and caught Spock's eye, refusing to blink or back down until he saw something there he could act on. He should have known better, because Spock looked back just the same as he always did; direct, expectant. Remote.

"You know what, never mind. Obviously you aren't going to tell me about it." Teeth clenched, he started for the doors, but stopped long enough to remember why he was there in the first place. "Caron crashed the science station. We need you to fix it."

"I will be on the bridge shortly."

Jim didn't bother with a reply.

--

Jim knew himself pretty well. His temper was hard to provoke; you couldn't so much as try to rile him up as trip over something explosive accidentally. When he went off he was like a flash bomb, all bluster and carnage and bad ideas and drying out in the drunk tank. He kept himself firmly in the chair while Spock worked at his station. He tried to finish paperwork, but all he could think about was a multitude of ways to get answers out of Spock. Most of them he might have even gotten away with without an official reprimand from Starfleet.

He stayed silent until the anger turned into a muddled concern, and if he was being honest, a lot of wounded pride. He'd been trying, endlessly and sincerely, to get Spock to see him as a comrade, a friend; whatever it was that the other Spock seemed so fixated on. And now it was patently obvious that Spock didn't trust Jim enough to admit that he was sick.

Eventually he found his way down to sickbay, because when in doubt, bother Bones until he got out the good booze.

"Do you honestly think there's something wrong with Spock?" He was humoring Jim, because he hadn't been kicked out or threatened yet, but he kept working, so he wasn't all that convinced Jim had a leg to stand on.

Watching Bones juggle vials and hypos was strangely hypnotic. "Yes. Well, probably. Are you sure nothing weird came up on his scans?"

Bones sighed, the same long-suffering exhalation he'd perfected at the Academy. "Everything about his scans are weird, Jim. He's half-Vulcan. I can barely make sense of the results, and you know what little data I have on them. They're tighter-lipped than Catholic priests."

"Isn't there any way to get more data?"

"Access to Vulcan medical archives would help, but oh, wait, that's never going to happen."

"Maybe--"

"Jim, I don't know what you want me to do, here. I've debriefed Spock after almost every mission; I've given him every test I have. If something's really the matter, it's up to him if he feels like telling me."

"Can't you just -- make something up? Say we need baseline records for New Vulcan."

"Jesus Christ." Bones slammed a drawer shut and turned around to scowl at Jim. "You're like a man obsessed. I can give him a goddamn physical, but chances are that nothing will come of it."

"But you will give him the physical?"

"If it means you'll stop stalking him and bothering me, yes, I'll give him the physical."

Jim hopped off the biobed he'd been sitting on, feeling slightly vindicated. He gave Bones a wide smile and a mock-punch to the shoulder. "Great. Come and find me once you've run the tests."

It was something to do, but Bones was right; so little was known about Vulcans. If Spock had some sort of Vulcan infection, Bones would have a hell of a time spotting it. Still, if anyone could figure out Vulcan physiology without a road map, it'd be Bones. Through sheer force of will.

--

McCoy had a vindictive and twisted sense of humor. He paged Jim to sickbay before Spock was even done with his examination. Jim arrived in perfect time to catch Spock slipping on his uniform tunic over the reg black undershirt. If Jim hadn't been waylaid by repair order approvals on the way down, he shuddered to think what he might have walked in on.

The look Spock gave him once he was noticed was indecipherable but probably not good; silently, he tugged at his hem and walked out, vanishing as fast as an apparition. Jim waited until he distantly heard the turbolift doors chime open and then closed again (Spock's creepy hearing still managed to surprise him) before rounding on Bones.

"Gee, thanks, Bones."

"Oh, please. You deserved it."

Jim took up his customary place on the biobed, despite incessant complaints that it meant sterilizing it all over again. Bones was either used to it, or too busy feeling smug to care.

"So, what's the diagnosis, you complete asshole?" A passing nurse gave him a smile, half out of courtesy and half because Jim was grinning at her openly.

Bones didn't look up from his PADD, stylus flying, eyebrows worked together like he was acutely fixated on something. "He's got the blood pressure of a dead man, and what should be lethally low levels of oxygen in his blood. Basically, for a Vulcan, he's the picture of health."

That was essentially what Jim expected to hear, once he saw Spock and realized the prank Bones had orchestrated. It didn't do much to ease his suspicion. There had to be a reason for Spock's unidentified – whatever it was. And Jim sure as hell hadn't imagined it. Jim didn't imagine things, not unless vast amounts of psychedelics were consumed, and even then he knew it was all bullshit.

He worried his bottom lip, trying to think of what McCoy could have potentially left out during a full physical. "That's... are you positively sure? Did you run a scan on his chest?"

Bones rolled his eyes at the PADD. "Yes, Jim."

"And?"

"It was clear. I told you, Spock's as fit as a fiddle." He finally set down the PADD – on a tray, as far away from Jim as possible without Bones having to exert himself. He crossed his arms and looked Jim in the eye. "Are you going to tell me what this is about, or are we going to go another thrilling round of you trying to get me to break doctor-patient confidentiality for no goddamn reason?"

Jim held up his hands in mock-surrender. He hadn't broken any rules. He'd stepped on Bones' toes, sure, and Spock wasn't too happy with him at the moment, but Spock wouldn't be too happy if a bunch of Orion strippers suddenly paraded in front of him. "Hey, I'm the Captain of this ship. He's a member of my crew. I need to make sure that he's, you know, well. Fit for duty."

"And the minute he isn't, you'll know about it." He paused, studying Jim like a particularly baffling cell culture. Jim would know what that looked like, because Bones sometimes did his own experiments and fussed over them during his off hours. Occasionally he liked to bring up the time one of the petri dishes broke and they had to quarantine the dorms. "What's this about, Jim?"

"Twice now, he's made this weird coughing sound around me."

"You made me run an hour's worth of tests on that infuriating man over coughing?"

Jim had to hold back a smile. Spock must have been in top form if Bones was up to calling him infuriating. Ordinarily he held back the insults for something special. "Not just coughing, Bones. Rattling. Deep, painful sounding rattling, the kind that usually goes along with pneumonia."

Instead of looking concerned, Bones' expression turned thoughtful. He cocked his head, grabbing for the PADD he'd set aside earlier. "Wait a minute." Jim craned over the side of the biobed to try and see what he was looking at, but the man could fly through medical logs like some sort of demon. Jim was impressed; Bones wasn't a big reader, he didn't have the time for it.

"Got something?"

"Maybe. Hold your horses."

Countless flicks of the stylus, and Jim gave up on trying to keep up with the stream of data. He swung his leg back and forth over the edge of the bed, inches above the floor. Though he didn't see one, there had to be some sort of mechanism to control the height of the bed, or everyone under five feet would need a boost.

Bones shot up to his feet like they'd gone to red alert He made for his tricorder and cross-checked something on the PADD. "I think I figured it out. I noticed it on Spock's initial scans, then again today."

Piqued, Jim went to stand next to him. "Oh?"

"Vulcans, or at least Spock, have a redundant set of vocal chords."

"Redundant vocal chords?"

Bones shot him a dark look. "They don't use them. Or need to use them; could be a hold-over from earlier times that evolution hasn't managed to eradicate yet. It's possible that something on the planet irritated them, and that's what you heard. His chest was totally clear of fluid, like I said."

Jim tried to visualize a second set of vocal chords, where they would even go, but anatomy wasn't his favorite class, and Xenobiology 101 didn't have much of a section on Vulcans, let alone their vocal chords.

"What the hell? Vocal chords?"

If it was something as simple as vocal chords, Jim boggled that Spock hadn't said anything. He suffered through Jim's hounding, Bones' no doubt undignified examinations, and could have stopped both with a simple explanation. Vulcan secrecy either ran deeper than Jim had thought, or Spock had severe trust issues.

Bones was still pouring over Spock's test results. Jim caught what must have been his chest scan, but he was too busy feeling foiled and slightly rejected to care. "It's situated in front of the larynx. Vulcans have a nictitating membrane, too. Like a cat, I guess. How funny."

Nictitating fucking membrane. He had no trouble visualizing that, and it kind of grossed him out. He wondered if Spock had fang incisors, too, or a well-hidden tail, something else catlike.

The thought made Jim freeze. Not that anyone around was going to notice; that end of sickbay was pretty much deserted, and Bones had wandered away, already onto his next task.

Like a cat. Jim was a certified genius, but it didn't take one to make the connection. Either Spock's random and supposedly purposeless vocal chords had been irritated, or he'd been using them to purr.

What the hell.

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