Lunch was a disaster. Captain James T. Kirk sat in the hard plastic chair and stared morosely at replicated food on a replicated plate. Different shapes were represented along with different colors, intended to give the consumer a false sense of variety. The flavor of the "almost" chicken salad, masquerading as a child's geometry lesson, was no better. It reminded him vaguely of furniture glue and white paste, with spritz of chicken thrown on top.

He sighed and rested his right elbow on the table and sulkily pressed his hand against his cheek. Staring moodily at his plate, he was surprised to see Spock, his First Officer, friend and more recently, lover, sit down across the table with a plate of what appeared to be unreplicated greens.

"How exactly did you manage to get real food out of the Mess?"

"As the protein currently available to the replicator is animal in origin, Chief Ramsey opted to utilize the natural vegetables our hydroponics lab has been growing, rather urgently I might add, since the incident that damaged the main computer feeds to the . . ."

That dry voice would have continued indefinitely, without pause, until the replicator's every problem had been assessed, with corresponding future corrections detailed in, well, excruciating detail.

"Thank you, Spock. I am aware of the problem, the cause of the problem and the effects of the problem."

With that, he looked sadly at his plate, picked up a spork and began to push the shapes around his plate.

"What I want to know is how long it is going to take to fix this before we have a mutiny on our hands."

He waived the spork in the air with a purple cube hanging precariously at the end.

"A crew runs on its stomach you know. Who knows when they'll start to crack from hunger pangs and frustration?"

Wait for it. Yup. Wondering when his lunch had turned into baiting Spock into entertaining him, he didn't know. But there it was.

A look of confusion was now in Spock's eyes. His head started its tilt to the right and his mouth opened slowly to prepare for the pending request for clarification. His fingertips started their voyage to meet underneath his strong jaw.

"By what mechanism would the crew run on their abdomens? And in what manner would they crack?"

Jim rested his spork on the edge of the plate and leaned forward, fingers laced under his chin and a wicked look on his face. Spock leaned forward as well to hear the explanation.

He couldn't even look at Spock now, ducking his head to the left, he spoke softly, only loud enough for Vulcan ears to hear.

Pavel Chekhov had been sitting in the mess for most of lunch, somewhat bored with his table company. For some reason he noticed Captain Kirk and Commander Spock leaning towards each other, almost nose to nose, with the Captain speaking very quietly and urgently. At first it looked like a strategy session. Then he noticed the Captain's color was up and he had a maniacal gleam in his eyes that Chekov could see from across the room.

At that moment, he saw the Commander's head come up, barely missing the Captain's nose. He pulled back before any damage was done but his expression was clearly shocked

The Captain was grinning like a fiend, leaned even closer and said something else. Gods, Chekhov would have given a good fifth of potato vodka to know what THAT was.

A bright green blush started at Spock's neck and was traveling at breakneck speed up his ears to reside on his cheeks and forehead. An eyebrow lifted to the hairline closely followed the blush.

The Captain was now beside himself with laughter. Whooping and gasping, he and his First Officer were now the focus of the busy Mess. The Captain realizing the scene he was making was drawing even more attention to the pair of them, he stood up and using both hands made "settle down" motions. Spock just continued to sit there, staring in ill concealed horror at the spectacle they were now making.

Everything was calmer about ten minutes later, the Captain having taken his seat, continuing to talk to Spock with his famous grin plastered across his face. Spock clearly still embarrassed, kept his eyes down.

Chekhov might have missed it if he had been not watching closely, still somewhat intrigued by the Captain's levity. Still grinning ear to ear with affection and happiness beaming from his face, he reached over and grabbed the point of Spock's chin and lifted his face so he could look at him straight in the eye. Chekov could see the shadow of Spock's lashes on his cheek. When he looked up at the Captain, there was such love in his expression, Chekhov almost choked on his coffee. Just as quickly as the emotion appeared, it disappeared to be replaced with undisguised amusement.

The Captain let go of his First Officer's chin and stood. They both busied themselves busing their table. On their way out, the Captain stopped several times to speak to crew members in the Mess, all the while making some humorous crack, followed by a hand on the shoulder or a slap on the back. Of course the Commander was right at his side, shoulders brushing and an intent expression on his face that told anyone watching, that every action, every word from the Captain was the most fascinating thing in the universe.

Just as the Mess doors opened, the Captain, distracted by yet another crewmember, almost collided with Dr. McCoy coming into the room. He staggered, laughed as Spock caught him by the left arm, and pulled him through the doorway. Just before the door closed, Chekhov could see Spock's hand still on the Captain's arm; indeed, it was pulling him closer so there was no distance between them at all. Spock's hand traveled from the Captain's arm to his back. Slowly, the hand opened and began a leisurely trek down the broad back in what was clearly a caress. Spock's face was turned toward his Captain's; no Vulcan shields could hide the softness in his eyes.

McCoy glance over his shoulder at the pair and swung into the seat next to Chekhov, coffee sloshing and muttering, "Damn imbeciles need to get a room."

Chekhov filed THAT away for further consideration.