I seem incapable of finishing this in a short and concise manner. Almost done.

People are afraid of Leonard McCoy for one simple reason: his temper, when it comes, is like the sudden crack of lightning and thunder. It can take a person unawares with its ferocity, even someone who feels he ought to be acclimated to it from repeated exposure. Nevertheless, when the storm that is McCoy has begun everyone—including the dumbest of fools—knows to seek immediate shelter. McCoy will argue about many things, including whether or not the sky is blue, but his true anger is usually reserved for matters that involve a patient. The doctor can and will fight if he has to, but he only attacks to save a life.

This is a fact which will never change, nurse Christine Chapel thinks as she watches the CMO circle a biobed like a vulture about to swoop in on some tasty carrion. The young man in said biobed has the bed sheet pulled up to his nose.

"You'll have to repeat that, Ensign," the doctor drawls in a mild, forewarning tone, "'cause my ears must be stopped up with old age. I thought I heard you say you left Sickbay because you had more important things to do."

The ensign mumbles something beneath the blanket. It might not be words, decide the nurses among themselves, but whimpered regrets for an impending demise. Thus they are caught off-guard when the ensign does the stupidest thing possible, rolls his eyes and lowers his bed sheet to say to his doctor, "But Mr. Spock never stays in here more than a day, sir—and one of those times you operated on him!"

Collectively Christine and her colleagues wince and raise their clipboards like shields. Though they are out of the line of fire that doesn't mean there won't be flying projectiles in a matter of seconds, depending on what is near to McCoy's hand.

Oddly nothing happens.

Next to the biobed, McCoy has stopped circling and is motionless, his gaze fixed upon his patient. Unnerved by the deathly silence, Christine shuffles a step forward to the edge of the scene and calls, "Doctor?"

With an alarming slowness, Leonard lifts his head and pivots in her direction. When their eyes meet, Christine rocks back on her heels as if struck by an unexpected blow.

"Nurse," the CMO states flatly, "this man is not cleared to leave the bay. See to him."

She draws a breath to say something—to argue, perhaps, because whatever just occurred is utterly wrong—but Leonard is already moving away from the area. Once he is gone from sight, the woman next to Chapel releases a soft gasp. "Did you see that?" she asks Christine in a voice close to trembling.

Christine saw it all right—and it chills her.

The ensign has returned to hiding under his covers again. Christine goes over to soothe him and to give him an extra blanket because he is quivering. If her hand is also wobbly as she tucks the second blanket around his shoulders, it's because the world seems like it has been shifted slightly, in a way that makes everything subtly unsteady. The normal drone of the medical monitors are too loud in the quiet of the Sickbay; the staff's movements are louder still, to the point of being intrusive.

Who knew Dr. McCoy could look so emotionless? So cold?

The more urgent question then becomes why? She must know why so this can be prevented from happening again. Because if it does happen again, who could the medical staff possibly tell without being chastised for inventing nonsense? Leonard is the one who listens and takes their observations seriously. Would he listen if she points out that he might not be acting like himself?

Somehow Christine doubts he would.

The moment his office door is closed, Leonard drops his head forward and lets his hands curl into fists. This plan is harder to enact than he thought.

All of the words he could have said to the idiot he'd caught sneaking away from the medical bay are crowding in his mouth but all Leonard can do is vent some of his frustration with a sincere curse.

Spock and his damnably poor example-setting! If the Vulcan's adoring fans knew how difficult it was to get Spock to sit still in Sickbay for one hour, let alone a day, they would have a better respect for Medical! Remembering some of the instances with picture-perfect clarity, Leonard grinds his back teeth. The Vulcan only ever does the opposite of what he's supposed to—slipping out of his biobed when he is half-dead and ought to be recuperating, or getting underfoot all of the time like a dog who refuses to leave its master when Jim is the one confined to Sickbay.

Leonard can't win for losing with those two. And now he can't even dress down an impressionable ensign who is intent on following the same path of insanity.

By the time Leonard has achieved what he wants, he is either going to have quit his job, become an alcoholic, or both. It would probably be easier to fall prey to alcoholism, he decides as his hands unerringly seek out the bottle of brandy stashed at the back of a desk drawer, given that he seems to spend most of his time these days comforting himself with something strong and potent. That he also accredits to Mr. Spock and the Captain. If only they knew the lengths they were driving him to...

But they won't know, not until Leonard has successfully infiltrated this Operation he keeps hearing whispers about. Jim thinks he's sneaky; Spock assumes he is sneakier since he's Vulcan.

The truth is no one is as sneaky as Leonard McCoy. He was raised in a family full of annoying cousins, and the only way to survive the annual McCoy family reunion was to know thy enemy better than thyself. Leonard has a long history of knowing when to play the dupe—and when to frame the upside-down cake on the dining room floor on the third cousin who spends his time bullying the littler kids. Jim and Spock can't beat him at this game, no matter how hard they try.

The intercom on his desk gives a warning buzz before Chapel's voice filters through the speaker. "Dr. McCoy, the Captain and Mr. Spock are here to see you."

Leonard has already formulated his response before he opens his mouth. "Do they have an appointment?"

"No, Doctor." The why would they? is inherent in her voice.

"Then unless it's an emergency, I'll see them by appointment only. Medical works on a schedule like everybody else, Nurse."

Christine is hesitant with her answer this time. "...Yes, sir."

Leonard switches off the channel and slumps into his chair. He figures he has ten seconds to mope before Jim remembers who the boss really is aboard this vessel and barges in. So Leonard takes five seconds for moping and remaining five for a quick escape. It isn't time to reveal his hand just yet.

Wordless, Christine looks at Jim Kirk as the intercom goes dead. Kirk is staring at it with a funny expression.

"Captain," Mr. Spock breaks the stiff silence, "perhaps we should—"

Kirk comes alive again, his shoulders drawing backwards. Christine feels her own self snap to attention under her superior's gaze.

"No harm in playing it Bones' way, Mr. Spock. Nurse Chapel, I want the first available opening in Dr. McCoy's schedule."

She sees the glint in Kirk's eyes, knows what is expected of her and is more than willing to provide it. "His schedule is open as of now, sir. Will an hour be sufficient?"

"Let us hope so," the Captain says, turning away. Mr. Spock watches her retrieve a PADD and begin to enter the appointment into the department's scheduler before he turns away too and follows Kirk. She brushes her hair back from her forehead once they are gone and tucks the PADD against her chest.

Is McCoy angry because of the secret?

A few minutes later, the captain strides back into the main area of the med bay looking decidedly grim. He goes to the nearest computer terminal and relays a terse command to locate Dr. McCoy. This is when Christine begins to worry in earnest that Leonard isn't simply angry—and that the look in his eyes earlier is a symptom of much more frightening problem.

The only thing Leonard knows about the The Operation is that he isn't supposed to be privy to it. If he were to compare this knowledge to a similar case some months ago, his stomach would tighten another notch. Jim had kept him in the dark last time in order to use him. Those few days had been utterly terrifying for Leonard because he watched not only the leader of the ship but a close, personal friend become erratic to the point of endangering lives.

Or so he had thought when Jim ordered the Enterprise straight into the Neutral Zone and into the hands of the Romulans. It turned out the act was a charade, a ploy to complete a covert mission from Starfleet Command to steal a piece of technology from the Romulans.

That operation could have gone wrong in so many ways that Leonard still has the occasional nightmare from it. So whatever is going on now makes Leonard equally determined he will be a part of it instead of being used so blithely again without his knowledge. Plausible deniability can be a nifty trick in a politically sensitive situation but Leonard would rather live with the guilt of keeping the truth to himself if it meant he could make a fully informed decision about his own involvement. He understands the military strategy of 'need to know' when it comes to highly dangerous operations but that doesn't make it an easy explanation to swallow when you are a trusted crewmember who still falls short of that category.

There's one place to start, one person with whom to begin whose finger is, by regulation, required to remain on the pulse of the ship more so than a CMO's position warrants. And Leonard knows just where to find her so early in alpha shift.

One kind or another of the roses are always in bloom all year-round. The botanists see to that with a particular care. Leonard takes a path through the garden that he knows by heart until he reaches a wide open circle. A beautiful woman, seated upon a bench and humming while her fingers play across a PADD screen, lifts her head at his arrival.

"Dr. McCoy!" she says, surprised.

The lilt of her voice lifts his spirits. "Ms. Uhura," he says and grins, pretending to pluck a hat from his head and bowing like a gentleman. "Why, I heard the sweetest song and came to find the little bird who was singing it."

She smiles. "Sir, you make me blush."

He wanders closer. "Are you sure you're not from the Old South, darling? You'd make the loveliest of Belles."

Uhura laughs delightedly and pats the empty side of the bench in invitation. "You're an outrageous flirt, sugar. Sit down before you get yourself into more trouble."

He likes Uhura. He truly does. She's smart as a whip and cool as a cucumber. "More trouble?" he echoes playfully. "When have I ever been in trouble?"

Placing her PADD on her knees, Uhura looks at him with a small smile and an elegantly arched eyebrow.

"Okay," he admits, after a moment of her silence, "maybe that one-man shuttle flight wasn't my proudest moment."

"Mr. Spock was greatly disturbed by the lack of security in the docking bays. It's no longer a matter of if there will be an impromptu inspection of those departments but how many and for how long."

"Spock likes an excuse to make inspections."

"Which doesn't mean," Uhura says wisely, "that you should give him one, Doctor."

Leonard's grin may be a little on the sheepish side. "Yes'am."

Uhura closes a program on her PADD and powers off the device. Then she straightens and gives him her full attention. "What do you want to know, Leonard?"

Planning to ask Uhura and actually asking her—one action might require more courage than the other does, Leonard realizes. He clears his throat and taps his finger against his thigh. "You've probably heard that Jim's up to somethin'—something about an operation..." he hedges.

"Yes, I know of The Operation. The Captain asked me to take part in it."

Of course Jim did. She's Chief Communications Officer. He hates that her words sour his mood slightly because Uhura isn't saying them to be cruel. Leonard sighs through his nose. "I suppose there's a good reason why everybody's in on it but me."

"Oh, yes," she says, eyes twinkling.

He stares at her for a long moment.

"Think about it logically," Uhura advises.

"Good lord, not you too," he groans, laying a hand across his eyes.

Leonard is ignored. "Why would everyone aboard the ship know about a mission except for the ship's Chief Medical Officer?"

"That's what I've been sayin'!"

"Leonard," the woman next to him points out with a hint of exasperation in her voice, "you may be saying it but you aren't thinking about it. Why would you keep a secret from me?"

"I wouldn't."

"Stubborn old goat," she retorts, bopping his leg lightly with her PADD. "In theory, if you were keeping a secret from me..." She trails off deliberately.

"It'd be because I don't want you to know about it," he finishes, which is exactly what he was just talking about. Then he recalls what else she said and mutters under his breath, "Old goat, my sainted aunt."

Uhura is known for her persistence. "Why not?"

"'Cause I don't know what's good for me?"

She snorts softly. "Why else?"

He thinks about it. He wouldn't want her to know the secret because she doesn't need to know about it... but no. That doesn't make sense. If he didn't tell her a secret it would be because the secret—

"—was about you!" He stands up in his excitement. "Are you saying I'm the secret?"

Uhura is shaking her head, like she is amazed that he is so brilliant and yet can be so utterly dumb at times. But Leonard is too startled by his revelation to pay attention to her expression.

He's the secret? Well, no, not the secret itself, but the secret is about him! ...Wait. Leonard frowns down at the still-seated woman. "It's not my birthday."

"No, Leonard, it's not your birthday." Uhura stands as well, letting her amusement color her voice, and tucks the PADD under her arm. "My shift starts in another hour."

That's a clear dismissal if he ever heard one. Leonard, who really is akin to a stubborn goat when he wants to be, asks anyway, "Have you had breakfast?"

"Are you trying to bribe me, Dr. McCoy?"

He pretends innocence. "I'm merely inquiring as your physician, Lieutenant."

"That is a prudent answer," she tells him solemnly, though her eyes are twinkling again, "because the Captain has placed us under strict orders to take no bribes from wily old country doctors." She reaches up and pats his cheek like a parent would to a child before walking away at a brisk pace.

Jim. Jim, Jim, Jim. It always circles back to Jim. Leonard bounces on the balls of his feet in agitation. Jim, who has concocted The Operation, which has to do with McCoy. The question remains: would Jim play an elaborate joke on Leonard, or is he planning something nice?

Through a near-decade of knowing James T. Kirk and thinking he has a good grasp of how the man's mind works, Leonard would have to guess that Jim's intentions are strictly honorable. After all, the man wouldn't know a good joke if it came up and kicked him in the rump. Jim has as much admitted that he was never one for fooling around during his Academy years. Spock too, Leonard has to concede, wouldn't agree to keep silent about a hoax.

...Maybe, just maybe, Leonard has been making a mountain out of a mole hill. He's on the verge of feeling embarrassed about this—and just slightly guilty—when two figures come stalking down the rose garden path.

"Bones!" Jim Kirk snaps out almost harshly upon sighting the doctor, and by the working of his jaw, Kirk is fit to be tied, as Leonard's grandmother would have said.

"Jim," Leonard begins, feeling his embarrassment triple under the glare of his friends, "I think I ought to—"

"Is this funny to you, Doctor, making us chase you around the ship? I don't have time for this!"

"Excuse me?" Leonard closes his gaping mouth. "Make—" There is a hot flare of emotion just underneath his breast bone. "—make you? Jim!"

The Vulcan's steely gaze falters somewhat at the rising voices, like he just now realized letting an irate Jim face off against an irate Leonard can never end well, and he tries to interrupt with a reasonable "Gentlemen..." but it is far too late. Jim uses the word childish to describe Leonard's actions. Spock tries to disagree but no one hears him because Leonard's sputtering ends in a shout of indignation about who the child really is. The argument devolves from there.

In the end, with one finger prodding into Kirk's chest, Leonard uses the only weapon he has. "That surprise of yours you've been working so hard to keep hushed up? Well, I know all about it, Jim, and NO THANKS! So you can just cancel the whole thing!"

He must have said the right thing because Jim's red face suddenly pales. "I can't cancel it."

"Well," Leonard says, though he falters on a word in uncertainty, "y-you shouldn't have done it in the first place."

Wordlessly Jim takes a step back, putting distance between them. Spock's "Jim" sounds rather helpless. Leonard's stomach sinks, and he knows quite suddenly that he pushed too far.

"It wasn't just me," Jim says at last, slowly, like he is forcing the words from his mouth. "The ship—the whole ship, Bones, wanted this for you—and you think—" Color has returned to his face.

Without a doubt, Jim Kirk is angry, so angry he does not trust himself to speak. Only Leonard doesn't know why.

Jim pivots on the ball of his foot and leaves the garden. Spock stays rooted next to Leonard though Leonard suspects every fiber of Spock's being wants to follow Jim.

Leonard looks to the one person who has never lied to him outright and asks, "What did I just do?"

The Vulcan returns McCoy's look evenly. "You insulted the beliefs of over four-hundred crewman, including the Captain."

That sounds bad, but still Leonard is baffled. "What belief?"

"Our belief," Spock replies, voice quiet enough to be considered grim, "in you."