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Spock is given notice a standard five weeks before the personnel change occurs. Captain Pike is leaving the Enterprise, as is the commander. Spock is going to be the new first officer of the Enterprise. This is not new information; the captain had talked to him a month prior to inform him of his application for transfer and to inquire whether Spock wished to come with him. After some thought, Spock had declined, explaining his dedication to his experiments aboard the Enterprise.

Pike had smiled at him then. “Well,” he had said. “Don’t get your hopes up, but I expect you’ll be in line for a promotion.”

“Hoping would be illogical,” Spock had replied. “It will happen or it will not.”

“Good point,” Pike said, nodding his head, turning back to his paperwork. Spock had taken this as an invitation to leave.

(Spock has been asked before whether or not he liked Pike. After a moment, he had replied in the positive. This is true enough; Spock believes him to be a responsible captain and a more than adequate superior officer. Spock respects him, as does the rest of the crew. Anything beyond that would be excessive.)

The notice does provide something new, however, something Pike would have been unable to inform him of during the application process: the new captain of the Enterprise.

Spock does not recognize the name “James T. Kirk” and so he makes an according effort to gather information. Kirk’s Starfleet file shows him to be human, twenty-nine years old, and, apart from a bad bout of fever in his youth, in good health. Twenty-nine is young for a captaincy, but not unheard of, especially when one graduates, as Kirk did, in the top five percent of one’s Starfleet class. The attached picture shows Kirk to be fair and even-featured, with a serious look on his face. There are several recommendation letters included in the file, which describe Kirk as reliable, personable, and quick on his feet.

All of this is to be expected. Spock, satisfied with his understanding of the new captain, puts it from his mind and goes back to his work.

 

Spock meets the new captain when the rest of the crew does, upon his arrival. The Enterprise will be docked for a week for touch-ups that Spock has heard Chief Engineer Scott call “bloody unnecessary” and all personnel changes will happen during this time.

Kirk greets Captain Pike politely, laughing when Pike asks him to take care of the Enterprise. “On my life, I will,” he says, and the grandeur with which he says it seems to be only a touch ironic. “Let’s just hope I’m up to the task.”

Everyone else is met similarly, and when Kirk reaches Spock, he smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “My first officer, I assume?”

“You assume correctly,” Spock says, and begins to raise his hand to shake Kirk’s, but before he can, Kirk raises his own in an (only slightly awkward) Vulcan salute.

“Pleased to meet you,” he says. Spock might have suspected him of poking fun - others have bastardized this symbol of his culture to mock him, even at the supposedly inclusive Starfleet - were it not for Kirk’s smile, which remains steady and sincere. Apparently Spock is not the only one who has done research.

Spock quickly frees himself of his surprise. “The same to you, sir,” he says, and Kirk moves on to the Chief Engineer, who he greets with an exclamation.

“Scotty! It’s been too long. The Enterprise treating you well?”

“Oh, Jim, she treats me better than well,” Scott says fervently, then guffaws loudly. “I mean, sir . That’ll take some gettin’ used to.”

 

Engineer Scott, Spock finds, is not the only crewmember that Kirk is already acquainted with. In fact, he seems to know most of the senior staff and a good number of other officers already. Spock would be concerned about Kirk’s ability to garner their respect after having known them as equals, except that they all seem nothing short of delighted to have him on board.

Though the Enterprise is docked, Spock’s laboratory remains inside it, and so, because most of the changes are happening to the hull and engine, Spock remains too. Everyone has been given the week off, but Spock’s experiments are time sensitive, which is how he finds himself entirely alone in the science wing of the Enterprise. It is peaceful, he will admit, to have the space to himself.

On Spock’s fourth day alone on the Enterprise, someone wanders into his laboratory. Spock, who does not wish to disturb his microscope by moving, does not turn around.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” It’s Captain Kirk’s voice. “I didn’t realize anyone would be on the ship.”

“You are not,” Spock says, still not looking up.

“Will it bother you if I look around? I won’t touch any of the experiments.”

“That is acceptable,” Spock says. It is considerate of Kirk to ask; as captain, he does not need Spock’s permission to explore his own ship. Spock continues to work, putting the captain’s presence from his mind, and when he does stand up, over half an hour later, he is surprised to find Kirk still there, leaning over an open notebook with his hands tucked behind his back, possibly in an effort not to disturb anything.

“This is amazing,” Kirk says, turning. “How on earth did you discover the properties of the grass on Sigma 12?”

“A yeoman tripped and skinned her knee.”

“Fascinating,” Kirk says with relish.

“Yes, I agree,” Spock says..

Kirk smiles. Spock finds himself with the oddest instinct to smile back. Pike had respected the science division, of course, but he had never taken an interest as Kirk seems to.

“I almost wish I could have studied this,” Kirk says, almost as if to answer Spock’s thought. He glances around. “I dabbled in engineering, but that isn’t the same thing, of course. There is a great deal to be said for discovery for the sake of discovery.”

“Is that how you met Engineer Scott?” Spock asks. Mr. Scott is several years older than Kirk, but they could have been at the Academy at the same time.

Kirk laughs. Spock wonders if he has ever met anyone who laughs as easily or as freely as Kirk does. “That, Commander, is a different story.”

“You are welcome to stay,” Spock says, realizing as he says it what a strange offer it is. He had not been lonely these past several days - in fact, he had embraced having the time to himself - but he finds the idea of spending the afternoon with Kirk quite acceptable, so long as Kirk doesn’t interfere with anything in the laboratory. “There are books of past findings if you wish to look through them.”

“I wish I could,” Kirk says, and he sounds as though he means it. “I have a meeting I have to go to. But I could come back?”

He says it like a question; he is asking permission again. Spock inclines his head. “You are welcome to return,” he says. Kirk’s resulting smile seems to linger even after he leaves.

 

The former first officer of this ship comes to find him on the sixth day of the week. Though he is certain she would not describe him as a friend, he has always admired the dedication with which she approaches her work. He stands to greet her, and she waves him off.

“None of that, thank you,” she says. “We’re at the same level now, you and I.” She regards him for a moment. “Pike couldn’t come personally, but he wanted me to thank you on his behalf. He thinks you will do an excellent job.”

“His confidence is noted,” Spock says.

“I saw Captain Kirk as I was coming in,” she says. Her tone remains conversational, but there is a look about her that makes Spock feel as though he’s missing out on a joke.

“He has been spending some time reading the scientific files,” Spock says. “He says he would like to get acquainted with the ship’s previous adventures.”

“Hmm,” the commander says, her eyes flicking over the room. “He couldn’t have sent the files to his own PADD?” She glances at Spock’s face and must see that he doesn’t have an answer. She smiles - a very different smile from Kirk’s - and says, “It makes sense for the first officer and captain to get along. It’s logical, even.”

“I agree,” Spock says, although he is certain she was not looking for a response.

“And I agree with Captain Pike,” she says, checking the time and moving towards the door. “I think you will do excellently.”

It is another thing he admires about his previous commander: her ability to exit a room.

 

Spock elects to ignore the memo he gets from the new Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Boyce had been quite pleased to leave him alone, once Spock had explained to him that Vulcans’ physical self-awareness meant he could seek him out with any problems. He expects this new doctor to meet him with the same distance; Spock has never cared for physicians.

 

Their first mission - a diplomatic one - goes successfully, as does their second and third. The entire crew knows this is more of a test drive than anything else, a conformation that this set of people on this ship will not result in the destruction of a galaxy.

In fact, most of the crew had already been onboard before the switch, which is why Spock is surprised when a yeoman hands him an efficiency report two weeks in and he finds that efficiency has only dropped by two percent, as opposed to the average nine percent following a change in leadership.

Kirk, however, looks slightly disappointed when Spock hands him the report. “We can do better,” he says. “This crew, the Enterprise… don’t you feel it?”

“It, sir?”

“Possibility, Mr. Spock,” Kirk says, though this is not really an explanation, spreading his hands. Spock does not bother telling him the honorific is unnecessary; he has done so numerous times already and Kirk continues to use it. “A whole expanding universe of possibility.” He looks younger than he is, even sitting in the captain’s chair, and when he meets Spock’s eyes he grins.

 

Spock gets a second message from McCoy, then a third and a fourth, each slightly less professional than the last to the point where Spock is genuinely curious about the man’s mental state. He mentions this in passing to Kirk as they exit the bridge one day; the captain laughs uproariously.

“I take it you are acquainted with this man?” Spock asks.

“Acquainted?” Kirk says, still grinning. “Bones knows me better than my own mother does.”

Despite Kirk’s seeming lack of offense, Spock is uncertain of the etiquette of the situation; Kirk quickly dismisses any worries. “I often share the same curiosity,” he assures him. “If I were you, though, I wouldn’t get on Bones’s bad side.”

This, Spock feels comfortable raising an eyebrow at. “I assure you, Captain, I can handle myself.”

Kirk raises his hands as if in surrender. “Alright,” he says, the corner of his mouth quirking up, “I guess we’ll see.”

 

Following that first report, efficiency does improve - vastly. Even Pike, who had been considered an exceptional captain by all accounts, including Spock’s, never had the ship running this smoothly.

Pike had been a quiet man, and his captaining method seemed to be based on mostly allowing the ship to run itself. Kirk employs a variation on the same method; he, too, allows everyone to do their jobs without disturbance, except that he interacts with the crew. By the end of Kirk’s third week as captain there doesn’t seem to be a single member of the crew that he hasn’t spoken to, even if it was limited to simply asking about their day. Pike was even-keeled, which had provided a steady mood for the ship, but Kirk is downright lively. It is logical, Spock thinks with some respect; by making the crew feel appreciated and listened to, Kirk ensures some measure of personal loyalty from them beyond their obligation to Starfleet.

Spock tends to eat lunch in the laboratory alone, but today he has been working with chemicals he has no desire to consume. Shortly after he collects his meal from the replicator and sits down, Kirk settles in across from him.

“Mr. Spock,” he says, in his jovial manner. “How’s your day going? I don’t normally see you here.”

“I prefer to eat while I work.”

Kirk nods. “Very wise of you,” he says. “This place always makes me feel like I’m a kid in a school cafeteria again.”

Spock does not have the correct context, exactly, but when he thinks back to childhood, the way his peers would gather at tables, purposefully leaving no room for him to sit, he thinks he understands. “I understand,” he says.

“Now,” Kirk says, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard a rumor that you’re a chess man.”

Spock has no idea who could have told the captain this, as he has not played a single game of chess against anyone other than the computer since he arrived on the Enterprise, but it is not untrue. “It could be said,” he says finally.

Kirk appears to light up. Spock feels inexplicably uncomfortable. “Thank god,” he says, seeming not to notice Spock’s tension. “I haven’t had a decent opponent in years. You wouldn’t be up for a game, would you?”

This is a dilemma; Spock has no desire to embarrass Kirk in front of his crew, but it would also be impolite to refuse.

Forty-two short minutes later, having been all but bullied into playing, Spock realizes that he failed to consider the third unpleasant option: humiliating defeat. Not that he feels humiliated, of course, but he can recognize the situation.

Kirk, on the other hand, looks nothing short of exuberant. “Exceptional game, Mr. Spock,” he says. Spock scrutinizes him; there appears to be no smugness in his expression, merely genuine satisfaction. “My shift starts momentarily, but perhaps you would care to play again another time?”

Spock understands then how this man became a captain.

 

Regrets are illogical, but Spock does on occasion question his original motivations for joining Starfleet. Those lapses usually occur in the following situation: a supposedly uninhabited planet, attack following accidental contact with unknown natives armed with large crossbows.

Spock is attempting to put a smashed communicator back into working order. Kirk, having lost his phaser, is pacing the edge of the small clearing several feet away, holding a thick branch like a club. A crude weapon, but the most effective Kirk could have produced on a planet covered almost entirely by sixty foot tree-like growths. Part of Kirk’s shirt had been ripped when one of the natives grabbed him; a sizable swath dangles off his shoulder, leaving his collarbone bare..

Spock finishes his work and the communicator beeps, ready for use. Spock stands, his legs somewhat stiff from sitting so long. Kirk turns around. “Call the Enterprise, Mr-” He tenses, eyes focused behind Spock.

There is a moment of confusion in the moment before Kirk’s body slams into his side; Spock barely has a chance to brace himself before they hit the ground, hard, and during the second in which he attempts to catch his breath he still does not understand. It isn’t until Kirk pushes himself up and off on shaking arms and Spock sees the bolt (at least two centimeters in diameter) in his shoulder and finally understands.

The communicator was knocked from Spock’s hand, and as he scrambles to grab it, it occurs to him to hope that nothing has been knocked loose. Kirk heaves in a breath behind him, inhaling through clenched teeth. “Mr. Spock,” he manages, voice surprisingly steady. “The communicator?”

Spock doesn’t bother answering him, just says, “Two to beam up, send medical.” It is only then, as they’re dissolving, that Spock looks at Kirk, who is breathing through his nose, eyes closed and forehead shining with sweat, and wonders if Pike would have done the same as Kirk had.

 

The thought follows him, even to meditation: Kirk has been an exemplary captain in nearly every respect, except that it does not make sense for a superior officer to risk his life for a single other crewmember, even the first officer.

He asks Kirk about it days later, over a fifty-five minute chess game that Spock loses. Kirk. whose left arm has been tied into a sling, gives him an indecipherable look. “A captain has a responsibility to his ship,” he says. “But I believe that more than that he has a responsibility to his crew. No one who is unprepared to die for each and every member of their officers should advance in rank.”

For a reason Spock is not entirely certain of, this answer is irritating.

 

Kirk is only in the medical wing for two days, but when Spock stops by on the second day, he is detained quite abruptly in what could reasonably be called an ambush. When he says so, however, his assailant snorts at him.

“Please, I’m the CMO. I have the authority to ambush any crewmember I like.” As the man speaks, he steers Spock - or tries to; Spock twists his shoulder from under the doctor’s hand immediately - towards an examination table.

Kirk is laughing at him from across the room, which makes it worse. “Just go along with it, Mr. Spock. I warned you, didn’t I? Bones is a force to be reckoned with.”

Dr. McCoy glares at the captain over his shoulder, but it seems to Spock that there is no real malice behind it. “And you,” he says, menacingly, but neglects to finish his sentence. He turns back to Spock just before Spock can make an escape attempt. “It’s a routine check-up,” he says, somehow making it sound like a threat. “Jim, is your first officer always this skittish?”

“Mr. Spock is many things, but to my knowledge skittish is not often one,” Kirk says.

Spock refrains from gritting his teeth. “I simply do not wish to take up what I am certain is valuable time of a medical professional when I could not be in better health.”

McCoy looks unimpressed. “He’s worse than you, Jim. Now, hold still.”

Spock submits to the first scan, but when McCoy reaches for another piece of equipment, he slides neatly off the table and makes his way towards the door.

 

When he returns, some hours later, he surveys the room for McCoy before entering. Kirk sets down the novel he was flipping through, eyes crinkling.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Spock,” he says, “No need to look as though you’re sneaking in the back door to avoid my father with the shotgun. Bones’s shift is over, and besides, you’re better armed than he is.”

Spock brushes off the comparison. “I have no idea what you might mean, Captain,” he says. “I simply wanted to confirm that your condition had improved.”

“I’m feeling just as well as I was feeling four hours ago, and much better than I was feeling ten hours before that,” Kirk says. The smile has softened a little into something Spock can’t fully parse out.  “You don’t have to visit me because you feel guilty.”

“I do not,” Spock assures him, although uneasiness has crept into his stomach. “I will see you tomorrow on the bridge?”

“If my jailkeeper agrees,” Kirk says affably. “Good night, Mr. Spock.”

“And to you,” Spock says, and he exits, more quickly than strictly necessary, walking at a pace that gets him to his quarters eleven seconds faster than normal.

There is really no getting around it, he finds. Kirk was right; there was no logical reason for him to visit so often, even accounting for the relative proximity of his lab to the medbay. Embarrassing, certainly, but Kirk did save his life, and luckily Kirk did not seem put off by his concern. As unfortunate a situation as it was, Spock decides as he settles down to meditate, at least it will have fostered a closer relationship with the captain, which will almost certainly increase the coherence of the ship.

Without any intent on Spock’s part, he finds himself spending a great deal of time with the captain. He is unsure how his routines shifted so easily to encompass Kirk’s schedule, but he finds himself playing chess with Kirk a few times a week and eating dinner with him nearly every night. Eating with the captain often means eating with McCoy, because Kirk appears to lack the discerning eye necessary to determine that McCoy is impossibly overbearing -- but everyone has flaws.

Over time, Spock cannot tell if the doctor is making an effort to be more bearable or if his tolerance to McCoy’s particular brand of acerbity has simply increased, but he finds himself being less easily frustrated by his affect. Kirk seems pleased that they jab at each other less, though he appears almost equally amused by their arguments.

 

It takes Spock a little longer to process this aspect of the captain’s personality than the others, perhaps because Kirk would never be so unprofessional as to make serious advances on a crewmember. Starfleet policy restricts romantic and sexual relations within Starfleet to people who are two or fewer levels apart from each other. As the highest-ranking officer on the ship, Kirk’s options are rather limited, despite being in the appropriate age range for many, if not most, officers on the ship.

Therefore, it comes as somewhat of a surprise when on the first shore leave, after having spent close to five months in close proximity, Spock discovers something that really should not surprise him.

Captain Kirk is a terrible flirt. Terrible in the sense of being incorrigible, not in the sense of being bad at the practice; quite the opposite.

Spock does not generally enjoy social gatherings such as meeting in a bar as many Enterprise officers are now, but he had thought that since Kirk’s amiability had so increased productivity, he might give it a try. The whole bridge crew had been invited for a drink, and while Spock is not necessarily a fan of drinking, it would not be the first time in his history with Starfleet being the only one in a room with his wits about him, regardless of alcohol. Now, watching Kirk engage yet another woman in conversation, Spock is thoroughly put off from the idea. Kirk gestures as he tells a story, and then they laugh in tandem, their bodies leaning toward each other. Kirk’s smile - wide, white, open - is familiar, but despite that, Spock is inexplicably ill at ease.

It should not surprise him, he thinks, as he walks back to the docking point for the Enterprise, that someone so extroverted and sociable as Kirk likes the attention. Still, it is disappointing that he will likely not be back until the next morning; Spock has begun setting time aside in his evenings for chess games.

This does not change the respect Spock has for the captain, but for the next few days, whenever Kirk smiles at him - Spock counts this occurrence as happening, on average, 10.4 times a day - Spock can only see the smile he directed at the woman in the bar.

 

It remains unorthodox to send the captain and first officer down to the same unexplored planet, but Kirk continues to do it. This planet in particular seems to be mostly beach, and Kirk is clearly delighted at the chance to stretch his legs. He wanders down the beach so far that Spock fears he will lose the group entirely, and so he trails after him, if only to avoid the scolding from McCoy when Kirk is inevitably taken hostage by some kind of sand creature.

Kirk beams at Spock broadly when he notices him nearby. “I can tell you think it’s absurd, but I grew up somewhere landlocked. I have to savor the ocean when I see it. You must understand; I can’t imagine you spent a lot of time swimming on Vulcan.”

“You imagine correctly,” Spock says.

Kirk lets out a long breath and sits down in the sand. At Spock’s look, he says, “The rest of them are far enough away they won’t be able to see their esteemed captain relax. Come on, it’s warm.”

Reluctantly, Spock sits down, trying to keep his socks clean. “I feel that I endured my share of sand during my childhood,” he says.

“Isn’t the water beautiful, though?” Kirk says.

Spock looks out over the ocean. One of this planet’s suns is setting as the second rises. “It certainly contains a great deal of potential for discovery.”

Kirk laughs. “You sound like Bones doing an impression of you. We both know there’s more than numbers and charts in that head of yours.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth pulls back involuntarily -- not quite a smile. “Is that so?”

“You know how he makes you sound,” Kirk says. He lowers his voice a little, drawing his shoulders back and his eyebrows down. “All ‘love is illogical, I am programmed for maximum efficiency’. He makes you sound robotic.”

He clearly expects Spock to needle him back. Instead, without knowing quite why he says it, Spock says, “Love is not illogical.”

Kirk’s eyebrows lift. “No? Oh, do tell, Mr. Spock.”

Spock looks away so he can find the words. “Love is perfectly logical. Without love, parents would not raise their children. Children would not be born at all. It would be counterproductive to the goal of continuing as a species.”

“If love made sense,” Kirk counters, “why would we act so oddly when afflicted with it?”

“I am not responsible for anyone’s actions but my own,” Spock says, “and I cannot be expected to explain the actions of others. Choosing rationality over irrationality is a daily decision, not a state.”

“Why, Spock,” Kirk says. “You sound as though you speak from experience. Are you so well-versed in resisting the illogic of a view shaded by love?” Kirk is making a small joke at his expense, one that should not bother Spock, particularly due to the good nature of its origin. Still, Spock’s stomach feels oddly tight.

“Certainly not,” Spock says, and if the words come out strange in his mouth, Kirk does not appear to notice.

 

It is during a routine visit to an abandoned ship that one of the four officers on the empty USS Roberta reports a beeping from inside the energy regenerator. Kirk chimes in a moment later, adding that it sounds like some kind of alarm.

“Transport us back at soonest convenience,” he adds. Spock will later recall that there is only the faintest hint of concern in his voice; Kirk had been erring on the side of caution, but Spock later doubts he had any real suspicion of what would happen.

What happens is that Spock raises his hand to signal Scotty, and in the half-second after he does so, the Roberta explodes, four Enterprise officers along with it.

 

After that first moment of distorted, slow shock, everything goes very quickly. Spock is officially promoted from acting captain to simply captain of the USS Enterprise at 0800 the next morning and after some shuffling, things fall more or less into place. The system is designed, after all, for this very sort of catastrophe. Sulu is appointed as the new first officer, Uhura takes his place as a lieutenant at the helm, and an officer is set to be transferred to their ship to fulfill Spock’s former scientific duties. Funerals are held for the captain and Officers Duong, Greene, and Teferi within the week. Spock is takes care to make an appearance at each and speak briefly about each officer, but he leaves as soon as he deems it polite.

It’s all quite orderly, which Spock supposes he should take as a comfort. There is, after all, no cause to wish upon the ship more disturbance than it has already been dealt. However, as Spock watches Sulu carefully pin the new button on his collar, looking appropriately solemn, there is an irrational part of him that wishes that the system could in some way reflect the significance that James T. Kirk had upon it. If that kind of thing were measurable by the pseudo-military organization employed by Starfleet, someone would cast their eyes on Spock and proclaim him unworthy to take the chair graced by his predecessor. But it doesn’t happen, of course, and Spock sits on the chair without making any expression at all, and if the bridge is thick with silence the moment he does, no one will dare to make fun of him for it.

 

Several days after the explosion of the Roberta, Spock receives a call from his former captain. Pike’s face is a strangely welcome one, and Spock clears time to speak with him without question.

“I’m so sorry, Spock,” Pike says. “I knew him, you know. Kirk. He was a good man.”

Spock clears his throat. “I agree,” he says.

Pike smiles, then, though it falls somewhat flat. “I’ve heard you two made a good team. I was concerned, when I left the Enterprise, that his style of leadership might be too different for you.”

“Certainly not,” Spock says.

Pike’s smile grows a little. “Go on, then, Spock. If you liked him better than me, I promise my feelings won’t be hurt.”

“I would never deign to judge captains comparatively,” Spock says. “I hope that the crew will grant me the same favor, since I have no hope of matching the examples set before me.”

“I have every faith in you,” Pike says. “There’s no one better for this job.”

Spock mentally fills in the word he doesn’t say: no one living.

 

Dr. McCoy is insufferable, though not necessarily more than usual. However, rather than insisting on an air of irritable smugness as he usually, the doctor regards Spock grimly, as though Spock is some sort of rabid dog he must put out of its misery. To his (very little) credit, the McCoy does not bother hiding his clear impression of Spock’s mental state. Many others on the crew speculate about that very thing, despite the fact that Spock is both their superior officer and that the very ears that differentiate him from the majority of the crew do somewhat enable his hearing.

“I think you should see someone,” McCoy tells him over dinner two weeks later, which they have eaten together out of habit even after Kirk’s death. Spock has considered bowing out of the shared meal entirely, but that would make McCoy even more suspicious of his ability to captain the ship, and besides, Spock is not especially eager to abandon a grieving man to dine alone. He is not entirely without empathy, after all. There is something slightly pathetic about their conversation to any listener; Spock suspects the doctor pities him in return.

“On the contrary, I believe my daily routine could be improved by seeing fewer people,” Spock counters. McCoy grimaces in what Spock thinks might be an attempt to hide the fact that he finds Spock amusing.

“I meant a therapist,” McCoy says. “Don’t give me that look.”

“My expression is unchanged.”

“I’m getting better at reading your eyes,” McCoy says. “You were thinking I should never have been allowed a medical license.”

“True enough,” Spock says. “But I think that during all of our conversations, Doctor.”

Another grimace, this one in combination with a sigh. “Anyone ever tell you you’re real funny, Spock?”

“To my great surprise, no,” Spock says dryly, though Kirk did often enough. “I have no intention of seeing a therapist. Has anything about my work this past week indicated I require medical help in any way?”

“You’ve been working like a well-oiled machine,” McCoy says, as though that’s an insult. “I just thought you could do with a reminder that you are not, in fact, mechanical.”

“Believe me, Doctor, I am well aware,” Spock says.

“I didn’t want to do this,” McCoy says. “But I can pull you off duty for medical leave if I deem it appropriate.”

Spock’s voice comes out sharper than he intends it to. “It it most certainly not appropriate. It is also quite possibly entrapment.”

McCoy sighs again. He looks tired, much more so than usual. Before, that is. “It’s not inappropriate, Spock. It’s perfectly natural to need to process, especially since you’re replacing Jim as captain. Think of it as being for the good of the ship. If you’ve sealed all your emotions away in a perfect Vulcan snack bag, then no harm can come of the therapist. If not, then you’re ensuring that the ship has a reliable leader.”

Spock resents the implication that Vulcans do not mourn, but he keeps it to himself. McCoy is the only person on the ship with this particular power over him, and if Spock can prove to him that his ability to lead is unimpaired then McCoy will not have this card to play later.

“Very well,” Spock says, and he notices McCoy’s eyebrow twitch; he’s surprised. “I have two requests.”

“Go on,” McCoy says, leaning forward.

“Firstly, this meeting cannot be scheduled to interfere with my duties on the ship. You must find someone who can meet with me on my time.”

“Done,” McCoy says. “What else?”

“I would strongly prefer that the therapist in question be Vulcan,” Spock says.

McCoy snorts. “A Vulcan therapist, God almighty.” He realizes that Spock isn’t joking and, after a moment, nods. “There’s got to be at least one, I suppose. But of all the goddamned contradictory--”

“Doctor,” Spock says warningly.

McCoy waves a hand. “I’ll find someone,” he says. Spock stands up with the remains of his meal and turns away, which allows him to pretend he didn’t hear McCoy add, “Thank you.”

 

Spock’s conversation with the therapist McCoy procured is civil and brief.

“What did you feel after the death of your ship’s captain?” she asks him over the screen.

Spock thinks for a moment before answering. “Regret at the loss of an excellent member of Starfleet. I would strongly prefer that he had not died. He was an admirable man and a highly competent captain.”

She asks him a couple other questions of a similar nature, then nods decisively. “Your response has not been entirely Vulcan, of course,” she says, and Spock conceals the tightening of his mouth in illogical frustration. “But that is to be expected with someone like you.” She says it without disdain, but that doesn’t soften the sentiment. “Still, you show a clear inclination towards that style of processing, and your ability to perform seems unaffected by any lingering emotions you may feel. I see no need to meet again.”

That, at least, is the result Spock was seeking. He presents this information to Dr. McCoy with a satisfaction he could probably have hidden better.

Here is what he had not mentioned to the therapist: he dreams of Kirk frequently. There is something vaguely indecent about the concept, perhaps especially so since Kirk has died. Vulcans do not dream. The dreams are relatively innocent in content, but Spock wakes up from them feeling guilty. Feeling it, in his shoulders and hands and behind his eyes.

In the dreams, Kirk smiles at him.

Reluctant to inform Dr. McCoy about any aspect of these dreams, Spock briefly turns to meditation. Kirk finds his way there too, but at the very least, Spock feels more in control of the interaction. Several times, quite involuntarily, he finds himself back on the beach that Kirk had so regretted leaving, despite the fact that Spock has little interest in beaches himself.

He can sense Kirk beside him in the sand, but finds the presence manageable as long as he doesn’t look over at him.

“Well, Captain,” Kirk says, with a sort of affectionate wryness that makes Spock feel rather as though someone has cracked his ribcage open like an exoskeleton. “Perhaps it’s jealousy about my own office, but I admit I think the blue suited you better.”

Spock continues to look out over the waves. “I do miss my scientific duties. The new science officer has no love for overseeing experiments.”

“They have big shoes to fill,” Kirk says diplomatically.

“I admit I have little sympathy,” Spock says. “The crew respects me. They do not like me.”

If Spock turned, he is certain he would see Kirk tilting his head. “Do you want them to?”

“I--” Spock begins. “I did not think so. The only explanation I can fathom for my frustration with their dissatisfaction is that I myself am dissatisfied.”

Kirk’s voice is gentle. “You’re an incredible officer, Spock.”

“I am aware,” Spock says, recognizing the irony of being told this by a figment of his imagination. The temptation to look over is too great, and so he turns his head. Kirk’s hair is lit golden by the sun, his expression relaxed. Spock is momentarily consumed by a wave of unidentifiable emotion, accompanied by faint disgust at his own weakness.

 

McCoy gives Spock the sleeping pills he asks for without question, which surprises Spock. He thinks for a moment that McCoy has finally begun to respect him, then notices the bottle of gin tucked behind the books on McCoy’s desk.

“Doctor,” he says, unable to keep a note of disdain from his voice. “Have you been drinking on the job?”

“No,” McCoy says testily. “Thank you for your concern.”

Spock almost leaves it alone, but turns before he leaves. “What you do on your own time is not my concern, but take care it doesn’t affect your work.”

The look McCoy gives him is startlingly venomous. “Noted,” he says, with so much scorn that Spock feels obliged to respond.

“Doctor,” he says quietly. “I am willing to make certain allowances in light of this ship’s loss, but you must remember that the familiarity with which you treat the office of captain was dependent on personal relationships, not due from your position.”

McCoy’s face twitches. “Roger that, captain,” he says, and in his mouth the title might as well be a curse. “I’ll thank you kindly to get the fuck out of my office.”

Spock briefly considers putting up a patent objection, but he finds himself too tired. He leaves.

The sleeping pills disturb his nightly schedule and make him feel groggy in the morning, but at the very least they stop Kirk from haunting him. There is no clearer sign of Spock’s unsuitability for his authority than the fact that he cannot stop himself missing the dreams.

 

Spock is about to leave the bridge when the new communications officer reports a distress signal, with some confusion. “It sounds like a Klingon battle cruiser,” he says, shaking his head. “But what do they want with us?”

Spock nods at Sulu, who leans forward. “Let’s go see,” he says.

When they reach the ship, it does appear to be free floating. The life support systems appear to still be operational, but the scan only reveals three humanoids on the whole ship.

“Signal incoming,” the communications officer says.

“Put the sound through,” Sulu says.

A very human voice comes through the speaker. “Hello, is this a Federation ship?” The voice seems familiar, and Spock does not appear to be the only one who thinks so; Uhura puts a hand over her mouth.

“This is the USS Enterprise, Captain Spock speaking,” Spock says, and unexpectedly, the voice laughs, somewhat hysterically.

“Captain, this is Yeoman Duong,” the voice says. “Reporting for duty, I guess. There are no Klingons left on this ship as far as we can tell.”

Sulu speaks before Spock can, which is just as well; Spock isn’t sure he could. “Prepare three to beam up,” he says to Scott, then pauses. “Who exactly is ‘we’, Duong?”

“Ensign Antonia Teferi, Captain Kirk, and myself,” Duong says. Spock barely hears her say, “Greene didn’t make it.”

“Beam them up,” Spock says. His own voice feels foreign in his chest.

“Aye, sir,” Scott says, so quickly that Spock suspects he was already doing so. “Bringing ‘em home.”

 

Due to the imprecise nature of the subject, Spock is unable to retroactively pinpoint the moment during which the weight of his relationship with Kirk occurred to him. Similarly, he has difficulty identifying when he and Jim ceased to be merely a respected colleague and became, to Spock’s own disbelief as much as anyone else’s, a friend. However, with the latter there is at the very least a time frame, a window during which the event presumably occurred. The former is somewhat different.

Contrary to popular belief, Vulcans do have poetry, and like most Vulcan traditions, it can be divided up into pre- and post-Surak. Post-Surak poetry is… logical. Primarily it is read by children, but there is a sort of mathematical beauty there regardless. Pre-Surak poetry is much more difficult to acquire, as it serves only historical function. Spock had read some for a literature course once. At the time he was at the height of his late teenage cynicism and had considered it both irrational and purposeless.

Regardless, the fact remains: although Spock has not quite been inspired to the effect of writing pre-Surak poetry, seeing Kirk alive has provided him context for something that he once called “an overzealous and thoroughly pointless waste of language, energy, and time for writer and reader” in a well-reviewed academic paper during university.

As the profane but occasionally concise Dr. McCoy might say: Spock is fucked.

 

Ensign Teferi, the youngest and least injured of the three, is the one to explain what happened. She sits on a medical bed with one of the nurses making laps around her, shoulders straight and looking Spock in the eye despite her obvious exhaustion. Behind her, a display of Kirk’s vitals shows his heartbeat and breathing to be regular.

“There was a shielded Klingon ship,” she says, turning her arm to allow the nurse better access for his hypo. “Transporting valuables off the Roberta. We were transported over just before the explosion, but once we were there, they couldn’t admit to taking us. We were in the brig for two weeks, then the Klingons contracted some virus. It didn’t affect us, but the healthy Klingons took all the food with them into the escape pods and siphoned away the ship’s energy. We’ve been keeping that distress signal going for days. We had to reroute all the leftover energy but the life support for one room.”

Spock is saved from having to know what to say by the nurse touching Teferi’s arm and saying, “You’re safe now.”

“And Greene?”

Teferi grimaces. “Infection,” she says. “They wouldn’t spare medical supplies for him.”

McCoy comes up beside Spock. “Get some rest, Ensign,” he says. “You’re dehydrated, but we can fix that.”

At the same time that Spock says, “How is Kirk?” Teferi asks, “And the captain?”

“Unconscious, but he’ll be fine,” McCoy says. As Teferi relaxes back into her medical cot, McCoy turns to Spock. There is something in his expression that is not his usual superiority. After a moment, Spock identifies it as an attempt to hide relief. “How’s that for you, Spock? You’re out of a job.”

“I have never been so grateful for a demotion,” Spock says frankly.

Something softens around McCoy’s eyes, and for the first time since Spock met the doctor, he thinks they have an understanding.

 

Kirk does not seem surprised to see Spock when he opens his eyes. After only a second, he focuses with some visible difficulty, blinking at Spock’s shirt, his pips. “Captain,” Kirk says, the corner of his mouth turning up; he’s amusing himself.

“Captain,” Spock responds.

“The command colors look good,” Kirk says. He lowers his voice slightly, like he’s telling Spock a secret. “But I have to tell you: I prefered the blue.”

This sentiment sounds familiar for a reason Spock cannot identify in the moment. “It is good to have you back, captain,” he says.

“It’s good to be back, captain,” Kirk says drowsily, patting Spock lightly on the arm. Spock does not know whether it is the contact itself or the familiarity Kirk’s speech that sends a shiver up into his shoulders, but in the moment, he cannot bring himself to care.

 

One of the perks of still being acting captain is that the only person can tell Spock to go back to his own quarters is currently asleep in his office, as it is the middle of the night. Spock has accessed some of the files he needs on a medical PADD and has begun to fill out the necessary forms for their impromptu rescue mission when Kirk wakes up again.

“Hello,” he says, sounding distinctly more lucid than he did earlier that day, despite the colorful bruise still unfolding on his temple. “Is it good evening or good morning?”

Spock checks the time. “Good morning, but barely.”

“Barely good or barely morning?” Kirk says.

“Barely morning,” Spock says. “I do not know if I have the authority to deem it good or not.”

Kirk’s brow creases at the word ‘authority’. “I meant to talk to you about, you know,” he says. “I realize that my coming back has some effect on the progression of your career. If you want to remain a captain, a post opened up recently on the USS Darwin and I could put in a good word--”

“Forgive me for interrupting you,” Spock says, “but I have no interest in a captaincy. It appears my inclination for science rather than command track was correct; it is only through luck that my abilities as a leader of men were not tested.”

“Hey,” Kirk says. “You’ve never been subpar at a thing in your life.”

Spock barely contains a bitter smile. “You would be surprised, captain.”

Kirk seems to disagree, but he lets it go. “I can’t say I’m sorry to see you stay on the ship,” he says. “When I thought we might die with the Klingons, I felt better knowing the ship was in your capable hands. To be honest, I think I even had a few dreams about it.”

Spock frowns. “These dreams did not take place on a beach, by any chance? We discussed my change in rank.”

“I believe they did, in fact,” Kirk says. “How did you know?”

Spock takes a long moment to gather his thoughts before answering. He can feel Kirk’s eyes on him, sharp as they have ever been. “I may have an explanation,” he says. “What do you know about Vulcan tradition regarding connections of the mind?”

“Very little,” Kirk says. “Though I understand my ignorance is not fully my fault.”

“The beliefs are closely guarded, yes,” Spock says, still thinking through the implications of his theory. “I would not tell you this if I did not have to.” He finally looks down at Kirk, who is watching him intently, bemused. “Most interpersonal bonds between Vulcans are intentional. But those bonds can still form spontaneously, if two people come to--” He cannot say it. “--to trust each other deeply of their own accord.”

“Fascinating,” Kirk breathes. He has, of course, no clue of the implications. “What does this mean, then? Can you read my mind?”

Spock exhales. “Thankfully, no,” he says, and Kirk huffs a quiet laugh. “The bond between us is young still. The dreams -- which for me occurred during meditation -- were most likely a fluke brought on by mutual stress.” He does not say, Your mind was reaching out to mine, captain, and he most certainly does not add, And mine to yours.

Kirk looks at him like he’s something miraculous and Spock wants desperately to look away. “I don’t know the correct response, of course,” Kirk says. “But Spock--” He smiles, and Spock feels something dense settle nauseatingly behind his navel. “--I’m honored.”

“Thank you, captain,” he says, rising from his chair. The bond, now that he’s paying attention to it, is unmistakable now in the back of his mind, small but lit up with a Kirk-like energy. “Will you excuse me?”

“Of course,” Kirk says. “It’s the middle of the night, for god’s sake, what are you doing staying up with me?” He lifts his uninjured hand in farewell. “Sleep well, Mr. Spock.”

“The same to you, captain,” Spock says. He leaves.

 

Pike frowns at him through the screen. “I should warn you, the Darwin only has a crew of about seventy-five.”

Spock nods tightly. “It makes no difference to me, sir.”

“Alright,” Pike says. “I understand, I suppose. Always knew you’d rise up the ranks.” He smiles at Spock a little. Spock tries to put the monotony of captaincy out of his head.

“Thank you, sir,” Spock says. The call ends, and he sets to packing up his belongings, which takes startlingly little time. Spock does not own anything more than he did when he had his lieutenant’s room, and he never got around to filling his larger room up. The captain’s room on the Darwin will be smaller than his quarters now, so it makes little difference.

Spock has folded up the last of his uniforms when someone knocks on the door. He considers simply not answering, but then Kirk says, “Spock? I checked the lab first, so I know you’re here.”

Spock opens the door. “I have not been to the labs since I gave up the position of science officer.”

“Well, take it back,” Kirk says. “I just got a notification that you’re transferring. Did I hallucinate the conversation where you said you were going to stay with the Enterprise?” He has a slight limp as he walks past Spock, and Spock resists the urge to make him sit down. Under McCoy’s machination, the bruise has grown much smaller, but two of the fingers of his right hand are still splinted, an accidental, mocking imitation of the Vulcan salute.

“My plans have changed,” Spock says.

“In six hours? Look, have I--” Kirk begins, then cuts himself off. “Am I wrong to assume that I have partially responsibility for your choice to leave?”

Spock should just say no. He should tell Kirk that he has reconsidered the merits of captaining a ship and that he wants to advance his career. But Spock has never been an exceptional liar, and he doubts his abilities would improve while looking Kirk in the face. “No,” he says. “You have no hand in my failings.”

Kirk’s eyebrows draw down. “What in the world are you talking about?”

“The bonds I spoke of last night are not commonplace,” Spock says. “One should never have formed between us, not the way it did. It could affect my ability to act rationally. It would be a liability.”

“Not if one of us gets separated from the ship again,” Kirk points out. “In that sense it seems more like a boon than a weakness. Is it so wrong for a captain and first officer to be linked?”

Spock thinks briefly of Pike and his first officer’s relationship, then puts it out of his head. “That is irrelevant,” he says. “I have not explained myself fully. This bond could not have formed without some breakdown of my mental barriers. I should not have--” He cuts himself off. “It is inappropriate, captain. A vulnerability on my part.”

Kirk has a peculiar expression on his face. “Spock,” he says, and there’s an odd tenderness to it that makes Spock’s chest ache. “I may be about to embarrass myself irredeemably and I won’t stop you if you truly want to leave. But you should know that whatever warmth, however inappropriate, you have for me, I return.”

Spock presses his lips together. “I highly doubt that, captain.”

“Don’t--” Kirk starts. “I may be your captain, Spock, but I hope you consider me your friend.”

“That is where the problem lies,” Spock says, looking away. “For the bond to form the way it did, I could not feel any way but exceeding friendship, as it were.”

Kirk is watching him. Even without looking directly at him, Spock can almost see the wheels turning in his head. He braces himself for Kirk’s comprehension, but the only thing that comes is, “Oh.”

“Yes,” Spock says, still looking firmly anywhere but Kirk’s face. “So you see why I--” He glances up, only to find Kirk a full step closer.

There is something close to wonder on his face, not dissimilarly to how he has looked at Spock since they met, but amplified. Unguarded. “Do I understand you correctly?” he asks.

“I told you, I cannot read your--” Spock says, but he stops talking because Kirk has kissed him and in light of that, it seems clarification is entirely unnecessary.