Chapter 1: Shall We Begin?
As far as universal constants go, Kirk thinks he’s batting a pretty respectable average.
Constant one: Captain of the shiniest, most kickass starship in the entire fleet, with a crew of formidable badasses by his side, exploring where no one’s explored before.
Constant two: Epic, death-defying, soul entwining friendship that will help define him.
Not so check.
He’d thought there’d been major process made in that department, what with the whole ‘sacrificing myself for our ship and everyone else on board (which includes you)’ and the ‘you fighting a demi-god to avenge and resurrect me’ thing – but to his surprise it hasn’t done much to establish his supposedly multiverse shattering friendship with Spock.
And he’d be lying if he said part of him didn’t suspect that Spock ‘Prime’ hadn’t just made it up to get him to try and do the right thing. Because after he’s done being dead and Bones is done poking and prodding him to make sure he doesn’t suddenly start being dead again, and they have their ship and crew back with some new faces to replace the ones they lost, Spock is all ‘Captain, I have no need for sustenance at this time’, ‘Captain, I am needed in the science department and therefore cannot engage in a sparring match with you’, and ‘Captain, I believe re-calibrating the navigation console in order to make it 0.000234% more responsive would be a better use of my time than playing chess with you.’
The last one had particularly stung, it’s never nice to know that something less than a thousandth of a percent is worth more time than you are. But what could he say to that?
No, Spock, don’t take care of our ship, come play with me instead.
He would like to think that since the Nero incident he’s slightly less of a child and more of a Captain, and he would like very much to stay in this new role thank you ever so much.
So he’s left to spend the majority of his time off bothering Bones, poking at his paperwork, and trying to come up with elaborate plans that will force Spock to have to spend time with him in an off duty capacity, before tearing himself out of said plans before he can spiral too far down the rabbit hole.
His console beeps, tearing him out of his latest such plans, and Uhura’s voice comes through.
“Captain, message for you from New Vulcan.”
He pushes the intercom button, his answering ‘Captain Voice’ belying the skip of his heartbeat. “Patch it through to my quarters, Lieutenant.”
A few beeps later, a familiar wrinkly face greets him, perfectly placid, save for the warmth in his eyes.
“Ambassador.” The smile is on his face before he’s aware of it, and he laces his hands behind his head and grins cockily at his first officer from another life. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
“It occurred to me that we had not had the opportunity to conclude the chess game from our last conversation, and I hoped now would be an optimum time to remedy that.”
Kirks nods, smile turning into a sly smirk. “So, what you’re saying is, you missed looking at my devilishly handsome face and thought our chess game would be a good excuse?”
The corner of Spock Prime’s mouth twitches ever so slightly and Kirk struggles not to fist pump because coming from a Vulcan that’s practically a laughing fit. “Vulcans do not believe in the devil, Captain.”
“Wow, so I’m only normal handsome to you?” Kirk clutches his chest. “The horror.”
“I assure you, Jim, as far as I am concerned there is nothing ‘normal’ about you.”
Kirk waves away the comment with a laugh, the sincerity too sharp and stinging for him to accept. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“That was how it was intended.” Spock Prime presses a few buttons and the image of their holographic chess board appears. “I hope that in return, you will attempt a more logical play style for the remainder of our match.”
Kirk laughs. “Not a chance, old man.”
“As I anticipated.”
Kirk makes the first move. “So, how are things progressing in Kar-i-far? And is my pronunciation any better?”
“The building process is progressing at a steady, though less than optimal pace, and as for your pronunciation, it is remarkably better than your previous attempts. Have you been practicing?”
Kirk struggles not to let himself puff up with pride. “Maybe.” Every night.
Spock Prime’s eyebrow quirks upwards. “Indeed? In that case, it is fortunate that you may have an opportunity to practice on native speakers in the near future.”
Kirk pauses, cocking his head to the side slightly. “What are you up to, old man?”
“I assume I am not mistaken in my belief that you are currently headed to Omiracron in order to negotiate their acceptance into the Federation?”
Kirk leans back, evaluating the man carefully, albeit with his smirk still firmly in place “Isn’t it inefficient to waste time asking me stuff you already know?”
“I asked the same thing of you, a lifetime ago.” Spock Prime’s eyes lose their warmth for a moment, devoured by distant memories and a lonely ache, but before Kirk can do anything other than panic at the lack of comfort he has to offer, the moment is gone, and Spock Prime is speaking again. “But you are correct, of course, so allow me to proceed to my point. I am aware that you are to lead the negotiations and I have a request of you.”
Kirk moves to corner Spock Prime’s rook. “What sort of request?”
“Omiracron is noted for their botanical expertise, and we are in dire need of plants that can produce a significant amount of nutrition in a short period of time; as such, I would request that as part of their acceptance, or as a gesture of good will, they would send some of their botanists to New Vulcan to confer with our own. And, seeing as Omiracron in not currently capable of achieving space-flight, it is only logical that you carry them to New Vulcan on the way to your next assignment.” Spock Prime concludes his request by saving his rook from Kirk’s bishop with an infuriatingly graceful move.
Kirk sighs. “You know, if you’re trying to sweet-talk me into something, the least you can do is let me win.”
“And insult your ability? I would never disparage you in such a way, Jim.” And Kirk would be positive he meant it if not for the little crinkle at the corner of his eyes.
Kirk scans the board for another opening. “Seeing as the summit is tomorrow and the paper version of this hasn’t come across my desk yet, I’m assuming this is not an ‘official’ request?”
“The Federation was...reluctant to introduce anything that may distract from a favourable dillithium mining deal.” Spock Prime’s tone is even but the thinness of his lip along with the pause is enough for Kirk to know his blood is boiling just as much as his own.
Before Nero, Vulcan had been a huge supplier of dilithium, making them a powerhouse in not just the quadrant but the whole federation; a planet worthy of being desperately courted for favour. Now, with the loss of their planet, and with it the dilithium, (never mind billions of their people) the Federation was suddenly less eager to trip over themselves in order to help them.
Kirk takes a deep breath, resolving to head to the gym as soon as possible and punch something other than a Federation bureaucrat. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best to get you your botanists, old man.”
“That’s all I can ask for, my friend.” Spock Prime graces him with an actual smile that makes Kirk’s whole body feel warm.
And then the bastard takes his bishop.
Kirk shoots him a withering look, but Spock Prime just lets out a soft chuckle.
They both turn their focus to the game for a while, chasing each other around the chessboard, until only a few pieces remain, and the length of each of their turns has gone from a couple seconds to several minutes.
“You look tired, my friend.” Spock Prime’s comment catches Kirk mid eye rub, leaving him with very little to rebut with.
He still makes an attempt though. “Just concentrating.”
Spock Prime gives him one of those looks that Kirk hates, the ones that seem to pierce right through every façade, every cocky mannerism that he throws up, right to the very core of him in a way that no one, not his mother, not Sam, not the shitty psychiatrists, has ever been able to reach.
“The nightmares continue.”
Kirk wants to say no, that he’s better now that he’s got his ship back and he knows how far away they are from the storage facility where they locked away 73 cryogenic tubes and threw away the key; but then he would have to admit how often he checks the distance, and the way he repeats the number like a mantra to try and stop himself from throwing up. And how he has to fight the urge to dig out the tainted blood slithering like a cobra through his veins, threatening to wrap around his heart and sink in venomous teeth; poisoning him from the inside out.
So he takes Spock Prime’s queen instead.
Spock Prime examines the play and nods in agreement, before pressing a button to make the chessboard fade away. “Captain, I was wondering if you might be amenable to listening to me play the Vulcan lute for a time? I have some melodies I’ve been experimenting with for meditation purposes, and I could use the perspective of another’s ears.”
“You sure mine are pointy enough for you?” Kirk grins, but it feels more plastered on than usual.
Spock Prime’s eyes smile softly at him. “I assure you your ears are more than sufficient, Jim.” He nods towards Kirk’s bed. “If you wouldn’t mind assuming a meditative position?”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “That’s a line I haven’t heard before.”
“I always endeavour to subvert expectations.” Spock Prime replies easily, waiting patiently until Kirk reluctantly pulls himself from his chair, tossing off his black undershirt and pants before sliding underneath the blankets and switching the viewscreen to the one next to his bed.
Kirk shoots Spock Prime a baleful look from his pillow, but it doesn’t hold any heat, and waves his hand in a hurrying motion. “Alright, hit me with your music, maestro.”
“Captain, it is not possible for these sound waves to exert physical force on your body in a way that would manifest as an—”
“I know you know what I mean, old man.”
“I merely wanted to assure you that you are in no physical danger from the – ”
“Spock, please; play your fancy harp for me,”
“As you wish, Jim.”
If Kirk had to attribute a visual to the music that flows through the audio channels, it would be like honey drizzling into warm tea on a lazy summer afternoon. The tones are soft and soothing, the kind in most mothers’ voices as they sing lullabies to their children; warm and full of love that can never be exhausted.
His eyes slowly droop more and more despite himself, as sleep pulls him further and further down into its lulling embrace, and just before it takes him completely, he hears a rough yet soft voice murmur, almost as if into his ear,
“Pastaklan vesla, T’hy’la; pash tah.”
But he’s asleep before he can wonder at the meaning.
Kirk jumps a bit in his command chair, cursing himself out internally for the slip up, and turns towards where his first officer is standing, right eyebrow arched to high heaven.
Spock’s gaze doesn’t waver, though thankfully his eyebrow lowers slightly. “We are approaching Omiracron, Captain; permission to gather and debrief the diplomatic team in the transporter bay?”
“Of course, permission granted, Spock.” Kirk nods at him and turns his head back to his PADD, focusing his attention on pretending to read and not blushing like a goddamn teenager over the fact that his first officer’s double pretty much lulled him to sleep with a lullaby last night.
Spock doesn’t move though, and after a moment more of Kirk pretending to read, he speaks again.
“Captain, you are part of the diplomatic team.”
Kirk’s battle for composure goes down in warm, red, flames.
“Right, sorry, Spock; mind’s all over the place today.” He hands his PADD over to a yeoman and jumps out of his chair, patting Sulu on the shoulder before heading towards the turbolift doors; Spock a footstep behind him. “Mr. Sulu, you have the con, try to keep her in orbit while we’re away.”
“No promises, Captain.” Sulu calls cheerfully after them.
“Transport Deck” The turbolift closes with a swish behind them and Kirk leans against the far wall and sighs; closing his eyes and letting the tension and fatigue pull down his body for one last time before he tucks it all inside for the next week.
“Are you well, Captain?”
“Mm?” Kirk rubs a hand over his face but doesn’t open his eyes. “Fine, Spock, just a little tired; and, let’s face it, we both know diplomatic missions aren’t exactly a cakewalk.”
“Perhaps Dr. McCoy could provide you with something to alleviate your fatigue?” Before Kirk can open his mouth and begin to articulate just how well asking Bones for a sedative or a stimulant would go over, Spock continues. “As these negotiations are a top priority for the Federation and Star Fleet, it is logical that all members of the diplomatic team be functioning at their highest capacity in order to insure the best possible result.”
Kirk feels himself bristle, keeping his arms crossed tightly across his chest; stinging salt pushed into an old wound. “Thank you for you concern, Commander. However, I can assure you that nothing will prevent me from functioning in a way that will get us the ‘best possible’ deal.”
His voice is short and snappy, and there is an entirely different heat burning in his chest now, but Spock doesn’t seem to recognize this; he merely dips his head slightly in acknowledgement.
“I am gratified to hear that, Captain.”
“Hunky-Dory.” The turbolift comes to a stop and Kirk forces his arms to his side as the doors open, shoving down the indignation and hurt into a little box that he can unpack after this week is over; or, preferably, never. “Let’s go make some new friends.”
Bones is waiting in the transport bay, looking as thrilled about this trip as Kirk feels, arms crossed over his chest and scowl firmly etched into his stony face. In the corner, Uhura and Scotty are whispering fiercely to one another and when Kirk strains his ears to listen in:
“Scotty, for the last time, you are not bringing whiskey down as an icebreaker.”
“Ach, c’mon, lieutenant, no one’s ever gotten upset over a wee gift. Especially if it’s scotch whiskey—”
“Except if those persons in question are Omiracronians, who view any mind-altering substance as a weapon of deceit and ill-will, something that I was extremely clear about in the briefing; which I know you were at because I made eye contact with you the entire time I was discussing it.”
“Aye, a’right, lieutenant, I won’t give it to the Omiracronians; I still dinnae see why I cannae bring doon a bottle for me’self—”
“What part of weapon of deceit and ill-will do you not understand—”
“They willnae see it! I’ll be sure to drink it in private—”
“—in my quarters when I return to the ship. Understood Lieutenant.”
Kirk feels the corners of his lips turn up despite himself, his mood lifting, and turns his focus to the Federation diplomats huddled in a circle and whispering urgently. But the most he can glean from their conversations is a sense of nervous energy, which makes sense given that for most of them, this will be their first mission. With the ‘battle’ of Vulcan and the...incident last year with Kahn, Starfleet and the Federation have an unfortunate lack of veteran diplomats; something that only raises the stakes and renders the possibility of gathering a favourable deal ever more difficult. Add on to all of that the old man’s request, and this week is definitely shaping up to be in Kirk’s bottom hundred.
“Bones, try and save some of that southern charm for the Omiracronians.” Kirk claps his friend on the shoulder, grinning at the withering look shot his way.
“Damn fool of a mission this is.” Bones grumbles, “A week on a planet that we know next to nothing about, the possibilities of accidental medical complications and emergencies astronomical, and that’s not even counting whatever damn foi grais we’ll be expected to eat—”
“If it makes you feel better, I promise to sit close to you at all times so you can stab me with whatever hypos you feel like.”
Bones shoots him a look, but now his eyes hold a gruff warmth. “Kid, if you’re trying to cheer me up, I have to tell you the prospect of having to sit next to you and watch all these Omiracronians flirt with you isn’t all that thrilling.”
“Aw, c’mon, Bones—”
“It is statistically unlikely based on our current understanding of their social and political culture that any of the Omiracronians will engage in flirtatious behaviour with the Captain.” Spock has come to stand beside them, hands clasped behind his back and staring evenly at the two of them.
Bones snorts. “Yeah? Are you forgetting Millerand V? Or Phyllo III? Or Enbridge IV? Tauonia? Lopalo VII—?”
“None of which were engaged in negotiations with us for their acceptance to the Federation.” Spock cuts Bones off, and Kirk can’t be imagining the slight edge to his voice. “Furthermore, even should the statistically unlikely thing happen, it would be very irresponsible of the Captain to entertain such flirtatious overtures during the course of his duty—”
Kirk holds up his hands to stop the sermon. “Relax, Commander, despite popular belief I can actually perform my duties without breaking regulations; and while keeping my pants on. Now,” He glances around the room to see everyone pretending to be busy and studiously not looking at the three of them (save for the diplomats, most of whom are staring in open affronted horror, and if that’s their poker faces then they’re in a hell of a lot more trouble than he thought), “do we have the beam down coordinates?”
“Yes, Captain.” A young (new) ensign calls out from behind the control desk. “The Omiracron delegation is awaiting your arrival at your convenience.”
Kirk nods, before gesturing towards the transport pad. “Well, let’s not keep our hosts waiting.” The diplomatic convoy steps up onto the pad and after giving one more customary glance to be sure that they’re all in place, Kirk gives a nod to the ensign.
After his conversation with the old man, a part of him had thought Omiracron might resemble Vulcan somehow; but he could not have compared two more opposite planets.
Omiracron reminds him of the night he broke into the botanical garden domes in San Francisco, or at least, what he can remember of the night. They are surrounded by plants as soon as they beam down, and he barely manages to keep down the kid in him that wants to run his fingers over all of it, to touch and examine the multitude of colours and different structures of the plants around them. There are twisting, dark brown trees with green crystalline prisms dripping down in a curtain all around them, similar to Earth’s weeping willow trees; the grass beneath their feet is green, but changes to a blue hue as it is stepped on. Flowers with layered petals, in as many hues as Kirk has heartbeats, pepper the area, turning grey and desaturated at the first sign of approach; shriveling up and wilting only to return to its former glory as soon as the surprised interloper stumbles back.
The flora alone is enough to have Uhuru sighing in wonder, and even Bones looks marginally less grumpy (miracle of miracles).
And that’s before they reach the city.
Towering crystalline buildings intertwine and fuse with some sort of masterfully worked metal, which itself has elaborate designs engraved into them in the form of swirling leaves. Most of the structures fall under the shadow of the enormous tress in the vast forest encircling the city, but what appears to be the central buildings of the town spiral up and up and up and break through the tree line, towering above everything else and allowing sunlight to stream through the opening made for their ascension. It reminds Kirk of a story he read once about an emerald city beyond a field of flowers, and a group of rag tag traveling companions (not unlike his own crew).
“Well, Mr. Spock, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Spock looks up from his tricorder and arches an eyebrow at Kirk. “I assume you are making a reference to the fact that our current surroundings resemble the city composed of green cyclosilicate from classical Earth literature, Captain. A simultaneously obscure and apt comparison, but one which I am inclined to agree with.”
“I didn't know you were a fan of classical earth literature, Mr. Spock.” Kirk feels something inside himself warm at the compliment.
“I...” A shadow of something darkens his first officer’s eyes for a moment, “I was given an introduction to it at an early age in order to better understand the duality of my existence.”
Silence falls over the two of them for a moment, heavy with the name left unspoken. And Kirk has never been comfortable with silences, at least, not those outside of chess, so with a thrum of nervous energy itching under his skin he opens his mouth to say something to break it; but surprisingly, or maybe not, as he seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to Kirk putting his foot in his mouth, Spock beats him to it.
“Though, despite my overall satisfaction with the conclusion of that literary work, I do hope the icon of this city will put up less pretence than his fictional counterpart. And additionally, that we shall not need the intervention of a “good” witch nor the de-solidification of a “wicked” one.”
Kirk laughs. “C’mon, Spock, if things go that bad at least we’d get to see some flying monkeys.”
Spock arches an eyebrow at him. “I am uncertain of the logical value of that reward.”
“Besides the fact that it would be awesome?”
“I believe I did say the logical value, not the emotional one.”
Kirk shakes his head, smiling slightly. “That you did, Mr. Spock, forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Captain.” Spock turns back to his tricorder, lowering his voice as he continued. “Unless, of course, you are seeking pre-emptive redemption for some scheme you plan to implement during the negotiations.”
Kirk struggles not to wince openly, because there’s no way that Spock could know that he’s...strategically deciding to omit information from the rest of the team. And any warning klaxon in his mind saying otherwise is nothing more than a false alarm.
He opts for keeping his shoulders carefully, and hopefully casually, loose, throwing his inquisitor a playful wink for good measure “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.”
“Your talent for subversion and omission notwithstanding, Captain, I fail to see how withholding information when we are entering into a precarious diplomatic dialogue could be in any way helpful.” Spock cuts right through his attempt at bullshit, as per usual.
Kirk struggles not to bang his head against one of those very lovely trees, partly because he’s fairly certain that Uhuru mentioned something about trees being sacred to the Omiracronians and partly because Spock might accuse him of trying to further jeopardize the negotiations. Goddamn time traveling Vulcans and their potentially space and time imploding secrets; this would all be so much easier if he could just tell Spock everything about the other him. Kirk hates keeping things from him, and he finds it harder not to second guess himself when he doesn’t have the opportunity to talk it out and outline his plan with another person, and given that the nature of this request and the involvement of the ambassador, that was pretty much impossible.
Someone is apparently looking out for him today though, out of pity or curiosity he doesn’t know but he’s thankful all the same, and he realizes that their guides have led them into one of the main buildings. He turns away from Spock to glance around at the
high vaulted ceilings and dangling crystal lights that appear to mimic the willow crystals (as Kirk has decided to call them for now) from the forest; overcome by an awe that he struggles to contain.
“We welcome you, Representatives of the Federation.”
He turns his gaze from the dangling lights to one of the Omiracronians standing in front of a long table in the middle of the room. He looks, for the most part, like any of the other Omiracronians they have seen so far. His skin is the colour of the grass from the forest, but from his knees down the hue slowly shifts into the blue the grass turns after it’s been walked on. His irises are rings of the same pale green crystalline prisms as the trees, and where on a human would be the whites of his eyes, his are the same dark brown as the tree bark. A white cloth robe, tightly fitted to the confines of his body, reaches to just above his ankles, showcasing his bare feet. The only significant difference between him and the others they have seen is the circle of brilliant silver dots painted around the circumference of his bald head.
Kirk leads his crew, and the diplomats, in the greeting gesture Uhuru has demonstrated for them earlier; pressing the tips of his fingers to his forehead and then extending his hand downward and then hoping like hell that all his practicing in front of the mirror hasn’t accidentally made him worse.
“Captain James. T. Kirk of the U.S.S Enterprise; we thank you for your welcome, honorable Airgead.” Kirk gestures towards his crew. “This is my Science and First Officer, Commander Spock; head of communications, Lieutenant Uhuru; Chief of Engineering, Commander Scott; and my Chief Medical Officer, Dr. McCoy.” His team repeat the greeting gesture from before while Kirk glances at the diplomats and, internally sighing at their still stunned faces, introduces them as well. “And our Federation mediators, Mr. Sam Collins, Ms. Xueta Lee, and Zer Nil Mezzo.”
Kirk coughs and the ambassadors hurriedly repeat the greeting gesture as well.
If the Airgead has noticed anything is amiss, then he has the kind of poker face that Kirk wishes like hell their own people had. “I am Airgead Beithe, representor of the will of my people, with the strength of my advisors, Cabhrú Nathair, Leighis, Caint, and Meicniúil.” His people return that same greeting gesture and the Aigead motions towards the table.
“Shall we begin?”
Hey guys, this chapter is when a lot of the tags above really come into play, so take care reading.
Also, this is an early update, because I've got exams coming up and I might miss an update in the future. So enjoy!
“I see the tales they tell of you are not entirely undeserved, Captain.”
Kirk lowers the glass he’s been drinking from and offers his diplomat smile. “That’s very kind of you to say, Airgead.”
They’re wrapping up the end of their negotiations, which thankfully have gone on without any mission thwarting disasters. In fact, Kirk’s pretty sure they’re going to have the deal signed by tomorrow. Which means he has tonight at this gala held in their honour to somehow convince the Airgead to put some of his people on an alien star ship and travel to a completely foreign planet to help a people they’d never heard of until a few years ago. And despite the fact that he’s already told Spock Prime not to hold his breath, he’ll be damned if he brings back anything other than good news.
Despite how close he’s cutting it, now really is the perfect time; they’re close enough to getting out of here that neither Bones nor Spock are hovering by his shoulder just waiting for him to fuck up. And at this point, tentative acquaintanceships have formed between the rest of their negotiation team, leaving him free to enact his diabolical little plan free of any witnesses.
“I must admit,” The Airgead continues, and Kirk forces his attention back to the conversation, “my advisors were wary of allowing such a... fresh captain to lead the negotiations.”
Kirk smiles, easy charm and pretty, naïve blue eyes, swallowing down the bitter rush of sharp words that rises up in his throat. “Well, on my planet, we have this saying: age is just a number.”
“Indeed.” A smirk tugs at the corners of the Airgead’s lips. “I suppose one can make up for the lack of years with a surplus of...experience. And, if rumors are to be believed you’ve certainly accumulated more than your fair share of that.”
There’s a slight tilt to the tone that Kirk recognizes, one that makes him think that the ‘experience’ the Airgead is referring to has very little to do with Starfleet operations.
“Hard to believe anything you hear these days.” Kirk takes another sip of his drink, savouring the crisp bitterness as something inside him twists, desperate to be as far away from this situation and the memories it draws to the surface as it possibly can. “Much better to...experience it for yourself.”
There’s a familiar glint in the Airgead’s eyes, and Kirk feels the weight of them like a physical touch travelling up and down his body. He forces himself not to shiver, to remain lax and receptive underneath them as though he is inviting the gaze. And all that comes with it.
“Perhaps,” The Airgead steps closer to Kirk, their bodies mere inches from each other, voice low enough for only the two of them to hear, “you would be willing to accompany me somewhere a bit more...quiet? So that you could explain to me the depth of your experience?”
Kirk makes his eyes flicker up and down the Airgead, forcing a look to his face that other people would call hungry. He wouldn’t, not ever, he knows what hungry really looks like – caught it once in a fragmented reflection in a broken store window – and knows that he can’t subject the people of New Vulcan to that. Not when they’ve already gone through so much.
“Perhaps.” Kirk says, drawing the word out as though clearly fighting some great moral debate in his mind. “That is a very tempting offer, however,” He leans in close to whisper in the Airgead’s ear and feels the man’s breath hitch slightly as he does so, “there was one more detail of the negotiations I wanted to work out before tomorrow.”
The Airgead raises an eyebrow, but the smirk is still on his face, eyes still aflame, and it’s all Kirk can do not to sigh in relief. “Oh? I’m sure whatever it is we could arrange something to both of our...satisfaction. What is it you seek?”
“I was hoping to convince your government to send an envoy of its people to the colony of New Vulcan.” Kirk sighs, fixing the Airgead with those big blue eyes, “The Vulcan people are in need of experienced botanists to help them with their food supply. If your people could help in any way with that, I would be,” he lowers his voice slightly, “very grateful.”
There’s a moment or two where the Airgead just looks at him, and Kirk feels like some kind of fascinating creature pinned underneath a glass case, the pressure squeezing out the air from his lungs.
“Consider it done.” The air rushes back into his body as the Airgead wraps an arm around his back, placing a proprietary hand on Kirk’s hips as he starts to lead them towards the door of the hall. “We will discuss further...details in my chambers.”
“Of course.” Kirk forces himself to purr, placing his empty glass on the tray of a nearby waiter—
Only for the wrist of his now empty hand to be caught in a vice-like grip.
He knows who the owner of that grip is before he turns, but he still feels something in his gut twist fiercely when he sees those familiar pointed ears.
“Captain,” And fuck, Spock’s voice is goddamn frigid, barely a few degrees above an outright unacceptable tone to address your superior officer, “the gala is reaching its conclusion. I believe now would be an optimal time for all members of the Enterprise’s delegation to return to their assigned rooms.”
Kirk nods, despite the fact that his mouth feels as dry as the Vulcan desert—except that doesn't exist anymore, does it? That’s the whole reason he’s here, getting ready to offer himself up on a platter so he doesn’t have to face the disappointment in the other Spock’s eyes or the have people’s hunger on his conscience again.
“Sounds great, Spock.” He nods his head towards the Airgead, “I’ll head back a little later, the Airgead is going to show me some historical artwork.”
He knows Spock isn’t convinced, sees it despite his perfectly controlled face, feels it in the continued tightness of the grip on his wrist.
After a few minutes of silence, he looks pointedly at the fingers digging into his skin.
For a second, he doesn’t think Spock is going to let him go, and he’s equal parts relieved and dismayed when he does; fingers slowly uncurling, and hands clasped behind his back as he draws his body into a tightly controlled parade rest.
“I will ensure that all members return to their assigned quarters.” Spock inclines his head respectfully towards the Airgead, but his eyes remain locked on Kirk’s. “Enjoy your evening.”
“Please, do not worry about your Captain, Commander.” The arm returns, snaking around his back and resting on his hip in a way that was manageable when it was just the two of them—but is excruciating under Spock’s calculating gaze. “I will ensure he enjoys himself.”
There’s something that flashes in Spock’s eyes, and it reminds Kirk of the way he had looked on the bridge, just a few short years ago with those same hands wrapped around Kirk’s throat.
But it’s gone in the next instance, replaced with a cold clearness that chills Kirk more than Delta Vega ever could, and he turns on his heel and marches away to round up the rest of the crew; and Kirk can’t stop the part of himself that wishes desperately that he’d taken him with him.
Instead he lets the Airgead lead him up to his chambers, discussing the details of just what it is Kirk wants from this in coy statements and brief touches, promising more and more in return and it takes everything Kirk has not to throw up on the beautiful floor.
And when they get there, he plays the part, moaning and gasping and begging and giving everything that he has—holding back the spectre of gaunt faces peering up at him as he brought back another meager haul, mind whirring as he tried to calculate just how much longer he could keep that spark of life, however faint, in their eyes.
He pulls himself together afterwards, the Airgead sated and snoring, and heads back to his room to clean up. There’s no shower here, just a bath, so he can’t clean the way he wants to—just focuses on making sure every superficial trace of the evening is washed away. Then he crawls into bed and tries not to dream of rotted grain and the scornful look in Spock’s eyes.
“I hope you won’t mind, I tweaked the details of our deal, slightly.”
His team look surprised and he forces himself to blend in. “It was my understanding that we had achieved a fair deal for both sides—”
“Yes, we have, that isn’t the issue.” The Airgead drums his fingers on the table and smiles at Kirk. “It has come to our attention that the settlement on New Vulcan requires botanical aid. We would like to offer a team of our best to support them in this time of crisis—if you would be so kind of course, as to ensure safe transport to and from the colony.”
Kirk pretends to think it over, trying to ignore the way that Spock’s brow is pinched ever so slightly, like he’s trying to figure out some weird ass readings from the sensors.
“That is most gracious of you, Airgead.” Kirk extends his hand towards the smiling man, offering his own dazzlingly brilliant fake smile back. “We would be happy to accept.”
As the Airgead clasps his hand with his own Kirk doesn’t think of the places on his body that still bear its touch—forcing himself to imagine him scrubbing them red and raw until the touch bleeds away down the drain along with the poisonous blood in his veins.
When the botanists and ambassadors are squared away and Kirk is finally, finally, heading back to the bridge of his ship, he lets his head loll against the side of the turbolift.
“Thank fuck that’s over with.”
“Could’nae have said it better meself, Captain.” Scotty shoots him a grin and Kirk, despite his fatigue, feels himself returning a genuine one of his own.
He levels a stern finger at Scotty when they reach the engineering deck. “Try and save at least a glass of that scotch for me, got it?”
“Ah think ah can manage a glass.” Scotty smirks, then disappears back into the bowels of their ship.
“Forget a glass, I need a whole damn bottle.” Bones grumbles as they reach his deck, throwing one last dig over his shoulder as he goes. “Make sure you get some sleep before you collect on that scotch, Jim, you look like death warmed over.”
Kirk makes a gesture that is not entirely appropriate for a Captain to give his CMO as the turbolift doors close, leaving just him and Spock alone as they make their way to the bridge.
Kirk closes his eyes for a brief moment, steadying himself before tilting his head at his companion. “Something on your mind, Mr. Spock?”
“I find myself... curious as to how the Airgead was able to obtain information about the status of the colony on Kar-i-far—that is—”
“New Vulcan, yeah, I know.” Kirk doesn’t miss the way Spock’s eyes narrow at that and Kirk kicks himself for the overshowing of his hand. “Who knows, Spock, maybe they had their intelligence service prepare a briefing about the state of the different planets of the Federation so they could pull out a trump card—who cares? It all worked out, right?”
Spock’s voice is clipped, arms and body too tightly controlled to be at ease. “I find myself hesitant to believe that an intelligence service from a planet not yet capable of space flight was able to obtain information about a Federation colony.”
The turbolift doors open, offering Kirk an escape and he rolls his eyes at Spock before stepping onto his bridge. “The universe is a strange place, Mr. Spock.”
“Welcome back, Captain.” Sulu jumps out of the Captain’s chair and Kirk greets him with a wry smile. “I trust negotiations went well.”
Kirk sinks into the chair, hiding the aches in his body with a wry grin. “Put it this way, Sulu, no one died.”
“Sounds like a success to me, sir.” Chekov pipes up, and Kirk is nearly blinded by the grin the officer shoots his way. “Course laid in for New Wulcan, sir; stopping to deliwer ambassadors at Star Base K—”
“Captain,” Uhura interrupts, “incoming transmission from Starfleet Headquarters. It's the Admirals.”
Ah. Time to face the music then.
Chris’ face pops up first and Kirk can already tell that this wasn’t his idea by the apologetic look he sends his way, the rest of the Admirals popping into place beside him on the screen before he can try and suss out just what exactly they want to yell at him about.
“Captain Kirk.” Admiral Luana, in the bottom left corner, in the first to speak, grey lips twisted in a fierce scowl.
Kirks nods to them all. “Admirals, what can I—”
“We received the details of the deal you struck with the Omiracronians.” Admiral Luana says this like it’s some sort of damning indictment of Kirk’s character – like she’s got some video of that time on Rigel IV ready to play for them all or something.
Kirk taps his fingers on the armrests of his chair, but he’s tired, so very fucking tired, and the carefully constructed words in his head come out a bit more bluntly then he actually wanted them to.
“Is there something wrong with it?”
Admiral Luana bristles, drawing herself up, and Kirk knows he’s given her exactly the fodder she needs. “Perhaps you would mind explaining to myself and the rest of the Admirals why you thought it would be a good idea to transport unknown botany to New Vulcan.”
Kirk frowns, opening his mouth to respond. “I—”
“Perhaps, Captain Kirk, you need a revision of your Federation history.” Admiral Luana snaps. “Are you aware of an incident involving the colony on Tarsus IV?”
Dead and rotting grains in the fields as far as the eye can see—dead and rotting people with unseeing eyes stacked on top of each other—dead and rotting souls laughing as they stuff themselves with food as he tries to coax bodies with bones that threaten to tear through sickly translucent skin to stay alive—
“I’m aware of it.” Kirk feels his mouth say.
“Then you are aware of the disastrous consequences of transporting unexamined botanical specimens from one planet to another.” Admiral Luana is just getting into her rant, he can tell, but her words don’t touch him—deflected by the memory of pounding desperately on a kid’s chest, frantically trying to coax their heart back into beating. “The colony on New Vulcan is just barely getting to its feet as it is—to risk the possibility of outright famine—”
“Perhaps, Admiral, we could give Captain Kirk the chance to explain himself,” Chris breaks in, and his voice draws Kirk back to himself—like a lifeline cast out to a drowning man, “as you requested.”
Admiral Luana stiffens, drawing herself up primly. “Well then, Captain?”
It takes Kirk a minute to respond, running through what’s been said again until the words botany and botanical specimens jump out at him and—oh.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding, Admirals.” Kirk begins, lacing his fingers together over his knee. “We are not transporting any type of botany, alive or dead, to New Vulcan. We are transporting botanists to assist the ones currently on New Vulcan.”
Admiral Luana blinks, mouth hanging open uselessly for a few moments, and the rest of the Admirals look a cross between amused or annoyed. “I don’t understand—”
“Perhaps a clerical error.” Spock appears at Kirk’s side, standing next to his chair with his hands carefully folded behind his back. “Or a linguistic one. As Lieutenant Uhura can confirm, the Omiracronian language has yet to be completely decoded by the universal translator—in particular certain orthographical aspects remain...unclear.”
It’s a kindness, and Kirk’s glad Spock’s the one to offer the potential way out for the Admiral because he doesn’t think he could.
But Admiral Luana’s brow furrows and Kirk can see she’s not going to take it. “But how did the question of securing resources even enter into the negotiation dialogue? Such a goal was not included in your orders, Kirk.”
Her eyes flicker towards Spock and Kirk knows with a sickening lurch in his stomach what her next words are going to be, and he’ll be damned if he lets them leave her lips.
“I received a transmission shortly before the negotiations began, apprising me of the situation on Kar-i-far.” Kirk’s chest is burning, anger leaking into his words, but he doesn’t give a damn, because how dare she even think of accusing Spock of trying to interfere with the negotiations. “And I informed the Airgead of the situation during a break in the negotiations and he offered to supply his people in an effort to help with the crisis.”
He stands up, jaw tight and his eyes locked onto the Admiral’s. “Given your clearly significant knowledge of the Tarsus IV incident, you can appreciate my reluctance to let the Federation solve the matter in its own time.”
The Admiral’s face twists into a snarl of indignant rage. “How dare you—”
“I think,” Chris’ voice cuts in calmly, but with the kind of tone that everyone shuts the fuck up at, “we are arguing a point that has already been resolved. The deal with the Omiracronians appears to include all that we were hoping for, and support with the New Vulcan situation. I see no reason to continue debating how this was achieved.”
The other Admirals voice their agreement and cut their transmission soon after, Admiral Luana aiming one last scowl at Kirk for good measure, until it’s only Chris’ tired face on the screen.
“Jesus, you don’t do things by half, do you, Jim?”
Kirk shrugs, taking a seat back in his chair. “Figured it’d be out of character to start now.”
“Probably, but I might get a few more years out of life if you tried.” Chris returns dryly, and Kirk tries not to remember his broken, bleeding body on the floor of the meeting room, barely clinging to life.
He must see something on Kirk’s face because he shoots him a soft, if tired, smile. “I wouldn’t worry too much about Admiral Luana, she’s just looking to solidify her standing with the other Admirals.”
“Hard to fill Marcus’ shoes, huh?” Kirk drawls.
Chris shoots him a look, a silent warning not to push his luck any further. “We got a message from New Vulcan offering shore leave for you and your crew after the delivery of the botanists. I’ve already approved it, so try and get some sun if you can, Kirk.”
Kirk offers Chris a mock salute, cocky grin stitched into place. “Understood, Admiral.”
“Pike out.” The transmission ends and Kirk tries not to slump back into his seat, rubbing a hand over his face.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Kirk cracks open his eyes to see Chekov staring hesitantly up at him. “Granted.”
“Zat Admiral vas real jerk.”
Kirk stares back at him for a moment, before laughter starts to bubble up from his chest and past his lips, fatigue finally overcoming him. Luckily, no one seems to notice the hysterical edge to it as the tension seeps from the bridge, a couple of other laughs accompanying his.
“That is not an appropriate way to refer to a senior officer, lieutenant.” Spock says, and Kirk’s glad he does because someone has to and it sure as shit ain’t going to be him.
Chekov flushes slightly, but it doesn’t erase the smile from his lips. “Sorry, Commander.”
Kirk waves his apologies off, even though they aren’t directed at him. “At ease, Chekov; leave orbit when ready. Warp factor three, Mr. Sulu.”
Kirk turns to his second in command, who still hasn’t returned to his post, when they’re about five minutes into their journey, Omiracron a small orb steadily shrinking in the distance. “Hey, Spock, would you mind taking the reins for a little bit? I think I might fall asleep in the chair and that’s not exactly Captain-y, y’know?”
Spock sends him a strange look, eyebrow raised slightly. “You are...admitting to your fatigue?”
Kirk sends him a sloppy grin. “Hey, even I can be responsible sometimes.”
“Your instances of professional responsibility are within the 99th percentile, Captain.” Spock tells him, and Kirk tells himself that it’s a stupid thing to feel warm and fuzzy about before it that feeling dies abruptly at his next words. “However, when it comes to responsibility for your own health and well-being, that statistic decreases considerably.”
Kirk stands up, clapping him on the shoulders and feeling Spock stiffen slightly underneath the touch. “Well, here’s to getting those numbers up, huh? Mr. Spock, you have the con.”
“I’ll be in my quarters if you need me.” Kirk quickens his pace, ignoring the way that Spock’s voice tries to call him back, and steps into the turbolift without turning around. Exhaling a big shaky breath of relief when the doors close behind him, and the stare he can feel digging into his back finally stops.
It doesn’t take him long to make it to his quarters, or maybe it does, he’s not really conscious of anything until he blinks and realizes he’s sitting on the floor of his shower, scrub brush in hand, skin achingly red and raw with blood dripping and diluting into the burning water as it goes down the drain.
But he still doesn’t feel clean.
He gets out of the shower eventually, drying off with a towel before slipping on a pair of sweatpants and heading back into his main quarters.
It takes the sharp intake of breath to realize that he’s not alone.
He jerks towards the sound, eyes widening when he sees who it is, explanations already about to fall off his lips.
“Christ, Jim,” Bones is next to him in an instant, pulling out his tricorder and running it over his abused flesh, “what the hell happened to you?”
“Nothing, Bones—” Kirk tries to step away but Bones’ hand catches his elbow and holds him in place, raising an eyebrow at the hiss of pain that slips past Kirk’s lips in response.
“Nothing, huh?” Bones’ voice is sharp enough to cut through the hull of the ship. “You want to explain to me how you ended up with this much nothing?”
“Why are you even here?” Kirk snaps, “Shouldn’t you be down in medical with a bottle of whiskey by now?”
Bones’ eyes narrow like they do when he’s considering physically shaking some sense into Kirk. “I’m here, because your first officer requested that I ascertain your wellbeing.”
Panic claws at Kirk’s throat. “Spock—?”
“Yup.” Bones guides Kirk to his bed, frowning when he winces in pain as the fabric rubs against the sore flesh on his legs. “And if the damn hobgoblin noticed something was wrong, I thought I’d better not wait for you to answer the door.”
“Improper use of medical overrides is a crime, Bones.” Kirk says, because really, what the hell else does he have against that?
“Well, I guess you’re going to have to throw me in the brig, then,” Bones snaps, “after you tell me what happened.”
Kirk doesn’t say anything, keeping his jaw tightly clenched.
Bones sighs and draws back until he’s standing. “Jim, either tell me now or I can call Spock down here and we’ll do this with him.”
Kirk pushes himself up at that, or tries to, his legs giving way and Bones has to reach out to catch him.
“This has nothing to do with Spock.”
“He’s your first officer,” Bones replies, firm in the face of Kirk’s snarling protest, but there’s a gentleness to it that Kirk hates, “it’s his duty to ensure your safety and if I’m not able to send a report to him saying that it’s all taken care of then I will call him down here.”
Bones mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like “be hard to keep him away” but Kirk is too caught up in the idea of what Spock’s eyes will say when they see the state of his skin to pay any close attention to it.
“You fight dirty, Bones.” Kirk says but lets his friend gingerly guides him back onto his bed.
Bones rolls his eyes. “Just tryin’ to keep up with you, kid.”
Kirk closes his eyes, guilt roiling in his stomach, and Bones joins their hands together before patting Kirk lightly on the face with his other. “Hey, none of that. Jim...tell me.”
It’s easier because Bones knows already, found him on the bathroom floor in their shared dorm on the ‘anniversary’ of it all; clutching an empty bottle of Durian brandy in one hand and an unopened bottle of pills he stole from Bones’ medical bag in the other.
So, he tells him, and Bones runs the dermal regenerator over his flesh, the skin becoming perfect again under his administrations and Kirk swallows down the feeling that all it’s doing is covering it up—covering him up—focusing on pushing the words past his lips.
When Bones is done, he tucks Kirk underneath the covers and crawls in next to him, wrapping his arms around Kirk’s trembling body and holding him close.
“Bones—” Kirk’s voice is a rasp, shifting away from his friend’s embrace no matter how badly he wants to accept the easy, unconditional warmth there. “Don’t, I’m not cl—”
Bones tightens his grip around him. “You are.”
Kirk surrenders to the conviction in that voice, clings to it desperately, and lets Bones hold him as sleep finally pulls him under at long last.
We start with some POV from the other half, and end with New Vulcan
The Captain is unwell.
He’s been aware of this fact for weeks, months even, observing from afar the differences in this resurrected Captain compared to the previous version. Something troubles him, plaguing his mind and causing a level of distraction that, while remaining within acceptable parameters for peak starship operation, is nonetheless – worrying.
Illogical, given that it does not interfere with the ship’s business, and so Spock should have no cause for concern over it. And yet, he finds himself preoccupied with the feeling, concern leading to an increase in his own distractibility – which cannot be tolerated. He must perform at peak efficiency in order to ensure that an event like that – the Captain behind glass, life fading from his eyes – is never allowed to occur again.
Perhaps, he is experiencing these sensations because he is the Captain’s – is Jim’s...friend.
The Captain has certainly provided evidence that he believes this to be the case; seeking him out on several occasions since their departure from Earth, with invitations to dinner, lunch, breakfast, and even activities that do not involve consuming nutrition, such as sparring and chess.
Nyota sends him an unreadable look on the occasions that she is present to witness him declining these invitations, and he has yet to understand why. All attempts to question her about these looks have been met with either an arched eyebrow or a shake of her head.
All except for one.
He’s in the mess hall, watching the Captain head towards the replicators after declining a request for a chess match later that evening, when he catches Uhura shaking her head across from him.
“You disapprove of my choice?”
Nyota sighs, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ears. “More like I don’t understand it.”
“What portion of my refusal to engage in a chess match with the Captain confuses you?”
“Spock,” Nyota raises an eyebrow at him, “you nearly killed yourself bringing Kirk back, but now that he’s here and he’s trying to spend time with you turn him down? Where’s the logic in that?”
He finds her summarization of the events inaccurate. He didn't nearly kill himself reviving the Captain – he nearly slaughtered Kahn for taking him away.
Even now, after all this time had passed, he can feel the genetically modified human’s flesh tearing and bones breaking beneath his hands, rage so thick and heavy that he thought it might suffocate him, because this man – this thing – was the reason for the empty jagged cavity in his side hemorrhaging emotions – was the reason that he would never see the Captain tilt his head whenever he had found something Spock said illogically amusing, would never witness the calculating determination that the Captain employed to the get them out of all those ‘no-win’ scenarios, would never feel the brief touch of his mind brushing against Spock’s whenever the Captain connected their bodies with his ubiquitous casual touches –
– was the reason that Jim had died behind a glass wall, smiling softly to try and comfort him right until the end, out of his reach.
And then Kahn was safely placed in cryogenic stasis, and the Captain was smiling up at him from his hospital bed, life once again in those vibrant blue eyes – and the enormity of it all hit him. What he had been willing to do to avenge the Captain, what a part of him still yearned to do.
Distance, he decided, was the key to resolving this... lack of control concerning his superior officer, just until he was able to categorize and regain command of the emotions the Captain engendered within him. Once the appropriate amount of time had passed and his logic had returned to him, then it would be safe to continue to foster this...friendship between the two of them.
He doesn’t tell Nyota this, however, merely returning to the data PADD next to his meal and adding a few more notes to the engineering report. “It is logical that I prioritize the efficiency of the Enterprise and its projects. The Captain has other options for such extracurricular activities.”
Dr. McCoy joins the Captain at the replicator line, saying something into the Captain’s ear, at a distance far too close for it to be anything professional, and Spock’s hands tighten around his stylus when the Captain tilts his head back in a laugh.
Nyota’s eyes flicker between the scene and Spock, shaking her head again slightly before returning to her meal and leaving Spock to his work.
He paces outside the entrance to the Captain’s quarters, debating the possible positive and negative consequences of announcing his presence. The Captain had appeared tired, drained, on the bridge; so, were he to knock and awake the Captain from a much-needed rest that would serve only to further frustrate his purpose.
On the other hand, he had sent Dr. McCoy to ascertain the Captain’s wellbeing at the beginning of his shift, and he has gone through the entirety of it without receiving a report. Which either means that the doctor is neglecting his duties, or that there is something seriously wrong with the Captain.
Either way, as First Officer, it is his duty to find out.
He has just come to a decision, raising a hand to press the call button beside the Captain’s door, when it slides open and Dr. McCoy startles at his presence.
“Damn it, Spock.” He steps past him so the door can slide closed behind him, but not before Spock can make out the prone figure lying in the Captain’s bed. “How long have you been standing there?”
“My quarters are adjacent to the Captain’s, Doctor.” Spock says, though he fails to see why he would need to provide a reason for being on this floor, or for that matter outside the Captain’s door. “And to answer your question, I have been here for an entirely appropriate amount of time.”
His eyes travel up and down Dr. McCoy’s attire, taking in the wrinkles and creases of his clothes, and his unkempt hair along with the limp hand poking out from underneath the Captain’s covers. “Whether or not the same can be said for you, remains to be seen."
It takes a moment for the doctor to fully parse his meaning and when he does the anger is as fierce as it is predictable. “Now you listen here, you pointed-eared green-blooded gremlin, I am the Chief Medical Officer of this vessel, and I’ll decide how much time is appropriate to spend with a patient.”
“Indeed.” Spock raises an eyebrow, his words cold despite the vicious burning in his side. “And do you often deem it appropriate to engage in intercourse with your patients?"
Dr. McCoy’s face turns an dark shade of red, and Spock considers suggesting that he take deep breaths in order to lower his blood pressure.
“Consider yourself lucky that Jim likes you so much, Commander,” Dr. McCoy practically snarls, “or I’d lay you out for even suggesting that.”
Spock stares at him impassively, bones creaking beneath his grip at the thought of the doctor possessing intimate knowledge of what the Captain likes.
“You could certainly try.”
Dr. McCoy inhales sharply, nostrils flaring in an obvious attempt to calm himself, and Spock holds himself tight and carefully controlled until he manages to do it. “You wanted to know whether or not Jim was alright, well, he’s fine. Just suffering from some fatigue,” the doctor levels him with a pointed look, “like we all are.”
He goes to move past Spock, only to jump when the Vulcan’s hand shoots out and grabs his wrist the same way that he had the Captain’s at the gala last night.
It had been the first time that he’d touched him, really touched him, since Kahn, and it confirmed what he had suspected ever since then; that the absence of the Captain’s mind brushing against his in those ubiquitous casual touches was not due to some side effect from Kahn’s blood, but rather a deliberate shielding of the Captain’s mind. Spock can think of only a few races who would be capable of such a feat, and the thought of any of them being allowed the necessary intimate access into the Captain’s mind in order to erect those shields is...disquieting.
And though he didn’t need to see into the Captain’s mind to read the meaning behind the looks that he and the Airgead traded, the hand that curled around the Captain’s hip, proprietary, as though it had any right to be, the dip in the Airgead’s voice as he assured Spock that he’d take care of his Captain – he did need it on the bridge, watching the Captain retreat somewhere within himself that Spock could no longer follow. Painted with a thick veneer that separates the two of them in a way that reminds him too much of that glass.
Dr. McCoy on the other hand, is not endowed with any such shields, and Spock manages to grasp a few loose thoughts and emotions before the doctor twists out of his grip with a move that is equal parts clever and annoying, stumbling backward a few steps.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing—?!”
“Attempting to ascertain the Captain’s true status,” Spock’s eyes are narrowed as he closes the distance between the two of them, reaching out his hand again, “as you seemed determined to submit a false report about his wellbeing.”
If Spock had thought Dr. McCoy looked angry before, it pales in comparison to this.
“You keep your damn telepathic fingers off of me and stay the hell out of my head, you green blooded basta—!”
The two of them freeze at the new voice, turning in tandem to see the Captain standing in the hallway just in front of his door, gaze shifting back and forth between the two of them. He’s wearing a black undershirt and a pair of sweatpants, and Spock feels something within him twist uncomfortably as the severity of the Captain’s fatigue is betrayed by the discolouration under his eyes.
“Somebody want to tell me what the hell’s going on here?”
And want is not precisely the term that Spock would have chosen, but he would prefer to relay his side of the story before the doctor has a chance to offer his erroneous version.
“I was merely questioning Dr. McCoy about the status of your health, Captain.” Spock refuses to look at the doctor when he splutters in a rather undignified manner beside him. “When he proved set on relaying a report that was either willingly erroneous or carelessly incomplete, I attempted to ascertain the truth of your status—”
“Oh, screw you,” Dr. McCoy responds, ever the paragon of unprofessionalism, “damn hobgoblin wouldn’t accept the fact that I gave him all the medical information necessary for him to know—or do they not have doctor-patient confidentiality where you’re from?”
The doctor realizes his mistake too late, and his words ring loudly in the silence that surrounds the three of them.
“Spock,” and the doctor’s contrite tone brings with it a sensation like some sort group of insects crawling over Spock’s skin, “I—I’m sorry, I didn't think—”
“I find it surprising that you managed to obtain your medical licence with how infrequently you do so.”
“Enough.” The Captain holds up his hands, stepping in between the two of them, keeping his back to Spock as he addresses Dr. McCoy, so Spock is able to see the tension in between his shoulder blades. “Bones, I think you'd better go get some sleep; Spock,” the Captain turns to face him, “with me.”
“Jim.” Dr. McCoy protests, shooting Spock a look over the Captain’s shoulder.
The Captain reaches up and pats the doctor gently on the shoulder. “I’ll be alright, Bones. See you tomorrow.”
He gestures for Spock to follow him back into his quarters, and Spock sees the doctor shoot one last scowl at him before storming off down the hallway.
The Captain slumps into the seat behind his desk, running a hand through his hair, frustration and fatigue warring on his face as he looks at Spock.
“Alright, what’s going on with you?”
Spock cocks his head to the side. “Captain?”
“You heard me.” The Captain gestures towards where the two of them had just come from. “That whole...thing out there with Bones – what was that about?”
Spock keeps his hands clasped behind his back. “He was attempting to obscure the true nature of your condition – ”
“I don’t have a condition.” The Captain pushes himself to his feet, glaring at Spock from behind his desk. “I’m just...I’m tired, Spock. It’s something that happens from time to time – ”
“I am aware of the human need for rest.” Spock returns evenly, “However, I am also aware of your reluctance to admitting when a significant lack of it is affecting you – ”
“So, I decide to actually take care of myself for once and suddenly I’m on my deathbed again?”
Spock feels the words like a physical blow, forcing his mind to hold the images at bay so he can keep his voice steady. “It is my belief that your decision to do so was a result of the discussion with the Admiralty on the bridge today.”
The Captain breaks eye contact, lips thinning as he stares his desk, and Spock knows that he is correct – but the knowledge brings with it no satisfaction.
“If that is the case, I surmise that you relinquished command not due to fatigue, as you stated, but because you found yourself emotionally compromised.”
The Captain raises his head to look at him, and there’s a weight in those eyes that Spock has the illogical urge to steal away. “And if I did?”
“Then I would request that you inform me what it was about the conversation that led to you becoming compromised.” Spock takes a few steps closer, crossing behind the desk to stand beside the Captain. “That way I can ensure this situation is avoided in the future.”
“You really do go above and beyond in your duty, don’t you, Commander?” The corners of the Captain’s lips quirk in a faint echo of a familiar smirk and it makes Spock’s heart constrict slightly. “Anything to make sure the Enterprise is the best in the ‘fleet, huh?”
Spock swallows around the odd dry feeling in his mouth, “Thank you, Captain.”
He’s not entirely sure the Captain meant it as a compliment.
The Captain sighs, rubbing a hand over his face, taking a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking. “I, uh, I knew some people that were at Tarsus, that’s all. So when that asshole – ”
“Admiral.” Spock corrects.
“Asshole,” The Captain insists, and Spock doesn’t attempt to correct him twice, “when she threw it at me it kinda – it brought a lot of stuff back, that’s all.”
Spock nods. It makes sense that, coupled with the fatigue of a stressful week, someone so empathetic as the Captain would be thrown off balance at the reminder of such a terrible event, even one that didn’t happen to him.
“I see, I will endeavour to ensure that Tarsus IV is not discussed on the bridge.”
He considers asking whether or not the people that the Captain knew were on the list of the Tarsus IV survivors, but then he remembers the extremely low number and thus extremely low probability and decides against it.
The Captain nods, and Spock is... gratified to see the relief that passes briefly over his face as he sinks down into his chair, “Thanks, Spock. Now get some sleep, it won’t do either us any good to show up on New Vulcan looking like hell.”
“I doubt either of us could portray an accurate version of the Terran hellscape without concerted effort.”
The Captain blinks up at him, before a genuine smile spreads slowly across his face. “I didn’t know you still made jokes.”
“I do not.” Spock tells him, his heart entertaining an arrhythmic beat at the little snort of laughter that escapes his Captain, “I was simply relaying my opinion on the matter.”
“Sure.” The Captain is still smiling at him, and Spock finds himself reluctant to turn away.
“I – ” He pauses, organizes his thoughts. “I wanted to relay my thanks to you, for convincing the Airgead to send some of his botanists to aid New Vulcan.”
The Captain’s eyes widen slightly, and he ducks his head. “Oh, don’t sweat it, Spock, happy to help – ”
“Nevertheless,” Spock continues, “the situation on New Vulcan is... precarious. Hopefully these experts will allow it to be remedied it more expediently. I also wanted to apologize for assuming that you were leaving with the Airgead to engage in...” his thoughts from that night return to him, of Jim gasping and moaning underneath the Airgead’s fingertips, and he struggles to keep his voice even, “...other affairs.”
The Captain’s fingers twitch minutely, and the ease slips from him as he somehow curls tighter into himself without moving at all. “Don’t mention it,” he sends Spock a grin that doesn’t reach his eyes, “I mean, it’s not like it would be a huge shock if I was, right?”
All of a sudden Spock feels off balance, like Lieutenant Sulu has them on the wrong bearing and the gravity settings aren’t working right in response, a rush of wrong that he can’t quite identify welling up within him. “Captain, I didn’t mean to imply – ”
He’s cut off as the Captain’s computer trills out a notification.
Incoming transmission from New Vulcan.
“Ah, sorry, Spock, I gotta take this.” The Captain smiles at him in what is an obvious dismissal. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Spock pauses for a moment before inclining his head towards the Captain in farewell; turning on his heel and departing quickly from the room and into his own quarters. Managing to overcome the brief, irrational desire to stay and learn the identity of the Captain’s caller – to learn whether or not this is the person who informed the Captain of the botanical situation on New Vulcan –
– to learn whether or not this is the person that Jim allowed into his mind.
He hears a cracking sound, taking him abruptly out of his thoughts, and looks down to see the shattered fragments of a decorative ornament that Nyota has purchased for him a few weeks before the termination of their relationship falling from his fingers.
He hauls himself physically away from the painful demonstration of his lack of control, he needs to – he needs to meditate – to organize these discordant thoughts and emotions. And, most of all, he needs to stop imagining unknown fingers pressing into the meld points on the Captain’s face.
Despite Kirk’s desperate wishes, the days following the little blow out on the bridge aren’t that much better.
Spock barely speaks to anyone the whole way to New Vulcan, and when he has to for ship’s business, his replies are short and to the point with a brutal efficiency that far outpaces his usual kind. If Kirk didn’t know better, he’d call his First Officer grumpy.
Bones isn’t any better, and while Kirk would normally enjoy his frequent sojourns to the bridge the tension ratchets up another ten levels every time he visits.
By the time they’re finally settling into orbit around New Vulcan, Kirk can’t wait for a couple days on an arid desert planet without any of his crew in sight. His plans are to curl up in the Ambassador’s house and intrude in on his hospitality for as long as the old man can stand him – and since he seems to have a bigger tolerance for Kirk’s shit than anyone he’s ever met, he thinks there’s a pretty good chance he won’t get kicked out before his four days are up.
He gleefully gives the ensign the beam down coordinates, barely stopping himself from bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet like a giddy teenager.
The familiar robed figure is waiting outside when Kirk finally arrives, and he’s grinning like a mad man even before the figure lowers its hood.
“Greetings, Jim,” Spock Prime offers up his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute, and Kirk scrambles to force his fingers into the same. “I trust your journey here was relatively smooth?” There’s a twinkle of humor in the old man’s eyes. “As much as it ever is.”
Kirk laughs, moving up the path towards his friend. “You know me, old man, trouble magnet.” He shrugs. “But yeah, it was pretty good, all things considered.”
“I am glad to hear it.” Spock Prime gestures towards his house and the two of them duck inside out of the heat. “Would you care for a cold beverage?”
“Some of that lemonade you were telling me about sounds great.” Kirk tells him, slumping down on one of the couches, enjoying the soft breeze that drifts through the open back door. “Thanks again for letting me stay here while we’re in orbit.”
A glass is deposited in his hand barely a second later and the old man sends him a soft smile. “There is no need to thank me, Jim, you are always welcome here—whether you are in orbit or not.”
And Kirk swallows down the feelings that rise up in him with the cold lemonade, savouring the bitter twist of citrus mediated with the sweetness of sugar. “Careful, you keep saying stuff like that I might never leave.”
“That would certainly be no hardship for me.” Spock Prime returns, taking a seat in a chair across from him. “But tell me, how have you fared since the last time we saw each other face to face?”
Kirk raises an eyebrow at him, trying not to look away from the man’s knowing gaze, somehow, it’s always more powerful in person. “Wouldn’t you rather hear about the other you?”
“I find, as I grow older, that I know more than enough about myself as it is.” Spock Prime chuckles softly, but his eyes carry a solemnity that is hard to break away from. “And, at the risk of impropriety, I must say that I was rather looking forward to being the only Spock to monopolize your attention for the next few days.”
Kirk feels his heart threaten to crack at the words. The sheer care and affection that this man pours down on him is overwhelming – and it doesn’t matter that he isn’t the right Kirk – isn’t the one that all this deep regard belongs to – he’ll drink it in until he drowns.
The Ambassador can’t stay with him for the whole visit, busy conferring with the botanists that Kirk managed to bring him and other matters vital to building a thriving civilization from nothing – so Kirk occupies the time that he has to himself with books and plotting out possible chess strategies to use against Spock Prime when he returns.
He’s sitting on the couch, halfway through his latest read when the Ambassador returns home, and Kirk shoots him a grin in greeting that quickly fades away when he notices the look on his face.
The Ambassador startles slightly at the question, raising an eyebrow at Kirk. “It is rather bold of you to make assumptions about my state of mind before we’ve even had the chance to exchange greetings.”
“It's bold of you to assume I need to hear your voice to know something’s up.” Kirk returns, moving his legs off the couch and patting the cushion next to him. “C’mon, sit your bony Vulcan butt down and tell me.”
Spock Prime keeps that eyebrow raised but he makes his way over to the couch, carefully lowering himself down beside him. “I don’t think you have sufficient data to comment on the state of my posterior, Jim.”
“I’m James Tiberius Kirk,” Kirk points a stern finger at him, “trust me, I know when someone’s got a bony ass, and you, my friend, definitely do.”
The corners of the ambassador’s lips twitch before he gives in to a sigh, reaching down into his bag to withdraw a PADD. “I’m afraid this is the source of my concern—the schematic for the new grain we plan to cultivate is being rather problematic.”
“Aw, problem child, huh?” Kirk leans forward, taking in the DNA sequences scrolling past the screen, “can I take a crack at it?”
Spock Prime hands him the PADD. “By all means.”
Kirk looks it over for a few minutes, before isolating a section of the nucleotides. “What if you spliced that section with this?”
He inserts a different strand of DNA and lets the simulation run, and sure enough, a green blinking sign reading, VIABLE, pops up at the top of the screen.
“Would that work?” He turns to look for at Spock Prime when the only thing that answers him is silence, and his breath catches in his throat at the look the Ambassador is giving him. “Or did I just give the whole population the common cold or something?”
He didn’t, he knows that, but he still feels relieved when the Ambassador shakes his head, a soft smile on his lips.
“I had almost allowed myself to forget what a keen intellect you possess, my friend.”
Kirk shoots him a cocky grin to cover up the disgustingly mushy feeling threatening to show on his face. “No worries; it’s easy to forget there’s some brains runnin’ this hot bod.”
“For some, perhaps.” Spock Prime takes the PADD back from Kirk and returns it to his bag. “Thank you for your assistance, Jim, it was much needed.”
And god, isn’t it pathetic how that makes him feel? James Kirk, over the fucking moon because somebody actually said they needed him.
He shakes off the feeling, standing up and making his way over to the chessboard with a grin. “If you’re really grateful, maybe you’d consider throwing tonight’s match?”
“There are limits to my gratitude, my friend.” Spock Prime tells him dryly, sliding into the seat opposite his.
Kirk shrugs. “Guess I’ll just have to beat you the old-fashioned way then, old man.”
“As I belief a popular earth-adage of yours goes,” Spock Prime moves his first piece forward, eyes twinkling with that familiar mischief, “you are most certainly welcome to try.”
Spock arranges dinner with his father on the Captain’s fourth day of shore-leave, neither of them looking forward to the encounter, both of them aware that his mother would want them to be.
He doesn’t change into his civilian attire, keeping his blue science officer shirt. There’s something to be said in the safety of a uniform – in a way his words represent the organization he represents, not himself, and any blame for them rests upon the former.
The transporter room is quiet when he enters, only one ensign on duty, and he steps up onto the transporter pad and pretends he doesn’t notice the way her face changes when she spots his lack of luggage.
“Transport to beam down coordinates, ensign.” Spock tells her and raises an eyebrow when confusion crosses over her face.
“Of course, sir.” She hesitates for a moment, measuring her words before speaking. “Would that be the general beam down coordinates or the Captain’s coordinates, sir?”
It makes sense, upon reflection, that the Captain would have different beam down coordinates when compared to the rest of the crew – no doubt the location of his...contact on the colony. But the information generates that same peculiar off-balance feeling from before, and the words are leaving his mouth before he can fully register them.
“The Captain’s coordinates, ensign.”
The ensign nods, as though Spock has simply confirmed what she originally suspected and not selected the least logical of the two choices presented. “Understood, sir; energizing now.”
The house enters his vision as he manifests before it: well-crafted, worthy of someone of considerable standing, and Spock runs through all its different possible owners, and cannot create any kind of connection between them and his Captain.
He doesn’t hesitate to cross the distance between him and the door, ignoring the voice in his mind that reminds him that he is in increasing danger of missing his dinner appointment, raising his hand to knock against the door.
The door opens after a few minutes, and though he had calculated the non-insignificant possibility that the person behind it would be the one currently staring at him with a non-insignificant amount of shock, marred by a steadily growing dread, it still tugs at his lower abdomen in a way that is entirely atypical.
“Good evening, Captain.” Spock nods towards the interior of the house, “May I come in?”
Kirk can’t move, can't breathe, and the only reason he snaps back to himself is because Spock steps around him and into the house—and fuck the Ambassador’s going to be home any minute—
“Spock, what are you doing here?” Panic seizes him then, worst-case scenarios playing out behind his eyes, “Is everything okay? Is it the ship? Is there something wrong with the—”
“The ship and her crew are in optimal condition, Captain.” Spock is examining the other Spock’s living room, his eyes catching on the chessboard in the corner and the book that Kirk had discarded on the coffee table – or maybe Vulcans call it something else – the Plomek soup table? – and if the ship’s fine and the crew’s fine then what the hell is Spock doing here?
Before Kirk can verbalize that thought however, Spock is speaking again. “You did not mention that your contact on Vulcan was someone of such...esteem.”
“I, uh,” Kirk opts for nonchalance, shrugging his shoulders slightly even though is heart is beating a thousand miles a minute in his chest, “I didn’t really have a clue either. Until I got here, that is.”
Spock turns to him, arching that goddamn eyebrow of his again. “You agreed to stay with someone you were not intimately familiar with for the entirety of your shore leave?”
“Woah, okay, slow down, Spock.” Kirk throws his hands up, jaw ticking slightly as his First Officer’s opinions of him and his sex life are once again made abundantly clear, “no one is ‘intimately familiar’ with anyone. He’s just a friend – ”
“I find the word ‘Friend’ to possess a variety of complex meanings in Earth culture,” Spock steps closer to him, and Kirk’s heartrate kicks up another few notches, “perhaps you could specify which such meanings apply in this situation.”
Kirk grits his teeth. “My personal relationships are not ship’s business, Commander.”
“But their potential effects on ship operations are.” Spock takes another step closer him and Kirk forces himself not to back up. “Surely, Captain, even you can see the potential ramifications of an affair between a prominent member of the New Vulcan settlement and the Captain of Starfleet’s flagship.”
“Oh ‘even me’, huh? Real classy, Spock.” Kirk rolls his eyes before the rest of Spock’s words catch up with him and he freezes. “Wait, you actually think I – you think I’m somebody’s mistress?”
“Since my arrival, you have directed your gaze to the door every 2.5 seconds.” Spock takes yet another step closer and this time Kirk can’t help but step back. “This has allowed me to form three conclusions; one, you are worried about someone’s imminent arrival; two, you are worried about how they might react upon finding me here; three, you would prefer I leave before the former two scenarios have a chance to unfold.”
Kirk feels like he might punch something because how can his First Officer be so blindingly brilliant and such a fucking dumbass at the same time?
But he’s running out of time, and he knows that any second now that door could open and then it’s not just goodbye old Spock, goodbye his Spock, it’s goodbye fucking everything.
“Okay, look,” Kirk moves forward, trying to guide Spock towards the back door but the stubborn bastard isn’t budging an inch, “you’re wrong about the whole - mistress - thing, but right about the whole me needing you to leave, like, right now.” Spock opens his mouth and Kirk hurries to try and talk over him, “Listen, I promise I’ll explain everything later just, for now, you gotta go—”
“You are afraid.” Spock says and there’s something in his voice, something cold, calculating and outright dangerous that ordinarily would make Kirk’s blood turn to ice in his veins if he weren’t so consumed by the burning panic, “Afraid of what will happen should he discover me here.”
“Yes, I mean, no not exactly, just – ” Kirk shoves harder at the immovable block before him, “ – look, Spock, I swear I’ll tell you everything later – just – get back to the Enterprise – ”
“Jim.” Spock’s hands come up to grip Kirk’s arms and he feels the panic claw its way up his throat, threatening to escape his lips in a strangled scream, “Why are you afraid?”
Kirk looks at him and begs him to understand, to see the words that his body is practically screaming with everything but his lips, coming up to grip Spock’s arms in a parallel to how he’s holding Kirk’s.
“Spock – ”
Kirk closes his eyes as he hears his name slip past Spock Prime’s lips, flinching instinctively as he waits for the world to tear apart around him.
He forces his eyes open, slowly blinking in the non-disintegrated blue science uniform in front of him, and the non-disintegrated Vulcan attached to it.
But it takes the look of familiarity between the two Vulcans for it to finally hit home.
“Son of a bitch.” Kirk breathes, repeating it louder a moment later, all that sheer panic turned to rage boiling-over and flowing out of his lips. “You son of a bitch—”
Spock, the First Officer, tightens his grip on Kirk, holding him in place. “Please, Captain, I would appreciate it if you would exclude my mother from whatever insults you intend to bestow.”
“Our mother.” Spock Prime corrects quietly, and Kirk feels the grip on his shoulders tighten more.
He looks between the two of them. “You know each other.”
The Ambassador nods. “Yes.”
“How long.” It’s almost a command, like he’s sitting on the bridge of his ship and not caught between two versions of the same person who’d left him out to drown.
“We met following the destruction of Nero.” His Spock answers this time.
Kirk shakes his head, words hard to locate in the wave after wave of emotion that crashes into him, “You – both of you – you let me think – ” Kirk takes a deep breath, “I have spent years worrying that I was just one fuck up away from destroying reality as we know it and now you're telling me – ”
“I had assumed once the purpose of his deception was accomplished, the Ambassador would reveal its nature to you.” Spock narrows his eyes, something like contempt in the slight lift of his jaw as he regards his other self. “Clearly, I miscalculated.”
Kirk looks at Spock Prime, and somehow yesterday, sitting in the living room and laughing as they chased each other around the chessboard, feels like a lifetime ago.
“Why? If you told me I could’ve – maybe, I wouldn’t have had to – ”
He could have talked to Spock about trying to get the Omiracronians to commit botanists to the colony, and maybe they could have worked out a strategy that didn’t involve Kirk on his back again –
He cuts that line of thought off quickly, there’s no use thinking about what ifs and maybes, and hell, knowing his luck, it probably would have ended up the same anyway.
And looking at Spock Prime, he knows why he did it. If he were in his shoes, a stranger to this entire universe, would he be able to resist the temptation to hoard the only thing resembling his greatest friend?
I was rather looking forward to being the only Spock to monopolize your attention
Kirk tries to step towards him but is held back by the grip on his arms.
“Spock, let me go.”
Silence is his only answer for a moment, and when Spock speaks his voice is tight, carefully controlled. “I do not believe that would be wise, Captain.”
“Spock,” Kirk turns to look at him, “he’s not going to hurt me, and I’m not going to hurt him. Now let go.”
Spock holds his gaze as he slowly relaxes his grip until Kirk can step out from under it.
He makes his way over to Spock Prime, the old man regarding him carefully the whole time, seemingly prepared for whatever it is that Kirk is about to level him with –
Only to let out a small exhale as Kirk turns and offers up his meld points.
There are feet stomping towards them, but they disappear as old, wizened fingers land on his face with surprising speed.
Kirk feels himself surrounded by the familiar feeling of the old man’s mind, lets himself be wrapped up in a warm whisper of affection, the surge of guilt and need for forgiveness that come with it. He doesn’t bother to hide his own feelings, the complicated, tangled mess that they are, but he makes sure to focus on the understanding, if not outright forgiveness, not yet at least, of this Spock’s actions.
He sees his own face, only a few years older than he is now, and then wrinkled with age, smiling with the same warmth that Spock Prime is always offering him, and he feels another surge of pity for this man; for being the one to survive.
“I’m not him,” Kirk tells him, because it has to be said.
“No. But you are James Kirk.” Something like the faint brush of lips presses against Kirk’s forehead. “And I have kept you from your destiny for long enough.”
He comes back to the room as Spock Prime removes his fingers from his face, world tilting dizzyingly as he’s suddenly torn away from the Ambassador – his First Officer’s familiar brown eyes peering intently into his own.
“Captain? Captain are you alright?”
He waves away Spock’s concern. “Spock, relax, I’m fine.”
“Are you certain?” Spock’s eyes still haven’t left his face, and there’s a slight, almost frantic, edge to his tone that Kirk hadn’t noticed before. “Vulcans possess the ability to influence thinking through mind melds; are you aware of any thought patterns that seem irregular?”
“I would not tamper with Jim’s mind in such a way.”
Kirk resists the urge to shiver at the chill in the Ambassador’s voice, but Spock merely glowers, fixing his double with a frigid gaze of his own. “So far, you have proven to possess a rather alarming talent for duplicity. Under the circumstances, it is only logical that I ascertain the Captain’s wellbeing – ”
“Spock.” Kirk squeezes his arm.
Spock cuts himself off, straightening up and clasping his hands back behind his back.
“I believe now would be an optimal time for us to return to the Enterprise.”
“Agreed.” Spock Prime offers Kirk a soft, sad, smile. “I will make arrangements to return your belongings to the ship.”
“Ambassador—” Kirk begins, but Spock Prime cuts him off with a slight shake of his head.
“Live long and proper, Jim; Spock.” He offers the Vulcan salute, but Kirk can’t quite bring himself to offer the same, his Spock simply flipping open his communicator.
“Spock to Enterprise, two to beam up.”
“Take care of him.”
Kirk feels his heart clench at the look at Spock Prime’s face as he looks at his Spock, so painfully and quietly resigned.
Spock meets his gaze evenly, bringing his communicator back to his mouth.
The Captain ignores him, stopping just short of running down the hall ahead of him to their conjoined quarters, and though Spock is easily keeping up with his pace there is a flicker of irritation steadily building into a substantial blaze within him.
“Captain, I must insist that you slow your pace—”
The Captain doesn’t respond, ducking into his quarters, and it’s only due to his Vulcan strength that Spock manages to follow after him, catching the edge of the door and pushing it back so that he can enter.
“Get out.” The Captain says, clearly attempting to keep his own voice free of emotions and not even remotely succeeding.
Spock remains where he is. “Captain, we have much to discuss—”
“I said, get out, Mr. Spock, that's an order.”
It’s a struggle to keep his own voice even now, the fallout from this evening beginning to wear away at his nerves. “Unfortunately, Captain, I am unable to follow it.”
The Captain runs a hand through his hair; it trembles slightly, and Spock discards the errant urge to take it into his own. “Look, Spock, I’m fine – I’m not going to – drive the Enterprise into the sun or something, I just – ” The Captain ceases talking, making a vague motion with his hands, “I don’t want to talk about it, so, yeah, thanks for checking in on me, real good, uh, First Officer-ing, should give you a commendation for Captain-finding, I’ll ask Pike tomorrow if there’s a medal or something we can get you, and, uh, sweet dreams, see you tomorrow – ”
The emotion that bleeds into the words is an abhorrent loss of control, but it makes the Captain stop talking, eyes widening as his eyes meet Spock’s for the first time they stepped into his quarters. And it’s distressingly easy for Spock to utter the next words.
“I want to talk about it.”
The Captain doesn’t say anything for a moment and then he sighs again, rubbing a hand over his face. “Yeah, course you do; sorry, Spock, I – ”
He cuts himself off with a slight shake of his head, crossing his arms over his chest as though to defend himself from some threat that Spock cannot identify. “What do you want to know?”
“Your relationship with...the Ambassador,” Spock finally settles on, because the man below him in that hut is not him, won’t ever be him, “I assume it has been in existence since the Narada incident, correct?”
The Captain nods, and Spock continues. “This relationship...it consists of...”
“Relax, Spock, I haven’t been fucking future you.” The Captain says, rolling his eyes, and there is a burn low in Spock’s abdomen as the thought of Jim and his other-self entwined together. “We’re just friends.”
“You seemed...” The burn intensifies as he remembers how easily the Captain had offered his meld points to the other man, “rather intimate with one another.”
“Be a little weird if we weren’t.” The Captain remarks, and Spock forces his hands to remain behind his back at the hot curl of something dark that twists his insides, “You can’t exactly be friends with someone without being close, but – ”
He offers up his meld points again, and Spock feels his mouth go dry.
“ – you can check if you’d like.”
Spock screws his eyes shut and forces himself to take a step back to combat the fierce desire to do just that – to press his fingers there, to see and experience Jim’s mind for himself, to evaluate their relationship and ensure that his other-self had never crossed a boundary.
The Captain’s voice is concerned, and Spock forces his eyes to open again to see that he has crossed the distance between them, hand outstretched towards him uncertainly.
“I find it,” Spock’s voice is rougher than usual, like the time he was struck down with a human flu he caught from his mother, “distressing how familiar you are with the technique that you would offer up your own mind so easily.”
The Captain retracts his hand instantly as though burned, tucking it back across his chest and taking a step back from Spock. “Sorry, Commander, but you know me,” The Captain leers at him, “constantly fucking around with my body so I might as well throw my mind in there too, right?”
“That is not what I was implying – ” Spock begins, horror building within him at the way that the Captain interpreted his words warring with the image of Jim covered in phantom hands, consuming every inch of his body and mind, “I merely meant that – ”
“I know what you meant, Spock.” The Captain snaps, “you think I haven’t noticed how much you hate it when I try to fuck anybody? Don't worry, you can be honest, Spock,” The Captain takes closes the distance between the two of them, “that’s the real reason you don't want to spend time with me, right? Can’t stand to be alone with Starfleet’s greatest slut –
“Captain – ” He runs through his previous conversations with the Captain around the topic, and with frightening clarity sees how they could have been possibly misconstrued to lead the Captain to this misunderstanding. “That is not – ”
“I fucked him; you know.” The Captain says, conversationally, as though the two of them are merely discussing the latest figures of crew efficiency. “The Airgead.”
It feels like the floor falls out from beneath Spock’s feet, the low burning in his abdomen transforming into a raging forest fire.
“Well, Spock, when two people are really horny, they – ”
“Do not patronize me.” Spock snaps, taking a step closer to the Captain so that he has to tilt his head back to maintain eye contact with Spock, exposing the column of his neck. “Why did you engage in sexual relations with the head of the opposing diplomatic team during negotiations?”
The Captain arches an eyebrow. “What makes you think I had a reason? Maybe I just wanted to.”
“You would not endanger the negotiations is such a way.” Spock says, because he wouldn’t, not his Captain, and he hears the slight surprised intake of breath at that and the gravity of just how low Jim thinks his opinion of him is hits. “You must have had some reason – ”
It registers then, and it is an alarming failure of his processing power that he is only now managing to understand what had happened that night.
The Captain doesn’t answer, looking everywhere but Spock.
“You – ” The words catch on something in Spock’s throat, and it takes effort to push them out into the world, “you offered yourself in exchange for them.”
“I made a business transaction.” The Captain says, still not looking at Spock. “He wanted me, and New Vulcan needed the botanists.”
“Why did you not tell me about the situation,” Spock struggles for words again, “together we might have obtained them without you having to – ”
I have spent years worrying I was just one fuck up away from destroying reality as we know it
He trails off, the weight of his other self’s deception pressing down on his chest and making it difficult for his lungs to expand and take in the air that he desperately needs, his hands itching with the desire to wrap themselves around another’s neck again.
“You won’t trade yourself like that again.”
It’s apparently the wrong thing to say, the Captain stiffening instantly and shooting Spock with a glare.
“Fuck you,” He snarls, “I’m the Captain, and I’ll do whatever I have to, to get shit done – ”
“No, you will not.” Spock cuts him off with brutal efficiency, feeling the bones of his hand beginnings to creak beneath his grip. “As First Officer, it is my duty to ensure your safety and wellbeing, and that includes the formulation of plans that do not involve unnecessary risk – ”
“And how exactly are you going to do that?” The Captain interrupts, “You can’t even stand to be in the same room as me, Spock, how the hell do you – ”
Silence reigns supreme for a moment, but Jim’s surprise quickly gives way to impatience as he waits for Spock to speak.
“You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I do not care you for personally as well as professionally.”
“Well, shit, wonder where I got that idea.” Jim still holds himself tight, tension thrumming through the muscles in his body and Spock wants nothing more for a return to the easy looseness that normally occupies it. “It’s not like you’ve been avoiding me or anything.”
“I – ” Spock wavers, for a moment, before continuing, “I do not deny that I have been attempting to shorten my time spent in your presence following the...incident with Kahn; however, your assessment of my motives for doing so is incorrect.”
There’s a pause following his words, and Spock can see from the skeptical look on Jim’s face that he is not convinced, but he gestures for Spock to continue.
“Go on then, enlighten me.”
Spock takes a deep breath to attempt to centre himself. “I have found myself...disconcerted with my actions following your death. Specifically, my desire to cease the bodily functions of Kahn, a suspect that by my allegiance to Starfleet I was sworn to deliver to a court of law.”
“Spock, you don’t have to – I mean – ” Jim shakes his head, a softness to his voice that Spock does not deserve acting as a stinging balm to his wounds, “you’re not exactly out in the field on that one.”
“I am not in any field, Jim.” Spock returns, confusion drawing his brow together. “I am here in your quarters, with you.”
The corners of Jim’s lips quirk and that peculiar arrythmia reasserts itself. “Figure of speech, Spock. I meant that you’re not the only one who wanted to take the law into your own hands.”
“But I am the only one that came closest to doing do. And I – ”
Spock feels his fists connect with Kahn’s body in time to the mantra repeating endlessly in his mind – gone gone gone gone – Jim is gone –
“I find that I still want to.”
When his name leaves Jim’s lips it is merely a whisper. “Spock – ”
“I had hoped that distancing myself from you would allow the aspiration to abate,” Spock continues, “and that when it had we could resume our friendship.”
“That – that’s – ” Jim hesitates for moment, “that’s not really how this stuff work, Spock.”
Spock nods. “So I am learning.”
Silence commands both of them again, but this time it is Jim who overrides it.
“Alright, look,” Jim shakes his head slightly, “I’m not exactly the best either when it comes to stuff like this, but Spock, acting like these feelings are just gonna disappear if you don’t look at ‘em for long enough isn’t going to work.”
Spock arches an eyebrow at him. “I am aware of this. I am also open to alternative solutions.”
“I’m getting there.” Jim tells him, “Look, why don’t you and I - why don't we meet up for chess tomorrow night and we can, I don’t know, start working through our shit together?”
He smiles, but it causes a slight flicker of that same wrong feeling within Spock, and his heart clenches painfully at the sight. “You’re not the only superior officer on board with some issues.”
Spock opens his mouth, but the words are stuck in his throat, tangled up with the desire to somehow connect Jim’s smile to his eyes so that they twinkle with that familiar breath-stealing humor.
Jim takes his silence to mean something else, however, and the smile drops from his face completely in favour of an attempt at a casual shrug. “I’m not saying – it doesn’t have to be me, just – you should talk to somebody – Uhura or something – hell, I’m sure even Bones would hear you out – and if you still need some time away from me I can rearrange the duty rosters so – ”
The forcefulness of it startles Jim, eyes widening slightly, and Spock struggles to regain control of his emotions. The thought of Jim alone on the bridge against potential threats, someone else acting as his second, someone else a witness to his mind working with terrifying speed as he commands the ship around him, is...distasteful. He is Jim’s second in command, and that place is his alone to occupy.
“That will not be necessary.” He inclines his head towards Jim. “I shall convene with you tomorrow after our shift to commence our game, Captain.”
“Spock,” Jim rolls his eyes, “if we’re going to be spending time together, you’ve got to start using my name – instead of just pulling it out whenever you’re mad at me.”
Something rumbles deep within him, a deep satisfied purr from some ancient instinct, and the fact that the lack of logic it possesses does not overly concern him is... disquieting.
“Jim.” He says, savouring the sound of it, before nodding again, “I shall see you tomorrow, Jim.”
Jim smiles, and Spock is filled with an irrational, overwhelming sense of relief, and a fluttering warmth in his abdominal region, when this time it reaches his eyes.
He can’t sleep, tossing and turning, and after a while of lying to himself about how it’s entirely to do with the change in environment from Vulcan to his quarters and nothing else, he pulls himself out of bed and marches over to his computer terminal.
The buttons respond perfectly, despite the late hour and the force with which he hits them, beeping to indicate that they are ready for him to begin.
“Okay, look,” Kirk runs a hand through his hair before letting his drop back down to his side, “I know we did the whole, your mind to my mind thing, and you already know everything that I’m gonna say already but I need to say it.”
He takes a deep breath. “I get why you did it – I mean, fuck, it was a really shitty move – but I get it. Hell, if it were me, I’d probably have done a lot worse. And I don’t...” He shakes his head, running a hand over his eyes, “I don’t forgive you, not yet. Just ‘cause I get it doesn’t mean I’m alright with it. But if you need me, I’ll be there. So, don’t be a stranger. Kirk, out.”
The message sends, and he crawls his way back into bed, the weight off his chest making him so dizzy with relief that this time he’s asleep before his head hits the pillow.
The bridge is quiet when Kirk arrives the next day, the rest of the usual command crew having been replaced by their beta shift while they enjoy their shore leave. The only other familiar face is Spock’s, but it is far too early to jump into that mangled mess, and Kirk is only on his first cup of coffee. So, he takes a seat in his chair and tries not to openly weep when his yeoman hands him his second cup – it’s not good for morale for the captain to be emotionally compromised before 08’hundred ship’s time.
“How’s she looking, ensign?”
The ensign at Chekov’s station nearly falls off her chair in response to being addressed and Kirk struggles not to outwardly wince at the awkwardness of it all. “S-sir?”
“The Captain was requesting a report on the current status of the Enterprise, ensign.” Spock answers before Kirk can even begin to open his mouth, “Albeit in an informal and colloquial manner.”
Kirk offers the now terrified ensign a gentle smile, internally shaking his head at Spock’s clipped tone; they need to be inspiring and encouraging these officers, not scaring the shit out of them. “My fault, ensign, I have a habit of being colloquial before my third cup.”
The ensign visibly relaxes, though there’s still a thrum of nervous energy to her movements. “Right, of course sir, currently in steady orbit around New Vulcan, some slight fluctuation in gravitational pull but we’re making sure to compensate accordingly.”
“Glad to hear it.” Kirk settles back in his chair, offering the ensign another smile for good measure. “Keep up the good work, ensign.”
The ensign flushes slightly and turns back to her console with a quick, “Yes, sir.”
Kirk finds the corners of his lips twitching slightly at the slight, when something catches in his peripheral vision and he turns to see Spock staring at him with one of those unreadable looks on his face, eyes caught up in calculations that Kirk can’t even begin to parse.
He raises an eyebrow at him in a silent question.
But Spock just turns away in response, and Kirk quashes the irritation, warring with concern, that flares up within him; telling himself that he’ll just have to bring it up over chess tonight. Though, that brings with it its own host of concerns, and he struggles to push them all down again and just focus on the soft beeps and clicks on the bridge, amid the background hum of the Enterprise’s engines; keeping his eyes on the vast expanse of space ahead of him.
It’s like that for a couple of hours, just mindlessly going through the motions, signing PADDs that his yeoman brings him, asking for the occasional ships status report when it’s required, trying to pretend that he isn’t as bored out of his mind just sitting in orbit as the rest of them are.
He turns to where another fresh-faced ensign is sitting in Uhura’s usual spot, fidgeting slightly, “There’s an incoming communication from New Vulcan; an Ambassador... Sarek is asking to speak with you?”
Kirk’s brow furrows in confusion, Ambassador Sarek...that’s Spock’s dad, right? Why the hell would he want to speak with him.
“Acknowledged, I’ll take the call in my ready room, ensign.”
He’s already out of his seat when Spock’s voice catches him, and by the time he turns to face the call Spock has already crossed the bridge to his side, hands clasped behind his back.
“Spock,” Kirk moves closer, lowering his voice so the words are just for them, “anything I should know about before we head in there?”
Something shifts in Spock’s gaze, almost a flicker of surprise, and come on, what? Did he really think that Kirk was going to take a call from Spock’s dad without Spock there?
“I am concerned that the nature of this call may not be entirely professional in nature.”
Kirk’s eyebrows go up slightly. “What, you forget to send him a birthday card or something?”
Kirk turns towards the viewscreen of the bridge, where Ambassador Sarek is giving him and the entirety of his bridge crew the Vulcan version of a death glare. A quick peripheral glance to a complete petrified communications officer with their fingers on the wrong button relay solves the mystery of how he ended up there, but not why he appears to be trying his damndest to stare a hole through Kirk’s ship.
“Ambassador Sarek,” Kirk greets, moving down to take a seat in his chair once again, “to what do we owe this pleasure?”
Sarek’s death glare doesn’t relent, even when his eyes briefly flicker over to Spock. “I was calling to ascertain the well-being of the Enterprise, regarding the “emergency incident” that occurred last night.”
Kirk supresses a wince, the tone is scathing, practically outright antagonist. “Emergency incident, Ambassador?”
“Yes.” Sarek is no longer trying to stare a hole through Kirk’s ship; instead, he’s moved to trying to stare a hole through Kirk. “You see, Commander Spock and I had a dinner scheduled for last night. One that he had to cancel abruptly due to, and I quote, “an emergency situation on the Enterprise”. I was calling to ensure that neither you nor any of your crew required any assistance.”
And trying to trip Spock up on a lie. Kirk adds silently. If this is what dads are like, then maybe it’s for the best that his blew up before he knew him.
“Thank you for your concern, Ambassador.” Kirk smiles congenially, ignoring the way that Spock is standing ramrod straight beside him. “But fortunately, we were able to resolve the situation without any casualties, thanks in large part to Commander Spock’s assistance. I apologize that he wasn’t able to keep his prior commitment.”
Sarek’s eyes narrow fractionally, and Kirk almost shudders at how similar it is to what Spock’s eyes do when he knows Kirk is lying. “I see. I am gratified to hear that no one was injured and that the Commander’s assistance was invaluable; seeing as how it will be impossible to reschedule our dinner. Given my own numerous duties and commitments.”
“Again, Ambassador, I can only offer my apologies – ”
“Such apologies are unnecessary, Captain,” Spock interrupts, moving so that he is standing slightly in front of Kirk’s chair, “the Ambassador is aware of the sacrifices that must be made when one is charged with the operation and maintenance of a starship; particularly one of the Enterprise’s prestige.”
If Kirk thought that Sarek was trying to kill them with his eyes before, it’s nothing compared to the way he’s looking at them now. The tension on the bridge is palpable, and Kirk is pretty sure most of the ensigns are too scared to breathe, let alone move.
“That being said,” Kirk says slowly, moving to stand himself and taking a few steps forward in front of Spock, “family is important. I’ll be sure to put in a request for our next scheduled shore leave to be on New Vulcan or, if the circumstances permit, on a nearby starbase. Would that be agreeable, Ambassador?”
“It is... sufficient.” Sarek sniffs, and the air on the bridge becomes that much more breathable. “Thank you, Captain Kirk.”
“Not at all, Ambassador.” Kirk replies, trying not to show too much teeth in his smile, “I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Sarek nods. “As do I.”
He makes eye contact with Spock briefly, the two of them sharing a conversation without words, before cutting the connection, and the entire bridge crew slumps forwards like marionettes whose strings have been cut.
“Captain,” the communications ensign begins, his voice wavering, “I am so, so, sorry, I didn’t mean to – ”
“Perhaps, ensign,” Spock interrupts, and Kirk feels a surge of sympathy at the way the poor man almost shrinks into himself under the Commander’s gaze, “it might benefit you to brush up on the operation of a starship bridge’s communication relay.”
“Spock.” Kirk murmurs softly, reaching out to squeeze Spock’s elbow slightly as he moves past him back to his chair.
“Commander Spock has a point; we could all do with a refresher course every now and then.” He fixes the ensign with a stern look before softening his gaze and offering a kind smile as an olive branch. “But we all make mistakes, especially when we’re learning. I mean, hell, mistakes teach us a whole lot more than any instructor ever could. So as long as you learn from it, ensign, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it.”
The ensign gives Kirk a shaky smile back, before pulling himself up with a sharp nod. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir, I won’t let you down again.”
“I know you won’t.” Kirk lets his gaze and smile linger for a moment more before turning back to the rest of the bridge. “Now, how about we try and make that our one and only moment of excitement for today?”
A chorus of “yes, sir”s greet him, and the bad taste left in the air following Sarek’s call dissipates as everyone’s attention shifts back to their respective posts.
Kirk glances towards where Spock is still hovering by his chair and waves him off. “Don’t worry, we can talk later.”
Spock hesitates for a moment before nodding, clasping his hands behind his back. “I shall endeavour to arrive at your quarters approximately thirty minutes after our shift ends.”
“Sounds good.” Kirk offers him a smile, and Spock nods in response before heading back to his own post, and for the brief moment that his back is turned, Kirk allows the fatigue to briefly pass over his face; making sure to school it into a neutral expression by the time Spock retakes his seat.
Jim does not play chess logically.
Though, granted, Spock has never known him to attempt to do anything logically, so it would be a rather aberrant break from pattern for him to apply it to this singular domain alone. What is more destabilizing is not the mere fact that Jim eschews logic in this situation as he does in all others, but that here it is working to his advantage.
Spock can count on one hand the number of times he has found himself outpaced by an opponent in chess, half of which were by his father. And now he finds, with an increasing sense of restlessness, that he is in the midst of experiencing another such instance.
Jim grins at him as he takes his knight in a move that Spock must admit is particularly well executed. “Something on your mind, Spock?”
“I find myself struggling to understand the efficiency of your apparently haphazard methodology.” Spock returns, taking Jim’s bishop in his move, and feeling a brief flare of something in his abdomen as he takes in the way Jim scowls in response. “Though, I doubt it will be sufficient enough to ensure your victory.”
“Sticks and stones, Spock.”
“I fail to see the relevance of those materials to our current conversation.” Spock returns, easily countering Jim’s attempt to corner his queen. “Unless you are referring to the popular Terran tools of use during the historical time period that your method hails from.”
“Oh, real classy, Spock.” Jim rolls his eyes, taking another of Spock’s pawns. “First time someone’s accused me of being a caveman when I’m crushing them in chess.”
“You are hardly “crushing” me, Jim. In fact,” Spock slides his queen in position, placing Jim’s King in check, “quite the opposite.”
Jim looks at the board for a moment, before leaning back with a sigh. “Any chance I can convince you to let me win for pride’s sake?”
“While I would not eliminate the possibility, I believe the probability is almost incalculably low.” Spock replies, leaning slightly back in his own chair.
Jim grins. “What? No percentage for me?”
“I believe I did specify that it was almost incalculable.”
Jim makes a vague waving motion. “Nothing’s incalculable for you, Spock.”
There is no reason for Jim’s words to inspire the warmth in his side that they do, and Spock finds himself struggling to speak around a thick feeling in his throat.
“I wanted to thank you,” When Jim looks confused at the abrupt shift in conversation, Spock quickly continues, “for your actions on the bridge today. My father was operating under the flawed logic that I had cancelled our dinner plans in order to avoid seeing him; I am... grateful that you helped to correct his erroneous assumption.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jim shrugs, “I mean, it’s partly my fault that you missed your dinner with him, least I could do is cover for you.”
He hesitates before meeting Spock’s gaze. “Are you... okay? About missing the dinner, and everything that happened on the bridge today?”
“I am...” Spock trails off, struggling to deal with the flux of emotions that rises up in him at the reminder of the events today, of how Jim was forced to deal with the consequences of his actions, and the way that his father had attempted to catch them both out in a lie in front of their crew. As though he were still nothing more than a misbehaving child, not nearly as disciplined as the other full - vulcan children. “I... I find myself troubled by the amount of errors that the bridge crew committed during their shift. The number is unacceptable for a crew functioning at a starship level – especially one of such prestige.”
Jim blinks, clearly not expecting this particular answer. “Well, they’re still learning, Spock, we've got to cut them a little slack; especially when we’re just on orbit duty.”
“Inadequate functioning in a low-risk situation does not inspire confidence in their ability to function adequality in a high-risk situation.” Spock returns. “It would be irresponsible to encourage a lackadaisical attitude towards performance enhancement when it may present a potential threat to lives in the future.”
The fact that a careless act on the part of some errant crewmember could be the difference between life and death is a risk that must be corrected at any and all opportunities. Especially given that one of those lives he is attempting to safeguard is Jim’s.
Jim exhales heavily, running a hand through his hair. “Look, I hear you, but scaring the shit out of them every time they make a mistake isn’t the answer. Just, try and temper your criticisms with a compliment every now and then, okay? Y’know, throw them a bone or two.”
“I fail to see the benefit of providing the crew with skeletal remains – ”
“Spock.” Jim draws out his name, a touch of fondness to his exasperation, a smile quirking the corners of his lips. “Try and be nice? For me?”
Spock doesn’t reply immediately, weighing the potential costs and benefits of implementing Jim’s suggestions before acquiescing with a slight nod. “Very well. I will endeavour to try and comment on positive developments with the crew if and when I observe them.”
Jim’s answering smile is blindingly brilliant, and the warmth it inspires in Spock’s side is equally searing, and with the reappearance of that now familiar arrythmia, he feels rather... overwhelmed.
So overwhelmed, that he has to blink a few times before he realizes that at some point during their conversation, Jim has placed him in checkmate.
He glances from their pieces to where Jim’s smile has morphed into a smirk, though his eyes glitter with friendly amusement. “Who’s the caveman now?”
Spock analyses the board, running through the moves of their game, looking for the moment where the tide shifted against him, the precise second where Jim began planning the moves that would ensure his victory. However, despite his best efforts, he finds he cannot pinpoint where exactly his defeat was concocted.
“I try.” There is a slight flush of pink in Jim’s cheeks, and his smirk softens around the edges, becoming more like the gentle smile that Spock has found himself remiss without these past months.
“Would you be amenable to a rematch, perhaps the day after tomorrow?” Spock asks, and finds himself... more anxious about the response than is perhaps entirely logical. They have an inordinate amount of time with which to schedule chess matches and other such companionable activities with one another; and yet, he finds a certain urgency to his desire to revisit the perplexing puzzle that Jim offers.
Jim hesitates for a moment before offering Spock another soft smile. “Yeah. Yeah that works for me.”
And just for a moment, Spock is overcome with the irrational desire to reach his hand forward and brush his fingers against that smile, to cradle Jim’s flushed cheek in the palm of his hand.
He forces himself to stand before the fantasy can continue, clasping his hands behind his back as though they might reach for Jim of their own volition. “In that case, I shall take my leave of you now.” He inclines his head towards Jim respectfully. “Goodnight, Jim.”
“Night, Spock.” Jim returns quietly, his words overtaken halfway by a yawn, as he gets up from his chair, “thanks for the game.”
Spock inclines his head once more before turning and exiting Jim’s quarters.
Bones announces his return from shore leave by coming onto the bridge halfway through Kirk’s shift, grumbling lowly under his breath all the way to Jim’s chair.
“Hey, Bones,” Kirk pats him on the arm, lingering there for a moment before returning his hand back to his side. “How was your trip?”
Bones sighs, shaking his head. “I’ll tell you over a bottle after your shift ends.”
“That good, huh?” Kirk smiles teasingly at him. “C’mon, Bones, did you at least try to have fun?”
“Tried harder than you.” Bones fixes Kirk with a withering look. “I checked the duty logs, Jim – you do know the ship won’t actually fall apart without you here, right?”
Kirk pretends to think it over. “Hmm, I don’t know, Bones; you didn’t see the way Scotty was eyeing up the engineering room before I left. Figured I’d come back a bit early and make sure he wasn’t building another dog-launcher.”
“And god forbid you delegate that duty.” Bones replies dryly.
Kirk grins goofily at him. “What? And lose my hard-won title of dog-defender? You besmirch me, good sir.”
“Take a lot more than some good old Georgian common sense to do that.” Bones rests a hand on his shoulder, using the opportunity to lean a little closer and lower his voice so only the two of them can hear. “Gotta say, you’re looking a lot better than when we got here, Jim.”
Kirk swallows, reaching up a hand to rest over Bones’. “Wouldn't you know it? A little R’ n ‘ R was just what the doctor ordered.”
“Hopefully, you’ll be more willing to listen to your doctor’s orders from now on.” Bones squeezes his shoulder before drawing back, leveling him with one last faux stern look – given away by the warmth in his eyes. “I expect to see you right after shift, Captain.”
Kirk salutes him. “Aye, aye, Chief.”
Bones rolls his eyes heavenward again and nearly crashes into Spock as he steps out of the turbolift. Both of them step back and eye each other warily for a moment, before Spock clears his throat slightly.
Bones nods. “Mr. Spock.”
They stare at each other for a moment more before Bones turns his head and steps past Spock onto the turbolift, the doors closing quickly behind him. Spock waiting until they're closed before continuing onto the bridge and up to Jim’s chair, occupying the opposite side that Bones had just been on.
“You know,” Kirk begins, quietly, so only the two of them can hear, “it might be time to try and make nice with Bones. It’s never good to have your doctor pissed at you.”
“I believe that Dr. McCoy is competent enough to perform his duties without letting personal grievances affect that performance.” Spock replies, almost sounding curt.
Kirk rolls his eyes. “I’m sure he’d be thrilled to hear it. But, Spock,” he turns his chair towards him slightly, “don’t positive relationships between crew members increase a starship’s performance?”
“They do.” Spock gives him a look that’s surely killed at least one person. “When the crew in question is human.”
“Which Bones and I are, so,” Kirk raises an eyebrow at him in a mockery of Spock’s usual eyebrow raise, a slight teasing glint to his words, “isn’t it worth a shot? To make sure we’re all working at peak efficiency?”
“Your attempts at manipulation are as obvious as they are useless, Captain.” Spock’s tone is dryer than the desert that they both just left, and Kirk wonders if internally he’s rolling his eyes too.
“Well, I can’t help it if you know me too well.” Kirk complains, not seeing the, almost smug, satisfied expression that crosses over Spock’s face.
“In any case, cultivating a relationship requires effort from both sides,” Spock fixes Kirk with a knowing look, “and I doubt Dr. McCoy would be any more amenable to your suggestions than I am.”
“We’ll see about that.” Kirk offers Spock a winning smirk, “I can be very persuasive when I want to be.”
Spock lets out something close to a sigh, “Captain – ”
“I know!” The idea comes to him abruptly, and he has to force himself to stay in his seat and not leap up at the sheer brilliance of it. “We’ll form a book club.”
Spock looks nowhere near as enthused as Kirk feels. “A book club?”
“Yeah; Me, you, and Bones.” Kirk grins at him, “That way, the two of you can get used to hanging out informally and get to know each other better. I’ll talk to Bones about it tonight.”
Spock doesn’t respond, and though his facial expression remains mostly neutral, Kirk would bet money that he’s considering jettisoning himself from the nearest escape pod as soon as possible.
“Unless,” Kirk begins slowly, contemplating Spock for a moment, “you don’t think you’re up to it?”
Spock stiffens, a familiar cold fire ignited in his eyes, and Kirk tries his best to hide his grin.
“I assure you, Jim, I am more than up to the task.” Spock lifts his nose ever so slightly, and Kirk wonders if he’s even aware that he’s doing it. “I was simply concerned that Dr. McCoy might not be able to comprehend the kind of literature that I enjoy consuming.”
“Great, then it’s settled.”
Spock turns to walk away, only a few steps away from the chair before he stops again, turning to face Kirk almost, hesitantly.
“This... book club. It wouldn’t preclude our chess games, would it?”
Kirk feels his eyes go wide. “No! Uh,” he clears his throat slightly, lowering his voice so as not to attract any more attention than his surprised yelp already has, “no, it wouldn’t. Unless, you wanted it to – ?”
“No.” Spock’s voice is just as firm as Kirk’s had been, and his eyes flicker briefly around the bridge before returning to Kirk’s. “No, that won’t be necessary.”
And the warmth that spreads through Kirk’s chest at that is equally surprising, and comforting. “Okay... good.”
The two of them stare at each other for a moment before Spock quickly turns and begins his walk to his station, Kirk turning his attention to the PADD he had abandoned when Bones walked in – staring at words that refuse to mean anything until the warmth finally fades away enough for him to work.
But every time he sneaks a glance over at Spock’s station, it gives a faint pulse – keeping him warm for the rest of his shift.
“Come on, Bones – ”
“I spend enough time with that damn robot when I’m on duty,” Bones shakes his head, pouring himself another full glass of whiskey, “and now you want me to spend my free time with him too?”
“I want you to be able to spend more than five minutes in a room with him without looking like you want to strangle him.” Kirk shakes his head, taking another sip of his drink. They’re in Bones’ office, the rest of the medical crew having turned in for the night, with only a skeleton crew sitting shuffling around in the infirmary in case of any emergencies. Kirk is about half a drink in, and Bones is well on his way to his third at this point – but no more inebriated. All this starship captaining, the responsibility and no longer allowed to be black out drunk at the few social events that he attends, really does a number on a guy’s tolerance level.
Bones finishes re-filling his glass and raises an eyebrow at him. “I can’t spend more than a minute in a room alone with you without wanting to strangle you, and that’s never been a problem.”
“But see,” Kirk grins teasingly at him, “you’ve never committed to it.”
“And with every grey hair, I regret it.” Bones mutters.
Kirk laughs. “Come on, Bones, you know you love me.”
“Doesn’t stop me from wanting to shake some sense into your damn corn-fed mind sometimes.” Bones sighs. “I mean, really, Jim – a book club?”
“What? Would you have preferred a knitting club?”
Bones snorts, before shaking his head with a sigh. “Say I did agree to this, not saying that I am,” he rushes to add at the hopeful glint in Kirk’s eyes, “how often would I be forced to spend time with the grumpy bastard?”
Kirk resists pointing out how rich it is that Bones is calling anyone a grumpy bastard, given his track record and overall demeanor, opting for a tone that aims instead to further smooth out the man’s ruffled feathers. “Twice a month; that way we’ll have enough time to actually read the books and discuss them at the next meeting.”
Bones mulls over the idea for a few moments before raising an eyebrow skeptically at Kirk. “And Spock already agreed to this?”
“Yup.” Kirk makes sure to pop the plosive, leaning back in his chair with a carefully nonchalant shrug. “He didn’t think you would though – something about thinking you wouldn’t be up to understanding the kind of books he reads.”
Bones’ face changes in an instant, grumpy indecision replaced with indignant rage. “Oh, is that so? Well, be sure to tell Mr. Spock that I can’t wait for my poor little human mind to be stumped by his outstanding literary choices.”
“Glad to hear it.” Kirk raises his glass in a mock toast, “To reading!”
Bones lets out an aggravated huff but raises his glass as well. “To the crazy shit I let you drag me into, kid.”
The clink their glasses together, tossing the contents down their throats a moment later, and Kirk welcomes the sweet burn as it momentarily overwhelms his mouth and throat.
“While we’re on the subject,” Bones places his glass down on the table, “I have to say it’s odd to see you and Spock being all buddy-buddy of a sudden; given how he’s taken to avoiding you these past months.” He raises an eyebrow at Kirk. “Care to comment on that?
Kirk shrugs. “We had a talk about things; turns out we both have stuff to work on and we figured that we might as well work on it together.”
“So, you’re each other’s therapists then?” Bones drawls, and Kirk nearly chokes on his next sip of whiskey.
“God, no, Bones,” Kirk stares at him in horror, “can you even imagine me as someone’s therapist?”
“Honestly, you’re not the one I’m having trouble imagining in the role.”
“We’re friends,” Kirk continues, ignoring the muttered remark, “at least, we’re trying to be. We’re just – working out the kinks right now.
Bones raises an eyebrow at him in a scarily good impression of Spock.
“Really, doctor,” Kirk rolls his eyes, “try and keep your mind out of the gutter.”
“Pot calling kettle,” Bones returns, downing another mouthful of whiskey before meeting Kirk’s eyes with all the resignation of a man served his last meal.
“So, when does this book club of yours start, anyhow?”
It starts approximately twenty minutes and fifteen point five seconds after the Enterprise pulls away from New Vulcan, the beta shift piloting them towards their next destination – a routine check on a colony in the Oneira system, low potential risk. Although throughout his shift, Spock often finds himself experiencing the errant and troublingly illogical desire for the risk assessment to be higher. That way he would have an entirely logical reason to forgo attendance at this ‘book club’ that Jim is determined to hold.
However, the shift runs smoothly, as though somehow Jim’s unusually propensity for attracting intrigue has been dispelled solely to frustrate Spock’s desire for a quiet evening free of a certain medical professional. Consequently, he finds himself where he is now, standing outside of Jim’s door; raising a hand to the door’s buzzer to announce his presence.
The doors slide open, revealing Jim’s quarters and the change that has somehow managed to be exacted over them given the relatively short time since Spock had parted from the Captain after their shift. There is, what appears to be, some sort of festival banner that has been hung up over the far wall, above the lounge area. Dr. McCoy is seated below it, already halfway through a glass of, judging by the amber colour and the doctor’s habits, brandy. In front of the doctor is a hodgepodge of different Earth snacks, and what appears to be some Vulcan recipes as well.
“Spock!” Jim walks over, smiling widely, “Come on, grab a seat, I was just about to replicate some coffee – you want anything?”
“A cup of Vulcan spice tea would be... agreeable.”
“Coming right up.” Jim pats him on the arm before darting off to the replicator, and Spock takes a seat on an armchair opposite the couch Dr. McCoy is occupying. The doctor doesn’t overtly react to his presence, but he tightens his posture slightly, drawing further into himself with a scowl at his drink.
Spock considers addressing him, before the choice is taken out of his hand by Jim’s return, and the gentle press of a mug into his hands. “Thank you for the drink.”
“No worries, Spock.” Jim takes a seat in an armchair at the end of the table, waving away Spock’s gratitude with an errant and easy gesture. “I wouldn’t be a very good host if I let you die of thirst.”
Spock draws his brows together in apparent confusion. “Captain, I assure you, I was in no danger of death via dehydration; if I was, I would be displaying markedly different symptoms – ”
“Oh, ha ha ha, Spock, very funny.” Jim rolls his eyes. “I think I stopped falling for that whole – naïve ignorance thing – the second time you did it.”
Spock hides the twitch of his lips behind his mug. “I’m afraid I don’t understand to what you are referring, Jim.”
“Huh.” Dr. McCoy sets down his glass, drawing the attention of the room, and leans back into the couch; looking between the two other occupants carefully. “So it’s ‘Jim’ now? Don’t tell me that stick up your ass is finally starting to loosen.”
“Bones – ” Jim begins
“Jim and I have simply begun the process of deepening our existing relationship with one another.” Spock finishes, placing his mug down carefully on one of the table’s coasters, picking up Dr. McCoy’s glass and sliding a coaster under his as well. “How that is any business of yours, however, I fail to see.”
Dr. McCoy attempts to smile but he uses far too many teeth. “Well, let me enlighten you then – ”
“Unless your explanation involves the medical field in some way, shape or form, I fail to see how you could possibly hope to enlighten me.” Spock takes another sip of tea, “In fact, given the disparity between our spheres of knowledge, namely that my mind occupies many while yours is constrained to a singular specified sphere, I imagine that it would be a more efficient use of time for you to be ‘enlightened’ by me.”
“Spock – ”
“Well, then,” Dr. McCoy looks like he’s about to tear through an extremely meat heavy meal, “at least do me the great honour of enlightening you about my little specific medical sphere. For instance, just how far I can shove your – ”
The chime for Jim’s door goes off, startling all three of them – enough that it takes another ring to Jim to jump out of his armchair and make his way over. The door has barely slid open before the visitor reveals themselves.
“Chekov.” Jim takes a step back, and Ensign Chekov quickly steps into the room, looking around with a degree of trepidation that is rather excessive given the circumstances. “What are you – what are all of you doing here?”
“Ve are here for ze book club.” Ensign Chekov starts to take a seat next to Dr. McCoy, but falters at the look on his face, opting to take a seat on the smaller couch at the other end of the table, opposite Kirk’s chair.
The facial expression D. McCoy currently possesses would normally bring Spock some amount of satisfaction, were he absolutely certain his own face was not displaying a similar one.
Ensign Chekov has barely taken a seat when Lieutenant Sulu is entering as well, followed by Nyota and Mr. Scott, all clutching physical copies of books in their hands.
Mr. Scott frowns, rushing over to take a seat next to Dr. McCoy, clearly unaware or just simply uncaring about the expression on the doctor’s face. “We’re not too late, are we? Ooh!” he reaches forward, scooping up some sort of corn chip and accompanying dip, making pleased sounds as he eats it.
“As a matter of fact – ” Spock begins.
“Not at all,” Jim finishes, gesturing towards the lounge area and giving Lieutenant Sulu and Nyota a reassuring smile. “We hadn’t even started yet. Just, grab a seat wherever.”
Lieutenant Sulu takes a seat next to Ensign Chekov, meeting his nervous smile with a markedly steadier one, calming the navigator almost instantly. Dr. McCoy moves up so he’s closer to Jim, making space for Nyota to sit next to Mr. Scott.
“So,” Jim gestures to the new, and unnegotiated, additions to their gathering, “seems like you guys came way better prepared than we did.” He leans closer, grabbing a chip from the table like Mr. Scott hand, “What have you got?”
Mr. Scott waves his booklet triumphantly, mouth still full of some bread and soft cheese that he had taken from the table a few moments prior, until he’s swallowed down his food and can finally speak. “The grand poet himself, Robbie Burns.”
“Robbie Burns?” Spock repeats, unsure of why, if this poet is so grand, he does not recall him from his literature lessons on Vulcan.
Mr. Scott nods. “Aye, the only thing more Scottish than Scotch. Well, except for perhaps Robert the Bruce. Or William Wallace. Or – ”
“You know,” Lieutenant Sulu interjects, a smile curling his lips, “for some reason I didn’t picture you as a big poetry buff, Scotty. But now that I know it’s Scottish Poetry, it makes a whole lot more sense.”
Mr. Scott shrugs. “I cannae help it if the Scots ken how to do it best, can I?”
“Actually,” Ensign Chekov says, “Russia is ze one with ze best poetry – ”
“I’ve got a novel.” Nyota swiftly changes the conversation before a pointless argument can break out between the two men, for which Spock is grateful.
Dr. McCoy leans forward to get a closer look at her book, reading the title aloud as he does so. “From Aenarian to Xindin, A Tale of Two Languages. Now,” Dr. McCoy gives Nyota smug smile that she pointedly ignores, tucking a stray hair behind her ear, “this wouldn’t happen to be a romance, would it, Lieutenant?”
“Oh!” Ensign Chekov nearly jumps out of his seat. “Mine is a romance too, Lieutenant. See – ” He shows off the cover of his book, in which a rather stern looking man, half hidden in shadow, stares at a portrait of a much older man. “It’s also a mystery.”
“Mine, isn’t a romance, per say,” Lieutenant Sulu shows off the cover of his own book, in which a swash-buckling pirate appears to be knocking his duel partner off balance with a particularly clever thrust, “but there is romance in it. If the cover didn’t give it away, it’s a fictional retelling of the Golden Age of Piracy – all the big ones are here, Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Mary Read – ” He cuts himself off, clearing his throat slightly before placing the well-worn copy on the coffee table. “I, uh, I may have read it once or twice before.”
“Great! So it’s a good one then.” Jim offers the lieutenant a playful wink before clapping his hands together. “Alright, so it looks like we’ve got a pretty good selection here; now we just gotta figure out which one to read first.”
“Ve could do rock, paper, scissors?” Ensign Chekov suggests.
Jim grins. “Works for me. You four ready?”
“Bring it on.” Mr. Scott throws down a used napkin onto the table, holding his left hand out and almost knocking over the chip bowl, saved only by Nyota’s dexterous reflexes, I’ll have you lot know, I was a professional rock, paper, scissor player when I was a bairn.”
“Please,” Ensign Chekov extends his own hand, “rock, paper, scissors vas inwented in Russia.”
If that statement is true, Ensign Chekov does not appear to have inherited his ancestors’ proficiency with the game, being the second of the four to be knocked out – Lieutenant Sulu having been the first. The lieutenant gives the ensign a comforting pat on the shoulder as he slumps back into the couch in disappointment, and Mr. Scott turns to Nyota triumphantly.
“It’s just you an’ me, lassie.”
Nyota shakes her head, as though she can’t quite believe she’s in her current situation, but a slight smile tugs at the corners of her lips. “Ready when you are, Scotty.”
The match, for all its buildup, is over in seconds, and Mr. Scott pumps his fist up in the air triumphantly. “What did I tell you? Scots do it best.”
“Robbie Burns it is then;” Jim declares, “we’ll meet up again same time two weeks from now, if that works for everyone?” At the others’ nods, Jim continues, “Great. Now, on to a more important topic – ” Jim pops another chip into his mouth, “ – how was everyone’s shore leave?”
It’s several hours before people begin to filter out of Kirk’s quarters, queued by a frankly adorable yawn from Chekov. Kirk waves away various offers for assistance cleaning up, and the room quickly clears, Bones giving him a pat on the shoulder before departing as well, leaving only him and Spock.
Kirk glances up at him as he begins to clear the table, a nervous itch under his skin slowly beginning to drain away the golden glow that the evening had left him with. “Spock, I’m sorry, I know that wasn’t exactly what you signed up for – ”
“It was a book club.” Spock cuts him off, plucking the tray of remaining food items from Kirk’s hands and taking them back to the replicator for their protein molecules to be recycled. “And given how what I had exactly signed up for was progressing until the arrival of Ensign Chekov and the others, I must say that it surpassed my expectations.”
Kirk winces at the reminder. “Yeah... maybe it’s better for the two of you to hang out in a group rather than one on one anyway...”
“An assessment that I believe both the doctor, and myself, would agree with.” Spock turns back to the Kirk. “In any case, I found the evening quite... satisfying.”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “Maybe hold off on the compliments until you read Scotty’s poetry.”
“I perused a few versus while Ensign Chekov was re-enacting Lieutenant Sulu’s first encounter with a Sehlat.” Spock reaches up and un-pins the book club banner, folding it up and placing it on the table as he continues, “While I found the language a little difficult to parse, several of the poems showed significant promise if sufficient time was taken to analyze them further.”
Kirk struggles not to let the smile tugging at his lips to spread. “Glad to hear it.”
“I noted that you provided significantly less to the group’s conversations than you have in previous social outings.” Spock folds his hands behind his back, aiming that familiar ‘no bullshit’ look at Kirk. “Is there something on your mind?”
Kirk gives him a wry smile. “Can’t hide anything from you, can I, Spock?”
“I would not recommend it.”
Kirk lets out a slight laugh that gives way to a sigh, sliding down onto the couch. After a moment or two, Spock joins him, hands folded on his lap as he waits for Kirk to fill him in.
“I got a priority one message from Starfleet just before you got here,” Kirk shakes his head slightly, still not quite believing the words that are about to come out of his mouth, “apparently, in a few weeks, the Federation is going to be negotiating with the Klingons to see if they can avoid an all-out war.”
Spock doesn’t speak for a while, and Kirk can see the gears whirring behind his eyes as he sits there and processes it. “Did they provide the probability of their success?”
“Chris said something about it being the greatest Hail Mary he’d ever seen, so I’m guessing it’s one of those ‘incalculably low’ percentages.” Kirk offers Spock a tight smile before continuing. “We’ve been ordered to head directly to Organia after we check on the colonists, where, if the talks break down, we’re supposed to convince the Organians to let us set up an outpost.”
Spock doesn’t respond for a bit, obviously choosing his next words carefully. “I would argue that the probability of convincing a sentient species to take sides in a war that has no bearing on their interests is also incalculably low.”
“Tell me about it.” Kirk rubs a hand over his eyes, “But if it gets to that, they’re not gonna have much of a choice. If we don’t set up an outpost, then the Klingons will, and I don’t know about you, but I think their chances of survival are a fuckton better with us. So just,” Kirk closes his eyes, leaning back into the couch, “keep your fingers crossed, Spock.”
Silence reigns over the two of them for a while, and Kirk waits for Spock to make his goodbyes and leave, only to feel the couch shift as Spock leans back into it as well. Gradually, as though at any moment it might reveal itself to be some sort of venomous plant ready to swallow him whole, but eventually he makes it.
Kirk doesn’t open his eyes. “Yes, Mr. Spock?”
“It will be rather hard to conduct my duties efficiently if I am required to keep my fingers crossed.”
Kirk feels his lips twitch despite himself. “I have confidence that you’ll be able to overcome any such obstacles, Mr. Spock.”
Another beat of silence.
“Yes, Mr. Spock?”
“What is the precise metric amount of ‘a fuckton’?
Kirk laughs, throwing his head back, and when he casts a glance over at Spock, the Vulcan’s lips are also twitching, just slightly.
“I don’t like this, Jim.”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “I’m shocked.”
Despite Kirk’s best attempts to ward off the inevitable, they’re about an hour from Organia when the Enterprise gets the Starfleet-wide transmission that they are now at war with the Klingon Empire and to act accordingly. Which is why Kirk is now standing in the transport room, trying to prepare the away team for their mission while Bones tries his hardest to glare a hole through his head.
“Would you just be serious for once in your goddamn life?” Bones snaps, grabbing Kirk by the elbow and hauling him off to the side of the transport room, as though that will somehow render the rest of the away team spontaneously deaf. “We are in the middle of a goddamned war, and you want to leave the ship with only a handful of security officers, to negotiate for an outpost on a planet that the Klingons are probably on their way to invade as we speak?”
Kirk sighs and resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Okay, first off, we’re not in the middle of a war, it started barely five minutes ago; secondly, if that’s the case then I really need to get going, don’t I?”
Bones looks like he might tear him in two long before any Klingon could hope to get their hands on him, refusing to relinquish his grip when Kirk tries not so subtly to pry his fingers off his arm. “Don’t you back talk me, kid, I’ve got half a mind to declare you not sound of mind and remove you from command – because this? This is insane – ”
“Bones.” Kirk rest his hands on Bones’ shoulders, “It’s going to be fine – I’m going to be fine. Starfleet intelligence says we’re at least a day away from any other Klingon ships in the area, and by the time they reach us so will our back up. Just, do me a favour and try and breathe at least once while I’m gone?”
Bones glowers at him, Kirk’s admittedly mediocre attempt to lighten the mood having absolutely no effect on him. “Well, if it’s such a damn cake walk then how come Spock isn’t coming with you?”
Kirk tries not to react openly to the remark, which is probably a reaction in and of itself come to think of it, putting on his best “Captain” face. “Because, unlikely as it is, if we’re surprised by a Klingon vessel, there needs to be an experienced officer at the helm – ”
“Which is why Lieutenant Sulu currently has the con.”
Kirk turns with Bones to see Spock enter into the room, tucking his phaser into his belt opposite his tricorder. He comes to a stop in front of Kirk, inclining his head towards Bones. “Doctor.”
“Spock,” Kirk steps forward, lowering his voice slightly after shooting a sharp look at the away team clearing trying their best to eavesdrop, “what are you doing here?”
“Joining the away team’s mission, Captain.” Spock arches an eyebrow at him. “I would have thought that an obvious observation.”
“And maybe it would have been if I hadn’t just left you in charge of the ship about five seconds ago.” Kirk shakes his head. “You’re not coming with us, I need you up here in case the Klingons – ”
“Lieutenant Sulu has sufficient enough experience to ensure the continued survival of the ship and her crew should that, rather unlikely, as you were just telling Dr. McCoy, scenario come to pass.” Spock counters, and since when was insubordination suddenly not against Vulcan values of order and logic? “Thus, I feel I will be of more use to you and this mission as part of the diplomatic team to secure Organia as an outpost.”
“Couldn’t hurt to take him along, Jim.” Bones chimes in, and Kirk turns to look at him incredulously because what fresh space hell has frozen over that his Chief Medical Officer and Chief Science Officer are agreeing with each other. “Just in case you end up needing that Vulcan strength of his.”
Kirk looks between the two of them, protests bubbling up within him but bursting before they can fall off his lips; he deflates slightly, shaking his head. “Fine. But just so you two know, this right here? Totally bordering on mutiny.”
“Save it for the Klingons, Jim.” Bones clasps him on the shoulder, offering one last look of warning. “And don’t eat anything while you’re down there, will you? Last thing we need is for you to die of an allergy in the middle of a warzone.”
Kirk rolls his eyes, “Yes, mother,” ignoring the glare that Bones sends his way in favour of turning to Spock and gesturing towards the transport pad. “Well, after you, Mr. Spock.”
Spock inclines his head slightly and follows Kirk onto the pad, the two of them having barely taken their places before Bones is speaking again.
Spock turns to look at McCoy, face carefully neutral. “Yes, Doctor?”
Bones doesn’t continue right away, almost as though he’s taking a moment to choose his words right, “Make sure everyone gets back in one piece, will you?”
Spock’s face doesn’t change drastically, but some of the tension in his body ebbs away, and if Kirk didn’t know better, he’d say that it was replaced with an almost, surprised air.
He nods at the Bones, who finally looks something close to satisfied, or as close to it as he’s going to get given the current situation. And Kirk shifts his attention to the ensign patiently waiting for the order to transport them down.
“Maybe I’m not making myself clear,” Jim shakes his head, pacing in front of the Organian Council, his grip on his agitation slipping with each second that passes by, as the Klingons grow surely and steadily closer, “even if you don’t want to set up an outpost with us, the Klingons will still come and take your cities and your people by force. If you side with us, we can protect you – ”
“Your offer is appreciated, Captain Kirk,” The head of the council, Ayelborne, shakes his head, holding up a hand to silence Jim’s pitch, “however, I assure you, the Klingon Empire poses no threat to us.
Jim takes a deep breath, clearly trying to force himself to remain diplomatic, and the security officers shuffle anxiously from side to side – the imminent approach of battle unsettling them as well. And even Spock has begun to feel a slight apprehension tug at his sense and itch beneath his skin – perhaps the remnants of a survival instinct passed down from his ancestors. He is also beginning to tire of the circular arguments, as time continues to pass, and they continue to move no closer to achieving their goal. Perhaps that circular nature is to blame for the way his attention keeps shifting to every slight noise and bump he hears – fingers tucked behind his back so that they don’t attempt to stray towards his phaser.
Jim sighs, and is clearly about to launch into yet another repetition of arguments, when he pauses, as though a thought has occurred to him. And for the first time in thirty minutes, the conversation takes a different path.
Ayelborne blinks. “I’m afraid I don’t understand to what you’re referring.”
“Why are you so sure the Klingons don’t pose a threat to you?” Jim gestures towards the surrounding room. “You have no weapons – no defensive structures – but every time we talk, I get the feeling that you think of the Klingons, and maybe us too, as nothing more than a bunch of flies buzzing around your head.”
“We assure you, Captain, we have the utmost respect for you and your crew – ” Ayelborne soothes.
“Prove it.” Jim leans forward onto the council’s table, lowering his voice slightly. “Be honest with me. Tell me why you think you’ll be able to survive this. You do that, and me and my crew will be out of your hair faster than you can say – ”
But before Jim can finish this particular idiom, the doors to the council room fly open and a group of heavily armed Klingons storm into the council chamber.
The security officers have their phasers drawn in almost record time, a fact that Spock makes a note to write on their service records if he ever gets the chance, but their excellent performance can only take them so far – especially given that there are currently two Klingon officers for one Enterprise officer. And the ones that aren’t pointing their disruptors at the officers, are aiming at the Jim, the council, and himself.
All except for the commanding officer of the group, an identification that Spock bases on the confident swagger of the Klingon that continues to walk almost carelessly into the room, until he’s standing directly in front of Jim.
“Well, well, well.” The Klingon chuckles. “Starfleet certainly doesn’t waste any time, now do they?”
Jim gives a slight shrug. “Well, as they say, better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
“Shakespeare.” The Klingon nods, smiling down at Jim with look that makes Spock’s skin crawl. “I take it you haven’t heard it in the original Klingon?”
Jim maintains eye contact, never wavering. “Can’t say I have.”
“A shame,” The Klingon takes a step back, “it really is the best way to experience the bard.”
He turns towards the Organian council, two guards rushing forwards to flank both Jim and Spock. “I am Commander Kor, and as of this moment, this planet is a part of the Klingon Empire. As such, its laws and customs are to be implemented immediately, beginning with a mandatory curfew.”
“You are most certainly welcome to stay on Organia as long as you wish.” Ayelborne replies congenially and Kor’s eye responds with a rather impressive twitch.
“We are not your guests – you are our new subjects.” Kor snarls, and Spock finds himself checking the impulse to shift closer to Jim at the sound – the faintest spectre of – so, shall we begin – echoing at the back of his mind.
It’s only when Jim makes a slight motion with his hand, warning him to stay still, that he realizes how unsuccessful he had been in checking that impulse. Luckily, their guards seem to have missed whatever cue that the captain picked up; not so fortunately, Kor did not.
He turns from the council to regard the two of them, eyes flicking up and down their forms before lingering on Jim’s; returning with a few steps to stand in front of him once again. “Ah... of course, why didn't I see it earlier? After all, the presence of Vulcans in Starfleet has always been incredibly rare,” his eyes flick up and down Spock, a smirk curling his lips as he continues, “rarer still these days. You must be Mr. Spock.”
Spock doesn’t respond, keeping his hands at his sides, and though logically he knows that Kor’s words are simply an attempt to trigger an emotional outburst, he finds he still needs to dig his fingernails into his palms in order to contain one.
“Which means that you,” Kor turns back to Jim, smirk still fully in place, “must be Captain James Tiberius Kirk. The fabled hero of the Federation, who stared down death and came back to tell the tale. Tell me,” Kor’s fingers trace down the side of Jim’s face, and this time Spock’s guards do notice when he moves, grabbing his arms and holding him in place, “do you remember his face?”
“I’d be more than happy to engage in an exchange of information with you,” Jim replies easily, though his eyes remain as hard as rodinium, “had your people signed the peace treaty.”
“Peace treaty.” Kor growls under his breath, drawing his hand away from Jim’s face, taking a few steps away only to spin back around and resume his close proximity to the captain. “That is the problem with your Federation, always seeking peace, afraid to engage in any real battle – to feel your blood pounding through your veins as you decimate your enemies – ”
“Well, call me cautious, but I prefer for my blood to remain in my body.” Jim shrugs, and the guard standing beside him punches him in his upper abdomen.
“Captain!” Spock surges forward again, once more held in place by his own guards, another hand extended from Jim the only thing preventing him from breaking the ones on him. And just barely at that.
“You may fool yourself that you are an emissary of peace, Kirk,“ Kor shakes his head, “but you and I both know that your blood burns for battle as does ours. I’ve heard the tales of your exploits, your prowess in the field of battle is practically legendary.”
Jim sighs, slowly straightening up and removing his hand from where it had clutched at his stomach. “Didn’t anyone tell you not to believe everything you hear?”
The guard makes another movement like he’s about to hit Jim again, but this time Kor holds him off with a raised hand. “Indeed, seeing is believing, as they say – and I can see it in your eyes. Despite their strange hue, they burn just as brightly as any warrior bound for Sto’Vo’Kor.”
“Is that Klingon for your think my eyes are pretty?” Jim smirks.
If it’s an attempt to unsettle Kor, it fails, the Klingon simply smirking back, before turning and gesturing towards the security officers. “Take them away, but don’t kill them – it might be helpful for our dear Captain to have an incentive to behave himself.”
Kor gestures towards Spock. “And take Mr. Spock as well, no sense further obliterating an already dying race.” He reaches forwards, grasping Jim’s chin with his fingers, digging in painfully. “I will host the Captain in my new office; I have questions about Starfleet’s ship movements that I’m sure he’d be happy to answer.”
And in an instant, Spock is on the bridge of the Enterprise, watching Jim beg him not to cede to Khan’s demands, watching Khan hit Jim on the other side of a viewscreen, watching Jim’s fingers struggle to mirror the Ta’al on the other side of a locked door, watching the spark behind his blue eyes fade away –
They try and move him, hands tugging on his arms yet again, but this time Spock doesn’t let them dictate his movements. Instead he centers his balance and locks his joints and muscles in place, refusing to move from his position.
After a few minutes of attempting to shift him without success, the lack of movement draws Kor’s attention to his guards. “Is there a problem?”
“The Vulcan won’t move.” One snarls, and Jim’s eyes meet Spock’s, and Spock can see the question in his eyes – expecting some sort of grand plan to get them out of this. But he has nothing – nothing except the desperate need to not leave Jim to face this alone.
“Mr. Spock,” Kor’s fingers leave Jim’s face, and Spock feels a little more settled than before, but only just, “is there a reason for your sudden... lack of cooperation?”
Spock meets his gaze evenly. “I am the first officer aboard the Enterprise, it is my duty to remain with my Captain.”
“Ah,” Kor nods, “in other words, it would be an insult to your honor if you allowed yourself to be separated from your Captain.”
Spock inclines his head in agreement; the comparison is... while not apt, as applicable to Klingon cultural beliefs as it will ever be, and thus his greatest chance of remaining with Jim –
“Then it is lucky that Vulcans value logic over honour.” Kor takes out his disrupter and points it point blank at Jim, and though it is physiologically impossible, Spock thinks that he finally understands what humans mean when they claim to feel their heart stop beating. “Either allow yourself to be separated from your Captain temporarily, or you will find yourself seperated permanently.”
“Please,” Ayelborne interjects, wringing his hands as he stands, “there is no need for violence – ”
“That,” Kor snaps, “is for Mr. Spock to decide.”
“Spock.” Jim breathes, eyes flicking between the end of disrupter and Spock.
A part of him, the part that hit Kahn over and over and over again, tears at the skin concealing it, itching to be set free once more – to lay waste to the enemies that dare to threaten – that dare to harm –
He forces his body to relax instead, to the point that the Klingons can easily move him once again. And there is a part of him that twists dizzyingly in opposition to him, to his logic, and that – how can that be?
Kor smirks, and lowers his disruptor, relief washing over both Spock and, judging by the slow exhale, Jim.
And then he gestures towards the security officers. “Kill them all.”
“What?!” Jim surges forward, desperately fighting off his guards, “You can't do that!”
“Please,” Ayelborne begs, moving out from behind the council table to stand at Jim’s side, “there is no need for this – ”
“I am the governor of this planet now,” Kor cuts through evenly, “and it seems that everyone here is in need of a demonstration of that.”
“Fine,” Jim drops his struggle against the guards in favor of holding Kor’s gaze, “have a demonstration. But not my crew, my officers - they don’t deserve this just – use me instead.”
Spock finds himself unable to breathe. “Jim – “
“You?” Kor frowns.
“Hey, you said it,” Jim shrugs, “legendary hero, pride of Starfleet – killing me would send one hell of a message.”
Kor gives Jim a considering look, taking a step closer and raising his disruptor once more –
Spock kicks out the legs of one of his guards, slamming his palm into their nose and feeling the bones break beneath it, giving the Vulcan nerve pinch to the remaining guard with his other hand. He pulls the guards disruptor from his belt as he falls, raising it smoothly to point directly at Kor, and by the time the rest of the Klingons turn their weapons on him the disruptor is already powered up and ready to shoot with the slight pull of his trigger finger.
Kor regards him evenly, hints of a kind of delighted surprise in his expression. “And here I thought Vulcans were nothing more than sniveling pacifists.”
“As you said,” Spock replies, “we are led by our logic. And logic dictates that with my superior reflexes I will be able to pull the trigger .05 seconds before you or your men.”
“Rather slim odds,” Kor concedes, a grin already spreading across his face, “I like that.”
“However,” Spock continues, resolving to ignore that Kor had even spoken, “should you release both myself, the captain, and our crew, logic also dictates I would no longer have any reason to pull the trigger.”
“Gentlemen,” Ayelborne interjects once more, “I really must ask that you lower your weapons at once – ”
“Klingons do not negotiate," Kor snarls, before gesturing toward his remaining soldiers, "Open fire - !"
- and Spock pulls the trigger before he’s even finished the command.
The weapon doesn’t fire.
None of the weapons do, drawing confused looks from all involved, until said weapons begin to glow, Spock barely dropping his own before the heat burns it out of his hands like the others. Jim’s guards claw at their holsters, attempting to rid themselves of the devices burning into their sides, and the distraction is all Spock needs to dart forward and grab Jim by the arm, carefully pulling him over to the side and out of harm’s way.
“Are you alright?” Spock watches as Jim winces at the movement, a hand brushing over his stomach where he took the hit and resolves to have Dr. McCoy inspect the area for possible internal damage. Klingon strength is not something to be taken lightly.
Jim nods, sounding a little out of breath, “Yeah, you?”
“I am... curious as to what just transpired... ” Spock trails off, looking at the equally surprised Klingons, some of whom are attempting to pick up their guns and muscle through the pain, only to drop them an instant later.
Ayelborne steps into the centre of the room, and for a moment, there is a curious afterimage that follows him, as though his being is slipping through the corporeal lines of his body. “Though we find interference in the matters of others... abhorrent, your,” he shudders visibly, and when he does it’s as though a current of some sort passes through the air around them, “excessive use of violence is so very... painful to us.”
“At least we got that in common.” Jim mutters under his breath.
“What are you? How are you doing all this?” Kor snarls, tensing his body as though preparing to lunge at Ayelborne.
Ayelborne merely blinks. “We are simply extending our energy into your weapons in order to prevent their use.”
“That doesn’t sound so simple to me.” Jim says.
“Extending your energy?” Spock inquires, brows furrowed.
“We have long since moved past the constraints of your corporeal forms.” Ayelborne replies, and Spock is about to point out that isn’t an answer, but Jim’s hand on his arm stops him. “As I stand before you now, I also stand in front of the Federation Council, and the Government of Kronos; and I declare that peace will be achieved today.”
“The Klingon Empire breaks before no one!” Kor roars.
“And yet, today it will bend.” Ayelborne shakes his head. “Now please, I must ask you to leave. The presence of such aggressive emotions to us is not dissimilar to that of multiple of what your species term ‘migraines’ occurring simultaneously.”
And like rain spattering the pages of a well-inked notebook, the colours of Ayelborne and the other council members begin to run over the lines of their bodies, as a soft light steadily grows in intensity until it is near blinding and Spock is forced to cover his eyes.
The light fades a moment later, leaving a room empty of both Organians and any weapons.
“Well, uh,” Jim turns to look at Kor, “guess that’s it for the war then. This, this was fun, let’s – let’s never do this again.”
“It is a shame, captain,” Kor shrugs, a faraway look in his eyes when he speaks next, “it would have been glorious.”
He turns and leaves the room with a nod to Jim, and then Spock, his crew members following after him; and the door is barely closed behind him before Jim is rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, senseless death and suffering, real fucking glorious.” Jim shakes his head, before nodding at Lieutenant Commander Giotto. “All good?”
“None worse for wear.” The lieutenant commander replies, though some of his men look a bit more shaken than he does
Jim smiles tiredly. “Good. Well, now that all that's over with,” He pats Spock on the shoulder as he pulls out his communicator, “I hope you did your reading, Commander, ‘cause we have a meeting to go to.”
I'm not totally happy with how this chapter turned out, but hey, ain't a one of us perfect, amiright? Anywho, enjoy.
“O thou, my muse! Guid, auld scotch drink!”
Scotty throws back another glass, and Kirk is starting to think Bones might actually have cause to use that emergency liver-aid hypo again. “Good to know that of all the poems in the book, your favourite is the first one.”
“I cannae help if that’s the one that speaks to me, can I?” Scotty protests.
“Well, Captain,” Uhura counters, subtly pushing more carbs in Scotty’s general direction, for which Kirk throws her a grateful smile, “if you’re going to be all judgy, which one was your favourite?”
“Well, as an official dog-defender,” Kirk reaches forward and snags a chip out the bowl before Bones can grab it, winking at him when he glares, “it’s got to be The Twa Dogs.”
Chekov smiles widely. “And there is a Kirk in that poem too, Keptin!”
“Is there?” Sulu opens his book, flipping through the pages.
Chekov nods, leaning over and quickly turning Sulu’s book to the correct page, drawing his finger along said page until it finds the line. “Yes, werse three, line sewen.”
“At Kirk, or Market, Mill or Smiddie.” Sulu reads out, “Huh, would you look at that. Cool catch, Pavel.”
Chekov smiles, slightly smaller than before, but also softer, making eye contact with Sulu for only a moment before looking away again.
“Hate tae disappoint you, laddie,” Scotty shakes his head, “but that ‘Kirk’ isn’t a person, it means “church”.”
Kirk chokes a little on his drink and Bones looks like he’s trying really hard not to outright laugh out loud.
“Oh,” Chekov looks a little disappointed, “does zat mean the “Wulcan” in ze “Scotch Drink” isn’t a really a Wulcan?”
Scotty shakes his head again. “’Fraid not. Burns lived ages before first contact; he’s talking about a blacksmith in the poem.”
“Can’t imagine a Vulcan would have much fun at a Scottish bar.” Bones mutters in his glass, and the image is enough to have Kirk and several other group members stifling laughter.
“I must confess,” Spock agrees, “I fail to see the appeal of such an environment.”
Kirk grins at him. “Not even for that good auld Scotch drink?”
Spock simply raises an eyebrow at him, and Kirk covers his mouth with his hand to prevent the extent of his smile from showing; the last bit of stress from the day, hell from the last two weeks, bleeding out of him the longer this book club meeting goes on.
Kirk turns back to Uhura, raising an eyebrow very similar to the one Spock just aimed at him at his communications officer instead. “Well, since we’re all sharing, which’s your favourite Uhura?”
Uhura’s lips purse slightly, before releasing with a sigh. “The first ‘Song’.”
“It t’was upon a Lammas night?” Scotty asks, before nodding, “Aye, that’s a good one.”
“Wait, which one is that?” Bones asks.
“It’s the one about the couple surrounded by all the wheat.” Sulu tells him.
“Barley.” Chekov corrects.
“Oh yeah,” Bones smirks at Uhura, “interesting that you’d pick the romantic one, lieutenant.”
Uhura glares at him, and Chekov moves to offer his enthusiastic support, Sulu chipping in quietly, and Kirk watches their mouths move but doesn’t hear the words.
Instead he hears a woman laughing, wind rustling through stalks of grain, and feels the itch of rough earth and broken stalks against his skin –
“Are you alright, Keptin?” Chekov asks, worry evident, and as Kirk comes back to himself with a bump, he doesn’t need to look to his left to know that same worry is echoed in Bones’ eyes.
Kirk forces himself to smile, waving off their concern. “Fine, sorry, no I just – spaced.”
“Romance not that interesting to you, Captain?” Sulu jokes, an easy out, and one Kirk is more than willing to take.
Before he can though, Uhura is scoffing slightly and shaking her head. “We all know it’s not exactly your scene.”
He shrugs, ignoring the fact that the remark digs at some part of him that doesn’t wish to be examined too closely. “Got me there. So,” he turns to Spock, eager to pave over the old wounds stinging from the briefest of salt showers, “come on then, Spock, which one was your favourite?”
“I found each of the poems in the book to be well-constructed,” Spock returns, and Kirk is just beginning to relax again when he continues, “however, given recent events, Death and Doctor Hornbook is the one that springs imminently to mind.”
Bones tenses, as though preparing himself for a physical blow, as Kirk prepares for the much more likely verbal one. “Oh really? And what about it made it spring to mind?”
“Given that the chance of injury was relatively high for a significant period of time, I found myself grateful that we had a doctor of the same skill level as the one discussed in the poem.” Spock pauses, setting his drink down before continuing. “Albeit one of a much higher moral integrity.”
Kirk blinks, surprise quickly turning into a grin. “You hear that, Bones? Spock thinks you’re a doctor of high moral integrity.” Kirk nudges Bones in the side. “Kinda makes all those threats you keep throwing at me a little worthless.”
“I’d sell you to Satan for half a glass of Georgia sweet tea, kid; and don’t you forget it.”
“I doubt the Terran devil would make such a trade with you, doctor,” Spock interjects, and for the first time, Kirk notices a slight hint of... something... slip into his tone. “If there is anything your culture praises that entity for, it is their ability to make deals which overtly play to their benefits rather than their partner’s.”
Kirk pretends to wince dramatically. “Ouch, Spock; are you saying I’m worth less than some tea?”
“It is damn good tea.” Bones throws out and Kirk shoots him a look.
“I am simply stating that given your propensity for attracting unwanted attention and your unfortunate need to constantly place yourself in dangerous situations in place of others, your “Devil” would probably prefer to keep you far away from their operation.”
Kirk grins. “Glad to hear that you think I could give the devil a run for his money – ”
“It was not intended as a compliment.”
It feels like the air goes out of the room, like an airlock has suddenly opened below them all, dropping the floor out from under their feet.
Kirk eyes him carefully, gaze never leaving his face. “What are you – ?”
“Alright,” Uhura says, getting smoothly to her feet and breaking free of the atmosphere that had been holding the rest of the group hostage, “I’m going to head to bed before I pass out – eighteen hours of monitoring and decoding Klingon transmissions has fried pretty much all of my brain power.”
“Yes, it has been wery stressful day.” Chekov agrees, nodding repeatedly as he scrambles to his feet as well.
Kirk doesn’t respond for a moment, simply watching Spock before giving his head a slight shake, “You can say that again.” He tries to pave over his feelings for now, standing up and clasping his hands together, “Alright, so we all know what we’re reading for next time, right? Uhura’s book about the, uh, languages?”
“I’ll send you all a memo with the title.” Uhura pauses, looking between the mess of bowls and cups on the table before raising her eyes to Kirk’s. “Do you – need any help cleaning this up?”
Kirk shakes his head, already resolving to just leave the wreckage of his lounge until tomorrow when it doesn’t feel like his head is about to drop off his shoulders. Also, the 'Vulcano' currently shooting daggers into his mug looks about minutes from erupting – and he would much prefer it if his crew was free of the blast radius when he did. “’Ppreciate the offer but I’ve got it under control, don’t worry about it.”
Uhura nods, “Well, goodnight everybody.”
“Thank god we’re not going to sleep at war with the Klingons.” Sulu chimes in, an obvious attempt at levity that draws a small, nervous laugh out of Chekov, who stands up and follows him out.
Scotty nods at Kirk before making his way out as well, only to duck back at the last second and grab his bottle of Scotch; Bones shaking his head at the sight as he pulls himself to his feet.
“Sure you don’t need any help with this?” Bones gestures towards the mess like Uhura had, but his eyes also flicker to where Spock is still sitting down – so stiff that he looks more statue than humanoid.
Once again, Kirk shakes his head. “Nah, Bones; honestly I don’t think I’m even going to look at it until tomorrow.” And the look he exchanges with Bones tells him he doesn’t need any help with the elephant in the room either.
“Well, you did manage to avert a war today,” Bones shrugs, clasping Kirk’s shoulder, “I guess you’re owed a little leeway when it comes to cleanliness.”
The corners of Kirk’s lips twitch. “I think it was more the Organians who did the whole – war-averting thing.”
“Still, you should get some points for showing up.” Bones draws his hand back with one last gentle squeeze; the gesture serving as a silent, I’m here if you need me, as it has more times than Kirk could ever count. Although, Spock probably could. “Try and get some sleep, Jim, you look like you need it.”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “Gee, thanks.”
“G’night, Jim.” Bones calls, pausing by Spock on his way to the door, and for a moment Kirk isn’t sure whether or not Bones is reluctant to leave the two of them alone – if visions of their bridge fight are playing behind his eyelids – or if he’s thinking about offering a goodbye to Spock as well. If that’s the case, he eventually decides against it, giving one last slight nod in acknowledgement before continuing out of Kirk’s quarters and leaving the two of them alone. And as the door closes behind him with a soft hiss of the hydraulics, all of a sudden, the fatigue from the day, the stress, the frustration, the exhaustion – it all comes barrelling back into Kirk, taking out his momentary serenity on its way. And not only does he have to contend with all that, now there’s this looming spectre of Spock being upset with him for – something – that he did and, god, now he’s going to have to look back at this whole damn mess in excruciating detail that he had hoped to avoid until he had to write his report for Starfleet – just to try to figure out how he managed to piss Spock off when all he really wants to do is crawl into bed.
“Okay look,” Kirk sighs, taking his seat again and resisting the urge to just close his eyes until Spock isn’t there anymore, “let’s just, get to it – what did I do and where and when did I do it?”
Spock places his tea down on the table in a way that Kirk knows is deliberately slow, refusing to meet his eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t understand to what you are referring – ”
“Cut the bullshit,” Kirk snaps, “it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re pissed off at me for – something. So whatever it is, just tell me – ”
“Even were I to tell you, it would just prove to be another exercise in futility.” Spock snaps back, still not making eye contact, as he stands up swiftly. “Goodnight, Captain.”
“Oh no,” Kirk leaps to his feet, catching Spock’s shoulder and tugging him back, “you are not leaving until we’ve settled this – I don’t want this – whatever this is – following us on duty tomorrow.”
Kirk can feel Spock’s shoulder twitch underneath his grip. “Captain, I must request that you release me immediately.”
“Not happening, Commander.” Kirk holds his gaze. “Now tell me before I order you to.”
Spock grabs his wrist, yanking the hand off his shoulder but just as he’s about to release it, he pauses, and just – holds it.
Kirk doesn’t try and pull out of the grip, just maintains eye contact, the fatigue growing ever stronger as he stands there, threatening to send him to his knees.
“Spock,” He sighs, shaking his head, “just – tell me.”
Spock doesn’t say anything for a long moment, Kirk holding his breath and half expecting him to drop his wrist like it was burning his fingers and flee. But then Spock flexes his grip on the wrist, moving slightly closer to Kirk, holding it so that it rests by their sides – and if his grip were just a little lower, they’d be holding hands.
“I find it...” Spock begins, his voice much quieter than Kirk has ever heard it, barely above a murmur, “distressing how easily you offered your life in place of others today.”
Kirk doesn’t react to that, swallowing the tumble of words that threaten to spill past his lips, limiting it to a simple, “Why?”
“It...” Spock breaks off again, his grip flexing once more, and Kirk realizes it as an attempt to control the emotions bubbling just beneath the surface – trying one more to choose not to feel. “I found myself reminded of Khan. Of having to watch as you made the choice to trade yourself for the Enterprise – of being... of failing in my duty – ”
“Spock you didn’t – ” Kirk shakes his head, his quiet voice feeling like thunder in this silent room. “You didn’t fail at anything – not today and not back then. I made a choice – a choice to put the needs of the many above the needs of the – ”
“And yet you chose to put my needs above the needs of an entire civilization.” Spock interrupts, “Hardly prioritizing the many over the few.”
Kirk frowns, irritation prickling underneath his skin, a hollow feeling in his gut at the thought of Spock trapped inside that volcano – telling them not to save him. “That was different – no one was going to die because of what we did – ”
“What if they were?” Spock asks, “If there was a choice between saving them or saving myself, which would you have chosen?”
Kirk feels his mouth go dry; throat thick with an answer that he can’t bring himself to give. “I thought I told you, I don’t believe in no-win scenarios – ”
“I would trade them for you.”
Kirk feels the air go out of his lungs. “What?”
“On the planet, Commander Kor asked what I would do if he offered to release only you and I, and not the other members of the crew.” Spock continues, closing his eyes for a brief moment to maintain his control. “I knew then, as I know now, that had that been the reality of the situation – I would have taken you and left them to die.”
Kirk stares at him, trying to force the words to make sense in his mind. “Spock, that’s – you can’t do that. If there’s a situation where that happens, you have to take care of yourself and the crew – not me. I’m not – ” He steadies himself with a deep breath, before meeting Spock’s eyes firmly, using his best ‘Captain’ voice. “I am not worth more than you or any other member of the crew.”
“I understand your point of view, Jim,” Spock shakes his head slightly, “but I cannot bring myself to agree. You are the Captain, and logic dictates that as your first officer, I protect your wellbeing above, and if necessary, at the cost of, all others.”
Kirk feels dizzy, head and heart reeling at the gravity of what Spock has laid out at his feet, and he shakes his head. “Spock, you can’t – I don’t accept that.”
“Irrelevant,” Spock takes another step closer, so that Kirk has to tilt his head back to still make eye contact, “as I was not asking for your permission.”
Kirk opens his mouth to fight him on that, to order him to – fuck he doesn’t know. He’s so damn tired; and besides, ordering Spock around has never worked if he didn’t want to do that thing. And beyond that, there's a small, shameful part of him that can't quite belief that someone cares enough to barter untold lives away for his - overshadowed by the horror that rises up in him at the thought, sure - but still... there.
“Alright,” He hears himself saying, closing his eyes briefly to gather himself up before continuing, “guess the only thing for it is to make sure we don’t end up in a situation like that ever again.” He offers Spock a wry smile. “Any ideas on how to do that?”
Spock relaxes slightly, some of the tension easing from his frame and replaced with a hint of surprise; as though he was expecting another round of verbal barrage instead of a simple ‘agree to disagree’. “One does spring to mind, although, I am unsure of how receptive you will find yourself to it.”
Kirk shrugs, the movement pulling on the wrist in Spock’s grip, the feeling seeming to startle Spock, as though he forgot his fingers were still there. “Never know unless you try, Spock. Hit me.”
“Captain,” Spock raises an eyebrow as he draws his hand back behind his back, “I fail to see the value in striking you.”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “You know what I mean, Spock.”
Spock’s lips twitch into the smallest of smiles, before smoothing out again as he continues. “It occurred to me that given the rate at which we seem to find ourselves in perilous situations, it might benefit us to establish a shallow link between ourselves.”
“Link?” Kirk asks, raising an eyebrow.
“A connection of sorts between our two minds,” Spock elaborates, “but a superficial one, just deep enough to be able to transmit thoughts and ideas to one another and only across a limited distance.”
A teasing smile twitches at Kirk’s lips. “Sure you don’t just want to get a piece of my ‘dynamic’ mind?”
Spock arches an eyebrow at him. “It is rather bold of you to assume that your mind is, in any way, shape, or form, dynamic.”
“That’s what the other you called it.” Kirk grins cheekily, but it dies on his lips at the look on Spock’s face. Clearly, the relationship between himself and the old man is still a sore subject. And he’s opened enough cans of worms for tonight, so instead of digging deeper into that particular wound, Kirk shrugs and offers his face instead, tilting it slightly to reveal the meld points. “Okay then, let’s get this done and head to bed – I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
Spock nods, reaching forward –
But his hand stops just short of Kirk’s face, and out of the corner of his eyes, Kirk can see his fingers trembling ever so slightly.
“Spock.” His own fingers itch at his side, aching to reach forward and take Spock’s other hand; but he knows that...that won’t help here. Not with Spock. So, he keeps himself very still, and his posture casually lax, trying to project the trust and safety that he feels thrumming through his blood with each beat of his heart. And instead of taking the Vulcan’s hand, he settles for holding his gaze.
Spock’s eyes flick upwards and meet his, and the two of them simply look at each other for a moment, and Kirk can see the moment when Spock is steady again; his deep brown eyes becoming clear and focused once more, as the all too human hesitation fades from them. He barely has time to feel relieved, a soft smile spreading across his lips, before Spock is reaching forward again, his fingers steady this time, and pressing gently against the meld points on his face.
It’s nothing like the melds he’s had before, no complete separation from the physical reality in order to be swept up into the mental realm; he can still see and feel the room around him and is keenly aware of Spock’s fingers pressed ever so softly to his face. Yet at the same time, he’s also aware of the softest of touches in his mind, brushing along the surface of his being like the gentlest of caresses.
He feels something pull between them, a thrum of energy, of feeling, of connection, that makes his skin tingle; tying them together. A moment later, he feels Spock’s mind untangle from his, his fingers slowly leaving his face shortly after.
“It is done.” Spock says, and then, Can you hear me, Jim?
Kirk jolts slightly at the words reverberating through his mind, amazed smile on his face before he even realizes it. “Yeah, I mean – ” Reading you loud and clear, Commander.
“Excellent.” Spock clasps his hands behind his back. “I am... gratified to know that the link is securely established.”
Kirk starts to say something along the lines of an agreement, but his words give way to a yawn, his eyelids gaining the upper hand in the battle by slipping closed.
“That being said, I believe it is time that I depart.” Spock pauses for a moment, almost as though he’s searching for something else to say. “I apologize for my behaviour earlier in front of the others; it was – unprofessional.”
Kirk waves him off, “It’s fine, Spock, we worked it out.” He clasps him on the shoulder, finally satisfying that itch, his hand lingering there for a moment as he steadies himself before heading towards his bed with another yawn.
“Goodnight, Spock, see you on the bridge.”
Kirk hears the swish of his cabin door open but he’s asleep before he hears it close, falling into bed with his clothes still on – his body at last finally giving way to the fatigue that reaches up to swallow him whole.
Jim’s mind reminds him of the Vulcan sun.
It rests superficially intertwined with his own, the weight and feel of it warming him from the inside out. He’d been careful to ensure that Jim would only share his thoughts and feelings with Spock when he wanted to, not interested in creating a continually open connection that Jim had no control over. It would be the highest abuse of his telepathic abilities that he could think of, to trespass further into a mind that had welcomed him so openly.
But he cannot deny the desire – cannot deny even that it was desire – to dive deeper into that wonderfully fascinating mind, to fully explore the tantalizing facets of the Captain’s – of Jim’s mine; without fear of revulsion and rejection.
The temptation to dive back into the oasis that is Jim’s mind, must be due in part to how soothing the softest trace of his presence is. He has been without bond since T’Pring had it severed after the destruction of Vulcan, deciding to waste no more time in being with the one that her heart truly desired. He cannot blame her for it, and at the time was rather relieved he had managed to avoid a potentially... contentious conversation with Nyota about the matter.
However, between the loss of his mating bond, and that of the familiar bond of his mother, he has found the past few years more – trying to say the least. Meditation more and more difficult to accomplish as time proceeds without those bonds being filled.
He had hoped that in time, Nyota would be receptive to such a bond, however she had terminated their relationship before the question could be asked. Another thing that, in hindsight, he finds himself oddly grateful for; though if pressed, he would be unable to discern exactly why.
Perhaps it is because, were he bonded to Nyota, she too would be able to feel the soft warmth of Jim radiating throughout her mind. And some deep part of him, the last remnants of that atavistic desert dweller that craves the parching heat of the blinding sun, craves desperately to hoard it for himself. The idea of sharing that warmth with another is – unattractive. Which makes it all the more unsettling that someone has already tasted that same warmth, in fact, has experience more of it that he has and perhaps ever will.
“Sure you don’t just want to get a piece of my ‘dynamic’ mind? That’s what the other you called it.”
He forces his thoughts away from the image of that... interloper pressing his fingers against Jim’s meld points – focusing instead on the candle in front of him, and the steadying presence of that ever-present warmth in his mind. He thinks, briefly, of the rush of feelings and thoughts that brushed the surface of his mind when Jim’s hand connected with his shoulder – his touch telepathy picking up Jim’s mind from the contact for the first time in over a year and sending an altogether illogical sense of relief, and security through his being.
Though, perhaps this can offer up an explanation as to the cause of his... undue slips of control over the past year. Perhaps, his Vulcan mind was responding on an instinctual level to the presence of another who could provide a new kind of sorely needed stability – and thus, driving further atavistic and feelings towards that presence – towards Jim – whenever his continued existence was threatened.
It would certainly explain the altogether... possessive feelings that have been plaguing him of late in regard to his position, to his belongings, to his station, to his... to Jim. Illogical, in that Jim is his own person, and Spock does not ascribe to the belief that one can ever own another sentient intelligent being. And yet -
Shaking himself out of such thoughts, he forces himself to take a deep breath to try and centre himself. To try and integrate his feelings and gain control over them once more.
He watches the candle burn down, evaluating all his emotions from the day and storing them neatly away within the confines of his mind. And by the time he leans forward and blows out the flame, despite his misgivings, he feels more settled and centred than he has in a very long time.