Well, 12 hours and 3 minutes to be exact. Jim had been keeping track, in a very reminiscent fashion of his best friend, ever since that infuriating half Vulcan had mysteriously disappeared from the landing party.
Between the two of them, they had an unnatural knack for attracting trouble in whatever corner of space they found themselves in on that particular day. If Spock were here, he’d point out the illogicality of the concept of “luck”, discerning it to be neither good nor bad, and not something that could have any real implication on the outcome of their lives. He’d also probably contest to the use of corner to describe space.
12 hours and 4 minutes.
Like he was doing right now, James T. Kirk had spent the majority of the time pacing. Pacing on the bridge, pacing in the transporter room, pacing in sickbay. Pacing everywhere. To boot, Jim was pretty sure he’d found more than one gray hair when he’d passed in front of his mirror. On any other day, that discovery would have bothered him; but it had been of little interest to him today, as uninteresting as food and sleep. Jim could deny it all he wanted—but he was overcome, out of his rational mind, undeniably drowning with concern for his first officer.
Concern, right. Just concern.
Concern was understandable.
Spock was his first officer and his best friend. Only natural to be concerned.
Bones had rolled his eyes when he found Jim marching worriedly back and forth outside his office. At claiming his concern for their missing friend was only due to his importance to the ship, the doctor had snorted in disbelief. Muttering about thickheaded Vulcans and idiotic starship captains, he’d sent the anxious commander back to his quarters with a prescription for rest.
“Well find him, Jim. He’ll be alright.”
His tone had been confident, but his eyes betrayed his apprehension.
That had been at hour 4.
Now 8 hours and almost 11 minutes later, Spock was still missing and Jim still hadn’t eaten or slept. And he definitely had gray hair.
It was supposed to be a routine science mission. A simple beam down to collect some samples and a simple beam back. Limited personnel. Spock understandably spearheading as the senior science officer and to satiate his stubborn curiosity. I had sent him without a second thought, no shred of fear or doubt or worry in my mind.
Jim sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over his brow and pacing yet again across his quarters.
Whether it exists logically or not, we have some very bad luck…
“Keptin! Keptin! We hev found ‘im!”
Chekov’s excited voice crackled from the intercom.
12 hours and 13 minutes.
Adrenaline coursing through his veins and heart in his throat, Jim sprinted across the room and stabbed a finger at the communication system.
“Mr. Chekov! Please repeat. You say you’ve found him?!”
“Affirmative, Keptin. Beeming up in 60 sec-”
Jim didn’t wait to hear the end of Chekov’s message. He tore out of his room faster than he really should have as the highest-ranking officer on the ship. The composed and poised professional demeanor he usually wore was nowhere near the panicked, hopeful, borderline insane energy he was now exuding. But Jim didn’t care. As he sprinted to the lift, he felt relief alleviating the heavy weight he had been carrying since his first officer disappeared. One thought repeated over and over like a calming mantra in his mind.
Spock was alive. He was safe.
The commanding officer made it in record time to the transporter room, arriving only moments after Bones.
12 hours and 25 minutes.
All his excitement and relief at hearing Spock was back dissipated when Jim saw the state he was in. His eyes swept over the tall man in the blue uniform, feet frozen in the doorway.
Bones was passing a tricorder methodically over Spock’s chest, muttering angrily to himself. The Vulcan, despite his outward appearance, projected the same collected, disinterested air that he normally did. Jim knew Spock hated to reveal his emotions, to let any of them see what he was really feeling. But if it was anything like how he looked, Spock was feeling like shit. His usually pristine uniform was torn and disheveled, dark splotches saturating various parts of the blue shirt. Tendrils of green traced from his hairline and the whole right side of his face was covered in a patchwork of darkening bruises.
Jim swallowed thickly as he realized those were only the injuries he could see. Who knows how terribly he was actually wounded? Eyes never leaving Spock, Jim mechanically walked up to the pair.
“I am perfectly alright, Doctor. Please unhand me.”
Bones’ eyes flashed in annoyance.
“Oh, forgive me! I was just trying to prevent you from collapsing, you thick-skulled, pointy-eared hobgoblin. Geez, I don’t know what gave me that brilliant idea…”
Despite his protestations, Spock reluctantly allowed the doctor to keep a steadying hand on his shoulder. He knew he gave up rather quickly but hoped Dr. McCoy wouldn’t take heed. Without the assistance, he would most assuredly be lying in an unorganized heap on the floor.
Belatedly, Spock realized that Jim had now joined them on the transporter platform, and he chastised himself for not being more aware. Focus. Breathe. Maintain control. He hated realizing he was not at his best, and he was loath to reveal how terrible he truly felt. His head throbbed, the cuts on his chest and back burned, his left ankle was most definitely swollen, and a heavy feeling of fatigue seemed to be perpetually pulling him towards the ground. But he was disciplined. Pain was solely in the mind, and as a Vulcan he should be able to maintain control. He should.
Spock swallowed thickly, not liking how much energy it was taking to remain upright. The whine of the tricorder was beginning to set his teeth on edge, and a darkness was beginning to tinge the edge of his vision. Nevertheless, he fixed his gaze on his commanding officer. Focus, Spock. Focus.
“Captain. I apologize for my delay. I was…detained.”
Jim scoffed, concernedly searching Spock’s face. He didn’t like the strained sound in his best friend’s voice; Spock was hurting beneath his controlled façade.
“Is that what we’re calling missing for over 12 hours now, Mr. Spock?” Jim replied softly.
“12 hours, 27 minutes, and 14 seconds to be exact, Captain.”
Before the captain could respond, Spock suddenly swayed on his feet. Jim shot out an arm to stabilize him and McCoy griped Spock’s shoulder a little tighter. The two watched as Spock shook his head slightly, blinking sluggishly, before squaring his shoulders and returning to his upright position.
“I apologize. Captain, Doctor, I am alright now.”
If he was alert and operating at his peak performance, he would have anticipated, catalogued, and analyzed his two friends’ reactions with interest. The doctor’s emotional displays were always full-bodied ordeals, never doing anything in halves. But his commanding officer’s were of greater interest to the Vulcan. Jim was a puzzle, usually as adept as himself at hiding his true feelings beneath a professional exterior. The Iowa native was a fascinating human to study.
So as he looked up, Spock was quite surprised to find unchecked worry swirling in those deep brown eyes.
“Like hell you are!” Bones cried incredulously, interrupting Spock’s thoughts. Stowing his tricorder, he threw Jim a concerned look before gazing stubbornly up at the taller man. “You’ve earned yourself a one-way trip to sickbay, you stubborn sonofabitch. And no, I will not be taking any of your excuses, complaints, or protests. I expect you to be a model patient, Mr. Spock. Mo-del. Understood?”
With a resigned sigh, Spock gave the doctor a brief nod. It was a testament to how poorly the man felt for him not to fight Bones on his decision, as it was a well-known fact he hated sickbay almost as much as their fearless commanding officer.
Spock shrugged off the hands assisting him and began to stride purposefully for the door. If not for his haggard appearance, the slight tremor in his hands, and the barely perceptible limp, Spock would almost seem perfectly alright. Both Jim and Bones knew he wasn’t.
Slowly but surely, the group reached sickbay. Spock managed to make it to the door of his own volition before he faltered. When he listed heavily against the frame, Jim and Bones were there immediately, gripping his arms and keeping him on his feet. The pair guided the injured Vulcan to the nearest bed without a word.
Jim had his eyes glued to his first officer, watching every movement, lips pursed in thought. He was not a fan of the increased paleness of his friend’s skin. The walk must have taken a lot out of him, even if Spock was too obstinate to admit it. He cleared his throat, eyes skating between his two companions.
The captain trailed off, feeling awkward. He clasped his hands behind his back, looking everywhere but his best friend. It took him a moment, but he soon realized that Bones had left the two of them alone.
After helping Spock to the bed, McCoy had beat a hasty retreat, conveniently needing to grab the necessary items to treat his patient, as well as deciding to give the two men some private time to talk. A whole lot of good that'll do them, though. With how pigheaded they both were, the doctor was reminded of the old saying about leading a horse to water, but not being able to make him drink.
Finally finding Spock’s gaze, Jim faltered. There was so much he wanted to say—about the last 12 hours, how it made him feel, how Spock was feeling…
Instead he straightened up and threw on his usual smirk.
“Mr. Spock. I do believe you are the source of all the gray hairs on my head. And will be the source of all my future ones, as well.”
“Captain. You are aware that the presence of gray hair is a sign of aging, a physical manifestation of time passing. So it does not seem logical that I could be the source of this process…as I am not time.” Spock paused, shifting slightly on the biobed, and suppressed a wince at the movement. Despite his discomfort, he gazed up at his commanding officer with a rare twinkle in his eye. “If you are implying, however, that the gray hair is an exhibition of stress, which is causing it to prematurely gray due to rising levels of anxiety affecting the stem cells responsible for hair pigmentation…then I must admit, you might be onto something.”
Jim couldn’t help the laugh that escaped his lips. It was the first time he felt like a sliver of his old self, the old self who had been a stranger since Spock disappeared from the landing party over 12 hours ago.
He was back.
He was alive.
He was safe.
“Oh, Mr. Spock. Only you could make my graying hair sound so…magnanimously scientific.”
Spock didn’t return his smile, but instead nodded thoughtfully. When he responded, he did so in a voice very different from his usual confident one.
“It would be an honor, Captain, to bear witness to this extraordinary phenomenon.”
Kirk felt his eyebrows shoot up in surprise, not just at the whispered reply but at Spock’s tone.
“As it takes a Vulcan male much longer to lose the pigmentation in their hair compared to a normal man, it would be an honor to study this occurrence...with you.” Spock cleared his throat. “Additionally, I would like to clarify that this is in reference to your hair graying from time…and not…stress.”
At that final word, Spock gazed up at Jim, hoping his friend understood, knowing he couldn’t say anymore. The answering amused smirk Spock received filled his chest with a warmth that he was unaccustomed to. It was an emotion he hadn’t yet been able to understand in his life, one that the Vulcan half of him disapproved of but one that the human side of him craved.
“Alright, alright. Enough gabbing. Let me take care of my patient, Jim.”
With a professional nod at Bones, and a sly look thrown towards his first officer, Jim made for the door. He did have a ship to run, even if all he wanted to do was stay by Spock’s bed and not let him out of his sight. The Vulcan was in good hands, though. Plus, if he spent any longer staring into those inquisitive brown eyes, he was sure to divulge the overwhelming emotions that had gripped him for exactly 12 hours and 37 minutes. But it wasn’t the right time for that.
Stepping onto the lift, Jim finally allowed himself to relax. His relief was palpable in the small space. Spock was back, he was alive. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he thought back on the conversation he’d just had with his first officer. It was probably just a symptom of getting hit in the head; Spock never revealed that much, never freely discussed his thoughts. Even if it was due to a concussion (if Vulcans even got concussions?), Jim liked hearing it. There’d been something in those intoxicating eyes that fanned the flames of hope kindling in Jim’s heart.
And he’d kind of liked how Spock had described his graying hair. It was...cute? God, what was happening to him...how did Spock do this to him.
As he ascended towards the bridge, Jim decided his newly discovered gray hair wasn't the worst thing in the world. Growing old was something he'd always hated. Feared even. But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with Spock by his side.