It takes three point two-six hours to complete preparations for leaving the Enterprise; a direct beam down to Earth wouldn't usually be permitted, but Dr. McCoy's medical override was enough to push the authorization through with fewer complications than Spock could have accomplished easily on his own.
"Good luck," McCoy says, hip pressed against the console, arms crossed with exaggerated calm, mouth tight. "You'll need it."
Spock ignores him, nodding at Nyota's encouraging smile from the transporter controls, and listens for the hum that signals the beginnings of dematerialization.
The appearance of a farmhouse perched on endless swells of summer-burned land should not be as startling as it is; adjusting his Starfleet-issue pack, Spock double checks the coordinates from habit, then approaches the sagging porch, looking in vain for the normal controls to announce a visitor, then finally knocking firmly on the peeling paint of the door.
It is unlikely that he has come to the wrong house; Spock pauses before trying again. Despite the quiet of the countryside, there's no sound but the whisper of wind against the structures of the farm, the fainter sounds of nocturnal animals creeping out as dusk darkens the sky. Glancing at the tricorder, Spock watches the single lifesign remain immobile for another minute, then begins to knock again.
"Coming! Jesus, can't a guy get some sleep?"
The lifesign moves, starting toward what are presumably stairs to reach the first level of the house, and Spock watches the readings begin to fluctuate almost immediately as the effects of a troubled sleep wear away. Jagged spikes of adrenaline follow sudden plateaus of endorphins, edging farther into the yellow spectrum that far exceeded the human baseline. Farther, in fact, than even McCoy's most recent scans had projected.
The door opens abruptly, and Spock splits his observation between the Captain's face and the tricorder; the adrenaline spikes upward, entering red and staying there, matching the startled catch of breath and abrupt rise in heart rate. He hadn't been expected, but it's not merely surprise.
"Captain," Spock says.
"It's like a pizza delivery," the Captain says slowly, leaning a shoulder heavily against the doorway. "Except you're holding a tricorder and I didn't order pizza."
Spock ignores him, finishing his readings before putting the tricorder away. "I believe this is where I should say, 'aren't you going to invite me in?'"
The Captain's eyes narrow. "No. This is where I tell you to go to hell. Then you explain the laws of thermodynamics until I tell you to shut up, and you get your way anyway. So really, why bother?" Turning away, he retreats back into the house, running an absent hand through his hair. "Mi casa, su casa, whatever, I'm going back to bed."
Spock closes the door behind him, unsurprised by the blinds that cover every window, curtains drawn against the afternoon sun. Following the open plan of the house, Spock finds the Captain seated on the stairs, knees pulled up against his chest, bare feet dangling over the edge of a step.
"When did you last eat, sir?"
The Captain tilts his head up, staring blankly at Spock as if he'd forgotten he was there. "No. You come to my house--and not invited, in fact, specifically forbidden, more than once--you drop the captain shit."
Spock inclines his head. "When is the last time you ate, Jim?'
Jim clenches his teeth; it's not an unusual reaction, but Spock has not--quite--grown tired of eliciting it. "Before I left the ship."
"Two point seven days ago, then." Spock gestures toward the kitchen. "Alcohol is not an acceptable substitute for adequate nutrition--"
"I will prepare you something." In general, with James Kirk, it is easier to simply do and return later for explanation. Going back into the kitchen, Spock reaches for the lights.
Spock hesitates as Jim leans into the doorway. Even in the dim light, the strain is clearly visible beneath the carefully controlled expression, the weight loss startling considering the relatively short amount of time it has been since Spock last saw him, hours before he beamed down to Earth for shore leave and cut off communication.
"I wasn't aware that light sensitivity was a symptom," he says mildly. He doesn't need light to see clearly in any case. The loose hang of the sweatpants and pallor are perfectly visible.
"It's a surprise a day around here," Jim says bitterly. "What are you making?"
Spock reads the menu in the replicator, dissatisfied with the choices. Opening the control panel, Spock adds in three simple subroutines that will suffice until he has the leisure to work on a greater variety. "Do you have a preference?"
Jim shrugs, one shouldered, then pushes off the doorway to pull out a chair, turning it backward and straddling it, hands closing with deceptive casualness over the metal crossbars on the back. "I'm easy. I'm not hungry."
"That is irrelevant."
Spock picks up the still-full bottles and drops them in the recycler, ignoring Jim's groan of "You know how hard it is to make a replicator give you anything but synthehol?" before returning to the replicator and punching in his code, locking it. Jim could doubtless find a way around that, but Spock has no intention of giving him the time to do so.
Jim is still staring at the recycler in betrayal when Spock brings him soup, which Nyota had assured him was both nutritious and of low enough temperature not to cause undue damage if Jim threw it at him.
Jim seems to debate the issue for a few minutes, then picks up the spoon rebelliously. "You're going to stand there and stare unless I eat, aren't you?"
Spock inclines his head; it would not be the first time.
"And you'll leave?" He does not sound convinced, but Spock sees no need to dispel any illusions that will make this meal easier. While Jim works his way through the bowl, Spock takes out the tricorder, studying the readings. Better, but only in a relative sense. "By the way: this is creepy."
"If you cannot function as an adult and see to your own health, it behooves--"
"Did you use the word 'behooves'? Really?"
"--someone else to do so until you are rational again." Spock considers. "Or at least returned to your general level of irrationality."
Jim shoots him a scowl, but the bowl is empty, which was the goal of this particular exercise. Tossing the spool into the bowl, Jim sits back, arms crossed. "Happy?"
Spock doesn't bother answering, investigating the cooling unit, unsurprised to see there is little food currently in storage but a great many bottles. It's not unexpected, but more worrisome is how many may have already been consumed.
Jim doesn't argue as he recycles them all, arms draped over the back of the chair, focusing so abruptly that Spock can feel it like a physical touch. Aware he's being tracked, he slows his movements accordingly, opening the replicator log and sending it to the tricorder for later analysis. It may give him a better indication of how far Jim has come than tricorder readings that were never meant to be found in a purely human body.
"I can't sleep without those, you know," Jim says quietly. "The sedatives Bones gave me are pretty ineffective and they were some of the strongest he had. Unless, and I quote, I'm after an old-fashioned coma. Kinda kinky, but not my thing."
Spock turns to face him, the edge of the counter pressed against his back. "Ethanol is no longer adequate or you would not have continued to consume it in these quantities." Though Spock admits, he hadn't considered the efficacy of Romulan Ale in his calculations, perhaps because even James Kirk shouldn't be able to coax a replicator into producing a banned substance. "Your next logical step would to be indulging in various untested pharmaceuticals. I do not think it wise to allow that step to be taken."
Jim rolls his eyes. "Better check the bathroom before you go," he says, now sounding tired. "Security on replicators these days is a joke."
Spock glances at the stairs. "I assume Dr. McCoy gave you--"
"Almost done with the stuff that's actually been approved for use on humans. I'm a great research subject, though, so science is getting something out of it." Kirk rests his head on his crossed arms. "You need to leave," he says abruptly. "Really soon now."
"I do not think that is wise."
Jim's mouth tightens. "That wasn't a suggestion."
Taking out a datapad, Spock crosses the room, sliding it across the table. "As you can see, I anticipated your--recalcitrance. It is not yet filed, but Dr. McCoy has agreed to do so should it become necessary."
"Don't you think declaring me unfit for command is a little extreme?" Jim pushes forward in his chair, picking up the datapad and reading it in a glance. When he looks up, however, he doesn't seem surprised. "Huh. I was actually joking. So it's this or Starfleet Medical, huh? Your people wouldn't like that at all."
"There is a time," Spock says slowly, taking the chair across from Jim, "for discretion. And then there is a time for the necessary."
Jim drops the datapad.
"This is the necessary."
Jim nods grimly before closing his eyes and taking a careful breath. "If you touch me," Jim says slowly, "I will kill you. Or you will have to kill me. Do we understand each other?"
Spock nods. "As you would say: crystal."
Nyota had only left an hour earlier; it wouldn't do for her to be seen leaving his quarters in the early morning, and in any case, her presence tended to preclude sleep. So it was something of a surprise when the door indicated someone wanted admittance.
It's much more a surprise that it's Captain--Cadet Kirk. "Commander?" Kirk says, looking surprisingly awake for someone who had not yet left the bar when Spock and Nyota had retired for the night.
"Can I help you?"
The smile dims, just on the edges. "I'd like to speak to you about our assignments."
Spock almost sighs. Of course. "I have no control over your assignment, Mr. Kirk," he starts, but Kirk, typically, cuts him off.
"But your request would have a lot of weight." Apparently taking Spock's blank look as an invitation, he comes inside, radiating barely leashed energy. "When you have your ship, I'd like to be considered for the position of first officer."
Spock blinks. "On my ship."
Kirk nods quickly, nearly bouncing despite being at formal attention; how he gives that impression Spock isn't entirely sure. "Yes. I'd like to submit my application for consideration." He pauses, body stilling. "Despite our differences, I think we work well together."
Humans, Spock reflects, have surprisingly odd definitions of the meaning of 'well'. "Mr. Kirk--"
"Right, we had some--difficulty at the beginning," Kirk says, dismissing three quarters of their acquaintance with a wave of his hand. "But I think that when we were finally on the same page, our strengths complemented each other."
"When we were doing what you desired, yes, you were very easy to work with," Spock says, recognizing by the intonation that apparently, this is a speech that Kirk's practiced and having no desire to hear it. "But in any case, Mr. Kirk, I must decline, interesting as the remote possibility might have been."
Something changes, invisible, unquantifiable, and surprising; the leashed energy vanishes, and Kirk's expression melts into unreadability. "Can I ask why, sir?"
"I do not feel I need to justify myself," Spock says stiffly, and somehow, Kirk gives the impression he no longer possesses joints. "If that is all--"
Yes, sir, it is." Kirk's salute is regulation perfect. "Thank you for your time."
After he's gone, Spock considers meditation, but the impromptu discussion won't quite settle, and Spock studies it as he goes about his morning, wondering what had caused the abrupt shift in Kirk's mood. Humans were generally inexplicable, but Kirk seemed to be attempting a newer level of irrational. Not a surprise, particularly, but distracting when there were far more important things to consider, not least of which being where his people will settle and arranging his own resignation and transport.
He sees Kirk twice more before his oral finals, which Spock is perfectly aware have been considerably altered from that a normal cadet would face. Being one of the only two people ever to have James Kirk under his direct command, Spock's required to attend, watching as Kirk stands before Starfleet's most elite officers with the same brittle calm he'd shown during his hearing for academic dishonesty.
He knows the second Kirk sees him, watching the body language stutter and change, the brittle edges hardening, before the blue eyes fix on the plethora of admirals and captains again.
When the questioning begins, Spock finds himself thinking that Starfleet and the Vulcan Science Academy might have more in common among their upper echelons than he'd previously suspected.
Kirk stops short, shoulders set defensively, which likely will result in uncomfortable cramping unless Kirk seeks assistance. "Commander."
Spock fights the urge to quicken his pace; Kirk seems on the edge of flight at the slightest excuse, and after the last eight hours, Spock can't entirely fault him. "I wish to extend my congratulations on your performance," Spock says; most species tended to require affirmation after difficult tasks, and logically, it seemed appropriate that he offer them. With Captain Pike still restricted to the medical bay and the loss of Kirk's advisor, there would be no one else to assume the position.
Kirk gives him a sideways look, thick with suspicion. "It was a disaster."
It could have been far worse; Spock has fairly vivid memories of an uncomfortable Tellarite and the sudden malfunction of the environmental controls. "It was adequate."
"I'll take that as agreement and wonder if they'll let me pilot a garbage scow after this," Kirk answers tightly. "If you'll excuse me--"
"You are displeased."
Kirk stops, staring at him. "It's like you read my mind and weren't there for the entire eight hours," Kirk says sharply. "Or did you miss the--"
"What the hell was that about?" Kirk says, the tightness vanishing beneath a flow of raw anger. Startled, Spock watches him turn abruptly, pacing three steps away before turning on him. "I know I passed every damn final, and I have the credit hours. They never take that long unless they--"
"It was of unusual length," Spock admits, but Kirk apparently has lost his ability to process information that isn't coming from his own mouth.
"--looking for a way to get rid of me!"
Spock hesitates. "That is not correct."
Kirk ignores him. "I'm frankly surprised I wasn't cashiered on the spot--"
"That would be impolitic, even if it had been a consideration. Which it was not. If you would restrain your unfounded speculation, I can provide you with an explanation."
Kirk stops short. "What does that even mean?"
Spock looks around the quiet grounds; though there are few people in evidence, Kirk is a draw for attention even when he is not engaging in dramatic renditions in the middle of the courtyard.
"This is not the appropriate location for this discussion," Spock says finally. "If you would come with me--"
"For the pleasure of telling me yourself that they're throwing me out onto a garbage scow? Gee, what could compete with that?"
"Starfleet has no garbage scow. Public sanitation is handled by the city."
Kirk rolls his eyes, but the hot flush of anger recedes somewhat, which Spock supposes could be considered progress. "It's like talking to a computer." Kirk shakes his head. "Fine. Just--let's get it over with."
Spock indicates the way to his quarters, which Kirk reluctantly agrees to with a sharp nod. Locking the door, Spock engages the privacy override; he has students who have an unfortunate tendency to forget to inform him they require his presence until they are already well inside the door.
Kirk plants himself in roughly the same position he'd been in the last time he had been here, with a startling similarity of attitude. "Your oral exam was also your officer test," Spock says finally. "If they decide in your favor, you will be required to spend the summer at Starfleet to complete your command training."
"For garbage scow--"
"Mr. Kirk," Spock starts, but Kirk's mouth is curled up in a slight smile. "I see. You are using humor to dissipate your nervousness."
"It also works in death-defying situations and hideously uncomfortable post-coital discussion," Kirk says, relaxing. "Please continue, Commander."
"Your field promotion is being altered to permanent, with the intention of giving you the Enterprise when your command training is complete."
Kirk's expression blanks. "I thought Vulcans didn't joke."
"We do not."
Kirk doesn't move. "That--then why--"
"Normally, your advisor would be required to inform you of your change in status," Spock says. "Or your commanding officer. As your advisor was lost on the Farragut and Captain Pike is currently still under medical supervision--"
"--you were told to do it as the only other person who had me under their command. Do they not like you much or something?"
Spock averts his eyes; awkwardness is not logical. "I am certain if Starfleet had considered your situation in full, they would have assigned me to do so."
"Oh." Kirk licks his lips, looking away. "Not that I think you're lying--I mean, we're over the cheating and mutiny and abandonment and everything--but really, bullshit. They wouldn't--"
"Normally, no." Spock studies the least normal human being he's ever met. "However, having saved Earth from Nero--"
"That wasn't just me, Spock."
"Granted, Mr. Kirk. If I may continue? Captain Pike also made his intentions very clear who he wishes to succeed him, and as you are well aware, nepotism plays no small part in Starfleet's decisions. Finally, Starfleet cannot afford to--how would you say--pick and choose, due to the paucity of officers available for starship duty." Kirk looks at him incredulously. "Not everyone who graduates from Starfleet wants to command a starship, Mr. Kirk. Especially one whose mission is exploration in unknown space. The loss of your class did not improve the situation that Starfleet finds it in; the number of positions greatly exceeds the number of officers available."
"There's you." The blue eyes narrow abruptly. "Are they holding what happened on the Enterprise against you? There were extenuating circumstances--"
Spock shakes his head; possibly Kirk is the only person who would dismiss attempted murder on the bridge of a starship as a product of 'extenuating circumstances'. "My resignation would make that difficult, Mr. Kirk. I have no intention of remaining in Starfleet after the training for the new officers of the Enterprise is complete."
Kirk's expression changes abruptly. "That's why you refused me when I asked? Before?"
"Of course." Spock considers for a moment. "I admit, your request was--intriguing."
"Oh." Kirk hesitates. "I'm sorry that you're leaving. I was looking forward to working with you again."
Anyone else, Spock supposes, would find that statement rather humorous.
"Really." Kirk relaxes from his formal stance. "Not many people would have the nerve to throw me off the ship and onto a fairly inhospitable replication of Hoth, down to the wildlife"
Spock stiffens. "Mr. Kirk--"
"Hey, I would have done the same thing." Kirk grins suddenly. "You know. If I'd read my record and knew the brig wouldn't be much of a challenge. Which you had." The smile fades. "I hope you'll change your mind, sir."
Spock inclines his head.
"I'd better--" Kirk waves absently at the door. "Oh, for the record, because this part's not on my record; I did survival training in Antarctica my first summer. Next time you want to get rid of me, it probably shouldn't be on anything M class."
Spock looks at him. "I doubt the particular circumstance will occur again, Mr. Kirk."
Kirk rolls his eyes as the door opens, flashing a grin. "I kind of hope not. Next time, maybe we'll just listen to each other first and skip the exile part. Thank you, Commander. I'll be seeing you around."
The door closes before Spock can form a suitable answer.
In retrospect, Spock should have predicted what would happen next.
"Okay, hear me out on this one."
Spock thinks the mistake might have been in permitting their acquaintanceship to extend beyond the required command classes, but he can't quite find it entirely regrettable, despite Captain Kirk's persistence. "Captain--"
"Drop it." Spinning on a heel, Kirk comes to a regulation-perfect stop halfway into Spock's office. "Commander. Spock. Commander? Yeah, not getting used to this anytime soon. Can we drop formalities? Since I haven't even been really commissioned yet?"
Spock doesn't sigh, letting the door closed. "Very well, Mr. Kirk."
Spock's never had these kind of problems with students before. Then again, Kirk is many things, but a student is possibly the least important of them. "Jim."
Kirk rocks back on his heels, pleased with the concession. "Still resigning?"
"As I have told you every time you have inquired for the last three weeks, daily, I am--"
"Still considering your options, I know." Leaning back against the desk, Kirk gives him a blinding smile. "I've been thinking--"
For some reason (for every reason) that statement brings Spock up short. Studying Kirk with narrowed eyes, he considers the bright energy currently inhabiting his office, fresh from outdoors, and wonders why someone, somewhere, hadn't considered the consequences of a summer in San Francisco with nothing but a few classes a day and a lack of variety in subjects or companions. The other members of the Enterprise crew were all in similar training, preparing them for the launch of the repaired Enterprise, but that was a relatively small group, though Spock had noted that Kirk had made a point of engaging in weekly social engagements with as many of them as possible, most especially his future bridge staff.
A bar, in Spock's considered opinion, is not the most appropriate location to encourage crew unity, but Kirk's methods were unlike that of most of the captains of Spock's acquaintance. His youth may have something to do with that, but Spock is beginning to understand why Captain Pike had said James T. Kirk wasn't going to be like any other officer in memory.
Spock will admit to himself if not to Kirk that there are worse captains in Starfleet who are both far older and far more experienced. As far as Spock can ascertain, Kirk has been careful to avoid romantic or social entanglements with anyone over whom he will have direct command, which is a distinct improvement over three captains (and a certain admiral) of Spock's acquaintance.
(Or as Nyota had told him one night: "He still hits on me, but he mostly doesn't mean it. Though it would be funny to see how he'd react if I took him up on it.")
Kirk wants this ship, and for more than the prestige of the position, and without interest in personal gain. It's rare enough that despite himself, Spock finds himself curious what kind of captain he will be in a year's time, in five years, how time and experience will change him.
"--and it's not like you'd enjoy--I'm sorry, would find anything intellectually stimulating about border runs," Kirk says. Spock turns his full attention back to Kirk, watching the long fingers open and close restlessly on the edge of his desk. "And you don't even like teaching."
Spock blinks; the observation is surprisingly acute. "I do not--"
"You like studying and experimenting and you love discovering stuff no one else has, but seriously. You like exactly two of your Xenolinguistics students, and one of them you're--" Kirk trails off with a grin. "Very friendly with. This isn't what you were meant to do. Come on. What's the worst that could happen?"
Spock starts to answer, then checks himself. "I assume you don't want a literal examination of the potential for--"
"Nah. Think positive. Come on, even Ambassador Spock thought it was a good idea--and by the way, thanks for not telling me the world wouldn't end if you knew about him."
"As I remember," Spock answers, wondering when the Ambassador had found time to inform Jim of their conversation, "he was the one that implied the possibility existed."
"Yet you still didn't tell me you'd met him." Jim looks satisfied; he often does when he thinks he has made an irrefutable argument.
"I do not make a habit of reporting all my daily interactions."
Crossing the room, Spock takes his seat at the desk, hoping to encourage Kirk to move to a chair, but Kirk just swivels around, pushing papers (neatly, at least) out of the way of the knee he hooks over the edge, looking perfectly content to sit there all day.
"You've denied three applications for the position of First Officer," Spock observes. Kirk nods agreement. "All of those who applied are officers with both experience and training far in excess of yours--or mine, for that matter."
"Yeah, that's the thing. I don't want to do this like anyone else. I want to do this like we'd do it." Kirk settles himself for what appears to be a long discussion. "I need someone with experience in the 'great and perilous adventure that is space'," Spock watches Kirk's finger quotes and wonders who was unfortunate enough to try to talk seriously to him, "and you need someone who will actually argue with you without hiding under the desk and hyperventilating."
"I have never perceived behavior--"
"Oh please. You're just used to it. Because seriously, if you've never noticed people flinching when you start looking Vulcan-y--"
"Vulcany. That 'my superiority is so great that I cannot bother myself to show you how very wrong you are, unworthy human creature'." Spock suspects the toneless inflection is supposed to be mimicry of himself. "Yes! That one. Look in a mirror. That's the one that makes everyone try to find new and unexciting places to be that aren't near you." Jim frowns. "I mean, I like it, but you know, people." He waves a hand toward the door, apparently indicating either Starfleet or perhaps, the quadrant; there is no way to be certain. "And I'm great with you terrorizing my crew. It's funny."
Spock honestly can't formulate a response to that.
"Look, just think about it, at least so Pike stops looking like he wonders how good the drugs were when he recommended I get the Enterprise. Which I have under excellent authority were very, very good." Sliding off the desk, Kirk gives a sloppy salute. "I gotta date with a Gorn and at least two hypos for the bruising after he's done wiping the floor with me. I'll see you tomorrow, Commander."
Spock watches Kirk leave, a whirlwind of energy that makes the office seem smaller and darker in his absence; a comparative experience that Spock is well aware is the result of subjective perception, but no less true for being so. After a few minutes, he gives up trying to finish evaluations, sending a message to Admiral Pike's office to request a meeting.
The reply is almost immediate; Spock suspects that he is not the only one who has been granted the focused, unending attention of the youngest captain in Starfleet history.
"Mr. Spock." Admiral Pike grins, gesturing him toward a chair. Spock finds himself studying the remarkably clear edge of the desk, despite the clutter than tends to accumulate everywhere else, and thinks that Mr. Kirk must have already paid his daily visit. "Jimmy been at you again?"
Spock settles uncomfortably on the chair. "He has been very--persistent."
"We're up to five outright refusals," the Admiral says, looking at his console with a considering expression. "He rejected the last two as soon as he got the applications an hour ago. Didn't even read them. The admiralty isn't happy."
"The emotional state of the admiralty tends to be in a constant state of flux where Captain Kirk is concerned, sir," Spock observes.
The Admiral grins. "You're developing a sense of humor."
"I ask that you do not insult me, Admiral." Spock tilts his head as the Admiral's grin widens. "I screened the last two applications personally for both experience and compatibility. He is being deliberately difficult."
"He's digging in his heels all right," the Admiral agrees. "Under the circumstances, and considering he's avoided trying to trade on his current status for any favors, Starfleet is not willing to push the issue. For now. He's suiciding his decision; it's going to be you or it's going to be a direct appointment, and I think we can both guess what kind of person they'll saddle him with if they have the chance. And exactly how long they'll last."
Spock's projections do not show a satisfactory conclusion to anyone that the Admiralty might think would be appropriate to serve as Captain Kirk's first officer. "I see."
"I know this wouldn't be your ideal situation--"
"I wish to accept Captain Kirk's offer, sir."
The Admiral lifts his head; Spock can't remember any other time in their acquaintance that Admiral Pike has ever looked so shocked. "Really."
"Vulcans do not joke, Admiral."
"Right." Picking up a paper, the Admiral puts it down again without any indication he has any awareness of what he is doing. "Spock, I'm aware that Starfleet has put a great deal of pressure on you to accept the position, considering your history with him." The Admiral hesitates. "For their own reasons."
"They have made it clear that they expect me to exert a restraining influence on Captain Kirk." Some were less circumspect in their expectations, a situation that Spock felt uniquely qualified to state that, had he been human, he would have found both distasteful and offensive by turn. It was the sort of thing, however, that he suspects Captain Kirk would find amusing.
Typically, Admiral Pike is more blunt. "Fix him or find a reason for them to dump him from Fleet, yes."
"Starfleet's opinions and motives have no bearing on my decision."
The Admiral studies him. "He can charm anyone into just about anything," he says slowly. "But that kind of thing wouldn't work on you, either. Does he know?"
"Hmm." Sitting back, the Admiral picks up a stylus, shifting it restlessly between his fingers. "You want me to block further applications?"
"I would appreciate your efforts to redirect further candidates, sir."
The Admiral nods thoughtfully. "And you have reasons of your own for not telling him and putting us both out of his misery. Which you aren't going to share."
"Your acquaintance with Captain Kirk is of longer duration than my own, but I think I can state with some certainty that I've come to understand--somewhat--how his mind works. It will be to all our benefit if the Captain--continues to consider this a challenge to his ingenuity."
"He's used to working for what he wants; that's how he knows it's worth the effort. And you like to watch." The Admiral's mouth trembles on a smile. "You were my first choice, just like he was my first choice for you when you were under consideration for the Enterprise. But I'd like to hear your reasons."
"Are they required, sir?"
The Admiral settles comfortably in his chair. "Did you know that he's managed to be here for lunch every day this week? I assume if I had a daughter with a crush, the conversations would be a lot like those lunches. So indulge me, Commander. I think I'm owed."
Spock considers the definition of 'crush' and compares it to Captain Kirk's behavior. It isn't entirely inaccurate. "It would be a challenge to work with him, sir."
"Spock, you don't do anything unless it's a challenge. You make your own challenges when Starfleet can't accommodate you. Give me something better than that."
Spock hesitates. "It would be accurate to say that we would both be the richer for the experience. Our strengths are complementary and--"
"Blah blah blah. You've been recruited by ten different captains in the three years you've been here and turned them down flat, and none of them have the history you and Jimmy already managed to accumulate. Do better."
"You have stated you do not have any objections--"
"I don't. In fact, if it came down to the wire, I'd freeze the position and let him go without than risk the clusterfuck that the Admiralty would initiate to keep him in check, then wait you both out. Lieutenant Uhura is senior enough to de facto the position for the time being, and she's perfectly capable of keeping him from tossing himself at the nearest no-win just to prove he can win it. But I don't think you're in this to save Kirk from himself."
Spock considers his response; despite the carefully considered, rational reasons that made this a logical choice, there's a very real core that Spock is aware lacks logic altogether.
"You once said that Starfleet officers had become too predictable in their responses," Spock answers. "And that our greatest weakness was that we had become immured in our own fears of the unknown after the events of the Kelvin, permitting routine to replace innovation and conformity to be the most important trait of a Starfleet officer. While Captain Kirk has yet to learn many of the traits of a successful officer or captain, time and experience will correct those flaws; he has shown exemplary--"
Admiral Pike blinks. "Spock. Just say 'I don't trust Starfleet not to mess up the only captain in the fleet who I can train up to my expectations and enjoys running into danger wearing a blindfold as much as I do'."
Spock stiffens. "Sir?"
"Spock," the Admiral says, voice softening, "I was your advisor, I handpicked your early assignments, I know why you teach at the Academy, and I know why you insisted on a disciplinary hearing when he cheated on the Kobayashi Maru. See, I don't really need you to tell me why you're doing this; that part I get. What I don't know is what changed your mind."
"I do not see how it is relevant--"
"Yeah, you do, and I'll drop it, but I'm going to bet now he won't, and one day, he's going to ask." Before Spock can answer, he shakes his head. "Your assignment is approved; I'll backdoor it up the chain of command so he doesn't get wind of it."
Spock rises to his feet, feeling oddly unsettled. "Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate your discretion."
Admiral Pike shrugs. "I'm luckily being sent to Tokyo for a consultation, so you'll be the only one left for Jim to bother during his free time for the next couple of weeks."
Spock lets silence suffice as an answer.
The Admiral snickers. "Have it your own way, Mr. Spock. I, for one, look forward to seeing what shape you and young Captain Kirk plan to leave the galaxy in when you're done. Dismissed."
Jim doesn't sleep at all that night; even the light doze leaves his mind undefended. even a psi-null could sense the uncomfortable tangle that was both emotion and physiology combining in ways a human body was never meant to function. Spock gave up meditation after two hours, awareness of Jim a thin wall away almost as powerful as Jim's awareness of him.
An hour later, the door opens, and Jim looks at him in unconcealed exhaustion. "Fix the replicator or shoot me, or I'm going to snap and I'm taking you with me."
Spock uncoils himself from the floor. "I can--"
"I told you--"
"To help you sleep."
Jim's mouth tightens, blue eyes electric in the dim light. After a few seconds of hesitation, he comes in the room, kicking the door closed before sitting down on the edge of the still-made bed. "You haven't slept either."
"I was aware of the consequences of--"
"Right, of course you were. You hacked my medical records." Swiveling, Kirk lies back, blinking up at the ceiling. "Will it--do anything to you?"
Spock considers the question, carefully forming his reply. "The situation is unprecedented, but I do not think it can affect me against my will."
"Because if it's both of us--"
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Spock feels Jim tense. "Close your eyes."
After a second, Jim does, though the tension in his body doesn't change, tightening at the first touch against his face. "My mind to your mind."
With a sigh, Jim turns his head, eyes slitting open dazedly as he relaxes all at once. "Spock," he breathes, and Spock fights the urge to lean closer; this isn't for him. "There was this girl--"
He does not know.
"My thoughts to your thoughts," Spock whispers, controlling the rush of memory and feeling at the first touch. Kirk's mind opens so easily, welcoming, hopeful, afraid, with anger running beneath like a river on the verge of overflowing its banks, a flash flood that rolls through him.
I will do what I must, T'Pau, but not with him.
"There's always a girl, with us," Kirk whispers dreamily. "It was easier than admitting what we both already knew."
Spock fights the tremble, but he can't fight the way Kirk turns toward him, open, eager, willing, here if nowhere else. Threading through each memory, Spock sets it aside T'Pring, easing heat and hatred, the feel of sun-scorched sand and bare, unforgiving rock, and a friendship that had defined them while they defined what the Federation would become.
His blood does not burn. He is my friend.
"I faced you on the sands of Gol, but I would have faced her."
I shall do neither.
"I would have fought her for you and made my claim there and then. I would have killed her. Instead--"
I have killed my captain and my friend.
"Spock," Jim breathes, hand sliding through Spock's filled with a grief that consumed logic and reason both, a startling joy that blotted out the world. "I've missed you so goddamn much…."
"Sleep," Spock whispers, and Jim's eyes close.
"…crazy." Kirk sighs, letting himself be pulled downward, too slowly, his body fighting even if his mind did not. "You drive me crazy. I know it's not real," on a sigh. "But it feels real."
Spock waits until Kirk is quiet, a boneless sprawl of pure exhaustion. Two hours, maybe three, before he wakens again. It won't get better, Spock knows; what they don't know is how quickly worse will come.
Moving away from the bed, Spock the feels the tiny thread of awareness he built between them strengthen, enough for now to warn him when Jim awakens, and decides now would be an acceptable time to adjust the replicator.
They are three months into their commission when Captain Kirk finally decides the status quo is no longer acceptable.
In many ways, Captain Kirk can be predictable, but in others, he is not. In retrospect, however, Spock thinks he should have predicted that it would be a staff meeting where the Captain would decide to air his grievances. It would be his best audience.
"Right," the Captain says abruptly, putting down his coffee cup halfway through Lieutenant Sulu's report, startling everyone into silence. "Do you need me here for this? I mean, other than the nodding. Spock's ship's champion at it, so I'd hate to compete with my First Officer."
Nyota looks up from her datapad with a frown; two chairs to her left, Dr. McCoy straightens with an alarmed look that Spock interprets as belated dread. Setting down the requisition logs, Spock folds his hands and waits for the Captain to continue; there is nothing, he thinks, illogical about curiosity in how Captain Kirk will approach the problem Spock had recognized within two weeks of their departure from Earth.
"Captain?" Lieutenant Sulu says warily.
"Just--" Captain Kirk puts his datapad down and stands up. "I'm going back to bed. If the Romulans attack, call me to kill them. You know, when there's something to do."
Picking up his coffee and datapad, he leaves his crew to re-evaluate their opinion of his relative sanity. Spock observes the bewildered, outraged, and worried expressions of the bridge crew and department heads before rising to his feet. "Lieutenant Uhura," he says, "please continue in my and the Captain's absence."
"Yes, sir," she says, rising to take the Captain's chair without hesitation. Following Captain Kirk's exit, Spock emerges into the short hall that connects the myriad rooms that comprise the captain's public and private quarters.
Stopping at the door to the Captain's quarters, he waits as the computer announces him, then proceeds to ignore the shouted, "Oh fuck yourself, Spock, I'm sulking," and enters the brightly-lit room.
"Captain," he begins, as Captain Kirk stares intently at the small hand-held device that Spock identifies as an Andorian game console, an indulgence of far too many students to their scholastic misfortune. The bed is unmade, and from the state of the floor, it seems the Captain has indulged in a display of temper. "May I ask--"
"Yes, I was very unprofessional, but that's not new, and I know the lecture, so spare me." After a few seconds of intense playing, the Captain continues. "You know, I did the command track thing," he says, not looking up from the holographic display of what appears to be tiny ships being decimated by a large round sphere. "Learned about command and leadership and also, there was a class in paperwork. Which in retrospect was pretty useful, because otherwise, I never would have known there were three types of pollen to avoid if I want to escape embarrassing outdoor sex with people I'm not really attracted to."
Spock has made a concerted effort not to think of the mission where that knowledge had been tested.
"I learned about the different departments, what they do, what they don't, their structure, their hierarchy," Captain Kirk continues venomously. "I learned strategy and tactics and how to use and break any weapon in the Federation database. I learned warp engine theory and applied engineering, the four major Federation languages, and six more just because they were after two pm and I like afternoon classes."
Spock nods; he's learned over time humans appreciate a visible sign of attention.
"I'm certified to pilot up to a Constellation class starship and any Federation shuttle in the catalogue, a warbird of Romulan or Klingon manufacture, and I can cheat in any type of poker, including Andorian Stand Up, and that's not easy when a third of the game is telepathic. But--and this is weird, so just go with me here--no one ever got around to telling me what the fuck I'm supposed to do when I'm not either saving the galaxy or blowing up anything in sight."
The sphere abruptly explodes, and Jim gives it a narrow look. "And I just beat my last video game. Spock, how do you feel about war with the Romulans? Because if I don't get something to do, I'm gonna start one."
Spock considers the man who is both his Captain and a potential Federation terrorist, and makes an executive decision. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
Captain Kirk cranes his neck, staring at Spock. "Wow. So usually you're like, being polite or something? Okay, I gotta hear this. Hit me. And sit down, Commander. We'll pretend I have any authority here because it makes me feel better."
Spock considers their relative positions, then crosses to the small couch that Jim dragged from the more formal reception room and covered with a loudly-colored blanket of unknown manufacture that smells vaguely of what could be somewhat questionable herbs.
"You are dissatisfied with your current duties--"
"I don't have any duties." Abruptly, the Captain gets to his feet. "Spock, quick question--tell me my schedule. You made it. Tell me what I do every day."
"You take the alpha shift on the bridge five days a week," Spock recites. "Gamma for sixth day and against my objections, alpha and gamma for the seventh. You meet with each department once monthly, bridge staff weekly, and a full staff meeting bimonthly. Two hours daily are devoted to bureaucratic concerns and one for reading reports. You have scheduled briefings with each department head on an as-needed basis, though I have noticed that this has become a weekly occurrence and have explained--"
"That I make them nervous and it makes them cry or something. Now, read that list of things I can't do. Because you made that, too."
Spock shifts unnecessarily. "Captain--"
Dropping abruptly on the edge of the bed, Captain Kirk leans forward. "How about I tell you? Anything. Anything that is remotely concerned with the day to day maintenance of a ship I am nominally responsible for. Oh, it's not just you," Jim says with a wave toward the door that seems somehow threatening. "Uhura slapped my hands when she caught me at the comm board, and Scotty follows me around the entire time I'm in engineering like he thinks I'm going to make off with the warp core, and Sulu and Chekov always talk about their swords when I get too close to the helm, so you know, it's not just you trying to drive me insane. You're just the one that follows me around, just in case I run across something interesting to do so you can bring that to a halt."
"A Captain's duties--"
"Are titular and subject to the whims of his First Officer and entire goddamn crew? Because I think you are a liar and this state of perpetual boredom is why you turned down captaining a ship. Not every day is going to be rainbows and puppies and destroying the enemies of the Federation, I get that, but there's got to be a happy medium between red alert and homicidal boredom."
"Are you aware that your bridge officers have never before served as senior staff?" Spock says finally, waiting until he has Captain Kirk's full attention. "Nor have most of the department heads. Few have served as more than junior officers, and even fewer have done so beyond their cadet status. Some have never served on a starship in any capacity. They are understandably nervous when their Captain appears to be questioning their judgment."
"I have served as both junior and senior science officer before taking this position."
"And this is how this goes? You are telling me the entirety of my duties is to look positive and engaged while flying through dead space, pretend I like diplomacy, and listen to people tell me they have much more interesting jobs than I do? Spock, sanitation has become really fascinating recently. Do you know why? You haven't yet told me it's against regulations for me to go down there and see how everything works, and I told the department head I'd tell you he was hitting on Uhura if he said anything. So you know, thanks for being scary and all, but I'm not sure this is the kind of command structure we're looking for out here."
"You're better than me at pretty much everything. I get that." Jim leans back on both arms. "If you want it in writing, fine. You. Are. Good. At. Every. Fucking. Thing. But you shouldn't have to be, do you get what I'm saying? You can let me do some things. Like inspect engineering, or check out what those crazy pilots are doing these days, or hang out in maintenance so I can know the guys who keep the shuttles running and maybe on a really crazy day, I can, I don't know, learn how my own ship functions." Abruptly, Jim sighs. "They promoted me because they had to, when the normal course of my life would be serving on different ships and learning all these things for myself. It's not that I would have had a blast having to take orders from someone else--yes, that look again, why am I here when I could be at Starfleet, bored as hell, I get that a lot from you--but at least I'd be doing something."
"I'm not kidding about a war. I can falsify a communication and get a shuttle and there are five M-class planets in range, so I'll get back to the ship even if you throw me off again. So we've got to figure this out."
"Captain," Spock tries again, "I have never stated anything you wished to do was against regulation. When you asked, I replied it was not within my experience as a Starfleet officer."
The Captain stiffens, staring at him suspiciously. "But you said--" The Captain trails off, eyes widening . "Wait a second. Have you been--have you been testing me or something?"
Spock thinks of Admiral Pike; this conversation would appeal to his unusual sense of humor. "Captain, I--"
"You thought I'd get off on the joy of being captain and so all the hard stuff was going to be handled by the smart kids?"
"I did not mean to imply--"
"Yeah, you did, and I'm one of the smart kids. If I were serving on this ship in any other capacity, I'd be booby-trapping the captain's bathroom. I annoy myself that much." Throwing up his hands, the Captain shakes his head. "I didn't push it, because I have no idea what I'm doing here and screwing up how the ship runs just because I'm bored seems kind of overkill. But all this time, you were waiting for me to--what? Object? Break down and blow up something?"
Spock tilts his head. "You told me once you did not wish to do as others before you had done. I have been giving you the opportunity to decide what that will be while assuring that the ship continues to function adequately. If you wish for there to be change, then you will need to decide what form those changes will take and act accordingly."
"You are--" He stops, shaking his head with the beginnings of a smile. "How long did you think it would it take for me to realize what was going on?"
"I underestimated the time it would take," Spock admits. "I had expected it would require a full year before you felt confident enough in your command to take a more active role in ship operations."
"And you couldn't just say it straight out?" The smile fades, eyes sharpening. "That's not it, though, is it? Not all of it. Why this way and not just tell me?"
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I do not understand, Captain. Please elucidate."
"When I know, I certainly will, Mr. Spock." Sitting back, the Captain gives him an unreadable look. "All right. We're going to start from the beginning. I want a complete list of your duties and that of every single member of this crew, which you probably have memorized or something, so I know who is where and what they're doing. And we're back to disapproving. Custom or regulation?"
"Custom," Spock admits after a moment of thought. "Fraternization rules--"
"Are ignored everywhere or I wouldn't be here today. Or most of Starfleet, for that matter. There's a high correlation between long missions and birth rates, did you know that? Skip to--"
"By tradition, Captains do not fraternize with their crew--"
"Didn't I just say--"
"--because familiarity can lead to impaired judgment. There have been many reasons over the centuries for the sharp delineation between command and crew, but one has remained constant. The distance a Captain keeps from his crew is to avoid the possibility, if not probability, that the Captain's judgment will be compromised if he is required to send them into danger."
Captain Kirk stills, expression growing serious. "I want to know the people who serve on this ship, and they need to know me. Because you're right; I'm going to give orders that will put some of them in danger, and maybe get them killed. They deserve to know who the guy is that can do that."
"And you believe that you will be unaffected by--"
Captain Kirk shakes his head. "The day that I can send anyone to die on my order without it affecting me is the day I resign from Starfleet, because that's when I'm a danger to anyone under my command. It's not supposed to be easy. If it is, I don't have the right to wear this uniform."
Spock nods slow agreement. "As you wish."
"And you're--not going to argue." The Captain leans forward, looking suspicious. "Tell me I'm doing it wrong, or that--"
"My duties do not include being a tour guide for your career, Captain. I will offer my advice, as needed, or you may ask it. But the final decision is, and always will be, yours."
The expression on the Captain's face is not unlike that of a small child denied a desired sweet. "Yeah, and the 'I am not an oracle to tell your future, Jim, so please stop asking' thing. You and your counterpart? Much more alike than I thought when I met him."
Surprised, Spock doesn't answer; it hadn't occurred to him that the Captain would continue contact with Ambassador Spock.
"Okay, so," Jim continues, looking alarmingly pleased. "A few more things. Twice-weekly meetings, just you and me. Officially debrief of ship status and crew, unofficially explaining in small and easily understood words what it is that keeps us from a quick but hideously painful death in by implosion in the vacuum of space. Good so far?"
"When we aren't on duty, call me Jim and pretend you aren't imagining a happier world where I never escaped from Hoth."
Spock hesitates. "I am curious--you have referred the planet as Hoth twice now. Does the name have significance?"
The Captain starts to grin. "And during one of our twice weekly meetings, while you teach me how a ship runs, I will instruct you on the wonder that is ancient pop cultural references. See? This is a working relationship I can get behind. Think they're still talking about how perfectly the ship is running in that meeting?"
Spock considers. "Typically, a full staff meeting that includes the heads of all departments will take several hours."
"Excellent." Getting to his feet, Captain Kirk motions toward the door. "Uhura's in charge, right? Tell her to drag it out as long as possible. We're going to tour the ship and I'm going to find Scotty's still and steal pieces of it in exchange for fifteen minutes with the warp core. And maybe find out where the hell everything is. Give me five minutes."
Grinning, the Captain vanishes into the bathroom and Spock considers what he's just agreed to.
All things considered, Spock thinks, mapping the most efficient route through the ship, this confrontation could have yielded far less positive results. "Captain?"
The Captain returns, picking up the game console with a sigh. "What?"
"Admiral Phillips was an avid collector. Over the course of his time as captain, he collected memorabilia from every world he visited to celebrate the various ways different beings achieved successful reproduction."
The Captain drops the game console, blue eyes wide. It is not often Spock can elicit such a response from him. "You're telling me Phillips--Phillips, has a stupid regulation for every occasion Phillips--collected alien sex toys?"
"As I was one of those required to procure them and explain their usage in terms he could easily understand--"
"Unprofessional tantrums in a staff meeting aren't going to shock you." Straightening the hem of his tunic, the Captain grins. "Consider me schooled, Mr. Spock. Shall we?"
"As you wish, Captain."
Spock feels Jim wake up, but it's an hour before Jim's mind finally settles under the force of the iron will that Spock's been witness to on numerous occasions in their shared history. Pouring the tea, Spock carries it to the table, remembering mornings doing this for his mother when she'd spent too many hours for her human constitution closeted in her study, intent on finishing one more algorithm until the sun had risen.
Emerging into the kitchen, Jim blinks at the cup, opens his mouth, then shrugs, perching on the edge of the table and taking the cup in a single drink despite the heat. "Traditional Vulcan herbal tea to relieve tension and clarify thought," Jim murmurs distractedly, tongue chasing the taste. "Kind of chamomile-y."
"Their properties are similar," Spock answers, sipping his own cup; there is no reason to ask how he would know the benefits of an obscure Vulcan tea. "How do you feel?"
Jim snorts. "The answer to that would only be appropriate in low budget pornography. How much time to do I have before we bring out the bondage without the bondage fun times?"
"If you are referring to your control over--"
"One day. Perhaps two."
Jim stills, cup forgotten in one hand, eyes flickering to Spock and fixing. "I thought--I read that meditation can--"
"You are not meditating, and even if you were, the--unique properties of this circumstance seem to indicate it would do little. If you would permit contact with--"
"No!" Pushing off the table, Jim fumbles the cup, catching it with one too quick movement before grabbing for a chair. "Oh. Add vertigo, would you? New symptom."
"That symptom is more likely the result of sleep deprivation." Spock doesn't move to help him, watching as Jim slides himself into a chair, burying his head in his arms on the table. "More tea?"
"Sure, why not?" Spock brings the small teapot to the table, pouring the scalding liquid, but just that slightest breath too slow; Jim's fingers brush his, the contact a humming brightness that's almost enough to wipe away thought.
Jim's head snaps up, blue eyes incandescent, still everywhere but behind his eyes. Neither of them move, and somewhere deep, something shifts, reaching outward; it's as involuntary as breathing, and it's only the sound of the teacup knocking over, the trickle of heat over the tips of his fingers that reminds Spock to pull away.
Jim blinks drowsily, looking down at his tea-stained hand in confusion. "Ouch." Drawing his hand back, he studies the skin impersonally. "I think."
Spock takes out clean gauze from the medkit Dr. McCoy had given him before he left. "Jim--"
"It doesn't hurt." Jim presses a finger into the reddened skin, eyes closing briefly with a softly indrawn breath, laughing a little as he presses harder. "Weird," he murmurs, looking at Spock from under his lashes. "It burns."
The faintly dreamy expression fades all at once; snatching the gauze, he clumsily bandages the blistering skin, getting to his feet. "I'm going for a run," he says; Spock cannot remember Jim ever running before. "That's a subtle way to say I'm getting out of here. Don't follow me."
"I need a blood and dermal sample," Spock says steadily, burned fingers locked behind his back. "There may be--"
"If there was, you guys would have worked this out a long time ago," Jim says, but motions for the kit. "But who am I to interfere with the progress of science? Give it here. I know the drill."
Handing it over, Spock waits on the other side of the kitchen, only approaching the table when Jim has already left, wincing at the bright light of midmorning. Sitting down, Spock ignores the kit, stretching his fingers, pressing a nail against the beginnings of a blister.
Jim was correct; it doesn't hurt at all.
Spock refuses to do something so undignified as run when Captain Kirk strides toward the turbolift, but he does allow his pace to quicken to join him before the doors close. "You have the conn, Lieutenant Uhura," Spock says, ignoring the Captain's glare.
"Not in the mood," the Captain says briefly, voice low enough to reach no farther than Spock. The Captain has few scruples regarding arguing, sometimes at the top of his voice, with Spock (or anyone in range) on the bridge, but true disagreement is private. Spock's not entirely certain it's his own influence, or something the Captain worked out for himself, but the results are satisfactory. "Not today."
"Would you prefer to wait until after the Romulans arrive?" Spock asks dryly as the doors shut between them and the bridge crew, none of whom (with the exception, perhaps, of Nyota) aware this is not a light matter at all. "Engineering."
"Wait," the Captain says tightly, then turns on him. "Computer, stop turbolift. What the hell are you--"
"We need to consult with Engineering to ascertain what effect taking on excess passengers will have on our--"
"Scotty already reported--"
"And perhaps verifying the data personally will give you the opportunity to reconsider your stance before you give an order you will regret."
"I won't regret it at all."
He would, and he knows it; Spock waits out the tight, furious pacing that he's finally categorized as the Captain resisting an inevitable decision. In general, Captain Kirk can be trusted to talk himself out of a rash course of action, given time and space to do so, and a turbolift, Spock's discovered, is both easily accessible and of sufficient privacy to allow the Captain both.
"Right, I would," the Captain says abruptly, leaning back against the side of the turbolift. "But in a way I can live with. They're idiots, you get that, right?"
Spock can't entirely disagree with the assessment of Starfleet. "The Neutral Zone was established to suspend hostilities between the Federation and the Romulan and Klingon Empires," he begins, and knows at the first word it was the incorrect approach; Captain Kirk straightens, all aggressive frustration, and without another target, the entirety is focused on Spock.
"Yes, to keep a peace that's not a peace at all. We'd do better to let them declare war and be done with it. They kill us and then apologize. We pretend we believe them and do nothing, and they think we're idiots. And you know what? I think we are, too."
It's not the first time the Captain's expressed dissatisfaction with the armed neutrality between the Federation and the Klingon and Romulan empires; the logic behind it isn't entirely inaccurate. The border skirmishes--accidents by report, but Spock is as capable of reading between the lines as James Kirk is--have increased since the destruction of Vulcan. The perceived weakness of the Federation combined with hostilities with their traditional quasi-ally had changed the Romulan Empire's long standing wariness to provoke the Federation.
There would be war already, Spock suspects, if the Klingons and Romulans weren't currently engaged in an equally armed form of peace, with far higher casualties. The repercussions of Nero's actions have not been entirely negative in that instance.
"At this time," Spock begins, but the Captain cuts him off with a growled obscenity, pacing three tight steps toward the wall before turning again. "We have had this discussion," Spock says thoughtfully, watching the Captain glare at him. "I did not disagree with all of your conclusions on the problems that resulted from the Federation's current course of action, with this caveat; we are not authorized by the Federation to begin a war."
"I could make it look like an accident," the Captain says with a frown that means he's conceded the point. For now, at least.
Spock raises an eyebrow; it's as close as he allows himself to express satisfaction. "The colonists were aware that settling in the Neutral Zone was dangerous," Spock says, knowing by the expression on the Captain's face that he's prepared to listen. "We have given them the option to abandon their planet before the Romulans detect their presence and we will return them to Federation space, where a suitable planet will be found for them to colonize that is not in the center of disputed space. Crossing over, even if only to retrieve them, would be taken as a declaration of war by the Empire."
"Only if they catch us."
""I estimate there is a ninety-three point six two five percent chance that they will do so."
Captain Kirk looks at him curiously. "That's still a six point three seven five percent chance that they won't and honestly, Spock, the way you manage to pull off expressionless shock than I can subtract is getting pretty insulting."
"I am sure I have no idea what you are talking about, Captain. And no . There is a point zero zero one seven six two eight five nine percent chance that we will not be caught."
"I'm not ever doing math in front of you again, so just break it down."
"In order of likelihood: the warp nacelles may malfunction, a singularity may spontaneously form in our general vicinity, the Romulan Empire may surrender, the speed of entropy might increase leading to the heat death of the universe--"
"Are you telling me it's more likely that the universe will end than we can get across the border undetected?"
Spock recalculates the odds, adjusting for the presence of Commander Scott on the ship and Ensign Chekov's broken finger. "It is slightly less likely the universe will end than we will get across a highly guarded border to a planet that the Romulans are perfectly aware we want to evacuate without being detected However--"
The Captain looks at him sourly. "Don't even try. You win. Thank you for your advice, Mr. Spock."
"As is my duty," Spock says calmly. "As it is the end of your shift and I am aware of your tendency to brood if left to your own devices--"
"Aww. You want to arrange a playdate, Spock?"
Human idiom. Typical. "I'm unaware of the meaning of--"
"And they say Vulcans never lie. Wanna go a few rounds?" The Captain bounces lightly on his toes, pent-up energy that needs an outlet. Very few of the human members of the crew are capable of, or willing to, give him the kind of physical outlet he needs to purge excess frustration, and after three medical interventions (predictably, none of them to treat Captain Kirk), Spock had come to the logical conclusion it was more satisfactory for all involved to handle the Captain himself in this particular mood.
It isn't a hardship; even with inferior human strength, James Kirk is a plethora of surprises, and does, in the Captains' words, make Spock 'work for it'. "If you wish."
"Give me an hour, and I'll meet you in practice room two. Engineering," Settling at near regulation attention, the Captain gives him a sideways glance. "Admit it; you like kicking my ass all over the room. It's cathartic."
Spock will admit to no such thing.
"All right," the Captain says, levering himself onto his knees, wiping a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth and licking his thumb clean with a broad sweep of tongue before grinning up at Spock, "that was fun. And you're holding back."
"You are distracted." Spock watches as the Captain bounces back to his feet, though Spock knows his left knee is still weak from the last kick. "I do not wish to take advantage of your lack of focus. This is not a bar brawl."
"Did you memorize my entire record or just read Pike's diary or something?" The Captain stretches briefly, then nods. "'Captain's Log, today I found my childhood hero's son beating up some Starfleet cadets in a bar. It was awesome! Do you think he'd like me more if I gave him a starship?'"
"I am relatively certain no such entry exists. However, I admit I found your psychological profile intriguing. There several words that seemed to fail in translation. Perhaps you could explain what Dr. Richardson meant by 'adrenaline junkie'. I admit, while I understand both words in their correct and idiomatic form--"
"You're just mad there are too many M class planets around and Scotty likes me too much to let you throw me off the ship," Jim says smugly. "Come on, admit it, this is fun."
"I do not recognize physical injury as a source of 'fun', Captain," Spock answers dryly. It is a convenient and productive way to engage excess energy and continue to improve performance, laudable goals that Spock thinks one day he might admit have nothing to do with why he comes here with Jim and no one else.
"I drew first blood, I call first names." Settling on the balls of his feet, Spock watches the body language shift from casual to intent; focused, Spock thinks, watching him switch now that the first rush of aggression has been sated. "And it's a lot of fun. Going one on one, pitting your strength against someone else, seeing which one of you will be left standing--"
"Ah. You enjoy engaging in primitive displays of male dominance. Fascinating."
Jim winces. "Yeah, I try not to think about that when you have me in a chokehold. Hurts my masculinity. Ready?"
Jim's mouth quirks. "You want this zone standoff over as badly as I do, and we both know it." Then he attacks.
Spock is used to this particular strategy and counters catches the first punch easily, twisting Jim's arm behind his back. With the ease of long practice, Jim slides out of it, a heel connecting to the back of his knee before he's aware Jim's freed himself. Pivoting away, Jim watches him, ultrafocused and thinking, letting go of everything but what they're doing now.
During his time at the Academy, Jim had been appointed assistant in hand to hand combat, and at their last refit, had agreed to teach a short course for advanced cadets, as much for evaluating the latest batch of recruits as anything else: "So they learn the world doesn't throw punches on beat; you'd be surprised what your first bottle to the head teaches you about expecting the unexpected." Their last six months aboard the Enterprise have seen a sharp increase in Jim's ability to judge an effective offense as well as establish a more effective defense, which Spock is willing to attribute to their regular matches.
He is also willing to admit, if he were asked, that regular practice with Jim has been equally educational for himself.
"You are improving," Spock says.
"My cadets could give you a run for your money," Jim says, throwing another punch and barely dodging out of the way of Spock's counter. "Had to keep ahead of them somehow. There was new one, T'Prina, who outclassed all of us, even me. And let me say, T'Prina can kick some serious ass for a first year cadet."
"She is extremely proficient," Spock answers, bringing up T'Prina's file in memory. Starfleet had received an unusual number of cadets from the newly established Vulcan colony. While the Vulcan Science Academy was reformed almost as soon as they had found a suitable planet, the limited number of instructors had led to far smaller maximum class sizes and a drastically reduced selection of classes. While waiting for admission, some Vulcans had chosen to continue their higher education at Starfleet.
The logic is impeccable, but Spock suspects, after meeting the new cadets during their last refit, that current political thought on Vulcan possibly had a greater influence than practicality. Sarek's infrequent messages had alluded to conflict among the elders, but more importantly, the shift of awareness of their diminished population in comparison to the rest of the Federation. With that came the fear of diminished influence; Spock suspects the Academy will boast unusual numbers of Vulcan students in the future.
"She has a nasty right hook and an ability to look like she's standing perfectly still while she wipes the floor with you," Jim says breathlessly, catching Spock's wrist and slipping beneath it before it can connect. "But she did say I was adequate for a human. I liked her."
Jim gives him a grin, licking away a drop of blood from his lip as he backs off two steps, all wired energy and barely leashed control. "Did you?"
"Asked her out for a drink. Vulcans don't drink alcohol, but who doesn't love coffee? No one I'd serve with, that's for sure."
Vulcans didn't make casual attachments; Spock considers T'Prina's attentions in light of that, sweeping Jim's feet out from under him at the next approach. Almost immediately, he rolls away, balancing briefly on the balls of his feet. "Don't worry; she thinks I'm okay for a member of a species two steps from swinging in the trees and communicating in grunts. Told me so, right over the second coffee. Think she was blowing me off or playing hard to get?"
"I have not had the opportunity to form an opinion on her character, Captain."
"Like that would stop you." Jim circles him slowly, looking for an opening. "I've been thinking about something. You remember when you tried to take over the ship by virtue of driving me insane?"
"Your interpretation of events is somewhat flawed, Jim--"
"Is right and true, because I am just that amazing. So here's my question--why were you testing me? What were you looking for?"
"As I explained at the time--"
"Fine." Jim's body stills, preparatory. "Tell me why you wanted me expelled for the Kobayashi Maru."
Spock is surprised by his own instinctive reaction; abruptly, Jim looks up at him from the floor, looking immensely pleased for someone that Spock will be escorting to Sickbay when they're finished. "Now we're getting somewhere."
"You are trying to elicit an emotional response," Spock says as Jim gets to his feet, slightly unsteady but grinning approval.
"And I did," Jim says, sounding surprised. "And what a reaction it was."
"If you wish to carry on a discussion, perhaps you should concede."
In some ways James Kirk is unpredictable. But in many ways, he isn't. Lips tightening, Jim attacks, clumsily enough that Spock feels justified in dumping him directly on the floor.
"Spock, I'd almost think you were angry," Jim says cheerfully. "Good. Hold back anywhere else but with me. No one I'm up against is going to take it easy. If you're not up to it--"
"Engaging in pointless displays of emotional manipulation--"
Jim launches himself, almost too fast to follow, and Spock looks up in surprise at Jim hovering over him, thumb pressed to the jugular, hand just tight enough to feel. "You've done worse and I got through it. Show me what you got, Spock."
Spock considers it, bringing a knee up sharply before flipping Jim onto his back, pinning him easily. "You are adequate, but you still require practice," he says mildly. "You will not find me as easy as T'Prina."
Jim grins, bright with challenge, their earlier conversation forgotten. "There we go. Show me."
Spock had taken gamma after the Captain limped cheerfully back to his quarters, more relaxed than he'd been since they received the communiqué from Starfleet ordering them to convince the colonists to abandon their fledging settlement in the Neutral Zone and return to Federation space.
It continues to be a mystery to Spock why any people would deliberately settle in known disputed space, then express surprise when a Romulan probe is sighted above their settlement. Their pleas to the Federation for protection had been denied, as Spock had expected, and countered with an offer of resettlement on a planet cleared for colonization in safe space, which had been accepted with a curious amount of hostility for a people in danger of being attacked at any moment.
"Commander," Uhura says abruptly, fingers pressing against her headset. "The planet is hailing us on an emergency frequency. The transmission is scrambled."
"Scan the area near the system," Spock says as Nyota frowns. "Lieutenant?"
"It's--" She frowns. "They're requesting emergency retrieval. They--" She looks up, startled. "They're under attack."
"Red alert. Ensign Reeves, please inform the Captain--"
The turbolift door opens abruptly. "Already here," Captain Kirk says, Dr. McCoy spilling into the bridge behind him. Spock stands up, turning to watch Captain Kirk cross to communications, picking up a second headset to listen to the last transmission. "What's our status?"
"Nothing showing up on sensors, Captain," Lieutenant Sulu says. "And I--" He hesitates, looking at the Captain warily. "I'm having trouble getting an accurate scan of the planet."
The Captain stills, looking at Uhura. "How long since that was sent?"
"One, one and a half minutes, sir," she says, studying her screen.
Captain Kirk's eyes flicker to the viewscreen, narrowing. "Are the sensors picking up any ships nearby?"
"Captain," Spock says quietly.
Slowly, Captain Kirk turns, looking at Spock, face unreadable. "You have a recommendation, Commander?"
"We were specifically ordered not to cross the border at any time. Our orders are to retrieve the colonists who agree to leave the planet once they are in Federation space."
"Federation citizens are under direct attack," Dr. McCoy snaps from behind the Captain's chair. "We can't leave them at the mercy of--"
"They were well aware of the risks, Captain," Spock says, addressing the Captain, who seems to be listening too closely to Dr. McCoy. "They had adequate time to prepare for departure and--"
"Wait to be slaughtered for colonizing a planet that no one else actually wants?" McCoy answers. "We can't just sit her and watch--"
"Captain," Sulu interrupts, "I'm still not able to break through interference and scan the planet's surface. Currently, there are no ships in sensor range."
The Captain's mouth tightens, and Spock fights down the irrational urge to think of a reason that Captain Kirk is needed in a turbolift, before the Captain stops short. "You still getting that message, Lieutenant?" Captain Kirk asks brusquely. When Lieutenant Uhura nods, he picks up the extra headset. "Play it again." As Uhura starts the recording, Spock joins Sulu at the helm, looking at the empty space around a devastated planet. "Again."
"Captain?" Spock asks as the Captain leans back against the console. "We need to--"
"Just a second. Again--no, stop, go back. There. Is it just me or is something wrong with his voice?"
"Not just you," Lieutenant Uhura answers, hands flying over her console and bringing up a visual scan of the transmission. "I noticed that, too, even with subspace interference, and had the computer run an analysis. Here," she says as she pulls up the graph. "No stress markers in the voice. I'm isolating the voice now."
Uhura and the Captain listen. "All right," she says, almost as if she's speaking to herself. "Now just the background frequencies." After a few seconds of watching the screen, Uhura taps a quick sequence into the board. "Repeat, compensate for subspace interference." Another moment passes. "Computer, start at 774.3 and slow transmission speed to one quarter on my mark." Closing her eyes, she presses a hand against the headset. "Mark."
A few seconds pass. Captain Kirk's expression doesn't change.
"Again, one half speed."
Her forehead furrows, fingers moving in a rapid tap that's oddly familiar, then she stops, opening her eyes. "Full speed, 774.3 to 774.86, repeat four times--got it." Tapping the screen, she maximizes a small section of the graph. "This isn't a recent recording. Someone attempted to recompile the background, but there are breaks here," she points at the graph, "and here. The pattern indicates a traditional Denebian harvest celebration; their pipes have a distinctive set of harmonics not found in any other culture and they utilize a four-fourteen musical standard that no other species has been able to replicate. It would correspond with the settlement's fall season, three months after they arrived. " She looks up. "Captain--"
"If we can't scan the planet, it'd be a pretty interesting trick to still get subspace communications without interference. Sulu, patch sensors to communications. Lieutenant, try and triangulate the origin point."
Dr. McCoy follows Spock to Lieutenant Uhura's station, looking over Jim's shoulder as she extrapolates the most probable trails, eliminating each possibility one by one until she touches the screen with one finger.
"Here. It's coming from the planet's satellite," Uhura says. "But there's no degradation from passing through the stratosphere. The colonists were minimalists; they didn't have the kind of boosters you'd need to compensate for atmospheric interference."
"Right. So excluding the planet, what's the maximum range someone would need to be to use that satellite?"
"For the message quality and the capabilities of the satellite, close," Lieutenant Uhura says thoughtfully after studying the screen. "The message that got through to the Federation suffered severe degradation."
"Mr. Spock, this is where I say, give me a projection with every possible origin point, but," he says, looking at Spock, "that would be pointless since I think we can make a pretty accurate guess."
There is no other logical explanation. Dr. McCoy leans heavily against the console, eyes closed. "Cloaked Romulan warbirds are waiting at the border of the Neutral Zone. There was no attack."
The Captain nods tiredly. "Yeah. That's kind of where I thought this was going."
"The message has stopped," Uhura says. "What are you orders, sir?"
Spock watches Captain Kirk carefully, the expressionless calm that reflects nothing of what is currently progressing through his mind. A dozen different plans are made and set aside before he says, "I want every transmission examined, Lieutenant. Look for anything that might suggest just how long Romulus has been playing a practical joke."
Uhura frowns, then horrified understanding washes across her face.
"Send a message to Starfleet telling them what's happened here, then start with the first transmission sent to the Federation and work your way forward. Sulu, you have the conn; keep an eye on the border and try to break through the interference to get a reading on the planet's surface. There might be survivors."
"Yes, sir," Sulu says quietly.
"Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, with me."
Spock nods agreement, following the Captain in silence until they arrive in his ready room. Locking the door discreetly behind him, Spock waits as Captain Kirk ignores his chair to sit on the edge of his desk, Dr. McCoy dropping onto the low couch, head in his hands. "You were right," Captain Kirk says. "The universe was more likely to end than us getting there and back without getting caught."
"I did not anticipate the possibility that the colony had already been compromised." Spock hesitates, glancing at Dr. McCoy. "There is an eighty point three two percent probability that the original transmission was not sent by the colonists."
"They've been dead since before that first transmission," Captain Kirk says tightly. "And we almost walked right into it. It looks like the Romulans are getting dissatisfied with the status quo as well."
It's not what Spock had expected the Captain to say; examining the statement in light of recent events, however, it is logical. "You speculate that they are baiting us," Spock says. "I do not think the Empire is--yet--ready to engage in a full scale war with the Federation."
Spock nods reluctantly. "Yet."
Despite the outward age of the farmhouse, more modern conveniences had been installed than Spock had thought. Spock finds two terminals, both Starfleet issue, along with environmental controls hidden beneath a holo of a man Spock recognizes as Commander George Kirk. A search of Jim's bedroom reveals a second replicator, hidden beneath the bed, as well as a variety of hypos. Taking them downstairs, Spock disassembles the replicator and removes several key components that cannot be easily replaced before studying the hypos.
Eleven are empty; seven contained increasingly powerful sedatives, prescribed by Dr. McCoy; four were a variety of experimental treatments for hormone imbalances, as Jim's medical records had listed the known ones as ineffective. Sixteen are pharmaceuticals of questionable legality and efficacy, including one Spock is aware was banned from Vulcan over a millennia ago, all untouched.
Spock returns to the kitchen table where he'd assembled a makeshift workstation, adding the names of the solutions that had already been attempted to his projections. Delay is the most that can possibly be achieved, but a great deal depends on factors far beyond Spock's control, not least of which the actions of the man most affected.
Clearing the screen, Spock takes a blood sample from himself and runs it through the computer, studying the readings before overlaying Jim's, watching the spikes begin to merge in intensity, if not yet in levels.
He has completed the first solution when he senses Jim outside the door; the startling riot of emotion that swims through the artificial calm breaks Spock's concentration, almost causing him to drop the hypo before he feels Jim bring himself under a thin veneer of control. The door bangs open and closed behind him. Silently, Spock holds out the hypo. "This should suppress some of the symptoms for a few hours."
Jim stares at it, then him, taking it with a hand that's not quite steady, careful not to touch. "Some?"
"You should be able to sleep and eat," Spock says calmly. Jim's eyes flicker to the table and the second replicator, as well as the various hypos, with a resigned expression. "Do I need to search further for contraband?"
Jim licks his lips. "Bathroom, behind the mirror. There's a medical replicator there, too. I wasn't sure--" He stops, pressing the hypo against his arm, eyes closing as he releases it. "Christ, yes."
Dropping the hypo on the table, Jim willingly sits down to eat with his usual general unawareness of food except that it exists. Watching him from the corner of his eye, Spock finishes his calculations, the drug settling Jim into a facsimile of chemically-induced calm. After a brief exam with the tricorder, Spock sends him to bed, and an hour later, finds Jim collapsed on the couch, closer than Spock had expected him to be when there was an entire house to place between them.
Spock takes a final set of readings, following the thin thread of awareness far enough to confirm true sleep before contacting Dr. McCoy.
"I have updated readings," he says briefly, ignoring the tight line of McCoy's mouth. "Transmitting now."
"How's he doing?"
Spock glances involuntarily at the recumbent body in the next room. "He is currently sleeping, Dr. McCoy."
"You know what I mean!" McCoy says, though the most recent readings are reflected on the screen that he's reading intently. "He's spiking too often for my liking."
"He has been relatively stable since my arrival," Spock says, tapping out a command. "The first variation of your original compound seems to be assuaging the most pressing symptoms."
"But not for very long." Dr. McCoy's glare is surprisingly effective through the filter of several thousand miles and a screen. "And he's spiking more each time it wears off."
Spock nods agreement for the benefit of Dr. McCoy's scowl. "I am attempting two more variations at this time. I will report their efficacy after administration."
"We're using him like a goddamn guinea pig," Dr. McCoy snaps, expression cracking into fear so deep that Spock looks away to give the man the illusion of privacy. "I don't like what I'm seeing in these neural scans. Humans aren't usually psi-sensitive, but there's a lot of activity going on in his cortex that corresponds to psi-centers. Projection at very minimum, but if he can pick up what you're thinking--"
"I was trained to shield myself before I could speak, Dr. McCoy," Spock says evenly. "And the Captain has improved his basic Academy training substantially in response to these fluctuations."
Dr. McCoy grunts in response, which Spock chooses to interpret as agreement.
"Keep me informed," Dr. McCoy says after a few minutes, staring at something beyond Spock's shoulder. "If he--we can try the artificial coma. But the way these readings look, I'm not sure even that would be enough to--"
"I'm aware of the alternative treatments and their potential for success," Spock answers. "I will initiate contact if there is any change in his condition; otherwise, updated readings will be transmitted in twelve hours."
Dr. McCoy scowls. "See that you do. McCoy out."
Closing communications, Spock looks at the portable lab. He has two more hypotheses, both of which he suspects will be of limited usability. In the next room, Jim murmurs three lines of a poem that Spock remembers his mother translating to Standard in his childhood, accent flawless.
Spock is able to stop himself at the doorway, fingers closing tightly enough over the wood to hurt if it had been possible any longer. Forcing himself to turn around, Spock returns to his calculations.
"I've begun to observe a pattern in our away missions, Captain," Spock says, cutting through the ruined material covering Captain Kirk's left thigh to evaluate the deep wound stretching from hip to nearly his knee. "Captain?"
"Watching--the street," the Captain answers, voice calculatingly light to hide the breathlessness. Wrapping a tourniquet just above Captain's knee, Spock turns it with slow, even motions, watching his face.
The extreme pallor seems to increase, but the Captain shows no other signs of physical distress. "You can watch and listen, Captain," Spock says mildly, blood smearing his uniform to his elbows. Absently, Spock strips away the tunic, tearing the thick material into neat strips. They would not be particularly absorbent, but they are the only material currently at his disposal. "Are there any other injuries?"
Turning his head against the crumbling brick wall, Captain Kirk gives him a faint grin, eyes flickering to the wound on his leg with impersonal interest. "You mean besides the one that's going to kill me?"
Spock sets his lips together, making a pad of the first strip and pressing it against the wound before winding the second around the Captain's leg. When he looks up, Captain Kirk's teeth are buried in his lip and fresh blood is winding a slow path down his chin. "Captain," Spock says sharply as the blue eyes drift closed. "Pay attention."
"Say something worth hearing," Captain Kirk grits out, tilting his head back for a second to gasp. "Your--conclusion?"
Spock cannot process the statement for a long second, then remembers. "Ah." Picking up the next strip of cloth, he wraps it around the first, slowly growing dark with blood. "I have observed a high correlation between those missions that end with you contracting a physical injury and your concept of 'fun'. I require a reminder of what variation of the term you are using. It is not found in either Standard or Terran English."
The Captain's eyes focus more slowly than Spock prefers. "Could be worse," he says. "Could be Klingons." Captain Kirk frowns. "Huh. There was something I wanted to tell you, but then there was our brave run for safety--not about Klingons, though--"
"I do not see the advantage in this particular instance," Spock answers tightly as Captain Kirk falls silent, taking the phaser that the Captain has had trained on the mouth of the alley and focusing on the sounds of fighting currently filling the streets. Spock supposes that the Captain's presence could not be a consistent indicator of a mission that will turn needlessly complex by any logical train of thought, but the evidence is difficult to ignore. It is not often one is present for the beginning of a revolution on a planet that has been at peace for a millennia, but oddly, Spock cannot find it any particular surprise. "I will attempt hail the ship again."
"Yeah, that's been--working really well so far." Captain Kirk blows out a breath, tossing Spock a stretch of lips that he supposes might resemble a smile. "But you know, go for it."
Opening the communicator, Spock positions himself between the street and the Captain, listening to the hiss of a scrambler, blocking all communications. Each frequency is identical, and Spock imagines Nyota at her station, grimly filtering each channel, searching for a second of undisturbed space, a single indication of their presence, enough that Ensign Chekov can extrapolate their likely position and illogically, impossibly, very likely find them.
"Spock, this would be a good time to talk about the protocol for a mission that goes south. And I know you know it, because you were the one that taught me." Captain Kirk grins more naturally; Spock assumes the Captain is experiencing a rush of endorphins in response to the wound. "I still remember when you walked into the command course and saw me. I mean, sure, on the outside you didn't twitch, but I know there was crying on the inside. Admit it."
Spock leaves the communicator open on the final channel. "I do not believe this is the appropriate time and place, Captain," he answers, firing at the approaching figure armed with what appears to be a much larger version of Lieutenant Sulu's katana until there is no longer movement. "If you wish to discuss your less than satisfactory performance--"
"You gave me an A." Almost too quiet to hear, Jim Kirk coughs, wet and thick, and for a moment, Spock feels an unfamiliar tightening in his chest. "Spock--"
"As I remember," Spock interrupts, "you did not feel the class adequately explored all possible scenarios and was--and let me quote--needlessly pessimistic."
Jim laughs again, another cough buried within it. "Come on--"
"You led the class in what could only be described as a debate if an obscure and radical definition of the term is applied, then called a vote of all class members to decide whether I should partake of a variety of alcoholic beverages or participate in a night of carnal relations to--"
"Get the stick out of your ass. To be fair," Jim says, muffling his third cough without success, "you'd been turning down my completely logical offer to join my crew for two weeks by that time and I was really irritated. And I'll admit it, I was hurt, Spock. Deeply."
Spock turns to bring Jim's bloodless face into view. "I am unfamiliar with that technique of persuasion."
"It has its moments, though not usually for the purposes of persuading anyone of anything," Jim says, voice husky, eyes falling half-closed. "You know, in class, your examples? They were from the ships you served on, right?"
"The Hood and the Victory, right?"
This is not the appropriate time for Jim to prove he has a surprisingly accurate memory. "Yes. I do not see--"
"Phillips didn't command either of those." Jim pauses. "The sex toy guy. I looked it up."
Spock lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as Jim looks at him with an expression that Spock does not wish to understand. "Captain--"
"Yeah," Jim says softly, almost as if to himself. "I guess I thought maybe we'd--" Jim coughs again. "Whatever. History."
Jim waves a blood-smeared hand. "As I was saying, mission protocol time. You need to leave. Get out of the city and get back to the Enterprise."
"The chances of avoiding detection for the two point three seven five kilometers between here and the boundaries of the city proper are--"
"Better than sitting here watching me bleed out. And I have a plan."
Spock stills. "Please elucidate."
"You survive." Jim's smile is gone. "That's the plan."
Spock wonders if he should have examined Jim for a head wound. "That is not a plan, Captain."
"Well, one of us has to get back, and I'm pretty comfortable where I am." Jim's expression shifts. "Get out of here, Commander. That's an order."
"I will remand myself to the brig when we return to the Enterprise," Spock answers absently, watching the street and calculating Jim's total blood loss and the amount of time between the moment his heart will inevitably stop and brain death. It is not encouraging.
"Spock," Jim starts, and despite the coughing, he manages to project a credible amount of anger into his voice, "did you hit your head or like, have some kind of weird Vulcan breakdown or--"
"Captain, I am trying to ascertain the best method of exit from this alley. You are interrupting my calculations."
Behind him, Spock hears Jim trying to sit up, making a soft sound that might have been, from someone else, a scream. Mouth tight, Spock presses a hand against the wall to avoid pushing him back down and let gravity do what little it could to slow the loss of blood.
"I'm so going to court martial your ass," Jim hisses, and abruptly, there's a hand on Spock's shoulder. "This isn't logical. I'm pretty sure your entire ancestry is demanding you be de-specied or something."
Spock gets to his feet, catching Jim when he tries to take a step toward him. "The Vulcan Science Academy did try. And they failed." Sliding an arm under Jim's shoulder, Spock backs them toward the other side of the alley as the sounds of fighting seem to grow more distant. "If communications are blocked, perhaps something more--spectacular might be an effective way to gain the attention of the Enterprise so our location can be ascertained. We have not contacted them since the emergency beacon was deployed after the reception. By this time--"
Jim frowns, opening his mouth, doubtless to continue his irrational arguments, then pauses. "Right! That's what I was going to tell you! Maila."
"The ambassador's wife?" Spock takes another careful step back, the scent of iron increasing; a glance at the darkening material covering Jim's leg confirms it. "I do not think this the appropriate time to--"
"Trust me, Spock, there's no time better." Jim grins faintly. "Anyway, before the reception she took me on a tour of the city."
Spock had not been aware 'tour of the city' was now a euphemism. "I see."
Jim snorts. "You're just cranky that the Ambassador was obsessed with their crop yields and made you listen to three years worth of reports. Too bad a war broke out before he could give you the five year projections." Jim's breath catches, biting his lip viciously before continuing. "I think they would have been pretty interesting." Licking his lips, Jim steadies himself, eyes black with pain. "This is their trade city. Everything they export goes through here. And they don't have a single place to store however many cucumbers--"
"Krupentas," Spock corrects automatically as they reach the end of the alley. "Their major export is the krupenta, which have become surprisingly difficult to procure over the last three years, due to what the Ambassador called terrorism by the group currently trying to take over the city." Spock scans the street. "I find it intriguing that the terrorists seem to be comprised exclusively of krupenta farmers."
"Noticed that?" Jim says in satisfaction. Spock raises an eyebrow. "Their exports are cut nearly in half and suddenly all the places you'd store ridiculously expensive vegetables aren't storing vegetables. So really, that makes you wonder how they're keeping up the Governor's palace and well, eating. Thing is, they do have a couple of places that might have stored vegetables around the city. You know, if they weren't filled with disruptors."
Spock stops. "You observed this?"
"Did I see their illegal weapon stockpiles in their former vegetable warehouses? No. I saw warehouses that have been modified in really counterintuitive ways if the idea is food preservation. And Maila's a Romulan, so I'm going to say there's a pretty good chance we just found out who's been dumping illegal Romulan weapons on the black market."
Spock gives Jim a long look. Jim rolls his eyes.
"I had to find out what was going on somehow," Jim says breathlessly. The blue eyes become glassy as Jim's legs collapse beneath him; Spock tightens his hold. "Her surgery was good, but trust me, not that good." Stopping short, Jim coughs weakly. "Spock," Jim grinds out. "You have to go. You have to get back to the Enterprise and tell Starfleet what's going on here. This is not a suggestion."
"Captain, please save your strength. We do not have much time." Something behind them explodes as if to emphasize the fact. "Do not argue."
"Wait, who is telling who not to argue? Spock, this isn't--" Jim sags further, coughing blood into one hand. "You get this is pretty much the penultimate proof of the no-win? Unless you get your ass out of here now, before the rebels remember the government is blaming the Federation for everything--"
At the end of the alley, Spock pushes Jim against the wall, bracing him with his body. "Where is the closest warehouse?"
"Sixteen thirty-two, eighteen north. Four blocks? To the left." Coughing again, Jim pushes a bloody hand against his shoulder, and Spock feels the smear of warm, slick fingers against his throat. "Spock, get the hell out of here. I can't--"
"Is the warehouse guarded?"
Jim's forehead presses damply against his neck, chest rising and falling frantically against Spock as he struggles for breath. "Yeah, but no guards outside and a retinal lock. They're pretty bad at being criminals. Spock--"
"Captain, I must insist you do not further strain your resources--"
"Spock," Jim whispers, and Spock stills as wet, cold fingers scrape clumsily against his jaw, a faint edge of fading brightness burning into his mind. Turning his head, Spock meets Jim's eyes as Jim's thumb rubs a sticky line over his cheek. "Spock. I'm not critically injured. I'm dead." Jim gasps for air, leaning against Spock, hand dropping to rest on his shoulder; the next words are barely a breath between them. "I need know you're going to make it out of here. That you'll be okay. This is when you cut your losses and get the hell out."
Spock would ask for the same assurance, but he suspects Jim would refuse to give it; he will not reciprocate what will not be offered.
"I think you are being needlessly pessimistic, Captain," Spock answers as they emerge into the smoke-filled streets, the fight having moved two blocks to the south. With the last piece of his ruined tunic, Spock covers Jim's face, feeling the faint, too-fast puffs of breaths against his skin as they travel the length of the building and the warehouse comes into view.
Spock studies the squat brown building and the much more modern technology perching on the roof, recognizing the familiar shape of a Romulan communications array. Taking out his phaser, he slides a nail beneath the hinge and opens it, expertly setting it for overload before calculating the speed and angle of descent necessary to reach the building. Opening his communicator, Spock sets it to loop through all Federation frequencies.
Jim gasps wetly once, shuddering, and Spock feels Jim Kirk fade into silence as his body grows still.
The Enterprise is in orbit above them, waiting: Nyota Uhura can find a single harmonic dissonance in a corrupted message; Lieutenant Sulu can extrapolate a three dimensional position with a single incomplete sensor scan; Ensign Chekov can rebuild transporter patterns from a single buffer file; Dr. McCoy can restart a heart that's stopped, compensate for a body that's lost too much blood.
Shifting Jim's weight, Spock thinks, quite logically, that after ten missions, four separate incidents with the Romulan High Command, two unfortunate experiences with alien flora, and Sulu allowing Jim to pilot the Enterprise through an unstable asteroid belt, this cannot be the place where James Kirk will die. It is not logical. They merely need time, and that, Spock can provide. "I believe that this is when we cheat."
Spock watches in disapproval as a grinning Nurse Chapel pushes Captain Kirk into the brig. Standing up, he walks to the edge of the forcefield, giving the technician a frown when he starts to reach for the forcefield controls before studying the Captain. "You should not have left sickbay, Captain. It has only been a week since Dr. McCoy was forced to restart your heart, and I understand you have been allotted a lifetime limit on the number of times you are permitted to cause undue stress to Dr. McCoy's nervous system."
Captain Kirk gives him a slow once-over, leaning forward in the chair in a dangerously unbalanced maneuver that Nurse Chapel does nothing to prevent. "You--arrested yourself for insubordination," Captain Kirk says slowly. "While I was dead."
"I waited until Dr. McCoy had confirmed your condition had stabilized, Captain."
Captain Kirk blinks. "Huh. Did you make Sulu cry? I remember him saying it wasn't his fault and something about a K class planet in range of our lifepods, but I was pretty high and Bones made him leave."
Spock wonders if it was entirely prudent to allow the Captain to leave sickbay while still under the influence of narcotics. Nurse Chapel is of no assistance, leaning against the back of the chair and burying her face in her arms with no regard to professionalism. "If you would prefer a court martial, Captain--"
Captain Kirk's eyes widen. "A what--no, stop, shut up. Go back and let's start again. You're in the brig. For insubordination. Who the hell had the nerve to arrest you?"
"Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov conducted the hearing," Spock explains, straightening. "As the former relationship between Lieutenant Uhura and I would have caused a conflict of interest--"
"Wait." Pressing a hand against his forehead, the Captain closes his eyes. "Wait. Let me get this straight. You--arrested yourself while I was still in surgery and then ordered Sulu and Chekov to call a hearing because your ex would have told you what you could do with your insubordination charges and she scares you as much as she scares me--yes, she does, you put Sulu in charge of the ship. Then you had them hold a hearing. Did you tell them what the verdict was supposed to be?"
It had been a very tedious hearing. "They were unfamiliar with current regulations surrounding--"
"Right. And then you told them the punishment. A month in the brig."
"Per regulations, Captain," Spock says deliberately.
Captain Kirk leans back in his chair with a look of resigned irritation that Spock's become familiar with; for some reason, it's almost exclusively directed at him. "That sounds about right." Waving a hand at the oddly restless tech, he says, "Drop the forcefield."
"Belay that, Mr. Evans. Captain," Spock says patiently, "you are under medical care. You do not have command of this ship at this time."
"Oh really?" The Captain's eyes narrow. "Right, regulations. All right, I'll play. Computer, get me Lieutenant Uhura."
Spock takes an involuntary step closer to the forcefield. "Captain--"
"Yes, Captain?" To Spock's experienced ear, she sounds oddly smug, which Spock supposes answers the question of how the Captain had become aware of the situation.
"Uhura, who is currently in command of the Enterprise?"
"Lieutenant Sulu, sir." Her voice takes on an odd timbre that Spock finds uncomfortably familiar. "I'm sure he's available if you wish to speak with him, sir."
In the background, Spock thinks he hears someone groaning, but he can't be sure.
"I'm down in the brig right now with Mr. Spock, Lieutenant," the Captain says, holding Spock's eyes. "Ask Sulu if he really wants to be the one in command when I'm released from sickbay."
"Immediately, Captain." There is an ominous silence before Lieutenant Uhura returns, sounding extremely pleased. "Sir, he's agreed to cede command to the next ranking officer."
"That would be you. How serendipitous, don't you agree, Lieutenant? Release Spock and clear all charges and dump the entire--whatever that was he was doing. You have my gratitude. I'm dismissing Mr. Evans from brig duty, so Spock'll be alone when you get down here. Take as long as you like."
"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Uhura says with inappropriate enthusiasm. "Thank you, sir."
It may have been a mistake to encourage the Captain to better familiarize himself with regulations.
"Evans, you're dismissed." As the door closes behind Evans, the Captain looks at him thoughtfully.
"You're getting very good at cheating, Commander. I'll see you in a few hours. And take care of our ship." As they turn to leave, Spock hears the Captain tell Nurse Chapel, "Okay, this is why people like being captains. I was really starting to wonder. Think Bones woke up from that hypo yet?"
Jim had circled the house for nearly an hour after a restless sleep, drawn back toward the kitchen before a rapid retreat only to repeat the process. Eventually, however, he settles in the doorway between living room and kitchen, head on bent knees, sweat slicking every inch of visible skin.
Picking up the newest variation, Spock slowly crosses the room, careful to avoid the appearance of stealth, but Jim doesn't move, eyes closed and surprisingly still.
At the first touch of the hypo, one hand flashes up, locking around Spock's wrist. Almost instantly, Spock can feel the tangled mass of Jim's emotions, the tenuous control the only thing that keeps it from overwhelming him.
"Spock," he whispers in a voice that Spock's never heard him use. "T'hy'la."
Spock takes a deep breath and fights back the instinctive response to that voice and that mind. "This will help," he says, and Jim's eyes drift down, lingering on the hypo in confusion.
The grip shifts, easing, and Spock presses the hypo against Jim's arm as a damp forehead presses against his shoulder. "I'm so tired," Jim whispers helplessly. "It's hard to even think."
Tentatively, Spock circles his shoulders with one arm, and with a sigh, Jim leans into him bonelessly, fine tremors running through his body. "You should rest."
"There's a mountain," Jim answers thickly. "It's all I can see when I close my eyes. You died and everything stopped and I didn't think I'd ever breathe again. But there was a mountain and it was like waking up again, and I could breathe." Jim shivers. "You said my name before you remembered your own."
Spock reaches tentative fingers into Jim's mind, easing away the memories, unwillingly fascinated at the glimpses into a life he would never live, foreign and familiar both.
If there were such a thing as fate, Spock thinks, startled by his own bitterness, such a thing as destiny, and if those things were so mutable they could be so easily destroyed, to show them this was an obscenity. No rational universe would permit this, would reveal all that could be with the knowledge it could never come to pass. "Jim," he says, closing his eyes at the fierce rush of joy and grief and hope like the burn of a new dawn in the desert. "Rest now."
Jim sighs once, breath warm against his throat as Spock eases him into unconsciousness. Spock shifts carefully until he can press his back against the wall, Jim a warm, trusting weight across his body. Pressing a hand against Jim's face, Spock breathes the words that allow him to block the memories from haunting Jim's sleep, trying to believe he will not remember these flashes of a universe not his own: a place where to James Kirk, he was far more than colleague and friend, the Federation did not hover on the edge a war there is no certainty they could hope to win, and he had never watched his homeworld die.
It's not the first time that Spock has found himself waiting in the transporter room for no logical reason (for many reasons, perhaps, but few of them logical), nor is it the first time he's waited after a diplomatic conference for Captain Kirk to return; it's the first time, however, that he acknowledges that this time, at least, there is a logical reason for him to be here.
The Captain hasn't been himself and has been avoiding Spock with worrisome success, and Spock cannot find a logical reason for either of these events.
"The Captain is hailing," the transporter tech says, voice shaking. "Should I--"
"You are dismissed," Spock says firmly, taking the controls. Looking insultingly relieved, the tech leaves, and Spock hears the door open before Nyota joining him, mouth set in a grim line. "You do not--"
"Yes, I do." A medical tricorder is in one hand, hidden in the folds of her skirt. "Get him up here. I don't like that we weren't able to track him for this long." She gives him a sideways glance. "Even you couldn't find him."
Spock initiates transport, watching the Captain materialize, looking much the worse for twelve untraceable hours planetside. Lieutenant Sulu, just behind him, moves almost immediately, catching the Captain as he collapses slowly toward the floor.
"Spock!" The Captain says with a surprisingly pleased smile, wiping his mouth with a blood-flecked hand. Nyota approaches, and the Captain's smile changes. "And hello to you, Lieutenant," he murmurs.
She rolls her eyes, frowning at the readings, then nods at Lieutenant Sulu. "Take him to sickbay," she says, glancing at Spock. "His alcohol level is point three. He shouldn't be conscious."
"I can hold my liquor," the Captain says defensively, trying and failing to fight off Lieutenant Sulu's tight grip. "Come on, I'm--"
"An idiot," Nyota says, gesturing sharply. Spock joins Lieutenant Sulu, helping shift the Captain's weight between them as they approach the turbolift. "Sickbay," she says as the doors close.
The Captain sways between them, trying to stay on his feet; Spock alters his grip, bare skin sliding against his fingers, and stiffens, surprised by the startling intensity that should have been pushed beneath the artificial haze of alcohol. Nyota turns to look at them, eyes wide. "He is not intoxicated," Spock says. "Lieutenant--"
"That's not possible." As the door opens, Nyota backs out, double checking the readings before leading the way to sickbay. "His blood alcohol is--" She stops short as the door opens, staring at the tricorder. "It's dropping. Fast."
"I always liked you," the Captain slurs, chin digging into Spock's shoulder, breath hot against his skin. Abruptly, a finger draws a slow line down his ear, and Spock jerks away, too surprised to control his response. "You have any idea what I've been thinking about--"
"You'll want to stop talking now," Nyota says, acid with worry. "Dr. McCoy should return from the planet soon; he's been informed we found the Captain. Sulu, wait for him in the transporter room."
The Lieutenant gives them a surprised look, but Spock's attention is on Nyota, currently helping him settle the Captain on a biobed. The readings that flare as it comes online take Spock's total attention, watching the violent fluctuations. As the sickbay door closes, Nyota says, "Computer, lock the doors, Uhura alpha three. Admittance to Dr. Leonard McCoy only."
Spock watches silently as she arranges Captain Kirk, hands gentler than he'd expected from her earlier anger. To his surprise, she reaches out, hand pressing against Kirk's face, mouth curving in an encouraging smile. "Hey. You with us, Captain?"
"You're terrified," Captain Kirk says curiously. "What's impossible?"
"Nothing is, apparently," Nyota answers shakily. Spock frowns, looking between her and the Captain, whose focus shifts abruptly to Spock, tracking his every movement with unmistakable intent.
"Captain," Spock says, watching as the readings show the Captain's metabolized the remainder of the alcohol, "did you consume any unfamiliar beverages while you were on the planet's surface?"
Captain Kirk's head tilts, curiosity growing. "That's not the question you were thinking."
"Alcohol doesn't do this," Nyota murmurs, coming up beside Spock. "There's something else going on. He's been acting strangely for the last few days." She checks the tricorder briefly; the readings from the biobed are stabilizing, but slowly. "If I was making an educated guess, the alcohol was partially to drown out excess psi-traffic. He's not telepathic; he wouldn't know how to handle a sudden influx of noise. He may not even have known what was happening to him."
"It's getting loud again." Abruptly, one hand closes over Spock's wrist, and the skin to skin contact is decisive; Spock sees Nyota nod confirmation as he shields himself, feeling Nyota do the same; Captain Kirk sighs in relief, going abruptly boneless . "Much better. Thank you."
"You should rest, Captain." Captain Kirk rolls onto his side, eyes never leaving Spock's. "Dr. McCoy will be here soon."
"Not quite what I'm looking for," he answers softly. "Stay."
Gently, Nyota reaches between them, easing the Captain's hand away from Spock and lowering it to the biobed. "I just need him for a minute, Captain. We'll be in view the entire time, okay?"
The Captain gives her a drowsy smile. "I always liked you best."
"I doubt that very much, but if it shows up on my evaluation, I certainly won't argue." Getting a blanket from the foot of the bed, she pulls it gently over the Captain, watching until his eyes fall shut, falling asleep almost instantly.
Following Nyota out of easy hearing of the bed, Spock watches her glance at the tricorder again before speaking. "Nyota, what this appears to be--"
"You authorized my independent studies in advanced xenobiology," she says softly. "And provided the materials for thirteen species, including Vulcans. I know what I'm looking at and you do as well. He's reckless, but he's not stupid, not when Starfleet's breathing down our necks every second. He didn't let it get to this point at the Academy, and trust me, I'd know if he had."
Spock takes a deep breath. "I am the only Vulcan he has had extended contact with in the last year, and I can assure you, I am not--affected--nor have we ever melded--"
"But you're not the only one he's ever met." She looks up sharply. "You'd better find out how much contact he had with the other one. And talk to Dr. McCoy. We need to know when this started. If we're reading this right, it's only just beginning."
Jim awakens so suddenly that Spock doesn't have time to prepare himself: abruptly, a foot is pushing his chair away from the table, shoving it back against the wall, and Jim braces a hand on the back of the chair, dropping into Spock's lap.
Even now, he's careful of bare skin, the only point of contact between them the heavy weight through four layers of fabric. "How long?" Kirk murmurs, leaning close enough that Spock can feel the warmth of his breath.
"Twenty seven point eight hours," Spock says, controlling his voice with effort. Belatedly, he's aware both hands are gripping the seat of the chair to resist the urge to touch.
"And after that?" There's a slow sweep of breath against his collarbone, sweat-dampened spikes of hair brushing his chin.
"Unknown. No human has ever--" He feels his breath catch as if from a distance when Jim grinds down briefly, listening to Jim gasp before he pulls away, sending himself into a messy crouch on the floor, staring up at Spock with eyes dilated black.
"I'm not doing this," Jim breathes. "Not like this. This isn't--fucking biology isn't going to--"
"I would point out that you are neither the first nor the last to make that statement," Spock says, regulating his breathing with surprising difficulty. "And it was in vain."
Jim's bares his teeth. "Don't fuck with me, Spock."
Standing up slowly, Spock approaches the table, feeling Jim tracking him as he picks up the hypo. "This should--"
"Thanks." Almost faster than Spock can follow, Jim snatches the hypo, pressing it against his arm before he breathes out, closing his eyes in relief. "I'm going upstairs," he says, stumbling two steps before catching himself on the doorway. "Don't come near me."
Jim nods, licking his lips, turning to lean against the wall. Face pale and sweat-slick, he looks helplessly at Spock. "If you leave now--"
"I will not."
Jim cracks an unhappy smile. "Not sure I could let you anyway." Before Spock can respond, he's gone, taking the stairs two at a time with surprising agility. Spock picks up the tricorder he had left activated, studying the red spikes before turning it on himself.
The overlay is definitive. Pulling up a chair, Spock picks up the second hypo and injects himself.
The Captain was released from sickbay before alpha shift, appearing on the bridge with no apparent ill-effects--and from what Dr. McCoy had indicated, no memory of the events of the night before. The Captain could possibly dissemble well enough to mislead Dr. McCoy, but he looked at Spock and Nyota without embarrassment, checking on everyone as if nothing untoward had occurred the night before.
Nyota signals him three hours into the shift, and Spock waits patiently as she transfers the contact logs that detail the last three weeks of transmissions. There are sixty-four public communications from various ships; seven hundred eighty-two private. Thirteen deleted, five of them within the last ten days, authorized by the Captain. Spock pulls up the tracking data Nyota had decrypted and attached; even she couldn't override the Captain's authorization codes without more time, but the metadata was far easier to locate. Spock copies the data into his tricorder, wiping the information from his station and locking the deletion. It is improbable that the Captain will check the log files for their stations, but possible, and Spock prefers to leave no evidence behind.
Rising, he glances at the Captain. "I require Dr. McCoy's assistance," he says. Waving a hand idly, the Captain barely looks up, passing him a bright, drowsy smile. Spock supposes it's fortunate they're in known Federation space and three days from shore leave.
A shore leave that the Captain had authorized very recently, stating that their last mission had been rough enough to justify the indulgence. Starfleet hadn't argued with his assessment; Captain Kirk's command had been successful far beyond their expectations, and he had learned to take advantage of his reputation if it was of benefit to his ship or his crew.
Dr. McCoy gives Spock one curious look before he turns toward his office, hands fisted at his sides. As the door closes, Spock says, "Computer, lock the door, authorization Spock, three, one, delta."
Dr. McCoy sits on the edge of his desk defensively. "What is it, Commander?"
"You were not forthcoming on what you already knew of the Captain's condition when we last spoke, Dr. McCoy," Spock says, controlling his voice with an effort.
"Medical matters are not your concern," Dr. McCoy says sharply. "And doctor-patient privilege--"
"Is irrelevant when the ship is at risk."
McCoy stiffens. "He'd never put the ship at risk. You know that better than anyone."
"I assume this is why he authorized unscheduled shore leave on Earth." Dr. McCoy looks away. "I see. Authorization for the release of medical records can be complicated. You have the duty to release them to concerned parties if there is a situation that demands--"
"This. Isn't." Dr. McCoy's eyes narrow. "We're taking care of it."
"You are uniquely unqualified to deal with any part of it," Spock answers flatly. "If what I suspect is accurate."
Dr. McCoy doesn't answer.
"Computer," Spock says, "I require a release of all medical data regarding Captain James Tiberius Kirk."
Dr. McCoy pushes off the desk. "The only way you can get at it is by questioning his mental fitness. That will--"
"Authorization?" the computer queries.
"The captain was retrieved from a bar last night after engaging in no less than ten separate altercations," Spock says, unable to make himself modulate his voice. "His blood alcohol indicated blood poisoning, but he metabolized it at a rate thirty-three times higher than a human body should be able to achieve. This morning, he had no memory of his actions. That does call into question--"
"You asshole." Dr. McCoy's hands clench at his sides; Spock wonders if the doctor will so forget himself as to attack him, calculating the probability as relatively high. "You question his mental fitness on the record--"
"I do not wish to." Spock waits for Dr. McCoy to calm. "I do not do this from prurient interest. But you have neither the knowledge nor the training to deal with what is to come. Release the records so I may evaluate the situation with all the information available."
"I contacted the Vulcan embassy--" Dr. McCoy starts, then stops himself, frowning to himself. After a moment, he looks at Spock. "This is off the record, and only because you're right. What they gave me I could have gotten from a kindergarten anatomy book." McCoy circles his desk, dropping into his chair, shoulders slumped. "And couldn't tell 'em why--"
"They would not have believed you." Nor, possibly, would it have made a difference. The Captain is not Vulcan. Tapping a few keys on his console, Dr. McCoy turns the screen.
"Two weeks of scans. We've been monitoring the results. The memory problem is new, but I suspect it's directly related to the alcohol interacting with his hormone levels. His last memory was falling asleep in his quarters."
That corresponds with the report from the transporter personnel assigned to beta and gamma shift None of the transporter techs had recalled seeing Captain Kirk that night. Evaluation of the transporter logs had shown a section of purged data; the Captain was perfectly capable of programming the transporter for delayed activation and setting a command to purge the logs when transport was complete.
Spock reads through Dr. McCoy's daily scans of the progress of the Captain's condition that soon escalated to three times daily. The staggered hormonal fluctuations continue apace, slowly shifting until the sudden spike that he and Nyota had observed in Sickbay the night before. "There were five transmissions erased from the log," Spock says, pulling Nyota's scan from the night before to overlay the Captain's baseline, studying the unmistakable pattern. "You contacted the Embassy. Who else?"
"Starfleet, though they probably think we're nuts, since we couldn't figure out what we were asking for."
"Were they the only contacts made?"
Dr. McCoy's gaze fixes on the far wall. "Jim made a call to the Vulcan colony yesterday."
Spock is not sure how long he sleeps; it is logical to do so while he can, but it has rarely been something he could not quantify after waking, a sense of the amount of time that had passed. The darkness of the room gives no indication of the time, but a glance at an old-fashioned Terran grandfather clock in the corner tells him it's past dusk.
Jim should have woken by now.
Getting to his feet, Spock follows the slowly strengthening pull of Jim's mind through the thread of awareness Spock had established between them. The memory of Jim's order briefly floats through Spock's mind, but it seems--oddly irrelevant.
Climbing the stairs, Spock follows the unmistakable feel of Jim, restless and barely conscious, foreign memories flashing at irregular intervals as he fights his way from sleep. Opening the door to the small room that had belonged to Jim from his early childhood, Spock watches Jim roll onto his back, blankets twisted untidily at his feet.
Perhaps he should have brought the tricorder if he truly came to evaluate Jim's condition, but Jim shudders before Spock can complete the thought, fingers spreading wide on the bare sheet before curling in, fabric clenched in his hand. The blue eyes flicker half-open as he draws up one leg, heel pressed into the mattress.
"I wrote our history into your skin," Jim murmurs, reaching dreamily back until one hand closes over the headboard, back arching for a remembered touch. "There was nothing of your body that was a mystery to me after all our years together. And it still wasn't enough. Nothing will ever be enough."
Spock closes a hand on the doorknob, metal bending against his palm.
"I felt you watching me and felt the bruises I carried beneath my uniform that you placed on my body…" Kirk lets out a soft gasp, head tilting back with an incredulous smile. "I had you as well, always within me wherever we go--and Jim, he's so young, so very, very young, and so different. But he feels like you…"
"Jim," Spock manages, mouth strangely dry, the word barely audible even to himself. But it's enough; Jim jerks up, twisting on the bed until he looks at Spock, radiating an uncomfortable combination of lust and humiliation.
"I hate this," Jim whispers, hands closed tightly over the edge of the mattress. "I can't get away from them."
Spock clears his throat with difficulty; he doesn't let go of the warped metal of the doorknob. "If you contact the council, perhaps--"
"And what? He can't do anything about it and it's--" Jim's eyes fall half-closed. "Christ, I don't even know which one of them I'm supposed to be anymore. They didn't either. They--" Jim buries his head in his hands, shoulders shaking.
After a few seconds, Spock senses Jim begin to bring himself under fragile control, layering shields over pure will, the cracks visible even as he settles himself, getting slowly to his feet. There's little defense against the chemical reaction of your own mind. "How many hours left?"
Spock lets the doorknob go, pushing the door open far enough that it's hidden in shadow. "Sixteen point nine five. " He hesitates at the drag of Jim's eyes over him like a physical touch. "Approximately."
"Right." Running a hand through his hair, he sighs, looking away. "I'm gonna take a shower. I'll be down for the next round of experiments after."
Spock nods, retreating before Jim can come too close; it would be too easy to touch him and the only touch Jim would welcome now is that of someone that is light-years away or long dead. "Very well."
Retreating down the stairs, Spock takes out the hypo, pressing it against the inside of his arm, and returning to the kitchen to prepare for the next series of tests.
The Captain doesn't seem particularly surprised when Spock formally requests a meeting.. As is typical when he's done something he knows will lead to disapproval, he's slumped behind his desk, squinting unhappily at his console and drinking what appears to be his eighth cup of coffee today.
"Come in," the Captain says, eyes fixed on the screen. "Does Uhura deliberately use the smallest possible font or is it my imagination? Am I going blind?"
"I will make inquiries." Spock remains standing, knowing it will unnerve the Captain more than silence, and waits as the Captain continues to attempt to appear that he is engaged in examining reports when they both know very well he ignores them until the last possible moment.
After a few minutes of silence, the Captain sighs, pushing the console away. "I know you've been itching for this all day," he says, resigned, poking nervously at his cup. "So get it out of your system. Unbecoming an officer, making Sulu cry, upsetting your ex-girlfriend, whatever."
"Lieutenant Sulu did not cry," Spock corrects. The Captain looks up briefly, eyes narrowed. "Lieutenant Uhura was worried, and continues to be. It seems," he says, watching the Captain's slight frown, "that you have not been entirely forthcoming in explaining the breadth of contact you had with my--counterpart."
The Captain straightens abruptly. "That's none of your--"
"Yes, it is." Spock lets the statement stand. "Your performance has been compromised by the results of this contact. And you have neglected to inform me of this fact."
The Captain stiffens, but he doesn't deny it. "I know."
"You arranged this return to Earth to--I think it would be appropriate to say 'cover' for your current condition."
"Got it in one." Pushing the chair back, the Captain circles the desk. "Computer, transfer all command functions of the Enterprise to Commander Spock, effective immediately. Lock out all command code and security clearance until further notice. Kirk, seven-twelve, sixty-nine, skip the look, Spock, trust me, just because it's juvenile doesn't mean it's not funny." The Captain sighs. "The ship is yours, Commander. Try to keep her in one piece."
That hadn't been among the possible outcomes Spock had anticipated resulting from this interview. "Captain--"
"Jim." Dropping on the low couch, Jim covers his face briefly. "I was going to do this tomorrow anyway; the last readings weren't really encouraging."
"Use my name, Spock. You outrank me as far as chain of command goes right now."
"Jim. I do not think--"
"Oh, you've been thinking. Found that block I put on contact with the colony, didn't you?"
Spock hadn't, and finds himself faintly annoyed that he hadn't investigated further. "Did you intend to inform me of your condition or did you assume I would not question why you wished to temporarily resign command?"
Tilting his head back, Jim stares at the ceiling. "I guess I didn't think you'd push if it didn't affect the safety of the ship," Jim answers finally, sounding tired. "It's just--"
"You assumed I would not--" Spock stops himself. "You were mistaken, Captain. Your welfare concerns me above and beyond your position as captain of this ship. I had believed," Spock continues, unable to stop himself, "that this was true of you as well."
Jim looks at him, frowning slightly before his eyes widen. "Dammit. I didn't mean--I mean, I meant to say--" Jim trails off, rubbing his forehead restlessly. "I didn't mean to say you would be fine with me dying as long as it doesn't affect the ship. It's just--hard to think right now."
Straightening, Jim takes a deep breath. "Right. I'm assuming Bones spilled, so what do you want to know that he couldn't tell you?"
"When did this begin?"
"In retrospect, probably a month ago," Jim says tiredly. "Just some problems with concentration and some--" Jim looks away abruptly. "Other things I put up to imagination. Then Bones was updating my medical record and the tricorder picked up some weird readings, so he did a full physical and compared the results to what was on file. There was a pretty obvious pattern of changes dating from around the time I took command."
"From your contact with my counterpart."
Jim smiles faintly. "Pretty much, yeah."
"If it is as I suspect you could take leave and go to the colony--"
"It's not. I mean--" Rubbing his face, Jim looks at Spock again. "It's not real. Bones got in touch with a couple of the Betazoids at Starfleet Medical, since obviously, getting direct information was like talking to a really hostile wall, but it's not what you think. It's a memory. A really, really fucked up memory. There's no link."
Spock stares down at him, collating the data. "I will need--"
"He--Spock, my--the other Spock," and Spock doesn't stiffen to hear the possessive, "we--he gave me information the fastest way he could. It was just information. It's not his fault. But hey, if Vulcan ever asks, pon farr apparently starts showing up in hormone fluctuations a year before it manifests, at least in humans. No more wondering when it will happen; can predict it down to the second now. I'd like a special commendation from the Vulcan Science Academy. But don't name this after me. Too creepy."
"You are rambling." Taking the seat beside him, Spock watches as Jim lazily turns his head to face him, pale and eyes glassy. "Jim?"
"The thing is," Jim says, voice husky, "you're really close. It's hard to think around you."
There is no way to mistake his meaning. "What happened during the meld with him?"
"Nothing like this. He just showed me what was going on. There wasn't--I mean, that's all I got out of it then. The rest is pretty recent."
"Captain." The white knuckled hands tighten. "Jim. I do not understand."
"He and Kirk--the other Kirk, his Kirk," and something dark fills the words, something Spock recognizes, "were--together. Whatever. And he hadn't--hadn't with anyone else since him. He knew me, Spock. And you know what else? So did that bond. It wasn't--wasn't right--I wasn't right--but it thought I was. For a little while, anyway."
That made no logical sense. "He was bonded with your counterpart."
"Bingo. And apparently, it was just about time for that tradition you don't talk about. Because God knows, getting straight information from a Vulcan is like --crap, sorry, sorry. Could you maybe move a few feet away?"
Spock hesitates. "Would you allow me--"
Jim stiffens, eyes widening; space opens between them. "That," Jim says, "would be a very bad idea."
"If you have a bond--"
"It's not a bond! Trust me, the way I'm feeling, I'd have been at the colony a week ago if there were. But it's not that. He doesn't even know."
After a few moments, Jim closes his eyes. "I contacted the Colony and he was--well, between the memories and the fact he's just married, I figured out what was going on."
"That does not clarify the sequence of events, Captain, or explain how this could have occurred."
"It's really--complicated." Taking a deep breath, Jim nods his agreement. "All right. Will this--will this affect you if you do? It--" Jim winces. "You have a really profound effect on this."
"I think," Spock says with careful patience, "that I can control your symptoms for the length of time it would take to discover what has occurred."
Jim hesitates, looking anywhere but at him, then shifts closer, nodding. "Right. Just--hurry. You're distracting. It's been a problem."
Nodding, Spock reaches for him, ignoring the flinch, settling his fingers gently on the psi-points as he falls into the familiar litany: My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.. To his surprise, it's almost disquietingly easy, Jim's mind opening with unfamiliar ease. Recognizing him, Spock realizes, startled. Not merely recognition, but a warm comfort that is something of relief and welcome and dread all three.
A few seconds tell him everything he needs to know. Breaking the connection, Spock finds it more difficult than expected to let him go; Jim has no idea how to break the mental link, and his mind, at least, has no desire to do so. Pulling back, Spock watches glazed blue eyes open reluctantly, and can sense the second that Jim finds himself again, the temporary relaxation replaced with a stiffness that Spock can now classify as humiliation.
"He did not know he did this to you."
Jim nods, refusing to look at Spock, cheeks flushed with color. "It's probably not in the standard training to cover how to handle melding with your lover's multiverse counterpart. He doesn't know. It's a memory of what they had together. But the bond--didn't know that when he touched me, and when it recognized me, it--" Jim sucks in a breath, biting his lip. "I get why you don't talk about it," Jim says finally. "What this does to you."
Spock swallows, looking away to give Jim at least the illusion of privacy. "I have consulted with Dr. McCoy--"
"Yeah, noticed that, thanks. Because this isn't humiliating enough, I get to have you of all people witness it. That's exactly the kind of luck I have." Slumping back into the couch, Jim takes a deep breath. "It won't--probably--kill me. So it's a matter of waiting it out."
"Whether or not it is true pon farr--"
"It's not. No mental bond. Just fucked up ships meeting in the night. If it was--" Jim hesitates, discarding the remainder of the thought. "It's not, and that doesn't leave a lot of options other than the obvious, to get through this."
"--the symptoms are similar enough that there is no practical difference. There are certain compounds that can alleviate the symptoms--"
"Weirdly, not for humans." Jim waves away Spock's next comments. "And Bones has been working on it. We're--handling it." Jim manages a smile. "It's not that bad. Just--"
"--but they only delay the inevitable. It has not truly begun." Jim's smile fades. "For a Vulcan, this would be an indicator that they should return home. The urgency has not yet begun to manifest itself."
"Which is why I'm waiting it out on Earth."
"At Starfleet Medical?" Spock would prefer Jim be kept directly under observation by both him and Dr. McCoy, at least until Dr. McCoy's presence becomes unnecessary.
Jim hesitates. "No."
Even for James Kirk, that makes little sense. "You need to be under constant observation--"
"Oh hell no." Straightening, Jim launches himself to his feet, and Spock observes the difference between Jim's normal restless energy and the wire-tight stress manifesting itself now. "No. This is not something that's going down in Starfleet Medical history. None of this. Bones is putting it down as a mild hormone imbalance and that's it."
"This is private," Jim snarls, turning on him. "This is--of all people, Spock, you get how much this is not for anyone to peer at and categorize and study." Jim hesitates. "And your people aren't exactly thrilled with humans in general. I really don't need to destroy diplomatic relations by exposing--this. Much less how it happened and who it happened with."
"That is a laudable goal, but your health and safety are of greater concern."
"A memory--someone else's memory--can't kill me."
"The latest scans do not bear this out."
"I can't do that to him."
The root of Jim's reluctance is merely confirmation of what Spock had suspected; he finds he wishes he'd been mistaken. "What he did to you--"
"He would never hurt me. He didn't know--he couldn't know. If he did--if this was--he has a life, Spock. Kirk--his Kirk--was part of his past. Dragging that out now after everything he's lost--what is he supposed to do? Leave his wife and take up with me on a starship?"
"That is not the option you have forefront in your mind, Jim."
Jim flushes, and Spock feels his clumsy attempts to shield. "I'm not a teenage girl. I can't run off and live on love--or logical and carefully considered acceptance of the parameters of a successful relationship, whatever--in the colony. What would I even do there?"
Spock stills as a breath of thought escapes Jim at the words. "But you considered it."
"Not seriously." Jim doesn't lie well. "But he has a wife, and the possibility of kids and something better than anything I could give him. Something real, that's not just memories. And not a bad copy of what he had, which is all I could be for him. This--it isn't real. He lives with enough ghosts; I won't be one of them."
"You could," Spock answers, the words surprisingly difficult to speak, "offer him the possibility."
All at once, the manic energy seems to melt away. "Spock, I can tell you without fear of contradiction--I am not the man he wants. I can't be, even if I knew how. He was Starfleet's favorite captain--yeah, think about that for a few minutes, no one brought him up on charges for fucking with the Kobayashi Maru, they worshiped him--he was--" Jim stops. "You know, I've had my share of crises of confidence, everyone does, but really, do I have to have the memory of another me being the greatest captain in history to compete against? It's not like I need that kind of shit on top of--God, I should stop talking, stop talking now. Get out."
Spock stands up. "Jim--"
"We'll arrive on earth in three days," Jim says, not meeting his eyes. "I'll go home with some monitors so Bones doesn't give himself a heart attack and can track my symptoms, I'll check in regularly, and everyone goes on leave. When we all come back, we'll never speak of this again."
"You are irrational. What you are attempting to do is something that few Vulcans have ever achieved, much less--"
Jim's head jerks up, eyes meeting Spock's. "It's my decision to make while I still can. Now get out. I need to meditate or beat someone up or break things, and I really can't do that if you're still here. I think I've deep-sixed plenty of respect this last week and I'd like to cling to the illusion I won't lose yours."
"You will not." Jim flinches, answering only with a tight nod. "I ask that you reconsider--"
"No. When we get back, you can tell me all about how illogical I am and everything, promise. I won't even argue! But you gotta go, because I can't--deal with this when you're this close."
Spock nods reluctantly, going to the door. As it opens, he turns to see Jim turned away, looking out the viewport, searching the stars. Spock wonders if he's looking for the location of the colony before the door closes between them.
Jim's distant, barely aware of what he's doing after Spock tries the final compound, moving automatically into the chair and picking up the sandwich at Spock's direction. Spock's not sure where he thinks he is, but the environmental controls in the house have been raised by six degrees, so he supposes if one were to recreate a desert, even with the humidity of an Iowa summer, it is not a poor way to start.
Restless, Jim barely waits to complete his meal before drifting toward Spock before moments of startled clarity drive him away, unable to settle to any activity. Spock notes the disconnection before removing the latest mixture from consideration as Jim trips, knocking himself into the wall without any indication of awareness, eyes blank.
An hour later, Jim returns from his brief retreat outside, sitting at the foot of Spock's chair, head resting against his knee, hair spiky and dark with sweat. "That last one," he says, voice thick, "it's already metabolized. Also, I think I scared the mailman."
"Mailman?" Through the thin material of his uniform, Spock can feel the heat of Jim's skin.
"Guy," Jim says, voice muffled, hand closing absently just below Spock's knee. "Brings--um, hard copy. Then he puts it in a box for the owner to retrieve."
"That is an illogical waste of resources," Spock answers as Jim tilts his head up, chin digging into his thigh.
"Typical humans." Jim snorts a laugh, then seems to realize where he is and what he's doing. After a brief, confused struggle with himself, he sits back, but his hand remains as if he'd forgotten it was there. "Take sedatives off the list, by the way. We might be at coma-level and I'm not really into the potential for brain death."
"I have come to that conclusion as well," Spock says steadily, ignoring the skim of Jim's fingers, five points of heat even through the layer of fabric, the light contact enough to inform Spock that there would be no opportunity to try again. He has no idea what he's doing, Spock reminds himself, feeling Jim's mind respond to his own careful calm and reinforcing it before he continues. "Dr. McCoy has been unable to discover another viable solution."
"Yeah." In a whirl of motion, Jim finds his feet, oddly graceful. "We're out of time, aren't we?"
"You gotta go. Preferably when I'm not looking. I'd prefer not to end up with a broken neck."
"I do not think that will be necessary."
Jim frowns. "You're faster than I am--usually anyway--and stronger. I'm pretty sure you can get away and it'll probably have to involve significant injury."
"I do not wish to."
Jim stills. "I don't understand."
Spock sends a final message to Dr. McCoy waiting on the Enterprise before shutting down contact. The doctor, Spock supposes, will be extremely unhappy. Spock finds he does not particularly care. "I do not wish to leave you."
"You have to. I told you, it's--" He drifts closer. "Too much--too much like what--" As his hip brushes the table, upsetting the terminal, Jim reaches out absently to steady it, eyes flickering over the screen before pausing. "This isn't mine-- "Leaning down, Jim taps the keyboard, scrolling back through three days of scans with an increasingly bewildered expression. "You've been scanning yourself."
Jim drops on both knees, opening each scan by timestamp and studying the results. "You've been doing this since you got here. Why would you--" Abruptly, he pulls up his own latest scan, taken when he came down from his shower, and the one Spock had done of himself only minutes before. As they overlap, spikes just beginning to synchronize, Jim sits back on his heels. "You said I wouldn't affect you."
"I said you were unlikely to affect me. I did not say I would not allow you to do so."
Jim's lips move silently for a moment. "You're not--you have years before--" Rubbing his forehead, he looks at Spock. "This is taking duty to a really uncomfortable level," Jim says blankly. "And I mean crazy when I say that. More than hanging around me and getting up close and personal with my femoral artery by a warehouse of Romulan disruptors."
"Duty was only one among many motives for making this decision."
"I don't--wait." Returning to the console, he pulls up Spock's neatly detailed notes on each of the variations that they had used to control Jim's symptoms, reading through them before pausing, looking at the hypos on the table before picking up the only one that remained unused. "This one is a traditional Vulcan formula--it doesn't work, not on me. That was one of the first McCoy tried. We don't keep it stocked. But you had it ready before you came." Jim looks up. "For you."
"That compound takes five days to synthesize. You had to have started the process after we talked on the Enterprise."
Even with the distance between them, Spock can feel Jim's precarious focus, the startling moment of clarity in the unstable mass of emotion and physiological reaction; he's never doubted either Jim's shocking intelligence or his ability to process information in ways that he's learned over time are unique to that singular mind. "Why? You don't want--we don't--we've never--"
"Perhaps," Spock says, as carefully as he can; the last hypo was hours ago, and soon, neither of them will be able to think at all, "you are not the only one who does not want to be a ghost."
Dr. McCoy finishes packing the hypos, mouth tight. "This is a shitty idea. This is probably the shittiest idea ever thought up on this ship, and Jim gives you some stiff competition on that one."
"Do you have an alternative treatment that you have been withholding for a belated dramatic reveal?" Spock answers, adding a medkit and the data solid of Jim's latest scans. "If so, I believe this would be the appropriate time for disclosure."
"Didn't say I had better." Adding a medical tricorder with a dark look, he stalks to his office, returning with four hypos. "You're just lucky he's too distracted to look at what I was synthesizing," Dr. McCoy says wryly. "When it starts, one every eight to twelve hours. It's never been tested past two doses, so after that, you're on your own."
"I'm aware of the limitations, Doctor," Spock answers, taking them and adding them to an inner pocket of the bag. "Unless there is something else--"
"You're three years off if Jim's memories are accurate," Dr. McCoy says bluntly. "You don't know if your physiology is mature enough to handle this, and it won't be a slow build. I know, you said Vulcans aren't always synched with their bondmates or whatever you call them, and it happens early anyway, but I'd be more comfortable knowing what happened to them afterward."
Spock loops the bag over one shoulder. "The few problems that have been recorded were in regard to conception and irrelevant to the situation."
"Thank God for that," McCoy mutters. "Jim'd never forgive you if you knocked him up."
The sickbay doors opens abruptly, and McCoy turns, face flushing in anger, but the entrance of Nyota silences him. Spock watches in curiosity as Dr. McCoy's expression warms, smiling at her as she comes to a stop by the biobed.
"Dr. McCoy," she says with a nod, then turns to Spock. "Sulu and Chekov beamed out this morning and I transferred control of sensors and communications to the Captain's chair. Use these," handing him a set of small sensors, "in the house. I have the bridge for the next five days until Scotty comes on duty, then emergency control will be routed to sickbay and Dr. McCoy's office. If required, we can use the sensors to triangulate your position and beam you both out and directly to sickbay."
McCoy makes a pained sound, and Nyota's mouth twitches. Leaning up, she brushes a kiss against his cheek. "Be careful." Her mouth twitches again as she steps back, slowly growing into a smirk. "Have fun."
Spock ignores Dr. McCoy's snicker. "If that is all--"
"We'll walk you down. I dismissed the transporter personnel for leave early. I can handle the transporter." Nyota glances at Dr. McCoy. "Ready?"
McCoy glances briefly at Spock. "I don't think I'm the one you should be asking that. When you get down, get a reading first and send it up so I can get his current baseline and start projections. We'll go from there." Abruptly, Dr. McCoy slaps his back with an expression of exaggerated sympathy. "Hope he doesn't kill you, Spock."
Under the circumstances, Spock reflects as they leave sickbay, he shares the practicality of the sentiment.
The punch is not unexpected.
"You son of a bitch," Jim breathes, getting to his feet as Spock braces a hand on the wall to stand up, watching Jim's helpless semi-circle pace, like something trapped and not liking it much. "You set me up."
"You did not respond to logical arguments," Spock answers, controlling the urge to approach.
"I had a plan!"
"In your current condition, you were incapable of making a logical assessment of the situation. I did so for you, as is my duty--"
"Duty my ass!" Spock watches the fingers of one hand spread, palm dusting lightly against one thigh as Jim paces. "You manipulated me from--Christ, you've been planning this since I told you about it."
"I asked you to reconsider your course of action at that time and over the following three days. You refused to engage in productive dialogue or listen to any of the reasonable objections of either Dr. McCoy or myself. It was necessary to formulate an alternative to what was not a plan but was, in fact, an overly emotional sense of martyrdom for a man who--"
"This is about Spock?"
Spock is surprised by the intensity of his own reaction. "You formed this illogical course of action--one that is actively dangerous to your health and sanity--for the sole purpose of sparing Ambassador Spock the discomfort resulting from his own careless actions. That is illogical."
"It's perfectly logical if you have, oh, a conscience," Jim snarls. "What, you really thought I'd just bang in and fuck up his life because I'm a little uncomfortable--"
"You could die. Characterizing this as discomfort is another symptom of--"
"It's not a symptom of anything but goddamn compassion--"
"Compassion," Spock bites out, realizing he's moved two steps from the wall, "was not your motive for refusing any logical course of action. You seem to be unable to assess the situation accurately; permit me to do so for you. Your actions from the beginning to this moment have been wholly motivated by your inability to accept that there are things that are beyond your control. Furthermore--"
Jim's face drains of what color it has. "Say like it is, right, Spock?"
"--for reasons that pass comprehension, you continue to labor under the impression that you are capable of making a rational judgment. You are not."
"My judgment was not affected when I told you exactly why--"
"When a perfectly viable alternative introduces itself, you respond with anger instead of recognizing that, no matter your extremely subjective feelings, you cannot resist this by will. If you had been permitted to continue on this course of action, the likelihood of death is only exceeded by the likelihood of insanity. Your judgement has been compromised by your current state. I chose to make the decision for you."
The next punch is sloppy, telegraphed easily by both body and face; Spock dodges it, spinning Jim to the floor, narrowly avoiding the overturned chair. Jim comes up in a crouch, blue eyes dilated black. "I don't need you."
"You would prefer the company of a man who would wish for you to be someone else?" Jim's faster this time, and Spock narrowly dodges the sharp jab of his fist. "I understand it is traditional to indulge in melancholy poetry to express adolescent irrationality--"
"Fuck you." Jim's fist catches him in the stomach, kicking the chair toward the door. Somewhere, something clatters to the floor; Spock suspects the kitchen table has become a casualty. "Fuck you and your fucking--"
"I might add," Spock says, sweeping Jim's feet from under him, "that this 'compassion' does not seem to extend to those with whom you live your daily life. Do you find Dr. McCoy lacking when compared to the memories that Ambassador Spock gave you? Or is it merely your first officer that suffers by comparison?"
Jim, pushing himself up on one arm, freezes. "What?"
"Over the last year of our acquaintance," Spock says, planting a foot by Jim's hip and knocking him back into the floor, "I was aware that there was a thread in our interactions that did not follow the natural development of our relationship. I admit, however, it was a surprise to realize during our discussion that you have spent this year comparing me to my counterpart. The results, it seems, have not been favorable."
Jim doesn't move. "I haven't."
"I find myself unable to trust your veracity." Dodging Jim's attempt to unbalance him, Spock pivots, kicking his hand down to the floor before pinning him. The touch of bare skin is a shock, neatly tearing the edges of Spock's remaining control. Catching Jim's wrists above his head with one hand, Spock watches the rapid rise and fall of his chest, face flushing as the dilated eyes fix on him. "Do you wish to offer an objection? I admit I am curious to understand your motivations."
"Spock." Jim licks his lips, chasing the thin line of blood, before letting his head fall back. "It wasn't like that. You're--heh, you're nothing like him. You have no idea how--how much you're--"
Spock circles Jim's throat delicately, thumb pressing against the hard pulse of the jugular. "This I have come to understand."
Jim's eyes fall half closed with a groan as Spock tightens his hold. "Who's irrational now, Spock? Your judgment's as fucked as mine."
"Where you are concerned," Spock answers flatly, "my judgment has long been compromised."
Jim's hand loosens its hold on his wrist. "What?"
"This is not the way I would have chosen, and to do this--to act upon this, when you've already expressed a preference--"
Jim sighs, the hand on Spock's wrist loosening. "No. You've got it wrong. I never meant for you to--there wasn't a competition."
"It would be illogical to attempt to compete against an idealized memory," Spock says softly. "However, you have not hesitated to do so on my behalf. So we come to this. You have a choice."
Reluctantly, Spock releases him, settling back to keep Jim's hips pinned. "A--choice?" Jim says thickly, pushing himself up on both elbows. "You said--"
"In a few short hours, you will be beyond thought. You will not care who you approach, so long as they are physically present, and I will be in similar condition. You may choose to wait until the decision is taken from your hands by the requirements of your body. Or you may choose to accept what cannot be changed."
"But the results will be the same either way."
They won't be; Jim knows that as well as Spock does.
It's harder than expected to move away; Spock can feel his shields eroding even as he stands, watching as Jim pushes himself fully upright.
"I will await your decision," Spock says softly and leaves the room, ignoring the belated brush of Jim's hand.
With the erosion of what control remains to Jim, the house feels far too small. Drawing in himself, Spock searches for some remnant of his own control; a meditation trance is beyond him at this point, but focus brings a certain amount of relief from the strain of having Jim so close and radiating a tangle of emotion that Spock can't begin to unravel.
He'd prepared for all possibilities that could result from this course of action, but that does not change the fact that all he knows is theory. The memories of his father's careful, dispassionate explanation in his childhood had not prepared him for the reality of this, nor his mother's more emotional descriptions of a process so foreign to Vulcan tenets that it had always seemed unreal.
Even grounding himself in the strictest disciplines of his people, there's little relief; pon farr is and has always been their one eternal exception to all that Vulcans were. Many have tried to resist it and few have ever succeeded. Spock does not think he or Jim will be extraordinary exceptions to that rule, perhaps most importantly because there is the possibility neither of them wish to be.
Abruptly, Spock feels Jim's mind focus on him, a tug of attention that's more intimate than a touch, breaking through the faint veneer of stability Spock had managed to achieve. It's a physical effort not to rise and seek him out, waiting with barely leashed patience as he feels Jim climb the stairs, then hesitate in the hall just outside the door.
Spock's methodically removed every option except this one, the only one with any chance of success; there was no possibility he would fail. That does not change the irrational hope that Jim will allow what is to happen to be his choice, before there is no choice for either of them left.
After a long moment, the door opens, and Jim comes in, kicking it shut behind him before leaning against the heavy wood. Looking at Spock, he nods tiredly. "You win."
Spock rests both hands against the floor, palms pressing to the rough weave of the rug. "It was not a competition."
"With us, it's always a competition." Sighing, Jim presses his shoulders against the door, tilting his head back with a soft gasp. "Okay. I have to get this out first before anything else. I asked for you, you know that."
Spock inclines his head. "I do not see the relevance of--"
"Oh, it's relevant." Taking a deep breath, Jim looks at him again. "There couldn't be anyone else. Not because of the--I couldn't even remember all this shit until this started, what they were to each other. He said we'd be friends, and hey, so he told you too? Talk about not revealing the breadth of interaction--"
"Right." Jim hisses a breath, hands fisting at his sides. "It's just, there's four people I can hear in this room right now and three of them are me." Licking his lips, Jim pushes off the door, dropping to the rug a few feet away, hands curling into helpless fists against his thighs. "You can read me right now. So you know everything I'm saying is true. I can't lie like this even if I want to, and I've never lied to you anyway. It wasn't like that with us. This--him--wasn't why I wanted you."
Jim shifts restlessly, other memories trying to break through, subsume him beneath them that he fights back in the space of a breath, opening his eyes to look at Spock again, wholly himself.
"The thing is--there are ghosts and ghosts," he says huskily. "I've--I remember the universe they lived in, the wars they fought, the men they were. We can't be like them, and I don't want us to. Their universe had a Federation that didn't have a founding member nearly wiped out. You were a great peacekeeper to the Romulans, for fuck's sake, and I was--" Jim swallows, eyes glassy. "Different."
Going up on his hands and knees, Jim crosses the space between them. "I don't want to be the man Ambassador Spock knew," Jim whispers. "I don't want to do this like they did. I want to do this like we will, like everything we've done. I never wanted you to be anything else. That's truth. This is us.
"Show me what you've got, Commander."
That's all the permission required; Spock reaches for him, pinning him against the floor. With a choked laugh, Jim arches, hands fisting in Spock's tunic and jerking him close, lips brushing his. "Get them out of my head," Jim whispers, "and remind me what we're doing out here, the people we are. I don't want to live someone else's life with someone else's memories. I don't want him. I want you."
Jim's skin is hot to the touch; his mouth is even hotter, wet and iron-edged with blood, laughing even as Spock pushes between his knees. "Jim," he hears himself say, and Jim's mind already reaching out, eager, desperate, hungry in a way that Spock no longer has to fight the desire to take. Spreading his fingers over his face, Spock sucks in a breath at the immediacy of Jim's thoughts: hope, and yearning so deep Spock wonders how he's been able to hide it for so long, the rush of anger under no control at all; forced to live the memories of two men from a different time, a different world, burning for days, weeks, unable to escape the constant presence of those other lives. Spock eases the memories away, fingers of thought interlocking with Jim's as Jim's hands slide up his back beneath the tunic, fingernails scraping the line of vertebrae.
"Oh," Jim whispers, tilting his head back as Spock bites the point of his jaw, blood rising beneath the skin. "You were jealous."
Spock bites harder, and Jim arches, laughing, rubbing himself against Spock, unable to stop himself and unable to even want to. "God, I had no idea--" It's appropriate, Spock thinks, to allow such understanding to pass between them in the privacy of their minds, strengthening the thin thread of awareness, more threads winding between them, pulling their minds closer. You're a manipulative bastard. Jim thinks, forming the thought carefully, clearly. You drive me crazy, you know that? Let's do this.
Spock sits up, stripping away Jim's thin, sweat-dampened t-shirt, letting him go only long enough to toss it aside before touching him again, pressing deeper into the chaotic welcome of Jim's mind. There's no resistance, no matter how deeply Spock reaches, welcoming and surrounding and impossibly easy, the way no mind he's ever touched has ever been.
Jim's fingers clumsily work open the opening of his jeans, pushing them down his hips before reaching for Spock's, grinding up with a broken gasp that Spock swallows before it finds air.
Jim reaches between them, fingers closing tight around his cock. This is where we've been going since the day we met, on a mental bite, sharp and all Jim, restless edges that slice through Spock like a razor. What do you want? You can have anything you want from me.
"I think," Spock says, heat flaring up his spine at the slick slide of fingers down his back, digging into the small of his back as Jim grinds up, joy breaking through the heat of pure lust, "that I want to fuck you. Do you have any objections?"
"Would you care if I did?"
I would convince you otherwise.
Jim groans in another laugh, shoving a hand into the loose pockets of his jeans and holding up a small tube. "Show me."
The hum of the bond between them is almost enough to obliterate thought; Spock pulls back as Jim jerks his jeans off, tossing them aside, cock hard and flushed purple against his belly, staring at Spock in barely leashed challenge. Not waiting for Spock to finish undressing, Jim straddles his lap, taking the tube and twisting it open, slicking his fingers before reaching between them, hand wet as it slides twice over Spock's cock.
"I want to feel it this time," Jim murmurs, raising himself on his knees, and Spock cups the sharp angles of his hips just as Jim pushes down, opening up around him by sheer will, gasping helplessly against his throat, blue-black pain and satisfaction fighting for dominance in his mind. "Like this," Jim murmurs, teeth scraping up the side of his throat. "God. Spock."
Spock doesn't give him time to adjust, thrusting up, seated fully inside the tight heat of Jim's body and feels Jim's teeth break skin in bright, sharp pleasure. Jim reaches for his tunic, pulling it off to get at skin, skidding the fine line between lust and desperation, focused sharply on Spock to the exclusion of all else.
Then they're both beyond thought--there's just Jim, pinned to the floor beneath him, hot satisfaction and desire twining between them, white heat trailing every touch, and Jim's choked More, and Harder and Please yes inside me closer, I need you, I want you, it's been days and I don't can't, never wanted anyone anything like this, like you and here, Spock can answer wordlessly, possessively, that he won't, not after this.
Pressing his fingers to the psi-points, Spock shudders at the wide-open connection, burying himself as deeply in Jim's mind as he does his body, the white-hot edge of orgasm approaching too quickly to fight; Jim's heel digs into the back of his thigh, body stilling before contracting impossibly tight around him as he comes, too shocked to breathe, his mind filled with Spock's name. Still shaking with Jim's pleasure, Spock comes too and Jim shudders, hips jerking up before Jim collapses bonelessly against the rug, gasping helplessly.
Panting against Jim's shoulder, Spock's unable to separate their feelings and doesn't care to try. It's only a pause, the build starting again at the base of his spine, crawling through Jim in electric shocks of need, blind and blinding. Licking the sweat from Jim's cheek, Spock kisses the open mouth and answers Jim's More, now, more with a rock of his hips, Jim slick and open around him, stroking back sweat-dark hair from Jim's eyes and answering, Anything, t'hy'la.
"I think," Spock says, catching Jim's mouth in a slow kiss, "that it is your turn."
Jim's fingers tighten in his hair, body twisting in a way Spock hadn't been aware human anatomy was designed to achieve, hips rocking up, and Spock hisses at the drag of his cock against Jim.
"You know, you could be more appreciative." Jim reaches for the headboard, fingers white around the metal, eyes heavy-lidded and teasing. Spock doesn't think he's ever been anything other than appreciative. "Bullshit," Jim murmurs, biting Spock's lip, "you said it wasn't logical to continue on the floor and I know it wasn't for the sake of my back."
"I did not wish for you to be uncomfortable," Spock answers, distracted by Jim opening around him. Jim groans, fingernails digging into Spock's back. Cupping Jim's face, Spock stills, waiting until the blue eyes open again, glazed and nearly black, the mindless need rising again, no less urgent than the first time, if more familiar. "I want you."
Jim licks his lips. "You have me. Any way you want me--God, but this way is working for me really well." Jim shifts beneath him, trying to move, but Spock holds them both still, pinning Jim's hips to the mattress. "Spock. Come on."
"I want," Spock starts, feeling Jim's curiosity fighting through the pull of his body; thinking will be beyond them both too soon. "I must--I do not wish to end this."
"Really not sure we can stop--fuck, Spock, move--"
"The--" Spock catches his breath, fighting down the urgent need to move, to move now. "We have bonded. I do not wish to break it. I have been--careful--"
Jim's hand covers his, pressing it against his skin, mind edged with anger. Did you think I'd do this half-way? That I'd want to? "You're a crappy telepath," Jim whispers. "Do it."
And, How could you not know this?
Letting go of the headboard, Jim pulls Spock's forehead against his. Show me what to do.
Spock feels Jim's mental shift, easy now, so easy that Spock is surrounded in the familiar warmth of his mind almost instantly.
This is how we take a bondmate, Spock tells him. For us, this is instinct; it is among our earliest lessons, to control it, direct it, accept another's mind to join with our own for all of our lives. For you, it will be an act of faith and of trust. It will not be like anything else you have known.
"You never have been," Jim breathes. Jim's mind knows him, accepting each finger of thought as Spock slides deeper; Jim's mind is so familiar it is almost impossible to remember it is human, and he must be careful--
No. Hold back anywhere else. But never with me.
Abruptly, Jim's memories surround him, as immediate as his own, a life lived in seconds, images of Earth and the farmhouse they inhabit, the rare presence of the mother who hid from herself in the stars that she hated for taking the husband she loved, the sons who reminded her too much of what she had lost. There's too much to see and understand at once, unsettled with edges of hurt and confusion, and the simmering anger that had lived in Jim's skin the whole of his life.
Even a Vulcan might resist giving so much, the entirety of a life opened for another to experience, from the most petty to the most powerful, and all the variations of self that existed between. Jim simply accepts; he's never learned how to fear what he does not know, and Spock--
I trust you.
Where the hell did you go to the school, Vulcan of the Flies? Oh. Oh. That was awesome. Bet he cried. Tell me he cried very emotionally.
Spock smiles helplessly against Jim's cheek, surrounded by protective anger and bone deep satisfaction as Jim explores the rush of his memories. Yes. He did.
I want to see-- Jim reaches tentatively, curious, and Spock's surprised how easy it is to give this, whatever Jim wants to see; somewhere distant, he's thrusting into Jim's body, skin slick with new sweat, licking into Jim's mouth, but it's a pale shadow of this, clumsy and distant compared to the intimacy of threading through Jim's thoughts, a mind unlike any he had ever touched. Jim studies his mother soberly, echoing Spock's own grief, his adoration of the mother she'd been before he'd ever understood the woman who had so easily defied the condemnation of her world and the rejection of her family, the mindless hatred of her husband's people, to marry a man and bear a son, to live a life far from the place of her birth, and never know she was their world entire.
God, Spock. She knew. Trust me. She knew.
Abruptly, Spock surfaces to slick skin, Jim's thighs tight against his hips, the urgency of their bodies grounding them back in the material world, fabric rough beneath his knees and Jim tight around him. After so long in their minds, physical sensation is overwhelming; Jim reaches for his cock, stripping it once before Spock pins his hands to the bed, watching him arch desperately and wrapping his own fingers around the hot length. He's beautiful. I enjoy seeing you like this. Come now, for me.
Jim does, breathless, exhausted, pliant and utterly open as Spock comes inside him, mind empty of everything but them.
Spock's unsurprised by the sudden appearance of Dr. McCoy on the porch but lets the doctor wait, finishing his adjustments to the replicator before answering the second flurry of knocking.
He regrets the impulse when he sees Dr. McCoy's face, pale and drawn and open with fear. "Spock. Is he--"
"He is asleep." Spock's aware of the contented hum of Jim's sleeping mind, finally at peace after too many restless nights, undercurrents of warmth and sleepy pleasure at Spock's touch. "You may take the most recent scans with you. They show a twenty-eight percent improvement in hormone and adrenal levels."
Spock studies the wall behind Dr. McCoy's head. "It can take up to three standard days for pon farr to pass," he says. "Due to the exertions required during this period, Jim will require a great deal of rest before he will be fit for duty. The readings should be satisfactory by the time we return."
"That's--really more than I wanted to know," Dr. McCoy finally answers, sounding strangled.
Dr. McCoy was fortunate to come while Jim slept; Spock suspects his report would be far less discreet. "I would prefer this remained private as well, Doctor, but you did ask."
"That was very stupid of me. Should I ask to examine him or will I need to have several drinks when I return to the ship? Not that this conversation isn't going to haunt my sleep," Dr. McCoy says, dropping into a chair and rubbing his face tiredly.
"It would be unwise for you to be present when he awakens," Spock answers, and perhaps it is the newness of their bond, or the faint presence of Jim in his mind that forces him to add. "He can be surprisingly single-minded."
"I hate you."
Jim would probably find this amusing. "Would you like some tea?" Spock inquire. McCoy squeezes his eyes closed, getting to his feet.
"I'm going back to the ship," Dr. McCoy answers, snatching the data solid from the table. "Check in every twelve hours--with scans, don't you dare let Jim get near the terminal--and for the love of God, after this is over, never mention it again."
"Do not trouble yourself, Doctor, it will not be mentioned again," Spock says, distracted by the faintest brush of Jim's mind, emerging from slumber. Opening the door, he hears himself add, "At least until next time."
McCoy gives him a single, horrified glare before the door closes.
That was hilarious. Can I give him details?
Spock follows the faint mental laughter up the stairs. I have never grasped the intricacies of the human concept of humor.
You are such a liar.
Pushing the door open, Spock pauses at the brush of fingers against his shoulder before he's pressed back into the door. "Admit it, you thought it was hysterical," Jim murmurs against his throat.
"I am currently in a compromised state," Spock answers, hissing softly at the scrape of teeth over bruised skin as Jim settles, tonguing the sensitive skin. "Dr. McCoy is very easy to shock."
"I think it's just you, really." Deliberately, Jim thinks of the many times Dr. McCoy had walked in on him with various partners over their years together at the Academy; closing his hands over Jim's hips, Spock turns them, shoving Jim into the wall.
"That was inappropriate," Spock says mildly, kissing Jim before he can answer.
It was supposed to be motivating. Jim's amusement is sinking beneath the rush of desire, flaring abruptly, reaching to pull Spock closer and panting into the kiss. Spock licks into his mouth, stealing each gasped breath until Jim is grinding against him desperately. Thought slips slowly away, and Spock pulls back, holding Jim against the door with one hand; blue eyes electric, mouth swollen, flushed and exclusively for Spock to see, stripped of everything but desire.
Turning him against the door, Spock bites the back of his neck and pushes inside him, thrumming satisfaction at Jim's strangled gasp, pushing back against him, please, please, Spock, please, do it move I need--
"I would prefer you do not think of former lovers," Spock murmurs against the back of his neck, skin salty with sweat beneath his tongue before Spock closes his teeth sharply over the knob of bone. "Ever."
Jim groans, tightening around him, already on the edge of climax. I already forgot them.
In the normal course of a Vulcan's life, barring extraordinary circumstances, the bond with a mate would be established long before the Time of Mating, allowing both minds to accustom themselves more slowly to the constant presence of another, before pon farr stripped away all but the need to become one in all ways.
The tradition of bonding in childhood was rooted in preventing the confusion and fear of total immersion in another being. If Spock could regret anything of what has happened, it's that Jim, without either a lifetime of understanding and expectation of what will come, or even time for adequate preparation, is forced to endure what few Vulcans would ever choose to experience.
Waking abruptly in response to Jim's distress, Spock soothes away the flare of panic, the fear of losing self beneath the weight of two lifetimes of memories.
"There's this ship," Jim says, controlling his breathing with difficulty, cold sweat breaking over every inch of skin. "I keep seeing this ship. Everything went wrong and no one knew what to do--." Shuddering, Jim unclenches his hands from the pillow. "What was that?"
"Your mind will organize itself, given time," Spock tells him, rubbing the length of his back as Jim tries to bring order to his thoughts with little success; the nature of pon farr does not easily allow concentration, and despite his exhaustion, Spock can feel the heated need below the surface. "When we return to the ship, I will teach you the disciplines we were taught to complete the integration. It is a great deal to absorb, but it will not change who you are."
"Yeah, it will," Jim whispers, turning his face into Spock's shoulder. "I read up--that's why you do this as kids, right? So you grow together and don't have to do it all at once like this?"
"I did not know you had researched the topic."
Jim lets out a slow breath, giving up control to allow Spock to ease away the remainder of the fear. "I was curious," he admits finally. "Plus, there's like, that week your instructors, your dad, and your mom all decided the sex talk had to happen right now. Once I got over the hideous realization that my--your mother was talking about my father in bed, it was really informative. Your father. The father. God."
Spock finds the memory without difficulty; that is not a time that is easy to forget. "I see."
Jim offers a vivid memory laced with embarrassment of his own stepfather and a class at school before burrowing beneath the blankets with a sigh, mouthing Spock's skin distractedly. "Yeah. That. I know the feeling."
"It will not change--the essence of self," Spock says slowly, thinking of his mother. "If there was true incompatibility, the bond would not form."
"I'm just saying, if I say anything is logical, ever, I'm going to blame you for it."
It's oddly gratifying to see Jim so relaxed; neither alcohol nor his surprisingly infrequent sexual encounters had brought him such boneless relaxation, sleepy comfort and contentment both, tactile even without the drive of physical desire.
"Yeah, that's you," Jim murmurs, eyes falling shut as he curls closer. The words drift away, but the feeling remains behind, memories that aren't anything more than impressions from a mind so young there was no context for what he felt, only that it was.
"I was making fun of the simulation," Jim says abruptly without opening his eyes. Spock stills. "Sorry. The memories kind of hit randomly."
"That is to be expected." After a moment, Spock continues stiffly, "I had suspected as much."
"Well, you were right, per usual. It was stupid, but if I really wanted to cheat, trust me, even you would've taken a while to figure out how."
Spock thinks of the long hours he'd spent in the mainframe, picking lines of code apart piece by piece, searching for the vulnerability that had allowed Jim's almost insultingly easy changes, and the unwilling admiration, if not of the act, of the mind that had so carefully crafted a response brilliant in its sheer audacity.
"Well, yeah, but I broke Starfleet's security my first year," Jim says in sleepy amusement. "That wasn't the challenge. I wasn't going to do anything at first," Jim continues "It was just--everyone wants to see what they could have done right. If you're going to command a starship, you get that you're going to do it wrong, but someone else will do it right. I had to know what was in me that would make the wrong decision."
Spock considers the statement, examining the memories of Jim's sick anger at the first failure, then the numb acceptance of the second, startled by the conclusion Jim had finally drawn from the evidence he was given. "You thought the failure was in yourself."
"Of course." How could I captain a ship and be responsible for the lives of hundreds, or thousands, or an entire galaxy, and have my own judgment be the reason they all died?
"That was not--precisely--the purpose of the exercise."
"Maybe not for anyone else, but I didn't go in there thinking failure was inevitable. There's always a way, even if we don't know what it is, even if we couldn't know." Jim pauses. Then I saw what it was supposed to do. And that really pissed me off.
Spock blinks away the sudden, vivid memories of the nights Jim spent imagining and discarding a hundred different solutions, anger growing as every hour passed, reading into the simple lines of code a lesson that Spock hadn't meant to teach: no matter what you do, what you are, how hard you work, how far you've come, how much you are willing to give up, you will never be good enough. And there's nothing you can do to change that.
"So you know, fuck it," Jim whispers against his shoulder. "The entire thing was a multiple choice question with a true/false chaser just to make sure you got it. I didn't like the choices." Spock feels keys beneath his fingers as Jim asked his own question with every line of code, a question that perhaps only Spock had understood existed. "I always preferred essay answers anyway."
The question the Kobayashi Maru asked was, what will you do if there is no chance of success? What will you do when every choice means failure? And my answer is, you only fail when you stop trying. A no-win only exists when you believe in it. Until then, everything is possible.
"That is not logical."
"That's why I won."
Spock considers this. "You did not win. You cheated to create a scenario where it was possible to defeat the Klingons."
Abruptly, Jim lifts his head, mouth curving into an incredulous smile. "You thought I was trying to beat the Klingons?"
The rush of affection and amusement is almost enough to distract him from the point of the conversation. "Was that not your intention?"
"No. You wrote it; you know there was no way to beat them."
"Spock." Pushing himself up on both elbows, Jim shakes his head. "The Kobayashi Maru didn't say I had to beat the Klingons. So I decided to beat the program instead."
"That is a--unique perspective," Spock says slowly, remembering the moment Jim had turned to look at the proctors, knowing they would never understand the answer he'd given them. "I had not considered it."
Jim grins, sinking back down and closing his eyes with a sigh. "Ego," Jim murmurs, drifting, "is the mother of invention. Or desperation. Something like that."
Spock finds himself looking at the quiet face for a long time before he finally finds sleep.
"All right," Dr. McCoy says, sounding vaguely irritable. "Looks like you're back to normal." His eyes flicker to Spock. "With some--apparently organic neural changes that I'm refusing to think about until Spock convinces his people to release his mother's medical records and I can get a comparison." Bones shudders, pushing Jim off the biobed. "Go away."
"Told you," Jim answers smugly. "And it's all thanks to the--"
"If you try and tell me again, I'll sedate you," Dr. McCoy says serenely, picking up a hypo and staring at it thoughtfully. "Spock, you're up."
"Doctor--" Spock begins.
"Don't care. Hop up and sit still while I illogically do my job and confirm you're clear. I assume some of the neural changes are going to match Jim's? Just nod or shake your head; we're not talking about this."
Jim leans against an empty biobed with a grin. "He has Vulcan sedatives, you know."
It seems to take an inordinate amount of time for Dr. McCoy to finish his exam; once it is completed, Dr. McCoy sends them both away with strict instructions never to speak of this again.
"Until next time!" Jim says cheerfully just before the doors of sickbay close. From the brief glimpse of Dr. McCoy's face, Spock assumes he would like an excuse to drink. "That will never stop being funny."
"Your opinion may change during your next physical and Dr. McCoy requires your vaccinations be renewed," Spock observes, following Jim to the turbolift. Jim's shields have been erect since they arrived on the Enterprise; while not functional as an actual barrier between them, Spock respects the privacy Jim seems to desire, though it's difficult to curb the instinctive dislike of the barrier. "We have permission to leave orbit in twenty-four hours to rendezvous with Fortune for a transfer of personnel--"
"Scotty's still sulking about losing two of his engineers," Jim says as they step inside. "My quarters okay? Since you've been trying really hard to not project we need to discuss this situation logically, Captain since this morning."
"That would be acceptable."
The remainder of their journey to Jim's quarters is strangely silent, which Spock finds unsettling combined with Jim's demand for privacy. Following Jim inside, Spock's surprised to see Jim pick up a datapad on the still-unmade bed and sit down. "Privacy lock," Jim says, then looks up. "Admiral Phillips."
Spock takes a careful breath; he had not anticipated this, but perhaps he should have. "I see."
"So we're going to talk about this now?" Jim says, voice deceptively light. Spock nods stiffly. "How about I start?
"The Antares is on record as the ship that brought you to back to Starfleet after you finished your service on the Hood while neglecting to mention it wasn't the original ship assigned to that quadrant. That was the Olympia, Constellation class, exploration." Jim pauses, looking down at the datapad thoughtfully.
"When I first looked it up, I couldn't figure out the connection. You weren't assigned to his ship. Problem was, I was looking in the wrong place. The passenger manifest included thirty officers returning to earth after service on the Hood. Weird thing is, your official record doesn't mention it."
"It was considered a matter of security--"
"I bet it was," Jim murmurs, almost as if to himself. "When a captain loses his ship, they have inquiries on the inquiries. Locked, of course." Without looking down, Jim touches the screen. "You'd think they would have updated their security after what I did with the Kobayashi Maru."
"I recommended that the weaknesses you exploited be patched," Spock says, crossing stiffly to the couch. "It was taken under advisement."
"Bad for them. Different system, same bad code."
Jim pauses, looking at the datapad intently. "A ship that exploded," he says quietly. "And no one knew what to do; I saw that. And I was--you were on the bridge. I decrypted the files when we got back." Jim looks up. "I thought--I guess I was tired of waiting for you to tell me."
"I did not think it was relevant."
Jim's mouth tightens, eyes returning to the datapad. "Phillips' inquiry was pretty interesting for being really uninformative." Sitting back, Jim looks at him thoughtfully. "But he was cleared, then he retired early with the largest private collection of sex toys in the Federation--he's in Guinness Book for it, I checked--and everyone went on their merry way." Jim pauses. "If he was cleared, there was no reason for him to retire, especially ten years early."
"The loss of a ship has been known to be difficult for their captains--"
"I know the statistics." Jim drops the datapad on the bed. "I also read the findings. The witness statements were pretty clear in their support of their captain, but they don't go into a lot of detail. Except one."
Spock had thought he'd anticipated Jim's probable reaction to discovering the details of the destruction of the Olympia. He had, after all, mentioned Phillips, and Jim is nothing if not curious. This reaction, however, he had not anticipated. "My testimony was complete."
"Oh, it was."
"I was thorough in outlining the chain of events--"
"You didn't lie, but that's about it. You left it so ambiguous they let him retire instead of bringing him up on charges--"
"There was confusion during the evacuation of the ship," Spock answers flatly. "There was much that could not be accounted for. His actions--"
"He didn't take action at all!" Getting to his feet, Jim stares at Spock. "He abandoned his ship under direct attack and let it be destroyed--"
"He attempted several options--"
"I'm not impressed with two half-assed attempts at return fire when he was outgunned and knew it. There's a window of fifteen minutes that the ship was under direct fire and there's a resounding lack of activity until the abrupt order to abandon ship." Jim pauses. "An order, by the way, that he didn't give."
Spock hesitates. "Fifteen minutes--"
"Ten to fifteen, give or take," Jim answers, mouth tight. "I know that because you said it. Your testimony was very thorough. I approve your mission reports; I know how to read what you're trying not to say. Including why you were on that bridge, when as a passenger en route to Starfleet, you had no business being there. We'll never really know why that happened; Phillips bridge crew didn't make it out of the ship. Explosive decompression is a hell of a way to die when your captain is running for his life."
Spock laces his fingers together, considering his answer. "A portion of the testimony was, as Starfleet explained, off the record. I was called to the bridge when it became apparent that another officer experienced in combat was needed. We attempted a third volley that was ultimately unsuccessful and the decision to abandon ship was made when shields began to fail."
"Phillips wasn't on the bridge after the third volley, was he? "
"No. He had suffered injury and required--"
"No captain leaves his bridge in a fight unless he's dead," Jim says flatly. "Let me try. When you got up there, he'd already fucked up so badly that even you couldn't figure out how to get out of it, but damned if you didn't try. When you realized there was no way out, you went to sickbay to get Phillips to give the order to evacuate and found out Phillips had already made a run for it. So you called up to the bridge for the first officer to order the ship be evacuated. That's when you found out they were already dead, and you gave the order yourself."
It's surprisingly accurate. "That is correct."
"And you still didn't let him be condemned for outright cowardice, much less losing his ship."
"Simulations of the events verified that no action he could have taken would have significantly changed the sequence of events after the shields began to collapse," Spock recites calmly. "It was, in essence, a no-win."
"Your simulations." Jim stops short, looking at Spock, eyes widening. "A no-win."
Spock hesitates; this, he thinks, Jim will understand. "When Starfleet wanted to add a more realistic simulation for senior cadets, I volunteered to use the Olympia's simulations as the basis of the test. Then-Captain Pike approved my request."
Jim sits heavily on the edge of the bed. "Did Phillips see it?"
"He was present when the final version was demonstrated and approved. He retired before it was added to the regular curriculum."
Jim stills, meeting Spock's eyes. "Were they going to give him another ship?"
For a few seconds, Jim doesn't reply; it would be easy to reach for his mind, but Spock keeps his shields carefully erect. Finally, Jim nods, almost to himself. "They knew what he'd done, and they were going to let him have another ship."
"The testimony of the other witnesses conflicted on the timeline of events. As I was not officially assigned to the ship, and in light of the testimony of the remainder of the crew, the inquiry was closed."
"And your presence and actions expunged from the official record, yeah, that makes sense if they decided they just didn't want to think about it too hard." Jim rubs his forehead. "You know, I thought you were just being an asshole when you brought me up on academic fraud. George Kirk's son with a flawless academic record--there was no way they weren't going to give me a ship eventually."
Leaning back on one arm, Jim takes a deep breath, looking anywhere but at Spock. "Is that why you agreed to join the crew, because you thought--"
"No." It would have been more logical to have had this conversation long before today; there had been opportunity. "Admiral Pike was not the only one to recommend you receive the Enterprise. I was consulted as the only other officer--"
"Ever to have me under his command, yeah, you get that a lot, don't you?" Jim's faint smile fades. "What changed your mind?"
"You will need to be more specific."
"Serving on the Enterprise." Jim's mind slips, a single word settling silently between them. Me.
Jim, Spock reminds himself, prefers essay answers. "As I explained to Admiral Pike when he made a similar inquiry, while you still lack some key traits of successful captains and have a rather unusual lack of regard for your own life, I've found over time that your--"
"Spock." Jim's eyes narrow. "Five words or less."
Spock allows himself to smile, very slightly. "I was curious."
"That's three and so not an answer."
"You specified five words or less."
Jim rolls his eyes, but for the first time since their conversation began, Jim is smiling. "This is one of those things I have to work out for myself, isn't it? You do that." Reaching for the datapad, Jim turns it off, lying back on the bed with a sigh. "Well, that was fun. Stay here tonight."
Standing up, Spock comes to a stop at the foot of the bed, mouth twitching. "We should discuss--"
"I know, I know, there's this huge relationship talk coming with how to avoid favoritism and whatever, later." Lifting one leg, Jim hooks it around Spock's knee. "Tomorrow. We're still on leave and I want to have sex. Any objections?"
Jim pushes his heel into the back of Spock's knee hard; Spock catches himself with one hand, looking down into pleased blue eyes, smiling despite himself. "You realize you will not be able utilize sex as a means of distraction in every disagreement?"
"Nah," Jim breathes, lips brushing Spock's, mind opening at the first heated touch. "That'd be cheating." Jim smiles into the kiss, tongue brushing over his lower lip teasingly. Just the ones I want to win.