"Captain, may I speak with you?"
"Of course, Mr. Spock. Come in."
"I have been receiving...missives that I do not understand."
"Oh?" said Kirk.
"They are oddly shaped and written in a feminine hand, unsigned."
"Uh, Spock...when did you start receiving these...missives?"
"Two point seven days ago."
"And you've been getting one a day?"
Kirk's eyes widened. "Would you care to show me one of them?"
Spock offered a pink, heart-shaped piece of paper. "There is a strong odor...."
Kirk sniffed the paper. "Spock, would you like this to stop?"
"Kirk to Chapel...."
Spock had never really noticed Halloween before. It was an archaic Terran holiday that most of the crew didn't observe other than by depleting the ship's stores of sucrose. Most who observed the day on a religious basis called it Samhain. But this year, he turned his attention away from the Library Computer and observed the crew for a cycle.
Ensign Smythe wandered the corridors dressed as Bluebeard.
Crewman Daniels knocked on Crewman Burghi's door and offered to throw flour at her. She offered him boiled sucrose, instead.
Chekov and Sulu dressed as swordsmen and tried to impress as many females as possible before heading for Sulu's quarters, presumably to consume alcohol. Sulu hadn't evinced any interest in sucrose.
Doctor McCoy remained rooted to Sickbay, all traces of humor expunged. Observing this, Spock was reminded that in previous years, McCoy had been positively ebullient at this time of year. He corrected his earlier notion that he'd not noticed Halloween before.
He became aware that Kirk was walking beside him.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Is this not the day on which one is supposed to say, 'Trick or treat?'"
Kirk laid an arm over his shoulders with a quiet laugh that warmed Spock's katra in a manner hitherto unrecognized as necessary. "It is indeed, my friend. Only I think I've had enough of ghosts and goblins for awhile."
"Understandable," said Spock. "The experience on Pyrus VII seems to have affected everyone involved."
"Really?" Kirk stopped and turned. "How has it affected you, Spock?"
"It provided an opportunity to learn more about certain peculiarities within terran culture."
"I see," said Kirk, absently.
"It was also...disturbing to be rendered so powerless."
"Jim...what does boiled sucrose taste like?"
Kirk's eyes lit up. "I thought you'd never ask."
"Doctor McCoy, I fail to see what purpose is to be served by singing about a cervid with a prominent but non-lethal injury to one of its sensory organs."
"It's not an injury, Spock, it's a feature. An unusual feature." McCoy glared at Spock's ears.
"Bones," warned Kirk.
McCoy grunted and settled into his cushion.
"Spock," continued Kirk, "it's a very old song about the differences between us and how we learn to accept them. Even love them."
Spock gazed at Kirk's face, with the rounded ears and flat eyebrows he'd come to love, and sighed. "Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer...."
Long after McCoy went to bed, Spock kept a silent watch. He stood, hands locked behind his back, and remembered.
"Spock! Get out of here!"
Hands clutching, grasping, slipping. Feet scrabbling for a hold as fingers slipped further, further...and left him cold, bereft, gazing into wide eyes that said 'Goodbye' and 'Friend' and 'All That I Am'. A body recovered oh-so-quickly from the abyss as the Enterprise arrived at long last and locked onto the transponder buried in flesh too soon lost. Dissolving into oblivion as he, too, was recovered, wishing he hadn't been. Dullness as he followed the gurney to Sickbay. He hadn't known he was running. Purgatory as first he heard McCoy rejoicing over the heartbeat and then he had to wait through seven hours of surgery.
"He'll live, Spock."
Neither had needed to speak the unspoken:
"He may not regain full brain function."
"I'll watch him, Doctor."
It was good to know that he and McCoy could communicate so efficiently. Spock supposed it was one of the things for which he should display thankfulness, were he celebrating the historical feast from the old North American continent.
A twinge forced its way past his pain threshold, and he shifted, registering the facts that his electrolyte balance was dangerously skewed and his level of fatigue could no longer be ignored. He capitulated to logic and sat in the chair McCoy had insisted on providing.
In his present state, his control was at low ebb, and he didn't trust himself to take Kirk's hand, as McCoy had suggested, fearing unwitting intrusion into Kirk's mind. Gazing at Kirk's pale face, he felt an ache deep within that he recognized as need.
He fell asleep dreaming of Kirk's vibrant mind.
He was awakened by a noise that thrust him into action, bypassing all the normal pathways to wakefulness.
"Spock...." The voice was raspy and disconnected.
"Spock...get out of here...."
Spock clenched hard against the emotion rushing through him.
"Let me go."
"I did." Spock noted that his throat had constricted, causing difficulty of speech and a rise in pitch by a minor seventh.
"Spock...." Kirk moved his hand towards him.
Spock moved to the edge of the diagnostic bed and took Kirk's hand. "Jim...I am here."
Kirk blinked slowly, turned toward Spock, focused. "Spock...I...fell."
Spock called as hard as he ever had on his Vulcan control, and still the emotions surged. He clenched his throat hard and could only nod.
"The Enterprise arrived one point two seconds after I—after you fell."
Kirk grasped Spock's hand weakly, tugging with all his feeble strength.
Spock followed, leaning down to let Kirk whisper in his ear.
"It wasn't your fault." Kirk's hand loosened and he panted against Spock's cheek.
"Spock." McCoy's voice was quiet.
Spock withdrew, laying Kirk's hand down, unable to face McCoy. "Thank you, Doctor."
McCoy squeezed his shoulder. "Thank you."
Spock felt Kirk's fingers move against his, and wept.
Kirk's recovery had been arduous. He'd set himself a grueling pace, despite McCoy's admonitions to the contrary and attendant fretting. Tempers had become unstable and then disintegrated altogether when McCoy had insisted that Kirk was not to take a shift on the Bridge until further notice. Spock had recoiled at the protracted exchange, which he'd been unable to avoid hearing in the corridors, during his double Bridge shifts, in the rec rooms, in the gymnasium and during his minimal off-duty time. In addition to his own distress, there was the crew to consider. Kirk's temper had spread from McCoy to the senior officers, and then through the ship at large, and both morale and efficiency had plummeted to their nadir.
It was that which had prompted him to propose to McCoy that the Captain be allowed to resume Bridge duty on a gradual basis, reasoning that if Kirk had enough energy to expend on terrorizing the crew, surely he'd have enough to supervise the running of the ship for at least an hour per day.
McCoy had resisted his argument until Spock had observed that the senior staff were all stretched to their limits—himself excepted, of course—by having to cope with record levels of tension and outbursts of violence and other anti-social behavior amongst the crew. He'd pointed out that McCoy, himself, had been sufficiently inundated by the flood of minor but debilitating conditions showing up amongst the crew that he and the Sickbay staff had been unable to have a full sleep rotation for twenty-one cycles, and that that was listed in Starfleet Medical Regulation number 1726.9 as a Class 1-B systemic health and security threat requiring immediate convention of a hearing to determine the competency of the Chief Medical Officer.
"You've a disturbing knack for blackmail, Mr. Spock," McCoy had said.
Spock had remained studiously impassive.
McCoy had sighed and run a hand through his hair. "All right," he'd said at last, with a weariness that threatened to overwhelm Spock. "I'll clear him for a one-hour—"
Spock intensified his gaze.
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
"All right, three hours, but that's it! Do you really want to see him back here? I know I don't!" McCoy gave him a desperate look.
"Three hours should be sufficient, Doctor."
Once again, there had been no need to discuss the unspoken:
"You won't convene that hearing, will you?"
"Not unless it becomes necessary."
"In that case, I'm ordering you off-duty for twelve hours."*****
Spock eased himself toward meditation by pondering the past twenty-five cycles. His visits to Sickbay had been awkward, first because of the residual loss of control and embarrassment that troubled him whenever he looked into Kirk's eyes, and then because of the Captain's growing ire at his confinement. Amidst a particularly disquieting altercation between Kirk and McCoy, Spock had left, unnoticed. He had not been able to return due to the deteriorating situation with the crew and the demands he'd had to face as he'd attempted to manage the ship in the way Kirk would wish.
Spock sighed to disperse excess tension.
The silence provided by McCoy's decision would be beneficial to his serenity. Since his emotional outburst in Sickbay when Kirk had awakened, he'd been unsettled, his katra off-center. He centered himself on the flame and focused.
He started at a light touch on his shoulder.
He blinked. "Captain?"
"Are you all right?"
It took him one point seven seconds to recognize that he was in a seated position in front of his flame. "I appear to be physically undamaged, Captain, although I have experienced an aberration in my internal chronometer."
"You mean you don't know what time it is?"
"I believe I stated that." Spock attempted to rise. "My legs appear to have suffered some nerve damage."
"Probably just pins and needles."
"There are no such objects in this vicinity."
Kirk stifled a smile. "It's an expression, Spock. Just try stretching your legs out in front of you. Don't try to get up, yet."
Spock attempted the suggested course of action. "I cannot seem to make my legs move, Captain."
"Here, let me help." Kirk knelt next to him and unfolded first his right, and then his left leg, arranging them so that they were straight in front of him. "Try wiggling your toes."
Spock looked quizzically at Kirk then attempted to comply. "They appear to be moving more slowly than I am signaling, and I cannot feel them."
Kirk began to apply friction to Spock's lower legs. "Can you feel that?"
"Not at this time, Captain. I—" His breath caught at a sudden prickling sensation that took over his peripheral neural input.
"See? I told you. Pins and needles." Kirk continued the friction. "And it's going to get worse before it gets better."
Spock contemplated the temptation and relative merits of uttering an earth-based obscenity or scatology, but decided against it. "As usual, Captain, your observation is proving accurate."
"And as always, Mr. Spock, the crew could benefit from your expertise in diplomatic swearing." Kirk looked up at him, the all-but-forgotten smile managing somehow to dismiss both his quest for control and his concern about it.
"Spock...I'm sorry. I haven't controlled my temper very well over the past couple of weeks."
"If I recall the idiom correctly, I believe that you might have become 'stir-crazy' during your recovery."
Kirk snorted. "I've never been one for sitting around. Lying around's even worse!" He bent Spock's left leg gently. "How does that feel?"
"Can you bend the other one?"
"Not without assistance at this time."
Kirk moved to provide the required support and applied friction to Spock's thighs. "McCoy told me about everything you've been doing," he said, softly.
"I regret that I have not performed adequately and submit myself for disciplinary action."
Kirk ceased applying friction. "I know you're tired, Spock, but are you insane?"
Spock felt a sting in his katra and attempted (with disturbingly limited success) to move away from his Captain. "I do not believe so, sir."
Kirk winced. "I'm sorry. It's an expression I shouldn't have used at this time."
Spock nodded very slightly.
"You've done very well under extraordinarily trying circumstances, Mr. Spock. I'm putting you in for a commendation."
"I do not believe that that is appropriate, Captain."
"Ship's efficiency is down eleven point two percent, while morale as measured on the Jones and Martor scale is down thirty-two points. That indicates a performance rating for the Commanding Officer of 'Unsatisfactory', at best."
"You're so tired, you forgot to calculate the mitigating factors," said Kirk, resuming the application of friction to Spock's thighs.
"I have experienced more fatigue than is normal," conceded Spock. "I would submit that that is another factor operating in favor of an unsatisfactory performance rating."
"Spock, when you study my personal and official log entries for today—which I'm ordering you to do once you're back on duty—you'll find a reason to rethink your calculations. Come to think of it, did you keep up with the senior staff log entries while you were in command?"
"I noted all relevant data," hedged Spock.
"In other words, no," said Kirk. He dug his fingers into Spock's right thigh, massaging a stiff knot of muscle.
Spock found himself unable to suppress either a wince or a groan.
"Too much?" Kirk looked as though he were experiencing mild anxiety.
"It is necessary," said Spock.
Kirk nodded, continuing his attack on Spock's leg. "Once you've had adequate rest," he applied point-source pressure of forty-five point seven kilos to Spock's gracilis muscle, "you are to re-read those logs and produce a report for my eyes only on the operant conditions during my...recovery period."
Spock jerked his leg away from Kirk's hand as another dig of fingers impacted the saphenous nerve. "I believe that I can move now, Captain." His legs were supremely uncomfortable.
"Good! Movement should help." Kirk rose and offered Spock a hand up.
Spock considered declining the offered assistance, but recognized that the residual stiffness in all of his muscles did not permit him a dignified alternative. As it was, even with the assist, his ascent to a vertical position was difficult and he still suffered a sixty point four-seven percent loss of feeling in both legs. The pain and stiffness in his back asserted themselves so strongly that he gasped.
"It's all right, Spock. " Kirk drew an arm around Spock's waist and draped Spock's arm over his shoulders. "Take the time you need."
"I do not understand my current weakness," said Spock, experiencing simultaneous sensations of pleasure and discomfort at Kirk's proximity.
"Spock...." Kirk looked toward the sleeping area. "You don't keep a clock in your quarters."
"I have never required one."
"Then tell me what time it is."
"You mentioned that you had experienced an aberration in your internal chronometer." Kirk breathed in. "You have been unreachable for over fifteen hours."
Spock stiffened. "That is impossible."
"McCoy ordered you off duty for twelve hours, and when you were late reporting, Scotty called me. I thought I'd let you have some more sleep before I came barging in to wake you up, but I thought you'd at least have gone to bed!"
"It...appears I underestimated my fatigue," said Spock.
Kirk chuckled. "Apparently. Can you walk, yet?"
"Let's move a bit, then. Speed your recovery."
The first steps were surprisingly painful, and Spock was unsure that his legs would hold him. But after a lap around his quarters, he found that he could walk on his own, and released Kirk, who promptly dropped down onto the bed. "Captain?" Spock found he couldn't disguise the alarm in his voice.
Kirk waved him off. "I'm fine, Spock. First day back on the job. I'll probably get a lecture from McCoy."
"Keep moving, Spock. Unless you like the pins and needles and want them to come back."
"I do not." Spock circumnavigated the space again and the uncomfortable sensations abated to manageable levels. "Captain, now that I can move adequately, I shall proceed at once to—"
"Belay that, Mister!"
Kirk rubbed his face. "McCoy's logged your sleep hours, and we both agree that they're dangerously low. You're off-duty for forty-eight hours, as of now. I need you rested, Spock." He looked up. "Hell, I just need you. I'm not going to be able to do this by myself."
Spock stood stiffly, caught off-guard by Kirk's declarations and utterly unsure of what was expected of him.
Kirk sighed and rose weary and worn beyond his years, the skin around his eyes looking thin and fragile. "I am so sorry, Spock."
"Jim," said Spock, his throat constricting by two percent, "I do not understand. It is I who...." His throat suddenly had constricted so much that he could not complete his sentence.
Kirk sighed and put his hands on Spock's shoulders. "I was so angry at being that helpless, I made everyone's life on this ship a living hell, including yours. Though I didn't know that at the time. Hell, I kept wanting to thank you, but every time you were near, McCoy was...well, he and I were fighting like cats and dogs, and then the rest of the time, you were putting out a fire, somewhere."
"Captain, there have been no fires aboard the Enterprise for one hundred eighty-seven cycles, and then it was because—"
"It's an expression. It means that you were busy containing crises that were brought on by the way I treated everyone. So thank you, Spock. For everything. For saving my ship, my crew and my bacon." Kirk looked him in the eye. "Thank you for saving my life."
"I did not save your life," said Spock, once he'd managed to regulate his heartbeat and work past another throat constriction. "The Enterprise arrived in time so that McCoy could save your life. I failed to maintain a suitable grip on your h-hand." Spock attempted to swallow. "I let go."
"Oh, my dear friend...." Kirk took him in his arms, igniting every neural input.
Spock had to escape; yet it was imperative he stay. He attempted to discuss this, but his ears informed him that he uttered only, "Jim."
Kirk crooned something near his ear before shifting his grip in such a way that Spock's auditory system could process the words murmured so close by. "If the ship had arrived one second later, I'd be dead. You kept hold long enough so that I could live."
Flooded with neural input and emotion, Spock couldn't suppress a sob.
"It's all right, Spock. You'll be all right in a minute. I've got you."
The unbearable touch of Kirk's hands—arms—and affection forced a cry from Spock's being. The years of ridicule, struggle, control, deprivation, fear, need overwhelmed him. He staggered under the sheer volume of accumulated and current pain, and grasped Kirk's arms, clinging for support.
Kirk stiffened and gasped.
Spock forced himself to loosen his fingers and put his arms around his Captain—friend. Kaiidth, he thought. This is necessary. He allowed himself to feel Kirk's embrace, and emulated it as best he could whilst being mindful of newly-knitted ribs and spine. The pain increased exponentially, uncomfortable and tantalizing as the neural pathways had felt in his legs minutes before, but infinitely more compelling. Unbearable. Indispensable. Needful.
Kirk trembled against him and began to sag. "Goddammit," he muttered, sinking down onto the bed.
Spock steadied him, wincing inside at the conflicting emotions of relief and deprivation as the strong physical contact was broken. And then he felt cold.
"I'm sorry, Spock. Just give me a minute and I'll be out of your hair."
Spock sat next to Kirk. "I was not aware that you were occupying my hair."
Kirk huffed, the movement setting him off-balance, which Spock corrected by placing a stabilizing arm around his shoulders. "I hate this." He trembled with effort before giving in to his body's requirements and leaning against Spock.
Spock relished the warmth of Kirk against him. "Your condition brings no shame," he murmured at last.
Kirk chuckled and, with an effort that he couldn't hide, reached up and patted Spock's chest. "I'll make you a deal, Spock. I'll stop being embarrassed that I can't even sit up straight if you stop beating yourself up for what happened on that damned cliff."
Spock found himself unable to regulate his breathing correctly.
"You didn't let go. I slipped." Kirk's hand—deliciously hot—rested over Spock's left pectoralis major.
Spock swallowed, unsure whether the need to do so was caused by the deplorable state of his emotions or the physical stimulation caused by Kirk's hand. "I failed—"
"My hands were covered in slime from when that cactus thing attacked me. It is...illogical to blame yourself."
Spock frowned. "I had not considered that. You make an excellent point."
"Doesn't make it any easier, does it?" said Kirk, gently.
"No," said Spock, surprised by the hitch in his voice. "It does not."
Kirk gave Spock a clumsy, quick hug that made him ache at its brevity. "Want to drown our sorrows in a game of chess? Ohh...um...."
Spock steadied him once more. "Perhaps at a later time?"
"Yeah. Maybe tomorrow. Can, uh, you give me a hand to my quarters?" The last sentence was spoken very fast.
"Of course. Are you sure I should not resume my duties while you—"
"Negative, Mister Spock." Kirk's iron gaze segued to a mischievous gleam. "You're taking a double shift in the Captain's Chair in two days, remember?"
Spock sifted through the necessary information for point-zero-zero-five seconds—shockingly slow. "Ah, yes, of course. Thank you, Captain! It should be a most restful experience."
Kirk shook his head as Spock helped him to his feet. "Only you would say that about having to supervise a ship full of humans through Christmas Day, my friend."*****
One hour before the end of his double shift, twenty-five point two minutes after he had dismissed the skeleton Bridge crew with an inward sigh of relief, Spock felt a prickle of electricity at the back of his neck as he heard the turbo-lift shift course for the Bridge, and knew before the doors opened whom to expect. Though he knew that most of the humans on board found his heightened perceptions unsettling, this visitor required no hiding of them. "Captain," he said, rising from the chair.
Kirk waved him back down. "As you were, Mr. Spock. I thought I'd come up and keep you company. " He brandished a carafe and two glasses. "Care for some Persian mint drink?"
"That would be most welcome."
Kirk handed him a glass that he filled before filling his own and stopping the carafe. "Thanks for minding the store," he said, lifting his glass casually toward Spock.
"You are welcome," said Spock, nodding his acknowledgment before tasting the beverage. "Excellent infusion, Captain."
"Thanks. I tried to make it the way you like it," said Kirk, with a twinkle.
"Did you not program this via the food replicators?"
"Nope," said Kirk, proudly. "I made it myself, right in my quarters over the last day and a half."
Spock sniffed his drink. "The f'horeg vinegar is most pleasing with the mint and the sucrose." He sniffed again. "Where did you obtain the mint? It is not from the greenhouse."
Kirk eyed him suspiciously. "I thought Vulcans weren't supposed to have good senses of smell."
"As Doctor McCoy is pleased to point out, I am only half Vulcan. My mother has an excellent nose."
"She's the one I got the vinegar from."
Spock looked at him in surprise.
"Her own brew," Kirk confirmed. "And the mint comes from Mom. She always grew stuff so strong it should've been illegal."
"Why did you obtain such things from so far away?"
Kirk shrugged. "Mom asked what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I was feeling homesick. Her idea of a joke, I think. I was always teasing her about her mint choking out the weed I tried to grow."
"Were you trying to fulfill a botany requirement?"
"Erm, Spock.... 'Weed' is an old-fashioned term for cannabis."
Spock nearly choked on his drink, but hid it successfully from Kirk. "Why would you be attempting to cultivate an intoxicant of intermittent legality on your mother's property?"
"I was a kid, and it was legal at the time. Just...frowned upon. Especially by my father." Kirk swallowed the rest of the mint drink in his glass and poured himself some more, offering the same to Spock, who accepted. "As for the vinegar, I wanted to get you something to thank you for...everything, and your mother suggested it. Sent me a bottle for myself, as well. You'll find yours and a bottle of Persian mint drink syrup when you return to your quarters."
"I wanted to do something different for you, Spock. Especially since this Christmas is...so different."
"Because it is the last of our mission." As he voiced it, Spock was overwhelmed by a sense of deep, empty pain.
"Yes." Kirk's eyes were downcast.
The air seemed suddenly heavy and unbalanced.
"What will you do?"
Kirk shook his head and gazed into his glass. "Whatever they order me to do, I suppose. Or maybe I'll resign and go back to the family farm."
Spock rose in alarm. "Jim...please do not do that."
"Why not? A few horses, wide open spaces, little patch of weed...it'd be great."
"It would be a waste. And a shame."
Kirk looked up sharply.
"You are the best starship captain Starfleet has ever known," said Spock, quietly.
Kirk swallowed, face working furiously to maintain composure. "Maybe you can remind me of that if they let us work together again."
Somehow, they'd moved so close that Spock had to breathe shallowly to prevent them from touching. "If we serve together again, I shall not allow you to forget your first, best destiny."
"Spock...." Kirk looked into his eyes, making Spock aware of the guard his human Captain usually maintained.
"Jim...." Spock searched Kirk's face, missing that shield — shelter — that he'd come to cherish, even as he began to experience a fundamental joy in finding a new fathom to his friend.
And then Kirk's shield was back, and he was giving Spock a fond smile. "Merry Christmas, Spock." He held up his glass.
Spock touched his own to Kirk's. "Merry Christmas, Jim."
"And don't worry; I promise not to get maudlin again until New Year's Eve, after I've consumed a lot of alcohol."
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
"Off duty," sighed Kirk.
As they drank, Spock became aware both of Kirk's fragility in that moment, and of an overwhelming urge to offer comfort, though analysis of the situation told him that words would not suffice in this case. He leaned forward and kissed Kirk's forehead.
Once again, Kirk wrapped him in a close embrace, and this time, he found he could return it without the pressing weight of Kirk's death and injuries on his katra. He set his glass down on the arm of the Captain's Chair and hugged Kirk close, rejoicing that he could do what his Captain...his friend...Jim...needed him to do without compunction or repercussion.
"Jim," he murmured, joy spreading throughout his being. Friend. Comrade. Brother in all but blood. T'hy'la...
And just at that moment, Kirk kissed Spock's cheek, and flame shot through him. Flame as had crept up on him at his terrible pon farr but had never engulfed him as it did now.
No, no, no, his mind chanted, desperate as his world immolated itself in Kirk's deliciously hot embrace. It is too soon. Do not take this from me. Not him. I must not have such thoughts about him.
"...dear friend," Kirk was saying.
Spock wanted to kiss him. Needed to touch him. Never wanted to let him go.
But he did.
Slowly, with infinite pain and gentleness, Spock pulled back and searched Kirk's face. "Are you all right, Jim?"
"I will be," said Kirk, wiping moisture from his eyes. "I just hate goodbyes."
"You are anticipating such emotion far in advance of the end of our mission."
"Yeah, well, I hate 'em that much," Kirk chuckled, wiping off a new round of tears. He searched Spock's eyes and gathered himself. "So. How about that game of chess we haven't played yet?"
"That would be agreeable, Captain."
The next morning, far in advance of the end of their mission, Spock sent a message to Gol.