Prologue: Approximately 6 months into the first 5 year mission, post-Narada
The ship trembled all around them, and Spock watched chess pieces rattle and vibrate off of their assigned squares. He was aware of the grip that he had on the edge of the table, but not the force of that grip. The chess pieces tipped off the edges of the playing field and ricocheted off the table like pebbles shaken loose from the ceiling and falling to the floor. Spock found himself thinking, with no degree of rationality, that it was raining pawns.
Barring emergency situations or other duty-related circumstances, Spock engaged in chess matches with the captain every day after the conclusion of both of their shifts. Typically, this meant that they did not find joint time until after 2300 hours, since Kirk took command of alpha shift and Spock took beta, their logged time overlapping for an average of one point nine hours. Red Alert of course brought them both to the bridge no matter the hour, but for the most part, they spent the majority of their days working apart.
It was therefore puzzling to Spock, upon their post-Narada launch as officially commissioned officers of the Enterprise, that Kirk sought him out so often for off-duty socialization as well as for discussions relating to ship operations. They both had very little free time once they discharged their command duties, and yet Kirk chose to spend it with him rather than with his many other, more boisterous friends. Surely, Kirk found their company more engaging than that of a taciturn, withdrawn and socially inept (by human standards) Vulcan.
Spock himself did not feel that his own time was being taken from more worthy pursuits. He and Nyota did not see each other except in public areas of the ship, so he was not neglecting his friendship with her. Contrary to ship’s rumor, he and Nyota did not have either an official or a long-standing romantic association. She had expressed her affection for him in the human fashion, and had later offered him what comfort she could, in a purely human fashion. Spock had accepted that offer, to a point. He was aware (after researching the library computer, admittedly), that his acceptance of her comfort had created an implication of romanticism and perhaps of intent to engage in a formal courtship. It was regrettable that he had not been aware of that at the time, but Nyota did not grudge him either his ignorance or his need. She was a remarkable woman, and Spock was glad to count her a friend. If he had felt any mental affinity for her, then perhaps he could have responded to her advances with more long-term intent. Kaiidth. Such was not for them to share.
In any case, Spock’s time outside of duties, scientific pursuits and meditation was largely open, and Kirk took it upon himself for unknown reasons to occupy it. Spock had not been given firsthand knowledge of the phenomenon of ‘friendship’ before travelling to Earth. Even then, Nyota had been the first person to truly attempt it with him. Spock had thought this to be due to an oddity in Nyota’s social construction, that she would choose to affiliate with such as him and somehow enjoy it. If she were not naturally kind, he would have assumed that she was using him either for his knowledge or for the influence granted by his status at the academy. In Spock’s experience, his company was not pleasant or even desirable outside of necessity. Vulcans had merely tolerated him at best because he was too human in their eyes, and most other species avoided him because he was too Vulcan. Until Nyota.
James Kirk was nothing like Nyota. He was loud, obnoxious, manipulative, frighteningly brilliant in the same manner that Spock himself was but with no true checks on his energy or intents such as that afforded to Spock by his Vulcan upbringing. Above all else, however, Kirk was far too insistently outgoing to truly be an extroverted personality type. He was infuriating. Spock admitted that, Vulcan or no; James Kirk infuriated him with his illogic, and his breaches of Spock’s personal boundaries, and his insufferable (affected and carefully calculated, he suspected) charm. It was incomprehensible to Spock how the man continued to function effectively. He suspected that a small degree of sociopathy would account for it, except that Kirk was definitely not a sociopath; Spock had been touched by him often enough to know. All humans were illogical, but Kirk was in a category all his own. Spock did not like it.
And yet, Spock accepted every single one of the chess invitations. And the meal invitations, the invitations to stroll about ‘inspecting’ the ship, that one invitation to ‘camp out’ in the aft observation deck, the invitations to have ‘paperwork parties’ in Kirk’s quarters… Once, Spock had even agreed – and he would never know why – to accompany Jim to the arboretum at 0300 ship time just so that Kirk could walk about the greenery in his bare feet. Spock’s continued casual association with him defied rational explanation. It was so prevalent that McCoy referred to Spock as Kirk’s Vulcan shadow, and Nyota had actually asked at one point if they were courting. The very notion was ridiculous; Nyota had simply looked at him and then changed the subject when Spock informed her of this.
“Dammit,” Kirk muttered. He flicked the sole remaining pawn from the desktop and Spock kept his eyes pointedly fixed on the now empty queen’s level of the board. His ears continued to catch the clatter of the piece skittering away across the floor, a constant rattle of small, lightweight objects displaced by turbulence. With a sigh, Kirk suggested, “We could go use the magnetic set in Rec Room Three. I’m pretty sure we can both remember where all the pieces were.”
Spock had already forgotten where all the pieces were. He hadn’t even been paying attention to the game for the past ten point two minutes. The strategy he had initiated at opening moves required very little conscious input once set in motion. That was why he had chosen it. The deck continued to rumble for several more seconds before it subsided, leaving behind a startling hush. His breathing was not overloud in the stillness, but it was obviously faster and harsher than normal. In fact, it was the only thing that Spock could hear with any degree of clarity.
Turbulence in a vacuum was not like turbulence in atmospheric flights, or earthquakes at ground level. Spatial turbulence was a thing unto itself. In an earthquake, one could throw oneself to the ground and know that even though it was shaking, it was still a solid foundation. Even in an aerial vehicle, one had the surety of decking, and the instability felt more like being shaken about the inside of a tin can than anything else. Turbulence from the inside of a starship felt as if the very fabric of space, in all dimensions, were shuddering apart along subatomic fault lines. An overly effusive description, but accurate nonetheless. Everything moved and vibrated and shook – even the air. It felt as if the spaces between the atoms in the marrow of his bones were vibrating and splintering at the strain. As if there were no stable place left. No steady core. No solid rock to use as an anchor that would not split apart in just another moment. It felt like the dying heave of a planet. No solid ground left to stand on, just a great crushing nothingness to grasp after in the dark.
Spock started and looked up. Jim’s hand was on his arm, squeezing to gain his attention. When had he moved to Spock’s side of the table?
Jim quirked an odd smile, but only on one side of his face. “I didn’t think Vulcans got motion sick.” He removed his hand with an apologetic gesture, palm directed toward Spock, and backed off a step.
Spock tilted his head back as Jim straightened, to maintain eye contact. That was an anchor of sorts. It had been two point two hours since they had encountered the ion storm which had just put a precipitous end to their nightly chess game. Inertial dampeners were not sufficient for quelling every roll of turbulence, which had been growing steadily worse since the middle of beta shift. They could not sustain a warp bubble amidst this degree of electromagnetic interference, and the storm was moving fast enough that the sublight drive would not be able to propel them past the boundary of the storm front without causing considerable damage to the propulsion system and the hull integrity of the ship. Once caught in the edge of it, they had no choice but to ride it out like a sailing ship at anchor. Spock had still not determined the reason for their failure to detect its formation or approach in the first place. Instrument error, perhaps. He would perform the necessary diagnostics after the ion storm passed so that this would not happen again.
“You need a hypo or something? Bones has been giving them out like candy since we hit the storm front.”
Without even thinking about the words or what they entailed, Spock blurted out, “It feels like Vulcan.”
What had made him do it would probably forever remain a mystery to Spock. Vulcans did not admit to emotion, not out loud. They did not seek reassurance. They did not leave themselves vulnerable on account of emotions. The only permissible sharing was between bondmates, and even then, the admission was for the bond alone, never for actual speech.
Kirk’s initial reaction was to go still, standing over Spock’s chair with his hands on his hips in the middle of a polite retreat from his invasion of Spock’s personal space. Then his face changed in minute shifts that Spock could not interpret, and he sank down to balance on the balls of his feet, slightly lower than eye level with Spock. “Like…the last time you were there, you mean?”
To which other time would Spock be referring? He did not bother to reply, but focused his restless gaze on the table top and tried to recall the last configuration of chess pieces. He could not concentrate. This lapse was disgraceful; he was a Vulcan. He should not be affected like this; he should be able to control.
In his periphery, he could perceive snatches of movement as Kirk returned to his own side of the table. A moment later, he appeared again at Spock’s side, this time with his chair in hand, which he had apparently dragged over without Spock noticing. Kirk set his chair next to Spock’s, close enough that Spock would be able to feel his body heat once he sat. Kirk did not sit, however – not right away. He busied himself collecting chess pieces from the floor, deconstructing the chess board and removing it level by level from Spock’s unseeing field of vision, and then he disappeared behind the room divider for several long minutes.
When Kirk returned, it was with a blanket draped over one arm and a steaming mug in each hand. He peeled Spock’s fingers from the edge of the table and wrapped them around the mug of tea instead, then prodded him backwards until he ended up slumped in the chair rather than hunched over the tabletop, his shoulders curled inward, the mug of tea clutched to his chest. Steam rose in languid curls to bathe Spock’s face, and he inhaled the warmth. He was always so cold since leaving Vulcan.
Kirk draped the quilt over Spock’s lap and around his shoulders, then sat down next to him, gripping his own mug with a nonchalance that even Spock could identify as forced. They were both tense, uneasy with Spock’s revelation. Had they been in any other situation, Spock would have retreated to his own quarters to meditate on this unexpected emotional outburst, but he did not wish to be alone. Spock was not accustomed to requiring another’s company. It made him feel unbalanced to need in that fashion. An adult Vulcan should be self reliant; they underwent certain tests, rights of passage, to guarantee their ability to be so.
“You know,” Kirk murmured, breaking into Spock’s reverie with the force of a hammer shattering crystal in spite of the softness of his tone. “I still get twitchy when people use the word ‘famine’ around me.”
Spock’s lids lowered slowly, until he could no longer tell if he were caught in an aborted blink or were manifesting drowsiness. A sluggish sort of awareness stole over him as he processed Kirk’s declaration and parsed it for relevance to the situation at hand. He could find none, so he dragged his eyes from the nothing he had been staring into and fixed them with a wavering focus on Kirk’s form beside him.
“Sometimes, I even panic if somebody tells me I’m not allowed to eat when I’m hungry. Or that there’s no more food, even if they just mean that there’s no more right there, not that it’s all gone.” He shrugged, a gesture consisting of the lifting of one shoulder and the twitch of his opposite hand. “They don’t mean it to sound malicious, but it does. There was this one time at the academy when I had a flu virus, and even though I was puking my guts out, I was hungry, you know? My stomach was empty and I could feel it, and I needed that feeling to go away. I was pretty much delirious with the fever, which didn’t help. Bones caught me ordering something from the replicator – I don’t even remember what it was – but he flipped out. You know how he is. Went off about how I’m an idiot, and I shouldn’t be out of bed, and under no circumstances was I to eat anything without his medical say-so.” Jim bobbed his head from side to side, a gesture which Spock understood to mean that he was mocking McCoy’s attitude, though Spock wasn’t sure in what manner. “Then he locked the replicator so I couldn’t use it.”
Spock blinked at the profile of the man beside him – his friend, who had not looked at him since taking his seat – and then allowed his head to dip down and around until he was staring into his tea mug again.
Jim nodded absently to himself, perhaps in affirmation or perhaps for no reason other than to bleed off nervous energy. “I could have hacked it, but it was like…in that moment, there was just him, and he was telling me that there was food, but I wasn’t allowed to have it. I broke his nose and knocked out his left canine when I punched him. It was just…I needed to not be back there, not even mentally, and the only way I know how to do that is to make the hollow feeling in my stomach go away. It’s not even about being hungry, it’s just…the association, I suppose. Having an empty stomach just reminds me of all of the rest of it, and it’s…it’s a bad place to be.”
Spock studied his tea with a gravity it did not deserve, his mind wandering in jagged fits over his perfect recall of Jim Kirk’s Starfleet record. There was a classified portion dating from 2245 to 2247. Only certain admirals possessed the security clearance to access that portion of his record, but given the dates and Jim’s confession, the content of that part was now obvious. He tilted his head and gazed at Kirk sideways. “You were on Tarsus IV.”
Kirk’s only response was a nod that appeared more like a bow of his head. He remained in that pose with his hands twisted about his un-sipped mug of coffee. “All I’m saying is that we all have something that just won’t leave us. I take some kind of food with me wherever I go, and you don’t like it when the deck shakes. We’re none of us perfect, Spock. It’s just part of who we are.”
Spock continued to watch Kirk in the hope that he would meet his gaze, but Kirk refused to look away from his hands. Spock eventually gave up and settled in to watch his now tepid tea grow colder while intermittent tremors wracked the ship around them. When the trailing end of the storm finally passed them by five point six eight hours later, and the bridge announced the all clear, Kirk’s only concession to their shared vigil was to accept the blanket that Spock handed back to him and smile. Spock offered no verbal thanks, but Jim did not seem to require such. They parted ways without further mention of the incident. The connection, however, remained.