Kirk felt a twinge of uneasiness. He stared at the platform Spock and his junior science officer were standing on, trying to figure out what was bothering him about it.
The ancient crash site they had discovered in the mountains was priceless, archaeologically speaking. Spock wasn’t someone Kirk would ever describe as cheerful, but he’d been glowing in his own restrained Vulcan way for hours. For the look on his face alone Kirk had been willing to call in a delay to their next stopover in order to do some real research. Spock had half the science department of the Enterprise ready to beam down as soon as they cleared it as safe.
The small raised platform Spock and Ensign Tanner were standing on was completely devoid of any of the strange luminescent moss that had crept all over the interior of the ship. The panels were dark and clean. Kirk narrowed his eyes. Unnaturally clean.
Spock and Tanner were distracted, continuing the discussion they’d been having for the better part of an hour about the patterns on the panels in the walls and comparing the enhanced images on their tricorders. Spock was certain it was script of some kind; He had been having careful logical conniptions over them all morning.
Her head bowed over Spock’s tricorder, Ensign Tanner reached out thoughtlessly to rest her hand on one of the strangely pockmarked consoles in front of her. It looked like a black pomegranate with half its seeds removed. The whole ship was that way, some kind of composite that looked like smooth volcanic rock. The effect was weirdly organic- the way the glowing moss weaved across the bulbous outcroppings on the wall almost looked like some kind of central nervous system.
Under Tanner’s fingers, the console looked slick, like there was a thin film of oil over the surface. No creepy glowing moss there. It was like new.
Kirk felt his intuition curl up into a tight black ball of dread. It was his only clue that things were about to go completely to hell.
“Ensign-” he began, and she touched it.
Immediately there was a pulse of sound, a thump that registered right through to the soles of his feet. The chamber pinged around them like a tuning fork. Merendorf and Herrera, two of his security ensigns, jumped to attention from where they had been wandering and trying to not look bored. Ensign Tanner had time to look back at him with wide, startled eyes.
An expanding globe of blue light burst out of the console, flashing through Tanner and moving past her. It left crackling fractals of energy trailing over her skin before it swelled outward in a roaring wave, catching Kirk full in the face.
In an instant he felt every hair stand on end, as the energy of whatever-it-was passed through him. For the briefest moment after it was gone, he felt unwell. It was almost like biting on something metallic. Like a circuit was trying to connect, right through his teeth. His skin was crawling.
Then he was fine again. The blast of energy reached the ceiling 100 meters above them. It seemed to crackle and fizzle out right before it hit the composite, instead of passing through to the rest of the ship. As if it was designed to go so far and no farther.
Directly in front of him, Spock faltered and nearly went down on one knee. Kirk didn’t even get one step towards him before the security guard behind him dropped to the ground and started screaming.
Kirk whipped his head around just in time to see McCoy diving for Ensign Liu, who was howling and clutching her head.
Kirk raked his eyes over his crew. “No one touch anything.” Kirk snapped. He stepped up to where Spock and Tanner were standing. He couldn’t see Spock’s face; He was turned away. Was he shaking?
Tanner turned to him, holding her hand and wincing. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Kirk turned her palm over- it looked unburned and healthy to the naked eye, but after four years captaining a starship he knew by now how misleading appearances could be. “Get some readings. Find out what that was. If you feel anything strange, anything at all, report it.” He released her hand, making a mental note to keep an eye on her.
He stepped up close beside Spock, taking his elbow. Spock staggered against him at the touch, like a man on a rolling deck at sea. Kirk kept him from falling, but if he hadn’t been there, Spock would have been on the floor. “Spock,” he said, alarmed. He should have gone to Spock immediately, this looked serious. His face was white, and his expression-
“A little busy-”
Spock was in pain. He flinched .
Kirk took Spock’s hand, pulled it over his shoulder, and unceremoniously dragged him over to where Doctor McCoy was working on Ensign Liu. Spock didn’t quite go limp in his arms, tried to walk. But when Kirk tried to have him sit he seemed confused, and clung to Kirk’s shirt. Spock’s face twisted again, and Kirk went cold. Pain .
Spock’s Vulcan self control was something that was hugely important to him, to his own self-identity. Kirk knew damn well the astronomical amount of pain it took for Spock to physically show signs of it. If it was visible, he had to be in agony.
“I’ve got you,” Kirk promised, his voice tight. Then, “Doctor, we need you.” Liu was still thrashing, but McCoy paused long enough to look at Spock.
“He’ll hold a minute,” McCoy said, looking grim. ‘Liu won’t’ seemed to be the unspoken understanding.
Spock made a small gasping sound. Kirk pulled him in close, like he could protect Spock from whatever was doing this just by proximity alone.
“Captain,” Ensign Tanner said, “there’s some kind of build up of energy beneath us.” There was a little catch in her voice.
Kirk looked up from Spock. “More of whatever just hit us?”
“I’m not sure, sir. There is a lot of activity. Different areas, like something is powering on.”
“Right,” Kirk said, glancing at McCoy, who was still working feverishly over his fallen crewmember. He raised his voice. “All hands, back to the beam out point. We’re getting out of here.” He looked at Merendorf, a huge cheerful brick of a man who hadn’t been on the Enterprise six months yet. “Merendorf, assist Doctor McCoy.”
Ensign Tanner looked like he’d just stabbed her in the heart. “But sir-” My research.
“Captain,” McCoy protested, speaking right over her, “I need to get Liu stable-”
“Get her stable onboard the ship, Doctor. Gentlemen, we are leaving,” Kirk said definitively. Mccoy cursed under his breath. Tanner, the scientist, looked heartbroken. Merendorf lifted Ensign Liu like he was picking up a shirt off the floor and started toward the exit as if he’d been stung by something. McCoy had to scramble to keep up with his patient.
Kirk dragged Spock to his feet. The fact that Spock didn’t have the strength to give a single protest against leaving such a goldmine of discovery told Kirk exactly how bad off he was.
Kirk felt the floor start to rumble. Herrera, who had been in security since the Enterprise first left spacedock with Kirk as a captain, was waiting for them with a stubborn look on his face.
Kirk was about to shout at him to go on ahead. Just as he opened his mouth, something in the floor heaved, and ahead of him Merendorf vanished as if he’d been abruptly swallowed by the floor. McCoy yelped and threw himself flat on the ground as if that was exactly what had happened, as if he was trying to reach them and could see something Kirk couldn’t-
Kirk took a step toward him but his foot hit nothing and he dropped, the floor suddenly folding away incomprehensibly. Spock slammed into him, and Hererra gave a shout like something had gotten away from him. Then Kirk was tumbling.
Kirk hit hard, banging the hell out of his elbow. For a second he held his arm and threw his head back and just hurt. He’d been holding Spock, before they fell. Kirk sat up in alarm. It was pitch black; No glowing moss down the rabbit hole. He was alone. His crew was in trouble and he wasn’t there.
“Spock?” He felt around at his belt (he’d lost his communicator, dammit) and crushed one of the chemical seals on the emergency flare tabs that came with his landing party kit. A white chemical light burst out, showing him the strange little space he was in. It was fairly oppressive, a low ceiling, and flat, extending out past the light. It felt like he was caught in a gap between two levels. A maintenance area? The floor looked like more of that strange black composite. Thankfully it was stable; It didn’t seem like anything else around him was moving or dropping away. The vibration had stopped at some point while he was distracted.
Kirk took a guess and crawled toward where he thought he had fallen from. Spock had fallen with him, he had to be-
Lying right there. Kirk scrambled over. Something in Kirk’s stomach twisted when he saw Spock was actually clutching his head. Kirk stopped, hovering over Spock for a moment, unsure what he should do, if anything.
“Spock,” he said gently. Kirk reached out and touched his chest.
Spock lashed out, grabbing onto the front of Kirk’s uniform, getting a fistful of fabric. His arm was shaking. Kirk stared at him for a moment in surprise before he lifted a hand, covering Spock’s fingers with his own. “Hang on,” Kirk said. “We’ll get you back aboard.”
“Captain,” Spock managed, relief clear in his voice, as if he believed Kirk could fix this just by being there. He opened his hand, releasing Kirk’s shirt just long enough to get Kirk’s fingers in a death grip. The feeling was familiar, and it pinged Kirk’s heart in an inconvenient way.
“Not,” Spock shook his head, his face flushed green like he had to really force the words out, “not just a ship.” He fell silent, wincing.
Whatever was going on, Kirk could see how much effort Spock was expending, just trying to talk.
“Spock,” he said gently, urgently. That tone of voice had brought Spock around more than once. The fact that he and Spock had found themselves in situations like this often enough for Kirk to know what to do was a ridiculousness Kirk was going to have to think about later.
He leaned close, resting his hand on Spock’s shoulder. “What?” Kirk urged, “what do you mean, it’s not just a ship?”
Spock grimaced, shook his head as if he was fighting against something.
“Explain,” Kirk insisted, pressing his face closer. Putting a little more ‘captain’ in his voice. “What is it?”
Spock gave every indication that he had to drag himself to the word, like a man weighted down trying to tread water.
“Alive,” he said, and Kirk had a moment of real terror as Spock’s eyes rolled back into his head. For a second Kirk was sure Spock was about to start seizing like Liu, but after a genuinely frightening moment of enormous tension, he went completely limp. Kirk checked him over swiftly, but it seemed like he’d only passed out. Kirk knelt beside him for a moment in silence and breathed out, long and slow. Kirk still had his phaser, and he brought it out, hefted it thoughtfully in one hand. Spock didn’t imagine things. If he’d felt it needed to be said that badly, it was important. Kirk eyed his surroundings warily.
Alive. A living ship?
Spock had his communicator but no phaser, and he’d lost his tricorder. Kirk made a mental note to write a memo to the quartermaster later about the holsters on the landing party gear. In the meantime he signaled the Enterprise. It was optimistic and ultimately a waste of time.
The black composite that the ship was carved from was regrettably effective at blocking their communications transmissions. Back when he thought this away mission was just an archaeological indulgence, Kirk had been forced to send runners out into the jungle a good 50 feet from the outer hull just to get a clear transmission up to the ship.
Kirk bent over his communicator, making a few adjustments. It was possible to boost power and increase the range, but not without seriously decreasing the life of the communicator. At the moment, Kirk couldn’t care less if it only lasted five minutes, as long as he could use it to talk to his people. He glanced at Spock, and hailed Bones.
When the doctor’s voice came through, slightly static-y and noticeably thinner than it should be, Kirk’s shoulders dropped in relief.
“Where the hell are you?” Bones demanded. “Are you alright? What-”
“Doctor McCoy,” he interrupted, impatient. “Report.”
McCoy snorted over the line. “Liu and I are stuck down in some godforsaken hole,” there was a sound of something solid being hit, or possibly kicked. “Merendorf got caught up somewhere above me, and Tanner and Herrera can’t figure out how to get any of us up without rope we don’t have. They couldn’t get a hold of you from up there. Where are you?”
Kirk looked up at the ceiling close over his head. “We fell into some kind of chamber. Spock’s hurt. There’s...something...here affecting him.”
“That actually makes sense. Whatever it is, I’d bet my stripes it’s telepathic,” Doctor McCoy said. “Liu is the only one here with higher psi levels than Spock, and it’s all I can do to keep her from seizing. I’d need to get readings off Spock, but I would be willing to bet they’re being affected the same way.”
“Is there anything I can do for Spock from here?” Kirk asked.
“What’s he look like?”
Kirk looked down. Spock was shaking his head back and forth, just slightly. Like he was telling something ‘No’.
Kirk lowered his voice and turned his face away, unsure if Spock was coherent enough to hear. “We need to get him to sickbay.”
Bad . Bones let out a breath over the line. “Okay,” he said, sounding anything but okay. “Keep him calm, and if he asks you to do anything, do it.”
Kirk flashed on healing trances and the variety of Vulcan techniques Spock had used over the years, all of the memories colored with the same feeling of last-chance desperation. He didn’t quite curse- he was the captain. But Bones was Bones, and knew exactly how he felt.
“Yeah,” Bones said. He’d been on a lot of those last-chance landing parties-gone-to-hell. “What is this place, Jim?”
Kirk let out a breath, glancing at the walls with suspicion. “I’m not sure. Did you get a look at what happened right before you fell? It looked to me like the floor just folded away underneath us.”
“Like some kind of 3-d puzzle box, yeah.”
Kirk looked up, as if he could see through the ceiling and spot him. “All right. I’m going to try to get Tanner on my communicator. Hang tight for a bit. ”
McCoy snorted. “Like I have a choice.”
Kirk was adjusting the settings again when Spock reached up and gripped Kirk’s arm.
“Captain,” he gritted out, his eyes slitted in pain, “it’s coming back.”
Kirk was silent for approximately two seconds before he realized what Spock was saying. “Doctor McCoy!” he snapped into his communicator, a warning on his lips.
In his hand, the communicator quietly fried itself. There was a little flash, and it got hot enough that Kirk almost dropped it.
He could not catch a break today.
Spock made a hoarse, terrible sound. A moment later, the walls started rumbling. Kirk chucked the useless communicator at the floor and threw himself across Spock, bracing himself in case some of the ship decided to fall on them. Kirk could almost taste something in the air, a hint of the feeling he’d had when the pulse of energy had gone through him the first time. Metallic and somehow horrifying.
Spock reached up and grabbed Kirk by the shoulder. There was a frightening amount of pain visible on his face, but for the first time since he’d been struck down, he was really looking at Kirk. His expression shocked Kirk’s thoughts quiet. Spock was looking at him like Kirk was the only thing in the world, like everything was ending and the only thing that mattered was this moment. Kirk knew that look.
He thinks he’s going to die.
“No,” Kirk hissed. “Spock, no-” This wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t going to let this happen.
He saw the energy coalescing on the ceiling, flickers of light boiling at the surface. Raw and desperate, he slid his hand under Spock’s neck and curled himself around Spock as best he could. Spock was suddenly close, his thoughts reachable, the faint echo of Spock’s pain leaching through. His mental defenses were shredding. Kirk wrapped himself around Spock, protecting him in the only way he could think of. If the ship was going to go after Spock it would have to get through him first.
The light exploded out. It hesitated over Kirk again, dragging scorching fingers right through him before passing by. Testing him, Kirk thought, with a leap of intuition. Looking for telepathy. Spock clutched at his arm as his entire body tensed. Kirk felt the energy touch Spock this time. They had been as close as two people could be, once. It was easy to reach out. Spock had gotten too close; He was holding on to Kirk with everything he had now.
Kirk could only feel an echo of it, but it was agony. He was familiar with pain-worryingly familiar, if Bones’ lectures had any truth to them-but this felt like dying. Kirk tasted real terror when he recognized it, because it was coming from Spock. Whatever the ship was doing, it was burning in along Spock’s nerve endings, leaving nothing but smoke and embers behind, the flames getting closer and closer to the core of who Spock was. It was killing him.
Unacceptable. Goddamned unacceptable . Kirk wasn’t a telepath, but Spock was, and that was good enough. Kirk grabbed for Spock’s thoughts with both hands and hauled him in like pulling a salmon out of a lake. It burned. Like looking up and knowing someone you loved was killing you, strangling the life right out of you. Like drowning in fire and agony and rage and waking up to realize that you had destroyed the thing you loved most and he needed to stop thinking about that because Spock hated that memory, hated how much he had taken when he deserved nothing, when he wanted everything and this was terrible enough already he had to stop...
The energy that was tearing them to pieces suddenly paused, easing off, but not entirely. It felt a little more like it had when it passed through Kirk. Almost like it knew Kirk was there.
Kikr looked down into Spock’s eyes and Spock looked up into his. The shared epiphany crackled between them. Could it be that simple?
Spock reached for him like Kirk was trying to pull Spock out of a well. His hands pressed against Kirk’s face and they were more than together, they were one person. There was an immediate rightness about that oneness that neither of him had time to examine.
An unpleasant humming noise rose around them and the energy brightened again. Then it swirled into the floor beneath him, soaking into the composite and vanishing.
The ship had registered that he was a telepath but that the rest of him wasn’t, and had backed off. Kirk looked down at himself in triumph.
It would be temporary, though. He couldn’t hold a mind-meld forever.
I have to stay together, somehow, Kirk thought, staring down at Spock, into his own eyes. He had to protect himself.
There was a part of him that knew how to do that, but was reluctant for foolish reasons. That part of him was much better at navigating through his thoughts. However, (to his delight) he immediately discovered that the rest of him was louder.
He felt a touch to a far off corner of his mind, soft and careful as a curious kitten. Something unfolded in response, shining white and beautiful.
Kirk was abruptly set back in his own mind. For a second he squinted into the light. It was too gorgeous not to look at, even if it hurt his eyes. He blinked and realized the only light he could see was the weak little chemical light from his emergency pack. Kirk blinked again, shaking his head. It was only bright inside his mind, like something had woken up and switched on the lights.
“That,” Spock said, “was inadvisable.” Spock was peering up at him, looking slightly dazed.
“Audentes fortuna juvat,” Kirk said, too happy to see Spock alive to care much. Spock lifted both eyebrows, looking as dismayed as if Kirk had suddenly began to dribble on his own chin. The expression was so comfortably recognizable that Kirk almost laughed in relief. The ‘dear god I am surrounded by humans’ expression.
“I’ll worry about the consequences of...” whatever that was “...well,” Kirk continued thoughtfully, “we’ll worry about it later, when we’re back on board the Enterprise.”
Kirk knew Spock wasn’t fond of what he called Kirk’s ‘cavalier attitude towards personal danger’. By the look on his face he obviously did not want to give Kirk any ground to stand on in that particular area.
“As you wish, sir,” he said doubtfully. ‘This is not the last time I will object to this, sir’ he didn’t say, but Kirk heard him anyway.
Then he alarmed Kirk by trying to sit up. It was immediately apparent even to Spock that this was a bad choice. Kirk had to grab him to keep him from collapsing. Spock leaned forward, breathing hard and looking vaguely annoyed. He shook his head, scowling just slightly, as if the fact that he needed a minute to get himself together was some kind of personal insult. Kirk rubbed his back. He did it without thinking. Spock had a hell of a headache, and Kirk could feel how touch helped. He didn’t really want to examine how he knew that.
Spock tilted his head in Kirk’s direction without looking at him. “There is something of a connection between our minds at the moment. I believe we may experience some unusual sensations.”
Kirk raised his eyebrows expectantly. He didn’t comment on Spock answering a question Kirk hadn’t even asked out loud. Spock looked carefully at the floor and lifted a hand, a silent inarguable ‘help me up’. They had to stoop for the short ceiling. Kirk didn’t immediately let go of Spock’s hand, and Spock noticed. His eyes flicked up, then back down at their clasped hands.
It was intimate, Kirk knew it was intimate. Spock had been careful about that kind of intimacy for a good while now. Spock met his eyes; He looked like he was waiting for Kirk give him a good old-fashioned dressing down.
“Unusual,” Kirk repeated pointedly.
“Indeed.” Spock had that look. The ‘treading close to secret Vulcan things’ look. Sort of closed off and fragile at the same time. Kirk had been on the wrong end of that look before. It usually meant things were about to get complicated, and things were already complicated enough.
“I see.” He didn’t. Kirk gave Spock a level expression that was as clear as saying ‘we’ll get into this and don’t think we won’t’, then pivoted away from him slightly. “Mr. Spock,” he said then, gesturing courteously. “By all means, let’s get out of here.”
Spock stopped ahead of him, peered up the shaft they had fallen through. Kirk, leaning close, did the same. It ascended ominously up into darkness, the sides sheer enough to seem suspiciously purposeful. Kirk ran his hand up the wall, frowning. Too perfect.
“I agree," Spock said. “It does seem to have been constructed with intent.”
“You think-” Spock thought the ship had purposely folded itself into a configuration that would place them there, and relatively unharmed.
“It’s a possibility,” Spock replied.
“If this was some kind of alarmed response to intruders, it would have been simpler to just dump us into a shredder. Or build one out of itself and then drop us into it.” Kirk paused, thinking it through. “It wants something else. You said it was alive. Could you pick up any sense of what it desired?”
“My death,” Spock replied. Kirk stared at him.
“YOUR death,” he repeated. Something sparked inside his brain. Neurons connecting at warp seven. “Liu’s death.”
Spock’s eyes widened. “The rest of the landing party remained above, unharmed, though they could have been just as easily been taken into the depths of the ship, as we have. If Ensign Liu-”
“The ship is trying to separate the two of you, the two telepaths, from the rest of the landing party,” Kirk said. Of course, if that was the case-
“The rest of the landing party should be unharmed,” Spock concluded.
Kirk felt a little bit of a chill, and slowly turned his head toward Spock. He hadn’t said that out loud. In fact, he was fairly certain that half the conversation he’d just had with his first officer had been conducted inside his own head.
“Unusual sensations, Mr. Spock?” he said slowly, putting emphasis on each word.
Spock’s face closed like a door hissing shut. Abrupt and impersonal.
Spock fussed for a moment at his belt, brought out one of his own little chemical lights. “I do not believe,” he threw it underhanded, lighting the shaft above them, “that this is the time for a personal discussion.” The light made a tight parabola, up and then back down. Smooth black walls for a good fifty meters.
The little light dropped down, and Kirk picked it neatly out of the air. He handed it to Spock, giving him a lot of eye contact. Spock looked away, and Kirk gave him a break.
“Did you happen to take that optional mountaineering course at Starfleet Academy?” he asked instead, and knocked lightly on the sheer composite.
Spock gave him a weary look. “You are well aware of my records, Captain.”
Kirk let out a breath of laughter, braced himself on Spock’s shoulder, and took an awkward scrambling lunge at the bottom edge of the shaft. It was narrow, more like a crack, and once he was up there he got into position easily, like someone with a lot of practice. One leg out, the other tucked up under his rear end, friction and leverage taking his weight. He looked down at Spock and clucked his tongue.
“Modern Dance, Mr. Spock? I would never have guessed.” He extended a hand down to Spock, adjusted his footing slightly. Spock gave the shaft above them a doubtful look.
“It was an elective and I had an interest. Captain, I am not certain-”
“I’m not leaving you here. If our theory is correct, that is exactly what this ship wants.” He paused. “Also, I am not leaving you here. Now come on, it’s easier than it looks.” Kirk made a ‘take it’ gesture with his hand.
Spock pressed his lips into a thin line. He was tired. His head hurt in a way that he couldn’t push out of his mind, because the rawness of his mind was the problem. He had doubts about his ability to reach the surface in his current condition, and concerns that he would negatively impact the captain’s chances of escape.
“Spock,” Kirk chided, gently.
Spock took Kirk’s hand. Kirk hauled him up.
Spock fumbled for a second, his arms and legs straining. Kirk silently patted his own leg, drawing Spock’s attention to the position of his foot in relation to the rest of his body. Spock imitated him and immediately relaxed, looking surprised.
“All right...here we go,” Kirk said. He pushed off with one leg, then the other. He scooted up the wall about a foot. Friction and leverage. He looked down at Spock. Spock was paying attention. “One, two,” he said, moving first one leg, then the other. He gestured at Spock and Spock repeated his movements precisely, making his way up the shaft until they were level with each other.
Kirk nodded towards the wall, indicating with his chin that Spock should continue on. “I want you to go first,” he said, possibly for the first time in his entire captaincy. Spock stared at him in an appropriately startled manner. “I’d put you on belay if I had a rope, but I don’t, so I want to be below you in case you get stuck.” Or slip, he did not say, because that would be ridiculous. If Spock fell there was no way Kirk could catch him without falling himself, not in a freehand climb like this. He would, of course, try anyway.
“If you do get stuck anywhere, if you hit a spot and you’re not sure what to do, let me know and I’ll climb up and get you. Are we clear?”
Spock looked up, into the darkness that extended beyond their small lights, and began to climb. Kirk followed at a reasonable distance. After a few minutes he realized he could keep an eye on Spock without actually looking at him. He paused and put a thought to the feeling, like pressing on a sore tooth with his tongue.
Spock froze. In the sudden silence Kirk heard him take a deep breath.
“Captain,” he said softly. “It would be best not to turn too much attention toward the connection between us. Further exploration from either party may strengthen it to a point that may become...inconvenient.” He sounded like he very much did not want to say anything else about it.
“I don’t understand,” Kirk said. There was something fundamental in Spock’s character that made the opportunity to educate almost irresistible to him. When things got personal and he started closing down, that particular tactic would almost always get him talking.
Spock looked down at him and was silent for a long moment. Kirk straightened his shoulders, recognizing the expression, knowing Spock was going to tell him.
“Your mind is acting as a mooring to my own,” Spock said, and looked away. “In this instance, the boat is tethered to, but remains separated from the dock.”
Kirk loved him a little for using a nautical analogy. He’d done it on purpose, Kirk could tell.
Spock continued. “We may become aware of thoughts, sensations,” he hesitated, “feelings. But our minds are not one mind.” Spock’s voice dropped, softened a little. “Separate, and together.”
Kirk went quiet for a moment, inside and out.
“I see,” Kirk said, very gently.
“At the moment, the rope between boat and dock may be cut. However, without caution the situation could become much more,” Spock hesitated, “permanent.”
Something came at him, half a memory, fuzzy and indistinct. “Never...and always,” Kirk muttered to himself, puzzling over the words. They sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place them.
Spock let out a breath like he’d been punched. “Indeed,” he said, sounding strangled.
Kirk remembered, all at once. Spock had said those words to him. The night before they arrived at Altair 6, when their good luck fell to pieces, along with his first officer. They never talked about anything Spock had said or done that night. It was an unspoken mutual agreement. All at once Kirk was sorry he’d pressed Spock on the situation.
Kirk had mercy on him. “Well,” Kirk said casually, as if he hadn’t noticed the emotions involved in the past few moments of conversation at all, “I’ll keep that in mind. Good fences make good neighbors, is the saying, isn’t it?”
Spock paused. “I believe so,” he said, and began to climb again. Kirk would lay good odds that Spock had read Robert Frost. Spock definitely knew Kirk well enough to guess at what Kirk was actually driving at, with or without telepathy. Robert Frost wasn’t a fan of walls or fences.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
They climbed in silence for at least half an hour. Every few minutes Spock would pause and throw his little light, showing that their path was still clear.
This time the light showed that the texture of the walls above them had changed. The shaft widened out above them, a dark cavity that was going to be difficult to climb, but was promising in its resemblance to the surface chamber. Spines and organs and torn-open fruits cast in slick black composite. The people who had built this place must have liked it for some reason, but to human eyes it was unsettling as hell.
Spock caught the light as it came back down. “Captain,” he said.
In that precise moment, Kirk’s stomach lurched in a familiar way. It reminded him of the smell of singed circuits and the slight shudder of a starship taking phaser fire. It felt exactly like artificial gravity going out.
The gravitational orientation swooped to the left. Kirk lost his grip immediately, skidding towards the cavity which had been above them and was now below them. Spock somehow held himself in place with his greater strength and was mad enough to try and grab him as he slid past. He missed. Kirk fell on his face.
He lay there for a moment, stunned.
“Captain? Are you all right?””
Kirk put both hands flat against the rough, organic composite he was lying on, and pushed up. He froze as just about every muscle in his body objected, hissing a breath in through his teeth.
“Jim,” Spock said urgently, and Kirk felt a hand on his shoulder. Kirk shook his head, grimacing. He could feel Spock fighting some kind of huge, white hot emotion. Kirk shoved it aside as best he could. Spock didn’t make it all that easy. He was leaning close, pushing at Kirk’s torn shirt, businesslike and determined. Kirk gently pushed his hands away.
“I’m fine,” he said.
Spock gave him a flat look, pursing his lips and exhaling air forcefully through his nose. He looked briefly like he would like to take Kirk by the shoulders and give him a shake.
Kirk smiled slightly and took a look around. The shaft opened wide around them, and the chamber only seemed to get bigger. Kirk thought he could spot a few tendrils of luminescent moss glowing faintly in the dark. Given what they’d seen of the room they had originally discovered it certainly seemed like they were on the right track, but something about it felt wrong. As he looked, the faint glow of the moss brightened, veins of light spreading slowly over the walls. He felt the hairs on the back of his arms go up.
“Mr. Spock,” he said slowly, “do you get the impression that we’re being railroaded?”
Spock made a ‘hmm’ sound. “Given this vessel’s capabilities,” Spock said, looking around, “it is possible that we have not been climbing up, but rather climbing in.”
Kirk narrowed his eyes. “The artificial gravity,” he said, his heart sinking. If the ship could literally change everything about the environment around them whenever it had a mind to, there was no way to tell where they were.
Spock nodded, like he was listening. “Given that the ship is able to transform itself around us, we may have been traveling precisely where it wished us to go. It could shape both the surface and the gravity field in a manner that would impede us from ever escaping.”
Almost as if in response to this, the light from the moss was suddenly spreading across every surface all around them. The patterns on the walls were abruptly much clearer, dark script swirling across the surface. It felt like being inside a room strung with christmas lights. The moss had been there all along, Kirk realized, but unlit.
“Well, somebody just turned the porch lights on,” Kirk said mildly.
Spock gave the walls a considering look. “It does appear we are here for a purpose, captain. Perhaps the ship desires to communicate.”
“It has a funny way of communicating,” Kirk said, moving on. “It tried to kill you.”
“I do have a theory-” Spock began, then cut himself off. They turned a corner that had a rather alarming intestinal appearance and there, on the floor waiting for them, was the body of Ensign Liu.
Kirk’s heart bunched up in a tight black ball, and he lunged toward her uselessly. Spock caught his arm and wrenched him back. He snapped his head around, outraged. Liu was dead; She was obviously, horribly dead, but Kirk had to try. Spock met his eyes, then looked pointedly at the floor.
Liu was lying on a small raised platform. Smooth and clean, like new.
Kirk let out a breath, nodding. He touched Spock’s wrist. Without speaking, Spock circled the platform one way, and Kirk circled it the other. There was no control panel. Only the platform, and Liu.
“A trap?” he murmured.
Spock looked at her with narrow eyes. “Or some kind of...waste disposal.”
Kirk glared at him, and Spock blinked, dropping his head a little and moving away. He still didn’t exactly get human ways of grieving, but he knew when to back off.
Kirk looked down at Liu on the floor and paused, clenching his jaw. There was a pool of blood around her head, a liquid halo. Her eyes had bled, at the end. She looked like she’d died in a tremendous amount of pain.
Kirk felt something inside him spark into rage. It could just as easily have been Spock, lying there.
“Captain,” Spock called urgently.
Kirk got to his feet. Just around the corner, Spock stood in front of a panel. It looked like it was pouring out of the wall. He and Spock looked at each other. Kirk shrugged.
They both stepped forward cautiously. There was no raised platform, only the panel and the deeply impressed markings swirling across every other surface, brightly outlined in luminescent moss.
Spock pointed at the wall above the panel. “See here, captain,” he said, his voice alight with interest. “And here,” he pointed at a different area. The glow from the moss was blue on his face. It was sort of ethereal, like weak sunlight through stained glass.
“Carvings,” Kirk guessed. “Like the ones you and Ensign Tanner were studying.”
“Not just carvings, Captain. Repeated symbols. A language.”
“Can you translate them?”
Spock shook his head, looking as frustrated as Kirk had ever seen him. “If I had my tricorder,” he said, longingly.
“Well,” Kirk looked down at the panel, “we’ll just have to wing it.” He leaned over and put his hand on a portion of the console that looked like a mouthful of teeth. He sure wasn’t going to let Spock do it. Spock made a quick motion in his direction, looking incredulous.
The moment Kirk’s fingers touched it here was a deep, thrumming note. He felt it in his chest, and in his eyes. The composite of the console rippled around his hand, thick and black. It was suddenly not entirely solid, almost like ferrofluid exposed to a magnetic field, pulsing around his hand in a spiky geometric pattern. The movement paused, as if it was taking a moment to think. Then, it rose up and formed a near perfect image of his own face.
“Fascinating,” Spock said softly.
Kirk tilted his head one way, then the other. The composite imitation mimicked his movement.
“You’re interested in talking now, aren’t you,” Kirk said to it. The imitation mirrored him. It was strangely amusing. Then the head turned on its own, looking at the wall. Kirk followed the motion. A single symbol was noticeably brighter than any other.
Spock stepped up to it. “Perhaps…” he began, and reached out to touch it before Kirk could tell him not to.
The moment he did, part of the wall began to extrude past the moss. Spock snatched his hand back, startled. The composite was filling in the script, flattening a circular area of the wall like a black chalkboard. Spock glanced back at him, at Kirk’s hand half covered by liquid composite, and they shared a quick moment of ‘this might have been a stupid thing to do’.
For a moment, the composite was smooth and blank. Then a design started forming on it. Small dots, scattered randomly. Kirk squinted. Some of the dots were indented into the surface, some of them extruded like pins stuck into a map. One point stood out much further than the others, calling attention to itself.
Spock leaned close to it. There was something in his expression; that excitement Kirk had seen in him now and then when they discovered something genuinely unique.
“Spock?” Kirk prompted, “Do you recognize this?”
“This is a star chart,” Spock said, sounding almost delighted. “However, if this,” he gestured to the point protruding very obviously from the chart, “Is this ship’s planet of origin, this chart is two thousand years out of date.”
Spock reached out with one finger and touched the map. He pressed on a single star, shifting it to a slightly different position. The whole map shifted in relation to it.
“Our current date?” Kirk guessed. The composite image of himself was staring at Spock like Spock had just done a trick. It was much less amusing all of a sudden.
“Yes, captain. If we can establish frames of reference-”
The map wall suddenly flexed and enveloped Spock’s arm to the elbow, almost yanking him off his feet. The console clamped down on Kirk’s hand.
Kirk tried to pull away and brought his phaser up when he realized he was trapped.
“Captain!” Spock protested, because he was a scientist first. “A chance like this may never come again. We must take advantage of opportunity to add to our knowledge, if we can learn to communicate with it-”
“Spock,” Kirk said firmly, and Spock cut himself off. “This thing is dangerous, it’s a killer, and despite your curiosity our first responsibility is to get out of here alive.”
In his own reserved way, Spock looked completely crushed. “Yes sir,” he said quietly. Somehow, Kirk felt like a bully.
He looked at his own hand, trapped wrist-deep in composite. Kirk was not a scientist first, but he did make a habit of listening to his first officer. He paused, looked over at the imitation of his own face, who had been listening to them with something like interest. It almost looked like it was waiting for something. There wasn’t any sign of hostility in its expression, but it was definitely no longer amusing.
“All right,” Kirk said, raising his voice. “If you’re expecting something from us you’re going to have to do a lot better than this at explaining yourself.” He opened his mouth to really start yelling at it, because despite what starfleet kept putting in the manuals about hostile encounters, that did the trick half the time. He stopped when the area beside his hands rippled and produced a small humanoid figure. It was like a toy, a featureless little stick man.
Kirk glanced at Spock, questioning.
“A frame of reference, captain.” He looked a little bit smug about it.
Kirk looked down at it, shifting uncomfortably with his hand still wedged tight. “All right,” he said. He re-set his shoulders, tucked his phaser back into his belt. “All right.” He’d done first contacts before. He pointed at the humanoid figure with his free hand, then at himself. The composite version of his own face watched him.
Beside Spock, the ship produced another little humanoid figure. This one was different; There were spiky little protrusions emanating from its head.
Kirk narrowed his eyes. “Is that-” telepathy?
“Yes, quite likely,” Spock replied to Kirk’s unspoken question. Which, given the circumstances, was rather nicely ironic.
Spock continued. “Insomuch as it is possible for the ship to convey the concept given this manner of communication, of course.”
Kirk eyed the tiny little Spock. “It doesn’t do you justice,” Kirk said with half a smile. Spock pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow, looking like a man who felt he had to put up with quite a lot.
Between them, the console sprouted up two little figures. One had a spiky little crown on its head, the other did not. They joined hands. The point where they touched started sprouting little spikes of its own.
Both Spock’s eyebrows went up high.
“Well,” Kirk said, dry. “How sweet.” He turned to the image of his face, which was staring at him in a strangely calculating way. “Yes, that’s us,” he told it, businesslike. “What’s your point?”
“Captain, I highly doubt it can understand-”
Between the two little figures a barrier shot up from the base, splitting them apart as swift as a cleaver cutting through meat. In that instant, someone shoved a spike into Kirk’s brain. Kirk dropped to the floor like he’d been axed. Spock cried out, hoarse and terrible. Kirk tried to get to him, tried to crawl over there but his hand was caught. He did his best to pull his own arm off, kicking at the console. It felt like he’d left half his head burning on the floor somewhere. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t reach Spock. Everything was on fire.
He lifted his head. An image of his own face was smiling at him.
“No,” he growled. He reached up, clawing at the console. It clung to him, black and slick. “Leave him alone,” Kirk demanded. “He’s in my mind because I want him there. Leave him alone!” Spock twisted on the floor, his neck arching back as he seized. Something white-hot split the back of Kirk’s head, driving blinding pain down his spine in one smooth stroke.
Spock made a sound Kirk never wanted to hear again for the rest of his life.
Kirk bared his teeth, dragged himself back to his knees, and drove the edge of his hand down between the two little toy-like figures still standing on the console. He smashed the liquid composite barrier between them, and dragged his hand across the surface, scooping the little Spock figure close. “He’s mine, do you hear?” Kirk flinched as he felt something in his mind tearing. Spock was still alive. He was still alive, Kirk could feel him burning. He still had a chance.
Kirk looked his image dead in the eye with pure rage in his heart. “He’s my friend,” Kirk snarled. “Keep your hands off him. He’s mine!”
His image looked alarmed.
The console suddenly released his hand, and Kirk fell back onto his knees. Something in the awful pressure in his brain melted away. Maybe the ship understood better than Spock thought.
“Spock,” he said. He moved to stand and froze, clutching his head, speechless with pain. The pressure had receded but there was something terribly wrong. He felt mangled. The pain was from the wound, not the attacker.
Half-blinded by the ache in his head, he tried to crawl to Spock’s side. Captains did not pass out in emergency situations, he told himself.
Spock had stopped seizing; He was laying there like a doll someone had dropped on the floor. Kirk rolled him onto his back, wincing with effort. Spock sprawled across his lap, boneless and limp. Kirk slid an arm under Spock’s neck. He was white as a corpse, but he was breathing.
“Spock,” Kirk said softly. He could feel...something. There was someone on the other side of all that pain, and it felt like Spock. “Come on, Spock.” He patted Spock’s cheek, feeling around the place inside his own mind that was wounded. He tried to get to Spock that way, like pulling a boat in off the water with a rope made of pain.
Spock frowned, just slightly. He made a small, hurt sound and turned his head, curling towards Kirk.
Kirk let out a breath, sagging a little from the effort. He couldn’t have said exactly what he was doing, but whatever it was required a hell of a lot of willpower to pull off. He slid his hand across Spock’s cheek and into his hair, cupping the back of his neck. He didn’t know how he knew, but Spock was very far away.
Kirk looked up at the console with murder in his heart. “You have no right to harm him.” Kirk said. “Do you understand? You’ll not touch him again.”
If Kirk had to pin down an expression, he would say the composite image of his face looked shocked. Like it had just recognized some kind of terrible mistake. A chillingly familiar three dimensional image thrust itself out of the wall. The copy of his face turned and looked at the simulacrum of Liu’s lifeless body it had just made, then back at Kirk. It was a silent question.
Is this also a mistake?
Kirk tightened his arms around Spock. “Yes, that’s right,” he said brutally. He’d officially run out of time for diplomacy. Time for yelling. “I don’t know what your purpose was, but it’s a purpose that’s two thousand years gone. The only thing you’ve accomplished here is an attack on innocent people.” He made a gesture that encompassed both Spock and Liu. “This…” he chopped the air with his hand, not knowing if the ship could grasp any of this but going for it anyway, “isn’t necessary. We could learn from each other, cooperate, share knowledge. There’s no... need ...for violence.”
The expression on the image of his face was very blank. Without warning, it folded itself back into the console and vanished. Before Kirk could even get alarmed, a phaser, a communicator, and a tricorder appeared at his feet. They didn’t materialize; They rose to the surface of the floor and burst through as if floating to the top of a glass of water.
Kirk picked up the communicator, threw an uncertain look at where the image of his face had been, and flipped it open. The communicator chirped, and a burst of static immediately came through. He lowered it and looked up at the walls around him, his brain suddenly simmering with understanding. For no reason at all, he thought of that expression of scientific delight Spock had worn when facing the alien star chart. Spock in his element, and Kirk in his.
“You do understand me don’t you,” he told it. He looked over at the image of Liu, then back at the console. “You’d have to have some form of...” he groped for the idea “...of manufactured mental powers, in order to successfully identify and attack your targets. That’s it, isn’t it. Digital telepathy.”
You were made to kill people just like you .
Spock, in his arms, made a soft sound. Kirk looked down at him anxiously. In that moment there was a thump from underneath him, a deeply alarming sound rising in the air. It was familiar, and fear rabbit-punched him in the gut. Those were starship phasers. That was starship phaser fire in atmosphere . He looked at the console. His own face was staring at him. He recognized the expression.
That was how Kirk looked when he’d done something awful, and knew it.
His intuition bunched up in his chest. “You-” he began, and the floor underneath him heaved. Kirk threw himself over Spock. The gravity tilted and Kirk crashed headfirst into a wall that hadn’t been there a second ago. He stayed there, plastered by the feeling of moving upward at incredible speed. They were trapped in some kind of bubble. His ears popped once, then twice.
Kirk spilled out onto the surface and rolled into a tangle of vegetation. His ears roared for a second until it settled out into the sound of an atmosphere boiling away. The ringing, thundering sound of an angry starship. No one could ever really hear the phasers right while they were onboard. Scotty would love to be down there get a good listen to it.
Scotty was up on the Enterprise, trying to turn that alien ship into slag.
He lifted his head. There was blood everywhere. He looked at his hand, smeared red. Red, and green. Something about the mix of colors terrified him. There was a communicator by his head. He looked at it for a second before he realized it was important. His hands weren’t working right; It felt like his wrist was broken. He fumbled with the communicator for a second before managing to flip it open.
“Kirk to Enterprise, cease fire. Do you hear me? Cease fire!”
The sound splitting the air went silent.
“Captain?” Scotty, sounding cautious. “Queen to Queen’s level three.”
What the hell had been going on while they were missing?
Kirk’s face was getting numb. He was getting numb and there was green blood all over his hands. He forced himself to continue with a bolt of pure desperation. “Queen to King’s level one.” There was a sound of relief from Scotty over the line that sounded very far away, and Kirk had a thought that he was passing out. “Emergency...medical emergency…”
"...I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him..."
-Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Kirk woke up what felt like a thousand years later, his heart still pounding from that last moment. Everything felt fuzzy and white, like he’d been wrapped in cotton. Spock was right there in front of him. He knew Spock’s face before he knew where he was.
Spock was out cold. He was lying on a biobed not three feet away, which led Kirk to notice that he was on a biobed too. The sounds of sickbay weren’t comforting, but they were familiar. He relaxed a little. There was something on Spock’s head, and he couldn’t make sense of it for the longest time. It was just shapes that meant nothing. Kirk could feel him, and the sensation was strange in a way Kirk could feel vibrating in his bones. Something wasn’t right, he knew that, but he couldn’t understand what he was feeling.
About four hundred years later the shapes he was looking at resolved themselves into something he recognized; It was a surgical cage, and Doctor M’Benga, bent over it.
M’Benga was operating on Spock. Right then, as Kirk watched. He didn’t know if he made some movement, or some sound, but M’Benga lifted his head and looked Kirk directly in the eye.
“Leonard,” he said, which was not Kirk’s name. M’Benga lifted his eyes, looking at someone above Kirk, and Kirk turned his head to follow.
Bones was there, and he looked coldly, calculatingly furious in a way Kirk couldn’t remember ever seeing him. He was holding Kirk’s arm. Bones snapped harshly at someone Kirk couldn’t see, looking like he was considering leaping at their throat. This was just about the time Kirk got around to realizing Bones wasn’t holding his arm. He was operating on it. The wrongness he was feeling from Spock combined with the sensation and bloomed into something like horror. A second later, Kirk wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
He woke up with a little thrill of fear. Kirk tried to feel at his wrist, but his other hand was caught on something. He turned his head and Spock was lying there next to him on his own bio-bed. Their hands were stretched across the space between them, like they’d been reaching for each other in their sleep. Someone had tied their hands together with surgical tape.
Kirk turned his hand at the wrist. Spock’s palm was warm.
Beyond their linked hands, Spock opened his eyes. It was the strangest thing, it almost felt like a sun rising. It lit the whole world. He felt bright and warm; The desire to stretch out into the feeling was overwhelming.
Spock’s eyes widened, and the light faded a little. Kirk felt unexplainably crabby about it for a split second. He couldn’t place the familiarity of the sensation, it was almost like when he was a kid and someone denied him dessert.
“Are you all right?” Spock asked. There was a flicker of something from Spock, almost like anxiety.
Kirk had been just about to ask Spock that exact question.
He held his wrist up. Smooth skin, not even any bandages. Bones usually left him wrapped up as a reminder to take it easy. He might have done it on purpose, so that when Kirk woke he could see immediately that he was whole.
“Fine.” Kirk lifted his head, looking Spock over. He hadn’t missed the fact that Spock hadn’t moved an inch.
“You look…” pale. Wrung out. “...Better,” he decided. It was technically true. “Though…” he flexed his hand against Spock’s fingers, feeling the surgical tape stretch a little, “I do have some questions.”
“Indeed.” Spock looked at their linked hands, bemused. “I am at something of a loss as to the benefit of our current position.”
Kirk gave him a smile with a glint of playfulness. “I wouldn’t want to be tied to anybody else, Spock.”
Both of Spock’s eyebrows went up and he suddenly looked thoughtful, which made Kirk think the teasing had gone over his head. It happened less often than it used to; Kirk knocked this one off as a minor flattening on the arc of Spock’s cartesian plane of improvement.
“It’s a good thing you feel that way, because you might be like that for a while.” McCoy was standing in the doorway. He looked uncharacteristically timid about it.
Kirk realized he’d reflexively pulled his arm in close to his body. McCoy saw it, and winced.
“Doctor McCoy,” Kirk greeted, ignoring it. “What do you mean?”
“Both of you were in rough shape when you came in, and for some reason we were having a hard time keeping you both under so we could work on you. You were in some kind of distress, your pain levels and stress hormones were through the roof, but we couldn’t identify the cause. Spock tried to drag himself off the bio-bed while M’Benga was closing him up. So, I figured if the two of you were going to try and kill yourselves to get to each other, I’d save myself the heart attack and just tie you together.” McCoy came over, started scanning him, and then Spock. “Your readings settled right down after that. Damndest thing.”
Spock pushed himself up on his elbows. “May I see a copy of the readings?”
He sounded politely curious, but back in a bright corner of his mind Kirk sensed a bolt of pure panic, quickly suppressed. McCoy offered Spock a pad, and Kirk could tell Spock wanted to snatch it out of his hands.
“What’s been going on?” Kirk asked, both because he needed to know and also because Spock needed time to process whatever he was upset about. “Why did Scotty need the code phrase?”
McCoy bounced once on his heels, which meant he was uneasy with what they were discussing. “Well, this might be hard to believe, but as far as we can tell, that bucket of bolts down there is alive. Or near enough it doesn’t make any difference.”
Kirk caught Spock’s eyes for a brief moment of irony.
“Really,” Kirk said, his voice very dry.
“It had us thinking it was you, for about five minutes. But it started asking for things that didn’t make any sense for you to need and well, you know what a cautious fellow Scotty is.”
Kirk’s eyes narrowed. “What did it want?” He didn’t much like the thought of what could happen if a hostile being had even nominal control over his ship for five minutes.
“Record tapes, if you can believe it. History and biology. Nothing of any real use.”
Kirk was quiet for a moment, thinking of those little stick figures. A frame of reference. “You’d be surprised,” he said softly.
Spock handed the pad back. “Thank you, Doctor.” Polite. He sat up. “If you would please release us immediately.”
This was going to be bad.
“Why?” McCoy said flatly. “Until we know what caused this, I don’t intend-”
“I know the cause.” Spock was already working on the tape. Kirk and McCoy watched him for a moment. Spock picked at the tape and said nothing.
“And?” McCoy said, drawing the word out in exasperation. “Something further you’d like to share with the group, Spock?”
Spock freed his hand and flexed his fingers. “No,” Spock said, simply. Which, given the phrasing, was completely McCoy’s fault.
Bones shut his eyes and let out a long, slow breath, like a teakettle releasing steam.
Spock continued picking and peeled the tape off Kirk’s hand as well. It was a surprisingly intimate gesture. Kirk had a brief, strange impulse to ask Bones to give them some privacy. Almost the exact moment Spock let go of his hand, a headache bloomed unpleasantly behind Kirk’s eyes. He frowned. It had to be a coincidence.
Spock hopped to his feet like he had every intention of walking out of the door. McCoy stepped in his path like a boxer squaring up for a fight.
“Spock, if you think for one second I am letting you stroll out that door without an explanation, then we have never met, you and I.”
It was a good move. The phrasing alone made Spock pause.
“Spock, I’m surprised at you,” Kirk added mildly. “You said yourself that this affects us both.”
That was more that enough to stop Spock in his tracks. He shut his eyes and let out a breath.
“Of course. You are correct. My apologies.”
McCoy blinked like he’d been slapped. Kirk sat up straight. He didn’t think either of them had heard Spock string those three sentences together. Not for quite a while, anyway.
“What’s wrong?” McCoy said, going gentle all at once.
Spock looked down at his own hands, toying with the scrap of tape. “It was necessary for me to anchor myself to someone, in order to survive the ship’s telepathic attack.”
McCoy frowned at them both. “Someone?” he said in a way that meant he damn well knew who Spock meant.
“It was a mutual decision, Bones, believe me,” Kirk soothed.
McCoy cursed quietly under his breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of course. All right. And?”
“It would be extremely inadvisable for either of us to have any kind of physical contact with the other until the link has faded.” Spock spread his hands. “Indeed, I would advise we remain as far apart from one another as the ship will allow. Now that neither of us is suffering from any kind of telepathic distress, there should be no further consequences to our distance from one another.” Spock looked at the ceiling, and then the wall, very carefully avoiding looking at either of them. “If we do not take steps, I fear our connection will become impossible to dissolve.”
Kirk narrowed his eyes. “You said ‘limited contact’ before. This sounds more serious. A lot more serious.”
Spock had rolled the little piece of tape into a ball. When he saw Kirk looking at it, he dropped it.
“I...may have underestimated our attraction." He pressed his lips into a thin line, looking oddly vulnerable.
Kirk met McCoy’s eyes with a spark of surprise.
McCoy lifted his eyebrows. “Well,” he said grandly.
Nothing good could possibly come after that.
“Mr. Spock,” Kirk said firmly, cutting McCoy off. He got to his feet, and gave Spock an innocently affronted expression. “Am I to understand that you...underestimated me?” He put his hand to his heart, exaggerating shamelessly. “Me?”
The tension drained from Spock’s shoulders. He gave Kirk a very warm expression. “Not nearly so often as I used to, Captain.”
Kirk felt a sharp swell of affection for him that had nothing at all to do with any kind of mental connection and everything to do with how much he simply loved Spock as an individual. Kirk grinned.
“Well,” he said, crossing his arms, “I’m sure we can keep our hands off each other for a week or two.”
Spock’s face went tight, holding back some emotion Kirk couldn’t identify. Kirk ignored it. Spock looked at him like that sometimes. It absolutely didn’t mean anything.
McCoy made a choking sound, and coughed forcefully into his hand. Kirk’s headache was getting worse. He gave McCoy a hard look.
“If there’s nothing else, Doctor,” he said, his tone a clear warning, “Then Mr. Spock and I have a great deal to do.”
McCoy looked at him suspiciously, and then down at his scanner, and then at Spock. He pointed at them both. “I want you both back in here in three hours for a checkup.”
“Bones-” Kirk protested.
“Three hours, or you can spend the day in here.”
“Of course, Doctor,” Spock said, in a tone of voice that clearly told Kirk to shut up. Kirk spread his hands in surrender.
“Three hours,” he agreed.
Twelve hours later Kirk was planetside, standing near what remained of the crashed ship, talking with Scotty. He hadn’t seen the inside of the ship for ten hours, much less sickbay. If he was willing to be honest, he didn’t feel well, and had been feeling worse and worse as the day went on. He wasn’t entirely willing to be honest.
“-And when Tanner and Hererra found Ensign Liu’s body, she was surrounded by these. All stacked up around her, hundreds of them.” Scotty held out a small cube, dark and slick like the interior of the ship.
“And you’re sure that’s what they are?” Kirk pressed.
“Aye sir, they’re data cubes. You could hold half the library computer on the Enterprise in five of these little beauties. The number we found, the amount of stored information could be astronomical. Tanner near had a fit over them.” Scotty frowned, turning the cube over in his hands. “But what I can’t figure, is why they were left there. Out, like they were.”
Kirk looked at the cube and almost felt sad. “Call it...an apology, Mr. Scott.” He frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. He had a screaming headache. “The computer was destroyed?”
“Aye, I’m afraid so.” Scotty gestured at the ground beneath them. “It’s not blocking our sensors now, we can see clear as day what’s there and what’s not.” He looked downright depressed about it. “I’m sorry sir, if I’d known I never would have-”
“It’s all right, Scotty,” Kirk put his hand on Scotty’s shoulder and was surprised at how wrong it felt. Like he was craving physical contact, but Scotty somehow wasn’t the right physical contact. He took his hand back. “You used your best judgement,” he added, rubbing at his palm. It was like an itch he couldn’t get at. It felt awful.
Kirk snapped his head up. “Yes?” When had he stopped paying attention?
Scotty looked hesitant. “Are you feeling ok sir? You look a bit peaky. I could call Doctor McCoy, if you’d like.”
“No,” Kirk said, too quickly. Scotty started to look suspicious. “I’ll head up to the ship, and check in with him later,” he added appeasingly.
“Aye, sir,” Scotty said slowly, giving him the eye. Kirk had no doubt that if he didn’t get onboard in the next five minutes Scotty would be on the line to sickbay whether Kirk wanted him to or not.
Wisely, Kirk beamed up. He wobbled a little on the platform; He actually felt worse on board than he had planetside. Luckily the ensign on transporter duty didn’t know him very well, and he got to his quarters without being questioned.
Logically-to coin a phrase-he should have gone to sickbay immediately. He felt bad enough that he was willing to admit he probably should. But something about that notion felt wrong. Kirk’s head was pounding and his stomach was churning and he wanted nothing more than to curl up somewhere quiet and familiar.
He shut the doors behind him and barely got his shirt off when a flash of something dark and terrible drove him to his knees. That newly bright corner of his mind had gone black with pain.
“Spock,” he said to the empty room, with utter certainty. Somewhere onboard the ship, Spock was doing something that was causing him a lot of pain. He was doing it deliberately. Kirk could taste the obstinate determination Spock was putting to it. The pieces of the puzzle came together in his mind with a neatness that made him feel foolish for not seeing it sooner.
“Dammit,” he said, scrambling for the comm unit on his desk.
“Commander Spock,” he snapped.
There was a long, stomach-clenching pause.
“Yes...yes, captain.” Spock sounded worse than he felt.
“Report to my quarters immediately.”
There was another long pause. “Sir...I...do not think…”
“Now, mister,” Kirk snapped, and cut the line. He breathed into the dimness of his quarters, pained and unsettled. There was something wrong with what Spock was doing. He’d made some kind of mistake, Kirk wasn’t sure how, but he knew he needed to be close to Spock, not further away from him. If Spock didn’t show up in five minutes Kirk was going after him. If Spock didn’t show up in five minutes he was calling sickbay himself.
Gradually, some of the tension in his shoulders dropped away. He felt like someone was putting slack in a rope that he hadn’t even realized was too tight. With a chill, he stared at the wall of his quarters, at the hallway behind it. Intuition gripped his stomach. If Spock wasn’t standing outside his door Kirk would sell his stripes.
“I know you’re there,” he said. Kirk poked around that place in his brain that felt like Spock, and pulled. “Get in here.”
His door opened, and Spock was there, standing straight, chin up. He looked like a marionette puppet with the strings held taut. It hurt Kirk’s teeth just to look at him.
The doors closed behind him, and it was like Spock had been granted permission to stand at-ease after 10 hours of attention. Spock put a hand out and braced himself on the wall, leaning his weight on it like a rest was all he’d been thinking of for quite some time. He bowed his head, taking a deep breath. It looked like just walking to Kirk’s quarters had used up everything he had left.
“Spock?” Kirk said, seriously miscalculating the immediacy of the situation.
Spock staggered, his shoulder hitting the wall with a thump. He looked at Kirk the way a drowning man reached for the sky just before going under. Kirk lunged forward and just managed to catch Spock in time to keep him from ending up in a heap on the floor. For a moment Kirk kept his feet for both of them.
Kirk cursed. “You are keeping us apart. I can feel it.”
“I’m sorry,” Spock said into his shoulder, gasping like Kirk really had pulled him from the water. He felt electric in Kirk’s arms, like a live wire trying to ground. “It can’t be broken...I can not-”
“Just stop it, Spock,” Kirk said, “It’s done. You’re only torturing yourself.”
Spock sagged in his arms and the brightness in his mind was suddenly there again, blooming freely but dimmer than it had been. The recognition of that, of the rightness of his hunch, put a chill down his spine. He didn’t know how he knew, but it had been close. Spock was cold and shaking in his arms. He was far too stubborn for his own good. Kirk didn’t know exactly what Spock had been doing, but he knew that it was the wrong thing, that staying apart was hurting him. It was the kind of wrong idea that could rip someone to shreds from the inside out. He tightened his grip on Spock for a moment. It had been close.
“Come on,” he said, dragging an armful of Spock over to his bed. Spock couldn’t sit, which was a frightening realization. Kirk eased him down flat and took half a step to hit the comm on the nightstand. Spock grabbed his arm with a surprising amount of strength. Kirk looked down at him, startled. Spock followed Kirk’s eyes and looked surprised to see his own hand there. Spock released him, but it looked like it had taken some willpower to do it. Kirk felt a brief trickle of shame from Spock’s end of whatever-the-hell this was, and he didn’t like it.
He hit the comm button with a lot more force than he strictly needed to.
“Kirk to Doctor McCoy, report to my quarters.”
“What’s wrong? I told you to check in with me hours ago,” McCoy said, scolding. “Are you having any symptoms?”
Kirk paused. “It’s...not me.”
There was a pause on the line. Only breathing. “I’ll be right there,” McCoy said tightly.
“Jim, I am not...permanently damaged. There is no need to concern the doctor.” The wobble in Spock’s voice stole a great deal of credibility away from his statement.
“But you would have been, wouldn’t you?” Kirk said, glaring at him. He narrowed his eyes at Spock, lying on his bed, clinging to consciousness by his fingernails. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
Spock blinked, then looked away. Shame . Kirk immediately felt like a heel.
Kirk sat down on the edge of the bed. Spock looked like he expected to be scolded, like he knew he’d let emotion get in the way and was expecting to be called out on it. No matter how long they served together, or how close they became, that expression never changed. Kirk sighed, knowing he would have to take the lead on this one. Kirk put a hand on the other side of Spock, and leaned close. Spock’s eyes went wide.
“Spock,” Kirk said gently, feeling like he was peeling layers off his heart, “What would I do without you?”
If you can’t think about yourself, think about me.
Spock’s lips parted. He stared at Kirk like he’d just pulled the universe out of his pocket. “Jim,” he said quietly, intimately. “It is not my intention for you to need to learn the answer to that question.” His eyebrows came together in a sharp V. “But it is surprisingly pleasing to hear.”
Kirk let out a breath of laughter. The light in his mind was bright and sweet and he looked down at Spock ruefully, thinking about how much he adored him.
He stopped abruptly. Spock had a look of shock on his face, like he’d heard what Kirk had been thinking as clear as if Kirk had whispered it in his ear. Then, for just a moment, the shock changed to something else. For a split second, he watched Spock longing for him. It was so clear, it felt like something had caught in Kirk’s throat. Then it was gone, and all he saw was placid Vulcan control.
Kirk felt vaguely like someone just punched him.
McCoy picked precisely that moment to walk through the door. He was already talking before the door had completely opened. “Jim, I can’t be the last person to know about these things, it’s-” He stopped dead just inside the door. He was looking past Kirk, at Spock on the bed.
“Spock,” he said, much more gently.
Kirk glanced back at Spock, rattled, new possibilities clanging around in his head. Somewhere, somehow, he’d made a critical error in his evaluation of Spock’s opinion on their relationship.
McCoy stepped close, and he shoved the thoughts aside. Spock first.
Kirk stood up so McCoy could get to his patient, a little unnerved by how gentle he was about it. If McCoy was treating a patient like they were breakable it was usually because something was already broken.
“All right, let’s have a look at you,” McCoy said. He threw a stern glance Kirk’s way, and Kirk withdrew, wandering over to his desk to give them a small portion of privacy.
Bones was talking under his breath to Spock, but Kirk could recognize his ‘I’m not mad I’m just disappointed’ tone. Spock said something McCoy didn’t like, which wasn’t unusual. Bones raised his voice a bit, sounding frustrated.
“I’m working in the dark here already, Spock, I don’t need you making this harder. What about the captain-”
Kirk turned his head sharply.
“-did you think about the risk to-” Kirk took half a step toward them and McCoy noticed. He gave Kirk a dirty look and then turned back to Spock, lowering his voice again.
Kirk let out a breath through his nose and glared at the wall. They whispered to each other for a few moments before the inevitable disagreement brought the volume up again.
“Doctor, I am well aware, if you would please-” Spock’s voice cut off abruptly with the sound of a hypospray. Kirk turned just in time to see Spock’s look of outrage.
“You are disgracefully overstepping your...authority…” Spock went limp on the bed. McCoy stood up, tucking the hypo back in his kit and looking just a little bit smug.
Kirk gave him a bit of starch. “Was that really necessary?” he gestured at the bed.
McCoy scoffed. When he saw Kirk wasn’t laughing he sobered up.
“Jim you know as well as I do that he won’t sleep until he has to, and not even then. He definitely won’t sleep if I drag him down to sickbay, he’ll be too busy arguing with me over why I should let him leave.” McCoy pointed at Kirk’s chest. “I tried it your way, and surprise surprise, it just made things worse. So, you two are going to stick close to each other, get some rest, and allow me to monitor you until I decide it’s safe for you to be on duty.”
“-Bones nothing. This is my job, Jim, and I don’t get paid to sit on my hands,” McCoy said. “Now, I will be back in an hour to check Spock’s readings. Are you gonna cooperate or am I gonna need another hypospray?”
“You’ve made your point, doctor.” Kirk folded his arms across his chest and looked at the floor. He inclined his head at Spock. “Is he going to be all right?”
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” McCoy said.
Kirk didn’t like that response. McCoy didn’t seem to care.
He pointed his finger at Kirk’s face. “One hour,” he said. “And you’ll call me if anything changes.” McCoy turned from him, walking out of the door.
The room was suddenly very quiet. Kirk watched Spock sleep for a moment. He looked worn out and fragile in a way that Kirk had seen once or twice on particularly bad missions, and always hated. Seeing Spock like that always felt like failure. It was his job to protect his crew, and ethical or not, deep down he felt that it was even more important to protect Spock.
Kirk sat on the edge of the bed. It wasn’t a particularly big bed; Even as captain, cabin space was at a premium. They would have to make do. This certainly wasn’t the smallest space they’d ever had to curl up in together. He kicked his boots off and lay back as best he could, easing Spock over onto his side. He tucked himself up close at his back, thinking about that first sight of his hand and Spock’s hand, tied together. If he concentrated he could still feel something, glowing warm at the back of his mind. He wondered what it might turn into, what Spock wasn’t telling him.
It was becoming clear that Spock hadn’t been telling him quite a bit.
Kirk reached up and ran his fingers back through Spock’s hair, sighing. He hooked his arm over Spock’s shoulder and leaned over him a little.
“You know, if you’d said something, I would have done something.” He patted Spock’s shoulder. “But then I suppose that goes both ways, doesn’t it,” he added ruefully.
Spock stirred slightly under his hands, but made no comment. Kirk allowed that he was leading the witness in this case and should probably adjourn.
He hadn’t intended to sleep, in fact he didn’t recall falling asleep at all. But when he woke up to McCoy’s hand on his shoulder, he had a vague sense that McCoy had been there a few times already.
“Bones...what?” he muttered, squinting.
“Easy, I’m not taking him anywhere,” McCoy soothed. Kirk frowned at him. That was an odd thing for McCoy to say. Kirk was about to ask about that when he realized he was pretty much wrapped around his first officer, holding tight.
“Oh,” he said, pulling back, fighting with the urge to just lay there and sleep.
“Shhh, Jim-” McCoy said quietly, holding up his scanner as if Kirk would have any idea what it said. “You two are doing just fine, your readings are looking great. I’m gonna give you until morning, ok? I’ll be back at 0800.”
Kirk was not processing correctly, but he got that he was allowed to sleep.
“Mmmm,” Kirk said, pushing his face into the back of Spock’s neck. The thing between them was humming and close and so much better than it had been when Spock had stumbled into his quarters. He heard Bones laugh softly, felt him pat Kirk’s arm.
“That’s the idea,” Bones said, and then Kirk wasn’t hearing anything.
He woke all at once when Spock stirred in his arms. He lifted his head with a grumble, slightly offended that he was being shifted around when he was so comfortable.
“Captain,” Spock said cautiously. His voice was slightly muffled by the arm Kirk had flung over his face.
Kirk leaned back, retrieving his arm and putting a little space between them. He rubbed his eyes, yawning. “Mr. Spock,” he managed, his voice slightly mangled mid-yawn. “Feeling improved?”
Spock rolled onto his back, his hair eschew. He looked about ten thousand times better than he had. Who knew cuddling could be an effective treatment for anything.
“I feel…” Spock hesitated, and Kirk suddenly had the intensely strange sensation that Spock was poking around at something in Kirk’s head. Like he was testing it for cracks, or something. Spock raised both eyebrows. “...quite well,” he finished, sounding a bit surprised.
Kirk made a pleased ‘hmm’ sound.
Spock stared at Kirk’s face as if he was searching for something. Spock had the look of a man who didn’t want to assume anything, but wanted to hope for everything. Kirk smothered a smile. He was tempted to ask him for a report on the situation as it stood between them, just to hear his response.
“We’re under medical orders,” he said instead. “It seems as though we need to regard ourselves as a pair, for the moment.”
Spock stared at him for a second with quiet intensity.
“So our situation has not changed,” Spock said.
Kirk let out a breath of laughter, soft and sweet and surprised. Spock relaxed.
“Are you going to be all right with the way things currently stand? Is it…” Kirk hesitated, “healthy? For the two of us to permanently be-” he tapped the side of his head with his index finger.
Spock was looking at him in a way Kirk recognized. His ‘Jim Kirk has surpassed my expectations again’ expression. Over the years it had faded from a slightly insulting level of shock into an increasing amount of respect. The change was a bit of an ego boost.
“It is,” Spock said. “If anything, it is likely to improve my wellbeing. Maintaining a connection such as this is a natural state for Vulcans.”
Kirk frowned. “If it’s healthy, then why didn’t you ever ask anyone-”
“-It would not have been appropriate,” Spock said quickly. “A connection such as this is not done with friends, in the human sense of the word.”
Kirk propped himself up on one elbow. “Not with friends in the human sense...” Kirk narrowed his eyes a little, working it out. “What about friendship in the Vulcan sense of the word?”
There was the shock. Spock looked like Kirk had just pulled a rabbit out of the warp drive. Kirk’s ego was going to have to survive the blow. “In that case,” Spock cleared his throat, obviously thrown, “It would have been appropriate.”
There was a truth suddenly hanging between them that Kirk could feel in his bones. “You could have asked me,” Kirk said with quiet confidence. It was not a reproof. It was a statement of fact.
“I could have asked you,” Spock agreed. There was something raw in his voice. He pushed himself up on one elbow, and the tension in the room wound tight. Spock lowered his voice. “Once, I asked you for more than I had the right to ask anyone. After what I had done, I could not ask for more.”
Kirk slowly let out a breath, and let himself think of that one night, years ago, when Spock had come to him. In the end, it had been terrible for both of them in different ways. Kirk wasn’t all that fond of sleeping with anyone who was so ashamed and half-mad with pain and confusion that they got no joy out of it. He’d never seen anyone hate themselves so much for what was, in his mind, a deeply tender act. Afterward, Spock had never given him any indication that he felt anything more than a sadly desperate gratitude for Kirk’s help and discretion. Spock’s lack of self-control had cut him to the quick, and Kirk loved him enough put the evening out of his mind and move on.
He’d never even considered that Spock was tearing himself to pieces over what he thought he’d done to Kirk. It was so obvious he felt like smacking himself.
Spock met Kirk’s eyes, and Kirk could see that longing so clearly he couldn’t imagine how he ever could have missed it.
Kirk leaned forward and kissed Spock full on the mouth.
He still tasted the same.
Spock made a small noise, against his mouth, against his teeth. Spock tensed for a second, and just when Kirk thought he’d made a huge and terrible error, Spock let out a breath of air through his nose and pulled him close. For a moment it was delicious and fierce and everything anyone, in the dark of their quarters late at night, could have quietly dreamed of. Kirk could taste that longing in Spock’s mouth, and wondered if Spock could taste it in his.
He pulled back, an inch of space between them. Spock’s breath was warm on his face.
“Are you all-”
“Is this acceptable-”
Kirk stopped speaking, and so did Spock. Their eyes met for a silent moment, acknowledging their similarity of thought. Kirk let out a breath of laughter.
“I am a fool,” Spock said softly, and kissed him. He curled his hand around the back of Kirk’s neck, pulling him in, and Kirk’s brain was suddenly alight with warmth. Spock kissed like he was starved for it. It felt marvelous.
Spock got a leg in between Kirk’s knees and pushed himself up, rolling over and kissing Kirk back onto the bed. He was hungry about it, demanding. Like this was something he’d waited for too long to be patient about it.
Spock insinuated himself between Kirk’s thighs, his weight heavy and pleasing. Kirk had his legs open so fast he didn’t have half a second to consider how he felt about being manhandled so efficiently. Then Spock took both of his hands, threaded their fingers together, and pinned him to the bed. Spock felt very close, all of a sudden. That warm place in his mind was electric with possibility.
Kirk squeezed his hands and Spock shivered, closing his eyes. Spock pressed down with his hips, his arousal a hard tent in the fabric of his uniform pants. He adjusted himself slightly until their erections were pressed against each other. Kirk immediately decided that Spock could do whatever the hell he wanted.
Kirk put his feet flat on the bed and arched up, grinding into him. Spock made a slightly choked sound into Kirk’s mouth and pulled away, sitting back on his heels. Before Kirk could even react to that, Spock grabbed him behind the knees and hauled Kirk right up into his lap. Kirk let out a sharp breath, suddenly splayed open and shockingly vulnerable.
The hard line of Spock’s erection was pushing obviously against Kirk’s ass, almost like a question. Spock froze, as if he’d just realized what he’d done, what he’d just effectively brought to the table. They had done a lot during Spock’s pon farr, but not that. Spock suddenly looked uncertain. His grip on Kirk’s thighs loosened. The tension was thick.
“Jim,” Spock said and swallowed, sounding very unlike himself. “Would…”
“Absolutely,” Kirk said instantly, hungry and impatient.
Spock wasn’t expecting that. His hands slid around Kirk’s thighs, his thumbs pressing up against the pulse point at Kirk’s femoral artery. He had a slightly stubborn look on his face, like he needed things to be absolutely clear. “It would be agreeable to you-”
Kirk lifted his head off the bed and glared at Spock for making him repeat himself. “Absolutely,” he said definitively. Spock stared at him for a beat.
It was as if they’d both given some signal. Simultaneously, they started tearing at their clothes. Spock ripped his uniform shirt over his head, catching his chin on the neckline for a second in his haste and struggling with the fabric. Kirk put a heel against the blanket and used it to scoot himself back so he would have enough room to get his pants off. He fumbled with the fastenings, registering that Spock had just kicked one of his boots off, hitting the far wall with a thud. Kirk paused, remembered they were missing something vital. He twisted on the bed, kicking out of his pants and underwear while reaching for his nightstand; He almost ended up on the floor. Kirk heard Spock’s second boot hit the wall as he quickly rifled through his things.
Spock’s hand had just curled around his ankle when Kirk turned back to him, holding up a little tube like a prize. Wordlessly, Kirk tossed it to Spock. He snatched it out of the air so casually it was almost like it had been choreographed. Both of them functioned on the exact same wavelength so often, there was nothing about it that seemed strange. It didn’t have anything to do with telepathy; It was just how they operated.
Spock flipped it in his hand, briefly examined the label. He raised his eyebrows. He looked rather impressed, in a reserved vulcan way. That particular brand was just about the best -and most expensive-that credits could buy.
Kirk flashed him a grin. “You should see my paycheck. I get hazard pay, you know.”
Spock popped the top off and poured some into his hand. “I will be certain to pen a memo to Starfleet Command about how their payment structure negatively incentivizes caution in their command staff.” He tapped his fingers together, testing the viscosity of the gel, and seemed pleased with it.
Kirk looked down at Spock’s erection, and licked his lips before he could think to stop the impulse.
Spock noticed, and his expression darkened a little. It was sexy as hell. Spock reached out, just lightly caressing him with the flat of his palm as he slid his hand up Kirk’s body. Kirk pressed his head back against the blankets. Spock’s hand stopped at Kirk’s stomach, and he shifted his position slightly. Spock smoothed his thumb over Kirk’s bellybutton and gave Kirk a significant look.
Kirk nodded, mouth open. He bent his legs a little more, opened them wider. Spock stopped and stared at him, looking a bit stunned by the sight of him. After a moment, Spock leaned down and lightly kissed his stomach. It was almost tender. Surprised, Kirk reached down and ran his hand through Spock’s hair. Spock lifted his head and met Kirk’s eyes. His face was so close to Kirk’s erection that Kirk could feel his breath. Kirk was rapidly getting desperate.
Spock slipped his hand down and stroked Kirk behind his balls. And then further back. Kirk made a high, needy sound in the back of his throat that he would deny to his dying day. Starship captains did not whimper. Spock seemed to take no note of it; He didn’t hurry, just kept touching Kirk gently. When he finally slipped his finger inside, warm and slick with lubrication, Kirk was so relaxed there was barely any resistance at all.
“Mmm, just there,” Kirk sighed, pleased. Spock pushed in further, working him slowly, and let his head drop onto Kirk’s thigh with a shuddering breath. Kirk suddenly recalled how sensitive Spock’s hands were. It was a devastatingly arousing thought. Experimentally, he tightened up a little.
Spock choked and pulled his hand free, leaning forward heavily, bracketing Kirk on either side with his arms. He had to take a second to gather himself, which Kirk enjoyed watching quite a bit. Casually, he felt along the bedspread for the tube Spock had set aside.
“Unless,” Spock had to stop to clear his throat, “Unless you desire for this to be an extremely brief encounter, I suggest you do not do that again.”
“It’s awfully tempting,” Kirk replied smoothly, with a flash of charm. “Maybe you should try putting something else in there, to be safe.”
Spock gave him a heated look, leaned down to kiss him. No one had ever accused Kirk of lacking charm. Spock’s mouth froze against his when Kirk took Spock’s dick in hand, slicking it up. Spock shut his eyes, breathing quietly over Kirk’s face. Kirk suddenly felt like Spock was leaning into the brightness connecting them, making it crackle and glow, like a campfire on a dark night.
“Oh,” he said, suddenly boneless with contentment, “that’s…”
Turnabout was fair play, and Spock had been distracting him. He positioned himself, and just gently, he pressed inside. Spock rested a hand lightly on Kirk’s inner thigh and paused so that Kirk could get used to the feel of him. After a moment he rocked back and forth carefully, testing how relaxed Kirk was. Of course Spock would be a polite lover.
Kirk looked up. Spock’s attention was laser-focused upon him. There was a quiet certainty on his face Kirk had never seen, not across a chessboard, not in a firefight, never. The idea came to Kirk that Spock had thought about doing this with him. He had considered this, pictured this, and in all likelihood had set it aside as something that would never happen.
Silently, Kirk hooked his heels around the back of Spock’s thighs. He pulled a bit, lifting his ass up, urging Spock forward without saying a word.
Spock lowered his head a little and pushed forward, then back. He took his time. Spock read the rhythm Kirk needed flawlessly and Kirk’s muscles yielded, as simple as breathing.
“Ah,” Spock sighed and began to move in earnest. Slowly first, then with more force.
“That’s good,” Kirk murmured. Spock snapped his hips precisely and Kirk fumbled for his shoulders, near desperate all at once. “That’s excellent ,” Kirk ground out, gritting his teeth.
Spock took him vigorously then, hard distinct strokes, driving him into the mattress. Kirk grabbed at his arms, at his back, stunned mindless with how good it felt. Spock let Kirk pull him, leaning closer, fitting them tightly together. The angle changed, and his rhythm stuttered. Spock thrust again, and it felt staggeringly good.
There was barely any air between them; The world felt warm and close. Spock caught his mouth in a kiss and it felt like he’d reached in and cupped Kirk’s heart in his hands. The connection between them was glowing in the best way. He stretched out into it and Spock went gentle and liquid against him, like he could feel it too.
Fumbling, Kirk let go of Spock’s back and slid his hand down between them. Spock noticed and leaned back a little, hiking Kirk’s legs further up, giving him room. Kirk started stroking himself in time with Spock’s thrusts, started making little gasping sounds with every push of Spock’s hips.
“Jim,” Spock managed, his voice tight. Kirk could tell just by the sound of him that he wasn’t going to last much longer. Spock buried himself hard inside Kirk with a groan, and Kirk choked on air. He was going to come, he was going to-
The comm unit by his bed chirped.
“Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
Spock froze, his eyes suddenly huge. Kirk gritted his teeth and almost gave himself an aneurysm trying to stop. It was too late. This was happening. He saw understanding on Spock’s face a split second before Kirk flung his hand out and smacked the comm.
“Kirk here,” he snarled, and came all over himself. Everything tightened up when he did and Spock- who had been considerately trying to pull out- froze above him, caught.
“...sir, are you all right?”
Spock leaned heavily on his hands, gritting his teeth. He made a fist in the blanket, looking like he was fighting himself.
“Yes,” Kirk snapped. He couldn’t believe this. “What is it?”
Above him Spock came, straining desperately, but silently.
“We have a distress call coming in. The Lexington has had some kind of malfunction in their life support system, they’re requesting assistance.”
Kirk tensed. Spock made a memorable expression. “Get everyone back to the ship,” Kirk said, trying not to pant over the line. Spock was breathing hard but took care to keep quiet. Kirk reached up and curled his hand around the back of Spock’s head, a silent gesture of gratitude.
“Tell Scotty and Ensign Tanner to grab everything they can’t live without, there’s no telling when we’ll be back.” His fingers scraped pleasantly through the short hair at Spock’s nape, and Spock turned his head, pressing his lips to the inside of Kirk’s wrist.
“Mr. Scott won’t be happy, sir,” said the obviously chatty ensign on duty at communications, determined to ruin his life. Kirk didn’t immediately recognize the voice, but when he found out who it was he was going to strangle them.
Spock withdrew from him carefully, and Kirk pressed his lips together to keep himself from making any incriminating sounds as he did it. He took a steadying breath.
“We are leaving this system very shortly, ensign, so I suggest you get to work,” he said brusquely. “I’ll be up in a minute.” Kirk hit the button again, signing out. He looked down at their scattered clothes. At Spock sitting on the bed, bracing himself on his hands. At the come all over Kirk’s stomach. He hit the button again. “Make that five minutes.”
Kirk dug an elbow into the bed and shoved himself up. Spock looked like he’d lost some IQ points, and Kirk’s ego decided that was definitely something to be proud of.
“Mr. Spock,” Kirk said with a laugh in his voice, “it seems we’re needed on the bridge.”
Spock rubbed at his face, blinking hard. “Evidently,” Spock replied, his voice very dry. He leaned over the edge of the bed, and came up with Kirk’s uniform shirt. Kirk took it from him, and then didn’t let go of his hand. He spread his fingers over Spock’s palm, then looked up. Spock’s expression was warm. Kirk leaned in and kissed him, gentle and sweet.
He pulled back. “You all right?” Kirk asked, his voice intimate.
Spock looked soft and rumpled and completely marvelous. “A great deal better than I thought I would ever have the opportunity to be,” he replied frankly.
That bright space in Kirk’s mind was humming with satisfaction.
“Seems we’re of one mind on the subject,” Kirk said with a grain of mischief. Spock raised an eyebrow, and Kirk laughed.
“Dibs on the head,” Kirk said, swinging around to put his feet on the floor. He walked right past Spock’s slight frown of confusion, letting his hand trail over Spock’s shoulder. Before he shut the bathroom door he wet a washcloth and tossed it Spock’s way. Because he was a gentleman.
When he got out Spock already had his pants and boots back on, and was holding his shirt out in front of himself, frowning at it. It was noticeably wrinkled.
Kirk started yanking his clothes back on. Spock shook his shirt out forcefully, then pulled it over his head.
“Go on ahead, I’ll catch up,” Kirk said, tugging on a boot. “Make sure Tanner gives you everything she has on those cubes, I don’t want her to bring up anything from that ship unless you think it’s safe.”
One of the things that pleased Spock most was knowing his opinions were valuable, that he was trusted. After today, Kirk had several more items for his ‘things that make Spock happy’ list.
Spock inclined his head. “Sir,” he said, sounding gratified, and moved to leave. His shirt was still wrinkled in the back.
“-and Spock,” Kirk called. Spock turned, polite and efficient and terribly pleased with himself.
Kirk tapped at his forehead. “We’re going to talk more about this, when we have time.”
Spock tilted his head in agreement, suddenly soft and serious. “All the time I have left is yours, captain.”
Kirk stared at him, momentarily strangled silent by his own heart.
Never, and always.
“Spock,” he said softly. “You’d better get out of here, or I’m going to drag you back onto this bed.”
Spock gave him a look of such pure affection Kirk almost fell on the floor in shock. “Perhaps later,” he said, damn near glowing at Kirk. He walked out, and Kirk scrambled to follow.