The chronometer beeped at Kirk persistently, rousing him from sleep and chasing away dreams of undiscovered worlds. He resisted the pull to reality, and gripped his pillow tighter, as though burying his face deeper into the fabric would do away with his responsibilities. It worked for a moment until he remembered what exactly was at stake if he were to stay in bed: the fate of an entire planet's ecosystem.With that thought he bolted upright and staggered blearily to his feet. "Fuck," he cursed. Despite his reluctance he still managed to change into his science blues and throw on his boots in record time, rushing out the door of his quarters before realizing he was still partially blind. With another curse, he turned back and snatched his glasses off the table beside his bed.
He then made his way quickly towards the turbolift and headed in the direction of the science labs. Kirk assumed Sulu would already be working; he was nearly as bad Kirk when it came to depriving himself of sleep when they had a job to do. Kirk himself had been so wrapped up in their project the night before that he hadn't paid attention to the time. He had only thought to look at the clock when he caught his head starting to nod off, and was shocked to discover that it was 0200 in the morning, way past the end of his shift and only four hours until the beginning of his next one.
When the lift reached his floor, he walked quickly down the hall and entered the labs, spotting Sulu working diligently at their station. Sulu gave him a knowing smile when Kirk immediately headed towards the replicator in the room, ordering coffee with an unreasonable amount of espresso and watching impatiently as the screen processed his request and spat out a steaming cup of caffeine. Afterwards, he reached their station, strewn with various instruments and vials with varying colored liquids. A baby-pink, star-shaped flower with a royal blue stem erupted from a pot in the middle of the mess on the table. It would have been a beautiful sight had the leaves not been withered and brittle, the decay of death creeping down from the edges of the petals and effectively eating away at the remaining stem. Sulu looked frustrated despite the smile he was still giving Kirk.
"Lose track of time again last night Kirk?" Sulu teased. At Kirk's sheepish grin, he laughed. "How much sleep did you manage to get this time? Five hours? Four?"
"More like three and a half," Kirk shrugged, and ignored the exasperated head shake Sulu sent his way. He attempted to organize his surrounding materials and took out his PADD to look over the notes he had taken from the past few days.
"You're worse than I am, and I thought I was bad. You know Dr. McCoy is going to kill you, right? You'll be dead."
"That's normally what 'killing' means, Sulu, and Bones couldn't kill me if he tried. He'd miss my pretty face too much," Kirk smirked. "Besides, what Bones doesn't know won't hurt him."
"You say that like he won't take one look at your face and know exactly what you've been up to." Sulu pointed out, using his tricorder to scan the plant in front of them. He frowned at the unchanged results.
"I'll tell him I went to bed on time like a good little boy. It'll be fine." Kirk waved his hand dismissively, measuring out two different chemicals and mixing them together in a beaker. He watched with satisfaction as the mixture turned from a forest green color to aquamarine as he suspected it would.
"He'll see right through you. The bags under your eyes are darker than a black hole, buddy."
"He's not my mother, he can't give me a curfew," Kirk said defensively.
"Good luck telling him that. He could relieve you of duty."
"He wouldn't dare."
Sulu chuckled then fell silent as they both turned their focus fully to the task at hand. About a week ago the Enterprise had come across a distress signal from the planet Ceryleia, requesting immediate help with an emergency situation. The Enterprise flew to their aid, and when they arrived, it was planet-wide chaos. A nearby star had exploded and sent a wave of radiation into the atmosphere and across the surface that was slowly but effectively killing off all plant-life on the planet. Within days a numerous amount of crops and foliage had withered away, and mass panic was starting to spread among the planet's inhabitants as they realized that if something wasn't done soon, they would have to leave their plant or die.
Kirk and Sulu were attempting to reverse the damaging effects of the radiation but were having little success. It was to the point where Kirk needed to pull a miracle out of his ass but he wasn't Scotty, and he was nearing his wit's end. He refused to accept that there wasn't a solution to this problem; failure simply wasn't an option. He had spent most of the last week in the labs, spending sleepless nights obsessing over what would happen if he didn't succeed, if he couldn't rise to the occasion. He didn't believe in no-win scenarios, and he would be damned if this was to be the first time that philosophy would fail him.
He picked up the compound he had just mixed and took a deep breath, steeling himself for the likelihood that it wasn't going to work. It was, after all, a mixture he had made purely out of instinct, a hunch that itched at the back of his mind until he had finally decided to scratch it. There was no factual evidence that it should work, but his gut told him otherwise, and they were running out of time. No harm would come from trying another experiment that might yet again fail when they were no closer to solving their problem than when they had started a week ago. "What the hell," he muttered, and dumped half of the mixture onto the plant and into the surrounding soil.
Sulu looked at him curiously while Kirk held his breath. He vaguely registered the door to the labs opening and closing but didn't look to see who had joined them. At first, nothing happened, and Kirk's shoulders sagged in what was almost defeat. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose and sighed, turning away and was startled to see Captain Spock standing just behind them, watching with an impassive expression. Their eyes met and Kirk opened his mouth to address his captain when Sulu let out a loud whoop behind them, and Kirk spun back around in surprise.
He saw Sulu looking down at his tricorder in amazement, scanning the flower with an incredulous smile as the readings beeped positively. Kirk gaped, his mouth dropping open as he glimpsed with his own eyes the flower miraculously healing itself, petals growing bigger and brighter, the stem elongating. It began to give off a sweet aroma that Kirk found he enjoyed, and he reached out to inspect the plant with his hands, fingers running over the healthy leaves and petals in awe. He could no longer find any signs of decay. He glanced at Sulu disbelievingly, and Sulu returned his look. "I can't believe that worked," Kirk laughed.
"You did it," Sulu responded wonderingly. "Holy shit, you did it!" He clapped Kirk on the back hard, and Kirk staggered a bit but was still grinning ear to ear.
"Well done, Lieutenants," a voice said over their shoulders, and Kirk looked back to see the captain once more. He was still standing with his hands clasped behind his back, face expressionless, though Jim liked to think he could see a hint of approval in the way his slanted eyebrows were set.
Kirk willed his face not to flush at the praise. "Thank you, sir. We tried our best."
"Lt. Kirk especially. He's been working non-stop on this project, sir," Sulu told the captain, nudging Kirk in the side when Kirk glared at him. Normally he would jump at the chance to playfully boast about his achievements, but not in front of the captain, who he wanted to impress, and be respected by in return. He was already known for his smart mouth, and while he and the captain were not on bad terms, he certainly didn't want to be. They weren't on any terms, really, and Kirk usually knew when he could press his luck, and when he should keep his mouth shut. The fate of a planet seemed important enough to skip the antics.
"It was a joint effort," Kirk corrected. "I couldn't have done it all by myself."
"You basically did. Nothing I tried was even close to working." Sulu insisted. Kirk gave him a long look, not able to figure out why Sulu was shoving him into the spotlight.
"It was just a hunch," Kirk shrugged, looking anywhere but at the captain.
"Regardless of how you reached your conclusion, the outcome is most favorable. I am sure the inhabitants of Ceryleia will be immeasurably gratified to know of your role in the proceedings, Lt. Kirk, as will Starfleet Command."
"No, no," Kirk shook his head. "That's really not necessary. My discovery was made out of sheer dumb luck. No reason to blow things out of proportion."
"It is illogical to reject praise when it is earned," Captain Spock stated curiously, lifting an eyebrow in Kirk's direction.
"I stumbled across the answer by accident."
"Kirk, you've exhausted yourself all week in order to fix things, and you did. Be content with that." Sulu clapped his hand on Kirk's shoulder.
"Your logic is sound, Lt. Sulu. I suggest you bring the cure to Dr. McCoy and begin mass production of the serum. We must provide samples to the surface of the planet as soon as possible."
"Aye, aye, Captain," Sulu said, saluting the captain. He picked up the vial with the remaining serum and Kirk watched him leave the lab, the automatic door swishing shut behind him.
His absence left Kirk alone with the captain, which should have been intimidating but surprisingly wasn't. He turned to look at the Vulcan and was unsettled to find him already scrutinizing Kirk. He cleared his throat. "Is there anything else I can help you with, Captain?"
If Kirk didn't know any better about Vulcans, he would swear he saw the captain's eyes drag up and down his body in half a second before he responded. "No, lieutenant. You are to report to the mess hall for nourishment, then retreat to your quarters for some much needed rest. It is evident that you have been neglecting your personal health, and I expect all of my officers to preform at peak efficiency, which you cannot do without adequate care for your body." He must have seen Kirk open his mouth, ready to argue, because he continued speaking without pause. "That is an order, lieutenant."
Kirk abruptly closed his mouth and sighed. He hadn't eaten anything yet today, or yesterday if he remembered correctly. The thought of food made his stomach growl audibly, and the captain raised his eyebrow in response. Kirk laughed at his expression, causing the captain to look taken aback and, if Kirk looked closely enough, slightly pleased. "Yes, sir," he acknowledged, copying Sulu's gesture of a salute. He began to clean up his work station and was confused to see the captain still standing there when he was finished. "Captain?" Kirk asked.
"I will accompany you to the mess hall. I have been informed by Dr. McCoy multiple times of your tendency to ignore orders you deem irrelevant or unimportant, especially when concerning yourself."
Kirk did flush at that statement. Being so directly called out by the captain himself should have been humbling, but Kirk simply shrugged and said, "The rules should apply to other people sometimes."
He expected a lecture in response. Instead, the captain just fixed him with another scrutinizing look and gestured for Kirk to lead the way. Kirk sighed under his breath and started out the door. The captain fell into step easily beside him, and they walked in companionable silence for a few moments. Kirk wondered at how little effort it took to interact with the captain despite not having much experience in doing so. He was assigned to the Enterprise as second head of the science division, and he spent most of his time down in the labs. Due to his responsibilities there, he didn't have much interaction with the bridge crew. Lt. Commander Burken, head of the science department, dealt with the captain directly for the projects that demanded his attention, and tended to the scientific responsibilities on the bridge.
It didn't bother Kirk that he wasn't technically in charge, though he had a history of butting heads with authority figures. He preferred to be hands on with his work anyway. Although, ever since being assigned to the Enterprise, Kirk had admired the captain. Captain Spock was not only the first and only Vulcan officer in Starfleet, but also became the youngest captain of the Federation's best flagship. It was nothing short of remarkable, and it was impossible not to respect his achievements. Kirk didn't always agree with the decisions the captain made, sometimes acting too logically for Kirk's very humanly impulsive nature to approve of, but it wasn't his place to question the captain's authority. Besides, it seemed like the ship's chief medical officer gave the captain enough grief for his rational nature that Kirk didn't think his input was necessary. What would Kirk have to say that would interest the captain, anyways?
Kirk was so lost in thought that he tripped over his own feet, stumbling sideways and throwing out a random arm to catch his balance. The captain grabbed his arm firmly and steadied him, bringing them into close contact, making Kirk's eyes open wide in astonishment. He knew Vulcans liked their personal space. Captain Spock let go of his arm as soon as Kirk regained his equilibrium and acted as though nothing had happened, ignoring Kirk's clumsiness and his own tactile response. Kirk straightened his glasses and tried not to stare as they continued on their way silently.
They entered the mess hall and Kirk made his way over to the replicators, choosing a meal at random and grabbing the proffered tray. He watched in amazement as the captain selected a salad and followed Kirk over to a table. They sat down together and Kirk didn't miss the stares thrown their way by the other people in the mess. They ate silently together for a few moments before the captain broke the silence. "You have been silent the majority of our time spent together. Are you bothered by the fact that I accompanied you?"
"What?" Kirk gaped, taken aback. "No! I'm just... surprised, I guess. I would think you'd have better things to do than sit here with me, especially considering the crisis on the planet below us."
"Dr. McCoy and Lt. Sulu are more than capable of handling the serum's distribution to the planet's surface. As first officer, Commander Uhura will supervise any additional tasks until either Starfleet or the planetary council requests my presence. Until that moment arrives, I thought best to oversee your nutritional intake and escort you back to your quarters."
"Bones asked you to babysit me, didn't he?"
"Bones?" The captain asked, his eyebrows almost disappearing behind his bangs.
"Dr. McCoy. That's what I call him: old sawbones."
"Fascinating," the captain remarked. "He did request I see to your well-being while he is otherwise occupied. He made various unique threats that I will choose not to repeat."
Kirk laughed. "Of course he did. With all due respect, Captain, I think I can manage a bite to eat and trip to my quarters by myself. You know, if you have other responsibilities to attend to."
"As I have just stated, lieutenant, I do not."
"Alright then." Kirk went back to eating his food, which looked like some sort of sandwich filled with vegetables. He internally cursed Bones and his stupid medical override - he never let Kirk eat anything fun. Bones was constantly harping on him about what food he was eating, and when Kirk had initially ignored his medical advice, Bones had taken to programming the replicators with a diet regime specific to what he thought Kirk should be eating. Kirk could get around the programming, of course, and normally did, but with the captain keeping him company for this meal he thought it would be better to stay on the safe side of things and choke down a healthy selection. "Do you think the serum will be ready in time to fix things on the planet's surface?"
The captain gave one quick nod. "Indeed. I believe there will be ample time to administer the serum and remedy the adverse effects that radiation has caused the plant-life. There should be no need for planetary evacuation."
Kirk let out a sigh of relief. He had been fretting endlessly over the fate of the Ceryleian population for days. It was one of the reasons he hadn't been sleeping, plagued by thoughts of another planet's worth of civilizations starving, suffocating, dying, slowly dwindling into extinction. He was grateful for the small part he could play in preventing another devastating situation not unlike what happened on Tarsus IV. He shook his head to dispel the thoughts of that horrible place.
Captain Spock must have caught a glimpse of his dark expression however, because his slanted eyebrows dipped in slightly on his forehead, a small wrinkle of skin appearing between them. The captain looked ready to question his reaction, so Kirk launched into a ramble of facts concerning quadro-triticale and it's effects on tribbles in order to distract him. It seemed to work, and the captain contributed willingly to the discussion, despite neither of them saying anything of much importance. They finished their food and disposed of their trays, and took their leave.
Kirk wasn't really expecting the captain to escort him all the way back to the entrance of his quarters, but that's exactly what he did. They continued their comfortable conversation until they were standing in front of Kirk's cabin, and he realized with a jolt that he inexplicably didn't want to leave the captain's company. They stood outside Kirk's quarters awkwardly for a moment, conversation dying down as they both realized it was time for them to part ways. Interestingly enough, the captain made no move to walk away either, simply stood and stared at Kirk, waiting expectantly for him to say something. Kirk fumbled around in his head for something to say but was coming up empty, so instead he settled on a genuine smile. Exhaustion was starting to creep up on him, and he reached up to rub the back of his neck. "I guess this is my stop," he said.
"Indeed," the captain replied. "Get some rest, lieutenant. I will alert Dr. McCoy of your compliance and assure him of your well-being."
"Thank you, sir. Let me know if there's anything else I can help with."
The captain nodded in agreement, and Kirk opened the door to his cabin. He glanced over his shoulder as the door shut behind him, watching as the captain turned and walked back towards the turbolift. Kirk kicked off his boots and laid down on his bed, turning over the events of the day in his mind. He couldn't wrap his head around why the captain had taken an interest in him, but he wasn't complaining. He was still pondering those thoughts when his dreams overtook him, and he fell into a deep, desperately needed sleep.