"And where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler?"
"You, at his side, as if you've always been there and always will."
"Come on Spock, let's go mind the store."
Side by side and step for step they walked briskly through the corridors, the bright cleanliness of the ship a stark contrast to the ruddy sands of Vulcan below. It was like returning home after being in some place outside of reality. And if not for the slight ache at his throat Kirk might have wondered if it had happened at all.
The crew stepped aside for them as they always did when the captain and first officer walked through the ship, but their eye contact this time was different. Uncertain smiles, drawn brows, and wide-eyed glances are what met them instead of the smiles of respect and unabashed regard.
Kirk knew that what had happened on the planet would remain between he and his two friends for all time, but his putting their orders into abeyance to satisfy something personal for his first officer was clearly known all over the ship. Not to mention the plomeek soup incident.
He didn't need to look up at Spock's face to know the man would be as cool as steel and serene as the stars. He also wouldn't give his crew the impression that anything was out of the ordinary by looking up at his first officer.
Kirk held his head a bit higher and his shoulders relaxed as he let the entire affair wash past him. His position had been vindicated by Vulcan authority, and more importantly his friend's life was no longer in jeopardy.
Back to reality.
Nevertheless, he couldn't yet shake a feeling that all was not right in his small corner of the galaxy.
As they reached the turbolift two crewmembers literally parted the way for them, one of the women acknowledging with a pleasant "Captain," as she moved.
"Crewman," he responded with his captain's air. He saw her genuine smile as the doors closed behind them and with it came reassurance that all would be well on his ship.
"Bridge," he ordered as he activated the turbolift. He stopped himself short of looking up at Spock when he realized that behind the closed doors, in the privacy of the small tube his first officer's demeanor had changed. His frame had shrunk, his fingers moved nervously at his sides, and his lips were parted as he took in silent, quick breaths.
"Jim," Spock finally said, and the captain glanced up at him with an inquiring eye. The Vulcan's eyes remained on the wall of the lift. The seconds passed with each of Spock's breaths.
Suddenly, Spock's hand darted to the override controls and the turbolift slid to a smooth halt between decks two and one.
"Jim," he said again, this time turning his gaze.
Kirk slowly crossed his arms in front of him and looked up in mock confusion.
The facade of calm had slipped, and from the slight incline of his head and the brightness of his eyes Kirk knew that his friend was in conflict. Exactly how to address it was paramount.
Spock didn't speak again. As they regarded each other Kirk watched how with each breath the Vulcan seemed to struggle more against whatever illogical thought was in his mind. And among many possibilities, Kirk knew what was most likely. He uncrossed his arms and relaxed his stance.
"How about a game of chess in my quarters later, Spock?" he said with his most open smile, no captain's airs whatsoever motivating him.
Spock blinked, as if finally returning to reality himself. Slowly his posture straightened and his face began to relax into its usual ease.
"And don't even think about getting out of it. I want to continue my winning streak."
With one more blink Spock was back. He looked down at his captain with a fondness and gratitude only Kirk could recognize.
"You may try, Jim."
Their rapport continued in silence, the captain smiling up at his friend with his whole being. Kirk had once heard it said about himself that he could charm the stars out of the heavens, but he had no ulterior motive when he looked at his friend. And under such unbridled emotion Spock finally averted his gaze, seemingly embarrassed as the corners of his mouth most certainly curled upward.
Time passed slowly through their silent communication until a soft 'beep' alerted them that someone else wanted to use the turbolift.
Kirk lifted his hand to the controls, but a shift in Spock's demeanor gave him pause. The peace in his eyes had been darkened by doubt again. The Vulcan's eyes were on his, questioning, and impetuously Kirk reached forward and took hold of his friend's wrist as he had days ago. This time it was steady and cool, the pulse within strong and unhurried.
Spock slightly lifted his brow in question.
"Spock..." Kirk said, shaking his head slightly, "it's over. It's done. For me, it's done!" he insisted softly.
"Jim...Captain," Spock said, also shaking his head.
"Spock...I promise you. It's done."
The last was said with authority as well as compassion. Spock sighed silently, but Kirk barely breathed as he waited for his own reassurance now that he realized the depth to which his friend had been affected.
The 'beep' sounded again and Spock glanced to the controls, but Kirk only tightened his hold on Spock's wrist.
"We can talk it over during chess if you want," he finally offered, not wanting to risk the emotional stalemate that could go on for days if he made the wrong moves now.
Something like indecision rested heavy in Spock's eyes, and his gaze was on the wall over Kirk's shoulder. The captain felt his own heart rate begin to increase in worry but just as suddenly as before, the Vulcan seemed to arrive at a conclusion and he looked back at Kirk with an expression as close to his usual calm and control as the captain had seen in days.
"If you wish it. However, it...is not necessary."
Kirk breathed an audible sigh of relief and felt the tension go out of his shoulders. "Maybe...we should decide that when we get there." He was not nearly as confident as he had been before they stepped into the turbolift.
Spock lifted a brow. "Indeed."
The 'beep' sounded for the third time, followed immediately by the comm's whistle. Neither man moved to answer it.
Kirk breathed deep and like the fresh uniform he wore, called new authority into his voice. "Our ship is waiting."
For a moment he thought he saw indecision in Spock's eyes. But then the Vulcan surprised him by turning his own hand over and holding Kirk's wrist with matching strength. Kirk glanced down to see his friend's fingers holding firmly onto the gold braid of his uniform.
Before Kirk could react, Spock started the lift with his other hand and seconds later the doors opened onto the bridge. Staring into his first officer's face Kirk found suddenly he couldn't read the man. Reluctantly, he let go of his friend's wrist and Spock did likewise.
Kirk stepped onto the bridge and paused on the threshold. He felt Spock step out and stand next to him, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. The doors slid closed behind them.
The bridge officers weren't nearly so coy as the rest of the crew, and several sets of questioning eyes were fixed on the command officers. The two men glanced at each other, and then with unified authority they took their places. The atmosphere around them was thick and tense, filled with uncertainty. At least here, Kirk knew he could set things right.
"Ensign, what is our status?" he said, leaning back in his chair.
"We are on a direct course to the Altair system travelling at warp six," Chekov replied mechanically.
Kirk took another quick survey of everyone's faces as he swiveled to face the science station.
"Commander, how long until we arrive at Altair VI at our present speed?"
"Three-point-two light days, Captain."
"Will we make it in time for the inauguration?" he asked, turning his mind back to the mission.
"Will increasing our speed get us there in time?"
"We would need to sustain warp eight-point-two," Spock replied immediately.
Kirk looked back over his shoulder. "Lieutenant Uhura, inform Mr. Scott that he's going to have to give us warp eight-point-two or better."
"He won't be too happy about that, Sir," she said with a knowing smile.
Kirk returned the gesture and relaxed further into the chair. Wonderful, steady Uhura... "If he wants to complain...remind him it's his job."
As he swiveled around to front he caught the grins of his helmsman and navigator before they hurriedly turned back to their stations. He looked to the other stations and saw only the faithful regard of his officers. The bridge felt ordered and light once again.
"Mr. Sulu, increase speed to warp eight-point-two."
Soft footsteps alerted him to Spock's sudden, unnecessary presence at his side.
"Now departing Vulcan star system," Spock announced in monotone.
Kirk glanced up at his first officer. His face was impassive, staring straight ahead at the distortion of the stars on the viewscreen. But his message had been received loud and clear.
"Thank you Mr. Spock," he replied quietly.
There was no response, but after a moment Spock lifted his hand to rest it on the arm of the command chair.
Kirk decided now that he agreed with Spock, further discussion wasn't necessary.