Show time... hehe.
Title: Don't Stop Believing 4.1/?
Beta: secret_chord25 who rocks
Pairing: Kirk/Spock pre-slash
Warnings: It's tough in space?
Chapter summary: The Enterprise leaves Earth to begin its 5-year mission. It's a rocky start for the ship and for the most unlikely command team Starfleet has ever seen.
Notes: For detailed story summary/navigation/word count, please visit the Master Post.
Also, I wanted to say special thanks to lowcutjeans for infinite patience and steadfast encouragement.
6 months ago - Present time
‘Enterprise, we need a beam-out yesterday!’
The desperate words echo in Spock’s mind as he grips the sharp edges of the frozen rock, shifting his weight carefully and blinking rapidly in the icy wind. He can certainly sympathize with the sentiment now, as he tears his hands away from the ledge, one finger at a time, and leaves strips of his own skin as payment. The ledge is only one-point-two meters wide, and Spock needs to hold on, fighting with all his might against the cutting wind. Eight-point-three kilometers to the surface is too far to safely fall, should his hands let go.
It should not surprise Spock that the transporter booster’s magnetic seal activated on the very edge of the mountain ridge, just outside his reach. On the other hand, had it fallen down, he wouldn’t have had any hope of transporting either himself or the landing party deep down below him to the safety of the ship.
Slowly, he maneuvers himself closer to the device, which is pulsing with disquieting orange glow as it struggles to find the right frequency. It fails, time after time. Spock suppresses a sigh, gripping the sharp ridge of the rock with his knees, because he needs both of his hands now. Chekov had hoped that the booster would be able to operate independently, despite the crushing interference, but both Spock and Scott were under no delusions.
He is not wearing an EV suit, which would have hindered his motions. Nor does he wear any gloves, because it’s vital that his hands can be as flexible as possible to handle the delicate piece of equipment. There is nothing in his entire world right now other than wind, snow, and cold, and the distant sense of desperation sinking deeper with each labored breath because he might be too late.
Figures appear on the small screen, changing rapidly, and Spock knows that even one distraction will cost him the success of the mission and quite possibly the lives of the landing party. His mind is working feverishly, remembering, calculating, comparing, as he punches the commands in with numb fingers. Wide purple circles splash before his eyes, and he forces himself to concentrate with every ounce of will he has.
The booster blinks one last time, and the light turns green.
Spock would have sighed with relief, but every inhalation is painful, and he tries to take shallower breaths. He spent his youth conquering the Vulcan Forge; the violent nature of mountains should be well familiar. He curls into himself, trying to shield his face, his muscles rigid with cold and tension.
All he can do now is wait; he left Scott strict orders to beam up the landing party first. Indeed, the fact that Doctor McCoy has become the first serious casualty of their four-weeks-old mission is nothing but an example of the universe’s twisted sense of irony.
They started with routine check-ups of mining colonies of Fendara system, which went exceptionally well until the final round. Three miners were reported missing on one of the outer moons, and since beaming directly to the site proved impossible, Captain Kirk opted to send down a shuttle.
The hard stare Kirk had sent Spock’s way made Spock immediately forsake any arguments he might have had against the captain leading the mission. Their interaction remained tense, and Spock chose not to antagonize Kirk further over an unimportant matter.
He has regretted that decision many times since.
From the moment the distress call from the landing party had first reached them, there was nothing but a frenzied brainstorm on the bridge. Vague communications, reports of a crash, and grave injuries sustained by the Chief Medical Officer were all they had received. Spock had called an immediate briefing on the matter, which had produced nothing, save more frustration.
They could not send down another shuttle, and the transporters were useless. That was when Scott had said, ‘Too bad it’s not the sea; we coulda used lifeboat grid search.’ Vaguely familiar with nautical terms, Spock had asked him to clarify, and before Scott’s explanation was through, Spock was issuing orders.
They formed a chain in the end: the Enterprise; the shuttle grazing the atmosphere and maintaining a shaky orbit just outside the danger zone; and the landing party of one, which they calculated they should be able to beam down from the shuttle to the highest available spot in the supposed crash area. They didn’t know if the booster signal would be enough, or if they would be able to beam up anyone, including Spock, but they had to risk it.
Seconds or centuries slip by; Spock doesn’t know. He is still hanging, and while the situation is familiar – he has been in tight spots before – it is also new, because it’s always new; because being at the edge of dying doesn’t get old so quickly, and it will take many more times before it does, assuming he survives this one. Spock is holding on, thinking that his work has been anything but satisfactory during the last four weeks, and that if his plan fails to extract the captain and the landing party, he probably shouldn’t be rescued, either.
He cannot feel his feet, and the sharp pain in his hands has receded to a dumb pulse, faint and at the periphery of his perception. He waits. He does not know how to pray, and reflects on his own lack of faith in anything, unable to decide if it is regrettable or not.
He hasn’t reached a conclusion as the transporter beam finally seizes him.
The transporter room materializes around him slowly, and Spock blinks several times, overwhelmed by the sudden rush of warm air around him and the disappearance of wind. It is nothing short of a relief to draw in a breath that doesn’t threaten to tear his lungs to pieces, and for a few moments, breathing is all he can do. Then the reality storms in, in the form of the transporter technician asking if Spock is all right.
Spock pushes himself up on feet that he can barely feel and nods to the man who is eyeing him warily.
“The landing party?” Spock asks, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounds.
“They’re aboard, sir,” the technician reports with definite relief. “Doctor McCoy is in critical condition. He’s been taken to Med Bay.”
“They are...” The ensign looks down for a moment. “That is… We retrieved the bodies.”
“I see,” Spock says. He is cradling his hands to his chest without noticing. Catching the technician’s gaze, Spock forces himself to assume a more relaxed pose. “Thank you, Ensign. Your work has been satisfactory.”
The young man grins brightly, wariness draining out of him, as Spock turns to go. “Thank you, sir!”
Spock walks out without acknowledging the exuberant exclamation, but makes a mental note that, unlike most crewmembers so far, the ensign seems to realize that, considering the source, Spock’s words have indeed been high praise.
Spock heads for Med Bay, knowing that, at the moment, there are no urgent orders to be given that he knows of, and, if there were, the captain would have taken care of them by now. They might have had a difficult four weeks, but Kirk’s personal efficiency had never been in question.
Med Bay is a tornado of activity and Spock freezes momentarily in the doorway, fighting the urge to stay out of the way. He feels like an intruder in this kingdom of sterility and efficiency, with its bluish towers of equipment and crisp white army of nurses.
Despite his wide exposure to the world of human medicine, Spock has never felt particularly at ease in a medical facility. The year he had spent working for Federation Security and ending up in the cold, impersonal efficiency of the hospital that treated nameless patients like him after almost every assignment might have had more of an effect on him than he had originally suspected.
He spots Kirk standing in front of a huge Plexiglas window separating the emergency room from the rest of Med Bay – a transparent barrier between doctors and patients, and sometimes between life and death. Spock walks over, forgetting his own injuries for the moment, eyes glued to the team of surgeons and nurses working frantically on the outstretched figure on the table. For a moment, it seems to Spock that he is seeing a peculiar live painting. There is too much crimson on it for his liking.
“What is the prognosis?” Spock asks quietly, folding his hands behind his back as he comes to a stop beside Kirk.
The captain winces in surprise. He glances at Spock, his lips a desperately thin line of angry white.
“What do you think it is?” Kirk lashes out angrily. “It’ll be a miracle if he makes it.”
It has been a long day coming at the end of a long four weeks, and Kirk’s emotions are a forceful pressure against Spock’s shields. He seeks for a way to weaken it. Perhaps a change of subject?
“As I understand it, there was no malfunction of the shuttle’s systems,” Spock starts carefully, but Kirk snaps, whirling on his heel to face him.
“Yeah, no; I’m not interested in one hundred and one things I’ve done wrong to make this happen. I know you told me that landing would be difficult and I went and did it anyway, and now my best friend is dying, and this is all my fault – I get that, Commander! I hope you’re happy for being smarter than the rest of us; now you can go and gloat somewhere out of my sight!” Kirk’s eyes narrow even further as he hisses, “I’m sure this’ll look pretty in those sweet little reports you’re sending out.”
For a moment, Spock simply stands speechless, staring into the stormy blue eyes that seem to be all the more furious for lacking real firepower to incinerate him on sight. Then Kirk’s expression changes imperceptibly, his lips curving in what is probably disgust, and he turns away, back toward the glass, intent on ignoring Spock’s existence.
Spock finally remembers how to walk and moves away, only now becoming painfully aware of all the eyes following his progress and the hushed whispers trailing after him. His mind is so completely devoid of thought that it comes as a surprise for him when someone blocks his way. Startled, Spock lifts his eyes to see Nurse Chapel.
“I don’t think so,” she says sternly, eyeing the hands that he is once more cradling to his chest. “Come with me.”
Spock goes without a fight. He is silent throughout the procedure, except when he refuses the anesthetic. His hands hurt, but, strangely, not as much as the level of injuries would suggest. Spock contemplates this dichotomy faintly, feeling oddly numb, as he watches Chapel apply layer upon layer of bandages after the regenerator has done its work. The nurse is being so thorough that when she has finally finished, Spock’s hands resemble the appendages of a stuffed teddy bear someone once left at his office at the Academy.
Spock nods at the woman vaguely and turns to go. Out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he sees Kirk watching him. Spock doesn’t stop to test the hypothesis.
Kirk’s reaction, while emotional and irrational, is not unexpected, Spock muses grimly. Despite the daunting number of conversations and interactions Spock had with the captain in the last four weeks, they are clearly not communicating. Which means – Spock’s mouth tightens painfully at the thought – that Spock is not doing his job.
The discord started almost immediately after they launched from Earth. Spock believed himself to be prepared for the fact that Kirk would obviously have a very different style of command than any other captain Spock knew, but he wasn’t ready for the maelstrom that was unleashed onboard the moment they broke orbit.
Kirk was unpredictable. He would work on the bridge, diligently going through all the strategic updates and intelligence reviews Starfleet sent them, before suddenly bolting to Engineering or Maintenance or Life Science for an unscheduled inspection effectively stalling the normal working process, creating utter confusion for department heads with requests for modifications they had never heard of.
Kirk would then pick up on his abandoned paperwork, only to be found half an hour later in the catwalk of one of the nacelles, checking on their status personally because ‘the hum of the engines seemed wrong.’ Satisfied with the sounds now, he would round up the first three crewmembers he met on his way to the mess and ask them to demonstrate their hand-to-hand combat technique. He would inevitably find it lacking, and order the crewmembers in question to report to the gym immediately for a surprise training session.
Forgetting his meal, he would sneak into the galley, steal whatever piece of fruit he could find, and munch on it as he hovered beside a lab technician who would stutter through an explanation of the last experiment the team was engaged in. The first time Spock spotted the captain in the lab with food resulted in an entirely too loud a confrontation for Spock’s tastes.
The night shift crew would look pale and wrung out in the morning because the captain would surprise them with a simulated attack of unknown enemy vessels which he would project directly into the viewscreen, isolating the bridge covertly beforehand. As no-win scenarios went, the test was elementary, but the sheer level of relief that emanated from the night shift bridge crew when Spock walked in once, during the simulation was overwhelming and telltale.
In short, Kirk bounced all over the ship like a particularly troubled ping-pong ball, and the general level of chaos he was creating was, in Spock’s opinion, counterproductive to the point of being performance-hindering.
Yet every time Spock tried to voice his objections, he was either ignored or overruled. Kirk’s irritation with his exec was growing exponentially at an alarming rate, and Spock has very nearly lost count of the number of arguments they had.
‘Doesn’t it bother you that you two are the only ones who showed up on time?’ Kirk threw in his face when Spock objected to an ill-designed nighttime drill. Nyota sighed her indignation, but said nothing. Spock, on the other hand, positively longed to remind Kirk that crew evaluations should not happen in front of the same – and very bewildered – crew. But criticizing the captain in front of them was equally unthinkable, and so Spock said nothing on the subject as well.
‘I’m not sure how to take it anymore,’ Nyota complained, retrieving tea for them both after Kirk dismissed them. ‘Did you know he put Communications on the Delta-shift rotation?’
No, Spock did not know, because the last time Kirk had brought the possibility up, Spock believed he was very clear in pointing out how illogical and confusing it would be to have one department change to shifts different from the others. Apparently, his argument only served for the decision to be made without him.
‘Last night, Ensign Davis asked me if she was supposed to remain with the interpreters or go to Engineering for her cross-training. She seemed to have a three hour overlap.’ Nyota frowned into her cup, as if willing the liquid to boil. ‘I didn’t know what to tell her. Didn’t want her to get a reprimand.’
Spock frowned, too, discovering that Kirk had gone over his head with his own cross-training program as well without heeding Spock’s advice. When he glanced up, he found Nyota looking at him determinedly.
‘Talk to him again,’ she said in a tone that had little patience. ‘Because if a mutiny breaks out tomorrow, I’m not sure that I won’t be leading it.’
Spock knew she was right, but he was not optimistic about the outcome of the conversation. So far, he seemed to be unable to find a way to make Kirk listen. Never did Spock find his own communication skills so lacking as at that moment.
The captain scowled at him the moment the door of the ready room closed behind Spock and he announced the agenda for the discussion.
‘Have you seen their efficiency ratings, Spock?’ Kirk didn’t hide his frustration. ‘Honestly, I always knew our training at the Academy was a bit of a joke, but to this extent?’
‘Captain.’ Spock paused, searching for words. ‘You are expecting an unreasonably high level of efficiency over a significantly short period of time. The crew has not been allowed time to integrate with their new environment and settle into a working routine.
Kirk glanced at him in a way that made Spock feel like he had given the captain a huge disappointment.
‘I don’t want them to settle into a routine, Mr. Spock. We don’t have time to wait until everyone’s cozy and comfortable enough to do their jobs. For God’s sake, you read the same intel reports I do.’
Spock raised an eyebrow at the urgency that colored Kirk’s voice. ‘To the best of my knowledge, we are not currently at war, sir.’
‘We weren’t at war when Nero happened, either,’ Kirk snapped. ‘Did you appreciate Starfleet’s response to a sudden threat?’
Spock pursed his lips and said nothing.
‘Yeah.’ Kirk nodded briskly. ‘I didn’t think so. We weren’t ready then, and we aren’t ready now. Jesus; these kids haven’t got a clue.’ He sighed and ran a hand over his face. ‘I don’t have time to mollycoddle them until they get the first idea. We don’t have that kind of luxury.’
‘Captain.’ Spock hesitated, collecting himself. ‘While your goal is commendable, I am forced to point out that the methods by which you are attempting to achieve it are inefficient and inducing an undue level of stress which does not serve to attain a positive result.’
‘Really?’ Kirk tilted his head, a blush beginning to color his cheeks. The thin smile stretching his lips was anything but pleasant. ‘And your methods are better? I’m sorry, it must have slipped my mind, but what exactly have you suggested to get us there?’
Spock folded his hands behind his back, standing a little straighter. He knew his words would not fall into receptive ears, but he believed in what he was saying.
‘I suggest we follow the guidelines used by Starfleet successfully for over fifty years now,’ Spock said, disregarding the eyeroll Kirk sent him. ‘As any military organization in history, Starfleet is a system. It might have its flaws, however—’
‘You think?’ Kirk cut him off sarcastically. ‘You’re right, Mr. Spock, Starfleet is all about regulations, traditions, and history. It is a system. A system that failed to prevent the destruction of one of the founding members of the Federation.’ Kirk’s eyes locked on Spock’s as he said very clearly and pointedly, ‘A system that produces commanding officers, competent to the gills, who fail to make the correct decision when it’s staring them in the face, Commander.’
There was no second way to interpret that, and Spock forced himself to remain still, taking the blow. Kirk stared at him in unmistakable challenge, but it was the one that Spock had already lost some time ago.
‘This system,’ he said quietly, ‘has also produced officers like Admiral Pike, your father, and yourself, Captain.’
Kirk blinked in surprise.
‘It might have its flaws,’ Spock repeated with conviction. ‘And I will be the first among those wishing to correct them. But destroying any semblance of order and throwing us into chaos cannot achieve this. Not everything has to go. Not every rule and regulation is illogical or redundant. You have an abundance of will, Captain, but you must also exercise wisdom and patience.’ Spock took a deep breath. ‘Assuming you are capable of the latter.’
Kirk’s incredulous expression had hardened into stone. ‘Right,’ he grit out. ‘Any other pointers, or are you done lecturing me for the day?’
Spock suppressed a sigh. ‘Captain—’
‘I want your recommendations by oh-eight-hundred tomorrow,’ Kirk interrupted him curtly. ‘I’ll try to refrain from being any more inefficient until then. Dismissed.’
Spock had no choice but to comply.
The conversation had taken place the night before. While Spock had summarized his views on the matter, the normal course of the Alpha shift was interrupted by the planet fall this morning, and Spock hasn’t found out yet if Kirk had read the proposal.
Spock frowns slightly, thinking about it, as he sits in the mostly deserted officers’ mess with a bowl of soup in front of him. Holding a spoon proves to be a challenge, and Spock regrets his inability to foresee this and request the dish in a cup instead.
This is not to say that he is hungry. Kirk was right about one other thing: Spock does have a report to write. And at this point, he has no choice but to admit that he has no idea of how to write it.
He retires to his quarters for meditation, not expecting it to bring him the inspiration he requires, but hoping, vaguely, for some clarity.
That the responsibility for their hectic take off is his and his alone, Spock doesn’t doubt in the slightest. He is the executive officer. By definition, his job is to see to the captain’s orders being followed and the goals the captain sets being achieved. Spock had failed to not only discern the motive behind Kirk’s ostensibly erratic activity, but even the existence of such. And that motive, when presented, was not only clear, but also logical to boot.
The habitual nature of meditation seems to calm him somewhat, but he is apparently too distracted to reach the deeper stages that would reveal the reasons for his actions to himself. Spock misses the moment when he stops trying to concentrate and simply stares out the viewport of his room, sitting on his knees and watching the stars twinkle softly.
When the door to his quarters slides open, Spock doesn’t stand up or even turn around. He is aware of the intruder, but has apparently exhausted his emotional resources for the day to react in any way. He isn’t surprised when Kirk lowers himself to the deck beside Spock – not because he has expected any such thing, but because he’s too tired to be surprised.
The silence stretches.
“When I was in my second year at the Academy,” the captain says quietly, without preamble, “I was sent to a survival training course to Europa. Icy wasteland and volcanoes—” His lips twitch. “What better place to build a training camp.”
Spock doesn’t comment. He knows both the facility and the routine. It is considered one of the most vigorous in Starfleet.
“There was an accident,” Kirk continues in a flat tone. “One of my team was injured. I tried to get him out of there, but I slipped and fell into the river. You know how fast those things get there.” Kirk shakes his head. “It dragged me under the ice for four hundred meters in seconds before I managed to break out. Wasn’t pretty.”
Spock glances at him sideways. “It is a miracle that you survived.”
“Yeah,” Kirk says, his voice even and indifferent. “I almost didn’t. When I got back to the camp, I was hardly breathing. Managed to break my arm in three places and my collarbone, too.”
Spock watches his face, so young and flawless, and he is unable to look away. Kirk turns his head slowly and meets his eyes.
“I was in the infirmary for three weeks; lung regeneration sucks, I gotta tell you, and I was having such wonderful nightmares.” He stops, glancing away for a moment, teeth worrying his lower lip.
“Bones was with me every minute of every day,” Kirk looks up at Spock again. “He skipped all of his classes, even though it meant no sleep for him for half a year to come or so. He bullied the medical staff to see to my every whim.” Kirk smirks unhappily. “I’m allergic to most painkillers. He let me hold his arm through every procedure. I didn’t break it, but he had bruises for weeks afterwards.”
Kirk is sitting on his knees, shoulders slumped and hands folded in his lap carelessly. Spock watches him as he watches the stars slip by.
“Much as your confidence honors me, Captain,” Spock says cautiously at last, “why are you telling me this?”
Kirk glances at him briefly, pursing his lips. “I’m not a big fan of apologies, Mr. Spock. I don’t think you are one, either.”
“And this is—?”
“An explanation.” Kirk shrugs. “Of sorts. Not very logical.”
“No.” Spock pauses. “But understandable.”
Kirk snorts quietly, more of a fatigued exhale than an expression of mirth. Then, they are adrift in silence, neither apparently knowing what to say.
“Was the surgery successful?” Spock asks at last.
“Yes.” Kirk nods. “He’s going to make a full recovery.”
They lapse into another silence, and then—
“I thought I lost him today,” Kirk’s voice falls to a whisper. “And I couldn’t... I’ve never faced death before.” His swallow is audible in the stillness. “Not like this.”
Something tightens in Spock’s chest, creeping up on him through the veil of his numbness. He wants to do something, but cannot think of what.
“Scotty told me about your rescue plan,” Kirk says, in a calmer voice. “And I realized that we nearly lost you, too.”
“An acceptable risk.”
Kirk looks at him with an unreadable expression.
“See, this” – the captain makes a vague gesture with his hand – “is not working. And we need to fix it. Ideally, yesterday, but I would take right now, if that’s the best we can do.”
“Forgive me, Captain.” Spock peers down at his hands. “I have not been doing my job.”
“True,” Kirk says, laying a hand on Spock’s shoulder. “But I haven’t been letting you do it.”
Spock lifts his head. “Have you reviewed—”
“Your recommendations? Yes.” Kirk smiles at him, and for the first time since Spock set foot aboard the ship, he sees genuine warmth in Kirk’s eyes, directed at him. “You’re way more pedantic than I gave you credit for, Mr. Spock. But I think I like it.”
Spock waits. Kirk’s smile fades a little, but it’s fatigue, not rejection, and as his hand slides off Spock’s shoulder, it feels almost reassuring.
“Let’s talk about it,” Kirk suggests. “You make a lot of valid points I’m willing to take, and I have to give it to you – your cross-training scheme makes more sense than mine.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “That is because you designed yours having yourself in mind, Captain. You failed to take into account that your reaction time is considerably shorter than that of an average Academy graduate, and your personal ability to attain and retain new information and skills requires far fewer repetitions. It was shortsighted to expect the same of others, without taking into account their personal qualities.”
Kirk glances at him sideways. “I’m not sure, but I think I was actually praised in there somewhere. Hard to tell with all the criticism.”
“If you were looking for a ‘yes-man’ as your first officer, you should not have accepted me.”
Kirk huffs a surprised laugh. “No, Mr. Spock. A yes-man, you certainly aren’t.”
Spock doesn’t comment. Kirk draws in a breath, sobering.
“There’re some things I believe we should do differently, though,” he muses. “Mostly, the thing is – I don’t think I can be the captain you seem to want me to be. I realize that I probably shouldn’t breathe down people’s necks as much as I seem to be doing, but I can’t stay all distant and aloof, either. I know where you’re coming from,” Kirk says sincerely. “You want me to concentrate on decision-making. It’s logical and reasonable, I agree, but where it might have worked great for Pike – it won’t work for me.”
Spock catches Kirk’s reflection in the dark glass, watching the human struggling for the right words.
“Spock, I was sharing a classroom with these people just yesterday,” Kirk says at last. “I need to prove to them that I can be their leader. Need to prove it to myself, too. I need to live their life; I need to stand side by side with them. Then I’ll have the right – morally, at least – to be giving them orders.”
He looks at Spock determinedly. “I don’t want to be their captain by rank alone.”
Spock reflects on his words for a moment, and it’s suddenly so easy to understand what Kirk is trying to say that Spock is almost at a loss at how it has been possible for him to not see it before. He quirks an eyebrow at Kirk, who is watching him warily.
“Are you familiar with the concept of the Round Table, Captain?” Spock asks, aiming for nonchalance.
Kirk blinks once and then grins, a mixture of disbelief and delight in his gaze.
“Will you help me build one?”
Spock responds in kind. “Will you trust me to help you?” he asks, and, seized by a strange impulse, reaches out toward Kirk with his hand.
Kirk’s eyes widen slightly, and he reaches back slowly, as though moving underwater. But when his fingers close around Spock’s forearm just shy of his bandaged wrist, his hold is strong and certain, and matches Spock’s own.