Title: Don't Stop Believing 4.6/?
Pairings/Characters: Kirk/Spock pre-slash, ensemble
Notes: For detailed story summary/navigation/word count, please visit the Master Post.
As usual, Spock walks onto the bridge eight-point-four minutes early for Alpha shift after completing his tour of key departments. He splits his attention between listening to the Gamma shift science officer and studying the new sets of readings on his screen, running a mental list of tasks for the day and assigning priorities.
At some point, however, the absence of a typical jovial voice penetrates his senses, and Spock glances over the bridge at large.
Kirk isn’t there.
It’s almost time for the shift change, and the captain normally arrives several minutes early. He has never been delayed without a forewarning in Spock’s recollection. The rigid posture of Lieutenant DeSalle, who is currently occupying the central seat, suggests that he is aware of the anomaly as well.
Spock decides to give the captain several more minutes in case of some unexpected delay, but five minutes into the official start of Alpha shift, he cannot ignore the situation any longer.
Narrowing his eyes slightly, Spock leans over Nyota’s station.
“Could you page the captain’s quarters for me, Lieutenant?” Spock asks, keeping his voice quiet. There is no need whatsoever to attract the rest of the crew’s attention to the fact that the captain is late.
Nyota darts a quick glance across the bridge before turning toward Spock slightly. “Already did,” she says, also quietly. “Either he’s not there, or he isn’t picking up. I’d call McCoy, only it’s pretty much the same as sounding a warning bell, so—”
“Hold on that,” Spock tells her softly, rising up and striding toward the central seat. “Lieutenant DeSalle, you are relieved,” he says using his normal voice. “You may leave the bridge.”
“Aye, sir.” The man seems relieved indeed as he strides toward the turbolift.
“Log me as the officer of the watch, Yeoman,” Spock orders calmly, settling into the just vacated captain’s chair.
“But sir—” she starts to protest, bewildered.
Spock looks at her.
“Aye, sir,” she blurts hurriedly, making the note on her PADD.
Spock dismisses her with a nod. Calling McCoy is becoming more imminent by the second, but Spock is reluctant to call attention to a problem he doesn’t know the nature of. The muscles in his forehead tensing with a frown he fights to keep at bay, Spock activates the terminal installed on the captain’s chair.
Two minutes later, he is empowered with the knowledge that the number of crewmembers onboard has not been reduced recently and no emergencies have been reported either in Med Bay or any other department. Spock does frown slightly at that, until he notices Ensign Chekov stealing a glance at him. He instantly schools his features back to neutral impassivity, unwilling to clue in the crew on the fact that the captain has apparently gone AWOL.
Chekov covers his move by reaching for the coffee mug sitting on his console, and Spock suddenly stills.
It is unlike Kirk to be derelict in his duties, but it is not unlike him to lose track of time while engrossed in one of his numerous projects. Spock checks his terminal again and slides out of the chair, cautiously optimistic.
He glances at the communications post curtly. “Lieutenant Uhura, please take the conn.”
He will never cease to admire the smooth way she picks up the information given to her – all of it, not just the verbal layer. She inclines her head quickly, but with no outward sign of excitement, transmitting none of her curiosity or concern.
Spock walks past her with an appreciative nod and receives a fleeting, understanding smile in return.
He knows he has been right in his assumption the moment he enters the ready room. There is a battery of empty coffee mugs on the desk, the bitter aroma lingering in the air, combined with the unmistakable scent of a healthy human male colored with an aura of agitation and impatience – both conditions having been maintained for a long time. Spock tunes out his hunting instincts now that his target is in sight, and instead subjects his captain to a more scientific scrutiny.
Kirk is sprawled in the revolving chair, one leg thrown over the armrest, the other kicking the desk to maintain the chair’s momentum. He’s scowling at the PADD in his lap, running his hand through his hair – from the looks of it, hardly for the first time. He’s wearing all black again, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. Spock has noted previously that the captain seems to dislike his golden shirt for some reason, and uses every opportunity to lose it. There are dark circles under Kirk’s dry, reddened eyes, completing every indication of a sleepless night.
Kirk jumps in his chair, too engrossed in whatever he was reading to have heard Spock enter.
“What time is it?” Kirk’s voice sounds hoarse, and he cringes as if the words leave a bad taste in his mouth. “Shit. Don’t tell me I’m late for Alpha.”
Spock studies him a moment longer, then lowers himself into the opposite chair. “It is no longer of consequence. Lieutenant Uhura currently has the conn.”
“Damn,” Kirk groans, running a hand over his face. “I mean, thanks. You didn’t have to do this.”
“May I ask what has captivated your attention to this extent?”
Kirk sighs, then slides the PADD he has been studying across the desk toward Spock. “This. The damn thing doesn’t make any sense.”
Spock glances at the header and drops his hand instantly. “Captain, I am certain you are not suggesting I read a classified report meant for your eyes only.”
Kirk blinks, then stares at Spock in bewilderment. “Seriously.” He shakes his head. “Spock, you need to loosen up a bit. I don’t know from where you’re getting this idea that I’m a complete imbecile, but I wish you’d call it quits.”
He pushes the PADD toward Spock determinedly. “I’m ordering you to read it. Do I need to cite the regs allowing me to do that, too?”
Spock opens his mouth to explain himself, but then thinks better of the idea. “No, sir,” he says, reaching for the report.
Several minutes pass in silence as Spock tries to figure out what triggered Kirk’s concern. In his complete focus on the data in front of him, he is only peripherally aware of the impatient noises Kirk probably doesn’t know he’s making.
“You do know how to speed-read, right?”
Spock looks up. “I finished reading four-point-eight minutes ago and was merely trying to discern the reason for your interest. Random activity near the Romulan Neutral Zone is hardly unusual.”
“I don’t believe it’s random.”
Spock narrows his eyes and scans the report again. “The three sectors named here are of very low strategic importance.”
“Doesn’t that tell you something?”
There’s an almost maniacal gleam in Kirk’s eye that gives Spock pause. “Captain... when have you last slept?”
“Oh, that’s right, call me crazy now.” Kirk flops his hand against the desk in frustration. “You know, if you’d get off your high horse every once in a while, it wouldn’t actually kill you.” His voice drops as he mutters, “Maybe you’d even see what I see in there.”
Spock tilts his head slightly. “Indeed. For instance, the fact that all three of the aforementioned sectors are at approximately the same distance from the same planet known as Molot III on the border of the Romulan Neutral Zone and unclaimed space?”
Kirk’s eyes widen momentarily. Spock holds his gaze, lifting an eyebrow for good measure. “Varying from 4.2 to 5.1 light years, if I am not mistaken.”
Kirk purses his lips. “You done showing off?”
“I did not wish for you to ‘get the idea’ that I am unintelligent.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Kirk shakes his head, smirking. “You don’t think something’s going on there?”
Spock considers it. “Unlikely. The planet itself remains unclaimed because it does not possess anything of value, either in resources or strategically.”
“Any planet in such close proximity to the Neutral Zone is of strategic value.”
“I would agree, if either the Federation or the Empire had enough resources to maintain a fully operational base on every barren planet near the Zone.” Spock steeples his fingers thoughtfully. “Such is not the case.”
Kirk leans across the desk toward him. “I think Romulans are about to change that. Look at this – look at those ships.”
Spock does. “None are Romulan. Temerians, Vohh’ch, Duna, Karpallans – these are all species indigenous to this region. They have been operating in this space for several centuries.”
“And all of them have been working for the Romulans at one time or another.”
Spock narrows his eyes. “On what do you base this assumption? I am unaware of any such liaisons.”
“Neither was I, but it was bugging me, so I did some digging. Did you know that for the last century, the most common cause of death for male Temerians over forty-five was lung cancer sustained via roth poisoning? A miners’ disease.”
“Temeria does not have any roth deposits.”
“True, but Emeria does – it’s their major export product.”
“And Emeria is a Romulan enclave.” Spock nods, now captivated despite himself. “Economically, at the very least.”
“Exactly.” Kirk leans closer, looming over the PADD, prodding it with a stylus. “Vohh’ch don’t allow any telepaths into their space, yet the cargo ships travelling from Romulus to Garrapur only spend an average of seventy-eight hours en route. If they went around Vohh’ch, it would have taken them at least twice as long. So either Romulans install warp-fifteen engines on their freighters—”
“—or they navigate directly through Vohh’ch space,” Spock finishes. “I am beginning to see your point, Captain.” He frowns. “But Duna? I am aware of the persistent rumors that Romulans use them as couriers—”
“Yeah, that’s all I got on them, too.” Kirk nods. “I’m pretty sure it’s more than rumors, though. That incident in the Denobulan space?”
“Got me.” Kirk falls back in his chair, grinning tiredly. “They’re the only weak spot in my conspiracy theory of doom.”
Spock studies him for a moment, without really seeing. “Perhaps not.”
Kirk is instantly alert again. “You know something?”
Spock pauses. “Only that fifteen years ago, the Vulcan High Council has made a decision to sever diplomatic relations with the Karpallans.”
“Really?” Kirk’s eyebrows arch. “Over what?”
Overcoming his reluctance to divulge information he was not supposed to possess in the first place, Spock says, “A Vulcan transport had been fired upon while unintentionally breaching the borders of Karpallan space.”
“Which wouldn’t be unusual – those guys are paranoid.”
Spock looks him in the eye. “The Karpallans did not possess the capability of disabling Vulcan ships at the time. There had been persistent... speculation that the disruptors used against us were Romulan.”
Spock all but sighs at his own slip, but it’s too late to deny anything now. “As I am not entirely unrelated to a member of the Vulcan High Council, I might have been aboard the transport at the time.”
Kirk purses his lips, regarding Spock with something akin to amusement. “Vulcans aren’t usually fond of speculations, Mr. Spock.”
Spock holds his eyes determinedly. “I might have had an accidental look at the sensor readings.”
“And accidentally taken them down?”
“We had no point of comparison at that juncture,” Spock states firmly. “However, serving under Captain Pike, I was party to several hostile encounters with the Romulan fleet. My comparative analysis of the weaponry was not entirely conclusive.”
“But enough to convince you?”
Spock hesitates, then inclines his head slightly.
“Well, there you go.” Kirk slouches back in his chair, rocking in it. “The question is – what the hell would Romulans want with Molot III? I might have broken my brain thinking about it, and I still can’t see… For all intents and purposes, it does look random, after all.”
Spock contemplates the situation for a while. His glance falls on the report again, eyes narrowing. “Considering the source of information, Captain, I fear that might be the case.”
“Source?” Kirk frowns. “You mean this guy, Captain Morrain? You know him?”
“By reputation. He does not command a great deal of respect among his peers,” Spock says, cringing internally at speaking ill of his superiors. “Admiral Pike often referred to Captain Morrain as ‘the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’’ – I assume you are familiar with the reference.”
Kirk groans. “Yeah. It means I’ve spent the night on a wild goose chase.” He shakes his head and suddenly grins. “Pike really calls him that?”
Spock looks away briefly. “Admiral Pike’s labeling system is somewhat unconventional, but I have found it to be strikingly accurate in retrospect.”
“No doubt.” Kirk is grinning still, making Spock feel distinctly uncomfortable under his gaze. “You know, sometimes I envy you. Serving with him must have really been something.”
Spock thinks of the years he spent on the Nelson, feeling an edgy tightness constricting his throat.
“Indeed,” he says quietly, staring at his hands. “If that is all, sir? I am needed on the bridge.”
“Right.” Kirk nods, growing serious. “I’ll take your beta today, then.”
“That will not be necessary, sir. I am fully capable—”
“As am I,” Kirk interrupts him firmly. “Thanks for covering for me this morning, but I’ll take it from here.”
Spock pauses in the doorway, glancing back at Kirk hesitantly. “Captain… you are entitled to certain privileges.”
Kirk holds his gaze steadily, a smile still curving his lips but his eyes attaining the light-consuming quality of steel. “If you’re offering a back rub, I’ll take it. Otherwise, Mr. Spock, thanks, but no, thanks. I’ll see you in seven hours.”
Spock turns on his heel and leaves, feeling strangely pleased with the response.
Of course, their ‘idle streak,’ as the captain calls it, does not last for a full week.
“Spock, I need that generator down now!” Kirk snaps over yet another deafening blast missing their cover only by meters.
“I estimate another two minutes, forty-six seconds before the primary grid is compromised,” Spock replies calmly, never lifting his eyes off the alien console. He doesn’t so much as wince when he’s showered in pebbles raised by another near-hit.
“Garrovick, Richards, spread out,” Kirk orders behind his back. “The moment Spock gets their shields down, I want you to smash that damned battery to pieces!”
“I am almost there, Captain.”
His hands working feverishly as he inputs one code after the other, trying every combination he can think of to stay ahead of the computer, Spock spares a thought at the absurdity of the situation. Their enemies are not living beings. The Enterprise crew is fighting against the automated defense system left on this small planetoid by the Cardassians who, despite having signed the treaty, were all too reluctant to concede this system.
“I am in,” Spock informs the others briskly the moment the screen in front of him flashes in welcoming teal. “Deactivating the shield generator... now.”
“Teams Alpha and Delta, target the battery and fire at will,” Kirk orders, his voice slightly distorted by the headset. “Team Gamma, time to crash their backyard, go! Spock, get inside this thing – see if you can deactivate the system from here.”
“Unlikely,” Spock says, even as he moves to comply.
“Chekov, you’re with him.”
Spock beats Kirk to a response. “Ensign, I require your assistance.”
Chekov subsides at once, sweeping past Spock inside the installation and looking flustered.
Kirk nods at Spock, a smirk flashing from beneath his helmet. “Good hunting.”
Spock inclines his head once and dives inside.
He has rarely seen a working space less comfortable for a live operator than this one. Cardassian culture is a curious one, where sybarite tendencies of the aristocracy exist side by side with severe regime of the military and total devotion to one’s duty.
Chekov is already studying the monitors, his helmet unfastened and his phaser holstered once again. He glances up at Spock, pointing. “I don’t understand Cardassian,” he admits, “but if there’s any logic to this system, those should be perimeter defense controls.”
Spock peers at the panel. “I concur. It appears, however, that the weapons controls are situated in the main fort. They would have to be taken down manually.”
He changes the frequency. “Captain.”
“Spock, anything urgent in there? Kinda busy right now; we’ve just taken that fucking battery down and I’m about to check it out, so—”
Spock can hear the shots being fired in the background. He opens his mouth to respond when Chekov suddenly points at a lower screen frantically, making a noise Spock has never heard out of a human being before. Spock looks at the screen and freezes.
“Captain, under no circumstances must you leave the perimeter,” Spock says hastily, a sinking feeling in his stomach telling him it might be too late.
“Why?” Kirk asks, and the careful tone of his voice informs Spock that they are in a lot of trouble.
“You have done so already.” He doesn’t make it a question. As strange as it may seem, Kirk’s actions are usually easy to predict – not because they are logical or expected, but because, as unlikely as it might be, they are exactly what Spock would choose to do in his position most of the time.
“Yeah. I’m, uh, just outside the fence. What’s going on, Spock?”
“Captain, do not move,” Spock orders. “It appears that when the battery was deactivated, it simultaneously activated another defense grid. You are standing on a minefield.”
Kirk’s frustrated sigh crackles loudly through the headset. “Great. Um, Spock? I don’t see any mines.”
“You would not see them until you encounter one. They are laid into the fabric of subspace.”
Kirk curses loudly. “Can I get back?”
“I can see him,” Chekov says, pointing at yet another screen.
And indeed, there’s a clear representation of the fifty meters of square ground Kirk has to cross, with a lone, green-pulsing figure standing at the beginning of it.
“No,” Spock tells Kirk. “There are twelve mines floating directly behind you. Hold perfectly still, Captain. Ensign Chekov and I will attempt to create a map for your passage.”
“Fine,” Kirk breathes.
Spock blocks outgoing audio and rounds on Chekov. “Report.”
“I’m not sure if it’s possible to generate a map,” the ensign says, tapping desperately at the console. “Those things don’t just stand still – they drift, Commander, and they’re everywhere. The only reason why the keptin is still alive is that they don’t all come to the surface of normal space at once.”
Spock looks closer. “I believe there is a pattern to their protrusion. Observe here – every ten seconds they rotate and shift forty degrees to the right. And here – every four seconds to those ten every third mine emerges, while every fifth goes deeper.”
“We don’t have time to create the matrix!”
“We will have to do so as he moves.”
Chekov stares at him, eyes wide in horror. “He’ll never make it.”
“We do not have a choice,” Spock says firmly, ignoring the icy drift streaming down his spine. “Use that terminal and start calculations. Transfer them to this console. Concentrate on emerging timing; I shall focus on space shifts.”
Chekov is still staring at him. Spock raises an eyebrow.
Chekov swallows. “Aye-aye, sir.”
Spock taps his headset to change the frequency even as he starts working on his own equations. “Lieutenant Uhura, block every incoming transmission to the captain save for my own.”
“Sir? Is the captain—?”
“Inform Lieutenant Garrovick that he is in command of the operation until further notice. Captain Kirk is trapped within a minefield. It is vital, Lieutenant, that he receives no transmissions other than my own.”
“Transfer the captain’s life signs telemetry to my helmet now.”
“Aye, sir.” Her voice doesn’t falter. “Good luck.”
Spock taps the controls again. “Captain, are you there?”
“Hey Spock, did you cut me off? I’m not good on the whole silent treatment thing.”
“My apologies, sir. I regret to inform you that you will have to cross the field in order to get to safety. I will guide you. You will have to follow my commands precisely and immediately. I reiterate, Captain: precisely and immediately. Your life is depending on it.”
“I got you, Spock. Jump when you say jump.”
“Exactly.” Spock pauses. “Your heart rate is elevated, Captain. Try to take regular breaths.”
Kirk curses under his breath. Ignoring him, Spock concentrates on the screen, his calculations running alongside Chekov’s, as the prone figure at the bottom of the monitor throbs green with regular intervals. The whole setting is reminiscent of childish human video games, of which Spock has never been a fan. This time, however, the stakes are gravely serious.
“Captain. Slowly, take one step to the left.” Spock watches the figure on the screen move to comply with his directions. “Now, two steps forward. One step to the right. Three steps forward. Bend lower.”
“By how much?”
“The mine is approximately one-point-two meters above the ground.”
“Understood.” Pause. “All right, I’m cool.”
“Take three steps forward. One step to the left. One step back, Captain!”
“Fuck. I think I felt something.”
“A mine emerged outside our matrix. My apologies, sir.”
“Hey, it’s not like you created the damn thing.”
“Hold still, Captain; we are recalculating.”
“Okay. Has anyone ever told you – you have a beautiful voice, Spock.”
To Spock’s left, Chekov curses profusely in Russian, correcting an error at the same time Spock does.
“No, Captain. You will be the first.”
“They just won’t compute!” Chekov explodes.
“Use my algorithm, Ensign.”
“Well, you do,” Kirk continues. “You want me to tell you about your voice, Spock?”
Spock spares a split second to look at Kirk’s telemetry, noting an increase in heart rate. “If you wish,” he says, recognizing Kirk’s coping mechanism for what it is.
“It’s deep, and melodic, but not as low as one would expect from a Vulcan, you know what I’m saying?”
“Not really. Take one step back, Captain. Good. Now one, two steps to the left.”
“I bet you sing really well. You ever tried?”
“Run four steps forward – now.” Spock watches the figure on the screen move forward swiftly before responding to the question. “And no; the thought has not occurred to me.”
“Shame,” Kirk breathes. “What now?”
“Lower yourself on your knees.”
“Could you make it sound a little less sexy?”
Spock manages to stop himself from sighing. Only Kirk would think of sex in the middle of a minefield. “Try to occupy as little space as possible and move sideways forty-five degrees to North-East. Use your hands, and please exercise expediency.”
“Yeah, Spock, not helping.”
“Make a forward roll. Another one. Get up and take three steps to the right. Captain, hold!”
Chekov has long since taken his helmet off; his hair is plastered to his forehead, drenched with sweat. He works his console, and Spock’s screen changes to show him a scheme of what’s directly in front of Kirk now. The ensign seems to be on the verge of a nervous collapse, and Spock can hardly blame him.
“Oh God, I don’t like it already.”
“You are facing a grid of alarm beams. If you touch even one of those, the whole minefield will be activated.”
“Shit. Anything to make it better.”
“There is a window of approximately forty to fifty centimeters. It is somewhat challenging, but possible to pass. I will guide you. Do not move without command at all.”
“Roger that.” Spock can almost feel Kirk’s strained smirk through his headset. “You just love ordering me around, don’t you?”
“The first line is at the level of your knees thirty centimeters ahead,” Spock informs Kirk. “Step over it. Good. Now bend to the waist. Tug your knees to your chest as you move and step over the beam twenty centimeters to your right, forty-five in height. Do not straighten up. Lie on the ground and crawl forward one meter. Do not so much as raise your head.”
“Stand up. Carefully.” He pauses. “Captain…”
“Your pulse rate is dangerously high.”
“Please attempt to take deep breaths. Your position is safe at the moment.”
“Spock, I... Fuck. Spock, I don’t think I can do it.”
“Yes, you can. I reviewed your Academy file, Captain. Your scores in field training set a new record.”
“Still, I just – this is insane, Spock. There’s no way I can—”
“I will guide you. Please attempt to bring your pulse under control. You are safe as long as you follow my instructions.”
Spock watches the telemetry anxiously, knowing that Kirk’s coordination is going to be compromised beyond acceptability if his heart doesn’t stop working itself into overdrive. Spock can see Chekov’s frantic gestures, drawing his attention to the mines moving slowly but inevitably closer to Kirk’s position.
Kirk’s pulse speeds up as if he can feel them.
“Captain,” Spock says, a bead of sweat gathering at his brow. He can’t afford to abandon his calculations, but they are not going to be any good if Kirk fails to calm down.
“Captain – Jim. Do you play chess?”
“I – what?” Kirk sputters. “I – yes. I mean, yes, I do.”
“I am playing against you, as white. I move my knight to king’s level one. What is your response?”
There’s another pause, and then, “Pawn to king’s level four.”
“Pawn to queen’s level one.”
“Knight to queen’s level three.”
“Bishop to queen’s level three. Check.”
“I’m not that easy. Rook to queen’s level two.”
“Queen to rook’s level seven. Check.”
Chekov is staring at Spock with wide eyes. Spock’s hands continue to work on the console, as Kirk moves out of yet another check and then declares one of his own. Spock responds by taking his virtual bishop, and notes that Kirk’s pulse has finally dropped to safer levels.
“The window is approximately forty centimeters above the ground. You have to bend low and jump forward. You will hit the ground and roll. Your trajectory must be straight. You will have one meter of free space to stop your rotation. Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be. Hey, Spock?”
“Totally have you checkmated in three moves.”
“We will discuss it after your jump. On three, Captain?”
“One. Two. Three.”
There’s a sound of movement coming down the line, a whoosh, and a rustle. Spock’s eyes are so intent on the screen they hurt, but the explosion he waits for never follows.
“Shit, I can’t fucking believe it!”
Spock exhales in relief. “Welcome back, Captain. Now all you have to do—”
He sees it too late. Probably because their matrix is only half-baked, or maybe the scheme defies any mathematical system at all, despite their efforts to find one—
“Get down, Jim!”
The screen blinks red; there’s a shockingly loud sound of explosion in Spock’s headset, and then – silence. He doesn’t hear anything, but the desperate staccato of his own pulse.
“Captain?” Spock calls, his voice suddenly weak. “Captain. Captain, please respond. Captain!”
There’s a cough, a spluttering sound, and then Kirk’s voice comes, rasp and hoarse. “Stop yelling, Spock, for God’s sake. I’m half-deaf already.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I’m confused, though. It threw me like four meters or something.”
“Affirmative, I see your new position. Captain.” Spock can barely believe it. “If you are able, get to your feet and run. Your path is clear.”
Spock watches as Kirk springs into motion, not as fast as before, but still ahead of the mines that are popping up from subspace in his wake. He sways to his sides, dangerously, and Spock holds his breath.
“Hey, what did I say about yelling?” Kirk’s pants are scratchy in Spock’s ears. “All right, I’m in.”
“Affirmative. We have lost you on our screen.” Spock sighs in relief, suddenly dizzy.
“Spock, are you all right? I don’t spy on your heart rate, unlike some nosy people, but you sound really off.”
“I am functional.” Spock straightens up, ignoring Chekov, who is staring at him in incredulous amusement. “And I still remember you have a check to deal with, Captain.”
Kirk laughs, harder and longer than Spock’s words justify, but Spock doesn’t blame him. “I’ve got a board in my quarters. Let’s finish with this mess, and then I’ll beat the pants off you?”
“I look forward to defeating your arrogance. Captain.”
Kirk laughs again, and his voice remains unnaturally high as they coordinate their efforts in taking the defense system down. The sound stays with Spock for a long time, utterly unnerving him.
Spock pauses just before the door, steeling himself. He had never experienced such mood swings; indeed, had never even had any moods to speak of since he was seven. This is completely unacceptable, and yet he can’t help it. He only hopes his irritation will stay at bay.
Kirk looks up from where he’s sitting at his desk, reading. Compared to the last time Spock has been here, the room looks more in order, save for the barricades of things on Kirk’s desk and his battle gear piled on the deck by the bed.
Kirk seems tired and a little confused. Spock’s gaze gravitates to the broad purple bruise stretching across the captain’s forehead and he frowns, unable to help himself.
“Spock, um, I don’t think now’s the best time,” Kirk says, laying down his PADD and looking around nervously. “I mean, we could still play, but to be honest, I’m tired and—”
“I have not come here to play chess, Captain.”
“Oh.” Kirk blinks and straightens up, his face growing more serious. “Then, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You have counteracted my order regarding Lieutenant Garrovick.”
Kirk rolls his eyes. “You bet your ass I did.”
“May I know why?”
Kirk gets to his feet abruptly, all but throwing the PADD to the desk. “Because he didn’t deserve a reprimand, and you damn well know it! What the hell did you think you were doing?”
“As chief of security, he is responsible first and foremost for your safety, which was drastically compromised today. Do you need me to refresh your memory, sir?”
“He was following my orders, Spock! If it’s anybody’s fault I had to dance through that minefield, it’s mine! I jumped out there without looking, before we confirmed it was safe, though I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have had any way of knowing beforehand. You wanna be pissed at someone, I’m your guy. Leave Garrovick alone.”
“Your bad judgment does not excuse his, sir.” Spock clenches his hands behind his back painfully. “And I cannot work effectively as your executive officer if you make it known to the crew that you do not trust mine.”
“What, you think I did it to remind the crew who’s the boss here?”
“It is a viable hypothesis, yes.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard!”
“Captain,” Spock presses. “While we have our share of disagreements, I was under the impression that you understood the importance of resolving them in private. The crew does not benefit from seeing us publicly undermine each other’s positions.”
“Then perhaps you should have thought about it before you started taking out your temper on my officers, Commander. If you have a problem with me, you take it up with me, you understand? Not with Cupcake, not with McCoy, not with my yeoman, Mr. Spock. With me.”
Spock stiffens, his hands at the small of his back clenching tightly. “I do not – ‘have a problem’ with you.”
“I think you do.” Kirk’s eyes narrow. “I think you have a problem with me, and it’s bigger than you even realize.”
“You are in error.”
“Am I?” Kirk tilts his head, regarding him scrupulously. “You never fail to press my nose into the slightest mistake I make. Whenever you’re around me, you act fine one moment, and the next you bolt from me, like I have some kind of an embarrassing disease. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”
He takes a step closer to Spock, as if daring him to step back, and Spock has to summon every ounce of will he possesses to hold his ground.
“Could it be—” Kirk starts, voice soft but not kind. “I mean, is it possible that you’re still mad at me for the Narada? For the way I spoke about your mother?”
Spock feels nauseous all of a sudden, as if he’s been punched in the gut. “You are in error,” he repeats quietly, forcing himself to hold Kirk’s gaze. “I harbor no negative feelings for you – for any reason. I have no reasons to.” He is not entirely certain which of them he is trying to convince.
“Spock,” Kirk whispers. “Spock, you’re so mad at me – you’re mad at yourself. At everyone around you.”
“You are wrong.”
Kirk shakes his head as if he couldn’t hear Spock. “And you can’t do anything about it until you stop denying it.”
“There is nothing to deny,” Spock snaps, and he finally does give up and steps backward.
Kirk stares at him fixedly, his expression half-resentful, half-sad. “Really? Then why won’t you have dinner with me and Bones? I’ve invited you a dozen times.”
Spock looks away. “I did not wish to intrude.”
“Bullshit; you wouldn’t be intruding and you know it. Uhura tells me you’re a music fan. She told me you dragged her out to every piano concert you got wind of. But you wouldn’t go anywhere near Officers’ Lounge anymore, and when I asked you, you told me I was projecting.”
Spock is silent.
“Cupcake” – Kirk’s lips twitch – “Lieutenant Garrovick told me you agreed to teach some Vulcan martial arts to our security team. Then someone told you you’d be teaching a class with me, and you immediately became too busy to participate. You don’t want to come near me so badly, you’d rather be sitting in the corridor in your underwear. Am I imagining things, Mr. Spock, or are you avoiding me like the plague?”
Kirk steps closer again, breaking the fragile bubble of Spock’s personal space, and Spock goes even more rigid with tension.
“Spock,” Kirk says quietly, “I get it that I’m nowhere near as refined as the people you’re used to spend your time with. But am I really so bad that you can’t stand to be in the same room with me?”
“That is not—” Spock’s eyes widen. “That is not it at all, Captain. I – you are – you are – that is not the reason—” he all but whimpers helplessly.
How can he explain this? How can he explain that he would like nothing better than to be included; that if anything, he finds Kirk to be out of his league and Spock never wanted charity; that he is fascinated by Kirk but has no right to be, since Kirk nearly died because of Spock twice, and no level of emotional compromise could excuse that; that he is drawn to Kirk, against his will, against his better judgment telling him he doesn’t deserve the privilege; that he only feels alive again whenever the captain is with him, and Spock is—
He’s scared for his life, because there’s something dark and ugly churning deep inside him, and Kirk has this power no one else has ever had to pull Spock inside out with a word.
Spock will never forget the shame, the ultimate humiliation of being exposed thus – being stripped from control and logic and left bare for all to see. He will never forget their faces – the shock, disgust, and fear staining every expression when they saw what he’s truly like on the inside. That they have accepted him in their ranks again – that they have agreed to tolerate one like him in their midst – speaks of their kindness, not his virtues.
He wants to laugh at the thought.
He has no virtues. All he has to offer to make it worth for them is his brain, and he dives into work like a man possessed. If he allows himself anything else, what happened on the bridge during the Narada crisis will happen again, and while Kirk might be incredibly forgiving, but he is not a saint. He will not tolerate it the second time around. Not when Spock has spent months deceiving him, deceiving everyone, projecting an image of someone cool, collected, and confident. Someone who has nothing to be ashamed of. Someone who is so definitely not him.
He’s clinging now to this veneer, clutching it with slippery hands. He doesn’t want to lose it, because he has nowhere else to go. After spending months getting to know these people, feeling his respect and admiration for them grow – to have them look at him again with fear and revulsion would be intolerable.
And Kirk – Kirk can make it happen. Not out of malice, but because this is who he is. Spock doesn’t think he can live through this the second time.
Already Kirk is looking at him now with barely concealed resentment. And Spock has no means – no means at all to explain.
“Then what is?” Kirk asks sharply. “Are you seriously going to feed me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line? Even you can’t think I’m that stupid.”
“No,” Spock says feebly, suddenly unable to catch up. “That is not – I do not think—”
Kirk sighs, harsh and bitter. “You know what? I don’t know why I care,” he tells Spock coldly. “I think I’ve humiliated myself enough, and it’s not like I don’t have any friends and have to pine after someone who so obviously doesn’t want me.” His eyes harden to match his tone. “Maybe I was trying to do you a favor and maybe it was stupid of me. My mistake, Mr. Spock. It won’t happen again.”
Spock can only look at him, mouth painfully dry and vision blurry as he tries to hold himself together with something he has no name for.
“If you will excuse me, Captain,” he utters in a tone which strikes him as unrecognizably unnatural, but which probably sounds as even as always to anyone else. “I have duties to attend to.”
Kirk steps aside without a single word.