Title: Don't Stop Believing 4.8/?
Beta: secret_chord25 , who is my lifesaver
Pairings/Characters: Kirk/Spock pre-slash, ensemble
Notes: For detailed story summary/navigation/word count, please visit the Master Post.
The power that an old, familiar routine can have on oneself is remarkable. The sound of his steps is light, the pace is even, the wind in his ears is comforting – the overall rhythm of his run is soothing and reassuring, like an old sweater. Spock pushes his bangs back unconsciously as he rounds the corner and starts another lap. The Academy grounds are quiet and dark, and Spock picks up familiar paths without difficulty, remembering his first introduction to jogging and the young, retrospectively naïve cadet he used to be.
The rhythmical movement – running in particular – has always helped him clear his mind almost as well as meditation. The method is human, but then, he is half-human. Spock runs, his footsteps soft and leveled, parting with excessive energy in the way he used to when his world was young.
The boiling anger he felt two hours ago in the rec room has gone, retreating before a lifetime of discipline and leaving Spock confused, vaguely ashamed, and detesting his own behavior –particularly as he comes to the conclusion that Kirk has had every reason to suspect him of foul play.
He stops by a small fountain hidden deep in the park, the sound of water soothing his ignited nerves as he catches his breath. After a while, Spock straightens up, staring at the clear streams falling from a low pedestal and gleaming in the moonlight.
“Want some water?”
Spock turns slowly toward the man sitting on a bench beneath the bushy branches of wild roses. Spock should have noticed him and hasn’t – a true sign of his reactions being on shutdown.
Spock takes the proffered bottle before stepping back and leaning against the low wall of the fountain. “Thank you,” he says, uncapping the bottle. He really hadn’t expected this. “How did you find me?”
McCoy shrugs, stretching his long legs in front of him and looking up at Spock. “I’d love to tell you that it’s due to my incredible powers of deduction, but the trivial truth is that there are people who know your habits.”
Nyota or Pike, Spock guesses. He doesn’t ask.
He takes a swig of water before focusing on the doctor again. McCoy stares back at him, looking utterly relaxed and unperturbed.
“Why are you here?” Spock asks at last.
The doctor shrugs again. “I’ve already had a few choice words with Jim. Thought there was no reason I should spare you the same treatment, given that you both suffer from the same brand of idiocy and stubbornness.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow and takes another sip of water. “Your bedside manner is charming as always, Doctor.”
McCoy studies his nails, which seems all the more illogical in the poor light. “I might have also wanted to check if you’re likely to throttle Jim the next time you see him.”
Spock lets out a breath that constitutes either a tired sigh or an exasperated chuckle – he doesn’t know. “That is… not likely.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” McCoy nods. “Seeing as he wants to do that himself already.”
Spock doesn’t comment.
“And for what it’s worth,” McCoy continues slowly, “I don’t believe you were trying to sabotage Jim’s command.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Why would you trust me?”
McCoy shrugs. “Someone should. Besides, I remember pretty damn well the way you fought off those creatures on Hinq while I was trying to stop Jim bleeding to death. You held them off until the cavalry came; we both would have been dead if you hadn’t been there.”
He purses his lips and shakes his head slightly. “I haven’t forgotten. And Spock?” McCoy looks up at him. “Neither has Jim.”
Spock sighs softly, staring into the murky haze of night around them.
“My life has been saved due to the captain’s actions a number of times as well,” he says flatly. “Due to your actions, also. It is our profession, Doctor; it is what we do. It does not mean” – he swallows – “whatever you believe it means.”
“Doesn’t it?” McCoy asks calmly. “True trust is born in the reptilian brain, Spock, before it goes any further. And I don’t have to like you to trust you. It’s an imprinted instinct.”
Spock presses his fingers to his temple for a moment. “Sometimes I do wonder, Doctor, how it was possible for you to obtain a medical degree.”
“I bribed people.” McCoy deadpans. “How about you? Did they give you a degree in second grade smartassery for free or did you have to actually work for it?”
Spock blinks, and McCoy lifts up a hand hastily. “Believe it or not, I didn’t track you down to trade insults, especially since you’re no fun tonight. I came here to talk about Jim.”
Spock folds his arms across his chest, steeling himself. “I am listening.”
McCoy glares at him a moment longer before rubbing his forehead in annoyed exasperation. “So,” he says finally. “That wasn’t Jim’s finest hour. And before you look any more smug, it wasn’t yours, either.”
Spock shakes his head. “My own outburst is inexcusable, whereas his reasoning is sound. I am reporting him to the admiralty. To the best of his knowledge, he has committed no grievous mistakes. It is a valid assumption that if the admiralty is dissatisfied, I am responsible. I myself would be hard-pressed to draw a different conclusion.”
“You’re saying Jim’s right about you?”
“I am saying that I cannot fault him for his logic, Doctor. In this particular case, it is impeccable.”
“Well,” McCoy drawls. “Not to throw a shadow on his logic” – he makes a face – “but I’m pretty sure his emotions were reining this ball.”
“Perhaps,” Spock agrees dully. “I find human emotionalism hard to navigate most of the time.”
“Don’t we all,” McCoy mutters. “It’s like he said, Spock – he doesn’t trust people easily. I don’t really know what his childhood was like – he’s not keen on talking about it – but I’m guessing it wasn’t a picnic.”
Spock thinks impassively about Kirk’s lack of happy memories. The doctor is obviously correct.
“He doesn’t let anyone get close to him, not without raising a shitstorm – and it’s not like many would stay after that, anyway.” McCoy shakes his head. “I’ve known him for four years; I’m pretty sure I’m the closest person to him in the whole goddamn universe right now – and there are still things he won’t share with me.”
Spock watches McCoy’s face as the doctor struggles with this truth.
“I mean, we all have our secrets, but Jim is just…” The doctor trails off, frowning. “This job is the most important thing to him. Before he joined Starfleet, he was – well, you must have heard the rumors. Repeat offender and all that shit. He was drowning when Pike dragged him out of there. Another year or two, and we would’ve lost him.”
“That is extremely illogical.” Spock frowns. “He is highly intelligent and capable. He could have taken a number of paths and succeed.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” McCoy cuts him off impatiently. “But it doesn’t always work like that, Spock. Not everyone grows up to be his daddy’s favorite boy, okay? Not everyone has the luxury of being raised a pampered little prince of an ambassador’s son who can do no wrong.” His tone turns bitter. “Some of us have a lot of crap to deal with, and God knows, Jim had it way worse than most.”
Spock presses his lips together and says nothing. It’s not as though McCoy is wrong.
“He’s scared to go back to that,” the doctor says gloomily, kicking a stray stone with his foot. “He would never admit it; probably wouldn’t even know it.” He looks up at Spock. “But I never realized how badly it scares him till I saw him pouncing you up there. It’s not just his captaincy he thinks he’s defending. He’s fighting for his life.”
Spock shivers as the wind throws a spray of water from the fountain over his back. McCoy is looking at him with a mixture of suspicion and apprehension, as if he isn’t certain Spock can digest that much analysis of somebody’s emotions, but Spock doesn’t have to. He knows the fear McCoy has been describing only too well. It has been Spock’s constant companion ever since the day he lost himself on the Enterprise’s bridge.
He has no desire to discuss his own precarious state of mind, however, because Doctor McCoy seems to be too perceptive for Spock’s comfort. It will be best to steer the conversation away from those dangerous waters.
“Why are you telling me all this?” Spock asks, aiming for impassive and slightly challenging. “Should you not hold the captain’s confidence in greater esteem?”
McCoy’s expression closes as he frowns. “Jim’s my best friend, Spock, and you don’t get to teach me how to treat him right. Sometimes it’s what we have to do. You think I’m having fun spilling his secrets to you, of all people?” He sighs. “I’m doing it because he would never speak to you about this, and you need to know.”
McCoy glares at him before gritting out, “Because I’ve seen the two of you together, all right? Because you work so well together it’s freaking people out. And I hate to admit it, but if it wasn’t for this, we’d all be dead right now, a couple of times over. I want you two to keep it – I want him to keep it. He’s at his best when you push him, and that’s a damn sight to see.”
That might be the closest McCoy has ever come to paying Spock a compliment, and Spock wisely chooses not to look the gift horse in the mouth. In addition, the doctor appears to be wrestling with something, clearly not being finished with what he wishes to say.
“He falls in love with people,” McCoy blurts out at last, and it’s not something Spock has expected.
He lifts an eyebrow. “Is that unusual?”
McCoy grimaces, fidgeting. “Not like that. I don’t know how to explain… it’s not sexual or romantic. He – he falls in love with people the way you can fall in love with an idea, or a book. Head over heels, but platonically, you know?”
Spock struggles to understand. “He becomes… fascinated with someone without this person becoming his romantic interest?”
“Yeah,” McCoy confirms. “‘Infatuated’ is more like it. He’d admire someone, and gush about them, and go out of his way to impress them, but – without wanting to see them naked.”
Spock puzzles over this, but eventually nods. “I believe I understand.”
“Took me a while to figure it out, too.” McCoy nods. “I’m pretty sure his mother was the first one in that line. A classic case of hero-worship, I think.” He smirks.
Spock’s eyebrows arch. “Toward his mother?”
McCoy chuckles. “You’ve never met Winona Kirk. Jim’s hardly the only fanboy she tugs in her wake.” He shrugs. “Then there was Pike. It was sort of funny watching Jim getting all worked up for that one. There was Admiral Archer. He held special seminars in advanced tactics, and I don’t think Jim slept at all for two months, trying to outsmart him.” McCoy shakes his head reminiscently. “Then there was—”
“You,” Spock says, certain.
McCoy looks at him quizzically for a moment, then nods. “There was me. Jim couldn’t – dammit, Spock, that kid is just…” He sighs. “He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that I cared about him. That anyone would, in that way. He couldn’t believe it, but when he did, it was – he was – well, he’s an affectionate kind of guy, and—”
Spock feels an uncommon surge of amusement. “He expressed it physically.” Even in the sparse light, he can see McCoy blushing.
“It never went anywhere, okay? It would’ve been taking advantage, and besides, he’s like an idiot little brother I never had. I couldn’t—” He cuts himself off and scowls. “Why am I talking about this?”
Spock opens his mouth, but the doctor lifts up a hand. “Don’t even.”
Spock subsides, looking away. It’s illogical and inexplicable, but he feels calmer now than he has in days. It lasts exactly until the moment McCoy speaks again.
“My point is, for the last several months, his target has been you, Mr. Spock.”
Startled, Spock turns to him. “I beg your pardon?”
McCoy smirks. “You heard me right. Jim’s been totally smitten with you, your pointy-eared highness. If you were any less of an iceman, you’d have noticed.”
Spock stares at him. “I assume you do not mean this in the sense of—”
“Not in any interesting way, no, don’t get excited,” McCoy grumbles. “Like I said, he falls in love with people. And when he does, there’s not a person in the entire galaxy who can hurt him more than his current fancy.” He looks at Spock pointedly.
Spock tries to process this as best he can, but something makes his mind stumble every time his train of thought reaches the ‘Jim’s been totally smitten with you’ point. He must be more tired than he thought – there is no other explanation for this sudden mental deficiency.
McCoy is suddenly on his feet and crowding Spock, staring him in the eye in an openly menacing way. “Now, if you ever use any of this to hurt Jim, I will end you.”
The doctor is standing so close that Spock feels his breath ricocheting of his own face. Spock doesn’t move away. “I’ve seen you with Pike, and I’ve seen you with Uhura, and I’ve been watching you for the last six months,” McCoy continues. “I think I can trust you. But if you prove me wrong, Mr. Spock, I guarantee that you’ll live to regret it. Got it?”
Spock purses his lips. “As you would put it, ‘in one,’ Doctor.”
McCoy glares at him for additional one-point-three minutes before finally walking away.
Spock isn’t late, exactly, but he isn’t early, either, and for him, the two are almost the same thing. He walks into the room where the security briefing is about to be conducted when all three representatives of Starfleet Tactical and Captain Kirk are there already. Kirk’s back is to the door; the others notice Spock’s entrance, but, as Vice Admiral Tokugawa is currently speaking, they don’t interrupt. Spock looks around for Pike, but the admiral has not arrived yet.
“Sorry about the grilling last night,” Tokugawa is saying, watching Kirk with a humorous twinkle in his eye. “It’s not exactly standard procedure.”
“Thought I was being court-martialed, sir,” Kirk jokes, rubbing the back of his neck.
Tokugawa chuckles. “Blame the Torian ambassador. He wanted to make sure we’re offering him the best we’ve got, and Pike thought the best way to convince him was an impromptu panel.”
Kirk pauses, realization dawning. “…Really. That was all for Kovac’s benefit? I thought—”
“We know you’re capable, Captain. Sometimes it just takes some extra show to convince a diplomat.”
Spock is seized by a sudden wish to roll his eyes or to smirk bitterly. Of course – he should have realized this could happen and warned the captain. Kirk has not been screened the same way any other senior officer normally would be before assuming any high-profile position; he had no way of knowing what to expect, and Spock didn’t warn him. The ugly exhibit of the night before never would have happened if Spock had had the presence of mind to remember the admiralty’s classic behavioral quirks.
“And that was Admiral Pike’s idea?” Kirk asks, sounding incredulous and irritated. Remembering himself, he amends quickly, “Sir.”
Tokugawa’s face wrinkles in amusement. “Pike does that to people he likes, you know. Ask Commander Spock there.” Kirk jumps and turns to look at Spock, who very pointedly does not meet the captain’s gaze. “When he was appointed Pike’s Science Officer, a lot of people asked why a recent graduate got to be second officer on a flagship. Pike locked him up with a full Sciences board for – what was it, Commander? Eight hours?”
“Eleven hours and forty-two minutes,” Spock replies, coming closer. “It was a most... tedious experience.”
“But it did shut everyone up,” Commander Tovan says, smiling. She looks at Kirk amicably. “The admiralty wouldn’t have held a competence hearing if they weren’t sure you could pull it off.”
“Well,” Kirk says, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “That’s… that’s a relief.”
Spock can tell Kirk is having a hard time assimilating the revelation and its implications. Spock knows he should be sympathetic, particularly in light of what Doctor McCoy revealed to him last night, but Spock must not be a very nice person after all. He can’t subdue the light jolt of satisfaction now that Kirk is aware that Spock has not betrayed him.
Spock steps closer, holding out a PADD to Admiral Tokugawa. He’s surprised when Kirk grabs it swiftly, like it’s a loaded phaser.
“Let me get that!”
Spock’s eyebrow arches. “Captain?”
Tokugawa is watching the byplay with interest. “Is that my update on the Vulcan-Torian trade agreement?”
“Correct, sir.” Spock nods. “If I may, Captain? The admiral did request the information.”
“Oh.” Kirk blushes and hands Spock the PADD awkwardly. “Sure, I... Sorry. I thought— I’m sorry, Admiral, we aren’t starting yet, right?”
Tokugawa looks at him from the PADD Spock finally managed to present him. “We’re still waiting for Pike and the Torian.”
“If you could please excuse us for just a moment – Mr. Spock, mind if I have a word?”
Spock glances at Tokugawa, who nods, bemused. Kirk sweeps out of the room as if it’s on fire; Spock follows him in a slightly more dignified manner.
“Shit, Spock, don’t scare me like that!” Kirk blurts out, rounding on him. “I thought you were handing in your resignation.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “Why would I do that to the head of Starfleet Tactical?”
Kirk stares at him. “You’re not doing it at all, right?” He grabs Spock’s arm without thinking. “Tell me you’re not quitting.”
“Indeed I am not.” He glances down pointedly, and Kirk snatches his hand away as if burned.
“Sorry.” Kirk winces. “Shit, Spock, I’m so sorry. I don’t even know how I can ever apologize to you.”
“No, let me just – it was – I was way out of line. I’m sorry I yelled at you, and I’m sorry I thought you were—”
“Attempting to set you up?”
“Yeah. I was just – so angry. I know it’s not supposed to happen to someone in my position, but – I’m still Jim Kirk, captain or no.” He smiles a faltering, self-deprecating smile that somehow twists Spock’s insides. “My temper ran away with me. Illogical, I know.”
Spock looks outside a huge window over the glimmering waters of the bay, steeling himself. The intensity of Kirk’s gaze upon him is almost physically painful.
“I would not say that,” Spock counters. “Having analyzed your circumstances, I have come to a conclusion that it was, in fact, only logical for you to suspect me of foul play. I am the only member of the crew who has been known to oppose you.”
“Bullshit, Spock. That’s water long under the bridge.”
“Is it?” Spock glances at him. “In fact, Captain? You do not trust me.”
“Of course I trust you. Remember that minefield? I trusted you with my life.”
“You did not have a choice,” Spock points out. “It was either trusting me or facing a certain death. That was not your decision, Captain – merely lack of an alternative.”
Kirk grits his teeth. “Dammit, that’s not true—”
“Captain, I am also at fault here – perhaps more so than you. It is my duty to cultivate a relationship based on trust and professionalism between us, and the failure is my responsibility.”
Kirk presses his lips together stubbornly. “It takes two to tango, Spock. You might have been sending mixed signals, but I should never have forgotten the kind of man you are. I know you better. I never should have made it personal.”
Spock glances at him incredulously. “Then you would have been striving for the impossible. It has always been personal between us.”
Kirk blinks and stares at him for a long moment, before his frame relaxes slightly and he lets out a huff of air. “Yeah. I guess it has.” He laughs softly, pressing a hand to his forehead and shaking his head. “Jesus, Spock. I am so not very good at that.”
Spock lets out a small sigh. “That is unfortunate, Captain, for neither am I.”
Kirk chuckles. “Well. At least we have something in common.” He looks up at Spock, mirth fading gradually from his expression. “I really am sorry,” he says quietly.
Spock inclines his head. “I accept your apology, Captain. And I apologize as well.”
Kirk smiles uncertainly. “No harm, no foul?”
Spock looks at him, and Kirk nods with a sigh. No part of that statement is true and they both know it, but it’s something they will have to accept.
“We should return to the briefing room,” Spock says.
“Yeah.” Kirk bites his lip. “One more thing, Spock. What I said about you and Pike – I didn’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just that – he’s sort of a – I don’t know, sort of a father figure, to me?” Kirk squirms uncomfortably. “I guess? I mean, what with him dragging me into enlisting and handing me his ship and... It caught me by surprise, that’s all.”
“I understand,” Spock says patiently. “And if that is all, Captain, we should go back inside.”
Kirk eyes him for a moment longer, as though it’s not quite the reply he’s been hoping for. But then the Torian ambassador appears at the end of the corridor, and Kirk sighs.
“Yeah, that’s all. Let’s go.”
Spock pauses by the door to let the captain walk in first.
Spock watches the Torians and Starfleet officials file out of the room when he hears Pike’s quiet voice.
“Spock, stay a moment. Kirk, you too.”
Kirk, who is almost at the doors, looks back uncertainly, but steps back inside. The room is suddenly very hushed with just the three of them.
Pike looks between them and sighs.
“All right. First off – what’s wrong with you two?”
Kirk blinks, startled. Spock feels mildly uncomfortable himself. “Admiral?”
“Knock it off, Spock.” Pike waves at him impatiently. “Kirk’s been staring at you like he’s eaten your ice cream and is waiting when you’re gonna figure it out. And you look—” He trips over his words before settling for a shake of his head. “Whatever. Just settle this before you ship out.”
Spock exchanges an uneasy glance with Kirk. “There is nothing to settle, sir,” Spock says at the same time Kirk says, “Consider it settled, Admiral.”
Pike looks at them with a pained expression. “Yeah, you might wanna work on that double act,” he says pointedly. “Anyway, I called you back to warn you.” His gaze locks on Spock. “I wasn’t in the know the other night, and even if I was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.”
Spock nods. “I understand.”
“Yeah. I can tell you now – this mission isn’t as simple as the Torians make it sound.”
“Due respect, Admiral, it sounds simple enough.” Kirk shrugs. “We get to Bareils, find his informant, extract him without attracting too much attention, and score a point to get the Torians sign a new trade agreement with the Federation.”
Pike studies him. “And what if I tell you that Ambassador Kovac asked for the Enterprise specifically? And that he asked for it after he found out to what ship the only Vulcan remaining in Starfleet is assigned?”
Spock’s eyes narrow. “He asked for me? Admiral, that does not seem to make sense.”
“And yet he was very thorough in determining your rank and position prior to choosing the ship.”
Spock looks at Kirk. “It appears you were correct, Captain. I am responsible for us being summoned back to Earth, after all.”
“Spock,” Kirk grits out, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose, “really, d’you have to twist the knife? I’m sorry, okay?”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “That would be the first time in my experience that you regret being proven right.”
Kirk looks at him, blinks, and turns to Pike. “Did he ever let you have the last word?”
Pike smirks, glancing at Spock. “I had my moments.”
Spock lets his gaze drift from one to the other before lifting an eyebrow. “If you gentlemen are done comparing notes, perhaps we could return to the matter at hand?”
“Which is why Kovac would request you specifically for this mission,” Kirk says, instantly serious. “And the Enterprise.”
“Spock, your father had some dealings with the Torians, right?” Pike asks.
Spock nods thoughtfully. “Correct. However, I do not believe them to be of any importance now. My father was an observer during the Vulcan-Torian trade negotiations once, but his role was non-essential.”
“And you personally?”
“I was but a child at the time.”
“Okay, this is just weird,” Kirk blurts. “Everyone knows that Torians are isolationists. They don’t come out of their territory unless they have to. The only Federation species they’ve had contact with until, like, yesterday are the Vulcans, and you guys hate each other because some sixteen centuries ago they helped the Romulans sever ties with your people.”
Spock winces slightly. “Your timeframe is off, and your appraisal is unduly emotional, but, essentially, you are correct.”
“So why would they suddenly think that the presence of a Vulcan, of all people, would be vital for the mission’s success?”
“It would not,” Spock says slowly, and suddenly, it all falls into place. He looks up at Kirk sharply. “But my presence would be important if the mission fails.”
Kirk’s eyes widen slightly. “They’d have an excuse to say that Vulcans have sabotaged the mission—”
“—and if so, the Federation’s show of good will toward them is indeed a ploy, which—”
“—will leave their hands free to sell their dilithium and veralis to whomever they want—”
“—including the Romulans, because since the Federation will appear to have committed the offence, the Torians will be no longer bound by—”
“—the Sirius Convention. Shit, Spock, that last intel report – remember we tried to figure out what the activity along the border was all about?”
“I suspect you are correct. But we still do not have any proof to confront the ambassador directly.”
“So the only thing we can do is take this mission and not let Kovac screw us up if it kills us.”
Spock nods with conviction – it would be indeed the only possible solution, albeit hardly the easy one.
The sudden silence is somehow very loud, stretching unpleasantly, until Pike clears his throat.
“I believe,” he says slowly, “that the admiralty has no idea what a monster they had created when they assigned the two of you to the same ship.” He looks from Spock to Kirk and back. “Don’t screw this up. If the Romulans get their hands on the Torians’ deposits, nothing will stop them from war, and if there’s ever a time when we are less ready for it than now, then I don’t want to see it.”
His eyes turn grave as he nods at them. “Godspeed, gentlemen.”
Spock shares another glance with Kirk before following him out.