Title: Don't Stop Believing 4.9/?
Beta: secret_chord25 <333
Pairings/Characters: Kirk/Spock pre-slash, ensemble
Rating: R (ish)
Warnings: some not very descriptive violence
Notes: For detailed story summary/navigation/word count, please visit the Master Post.
The references Spock makes might be traced to Chasing the Sunrise.
End of Part IV.
The journey to Bareils becomes another test for Spock’s patience. Ambassador Kovac practically glues himself to Spock’s side, needling him ceaselessly with all kinds of unpleasant questions that range from general jibes at the Vulcan way of life to Spock’s personal experiences as a half-breed. Spock grits his teeth frequently as he forces himself to remain polite, but he cannot escape the man who has insisted that Spock become his personal guide.
Kirk isn’t faring much better, because the ambassador has brought his sixteen-year-old daughter with him and placed her in Kirk’s personal care. The girl is the very definition of a spoiled child of royal descent – her table manners make Tellarites look sophisticated, and her mood swings are enough to try even a Vulcan’s tolerance. Whenever Spock hasn’t been intent on preventing himself from climbing the walls, he has been feeling sharp pangs of sympathy toward the captain.
On the eve of the planet fall, they meet in the rec room by accident. Spock has come for some tea and sees Kirk staring at the replicator menu in blank stupor. He glances as Spock approaches, giving him a weak smile.
“Evening, Mr. Spock.”
“It is closer to morning, Captain.”
“Really?” Kirk blinks. “Well, that’s good. I’ve been trying to figure out what to drink instead of coffee, it being night and all, but since it’s morning...”
“How is Amara?” Spock asks neutrally, working the control panel.
“God, don’t say her name.” Kirk shivers.
Spock lifts an eyebrow, regarding him curiously. “‘Speak of the devil,’ Captain?”
Kirk stares at him, eyes dry and red with fatigue. “You all believe she’s such a sweet little girl, don’t you? For your information” – he jabs a finger at Spock, grazing his chest – “she tried to seduce me four times in five days.”
Spock feels his second eyebrow arch to mirror the first. “I hope you realize how vital it is that you are not discovered in a compromising position with her.”
“No shit.” Kirk blinks at him owlishly. “Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Spock, I’m not that eager to sleep with anything that moves.”
“I assure you, Captain, that much is obvious,” Spock says, then carefully takes Kirk by the wrist and removes Kirk’s hand from himself gently.
Kirk blinks again and looks down. “Sorry. When I’m this tired, it’s worse than when I’m drunk.”
Spock regards him warily. “You are aware that we will make planet fall in five hours forty minutes.”
“Yeah, well.” Kirk rubs his forehead. “You don’t look too peachy yourself.”
Spock retrieves his tea. “Doctor McCoy threatened me with stimulants.”
“We’ll be both taking them before planet fall.” Kirk nods, eyeing the cup Spock is lifting to his lips. “What’s that?”
Spock halts his movement. “An approximation of Andorian Spring tea. It is” — he watches Kirk take the cup from his hands and inhaling sharply before taking a sip – “a traditional morning drink.”
Kirk eyes him above the rim of the mug. “What?”
“I am… trying to decide if you are picking up manners from our young guest, or teaching them to her.” Spock purses his lips. “The similarity is disturbingly striking.”
Kirk wraps his other hand around the mug and grins in a childish display of triumph over a won trophy. “Get yourself another; I’m not giving it back. Bones says he’s got some drugs missing from his medical cabinet, and she’s got that gleam in her eye… There’s no way I’m drinking or eating anything someone hasn’t tried first.”
“Fascinating,” Spock mutters, working the panel again. “And just when I came to believe that humans could not become any more medieval.”
Kirk chuckles before suddenly saying, “Hey.”
A hand on his arm makes Spock look up. Kirk is staring at a chess set someone has forgotten on one of the tables. He glances at Spock uncertainly, his fingers shifting on the mug. “Do you think we could maybe play a while? And, you know… not talk?”
Spock inclines his head. After a week’s worth of constant nagging and intrusive prodding, the suggestion is more alluring than it should reasonably be.
Kirk magnanimously offers him white the first time they play. The game is swift, with both of them making moves seemingly without thinking. It resembles kamikaze chess, with pieces exchanging hands rapidly and in large numbers. True to their agreement, they don’t talk, save for an occasional proclamation of check.
Spock wins the game. Kirk rotates the board with a smirk before resettling it, presenting Spock with the black pieces this time.
The second game lasts noticeably longer. They both seem to spend more time studying each other’s moves and setting elaborate traps. Spock looks up from the board from time to time, watching Kirk consider his options and his hands move the pieces, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Sometimes Spock looks up to find Kirk watching him, and Kirk’s smile becomes a little more prominent; he holds Spock’s eyes almost in challenge. Kirk laughs softly as Spock declares another checkmate, and Spock feels a weird surge of anticipation curl up low in his belly at the undisguised promise.
The third game seems to be a hybrid of the first two: both players hunt down each other’s pieces, but they take their time in the pursuit. Spock sees it coming, but he’s already too late to save the match.
He tips his king over. Kirk grins and slumps further into his chair.
“Has anyone ever told you that you play a very irritating game of chess, Mr. Spock?”
“Irritating?” Spock lifts an eyebrow, playing absentmindedly with a captured knight. The set must be old; the figurine is somewhat chapped around the edges. “Perhaps not in such emotional terms, but the sentiment has been expressed over my manner of playing, yes.”
“You should have seen that one,” Kirk says, nodding to the board.
“Indeed,” Spock agrees, suppressing a sigh. He is tired, but then, so is Kirk, so it’s not an excuse.
“So,” Kirk drawls speculatively, still studying him. “You don’t play like any Vulcan player I know. What’s your FIDE rating? Because I’ve got 2781, and I can’t remember the last time I had to work for it like that.”
Spock sets the knight aside and begins to reassemble the board slowly. “I do not have a rating.” His eyes are fixed on the pieces. “I have not taken part in an official tournament since I was fourteen.”
He pauses, then adds softly, “This is the first time I have played since then.”
Kirk whistles quietly. “Really. But yeah, I think I’d remember you if you’d been on the Academy chess team.”
Spock glances at him curtly, rising from his seat. “Would you like another beverage?”
He can feel Kirk’s gaze at him, but doesn’t turn.
“Please, since you’re up,” the captain says at last. “Double espresso, Sumatra blend, two sugars.”
Spock suppresses the urge to roll his eyes as he walks to the replicator.
“So, what happened when you were fourteen?” Kirk asks the moment Spock places a steaming cup in front of him.
Spock bites the inside of his lip; he should have known. He takes a sip of his tea, warming his hands around the cup.
“Nothing ‘happened,’” he replies at last. “There was a tournament. I won.” He glances up at Kirk briefly. “However, it was said that my style of play is... inconsistent and illogical. My father said he would rather not have me display in public my lack of dedication to the Vulcan way any more than I already was. Thus, I quit playing.”
He chances a short look in Kirk’s direction. The captain is frowning, the coffee cooling slowly in front of him.
“I said you didn’t play like any Vulcan I know,” Kirk says slowly. “But I wouldn’t call it illogical. You’re much more ordered than me, for one.”
Spock feels some of the tension leave him; he shifts in his chair, sinking into a more comfortable position.
“There are distinct differences,” he explains. “You studied T’Pok’s Defense and Verak’s gambits.” Kirk nods. “Then you must know that Vulcans see no other purpose to the game than to achieve victory. The more – straightforward and swift way is introduced to achieve it, the better.”
“You don’t play like that,” Kirk notes softly.
“No.” Spock’s eyebrow arch slightly. “I do not.” He hesitates, searching for words. “My mother introduced me to chess, Captain. It was... I was fascinated by the game, but even more so by the chance to see her mind at work. Chess is – it is a very expressive, very informative game. I was often puzzled by the behavior and motivations of others around me, but when I played chess against them, I could see how their minds worked. The way they made their moves, the choices they made, the timing – I am at a loss to put it into words, but it is—”
“Like a mind-meld distilled?” Kirk suggests.
Spock meets his eyes, and nods, almost emphatically. “Yes.”
“Interesting.” Kirk regards him with an intrigued expression. “I’m almost afraid to ask what you thought of my game.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow, studying him, and speaks after a short deliberation. “You always play to win,” he says, eyes trained on Kirk. “Your ‘illogical improvisations’ are calculated to the last digit before you make a move, but you prefer to pretend they are spontaneous. Your mind works approximately four times faster than you let on. You pursue victory as the only outcome acceptable to you. You are unaccustomed to defeat, but you fear it, perhaps for that exact reason. The longer you remain victorious, the more vulnerable this fear makes you, and, in the end, you do not lose to your opponent, but to yourself.”
The sudden silence is deafening. Kirk stares at him, mouth open slightly and cheeks flushed; his eyes are wide and troubled.
“Forgive me,” Spock says quietly. “I – they are only assumptions, Captain. I did not wish to presume.”
Kirk clears his throat and looks away. “No,” he says. “I asked; it’s all right.” He flashes a smile at Spock that is far too shocked to be natural. “You should do palm-reading next. You’ve really got a knack for it.”
Spock studies him a moment longer and doesn’t reply. They finish their drinks in silence, and then it is time to prepare to beam down.
Later, Spock will analyze the events and conclude that he should never have been allowed on the planet.
His eyes are painfully dry, his body humming dully with sleep deprivation. His skin is itching from the stimulants that were never meant for someone with his physiology, and he feels how his shields, tattered by weeks of living on edge, are crumbling and getting thinner under the climbing pressure that bombards them, in steady waves, like poisonous radiation.
Savage world. Barbaric world.
A small planet lost between Orion and Romulan space, where the indigenous population of Arishuh is being exploited by the descendants of Orions and every other galactic race imaginable. Spock has seen his share of uncivilized, cruel cultures, but he would never stop being affected by the casual brutality of such worlds or their ruthless natures.
The mission is sensitive, and Kirk and Spock beam down alone while Scott attempts to conceal the Enterprise’s presence in the sector. They are wearing inconspicuous civilian clothes in order to blend with the crowd and do not carry phasers or communicators. The miniscule one-man transponders implanted into their forearms are their only connection to the world of reason.
They find the informant’s house easily, and, the moment they walk in, the old Arishuh drops to his knees and starts crying.
“I didn’t want to tell them!” he whines, rocking back and forth on the ground. “I did not! But the Romulans – they threatened! They hurt! I did not want to!”
Spock shares one glance with the captain, and it’s clear that they both realize that they have been expected, and that there is no time to waste.
Spock guards the door, while Kirk tries to reason with the old man, because there is no way they could walk through the busiest part of the town with him agitated as he is. When the captain manages to calm the Arishuh somewhat, they set off, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
Spock is tense. He has never liked crowds, and this one is more violent and volatile than most. Everyone around him is either inflicting pain or enduring it, if not now, then recently; they brush against him, pushing their anger, lust, and greed on him faster than he can deflect them. His teeth are crumbling and still he grits them harder, barely seeing his surroundings as he concentrates on reaching their destination.
“Oh no!” their companion wails suddenly. “Marissa! My daughter – it’s my daughter there – they found her – you must help my daughter!”
Kirk swears as they see a squadron of guards leading a crying young woman away. She cannot be older than seventeen. Spock’s blood starts to boil as he spots dark, ugly bruises covering her face and neck, her thin wrists bloodied with crude manacles.
“We’ll have to come back for her,” Kirk mutters.
“No!” the Arishuh cries out, and people start turning their heads toward them. “They’ll kill her! We have to help her! We must help her now!”
“Listen, mister, we’ll come back for her, all right?” the captain hisses through gritted teeth, shaking him a little. “I’ve never left anyone behind, and I’m not starting now, but we can’t risk you being caught.”
“Father!” the girl screams as she notices them. “Father, help me! Father, please!”
Her voice pitches higher and higher with every new syllable, her terrified shrieks cutting through Spock painfully. He has to stop his hands from reaching to cover his ears, and the effort is almost too much.
“Help me! Help me, please!”
Kirk swears again and starts tugging the Arishuh by the hand toward the concealed inner yard where they beamed down.
“Spock, don’t just stand there, help me!” the captain barks, struggling with the older man. “Take him to the—”
Like a knife sharpened with guttural fear of pain and death, it slices through Spock, cutting the thin, translucent string of will that was keeping his control in suspension above the abyss.
Blood roars wildly and triumphantly at his temples like a powerful riptide, clawing hungrily at his civilized veneer and tearing it apart until nothing a frenzied savage is left in its place, blind and deaf to all but his fury and the overwhelming urge to cause pain.
Spock launches himself in the opposite direction from the beam down point, fighting his way toward the guards. He doesn’t hear Kirk yelling after him, doesn’t notice people starting to scream around him. All he sees is the girl’s huge, fearful eyes and her hand stretched toward him. The vision is engraved in him, agonizingly familiar; it rips at his very core, sharp, merciless teeth of excruciating torture sinking into his heart and clenching till he opens his mouth and snarls his hatred for the universe itself, the mindless anger of a mortally wounded beast.
They try to stop him, and he fights back. He barely even sees them. He smashes bones and dislocates joints; he walks through the ranks of twenty-seven armed guards as if they were children with swords of straw. Somewhere on the periphery of his mind blooms an overwhelming sensation of utter relief and cruel, selfish pleasure, because he has always – always – been holding back, with anyone and everyone, and it’s a brutal, twisted delight to let himself go.
Somewhere in the middle of his madness, he catches a glimpse of Kirk standing still, staring at him with blue eyes wide and aflame, and there’s shock in them – but also something else, something dangerous and primal, something that Spock’s deeply demented mind identifies as longing, and anger for being bound by duty and sanity, and a promise of revenge for being left behind. A moment falls out of the normal course of space-time, and for a dizzying, intoxicating instant, it’s just the two of them, and the groans of fallen enemies covering the ground between them, and the familiarity of it is galloping and stunning, and Spock almost falters, swept by the sudden, staggering conviction that this has happened before.
The time resumes its course, and Spock spins on his heel to meet a new attacker as another layer of his inner defenses goes down, blown away by the fierce gaze scorching the skin between his shoulder blades long after Spock has moved out of its range.
He reaches the girl, just as her last keeper is about to cut her throat, and Spock doesn’t know – will never be able to tell – what fate has come to him; he doesn’t listen to the sounds.
He grabs the crying girl, who shrieks and tries to pull away from him, terrified, but she’s so weak that it’s ludicrous. He holds her in place without effort as his fingers tear away his own skin savagely and dig for the miniature device that McCoy has placed there. Spock can feel it buzz and knows that somewhere behind him, somewhere on the other side of the square full of groaning bodies, the other two transponders have been activated. He presses his own to the girl’s hand and pushes her away, just in time for the transporter beam to seize her.
He hears the sound of many footsteps surrounding him, and he throws his head back, and laughs.
It is the last thing he remembers.
He isn’t the tiniest bit surprised to come around in a prison cell.
His whole body is aching as if he has been literally dragged over the coals. Perhaps he has been; Spock can’t remember all too clearly beyond a haze of shouts, bodies moving with intent to hurt, and throttling, sickening anger boiling the blood in his veins. He looks at his hands – his knuckles are bloodied and beaten raw. Spock hauls himself up to sit, leaning against the wall, and closes his eyes.
He does not know how long he stays like this before he hears a distant scrape of metal upon metal. A door opening somewhere, far away from his cell. They must have been genuinely frightened to keep him in such isolation.
Two sets of footsteps approach, and Spock turns his head toward the door, keeping his eyes carefully lidded. The door is slammed open, and someone is nearly thrown in, managing to catch himself with braced arms before his head would have hit the wall. The door slams shut, and the footsteps retreat.
“Aren’t you gonna say hi?” Kirk asks, coughing and picking himself up from the floor with difficulty.
Spock stares at him, taking in the bruised arms and torn clothes, and the dark churning starts again low in his stomach, black and ugly and at home there, as if it has always been a part of him.
“Why are you here?”
Kirk smirks. “I broke the law; got arrested. Doesn’t take much around here.”
Spock tries to reign in the newly rekindled anger, but Kirk’s brazenness is smashing, and Spock’s control is slipping, the battle rage still filling his veins.
“You had the informant – you were free to leave. Why are you here?” he demands, barely taming his fury.
Kirk looks at him, eyes narrowed and chin going up rebelliously. “So now you care about the mission. I’m touched.” He sets his hands on his hips. “Do you know why you are here?”
Spock blinks, momentarily put off. “No. I am surprised to be alive.”
“Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Spock.” Kirk shakes his head mockingly. “They won’t execute you. You singlehandedly neutralized a squadron of their best guards. You don’t get to be beheaded – you get to become the newest gladiator on their arena on whatever fucked-up circus is being run out there. You do know what that means, right?”
Spock pulls his knees to his chest, gritting his teeth. Kirk’s tone is taunting him, the words stinging. “I will not fight anyone.”
Kirk stares at him for a long moment in silence, eyes sweeping over Spock intrusively.
“Shame,” he says with infuriating lameness. “You look like you belong there.”
Spock trembles with the effort it takes him to remain still; the urge to lash out is overpowering.
“It was clear where you walked, you know,” Kirk says, very deliberately. “I lost track of you for a moment, but there was – a path. I didn’t need to look to see where you’d – gone through. They were everywhere.”
Spock closes his eyes. “Did I kill?”
Again, Kirk pauses. “I have no idea. You just – passed through.” He sneers. “Like a knife through butter.”
Spock feels his lungs struggling for oxygen. He cannot inhale, exhale enough air.
“Oh no,” Kirk says with sudden vehemence. “You don’t get to curl up in the corner and moan. What the hell was that about, Spock? You wanted to save the girl, I get that. Was that the logical way? What the hell were you thinking?”
Spock whispers, “I was not.”
“That’s it? That’s your best explanation? You weren’t thinking?”
Spock uncoils from his position in a motion so swift he barely sees it himself. “Stop it. Be quiet!”
“Or what?” Kirk steps closer, challenging. “D’you know why I’m here, in your cell, Spock? Because I’m sentenced to death! Because they think you’re gonna rip me in half for your amusement! And they’re right, aren’t they?”
Kirk pushes him, and Spock steps away, seething.
“Come on.” Kirk advances on him, sneering. “I know you want to, you liar. You wanted it all along.”
“No!” Spock growls, turning away from him.
“What’s the matter, Spock?” Kirk pushes him again. “Not man enough to admit it?”
“Don’t,” Spock pleads through gritted teeth. “Do not speak.”
“The hell I won’t. I’ve got tons of things to tell you and you have nowhere to run here. That’s what you usually do, isn’t it? Running away, hiding in some hole when it gets too hot for you. That’s why you wanted to leave Starfleet; that’s why you’ll never make captain. It takes guts, and you’re a crappy officer who abandons his job the moment it gets too emotional. Some Vulcan.”
“Why should I? Does the truth hurt too much?”
“Do you think of yourself as some kind of noble warrior, stoically suffering in silence? Oh, if only that were true; it would have made your existence so meaningful, so gracious.” Kirk’s face twists in disgust. “But you don’t suffer, do you? You’re nothing but a cheap pretender – a bad actor who tries so hard to be good he’s forgotten what his real self is like. And maybe that’s for the best, because your real self isn’t worth shit!”
Spock’s fists clench painfully; he is shaking violently, fighting to hold still.
“You don’t feel!” Kirk yells. “Your fellow Vulcans – Vulcans, for crying out loud – they feel! But you’re not a real Vulcan, are you? You’re not real anyone! No wonder they kicked you out.”
He plants his hands on the wall at either side of Spock’s face, his breath ghosting over Spock’s lips, as Kirk whispers intimately, scathingly, “Tell me, did you have to beg Pike to take you, or did he do it out of charity?”
He lashes out before he knows it, overwhelmed by one blinding urge: destroy. He tackles Kirk to the hard floor of the cell and they roll, Spock smashing Kirk’s feeble attempts to protect himself, hardly even noticing the resistance. He hits and hits and growls deep in his throat, a low, animalistic sound of pure frenzy.
But he is unforgivably slow, his body beaten raw and screaming at the overexertion, and somewhere, at the back of his mind, something gives, leaking doubt like slow poison.
Kirk manages to throw him off for a second, and, just as Spock pounces at him again, Kirk strikes, precise and deadly like a cobra, and delivers a blow full in Spock’s solar plexus with all the might he possesses.
Spock cries out in sharp pain, falling backward, and he can’t stop, shouting his lungs out, because something breaks within him – something firm and solid and permanent – it breaks, and he’s rolling in pain that supersedes the mere physical by such heights that it’s barely conceivable.
All the pent-up grief, all the pain, the sheer agony of losing everything – all emotions that he had suppressed so violently that he wasn’t even aware he had them anymore, are set free now, rushing over him all at once, making him wish to hurt himself, to die – anything to end this torture.
A warm, heavy body wraps around his, gripping him tightly as he trembles in violent convulsions, keening in a voice he didn’t know he possessed and wishing for eternal oblivion.
“I’m sorry, ’msorry, ’msorry, ’msorry, ’msorry, ’msorry, ’msosorry, Spock, ’msorry, ’msorry...”
It’s a fierce, unending litany pouring into Spock’s ear, making no sense to him, but being there, never ceasing. He tries to crawl away from it, but it doesn’t let him.
“It’s okay. It’s okay; let it go. Let it all go. It’s okay. It’s okay. That’s it, don’t hold back. Don’t – don’t even try, Spock. That’s it. You’ve been carrying it for too long. Let go. Let it go.”
Slowly, dazedly, Spock reorients himself in the world where everything hurts. Breathing, opening his eyes, being. It hurts, and it doesn’t go away. It just keeps hurting and keeps being.
He draws in a tentative breath, and his lungs restart, aching. He shifts awkwardly, and it’s killing him, but his body obeys. Pain has just become his reality, and he must reintegrate himself into it. He doesn’t know how. He stills at last, seeking, in vain, for any measure of relief.
Hands on his shoulders. Someone is shaking him.
“Spock. Come on, talk to me.”
Spock looks up into a face he vaguely recognizes.
“Spock. Please, say something. You’re scaring me.”
Kirk, Spock realizes at last, and with that name, reality slams back, knocking the wind out of him. Spock tries to make himself move or, indeed, say something. He wants to tell Kirk to let go of him, to leave him alone. He opens his mouth, but the words wouldn’t come.
“Hu – hurts,” he hears someone utter instead.
“Oh God,” Kirk breathes, clutching his shoulders. “I know, Spock. I know.”
Spock looks at him, pushing away at last, using the wall as leverage to pull himself up to his feet. The room keeps swaying around him.
“Why?” he utters, almost inaudibly. He doesn’t know what he’s asking.
“I’m sorry,” Kirk whispers, coming to his feet as well. “I had to.” He takes a step closer and stops – a broken, abrupt motion, as if he has to fight to restrain himself. “Bones warned me, but I... We were worried about you.”
“Doctor McCoy?” Spock asks, not comprehending in the least.
Kirk nods. “He’s one smart bastard when he wants to be. You wouldn’t listen to him, so he pestered me. He thought maybe I could… help you.”
Spock looks at him, and Kirk covers his face with his hands, letting out a pained chuckle that falls, sharp and bitter, to the cold floor of the cell.
“When you lost it out there today, I thought that was it. But when I got here, you were still controlling it.” Kirk swallows and shakes his head incredulously. “I’m sorry I had to... You’re so stubborn, Spock. You’d nearly kill yourself, but you wouldn’t let go.”
Spock draws in another strained gulp of air. The sudden silence is hurting him just as the angry shouts have.
“I can never go back,” he says slowly, feeling the words for the first time. “I can never go home.”
“Spock...” Kirk breathes out helplessly.
Spock lifts up his head, looking at him without really seeing. He just needs someone’s eyes to anchor him, because—
“I can never buy flowers for my mother.” He pauses. “She liked roses – I used to buy her new breeds for her garden. I could not say it, but she would look at them, and she would smile, and she would know.” He swallows, his throat painfully dry. “I can never do that again.”
“Spock,” Kirk chokes. “Please...”
“I could have come for a visit – I could have...” He closes his eyes. “She would never ask, but I could, and I didn’t. I did not. And now I never can.”
“Spock, she knew—”
“Knowing is not enough,” Spock continues, merciless. “I was a poor son to her. In my arrogance, my pride, I punished her for my own failings. She never asked – she never...”
The ambient cold is finally starting to register, crawling under his tattered clothes and settling on his shock-frozen body. He begins to shiver.
“I wanted to buy a painting,” Spock whispers, his voice fading.
Kirk frowns, his expression becoming openly alarmed. “What?”
“A painting,” Spock repeats stubbornly. It’s important, for some reason, to explain this. “Tuvask and Tarina’s. They lived on the corner of Shi’ran and Tesle, near the fountain. They were very poor. They painted on canvas; beautiful, but unpopular. Unconventional.” His lips twitch. “I thought I would buy a painting from them the next time I – the next time I came home. The next time.”
“It will never happen,” Kirk says softly, and his voice breaks. “I’m sorry, Spock.”
Spock closes his eyes, feeling the floor sway beneath his feet. “How could I not know? How could I not know that I can never come home?”
“I don’t know,” Kirk whispers, shaking his head. “It takes time?” He shrugs helplessly. “I wish I could do something. God, Spock, I wish I could so badly… If I was just a little faster on that drill, maybe...”
Spock looks up at Kirk, seeing him clearly for the first time. Kirk’s face is a mess of bruises; blood trickles from the corner of his mouth, and he’s pressing his arm to his body protectively. But his eyes are clear and dry and trained on Spock, and he doesn’t know he’s begging, and he doesn’t know what for.
“There was nothing you could have done, Jim,” Spock says quietly, and the last string of tension within him gives with a painful echo, dissipating in the murky air around them. “There was nothing you could have done.”
A wave passes through Kirk at the words, and he trembles as he draws in a greedy breath, as though he has been holding it for the last several months. He takes a couple of steps across the cell, visibly fighting to keep himself together.
Vaguely, Kirk extends a hand in his direction. “Just give me – just give me a moment.”
Spock slumps against the wall, enervated. “I have nothing but moments now. They are all I will ever have.”
Kirk drifts back to him slowly, his haunted eyes attaining some measure of calm as he looks at Spock.
“I know how you feel.”
“How can you know?” Spock whispers. “How can anyone know?”
Kirk steps a little closer. “Because I lived through it, too,” he says quietly. “I didn’t lose a planet, but it was the same for me.”
Spock watches him, confused and startled. “How?”
Kirk closes his eyes briefly, a shadow of gloom settling over his features. “Have you ever heard of ‘the planet of eternal spring’?” He blinks tiredly. “When I was thirteen, I came to live there. It was as lovely as they said.”
His lips curve in a painful grimace. “And then the spring ended. Four thousand people died in one night. Murdered. My friends; my aunt; the girl I had a crush on.” He chokes. “The rest of us were hunted and forced to fight for survival.”
He meets Spock’s eyes. “My whole world was gone in one night, Spock – less than a day. So you see” – he smiles a strained, tightlipped smile – “I do, in fact, know exactly how you feel. Well.” He pauses. “Almost exactly.”
Spock stares at him, cold shivers running down his spine, distracting him from his own agony.
“You were on Tarsus,” he whispers, shocked when he thought he had lost his ability to be shocked. “Jim...”
Kirk bites his lip vehemently, shaking his head. “I never told anyone. Pike didn’t know; Starfleet doesn’t know – mom took care of it. Spock.” Kirk looks him in the eye squarely. “Bones doesn’t know.”
Spock wants to reach for him, to comfort him somehow, but he can’t make himself move.
“It took me almost a year to get home,” Kirk says quietly, forcing the words out. “When I did, there were counselors, and shrinks, and therapists of every fucking kind. ‘Did you feel anger, Jimmy?’ ‘Were you hurt, Jimmy?’ ‘Do you want to talk about it, Jimmy?’” His face contorts in disgust. “All I wanted was to be left alone. Most people couldn’t cope with it on their own, but I could. Am I a freak, because I could? Because I didn’t just break down and die? Am I as heartless as they said I was?”
“No.” Spock shakes his head. “No, Jim.”
Kirk looks at him, blinking rapidly. “They made me feel like I was some kind of monster. Maybe I was – I don’t know. I wasn’t supposed to survive – I did. I wasn’t supposed to be able to move on without therapy, and I was. I did!”
“They said I had no morals. No compassion. Just because I refused to let them see, just because I wanted to do it on my own, I—”
“I know precisely how you felt.”
Kirk stops short, staring at Spock with the strangest expression clouding his features. It made Spock’s breath catch.
“I know,” Kirk exhales. “Somehow, looking at you – I’ve always known.”
Spock looks away finally, when it becomes too much to withstand, but Kirk commands his attention to the point where Spock can’t resist.
“All I wanted,” Kirk says in a voice that sounds smaller somehow, “was privacy, and time, and no fucking talking about it ever. And maybe—” He pauses, taking a deep breath, struggling to hold it. “Maybe I wanted for someone I knew to be there.” His voice falls another notch. “To – to just hold me, and say nothing at all.”
Spock holds his gaze, feeling his own eyes well up with tears. He blinks and fights it, struggles against some strange resistance that is keeping him in place. He wants to move, and – he can’t.
“Then again” – Kirk sniffs and smiles a wry, self-deprecating smile – “I wasn’t Vulcan. So I guess—”
Spock makes some kind of quiet, indescribable noise, and manages to take a small step forward, trembling with effort.
“Oh, fuck it,” Kirk breathes, taking the final step and wrapping his arms around Spock tightly, forgetting his injuries on the spot. Spock stills at the movement.
“Don’t hate me,” Kirk whispers into Spock’s hair, fingers digging into Spock’s back and shoulders. “Please don’t hate me; not you too. I hate me for both of us already, promise. Hate this, hate hurting you. It feels like I’m betraying myself, and I’ve been there – Jesus, Spock, I’ve been there. Why does it always have to be me?”
Spock is shaking now, arms closing uncertainly around Kirk’s waist. “You – seem to be – uniquely qualified.”
Kirk laughs bitterly. “To be the guy who’s always ruining your life? How did I get this lucky?”
“Jim.” Spock pulls away slightly, without letting go. “I never hated you.”
“No. But I was – angry. Very angry with you.”
Kirk lets out a soft chuckle. “That’s a word and a half, I think. Hey.” He tips Spock’s chin up, calloused fingers gentle on his skin. “I deserved it. I’d say it was a human thing to feel, but you’d rip my guts out, and besides, I don’t think it’s just human. I think it’s – a living thing to feel.”
He bites his lip, peering at Spock. “I hated you a little myself,” he admits with a grin, fighting to hold on to the lighter tone.
“For the Kobayashi Maru?” Spock tries to step away, but Kirk doesn’t let him.
“I hate losing, Spock – you said so yourself.” Kirk shrugs. “It just – it freaks me out, usually. Badly. So yeah, for the Kobayashi Maru. And also – for being the most arrogant, self-assured, stick-up-your-ass prick I’ve ever met.”
He laughs at Spock’s expression and lets go of him at last, carefully lowering himself to the floor as he favors his ribs and left shoulder. Spock winces.
“I hurt you.”
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal.” Kirk waves him off dismissively. “Those bastards outside probably did more than you.”
He leans against the wall and looks up at Spock. “Don’t be a stranger; c’mere. We should stay close. If that idiot Arishuh stopped wailing his thanks for his daughter, he’s told Scotty we’re trapped here with one transponder to share by now, and Scotty’s already figuring a way to boost it for two.”
“I see,” Spock says, sitting down awkwardly next to Kirk. The captain immediately shifts closer, snaking an arm around Spock’s waist. “You should have simply explained this. I thought it was uncharacteristic of you to wish to – hold me.”
Kirk smirks. “Why, Spock, you didn’t really think I wanted to give you a hug, did you?” He teases, pulling Spock closer.
“No, of course not.” Spock pauses, and amends, “Perhaps, for a moment.”
He doesn’t pull away when Kirk rests his chin on his shoulder.
“Well, Mr. Spock,” Kirk murmurs low in his ear. “Perhaps, for a moment, you were right.”
Spock sinks back, leaning into the embrace, and closes his eyes.
It hurts to breathe.
“We’ll get through this, Spock,” Kirk promises softly. “I know you don’t believe it’s possible now; I know it hurts like a bitch and doesn’t quit, but I pulled through it. So will you. We’re too alike, you and I. We’re both—”
Kirk chuckles, nuzzling his hair. “That works, too, but I was going for stubborn. Too stubborn to let go.”
Spock rests his head against the hard surface of the wall and takes a deeper breath. “What do we do now?”
“We wait,” Kirk says simply.
“And if Mr. Scott does not rescue us?”
“We fight.” Kirk pulls him closer still. “Under normal circumstances, I’d say we don’t stand a chance. But after I saw what you did out there... God, you were a – a force of nature, Spock. I know I shouldn’t be admiring that, but it was incredible. You were incredible. In your darkest hour.” He sighs.
“Fuck, I’m so screwed.”
Kirk smiles against Spock’s skin. “Never mind. It’s gonna work out, Spock. Trust me, it’s gonna work out.”
Spock reflects on it. “As gloomy as the situation is,” he says slowly, “the deepest pitfall may be, I believe, that I do, in fact, trust you.”
Kirk laughs quietly, and Spock feels him relax. “Then we’re both screwed, Mr. Spock. We’re both screwed.”
In the darkness of the cell, with his lungs still struggling and his heart aching as if it’s ready to burst, Spock smiles.
End of Part IV
The journey continues...
Don't Stop Believing Interlude: All That Heaven Will Allow