Kirk tried not to show his disappointment. "Let's address this from another angle, Commander. Why was I feeling your pain at all? I get the sense that's not expected."
"I do not know. I was shielding my mind as I would do anytime I am in in contact with another. You should have felt nothing."
"Huh. Give me a few theories, Science Officer, why I might have been feeling what you were feeling."
Spock's expression pulled inward. He shook his head. "There are instances when two Vulcan minds that are highly attuned by chance can communicate across distance and through mind blocks. They are rare. And there is no reason to assume it applies here. You have no extra sensory skills, which would be how this ability would manifest itself given that you are fully human."
"This ship would have been destroyed if I did."
"Indeed. So we can discount an error in any past measurements of your abilities in this area."
When Spock fell quiet, Kirk said, "But you are half human."
"I fail to understand-"
"You said 'attuned.' What if your human half is attuned to me." Indeed, Kirk thought, maybe that's why reading you came so easily; why feeling affection is so natural.
"That does not follow logically, given that we are discussing telepathy. But I also have no good explanation, so I cannot dismiss your theory outright."
Kirk wasn't accustomed to scientific Spock speaking so uneasily as though theory were a personal minefield. It made for a strange show.
"Any other ideas?"
"Possibly my shielding is weaker than I realize."
"You were a little distracted."
Spock shook his head. "That is no matter. I am more than adept in the mental faculties of mind blocking. I would not have joined Starfleet otherwise. I am more inclined to the first theory than the second. I have no other theories except a difference of perception in what occurred."
Kirk rocked back in his chair. "Let's drop it for now. What I do need to know is how often do you feel that much pain. I need to know as your commander."
"There is no one clear answer to that question. We do not have a common frame of reference."
Kirk scratched his face thoughtfully, relieved Spock wasn't shutting him down. "I'm not sure how to phrase it then. I thought I was dying. The memory of the pain is giving me symptoms of post trauma stress. I wake up in a sweat remembering it."
Spock's head twitched to the side. Voice low, he said, "I perhaps better understand your pursuit of this issue, Captain."
"I'll happily suffer if I can do something for you."
Spock shook his head and sounded like himself again. "You are in error."
Kirk clasped his hands and studied them, then studied Spock, who seemed to be hanging suspended rather than standing.
"Are you sure? If we are following theory one, that we are attuned in some way, then I don't want to be so dismissive of possible remedies. But I still need to rephrase my question before we get to that." Kirk sighed. "Sorry for this. Again. That wasn't physical pain, it was emotional. Is this a feature of your dual nature?"
"I do not know. I do not have a experimental control upon which to make a judgement."
Thank the Great Bird, Spock answered.
Kirk said, "What about that level of pain? Did you experience anything like it the day before?"
"No. That is not normal."
"Well, that's a relief." Kirk rubbed his fingertips over his forehead. He really needed to sleep. "It's easy to underestimate what you might be going through, moment to moment, you hide it so well. I know you'd like to be overlooked for concern. I expect that's one of the goals for the way you conduct yourself. But I don't want that to happen. Whether you can perform normally under those circumstances or not, it matters to me. Like I said, I care about you, personally."
"I do not understand that sentiment. It is unwise of you as you will need to command me in many kinds of circumstances."
"Just like you, Spock, I have emotions that I ignore to make important decisions. I understand my responsibilities only too well." Kirk rested his head back on the chair again.
"You are fatigued, Captain."
"Yes. But I'm getting through to you, so I'm not giving up just yet." He smiled at him.
"Your persistence and lack of reprimanding of my behavior is unexpected."
"I was willing to lose you to get through to you. Remember that next time we play chess."
Spock looked behind him at the stone stool and resumed his seat. Kirk wanted to hug him. Kirk held out his hand. Spock stared at it.
"Aren't you curious, Science Officer?"
Spock paused. He stared at Kirk's open hand, palm up, for longer than it would have taken him to compute a course through an asteroid belt. Spock closed his eyes. Opened them, and slid his fingers over Kirk's. They were warm and dry. Kirk felt nothing beyond his own relief. He didn't want to lose Spock, for many reasons.
No, he did feel something. Something he'd never felt before. Constricted control. The mental equivalent of a narrow labyrinth of bank vaults. Beyond them, something vibrated, resonated, hid, surged.
Spock pulled his hand free. Kirk left his held out.
Kirk said, "I sensed something. Like strong walls. Narrow stone corridors. But not real."
"You should not have been sensing that. That is the very control that should be shielding you out."
Spock sat calmly now, composed more normally, although wary. Kirk hated to risk alienating him again. But maybe Spock was emotionally fatigued and at worst would give way and regret it later rather than shutting down again.
Voice gentle, Kirk said, "Do you know what brought on that pain?"
"I have been meditating on that, Captain and am not entirely certain. But it is not welcome."
"I imagine not." Kirk sighed. "I'd feel better if I understood. Then I can help you in case it happens again."
Spock angled his head away and swallowed hard. "I do not want assistance, Captain."
"I know this is uncomfortable. Believe me, I don't like doing this to you. Can you help me understand what caused the pain. And then I'll leave you be."
Without looking away from the corner of the room, Spock said, "You were mortally wounded." He looked like he wanted to say more but stopped to concentrate on his control.
Kirk rubbed his chin. "I suspected sympathetic pain was the cause, but I didn't want to think that highly of myself and assume."
"That is the terminology for it? You know of this?"
"It was not in the least useful. I concede that among social beings some emotional reactions are potentially useful." Spock finally looked at him again. "This was not."
"If it makes you feel any better, I'd feel the same for you."
"Would you?" When Kirk nodded, Spock lightly rolled his eyes. "A most inconvenient emotion. That I have no training to suppress it confirms that it is unique to humans."
"Or exacerbated by the situation." Kirk said. "Would it bother you to know that our minds were attuned?"
Spock's brow jumped. "No. That would be illogical. It is not something I could change."
"And it may be useful."
Spock gave a small crooked nod.
"I realize it will be a long time before you and I know each other really well, Spock. And I know your pride makes it impossible for you to accept anything from me, but I have to offer. If there is anything I can do for you, I'm always here if you need me."
"There is nothing you can do, Jim."
His first name washed through Kirk. Spock had used it before, but only in desperation over Mitchell or in desperation when Balak had promised to destroy the ship.
"I don't believe that's true, Science Officer. I think you're overlooking how our minds seem to be linked. But I'll let it go for now. Thank you for letting me in as much as you did."
Spock said, "I believe you should be resting, Captain."
Ah, the source of the pain in the first place, Kirk thought. But he nodded. "I made some poor assumptions about you. I assumed you were in such a fine state of control because you had less to keep control of. That was in error. I'm probably making the same mistaken assumptions about everyone on the ship."
"Including yourself, Jim?"
Kirk grinned. "Yes."
Spock said, "Your leadership skills are not something I easily recognize, nor am I capable of assessing except by outcomes that are themselves often hard to measure."
Kirk waited, but that seemed to be the end of the thought. "Am I that different from Pike?"
"Yes. In ways not immediately apparent because command decisions are not fully transparent, often happening as they are moment to moment. And command style is an art, not a science, and therefore out of my purview."
Did you feel the same kind of pain for Pike when he was in jeopardy, Kirk longed to ask, but he'd just be stoking his own ego and pushing too far. The question seemed to hang in the air.
"The answer to your question is 'no'," Spock said. His eyes were glittering, as if he enjoyed one-upping Kirk.
Kirk stared at him in pleased surprise. "Well, Mr. Spock. I don't mean to make trouble for you. Although I assume you live among humans because you want more trouble."
Again something hung in the air. This wasn't a welcome topic.
"Sorry," Kirk said. He stood up and Spock immediately mirrored him. "Someday when we are old and gray and hanging around the Starfleet retirement colony we can swap stories of how we came to be in this place. By then it won't hurt anymore."
Spock's brows came together. "Am I to assume that there is a difficult background behind your journey to this captaincy? I can garner no such conclusion from reading your records."
Kirk thought of the years of fantasy of finding his father. How that made him apply for every space and science program he could, no matter how many other fun things he could have been doing. When he wasn't driven to that, feeling so lost he wished for the world to sink into a singularity and swallow him up. And always trying to please that forever absent man who would never be pleased. "Probably more than you expect. Certainly not going to leave it hanging out there for just anyone to see."
Spock was considering him and Kirk wondered if he was picking anything up. Spock was more likely to master this attuning than himself. Kirk felt not alarm, but relief at the idea of being read so easily. By Spock. It took a burden off his mind and left him lighter. An understanding companion. Not a companion like Mitchell who teased and judged and acted like a friend when it suited him. And bullied when he had the power to. Not like that. Like a fortress whose fortifications were at Kirk's service.
Kirk said, "I can't tell you how relieved I am to have aired this issue out. But I'll leave you be. McCoy is going to hunt me down in a few minutes. He seems to drop by about now every night."
Spock wasn't watching him; he was studying him. Kirk was sharply aware of the attention as he slid out from behind the desk. He put his hand on the corner of the desk and gave Spock the same attention back. He couldn't sense anything, except his own fatigue and release from anxiety. He had connected with this enigmatic man, found a way inside his citadel of pride, he wasn't going to be alone in this command. He had this rock, this well of strength, whose depths he could only guess at, as a companion. And he felt good.
Spock said, "I trust you will not have any further difficulties sleeping."
Kirk required a moment to realize Spock was referring to re-experiencing his pain. "If I do, I'll handle it."
The desk comm chimed. Spock reached over to press it. It was McCoy.
"Yes, Doctor. The Captain is here."
"Just wanted to know where he'd wandered off to. I'll see him in his quarters when he's available."
Spock thumbed the comm off. "How soon before you are 100%, Captain?"
Kirk wanted to say, if we're alone, always call me Jim, but he didn't want to press. "Bones says another eight days. New cells need a lot of time to acclimate and toughen up. His words."
"Those do sound like the good doctor's words."
Kirk laughed. "On a related topic. I've told him to back off, in no uncertain terms. If he doesn't, feel free to not hold back."
"I trust that will not be necessary, Jim."
A pleasing happiness rolled through Kirk. He hadn't alienated this man, and he wasn't alone in this impossible, legendary command.
At the door, he said, "Good, night, Spock." He almost added, that if he could do anything for Spock, to just call him, any time of night. But he didn't. Words reduced the sentiment as well as potentially damaged the ego. He stayed in the doorway while the idea hung there.
With level aplomb, Spock nodded. "Good night, Captain."
"There you are," McCoy said, stepping over. "Spock."
McCoy laid into Kirk, "Where have you been? I let you out of sickbay and back to full time duty with certain limitations. Captain."
"It's been a week. And I was only talking to Spock."
"Yeah, and you're swaying on your feet."
Kirk waved at Spock just before the doors triggered closed. He sensed that anything he might have added, he didn't need to say.
I'm hashing out another story. Hopefully I can start posting next week. Thanks for reading.