Disclaimer: Star Trek characters belong to Paramount.

Author's note: Tons of fluff. By tons I mean tons. So sue me. I need to unwind sometimes, too. Don't like it, don't read it. Oh, and it's an AU, I think.

Beta: No beta. Misplaced articles at loose.

Codes/Rating: K/S, Mc

Summary: What do you do with a persistent and definitely destructive pattern?

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The Force of Habit

By

Anna Amuse

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--

The sound of footsteps was definitely approaching. Spock rose up from a narrow metallic bunk and came to stand beside the bars, waiting. He knew he did not present a pleasant sight. He knew the human who was steadily coming closer would not care. Once the man stopped directly in front of him, Spock bowed his head slightly.

"Captain."

Kirk didn't answer at once, scanning him from head to foot with scathing scrupulousness. Only then did he meet Spock's gaze. He sighed.

"We should stop meeting like this," he said.

Spock merely looked at him.

"I was looking forward to some quiet time off duty." Kirk clasped his hands behind his back. "This wasn't something I had in mind."

"I regret the inconvenience."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. Spock wasn't fooled by his seeming indifference. He knew his Captain well.

"Why did they arrest you?"

Spock lifted an eyebrow.

"I was hoping you might enlighten me as to that."

Kirk stared at him; rubbed his eyes tiredly.

"You know, just once I'd like to be able to do without this routine. These strange new worlds seem to be all of a kind."

"I agree this is somewhat taxing," Spock acknowledged blandly. "Will you be—"

"Yes," Kirk interrupted him firmly. "You don't know the charges." That was not a question. "I don't either, and nobody here is talking. Describe what happened. No, wait. I'd like to know how much time we have left first."

Spock tilted his head slightly, regarding him.

"The Tranian justice is swift, as you know."

"And rather uninventive in methods of punishment, yes. When were you taken?"

"At 2347 last night."

"Which leaves us about six hours," Kirk shook his head. "Could have been worse, I guess. Now, Mr. Spock. What happened? And start from the beginning please."

"As per our agreement, I beamed down directly to the Regent's palace to go over the formalities. He was expecting me. It took us 1.4 hour to reach an understanding regarding shoreleave protocols our crew must abide by. I contacted the Enterprise to inform you of this."

"I remember. Go on."

"The Regent asked me if I would like a tour of the city. I have never been to Tran Prime before, so I agreed."

"Did he conduct the tour himself?"

"No. He recommended his daughter as a guide. A most... intriguing young lady."

"I have no doubt about it," Kirk noted sourly. "What happened then?"

"Nothing of significance." Spock appeared mildly puzzled. "She showed me some rather fascinating sights; the Temple of Doom, the ancient theatre. It was a highly educational excursion. Once it was over, I thanked her and we parted ways. I was returning to the beam down site when the guards approached me. I offered no resistance."

Kirk was watching him piercingly.

"Did the Regent show any signs of hostility toward you?"

"No," Spock pursed his lips, shaking his head slightly. "In fact, he acted very friendly."

"Did anything happen during that tour? You said you visited some temple—you didn't say anything to any priest by any chance?"

"No, Captain. I did not speak to anyone except for lady Mosina during the entire tour."

"Then it must be something you said or did to that girl," Kirk concluded, studying the Vulcan fixedly with a blatantly penetrating glance. "Are you certain you did not... mistreat her in any way?"

Spock folded his arms across his chest and looked at Kirk rather coldly.

"What kind of mistreatment do you have in mind, Jim?" his tone was icy.

"Sorry," Kirk looked down briefly. "I guess I've forgotten who I'm talking to for a moment."

"Obviously," Spock said stiffly. "Though I must admit that, had our positions in respect to this bar been reversed, it would have been a legitimate question."

Kirk glanced up at him sharply. It wasn't like Spock to go for cheap shots. The fact that he did now told Kirk immediately that his appraisal of the situation was rather pessimistic. Kirk knew he had good reasons, too. It just wasn't like Spock to give up either. He studied his friend more closely. What was he missing?

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked nonchalantly.

Spock didn't deign to answer.

"Fine," Kirk grunted. "I get the picture. If you'll excuse me then, I need to go talk to some people."

"Captain, I have a request," Spock said quickly, effectively rooting him to the spot.

"Yes?" Kirk intoned cautiously, barely holding in his astonishment. Spock had never made any kind of request of him in the known history.

"Please do not include the Regent's daughter into the list of people you are going to interview."

Kirk put his hands on his hips and tilted his head up challengingly.

"She's the key witness. Why shouldn't I?"

Spock actually sighed.

"Because much as I enjoy your company at any given time, I would not like you to join me here as a cellmate."

There was nothing Kirk could do to prevent a rather mindless grin from spreading on his face. Spock actually had to look away from the sight, but the Captain didn't care right this moment. He was looking at the bowed head with an expression he would prefer not to define. Hearing Spock say that was almost worth having him locked up in this abysmal place. Almost.

"Your trust in me is heartwarming," he said aloud with mild sarcasm. "You think I can't talk to a woman without insulting her in some way?"

Spock looked up at him calmly.

"There is no denying that your insults are usually welcomed, however—"

"Mr. Spock," Kirk interrupted him resolutely. But his official command demeanor was faltered beyond hope by what the other's gaze was telling him. He sighed. "Damn. I believe you have come to know me entirely too well."

Spock raised an eyebrow.

"Was that not an expected outcome?"

"No," Kirk shook his head with conviction. "You didn't come with warnings attached."

Spock didn't look away. Quietly, he amended, "Neither did you."

"Fair enough," Kirk agreed. "Listen, there's no way I can not talk to her. I have to. But I promise you, I'll be very careful. In the meantime," he added, frowning at Spock's skeptical mien. "Why don't you surprise me with equally good behavior?"

The eyebrow shot up again. "Captain?"

"You've become too predictable, Science Officer. I'm almost tempted to leave you here and request a new one. Why don't you make a real effort in controlling your... volatile impulses and stay put right here for a change while I sort this out?"

"Volatile impulses, Captain?" Spock asked in his best affronted tone. "I believe you are being purposefully insulting."

"No, Mr. Spock," Kirk shook his head with a gentle smile. "But I, too, have come to know you entirely too well. Frankly, I prefer negotiating your release in a civilized manner, rather than making excuses for destroyed property." His gaze hardened for a moment. "No prison breaks. That's an order."

If anything Spock looked mildly baffled.

"Aye, sir."

Kirk took pity of his apparent misery.

"I'm sure you'll find some other way to occupy your mind while you wait. Besides, we know nothing about these people. I may have to accommodate you yet."

"I sincerely hope it would not come to that. As you know, Vulcans are predominantly peaceful people. We do not appreciate resorting to violence."

"Of course not, Mr. Spock," Kirk said, rubbing his chest unconsciously. It had been more than a year now since his encounter with Spock's lirpa on the red sands of Vulcan. There wasn't so much as a scratch left on his skin, and yet he could still feel the scar deep within him. "I'll be on my way then. Oh, and Spock? Don't go anywhere."

Spock merely raised an indignant eyebrow.

The sun blinded Kirk for a moment after the semidarkness of the prison. He blinked, counting down the narrow steps, just as someone approached him.

"Jim."

Kirk stopped abruptly.

"Bones? What are you doing here?"

"I heard what happened, didn't I?" McCoy grunted, catching up with him. "Did you see him? How's he doing?"

"How he's always doing," Kirk muttered grudgingly, but then a frown crossed his forehead. "Actually, I've rarely seen him this nervous."

"That's hardly surprising," McCoy commented dryly. "Spock's such a pathetic creature. He can snap somebody's neck and never wince about it, but give him a fifty-fifty variable on whether he's guilty or innocent and he'll be climbing the walls. It's a shame I got here too late to go with you. Could have saved him the trouble of counting the odds."

"What do you mean? You know the charges?"

"Of course I know the charges," McCoy looked at him strangely, then sighed. "God, how you two managed to survive this long without me is anybody's guess."

"Bones," Kirk's voice started to ring warningly. He pulled the Doctor aside. "You can wallow in being pleased with yourself later. Talk."

McCoy shrugged.

"There isn't much to tell, Jim, really. You've heard about the girl."

"What about her? Spock said he didn't touch her."

McCoy looked at him as if he was raving mad.

"Of course he didn't touch her. That's the problem."

"Bones, are you trying to be difficult?"

"No, Jim, actually I'm trying to be useful. For your information, I cornered Spock, blast his pointy ears, just before he beamed down. I told him I'd been here before, I offered to brief him on the local customs. You know what your unbearably smug First Officer said? 'I am fully versed on the Tranian protocol, Doctor. Your services are not required.'" McCoy grimaced. "One of these times he needs to start to listen to me."

"Bones, I'm losing my patience," Kirk said in exasperation. "Will you please cut the self-admiration ode and get to the point?"

"I've already explained the point, Jim. They offered him a tour. Down here, it's some sort of catch phrase for, you know, a romantic proposition. You can decline, and then there's no harm done. But if you agree you have to, well, go through with it. If you don't, it's considered a breaking of a contract. All of which I would have explained to Spock, had he taken time to listen."

"Damn," Kirk shook his head in utter frustration. "Don't these people have any kind of entertainment? To execute someone just because they didn't want to..." he trailed off, looking mildly incredulous.

"Well, as you know, there are only two crimes here that are not punishable by death—stealing left shoes of elderly females and drinking water at midday. Insulting the Regent's daughter doesn't qualify as either."

"Oh God—dammit!" Kirk rolled his eyes and clutched his fist menacingly in the direction of the prison building, as if the Vulcan could see him. "I've had it with Spock, Bones, I'm telling you. In all these years, couldn't he pick up some small things? Couldn't he at least learn how to flirt?"

"I'd say he's doing fine when he wants to," McCoy said pointedly, his tone distinctly ironic.

Kirk flashed him a warning glance.

"I don't want to hear it." He sighed, pushing a loose stone with the toe of his boot. "I've gotta go talk to this woman, see if we can come up with some sort of compensation for this misunderstanding. There must be something these people want that we have." He looked at the Doctor strictly. "You—stay away from Spock, or he really might go mad from your gloating."

"Nah, I've been trying for years. Doesn't work. Jim."

"Yes?"

"When you talk to that girl, try to be... civil."

"Oh, honest to God. Between you and Spock it's a miracle there are still some women who don't flee upon spotting me. I'll see you later."

McCoy watched him go with doubt written clearly all over his face. Then he turned slowly and headed for the main entrance to the prison.

--

He didn't wish to open his eyes. He wanted to remain forever in this blessed dark bubble of unconsciousness, with no feeling of his body or his wounds. He was weak, he could sense it. So weak, even thinking was difficult. But something was pulling him from his comfortable hiding place. Something very persistent was dragging him forcibly to the surface. With a jolt he realized it was pain. He let out a soft groan. He was hurting, all over. How did he manage to do that to himself?

He opened his eyes finally, but his vision was blurry and the image swayed and whirled in front of him. With tremendous effort, he focused on the face looming over him in the heights. It was familiar, and it was looking down at him. Then it moved, speaking. He must hear...

"Captain. Welcome back."

Kirk blinked several times, fighting the overwhelming dizziness.

"Spock..." he croaked hoarsely. It hurt to speak. "Spock, you... you're a mess."

Spock didn't even give him an eyebrow, much less made any move to flatten his thoroughly ruffled hair or to wipe the soot off his face. He simply continued to stare down at him.

"Mess is right," came a familiar grunt, telling him McCoy was there as well. "Mess is the word of the day. You're a mess, Jim. Sick Bay's a mess. The whole ship's a mess. Even Spock is a mess. I hope you're finally satisfied."

Kirk tried to lift himself up a little, but discovered the strain to be way too much for him. He succeeded in upsetting a couple of bio scanners, though, and McCoy cursed vaguely. The Doctor moved towards the bed. Spock was occupying McCoy's habitual spot at the right side of the bed, and McCoy cursed again inaudibly, moving to the other side. There was no point in trying to move the Vulcan out of there now. Not if he was to act in his patient's best interests.

"Lie still, Jim, would you?" he grunted, tired and annoyed. "You've done enough damage to yourself already."

Kirk was looking up at Spock fixedly.

"The mission. Did we... succeed?"

"Yes, Captain. The tsunami was diverted. Eighty-six percent of the water supplies were returned to the planet's surface via the converter."

"Then we got to it in time," Kirk exhaled in relief.

"Yes, sir."

"In time," McCoy mimicked him in disgust. "In time to nearly get you killed? You're never late for that kind of party, Jim, are you?"

Kirk ignored him.

"Ship's... status?"

Spock glanced up at the monitor above the bed curtly, then at McCoy. The Doctor didn't take his eyes off his scanner, but nodded almost imperceptibly. Spock focused on his Captain again.

"Operational, however... Mr. Scott is... displeased."

Kirk's eyes widened slightly.

"How displeased?"

"Very displeased, Captain. I would recommend you stay out of Engineering... for a while."

"That bad, huh?"

"Indeed."

Spock would no doubt have found it illogical, but Kirk felt instantly better. It was only partly a joke that Scotty's moods were a more reliable means of ascertaining the current ship's status than a most thorough computer check of all systems. But the very fact that Spock would use this particular frame of reference let him know they were out of the woods. There was hardly any doubt that his First Officer had done this deliberately.

"Why are you here then?" Kirk asked wincing, as McCoy tested his arm carefully. "You must have your hands full."

"Quite correct," Spock's gaze bore into the CMO once again. "And I explained this to the good Doctor several times. For some reason he insists on holding me here hostage."

"Hostage," McCoy snorted, letting go of Kirk's arm and loading his hypospray. "That'd be the day." He pressed the hypo to Kirk's shoulder, despite the latter's meek protests. "I expect you in my office in a minute, Spock. I'll check you over, and then by all means get out of my sight."

"Words fail to express my gratitude, Doctor," Spock intoned sarcastically.

"One minute," McCoy repeated pointedly. He waited long enough to see Spock nod his consent and left the room.

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence. Predictably, Kirk was the first one to let it get to him.

"Spock, I'll be falling asleep any second now," he said wearily. "If you want an apology—"

"I do not."

"Look, I—"

"Captain. You are my superior officer. Duty does not require you to justify your behavior with me."

"I wasn't going to. I just wanted you to understand—"

"I do, sir. As my commander, you are by no means obliged to follow my advice, rely on my expertise or even ask for my opinion. My duty is to comply with your orders. My main function is apparently to stand by and watch you risk your life in an ill-conceived, poorly timed, highly unreasonable venture, which no one remotely intelligent would comprehend undertaking. However, it is your prerogative to do as you please. I would not presume to challenge your authority. The honor is to serve."

Kirk watched the austere face getting stony and realized that Mr. Scott wasn't the only one who was very displeased with him at the moment.

"Wow," he said quietly. "I haven't been dressed down like that since I was a freshman."

"Captain—"

"I scared you, didn't I?"

Spock looked away abruptly.

"Vulcans do not—"

"—get scared. Yes. You might wanna do a better job remembering it yourself."

Spock pressed his lips together tightly.

"Will that be all, sir? You should rest."

No, that will not be all, dammit, Kirk thought, desperation starting to eat at him. But he was in no condition to fight right now, most certainly not with Spock. For the moment, he'd have to let it go.

"Yes, that'll be all, Commander. Dismissed."

It was a pleasure to finally stop resisting and allow his eyes to close at last.

"Jim."

The effort required to open his eyes again nearly killed him. With great difficulty, he focused on the silhouette in the doorway.

"Hm?"

"We should stop meeting like this."

The room was spiraling down at him, and the strange mixture of utter elation and protectiveness that overwhelmed him gave it new momentum. Kirk let out a soft, "Mhhmm," a sound of exhaustion or consent it wasn't clear, and slipped into the welcoming shelter of sleep.

--

"I said take your men and get out," Kirk bristled through clenched teeth, taking aim again. He could barely see what was happening thirty feet ahead for the smoke and fire blasts. "Get back to the base."

"But sir!" The young man at his elbow was just as deeply covered in grime and blood and just as resolute. "That'll leave you defenseless here! The relief forces won't get here for at least another hour, and we can't surrender this fort or we'd be giving them enough ammunition to continue the fight forever!"

"I'll manage."

"Sir—"

Kirk glared at him.

"I said I'll manage, Lieutenant! You have your orders—evacuate medical personnel. Now!"

The Lieutenant flinched as if slapped.

"Aye, sir!"

Kirk didn't have the time to watch him go. He knew without the blasted kid his chances to defend the fort long enough to be rescued were close to zero. But if he didn't order the medics and the wounded out of here, their chances wouldn't be much higher. It stood to reason to try and minimize casualties. He'd hold on as long as possible. And then he'd detonate the storage compartment. Scotty had left him right about enough tallium for it.

He pulled the last pack of stun grenades and moved to a better position. The art of war wasn't lost on him. It took four times less people to defend a fortified installation than to take it. Considering his experience, maybe eight times less. That still didn't sound like very good odds, but Kirk took them.

He fired, regrouped and fired again. Lousy visibility was helping him as much as impeded his actions. The natives were not as proficient against Federation battle tactics as they were against each other. Damned be the orders that diverted the Enterprise here in an attempt to mediate the local schism. It always ended up the same way, this was no different. He fired and cursed, changed position, fired and cursed again. He wouldn't be able to hold on for much longer. He was running out of energy cells.

Suddenly, a blurry figure caught his attention. The natives were taking occasional shots at him, but didn't come particularly close. This one, whoever it was, was doing just that, zigzagging and using every rock on the crumpled terrain for cover. The battle must have really been taking its toll on Kirk, for it took him another minute at least to realize that his guest was fired upon by the natives. The thought had prompted the Captain to action. He covered the closing man as best he could. Kirk didn't see whether or not he reached the fort, being distracted by another attack from the opposite direction.

A minute passed, maybe two, and then Kirk heard a second phaser firing right next to him. Despite the pain and the utter hopelessness of the situation, he couldn't smother a grin tugging at his lips. He spoke across his shoulder, without turning back.

"We should really stop meeting like this, Spock. I mean it."

"How did you know it was me, Captain?" said in-between two blasts.

"Who else would go to that much trouble to get himself into a doomed installation in the middle of nowhere at a time like this?"

"Hm." Spock exchanged positions with him without taking his eyes off the enemy flanks. "Surprisingly logical."

Without speaking, they fell into a rhythm, taking turns to fire and take cover, keeping the natives away. They slid into this routine so smoothly, one could think it was a choreographed performance.

"So," Kirk said after a while. "I take it the negotiations didn't go too well."

"Ambassador Soral is dead," Spock told him flatly. "We were ambushed by the other fraction."

"How come you're not dead with him?"

"I believe I got... lucky."

Kirk spared him a curt glance.

"Must have been real hot out there if it got you talking about luck."

"It was most unpleasant."

"Right."

They fell silent for several moments as the enemy fire increased exponentially, concentrating on fighting back. A particularly lucky shot hit the damaged roof directly above Spock. Kirk sprang at the Vulcan before the first loosened stone was halfway down, knocking him down and out of harm's way. Spock moaned softly, and Kirk cursed vigorously, lifting his weight off in a hurried motion.

"Damn it all to hell, Spock, why on earth aren't you wearing armor?"

"It... didn't seem a... suitable outfit for peace negotiations," Spock said, getting back to his feet and taking aim again.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Kirk swore, resuming his position. "I ordered all Starfleet personnel to wear protective gear on the surface."

"I believe Ambassador Soral's orders superseded yours in this matter."

"Yeah? Looks like those orders also got him killed. And if they didn't, I'd snap his neck personally for incredible stupidity. Vulcans," he bristled in disgust.

"I fail to see the reason for you holding grudge against him, Captain. It is exactly him being Vulcan that allowed the negotiations to open in the first place. I do not understand why you would hold him in contempt for showing good will."

Kirk rolled his eyes, before firing again.

"There's nothing to understand, Spock. People can be as stupid as they want as far as I'm concerned. But I'll hold in contempt anyone who puts you in jeopardy because of their stupidity."

Spock nearly missed his turn to fire, recovering at the last possible moment.

"You always take care of your crew, Jim. I can appreciate that. But technically at least, for the duration of this assignment I was his crew, not yours. It was not your responsibility—"

"It's always my responsibility," Kirk cut him off resolutely. "You're always my responsibility, Spock. Whether I'm your captain or not, whether I have a ship or not, whether I even serve in any kind of fleet or not, you're always my crew. Anyone else they might take, but not you. You're always mine to protect, you hear? Only mine."

Spock paused in his firing long enough to give Kirk a cursory look.

"Strangely, I am under the impression you are not giving me any choice."

Kirk sneered.

"That's right, I'm not. You're mine. It'd be easier on you if you remember that." A shot. "I'm not giving you up to anyone." A shot. "Not to Starfleet." A shot. "Not to Vulcan." A shot. "Not to your father." A shot. "Not to any sweet-talking asshole of an ambassador."

Spock raised an eyebrow, even though he knew Kirk couldn't see him. When he spoke, he sounded mildly amused.

"How about me, Jim? Can you not entrust me to me?"

"No," Kirk glanced at him briefly. "You have absolutely no self-preservation instinct. When it comes to your safety, you are the last person I'd trust."

"Yet you trust me with yours."

Kirk grinned and held his fire long enough for Spock to see it. The Vulcan winced, returning to his task a little bit too swiftly.

"I have always been yours, Spock," Kirk said matter-of-factly, throwing his last grenade. "Always. Didn't you know?"

"No," Spock said.

"Strange. You acted like you did."

"I acted like... Jim," Spock sighed, turning to face him. "You could have picked a better time to enlighten me. My phaser battery has just run out."

Kirk took another shot and regarded his own weapon regretfully.

"So has mine. And I'm guessing," he drawled, listening intently, "so have theirs." He looked at the Vulcan with a boyish grin. "Looks like we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way."

Spock groaned, throwing away the useless weapon.

"Can you hear them?"

"Yes. They are approaching from all directions."

"Back to back," Kirk ordered briskly. "You know, in retrospect, this isn't the worst way to go."

"It's not like you to give up, Captain."

"Who said anything about giving up? I'm just being... romantic."

Incredulous silence. The sound of creeping footsteps.

"You find this romantic?"

"You don't?"

"Hey, you two! We have you surrounded. Step away from the door and we might consider sparing your lives!"

"What, and miss all the fun?" Kirk shouted in the direction the voice was coming from. "No way!"

"As you wish. Get them."

"Finally," Kirk muttered with grim satisfaction. "Bring it on."

--

"Doctor?"

"Spock? Come on in. Want a drink?"

"No, thank you. I was wondering if you know the Captain's whereabouts."

"Lost him, huh?" McCoy smirked slyly. "First time for anything."

"Doctor, I am really not in the mood for pointless bickering. Do you know where the Captain is?"

"Sure," McCoy nodded, raising his glass to his lips. "And it's a good thing you're looking for him."

"Why?"

"Because it's about time you did something about it."

"I do not perceive your meaning."

"Oh, don't give me that," McCoy scowled. "You get my meaning perfectly. You and Jim, Spock, I'm talking about you and Jim."

Spock frowned.

"If I understand your implication correctly, whether we do anything 'about it' or not is none of your business."

"No kidding. You think I'm crazy enough to stand in the way? Nope, Spock." He took a long sip of his brandy. "I have no wish whatsoever for it to become my business. All I'm saying is that if you are going to do anything about it, it had better be now."

Spock pursed his lips dubiously.

"You're not convinced," McCoy noted.

"He is vulnerable now," Spock said reluctantly. "He might consider it pity."

McCoy laughed sardonically.

"Spock, you wouldn't know pity if it sprang in front of you and shook your hand. Jim knows that. Well, anyway, you're a smart boy, Spock. You'll think of something."

"Where is he?"

"Hamburg. Reeperbahn." Spock stared at him. McCoy smirked again. "I take it from your expression you know what to expect. Watch yourself, Spock."

"Thank you, Doctor," Spock nodded, still mildly shocked. "I will."

He had the presence of mind to don civilian clothes before he beamed down. It didn't entirely save him from unwelcome attention, but at least it tuned it down considerably. Spock didn't know what made him ignore some establishments, as he progressed down the street, and try other, but his subconscious logic or intuition or whatever it was had gotten him on the right track. He discovered Jim in the third bar he tried.

Spock gave a cursory look to the ongoing strip show, but there was nothing there to capture his attention. He'd seen better. He dismissed the hostess with a lame wave of his hand and walked straight to where Kirk was sitting. The Captain didn't take his eyes off the girl on the stage, but it appeared he didn't need to look up to recognize the sudden presence at his table.

"What took you so long?"

Spock raised an eyebrow, sliding to the chair next to him.

"You were expecting me?"

Kirk laughed bitterly.

"Expecting? No, Spock. How dared I presume? No, no," he shook his head melancholically. "I was hoping you'd come. I've been hoping for the damned five years. Imagined what we'd say, how you'd look… I was hoping," he repeated with a sigh. "Never expected you to actually come."

Spock surveyed the half-emptied glass on the table, before looking into Kirk's face again.

"If you wish me to leave you with your imagination, I could—"

"No," Kirk said swiftly, catching Spock's hand and squeezing it. He then looked at the Vulcan pointedly. "No. Stay. Please."

"I do not wish to stay here, Jim," Spock shook his head softly. He looked around with mild distaste. "I suggest we move to a less... polluted location."

Kirk snorted.

"Less polluted. God, you get me every time." His mirth evaporated as quickly as it had come. He looked Spock in the eye squarely. "Before we go, I want you to be very clear on something. Namely my plans for this evening. I intend to get drunk, Spock. Very, very, very drunk. And then I'm planning to go to bed with someone whose name I'd still remember in the morning. More importantly, who'd still be there. You are the only person I can be sure about in this regard. If we leave here together, you'd better be ready to stay."

Spock folded his arms across his chest and studied Kirk fixedly. What the Captain was saying was bad. No, worse than bad. Very bad. Catastrophic. End of the world scenario. Apocalypse. And if Spock didn't want it to happen, he'd have to be very, very careful.

"Ground assignment?" he asked quietly.

Kirk flinched. Nodded briskly.

"Ground assignment." He downed his glass in one gulp. "So you see I can't be sure about anything right now. I'm not the captain anymore. I'm... cast adrift."

Spock raised an eyebrow. He looked as calm and cool as if they were discussing the latest section report on the Enterprise.

"That may be so, Jim, however... I submit there are certain things you can be sure about even now."

"Really? Such as?"

Spock locked gazes with him determinedly.

"Such as the fact that I will be there the morning after next as well. And the next. In any capacity you need me for as long as you want me to stay. And when you get tired of me, I would still be there, one step away."

"Spock," Kirk swallowed hard. "You have no idea how much I want this. But do you realize—are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into? I am not model human. Hell, I'm not model anything."

Spock's lips twitched.

"After four point nine years I am very well aware of that, Jim," he said dryly. "And as for whether I know what I'm getting myself into—the answer is no. I don't know. Neither do you. But you want this. So do I. We faced similar state of uncertainty before. We faced it together and made through it together. I suggest we do not discard the means to fight it which had served us so well in the past."

By the end of his speech, Kirk was smiling.

"We may drown together, Spock. Have you thought about that?"

"I find it preferable to surviving alone."

"Funny," Kirk pursed his lips. "So do I. All right, that's settled then. I guess the only remaining question is," he looked up at Spock mischievously, "your place or mine?"

Spock lifted an eyebrow.

"You are forgetting I do not have a 'place' on this planet, Jim."

"Mine it is then," Kirk grinned, getting up. He looked around with some strangely new curiosity and caught Spock's arm, stalling him. "Spock, do you think... we'd ever stop meeting like this?"

Spock followed his gaze, then sighed softly. Kirk started slightly, feeling firm arms slide around his waist. For Spock, it was an unbelievable public display bordering on scandal. He leaned even closer and smiled thinly, but noticeably. Kirk felt his breath catch.

"I hope not, Jim," Spock whispered, some inch away.

"God," Kirk let out breathlessly. His head was spinning and it was ridiculous, he didn't drink nearly as much. "I think I'd skip the drinking part for tonight."

Closer. Half an inch.

"I was hoping you would."

And then he was left standing alone, reeling at the abrupt loss. Spock was watching him from the door, a profoundly bemused expression on his face. Kirk realized he was standing rooted to the spot in the middle of the room. Like an idiot. He blushed, grinned and shook his head to get rid of persistent spell. He could read that eyebrow loud and clear.

'Coming, Jim?'

"Yes," he muttered under his breath. 'And I hope you'd never stop looking at me like that.'

Spock nodded subtly.

He never did.