After the death of Nero, Spock began to be troubled by dreams.
He often found control difficult in those first unpleasant moments after waking. He also experienced headaches, as though the telepathic centers of his brain had taken the memory of psychic overload as real pain. He craved contact in those moments, the isolation of his thoughts in his own mind nearly unbearable. Due to this, Spock was quite grateful he experienced the dreams while in the privacy of his quarters. He was also fortunate in that Vulcans did not require as much sleep as human beings.
One particularly difficult week of severe migraines and a strange, tearing ache in his own mind forced him to reconsider asking for help. The unpleasant emptiness drove him to seek out company with any of his shipmates that would allow him to linger close without suspicion. Spock knew at that point he could not hide his impairment much longer. A long evening spent talking with Nyota, or even playing competitive games against Captain Kirk was entirely satisfactory and even beneficial to command crew cohesiveness. However, when Spock found himself willing to lurk outside sickbay simply so he would not need to be alone with his own thoughts, he broke down and sent a message to his father at the Vulcan colony.
Sarek's response was both reassuring and disappointing. Spock was not unique in his mental disturbance. Indeed, many Vulcans were suffering more severely than he was. However, there was a consensus that this was a normal reaction, and except in the most extreme cases, should be dealt with privately through personal meditation.
Spock doubled his meditation time, and when that failed to help, he simply slept less.
However, the Enterprise was not well known for operating according to anyone's expectations, and shortly thereafter Spock found himself in a situation where his new difficulty became impossible to keep private.
He was bound, hanging upside-down in a small hut on a small world orbiting Beta Trianguli IV. One of the natives threw a considerable amount of water on the hot coals and quietly burning leaves in the corner, producing an improbable amount of smoke. The native then left very quickly, which was somewhat concerning. Beside him, tied as tightly as Spock was, the captain started to cough.
Spock did not precisely recall falling unconscious. He remembered dreaming. That sound, that vast telepathic scream ripping through his mind had just begun to splinter into real pain when he felt himself shaken. For .7 seconds he was actually insensible-shaking, the ground was shaking-
Spock looked over into blue eyes. There was a hand on his arm. His head ached monstrously but Jim's fingers were curled around the bare skin of his wrist, his thoughts pressed oddly close but not intruding. The feeling was like tasting water after walking for a week in the desert. Spock wanted to grab at them. The impulse was sudden and alarming. He suppressed it.
"Captain," he said, only a slight roughness to his voice betraying any distress. Jim looked him over once with careful, considering speculation. He nodded and released Spock's arm. Spock did not make a single motion to indicate he desired anything contrary to this. He had regained control of himself. It did not take long for them to escape.
It was, perhaps, a coincidence that he found himself beginning to respond in an inappropriate manner to the Captain's proximity around this time. A confusing inclination for his touch and nearness.
While he desired an end to his difficulties, Spock had begun to accept that there was very little Spock could do about it. His meditations had not proved useful. The dreams did not seem to be fading with time. Spock was considering, as a final resort, speaking to Doctor McCoy about it, when something changed.
He melded with the Captain.
The union of their thoughts had been quite shocking to him in many ways.
It had been...anything but what he had expected. It was as though he had found a portion of himself, residing within another being. There were many differences between them. And yet a portion of Kirk's mind mirrored his own almost perfectly.
The next dream he had, when the ground began to shake and he ran toward his parents home, the sand tore through the air, almost blinding him. He tried to cover his eyes, stumbling, and pitched forward, already feeling the pressure of a billion thoughts moving in.
A strong hand caught his arm and levered him to his feet. Gasping and dazed, he looked up into Jim Kirk's face. The look on his face was warm and bizarrely confident, a spot of calm in a world destroying itself around them.
"I got you," he said, and for an instant the memories of Spock's meld with him were so clear it was as if Spock had touched his mind again. Close and bright and full of energy, pushing everything painful aside. A taste of water after a week in the desert. Spock woke, startled.
That desperate ache of isolation was still there, but his mind was refreshingly clear of pain.
Since that moment Spock suspected he could not trust his own logic. Not where Jim Kirk was concerned.
Despite his suspicions, he found that he had significantly underestimated just how correct he was.
Kirk tensed the moment the transporter beam dropped away. That smell. He knew that smell.
Beside him, McCoy cursed, his expression sour. Of course, a doctor would know in a second. Less familiar with the scent of decomposing bodies, both Spock and the security team looked over at them in curiosity and concern.
Even Bones was staring at him in surprise. "You smell that?" he asked. Kirk started nodding while he was still speaking.
"Can you scan for it?" Kirk asked.
Spock was staring at both of them, drawing close. "Captain?" he questioned, his voice low.
McCoy had his medical tricorder out, muttering to himself.
"Decomposition. Something dead around here." Kirk paused and inhaled, then wrinkled his nose. "You never forget that smell."
"Captain," McCoy said, earning himself Kirk's full attention. He didn't get a whole lot of 'Captains' out of Bones. "About a quarter mile that way," McCoy said, gesturing into the wind that was blowing the smell their way."It looks like a mass grave."
There was one of those sudden horrible silences that signaled an away mission had just gone to shit.
Kirk nodded calmly. He had been on a lot of goddamn away missions.
"Phasers," Kirk called, like he was announcing the weather. The security team was trying very hard to look like they weren't twitchy and spooked. They scrambled to comply with a touch of overeagerness, and Kirk made a note to himself to keep an eye on them.
He gestured in the direction McCoy had indicated with his own phaser. "It looks like the locals may not be as friendly as we hoped." Kirk flashed a brief, rather grim smile, false enthusiasm making his voice turn almost jaunty. "Let's investigate."
He glanced over at Spock, the smile melting from his face the instant everyone turned away. Spock was scanning with his tricorder, but his eyes were fixed on Kirk's face. The quiet concern was palpable. Kirk touched his arm, a quick brush of his fingers as he walked past Spock to take point. He felt Spock relax almost instantly. Spock nodded without looking at him, just a slight movement of his head.
Spock had a transmitter on his belt, and it was currently live. Theoretically, if their information was accurate, nothing that the older Spock had told them to expect to find down there should be able to get within 20 feet of Spock without burning to a crisp.
They walked through the fields and the scrub brush toward something probably horrifying, and Kirk thought that it would be a pretty nice planet if he didn't know for a fact there were evil flying pancake monsters of suicidal agony lurking around somewhere. The sun was out with blue sky and everything.
He was the one leading. Nobody commented that he kept them in the warm, bright areas away from the shadows under the trees, even though it was much more likely to get them noticed.
The sun was hot on the top of his head, and on his shoulders. He caught Bones, with darker hair, rubbing at the crown of his head. If they spent too long walking in the sun they would need a break.
The grass was long, and tugged at Kirk's thighs in a familiar way. It reminded him of summer afternoons spent walking with Sam when he was a boy. It reminded him of the smell of horses, and the look on Spock's face when he'd been waiting outside his uncle's house and Jim had come in from the fields. Like Jim Kirk was the only safe thing, the only spot of calm in a world gone crazy.
At the moment Spock was walking just off to his right, looking centered and calm and completely sure of himself. Kirk would rather Spock always appear that way. He was aware that was probably an impossibility, given the path their lives had taken.
A few insects, irritated by their passing, buzzed up around them, and Spock batted one away from his tricorder screen. He looked quite cool and unaffected by the heat.
Unfortunately McCoy also had his medical tricorder out, and while it didn't have the broader tuning that Spock's did, it was apparently enough to spot something Kirk didn't want him to see.
McCoy scowled. "I think there's something coming from somewhere." He looked at Kirk for a moment, then turned and pointed his tricorder at Spock. McCoy pointedly ignored the dry, almost pitying look Spock was giving him, no doubt at the lack of precision in his word choice. "It's coming from Spock. And it's messing with my damn readings."
Kirk actually had his mouth open to speak, but Spock beat him to it.
"This is tricorder number x531790b," Spock said, gesturing slightly with the tricorder in his hand, as if that settled everything.
"So?" Bones asked.
Spock looked down at the tricoder as if he found it offensive. "X531790b has developed a minor fault. A fact which I informed the quartermaster the last time I had the misfortune of choosing this tricorder for a landing party. Evidently it has not been corrected."
"Hmmf. Well I guess that's what you get for relying on technology." McCoy gave his medical tricorder an irritable look and tucked it away.
Spock had just lied his ass off. Not a second of hesitation. It was slightly terrifying and weirdly hot to watch. Kirk stared at him. He was aware he was not being smooth about it when Spock noticed him. Spock lifted his chin and raised his eyebrows slightly, suddenly looking like he was a lot happier about his day.
"Oh for god's sake. I want to walk with Marple," the doctor muttered, shaking his head in that way that seemed to imply his life was just one long chain of idiots.
Kirk gave him a sharp look. He was about to say something- because he could let Bones slide with a bit of attitude but not too much attitude- when Marple himself started waving. He was standing out far to their left, guarding their flank and almost out of sight behind a small hill and some bushes. Kirk waved back and started to head over that way.
A moment later Kirk's communicator went off. Kirk answered it, frowning. They weren't scheduled for their first check-in for another four hours.
"Captain!" He could hear a lot of static on the line, which was strange.
"Sulu, I can barely hear you," Kirk said, adjusting for minor atmospheric interference but not getting any improvement.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Scott says there's something in the soil, some kind of mineral, we're getting heavy interference, we won't be able to maintain contact with you much longer."
Kirk frowned to himself, noting out of the corner of his eye that Spock had started scanning the aforementioned dirt.
"Can you still beam us out?"
"I'd rather not, sir," came Mr. Scott's voice. "If you want to head back to your beam-down point I could try there, or I could try and beam down boosters to your location."
"After last time, I'd rather nothing beamed in inside of anyone, Scotty. I want everyone back in one piece."
There was a cough on the line. Then, "Aye."
"There's something else, sir," Sulu said, "we have incoming ships. Two civilian vessels, unarmed but not responding to hails. Light craft, only a handful of people aboard each."
Kirk stiffened. "They're approaching the Enterprise?"
Kirk hunched over his communicator slightly, his voice adamant. "Do not lower our shields under any circumstances, understand?" Sulu agreed, and started to ask questions Kirk didn't have answers for. "We're going to continue our mission here, try and figure out what's going on, but do not let those craft board my ship, do you got that? We'll check in on schedule." He switched the communicator off.
"Well great, now what?" Bones asked, resting a fist on his hip like there was only so much crazy landing party bullshit he could put up with.
Kirk cast an eye over the field and pointed. Marple was jogging toward them.
"A road," Marple said, sweating and eager. Kirk was going to have to risk giving everyone a break in the shade soon.
It was running parallel to their general heading, so they followed it. Kirk was familiar with what a mass grave was like, and what was needed for it. Which meant he was surprised when the road dead-ended directly off the edge of a canyon.
The smell was worse, and even from far off they could see there were large birds in the sky.
Spock stepped up beside him, his eyes raised. "Carrion birds," he observed.
Kirk worked his jaw and did not react to that. "Lifesigns?"
His tricorder whirred. "No living beings of significant size other than ourselves within a mile, sir."
Kirk let out a breath and clenched both hands into tight fists. "Okay, let's see what the birds are eating," he said, as if it was nothing. He could feel Spock's look.
He really didn't want to see Spock's face right at that moment. He didn't want to see the restrained concern he knew was there. Kirk wouldn't be able to resent him properly at all. So he glanced at Bones, which was a mistake. Bones looked worried as hell about him.
Fuck it, Kirk hated everybody.
They stood at the edge and looked down. There were more bodies than Kirk could count. It was a good sized canyon-it looked like they had just been chucking the bodies over the side without any concern for them afterwards. They'd obviously been doing it for a while.
"I don't understand," said Henricks, who was lovely to look at and a delicate blue Kirk had previously associated with his mother's painted ceramic figurines. She didn't flinch at the sight or the smell but she was scowling a little. "Why would they do this?"
Kirk glanced over and found himself staring at the doctor. McCoy's eyes widened a little once he got a look at Kirk's face, and Kirk didn't really want to think about why. Bones turned away after a second and started gently explaining to her and everyone else all about hideous plagues and the evil horrible vastness of space that wanted to kill everybody and also (historically speaking) what a giant monstrous pain in the ass it was for sick people to keep digging holes in the ground to bury other sick people.
Kirk listened with half an ear. They would have to get down to the bottom somehow. Bones would need one of those bodies for proof and specimens.
They were folded over and under and on top of each other, way down there. Kirk could remember what it had felt like, climbing over bodies piled up like that.
Spock was standing right beside him, so close that for a moment their fingers brushed. Kirk turned to look at him, surprised out of thought. He couldn't remember seeing Spock move.
Spock was looking down, his expression thoughtful. "Sir," he said, and pointed, "look."
Kirk turned his head, the texture of the rock fooling his eye. Once he looked again he saw what Spock meant. There was a path, cut into the side of the canyon, though it wasn't immediately clear where it would end.
They exchanged glances. "I'd guess under two miles," Kirk said, tracing the length of the trail with his eyes. "Worth a look."
Spock paused thoughtfully considering the length they would have to walk. "3 kilometers," he corrected. The captain gave him a brief look containing some amusement.
"Close enough," he said, and clapped Spock on the arm before turning away. "We need to get down there," Kirk announced, louder. McCoy immediately started to argue, worried about transmission and disease vectors.
Kirk gave him a mild look. "Can you tell from up here how these people died?"
There was a pause. McCoy let it stretch, fiddling with his tricorder. "No," he finally admitted, unhappy with his readings and the situation and probably Kirk and all of Starfleet.
Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Then we're going."
He took the lead, but once they actually reached the spot where the path began to wind down and they could see how iffy it looked, Marple made a firm play for the point position.
The trail was narrow and crumbly and after about 10 minutes it switched back, cutting into the face of the cliff where it changed directions. The angle of the slope around them got even steeper as they walked on. Kirk paused, leaning over, trying to get an idea of the lay of the land. If the path narrowed much more they wouldn't be able to continue. Marple and Hendricks had mountaineering training in security, and Spock had been manic about learning rock climbing after the incident on New Vulcan, but Bones wouldn't be able to handle trekking through talus down the side of a canyon.
Spock stepped up discreetly beside him as he leaned out to look. Not nervously, never nervously. Kirk pulled back, carefully not staring at where Spock was rubbing the fingers of his right hand together, as if he wanted to grab Kirk's arm and pull him away from the edge. It was too rocky-Kirk's view was blocked of the trail ahead. He was more amused than disappointed.
Kirk smiled at Spock and opened his mouth. There was a laugh there, some small comment to put him at ease. 'Why Spock, I didn't know you cared' or something. An engine sound, coming from above them, struck him mute. Marple was talking up ahead and Kirk grabbed for him silently, pointing up. Behind him everyone went quiet, listening intently.
"Spock?" Kirk prompted softly.
Spock leaned close, eyes on his tricorder. "An industrial vehicle of some kind," He whispered. "Power cells. Two life forms. And-" his eyes widened "Get back!"
A body slammed into the side of the cliff just above where Marple was standing, and then careened off into the canyon, spewing shards of rock over their heads. Marple flinched and stumbled, and Kirk shoved him back up against the canyon wall just in time for another body to crash right onto the edge of the path they were standing on. Kirk just managed to swing out of the way, and then realized in a sickening instant that he'd over balanced.
Kirk's feet slid out from under him and he saw Spock lunging for him with horror growing on his face. Kirk clawed at the edge as it crumbled, thinking that it would be all right, that he could count on luck one more time-
Spock threw himself out, reaching into empty space as Kirk started to fall.
Their eyes met for just an instant, and Kirk saw everything he needed to see in the complete desperation on Spock's face. Kirk saw the future in his expression, saw him tossing himself after Kirk into thin air like he needed to be punished for something.
Jim's hand slid right past Spock's fingers as Kirk dropped into the canyon.
"Spock!" Bones was screaming. Was Spock fighting? Did Spock fall?
Kirk tumbled down the side of the loose, rocky cliff, bouncing painfully. He accidentally caught a boot on a solid outcrop of rock and almost catapulted himself into space.
He landed wickedly hard on one shoulder, threw an arm out, and dug his fingers into the scree as best he could. He saw another outcropping of evil-looking solid rock and he lunged for it with one hand as he rolled by. The stone bit into his fingers as he was wrenched to a halt. The loose rocks he was falling with continued on down in a kind of mini landslide, pelting him. He hung there a moment, gritting his teeth, trying to breathe as shallowly as possible as a cloud of dust rolled over him. He coughed.
He could hear shouting from above him. More than one voice. But no other sounds of rockfall. Spock had to be up there still, and yelling. Well, someone was yelling. The people above them chucking corpses had to have heard them- this could get much worse very fast.
Painfully, he pulled himself up, smearing bright red blood all over the rock. He could feel the skin he'd peeled off his fingers, something like a flap of flesh on his palm digging into the earth. He patted at his waist, but his belt was empty, everything lost somewhere in the fall. It was force of habit anyway- his communicator was useless down there. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, figuring they didn't have anything to lose at this point. His voice echoed back at him, garbled and strange. The voices from above went quiet. Kirk shouted again. He couldn't understand what they were saying up there, but it sounded like a fight to him. What was Spock doing with his crew? Kirk trusted him to handle this shit…
He wiped at his face with the back of his hand, squinting at his surroundings. There was a deep seam in the rock above him, and an overhang that shaded him and hid the landing party from view. He thought maybe there could be something climbable off to the left, but his hands were pretty much meat at that point. A long, tricky climb back up wasn't something he was looking forward to, but he didn't much like where he'd landed.
He had a weird feeling about the place. The smell was a lot worse down there. At first he thought that was what was making him uneasy, but then he realized he could hear a faint noise, like a buzzing noise. Once he noticed it, all the hair on the back of his arms went up. He took a step forward to be sure. The sound was coming from the cleft in the rock.
Kirk started to reach for his phaser, remembered he didn't have it. A split second later he realized something was moving in there.
"Oh," hell… he said, slumping for a brief second as the realization hit him of how much more deeply fucked he was than he'd originally estimated.
Spock was too late, and Kirk fell away. Away from Spock, quite literally slipping through his fingers.
His face-it was if he knew. It was if Jim knew Spock would not save him. His mother KNEW he would fail her-
"Spock!" He was dragged back. There were too many hands, and Jim was gone, out of reach. Spock whirled on the voice in a rage, grabbed two handfuls of fabric, and slammed an unresisting body back against the side of the cliff.
People were shouting. Someone pulled at his shoulder. McCoy, crushed up against the rocks under his hands, yelled at them to get back.
"Are you trying to kill yourself?!" McCoy demanded. Spock's hands tightened for a moment on the fabric of the doctor's tunic.
Then, from above, utterly forgotten in the shock of the captain's fall, another corpse was thrown over the edge at them. It hit the path several feet from where Spock and the doctor were standing and tumbled off into the air in a grotesque way.
"Down!" Spock said sharply, throwing his body weight against the doctor. McCoy cursed at him, but remained safe from harm.
Spock looked up, wary, shielding his eyes. A humanoid figure was looking down at them from above. They began to shout at someone out of sight. Their face was twisted in an expression of anger...or pain. Spock struggled for a moment with a violent, furious desire to inflict that pain himself. If the captain was dead...
He could not be. It was illogical to assume. He could not be dead.
The doctor was looking at his face, his eyes huge. Spock turned to his left, saw the rest of the landing party with varying expressions of fear on their faces. He stilled himself, fighting with sudden shame. He had responsibility.
"We must go," Spock said. "Now."