Companion piece to "Introvenient", but can stand on its own.
You grew up in Riverside, Iowa. That would be enough to make almost anyone a candidate for psychiatric evaluation. Riverside was so innately dull that even the occasional cow would drop into a boredom-induced coma, and yes, this was scientifically verifiable. Sure, your brother Sam had conducted the study, and he'd been twelve at the time, but at twelve Sam was hell of a lot smarter than most adults you knew, so you believed his conclusions to have merit.
The kicker of it was that Starfleet had up and decided to build its shipyard there, too. So not only were you stuck in the singularly dullest part of the universe, but you got occasional glimpses of what could be, the great big indication that there was more to life out there, from the sight of a Constitution-classclass starship being built right before your eyes. An uncharitable part of you used to wonder if Starfleet put that shipyard there to taunt you.
'See what I am? I'm a ship that will have the capabilities of taking you away from here, but I can't because you're nine and carrying a fat lip that Billy Gorham gave you for beating him at the Spelling Bee, again, fourth year running.'
You hated Billy Gorham, who was as fat as Augustus Gloop and had the I.Q. of a turnip. In fact, you pretty much hated all of your classmates, who resented the fact that you were smarter than them and always knew the answers whenever your teacher called on you. It wasn't your fault that excessive intake of corn had turned their brains to mush… another one of Sam's theories (since Sam had conceptualized this theory, you had been careful to avoid eating corn).
Hating was actually something you were learning to do all too well, from hating Frank for not being your dad, and for being a big, fat jerk-wad on top of that, to hating your mom for leaving on frequent missions, to hating everyone else for just not getting you or even attempting to understand where you were coming from. Sam was also right when he stated that the two of you were destined to be forever surrounded by idiots and there seemed to be an infinite number of them in Riverside.
Yet even at nine you got that hatred wasn't something natural to your demeanor. You didn't want to hate your mom, you'd rather she be here so you could love her. When Uncle Frank first moved in with you, you didn't want to hate him, either, and had spent a pretty charitable amount of time looking for a mood swing that wouldn't fall in the category of asshole, moderately asshole-like, or full-blown-asshole-please-evacuate-the-premises, which were pretty much Frank's only three moods. And Billy Gorham, well, he was just a bully. And if there was one thing you really did hate on sight, it was a bully. Billy had better watch out, you might be small and scrawny now, but one day you would grow to be big and strong, and then you would kick his ass all the way to Orion.
But the thing was, a ghost named George Kirk lived at your house, and although you'd never seen the ghost with your own eyes, you certainly felt his presence. He was there in the name Uncle Frank mentioned whenever you did something that merited a 'George would be so disappointed if he were alive to see this, in fact, I bet he's looking in on us right now, wishing he were alive just so he could tan your hide' or in the way your mom seemed spooked whenever she was home. And you're pretty sure that the ghost is responsible for a whole heaping lot of your problems.
Your only refuge from said ghost, and Frank, and corn-eating-stupider-than-average classmates, is your books. You like "Huckleberry Finn" best, because how cool would it to go out into the world as a kid roughly the same age as you are and just explore? Sure, what he had explored was the Mississippi River, which, in this day and age, was actually really polluted and gross, and sure, he had to walk some, or ride on an honest to god 'raft' when he sailed and how damn antiquated was that? But back then it must have been so… awesome and exciting. So freeing.
Huck Finn wasn't trapped amongst the stupid the way you are… must have been nice.
The history texts on your school PADD sometimes have pictures, or scans of old hand-drawn cartoons that used to appear in what was referred to as a newspaper (awesome… you'd give every credit you have ever accumulated from over nine years worth of birthdays to add one of these to your antique book collection), probably because most of your classmates couldn't handle lessons that didn't come with pictures, (or reading words with too many syllables, really, which is why you won the spelling bee, fourth year running, and the arithmetic decathlon, and the science fair) the imbeciles, but you saw a picture once that really struck home. It was a drawing of a guy, stuck on a little island, with nothing but a single palm tree growing on it and no possessions other than a stick for a fishing pole. If ever there was a representation of your life that was it. Whether you're the dude with the stick, or the island itself, you haven't quite determined. What you do know with absolute certaintyis that despite how large the universe is purported to be, you're awfully alone.
By 25, you no longer care whether hatred is native to your personality or not, whether nature or nurture is at work, what you do know is that Riverside was not the only location to capitalize on a high density of idiot per square kilometer. In fact, you'd hazard to say that the majority of people you meet fall under this category, with one or two exceptions. Leonard McCoy and Chris Pike being among the exceptions, probably because they're the only two people you've met in your life who could look at a crowd of people with the same expression of abject horror that you do (very well concealed in Pike's case; not so much in McCoy's). That look of 'please God, may the scientific community one day establish that I do not share a common ancestor with these people'.
So yes, maybe you're a tad jaded and bitter, you own it. For God's sake, you're not oblivious. You got a bit of a crappy deal, growing up the son of a heroically dead father, in a town too dull for words, with a workaholic mother and a runaway brother, an uncle you're embarrassed to admit you share DNA with and a brain that just wouldn't stop churning, wouldn't stop imagining space and far-off places, wouldn't stop wanting to explore and discover. But being bitter was… okay, because you learned long ago that a smile, a nod, and a 'nothing bothers me, I'm as fine as pie' attitude can mask a great deal.
It was just a bonus that the 'fine as pie' attitude also occasionally got you laid. And it was enough. Just occasional closeness with others here and there got you by. It wasn't ideal, certainly. You were only human. You wouldn't exactly mind finding someone out there who wasn't an idiot, who also had a brain that never stopped cranking out ideas… someone you could talk to about real deep shit: history and literature, science and philosophy. Someone you could connect with, someone you could love, who would let you love them.
The Great Plato had believed that there was someone out there for everybody. But the thing was, even now, sixteen years after first laying eyes on that profound cartoon depiction of your life, you still feel like a guy, with a stick, on a little four foot by four foot square island, with a palm tree, and nothing else.
And that feeling of isolation only magnifies when you find out that you're being brought up on charges of cheating on the Kobayashi Maru. If ever there was an indication in your life, an exact moment you could point to and say, 'see, universe? No one gets it! Gets me!' this is it. Because you had thought that cheating was the solution to the test. The test was unwinnable, there had been no way around it. In the way it had been programmed, it was impossible for the Captain and crew of this imaginary vessel to come out alive. You should know, you had already tried it twice before. And it was after that second time that you had developed a theory that perhaps the answer was changing the parameters of the test itself so it could be won. You know, that the solution was meant to be little unorthodox, a little, oh horrors of all horrors, outside the box. That maybe, oh-god-how-could-you-even-suggest-this, Starfleet wanted its captains to be something shocking, like creative.
Apparently not, fuck your life.
You were prepared to hate your accuser on sight, in fact, you were already mentally preparing your diatribe, and the sharpness of your glare, before he stepped up to the podium to confront you.
But then your eyes caught his and you froze.
There was something so familiar about him, something you couldn't quite identify, but was very obviously there. Oh, he was easy on the eyes, that was certain, all shiny hair and stiff posture, and an intelligence that poured off him as if he were radiating the smart like the sun radiates UV. And certainly you had an eye for beautiful things, whether in male or female form (you had never been picky in that regard, believing true beauty lay not in body but in some sort of charisma not easily defined but very obviously there). But there was something… extra about this guy. Not just because he was alien, which he was, but something that kind of called to you, like a siren's song.
You couldn't take your eyes off him.
Plus, you had a weird urge to defend yourself to him, to actually get him to see you, see where you were coming from. You couldn't remember the last time you had actually tried to defend yourself to anybody, because really, what did you care what people thought of you? At the end of the day you only had to live with yourself, so PR had never really been high on your list of concerns.
But for whatever reason, inexplicable to God and man, you wanted him to like you. It seemed important somehow and it stung, oh how it stung, when it became very clear that he pretty much hated you on sight.
It was the first time in a long time, probably since Sam had run away when you were eleven (and he had been the alpha and omega of your universe), you had felt so small, so rejected.
It wasn't until later, with Nero gone, and the Enterprise limping back to Earth, perhaps a bit mangled, but still blessedly intact, that you figured out one of the things in Spock that you identified with that fateful day of the Kobayashi Maru hearing… there was a look in his eyes, a look that said he too knew what it was like to be stuck on an island, alone, in the middle of nowhere. Only with his Vulcan strength, unparalleled logic, higher rank, and a bug up his butt even larger than your own minuscule little insect, his stick seemed slightly bigger than yours.
At least your island has a palm tree; you don't think Spock's island even has that… and that makes you inexplicably sad.
Older, parallel universe Spock had told you, hell, shown you, up close and personal with that meld of his, that in his time you and he were inseparable. That you had been able to complete each other's sentences with uncanny accuracy, and predict each other's movements without a glance. And oh how you wish like hell that you didn't have that knowledge, because knowing it makes you long for it, so much so that it's embarrassing. Poor little, lonely Jimmy, scrounging for crumbs of what might have been, desperate for a connection that might never be.
The moroseness of your thoughts makes you kind of avoid your new First Officer your first week out in the black. Which, amongst the hustle and bustle of figuring this Captain thing out, is shockingly easy to do. Just memorizing over four hundred crew names is keeping you busy, and Jesus is your hand dry from shaking hands. But after the initial excitement of taking on a new position on a spaceship meant to explore the stars, you notice something surprising… Spock begins seeking you out, inviting you to dinner and to play chess, engaging you in conversations discussing history and literature, science and philosophy, and you begin to feel, deep in your cynical, all-too-wounded and isolated heart, that maybe there are such things as destiny and fate. That maybe there really is somebody out there for everybody, and that Spock is your somebody.
It would certainly explain that pull you feel towards him, a pull you've never felt towards anybody else in your short, kind of miserable life.
It's like… you're finally off that island. That there is actually another face to be found instead of miles and miles desolate sea.
Things seem to run infinitely smoothly with Spock at your side. He's helping to ease you into your Captain's stripes, easily giving you the benefit of his experience, which, coupled with your own natural inclination towards tactics and leadership, creates one hell of a dynamic. Everyone sees it - your chemistry together - both in work and in play, it's nearly tangible in the air around you, and everyone is seems to be responding accordingly. Your crew, as young as you all are, as inexperienced, is falling into accord.
It's so natural, so right.
You're pleased by this. And awed. In fact, you're beginning to feel slightly invincible. It's like you and Spock are combining your sticks together to become damn near unstoppable, and how amazing is that?
Love (and yes, you can own up to that, it's love, you're a man, damnit, not a little boy) is pretty glorious.
It's liberating - its own type of exploration. And you do so love to explore. Always have.
There were a few moments in your life that kind of defined you. Discovering books, seeing that cartoon with the island for the first time, sorrowfully watching Sam's back as he walked out of your life, driving your Dad's car off the cliff because your Uncle had wanted to sell it and it wasn't his to sell (plus he had chased your brother away, and that was just unforgivable and he had to pay), and, corresponding with the same incident, discovering that speed and adrenaline really made one hell of a combo and you lo-oved it... Meeting Christopher Pike through a drunken haze at a bar in Iowa and ending up recruited into Starfleet.
But none of that really equated to your first mind meld with the man you loved. How could you explain being filled, if you hadn't really realized before how empty you had been before? How could you explain what it felt like to have these little crevices of your mind, the shadowed places in your soul, suddenly awaken and fill with light and the presence of another? How could one explain what it felt like to have someone literally see you inside-out, see all that you were, what made you you, and then respond by sending wordless acceptance, adoration and awe back into your mind?
It was if Spock was grateful to see these things, grateful to see the aspects of yourself you had so carefully kept hidden and it shocked you, because well, you didn't think anyone would want to see some of the stuff that went through your head. Didn't think that if anyone really knew what you were thinking, or saw first-hand the uncharitable (or pornographic) thoughts you sometimes had, that you would be loved for it.
The fact was, you weren't always nice, at least not in your head. Though, to be fair, you were trying to be better about it, because you really were starting to love your crew, and you wanted to be liked by them, accepted. Plus, you wanted to set a good example. But you secretly, well, you secretly had a bit of a temper, more than you let show. And you had a bit of an intolerance for stupidity… Okay, okay, you had an extreme intolerance for stupidity. You couldn't quite help it. Blame it on Frank, blame it on Riverside, or blame it on an extremely eclectic gene pool, whatever, it was there.
When Spock had asked to meld, you feared he would see these parts of you, and judge you for it. You kind of feared that your mind would drive him away.
But you invited him in nonetheless, because a part of you was kind of curious how Spock would react to you, the real you, and you were also curious what it would feel like to be one with him.
After all, you did want to share with him. God, how you wanted that. You felt the unrelenting need to give this your all, in fact, so you couldn't, in good conscience, hold back from him.
'Come Spock, come inside, mi casa, is su casa.'
And the thing was, Spock didn't judge you, he wanted you, was glad you had let him in and that was, that was… that made you happy, really, genuinely, honest-to-Pete happy; the happiest you'd been since they'd given you the Enterprise.
Amazing. Really fucking awe-inspiring. God.
And Spock, bless him, sent back his complete agreement.
'T'hy'la,' he calls, 'how I have wanted this without ever thinking it possible.'
And you think, quite distantly, that the word 't'hy'la' is really a beautiful word.
You like words. A lot. You haven't quite admitted it to Uhura yet, because you're still trying to break the ice with her and don't want to come across as a kiss-up (and a part of you is wary in case she hates you for moving in on her ex), but your love of words, of language, of the way it twirls and twines in a symphony of sounds and syllables, has always been a part of you. A well spoken word can sound like a song.
T'hy'la calls to you. It seems to come with an emotional connotation that the really good words always do.
So your ever curious mind really, really wants to know what it means. And you figure your curiosity can be excused, it's yourfirst pet-name. Spock named you it, felt it with his soul, therefore it must be something.
And so, since you're there, you decide to find its definition in Spock's mind. Explore his thoughts the way that he is exploring yours.
Admittedly you're new to this whole meld-thing. You've only done it once before and the circumstances of that meld were kind of… extreme. But you observe Spock's ease, the way his mind slides and glides through yours like the Northern Lights across the darkened Alaskan sky, and you attempt to follow this example to maneuver your way into his psyche.
What you find is one of those bits of knowledge that you think that, in retrospect, is something you were probably better off not knowing.
"What is it about James Kirk that would accede to such a friendship?" you hear your lover ask his counterpart in a meeting that had to have been held sometime before you had all left Earth.
"He is your t'hy'la," came the knowing response, and the words are met with dubiousness, then denial, and then flat-out disbelief on Spock's part. In fact, you feel his denial so intensely that a flood of hurt infiltrates your soul, but you also feel Spock's need to experiment, to see if such a thing were even possible with an unstable element like Jim Kirk.
It is then that you feel your world come crashing down. That you've just been shoved back onto your island, with just a taste of experiencing the freedom of companionship, of finding a like soul and then… straight back to solitude for you, like this whole thing was a fucking tease.
'You really did dislike me at first,' you hear yourself murmur, partly amazed that you can come up with a coherent thought at all. 'I thought our experiences on the Narada had maybe changed that. That we had come to some sort of appreciation for each other. But that wasn't the case, was it? You were told, point blank, that we were compatible, and you wouldn't even accept the possibility of it. The only reason you pursued me at all was as some sort of experiment? Not exactly the most flattering thing to find out.'
You try to sound blasé at the end there because that is what you do. You had learned a long time ago that if you admit to the full depth of your pain, that if you show that kind of weakness in its full glory to anyone, that they would use it to hurt you.
And this hurts more than anything. More than Frank's angry jabs at your character, or your mother's distance. More than the jealousy of classmates who resented your genius level IQ, more than your brother, the only kindred soul of your childhood, abandoning you.
You feel like such a goddamned idiot. You, of all people, should have been more cautious. You let people in and you see what happens? You see? How many examples of this do you need in your life before you get it? People disappoint you, that's what they do. They eat, sleep and disappoint. You're meant to be on your island indefinitely. It's your price for living - the price you pay for escaping death the day of your birth.
You can only hope that the lesson will stick this time. You don't think your heart could take any more of this shit.
You force yourself out of the meld. You're not exactly sure how you do it, you just know that you have to escape, and so you do. More than anything you want to be alone to lick your wounds.
But the part of you that can't help but hope, can't help but pray that maybe things had changed during the recent months of your growing relationship, and that maybe Spock had altered that initial disbelief. You're nothing if not an optimist, perhaps stupidly so. And so you ask…
"What is it you want, Spock? What do you want from me? What happens when the experiment ends?"
You suppose the silence that meets your questions is answer enough, each second that passes like a needle jabbed in your heart.
"Let me know when you know," you mumble, just for the sake of something to say. And then you tuck your tail between your legs, and go.
You should be angry, pissed as all hell, in fact, but you're not. Instead you're just kind of numb. Like you're now incapable of feeling anything at all. Kind of ironic, really, when you think about it. You had fallen for a Vulcan who struggled to internalize all feeling, and here you are, emotionless, as if you practiced the same discipline.
The numbness pretty much lasts the entire day. You keep expecting the other shoe to drop. Expecting a rush of pain to consume you like a tsunami, intent to hold you prisoner in the undertow, but it doesn't. Instead you just feel kind of disassociated from everything and everyone. Crew members talk to you, but it seems as though they're speaking from a distance, as if this thick fog had drifted between you and them.
Your apathy must be felt, surely your genius crew has already put two and two together, but strangely, you don't really care about that, either.
Maybe you've just finally lost it? That was surely it. The thing with Spock the final straw after 25 years of 'what the fuck am I doing?'
When Spock finally does come to find you, later that same day, you have to struggle to build your defenses, weak though they are, because even though you're lost to your apathy, you still recognize that your part in this torturous drama is not yet finished.
Whatever Spock has to say, you can take it. You know this. Your life up to this point has made you strong, has prepared you for this. You'll hear Spock out, nod your head, and go back to your apathy. Maybe tomorrow the anger will come, then the denial. How many stages of grief were there again? Did it matter?
A new day would dawn; it always did. You'll just have to be wiser next time, since all you can really do is learn from this and move on.
It takes a moment for Spock's words to penetrate your thoughts, but when they do, you have to fight, hard, to keep yourself standing upright.
"You were right," Spock says softly, though even soft his voice pierces your fog. "Initially I was doubtful, as much in my own ability to find a partner who was t'hy'la to me as I was in you, but I quickly discovered the treasure I had been gifted in you. I love you, Jim. You are beyond anything I could have hoped for. We are meant for each other, you and I. Allow me to show you?"
There that feeling is again. There it is. You've found it. And, oh God, it's tinted with hope. But you can't believe, you can't, because it would hurt so much if it's not true.
Spock holds his hand up, fingers already forming a three point form and what can you do? You love him. You haven't managed to turn that off, yet, and don't even really know if you could.
Maybe you're a masochist, but Spock can't lie in a meld. In the meld you will find out, once and for all, what Spock feels for you. At least then you'll know. Knowledge is power, right?
Fuck that, you need to know. So you nod your consent and Spock pulls you into his mind.
Instantly you're caught in a storm. That tsunami you've been expecting all day? Here it is, though it is not a wave of anger that engulfs you: it's passion, and love, and anguish and longing and possession, and want and fuck is it strong. You're drowning, you can't swim through this, it's so powerful, more powerful than you're used to feeling. You didn't think anyone could feel this much… how could Spock's lithe body even contain all of this? How is it possible? Is this why Vulcans repressed themselves? Because the strength of their emotions could consume all in their path?
There is, however, a break in the storm, a ray of sunlight that filters through an angry sky, undeterred and golden, brilliant and dazzling, warm and lovely;it dances and glides across the waves, bringing with it tranquility and joy, and then Spock tells you, in a voice more sure than anything, that the light is you. And strangely, in that moment, you feel like light.
When you return to the outside world, you feel the floor beneath your knees, feel your body shaking uncontrollably, and feel a pair of strong arms surround you, hold you up, steady you.
And you almost can't fathom, it's difficult to comprehend, you've never been loved, not like this… God.
You could die here and now, and be content. But you don't, and you won't, because the future is suddenly just too damned exciting.
Once again you have found your way off your island. You're no longer on an island at all, actually, either yours or Spock's. Because you and Spock? Together?
The two of you make a country, complete, intact, and beloved.