Title: These Not-so-simple Feelings
Characters: Kirk, Spock, various
Universe: TOS, mentions of XI
Rating: PG-13 for violence and ickiness
Summary: Five times Spock did something illogically dangerous for the sake of his captain, and one time his captain returned the favor. happy_trekmas fic for xlcatloveress. Six watershed events in Kirk and Spock's lives and relationships – The aftermath of Conscience of the King and Dagger of the Mind, their first mind-meld, the aftermath of Amok Time, what happened after The Motion Picture, the time between The Voyage Home and Spock's complete return to normality, and (I totally admit uncanonical except in my head and heart) Spock's death in the XI universe.
Word Count: 28,242
Warnings: Violence and general icks regarding Tarsus IV and genocide in the second section. Spoilers for pretty much half the TOS canon (continuity geek, you know me). Creative interpretation of what exactly constitutes a mind-meld. Character death in the last section, but I think it'll not be as heartbreaking as most character death – you'll see what I mean when you get there. Specific spoilers are footnoted, as is speculation. The whole fic is a bit more emotional than I tend to write, but I hope readers will enjoy it anyway even if it's not necessarily your perception of the characters.
Personal A/N: The recipient in question has always been far too kind and lovely in reviewing all my TOS fanfic, and so I was somewhat dismayed to find I had been assigned to her as her writer – simply because most of her requests/likes revolved around slash, which I don't write. Though it was pointed out to me by the comm mods that 'friendship' was listed in her likes, it was obvious from the entry that she wanted a higher-rated fic. I hope that this (much) longer fic, which draws in the listed 'likes' of: Tarsus IV, exhaustion, reunion after a long separation, emotional hurt, friendship, slow-building relationship, thoughtful gestures (deference is a major like of mine, too, in TOS), and the obligatory happy ending will mitigate the lack of sexual content. I've tried purposely to write a bit more ambiguously than I normally do, so that it can easily be read as pre-slash. I hope it will do.
Title: These Not-so-simple Feelings (1/6)
Characters: Kirk, Spock, various including McCoy this chapter
Universe: TOS, mentions of XI
Word Count (this chapter) 8223
Summary: Five times Spock did something illogically dangerous for the sake of his captain, and one time his captain returned the favor. happy_trekmas fic for xlcatloveress.
Warnings: (this chapter) Tarsus IV. Spoilers for Conscience of the King. Rating is for semi-graphic description of genocide and mass destruction of life and property. Also warnings for my personal speculation as to Vulcan thought processes and introspection.
A/N: If the first page or so of this seems familiar, that's because I wrote it here first and then decided to use it as introspection in my NaNo novel for this year.
Five times Spock did something dangerous for the sake of his captain, and one time his captain returned the favor
Spock of Vulcan.
In those three words lay the acknowledgement of his greatest strengths, and his greatest weaknesses.
He was Vulcan; possessed the training, intelligence, and abilities of a Vulcan, was on the books of Starfleet as having Vulcan citizenship. He identified as a Vulcan, was regarded as a Vulcan, and many did not even know of his dual parentage. Ironic, that he was only accepted as a Vulcan among humans, was rejected as one on his home planet itself.
He was a child of Terra as well, but with none of the attributes human expected of a half-human. More importantly, he had no desire to possess such unbridled, uncontrollable elements as made a being human; had never had such a desire. As a Vulcan, he was content, content to live amongst humans above such transient emotions as they showed regularly, content to remain superior, content to live reclusively apart, content to never make a gesture which might indicate more than the detached interest of a Vulcan scientist.
And then he met James Tiberius Kirk, and everything he knew about himself: his heritage, his desires, his contentment, his control – changed.
Thoughts turned over like an upset cart of valuables now strewn across a heavily-traveled road, innate elements he did not even know he possessed now set adrift in a stormy sea without the benefit of a sextant or even stars to steer by – his life was upended without his permission, his sanction, his desire, or consideration for the same.
And yet, he could not find it in himself to resent this unusual human who had, somehow, some way, by some unknown and inexplicable method, charmed his way into what had until now been a perfectly logical, calm Vulcan heart.
James T. Kirk was a volatile element, an unpredictable variable in the ongoing experiment which was his life among humans; and any scientist knew how dangerous unknown elements could be in experiments. The consequences for introducing such elements could be destructive, disastrous – or they could produce the most fascinating and unexpected results, bring new discoveries that could revolutionize thought processes and scientific principle.
And one evening, when he found himself sitting opposite this unique individual over a chess board and discovered to his horror that he actually was wishing he could find some way to indicate his pleasure in the man's company as easily as Kirk's smile indicated the same to him – his world disintegrated.
The mental beakers of his life-experiment shattered into slivers of painful, broken thoughts, sending the elements which comprised his mind pooling in a diluted mess of horror and dismay and rejection of principle and shock, intermingled with the terrible, indescribable, beckoning thrill of freedom.
Jim was puzzled, and worried he knew, about his sudden retreat from the half-finished game: but had he not retreated, the consequences would have been disastrous. He was in dire need of meditation, and set about to do so immediately. Eight hours later, he emerged, not having reached a successful conclusion to his inner turmoil.
All their long way back to Earth after the tragedies at the Galactic Barrier, he attempted to reconcile these matters, and abysmally failed.
The night of their re-launch, after the shifts in the command chain with Gary Mitchell's death, the inception of their official five-year mission, Spock stood at a divergence of paths: continue as he had been for many years, especially the last fifteen in which he had been enrolled in Starfleet, and remain as all expected him to be – Vulcan, without question, without distinction, without a second glance. Emotionless, flawlessly detached, embracing only that which enhanced the mind and rejecting all aberrations of Logic.
Or, he could attempt – and the key term there was attempt – to explore that part of himself which had been locked away in mental prisons for so long that he was not quite certain he knew the location of the cell's key. Vulcans did not form casual relationships, for they had no need of transient friendships or dalliances. Humans thrived on casual interaction and conversation; Vulcans had no need for such.
Vulcan friendships, even romantic relationships, were rooted in the minds first, and then and only then the emotions; for those emotions were permitted between individuals, but only if the mind – both minds – could control the unpredictable impulses that were the risk of such relationships. Human friendships, on the other hand, were based upon feelings, upon a mutual give-and-take of opinions and advice and casual conversation and gestures.
They were polar opposites.
And yet, scientific principle stated that opposites attract.
The danger lay in the unpredictability of uncharted space – this void, this gravitational well of peril which could easily destroy everything he was, everything he ever had been, everything he ever envisioned himself being. He faced a choice, and once embarking on the path chosen there would be no course adjustment or turning back.
James T. Kirk was dangerous.
The man had the ability to destroy his Vulcanity, his mind, his lifestyle if the human chose; the amount of power Kirk would have over him made the venture a most dangerous one indeed. If he were to relinquish some of his Vulcan nature in favor of experimentally dabbling in that human emotion known as friendship – love, affection, camaraderie, companionship, whatever term the humans affixed to it – then he was placing his entire mind, his entire being, all of who he was and ever would be…in the hands of a human.
And even a Vulcan could feel fear at the gravity of that.
His captain was a perceptive man – far more perceptive, and more thoughtful, than most humans of his acquaintance (his mind's compass had instantly fixed itself with James Kirk as its magnetic pole, with or without his permission; one reason he knew they were mentally compatible), and soon discerned that something was amiss. The human was not telepathic, but was certainly receptive to psi-suggestions, as he had observed more than once already; no doubt there was a degree of latent mental compatibility involved.
One thing which humans preferred to do, while in any sort of relationship, was to 'talk out' their problems; an action with which he was entirely unfamiliar, as Vulcan telepathy and mental joining was a far more efficient method of resolving issues between bondmates and close acquaintances.
Still, if he were to even keep this man as a peripheral acquaintance, he must learn to make concessions to the human way.
"Something's bothering you, Spock," Kirk remarked at last, after a very long (even for them) silence over their evening meal, and the human was direct as usual, knowing his Vulcan dislike for prevarication. "Did I do something? Violate some Vulcan taboo, that made you withdraw?"
"Negative," he hastened to reassure, for the man looked highly distraught over the idea.
"You must tell me if I do," Kirk pressed. "Because I don't know enough about you to know if I'm doing something I shouldn't, Mr. Spock."
"You have done nothing, Captain." On the contrary, this extraordinary human had completely shattered everything Spock ever was; and he teetered on the edge, not ready to take the plunge.
"I think you're lying, Spock."
He blinked at the human's hard tone, and the fiery-steel glitter in the eyes that pinned him in place. "Sir, I am a Vulcan. Vulcans –"
"Don't lie, yes, you've said so before," Kirk interrupted, his voice delivering in that peculiar staccato punch which indicated intensity. "But Vulcans also look me in the eyes, at least this one does – and you've refused to do so during this entire conversation, Spock."
He looked down at his unfinished meal, wishing with all his might to be elsewhere.
"What did I do?" the human asked softly, a distressed edge in his tone.
"You have done nothing," he attempted desperately to misguide the man once more, only to be brought up short by the business end of a Kirk glare.
"Answer me; you can give me that at least, can't you? Can't you trust me enough to believe I can take the truth?"
"It is not a matter of…" he trailed off, eyes widening, as the realization struck him as an almost physical blow to the head, or more precisely the mind – for it was, it was an issue of trust.
Did he really, and truly, trust this unusual man to not use the power he held to destroy Spock of Vulcan, and all he was?
"…Spock?" the man was asking softly, laying a careful, gentle hand on his wrist, on the double row of braid that rested there. "Are you all right? What did I do? Please tell me!"
He drew a quick breath, realizing only then that he had not done so for longer than his usual respiratory regulation had set for his lungs, and looked up at those intense eyes, so openly, humanly worried now – for him, about him. Jim was concerned for him, almost frighteningly so, if the buzz of human fear and worry he detected under the warm hand on his arm was any indication.
Without even thinking of what he was doing, he moved his arm and turned his wrist over, so that their bare hands touched for a fleeting moment. It was a purely Vulcan instinct, a search for truth, a desperate attempt to ascertain compatibility.
The sharp, stinging burn of an almost electrical current flashed between their touching hands for only an instant before Kirk gave an exclamation of shock and yanked away, wide-eyed.
But he had found what he had been seeking; Truth, blazing so brilliantly in this unique human's mental signature that even through a casual touch it had reached out to invite him in, welcoming him instead of instantly rejecting him as most would have.
This man would never harm him, would never demand of him more than he could give, would never do anything but respect him, would never do anything but…he could not name the emotion which hovered below the surface of the Truth he had seen, as he had no experience with such emotions; but he could feel it, and it was not harmful.
"…All right, mister, are you going to tell me what that was?" Kirk demanded breathlessly, looking at his fingers as if searching for burns.
He looked up to meet the captain's gaze squarely for the first time all evening, and saw the human's eyes warm in relief at whatever he saw. "I apologize, Captain; I…have resolved the problem. It was not of your doing."
He received a raised eyebrow of obvious skepticism. "And again, I call Vulcan fibbing, Mr. Spock. Spill it." His blank look earned him a short laugh, a most pleasant sound. He would be certain to feign ignorance of the Standard adages in future, if it gave enjoyment to this man. "Let me rephrase: give me the pertinent facts, Spock," the captain added.
"Sir, I…" he glanced away, fighting down the screams of panic entering the back of his mind at the idea of sharing something so personal. "…It is not an easy thing to explain."
Kirk's eyes softened. "All right, if it makes you uncomfortable then you don't have to," he replied gently.
Again, he stared at the human, barely registering the words. "You…would not demand an explanation?"
Again he received that odd look, the one that indicated this human saw far more than the average one did when he looked at Spock of Vulcan. "Spock, if you say it's nothing I need to be concerned with, then I trust you," he said simply.
"You are an extraordinary human," he blurted, unable to prevent the astonished exclamation from leaving his mouth.
Kirk's eyes widened comically. "…thank you? I think?"
Well, there was nothing like making the first attempt, in this experiment to see what he could give back in order to show this human he was willing to make the attempt at…human friendship, his mind supplied the word with a derisive flare of disdain, which he quashed instantly. Any experiment carried an element of risk; this one was no different.
"You are welcome, I believe is the correct response, is it not?"
The poor human looked as if he had choked on something in his meal, or else was not receiving enough oxygen to his brain; Kirk nodded somewhat dazedly and then retreated into his post-dinner coffee until he emerged, looking more collected.
"You sure you're all right?" the captain asked, peering warily at him over the mug's rim.
"…Well. That's good."
"Um." Kirk rubbed the back of his neck for a moment, flicking a glance about the room uneasily. "So…you doing anything this evening?"
He raised an eyebrow, and the man turned the shade of the Operations division's uniform tunics; most likely the human had not meant that in the way it sounded. "I am amenable to continuing our aborted chess game, if that is what you are asking, Captain."
Kirk exhaled into his coffee, nodding vigorously, and he only sat back and marveled at the intricacies of human communication; the Vulcan way was much more precise and accurate.
And also nowhere near as fascinating.
His experimentation thus far had been something of a success. He had found small ways in which to compromise with the Captain; and these were not so much compromises as small changes in his behavior, for the human's eyes only – to all other he remained the same, as to be so openly unVulcan before outsiders was unacceptable. But with Kirk, he had found an acceptable medium; the man eagerly accepted any gesture he offered but never pressed for more than he was willing to give.
He had once, during the course of one of their longer conversations while in one of the shuttles test-piloting some navigational upgrades Mr. Scott had made, expressed his dissatisfaction with the inability he possessed to express himself with the ease that humans did.
Kirk had smiled mysteriously at him before returning his attention to the navigational console. "I think you're better at it than you realize, Mr. Spock," the human had said lightly. "It's just that most humans don't pay enough attention to be able to tell when your eyebrows mean you're irritated or that you're laughing at us on the inside."
He had indignantly protested both of those presumptions, and had only gotten a fit of laughter in return; and yet the human was correct in part. Kirk had always, even from their first meeting, been able to read his behavior and mannerisms as easily as the man perused one of those antique books he loved so dearly – something that few humans ever achieved. One such human was his mother, and it was a rare gift that had become the only thing which kept her and Sarek's relationship as pleasant as it was.
And it was a rare gift from the human to him; very few would have the patience with his stunted emotional development as this one did, and even fewer would not demand more expressions of 'friendship' than he was physically and mentally capable of providing. Jim was extraordinary, and that was the only word that sufficiently described the man. He felt himself unaccountably drawn to that unselfish, unconditionally accommodating mind which accepted his shortcomings as part of who he was, rather than of who he was not; and by extension, he was drawn to the man himself, the volatile and dangerous complexity of emotions which was the man James Kirk.
He did not realize how drawn he was, until the incidents which surrounded their unscheduled stopover at Planet Q and the transport of the acting troupe to the Benecia colony. His trust had been unwavering in his captain to that point – and even then, despite the evidence that Kirk was hiding something, he refused to believe the man was acting completely irrationally.
And then, he investigated. Utilized the library computer, correlated the data, formed the hypothesis, drew the conclusions. Step by step, with dogged determination, formed the chain which led him to the final confirmation.
Heard the computer reel off the name of the ninth remaining eyewitness of the mass-murder, the genocide, of the century, an event which at the time even on Vulcan had been discussed with horror.
For the first time in his life, Spock of Vulcan thought he might be ill in front of witnesses.
None were more relieved (yes, it was an emotion, and yes, he felt it; to deny that which existed was not logical) than he, when the acting troupe had left the ship, and the Karidian woman had been safely incarcerated in a medical institution. McCoy took himself to counseling Lieutenant Riley, who was understandably shaken by the events, and left Kirk in the Vulcan's not-precisely-capable hands.
The problem was, that Kirk refused to discuss either these events, or those which occurred on Tarsus IV so long ago. In an uncharacteristically violent manner, the human outright told him to 'mind his own business,' he believed was the phrase used, and followed that up by a verbal explosion, the contents of which he barely remembered, so shocked was he at the intensity of the pain and anger and, below it all, the fear he could feel thrumming through the cabin.
The captain finally departed the room, still seething, and left him staring after the human in consternation and at an entire loss to understand the man's emotional reaction.
But Kirk had said he did not wish to speak of it, did not wish his prying into private affairs, and did not wish to ever bring up the subject again. To disobey that order would be discourteous, and detrimental to this so-fragile relationship he was trying so desperately to cultivate. It was like coaxing a rare and extremely fragile tropical flower to bloom in an arid tundra.
Later, after listening to his report, McCoy retorted that bringing it up might be rude, but it also be therapeutic and necessary; however Spock would not so violate the human's privacy and wishes in that respect. Kirk never spoke again of their altercation, and he was not about to bring up the subject, having nothing to say which might in any way be helpful. Life had a habit of continuing despite events which deserved more consideration that the time allotted them, and this was no exception.
But their silence on the subject festered, fomenting and boiling under the surface of a return to normalcy. This he found out a scant two weeks later, to his eternal regret.
They had been diverted by Starfleet on an emergency response to a Priority One distress call from the nearby planet of Bola II, a satellite of which had held for many months now an observation team for the planet below, judging the feasibility of a successful First Contact as the civilization was on the edge of warp-technology. The planet's High Council had already reached a planet-wide amnesty and had unified the continents, but were not yet capable of more than satellite travel; however, there had been several unsuccessful warp travel attempts. But now, as the civilization itself teetered on the verge of victorious breakthrough into the galactic plain, their planet plummeted into cataclysm.
Bola II was still operating planetwide under mostly nuclear power, and with the political unrest which had accompanied the unstable government for the last two decades that was their undoing. Rebel factions set in place over half the planet destroyed the nuclear power plants which powered the main cities of Bola II's primary continent. The planet's inter-continental police system had successfully rounded up the majority of the terrorists, but the damage had already been done, and their societies now had far worse crises to deal with than political unrest.
The High Council of the planet's unified continents, in desperation, had sent out a distress call to anyone who might be out there in the universe, stating that they were aware other worlds existed and was there anyone who could possibly lend at least medical aid to their doomed civilization. They asked nothing more than rescue for the thousands who were dying, required no explanations but only medical assistance.
The Prime Directive was clear that Starfleet was not to interfere with pre-warp civilizations even if they were destroying themselves. But this world had been only weeks from successful warp travel, and in many cases when the planet possessed something valuable which Starfleet needed, unfortunately regulations were often twisted to accommodate mercenary reasons.
Whatever the cause, they were not informed – only told that the Enterprise had been ordered to help avert the catastrophe which threatened to destroy the majority of an entire world.
"We're to assess the situation and lend what help we can, but we're not allowed to evacuate anyone to the Enterprise," Kirk informed his command staff during the official pre-mission briefing, as they hurtled through space toward the doomed planet. "Starfleet's still enforcing the directive to not allow aliens aboard when their own societies know nothing of ours."
"Then we're going to need a heck of a lot more medical help than my teams can give you," McCoy snapped in irritation.
"The Constellation and a nearly-empty passenger vessel are supposed to be on their way, should be there twelve hours behind us at maximum emergency warp," Kirk reassured him. "They'll be prepared to take on the worst of the medical burden. Our main job is to just get the worst of the fires put out, literally or figuratively, and evacuate the worst affected areas."
"With the use of transporters prohibited –"
"I know, Mr. Scott," the captain sighed, glancing down at his folded hands upon the table. "But Starfleet's orders are clear; shuttles only. We're pushing it as it is, with the Prime Directive – the planet is lucky the higher-ups saw fit to break protocol and aid in a continent-wide evacuation."
"What about the First Contact observation team?" McCoy asked.
Kirk glanced toward his First. Spock had been following the conversation with his usual incomprehension of how an organization such as Starfleet could be so careless of any life form, but also with his usual adherence to duty and the understanding which accompanied his loyalty to the cause.
"In the four hours since the apprehension of the terrorists, the First Contact team will have already begun negotiations with the High Council, the final purpose of which is to admit Bola II to the United Federation of Planets by the time of our arrival," he reported. "Those are their orders; ours are to aid in the relief efforts, to free the negotiating team to, as you would say, cut through the red tape involved with a breach of the Prime Directive."
"More of a stretch than a breach, but it's not our call to make," Kirk added, somewhat irritated. "Scotty, I'm going to need you to clear all unnecessary equipment and seats out of the shuttles; we're probably going to have to pack people in like sardines to get them out. Bones, every nurse, doctor, scientist you can spare, anyone aboard really who has any type of medical training."
"All of m'lads and lasses know the basics of radiation poison first aid, Captain," Scott reminded the man, "I make sure o' that before they're allowed anywhere near my engines."
"Take supplementals from Engineering, as many as you can, Doctor."
McCoy nodded, all business. "Aye, Captain."
"Spock, you and I will be beaming down to meet briefly with the First Contact team before we join the relief efforts. If you and Lieutenant Uhura will get in touch with the planet and formulate a schematic of where the teams should be beamed to, the worst areas affected?"
"Already in progress, Captain," he was able to reply, indicating the updated list on his data-padd, which the Lieutenant had just sent him from the Bridge.
Kirk's tired smile was reward enough for the extra time and effort it had cost.
"Dismissed then, gentlemen – and let's hope we can salvage something out of this mess."
They beamed down into hell.
It was without doubt one of the most horrifying scenes Spock had ever been witness to – and he had seen some things during his long service in Starfleet that would make a mere human cower. This was…devastating.
The air hung heavy with residual radiation, the brilliance of the sun blotted out by the smoke and debris in the atmosphere. Terra-forming chemicals had been released in bomb form into the atmosphere, clearing away the majority of the lethal or harmful radiation, but that which remained hung thick in their nostrils, acrid and choking. All around them, buildings lay in ruin, their windows broken, their walls in rubble from the aftershocks of the earthquakes which had rocked the continent from the plants' explosions. What houses and buildings remained intact were scorched with smoke, damaged by vandals in the chaos that had followed in the tragedy's wake eight hours before.
Then there was the noise. A deafening, horribly painful cacophony of jumbled sounds and screams and panicked shouts and collapses and crashes – enough to hurt his sensitive eardrums when the glow of the transporter effect had faded initially. All around them, people were screaming, shouting for help, parents calling out for missing children, abandoned infants wailing for parents that were too far gone to know, uninjured shouting for medical assistance and bellowing insults and profanities at each other, the breaking of store windows and looting of unoccupied houses in that horrendously primitive manner which characterized Terra at its roughest during its third world war.
And then there was the smell.
It was enough to turn even his iron stomach, the stench of burning flesh and spilled chemicals and smoldering rubble and sickness and humanoid blood and death and destruction. The reek of decay and death rose up like a tidal wave to strike them both, and even as he instinctively recoiled he saw Kirk turn white as chalk and take a stumbling step backward the moment they finished materialization, knocking awkwardly into him.
More out of instinct than anything else, he immediately placed a supportive hand against the man's back, felt the fluttering of a human heart pounding frenetically beneath a ribcage straining for oxygen. Kirk was breathing shallowly, far too rapidly, simply staring at the destruction around them with eyes that he strongly suspected were not seeing the monument in the central park of Bola II's capital city.
"Jim," he whispered in the human's ear, and Kirk jumped, clearly startled. The captain's eyes refocused as he swallowed harshly and straightened, brushing the back of his sleeve against his mouth.
Somewhere nearby, a building collapsed; he could hear the screams which accompanied it, and both he and Kirk felt the ground quake beneath their feet, saw the smoke-filled cloud of dust and debris which clouded up a few blocks away before melting into the radiation haze.
"Right," the man spoke after a deep breath, his voice sounding strangely stable in the middle of the chaos around them. "Let's find that First Contact team so we can get back to what really matters here."
Spock glanced down at his tricorder before looking around at the stately buildings, half of which lay in ruins, and the gardens of wilted, poisoned flora which lined the filthy walkways. Somewhere close, the shriek of sirens indicated the planet's primitive medical teams at work the best they knew how to aid the injured. "We are seven-point-three-five minutes early for our rendezvous, Captain; these are the correct coordinates, however. We need only wait."
And they might have done so; any Vulcan would have done so, and many Starfleet officers would have done so – for many humans, in his experience, preferred to simply close their eyes to horrors rather than accept and acknowledge their presence. It was human nature to reject that which was too terrible for easy assimilation.
But James Kirk was no ordinary human.
Kirk was, however, a Starfleet officer, one of the best and most trustworthy of such in Spock's opinion, and he might have remained in place until their contacts arrived – but for the sound which filtered dimly through the pollution and chaos.
The small voice of a terrified child, crying.
He had only just time to register the half-determined, half-wild darkness which fell over the human's face before Kirk was gone, vanished into the haze in the direction of the sobbing little one.
For a moment he hesitated, his Vulcan half insisting someone had to wait for their contacts or else Starfleet would not be tolerant, and his human half warring equally strongly against that logical action to inform him he must go after his captain.
It was the work of several moments for his superior hearing to filter out the sounds of the pandemonium around him, slowly eliminating the chaos and the screams and the profanities until he once again heard the sobbing whimper of the child nearby, and followed the sound to its source.
He nearly tripped over his captain as he rounded a corner, careful to avoid the female humanoid body which lolled half in the gutter, clearly dead of radiation poisoning and exposure.
"Captain," he managed to not gasp, as that would have been highly embarrassing, but Kirk did not appear to hear him. The human was kneeling in a spreading pool of filth and gravel-laced water from a burst water-pipe nearby, careless of his uniform, and was bending over a small, shivering bundle which had been sheltered under a heavy plastic crate.
Kirk's shaking hand pulled the edge of a carefully-wrapped blanket away from a tiny, tear-streaked face, and Spock closed his eyes for a moment. The infant was dying of radiation poisoning, one needed no background in medical studies to be able to see that. Its tiny lungs would be unable to function for much longer, burned up from the inside by the nuclear fallout, and while tiny pink mitts shielded the infant's hands, the unprotected little ears and cheeks were already blistered from radiation burns. Death would be more merciful than life, to the suffering little one. The female lying a few feet away was clearly the mother; the dark hair and eyes were an obvious resemblance despite the distortion caused in the female's features from the poisoning. She had obviously tried to shelter the child as best she could under the small plastic crate, but no amount of such archaic material could shield from the fallout of a nuclear blast of that magnitude, even though this city was miles from the initial explosion.
Just one, only one child and one female out of the hundreds of thousands that this city had contained only twenty-four hours ago; how many more would die before the day was over?
His regretful musings on the barbaric futility of these primitive civilizations' violence was tamped down carefully in his mind; it would have its place, and to mourn the dead would also be done – but for now, their duties lay elsewhere. The Vulcan way - categorizing and compartmentalizing – took and controlled the emotions of regret and horror, and then his mind assimilated the remainder and returned to its tranquil state of being, composed and calm. This tragedy was inexcusable, absolutely inexcusable, but for now it must be accepted as fact and dealt with accordingly.
He had, however, temporarily forgotten that humans regrettably had no such method of controlling themselves or their horror at the sort of atrocities they would no doubt see throughout this mission – and it was an unpleasant shock when his quiet suggestion that they return to their rendezvous point was met with an exclamation of disbelief from the human still frozen in position on the pavement before him.
"Sir?" he asked, momentarily mystified by the vehemence behind the captain's disbelieving snarl.
Kirk reached out one finger and it was caught and held fast by one tiny mittened hand. The child whimpered again, tears streaming down its face to disappear into the carefully-tucked blanket. The human finally looked up at him, hazy eyes sparking dangerously. "How can you be so callous as to even think about meeting with those pompous diplomats when there are people – little children, Spock – dying all around you?" he hissed.
He was out of his depth and he knew it, and could only attempt to salvage the situation the best he knew how – logically. "Sir, the performance of our representative duties will not change –"
Kirk surged to his feet with the infant cradled in his arms, a vibrating wall of helpless rage which made Spock take a quick step back, even if he was considerably taller than the human. "Don't you think I know that?" the captain demanded furiously, eyes blazing as he indicated the child in his arms. "Nothing can change this – nothing!"
Helpless, he could only remain silent, for he had no idea how to counter such illogical human anger; there was nothing either of them could do, and anything he might say obviously would not be well-received by Kirk in this state. He was utterly clueless; not only did he not understand Kirk's anger, but he most definitely did not understand how he might help.
The baby sniffled, made a small whimper as it clung to the captain's finger, its tiny lungs wheezing for oxygen in the stifled air. Kirk's wild gaze drifted downward, even as his lips hardened into a thin, determined line.
He viciously yanked his communicator from its holster, snapping it open with one hand. "But maybe I can change this one," he muttered, almost to himself, before depressing the comm-channel button. "Kirk to Enterprise."
Spock swallowed, unsure of his ground now; but he was a Starfleet officer, and as such duty came first. "Sir, you repeated our orders to the medical crew yourself; no inhabitant of Bola II may be taken aboard the Enterprise –"
"Your concerns are duly noted, Commander," Kirk snapped, a brittle and vicious edge in his voice.
"It is not my concern, sir, but rather that of Starfleet Command," he tried once more, and was about to try to gently break the news to the human that the infant had no more than ten minutes to live at the most; the indications were too clear.
But Kirk never gave him a chance, only sent him a venomous look and called for an emergency beam-out.
Spock was left standing alone on the corner in a pool of rotting vegetation and impure water, utterly at a loss as to what he could – should? – have done differently. And what to do now? Kirk had just blatantly broken a Starfleet regulation which left absolutely no room for private interpretation; he was obviously emotionally compromised, and it did not take a licensed psychiatrist to know why. By all rights he should beam up to the ship, relieve the captain of command, and then file a report with Starfleet regarding the breach of protocol.
Logically, that was the chain of action he would perform were he a truly Vulcan Starfleet officer.
He returned to the rendezvous point, explained in his best diplomatic manner that the captain had been delayed on a medical emergency, and began the conference with the First Contact team immediately. The group was hardly picky about who came to help them so long as help was given, and asked no questions to which he would have to either incriminate his captain or lie to cover for him; a fact for which he was devoutly grateful.
The whole conference was over in twenty-two-point-seven-five minutes, after which the First Contact party departed in a hovercar to resume negotiations with the High Council. He was left with only a padd containing all the information they would need, the sounds of men and women and children crying in his ears, and the knowledge that he had done the unthinkable – deceived his superiors regarding the blatant insubordination of the captain of the Enterprise.
He had not the time to dwell upon the implications of that significant development, for the hum of a transporter beam for a moment overshadowed the death-screams and the chaotic rumble of buildings shifting and groaning precariously.
He turned, and saw James Kirk materialize fifteen feet away, a small, motionless bundle held carefully in his arms. The human began walking, almost unbearably slowly, back toward the corner where the child had been discovered, shoulders slumped in a picture of misery, without even looking around him.
Spock had only just moved to follow when his communicator chirped.
The lack of his title showed more clearly than anything else just how alarming their CMO found this incident. "I rather believe I know the purpose of your communication, Doctor."
"What in the name of all that's holy is going on down there? And since when does Jim go around breaking his own orders, hauling that – that poor kid into my Sickbay when there's nothing in heaven or hell I can do for her?"
"The captain is…not himself, Doctor."
"The captain, Mr. Spock, is emotionally compromised like nobody's business, that's what he is!" The physician's voice quieted suddenly, more serious. "I don't know what he thinks he's seein' here, Spock – but he dead sure isn't seein' Bola II, and he isn't seein' one death among several thousands."
"You understand I'm gonna have to relieve him of command, at least temporarily."
"Acknowledged. Please endeavor…" he paused for a moment to carefully phrase his request, "…to be as vague as possible in your medical logs."
A long, significant pause, and then a sad chuckle. "You're more human than you let on, Mr. Spock."
"Insults are unnecessary, Doctor."
"You shut up and just go take care of him, y'hear me?"
"Clearly, Doctor, and I shall. Spock out."
He snapped the communicator back into place with a definitive click, and then gathered his failing Vulcan courage in his hands and went after the human. Every instinct he had screamed at him to flee from the turbulence of emotional distress which was sure to break any moment on the horizon of one James T. Kirk – and yet he did not, could not, leave the man to face his demons alone.
He caught up with the captain just in time to see him bend down to tenderly lay the motionless bundle in the small plastic crate, placing the crate beside the body of the mother. To a Vulcan, death was simply a cessation of existence, a releasing of the katra into the vessel chosen for it being the only survival. It was not something to be feared, and only for a short while was it to be grieved for – but humans had a different view of loss of life, one that Spock could barely comprehend. Were he to be without Vulcan training and methods of coping with loss and death and grief, he might go mad; that way lay the real danger in rejecting the tenets by which Vulcans lived.
How could humans possibly deal with such things and remain sane?
Resisting the urge to turn tail and run like the cowardly Vulcan half of him was insisting he do, he instead kept walking, moved down the pavement to come up behind the motionless human. Kirk stood, staring down at the two bodies with unseeing eyes, shoulders rigid but for a tell-tale quiver which ran through them occasionally.
He paused a few paces behind the man, out of respect for his privacy. And also because he had no idea what to do or how he might help.
When the captain made no move to acknowledge his presence, he resolutely strengthened his mental shields and edged closer…then a little closer…and then closer still, until he was standing directly behind the man. Now he could see the fine tremors which shook the human's frame, and the weight of the whole world which seemed to bow the proud shoulders.
After several moments of silence, punctuated only by emergency sirens and the cries of the people all around them, he ventured a quiet, helpless inquiry. "Captain, is there a way by which I can help?"
Kirk stiffened, as if coming suddenly out of a trance, and swallowed, but he remained still staring at the street with his back toward his First. For a long minute, Spock thought he might be completely ignored – but then there was a quick breath, a shuddering inhalation which fairly screamed a red alert, indicating that the human's walls were crumbling dangerously fast.
He was about to inquire again when the man spoke, no more than a painful whisper in the muted chaos around them. "Spock. If I…if I asked you right now to do something…something human, that makes you highly uncomfortable…" Kirk swallowed painfully, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, "…would you do it?"
"For you, Captain?" he knew the answer, but to hear how it was spoken would reveal more information.
"Yes," the man whispered. "For me."
A brief, so fleeting moment of doubt, where he wondered just what this might be and how detrimental to his Vulcanity it would prove; but then, seeing how pale the human was, how distressed the eyes were that blinked blankly at the horror around them, it suddenly mattered not.
This was no issue of permission – he would allow this man anything, and in that moment he realized it so clearly it frightened him.
"Then the answer is yes, Jim," he said without further hesitation, and meant it with all his human heart.
Barely had the words fallen from his lips that the human had turned and was clinging to him, shaking as badly as a leaf flung about in a hurricane, clutching him tightly as if he were the last stable element in the entire universe. And, in that moment, in that man's universe…perhaps he was.
For a moment he stood awkwardly stiff while his brain caught up with the rest of his shocked senses, to indicate to him what the proper response was in these situations; then he heard the muffled, wrenching gasp of a man who is desperately attempting to keep from weeping uncontrollably, and he flung his Vulcan impassiveness to the stellar winds. He did not quite understand or see what humans found comforting in this sharing of personal space, but it was not for him to judge; he had accepted this man as he was – so human, so completely human – and the least he could do would be to be as accommodating to human needs as Jim had been to his Vulcan ones.
After slowly raising his hands to hesitantly pat at the back of the human's rumpled gold tunic, he was aware he had performed adequately when Kirk relaxed, slumping against him. For a moment they stood there, swaying slightly from side to side in the acrid, smoke-choked wind, and then he tightened his grip as the human's grief and horror and utter exhaustion bled through the physical contact.
"Captain, when was the last time you slept?" he murmured into the human's ear.
"For…" Kirk shivered against him, the words muffled slightly, "…for how long?"
That was answer enough, but Dr. McCoy's log would require particulars. "Longer than three hours at a stretch, preferably."
"I have no idea," was the exhausted, if honest, admission, and Spock frowned internally. He should have noticed this by now; what kind of a Vulcan was he, if he could not observe and recognize the signs of an approaching physical and possibly mental collapse?
Worse, all things considered: what kind of friend was he, to neglect to notice this? He had failed miserably in that regard, despite his efforts in the venture.
Possibly it was that strong sensation of guilt which made the impropriety of such human gestures of comfort quite tolerable, but whatever the cause, it was several moments before Kirk tried awkwardly to pull away from the embrace, and several more before he permitted the man to do so, and then only to arms' length. The human was reeling by this point, at any rate, and it seemed he might collapse on the spot were it not for the strong Vulcan grip.
So fragile, these humans! Their physical structure so brittle, their minds so vulnerable to predators, their hearts so sensitive – how could they possibly stand it? How had they survived for so long, risen to such heights in the civilizations of the galaxy, and at what costs? They were the most remarkable of species.
The shriek of collapsing metal from a shed and a burst of caustic chemical fumes nearby brought his wandering attention back, and only then did he notice that the human was shivering violently now, far more than a moment ago. The external temperature had not changed, nor was there an increase in wind velocity; Kirk was going into shock, and all things considered it was not surprising.
"Captain," he began, being careful to speak calmly, quietly, but the man did not appear to see him for the moment, simply stood there staring blankly down at the bodies lying on the pavement. "Jim, are –"
"So many," the human whispered.
"So many dead, Spock," Kirk whispered, a broken sound of grief following the words as he looked again at the infant which would never see a second birthday. "He killed so many people!"
"Captain," he murmured, for with that last he had realized that the two events had somehow merged in the human's exhausted mind; McCoy had been right, the man was not seeing Bola II. "Jim, it is over."
"I know," Kirk replied woodenly. "All over. They're all dead now, Spock – and most of them aren't even remembered as more than a statistic in a history book. No one even knows who they were. No one."
He gently took the human's tense arm, pulling Kirk toward him and away from the bodies which still kept the man's fixated attention. "You know," he said quietly, and hazel eyes blinked upward at him in some unwilling return to sanity.
"Sometimes I wish I didn't," Kirk managed through slightly-chattering teeth, shivering again as his core temperature plummeted. "They all had names, Spock, families, children, all four thousand of them…I haven't thought about them in so long, until…" Another shudder, and Spock began to reach for his communicator with his free hand.
"Spock to Enterprise."
"Enterprise, Scott here."
"…until recently," Kirk was continuing, glancing behind them as a siren began to wail.
"Two to beam up immediately, Mr. Scott. Captain –"
"And now I can't stop," the man whispered, putting a hand to his head. "All night long, I can't make the dreams stop, I can't stop thinking about them, I can't get Karidian's voice out of my head, Spock!"
"I can," he promised rashly, intensely, for the human was on the verge of shock-induced hysteria, a weakness which James Kirk in his right mind would have died rather than reveal to anyone. The sight caused a painful tightening sensation within which seemed to restrict his breathing; he would do far more than this, if it could in any way erase the despair written across Kirk's exhausted face.
The captain blinked up at him, hope brilliantly lighting up his eyes. "You…you can?"
"I can. Energize, Mr. Scott," he promised, but all the while keeping his free hand on the captain's arm. And it was fortunate he had done so, for as soon as they materialized Kirk's face went bloodless and his knees buckled under him.
Lunging for the collapsing man, Spock heard the whine of a medical scanner even before he registered the worried presence which hovered so close beside them. The physician was able to help him catch the captain before Kirk's stubborn self wasn't able to run any longer on willpower alone.
"He's in shock," was the growled diagnosis, preceded and followed by a series of creative swearing. "Respiration shallow, brain functions slow…and his blood pressure's plummeting – " McCoy broke off in a furious curse. "Where in the name of all that's good and sensible did he get those stimulants? I dead sure didn't prescribe them for him!"
The fact that the captain had medicated himself in order to remain on his feet was unsurprising to Spock, though he indulged in the human emotion of wishing he had seen those indications as well.
"I'm…fine, Bones," Kirk protested weakly, batting the doctor's hand away from his face.
"You get no say in this, Jim," McCoy barked testily, performing a rapid series of scans.
Kirk looked affronted, but lacked the energy to really protest; and a moment later the irritation faded back into that blank sadness Spock had seen on the surface of Bola II.
"When did you relieve me of duty, Bones?" the man asked quietly.
McCoy's jaw tightened slightly as he read over the test results. "Fifteen minutes ago, Captain."
"Good," the man whispered, almost mechanically, and then lowered his head to rest on his knees, which were drawn up tightly against his body.
Spock met the doctor's shocked look over Kirk's bent head, and only hoped he could indeed perform what he had so rashly – his Vulcan half screamed emotionally – promised.