The Observation Deck Incident
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
It was one of those days on the Enterprise. When your tenure as captain of a ship begins after a dramatic showdown with a bunch of alien terrorists from the future, you expect an exciting job, right? But not so— Jim learned that very quickly.
When he complained to Bones about countless uneventful hours in the captain's chair, staring vacantly at the dark viewscreen, wishing for a Klingon attack—anything!—Jim got an open-mouthed stare and a "You really do have a death wish, kid."
When he complained to Spock about the endless paperwork, he got a raised eyebrow and some mumbo jumbo about Starfleet and peacekeeping that he tuned out after about fifteen seconds. (He also discovered a decrease in the amount of paperwork the next day. He would be complaining to Spock more often.)
When he complained to his mother during a video chat about the frustration of communicating with Starfleet higher-ups, she just reminded him that she was, in fact, a member of that group, and they were in the middle of an official meeting.
Nothing had happened on board ship for five days, unless you were going to count the fact that yesterday the replicators had gotten the condiments on sandwich orders wrong three times in one of the mess halls, and some crewmembers complained. (MORE paperwork? Seriously? About MUSTARD?). Jim had already worked out. No one was playing anything interesting in the first rec room he wandered through, none of the books on his shelf looked interesting, and he was not going to read on his computer.
Jim was bored.
So, he meandered towards the observation deck.
The door swished open when he was still a few feet away.
"Chekov, why are you whispering?"
"Shh! Keptin, sir. It is Meester Spock."
"Oh." Jim lowered his voice and stepped back into the hall with Chekov.
"Well, what is it, Chekov?"
"Ze commander is sitting quietly, so I left."
"Meditating, probably. "
"Yes, sir. I…" Jim didn't miss the quick grin that flashed across Chekov's face.
Chekov looked at him nervously. That kid really needed to loosen up…smiling wasn't a crime. Not on his starship!
"What is it, Chekov."
"No, Keptin, it was nothing."
"Come on, Chekov. You can tell me! And if you don't," he put on a mock stern tone, "I could order you to do it, you know. I'm the captain!"
Chekov really did look nervous for a second. Then he grinned. "Well, Keptin. I was looking at Meester Spock, and he was sitting so very still. I wondered…well…I just thought he looked amusing."
Jim could understand that. He had walked in on Spock meditating once, and he'd backed right out of the room. Spock had looked so very solemn and the incense in the room had reminded him of funerals he'd attended as a kid. But once he left the room, and had processed the picture of Spock kneeling in his loose white robe, with his hand folded as if in prayer, and his eyes closed, he snickered to himself. It reminded him of Queequeg's Ramadan in Moby Dick, and he had always found Queequeg to be hilarious.
And that's when inspiration struck.
He was thinking about Queequeg, and the way Ishmael wanted to push him over when he sat there in silent meditation. He might not push Spock over (he had enjoyed the occasional cow tipping adventure or two in his younger days in Iowa…but then a cow couldn't strangle you with one hand…) but he would not be as self-controlled as Ishmael, either. He was James T. Kirk—"T for trouble," his mom used to say. She said it like it was a bad thing.
"Hey, Chekov! I have an idea."
"Yes, Keptin?" He had the look Jim had seen on many of his more timid friends' faces. That, "boy do I want to do whatever brilliant thing you're about to suggest, but then I am a good kid" look. That look that he had successfully overcome 100% of the time—and that figure was Spock-speak accurate.
"Why don't we go in there and see if Spock notices us. This meditation thing, it could be like a trance, right? Maybe he wouldn't even know if we…say…drew a moustache on his face, or put shaving cream on his head, or ANYTHING."
"Keptin, I do not…"
"No, really, Chekov. I bet he doesn't. I bet we could do ANYTHING!" Jim was already running through all the stupid pranks he'd pulled as a kid. They were entertaining enough when played on close friends, or that one kid at camp that everyone hated. But on Spock! On his cool as a cucumber, never a hair out of place, maddeningly precise first officer!
"Keptin, the commander might not…"
"Chekov, the commander is a scientist. He would approve of our research into these aspects of Vulcan meditation." He wondered if his arguments for all the stupid stuff he used to do were all as dumb as this one. He could remember feeling clever as a ten year old. But it didn't really matter. He knew his man. Chekov might be a nervous seventeen year old, but he was a seventeen year old.
"Well, Keptin, perhaps…"
"Okay, let's go."
Jim grabbed Chekov by the sleeve and dragged him back onto the observation deck.
"Okay," he whispered, "first things first. We need to see if he will respond immediately. Follow my lead."
He walked up to Spock, who sat cross-legged on the floor, palms flat together and almost touching his nose, eyes closed and freakily still.
"Hey, Spock!" He whispered.
"Spock!" Louder this time.
"Okay, Chekov, I want you to go to that replicator over there and ask it for some shaving cream." Chekov's eyes nearly bugged out of his head, but he was grinning as he trotted off toward the replicator.
Meanwhile Jim studied Spock like Michelangelo facing that huge lump of marble…that he would soon carve into a naked guy. Yeah…he had never "gotten" that fine art stuff. Back to the art of pranking.
"I hef it, Keptin."
"Okay, watch and learn, young Padawan."
"You mean you haven't seen…oh, never mind. Just be quiet."
He shook up the replicated aerosol can and started by just putting a dot of cream on Spock's nose. No reaction. He traced Spock's eyebrows, and made a moustache. Then he covered Spock's shiny black hair. He stepped back and looked critically at the Vulcan.
"What do you think, Chekov? Something's missing, right?"
Chekov looked like he was choking…or maybe very constipated… Certainly not in any state to give advice.
"I know! I haven't decorated his ears." Jim oh-so-carefully sprayed some of the cream into the shell of each ear. Then he stepped back. Spock looked for all the world like a hairy old man. It was a work of genius, if he did say so himself.
Chekov didn't really say anything, but he was laughing out loud now.
"Chekov, be quiet!" he hissed. "Go run to my cabin and get my camera. I need to get a picture of this. I'll guard him here."
"Y-yes, Keptin." And Chekov ran off, his shoulders shaking.
Jim looked over Spock again. He hadn't moved a muscle the whole time. It was incredible.
And that was the moment when Jim did what he always did. He was a go-getter, an over-achiever. He never allowed himself to be satisfied with second best. And he NEVER left well enough alone.
He had to know just how deep one of these trances was. For science, of course. And also…in case he was ever in a life or death situation where he needed Spock, but Spock was meditating, and he had to SNAP HIM OUT OF IT. That was sure to come up eventually.
So he crouched down next to Spock and cautiously reached out a hand towards his ribs and started tickling. He ALWAYS won when he got into a tickle fight with his brother, even though his brother was older. He would tell his brother (and anyone else who cared to listen) that he had "mad tickling skillz" then—and, if he hadn't imagined that Spock had just tensed himself, his fingers had lost none of their talent. Maybe he should wait for Chekov to come back, so that he didn't wake Spock up and miss the once-in-a-lifetime photo op. But he couldn't very well stop now. He brought his other hand into play and watched Spock's face closely. Suddenly both of Spock's eyebrows went up, his eyes snapped open, and a sound burst out of his mouth, along with a spattering of shaving cream.
It was a laugh.
It was DEFINITELY a laugh.
Jim heard the door whoosh open, and turned with a gleeful grin on his face to look at Chekov.
The last thing he registered before everything went black was the feel of a hand on his shoulder, and the flash of light from a camera.
The picture spread like wildfire. And Jim was facing the consequences. He had told Bones that his broken nose was from a wild punch in a boxing match with Cupcake; the picture made it clear that the trajectory of his nose in the seconds following would be straight towards the floor, and Spock's eyes, as far as they were visible from behind his puffy shaving cream eyebrows promised that the hand not nerve pinching him to kingdom come would NOT be reaching out to save him.
"You idiot! You're the captain of a starship, for cryin' out loud. This isn't Boy Scouts camp! I have enough to do putting you back together whenever you have a run-in with a new horde of aliens. I don't need to fix you up after that hobgoblin rips you apart. If I weren't your doctor, and if you had another unbroken nose, I'd break it myself."
"Aw, Bones. Come on. I was just having fun."
"You're the CAPTAIN, you overgrown eighth grader! What were you thinking?"
Jim slumped his shoulders and mumbled, "I don't know…It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Well…" Bones softened, just like Jim had known he would. "Get outta my sick bay."
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jim looked at his copy of the picture. The perfect snapshot.
He grinned as he returned it to its place of honor on his bookshelf.
Pranking Spock had seemed like a good idea at the time. And frankly, despite the tenderness around the bridge of his nose, it still did. It probably always would.