Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, nor to I profit from works based on its characters.
The turbo lift had never held such unrest for James. Years of practice kept the worry from registering on his face, in his walk, or in his voice. He coolly strode into the confined space, the image of confidence.
"Yeoman," he said with a smile. He did not call her Janice, though that was how he now thought of her. That was the enemy thinking of her. For three days since the incident, he'd been thinking of himself as two people trapped in one body. The memories didn't help. He had in fact been two places at once and held memories accordingly. They tried to coexist; they vied for time, a time to which both sets of experience had a right. He tried to sort them out, create a time-line, so to speak. The images blurred, the dialogue existed only in fragments. The hardest parts were when his two egos had confronted one another, face-to-face. He'd almost blacked those images out several times, and would have had he not been so disciplined. No memories were permitted forgetting, lest the resultant learning be forgotten as well; though, at times he yearned to forget.
"Hello, captain. Have you been sleeping any better?" That's right. McCoy had advised her of the sleepless nights, told her to keep a sharp eye.
"Well enough that I can no longer…'appreciate' the good doctor's nagging," he joked. It was a joke because it was good-natured, not because it wasn't true. He still felt uneasy around his yeoman. Ashamed, mostly. Some part of him, however small, deep, and buried, wanted her to the point of using brute force. He wanted to flinch away from all this, to forget it. Standing in that turbo-lift as it made its painfully slow ascent to the bridge, he was alone with Yeoman Janice Rand and he was terrified. He trusted himself, of course, but the shame and the unease were almost unbearable. He felt so vulnerable, a feeling he hadn't experienced for a very long time. It wasn't a feeling he missed, that was certain, and it would never show. No matter how it ached inside him, burned at his mind, it would never show. Knowing this, he remained uneasy. Knowing his own discipline had never failed him, he still wondered if she saw the pain. In his eyes, his walk, a slouch, a sigh… Could he really eliminate every visible sign and falsify it with the image of confidence? He wondered briefly if Spock ever wondered the same kinds of things.
"Nagging is for wives," Janice teased. "It's not nagging if he's right."
Jim sighed in mock-defeat.
"Thank you, Yeoman… I've been sleeping fine."
"I'm glad," she said in a tone that was almost too chipper. Was she fighting it too? Did she see the enemy as someone else, unconnected with the true, real Captain Kirk she'd served with for so long, or did she recognize that the incident in her quarters reflected some truth in his persona?
No more of that. He would have shaken his head to defy his own thoughts, but that would have betrayed them. Instead he smiled again. Smiled and lied.
"Captain, I'm sorry."
"Pardon?" The statement was unexpected. He wouldn't have been more surprised had she confessed to murder.
"It can't be easy for you to stand there like you are, wondering if I'm afraid of you, acting as though it never happened… I'm sorry you have to deal with that… for me."
"It's nothing, Yeoman." That was a lie, but it was also true. It was everything, especially difficult; but it was his duty, and a man can be expected to do no less. "I only want you to know you're safe."
"I know that, sir." She was looking at the floor now. Was she trying to hide a lingering doubt?
"I'm glad," he said in a tone that wasn't nearly chipper enough. "I should be the one to apologize, Yeoman."
"Janice," she corrected, an obvious attempt to put him at ease; but it was his job to reassure her. He could never call her that. He couldn't send mixed signals, and he certainly couldn't give her any room for doubt, no matter what his personal and emotional consequences. His only refuge, and hers, was professionalism.
"I'm sorry, Yeoman," he said softly enough to show sincerity but with enough restraint to retain his position of authority.
The turbo-lift eased to a stop and released him to the bridge. I'm sorry, Janice, he thought. I didn't want it this way. "And thank you, Yeoman."
She did not exit the turbo-lift with him. She was headed elsewhere and had ridden with him for moral support, if one could call it that. He could have kicked himself for not seeing it earlier. Now he'd exited and was in the presence of the bridge crew. No sentimentalities would be permitted here. Thank you, Janice.
An instant later she was gone. He took his post and began debriefing, collecting reports, doing his duty. A moment later he was gone. All was black and the bridge was just another memory to be sorted out.
Just a minute, Janice. Let's stop pretending. Just a minute… Just a minute!
James jerked awake and fell off the bed. What bed? Sick bay. He was in sick bay and now two pairs of arms were lifting him to his forsaken position on the bio-bed.
"Jim, you're dead."
"Lighten up, it's a joke," said McCoy. "When you fall off a bio-bed, your vital readings disappear, just like when you die."
"I don't die. A medical sense of humor… Bones, what am I doing here?"
"I'll see to the logs," Chapel chimed before conveniently disappearing into another room. The captain was now alone in sickbay with Bones and Spock. For an instant, the feeling of shame returned, but it promptly faded.
"Gentlemen," he addressed them. "Why exactly am I here?"
"Well, the fact that you don't know that is enough," Bones said darkly. "You haven't been sleeping, Jim."
"I've been… I've been sleeping fine, Bones, better than I was."
"You're still fatigued, Jim. You blacked out on the bridge."
"I… I blacked out?" That explained the sudden memory surge… Of all the jumbled up, blurred and distorted memories, that would be the one he saw clearly. He shook his head.
"Captain," Spock said. "What were your actions immediately prior to entering the bridge?"
"I don't remember…" Wait. He did remember. "I was in the turbo-lift."
"Spock nobody's gotten dizzy in a turbo-lift since they equalized the ion stream half a century ago," Bones said. "Besides, Jim, of course you were in the turbo-lift before you went to the bridge. That's how you get there."
"Yes, of course…"
"Perhaps, Doctor, but the very fact that he felt that worth mentioning reveals something about the experience."
"I was in the turbo-lift, Spock. There's nothing more."
"You were in the turbo-lift, Captain," Spock said slowly and deliberately, "With your yeoman."
Before he knew it, he was on his feet, two inches from his Science Officer's face.
"What are you suggesting, Spock?" The Vulcan gave no response, not even a raised eyebrow.
"Jim," Bones said firmly, taking the captain by the shoulders and leading him back to the bed. "Nobody's suggesting anything. The fact is, a situation like that would be tense, no matter how you played it off."
"Humans," Spock said, "Are not equipped, not trained to deal with stress in the way with which the Vulcan mind is so familiar. You are intelligent captain, and just as that is the only reason you survived the re-joining process, it may be the single reason you're as functional as you are now. You are fatigued, confused, emotionally unst-"
"Unstable, Mr. Spock?" Kirk gave his friend a cold, hard glare.
"What does one call it when a man who has just awakened from a shift's sleep collapses on duty within only seconds of escaping an emotional stress agent?"
"Unstable, Mr. Spock," Kirk sighed. "You'd be surprised, though, how much stress the human can handle."
"I often am, Captain. However, I suggest to you that despite your intelligence, your mind cannot comprehend having been two places at once, having two simultaneous sets of memory, conflicting rather than converging."
"It's been… It's been blurry and disjointed."
"I am not surprised."
"Jim," Bones interjected. "You didn't tell me-"
"I wasn't sure myself, Doctor."
"You knew something was wrong, though, and you should have told me."
"I told you I wasn't sleeping, isn't that enough? You didn't think there might be some cause to worry?"
"I was worried!" Bones shouted. "But it was nagging! I nagged and I complained and I hen-pecked you, Jim! But what does that accomplish when the heart of the matter is-" He paused abruptly and took a step back, a look of simple clarity crossing his face only to be engulfed by one of sheepish acknowledgement. "It's sensitive, Jim. You're dealing with something I've never experienced before, no one has. I don't understand it, I can't, and… I didn't want to say or do the wrong thing. I didn't want to…"
Hurt me, Bones. Kirk finished in his mind. Part of him was bitter at the prospect, but another part was thankful, touched. It wasn't hard to guess which was which. The enemy wouldn't want mercy, pity, or any form of either. You didn't want to hurt me.
"What do you see, Bones? Spock?" He stood up once more. "Look at me and tell me what you see."
They both hesitated and it was obvious that they had no idea what to say, or maybe even what he was asking.
"You've seen a side of me I never wanted to see for myself. What do you see now?"
"My opinion of you, Captain, has not changed," Spock supplied. "It has merely been enhanced."
"An enhancement is a change, Spock. Enhanced how?"
"In the way any scientific information is enhanced by further study. The atom, Captain, when dissected becomes a collection of smaller particles, all of which are very different. The more we learn about these particles and their interactions, the better we can predict their behavior and use it to our advantage."
"You're using me, Spock?" The speech was very moving, but Kirk couldn't resist the opportunity for a playful jab. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw Spock's countenance darken if only for a fraction of a second.
"I'll tell you what I see," Bones said finally. "I see an exhausted man who has left his bio-bed three times in the past ten minutes without medical release. He better sit down, and if he gets up again I'm authorized to tranquilize him."
Kirk sat. "Bones… Of all the mixed up memories, and all the jumbled thoughts… why that one?"
"Why what one, Jim?"
Kirk hesitated. "That one. Why do you think I woke up in such a start? Only one memory stands out clearly. I know everything that happened, the imagery is just blurred, but the only thing I remember clearly… I was in her quarters."
"Captain, the reason your mind cannot sort your memories is because there are two sets, two memories for every second you were conscious. Where was the mild Captain Kirk while the ill-mannered Captain Kirk was with Yeoman Rand?"
"He… I… was in my quarters… alone… resting…"
"Yes, Captain, and while half of you slept, it had no memories to combat those of the other half. Your clear recollection of the incident has no direct correlation to its importance to you."
"Just because it stands out clearly doesn't mean you like it, Jim."
"Doctor, that is precisely what I have just said."
"Aren't you happy I agree with you?"
"Not 'happy,' Doctor. I am never 'happy'."
"Fine with me. Jim, the important thing is that you're not a monster, and nobody thinks you are. Now get some rest or I'm strapping you down."
"Doctor's orders?" Kirk said with a smirk.
"You bet your-"
"Doctor," Nurse Chapel's voice came through the intercom. "Crewman Scarburry is here for her physical."
"Acknowledged, Nurse. Take it easy, Jim." With that, McCoy briskly vacated the room and Kirk was left under the unyielding scrutiny of a Vulcan gaze.
"Mr. Spock?" he said, again hiding the uncertainty he felt. Did Spock see it? Compared to the Vulcans, his own attempt to hide his thoughts must seem pitiful.
"Captain… If something is not done, if no action is taken to correct the matter, your thoughts will be warring at one another forever."
"What do you suggest, Spock?"
"The Vulcan mind is trained from a young age to respond to orders and commands the way a muscle responds to an outgoing nervous signal. Composing and controlling unruly thoughts is something of a species-wide expertise, if you will."
"Yes, well, it's a bit late for me to start training, don't you think?"
"I'm proposing a mind-meld, Captain. For the sake of your health and the safety and efficiency of this vessel, I am offering to help you organize your thoughts."
"Spock, that's…" this meant he would see them. The ugly, the gruesome. He knew the actions, but he hadn't seen first-hand the vile nature of the enemy. His opinion hadn't changed thus far, but… But did it matter? It was the captain's duty to protect his ship at all costs. Regardless of what Spock thought, respect or revolt, that duty held true. If the meld would correct his tired mind and allow him to return to his duty… but was it worth a friendship? It had to be.
"When you're ready, Spock."
"Of course, Captain."
Kirk remained on the bed, sitting on the edge, while Spock advanced. It was slow and uneasy, like the turbo-lift ride with Janice. Cold hands touched Kirk's brow, his face, and his neck. Their eyes met and closed simultaneously. Jim waited, beginning to sweat with the growing anticipation.
"You're afraid, Jim. Why?"
"See for yourself."
My mind to your mind. Your thoughts to my thoughts. We are one.
A rush of memories, emotions, and images. They swirled and danced, they attacked and abated. It was difficult to say whose thoughts were whose. It then became clear that Spock was holding back. So skilled was he at this mind-meld that he could access and arrange Jim's thoughts and feelings without revealing so much as an inkling of his own. It was better that way, perhaps. The revolt Jim expected would never be voiced.
You do not disgust me, Jim. My own mind is merely a safe-guard in this process, a guide whose depths need not be revealed. I am hiding nothing. I spare you the unnecessary thoughts while your own are such a challenge to you.
Asleep. I was tired and I went to sleep. I escaped the transporter unnoticed with an inexplicable lust for brandy. Brandy and women. Scotty left me in my quarters. I went to the doctor, but not as he had suggested. I went for brandy. Brandy and women. He did not refuse. Something in his eyes wanted to, though. I had the brandy, I needed the women. Spock was there. I was in my room. Bones told on me! He told Spock about the brandy. Dirty, insubordinate doctor who calls himself my friend. I told Spock the truth. That was a lie. I went back to bed. Back to get women. Rand. Janice Rand. How could she refuse? She was beautiful, I was stately. Stately? Do I even use such words? No matter. The woman…
I ran. The crewman saw us, I disabled him, and I ran. I was invincible! Haha, they woudn't catch me!
A bubble of amusement from Mr. Spock.
Spock, that's not funny, what is wrong with you?
I ran and they didn't catch me…
Kirk waited for the meld to end. It didn't. The memories were clear, continuous now. Why did he hang on? If he'd known how, Kirk would have broken the meld himself. He tried to pull away, but was pulled back in with a greater force than the initial melding.
Nothing came. Spock did not reply, at least not verbally. For a moment there was nothing, but in the same way amusement had bubbled up quietly, Kirk felt a sense of understanding, and ultimately, acceptance. Acceptance. Spock knew words could have no meaning, no effect on what his captain felt.
Yes, Jim. Nothing has changed.
Slowly it came to a halt. The oneness faded and they were two again. And the captain was one again, one with himself. He opened his eyes at the same moment Spock opened his own. The cold hands were warm now, and they returned to the Vulcan's side. Kirk was sweating, and his eyes stung. He looked at the Vulcan and smiled.
"Thank you, Mr. Spock," he said, and turned to look away. "Thank you."
"My actions were merely in the line of duty, Captain."
"Of course. Still, thank you."
"I believe the appropriate response is, 'you're welcome'."
"Yes, that's the one."
Spock headed for the door, but paused, looking over his shoulder simply to say, "You're welcome, Jim."
Then Jim was alone. He lay back on the bio-bed and closed his eyes. Sleep came, and with it for the first time in days, rest.