Note: Sequel to The Political and the Personal. Won't make sense without having read the rest of the Keeping Love series. This is also a twoshot (I hope) rather than a oneshot, because the length would make you all lose the will to live. I'll try and be all celebratory and crap by updating on Christmas Day, but it depends how disgustingly drunk I get. Merry Christmas, one and all!
Further notes: In part planned anyway, and in part for arcadii and her wonderful generosity, which I will not shut up about until at least New Year.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek and I make no profit from this work.
Working in Starfleet, a predominantly Human organisation, had taught Spock a lot of the subtleties between theory and practice in the Human environment – and Starfleet was no exception.
Essentially, there were rules and then there were regulations. On Vulcan, such a difference typically only denoted what the rule or regulation was about; on Earth, they were technically the same thing, but practicably not.
A rule was unbreakable. A rule was to be followed by all personnel at all times, and a cold inquiry would be launched at the breaking of any of them. A regulation, on the other hand, was more of a strong suggestion – even though, technically, it was also to be followed. But the following of regulations was generally left to the discretion of the commanding officer, and each had their own style. With his own staff, Spock generally enforced rules and regulations as the same thing; Kirk, he knew, was more flexible with his people.
It was immediately apparent, however, that the Sophia Ana was run with very few rules or regulations in mind.
They had arrived in the middle of the Ana's scheduled shore leave, and had been waved on board by a sleepy transporter ensign with no security checks whatsoever. The Captain was apparently unavailable, and the First Officer from whom Kirk would be taking over had already completed her own transfer to another ship, leaving the ship without command for forty-eight hours. To top this off, there had been no scheduled scan in the medical bay or baggage checks for contaminants, and they had been shown to their quarters by a yeoman with a crumpled uniform and an extremely irritating habit of addressing Kirk by his first name, despite his rank and the fact that they had never met.
"Well," Kirk said, once the yeoman had left them, without a backward glance or a modicum of helpful information, at the door to Kirk's quarters, "that's a good start."
"Did she even have a name?" Kirk asked as he keyed them in and they stepped into a typical set of bare, empty rooms reserved for senior staff. It was a single suite – they were not married, and as such the Ana had no obligation to provide joint quarters – and smaller than those on the Enterprise – but there was a viewing window, and Spock stepped across the deck to eye the bulky underbelly of the space station dispassionately. "At least there's a view."
"Currently, an uninteresting one."
"That's pretty insulting, coming from you," Kirk offered him a smile through the partition separating the bed from the main area, and Spock stepped around it to watch him kick his bags into various crannies with ill grace. "It's going to be tough getting used to this again."
Kirk reached for his hand, curling their fingers together in a messy kiss. "You being however many metres away every night."
"Approximately seven hundred and thirty..."
"Too far," Kirk said, squashing more messy kisses, and the fractured blur of crystalline love and the hooking tugs of amusement, into Spock's palm. "Make a deal with me."
"What are the terms?"
"If you need me, or even just want me around, come and find me," Kirk said quietly. "If being alone is going to do anything, come here. Deal?"
Spock curled his fingers further into the dry warmth of Kirk's hand. "If I do not?"
"I will actually kill you," Kirk said, and perhaps he was only half-joking. "Deal?"
Kirk's kisses were of the soft, idle sort designed to reaffirm, and though he invaded every inch of Spock's personal space and could not have gotten closer without removing their uniforms, there was no real arousal in it. He was relaxed in Spock's hands; his frame shifted without urgency into moving, and without any real interest in creating that urgency.
A soft hum of satisfaction beat, like fingers to a half-forgotten rhythm, against the left of Spock's mind, just off from his still-sore telepathic centres – and Spock drew back from the kissing with a sharp inhalation.
"What?" Jim's hands were tight around his upper arms. "What, what is it? Spock?"
"Do you need a doctor?" and a tension ran up through Kirk's knees and hips into his spine, going from relaxed to a pillar of strength, ready to move them at the slightest word.
"No." The hum dissipated as quickly as it had come, and Spock took another breath. "No. I am well, Jim."
"What happened?" his grip was not lessening, and Spock opened his eyes without having realised that he had closed them.
"I believe that...I attempted to reach for you."
"Telepathically?" Kirk guessed, eyes flicking up to Spock's hairline briefly.
He was given a small, uncertain smile. "That's...good, isn't it? That's good."
"It..." Spock hedged. "It is...a sign of improving neurological health, but...it is possible that I could accidentally..."
"Well, you said that once before," Kirk said, the smile settling into certainty, and his body settling back against Spock's in a relaxed state. "And I don't think at this stage it...well, matters."
It would – to Spock, at least – but he had long since resigned himself to the fact that Humans did not, on the whole, have the ability to grasp telepathy or its consequences. They seemed to believe it to be either sinister, or a game that would stop when it became inconvenient.
"Hey," Kirk ducked his head to peer at Spock's face. "It's good. You're getting there. We're getting there."
"Indeed," Spock settled on, finally, and Kirk's arms slid about his shoulders again as the man pressed in for another brief kiss.
"C'mon," he murmured at extremely close range. "Let's go check out your quarters, and then find the mess. See if their replicators are as crappy as ours."
The fluttering hum began again, settling into the cracks in Spock's psyche, and he almost smiled.
They had elected to spend the night apart, to begin to adjust, and so Spock found himself eating breakfast alone the next morning in a near-empty mess hall of curiously staring Humans and a lone, ambivalent Thenaxian in a corner, sweeping the rest of the room with suspicious, pale rose eyes.
He became dimly aware, after exactly six minutes, that he was being closely observed, and glanced up in time to see a flushing young woman – perhaps twenty or twenty-one years of age – glance back down at her own tray, some nine metres from his position. Her uniform was that of an ensign, most likely in the engineering department given the colour and her usually small stature, and she was the type of girl that Kirk offered an approving smile: all blonde hair and pale skin and curves slightly alien to Spock.
She made no move to approach, although she kept looking at him periodically, and Spock had just about decided that she must be new to the service and unused to Vulcanoid beings when Kirk put in an appearance.
"Hey," he yawned, setting an indecently large mug of coffee on the table and bumping their knuckles lightly. "Sleep okay?"
Kirk cocked his head, and followed Spock's gaze, peering over his shoulder at the woman, who flushed an alarming shade of red and hastily scurried away.
"You make a friend?"
"I do not know," Spock said, bemused.
"Eh, she's probably just never seen a combination so sexy as you and me," Kirk drawled, turning back and grinning. "Maybe she has a crush."
"I am sure she does not."
Kirk snorted. "Like I'm going to take your word for it. You're kind of oblivious."
Spock started, and Kirk laughed. "I am not..."
"Sorry, sweetheart, but yes you are. Need I remind you," Kirk's voice dropped, "exactly what I had to do to get the point across?"
The Vulcan memory is extremely sharp, and so Spock needed no reminder – he could almost feel, as he had the first time, the callouses on the palm of Kirk's right hand as it pushed into his underwear, and he fought back the dull flush that threatened.
"Changing the subject," Kirk said around a face-splitting grin. "Coming with me to report in to Captain Johnson?"
"Hey, just checking," Kirk grinned. "I don't know, maybe your new friend told you someplace else to be."
"She did not even speak to me, Jim."
"Oh, definitely a crush then," Kirk's grin threatened to eat the rest of his face. "And hey, who can blame her?"
"You are remarkably amused by the hypothetical situation," Spock pointed out.
Kirk snorted. "Er, yeah. Why not? You're mine; it's not like you're going anywhere."
That startled a surprising warmth, and judging by the way Kirk's expression slid from teasing to affectionate, something had shown on his face. He said nothing, however, draining the last of his coffee and rolling his shoulders before rising.
"C'mon, then. Let's go see if this morning's reception is any better."
Spock's first full day aboard the Sophia Ana passed in a haze of confusion.
Learning the layout of the labs was unduly difficult: they did not conform to the standards set by Starfleet. The content of the labs did not match their official function, nor their capabilities: Spock was disturbed to note, in several occasions, medical experiments being carried out in labs not equipped with quarantine fields or vaccuum pumps.
The staff rota was also a mess. It was unclear who was on which shore leave rotation, and several of the staff listed were in fact medical or engineering personnel and not of any of the science departments. In theory, the labs should have been staffed by at least two hunded and thirteen people, but Spock counted barely fifty at their posts – not enough to qualify even as a skeleton crew.
As if to mimic the staff rota, there was no report – as there should be for a new department head – on the current and upcoming research projects; in fact, there had been nothing prepared for his arrival, and Spock felt the tight band of annoyance in his jaw.
The labs were arranged around a central bay, much like engineering in the larger battleships, and Spock eyed the empty space before crossing to the communications console and opening a channel.
"Commander Spock to communications."
"Lieutenant Guthfrithsson here, sir."
"I want a shipwide message sent to all sciences personnel immediately asking them to report to the science bay, whether they are on duty or not. If they are on this ship, then I want them in the bay at 0930 hours."
There was a sharp pause, before the "yes sir" was almost muttered and the line died. Spock barely waited for it to do so before opening another, direct to the medical bay.
"This is Commander Spock."
The question almost made him pause. The rank alone should have overriden any question, and he wondered exactly how the Sophia Ana was run. Not according to military decorum, at any rate.
"I am the new Science Officer," he said finally. "Is the Chief Medical Officer on board?"
"I...yes, but he's not on duty. Can I take a message?"
"When does his shift start?"
"At 1400 hours."
"Then I will speak with him then. Spock out."
The line cut her off, and Spock carefully did not grimace. He could only imagine what would have been said if one of McCoy's staff had been so casual in communications with other officers. Or, for that matter, what Kirk would have to say about a communications officer being equally lax on the lines.
For fifteen minutes, he compiled a (long) list of what he needed in order to actually do his job, and took note of everything missing from his own files that he would need. Either his predecessor had kept abysmal records, or nobody had thought to provide him with them – and judging from the eighteen hours he had now been aboard, Spock was making some headway in calculating which it was.
At 0945, he strode back into the main bay, and roughly a hundred and fifty people in blues stared back at him. Out of the two hundred and thirteen that were meant to be on rotation. And not one of them reacted to his presence with anything more than idle curiosity.
Spock was heading fast for irritated, and was irritated that he felt irritated at all.
"I want everyone below and including the rank of lieutenant to begin clearing out the medical or engineering experiments from labs one through twelve," he said flatly, raising his voice enough to be heard above the hubbub. "All the remaining experiments are to be conducted in the appropriate labs; hydroponics experiments take place in the hydroponics lab and not in the astrophysics lab. Is that clear?"
There was a stunned silence.
"I want a memo from all science staff detailing their current projects, with the appropriate clearance codes and authorisation forms. Any personnel for whom I have not received these by 0900 hours tomorrow will be relocated to other projects. Any projects without the appropriate paperwork will be terminated."
Humans did not like to be lectured, he knew – but most also did not feel comfortable getting into arguments with Vulcans, and his staff, he dimly noted, seemed to fall into this category. Their belligerent expressions were betrayed by their lack of speech or action.
"The commanding officer of each lab is to report to me in my office at 1100 hours with a briefing list of the projects taking place in each lab and the staff working on each project. The staff rota will be finalised by myself by 1800 hours, and is effective immediately. Any crewmember who finds the new rota to be a problem will report to me directly in order to change it."
He had the distinct feeling that none of them would dare.
"I have also noted that ninety-three of you are not conforming to uniform regulations or standards. If these are not rectified by your next shift, I will make note of it in your personnel file."
A young man – Lieutenant-Commander, by his uniform – stepped forward, red-haired and grim-faced. His uniform had been hastily donned, he was in need of a shave, and, peculiarly, he had what appeared to be an extremely large and unsightly bite on his neck.
"Sir, Commander Barreis allowed a certain flexibility on uniform regulations provided the work is up to standard."
"I do not," Spock said flatly.
The man looked taken aback, as if he had expected something more. An argument, perhaps. However, Spock had been involved with a communications officer long enough to know exactly how to skirt around righteous indignation. "But..."
"What is your name, Lieutenant-Commander?"
"Alistair Freel, sir."
"Lieutenant-Commander Freel, what my predecessor did and did not permit is irrelevent. I do not permit it. All staff will adhere to the rules and regulations set by Starfleet, and I will make note of any infractions. And any personnel with such infractions will be called upon to explain themselves to the First Officer at the first round of crew evaluations."
Freel blinked. "But sir...it's..."
"May I suggest, Mr. Freel, that if you wish to test my willingness to have the First Officer involved with disciplinary action of a crewmember this early in my contract, you keep arguing with me?"
Freel apparently did not want to test Spock's willingness to report him, for he stepped back and subsided, although the unhealthy glower on his face did not.
"Dismissed," Spock snapped, and turned on his heel to return to his office.
He did not miss the rumble of discontent that followed him.
Spock spent the entire day reworking – or at least collecting – the paperwork that should have been in order for his arrival. Most of it was incomplete, and what there was had nowhere close to the amount of detail required. At least half of the projects were in the wrong place, or did not have complete authorisation forms, and the risk assessment forms seemed to be an alien concept to every one of the labs.
How someone had not been killed with this amount of neglect was beyond him.
As it was, he worked through lunch and an hour and a half beyond his shift officially ending before the doors to his office opened and Kirk marched in, stopping in a completely solid stance in front of his desk, feet planted firmly on the deck and arms folded over his chest.
"Can I help you, Commander?"
Kirk's eyebrows flew up towards his hair. "It's 1830 hours."
"And you're still on shift. There is no alert or any other form of emergency declared; you have not been ordered to cover another officer's shift, and you have not been granted permission to extend your hours to cover an experiment by either the Captain or the First Officer. Therefore, Commander, I am escorting you from your own office before you get any other bright ideas about working nights."
"An extra hour and a half does not jeopardise my health or my ability to..."
"Now, I bet if I went down to the medical bay and asked to see your mealcard records, I'd find it shockingly unused since this morning. And you can bet the medical staff would have something to say about that with your weight already as low as it is, and your medical proviso."
Spock raised an eyebrow, and Kirk set his jaw and glowered.
"Out," he said flatly.
"Very well," Spock capitulated, and Kirk unfolded, the easy smile returning to his face as he effortlessly dropped his command persona.
"You needing to do as much reorganisation as me?"
"Yeah," Kirk sighed. "I have stress kinks in my neck."
"If you would not insist upon looking at instruments over people's shoulders, then you would not."
"Smartass," Kirk grumbled as they left Spock's office, blithely ignoring the surprised glances from the (still-arriving, and late) beta shift. "There's a plus side. At least two of the senior command staff aren't fuckwits."
"I can say it if it's true," Kirk snorted. "Engineering runs like a dream, even on skeleton crew. Medical's a bit of a mix, but at least their paperwork is up to date. Communications is an absolute nightmare – monsters under the bed screaming jeebies kind of nightmare – and I'm guessing you know what I'm about to say about Sciences."
"Indeed," Spock said dryly.
"And then," Kirk said as they hit the turbolift, "there's the grapevine. They're bad enough with two thirds of the crew on leave. You know, I got five people ask me if it's true we're..." he made a vague hand gesture, and Spock felt a shard of amusement crawl up his neck. "Five!"
"Is that unusual?"
"Unusual is when someone grows a pair big enough to ask you," Kirk griped, ignoring the scandalised look of a nurse as the doors opened into the mess hall in time for her to hear his final words. "One guy even had the balls to ask if we had, and I'm quoting here, 'freaky mind sex.' I don't even know what that is."
"What was your response?"
"Considering he was on duty at the time, I had him on report for inappropriate language, cultural insensitivity, and disrespect of a superior officer. Probably didn't help the rumour mill, but he'll only be done scrubbing potatoes by the last year of his contract, so I don't care."
Kirk spoke with his usual skill – a flow of words that wrapped around his actions and motions as though he was not even listening to himself. He ordered both of their trays, stepped around a hurrying ensign, and had them seated and eating before breaking the flow of speech in the slightest, and Spock soaked up the verbal blanket like a sponge.
He did not have to ask of Kirk's decision regarding public knowledge of their involvement, as Kirk's hand settled beside his on the table so that their knuckles barely brushed, and the question subsided.
"Anyway, I'm assuming you're beating your department back into shape without need for me, so I'm probably going to have to spend the entirety of tomorrow actually working out whatever passes for a rota in communications. They can speak forty-nine languages between them, but can they work out how to use the rota forms? Like hell," Kirk muttered. "Oh – I met your admirer as well."
"The ensign from breakfast. Ensign Goodman. Definitely you she's after – didn't get all fluttery with me, anyway," Kirk rolled his eyes. "Some women just have no eyes."
Spock arched an eyebrow, and Kirk snickered. "On the contrary, perhaps she has more refined tastes than those to which you are accustomed."
"Low," Kirk mocked. "That was low." A thumb rose to stroke over Spock's fingers, and the warm buzz of lust lined up with the smirk on Kirk's face. "I don't mock your heritage."
"Yes, Jim, you do."
"Okay, yeah, I do, but not like that," Kirk actually pouted, and Spock withdrew his hand in silent boycott of the frankly ridiculous expression. Starfleet officers did not pout. "Okay, okay, I give. For now."
Judging by the remaining smirk, Spock had a fair idea of Kirk's ideas of disagreement resolution.
He was correct.
The moment that the doors of Kirk's cabin slid closed behind them, the man's hands were up under Spock's tunic, rubbing heat and lust into his skin, and his mouth was right there, licking plundering kisses into Spock's mouth and stealing his ability to breathe. The lust was crowding, almost dizzying, and Spock dug his fingers into Kirk's shoulders to steady himself.
"Steady, sweetheart, I gotta use those in the morning," Kirk chuckled breathlessly, sliding his hands back around to start fumbling with Spock's belt. He laughed, sounding almost giddy with it, when Spock peeled up the red shirt and Kirk paused only long enough to discard it before pressing back in, hands clutching tight into Spock's hair and kissing him as though it were the last time.
They – stumbled, for lack of a more appropriate term, into Kirk's sleeping alcove, and Spock's tunic and undershirt were stripped in a matter of seconds, his belt following as Kirk pushed him down onto the bunk, following to pin him down with weight and heat and deep, hungry kisses. His spine flexed and rippled under Spock's fingers, and a low groan creaked out of his lungs as Spock deftly unlatched his belt and dropped it to the floor.
It was only when Kirk's fingers pressed down under the waist of his uniform slacks and began to push them – and his boxers – down that the stutter of anxiety began to make itself known, bouncing off the heavy buzz of lust – Kirk's lust, and his own, vibrating together like a swarm...
"C'mon, sweetheart, you're okay..." Kirk mumbled into his mouth, and he took a sharp breath, trying to force the anxiety away. "Hyperventilate and I'll smack you one."
He had not ceased his movements, and pulled away to strip the pants the rest of the way before skilfully and hastily divesting himself of his own, and then he was back – hot and heavy and entirely naked, miles of skin burning into Spock's, and a wave of lust roaring into his system...
"Okay?" Kirk paused, and Spock clutched at his shoulders again. He was leaving bruises and he knew it, and he breathed deepily around the buzzing. "Spock?"
"You okay?" Kirk did not lift himself away, but he propped himself up on one arm, the other stroking over Spock's chest, fingers curling in the hair and tugging lightly, as though trying for a distraction.
Spock tangled his fingers in that fair hair, and pulled him down for a kiss, wrapping his mind around what else he could feel there – affection, and concern, and care, and love, whispering themselves through the seams of his mouth, almost drowned out by the lust but still there, still noticeable, if only he would keep kissing...
He said nothing, but Kirk seemed to get the idea, digging heavy kisses without pause into his mouth and lips, breathing heavily through his nose even as he shifted up and one questing hand began to trail south.
He was only semi-erect, but even the light, skittering brush of Kirk's fingers drew him the rest of the way into full arousal, his hips rocking on reflex and earning a smile from Kirk through their kissing. A moment later, that rough hand, damp with sweat, wrapped itself around him and began to tug in short, sharp, expert pulls.
"Oh God, fucking love you like this," Kirk moaned, and Spock swallowed whatever it was he intended to say, keeping him locked into the distracting kissing even as Kirk began to thrust lightly and the roar grew into a supernova. "F'ckin'...ungh..."
His hand vanished, and then he was thrusting in earnest, pressing every inch of skin possible into Spock's and letting friction do his job for him, the motion of his hips creating a copy-rhythm to their kissing and even breathing – the world was shaking, shaking with them, rattling and jarring because Kirk desired it, and the world did as...
He felt it, the ripple that shot up Kirk's spine, and Kirk dragged his head away to groan to the ceiling, arching his entire body like a cat. The increased pressure and the sudden white-hot flash of orgasm that punctured the roar like a balloon slammed themselves against Spock's mind, and he came clutching at Kirk's back and shoulders like a drowning man to a raft, gasping out his orgasm into the damp, Human skin at his disposal...
"I got you. I got you, sweetheart. God, you're so fucking beautiful, and I got you..."
He came back to himself, a second or four lost, his chest still heaving and the soft purring rumble of sexual satisfaction leaking from Kirk's mind and into his own. Kirk shifted, and a moment later, rubbed his discarded tunic between them before tossing it aside and settling back like a living blanket, nuzzling at Spock's cheek and pressing light, fleeting kisses around the left side of his jaw.
"God, I love you," he breathed. "I fucking love you."
Spock nudged his face into the attention, gathering back his scattered mind, and finally managed to fold an arm up to tuck the fingers into the crook of Kirk's elbow and rub unseen kisses into the crease of skin there.
"Mine," Kirk whispered, kissing the pulse point in his neck softly. "That's you. Mine."
"Jim," Spock murmured as his thought processes began to actually resemble processes as opposed to scattered observations without connections. "Jim...earlier today, Lieutenant-Commander Freel..."
"No shop talk, I'm too blissed," Kirk grumbled, lips still brushing the skin of his neck.
"He had what...appeared to be a bite mark, and I meant to ask what it could be."
"A hickey," Kirk said blankly, then his mind seemed to catch up. "You...you know what a hickey is."
"I do not."
Kirk shifted, unburrowing himself and propping himself up over Spock to stare. "You what? Seriously? All this time and I've never given you a hickey?"
"That is...a bite?"
"Yeah," Kirk looked floored, and Spock could not work out why. "I've never...?"
"Why would you?"
"Um, because it feels a-fucking-mazing?" Kirk demanded, then a predatory look stole across his face, and a moment later, he had his face pressed into Spock's neck and was licking small, wet kisses from throat to clavicle – and then he clamped his teeth around the vein at the lowest part of the neck, and pressed.
The compression of the vein was shocking in its precision, and the shot of mixed pain and heady pleasure shot to Spock's skull, bounced off and headed back down to his groin seamlessly. It was dizzying, as though he were being deprived of oxygen and achieving a shocking, cresting high...
Kirk laughed suddenly, a hand ghosting over his crotch again and the renewed interest there. "Oh wow. You like that."
"I wonder," Kirk said, faux-casually, "what happens if..." his fingers trailed over the thin skin at Spock's wrist, hiding his radial artery from the world, "I bite here..."
He did – and the bliss took over.
The Sophia Ana came off its shore leave rotation exactly one week after their arrival, and during that week, Spock had made himself distinctly unpopular with his staff. He had reformed almost all of the experiments, and forcibly locked down the labs until the required paperwork had been filed. But at least the labs were beginning to run somewhat according to standard.
Kirk had been likewise busy with communications – or so Spock assumed, having barely seen him since their arrival, although he often woke to evidence (namely, abandoned shirts, toiletries in the bathroom, and the faint smell of shaving cream) that Kirk had encroached on his living space in the night. He saw Kirk mostly in passing, sweeping through the halls with armfuls of padds and usually snapping at some poor yeoman over his shoulder as he went, not even pausing long enough to flash Spock that ridiculous smile.
The rate of improvement in his telepathic centres slowed to a dull crawl – but they were busy, justifiably so, and Spock did not mention it.
As unpopular as Spock undoubtedly was amongst his staff, and as unpopular as Kirk probably was amongst his own, Spock entered the first command meeting of their contract to find Kirk amiably charming both the Chief Engineer and the Chief of Security, talking with his hands about some amusing incident or other whilst waiting for the captain's arrival, and Spock noted once more, with an odd sense of pleasure, Kirk's ability to adapt to any situation in which he found himself.
He had not, however, entertained the idea that Kirk might have spoken about him, and so was surprised when the engineer glanced at him with an appraising eye and said, "So you're th' famous Commander Spock?"
Or, at least, that was what he probably said. His accent was...thick.
Kirk looked...somewhere between amused and proud. Perhaps smug was the best term.
"Aye, the lad here's been bending my ear about y'!" the man blustered, although he could only have been ten years Kirk's senior. "Takin' over th' science labs, I'm told."
"That is correct," Spock responded flatly. The engineer either didn't notice or didn't care, but the Chief of Security narrowed his eyes.
"Good luck to ye," the engineer scoffed. "Barreis was a cunt, if ye'll pardon me French. Couldnae a-run a heating coil unit."
"Commander Barries is no longer in command," Spock returned evenly. "If the current science staff wish to retain clean career records, then they will learn – rapidly – to conform to the regulations set by the Fleet."
"And by you," the Chief of Security grunted.
Judging by Kirk's sudden tension, Spock was not incorrect in his own assessment of the Chief of Security: he seemed to be somewhat hostile.
"You Romulan?" he grunted.
"Vulcan," Spock returned, used to the question. Perhaps not so much from other officers, but then, the Sophia Ana had not left the Karovios system for five years now, and there were no Vulcans or Romulans in the vicinity.
He grunted again. "Not many Vulcans around these days."
At which point the captain stepped into the room, oblivious to the ice that had formed on every surface. Metaphorically, at least.
"At ease, gentleman," he said when they half-rose. "I've no heart for pomp and circumstance now."
Captain Johnson did not strike Spock as having the heart for much. He was as bland as his name – a squat, fleshy-faced man with a receding hairline of wispy grey strands, and a gut straining to escape the confines of his faded gold tunic. He was non-descript, with a mild manner in the creases of his eyes and mouth, and a timid set to his jaw. He settled tiredly, the creak of his bones almost audible, and rubbed a hand across his eyes before straightening up.
"Right," he said. "Back to the hellhole that is Karov II, eh?"
"Everyone's back," he grunted around a yawn. "Meet your new First Officer, Commander Kirk," he added almost absently, waving a hand at Kirk. "He's taking over from the incompetent waste of whinging space that was Commander Barreis, and considering he's an American, do try not to slap him for his accent."
Kirk's eyebrows crawled towards his hairline, and Spock wondered idly whether he had picked up the habit from himself.
"Kirk is also serving as our communications officer, seeing as Lieutenant Morris quit last month, and we don't really need one anyway," Johnson mumbled. "And this is Commander Spock, who will be taking over the labs. Good luck to you, Commander."
"Aye, ye'll need it," the engineer said, and chuckled.
"Anything to report, anyone?"
There was a general silence, though Kirk's frown was getting steadily deeper and deeper.
"Alright, back to work," Johnson said, rolling his mountains of shoulders before heaving his bulk back out of the chair. "No use wasting more time than is necessary. Commander K'Ralis, a word?"
A tall Tessian unfolded...itself...from one of the chairs furthest from any other crewmember and glided gracefully out after Johnson. A moment later, the Chief of Security grunted again and left, the Quartermaster General (a weedy little man by the unlikely name of Hillary) and the Chief Medical Officer drifting out in his wake, and leaving Spock alone in the room with the strongly-accented engineer and Kirk.
"Okay, seriously," Kirk said into the silence. "Is everything here always this...haphazard."
"Aye," the engineer said. "Cap'n Johnson runs a loose ship. Where've the two of ye come from?"
"The USS Enterprise, serving under Captain Pike," Spock returned.
"The Enterprise?" the engineer's face broke into a leery grin. "Ye don't say? Ach, I'd love to serve on the flagship, me. I'd like to get my hands on her ample nacelles, if you'll pardon the engineerin' parlance," he added, nudging Kirk in the ribs and earning himself a snort of amusement. "Ach, me granny'd have me hide – I'm Scotty," he said, unexpectly flashing Spock the ta'al instead of attempting to reach over and shake his hand. "I run the engineerin' department, laddie, and if ye want to run any o' those damned experiments o' yours in my bay, then ye'd better get those nerks of staff o' yers up to scratch!"
"Of course, Mr. Scott," Spock returned evenly. "And perhaps in return, you could keep your own 'nerks of staff' out of my laboratories?"
Scotty beamed, and the crush of stressed loneliness began to ebb.
And so a routine began – after a long day of, as Kirk termed it, 'beating these wasters into shape', Spock would often find himself dragged away from the labs by Kirk to join him and Mr. Scott in the mess. Mr. Scott's company was welcome – easy and amiable, he did not cause Spock to second-guess his own responses, or feel unsure of his footing as he so often did around Humans, and though Mr. Scott must have noticed the way that Kirk looked at him, he said nothing of it.
His friendliness was welcome – the doctor assigned to him under his service proviso was so professional as to be distant, and Spock found himself oddly missing the sarcasm and snark of Dr. McCoy. The science staff kept their own distance, wary of his reprimands and disgruntled with his adherence to the rules that they had blissfully ignored. And the security staff eyed him with some odd hostility that he did not understand.
There was, however, one disadvantage to Mr. Scott's company.
Spending any time in the engineering bay with him – which was common enough for any scientist specialising in physics – inevitably meant that Ensign Goodman, of the fair hair and apparent crush, was somewhere in the vicinity. At first, Spock did not notice much of her, but as the weeks progressed, she came to dropping padds and equipment at the mere sight of him, blushing furiously whenever he so much as glanced in her direction, and on the one occasion when he retrieved her dropped padd for her, she had gone an alarming shade of purple that had had Spock seriously considering calling for a medic.
Needless to say, both Kirk and Mr. Scott found the entire debacle to be utterly hilarious.
"She's flirting with you," Kirk said, when Spock enquired. "Badly, but she is."
"Why would clumsiness be a flirtation technique?"
Kirk rolled his eyes. "She's trying to get you to look up her skirt."
Kirk snickered. "Tried and true, Spock. Believe me, if I wore a skirt, I would have been dropping things left, right and centre for you too."
"In the past tense?"
Kirk grinned; Spock was getting better at reading his facial expressions without the aid of telepathy, and that particular smile was one of cocky satisfaction. "I think I'm a bit beyond dropping a stylus to get your attention," he snarked, flashing a hand out to catch the underside of Spock's fingers before dropping back into parade rest. They had been in the turbolift at the time, and Spock would later reflect that it was perhaps no coincidence that their meal had been cut short in favour of more amorous activities in Kirk's quarters.
Ensigns and their flirting aside, they...settled, although perhaps not comfortably or happily, into a new routine. They were both busier than they had ever been on the Enterprise, purely because of the sheer incompetence of at least seventy-five percent of the staff aboard the Sophia Ana, and adjusting to not sharing a living space with Kirk was harder than it should have been, and sometimes – just sometimes – that aching well of loneliness would rise up if Kirk were gone too long, and Spock would have to stop and gather himself again.
But they settled.
The closure of his mind was an alien sensation to Spock. He had never been able to understand how Humans could stay sane, locked inside their own heads for their entire lives. He was not prone to melding or communicating telepathically, even when he could, but to reach out in meditation or in times of need and simply feel the humming connections to his family had always been a soothing, familiar touchstone in his life.
To be locked away inside his own head, unable to reach out and feel anything, was...
It was frightening. It was almost claustrophobic, in a sense – he felt the urge, sometimes, to lash out with everything he had, to force his way out of his own head and damn the insanity into which he would spiral if he tried. He felt trapped and alone, even when he could feel Kirk's emotions sliding over his skin, because he could – he could only hear them, and not listen.
Sometimes, he would reach without thinking, when faced with a challenge or an especially irritating crewmember or another lonely hour without a friendly face, and when his mind brushed the empty clutch of broken stems where the bonds had resided in his head, he would feel – only for a moment, but still a moment too long – as though he had survived when he should not.
To be trapped, to be sealed away and have his mind locked down as soundly as a dead man in a tomb, was no life.
The vague sense of reaching, when Kirk had kissed him their first night aboard, had granted a spark of illogical hope, however, that perhaps he was merely locked in, and the door had not been entirely sealed over from the outside. For six weeks, he nurtured that feeling, and tried to push forward against his own body when Kirk touched him, and if Kirk noticed, he said nothing.
Until he did.
"Meld with me," he said, out of the blue one evening in Spock's quarters, over a private meal and idle chatter about his attempts at mending fences with Dr. McCoy. Kirk was still angry with him over the hearing, despite Spock's attempts at diplomacy, but a separation approaching four months was wearing him down.
"Meld with you?"
"Yeah," Kirk said, reaching over the table and squeezing his fingers. "You know, that whole my mind to your mind thing Vulcans like to do on unsuspecting psi-null species? The thing you used to do and bask in every morning? And don't give me excuses, I know I woke up a few times with you listening in upstairs."
Spock ignored the teasing accusation. "Jim, I am...I am not..."
"You said when we first came aboard you tried reaching for me," Kirk pointed out. "And at your last check-up, Dr. Puri did say your telepathic centres were getting more active."
"Increasing activity is not..." Spock broke off, and tried again. "Jim, I am not sure."
"Shouldn't we at least give it a try?" Kirk coaxed, rubbing his fingertips over the back of Spock's knuckles, smearing kisses into the bone. "We're never going to know if we don't try."
"This is not a sexual position, Jim, this could...if I were to lose control, I could very easily kill you," Spock pushed.
"No you won't," Kirk said. "Spock, I..."
He hesitated, and something stole across his features that Spock could not quite identify.
"Look," his other hand came up to curl around the one he held captive. "I just...I know I shouldn't, but I feel...I feel a little like you don't want to meld with me."
Spock blinked. "What?"
"I feel...I feel a bit like...you said yourself that your mind – your telepathy – tried to reach out for me, and sometimes...sometimes when I touch you I can feel you, like that buzzing like your brain's kicking off under there, but...you don't even attempt to read me, you don't try melding, and you don't want it brought up," Kirk shrugged, biting his lip and looking rather as though Spock had kicked his puppy. Out of an airlock. And then broken his heart for good measure.
"Jim..." Spock felt suddenly...vaguely nauseous.
"I just feel a bit like...like maybe you just don't want to, and...I wouldn't make you, and I know it's stupid and shit, and I know it's not like you're having second thoughts, but..." Kirk floundered a little. "Can't we just try?" he finished, his voice hitting a pitch of pleading that twisted Spock's stomach unpleasantly.
He had not...he had simply not considered how that reluctance would have looked to Kirk, when he was recovering so well in every other arena. He had not let slip of his loneliness, or the occasional pause in thought, and so how would Kirk have known?
And in any case, Kirk was right. There would be no recovery without eventually trying to meld again for the first time, and if he was already beginning to reach for him mentally, then there was little logical reason to put it off further.
He took a deep breath, and nodded.