Strong in the Broken Places

"Live long and prosper, Spock."

"I shall do neither, for I have killed my captain, and my friend."

Spock's eyes flew open, the only movement of his rigid body. His ears, eyes his very skin, registered his surroundings instantly and automatically. There was nothing to register, because as usual, he lay in his quarters, stretched out on his bed and quite alone.

He remained still for another moment, then allowed his body to relax. Only his hands remained tense, curled into claws as though they still held the rough cord with which he had strangled his captain. It was obviously his imagination, the remnants of the nightmare, but even now he could feel the press of rough rope around his hands as they supported the captain's dead weight.

And this, he reminded himself, was why he had barely slept in two weeks. Even for a Vulcan, that was too long, and his performance was suffering for it. McCoy had started to make pointed remarks and the captain had begun suggesting that others could perform certain duties usually assigned to Spock. All because of a dream that had only begun haunting him now, nearly two years after its events had transpired.

He sat up in one fluid, efficient motion and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He had an urge to bury his face in his hands, to relieve his distress with that simple movement of self-pity, but he dismissed it ruthlessly. Distress was the least he deserved. Not only had he nearly been the cause of his captain's destruction—again—now he was not even serving him properly.

He stood stiffly, exhaustion threatening to press him back down to the bed. He resisted. He knelt in front of his meditation lamp and attempted—again—to confront the rage and terror of the past several weeks so that he could master it once and for all.

Again he was unsuccessful. The moments overwhelmed him, one after another, until he shook with them. Jim floating between dimensions, running out of air, crying silently, Help me, Spock! Hurry! Jim's body bruised and battered from the beating the Platonians had inflicted upon him. His own feet, tap dancing maniacally, each step taking him closer to Jim's head, each step threatening to break his long held vow never again to be the means of his captain's injury. Jim's warm, strong voice on the final instructions tape, declaring himself dead and pronouncing his utter trust in Spock.

He hung his head in shame over his inability to master himself. Finally, he simply pushed the emotions down, deep into his belly, repressing them by sheer force of will. It was only temporary; they would have their say eventually.

It would not be so hard for Jim. Jim would accept and express his emotions without being controlled by them. He certainly would not allow them to interfere with his sleep. Jim had the strongest will Spock had ever encountered and would master himself simply by deciding that it must be so.

It was illogical to continue to ponder it. He had duties to attend to, a responsibility to this ship and to that man on the bridge. He glanced at the chronometer—0400. His shift didn't begin for another four hours. He had an urge to check on the captain, to stand guard outside his door and make sure he was all right.

Of course, he did no such thing. Instead, he walked briskly out of his quarters and into the corridor. For a while he simply walked, taking comfort in the reliable patterns of things that rarely changed: the predictable lengthening and contraction of his muscles, the efficiency of his autonomic systems, and the familiarity of the ship under his feet and all around him. He came to a small observation deck, a room tucked far back from the large, luxuriously appointed observation decks they showed to diplomats and travelers. Even few crewmen knew it was there.

The room was dark when he entered and the motion-sensitive lights immediately tried to engage, but he said in a scratchy voice, "Twenty percent." The lights dimmed again, providing a fitting background for the view from the portal.

Spock stood at the portal looking into space—real space, not the projected view from a computerized screen. It was immense beyond reasoning, and dangerous beyond imagination. He had thought he understood that. Serving under Captain Pike, he had seen men die for the first time in his life. He himself had been injured many times, the acceptable risk of doing scientific exploration on the surface of uncharted planets. But it wasn't until serving under Captain Kirk that he began to understand what was truly at risk for the Executive Officer of the Enterprise.

He must not dissemble. Not with himself. He shook his head curtly. The danger applied solely to himself. It was the danger of valuing another's life more than his own, to the point where the other's well-being was his only means of measuring the true quality of his own life.

"You couldn't sleep, either, huh?"

It was utterly illogical, but Spock felt his shoulders relax. The captain was here. He was safe.

"On the contrary, Captain." He remained at parade rest, his gaze fixed on the streaks of light that blurred past them at Warp 1. "I slept more this night than I have in quite some time."

The captain stood next to him, shoulders nearly touching, looking out at the same vista that Spock observed. "That's not saying much, is it, Spock?"

Spock did not answer. He raised his chin, but knew better than to think he could hide behind Vulcan inscrutability. Not from Jim.

"Vulcans do not need to sleep every night. I believe you are aware of this." He frowned delicately. "As is Dr. McCoy."

Jim laughed lightly, his voice low in the quiet of the dim early morning. "Giving you a hard time, is he?"

"Indeed."

"It's just because he cares. I know he has a strange way of showing it, but…" He shrugged.

Spock didn't respond, and the captain didn't press him. The two stood watching space for several minutes until Jim exhaled deeply and flung himself into a nearby chair.

Spock turned slightly toward him, an eyebrow raised in concern. "Is something wrong, Captain?"

"Look, Spock, McCoy told me—" Jim breathed out again. "He said that when I was trapped between the dimensions a couple of weeks ago, and you were dealing with the Tholians… he said that he accused you of putting my life at risk so that you could take command of the ship."

Spock stiffened. He had not discussed that element with the captain or with Dr. McCoy. His report had included only the barest, least descriptive details—a technique he had learned from the captain, and which, apparently, the captain saw right through.

"It was a logical assumption on his part."

"Bull." Jim burst out of his chair, unable as always to sit still for long, driven as always by his emotions. "He was out of line." He began pacing in front of the portal. "You know how he is, Spock. He was scared, he thought I was dead, the Tholians were weaving that web, and he'd just seen a ship full of crewmen who'd murdered each other. And his own crew was starting to die of the same disease. Can you understand that? Can you understand how upset he was?"

"He does tend to express such emotions freely, Captain," Spock said evenly.

"You had the right to discipline him," Jim said, stopping his pacing long enough to peer up into Spock's eyes. "You could have put a disciplinary note in his file, or even had him tossed in the brig. He had no business challenging your authority, especially in a crisis."

"I am aware of that," Spock said, averting his gaze. "I chose not to do so at the time." He became silent again, but Jim's intent stare never left his face. Finally he attempted to explain. "Years of observing Dr. McCoy's behavior has taught me that the doctor becomes angry when he is frightened, and his anger is usually directed at me. I am convinced he did not mean his words personally. I also know him to be an astute researcher, and his skills were needed in finding the cure for the illness."

"It's not just directed at you," Jim said wryly. "He's been known to take a few shots at me, too. Anyway, the two of you and Scotty really brought us through that crisis."

Jim turned back to the portal and sighed. Spock waited. The captain was struggling with something, but it was not his nature to possess himself in stillness and examine his feelings in the depths of contemplation. All of Jim's struggles were physical—he meditated on his troubles in tense muscles, the long strides of pacing, the controlled violence of karate and judo. Jim Kirk thought deeply, but he did not contemplate in the true sense of that word.

Finally, Jim drew a deep breath. "I have said similar things of you, Spock. I've accused you of that kind of motivation."

Spock nodded. "Yes, sir."

Thick silence fell again. Spock attempted to sort his thoughts, pulling them apart strand by strand. "You have also made statements rooted in your negative emotions, but never anything untrue, unless you were not yourself. And all that you said was always for the good of the ship."

Kirk exhaled slowly, almost a laugh of breath.

"I, however," Spock continued, "have not been as courteous to you. I attempted to steal your ship from you for my own reasons. I have assaulted you on numerous occasions. I have placed your ship at risk to satisfy my own personal concerns."

Jim opened his mouth to argue, but Spock pressed on. "I am capable of command, Captain, but I am not worthy of it. Everything I have done these past weeks has been to one purpose—to get the rightful commander back in the captain's chair of the Enterprise."

He did not say, could not say, that only with the captain alive and well and in that chair on the bridge was his own personal world balanced and secure. That was the single "personal concern" he had spoken of. If something happened to the captain, Spock would take care of his ship for him, but until then, all Spock's logic and strength and efforts would be spent ensuring that Jim remained safe and in command.

"I know that, Spock," Jim said softly.

Spock raised an eyebrow—it almost sounded as if the captain were responding to his unspoken vow, rather than his words. He nodded slightly; it would not be the first time he wondered if Jim could read his mind.

"But I am back in that chair," Jim said. "And every time there is a danger of my not returning, you break the laws of heaven, earth and science to make sure I do." He continued to gaze at Spock, letting that truth hang in the charged air between them.

After a moment, he began pacing again, five steps away, five steps back. On the second return, he stepped close to Spock and said, "So why aren't you sleeping? What are the nightmares about, Spock?"

Spock did not move physically, but he withdrew nevertheless. Jim played people like he played chess, all gut feelings and boldness, and he always won. Spock had never understood how he did it, and he didn't understand it now, so he stared straight ahead and let no expression appear on his face. He gripped his wrist behind his back as every muscle went rigid.

"Don't." Jim held up a hand in a sharp gesture. "Don't go all Vulcan on me. I know you're not sleeping and I know there's something going on. It's got to stop, and that's an order. The only way I can keep coming back to that chair on the bridge is if you keep bringing me back—and you know damn well the only way you can do that is if you're in top form."

"Understood, Captain."

Spock's voice was remote, expressionless. Jim dropped his hand and his body relaxed. "I won't pretend we haven't both made some mistakes, Spock." He shrugged. "We're just men. But you've never been disloyal to me. I know what it has cost you to remain that loyal. It's why I depend on you so much. If you rendered yourself undependable, I would consider that an act of betrayal. Do you understand?"

Spock hesitated. "Yes, sir."

"I'm not leaving that chair as long as you're here to bring me back to it." Jim's voice was oddly gentle. "That's a promise."

Spock exhaled and relaxed his tense muscles, though of course he gave no outward sign of it. As oxygen returned to his cells, so did exhaustion.

Jim grinned, though Spock was sure he could have detected no change in his demeanor. "You have three hours until shift starts. I expect you to sleep for two and a half of that. That's an order." He clasped Spock's shoulder briefly, warmly. "I'll see you on the bridge at oh-eight hundred hours."

Spock thought of his warm, red-lit room. He did not understand what had happened, but then he often did not where his captain's emotional discernment was concerned. Yet he felt that for the first time in weeks, he would sleep.

"As you wish, Captain."