Chapter 1: Prologue: The Lovers
Prologue: The Lovers
Spock’s quarters were shrouded in darkness that ship’s morning when his Captain slipped soundlessly inside from their shared bathroom, looking vaguely uncomfortable in his dress uniform but inexplicably all the more cheerful for it.
“Morning, honey!” he called brightly, tiptoeing around the scented candles that littered the floor with a bounce in his step. “How was your meditation?”
The question, gently posed with a blinding smile, had the Vulcan look up from the contemplation of his own state of undress, the unkempt meditation robes he still illogically wore and the lit stick of incense he was twisting in his fingers. “Acceptable,” he answered curtly, somewhat distantly. He was finding it quite tasking to come back down to reality that morning.
“Just acceptable?” Jim repeated, sobering instantly with loving worry. Moving far more gracefully than Spock could ever hope to achieve - with the grace that came from confidence, from understanding one’s place in the universe - the human slipped down to kneel before him. “What’s wrong?”
Before he could construct a worthy answer to the question that never failed to breach his shields, however strong, a welcome touch was readily offered, and the Vulcan took his Captain’s hand in his slowly, contemplating the simple contact for a few moments.
Their minds met across their bond, sweet and familiar and home , and Spock could only close his eyes and savor that precious communion, wondering at inane concepts like luck and miracles and fate.
“Are you having second thoughts?” Jim questioned him softly. His gaze held nothing but honesty, no hurt, no anger; the human had always been absurdly apt at keeping his feelings in check, far more so than many Vulcans, and he knew how to project tranquility, put one at ease.
Spock was at ease. He pressed a steady caress to his Captain’s full cheek, framing his jaw and cheekbone with his fingers, and stared him deeply in the eyes. “About the engagement? Never, t’hy’la,” he vowed with unwavering certainty. Then he allowed a small smile to curve his lips and added: “However, I am regretting the choice to invite my parents to the Enterprise today.”
Jim’s laughter filled the room like the sun after an earthly thunderstorm - alien, fascinating, and for some reason soothing. “Oh, love. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure they behave.”
“I am not worried,” Spock denied, arching his eyebrow the way he knew his t’hy’la to find humorous. “I am Vulcan.”
“Of course you are,” the human said, combing through his fiancé’s still-messy hair with his free hand. “But in the event you were, I thought I might reassure you. Since we’re engaged and all.”
The Vulcan’s smile grew, and he found no other option other than to press his mouth to Jim’s so as to hide the overly-emotional light twinkling in his eyes. It was several minutes later that they parted, foreheads pressed together and breath mingling as they caught their bearings; the dance of feelings flowing into the telepath’s skin was every bit as thrilling as it was warming, and he sighed.
“Jim,” he murmured, twining their fingers again. He waited until the Captain was looking at him before he continued, speaking slowly, each word enunciated with the tender care his t’hy’la deserved. “I am proud to be announcing our engagement to my family. And to anyone who would listen.”
Kirk’s lashes fluttered and his grin stretched, betraying the almost-giddy elation pulsing through him. With a final squeeze of Spock’s hands and a peck to his cheek, he got up and began to blow on the candles. “Come on, ashaya. If you hurry up, we can squeeze in a game of chess before your parents get here.”
“And Michael,” the Vulcan reminded him, rising fluidly and heading for the bathroom. “She’ll be most pleased to finally meet you.”
“Can’t wait,” the Captain told him honestly, giving him a light push to the small of his back. “I’m sure we’ll be great friends.” The look of alarm that passed through Spock’s eyes at that was priceless, and Jim snickered mercilessly before the bathroom doors parted them and he returned to clearing the room. “I won’t embarrass you too much, I promise!” he called cheerfully.
That is hardly comforting , came the answer through their bond. But I trust your judgement.
It was a mere ten point fifty-seven minutes after that they were called to the bridge.
Uhura was frowning at her station, gaze focused into the void as she twirled her earpiece slowly between her fingers. Bright red nails tapped against silvery aluminum, producing a cascade of tingling sounds that joined the familiar symphony of background noises that filled the bridge. Finally, she turned around to meet her Captain’s eyes. “Sir, I’m receiving a distress signal. It’s weak, but it’s coming from the nearest solar system.”
Kirk strode quickly to his chair, accepting the Padd an ensign handed him even as he examined the readings projected on the armrest. “Mister Chekov, I want the best map you can find on screen asap. Mister Spock, kindly provide information on any class-M planets present.”
The Science Officer, who was already curled over his scanners, straightened his back to look at his computer screen. “There is only one class-M planet in the Pau star system. Charted once by Vulcan vessel Zehl-yel fifty-three point eleven years ago, but only from a distance.”
They all examined the map carefully. Chekov pointed at the fourth planet, a geoid that bore close resemblance to Earth both in size and in amount of water on the surface. “Pau IV, class-M planet, approximately 6.5 billion years old, breathable atmosphere, 18.45% oxygen, 0.07% carbon dioxide, 1.03% neon, 80.98% nitrogen.”
“I would assume the weather is mostly temperate in nature, with an exception for the tropics and artics,” Spock added thoughtfully. “It is reasonable to theorise a civilisation that is similar to the humans’.”
“Lieutenant Uhura, what is the nature of the emergency?” Jim questioned after a moment of silence, crossing his legs as he slowly brushed his fingers on his chin. “Can you make an educated guess at their level of technological advancement?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but the signal is too weak - something about an incoming catastrophe, but I can’t even tell if it is natural or anthropological,” Nyota said, pursing her lips. “However, the frequency they’re using is extremely advanced. I had to break it down just so our computers could bear it.”
The ghost of a smile passed across the Captain’s lips at the familiar word, and he glanced at the Vulcan. “Very well!” He leaned in and stared at the backdrop of stars on the screen. “Let’s investigate. Sulu, establish orbit around Pau IV. Spock, get ready for a full-planet scan. Chekov, prepare a ship-wide message with details of our new rescue mission. Uhura… establish communications.”
“Aye, sir!” chorused across the bridge, and Kirk settled more comfortably in his chair. On his personal Padd, he opened the old, extremely detailed report made by the Zehl-yel and began studying it carefully. Oddly enough, it contained no mention of an alien civilization, not even in passing - but then, the ship had never explored the solar system, only logged its existence while they were en route to Sirius. Even Vulcan precision had to have its limits.
Well, love , he thought across the still-open bond. It seems like our engagement party will have to wait.
Spock’s lashes fluttered as he glanced at him in brief surprise. Then his gaze softened and he shrugged his shoulders minutely, a nearly invisible gesture meant for Jim and Jim alone. Kaiidth , he said softly, almost a caress in the human’s mind. There will be time later .
The alien on the screen was vulcanoid in appearance but humanoid in biology - or so McCoy had guessed, based on the rosy tint of their fingertips, nose, and mouth. Yellow eyes fixed on the officers with barely-hidden contempt, and the cascade of luscious turquoise hair that framed their face was oddly distracting in its ever-changing shadows.
They spoke a language no-one had ever encountered: one that had put to test even Nyota’s unparalleled skill but that she had ultimately managed to figure out. Now the universal translator produced a low voice and strange curving tones, giving Federation Standard a foreign tint.
“We are a proud race, Captain,” the alien - who had introduced themselves as Gatekeeper to the Realm of En’aara - was saying. “We will not allow you to witness our weakness.”
Kirk swallowed down the sigh that wanted to escape his lips and stretched out a conciliatory smile instead. “And yet you sent out a distress signal. We have received it, and are more than willing to offer you any help we can,” he repeated for what felt like the hundredth time but was probably just the fourth.
Fifth , Spock corrected him, perhaps to lessen his tension. They are very stubborn, though I daresay not as much as yourself.
Thanks for that , Jim quipped. Must be the reason I’m marrying you.
I believe you said so.
Sounds about right.
The alien was droning on and on about honor and pride, so the Captain decided to take his chances and interrupted them. “Gatekeeper,” he said, raising his voice just a fraction. “Surely we can reach an understanding. You need the help, and we need to know what your emergency is.” He let his tone go soft, persuasive, seeking out eye contact to establish a connection; masking all of his urgency and irritation behind a secretive smile, he tried to bring down his interlocutor’s defences with gently-delivered logic. “You can rest assured we bear no ill-will towards you or your people. We are willing to prove that by inviting you aboard the Enterprise as an honoured guest.”
At first no answer came forth but a pensive silence in which the alien - emoting less than a Vulcan who had achieved Kolinahr - almost frowned. Then they seemed to shake themselves out of their reverie and gave one sharp nod. “Very well. But we will accept none other than the highest-ranking officers,” they said, stone-cold and demanding. “And I request you be sworn to secrecy, and that you dress… appropriately. ”
The slight sneer in the word went ignored, but certainly not unnoticed.
“That is most generous of you,” Jim murmured, deciding to take the offer without further insistence. “We are standing by to receive beam-down coordinates from you. I hope our trust will not be deceived.”
Uhura barely had the time to cut communications before McCoy rounded on the Captain. “Jim! You can’t possibly be thinking of going down alone?” he barked, fists digging into his hips and blue eyes open wide and fixed in his friend’s with unwavering resolution.
“Of course not, Bones,” Kirk told him, seeking to placate him even as he stood and motioned for his First Officer to join him. “I’m taking Spock with me.”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed as he mouthed the Vulcan’s name in clear disbelief, but he was quick to regroup and pointed an accusing finger at him. “But what if it’s a trap? We know nothing of these people except that they look like they walked out of a Renaissance Faire!” His voice broke on a bitter laugh then, and he swirled his hand towards the screen now showing the image of planet Pau IV. “Which, if you ask me, is not very promising!”
Spock raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Actually, doctor, I would place the time further back - somewhere between 11th and 13th Century Italy, to be precise,” he mused, putting up a pretence of obliviousness to the human’s growing distress.
Jim raised his hand, palm up, to silence them both, cutting their bickering before it could even begin. “Bones - I understand your concerns, but there’s no other option,” he said seriously. “We’ll have trackers implanted in our skin.”
Behind them, Uhura cleared her voice. She was studying her instruments intently, and an air of cautious concern had spread about her face. “Sir, if I may… There is something strange with the Gatekeeper’s voice,” she explained, tapping her nails again on the back of her chair. “It’s too precise, too even. I would like more time to examine it.”
“Granted,” Jim immediately approved, trusting her judgement implicitly. “Still, we’re beaming down. There’s no knowing how many lives are being lost as we speak, and we are sworn to protect and assist before all.”
Against that, McCoy had no argument, and he was self-aware enough to know to capitulate gracefully. “Fine,” he muttered. “But I want you to take a trip to Sickbay first. Lord knows you’re gonna be needing vaccinations.”
And so, after a rather gruesome visit to the Medbay and another, more pleasant one to the ship’s costume designers, they found themselves in transporter room, dressed in full medieval gear, with leather and swords and knives and wide sleeves in which their instruments had been concealed.
“Ready to beam down, sir,” Scotty said, biting back a laughter at the sight.
Kirk gave the order, and so they went.
This wonderful art is by my dearest friend, @commandingcaptainbooty on tumbrl!
Chapter 2: Month One: The Hermit
In which Jim is Captain of the Guard (and part-time librarian), and Spock is the famous wandering minstrel he is tasked with escourting to the Palace.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, a quiet panic.
Month 1. The Hermit
There was something extremely human in seeking solace in the stars; Jim understood this, and yet at times he wondered if it was weakness - a certain need to assure himself of his own insignificance - that drew him to the dark expanse of the universe, to the glass window that parted him from it.
It was an unnatural sight, anyway, with no earth to ground him, just the stars surrounding him from all sides and above and below, twisting his concept of reality as he stood on silver floors that hummed with the strength of undiluted space. Warmth surrounded him - and again that warmth made little sense but it was comforting, and though his mind refused to accept it as true he wanted to.
The sounds breaking the quiet were alien, incongruous and yet as pleasant as the sweetest song.
Strange was also the smooth texture of the shirt he wore, the golden tresses adorning it, as strange was his own reflection, pale and composed on the pristine glass. Deep down within his thoughts anticipation built, anticipation for a new noise he somehow knew was coming, the regular cadence of footsteps against a metal-like surface.
Familiar, as was the touch that barely fluttered onto his shoulder.
The bright sunlight streaming in from his open window roused Kirk softly, easing him out of his nonsensical dream with the gentle touch of a caring mother. He stirred, blinked, rubbed at his eyes in confusion, catching glimpses of the frescoes colouring his ceiling. Images of successful hunts and loving deities welcomed him and his startled laugh.
“Again with space,” he mused, unconcerned truly with the nostalgia his mind presented him - after all, he did miss home occasionally, and he supposed the feeling manifested himself in peculiar images when he slept. And he loved the night sky anyway.
After a few more moments of lazy contemplation, he pushed himself up and off the bed, then made a beeline for his window, smiling cheerfully at the sun and the little white clouds sailing above the palace.
“Bless the stars!” he said, excitement coursing through him like fine wine. “It’s the first day of spring!”
It was in a hurry that he washed, donned his dress uniform and walked out of his quarters. He had a smile for all those who greeted him, but he refrained himself from stopping for a chat because he was running late.
Wide as a city and aflame with life, the palace was an ode to the arts and to humanity - it had become home to him in so many ways, especially since, as Captain of the Guard, he’d learned its secrets by heart, knew the sound its rocks made when hit and the sweet scents of the gardens within.
He waltzed through it all like he’d been born there.
“Good morning, dear doctor,” Jim greeted happily, sliding into a chair by his friend’s side. The mess was bursting with excitement, bright and colorful in the crisp morning. “You look awfully sour for the first day of the best year yet.”
McCoy scoffed under his breath, picking at his jam and bread as if checking for poison. “I wouldn’t know about best year yet ,” he groused, moving closer to examine the Captain’s chosen breakfast. After a moment of silence, he gave his approval and pushed the tray back to him. “And today’s the day that damn minstrel comes.”
“Who?” Kirk said, not worried in the least about the doctor’s apparent hostility. “Oh, do you mean Number One’s guest?”
“Yeah, Spock. He’s supposed to be Pike’s ward or something, but he’s never around, stars be blessed.” He stretched a bit, then smirked at him, huffing into his cup of hot tea. “I really don’t envy you your task.”
“I have to pick him up from the Forest, not marry him!” Kirk bit down into his slice of spongy cake and shook his head fondly. “Dare I ask what he’s like?”
“He’s a real earful, that one,” McCoy said. “Great brain for science and art, but mighty stuck-up. Wouldn’t smile to save his life, terribly formal, doesn’t trust anyone.”
“Sounds shy to me,” Jim told him, raising both eyebrows with a smile. “Still, he’s supposed to be the best troubadour in the land.”
“Oh, that he is,” Leonard conceded. “Once you hear him sing, the rest is spoiled forever. Divine music, really.”
“Well, then, he can’t be all that bad, can he?” the Captain mused, getting up swiftly. He patted his friend on the shoulder. “I’m off,” he informed him. “Please try not to scare off our guest on the first night, uh?”
“Don’t worry,” the doctor told him with a laugh. “He’s a stubborn one, too.”
The Forest was, as ever, magnificent. Already lush with evergreens, it bloomed now with the new lives of spring, with fluttering wings and dewdrops and buddying flowers, with the rich pride of wilderness. Among the endless list of Jim’s tasks, caring for the woods was perhaps the most important: it was up to him and his Guard to see to it that the balance between humans and nature was maintained, that neither proved destructive for the other.
A job well done, if I say so myself .
Chuckling softly under his breath, the Captain stepped confidently along the beaten path that led across the Forest, eager to meet this man that had managed to capture McCoy’s attention so completely - the doctor was perpetually unimpressed with people, after all.
The regular cadence of footsteps against dry earth alerted him to the fact that someone was approaching, and he straightened his back from where he had been bending towards a nest of titmice.
“Who comes forth?” he asked, firm but polite. “Show yourself, you are in no danger from me.”
A cloaked figure emerged a few feet at his left, a bow and a lyre hanging from his back. Long, delicate fingers parted in a foreign gesture that might have been a greeting, and he cocked his head to the side. “You must be the new Captain of sir Christopher’s Guard,” he said, and the alien accent in his voice matched the rustling of the leaves above. “Live long and prosper.”
Jim blinked at him for an instant before sudden recognition came crashing down on him and he raised his hand to copy the gesture - ta’al . “Peace and long life,” he replied, to the stranger’s surprise. “Spock, right? The wandering minstrel, best voice in the land? I have heard much about you.”
For a moment, Spock seemed to be taken aback; though his eyes were concealed in the shadow of his hood, his mouth twitched and he bit down on his lower lip. “Your words do me honour,” he said finally, taking one step forward. “I come to serve.”
“And you are very welcome,” Kirk kindly told him. With a flourish, he motioned for the minstrel to precede him, smiling warmly when he hesitated. “I’m Captain James T. Kirk. You can call me Jim.”
“That hardly seems fitting, Captain,” Spock objected, tone still low, almost pensive. “But I do appreciate the offer.”
Jim laughed gently: he could see now what McCoy had meant when he’d called the minstrel formal, and why he disliked him so. Still, the Captain decided to withdraw his judgement until they had gotten to know each other better.
“As you wish,” he cordially said. “Was your journey pleasant?”
Spock turned towards him, as if he hadn’t been expecting the conversation to continue. A long strand of black hair fell onto his chest, and he pushed it back inside the hood immediately. “It was… not uneventful. But I will not complain: it is in the past.”
There was something so incredibly different in his voice. Distracted, Kirk glanced down and noticed the lantern tied to the minstrel’s waist - or rather its webbed, broken glass.
“Do you always travel the woods alone?” he asked then, curious. “It’s not as safe as some would believe.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Spock agreed, nodding curtly. “However, I have learned a long time ago how to survive them on my own.”
“Then you’d be one of the few,” Jim told him, like he was paying him a compliment though that admission had saddened him a little. “Will you stay through all of the festivities?”
Feeling more like he was partaking in an interrogation than having a conversation, the Captain fell quiet, alternating between keeping an eye on their surroundings and watching his guest’s careful movements. In his collected composure, he reminded him of Sulu, and he wondered idly whether the minstrel, too, was a man of hidden passions - plants, or maybe swordplay.
He let the silence grow and listened to the birds as they chirped busily, enjoying the call of nature that had seized him since his childhood.
After a handful of minutes, Spock cleared his throat somewhat awkwardly and put forth a question of his own: “I have not seen you last year, nor the one before that. Do you dislike the Spring Celebrations?”
It was his tentative tone that really did Jim in - a bright smile bloomed on his face, full of welcome and mirth. “Oh no, I love them quite a lot,” he cheerfully replied. “I have just been unlucky with my assignments, you know. Found myself halfway across the land every time.”
“Indeed?” The minstrel slowed his pace down just enough that they were walking side by side. “You have travelled?”
Kirk launched in a generous description of his latest missions, and satisfaction welled up in his chest as he saw his guest relax more and more. Soon, Spock began to volunteer information on his own - quick, precise recountings of distant places - and only an hour or so passed before he deemed it safe enough to lower his hood in front of him.
His hair was a long mantle down his back, crossed by so many artfully woven braids that the wind barely stirred it, and his eyebrows went up in a graceful slant, so peculiar it made the Captain want to comment on it, though he restrained himself for the sake of decor and because he knew his place.
Since it was now exposed, he felt compelled to meet Spock’s gaze.
His eyes were kind, Jim thought, and very sorrowful.
Captain James T. Kirk, Spock decided, had a rather special allure about him. It could have been his ever-present smile, or perhaps the barely-there shade of mischief in his compassionate eyes; maybe it was the aura of easy complicity he radiated, or the innate respect with which he regarded all living things.
Be it as it may, Spock found himself drawn to him, fascinated by his words and the gentle way he had of encouraging him in the act of sharing - with the implicit pact that nothing would be asked which could not be freely given hanging between them. His telepathy, his buried, shameful, frightening secret, seemed to be reaching, overflowing, escaping its tightly wound constraints as if Kirk’s mere presence had breathed new life into it.
Such a notion should have concerned him, and yet .
Yet he found himself relaxing, more than he’d ever done in the presence of a stranger. It was a three-hour walk to the Palace, but it might have been three years, for by the time they arrived, the Captain’s voice had become familiar, his beaming smiles cherished, his cheerful disposition comforting.
Nyota was waiting for them by the open gates. Her thin armour glinted beautifully under spring’s new sun, and her eyes shone happily as she waved at them in a tingle of chainmail.
“Nyota, my dear! I trust everything’s in order?” Kirk greeted her warmly, leaning down to kiss her cheeks with a bounce in his step. “Weren’t you supposed to be with Pike?”
She chuckled lively, returned his kisses good-naturedly, raised an eyebrow at him. “Of course I was, sweetie,” she replied, with the same ease and familiarity he had shown her. “He sent me to rescue our guest from you.”
Spock felt obliged to intervene, then: “I am hardly in need of rescue, Nyota,” he said, inching forward. “The Captain is adequate company.”
“That’s high praise, there,” Uhura whispered loudly to the Captain. Then she turned her gentle gaze on the minstrel and lightly brushed her fingers over his elbow. “Spock. It’s good to see you again.”
“I, too, have missed you,” he assured her stiffly, feeling a little out of his depth with the two humans staring at him with such brightness of feeling. He began to wonder whether Kirk would insist on accompanying them around, and if so, whether Nyota expected him, Spock, to display open affection to her the way he occasionally did when they were alone.
As if sensing his discomfiture, Jim clapped his hands quickly. “Well, I’ll leave you two to catch up!” he announced. “It’s been great knowing you, Spock. Please know that I’m at your service if you need anything.”
“That if most gracious of you, Captain,” Spock said, less surprised than he perhaps should have been. “I shall see you soon.”
Now there was a sentence the minstrel had repeated ad nauseam. This time, however, he found he meant it, strangely enough: the human had piqued his curiosity, and he wouldn’t mind getting to know him better.
“Are you and the Captain close?” he asked Nyota as they fell into step side by side.
Again, she smiled, and the expression was soothing because it was familiar: a hint of teeth and dimples on her cheeks, sparkling eyes and her red cloak framing her gently. “He’s a dear, Jim,” she said, leading him towards the inner corridors. “I doubt you’ll find a soul who’s not taken with him.”
He nodded, accepting that truth without question because it aligned perfectly with his observations. The Captain had been gracious enough to acquire and carry a meal for him, and a vegetarian one at that: such generosity was telling enough of his character, and yet for some reason also quite expected.
A little line popped into existence between his eyebrows, and the minstrel decided to divert his attention elsewhere, pushing his confusion away behind a veneer of crystalline calm. His gaze fell on the patches of sunlight streaming in from the stained glass ceiling, the patterns of colour they shaped onto the mosaic floor, and he took a small measure of delight in their symmetry.
The Palace was immense, a city more than a building, and if memory served - which it did - they were to cross it in its entirety. Spock did not mind the journey, but he quickened his pace: he might be able to meditate after washing himself if they were early enough… Dinner was only a few hours away, and Number One had requested he play at the ceremony to celebrate the start of the New Year, which meant he had very little time to tune his lyre, too.
“How have you been, Nyota?”
“Oh, just great! Christine and I are moving in together soon.”
“Indeed? Congratulations.” He laid a brief touch onto her shoulder. “I am sure your union will prove a successful one.”
She laughed openly at that, but it was without malice. “Thank you, sweetie.” Her hand fluttered down to the hilt of her sword, stilling its jingling as they climbed up a flight of stairs. The open windows let the spring breeze in, and it mussed her braid up, sending wild strands to fly about her face, framing it.
Immediately, Spock checked his own, but his hair was tightly constrained, covering the pointed tips of his ears perfectly.
“I’m really excited for this change, you know,” she went on, choosing not to comment on his shifty behavior. After all, she knew perfectly well what it was that he concealed, and his reasons for hiding, though she did not approve of them. “I think we’re ready for it.”
“I wish you both the best.” When he realised he was beginning to smile - clearly in response to her enthusiasm and the bright emotional state she exuded washing over his shields - he pursed his lips. “Will you be singing tonight?” he said, because he wasn’t sure how to pursue the subject.
As a minstrel, he had a nearly complete knowledge of all that had ever been written about courtship and relationships, confessions and betrayals, hate and love, but he was painfully aware of how far removed from reality those scriptures were. Fiction designed to please the ear and the heart, no more.
“I don’t know that,” she chuckled. “I shan’t go around competing with you!”
“Please, Nyota, don’t be absurd,” he chided softly, taking the compliment as gracelessly as ever. “You are an outstanding musician.”
She shook her head and her chainmail tingled, the sound oddly in tune with the chirping of birds outside. “So tell me, sweetie. Will this be the year I finally convince you to settle down here?”
Spock raised an eyebrow at that. “You are certainly welcome to try,” he answered, the way he did each time she asked. He had learned that diplomacy was the way to go when dealing with her odd requests - and he took them in stride for they were born of care and affection. This, too, it had taken him a while to learn. “Only time shall tell.”
Nyota laughed brightly, and walked on.
She did sing, in the end.
The party began one hour after twilight, when the sky was dark and some sunlight still hung from the sparse clouds fluttering low on the horizon. The Eastern Wind carried the rich scents of flowers and baked goods, of freshly-harvested fruit and ancient wine, and along came the laughing and chattering of humans.
Number One’s people were a cheerful lot, after all, and the Palace square was wide enough to comfortably hold many; even the children had gathered to listen to the passing of tradition, and now had settled in a circle all around the musicians, passing around food and toys and jokes in their shrill voices.
Nyota sat with them, trusted figure to many, with her lute in her lap and warmth in her eyes as she delivered a lovely tale of bravery and friendship. She had everyone enchanted after the first few notes, but none more so than Christine, who stared intently at her, smiling as if enraptured.
The young physician stood by doctor McCoy’s side, and Spock let his eyes slip away from them, thinking he might greet Leonard another time. It was better not to interrupt him, anyhow.
From his perch upon the low brick wall that surrounded the square, the minstrel waited placidly for his turn to sing, one hand skimming over his lyre’s smooth surface in an absent caress as in his mind he went quickly over the many verses of the epic poem he had been asked to recount. There was no logic in repeating that which he already knew by heart, but it gave him momentary peace, and so he allowed himself the comfort. Kaiidth .
He did not mind his solitude, truly. It had been the one constant in his life of aimless wandering, and it allowed him plenty of time to think, time to tie together the torn, loose threads of a past he was not entirely sure he remembered, of a people he was not completely certain existed, of pointed ears and slanted eyebrows and cold logic, of a wise philosopher no one had ever heard about and beautiful precepts he tried to follow as best as he could and an arcane language he himself could not name.
Solitude afforded him the luxury of not having to lie.
And yet, Captain Kirk had learned of the ta’al . Where?
No sooner had he thought about him that the human was making his way towards him, carefully waving about two glasses filled with a golden liquid. Spock turned to him, not at all surprised by his choice in beverage.
“Can I tempt you to a drink?” he asked pleasantly as soon as he was within hearing distance. “It’s homemade.”
The minstrel raised an eyebrow at him, thanking him from the proffered glass. Apple cider had always erred on the sweet side for him, but he bore with it out of politeness. It was a kind gesture. “If sir Christopher has requested you make nice with me , you are under no obligation to follow through with that request,” he said flatly, recalling many conversations with his former mentor. “I am quite alright by myself.”
“Oh, I’m sure you are,” Jim agreed softly, staring at him. His gaze was searching, as if he was attempting to read through his composure, but the curve of his lips was gentle, and Spock let it slide. “You know, I just happen to think you’re an interesting man. But if you’d rather have your peace, I can leave.”
Unsure whether it was an honest offer or said in jest, but unwilling to take the risk, the minstrel shrugged minutely. “You are not disrupting my peace.”
The Captain laughed, though he did his best to keep his voice hushed so as not to spoil Uhura’s singing. “Look, the thing is, I’ve been wanting to meet you for ages,” he confessed, smiling earnestly up at him.
He spoke now as if delivering a precious secret, with a peculiar glint in his eyes that prompted the minstrel to lean towards him in curiosity. He rested his elbows on his knees, hunching around his lyre. “Why?” he demanded, intrigued and disbelieving both.
Kirk let his back press against the wall and finished his drink gracefully. “Your stories,” he told him simply, as if it was a given. Excitement lit up his face. “I am managing Pike’s immense library and your knowledge - all the works you know by heart - they must be preserved.”
“Indeed. It is why I have learned them,” Spock said. In a flutter of heavy robes he slid down his perch and straightened his back. The Captain smelled like the flowers he had gathered behind his left ear. “To keep the memory of ages past.”
“I’d like to write them down, put them to paper,” the human declared, going straight to the point. He had stilled in his subtle motions, pinning the minstrel under a passionate gaze. “I want to make books out of them.”
“This is most unexpected,” Spock told him sincerely. He held his lyre tight against his chest as if shielding himself from the Captain’s strange allure, that persuasive aura surrounding his golden face. For a brief moment he entertained the foolish notion that Kirk wasn’t, in fact, wholly human - that within him lay the spirit of all the history and chants and emotions the minstrel had collected safely in his thoughts.
“We’d work together, of course,” Jim hastened to reassure him, perhaps misunderstanding his pensive silence (or perhaps understanding it perfectly). “You’d have last say on everything and I’ll trust your version to be accurate.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “My version is , of course, the most accurate.” He wasn’t certain why he was even arguing the point; such an endeavour was impressive, but for that very reason it would take a great amount of time, which in turn meant that the minstrel would be forced to stay in one place for much longer than he desired. Not precisely ideal conditions.
“You don’t have to answer me right now,” the human added then, brushing a fleeting touch upon his forearm and making his telepathy jump. He pushed back off the wall and grinned, running a hand through his wavy hair as if suddenly self-conscious. “I’m aware it’s no light feat, and we hardly know each other. Still, you cannot deny that the idea has merit.”
“It does,” Spock agreed quite naturally. “It is a logical request to make, and to make of me.”
“See?” The Captain appeared to be delighted. His grin grew wider, blooming into another smile, and the minstrel found himself dazzled by the sheer brightness of such a mercurial being. “So, do you think you can stick around here long enough to give it a try?”
And for the first time in many years, Spock said yes.
Scotty sat in the Captain’s chair and pursed his lips. He was staring intently at the screen, at the deceptively peaceful-looking planet it showed. No shields, no artificial satellites (no natural ones either for that matter), not even a space station in orbit (or a starship, or a cruiser, he really wasn’t picky) and yet it was impenetrable.
Nothing seemed to be the matter. Nothing, except for the fact that Captain and Commander had virtually vanished from existence the moment their particles had touched the surface. They had missed three rendez-vous, their instruments were untraceable (if they were working at all) and there wasn’t even a blip planet-side to indicate their presence.
“How is that signal coming along, Uhura?” he asked, turning to her before the viewscreen could stare back at him. “Found anything new?”
“Not precisely,” she answered, frowning a little as her eyes instinctively followed the sounds her receiver was sending her. “The message is recorded, and set to repeat on a loop every two hours for thirty-seven minutes, but I can’t tell how long ago the first one was issued.”
The engineer stood and approached her, mentally listing malfunctions that could cause her instruments to fail so spectacularly. “But why? There’s nothing blocking reception, and I’ve diverted much of our power to communications.”
She shook her head. “Take a look,” she offered, pointing at the small screen just above her computers. “Each new signal merges with the previous one, and then they become indistinguishable. That’s why it sounded urgent when I first picked it up.”
“Sir, there’s still no sign of living life planetside,” Chekov pointed out, straightening his back with a wince from where he’d been bending over Spock’s station. The scanners were whirring peacefully, embracing the entirety of Pau IV’s surface only to return the image of an empty rock. “There’s not even plants, it’s a wasteland.”
“Well, where the hell are they, then?” McCoy demanded flatly, leaning against the back of the Captain’s chair, arms crossed and eyebrows raised in disbelief. “And that Gatekeeper that answered us was definitely alive.” He waved his medical tricorder at them in proof.
Scotty huffed lightly. “Aye, they certainly looked it.” He leaned over Sulu’s station. “Mister Sulu - I want to test a little theory I have.”
“Yes, sir.” The helmsman looked at him expectantly, a hint of curiosity flashing in his eyes. “What do you need?”
“I want you to try out the most complicated maneuver you can think of,” the engineer explained slowly, as if testing out the words on his tongue. “Say, a doughnut turn. Get as close to the surface as you can, then back in orbit.”
“Aye, sir. Brace yourselves.”
They took hold of railings and armrests, fingers drawn tightly as the Enterprise lurched forward unexpectedly, dropping down without so much as a by-your-leave, drawing a circle directly above the planet’s eastern pole before returning to its previous position.
A satisfied smile passed across Sulu’s face. The maneuver had gone smoothly, quickly, perfectly.
“What was that about?” McCoy asked, stalking forward to stare Scotty in the eyes. “Are we joining a circus or something?”
“A Russian circus, I should hope,” Chekov threw in with a light smirk. He leaned over to examine the scans again. “And nothing’s changed from four minutes ago.”
“Thank you, lads, I think you’ve proved me right,” the engineer said calmly. “This is no ship-wide malfunction we’re dealing with.”
“Of course not,” Sulu mused. “We would have crashed on the surface otherwise.”
“Aye, that we would. But I submit to you that there’s something sabotaging certain systems, from the surface.”
The doctor scoffed. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he muttered, levelling a suspicious glower on his defective tricorder. “I’ll see if Chapel and I can re-adjust this thing to get a better reading.”
“Or to reinterpret the reading you’ve already gotten,” Uhura told him, setting down her earpiece with a thoughtful expression. “Perhaps it’s merely the delivery that’s being confounded.”
Scotty nodded gravely. “That, my good lass, is exactly what I was thinking.”
He issued a yellow alert and they set to work.
Chapter 3: Month Two: The Magician
In which chess is played, and confessions are made.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, the hint of a hope.
Month Two: The Magician
Spock found Kirk with Mister Scott and the doctor, chatting animatedly around a contraption that seemed to be a game of some sort. He was unsure what had compelled him to seek out the Captain: perhaps that both Nyota and Christine were on duty and he was loathe to disturb them, or perhaps the fact that his last conversation with sir Christopher had done nothing to quell his curiosity for that human whose knowledge and skills appeared to far surpass those of his peers.
Be it as it may, he crossed the open-ceiling room that served the Palace best in summer and spring, and came to stand silently before the three friends, effectively bringing their conversation to a stop.
“Mister Spock! Why, hello!” the Captain said cheerfully. He was endlessly pleased to see the minstrel, which unsettled him immensely. “So good of you to join us! I expect you know Scotty?”
“Yes. If memory serves, the best brewer in the land.”
“Aye, I’m a blacksmith now as well, lad,” Scotty told him with an excited smile. “Mighty pleased to see you again.”
They exchanged pleasantries the way humans were so fond of doing, but to Spock it had always seemed as if Scott was ernest about them, and so he played along.
“Say, Spock, what do you figure this flytrap here is? Surely one as logical as you would know.” McCoy asked him then, raising both eyebrows at him.
He took special delight in teasing, but then the minstrel knew he hardly ever put malice behind his words. Still, he noticed a glint of worry in the Captain’s gaze - he had turned to look at his friend, lips pursed in disapproval - and so, to put him at ease, Spock mimicked the doctor’s expression and his overly-polite tone, making a show of inspecting the beautiful work set on the table.
“Even an illogical one such as you, doctor, should realise this is no flytrap,” he began placidly. He studied the checkered boards before him: differing both in dimension and level, they all bore an array of tiny pawns, accurately depicting creatures of human mythology. With a brief start of delighted surprise, he found he did recognise the game. “It is tridimensional chess.”
Kirk laughed brightly. “Yes! Scotty and I made it following a IX Century manuscript I found laying about in the library. Magnificent game! I don’t suppose you know how to play?”
“I do, in fact,” Spock revealed, though he was unsure how he came to possess that particular bit of knowledge. “Do you?”
“Well, yes. It’s become quite popular in the past year.” The Captain gestured towards the chair before him and smiled invitingly. “Fancy a game?”
The minstrel blinked. He did, in fact, wish to measure himself against that very intriguing man - to play with him rather than against him. One could discover a great many things when engaging the other with chess: it was a game of wit and strategy, and more often than not it exposed priorities and beliefs.
But then, the Captain was a very perceptive human, and Spock would be exposing himself in turn if he chose to accept the offer. Was he reading too much into the inviting smile directed at him? Was the human’s request a superficial one, was he wrong to view it as an invitation, a seduction of sorts? Why would the possibility even occur to him if it was not laden at least with a few seeds of truth?
What did Kirk expect of him?
Carefully, certainly ascribing more meaning to the action that he was wont, the minstrel slipped into the chair and steepled his fingers. “You may set the pieces, then.”
The Captain’s smile morphed into a soft grin - Spock had expected it to - and his hands danced quickly up and about, an ordinary sequence of movement that nonetheless had Spock entranced as he tracked it with his eyes. A new sight, undoubtedly, and yet notable for the hints of known and practiced it carried.
“The board is yours,” Kirk said pleasantly.
McCoy and Scott had grown disinterested in their exchange; sat on the other side of their table, they had begun a heated conversation on speed versus protection, armor and flesh wounds. Spock let their voices wash over him as he recalled in his mind an array of strategies and logical solutions. He picked a pawn and dragged it forward.
“Are you enjoying your stay?” the Captain asked, eyes on the minstrel rather than on the board. “I have it on good authority that you have yet to visit the libraries this year. It’s been three days already.”
Spock had to fight the urge to frown: was Kirk not intending to play seriously? Did he view the game merely as an excuse for socialising? A bit disappointing, but it was just as well. He had never found difficulties in multitasking. “Number One is as good an authority as any, I suppose,” he replied, watching as the human made his move seemingly at random. “I have been otherwise occupied.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that. You must have a lot of catching up to do.” He drew a lock of auburn hair back over his forehead and leaned forward, watching Spock’s chosen move with a light smirk. “All your friends were looking forward to seeing you - even Bones.”
The doctor threw them a disgusted look which the minstrel returned, then turned back towards Scotty, already deeply immersed in their conversation.
Spock shrugged minimally, bowing more closely over the board. His hair fanned forward and he let it, knowing it would not expose his ears and yet distantly curious of what the Captain’s reaction to such revelation might be. “I have been meditating, and required rest.”
“Of course. Do you have enough incense?”
The question, thrown off-handedly at him as if it was a given that Kirk should inquire after his needs, surprised a blink out of him. His mouth fell open soundlessly, then he swallowed. “Yes, for the time being,” he answered at length.
Kirk was the first to capture a pawn, which startled Spock no end, because the move had taken him entirely off-guard and he was accustomed to being this unprepared. It seemed as if he had grievously underestimated the human - a mistake he would be sure not to repeat. “Fascinating,” he said.
The Captain laughed. He seemed to laugh a great deal. It was so very easy to get lost in the pleasantries of it all, in complicit smiles and unassuming conversation, in the sweet scent of spring filtering through the windows and bright squares of light the sun painted onto their board. He was thrilled to have found such a worthy opponent, and as the game progressed he took delight in how they seemed to balance one another rather well.
“Fascinating, but ineffective,” he said at length. “I will have you checkmated in the next move.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” Kirk teased, flashing him a honeyed smile from beneath his lashes. “Check.”
Spock couldn’t resist the befuddlement that had his eyes widening if only a little. “ Fascinating . The game is yours,” he conceded. “Would you be amenable to a rematch?”
Again, there was the laughter. He might have been offended, had he not known better - but then, why did he know better?
“Testing to see if it was just blind luck?”
He allowed the briefest of grins to curve his mouth. “I would never presume.”
A second game turned into many, and the best Spock could obtain was a draw - and yet he was gratified, for with every move the Captain chose, for each time he was beaten, the minstrel learned . Nothing about Kirk, no - he learned about himself: secrets he had not realised belonged to him flooded his mind, imprints of steps he must have taken before, shadows of memories he must have had.
It was at once chilling and irrevocably tempting. He could no sooner resist the lure of forbidden knowledge than he could break the human’s strategy. He could poke holes in its construction, but nothing that would cause it to fall, and each failure intrigued him further.
Far from being disheartened, he wanted more .
And so they played, well into the night.
A week passed and the celebrations drew to a close. A dance was held deep into the night, with fireworks and cheerful music and the lovely scent of flowers and mead mixing in the trembling air. There was a certain sense of finality to it all, Jim thought, but it wasn’t dreadful, far from it: it felt like a beginning, like a page was closing over the first chapter of a book, making room for the rest of the story, for a plot about to unravel, for adventures and a glorious resolution.
The Captain enjoyed every second of it, and of the party.
Dinner was held outside, in the wide courtyards the Palace-city was best known for, under a gleaming backdrop of stars; nothing was better than hearing the countless conversations tangling into a pleasant hum, except perhaps adding his own voice to the rest in harmonious synchrony. So he sat with his friends and talked and laughed and listened.
He had managed, finally, after much persuasion, to convince Spock to join them, along with Nyota and Christine, who had, up until that day, divided their time between their circle of friends and the reclusive minstrel. Now their guest sat, back ramrod straight and expression unreadable, between the two women, looking supremely uncomfortable in the way he kept his shoulders hunched just so, his gaze fixed in the distance.
Kirk would have regretted his intervention had he not held absolute faith in Nyota’s advice and in her judgement of Spock needing a little push now and then . Now the push had been issued, and there was nothing else to do but wait and see what the results would be. Though it seemed like a lost cause, Jim was never one to give up on a no-win scenario, and so he smiled gently at the minstrel and tried his best to involve him in the general conversation.
It was a fruitless endeavour.
Drawn, perhaps chasing his own thoughts, Spock was distracted, pulling at his long hair somewhat nervously - an especially battered lock was suffering the most, for he kept braiding and unbraiding it in practiced if stilted motions. His eyes evaded scrutiny, and his answers to the questions that addressed him directly were empty, flatly delivered.
It was nothing like the quirky sarcasm he chosen to unleash on Kirk once they had begun to play chess. The human was, frankly, worried.
He watched as Hikaru and Pavel abandoned the table to join in the dancing, soon followed by Nyota and Christine, who were glowing in the happiness of their union and the excitement of having it reaffirmed in front of the law. Bones and Scotty were drinking, shoulder to shoulder, clapping their hands occasionally in the direction of the musicians and complimenting them loudly. Spock was stony.
Sighing, the Captain rose from his seat and walked up to the minstrel, tapping him lightly on the arm to catch his fleeting attention; he turned towards him with a start and his cheeks warmed, taking on a vaguely greenish hue that Jim wondered about in the privacy of his mind. Of course, he had his suspicions as to why Spock did not look human , but he would never insult him by speaking of them - not to him, not to anyone.
“Spock, I’d like to speak to you, if you don’t mind,” he said softly.
The minstrel stood and followed him without protest, without a word, really; Kirk could feel his stare fixed on the back of his head as he led the way. They crossed the court in silence, expertly navigating the crowd of celebrating, dancing people, and the Captain stopped only once they were alone, safe within the confines of four walls and one open window.
Spock cocked his head to the side and looked at him as one would a faerie, a puzzling, impossible-to-figure-out creature. And he waited.
Jim took a deep breath and leaned against the wall, moving to stand at the minstrel’s side rather than in front of him. It felt less threatening that way. “Listen, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you,” he said sincerely. “You know you’re under no obligation to stay, right?”
He seemed to unwind entirely at that; his shoulders slumped and he finally relaxed the tension that had kept his spine so painfully straight; the result was flowing lines and rustling fabric as Spock let go of his hair and sighed. “I do, of course,” he murmured. “Although I believe it is I who should apologise. You are a gracious host, and I am remiss in not showing you the gratitude you deserve.”
Kirk pursed his lips at that. He had not been seeking an apology, not at all. “There’s no need for formalities, I told you,” he reminded the minstrel in a firmer tone. But as soon as his momentary annoyance fled him, he felt a pang of sympathy for his guest, so alone, so foreign in everything he did or thought. The muted sadness in his gaze seemed to find a special place in the Captain’s heart, pulling him closer, rousing a curiosity that was much more than a simple desire for understanding. “Is something wrong?” he asked, making it so his tone showed his willingness to offer assistance, if such a thing was needed, or to at least provide comfort.
“Nothing but troubled thoughts,” Spock said.
Jim huffed, crossed his arms. “Well, you know how they say - helps to share.” He allowed himself a small chuckle, maybe to cover the little voice in his mind that questioned his motives and his insistence, questioned the reasons behind this need to reach that seemed to drive him against his better judgement.
For a moment it looked as if the minstrel was going to accept his offer, but then he bit down on his lower lip and turned away, facing the window. “That would be unwise.”
“What is necessary is never unwise,” Kirk told him gently, following the lazy patterns the wind drew on the lace curtains. “Though perhaps you’d want to talk to Nyota.”
Spock was silent for a long time, and the Captain waited him out patiently, waited until he broke his stillness and wandered deeper into the room, over to the lithe bench beneath the open window. “Please, sit,” he invited, gesturing gracefully before resuming his unmoving tranquility. Once again, it appeared as if Kirk’s restraint was the very thing that won him over. “How much do you know about me, Captain?”
Jim tried not to let his surprise show on his face, but from the amusement dancing at the corners of the minstrel’s tinted mouth he knew he wasn’t entirely successful. “Aside from your fame that precedes you wherever you go? Very little,” he answered slowly. “I know from Pike that you have no family left, and no home. The rest is what you chose to tell me.”
Nodding as if he had been expecting precisely that, Spock steepled his fingers. “I see. What sir Christopher told you is, essentially, true. However, it might be more apt to say that I am without people , not family.” He searched for his gaze and held it gravely. “I believe you to be very honorable, which is why I trust you will treat this conversation with the utmost confidentiality.”
The Captain smiled at once and gave his assent, pressing a hand to his heart. “Of course. I would not betray your secrets, as they aren’t mine to share.”
“Very well.” It took him a minute to muster his resolve, but when he spoke his voice was steady, eyes fixed unblinkingly into his. “You must know that I am not human.” He paused, then, when no objection came forth, he added: “My people were called, I have learned, the Desert-children.”
There was a certain inevitability to that revelation.
Distantly, Kirk reasoned he should be astonished, bewildered, maybe even frightened; that there should be at least a gasp to push past his throat, that he might want to jump to his feet and throw his arms about and maybe shout; that he had no business being so calm. And yet, the truth that should have been mystifying - or at the very least rattling - felt only natural when spoken in that strange familiar voice.
In a way, the Captain had known, always, from the very first moment he’d heard those soft, well-cadenced steps fall in harmony within the sounds of the forest, that the minstrel was different .
Frowning a bit at his lack of reaction, Spock hesitantly began to untangle his beautiful braids, then drew his hair back to show a delicately pointed ear.
“Oh,” Jim breathed. “Yes. I… suspected.”
“ How ? Not even Nyota guessed before I told her.”
It was funny how it seemed to be Spock who was taken aback. Kirk smiled, a little dazedly, amazed by the trust placed in him, moved by the hint of trepidation flickering in those brown eyes that hadn’t once deserted his.
“I have studied the stories of your people extensively. You blush green, for one, my dear,” he said, light and airy, wanting to prove that really nothing had changed, that there was no cause for worry, that the minstrel was safe. “And then there’s the matter of your accent. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever listened to.” A new smile pulled on his lips and he let it grow bright. “Almost alien. Charming, of course.”
Charming , Spock mouthed to himself, shaking his head in utter disbelief. “I have to confess that you have managed, once more, to render me speechless, Captain,” he told him, fingers tangling into black locks, impressing loose waves onto them. “I find myself curious as to the contents of your library.”
Kirk was delighted, and had no qualms in showing it. “I’d be happy to give you a tour, you know. You need only ask,” he offered readily. Then, after a moment in which they both adjusted to the new level of confidentiality that now bound them, he spoke: “So… What’s troubling you? Was it just this?”
“It was not,” Spock admitted. He crossed his legs onto the bench, stretching his arms forward to grasp at his ankles. “My troubles lie in the fact that I have very little memory of my own past,” he told him, formality bleeding into his speech because he had never dared put those truths into words. “Everything is confused, and quite difficult to sort out. But since I came here… I have been experiencing what the poets call correspondences .”
Jim blinked. “You have?” he asked, leaning towards him, fascinated, mind running ahead of him and leaving a trail of stories and poems and sonnets that spoke of memory and experience and faded times and the struggle to breathe new life back into them. “How?”
“I am unsure,” Spock admitted, over a sigh. “But I cannot deny that your presence is unsettling.”
There was a pause. “I don’t know how to respond to that,” the Captain said evenly.
The minstrel flinched. “I meant no disrespect. The opposite, I believe.” He hurried through that brief explanation as if afraid he might be misunderstood should he allow the quiet to grow further. “You seem… familiar,” he confessed in a secretive whisper, and there were guilt and curiosity and defiance in his eyes. “I am uncertain as to why.”
“That’s - puzzling ,” Kirk said, for lack of a better word. Again, he reached out in a light touch, but this time he let it linger, just the pads of his fingers pressing against the emerald velvet of Spock’s tunic. “I, too, have experience a similar - ah - feeling . But there has to be something… We can figure it out, if you want. The library, for example, can be a good place to start. I’d be happy to help.”
“Of course, dear.”
The minstrel was unconvinced. “I do not wish to presume…” he began, drawing back, as if realising all of a sudden just how much he had diverged from his usual, self-imposed boundaries.
Jim was having none of it, however, and followed him in his retreat. “Well, then, how about this: I help you uncover your past, and in return you can help me write down your tales and poems.”
That put Spock at ease. “It seems a fair bargain,” he agreed, nodding. “It would be my honour to assist you.” Then, from behind the heavy curtain of black hair that had fallen forward on his chest when he’d given his assent, he glanced back up at the Captain and smiled, a full, grateful smile, and it was strange and new and absolutely captivating. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” Kirk said, and he meant it.
If the Palace was a city, then the library was an entire block. There had to be hundreds of years of knowledge stored within the amber walls, a tightly-woven web of books and scrolls that spilled over walls and floors and occasionally ceilings, dusted by time and twisting into an alluring labyrinth that smelled of paper, parchment and papyrus. Kirk navigated it easily, like he’d been born there, and his hands danced around him, fluttering delicately over hard-covers and barely-held-together manuscripts with the kind of reverent care reserved only to the most precious of things.
Spock found himself enthralled by the coiled enthusiasm directed his way - unwavering in its intensity and yet polite, never pushing, leaving open doors for him that he could choose to cross, a crumb-trail of invitations he might just decide to follow. Oh, he wanted to, very much.
Ever since he’d so impulsively revealed the Captain the secret of his nature, he had yet to come down from the emotional high of it: he felt unhinged, perpetually on edge, like he was waiting for the entirety of his world to fold in on itself and collapse, to turn into something entirely different. Drawing closer to this human was changing his perception of reality ever-so-slightly, like removing the lower cards from a paper castle and finding it still standing.
It wasn’t a displeasing feeling, nor one he was inclined to chase away. He suspected it might have been a futile endeavour, anyway.
They stopped in front of what had to be the messiest table in existence - dark wood barely visible beneath a mountain of tomes, quills and bottles of ink. There was only one chair, which Kirk graciously offered and Spock just as graciously refused, which resulted in the both of them spending the entire day standing.
“Here’s my desk,” the Captain needlessly explained, dropping a stack of papers on the floor and piling most of the books on unsteady piles for some breathing room. “Just let me clear up some space for you.”
“This library is magnificent,” the minstrel said softly, inspecting the triumph of colours and figures decorating the ceiling in a perfectly-rendered fresco. “I should have taken your advice sooner.”
Jim flashed him a winning smile from behind what seemed to be a very ancient copy of the first Dictionary of the English language, which he gingerly set onto the empty chair along with a bundle of stained rags. Then he patted the dust away from his golden tunic and leaned against the table. “Glad you find it to your liking,” he told him sincerely. He dipped a hand in a hidden pocket, retrieved a pair of square glasses and put them on a little sheepishly. “Now, my dear, let me fetch you a few of those books I was telling you about. Desert people and the lost land of Vulcan. ”
“I will help,” Spock offered at once, trailing after him as he dashed down row after row of shelves in search of the right one, and trying not to reflect too much onto the fact that those glasses gave the human a homely look he could neither explain nor stop himself from enjoying. “You cannot imagine how important this is…”
Kirk stopped in his tracks, turned to him. Deliberately, he raised his hand and pressed it on the minstrel’s arm, squeezing softly for a moment too long for it to be a mere casual gesture. “I know,” he said with great seriousness. “I know, Spock.”
“Jim,” Spock began, before realising he had no idea what he had meant to say and shutting his mouth. The Captain’s ever-present smile warmed, hazel eyes twinkling like he had inexplicably caught onto his ruffled thoughts - like he knew how to put them in order and give them meaning.
Finally, the minstrel chose to return the human’s touch, wrapping long fingers around his wrist, carefully avoiding skin-on-skin contact and the violation of privacy it would bring. “You are unprecedented,” he admitted, flustered and confused. “Had I not the certainty you are human, I would call you a telepath.”
It was, he thought with a hint of regret, dangerously close to a truth he did not wish to admit.
The Captain pursed his lips in amusement. “Why, now, I thought that was you?” he oh-so-casually remarked, slipping away to direct his attention once again to the immense collection he guarded. He seemed to be suddenly oblivious to the way Spock had frozen on the spot, like a prey animal about to meet its doom. “Or was that just a legend?”
“It was not,” he admitted in a whisper.
“How does that work, exactly?” Kirk asked in his breezy tone, reaching up to gather a fragile scroll from its secure spot. “Can you turn it off or is it just… like a sixth sense or something?”
“You… are not repulsed by this? Or at the very least concerned?”
“To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me,” Jim said, chuckling to himself. “Should I be? Concerned?”
“No, I promise you,” Spock rushed to assure him. “I believe I made a… wrong assumption.” He was well aware his voice was far too naked and displaying his wonder plainly, but he couldn’t help it.
Kirk was observing him again. “Happens to the best of us,” he mused, keeping his tone light though a hint of sympathy flickered in his eyes for an instant. Silence grew as the Captain looked into his face, reading into his expression like only a human could, and then he huffed and shook his head, dumping a couple of volumes unceremoniously in his arms. “Drop these on the table, will you? We have to start somewhere.”
They spent the day - and the next, and the entire week - perusing the many novels and ballads and poems Jim had stored in his library; another chair was added, and a carefully-contained space cleared for food and beverages. While they worked, the sun traced its parable into the sky, and the many windows afforded them a nearly-unobstructed view of its timeless wandering.
And if they sat a little closer than they used to, if meaningful touches morphed into casual, frequent ones, if complicity grew until it became a pattern of shared jokes and mutual knowledge between them… Spock figured it couldn’t hurt too much, and did not think to stop himself from reaching whenever Jim offered him the chance.
“How long has it been?” Sulu asked almost absent-mindedly, rubbing at his temples with one hand as he tapped a staccato rhythm on the right armrest of the Captain’s chair.
Scotty had relinquished his position in favour of working on the ship’s scanners, wanting to enhance them in the slim chance they might reveal something they were missing on the planet’s surface - like, say, their two commanding officers, who had impossibly vanished, to all respects. So far, their research had proved fruitless, but they weren’t ones to give up so easily.
“Four hours, twenty minutes and the odd second,” Chekov answered distractedly, monitoring the delicate instruments by his station in the hopes of finding any kind of oddity in them. “Nothing changes.”
“We still have another twenty-three hours before we have to leave the Quadrant without them,” Uhura said quickly from where she was curled up around her Padd; the bright screen displayed an array of graphs and pulsing lights which broke the distress signal down for her trained eye to examine. “It’s not much time, considering.”
Considering . The word hung heavy amid the ambient noise that punctuated the quiet of the Enterprise bridge. Considering .
“Well, now, no need to get gloomy,” McCoy told her softly, ready, as ever, to provide whatever comfort was needed when it was needed. “It’s nothing we haven’t had to face before.” A pale, short-lived chuckle passed over his mouth, momentarily gentling the lines of his face. “I’d say our worst problem now is that we have Ambassador Sarek and family due on board in…” He glanced at the nearest screen. “Fifteen minutes.”
Chekov swirled around in his chair. “I don’t know if it’s wise to have them beam up now,” he put in, pursing his lips. “The Enterprise is not safe. The Captain and Commander are missing.”
“No, I suppose not,” Sulu agreed after a moment of thought. “Doctor, could you contact them? Tell them the Enterprise is engaged in a rescue mission at the moment and we regret to have to postpone their visit, but they’re going to have to wait.”
Bones laughed humorlessly, looking for all the world like he wanted to refuse, but he nodded his head. “Fine. Let me handle the Vulcans. Vulcan.” Ha waved a hand as he began to walk towards the turbolift, muttering under his breath. “Gonna have blast, lying to that one.”
Uhura snapped her earpiece down and away in a quick and unexpected motion that had everyone turn to her. “Oh, I wish our computers were ten times faster!” she cried, pointing helplessly at the garbled signs chasing each other’s tails on her Padd. “This is gibberish! Can’t slow it down for the life of me.” Chagrin coloured her expression as she crossed her arms and leant back into her chair. “We need to contact whatever it was that called us.”
“Scotty’s working on it, shouldn’t be long,” Sulu said. Then, almost as afterthought, he added: “ What ever? Not Who ever?”
She huffed. “I’m starting to believe it was no living thing that produced the message.”
“An AI, then? Or some other artificial conscience,” Chekov mused. “Something designed to reproduce the way things were on Pau IV before…” He gestured vaguely with one hand. “Whatever happened… happened.”
“Nurse Chapel’s results on those medical scans should be almost ready,” Sulu noted, reaching to contact Sickbay so he could make sure. “But then, what could an AI want from the Enterprise ?”
“We won’t know unless we find a suitable language and a way to reach for it so that it responds ,” Nyota said.
She picked her instruments back up and they all returned to working. Silence fell - this time, maybe, there was a little more confidence, a little more purpose. They would not fail.
Chapter 4: Month Three: The Fools
In which Spock is good with children, and a relationship is (re)born.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, a solution.
Month Three: The Fools
The forest was lush and vibrating and familiar, and Jim laughed for no reason other than he was joyus, and comfortable, and full of delight for the little things that peppered his life.
He sat on the grass, McCoy at his side, enjoying the sweet taste of a cold drink in his free day as they watched young Joanna seize Spock for her hostage and pull down on his embroidered sleeves to have his kneeling at her level. The minstrel’s eyes were unbearably soft as they settled on the little girl, and the shadow of his smile was more pronounced than usual as he bent down to listen to her requests.
“I’m a princess!” she declared, pointing at the crown of twigs and leaves her father had deposited on her head not ten minutes before. She clapped her hands imperiously and made a sweeping gesture to encompass him. “Mister Spock, you are very tall! You can be a dragon!”
Joanna seemed extremely sure of her logic, and it was evident not even Spock would dare to dispute it; instead, he merely nodded, and kept his silence, waiting intently for her to continue. “I’m going to rescue you from the evil warlock!” she revealed.
Excitedly, she grabbed a fallen branch from beneath a bush, lifting it up with a little effort, cheeks reddening and breath coming short as she puffed out her chest with an air of great importance.
“See, you’ll need to look scared, but it’s pretend scared, cause I’m gonna save you,” she then confessed in a rather loud whisper, as if letting him in on an extremely protected secret.
Again, the minstrel nodded gravely. With customary grace he rose from his kneeling position and obligingly went to settle into the grass, back pressed against the rough bark of a tree as if he were tied to it. “I appear to find myself bound,” he said, looking, if one squinted, vaguely worried. “I cannot escape.”
Joanna frowned in displeasure at him. “ More scared, sir minstrel!” she commanded.
Spock brought a hand up to his chest the way humans did and corrugated his brow. “I am in grievous danger,” he cried, a bit louder, with a bit more inflection. “However shall I survive?”
The Captain laughed wholeheartedly, taking no small pleasure in the scene unfolding before his eyes; somehow, he’d always known Spock would be the one to over-indulge children, but he had never expected he would go so far as to participate in one of Joanna’s - admittedly carefully-constructed and beautifully-executed - play-pretends.
To spare his friend some of the embarrassment, or at the very least to share in it, he decided to join in on the game, to McCoy’s unending amusement. He gathered the hems of his cloak around himself and stood, stepping heavily towards Spock and making a great show of glaring dangerously at him.
“Beware, o princess! I shall turn this mighty dragon into dust!” he said in a thunderous voice. Unsheathing his sword, he pointed it carefully at the minstrel, who immediately recoiled, pressing into his tree as if it could provide him a measure of shelter. “He shall be vanquished!”
Spock’s eyes widened. “Please, sir warlock, do spare my life,” he begged, and there was hilarity in his gaze as Joanna barely hid her delight behind a serious expression.
“Fear not, dragon!” she called, raising her branch. “I, princess Joanna of the SilverLand Kingdom, will save you!”
Jim waved his sword in her direction twice, hissing under his breath garbled words in an ancient language, words she might read as evil curses. Then he let the girl chase him around the pretty meadow, let her hide behind Bones so she could jump him from behind and startle him to his death.
“You have bested me!” he screamed, falling onto the ground, sword forgotten. “I am defeated!”
She giggled happily, poking her branch over his back lightly to test his stillness and his resolve, the way she’d done many times before; he held absolutely immobile under her scrutiny, head resting limply on a shoulder.
“I won!” she chanted, skipping away from her favourite enemy to return her attention to Spock. “Now, dragon, you can give me my reward!”
If the minstrel was taken aback at this new demand, he did not show it. “What kind of reward would you wish it to be?” he asked with what was definitely a smile. Kirk just managed to catch it, and he found it lovely.
Joanna grasped at the Vulcan’s robes again, and again he did not recoil, patient and open and welcoming. “Tell me a story, minstrel, sing me a story!”
“Very well, Joanna,” he easily acquiesced, guiding her gently into a more comfortable position. “Sit by me, and I will tell you a story of ages past…”
As the minstrel’s voice levelled into a melodious murmur, the Captain stood soundlessly and walked back to McCoy, taking his half-finished drink back from him. “He’s good with children, isn’t he?” he said, rather nonchalantly, staring at Spock and the way the forest green framed him perfectly under the midday sun.
“Yeah, strangely enough,” Bones admitted with a shrug, fond gaze fixed on his daughter and her enraptured expression. After a beat of silence, he turned towards his younger friend and gave him a very pointed look, one of those that told him just how easily the doctor could see through him. “You seem quite taken with him,” he observed, and his tone was light but impossibly sober too.
Jim knew better than to deflect, and gave him honesty - in fact, he gave him those distracted thoughts that sometimes, very rarely, he allowed to escape his mouth without too much of a filter. “I think - I am, yes,” he admitted. “I like him, very much.”
Leonard’s very blue, very steady eyes prompted an explanation, one the Captain had, in truth, been seeking himself for the past two weeks and a half, coming up quite empty-ended and thoroughly confused. The pull he felt towards Spock was an anomaly in and of itself, and that was ignoring the fact that the minstrel wasn’t human, was part of a lost race whose past was mysterious at best and shady at worst, and to top it all was an extremely talented touch-telepath (though so far, he had refused to demonstrate).
“I think there’s something … do you that feeling when you remember a word, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but then it slips away?” he tried, under his friend’s increasingly-disbelieving gaze. “I don’t really know how better to put it, but - he gets it . Gets me , I think.”
McCoy huffed, unconvinced. “That’s a lot of ‘ I think’ s for you,” he pointed out, waving a-not-quite-accusing-but-nearly-there finger at his face. “You’re making very little sense. Should I be worried?”
The Captain couldn’t help the warm smile that curved his lips at the sight of his friend’s ready concern, of his loyalty. “Well, I guess… It all feels a bit fast,” he confessed. Again, he looked at Spock, at the little quirk of his mouth and the measured movements of his hands, the tenderness he was showing Joanna. “But strangely enough… I’m not worried. And neither should you be.”
“You know I trust your judgement,” Leonard said, downing his drink. “Still, I wonder what the hell you’re getting into here.”
It was six days after that they first kissed, and it happened almost by chance, and like it was the most natural thing to be done.
There existed, in the Palace, a quiet corner of lovingly-tended to gardens which Kirk was very well acquainted with, for they had long been placed under the devoted care of his friend Hikaru. Often, the Captain found himself seeking solace in their delicate beauty, when his dreams of stars and silver and quietly-humming floors and a window over space became too much for him to bear and he had to look away - away from everything that was his life, real and tangible, because it did not feel real , it did not feel tangible , and it was unsettling.
He spent hours there, making inventory of every flower and leaf and shrub, sometimes reading. Anything to escape the allure of the dream.
On one such morning, he had sought refuge within the mournful scent of a flowering wisteria that crawled down the farthest wall, lilac against grey stone. The air was still and richly scented, and it put him at ease when nothing else would, lending him the illusion of peace, of composure, of a kind of control that was intimate knowledge of one’s soul, one’s weakness.
He very much wished he knew what it was that prompted his inconvenient sense of alienation from what he had always believed was his best chosen life.
A rustle amid the leaves had him straighten his back and rush to his feet.
Spock stopped dead as soon as he caught sight of him, and a hint of discomfort crossed his face as he took in the Captain’s tense expression, his hardened gaze.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I had not known you were here,” he said, honest as ever, and bowed his head. He was wearing a crown of red flowers, nestled skillfully in a bed of dark braids, and in his arms he held his lyre. “I can leave, if you wish.”
“It is quite alright,” Jim said, sinking down on his bench with a rather defeated expression. Then, forcing back warmth into his voice because the minstrel was certainly not to blame for his disagreeable mood, he gestured at the empty space by his side. “Stay. Please .”
Hesitantly, Spock walked into the circle of sunlight streaming in from the open roof, and the golden glow bathed him in a soft halo, following his careful steps until he, too, was sitting back into the shadows. But he leaned forwards, resting his chin in his cupped hand, crossing the border back into the yellow light.
Kirk distracted himself with following the inflamed line that ran over his hair and his clothes where he was half-immersed into the greenish shelter of the leaves. “ The garden is as lovely as the flowers my lover carries - and sun shines brighter on his hair, livelier in his eyes, ” he quoted, breathing the words into the quiet.
“ For a little flower crown ,” Spock offered with a tentative smile. “It is quite a delightful poem.”
Jim sighed, relaxing into the sense of companionship that had grown between them. It was, at least, real - or that was how he perceived it: painfully true, prematurely strong, a balance of opposites meeting in the middle where unexpected similarities lay. Like the dance of sun and moon, they had found their twilights and their dawns upon which they could shape landscapes and connections, and it was reassuring, somehow.
“You seem upset,” the Vulcan murmured, watching him carefully, probably looking for a sign that might tell him whether to speak or fall silent. “I would listen to your troubles, if you care to share.”
The Captain beamed at him, charmed yet again by his gentle prying, and the care that prompted it. He touched his hand to his forearm and shook his head. “I myself am not certain what it is that bothers me so much,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what to tell.”
Spock accepted the small refusal without insistence, and turned away to gaze at the plants.
“Would you do something for me?” Jim asked on a whim, after a few moments of counting his own breaths rise and fall and watching the Vulcan’s fingers trace senseless patterns on the polished surface of the lyre. “Would you play the Legends of Mount Seleya for me? I’ve always…”
When he snapped it back to his, the minstrel’s stare was wide and disbelieving. “You know of them?
Kirk frowned. “Of course. The stories written after the death of Surak,” he said. Spock’s discomfiture was unnerving, and he felt compelled to elaborate. “The ancient philosopher who taught your people logic over passion to keep peace amongst living things.”
The minstrel swallowed, and Jim heard the sound loud and clear. “I… am surprised you have heard of them. I have never played them in public.”
He waved the notion away. “Somebody must have told me. Or, better, I must have read it somewhere in the library.” He wasn’t so sure, if he were honest with himself, but if he went around interrogating himself on the origins of every piece of knowledge that came across his mind he would spend a lifetime in useless research. “So would you play?”
For long minutes, Spock merely looked at him, deep in thought, wondering, questioning… Finally, he exhaled a shaky breath and nodded, clutching the lyre to himself like a shield, a physical barrier between them when all walls crumbled in this strange complicity they shared, this seemingly innocent offerings and requests they made that meant too much, too much.
It was… different, playing for one. Intimate. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to refuse; there was a thrill trailing down his fingers as he brushed them onto his lyre, and it made his breath quicken and his cheeks colour lightly.
Kirk had closed his eyes, listening as if enraptured to the velvety voice weaving its magic, and Spock in turn watched him, and could not look away. The sun did indeed shine around and through this human, he thought idly, marvelling at the spell that must have been cast upon him, the ease with which he had agreed to share such a private part of his nature.
Surak’s name on the Captain’s lips had sounded different, alien perhaps, but not unfamiliar, as if there was a certain logic in hearing the ancient language bent to fit more terran sounds. It was a puzzle he had not yet learned how to solve. But then and there, in that very human garden, he realised he would very well enjoy spending a lifetime trying his best to figure it out.
It was… Surely it was a revelation that had come far too quickly, far too soon? Surely there had to be steps between innocent curiosity and unsolvable ensnarement?
Still, he played.
Jim sighed softly, keeping still, and the gently-chanted words of the Vulcan lullaby fell deep within his heart, where memory stirred, placing them carefully amongst the dearest things. It was as if the song had righted a wrong he had not known existed in his mind, and as long as his eyes were shut he could indulge in images of ink-black skies and silver walls and the vague imprint of a cooler-than-human touch brushing about his shoulder…
The dream tasted different when it spread in his mind’s eye and Spock was sitting mere inches from him, breathing, singing, tearing grieving notes from a not-truly-human instrument, notes that merged softly, seamlessly, into a contained kind hope that made Kirk’s heart flutter.
His lips parted as he mouthed along, suddenly aware of how it seemed to him that he knew the alien words of that foreign language; knew the odd shapes they twisted on his tongue. He blinked his eyes open to find the Vulcan watching him carefully, almost fearfully.
But he was smiling.
When the song was over, Spock set his lyre down into the grass, folded his hands into his lap and turned almost completely towards him, waiting.
“You know, my dear, you are quite wonderful,” Jim confessed as if he’d been talking of the good weather they’d enjoyed the past month. “Thank you for indulging me.”
“I do not mind,” the Vulcan answered, because it was true. He did not mind - had not minded, since the first day they’d met and the Captain had greeted him so warmly - and he had long since stopped fretting over why that might be. It wasn’t logical to dwell on that which one could not change, now, was it? “Indulging you, that is.”
Kirk’s eyelids fluttered in momentary confusion. Then he lifted a blazing gaze on him, like a tamed fire only barely letting itself be contained; it wasn’t new, and yet Spock was helpless before it and the need he had to examine it further - closer.
“There are a great many things I could say right now,” Jim told him, steady and sure and so unbearably affectionate, like they’d known each other a thousand lifetimes. “But I believe… you… know .”
“I know,” Spock agreed. And he lifted his hand from his lap, palm up, and offered it to the human, crossing the small space between them like it was crossing a sea. “I do know, Jim.”
He spoke the name reverently, like a prayer. Maybe it was - a prayer for understanding, for reciprocation, for something that might justify this folly of theirs even though all they could do was encourage it.
Jim took his hand without a beat of hesitation, and the Vulcan’s mind flared into a distantly-remembered pattern of alien colours - human colours - as their fingers entwined and he let himself feel the touch fully, feel every nuance of it, the warmth of the Captain’s skin and the way his nails grazed his palm and the pulse of thought and sensation passing between them.
“I have never met another quite like you,” Spock confessed softly, daring to look again into those mercurial eyes that seemed to gaze directly into his soul. “Like the sun over the desert.”
The human dipped his head and reached up to cup his cheek delicately, burning contact that nonetheless held all the gentleness in the universe. “Like the desert? Like home?” he breathed.
“Yes, Jim,” the Vulcan said simply. He brought their joined hands closer to himself, and pressed Kirk’s against his side, where his heart beat a fluttering tempo. “Home.”
Jim kissed him then, and Spock allowed it - wanted it, wanted the texture and taste of his mouth like he had wanted the taste and texture of his mind, and he clung to him, to his solid, tangible form like it might slip away if he didn’t. But then, the human was kind, kind enough to know that he should be slow, slow to card his fingers in the minstrel’s hair, slow to brush a thumb over the tip of his exposed ear, slow to pull away with the promise of more hanging between them.
“Is this…?” he began to ask, a little late and a little futile but it was so painfully him - glaringly familiar, almost déjà vu - that the Vulcan let laughter fall chiming from his lips, and didn’t hush it.
“ Yes ,” he breathed, chasing him before he retreated in an effort to give him a space that was not needed nor desired. “ Yes , Jim, I already said.”
And in the garden, they stole their moment of peace.
Soft light filtered through the white windows, bathing the Captain’s face in its glory; Spock felt its presence like a warm tingle marching gradually up his back - it was what had awakened him after all. Keeping his silence, he raised a hand to trail a feather-like touch down the human’s chin, to his chest, then back up to brush over his closed eyelids. He lingered over the plush lips for a few moments, just so he could take delight in the way they curved under his gentle caress.
“Good morning,” he greeted in a whisper.
Jim made a show of stretching luxuriously before he dropped bonelessly back down among the sheets. “Morning, love. Slept well?”
“Well enough,” the Vulcan responded, meeting his hazel eyes almost eagerly - as if, for some unknown reason, he had missed seeing them in the brief interlude between late night and early morning. “I have been thinking.”
Muffling a yawn into his pillow, Kirk reached over to where the minstrel’s hair spilled over in a wild tangle, and began to thread his fingers through it in a soothing combing motion. “What about?” he prompted after Spock’s eyes fluttered shut.
He allowed a pleased hum to push past his mouth, then shook himself out of his reverie to answer. “The past. But mostly language, and the way it pertains to you and us.”
Curiosity aroused, the human propped himself up on his elbow to gaze expectantly down at him. “Us? Do tell.”
Spock did not even hesitate before he began to speak: “There is a word in my language - one I am not entirely sure I know the meaning of.” He, too, pushed himself up so they could better look at each other. “However, I am positive it can be used to describe you, and us.”
Jim’s expression was pensive as he took a few seconds to mull that over. “We’ll need to look into that, then,” he decided, and Spock was almost certain that in his mind, the human was already making inventory of his numerous precious volumes. “What’s the word?”
“ T’hy’la ,” the Vulcan carefully said. A shiver ran down his spine as he tasted the sound on his tongue and wondered how it might fall from Jim’s. “It means, I think…”
Kirk interrupted him with a finger on his lips and eyes that glowed in sudden excitement. “I know. I know what it means,” he breathed, low and so very sure. “It has to do with telepathy, doesn’t it?”
Spock did not even waste time pretending to be surprised. He merely nodded and twined their hands. “I believe so, yes.”
“ T’hy’la ,” Jim repeated. “The friend, the brother, the lover.”
“How can you possibly know?” the Vulcan couldn’t keep himself from asking. He leaned in, enraptured, and breathed in the honeyed scent that surrounded the human. “How can you know, when I was unsure?”
The Captain pursed his lips and frowned in consternation. “I can’t explain it properly. It’s - like the poets say. Like I remember, from a dream… A thousand lifetimes , and all that.” He shook his head, breaking away from his gaze to fix his eyes on the window and the patch of cloudy sky it revealed. “A thousand lifetimes, and that is the only constant.”
“ I would know thee in any universe, t’hy’la, by step and by sound and by scent, ” Spock quoted; though he wasn’t truly certain what his companion meant, the reference came easy to his mind.
Slowly, Jim nodded. “Something like that,” he said. A chuckle escaped him and then he produced a wry smile, huffing a little in discontent. “I’m sorry, dear, I’m not making much sense, am I?”
With great care, the Vulcan pressed a hand against his cheek. “It is quite alright. The question is, after all, tasking, and I have no answer of my own to provide,” he told him seriously, but he was growing distracted by the warmth seeping into his skin from their contact, by the buzz of thoughts that was just within reach, if he only let himself touch . “Though there might be a way…”
“We could - I could - join our minds.” He spoke those words in a whisper, and his fingers twitched at the idea, the desire that rose unbidden in his throat as his offer hung in the air, becoming real, becoming tangible. “It does allow for a greater understanding.”
“A mind meld?” Kirk asked, curiosity in his gaze.
“Yes, if you’re amenable.” He lowered his eyes, suddenly questioning himself and his presumption. They had known each other but three months and a half... “It is a deeply intimate practice, and I would not want you to do anything you are uncomfortable with.”
Jim covered Spock’s hand with his own and held fast. “Do you want to?”
“I have wanted to since the day we met,” the Vulcan confessed, drawing closer still because he couldn’t help himself. Their breaths mingled, and if he had so wished, the human could have easily kissed him.
Instead, he squared his jaw and raised his chin. “Then let’s.” His voice was unwavering and so was his resolve - strong enough for Spock not to question it further.
“My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts,” he murmured, soft and chanting, and let his eyes fall shut as the meld tore across his mindscape to reshape it anew in a powerful, alien glow.
It was black and silver and an infinite backdrop of stars, it was red sand on the desert and the golden smell of cornfields bowing to the wind. It was bright and colourful and very, very strange - impossible to make sense of and yet for that very reason helplessly alluring.
The Vulcan’s lips parted and he exhaled like he had not taken breath for a century.
The meld was unlike anything he had ever experienced - it should have been frightening, jarring at the very least, like poking a finger into a wound or plunging face-first into chilling waters. Instead, there was only the warmth of the familiar, a thrilling song of recognition and a sensation of puzzle pieces sliding together.
Is this the way it always is ? Jim asked into their shared space.
Only with you , Spock answered honestly. T’hy’la .
He searched the human’s mind for the things he wanted to share, the things he had been unable to explain; but then he found that the Captain had explained himself perfectly, that the knowledge there was made of imprints and shadows, a flickering dance of correspondences lacking in substance and reason. It was… confusing.
You know, love, your mind is so beautiful , Jim whispered, like an ethereal embrace.
Spock melted into it, and as they grew lost into each other all questions flew him, leaving behind nothing but the sheer delight that was his companion’s presence. It didn't matter anymore that he couldn’t name the definitions if he understood the sense, the feeling of it all.
The morning sun climbed higher in the sky and its light painted patterns onto the sheets, but neither Jim nor Spock took notice of the passing time. They let the day progress without them - it would survive, just this once - and wrapped in each other’s arms and minds, they drifted.
“ Enterprise to Pau system. Please respond.”
Silence filled the bridge, sticking like molasses as they waited for a response. Uhura’s voice seemed to trail into the tense quiet. Everyone had their eyes fixed onto the screen, waiting, waiting…
And then, it flickered.
The same alien from four hours before appeared - yellow eyes and turquoise hair, a flat gaze that fell into nothing, non-existent mannerism and stony demeanour.
“I have granted your wishes. What more could you want?” they asked, barely quirking an eyebrow. “I knew humans were a greedy people; still.”
Scotty clenched a fist and cocked his head to the side, but chose to let the remark - and the fact that, for all intents and purposes, the entity had kidnapped his commanding officers - slide.
“We ask that you bring our Captain and Commander back,” he said politely, hiding the steel in his voice behind a veneer of warmth.
The AI did not react save for a stiffening of their shoulders. “They wanted to come down.”
“ Where are they?” Scotty insisted, keeping his cool but refusing to back down. They had worked too hard to get to that point - to find an argument and a language that might convince their would-be interlocutor to listen, to respond.
“They are safe within me.”
“Safe where ? Let us contact them.”
“They are safe within me,” the AI repeated, ringing monotone that would have been stubbornness but was nothing but programming. “It is my function.”
“Your function?” Scotty got up and stepped towards the screen. “Hear me, now, they belong here.”
“But they are happy in a dream of their own choosing.” The AI was set in their ways, but it was also clear that they had never been called into question. “Do you not want that for them?”
McCoy crossed his arms and scoffed openly. “We want them back on the Enterprise. Here is the only place where they should be.”
“I am not convinced.”
Uhura swirled around in her chair, setting her jaw. “Then we will convince you.”
Chapter 5: Month Four: The Stars
In which reality unravels, and a decision is made.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Month 4: The Stars
Jim shivered in elation and need, staring at the dark expanse of the universe, the glass window that parted him from it.
It was the unnatural sight that inhabited his dreams, with no earth to ground him, just the stars surrounding him from all sides and above and below, twisting his concept of reality as he stood on silver floors that hummed with the strength of undiluted space. Warmth surrounded him - and again that warmth made little sense, even less sense than usual, but it was comforting, and it seemed almost as though this time his mind might accept it as true; he certainly wanted it to.
The sounds breaking the quiet were alien, incongruous and yet as pleasant as the sweetest song.
Strange was also the smooth texture of the shirt he wore, the golden tresses adorning it, as strange was his own reflection, pale and composed on the pristine glass. Deep down within his thoughts anticipation built, anticipation for a new noise he somehow knew was coming, the regular cadence of footsteps against a metal-like surface.
Familiar, as was the touch that barely fluttered onto his shoulder.
And then he turned with a smile, because he knew, he absolutely knew who that touch belonged to, knew the weight of the hand sliding down his arm; two fingers brushed against his own in a neat dance that had a spark of pure mirth climb its way into his heart. He met Spock’s warm gaze, excited to be sharing that impossible place with him, those stars that were just out of reach, the twinkling darkness of the universe.
“ Ashayam ,” the Vulcan said softly, folding his hands carefully behind his back as he moved to stand by his Captain’s side, close enough that they pressed together and Kirk could slip an arm around his waist. “Please, come back to our quarters. It is late.”
In the dream, Jim shrugged, squeezing Spock’s hips a little. “I know, love, it’s just… isn’t it beautiful?”
“Sorry to keep you awake,” Kirk added after a beat of silence. “Don’t you have to be up in four?”
The Vulcan, looking supremely unconcerned and vaguely affectionate, arched one haughty eyebrow. “Now, Captain, you do know that I require less sleep than humans do,” he quipped, trying and failing to sound annoyed that he had to point that out at all. He raised his right hand to brush a stray lock away from Jim’s forehead.
“Of course, Mister Spock,” the Captain conceded. He dropped his arm, releasing him from his hold, then kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Come on, let’s go.”
They seemed to float on the way back - steps falling onto nothing, until the backdrop of stars opened its wide jaws of pure void to swallow them whole.
Then the dream was rent apart and turned into a nightmare.
There was blood everywhere, red and coppery and sticky, tasting strange in Jim’s mouth, tasting like it wasn’t his, but it was, oh if it was. There was a ridiculous pounding in his head, a pain so strong it was almost - almost - real, white-hot and pulsing somewhere around his middle, and a blackness pushed its way around the corners of his vision.
He fixed his eyes above in a motion so instinctive it was foregone, and the sky was purple, swirling with the motions of a foreign gas, no stars in sight, just those stinging shades of unnatural colour imprinting burning shapes on his retinas.
Frantic, aching, his heart beat a staccato rhythm that would have terrified him had he not be feeling so dull , almost bored as he let his head fall to the side, laid a pale glaze onto a blade of black grass. Beads of water gathered on its point, and they blurred along with his awareness of his surroundings.
“Jim!” Did that name belong to him? Hands were suddenly grabbing at him, pulling him up and away from his distant musings and the diamond glow of dewdrops; it was a delicate touch, and yet no less demanding for it. Then he could feel terror, bitter and screaming, flooding into him from the contact and he instinctively recoiled. The flux was immediately cut off, but its traces lingered in his barely-reawakened mind. “Jim! Captain. Look at me. Open your eyes.”
The demand was surely unfair, far too difficult to comply with, but then a cool touch passed across his face and some of the haze cleared - just enough that it brought about recognition, and worry, and duty. He blinked and met those questing eyes he knew so well. “Crew?” he asked in a croaking breath, because it was all he could manage.
“Safe, they are all safe, you were injured…” Spock began to explain, but Jim interrupted him with a soft thought, issued directly into his mind.
I know that, love, he pointed out, trying his best not to focus on the jagged wound McCoy was sure to have a field day with. Enterprise?
“Only twenty minutes away,” the Vulcan readily told him. He had already begun the difficult process of using a uniform shirt as a makeshift bandage while hiding from a vicious attack. It did not seem to help much. “Do you have difficulty breathing?”
Jim assessed himself, and it took far longer than it should have. No. I feel faint.
“You mustn’t. Do not lose consciousness,” Spock urgently demanded, tying a knot perhaps a bit too tightly for comfort. “Captain, please.”
He shook his head, or at least attempted to; there was such darkness muffling his thoughts, and his body was limp, so limp in fact he couldn’t feel his First Officer’s touch on him, it was all so distant.
“Jim, t’hy’la, you must focus.”
Focus was so far from his capabilities. A vague thought flickered in his mind, that maybe he should apologise for his very human weakness, for being unable to best the pain and the flowing blood and the cold creeping through his limbs. But he let the darkness drag him down and did not think anymore.
And then he woke because in his room, Spock had screamed his name.
Fighting against the tangle of sheets he was entrapped in, Jim snapped up into a sitting position, a gasp catching in his throat as the implications of what his dream had morphed into began to flood his mind. Beside him, Spock had risen as well, and his eyes were wide and searching, locked onto his face like he might die were he to let his gaze drop, let him out of his sight.
Seeing the terror from the nightmare reflected on the beloved face had Kirk’s heart give a painful squeeze. He reached forward soundlessly to comb his fingers down the wild cascade of black hair that fell across the Vulcan’s shoulder, wanting to soothe him somehow though he himself hardly understood the entirety of what they - they, for it was evident they’d had the same vision - had just witnessed.
“You know, in the dream, your hair is short,” he mused.
That startled a disbelieving chuckle out of Spock. “So is yours,” he retorted. He sobered soon, though, and a dark shadow fell upon his soft eyes as he caught Jim’s hand to enclose it between both his own. “ T’hy’la , you would have died,” he whispered.
“No, I wouldn’t have,” Jim said, frowning as he tried to make sense of his own strange illusions. “There was the Enterprise . It… she?... was coming.”
“ Enterprise ?” The Vulcan spoke the name with implicit reverence, and bit his lower lip twice before he let himself bring it into life with a definition that made it real and possible when it shouldn’t have been. “A home among the stars. It… I have been dreaming of that sky for…”
“Forever,” Kirk finished for him. He got up from the bed and began pacing about the room, streamed in moonlight and filled with single-minded purpose. “What, what does it mean?”
“I do not know,” Spock murmured, following his movements carefully, though he did not rise from his perch over his pillow. “It is all rather odd.”
“No, you know!” Jim insisted, pointing a finger at him. An excited glow was dancing about his face as he drew a picture out of scattered dots. “ We know.” He paused, turned to stare at the Vulcan. “How long have we known each other?”
“Four months, six days, two hours,” Spock answered. “However…” he trailed off, unsure.
“No, that doesn’t seem right, does it?” Kirk pressed. “ Think again .”
The Vulcan did. He allowed himself five minutes of silence in which he parsed through the quicksand of his convoluted past, and the human waited him out, impatient but quiet. “Four years, one month, three days on the Enterprise, ” he finally said, brightening in realisation. “And before, at the Academy…”
“Yes!” Jim cried, crossing the room again to stand before him. “Yes. That’s better. That’s real. This… isn’t.”
Spock searched for his hand again, brought it to his cheek as if the human had been a telepath. “ T’hy’la , this…” He kissed his palm, then his fingertips. “For this, all this, to be an illusion - a shared illusion…”
“I know. I know it’s absurd. I myself don’t even want to believe it.” He clenched his jaw. “But the Enterprise. The Enterprise must be real. And why - why were we sharing a dream, anyway?”
“It is an anomaly,” Spock told him, hiding nothing. “It happens only with bonded pairs.”
Jim’s gaze was soft when he kneeled before him, pointing sharp elbows on his thighs and grazing gentle caresses on his face. “But we are bonded, Spock. We are, aren’t we?”
“I,” the Vulcan began, and then he shut his mouth and closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the human’s. “I wish to say so. But what if that, too, is part of the illusion?”
“It isn’t,” Kirk said forcefully, kissing his lips as if that could be enough confirmation of a slippery truth they were nowhere near uncovering. “It can’t be.”
Then he stood, a sharp angle of movement that disrupted the relative quiet. “Dress,” he commanded, shortly. “I think we need a breath of fresh air.”
Soundlessly, Spock did as he was bid, and they walked out into the Palace.
It seemed to him that its edges were blurring.
The forest was a steady presence around them, but for once Jim found no solace in it. He felt feverish.
Doubt plunged him into a state of anxiety, and yet he had a hard time believing that was real, as well: his neck prickled and his breath was short and his wrists shook, but he had no way of knowing, of truly knowing whether he could trust his senses, whether the pungent scent of wood and resin were a product of his imagination, if it was summer air flowing into his lungs.
He turned towards his silent companion with a desperation he would have been ashamed of had he given himself time to dwell on it. “Is this real?” he asked, touching the Vulcan’s silken robes that made him look like something out of a fairytale book. “Is this real , Spock?”
Spock sighed deeply, torn between the desire to offer immediate reassurance and the uncertainty that wanted to push its way into his mind. “It is real. As long as we believe it.” He was aware his was a non-answer, but it was all he could allow. Meeting the human’s eyes with as much naked honesty as he could muster, he offered him loyalty. “I am no stranger to displacement, but that is a character fault, not a statement of truth. I defer to your judgement. I trust you.”
Jim squared his shoulders and straightened. It seemed as he was back in control - like the Vulcan’s earnest concession had been enough to remind him of his place, of his strength. “Give me your hand,” he prompted, gentle and steady as ever. When Spock had complied, he pressed his fingers against his own burning cheek, then mirrored the gesture, drawing his companion’s face closer to his own. “Are we bonded, t’hy’la?” he whispered intently. “Tell me the truth.”
“Yes.” Spock felt his eyes flutter shut as if from a distance, thoroughly distracted as he was by the way Kirk’s mind flowed into his, golden and sweet like honey, lighting up a million candles in its wake. “Yes, we are.”
Relief slipped past the human’s lips in the form of a shaky breath, and he nodded. “Did you know, before?”
“In a very instinctual, unacknowledged way, I have always known,” the Vulcan said, thinking of how drawn he had been towards him from the very beginning, thinking of the things that might bind them, of the reasons behind the utterly justified and yet unexplainable trust they had placed in one another when they believed they were strangers. “Therefore, it is logical to assume that we have been bonded for quite some time.”
“Yes. Yes! The question is why .”
Pulling away from the contact, Jim pulled the Vulcan’s hand to his chest, absentmindedly playing with his fingers in an erratic fashion that forced him to exercise control lest he become distracted.
“Why we are bonded?” he said, reasoning aloud so the human could follow his leaps of logic if he so wished. “Or better, why did we not feel it before tonight? We have shared that dream before, but we didn’t recognise it for what it was.”
“For what it was? Oh. Oh .” Realisation dawned on Kirk’s face, eyes alight with understanding and wonder as he pulled the strings of an incredulous silence to turn it into certainty. “You mean it’s memories, not dreams!”
When he saw his t’hy’la come to the same conclusion as he had, Spock’s uncertainty vanished like water under the scorching desert sun. He cupped the human’s face in both hands and stared down at him as if all his answers lay there, awaiting. “Jim - Captain - t’hy’la,” he called, gathering the best words he could find. “Did you not know my mind before we melded? Did you not know the Enterprise before we named her? Do you not know the stars?”
The hot summer wind howled around them, bending branches and tearing at leaves. Upset was writ all over the bowing grass, the creaking trunks, the frightened night-birds fleeing their nests; but the sky remained unchanged, clean and lit with stars - and these stars they could name, could remember the placement and brightness of, these stars they had sailed amongst…
Jim grabbed him by the shoulders, squeezing in such a familiar gesture Spock experienced a full second in which he fully believed he might weep. “We must go back to the Enterprise. We have a duty…” the human said, testing that truth in his mouth slowly. “We have a duty to the ship and the people on board.”
“A Starship , of course,” Spock breathed. “Of course the stars are real.”
For a while they stood there in silent recollection, gathering bits and pieces of a life that was as far from what they knew as their sun was from the planet.
“How do we flee the illusion?” Kirk wondered, glancing around them, at the forest he had cared for and loved - still loved, even though it did not exist. “How do we get back to reality?”
A small smile curved Spock’s lips, and he prodded carefully at their bond until the connection opened wide. “Close your eyes,” he invited, brushing his fingertips over the human’s eyelids. “I am convinced. Feel it in my mind.”
It was all rather anticlimactic - one moment they were standing together in the middle of a lush meadow, surrounded by lovely scents and a powerful wind; the next, the air was stale and unmoving, the ground dry, lifeless beneath their feet, a circle of ruins crumbling where there had been trees.
Captain Kirk looked down at his golden uniform to check if everything was in place - communicator, phaser, boots - then glanced at his companion, at the pointed ears beautifully framed by meticulously-cut hair.
He smiled brightly: “We made it - it’s done!” His hand flew up to rest on the Vulcan’s forearm. Finally, he allowed himself the luxury of examining his surroundings and his face fell into sombre thoughtfulness: “Oh, what a dreadful place.”
Spock seemed to be sharing his mood. He nodded and glanced down at his tricorder as if it might provide some useful insight. “These are the ruins of a foolish civilisation.”
Before either of them could say something more, the bluish light flickered on a few feet from where they stood. It took a humanoid shape which they instantly recognised as the Gatekeeper who had greeted them before the whole ordeal began. Captain and Commander stared at one another in muted surprise as the AI cleared their throat and spoke: “Foreigners,” they called, arching both eyebrows minutely under their turquoise bangs. “You have refused your illusion. Why? Did it not bring you joy?”
Kirk pursed his lips and ignored the question in favour of offering one of his own: “Are you responsible for trapping us?”
“Trapping you?” “That is not part of my programming.”
The AI seemed puzzled, which in turn prompted the Captain to let go of his accusing tone and lessen it into indulgent congeniality. “What’s your programming, then?”
There was a pause, then, in which the Gatekeeper appeared to be gathering their knowledge to provide a suitable answer. “The People programmed me to weave pleasant illusions for them so they could live a thousand lifetimes in a year. Less than four hours have passed since you beamed down, but to you it’s been four months.”
Fascinating, Spock thought at his bondmate. Such capacity for illusion is something our technology could never dream of.
And all the better for it Kirk mused, chansing a glance at him against his better instinct. That kind of thing seems quite addicting.
The Vulcan hummed in vague approval before returning the entirety of his attention to the AI. “I understand,” He said to appease them. “It was, in fact, splendid work, but we must return to our ship. We have a duty.”
The objection hardly registered. “The People had no duty. Were you not satisfied with your illusion?”
Patiently, Spock rephrased, trying to pick words that might resonate with the AI’s programming: “Your illusion was most satisfactory, and we have learned much from it. However, it is not our custom to indulge for long.”
When it became clear that no answer was forthcoming, Kirk gestured around himself at the greying sky and the decaying traces of a civilization that had long since dissolved. “Can you tell us what happened to the People?” He asked, softly, suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of pity.
“The People died,” The AI recounted, flatly. “For many generations they destroyed their world piece by piece. And when it was too late, they wept for their young who would have to face the consequences. The temperature rose and so did the sea; food became scarce. The People hid within my illusions and I nurtured them until they died.”
“Climate emergency,” Spock mused gravely. “If I recall, Earth came quite close to the point of no return.”
“Yes, the 21st Century was almost fatal.” The Captain huffed and shrugged his shoulders as if to banish that thought. He took a step forward. “Listen, Gatekeeper. Where is your memory located? Do you want us to take you up to the Enterprise ?”
The AI cocked their head to the side in a flow of turquoise. “I would rather you shut me off,” they said after a brief moment of silence. “My purpose has been served; the People are dead. I am tired.”
Captain and Commander looked at each other, and many things passed between them which neither voiced. But then, they had wasted too much time planetside already. They took their leave of the AI and granted them their final wish, then Kirk flicked his communicator open and contacted the Enterprise .
“Two to beam up, Scotty.”
“Are you ready for the party, dear?” Jim said over a chuckle.
“I hope so,” Spock replied easily. “Since it is the third attempt.”
They were in their shared bathroom, and the human watched fondly as the Vulcan combed his hair to perfection. More than a week had passed since their strange experience on Pau, and some of it still lingered about them, in the way they talked and moved around each other. It was not altogether unpleasant, though they had needed some adjusting at the beginning. After all, they had spent four months in a medieval environment, and the rush back across centuries of technological evolution had been a rather heady one. It helped that they had gone through it together, and that the illusion itself had not diverged too much from their usual relationship for it to feel jarring.
The Captain reached out playfully to card light fingers over the Vulcan’s neat fringe. “You know, love,” he began in a teasing tone, laughing when Spock swatted his hand away without even glancing at his face. “I had grown quite attached to the braids.”
“Do not even think about it, Jim,” the Vulcan warned evenly. “It will never happen.”
Kirk huffed and stood on his tiptoes to press a soft kiss to his cheek. “We’ll see about that, darling.”
“Of course. I know better than to relieve you of a lost cause,” Spock mused, touching their fingers together. He smoothed the human’s dress shirt in an absent-minded gesture and stepped around him and out of the bathroom. “Should we be off?”
“I think we have a few minutes more.”
Smiling again, Jim looped his arms around the Vulcan’s neck. “You know, you should really sing tonight," he said, kissing him again just for the fun of it. "How about that lovely poem from our second first kiss…?”
“ The garden is as lovely as the flowers my lover carries ,” Spock offered. “Yes, I do remember. It is fitting.”
“So it’s settled then.”
Linking their fingers casually, the Captain led the way to the silver doors and through the corridors they knew so well. They fell into step together, and the silence between them was pleasant and ripe with understanding. Beneath their feet buzzed the low hum of the Enterprise ’s engines.
It was home.
I hope you enjoyed this fic! Please be kind, I had a terrible last three months and barely managed to find the time for writing... Still, I loved the concept Jor came up with - knights and poets are my terrible weakness, and I couldn't resist! It was awesome work as it usually is with the Star Trek Reverse Big Bang. Plus, I got to give Spock long hair, which is always a bonus.
Please leave a trace of your passing!