It's not that in the several months since Jim Kirk has become the honest-to-god captain of the Enterprise that he hasn't handled more important or more perilous situations, but the upcoming mission to Manto II is especially important to Jim because of its two-fold purpose -- one for the Federation and one for the new Vulcan colony.
It started a week before when Jim received a communiqué from the new Vulcan homeworld, from his friend Ambassador Spock. Although their contact was infrequent, it always warmed Jim to see the older Vulcan offer him a faint smile and sincere greetings; Jim couldn't help but the offer the same in reply, and he did so this time, too.
"I am in need of a favor, Jim," Spock said without preamble.
"Anything," Jim responded immediately, no doubt that he meant it. "What can I do for you?"
"I've been informed that the Enterprise will soon visit Manto II," Spock said. Jim didn't bother trying to figure out how Spock knew. "The Mantoans are a Vulcanoid race who share many characteristics with my people, one being their reliance, like ourselves, on our telepathic gifts."
"Yeah, I'm aware." Despite Uhura's belief otherwise, Jim did read the background dossiers that passed his desk. "I'm still waiting to hear the favor."
"We lack trained healers here," Spock revealed. "While Starfleet medics are adequate in treating our physical ailments, they cannot help with troubles that stem from our telepathic natures. I would ask you to seek healers on Manto who would be willing to travel to our colony and aid us."
"Sounds easy enough," Jim said. "I'm assuming you have some official-sounding documentation to go with that request?"
Spock nodded. "You will have it within days. Thank you."
Jim waved away his thanks. "It's the least I could do. Kirk out."
The documentation did arrive by subspace transmission a few days later, along with orders from Starfleet to consider the Vulcan request as a secondary directive during his talks with the Mantoans. Again, he did not question the long reach of his old Vulcan friend.
So now, his ship settled in orbit above the planet and his away team ready for transport to the surface, Jim reviews all of his notes once more and tries to ignore the flutter of butterflies in his stomach. Jim never thought in academy that he would be more nervous facing a room of dignitaries that he would be facing down mortal peril but he's come to learn that this is indeed the case. Part of the reason is that diplomacy is a kind of warfare that doesn't play to his strengths -- and the other part is that he still hasn't quite got over the feeling that he's just a kid playing dress-up in his father's uniform instead of the highly-decorated if highly unorthodox captain of the 'fleet's best starship.
It doesn't help that his communication officer still calls him "Captain" with a faint echo of disbelief in her voice, or that Bones still finds it all really funny whenever he's three sheets into his ale, or that his first officer still treats him like the cadet who cheated on the Maru simulation.
Now -- right before a mission -- is certainly not the time to start dwelling on his failure to make friends with the younger Spock, despite his older counterpart's repeated assurances that they were fated to an epic friendship. So far, that "epic friendship" consisted of little more than perfunctory shared meals, a handful of chess games, and a few strange conversations in their down time that Jim still hasn't managed to decipher.
It's especially an inappropriate topic when Jim's own feelings for his unfathomable first officer has lately veered off the "epic friendship" track and straight into "hopeless crush" territory. Jim has always liked challenges but he knows it's more than that with Spock, although he can't figure out what exactly. He knows he enjoys Spock's company and finds him intriguing in a way he hasn't found anyone since he was a teenager who'd only just discovered sex, but it still seems like too much for too little reason, particularly since Spock isn't even available.
Tugging on his shirt sleeves once more, Jim strides into the transporter room to meet his away team, currently consisting of said first officer, communications officer, and medical officer, along with the requisite number of security personnel. A second team of negotiators are prepared to work out the nitty gritty details if Jim succeeds in the first leg of the mission.
A trio of delegates from Manto II meet them when they beam down, a stately male who is obviously the leader, flanked by a young female and an elder who is hunched and shriveled in his advanced years. While the Mantoans share the green blood and pointed ears of their cousin species, their skin is much lighter than the akin-to-human-olive that Jim associates with Vulcans and their hair, it seems, also runs fairer. Farat, the female, has hair that is almost platinum and Mehenn, their leader, has locks as sun-kissed as Jim's.
But more striking than the difference in coloring are the welcoming smiles plain on the delegates' faces, and the way they each step forward to take Jim's hand in their own. It's not a handshake -- much too warm and lingering for that -- but a gentle clasp that takes a human hand in between both of their own. Only Spock escapes this treatment, receiving a deferential bow instead. Jim notices Spock looks relieved that he is made an exception, so Jim lets it pass without question.
Their first day is filled with the usual tourist and exposition components, but as they jump through the expected hoops, Jim feels his nervousness fade. The Mantoans are everything Jim dreams of in a host culture -- polite, easy-going, with a humor that eases any social mishaps he is likely to blunder into at least once during his stay. After they are shown the usual important architecture and hear of the many accomplishments the planet's best minds have been developing, they are treated to a simple vegetarian meal in the relative privacy of capital complex. Jim finds himself in unusual situation of having Uhura as his crewmate companion, Spock and Bones having been invited to join the scientists at their meal. As always, his communications officer is the picture of elegance and tact, striking up a conversation with Farat and the elder who sit near her. That leaves Jim to converse with Mehenn who asks Jim about his impressions of their people so far. Jim is all compliments since he truthfully enjoys the Mantoans, but something about the way he talks about their friendliness amuses Mehlenn.
"Is something I said?" Jim asks, shooting a glance along the table to see if Uhura is giving him the evil eye. She's not, which he takes as a good sign.
"It simply sounds as if you did not expect us to be very friendly," Mehenn explains. "I'm assuming it's because of your familiarity with Vulcans."
"They're...nice," Jim says, wincing because he knows he's damning them with faint praise. "They're just not very cuddly."
Mehenn just nods. "I do understand your sentiment, Captain. We ourselves have noted the differences in our current cultures, despite the deep similarities in our history. Like the Vulcans, we once struggled with being a people who were slaves to our violence. And, like them, we found a way to change that. But the way we found is vastly different than theirs."
"Oh?" Jim asks.
"The Vulcans, I'm sure you know, practice a very strict mental discipline that involves the suppression of all emotion." Jim nods. "We, on the other hand, choose to suppress nothing."
"And that helps curb violence?" Jim's tone is skeptical. "Pardon my saying, but I think it would have the opposite effect."
"We've found that living honestly with our emotions ensures peace in a way suppression could never," Mehenn tells him.
The conversation reminds Jim of the favor the older Spock asked of him. "Speaking of Vulcans, I carry a request on their behalf. They tell me that you share the same telepathic abilities as they do?"
"We are touch telepaths," Mehenn agrees, and Jim instantly realizes why Spock was not greeted with a hand clasp.
"They have need for healers to deal with difficulties related to those abilities," Jim explains. "Starfleet has few medics with the skills to do so. They've asked me to make an entreaty to your people to send any healers willing to travel to their new home world and help out."
For the first time, Mehenn shows hesitance and a shadow passes over his serene features. "On this, I will have to think, Captain. I cannot offer an answer today."
"Of course," Jim nods. "Would it help if you had more information? I can have my first officer speak with you on the specifics."
"If you would not mind. Please direct Commander Spock to speak on this subject with Farat. Her background is in the medical field, and it is she who would ultimately make the decision."
It is not until they are shown guest quarters that evening that Jim has a chance to talk to Spock about the exchange with Mehenn. The away party has been assigned one, massive room to share. Each corner is dressed as a cushion-laden sleeping alcove, while the middle of the room boasts a communal table, presumably for meals. The four of them sat around it earlier, sharing their impressions from the day, but Uhura has already excused herself for the evening, settling into one of the corner beds, while Bones is in another, muttering over a PADD. Only Jim and Spock remain at the table talking when Jim remembers to bring it up.
"Mehenn didn't sound too thrilled about sending healers to the Vulcan colony," Jim shares. "Any ideas why?"
Spock thinks before he speaks, obviously using his enormous brain to analyze all the data he has on hand. "None that are beyond speculation," he admits. "The Mantoans have been nothing but accommodating so far, and there has been no animosity between our peoples in the past."
"They're not explorers," Jim says. "Maybe they don't like leaving home."
"I told Mehenn you could provide Farat with any specifics she might need to consider the request," Jim tells him. He watches Spock in the dim, gold-hued light of the lamp fitted at the table's center, notices the way it lights off his dark hair before he drags his eyes away. "I know you have a full agenda for tomorrow but please make time to meet with her if you can."
"Of course, Captain," Spock agrees.
With no other reason to linger, Jim decides to call it a night before his first social mishap at the day comes from mooning over his first officer. "Well, I guess I'm off to bed then. Goodnight, Mr. Spock."
"One moment." Spock's voice stops Jim's slow rise to his feet.
"The Mantoans are touch telepaths," Spock announces, completely out of the blue.
Jim rolls his eyes. "I did read the mission brief, Spock. I know Uhura..."
Spock shakes his head. "I only meant to offer a warning, Captain." Like always, Spock's eyes are dark and unreadable. "Prolonged contact with a Mantoan could lead to...uncomfortable revelations of your mental state."
Jim is stung, there is no other word for it. He draws himself quickly to his feet, hoping to hide his hurt that Spock feels it necessary to warn him from sleeping with the locals when Jim has refrained from doing so on every away mission they've had. "Don't worry, Spock, I don't plan to be in anyone's bed but my own," he says, not bothering to hide the anger in his tone.
"Good night, Mr. Spock."
Jim doesn't look behind him as he throws himself into his sleeping alcove and closes the gossamer curtains to block out the lamp's glow. His irritation doesn't leave him in an ideal state for sleep, but one of Jim's many survival skills is the ability to sleep anywhere, any time. He manages to get enough rest that he wakes up with only the faintest of dark rings under his eyes, nothing that even concerns Bones when his friend gives him an assessing look when they share breakfast the next morning. Jim notices that Spock has already departed but doesn't ask after him. Uhura, though, is happy to fill him and he nods along as she explains that Spock managed to arrange an early meeting with Farat.
Jim doesn't see his first officer again until a combined meeting that takes place a little after midday, a meeting that includes the entire away team, their negotiators who have recently beamed down to start preliminary trade talks, and over two dozen Mantoan officials. It's in this setting that Jim first notices something very strange -- it seems like the Mantoans are trying to avoid Spock. It's subtle, yes, and cloaked in the politeness they project so well, but he sees it over and over from where he watches across the room: Mantoan after Mantoan shooting uncertain glances at his stiff first officer, then skirting around him. Even the few who speak to him do so with frowns on their faces, the first he's seen since they arrived.
Even though his own feelings toward Spock aren't exactly generous at the moment, Jim doesn't like the idea that one of his crewmen is being treated unfairly. He turns back to Mehenn with purpose. "I can't help but notice your people seem uneasy with Mr. Spock," he points out. "I'd like to know why."
A rare frown crosses Mehenn's face as his eyes involuntarily glance in Spock's direction. "I told you about the difference between Vulcans and ourselves when it comes to dealing with our emotions."
"I remember." Jim tries but fails to keep his own eyes from wandering back toward his first officer.
"We are able to live in peace because we believe in complete honesty, with ourselves and others," he explains. He lifts a hand, palm forward, as if to illustrate his next point. "This is facilitated by our telepathic abilities. We can sense the emotions of those around us and react accordingly." He makes a vague gesture in Spock's direction with his raised hand. "Vulcans suppress everything. To an Mantoan, to suppress one's emotion means that something is hidden. That is dishonesty among our people."
"From what I understand, Vulcans do not lie," he tells the Mantoan. Jim's never believed that but the Vulcans he knows have never struck him as liars, especially not Spock. For all of the history already between them, deceit has never been an issue.
He looks around as if to see if they've caught anyone's attention. Before Mehenn continues, he pulls Jim toward one of the far walls, away from the main crush of bodies in the chamber. "Vulcans lie to themselves every moment of their lives. At least, from our perspective they do. This is why I was hesitant to pledge healers for their aid. To send a Mantoan to a place where they would be surrounded by purposefully blank minds, where they could be certain of nothing...it would be a great burden on them."
Jim's not sure how to respond, but his eyes still watch Spock stand apart from the crowd. A touch on his arm draws his attention back to Mehenn. "I assure you that Mr. Spock has not suffered in any way. But some of my people are uneasy around him. I cannot order them to change that."
He knows there's nothing he can do to change the fact, but he promises himself that he'll ask Spock about it as soon as he gets the chance. He thinks back to the first day on the planet; he cannot point to any slight he saw in toward Spock from Mehenn, Farat or any of the scientists but they, he surmises, might have more experience dealing with aliens than the political representatives who now surround them.
Mehenn must sense Jim's mood has been dampened by this revelation because the Mantoan excuses himself quietly, leaving Jim to his own devices. Jim stands there for a moment, observing the gathering, before he decides what he needs is a break, as much from the wearying stress that diplomacy bears on him as from the sight of another Mantoan shying away from Spock.
He makes a beeline toward the open arches which lead out toward a manicured garden. It's winter on Manto II and cool, but Jim welcomes the slight burn in his lungs as he breathes in the chilly air. The lush fauna that surrounds them is another difference between the Vulcans and the Mantoans, and Jim idly wonders the effect that arid hardship might've had on generations of Vulcans that the Mantoans were spared on their more temperate world.
He's only out there alone for a new minutes, watching the shadow of one of Manto II's two moons track across the sky when he hears a quiet voice behind him. "Captain Kirk?"
It's Farat, who Jim hasn't seen much since their first day there. She seems uncertain of her welcome and Jim hopes it's not because she is able to discern his soured emotions from so far away. He straightens and summons enough good will that the smile he offers her in greeting is almost genuine. "Nice to see you again, Farat."
"I was hoping to speak to you in private, Captain," she reveals. She takes a few more steps into the small plaza where Jim loiters, no longer clinging to the green-leafed shrub that borders it. "It's on a most important matter."
"You have my undivided attention," Jim says with a wide-armed gesture that reminds her that they are, indeed, alone.
Farat's continued hesitance worries Jim, leaving him to wonder what she might have to cause that's caused it. "It's not an easy thing I wish to discuss with you," she says, which does nothing to soothe Jim's concern. She meets his eyes with a liquid gaze of her own, apprehension plain on her delicate features.
"You can tell me anything you need to," he assures her, hoping his warm expression is enough encouragement.
Farat looks as if she's ready to speak, but before she can, another voice interrupts, this one steely and very familiar. "Captain. I have been looking for you."
Spock has joined them in the garden, though Jim wasn't aware of his approach. Instead of his usual stoic expression, he bears a disappointed one, shooting meaningful glances between Jim and Farat from where he stands in the garden pathway.
Jim frowns, in no mood for Spock's false insinuations. There is nothing about the scene that incriminates him, but he can't help but know that Spock is judging him, drawing the wrong conclusions because he has happened upon them, alone, in the midst of the idyllic garden. "I was speaking with Farat on a matter of some importance," he tells Spock. "I'll be with you in a moment."
"I would rather speak to you now," Spock counters.
Jim shoots him a dark look over Farat's shoulder, one he hopes conveys not only his displeasure but reminds Spock that Jim is the one in command. He returns his attention to Farat. "What was it, Farat?"
But she's looking between him and Spock, uneasy glances over her shoulder that are clearly meant for Spock. This is something different from the general unease he witnessed earlier in the evening, a fact made more apparent by the way Spock returns it.
It's hard to pinpoint what exactly Jim sees in his first officer's eyes but the word that comes to him is menacing. Something about Spock's eyes are threatening in some way he can't name.
Farat feels, too, because she sighs, shaking her head. "Never mind, Captain. We can speak later." She bows her head in respect, a parting gesture common among her people. "I will leave you to your first officer."
"There's no need," Jim tells her. "You can say anything in front of Spock."
She shakes her head, her expression still solemn. "Later will suffice."
Farat moves as if to leave but Spock still stands where he's been, blocking the path with his broad-shouldered presence. She gives him another long, ruffled look before Spock surrenders his position, sliding out of her way.
With a last imploring glance toward Jim, Farat rushes off.
"What was that about?" Jim demands as soon as she's out of earshot.
"Captain?" Spock shows no discomfort on his face, not from Jim's tone or Farat's strange behavior. The menace has also faded.
"Don't play dumb with me," Jim orders, crossing his arms as he waits for an answer. "What was with the looks between you and Farat?"
"I do not know to what you are referring, Captain," Spock deadpans, making Jim revise his earlier position on the adage that Vulcans do not lie.
Sometimes Jim's crush subsides long enough that he wants to strangle Spock for his stubbornness. This is one of those times, and he pinches the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "Then what was so important?"
There is a pause before Spock speaks. "You seemed...perturbed when you left the council room. I assumes I would find you unoccupied."
Although it's hard to tell since Spock always sounds faintly disapproving, Jim thinks maybe there's a rebuke in there over the fact he found Jim with Farat in the garden. Jim opens his mouth to make a smart-ass comment when he remembers why he was "perturbed" enough to step away from the delegates they've expressly come to meet. His anger at Spock evaporates for the moment, replaced by concern.
"I figured you'd be the one who's perturbed," he replies, jerking his head in the direction of the council chamber. "I saw the way the Mantoans were avoiding you in there."
Spock seems uncomfortable, although the difference is subtle. In the back of his head, Jim congratulates himself for noticing it in the first place. "Their behavior is illogical, but I am sufficiently certain of its cause," he says. "It is of no consequence."
"Bullshit," Jim says, shaking his head. "It is of consequence -- I know it can't be fun surrounded by people who are treating you like a leper." Jim plows on before Spock can make one of his smart-ass comments that he likes to veil behind sarcastic literalism. "I can handle them without you if you'd rather go back to the Enterprise. With Uhura looking over my shoulder, I can't possibly screw this up in the next twelve hours or so."
"That will not be necessary, Captain," Spock tells him. "I am in no way unable to perform my duties under the circumstances."
Jim rolls his eyes but drops the subject, knowing that he has little chance of winning in an argument against his first officer. "Okay, okay, fine. But feel free to cut out of this thing early if you need to, okay?"
"It will not be necessary." At Jim's murderous look, Spock hastens to add, "Nevertheless, I will keep it in mind."
"That's more like it." Jim grins at this unexpected compromise. He can't stop himself from giving Spock a friendly pat on the arm, palm thumping against Spock's upper arm in a manner he uses with most of his crew. Spock, however, flinches at the touch and Jim draws his hand back like it's on fire. "Sorry."
Spock's back is even more stiff than it had been surrounded by Mantoans. "If you'll excuse me?"
He doesn't wait for Jim to acknowledge the dismissal before he turns on heel and strides away, down the path that leads back to the council room.
Jim bites back a growl of frustration once he's left alone with the artful blooms of the landscape. With a sigh, Jim pulls himself together and follows.
The rest of the afternoon and evening is about shoring up the tentative terms that he and the Mantoan delegation have agreed upon so that the negotiators can step in and hammer out the details. Jim's glad he has an actual team for that because he's never been one for details, not when there's a bigger picture to consider. The diplomatic team seems pleased at the end of the day, so Jim feels like he's done his job as he falls into his little alcove that evening, leaving Bones and Uhura to chat it up about the amazing things they've seen or learned. Spock is silent in his own small space, and Jim just doesn't have it in him for small talk.
It isn't until the next morning that he realizes he forgot to find out where the issue of the medical aid for Vulcan stands. He missed the chance the night before to ask either Spock or Farat. So after a quick breakfast of some exotic Mantoan fruit that tastes like a cross between a lemon and a raspberry with the texture of a nectarine, Jim decides to use the few hours he has before beam up to track down Farat and get his answer.
Jim easily navigates the capital complex toward the wing where he knows their hosts keep their work chambers. In keeping with the Mantoan ideal of honesty and openness, most of the official chambers have little more than paper screens as doors, when those doors are closed. Jim hurries down the hall, glancing through the open and half-opened arched doorways with no sign of Farat. Near the end of the long hall, there's a door which is completely closed and, as Jim grows nearer, he can hear heated voices from behind it -- one female and one male.
It doesn't shock him that one is Farat's; it does that one is Spock's.
Jim doesn't think about it, he just follows his instincts. He throws open the chamber door which seems to surprise them both into the silence as they turn to stare at him. Farat is flushed with her anger, spots of green dancing across her face. Spock looks more composed, but the line of his spine is even more rigid than usual, as if he's made of stone instead of flesh.
"Would someone like to tell me what's going on in here?" he asks.
Farat rushes forward. "Captain Kirk, I still need to speak with you. It is of the utmost importance."
She glares at Spock before turning back to him. "Alone," she adds.
Jim sighs, but looks toward his science officer. "Spock, if you'll excuse us?"
Spock is frowning at them both. "I do not believe it's necessary..."
"I insist," Farat says.
Jim looks from Farat to Spock, consumed by curiosity that's just barely tempered by his dedication to duty. To Farat, he asks, "Is this about the Vulcan medical aid we requested?"
"Among other things," she says. "Please."
"Spock," Jim says, nodding toward the door.
"Captain, I must protest," Spock begins before Jim cuts him off.
"That's an order, Mr. Spock," he tells him, ignoring the blatant insubordination on the Vulcan's face. "Go back to our guest quarters and make sure the away party is ready to beam up on time. I'll be there shortly."
Spock still looks like he wants to protest, but he manages to choke out a "Yes, Captain" before he sends a last dark look in Farat's direction and leaves as ordered. Jim knows he's probably going to pay for that dismissal in a hundred subtle ways once he's back on the Enterprise, but his first priority has to be mending any fences Spock's uncharacteristic animosity might've damaged.
He watches as Farat slides the door closed behind his departing crewman. "What is your decision about the medical aid," he asks.
"I will get to that, but first I must speak to you of a more personal matter."
Farat reaches for his hand, taking it in the same gentle clasp she used to greet him days before. "You're in danger, Captain."
She nods. "I believe that your first officer wishes to do you harm."
"In our discussion of the situation on Vulcan, your first officer allowed me to touch his mind briefly," Farat reveals. "What I found there was frightening."
She shudders but doesn't lose her grip on his hand. "In his mind, I felt that the strongest of his emotions were focused on you, Captain. They were..."
Farat finally lets go of his hand, only to wrap her arms around herself. Her distress seems very genuine. "The only word I can find to describe them was violent. Such violence, aggression, frustration. I decided that you needed to be warned."
Jim isn't sure what to say or even what to think. Farat shows no sign of dishonesty, only sincere concern for his life, and he knows that she is a touch telepath, but it seems so unbelievable. Oh, Jim knows that there's some kind of tension that continues to thrum beneath his interactions with Spock, but this? Could he really believe that what Spock truly feels is so dark and violent that it frightened Farat this much to read it in his mind?
Jim can't believe it; he doesn't want to, either. To believe it, even a little, would be to dash secret hopes that he's barely able to admit he has about a future -- a destiny -- with Spock.
"Thank you for your concern, Farat, but you must be mistaken," he tells her. "Surely, you misunderstood what you sensed."
"No, I did not," she tells him. "I beg you to listen and heed this warning. Please."
Jim's not sure what he's supposed to do, but he yearns for the safety of his ship where he can give himself time to think. He clears his throat and changes the subject. "The aid?"
Farat sighs. "We will not force any healers to go," she says. "However, we have a medical summit meeting next month. At that time, we will ask for volunteers. If enough express interest, we will form a convoy for the Vulcan colony."
"Thank you, Farat," he manages to say. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."
She nods and Jim flees, rushing back to the guest chambers where Uhura, Bones and Spock wait.
Except Spock isn't there when he arrives.
"Where is he?" Jim demands.
It's Uhura who answers, her dark eyes lit with concern for the missing first officer. "He said he needed to return to the ship immediately. He said something about you having approved it yesterday?"
Jim remembers making Spock promise to return to the Enterprise if the Mantoans became too much; he just didn't expect Spock to use it when it was likely Jim is the one he's trying to evade. It's just as well, though, Jim decides -- he still has no idea what he plans to say to his first officer anyway.
"We'll all be joining him within an hour," he tells Uhura and Bones, ignoring the doctor's frank look of curiosity. "Make sure you're ready when the time comes."
Jim spends the remainder of his time on Manto II in conversation with the lead of the diplomatic team, getting briefed on the timetable Lieutenant Corva has in mind for negotiations. They are going splendidly except for the Vulcan aid question and Corva doesn't think they'll need to remain in orbit for more than a day or two. Jim is relieved to hear her assessment because he's quite ready to Manto II and its citizens far behind.
Once he, Bones and Uhura return safely to the ship, Jim busies himself with many of the mundane tasks of captaincy that he's ignored while on the planet and he tells himself it's not because he's looking for any reason to avoid Spock. He can still hear Farat's sincere voice in his ear, urging caution, but he still can't bend his mind around it.
He knows that he and his first officer didn't have the greatest of first meetings -- or second or third, for that matter. And, yes, Spock knew him by name only a few days before he tried to choke the life out of him on the bridge but those were extraordinary circumstances. They came together in the end, worked as a team and defeated Nero.
Then, Spock accepted his offer to be the science officer on the Enterprise under his guidance. If Spock really harbors such violent tendencies toward him, Jim asks himself, wouldn't it have been illogical for the Vulcan to join his crew? Jim thinks so and thinks that even with Uhura abroad, Spock wouldn't choose to work for a man he wants to kill. It just doesn't make sense, not even by inferior human standards.
Of course, Vulcans are masters at emotional suppression.
Jim's talked himself in circles by the time he's decided to move from thought to action. He asks the computer for Spock's whereabouts and, when it informs him the first officer is currently in his quarters alone, Jim barrels down to Spock's door and rings the chime before he can tell himself he shouldn't.
After a moment Spock answers, looking demonstratively ill-at-ease by his captain's presence outside of his door. That, more than anything, makes Jim's stomach knot with dread for the upcoming conversation.
"We need to talk," Jim says, not bothering to wait for an invitation before he corrals the Vulcan back into his room as the door slides shut behind him. Spock's quarters are dim and warm, scented with something sharp to Jim's nose. He forages ahead. "There's a lot of things I could say about your behavior toward Farat on the planet but I'm not because I really don't care. It didn't affect the mission, so I'll let it slide -- this time."
Jim shakes his head and stares at Spock, who's standing just a few feet away, stiff and silent. "But I've got some questions nonetheless. It's not a big stretch to assume that stopping me from speaking with Farat was the reason you've been sticking to my side these last few days."
Spock doesn't answer but there's something in the way his nostrils flare that tells Jim he's right and Spock has no plans to argue the point.
"And you're probably aware that your efforts failed because I did speak to Farat." Jim lets his eyes roam over the contours of the room, looking away from Spock's blank gaze. "And she told me about what she felt from you when she touched your mind."
Jim pauses and looks over at Spock who has not even made an effort to interrupt. "Nothing to say?"
A muscle jumps in his jaw and he moves to clasp his hands behind his back. "No, Captain."
This is not going well at all, and Jim's run out -- of steam, of nerve, of energy. He sighs. "I'm going to assume you know enough of your own mind and Farat's to know what she said to me."
When Jim pauses this time, Spock knows to answer. "I am...aware."
Jim swallows hard and crosses his arms over his chest, eyes now glued to where he couldn't look a moment before -- Spock's face. He's searching hard for some sign that this has been a complete misunderstanding. After a stretch of silence that makes the warm air feel even heavier, Jim asks, his voice betraying his emotion. "Is it true?"
"Is it true?" Jim repeats when Spock falters. "A simple yes or no will suffice. That's all I want to know."
Jim is ready to order Spock to answer when the Vulcan finally does so, seeming to draw up his courage before he releases his breath in a hard syllable, almost a hiss. "Yes."
It's like a gut punch, to hear Spock -- his science officer, the person he's come to believe is as much a part of his destiny as his beloved ship is -- admit that he's suppressing thoughts about him so violent that they caused Farat such fear for his safety. It's unbelievable, even from Spock's own mouth. Jim knows he has to look like a dumbass as he stands there gaping but there's really nothing he can do to hide his reaction. It consumes everything else for a moment.
It's also distressing Spock visibly, a fact Jim holds to with a malicious thrill of his own.
"That's definitely not what I wanted to hear," he admits shakily.
Spock's eyes are hard when Jim next dares to look his way. "There is no need to concern yourself, Captain. It has not and will not affect my ability to perform my duties."
"It damn well might affect mine," Jim snaps, raking a hand through his hair. "This is...way beyond what I ever expected to deal with here."
"If you believe that you cannot ---"
Jim shoots him a glare and waves a hand to silence him. "No, that is not how we're going to handle this." He takes a deep breath, straightens his uniform and stands tall, channeling his inner badass captain. "First you need to know I'm not comfortable with this, okay? This is not how a command should operate at all."
Spock gives him one, tight nod of agreement.
"Okay, good, we're on the same page," Jim continues. "What we're going to do is forget that Farat ever spoke with me or you or we ever had this conversation. We're going to pretend this never happened. We're going to continue on being the same pair we were before we reached Manto II. And if you ever reach a point where you can't control yourself, you're going to remove yourself immediately, do you understand me?"
For the first time since that moment on the bridge when Spock came close to fulfilling his desire to kill Jim, the Vulcan's expression is murderous. "There is no need to insult me, Captain," he says, voice echoing with suppressed rage. "I am Vulcan. Control will not be an issue."
Jim feels the cutting remark on the tip of his tongue but he reins it in. Instead, he nods, the motion sapping the last of his reserves. He's wrung out and his mind is racing. "Good. Then I'll see you on our next alpha shift, Commander."
He doesn't wait for a reply before he storms out as fast as he stormed in, trying to ignore the knot in his stomach that has become a pointy ball of ice that seems intent on clawing him apart from the inside.
Because, unlike Vulcans, Jim Kirk doesn't know how to suppress.
The next few weeks are some of the worst in Jim's recent memory, which says a lot considering what his recent memory entails. To say that things are now tense between him and Spock would be a massive understatement; every moment in which they are not engaged in some kind of fight for their lives is strained and everyone notices. Jim's pretty sure this is the only time he's been glad that being the captain leaves him woefully ignorant of the ship scuttlebutt.
Those weeks also make Jim he realize that he was wrong to think Spock still treated him like he had when they first met because there has been a sharp revision back to that behavior and it is markedly different from what it was like before the Manto mission. With this new, more openly hostile Spock to compare it to, Jim realizes that what they had before was what passes for downright friendly from Spock, at least as far as his interactions with Jim are concerned. Jim figures that Spock was making an effort before to mask his hostility toward him before but now that the truth is there between them, he's dropped the pretence.
Jim longs for the days of pretence.
Although everyone can see there's some kind of problem existing between the captain and the first officer, no one is brave enough to come right out and ask him.
No one except for Bones, that is.
"What's up between you and the green-blooded hobgoblin?" he asks one evening when they're both off-duty and the alcohol is flowing freely.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, sure you don't," Bones snorts. "The air's so thick between you that I could cut it with my scalpel. With one of them old-fashioned ones, even. So spill, Jimmy."
Jim downs his glass, pours another, then swallows it before answering. "Let's just say some issues got aired and it didn't go as well as we'd hoped."
Bones gives him the old stare, finger tracing the rim of his glass as he studies Jim. "Found out about your little crush, did he?"
Jim's glad he's between drinks when Bones speaks because otherwise one of them would be wearing the alcohol instead of drinking it. "What are the hell are you talking about?"
Bones just gives him a look, one he's well-acquainted with thanks to three years together at the academy. The look succinctly expresses Bones's sadness at how stupid his friend is. "Don't even try to talk your way around it. I've known you long enough to recognize the signs."
"I mean, the chess games?" Bones is shaking his head. "From you, that's practically a marriage proposal. You're not usually the kind who's gonna waste time talkin' if it's not going to land you in the sack."
"You can shut up, Bones, any time now," he tells his friend. "Did you ever think maybe I just wanted to build a rapport with my first officer?"
It's obvious from Bones's expression that he hasn't.
Jim sulks at this assassination of his character, no matter how accurate it might have once been. "Anyway, that wasn't it."
"Then what the hell is wrong?"
At first, Jim isn't even sure he wants to explain but there's something terribly soft and sympathetic in his friend's eyes when he sees the pain it's causing him and Jim has never been good at resisting Bones when he gets like that. With the application of copious amounts of liquor, a buzzed Jim manages to get out the entire story, from beginning to end. Once he's done, the bottle is empty and Jim has gone from bad to worse.
"That just don't sound like Spock," Bones declares once he's finished. "I mean, I know he can be a bastard when he wants, but I just don't think it's possible. That Farat has got to be wrong."
"Did you forget about him almost killing me back when we were fighting Nero?" Jim points out. "And I didn't believe her either, Bones, so I asked him. He said it was true."
"If it's true --" Bones begins.
"Jim, have you thought about relieving him? At least of his first officer duties?" Bones is now fully engaged into concern mode. "He can't be trusted to check your back if he's thinking about how he wants to kick your teeth in."
"He's assured me it won't affect his duties," Jim informs him, not bothering to hide the traces of bitterness in his tone. "And I can't remove a man from his position just because he doesn't like me. If liking me was required, Uhura would've never set a foot on board."
"You're the one who pointed out that he's already tried something once," Bones reminds him.
Jim shakes his head. "Things'll settle soon. It'll be fine."
"Fine." Bones gives a little laugh, but there's sadness behind it. "You've always had a fucked-up definition of fine, that's for sure."
"Drop it, Bones," Jim tells him. "I've got this."
"Uh huh, sure," Bones says. "Let me tell you this -- if that walking computer ever even looks at you wrong, I'll relieve his ass so fast his point ears'll spin. Don't think I won't, it's one of the few perks of being the CMO around here."
Jim tries to ignore the warmth Bones's support causes to spread through him. He covers it up with a laugh, batting his eyes at his friend. "Aw, I didn't know you cared."
Bones glares at him and things are closer to normal again, although Bones's eyes never lose that hint of empathy about them, one of the things that makes Bones such a good doctor. It's not until Jim is ready to call it a night a little while later that Bones's compassion surfaces again.
As he stands to collect their empty glasses and the discarded bottles, he lays a hand on Jim's shoulder, warm and heavy. "I am sorry, Jim," he says, and Jim can't believe it but the tender sympathy in his friend's voice is almost as unbearable as the truth that's driving it.
Jim can't answer because he doesn't trust himself. He just nods his thanks and heads back to his quarters to prepare himself for his worst hangover since he went from Cadet to Captain.
Turns out that Jim is right in what he told Bones -- after another week or two, it does seem to calm down. Or it's just that everyone becomes used to the new reality of things and it's no longer interesting to anyone. Jim notices that Spock is fractionally less antagonistic in their interactions, which he's thankful for, although he doesn't understand why. He doesn't bother questioning it, though, just glad for the break.
When the tension with Spock eases a fraction, Jim realizes that Uhura is taking up the slack and, just like with Spock, Jim is mystified as to the why. It's not like he's had time between running the ship, not getting himself killed and dealing with the fact Spock hates him to bother Uhura in some special way, but there's definitely something pointed about her glares. He notices three shifts straight that she spares a moment every so often to glance between him and Spock, eyes going all soft at the Vulcan before they harden and turn back to Jim.
At least once or twice he's tempted to stick his tongue out at her or return her scowl, but he reminds himself he's an adult and a starship captain and does not need a report going back to Pike that he's making faces at his crew while on the bridge. The one time he catches her eye, Jim settles for an arched brow and smuggest smirk he can summon when his heart's not in it. It has the desired effect because she looks away quickly and Jim has to call it a victory even though he knows she'll be back to glaring daggers as soon as his back is turned.
The one bright spot in it all is a message from the Ambassador, the only Spock that genuinely likes him. Jim doesn't bother to hide his pleasure at the communication and takes no shame in sending Spock and Bones out of his ready room so he can take it in peace.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asks the older Vulcan with a smile.
"I've just had good news from the Mantoans," Spock explains. "They plan to send several medical personnel to Vulcan to help ease the burden on our own healers."
"That's great," Jim says. "I didn't think they'd come through."
"Luckily, you were mistaken." The old man's smile softens the statement.
"Apparently, I was. They didn't seem to like Vulcans very much," Jim tells him. "Did you deal much with them, you know, before?"
Spock thinks for a moment. "I believe we had brief dealings with them once," he says. "But in my timeline, they were little more than an afterthought since they offered the Federation nothing that Vulcan and its people did not."
"They think you guys have it all wrong with all your emotional suppression stuff," Jim reveals. "One of them said that it's like you're lying to yourself all the time."
"Ruthless suppression can be a form of self-deception," the Vulcan admits. "I've found that there exists a perfect balance of emotionalism and detachment that achieves the most desirous effect."
"So you agree with them?"
Spock shakes his head. "No, Jim. The Mantoans' philosophy has its own flaws. If you hold on to nothing, then it's impossible for it to grow. I would not trade the depth of what I can feel for the breadth they prefer."
Jim wants to ask him if he ever hated his Kirk, but Jim's pretty certain he already knows the answer. He can see the soft way the older Spock looks at him during their video chats; he only wishes he could get a fraction of that fondness from his own.
As always, Jim can't help but feel a little sad when they're finished and that kind, aged face leaves his screen. He feels the loss of it every time, like there's a hole in him that the older Vulcan can fill in those few minutes that's empty the rest of the time. He tries not to think about what it means.
Sometimes late at night when he can't sleep, Jim turns the problem over in his head. He starts way back at the beginning when Spock was just the asshole who wanted to expel him for his creative thinking on the Maru exam. Then he moves to when Spock was the asshole who jettisoned him on an ice planet infested with huge monsters, and then on to when Spock was his would-be murderer. He likes to move through the beginning quickly, though, instead focusing on what came after: when he and Spock were unlikely allies who saved the day; then when they were a cautious command team, finding their footing together; then they were two men, tiptoeing toward what Jim hoped was friendship.
But if Jim believes what Farat told him on Manto, then he's wrong about so much of what he remembers. He's wrong about the times he thought Spock was responding to his tentative overtures of friendship, the times when Spock went from looking absolutely put out by Jim's request to share a meal or play chess to looking only faintly mocking at Jim's unbridled enthusiasm with the Vulcan's agreement and those conversations -- intimate, quiet affairs usually after a hard mission -- become even more confusing.
That's part of the problem: Jim just doesn't understand.
It's not that Jim hasn't had people in the past who didn't like him. In fact, Jim's got a list a mile long of people who probably harbor their own special core of violence and aggression against him, but at least their reasons make sense. At least they have reasons. Even if Jim doesn't agree with those reasons, he gets them anyway. And he doesn't lose sleep over them, either. He's moved on.
Despite their rough beginning, Jim doesn't really think Spock does have any reasons, not that can be classified as logical, anyway. And Spock's all about logical, or so he says. Just like Jim is all about letting go and moving on when it's obvious he's not wanted, but he's not doing it here and he can't help but look for his own reasons for that.
That's the most frustrating part: Jim can't make it make sense, no matter how much he tries.
He doesn't figure it out that night, and he hasn't figured out it a few days later when he finally runs out of luck. This time it's Jim that ends up unconscious and bleeding, hauled back to his ship by the other members of his away team, injured when the empty planet they're surveying isn't as empty the intel suggested. He's semi-conscious when they get him to McCoy and he wavers in and out on the worried cadence of his friend's accented voice as the doctor barks orders at everyone around him. Jim's half-awake when he notes another distinct voice mingling with Bones's above the noises of the sickbay.
"Get out of here," Bones growls. "I don't need you underfoot."
"The captain," Spock begins. "Is he...?"
"He'd be better if you'd been doing your job," Bones tells him, which is really a low blow. Jim figures he must be really hurt for Bones to be that pissy.
"I realize that." The words are uncharacteristically soft, devoid of the confidence so typical of Spock's speech.
There's a pause before Bones answers, but Jim doesn't hear it all as he fades out on a wave of pain. "Look, Spock, I promise I'll..."
That's the last thing Jim remembers for a while, until he wakes up what turns out to be thirteen hours later with Bones frowning down at him.
"What?" he croaks, mouth dry and uncooperative.
"Well, you didn't die," Bones tells him. "But it was close. Stop scarin' me like that or I'm goin' to kill you myself."
"You were worried," Jim tells him, forcing his voice out of his ragged throat. "That's sweet."
Something flickers across Bones's face. "I wasn't the only one," he says in a low, conspiratorial tone as he moves over to eye the readings on Jim's monitors.
Jim is pretty sure that Bones isn't making an idle observation. Despite the pounding in his head and a general fatigue he knows come with a major injury, Jim takes a glance around the room and notices someone loitering near Bones's office, casting glances his way.
He doesn't look much different than he always does, but there's a nervousness in the way he waits, his body not serenely at ease as Jim has seen him in the past.
Jim looks up and catches Bones's eye. "Come to see if he missed his chance?" he jokes, but it falls flat.
Bones gives him the serious frown which usually means he's in for a lecture. But all he says is, "I don't think so."
Then there's a hypospray at his neck before he can ask Bones anything and the world fades to black again.
It takes another two days of bed rest in the sickbay before Bones will release Jim, two days of a very cranky captain. Bones is used to the sulking, however, so it does little to deter him from his care plan. Finally Bones agrees that Jim can be trusted to spend the next twelve hours in his own quarters before he goes back on duty.
As he's getting ready to leave, Bone grabs him by the arm and tugs him into his office. Bones makes sure he closes the door behind him.
"What is it, Bones?" Jim asks.
"I think you're wrong," he says. "About Spock."
Jim's good mood evaporates. "Really? You want to rehash this now?"
"I mean it," Bones tells him. "You know I'm not his biggest fan by a long shot, but when you were hurt -- he didn't act like he hated you."
"Jim." Bones has his hand on Jim's shoulder, forcing him to meet his eyes. "He was emotional. And concerned."
"Emotional? Concerned? You want me to believe this about Spock?"
Bones shrugs. "I'm just telling you what I saw. Maybe Farat got it all wrong somehow."
"He told me himself," Jim points out.
"Did he? He said the words?"
That draws Jim up short as he thinks back because "No, he didn't say the words. Not exactly."
"If I were you, I'd think harder about what he did say," Bones advises. "Because something doesn't add up."
"It's not important," Jim tells him.
"The hell it ain't," Bones says. "Jim, you can deny it all you want, but you haven't been the same since Manto II -- and neither has Spock. I've let it go this long because I didn't know what else to do but I think you're missing something here."
"Yeah," Bones nods. "Figure it out."
Jim doesn't feel like arguing anymore, so he nods his agreement and heads back to his quarters. When he lies down to rest, he can't help but think about what Bones has said, the conviction in his friend's arguments. Could he have misunderstood? It doesn't seem likely, even though he admits that Spock didn't come right out and say he hated Jim. But Spock did say that what Farat had to say was true, so where does that leave room for doubt? It isn't like Jim doesn't want doubt to exist. For once in his life, he wants to be wrong about something very desperately. The evidence just doesn't support it, no matter what kind of observations Bones has made.
Still, Jim is concerned about what Bones said about him -- that he hasn't been the same. He knows it's the truth, but to have it spelled it for him...it makes Jim feel like he's failed at the most fundamental principle that starship captains have to follow and that's to put the job first. He doesn't think he's made any major mistakes while distracted by his personal issues with his first officer, but that doesn't mean he hasn't or that he won't in the future -- which is unfair to everyone around him, from Spock and Bones to every one of the hundreds of crew that fill Enterprise's corridors. Jim wants to be a good captain more than he wants anything, probably even more than he wants Spock, although it's a close race. If he can't have one, he needs the other even more, which means he plans to take Bones's words to heart, if only to settle the problem once and for all.
Enterprise deserves nothing less.
Jim waits until after his first alpha shift back on the bridge. It's heartening to see how relieved everyone is to see him up and about; even Uhura manages a smile for him when he first steps off the turbolift. Spock's dark eyes are as unreadable as they usually are as he concedes the comm to the captain but Jim takes the time, probably for the first time since Manto II, to really look at his science officer. There's some tension there, in the shoulders, in the ramrod spine, but there's nothing akin to menace in his position even though Jim knows he's capable of it in hundreds of subtle ways. There's only grace and poise as he rises from the captain's chair, standing by its side until Jim settles down. He briefs Jim on their current mission and destination, then waits for a dismissal before he moves to take his own seat at the science console.
Jim has something to ask before it comes. "Mr. Spock?"
"I think there's a few more things we need to discuss. How about 20:00 hours? Your quarters?"
The tension, Jim notices, tightens across the shoulders even more as Spock thinks of an answer. "Captain..."
Jim leans in a little. "It's important or what I wouldn't ask."
Spock lets out a breath that's a little more emphatic than is probably warranted. If he was anyone else, Jim would call it a sigh. "As you wish, Captain."
Jim nods and looks away, eyes focusing on the viewscreen. "Dismissed, Commander."
After this shift, during which nothing interesting happens as they continue to hurtle through space at Warp 4, Jim keeps his appointment with Bones where he's declared healthy and where he dodges his friend's questions about Spock. He does listen to Bones enough to go back to his quarters and rest, although it makes him feel like a snotty toddler to be ordered to take a nap. Jim does feel better for it, so he tries not to feel too badly about following medical advice.
As the time creeps closer and closer to 20:00, Jim feels his resolve weakening but he won't let it. He engrosses himself in paperwork for a few hours and the monotony of administrative tedium distracts him from his nervousness. Before he knows it, his alarm is ringing, telling him that he's got five minutes until he's supposed to meet Spock.
Jim goes over the game plan in his head one more time before he rings the chime at Spock's quarters. He waits breathlessly until the door slides open, revealing Spock. From the pronounced frown on his first officer's face, Jim can tell he's just as apprehensive as Jim is.
"Can I come in?" Jim asks.
Spock nods and then steps back, giving Jim room to do just that. The room is still warmer than Jim's own, but he notices the temperature is a little lower than the last time, obviously a concession to his comfort.
Jim relaxes a little bit as he turns to face Spock. He claps his hands together in a determined "let's get started!" gesture. "So I've been thinking."
Spock's face is impassive.
"About Manto II and the conversation we decided we didn't have."
Spock's frown reappears. "I believe the terms you set forth do not allow for further discussion on the topic."
"Well, I'm changing the terms," Jim declares. "It's obvious that those terms aren't working anyway. Time for a new approach."
"I fail to see where further discussion is warranted," Spock says, all haughty and dismissive. "And if that is the sole reason for this meeting..."
"So this new approach," Jim begins loudly, deliberately talking over Spock's objections. "I think you need to just let it out."
Spock breaks off, tilts his head as he looks at Jim like he's lapsed out of Standard. "Let it out?"
Jim nods, ignoring his thundering heart as he sticks to his plan. "Yeah, all that pent-up stuff Farat saw about how you feel toward me. Ignoring it isn't making it any better, so maybe if you get the chance to act on it once, it'll be easier."
"Captain, need I remind you that I am a Vulcan. Vulcans do not require an emotional release in the same way humans do," Spock informs him. "Your suggestion is illogical and irrelevant."
"I don't think so," Jim disagrees. "I think it's exactly what we need to do. We need to get it out in the open, then work through it."
"No." Spock's chin tilts up, just a little. Jim wonders if Spock knows he telegraphs defiance with the motion.
"Everyone on the ship has noticed something's wrong between us," Jim explains. "It's starting to affect the crew and the performance of our duties. I can't let that continue, Spock. I promised myself I'd be a better captain than that. So we've got to work through this."
"Even if I agree with your assessment of the situation, I do not agree with the plan you've decided upon," Spock says, and Jim finally sees a flicker of something in his eyes, something that's not the annoyance he projects so often. "There are other ways to handle the problem. The most logical being that I apply for a transfer."
Spock tries to pretend that that idea doesn't hurt, but Jim can tell it does. He shakes his head. "That's running away from the problem, not solving it. And that's unacceptable. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a coward."
Spock's eyes roam over his determined face. "You are not," he agrees softly.
"So you'll give my way a try?" Jim asks, holding Spock's gaze with his own. "I can make it a order, if necessary."
"That would be manipulative."
"I never said I wasn't underhanded," Jim shrugs. "What do you say?"
Jim has not seen Spock so uncomfortable since their first mission against Nero, even though the clues are subtle. Anyone else would probably miss them but Jim's made a habit of trying to understand Spock, so he doesn't. With grim humor, he's quietly amused that he's the one setting himself up to get his ass kicked and Spock's the one who looks like he's waiting for the executioner.
Jim'll never understand Vulcans, he's sure, especially this one before him.
"If you're certain?" Spock raises an eyebrow to emphasize the interrogative nature of the comment.
"I am." Jim raises his hand. "Just give me a minute, okay? I've got to psych myself up."
Spock's eloquent eyebrow is now broadcasting sarcasm but Jim ignores it. Instead, he takes a deep breath, scrubs a hand over his face. He tries to remember the days, now far behind him, of purposefully provoked bar brawls and he tries to summon the anticipation he used to have for the fight, the simmer in his blood that pushed him forward. But all he has is that cold ball of ice in his stomach, reminding him that he's here to save his working relationship with the person he'd like to be much more with, except Spock apparently hates him. At least he wasn't overly agreeable about the idea of getting his licks in on his superior officer.
After a moment, he squares his shoulders and faces Spock. "Okay, I'm ready."
Spock's hands, Jim notices, are clenching and unclenching at his sides. He winces a little thinking about them connecting with his face, but this is his idea and he's ready to see it through. When Spock opens his mouth to protest again, Jim cuts him off. "I'm serious about the order. Just lay it on me and let's get this over with."
A shadow passes over Spock's features, something dark and stormy. Jim barely has time to try to decipher it when his first officer lets out a quiet affirmation and steps toward Jim, somehow looming over him. Jim fights the urge to back away, even when the iron grip of Spock's hands close over his shoulders, holding him in place.
Jim expects to feel a blow next, or maybe a shove, but what actually happens is that he's tugged closer to Spock's firm frame, both of their bodies vibrating with the tension of the moment. Jim's still waiting for the first strike, eyes closed, when instead he feels Spock's hot exhalation against his cheek, completely unexpected. He just has time for his eyes to open, widen in surprise, before Spock's mouth descends on his, hard and urgent and demanding.
This is something that Jim doesn't have to think about and he reacts instinctively. He melts against Spock like a puppet with cut strings and begins to kiss back, his tongue just as impatient as the one Spock's using to map the roof of his mouth. Jim's hands end up on Spock, one fisted in the cloth of the Vulcan's shirt, the other sliding across the naked skin beneath it. One of them makes a needy sound deep in his throat and Jim honestly can't tell which one of them it is, but it's enough to remind him that, for all the times he's fantasized about this exact moment, it's not what he expected at all.
It's a Herculean effort but Jim brings his hands up between them and pushes against Spock's chest to break off from the kiss, giving himself much needed breathing room. With a shrug, Spock's hands leave his shoulders.
"What is the hell was that, Spock?"
Spock's flushed, just like Jim's sure he is, olive shadows high on his cheek and tinting the tips of his ears. His breathing is erratic and his already-dark eyes are black and liquid, glazed with desire. His kiss-tender mouth is not suited for the way Spock tightens it at Jim's question. "I was following your or-- your strongly worded suggestion."
Jim's brain really isn't ready for deep thought at the moment, not after that kiss, but he tries to force it to cooperate. "You weren't supposed to kiss me! What does kissing me have to do with the fact that you want to kill me?"
Spock blinks at him, like a surprised cat. There's very little else that happens with his expression, but Jim can still read surprise in the action, that and the eyebrows that arch up ever-so-slightly. "Captain, I'm unsure as to why you've come to that particular conclusion."
Jim laughs a little. There's a thin edge of hysteria to it. "Under the circumstances, let's go with Jim, shall we?"
"Very well." Spock agrees. "Jim. Please explain your meaning."
Jim's not sure he can, actually, because nothing is making sense. He hears Bones's voice in his head, telling him that he's wrong about Spock even when he knows he's not and now all he can think about is the fact that he was making out with Spock a minute before when he put that chance at less than zero.
And now he's being asked to explain why nothing is happening the way it should.
But then it comes to him in a white-hot flash of hurt and he draws away from Spock even more. "Oh, oh my god." He shakes his head. "You decided instead of punching me, you were going to...what? Fuck with my head? A little emotional abuse instead of physical?"
Spock's eyes widen in alarm. "Captain..."
"I was trying to fix this, Spock," Jim tells him, anger raising the volume of his voice with each word. "But I guess you were right, there is no point." He turns to leave, trying to hide the hurt he knows is probably painted across his face.
"No, I'm done," Jim says. "Maybe you better look into that transfer after all."
He's only a few steps away from the door when he feels a hand close around his arm. "Let me go, Spock."
Jim tries to shake off the hand but it's useless, reminding him of how easily it had been for Spock to pin him on the bridge with nothing more than a hand around his throat. Jim glares. "I mean it."
Spock uses his hold to turn Jim back toward him, pulling him away from the door. "I have been patient with your actions this evening, but I demand you explain yourself now."
Jim scowls down at the hand still gripping his arm. "Maybe if you get your hands off me, I'll think about it."
Spock follows Jim's gaze to his hand before he releases him. His hands go behind his back as if he can't trust himself otherwise. "Explain," he repeats.
Jim's got that feeling again, that tiredness in his bones that's not about physical fatigue. He feels like he's been fighting this battle -- with Spock, with himself -- for far too long. He rubs at the back of his neck with his hand, working out imaginary kinks. "I'll try but I don't know what you need explained. I wanted to work this out so we could get along professionally but I can see that's not going to happen now."
"I still wish to know why you are laboring under the impression that I wish you harm," Spock says.
"Why do you think?" Jim rolls his eyes. "Farat."
Spock frowns but it's a contemplative -- and maybe confused -- look. "Farat told you that I want to hurt you? Kill you?"
"Not in those exact words," Jim admits. Bones's words are loud in his memory. "Spock, when I talked to her, she told me she was worried for my safety. She said I was in danger from you."
"That's what I said!" Jim tells him. "I couldn't believe it, but I asked you and you said..." Jim looks down at his hands. "You said you did."
The silence pounds in Jim's ears as he waits for a reply. He wonders if Spock will admit the truth faced with Jim's or if he'll try to talk his way out of his own admission.
When it doesn't appear that Spock plans to answer, Jim lets his eyes find the Vulcan who's now turned away from him. Spock's knuckles are white where he grips the back of a chair, head bowed. Jim figures it's his cue to leave.
But Spock's voice stops him before he can take a step.
"Jim." Spock says his name with softness, something underneath the unusual tone. "There has been a miscommunication somewhere. Farat was mistaken in her belief that I wish you harm."
There's a tiny hopeful part of Jim that leaps into life, clinging to Spock's words. But the rest of him is suspicious. "I didn't mean it. I won't make you transfer. You don't have to lie."
"Vulcans do not lie," Spock informs him, finally meeting his eyes.
"The Mantoans say Vulcans lie to themselves all the time."
"They are welcome to their opinions on our practices, but that does not make their observations correct," Spock tells him. "Not even Farat's."
"Are you telling me she saw wrong when she touched your thoughts?" Jim asks.
"I did not believe she did at the time, but that is the only conclusion I can reach given our current conversation."
"How can she be wrong when she felt it herself, inside of you?" Jim wants to know. "She said that at the center of your thoughts, she could feel the violence and aggression you felt for me -- so much so that she risked your anger to tell me about it." Jim crosses his arms and stares Spock down. "You tried to stop her from telling me because you didn't want me to know."
"The latter is true," Spock admits. "I did wish to deter Farat from speaking to you about what she had found when we shared our minds. They were my private thoughts, ones she should not share."
"She was worried about me."
"She was mistaken in her concern," Spock persists.
"Okay, fine, she was wrong, and you don't really feel violent toward me like she said you do," Jim says. "Then what was that kiss about, if you weren't just trying to fuck with my head?"
It's Spock's turn to look away. "Farat was incorrect when she said I wish you harm," he begins. "But what she saw...perhaps, violent, aggressive -- maybe that is how the Mantoans perceive it."
"What are you even talking about?" Jim asks. "Perceive what?"
"Can you not guess?" Spock raises an eyebrow. "For someone of your intelligence, the answers should not be difficult to reach."
Jim wonders if Spock's reticence is merely a delaying tactic or something else, but he decides to humor him by thinking it through. It's hard because everything in his head is jumbled with all the craziness of the evening but he reviews everything that's been said in the last few minutes, connecting the clues Spock's words create. When he reaches the most logical conclusion, he knows his surprise shines on his face, but he can't stop the wide-eyed disbelief that comes with it.
"Are you saying that you kissed me because..." It's too good to be true, almost too good to say. "...you wanted to?"
Spock won't meet his eyes. "The reasons Vulcans have chosen to suppress emotion is because it is expansive, uncontrollable. Because our ancestors felt everything with an intensity that frightened them."
Jim is holding his breath; he doesn't know for what.
"...and apparently Mantoans, as well," Spock finishes.
The pieces of Jim that cracked apart with Farat's warning are sliding back into place, fitting together until they create a much more desirable picture. He's still a little scared to breathe, in case everything shatters again. Still, he points out, "You didn't answer my question."
Spock's shoulders shudder a little, as if under a great burden. "Yes," is all he says.
He might've planned to say more but Jim doesn't need more than that one syllable before he's launching himself at Spock, hands and lips eager to take up the exploration they started before. Spock doesn't object; in fact, he's galvanized into something more frantic than their earlier, more careful embrace, which is how Jim finds himself shoved up against the wall with a firm thigh pressed between his own while Spock ravages his mouth.
Not that Jim's complaining. He writhes against Spock, pouring himself into the kiss. One hand rakes through Spock's short, dark hair, nails scratching along the scalp in a flash of pain-pleasure that seems to make the Vulcan growl. Jim considers that a win, especially when Spock's arms tighten around him, hot hands trailing over the skin of his back under his shirt, over the fabric-clad lines of his haunches.
Jim really wishes he could shut off his brain but he can't, so an unpleasant thought makes it through his lust-induced haze.
"Oh, shit," he says, breaking off the kiss with a gasp. He buries his face against the curve of Spock's neck. He can feel Spock's harsh pants against his ear. "We can't do this. What about Uhura?"
There's maybe a hint of amusement in the reply. "Commander Uhura and I ended our romantic relationship 2.3 weeks before we visited Manto II," Spock explains. A pause. "It would've been unfair to Nyota for me to remain in our agreement once I realized..."
"...that you felt all 'violent and aggressive' toward me?" Jim finishes with a grin, trailing idle fingers down the sensitive, exposed skin at Spock's nape.
The grin fades a little when another unpleasant thought comes to him. "This isn't just about you wanting to get into my pants, is it?" he asks "Not that I'm opposed to that in theory, it's just -- and I can't believe I'm going to say this -- that that's not a good enough reason for me to risk screwing up this command team any worse than we already have."
Spock lays his hand over Jim's where it rests against his neck, gently manipulating Jim's lax fingers until they're tangled with his. He brings their entwined hands to his lips where he runs them over the back of Jim's hand. Spock's mouth is hot and wet against the calloused knuckles, way more obscene that Jim thinks anything so simple has the right to be. "No, Jim," he finally whispers. "It's not."
Jim didn't even know he was steeling himself for the wrong answer but he feels relief wash over him, leaving him even more weak in the knees. He drapes the arm of his free hand over Spock's shoulder, curling it around his back. "Good because that's not what I'm about either." He thinks for a moment, then amends his statement. "That's not all I'm about, anyway."
"I was not concerned that you were," Spock tells him, which makes Jim squirm when he thinks about the amount of vulnerability he has displayed, just in the last few minutes. But then Spock frowns, as if he's also having trouble keeping unpleasant thoughts at bay. "I am, however, concerned that you so quickly believed I would want to harm you."
"You do remember when we first met, right?" Jim asks him. "You know, where you tried to get me expelled, then left me on a planet full of monsters, and then tried to kill me, all within a few days' time?"
"There were extenuating circumstances," Spock reminds him.
"Yeah, for those last few things, but not for the first." Jim shoots him a grin, tugs him a little closer. "Don't tell me you wouldn't have loved putting a boot in my ass after my last Maru simulation."
Spock's hand tightens on Jim's hip. He can't tell if it's a protective gesture or an annoyed one, but he doesn't mind either way. "You were arrogant, disrespectful and flagrant in your casual disregard for accepted policy."
"That's just part of my charm," Jim points out.
Spock's soft, dark gaze lingers on Jim's face before flicking up to meet his eyes. "Indeed."
Jims reclaims his hand from Spock's, but only so he can wind the other arm around him to join the first, his mind on more pleasurable activities than talk. But he instead of the hot, wet slide from before, Jim's lips brush softly over Spock's mouth, his chin, his cheeks, an obvious tease that has Spock melting into the touch only to be denied. Jim does it until Spock grows tired of the taunt and cradles Jim's face between his palms, stilling it so he can crush their mouths together without any pretence.
"So what did you think Farat was going to tell me?" Jim asks the next time they pause for much-needed breath, both of the gasping for oxygen when they finally break apart.
"This," Spock answers. "I thought she had become aware of my desire for you. I did not realize she misunderstood the intensity of the emotion for the emotion itself."
"It worked out in the end, though." Jim's still got a hand under the hem of Spock's shirt, marveling at how different it feels when the body pressed against him is fever-hot and unyielding to his strength.
He's breathing normally enough that he's ready to get back to mind-numbingly pleasurable kisses they've been trading but Spock speaks instead. "Jim, I am uneasy knowing that you believe that of me -- that I would harm you," he reveals. "I believed we had made progress toward something close to friendship, though I dared never expect this."
"We had," Jim assures him, but the Vulcan looks unconvinced. "I just..."
The vulnerability inherent in Spock's display of unhappiness forces Jim to try and explain. "Spock, you've known me long enough to realize that some of the cockiness is for show." Jim can't stop his eyes from darting around the room every so often, eye contact suddenly difficult to keep. "Sometimes it's easier for me to believe the worst."
"I hope that I may become an exception to that." Spock's words are quiet but sincere. His eyes, dark, will not let Jim look away. The Vulcan raises one long-fingered hand to brush against the side of Jim's face. "Because I think only the best of you."
"Oh really?" Jim tries to grin but he knows that disbelief isn't far from the surface.
"I did not know before that there was someone like you for me." Spock's face remains open, but it becomes solemn. For a moment, it reminds Jim of the older Spock's face, serene and calm and so full of fondness. "We are...different. But I think it is what I need." Spock's voice is pitched low as he adds, "And I know it is what I want."
No one's ever admitted as much to Jim before, not that they wanted him or needed him, and never so seriously as Spock has, as earnestly, with so much painful truth in their eyes, shyness in their hint of a smile. Jim's not sure what to do with it or the feelings it makes explode inside of him like fireworks, so he simply kisses Spock once again, pressing their grins together and holding on like he never plans to let go.
Spock doesn't seem to mind and, for once, Jim doesn't scoff when stray thoughts about destiny and epic friendship trip through his mind. From the things that Spock whispers against his mouth as they move together, Jim knows that Spock feels the same way.
It's in that moment that Jim lets himself believe.
Two days later, Jim's working on some mission reports in his ready room when Uhura comms in that he has a message coming through the long-range communicator. A moment later, the face of the older Spock appears on the screen, looking as he always does.
And, as always, Jim grins at him. "Ambassador! How's everything going?"
"I wanted you to know that the Mantoan healers arrived at the colony yesterday and they have already been a great relief," the elder Vulcan tells him. "I wanted to extend our thanks once again."
"I didn't do much," Jim says. "But I'm glad it's working out." Something occurs to him. "Is a Mantoan named Farat Tennu among the healers, do you know?"
"She's their leader," Spock reveals. "Why do you ask?"
Jim grins. "Could you do me a favor?"
Spock nods. "Anything I can, Jim."
"Give her a message, will you?" Jim thinks for a moment about what he wants to say to her, trying to balance the side of him that blames her for frustration he's recently lived through thanks to her advice with the side of him that argues she only meant the best. In the end, it's the latter that wins. "Tell her...there's nothing to worry about here. There's no harm coming my way."
Spock appears to mull the message over in head. "I will pass it on to her, although I have to admit I find it illogical, even for you."
Jim just grins, knowing a compliment when he hears it. "She'll understand, Ambassador."
There's the sound of movement behind him and Jim glances over his shoulder to see that the younger Spock has entered the room, one eyebrow raised in query, the tilt of his head managing to convey that his question lies in the reason for his counterpart's communication. Jim's easy grin becomes something else, a little warmer, a little toothier. He lets himself indulge for just a moment before he turns back to the elder Vulcan on his screen. "It looks like my second in command needs me," he says. "So if there's nothing else...?"
"There isn't," Spock admits. He raises his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, friend."
"You, too," Jim says, meaning it with all his heart.
But as the screen goes blank and he turns back to his first officer, Jim realizes that it's the first time since he's met the older Spock that he doesn't feel a sense of sadness when he cuts the connection.
The Spock he wants -- the Spock he needs -- is already by his side.