Spock feels Jim wake up, but it's an hour before Jim's mind finally settles under the force of the iron will that Spock's been witness to on numerous occasions in their shared history. Pouring the tea, Spock carries it to the table, remembering mornings doing this for his mother when she'd spent too many hours for her human constitution closeted in her study, intent on finishing one more algorithm until the sun had risen.
Emerging into the kitchen, Jim blinks at the cup, opens his mouth, then shrugs, perching on the edge of the table and taking the cup in a single drink despite the heat. "Traditional Vulcan herbal tea to relieve tension and clarify thought," Jim murmurs distractedly, tongue chasing the taste. "Kind of chamomile-y."
"Their properties are similar," Spock answers, sipping his own cup; there is no reason to ask how he would know the benefits of an obscure Vulcan tea. "How do you feel?"
Jim snorts. "The answer to that would only be appropriate in low budget pornography. How much time to do I have before we bring out the bondage without the bondage fun times?"
"If you are referring to your control over--"
"One day. Perhaps two."
Jim stills, cup forgotten in one hand, eyes flickering to Spock and fixing. "I thought--I read that meditation can--"
"You are not meditating, and even if you were, the--unique properties of this circumstance seem to indicate it would do little. If you would permit contact with--"
"No!" Pushing off the table, Jim fumbles the cup, catching it with one too quick movement before grabbing for a chair. "Oh. Add vertigo, would you? New symptom."
"That symptom is more likely the result of sleep deprivation." Spock doesn't move to help him, watching as Jim slides himself into a chair, burying his head in his arms on the table. "More tea?"
"Sure, why not?" Spock brings the small teapot to the table, pouring the scalding liquid, but just that slightest breath too slow; Jim's fingers brush his, the contact a humming brightness that's almost enough to wipe away thought.
Jim's head snaps up, blue eyes incandescent, still everywhere but behind his eyes. Neither of them move, and somewhere deep, something shifts, reaching outward; it's as involuntary as breathing, and it's only the sound of the teacup knocking over, the trickle of heat over the tips of his fingers that reminds Spock to pull away.
Jim blinks drowsily, looking down at his tea-stained hand in confusion. "Ouch." Drawing his hand back, he studies the skin impersonally. "I think."
Spock takes out clean gauze from the medkit Dr. McCoy had given him before he left. "Jim--"
"It doesn't hurt." Jim presses a finger into the reddened skin, eyes closing briefly with a softly indrawn breath, laughing a little as he presses harder. "Weird," he murmurs, looking at Spock from under his lashes. "It burns."
The faintly dreamy expression fades all at once; snatching the gauze, he clumsily bandages the blistering skin, getting to his feet. "I'm going for a run," he says; Spock cannot remember Jim ever running before. "That's a subtle way to say I'm getting out of here. Don't follow me."
"I need a blood and dermal sample," Spock says steadily, burned fingers locked behind his back. "There may be--"
"If there was, you guys would have worked this out a long time ago," Jim says, but motions for the kit. "But who am I to interfere with the progress of science? Give it here. I know the drill."
Handing it over, Spock waits on the other side of the kitchen, only approaching the table when Jim has already left, wincing at the bright light of midmorning. Sitting down, Spock ignores the kit, stretching his fingers, pressing a nail against the beginnings of a blister.
Jim was correct; it doesn't hurt at all.
Spock refuses to do something so undignified as run when Captain Kirk strides toward the turbolift, but he does allow his pace to quicken to join him before the doors close. "You have the conn, Lieutenant Uhura," Spock says, ignoring the Captain's glare.
"Not in the mood," the Captain says briefly, voice low enough to reach no farther than Spock. The Captain has few scruples regarding arguing, sometimes at the top of his voice, with Spock (or anyone in range) on the bridge, but true disagreement is private. Spock's not entirely certain it's his own influence, or something the Captain worked out for himself, but the results are satisfactory. "Not today."
"Would you prefer to wait until after the Romulans arrive?" Spock asks dryly as the doors shut between them and the bridge crew, none of whom (with the exception, perhaps, of Nyota) aware this is not a light matter at all. "Engineering."
"Wait," the Captain says tightly, then turns on him. "Computer, stop turbolift. What the hell are you--"
"We need to consult with Engineering to ascertain what effect taking on excess passengers will have on our--"
"Scotty already reported--"
"And perhaps verifying the data personally will give you the opportunity to reconsider your stance before you give an order you will regret."
"I won't regret it at all."
He would, and he knows it; Spock waits out the tight, furious pacing that he's finally categorized as the Captain resisting an inevitable decision. In general, Captain Kirk can be trusted to talk himself out of a rash course of action, given time and space to do so, and a turbolift, Spock's discovered, is both easily accessible and of sufficient privacy to allow the Captain both.
"Right, I would," the Captain says abruptly, leaning back against the side of the turbolift. "But in a way I can live with. They're idiots, you get that, right?"
Spock can't entirely disagree with the assessment of Starfleet. "The Neutral Zone was established to suspend hostilities between the Federation and the Romulan and Klingon Empires," he begins, and knows at the first word it was the incorrect approach; Captain Kirk straightens, all aggressive frustration, and without another target, the entirety is focused on Spock.
"Yes, to keep a peace that's not a peace at all. We'd do better to let them declare war and be done with it. They kill us and then apologize. We pretend we believe them and do nothing, and they think we're idiots. And you know what? I think we are, too."
It's not the first time the Captain's expressed dissatisfaction with the armed neutrality between the Federation and the Klingon and Romulan empires; the logic behind it isn't entirely inaccurate. The border skirmishes--accidents by report, but Spock is as capable of reading between the lines as James Kirk is--have increased since the destruction of Vulcan. The perceived weakness of the Federation combined with hostilities with their traditional quasi-ally had changed the Romulan Empire's long standing wariness to provoke the Federation.
There would be war already, Spock suspects, if the Klingons and Romulans weren't currently engaged in an equally armed form of peace, with far higher casualties. The repercussions of Nero's actions have not been entirely negative in that instance.
"At this time," Spock begins, but the Captain cuts him off with a growled obscenity, pacing three tight steps toward the wall before turning again. "We have had this discussion," Spock says thoughtfully, watching the Captain glare at him. "I did not disagree with all of your conclusions on the problems that resulted from the Federation's current course of action, with this caveat; we are not authorized by the Federation to begin a war."
"I could make it look like an accident," the Captain says with a frown that means he's conceded the point. For now, at least.
Spock raises an eyebrow; it's as close as he allows himself to express satisfaction. "The colonists were aware that settling in the Neutral Zone was dangerous," Spock says, knowing by the expression on the Captain's face that he's prepared to listen. "We have given them the option to abandon their planet before the Romulans detect their presence and we will return them to Federation space, where a suitable planet will be found for them to colonize that is not in the center of disputed space. Crossing over, even if only to retrieve them, would be taken as a declaration of war by the Empire."
"Only if they catch us."
""I estimate there is a ninety-three point six two five percent chance that they will do so."
Captain Kirk looks at him curiously. "That's still a six point three seven five percent chance that they won't and honestly, Spock, the way you manage to pull off expressionless shock than I can subtract is getting pretty insulting."
"I am sure I have no idea what you are talking about, Captain. And no . There is a point zero zero one seven six two eight five nine percent chance that we will not be caught."
"I'm not ever doing math in front of you again, so just break it down."
"In order of likelihood: the warp nacelles may malfunction, a singularity may spontaneously form in our general vicinity, the Romulan Empire may surrender, the speed of entropy might increase leading to the heat death of the universe--"
"Are you telling me it's more likely that the universe will end than we can get across the border undetected?"
Spock recalculates the odds, adjusting for the presence of Commander Scott on the ship and Ensign Chekov's broken finger. "It is slightly less likely the universe will end than we will get across a highly guarded border to a planet that the Romulans are perfectly aware we want to evacuate without being detected However--"
The Captain looks at him sourly. "Don't even try. You win. Thank you for your advice, Mr. Spock."
"As is my duty," Spock says calmly. "As it is the end of your shift and I am aware of your tendency to brood if left to your own devices--"
"Aww. You want to arrange a playdate, Spock?"
Human idiom. Typical. "I'm unaware of the meaning of--"
"And they say Vulcans never lie. Wanna go a few rounds?" The Captain bounces lightly on his toes, pent-up energy that needs an outlet. Very few of the human members of the crew are capable of, or willing to, give him the kind of physical outlet he needs to purge excess frustration, and after three medical interventions (predictably, none of them to treat Captain Kirk), Spock had come to the logical conclusion it was more satisfactory for all involved to handle the Captain himself in this particular mood.
It isn't a hardship; even with inferior human strength, James Kirk is a plethora of surprises, and does, in the Captains' words, make Spock 'work for it'. "If you wish."
"Give me an hour, and I'll meet you in practice room two. Engineering," Settling at near regulation attention, the Captain gives him a sideways glance. "Admit it; you like kicking my ass all over the room. It's cathartic."
Spock will admit to no such thing.
"All right," the Captain says, levering himself onto his knees, wiping a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth and licking his thumb clean with a broad sweep of tongue before grinning up at Spock, "that was fun. And you're holding back."
"You are distracted." Spock watches as the Captain bounces back to his feet, though Spock knows his left knee is still weak from the last kick. "I do not wish to take advantage of your lack of focus. This is not a bar brawl."
"Did you memorize my entire record or just read Pike's diary or something?" The Captain stretches briefly, then nods. "'Captain's Log, today I found my childhood hero's son beating up some Starfleet cadets in a bar. It was awesome! Do you think he'd like me more if I gave him a starship?'"
"I am relatively certain no such entry exists. However, I admit I found your psychological profile intriguing. There several words that seemed to fail in translation. Perhaps you could explain what Dr. Richardson meant by 'adrenaline junkie'. I admit, while I understand both words in their correct and idiomatic form--"
"You're just mad there are too many M class planets around and Scotty likes me too much to let you throw me off the ship," Jim says smugly. "Come on, admit it, this is fun."
"I do not recognize physical injury as a source of 'fun', Captain," Spock answers dryly. It is a convenient and productive way to engage excess energy and continue to improve performance, laudable goals that Spock thinks one day he might admit have nothing to do with why he comes here with Jim and no one else.
"I drew first blood, I call first names." Settling on the balls of his feet, Spock watches the body language shift from casual to intent; focused, Spock thinks, watching him switch now that the first rush of aggression has been sated. "And it's a lot of fun. Going one on one, pitting your strength against someone else, seeing which one of you will be left standing--"
"Ah. You enjoy engaging in primitive displays of male dominance. Fascinating."
Jim winces. "Yeah, I try not to think about that when you have me in a chokehold. Hurts my masculinity. Ready?"
Jim's mouth quirks. "You want this zone standoff over as badly as I do, and we both know it." Then he attacks.
Spock is used to this particular strategy and counters catches the first punch easily, twisting Jim's arm behind his back. With the ease of long practice, Jim slides out of it, a heel connecting to the back of his knee before he's aware Jim's freed himself. Pivoting away, Jim watches him, ultrafocused and thinking, letting go of everything but what they're doing now.
During his time at the Academy, Jim had been appointed assistant in hand to hand combat, and at their last refit, had agreed to teach a short course for advanced cadets, as much for evaluating the latest batch of recruits as anything else: "So they learn the world doesn’t throw punches on beat; you'd be surprised what your first bottle to the head teaches you about expecting the unexpected." Their last six months aboard the Enterprise have seen a sharp increase in Jim's ability to judge an effective offense as well as establish a more effective defense, which Spock is willing to attribute to their regular matches.
He is also willing to admit, if he were asked, that regular practice with Jim has been equally educational for himself.
"You are improving," Spock says.
"My cadets could give you a run for your money," Jim says, throwing another punch and barely dodging out of the way of Spock's counter. "Had to keep ahead of them somehow. There was new one, T'Prina, who outclassed all of us, even me. And let me say, T'Prina can kick some serious ass for a first year cadet."
"She is extremely proficient," Spock answers, bringing up T'Prina's file in memory. Starfleet had received an unusual number of cadets from the newly established Vulcan colony. While the Vulcan Science Academy was reformed almost as soon as they had found a suitable planet, the limited number of instructors had led to far smaller maximum class sizes and a drastically reduced selection of classes. While waiting for admission, some Vulcans had chosen to continue their higher education at Starfleet.
The logic is impeccable, but Spock suspects, after meeting the new cadets during their last refit, that current political thought on Vulcan possibly had a greater influence than practicality. Sarek's infrequent messages had alluded to conflict among the elders, but more importantly, the shift of awareness of their diminished population in comparison to the rest of the Federation. With that came the fear of diminished influence; Spock suspects the Academy will boast unusual numbers of Vulcan students in the future.
"She has a nasty right hook and an ability to look like she's standing perfectly still while she wipes the floor with you," Jim says breathlessly, catching Spock's wrist and slipping beneath it before it can connect. "But she did say I was adequate for a human. I liked her."
Jim gives him a grin, licking away a drop of blood from his lip as he backs off two steps, all wired energy and barely leashed control. "Did you?"
"Asked her out for a drink. Vulcans don't drink alcohol, but who doesn’t love coffee? No one I'd serve with, that's for sure."
Vulcans didn't make casual attachments; Spock considers T'Prina's attentions in light of that, sweeping Jim's feet out from under him at the next approach. Almost immediately, he rolls away, balancing briefly on the balls of his feet. "Don't worry; she thinks I'm okay for a member of a species two steps from swinging in the trees and communicating in grunts. Told me so, right over the second coffee. Think she was blowing me off or playing hard to get?"
"I have not had the opportunity to form an opinion on her character, Captain."
"Like that would stop you." Jim circles him slowly, looking for an opening. "I've been thinking about something. You remember when you tried to take over the ship by virtue of driving me insane?"
"Your interpretation of events is somewhat flawed, Jim--"
"Is right and true, because I am just that amazing. So here's my question--why were you testing me? What were you looking for?"
"As I explained at the time--"
"Fine." Jim's body stills, preparatory. "Tell me why you wanted me expelled for the Kobayashi Maru."
Spock is surprised by his own instinctive reaction; abruptly, Jim looks up at him from the floor, looking immensely pleased for someone that Spock will be escorting to Sickbay when they're finished. "Now we're getting somewhere."
"You are trying to elicit an emotional response," Spock says as Jim gets to his feet, slightly unsteady but grinning approval.
"And I did," Jim says, sounding surprised. "And what a reaction it was."
"If you wish to carry on a discussion, perhaps you should concede."
In some ways James Kirk is unpredictable. But in many ways, he isn't. Lips tightening, Jim attacks, clumsily enough that Spock feels justified in dumping him directly on the floor.
"Spock, I'd almost think you were angry," Jim says cheerfully. "Good. Hold back anywhere else but with me. No one I'm up against is going to take it easy. If you're not up to it--"
"Engaging in pointless displays of emotional manipulation--"
Jim launches himself, almost too fast to follow, and Spock looks up in surprise at Jim hovering over him, thumb pressed to the jugular, hand just tight enough to feel. "You've done worse and I got through it. Show me what you got, Spock."
Spock considers it, bringing a knee up sharply before flipping Jim onto his back, pinning him easily. "You are adequate, but you still require practice," he says mildly. "You will not find me as easy as T'Prina."
Jim grins, bright with challenge, their earlier conversation forgotten. "There we go. Show me."
Spock had taken gamma after the Captain limped cheerfully back to his quarters, more relaxed than he'd been since they received the communiqué from Starfleet ordering them to convince the colonists to abandon their fledging settlement in the Neutral Zone and return to Federation space.
It continues to be a mystery to Spock why any people would deliberately settle in known disputed space, then express surprise when a Romulan probe is sighted above their settlement. Their pleas to the Federation for protection had been denied, as Spock had expected, and countered with an offer of resettlement on a planet cleared for colonization in safe space, which had been accepted with a curious amount of hostility for a people in danger of being attacked at any moment.
"Commander," Uhura says abruptly, fingers pressing against her headset. "The planet is hailing us on an emergency frequency. The transmission is scrambled."
"Scan the area near the system," Spock says as Nyota frowns. "Lieutenant?"
"It's--" She frowns. "They're requesting emergency retrieval. They--" She looks up, startled. "They're under attack."
"Red alert. Ensign Reeves, please inform the Captain--"
The turbolift door opens abruptly. "Already here," Captain Kirk says, Dr. McCoy spilling into the bridge behind him. Spock stands up, turning to watch Captain Kirk cross to communications, picking up a second headset to listen to the last transmission. "What's our status?"
"Nothing showing up on sensors, Captain," Lieutenant Sulu says. "And I--" He hesitates, looking at the Captain warily. "I'm having trouble getting an accurate scan of the planet."
The Captain stills, looking at Uhura. "How long since that was sent?"
"One, one and a half minutes, sir," she says, studying her screen.
Captain Kirk's eyes flicker to the viewscreen, narrowing. "Are the sensors picking up any ships nearby?"
"Captain," Spock says quietly.
Slowly, Captain Kirk turns, looking at Spock, face unreadable. "You have a recommendation, Commander?"
"We were specifically ordered not to cross the border at any time. Our orders are to retrieve the colonists who agree to leave the planet once they are in Federation space."
"Federation citizens are under direct attack," Dr. McCoy snaps from behind the Captain's chair. "We can't leave them at the mercy of--"
"They were well aware of the risks, Captain," Spock says, addressing the Captain, who seems to be listening too closely to Dr. McCoy. "They had adequate time to prepare for departure and--"
"Wait to be slaughtered for colonizing a planet that no one else actually wants?" McCoy answers. "We can't just sit her and watch--"
"Captain," Sulu interrupts, "I'm still not able to break through interference and scan the planet's surface. Currently, there are no ships in sensor range."
The Captain's mouth tightens, and Spock fights down the irrational urge to think of a reason that Captain Kirk is needed in a turbolift, before the Captain stops short. "You still getting that message, Lieutenant?" Captain Kirk asks brusquely. When Lieutenant Uhura nods, he picks up the extra headset. "Play it again." As Uhura starts the recording, Spock joins Sulu at the helm, looking at the empty space around a devastated planet. "Again."
"Captain?" Spock asks as the Captain leans back against the console. "We need to--"
"Just a second. Again--no, stop, go back. There. Is it just me or is something wrong with his voice?"
"Not just you," Lieutenant Uhura answers, hands flying over her console and bringing up a visual scan of the transmission. "I noticed that, too, even with subspace interference, and had the computer run an analysis. Here," she says as she pulls up the graph. "No stress markers in the voice. I'm isolating the voice now."
Uhura and the Captain listen. "All right," she says, almost as if she's speaking to herself. "Now just the background frequencies." After a few seconds of watching the screen, Uhura taps a quick sequence into the board. "Repeat, compensate for subspace interference." Another moment passes. "Computer, start at 774.3 and slow transmission speed to one quarter on my mark." Closing her eyes, she presses a hand against the headset. "Mark."
A few seconds pass. Captain Kirk's expression doesn't change.
"Again, one half speed."
Her forehead furrows, fingers moving in a rapid tap that's oddly familiar, then she stops, opening her eyes. "Full speed, 774.3 to 774.86, repeat four times--got it." Tapping the screen, she maximizes a small section of the graph. "This isn't a recent recording. Someone attempted to recompile the background, but there are breaks here," she points at the graph, "and here. The pattern indicates a traditional Denebian harvest celebration; their pipes have a distinctive set of harmonics not found in any other culture and they utilize a four-fourteen musical standard that no other species has been able to replicate. It would correspond with the settlement's fall season, three months after they arrived. " She looks up. "Captain--"
"If we can't scan the planet, it'd be a pretty interesting trick to still get subspace communications without interference. Sulu, patch sensors to communications. Lieutenant, try and triangulate the origin point."
Dr. McCoy follows Spock to Lieutenant Uhura's station, looking over Jim's shoulder as she extrapolates the most probable trails, eliminating each possibility one by one until she touches the screen with one finger.
"Here. It's coming from the planet's satellite," Uhura says. "But there's no degradation from passing through the stratosphere. The colonists were minimalists; they didn't have the kind of boosters you'd need to compensate for atmospheric interference."
"Right. So excluding the planet, what's the maximum range someone would need to be to use that satellite?"
"For the message quality and the capabilities of the satellite, close," Lieutenant Uhura says thoughtfully after studying the screen. "The message that got through to the Federation suffered severe degradation."
"Mr. Spock, this is where I say, give me a projection with every possible origin point, but," he says, looking at Spock, "that would be pointless since I think we can make a pretty accurate guess."
There is no other logical explanation. Dr. McCoy leans heavily against the console, eyes closed. "Cloaked Romulan warbirds are waiting at the border of the Neutral Zone. There was no attack."
The Captain nods tiredly. "Yeah. That's kind of where I thought this was going."
"The message has stopped," Uhura says. "What are you orders, sir?"
Spock watches Captain Kirk carefully, the expressionless calm that reflects nothing of what is currently progressing through his mind. A dozen different plans are made and set aside before he says, "I want every transmission examined, Lieutenant. Look for anything that might suggest just how long Romulus has been playing a practical joke."
Uhura frowns, then horrified understanding washes across her face.
"Send a message to Starfleet telling them what's happened here, then start with the first transmission sent to the Federation and work your way forward. Sulu, you have the conn; keep an eye on the border and try to break through the interference to get a reading on the planet's surface. There might be survivors."
"Yes, sir," Sulu says quietly.
"Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, with me."
Spock nods agreement, following the Captain in silence until they arrive in his ready room. Locking the door discreetly behind him, Spock waits as Captain Kirk ignores his chair to sit on the edge of his desk, Dr. McCoy dropping onto the low couch, head in his hands. "You were right," Captain Kirk says. "The universe was more likely to end than us getting there and back without getting caught."
"I did not anticipate the possibility that the colony had already been compromised." Spock hesitates, glancing at Dr. McCoy. "There is an eighty point three two percent probability that the original transmission was not sent by the colonists."
"They've been dead since before that first transmission," Captain Kirk says tightly. "And we almost walked right into it. It looks like the Romulans are getting dissatisfied with the status quo as well."
It's not what Spock had expected the Captain to say; examining the statement in light of recent events, however, it is logical. "You speculate that they are baiting us," Spock says. "I do not think the Empire is--yet--ready to engage in a full scale war with the Federation."
Spock nods reluctantly. "Yet."
Despite the outward age of the farmhouse, more modern conveniences had been installed than Spock had thought. Spock finds two terminals, both Starfleet issue, along with environmental controls hidden beneath a holo of a man Spock recognizes as Commander George Kirk. A search of Jim's bedroom reveals a second replicator, hidden beneath the bed, as well as a variety of hypos. Taking them downstairs, Spock disassembles the replicator and removes several key components that cannot be easily replaced before studying the hypos.
Eleven are empty; seven contained increasingly powerful sedatives, prescribed by Dr. McCoy; four were a variety of experimental treatments for hormone imbalances, as Jim's medical records had listed the known ones as ineffective. Sixteen are pharmaceuticals of questionable legality and efficacy, including one Spock is aware was banned from Vulcan over a millennia ago, all untouched.
Spock returns to the kitchen table where he'd assembled a makeshift workstation, adding the names of the solutions that had already been attempted to his projections. Delay is the most that can possibly be achieved, but a great deal depends on factors far beyond Spock's control, not least of which the actions of the man most affected.
Clearing the screen, Spock takes a blood sample from himself and runs it through the computer, studying the readings before overlaying Jim's, watching the spikes begin to merge in intensity, if not yet in levels.
He has completed the first solution when he senses Jim outside the door; the startling riot of emotion that swims through the artificial calm breaks Spock's concentration, almost causing him to drop the hypo before he feels Jim bring himself under a thin veneer of control. The door bangs open and closed behind him. Silently, Spock holds out the hypo. "This should suppress some of the symptoms for a few hours."
Jim stares at it, then him, taking it with a hand that's not quite steady, careful not to touch. "Some?"
"You should be able to sleep and eat," Spock says calmly. Jim's eyes flicker to the table and the second replicator, as well as the various hypos, with a resigned expression. "Do I need to search further for contraband?"
Jim licks his lips. "Bathroom, behind the mirror. There's a medical replicator there, too. I wasn't sure--" He stops, pressing the hypo against his arm, eyes closing as he releases it. "Christ, yes."
Dropping the hypo on the table, Jim willingly sits down to eat with his usual general unawareness of food except that it exists. Watching him from the corner of his eye, Spock finishes his calculations, the drug settling Jim into a facsimile of chemically-induced calm. After a brief exam with the tricorder, Spock sends him to bed, and an hour later, finds Jim collapsed on the couch, closer than Spock had expected him to be when there was an entire house to place between them.
Spock takes a final set of readings, following the thin thread of awareness far enough to confirm true sleep before contacting Dr. McCoy.
"I have updated readings," he says briefly, ignoring the tight line of McCoy's mouth. "Transmitting now."
"How's he doing?"
Spock glances involuntarily at the recumbent body in the next room. "He is currently sleeping, Dr. McCoy."
"You know what I mean!" McCoy says, though the most recent readings are reflected on the screen that he's reading intently. "He's spiking too often for my liking."
"He has been relatively stable since my arrival," Spock says, tapping out a command. "The first variation of your original compound seems to be assuaging the most pressing symptoms."
"But not for very long." Dr. McCoy's glare is surprisingly effective through the filter of several thousand miles and a screen. "And he's spiking more each time it wears off."
Spock nods agreement for the benefit of Dr. McCoy's scowl. "I am attempting two more variations at this time. I will report their efficacy after administration."
"We're using him like a goddamn guinea pig," Dr. McCoy snaps, expression cracking into fear so deep that Spock looks away to give the man the illusion of privacy. "I don't like what I'm seeing in these neural scans. Humans aren't usually psi-sensitive, but there's a lot of activity going on in his cortex that corresponds to psi-centers. Projection at very minimum, but if he can pick up what you're thinking--"
"I was trained to shield myself before I could speak, Dr. McCoy," Spock says evenly. "And the Captain has improved his basic Academy training substantially in response to these fluctuations."
Dr. McCoy grunts in response, which Spock chooses to interpret as agreement.
"Keep me informed," Dr. McCoy says after a few minutes, staring at something beyond Spock's shoulder. "If he--we can try the artificial coma. But the way these readings look, I'm not sure even that would be enough to--"
"I'm aware of the alternative treatments and their potential for success," Spock answers. "I will initiate contact if there is any change in his condition; otherwise, updated readings will be transmitted in twelve hours."
Dr. McCoy scowls. "See that you do. McCoy out."
Closing communications, Spock looks at the portable lab. He has two more hypotheses, both of which he suspects will be of limited usability. In the next room, Jim murmurs three lines of a poem that Spock remembers his mother translating to Standard in his childhood, accent flawless.
Spock is able to stop himself at the doorway, fingers closing tightly enough over the wood to hurt if it had been possible any longer. Forcing himself to turn around, Spock returns to his calculations.
"I've begun to observe a pattern in our away missions, Captain," Spock says, cutting through the ruined material covering Captain Kirk's left thigh to evaluate the deep wound stretching from hip to nearly his knee. "Captain?"
"Watching--the street," the Captain answers, voice calculatingly light to hide the breathlessness. Wrapping a tourniquet just above Captain's knee, Spock turns it with slow, even motions, watching his face.
The extreme pallor seems to increase, but the Captain shows no other signs of physical distress. "You can watch and listen, Captain," Spock says mildly, blood smearing his uniform to his elbows. Absently, Spock strips away the tunic, tearing the thick material into neat strips. They would not be particularly absorbent, but they are the only material currently at his disposal. "Are there any other injuries?"
Turning his head against the crumbling brick wall, Captain Kirk gives him a faint grin, eyes flickering to the wound on his leg with impersonal interest. "You mean besides the one that's going to kill me?"
Spock sets his lips together, making a pad of the first strip and pressing it against the wound before winding the second around the Captain's leg. When he looks up, Captain Kirk's teeth are buried in his lip and fresh blood is winding a slow path down his chin. "Captain," Spock says sharply as the blue eyes drift closed. "Pay attention."
"Say something worth hearing," Captain Kirk grits out, tilting his head back for a second to gasp. "Your--conclusion?"
Spock cannot process the statement for a long second, then remembers. "Ah." Picking up the next strip of cloth, he wraps it around the first, slowly growing dark with blood. "I have observed a high correlation between those missions that end with you contracting a physical injury and your concept of 'fun'. I require a reminder of what variation of the term you are using. It is not found in either Standard or Terran English."
The Captain's eyes focus more slowly than Spock prefers. "Could be worse," he says. "Could be Klingons." Captain Kirk frowns. "Huh. There was something I wanted to tell you, but then there was our brave run for safety--not about Klingons, though--"
"I do not see the advantage in this particular instance," Spock answers tightly as Captain Kirk falls silent, taking the phaser that the Captain has had trained on the mouth of the alley and focusing on the sounds of fighting currently filling the streets. Spock supposes that the Captain's presence could not be a consistent indicator of a mission that will turn needlessly complex by any logical train of thought, but the evidence is difficult to ignore. It is not often one is present for the beginning of a revolution on a planet that has been at peace for a millennia, but oddly, Spock cannot find it any particular surprise. "I will attempt hail the ship again."
"Yeah, that's been--working really well so far." Captain Kirk blows out a breath, tossing Spock a stretch of lips that he supposes might resemble a smile. "But you know, go for it."
Opening the communicator, Spock positions himself between the street and the Captain, listening to the hiss of a scrambler, blocking all communications. Each frequency is identical, and Spock imagines Nyota at her station, grimly filtering each channel, searching for a second of undisturbed space, a single indication of their presence, enough that Ensign Chekov can extrapolate their likely position and illogically, impossibly, very likely find them.
"Spock, this would be a good time to talk about the protocol for a mission that goes south. And I know you know it, because you were the one that taught me." Captain Kirk grins more naturally; Spock assumes the Captain is experiencing a rush of endorphins in response to the wound. "I still remember when you walked into the command course and saw me. I mean, sure, on the outside you didn't twitch, but I know there was crying on the inside. Admit it."
Spock leaves the communicator open on the final channel. "I do not believe this is the appropriate time and place, Captain," he answers, firing at the approaching figure armed with what appears to be a much larger version of Lieutenant Sulu's katana until there is no longer movement. "If you wish to discuss your less than satisfactory performance--"
"You gave me an A." Almost too quiet to hear, Jim Kirk coughs, wet and thick, and for a moment, Spock feels an unfamiliar tightening in his chest. "Spock--"
"As I remember," Spock interrupts, "you did not feel the class adequately explored all possible scenarios and was--and let me quote--needlessly pessimistic."
Jim laughs again, another cough buried within it. "Come on--"
"You led the class in what could only be described as a debate if an obscure and radical definition of the term is applied, then called a vote of all class members to decide whether I should partake of a variety of alcoholic beverages or participate in a night of carnal relations to--"
"Get the stick out of your ass. To be fair," Jim says, muffling his third cough without success, "you'd been turning down my completely logical offer to join my crew for two weeks by that time and I was really irritated. And I'll admit it, I was hurt, Spock. Deeply."
Spock turns to bring Jim's bloodless face into view. "I am unfamiliar with that technique of persuasion."
"It has its moments, though not usually for the purposes of persuading anyone of anything," Jim says, voice husky, eyes falling half-closed. "You know, in class, your examples? They were from the ships you served on, right?"
"The Hood and the Victory, right?"
This is not the appropriate time for Jim to prove he has a surprisingly accurate memory. "Yes. I do not see--"
"Phillips didn't command either of those." Jim pauses. "The sex toy guy. I looked it up."
Spock lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as Jim looks at him with an expression that Spock does not wish to understand. "Captain--"
"Yeah," Jim says softly, almost as if to himself. "I guess I thought maybe we'd--" Jim coughs again. "Whatever. History."
Jim waves a blood-smeared hand. "As I was saying, mission protocol time. You need to leave. Get out of the city and get back to the Enterprise."
"The chances of avoiding detection for the two point three seven five kilometers between here and the boundaries of the city proper are--"
"Better than sitting here watching me bleed out. And I have a plan."
Spock stills. "Please elucidate."
"You survive." Jim's smile is gone. "That's the plan."
Spock wonders if he should have examined Jim for a head wound. "That is not a plan, Captain."
"Well, one of us has to get back, and I'm pretty comfortable where I am." Jim's expression shifts. "Get out of here, Commander. That's an order."
"I will remand myself to the brig when we return to the Enterprise," Spock answers absently, watching the street and calculating Jim's total blood loss and the amount of time between the moment his heart will inevitably stop and brain death. It is not encouraging.
"Spock," Jim starts, and despite the coughing, he manages to project a credible amount of anger into his voice, "did you hit your head or like, have some kind of weird Vulcan breakdown or--"
"Captain, I am trying to ascertain the best method of exit from this alley. You are interrupting my calculations."
Behind him, Spock hears Jim trying to sit up, making a soft sound that might have been, from someone else, a scream. Mouth tight, Spock presses a hand against the wall to avoid pushing him back down and let gravity do what little it could to slow the loss of blood.
"I'm so going to court martial your ass," Jim hisses, and abruptly, there's a hand on Spock's shoulder. "This isn't logical. I'm pretty sure your entire ancestry is demanding you be de-specied or something."
Spock gets to his feet, catching Jim when he tries to take a step toward him. "The Vulcan Science Academy did try. And they failed." Sliding an arm under Jim's shoulder, Spock backs them toward the other side of the alley as the sounds of fighting seem to grow more distant. "If communications are blocked, perhaps something more--spectacular might be an effective way to gain the attention of the Enterprise so our location can be ascertained. We have not contacted them since the emergency beacon was deployed after the reception. By this time--"
Jim frowns, opening his mouth, doubtless to continue his irrational arguments, then pauses. "Right! That's what I was going to tell you! Maila."
"The ambassador's wife?" Spock takes another careful step back, the scent of iron increasing; a glance at the darkening material covering Jim's leg confirms it. "I do not think this the appropriate time to--"
"Trust me, Spock, there's no time better." Jim grins faintly. "Anyway, before the reception she took me on a tour of the city."
Spock had not been aware 'tour of the city' was now a euphemism. "I see."
Jim snorts. "You're just cranky that the Ambassador was obsessed with their crop yields and made you listen to three years worth of reports. Too bad a war broke out before he could give you the five year projections." Jim's breath catches, biting his lip viciously before continuing. "I think they would have been pretty interesting." Licking his lips, Jim steadies himself, eyes black with pain. "This is their trade city. Everything they export goes through here. And they don't have a single place to store however many cucumbers--"
"Krupentas," Spock corrects automatically as they reach the end of the alley. "Their major export is the krupenta, which have become surprisingly difficult to procure over the last three years, due to what the Ambassador called terrorism by the group currently trying to take over the city." Spock scans the street. "I find it intriguing that the terrorists seem to be comprised exclusively of krupenta farmers."
"Noticed that?" Jim says in satisfaction. Spock raises an eyebrow. "Their exports are cut nearly in half and suddenly all the places you'd store ridiculously expensive vegetables aren't storing vegetables. So really, that makes you wonder how they're keeping up the Governor's palace and well, eating. Thing is, they do have a couple of places that might have stored vegetables around the city. You know, if they weren't filled with disruptors."
Spock stops. "You observed this?"
"Did I see their illegal weapon stockpiles in their former vegetable warehouses? No. I saw warehouses that have been modified in really counterintuitive ways if the idea is food preservation. And Maila's a Romulan, so I'm going to say there's a pretty good chance we just found out who's been dumping illegal Romulan weapons on the black market."
Spock gives Jim a long look. Jim rolls his eyes.
"I had to find out what was going on somehow," Jim says breathlessly. The blue eyes become glassy as Jim's legs collapse beneath him; Spock tightens his hold. "Her surgery was good, but trust me, not that good." Stopping short, Jim coughs weakly. "Spock," Jim grinds out. "You have to go. You have to get back to the Enterprise and tell Starfleet what's going on here. This is not a suggestion."
"Captain, please save your strength. We do not have much time." Something behind them explodes as if to emphasize the fact. "Do not argue."
"Wait, who is telling who not to argue? Spock, this isn't--" Jim sags further, coughing blood into one hand. "You get this is pretty much the penultimate proof of the no-win? Unless you get your ass out of here now, before the rebels remember the government is blaming the Federation for everything--"
At the end of the alley, Spock pushes Jim against the wall, bracing him with his body. "Where is the closest warehouse?"
"Sixteen thirty-two, eighteen north. Four blocks? To the left." Coughing again, Jim pushes a bloody hand against his shoulder, and Spock feels the smear of warm, slick fingers against his throat. "Spock, get the hell out of here. I can't--"
"Is the warehouse guarded?"
Jim's forehead presses damply against his neck, chest rising and falling frantically against Spock as he struggles for breath. "Yeah, but no guards outside and a retinal lock. They're pretty bad at being criminals. Spock--"
"Captain, I must insist you do not further strain your resources--"
"Spock," Jim whispers, and Spock stills as wet, cold fingers scrape clumsily against his jaw, a faint edge of fading brightness burning into his mind. Turning his head, Spock meets Jim's eyes as Jim's thumb rubs a sticky line over his cheek. "Spock. I'm not critically injured. I'm dead." Jim gasps for air, leaning against Spock, hand dropping to rest on his shoulder; the next words are barely a breath between them. "I need know you're going to make it out of here. That you'll be okay. This is when you cut your losses and get the hell out."
Spock would ask for the same assurance, but he suspects Jim would refuse to give it; he will not reciprocate what will not be offered.
"I think you are being needlessly pessimistic, Captain," Spock answers as they emerge into the smoke-filled streets, the fight having moved two blocks to the south. With the last piece of his ruined tunic, Spock covers Jim's face, feeling the faint, too-fast puffs of breaths against his skin as they travel the length of the building and the warehouse comes into view.
Spock studies the squat brown building and the much more modern technology perching on the roof, recognizing the familiar shape of a Romulan communications array. Taking out his phaser, he slides a nail beneath the hinge and opens it, expertly setting it for overload before calculating the speed and angle of descent necessary to reach the building. Opening his communicator, Spock sets it to loop through all Federation frequencies.
Jim gasps wetly once, shuddering, and Spock feels Jim Kirk fade into silence as his body grows still.
The Enterprise is in orbit above them, waiting: Nyota Uhura can find a single harmonic dissonance in a corrupted message; Ensign Sulu can extrapolate a three dimensional position with a single incomplete sensor scan; Ensign Chekov can rebuild transporter patterns from a single buffer file; Dr. McCoy can restart a heart that's stopped, compensate for a body that's lost too much blood.
Shifting Jim's weight, Spock thinks, quite logically, that after ten missions, four separate incidents with the Romulan High Command, two unfortunate experiences with alien flora, and Sulu allowing Jim to pilot the Enterprise through an unstable asteroid belt, this cannot be the place where James Kirk will die. It is not logical. They merely need time, and that, Spock can provide. "I believe that this is when we cheat."
Spock watches in disapproval as a grinning Nurse Chapel pushes Captain Kirk into the brig. Standing up, he walks to the edge of the forcefield, giving the technician a frown when he starts to reach for the forcefield controls before studying the Captain. "You should not have left sickbay, Captain. It has only been a week since Dr. McCoy was forced to restart your heart, and I understand you have been allotted a lifetime limit on the number of times you are permitted to cause undue stress to Dr. McCoy's nervous system."
Captain Kirk gives him a slow once-over, leaning forward in the chair in a dangerously unbalanced maneuver that Nurse Chapel does nothing to prevent. "You--arrested yourself for insubordination," Captain Kirk says slowly. "While I was dead."
"I waited until Dr. McCoy had confirmed your condition had stabilized, Captain."
Captain Kirk blinks. "Huh. Did you make Sulu cry? I remember him saying it wasn't his fault and something about a K class planet in range of our lifepods, but I was pretty high and Bones made him leave."
Spock wonders if it was entirely prudent to allow the Captain to leave sickbay while still under the influence of narcotics. Nurse Chapel is of no assistance, leaning against the back of the chair and burying her face in her arms with no regard to professionalism. "If you would prefer a court martial, Captain--"
Captain Kirk's eyes widen. "A what--no, stop, shut up. Go back and let's start again. You're in the brig. For insubordination. Who the hell had the nerve to arrest you?"
"Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov conducted the hearing," Spock explains, straightening. "As the former relationship between Lieutenant Uhura and I would have caused a conflict of interest--"
"Wait." Pressing a hand against his forehead, the Captain closes his eyes. "Wait. Let me get this straight. You--arrested yourself while I was still in surgery and then ordered Sulu and Chekov to call a hearing because your ex would have told you what you could do with your insubordination charges and she scares you as much as she scares me--yes, she does, you put Sulu in charge of the ship. Then you had them hold a hearing. Did you tell them what the verdict was supposed to be?"
It had been a very tedious hearing. "They were unfamiliar with current regulations surrounding--"
"Right. And then you told them the punishment. A month in the brig."
"Per regulations, Captain," Spock says deliberately.
Captain Kirk leans back in his chair with a look of resigned irritation that Spock's become familiar with; for some reason, it's almost exclusively directed at him. "That sounds about right." Waving a hand at the oddly restless tech, he says, "Drop the forcefield."
"Belay that, Mr. Evans. Captain," Spock says patiently, "you are under medical care. You do not have command of this ship at this time."
"Oh really?" The Captain's eyes narrow. "Right, regulations. All right, I'll play. Computer, get me Lieutenant Uhura."
Spock takes an involuntary step closer to the forcefield. "Captain--"
"Yes, Captain?" To Spock's experienced ear, she sounds oddly smug, which Spock supposes answers the question of how the Captain had become aware of the situation.
"Uhura, who is currently in command of the Enterprise?"
"Lieutenant Sulu, sir." Her voice takes on an odd timbre that Spock finds uncomfortably familiar. "I'm sure he's available if you wish to speak with him, sir."
In the background, Spock thinks he hears someone groaning, but he can't be sure.
"I'm down in the brig right now with Mr. Spock, Lieutenant," the Captain says, holding Spock's eyes. "Ask Sulu if he really wants to be the one in command when I'm released from sickbay."
"Immediately, Captain." There is an ominous silence before Lieutenant Uhura returns, sounding extremely pleased. "Sir, he's agreed to cede command to the next ranking officer."
"That would be you. How serendipitous, don't you agree, Lieutenant? Release Spock and clear all charges and dump the entire--whatever that was he was doing. You have my gratitude. I'm dismissing Mr. Evans from brig duty, so Spock'll be alone when you get down here. Take as long as you like."
"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Uhura says with inappropriate enthusiasm. "Thank you, sir."
It may have been a mistake to encourage the Captain to better familiarize himself with regulations.
"Evans, you're dismissed." As the door closes behind Evans, the Captain looks at him thoughtfully.
"You're getting very good at cheating, Commander. I'll see you in a few hours. And take care of our ship." As they turn to leave, Spock hears the Captain tell Nurse Chapel, "Okay, this is why people like being captains. I was really starting to wonder. Think Bones woke up from that hypo yet?"